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Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Guest’

World’s Greatest Dad: I have never liked those wholesome family comedies or dramas. Hated Problem Child. Loathed ET. Cried during The Lion King for all the wrong reasons. Swore upon my grandma’s grave that I’d find and kill the Little Mermaid, Lassie, Flipper and those annoying 101 Dalmatians. That kind of sparked the anger I had as a teenager for Robin Williams. He starred in films such as Hook, Mrs Doubtfire, Toys, Jumanji, Jack, Patch Adams, and Bicentennial Man that tried enticing us with hyperbolic chirpiness. Over time I have grown tolerant towards him and as irony would have it, this comedian looks more convincing in tragedy. Exhibit A to E, Fisher King, One Hour Photo, Insomnia, House Of D and grossly underrated The Big White.

In Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad, he plays Lance Clayton – failed novelist, underappreciated teacher and grieving dad of a misanthropic pervert. He is nice enough chap, but lady luck has a habit of kicking him in the side of his head. There’s a young professor who keeps outperforming him in front of his girlfriend. His neighbor is an agoraphobic pot-smoking grandma and even she ignores him. To top it off, his son embarrassingly dies from autoerotic asphyxiation.  Poor old Lance Clayton. Everything he wanted in life kept vanishing into thin air, pausing only to break wind to add to the humiliation of his existence. Needles to say, everything gets turned around once a “suicide letter” is discovered and posthumously published. Few months later, Clayton is the toast of the town. Popular, loved and respected. Sounds cute, doesn’t it?

While the film had all the ingredients of a perfectly respectable indie movie, the second half strays too far from the morbidity that had grabbed me in the first. Even the accidental (hopefully, not ripped off) nod to the final scene in Thomas McCarthy’s fantastic Station Agent doesn’t help matters towards the end. I can only thank heavens that it wasn’t Anger Management climax-level bad.

All’s not lame however. The first half is both funny and fucked up and I quite liked it. Daryl Sabara has shaken off the Little Annie-look that he had in the Spy Kids trilogy; he is quite the revelation as Clayton’s immensely dislikable son – Kyle (who could have run amok the suburban streets with Alex, Dim and the rest of the droogs). Alexie Gilmore does a neat job playing Claire – Clayton’s girlfriend; something about the slyness in her eyes makes her captivating to watch. Oh and Robin Williams just jumped ahead of Marlon Brando on the list of men the world should have never seen naked. It isn’t lame as much it is evil.

Bad Lieutenant: I say this with a heavy heart. I enjoyed Abel Ferrara’s way more than Werner Herzog’s Port Of Call: New Orleans version. The original had Harvey Keitel in one of the grittiest portrayals of a rogue cop, investigating a young nun’s rape while sinking into new levels of decadence and corruption. Herzog’s had Nicholas Cage trying his best to come across as the bad guy. He investigates the drug-related assassination of a family of African immigrants while dealing with his drug addiction. Truth be told, I don’t get Herzog’s casting decisions. I have no friggin clue why he roped in Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, and Xzibit; they were all sorts of bad, especially Val Kilmer (one would think he did more drugs than the bad lieutenant). Thankfully, some worked. Jennifer Coolidge and Brad Dourif (Billy Bibbit!) were impressive as the perennially-sloshed stepmom and the nervous gambler.

On to the Herzog-Cage experiment. One of my least liked actors being led by one of my favourite directors. Well, the thing is, Cage has tried really hard (he even picks up an accent about 40 minutes into the film), so it is hard to fault him. To be honest, it is one of his best performances (Weather Man remains his truest yet), but then again, that isn’t saying much. Unfortunately, this also happens to be one of Herzog’s least impressive films. Just so you know, it had nothing to do with the actors or his direction; it  is merely as petulant to expect him to ape another man’s vision as it is unfortunate  how little could have been done to make Abe’s version any better.

For me, the real surprise lies in the visual elements in the film; never has a Herzog film looked this mediocre. Cinematography had a role in making Keitel’s portrayal of the Bad Lieutenant seem more irreverant that he actually is. In this, Peter Zeitlinger’s photography is surprisingly timid as it plays second fiddle to Lt. Terence’s mental deterioration; quite the contrast to the disquieting beauty he conjured in the truly Herzogian Encounters at the End of the World and Wheel of Time.

Having said all that, you should defintely watch Bad Lieutenant, Port Of Call: New Orleans at least to see what once happened in 2009 when Werner Herzog actually directed Nicholas Cage. Two masters (one of new wave cinema, other of bad one-liners) trying to perfect a strange craft. Sort of like watching Jet Li wrestle Mike Tyson for the beach volleyball title. Awkward, vaguely intriguing and a frankly, very disturbing.

Fear Of The Black Hat: I love mockumentaries because of their silliness. Even the madcap entertainment of B-grade slasher flicks pale in comparison. From Christopher Guest’s pioneering This Is Spinal Tap to the more recent, Justin Lin-directed Finishing the Game, mockumentaries have generally thrived on satirizing popular phenomenon, be it art, religion, social fads, martial arts or whatever. Rusty Cundieff’s Fear Of The Black Hat is a hilarious take on the gangster rap culture. Focusing on the rise and fall of the controversial rappers in NWH (Niggaz With Hats), a very obvious dig at the gnarliest of west coast rap outfits NWA (Niggaz With Attitude), the mockumentary takes us on a tour in the lives and times of MCs Tasty Taste (Larry B Scott), Ice Cold (Rusty Cundieff) and mix master Tone Def (Mark Christopher Lawrence).

Larry Scott brings most of the funnies, with his character shuffling between spoofing Public Enemy’s Flavour Flav and rapper Too Short, I guess. Matter of fact, with the exception of Vanilla Sherbet (Devin Kamin), the archetypal whiteboy rapper, everything else about Fear Of The Black Hat is very funny. Props must be given to the three lead actors, who, despite the silliness of it all, have done a very commendable job. Seriously, go out of you way to see this.

CB4: The problem with Tamra DavisCell Block 4 (CB4) is that Fear Of The Black Hat was released a year later and had pretty much the same story going for it, but only funnier.  Also, at some point in the film, I think that Chris Rock (who wrote the film and starred in it) and the director started getting all serious instead of sticking to taking potshots at this genre of music and the lifestyle it demands. Charlie Murphy gets a few laughs as Gusto, but it was 1993 and he wasn’t even close to the awesomeness he brought to those skits in the Dave Chappelle Show much later. Not even a reworking of Sugar Hill’s Rapper’s Delight could save CB4. Pretty soon, the dialogues start to wear thin as inside jokes turn into semi-preachy one-liners. For instance, MC Gusto hears this from his dad a good hour into the film.

Albert Sr.: You ain’t tough. There are real some kids out there that are going to kick your narrow ass. You ain’t from the street, I’m from the street. And only somebody who wasn’t would think it was something to glorify.

Riiiight…that’s great. Thanks. Now why don’t go fight the power or something.

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Christopher Guest

Best In Show: Christopher Guest has a weird sense of humour. My guess is that he just wants to have a good laugh and in the process let us in on the joke as well. Personally, I find a lot of Herzogian elements in his mockumentaries. Take away the poetry, the boorish (justifiably so) intellectualism and captivating music that fuels Herzog’s films and you are left with snippets from Guest’s improvisational humour. They both seem to share a view on humanity that is constricted by its tendency to overlook some of life’s inconsequential details; the major difference being only of them thinks it’s rather funny while the other suffers because of it. In the 2000 ensemble comedy – Best In ShowChristopher Guest calls back his favourite actors (Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Michael Hitchcock, Parker Posey and the rest) and casts them as delightfully crazy masters of best-in-breed mutts that compete for the top prize at the annual Maryland Dog Show.

ENTER BESTINSHOW 1 KRT

Eugene Levy and Fred Willard have had some elaborately unfunny moments on silly teen comedies and terrible Jay Leno skits, but in Best In Show – they tickle our funny bones with the audacity of a haywire buzz saw. The ‘expert’ commentary between Fred Willard and Jim Piddock along with Larry Miller’s hostage negotiation 101 is perhaps the funniest I have ever seen in any of his films. Despite the towering expectations, I am completely excited about watching A Mighty Wind tonight. Oh, Christopher Haden Guest also happens to be one of founding fathers of Spinal Tap.

waiting for guffman

Waiting For Guffman: This was my introduction to the world of mockumentaries. I watched Waiting For Guffman on Star Movies years ago and I found myself incredibly amused by its central character – Corky St Clair (a star performance by director Christopher Guest). As a director, the man has crafted one heck of a small town parody of community theatres; I mean, you almost hesitate to let it tug at your heartstrings considering all the good-natured silliness involved. But it does, and more importantly, it also makes you laugh out aloud. So this failed Broadway director (Corky) visits Blaine, Missouri and gets himself to direct a full-blown musical tribute as part of the town’s 150th anniversary celebration. Without access to actual talent (and with questionable talent himself), he looks to hire the town’s eccentric citizens and teach them the finer nuances of theatre against a dreaded ticking clock.

See, the catch is he has also invited Mort Guffman, a famous Broadway producer to critique the show, so to say that Corky is under pressure would amount to little else than a gross understatement. Once again, Eugene Levy and Fred Willard are hilarious as harmless buffoons looking to elevate themselves beyond the ordinary, as is Johnny Savage who has a stomach-achingly funny confrontation with his Corky. As slapstick as the premise maybe, the nuances of Waiting For Guffman are cleverly crafted with aplomb. So clever that even I was waiting for Mort Guffman by the end of the film.a-mighty-wind

A Mighty Wind: Remember when I mentioned ‘towering expectations’? Yeah, A Mighty Wind builds a friggin castle on top of such preconceptions, decorates the terrace, stands on the edge of it and laughs at me. Thankfully, it also happens to be my favourite Christopher Guest film yet. I can’t began to explain how over-the-top awesome this film is; so I’ll skim right past stating the obvious about the director’s comic timing. Watching Guest’s familiar ensemble cast do their thing in A Mighty Wind almost made me forget that this was a mockumentary. Well, it is indeed one, but it has so many ‘oh but it feels so much more than that’ moments than most face cream and ass wipe company executives would cry themselves to sleep thinking about it.

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Eugene Levy reels in, I think, the finest performance of his career; it almost erases my memory of him a fathering an imbecile and mentoring viler ones in the grossly unfunny American Pie series. In A Mighty Wind, he plays Mitch Cohen – a folk legend back for a folk reunion concert after decades of self-loathing and eventually, silence. So here’s the deal…Jonathan (Bob Balaban), son of legendary folk music promoter Irving Steinbloom, wants to put on a reunion show at his city’s Town Hall in memory of his dad’s contribution to the art form. Apart from Mitch, and his co-singer Mickey Crabbe (Catherine O’Hara), he also invites the famed folk triad The Folksmen (Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest), and The New Main Street Singers (a bunch of fantastic actors).

Like I said, Eugene Levy is fantastic as a crazed genius songwriter; he channels the auras of Lennon, Sonny and even Ringo with a twist of wry humour that the film’s characters are known for. Catherine, Parker Posey, MckKean, Shearer, Rachel Harris, and Michael Higgins are hilarious too. Once again, Fred Willard gives you cramps with his one-liners. As the obnoxious manager of the squeaky-clean New Main Street Singers, he steals the show from under the nose of his fellow comedians. The recurring ‘Wha Hoppened’ joke wakes up from its slumber and hits that sweet spot in our funnybone that secretly thinks Jim Carrey is sort of funny. Of course, there’s also that great story that Steinbloom Jr (Bob Balban) tells about his overprotective mother.

balaban

Bob Balban: You could say she was overly protective – I just like to think she cared about me, which she did, a lot. And I was a member of the chess team and whenever we would have chess tournaments I had to wear a protective helmet . Now who knows what she was thinking? Maybe she thought that we might have fallen maybe and impaled our heads on a pointy bishop or something, I don’t know.

And the hits just keep on coming, folks.

for your consideration

For Your Consideration: Someone over at IMDB commented that “movies with real bad actors aren’t fun to watch; strangely, neither are movies with fake bad actors”. Unfortunately, he’s right, which perhaps explains why For Your Consideration is a step down for those appreciative of Christopher Guest. It’s not like he humour pales in comparison to his previous films, it’s just that it doesn’t occur frequently enough. Like that fellow said, a talented actor playing a horrid one doesn’t really present itself to many funny situations. In fact it is a stark reminder that people like Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Charlize Theron and Barbara Streisand are encouraged to continue acting, thanks to those award ceremonies. For Your Consideration is a story about an independent film that generates Oscar buzz despite featuring hyper-dramatic performances by its barely talented cast. Catherine O’Hara and Harry Shearer play veteran thespians, who are on the verge of being nominated in the primary Oscar categories. Shearer can’t be unfunny even if he tried really hard, so may the good Lord bless him. As for the rest of the cast, they start off on a funny note, but fizzle down towards the end of the film. For instance, both Catherine and Fred Willard are tremendous as Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her and a potty-mouthed Ryan Seacrest after about seventy shots of distilled rum, but their antics start to wear thin, as do the countless jabs at Hollywood.

The estranged wooing of a dim-witted film producer (Jennifer Coolidge) by Ricky Gervais, a sly and sleazy Hollywood executive is the only stand-out joke and even that isn’t really funny. Having said all that, it is still a safe bet to assume that For Your Consideration is funnier than most of the comedies that were released in the year 2000. Of course, don’t watch this if you haven’t seen any of his other works. You may think Christopher Guest is not all that funny.

Well, he is.

If mockumentaries were to epitomize a perfect marriage between nonsense drama and a really funny film, then Christopher Guest would be the proud old dad walking her down the aisle.

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