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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.

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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.

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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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Hangover: The cinematic equivalent of taking a huge hit of LSD and watching a fat dude slip and fall on a banana peel. Ironically, Mike Tyson knocking the fuck out of the tubby Zach Galifianakis qualifies as the only funny moment in the film.

Al-GoreKnowing: Despite Nicholas Cage’s presence, the film is bearable for about an hour. And then they mess it all up by promoting the subjective fear of global warming. It seemed as though the film was trying to emulate Manoj Shyamalan’s Happening and become that late night movie to which Al Gore probably jerks off to. Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Ninth Gate also suffered from the same problem – no, Gore didn’t get turned on by them, it’s just that they were perfectly reasonable ideas that ended up being pale caricatures by the time we had a reason to give a shit about their characters. It also doesn’t help that the acting was really really bad. Cage, like Tom Hanks and Tom Berenger, is wooden as oak and under the impression that a pretending to have constipation is method acting. Rose Byrne is gloriously bad, as well…if only someone told her that a concocting a hundred variations of the “what’s that putrid smell?” look conveys neither fear nor paranoia. If only Roger Ebert didn’t give this four stars. If only I knew.

Kalloori: Director Balaji Shakthivel should be commended for keeping the melodrama down to a necessary minimum. Lord knows that few Indian directors tone it down for the benefit of subtlety and grace. Being loud is very much a South Indian attribute and to portray that in films can be construed as taking the easy way out. How easy would it have been to give one of these characters a glaring archetypal trait or a standout physical abnormality and beat the same to death by referencing it for the sake of comedy/tragedy/whatever? How many more people would have enjoyed Kalloori if it had some bloated comedian spewing socialist comedy? Or how about if they had shown the wrongdoers in Kalloori being brought to justice? A lot of things that could have been done to muddle up this re-telling of the obviously tragic bus-burning incident of Coimbatore were daftly avoided by everyone concerned. With the exception of one or two unnecessary song and dance sequences, I felt that the film was almost perfect in the way it nurtured the central characters.

kalluri_mTamanna (Shobana) and Akil (Muthu) taunt us with such quiet restraint. They could have gone all giggly and light-headed on us; instead they convincingly plow through the tragic irony that ends up epitomizing their characters. The supporting cast adds to the realism, as well, with their complete nonchalance for the camera that seldom zooms into their faces. In fact I don’t remember one other character’s name other than the two lead characters and well, that’s just life isn’t it? Most of the people we pretend to care about mean jack shit in our grand scheme of things and what only matters is the sequence of events they might possibly set in motion to either make our lives better or truly fuck it up. Director Balaji Shakthivel knows this. Cinematographer Chezhiyan knows this and all the actors and actresses, as well. A rare moment for recent Tamil cinema.

pollathavanPollathavan: Hype has turned Dhanush into Kollywood’s sad little anomaly. People have always believed that he was capable of things that so naturally seem to elude him on-screen. For instance, comic timing and charisma. He is so far away from being someone who can entertain the masses with brevity in thought (like his post- Moondru Mugam era father-in-law so easily did) that I almost pity him for considering the journey. I mean, look at the way this man cries on your television screen. Seriously, take any film that he has acted in and skip to the scenes in which he expresses sadness…it is friggin hilarious. I do believe Catherine Zeta Jones has met her match. It is dam near impossible to misconstrue his annoying overconfidence for talent unless you pay zero attention to the finer details. Even in his debut (Thulluvadho Ilamai), the final scene (apparently, it made grown men cry) featured the diminutive Dhanush rocking a B-grade porno mustache as comfortably as a redneck would a leather jacket at a Prince concert. As far as Pollathavan is concerned, thankfully it is not a remake of V Srinivasan’s 1980 Rajinikanth-thriller of the same name…but it is a far scarier proposition; it is a modernized version of Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thieves, which was in fact was a novel written by the Italian painter Luigi Bartolini. Surprisingly, Vetri Maaran’s version has many great things going for it.

Dhanush’s dad is yet another brilliant character essay by Malayalee actor Murali. The villain and his drug-addled psychotic brother are over-the-top but for once with good reason, as are the fight sequences and the Karunas-inspired comedy. The camerawork during the seedier moments of the film is pretty fucking great too. Most importantly, Dhanush’s presence does not bother you at all. Another landmark in Tamil cinema.

Judgement nightSaroja vs Judgment Night: A few months ago, I wrote this post on Saroja saying that director Venkat Prabhu seems to have been tremendously influenced by Guy Ritchie films. A lot of the quicker-than-a-blink editing used to keep the ambience wry and sudden seemed familiar from films such Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the tremendously average Revolver. Even worse was my misconception that Prabhu had written an original barnstormer of an urban adventure. Unfortunately, Saroja is an almost identical remake of Judgment Night with only the kidnapping drama conspicuous by its absence in the original buuuuut…after watching Judgment Night, I had a gut feeling that the he had a firmer grasp on irony than Hopkins ever did (or ever intended), as was evidenced by the humour with which he treats the cowardly nature of the protagonists. In the English version, Stephen Dorff‘s fear and insecurities act as a balance to Cuba Gooding‘s violent braggadocio and Emilio Estévez‘s sense of morality, and we, the audience, are almost told to judge these characters based on their traits. In Saroja, I guess the director’s intention was just for us to point our fingers at the characters and laugh as loud as we can.

If ever I had one bone to pick, it would be this…director Prabhu has apparently stayed away from putting his own spin on Jeremy Piven’s character (Ray Cochran) from Judgment Night, which is sort of confusing. I can only imagine the insane levels of awesomeness Saroja would have gone through if someone like Karthik Kumar had played Piven’s character. Then again the director could have willfully left out the best part of Judgment Night only to showcase his own originality. Bah who do you trust anyway? Some non-conformist, talented director who can save Kollywood from its recent slump and whose bloodline was singularly responsible for shaping music in Tamil cinema? Or a mean-spirited critic who hasn’t made a single film in his life, much less a short film?

What? Seriously?

Read also

Srikanth’s fantastic review of Om Darbadar on Seventh Art

I can safely say that the Venkat Prabhu‘s version was leaps and bounds better. I had a gut feeling that the he had a firmer grasp on irony than Hopkins ever did (or ever intended), as was evidenced by the humour with which he treats the cowardly nature of the protagonists. In the English version, Stephen Dorff‘s fear and insecurities act as a balance to Cuba Gooding‘s violent braggadocio and Emilio Estévez‘s sense of morality, and we, the audience, are almost told to judge these characters based on their traits. In Saroja, I guess the director’s intention was just for us to point our fingers at the characters and laugh as loud as we can.

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last-house-on-the-left-732058Last House On The Left: Wes Craven’s 1972 classic ranks alongside the likes of James Watkins’ Eden Lake and Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs in its propensity to scare the living shit out of me. Much like Straw Dogs and Eden Lake, Last House On The Left is a slumbering beast that works tremendously well based on how real it feels to us, the audience. Most of us spend time worrying about the safety of the near and beloved; this fear is an inherent part of our humanity that indicates both maturity and insecurity. The trick, many tell me, is to not let this fear metamorphose into paranoia, but rather to let to meander somewhere around an aura of cautiousness. Wes Craven doesn’t make room for such comforts; this uncompromising urban thriller about a family terrorized almost makes you want to sign up for the next NRA newsletter. Despite the bloodshed and exploitative violence, the film packs quite a realistic punch; and like Ebert says, it has more in common with Bergman’s The Virgin Spring than with any other film that we could rightfully expect from Wes Craven. Google tells me that the tagline for Last House On The Left warned the viewers “to avoid fainting by keep repeating to yourself…it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie”. Well, that was a tad dramatic but still, what really, really makes the film work is the frightening prospect that one day, one of us might go through these ordeals too.P.S: I have not yet seen the 2009 remake, so I shall reserve my comments on it for later

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Wild Blue Yonder: My love for Werner Herzog knows no bounds and lately, as I had admitted to the dude from Seventh Art, it has indeed become an obsession. With his dry German-Hungarian accent proving to be a perfect foil for the stories that twirl around his aesthetically tortured psyche, most of his films have left me in an almost drug-induced state of euphoric bliss. Quite simply put, Wild Blue Yonder is a science fiction mockumentary done Herzogian style. In fact, every so often during the course of the film, I was reminded of the track Faaip De Oiad on Tool’s Lateralus album. It was a paranoid mess of a monologue delivered by someone claims to be a former employee of Area 51 over feedback noise that took proper shape every 20 seconds. The thing is, as absurd as the track was, it was also strangely moving in its ability to throw the reins on the listener and to entice him with surrealistic allure. Much like the song, Werner Herzog’s Wild Blue Yonder is a work of art that takes itself seriously for the sake of absurdity. The storyline chronicles the events that led an extraterrestrial from the Water Planet to earth and then goes on to facetiously connect the dots between Kissinger’s diving expedition, the Rosewell incident and a bunch of CIA-led conspiracies. Reijsiger’s original music for this film along with Henry Kaiser’s cinematography hog the limelight as they provide little pockets of breathing spaces that are very necessary for films as fantastically surrealistic as Wild Blue Yonder. Not So Fun FactBrad Dourif, the actor who plays the extraterrestrial is also Billy Bibbit from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

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Born And Bred: Sometimes I get the feeling that films get irritated with me. I can visualize them clenching their fists and looking to hammer blows on my skull for not admiring them as they are, and instead criticizing for how I wanted them to be. Pablo Trapero’s deliberately moody Argentinean film Born And Bred must have been sharpening surgical knives on rusty iron by the time the end credits rolled. The story centers around Santiago, a successful interior designer whose life is thrown out of balance after a really bad accident. From then on, he embarks on a thinly veiled healing process that has Santiago dwelling in the nether regions of self-destruction. Relevant Quote From Random Movie: “Self-improvement is masturbation…self-destruction is the answer”. I really dug cinematographer Guillermo Nieto dreamlike photography throughout the film and actor Pfening’s performance as Santiago was riveting enough to evoke sympathy, but the rest fell sort of flat. Now if Mr Pablo had condensed all of this within a short film that ran for no longer than 15 minutes…now that would have been good stuff. Hmmm I can see why films hate my guts.

Twilight: Trashing films is my least favourite part of reviewing. But strangely and not very unlike some really good cough syrup that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I keep moving towards such endeavors. And well, for certain reasons, the readers seem to get a good kick out of it…so what the hell, here goes. Director Catherine Hardwicke’s monstrously silly movie about emo-vampires is so bad and so after-school special-ish that rumour has it that the director’s cut version of the DVD would have Mrs Hardwicke reading aloud a list of Schedule H drugs that she had consumed in order to convince herself that making this film was a semi-good idea. I swear, the creepy uncle in my old neighbourhood who used to beat the shit out of his son all the time had more subtlety in his pinky finger than this idiot director has ever had.

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