Sunday, November 26, 2006

The 3 Tomatoes Joke, 2nd edition

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION (2006, Christopher Guest)- aside from a few good bits of schtick (John Michael Higgins' incessant referencing of his "Mighty Choctaw" heritage is pretty great) and memorable performances from Harry Shearer and especially Catherine O'Hara, this is kind of a letdown. For one thing, it's clear that Guest doesn't know much about awards season- there's no mention of precursor awards (such as the Golden Globes) or the critics' awards, both of which might have clued the characters in to whether the Oscar buzz was legit or not. Instead, the Oscars as imagined by FYC take place largely in a vacuum, with no intermediary between the buzz and the nominations. In addition, there are just too many characters here to support a 85 minute film. The core characters- O'Hara's Marilyn Hack, Shearer's Victor Allen Miller, and their castmates- make an impression, but the rest of the company gets lost in the shuffle. Part of the problem is that, outside his favored mockumentary format, Guest really isn't all that good at establishing characters. The talking-heads scenes in GUFFMAN, BEST IN SHOW, and A MIGHTY WIND provide a convenient method for the performers to sketch in their characters' backgrounds, with the added bonus of allowing the film to contrast the way the characters sell themselves to the camera with their behavior in more "candid" moments. But here much of that is lost, and I really felt the difference. Around the time that Ricky Gervais showed up as a smarmy studio exec (a performance that seems to have dropped in from a more scathing satire), I was past trying to care about the people onscreen. The major exception is O'Hara, who as in A MIGHTY WIND is the film's solid center, which makes her transformation to nipped-and-tucked has-been in the film's second half all the more striking. Also, Fred Willard's clueless boor schtick never gets old. Rating: **.

TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY (2006, Liam Lynch)- if anything, this movie was even more heartbreaking than FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION, in large part because I love the D and was hoping for more from them than a hard-rockin' Cheech and Chong movie. The original D shorts really didn't rely on stoner comedy (Kage and Jables were more generically slacker-ish offstage), but my heart sank when the film announced its intentions right off the bat, with a combination pot/fart joke that spoofs the THX logo. There's still plenty of good D moments to savor- Jack's attempts to join Kyle's band are pretty funny- but after the all-sung opening sequence of the film proper, which finds young Jack rebelling against his Bible-loving dad ("rock is not the devil's work, it's magical and rad!"), played by a crew-cutted Meat Loaf, everything else is a tad anti-climactic. D lovers will savor the returns of Lee and Sasquatch (though where's Captain Ed? Ben Stiller is not an acceptable substitute), but the sad truth is that Liam Lynch is far too amateurish and sophomoric a filmmaker to do justice to the spirit of Tenacious D, a fact that becomes all too apparent around the time around the time he slips in a gratuitous and mostly laugh-free car chase. Maybe these guys just work better in 15-minute intervals... Rating: **.

THE FOUNTAIN (2006, Darren Aronofsky)- if ever there was a contemporary film that was seemingly destined for maudit status, it would be this hypnotically overblown sci-fi epic. Even in its present miniaturized form, Aronofsky's canvas is teeming with grand imagery and Big Ideas, and his ambition and his complete commitment to his material hepls to defuse a lot of the potentially silly stuff (like when Hugh Jackman does tai chi in silhouette in front of a starry background). While Rachel Weisz has little to do besides looking beatific- which admittedly she does quite well- Jackman is nothing short of revelatory here, giving a performance (or three?) that runs the gamut from stalwart to anguished to Zen-like, all with a naked emotionalism that makes me wonder how the comparatively more mannered Brad Pitt could have pulled it off. More than ever it seems to me that Aronofsky yearns to be the great filmic artist of the Xbox generation, combining cutting-edge technology and fantasy influences with a singular sensibility (although this time he forgoes the hip-hop montages in favor of Kubrickian camera dollies and buttery cinematography), and frankly, that's fine with me. THE FOUNTAIN has few antecedents in the cinematic canon- both versions of SOLARIS spring to mind- and in the end I was reminded less of earlier films than to rock'n'roll concept albums of the seventies, which similarly attempted to inject serious artistic and cultural elements into a traditionally disposable medium. To THE FOUNTAIN's credit, it's good enough to be compared to some of the more successful concept albums, providing a cinematic experience which, for better or worse, is unlike anything in theatres right now. Rating: ***.


Steve C. said...

I dunno, I rather liked the D movie. Can't claim it's high art, obviously, but it did make me laugh. "Use the cock!"

Paul C. said...

Yeah, it's got a decent number of laughs, but the pot-related jokes got overbearing after a while. It wasn't as dire as I'd feared after seeing the Liam Lynch-directed shorts on the DVD, but it was still something of a letdown.

Also, they should have brought back Meat Loaf at the end.

By the way, I'm all booked for OUT 1. So I'll see you there.

Steve C. said...

I will agree that Mr. Lynch is... um... not much of a director (though at least this film isn't as plug-ugly as the otherwise-hilarious Jesus is Magic. Also, there definitely needed to be not only more Meat Loaf but also more Dio.

Jason_Alley said...

Yeah, definitely more Meat Loaf and more Dio necessary, but I liked it quite a lot overall. Especially the mushroom scene and of course the rock-off with Satan.

Glad you loved "The Fountain" as much as me. It's a bumpy ride, but WOW.