A Mighty Wind
You can call it Spinal Tap Unplugged, or A Kinder, Gentler Smell The Glove, but there’s no denying the gentle, even fond tone of Christopher Guest’s latest satire on the geriatric phase of 60s folk music.
Guest pulls in the ensemble he’s gathered together with Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show to take a few shots at the Boomer nostalgia that clogs PBS pledge weeks every season – the stiff, faintly corny “tribute” concerts packed with acts whose last hit charted when Lyndon Johnson was president.
Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer (in full Principal Seymour Skinner voice) reprise Spinal Tap as a Kingston Trio-style folk group called the Folksmen, while co-writer Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara play Mitch and Mickey, once the sweethearts of the coffeehouse scene, now long separated.
They’re brought back together for a tribute concert in honour of their late manager at New York’s Town Hall, a live-to-tape production that ends up on the disc as a bonus feature; it’s eerily of a piece with its real-life Public Broadcasting models, and a tribute to the cast’s ability to stay in character.
The cast includes Guest regulars Paul Dooley, Jennifer Coolidge, Bob Balaban, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Ed Begley Jr., and Fred Willard doing yet another cringingly hilarious, obtuse boor in his gallery of show biz cretins.
The topicality of Guest’s comedies, and the sheer depth of their fierce in-jokes, makes you wonder how they’ll stand up when lamebrained heavy metal acts and archly politicized folk groups no longer have a place in pop culture. Until then, Guest is the best satirist working in movies today.
Fargo Special Edition
Canadians, for some reason, were able to “get” Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo on a sympathetic, instinctual level. Maybe it’s the long shots over endless fields of snow, or that bleak, February sense that winter will never end, or the polite yet laconic conversational style of the Coens’ Minnesotan setting.
Fargo is only seven years old, but it already feels like a classic, and deserves at least the special edition treatment MGM has given the film, which involves an unusually informative and entertaining “making-of” featurette called “Minnesota Nice”, a Charlie Rose interview with the Coens and star Frances McDormand, and a commentary track with cinematographer Roger Deakins.
Like any classic, it only takes a handful of lines to evoke the whole film, or crack up a fan: “He was kinda funny looking.” “I’m so lonely.” “Jeez, I’m tryin’ ta cooperate here!” “That’s it. End of story.” In “Minnesota Nice”, the cast reveal that every word of every line was scripted; that there was no room for improvisation, and that the Coens were aiming for a kind of rhythm with the endless rondos of “yahs” and “okehs”. A brilliant, dark, mean little film that’ll be watched decades from now.
The Dancer Upstairs
Anyone looking for a taut, suspenseful thriller anywhere in John Malkovich’s debut feature will be disappointed. Character and mood were obviously more important to the actor when he made this story of revolutionaries and police in a South American country suspiciously like Peru during the Shining Path crisis.
Javier Bardem employs his sleepy eyes and voice to great effect as a peculiarly honourable police detective trying to track down the head of a rebel group before the army steps in and terminates his country’s hard-won democracy. The rebels and their leader seem to be everywhere, striking with a sense of spectacle intended to confuse the authorities and beguile the people, and Malkovich paints this peculiar sort of political dread with careful skill.
In its languorous, unpolemic way, Malkovich’s film is probably the only truly anti-terrorist film to be released in the last two tumultuous years, and makes it possible to believe in movies with mature, unsensationalist politics – a phenomenon, if you think about it.
Andrew Davis’ film version of the best-selling children’s book is that rare thing – a kid’s movie without an ounce of condescension toward either its target audience or their parents, not actually made by Pixar.
Shia LeBeouf plays Stanley Yelnats IV, the latest in a line of cursed men, sent to a hellish desert young offender’s boot camp for a crime he didn’t commit. He and his bunkmates have the hellish task of digging a hole a day in the blazing sun, in search of a treasure only the camp’s owner (Sigourney Weaver) and her gruesome minions (Jon Voight and Tim Blake Nelson) know about.
It’s a great story, where the adults are leering, sinister, or hapless caricatures while the kids, thanks to LeBeouf and the rest of the cast, get to be fully-rounded and sympathetic. Includes the usual package of bloopers, deleted scenes, music videos and “making of” featurettes.
Daddy Day Care
Eddie Murphy’s rapid evolution into Bill Cosby continues apace with this story of a downsized ad exec who sets up a daycare centre, and learns an overdue lesson in the joys of full-time parenthood.
It’s an achingly cute bit of business, and as leading man Murphy has to work hard to pull the bashful, distracted performances by the cast’s preschoolers into some sort of shape. Which would explain the back-patting air of the “making-of” spots included on the disc, which have the “boo-yah!” tone of filmmakers who pulled off a difficult job.
Murphy is good, but the film is only the latest to be stolen by the underrated Steve Zahn as a Trekkie geek with a knack for communicating with toddlers.