Monday, January 2, 2017

Mock Robin

A Mighty Wind (2003): written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy; directed by Christopher Guest; starring Mary Gross (Ma Klapper), Harry Shearer (Mark Shubb), Michael McKean (Jerry Palter), Christopher Guest (Alan Barrows), Eugene Levy (Mitch Cohen), Catherine O'Hara (Mickey Crabbe), Bob Balaban (Jonathan Steinbloom), Jane Lynch (Laurie Bohner), John Michael Higgins (Terry Bohner), and Parker Posey (Sissy Knox): From those wonderful folks who brought you Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show comes this, a loving, satiric tribute to the commercial folk music of the 1950's and early 1960's. 

Back then bands like The Kingston Trio and The New Christy Minstrels strode the Earth like giants. But their time would soon end as rock-and-roll would reassert itself with the rise of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

This film is even more of a delight to someone who lived through this musical era (like, say, my Mom). But it's great nonetheless, with catchy songs that sound authentic and odd personalities that seem even more authentic. There's not a bad performance here, and one of the songs ("There's a Kiss at the End of the Rainbow") nabbed a Best Song Oscar Nomination. And frankly, should have won. In a better world, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara would also have received Oscar nods for their pitch-perfect characters, the mismatched duo of Mitch and Mickey, reuniting along with other acts for a tribute to a deceased record company owner. Brilliant, funny, sad. Highly recommended.

Waiting for Guffman (1996): written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy; directed by Christopher Guest; starring Christopher Guest (Corky St. Clair), Fred Willard (Ron Albertson), Catherine O'Hara (Sheila Albertson), Parker Posey (Libby Mae Brown), Eugene Levy (Dr. Alan Pearl), and Bob Balaban (Lloyd Miller): Though the real film beginning of the Christopher Guest/Michael McKean/ And Friends mockumentaries was This is Spinal Tap, that film was directed by Rob Reiner. Waiting for Guffman was Guest's first turn in the director's chair, and Eugene Levy's first great contribution to this loose-knit confederacy of dunces.

It's a great film. Anyone who's from a small town will recognize many of the characters, perhaps even in themselves. The love Guest, Levy, and Company bring to the film helps the satire -- occasionally, sweetly bleak -- go down smoothly. The show must go on, and it generally does. The self-delusions of the assorted actors, directors, singers, and adoring townsfolk is Leacockian in stature. Highly recommended.

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994): written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen with Sam Raimi; starring Tim Robbins (Norville Barnes), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Amy Archer), Paul Newman (Mussburger), Charles Durning (Hudsucker), and Bill Cobbs (Moses): The Hudsucker Proxy is like some lost Coen Brothers film, at least to the general public. But it's swell! And Producer Joel Silver ponied up about $40 million for the Coen Brothers to make it. That was crazy. And much-appreciated. The sets! The actors! You know... for kids! Well, not exactly.

The Hudsucker Proxy has the DNA of many later, more celebrated Coen Brothers Joints swirling through its giddy bloodstream, perhaps most noticeably Hail, Caesar! and The Big Lebowski. Its protagonist, as played by Tim Robbins, is an amiable, gullible small-town kid who wants to sell his ingenious product to the world. Jennifer Jason Leigh does a remarkable sustained amalgam of Rosalind Russell and Katherine Hepburn as cynical New York reporter Amy Archer. Paul Newman is evil incarnate, and Charles Durning has one of the most memorable scenes in the history of ghosts in cinema.

One can see the oddities of the production delighting the Coens throughout. While the film pays homage to the screwball comedies and dramedies of the 1930's and 1940's, it's set in the late 1950's. Why? I don't know -- everything about the production screams 1930's Art Deco. Why is the supernatural in the movie? Who are the clock-keeper and the sign-painter? Why do Jennifer Jason Leigh's scenes in her editor's office play like homages to the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie? 

For that matter, why does the reporter's relationship with Tim Robbins' character seem more like the relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent than anything from the film's screwball pedigree?

I don't really know. It's a great, weird film that was  a financial disaster when it came out. So what? Salute Joel Silver for his crazy desire to see a big-budget Arthouse movie from the Coen Brothers. Salute! Highly recommended.

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