Tag Archives: Christopher Guest

TIFF: Mascots

Christopher Guest has long since held an esteemed spot in my heart and my DVD shelf for his improv-heavy mockumentaries. He wrote and starred in the grandfather of them all, Spinal Tap, but came on as director as well for his classics Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show, and A Mighty Wind. He’s poked fun at small town theatre, dog shows, and folk music, and after an agonizing decade-long hiatus, he’s back with Mascots.

As you  might guess, Mascots does indeed take on the little-explored world of mascotery: you know, the guys at football games dressed up in the big fuzzy suits, trying to get the spectators to cheer and do the wave. The fun is more images.jpgsincere than scathing, but no less amusing for its kindness. Christopher Guest’s body of work is so aligned with what I find funny that Mascots was my number 1 pick for TIFF, ahead of La La Land or Nocturnal Animals or Loving. I was delighted to be able to attend the world premiere, but somewhere in a secret place down near my toes I was worried that perhaps his latest just wouldn’t measure up. With a ten year break, would the chemistry still be there?

I needn’t have worried. Biiiiiiiig sigh of relief. It’s funny! So funny I’m in immediate need of a re-watch. The laughs from one joke often drowned out the next – and what a pleasant problem to have! Mascots is vintage Guest, and he’s got a lot of the old troupe assembled for more.

Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr, and Don Lake play judges at this year’s Golden Fluffy awards. They’re former mascots themselves and are pleased to judge this year’s finalists in a cut-throat competition. Chris O’Dowd is “The Fist,” hockey’s bad-boy mascot. Parker Posey is a dancing armadillo. Tom Bennett is a football club badger. Christopher Moynihan is a plush Plumber. It sounds absurd and it absolutely is, but that’s what has always worked so well in Guest’s movies: he takes a hobby that exists on the fringes and is practiced mascotswith total obsessiveness, and he shows us the incredible underbelly. It’s fascinating. Like a car wreck or a wonky boob job, you can’t help but stare.

In the case of Mascots, Guest seems to take a particular interest in the proceedings, giving ample screen time to the “performances.” This is way more earnest than we’re used to seeing from him, but it works, largely because the actors commit with such deadpan abandon. It takes a lot of guts to make a movie the way Guest does – he doesn’t know what he’ll end up with until the camera stops rolling and he starts cutting in the editing room. He relies on a deep pool of talent – too deep, as most only get to shine for a line or two. I want more Balaban, more Willard. And definitely more Corky St. Clair, a role Guest reprises from Waiting for Guffman. If we can’t have it all, though, Guest and company still give us a pretty fair shake. I left the theatre with rosy cheeks and a bounce in my bottom.

The good news is that just two films into my Toronto International Film Festival experience, I’d already found a film to love. The even better news: you’ll love it too, and soon – it’ll be out on Netflix October 13th.

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Thursday Movie Picks: Dance Movies That Aren’t Musicals

Matt

As usual, Wandering Through the Shelves has given me an excuse to catch up on movies you TMPprobably wouldn’t believe that I have missed- movies that I probably never would have sought out without this weekly challenge. The most crucial check off of my bucket list this week was Footloose, which until this week all I knew of was the Kenny Loggins song of the same name and Chris Pratt’s summary of the plot in Guardians of the Galaxy. I now know that Kevin Bacon understood what no one else in Beaumont did; that dancing has a way of helping you blow off steam like nothing else can. Not even Tractor Chicken.

Footloose may not be my favourite movie about dancing but it shares a philosophy of dance with some that are. My first pick is Billy Elliot (2000), whose main character is an 11 year-old boy with lots of reasons to want to blow off steam. His mother is dead, his father is distracted by the 1984 Miner’s Strike, and boxing doesn’t seem to be working out for him. It’s only when a no-Billy Elliotnonsense ballet teacher (Julie Walters) takes him under her wing that he finds his voice, confidence, and an outlet for his frustration. (Like Kevin Bacon, he does a lot of angry dancing). It’s touching and very funny.

Taking a page from Billy Elliot, inner city New York fifth graders learn several styles of ballroom dancing in the 2005 documentary Mad Hot Ballroom. The film follows a pilot project with the NYC Department of Education that aims to expose students to dances from around the world including the tango, foxtrot, and merengue. Like Billy Elliot, it’s surprisingly funny, with lots of Kids Say the Darndest Things Moments. Plus, it’s hard not to crack up seeing the discomfort of 10 year-old boys having to mad hot ballroomdance with a girl for the first time. Just as importantly though, the documentary lets us bear witness to a program that gives these kids a unique opportunity to learn about the arts, other cultures, and the opposite It may just make you want to dance too. At the screening I attended ten years ago, I passed a couple swing dancing right there in the theater.

Not every movie about dancing will make you want to get up and dance though. My third pick is Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (2008), which to me follows two kindred spirits who whose bodies are exploited in one way or another for the entertainment of others. As the title the wrestlersuggests, Marisa Tomei’s aging stripper is not the central character in The Wrestler but it’s a memorable one, especially when contrasted with Mickey Rourke’s aging wrestler. Both characters are seeing signs that it’s time to make a clean break. She manages to walk away by the end, getting a chance to see what else life has in store for her, even if the wrestler isn’t so lucky.

 

 

Sean

Footloose – My favourite scene in this movie is and will always be the tractor scene, which is one of the few in this movie not involving any dancing or head-bobbing at all.  Even before I saw the movie the soundtrack was part of my life – a kid on my bus had the soundtrack and insisted that the driver play it every single day.  Which would have been fine except that every day I heard the same two songs before my stop  so it got a little bit repetitive.  But the movie and especially the tractor scene are still great.

Black Swan – this movie is creepy and crazy and awesome.  I don’t even know how to describe it or do it justice.  It’s a must see and it’s about dancing so that works out really well.

 

 

House Party – it is because of this movie that I knew in 1990 who Kid ‘N Play were even though I housepartyhad never heard any of their songs.  It was everything a white kid needed to know about house parties and rap battles and b-boy dancing.  And everything I needed to hold a (brief) conversation with all the white kids in my high school rocking fades and Raiders hats and jackets.  We watched it recently and I really didn’t remember any of it but it’s fun and it has a few recognizable faces in addition to Kid ‘N Play, including both Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell, pre-Martin.

Jay

Sean doesn’t know how to describe why he likes Black Swan? Let me give it a try, and I only need two words: Lesbian sex. But sure, let’s call it “dancing.” I prefer “dancing” to dancing myself, but I am quite partial to Billy Elliot, that little scamp! I was a bit of a mean little knock-kneed ballerina myself, once upon a time, and I relate to the toe-tapping need to dance although admittedly I’m not much of an angry dancer these days. Angry baking? Sure. Angry showering? All the time. But dancing I save for the happy times.
Cuban Fury – Bruce (Nick Frost) was a child salsa prodigy but gave up the swivelling hips when bullies tore the sequins from his chest and taught him a valuable lesson in humility: salsa’s for pussies. He hasn’t danced in 25 years. He lives a lonely life, bullied at work by his manager Drewcubanfury (Chris O’Dowd). But then the office gets a new boss, Julie (Rashida Jones), who happens to be a dancer herself and suddenly his passion is reignited. All three of these people are comic heroes of mine, and the movie works purely on that level alone. But I also really love the atypical-dancer motif, which is only acknowledged by others in the film. Salsa may have you thinking more Antonio Banderas than Nick Frost (are you picturing Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley doing their Chippendales act right now?) but Frost does the legwork (and the foot work!) to make the dance come alive. Although I’m not sure I needed to see him wearing quite so many silk blouses, I’m a sucker for Latin music (and Latin music mixed tapes!), and I go absolute batshit crazy for a dance-off.

Waiting for Guffman – One of Christopher Guest’s genius mockumentaries, this one tells the tale of Corky St. Clair, a fabulous wannabe-Broadway director trapped in small-town Missouri, where he gets to put on a low-budget historical musical for the town’s anniversary. As usual, his talented cast mostly ad-lib their way through the movie, which makes for crazy good times, but guffmanmy favourite is when Christopher Guest is attempting to teach choreography to a bunch of bozos. Corky’s patented dance moves are irresistible and I dare you not to smile. Eugene Levy couldn’t do it – he had to be hidden way in the back during filming because every time Guest danced it would set him off into a fit of giggles that took too long to recover from. It’s so earnest and deadpan I don’t know how any of them ever make it through a scene – I know I never do.

Gotta Dance – This documentary follows a for-true-real experiment by the New Jersey Nets – one year they put together the NBA’s first-ever all-senior (as in citizens! 60+ and creaking hips all the way) hip-hop dance troupe. I suppose this is a pretty good counter-point to Matt’s documentary GottaDancePhoto1with the kids since this one introduces us to a crowd of people who thought their ship had sailed. Some are discovering dance for the first time, others have enjoyed a little soft shoe in the kitchen for so many years the linoleum’s worn out. Two of the troupe’s over-80 members are grandmothers of Nets cheerleaders, and their stories are among my favourites. We get to know all of them, including one dowdy school teacher who develops a Beyonce-like Sacha Fierce alternate ego for performing. They’re fun to watch, even as some let their 15 minutes go to their heads, but they’ve all got commendable energy and spirit…but when they’re out on the court at half-time with thousands of people half-paying attention as they pee and get hot dogs, will they even remember the moves? Or will the racy Jay-Z lyrics trigger seizures? Anything can happen, folks!

Bonus Pick: Happy Feet The songs are great and the feet are happy…and so am I when I’m watching this.
happyfeet

Ten Perfect Cinematic Moments

Fisti has put forth this brilliant challenge of telling what, for us, are our absolute favourite moments in film. Matt has already risen to the challenge and wrote beautifully and vividly about his own favourites, and if you’d like to read others’, then do check out the blogathon at A Fistful of Films. If you’re sticking around to read mine, please be warned that these inevitably include spoilers.

I wanted to pick that scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon, having previously asked a dude if he liked apples, pounds on the window, presses the phone number against it, and asks tumblr_mjhsd2PMYS1qfh4plo6_250“How do you like them apples?” because that’s a great scene. Great movie moment. But there’s another nugget in this movie that overshadows it, for me. It’s at the end, when Ben Affleck pulls up to Matt’s house, knocks on the door, and no one answers. We already know that Ben has always secretly hoped for this very thing: that one day his brilliant friend will disappear from his desultory life and chase the stars. So we know that Ben is happy, but we also know that he will inevitably also be sad, having just lost his best friend, and having no such escape route himself. It’s a very bittersweet moment where not a single word is spoken, but so much is said. All of this is communicated with just a slight grin, but the script and the director have set this moment up so perfectly that it plays on the audience’s emotions for all it’s worth. Love it.

As a little girl, I was fascinated by this movie I kept hearing about, E.T. I got the movie (VHS, baby!) one year for Christmas, probably a few years after its initial release, when it was age-e.t.appropriate. Almost the entire movie holds magic for me. This was the first movie that I remember wanting to watch and rewatch, and wanting to own so I could do just that. How do I pick just one moment? The Reese’s pieces, the glowing finger, “I’ll be right here”…and yet, for me, it was the moment Elliot’s bike first detaches from Earth. I can still almost feel the gulp in the pit of my stomach. One minute they’re riding along, etjust like I did around my own neighbourhood, both wheels kissing the ground, but then the next they’re gently pulling away, with wonder in their eyes, and in mine. That was the moment I realized that movies could tell stories. Made up, magical stories – that there was an infinite sea of possibility out there, not just in my own imagination, but in others’ as well (no, the alien hadn’t tipped me off, it was definitely the flying bikes).

There are a thousand movie lines that have become classic quotes and catch phrases, but I don’t think any have affected me quite as much as “Fasten your seat belts; it’s gonna be a bumpy night!” This is of course uttered by Queen Davis and it wouldn’t have spit forth from any tumblr_mkqpmybgVR1qgvdf9o1_500one else’s lips nearly so well. Bette Davis’s Margo in All About Eve was probably her crowning role, one she was born to play. It was released in 1950 so I missed seeing it in theatres. That famous line was part of our cultural lexicon by the time I was born. There was a time when I hadn’t yet seen All About Eve, but there was never a moment in my lifetime when that line didn’t mean something. Though I’ve seen the movie several times by now, no viewing will ever compare to the first time I heard that line out of Bette’s lips. The timing is perfect, the delivery classic. It darn near knocked my socks off.

I’m not sure if there’s one moment in Up that I can point to, rather it’s a point in myself, that moment when I’m sobbing uncontrollably, reaching for my 3rd or 4th tissue, and we’re not even tumblr_lmgeu8259I1qbbqf3o1_5005 minutes in. Very quickly into the film, there’s a fantastic montage that basically outlines a couple’s life together. Carl and Ellie meet as kids and have a life full of adventure, but also heartbreak. I love the scene of their wedding, where her side is cheering raucously, and his is sedate (remind you of anyone, Sean?). I love the painted hand prints on the mailbox. And I am totally in awe of what must be the first miscarriage hinted at in a Disney movie. It’s done with such tenderness and sensitivity that I always end up bawling. This montage is only a few minutes long but gives you such a sense of who they were (even though they’re fictional cartoons!) that you can’t help but be touched. Thistumblr_n83e5teqZc1tx9vazo1_500 movie obviously found its way into my heart, and at a time when I found myself falling in love, so I guess it’s no surprise that there’s an adventure book in my own home, and a soda bottle cap pin on my lapel, and a drawing of little Carl and Ellie on our wall, and that same drawing tattooed on my back. No matter how many times I watch this movie, I am always bowled over by the sweetness that goes along with the hilarious saltiness. I just love knowing that this is possible, that you can tell a story so purely that makes so many feel all the feelings.

I’m starting to feel like there’s a certain theme to my favourites here. Christopher Guest is one of my favourite directors, I love everything he’s ever done and I’m angry at him for not doing more. anigif_original-grid-image-17238-1417560457-14I might not be able to pick a favourite among his movies, but I can talk about this one scene from A Mighty Wind. Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy, two Guest regulars, are playing a folk duo who had a relationship and a successful career but watched both implode. Many years later, there’s still a lot of pain there, but they agree to perform together at a special show as the guests of honour. During their greatest hit, once a testament to their love, they pause to give each other a kiss, just like old times. Again, I have to say that this moment works so well because the director has paid his dues. The whole movie points to this very moment. I hate movies that grab cheaply for tears and admire those that earn them. This moment is played quietly but the emotional payoff is epic.

Wes Anderson is another favourite director of mine. I get absolutely giddy when I watch his creations. My favourite, and I do have one – it’s that good – is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Its ending is maybe Anderson’s finest work- the scene when the whole damn cast is crammed tumblr_na3habeFfy1r5c2fso1_500into a tiny submarine, and they finally, finally find the elusive jaguar shark. It’s great, no STUPENDOUS, because 1. Bill Murray cries 2. for a movie called The Life Aquatic, this is pretty much the only aquatic life we see c) Sigur Rós’ song “Starálfur” plays, and its beauty and melancholy are just perfection 4. the shark is a metaphor, but for what? In the end, Steve doesn’t kill the shark, because it’s too beautiful, and also for lack of dynamite. It could be no other way, but only the mind of Wes Anderson would know this. Gets me every time.

I think a few of our fellow bloggers already have Inception on their lists, rightfully I think, for the hallway scene. It’s pretty crazy. But I’m thinking more of the last shot of the movie- the fucking top. Do you remember watching that on the big screen for the first time? How it spun and spun, but will it fall? We have already been told what it means: as long as it continues to spin, he is inceptiondreaming. If it eventually topples over, he’s awake. In that famous last scene, we hope he’s awake, and yet the stupid think won’t fall. It keeps going, but – oh, is it about to fall? No. But surely it must be close. Isn’t it faltering? Not quite. But it’s slowing down, right? It’s a simple top, but it manages to create a thick, greasy layer of tension is a theatre that’s already exhausted. And then, brilliantly, director Christopher Nolan cuts to black, so we are left to wonder, or perhaps to make our own judgement call, given the other facts of the movie. Is he or isn’t he? It was a perfect way to end the movie, and it was THE water-cooler topic for weeks. It made us question the nature of reality, and whether ‘reality’ was really the important thing anyway – maybe happiness and emotional connection are reality enough. Christ. I’m twitterpated all over again just writing about it!

The Broken Circle Breakdown is a film out of Belgium that shows the growth of a relationship between two bluegrass singers. The film goes back and forth, with sporadic scenes of courtship, brokencirclelove, marriage, babies, and breakdown. We know that their beloved daughter falls ill (cancer) and we know that the couple ends up in a very dark place, but glimpses of the kid are elusive. It feels like a real game of cat and mouse, trying to piece together what has happened to this family, but you’ve come to love them and you root for them like mad, so the scene where we finally know for sure that the kid is dead JUST FUCKING SLAYS ME.

Almost the whole of Big Fish could make this list, but I’m going to focus on the part where Billy tumblr_nj2bmiq8xQ1roe2pqo2_r2_250Crudup is carrying his dying father in his arms down tho the water, and I’m going to try (and fail) to write this without tears. His whole life, his father has told him tall tales, which has bred distance and resentment between father and son. Only as his father lies dying does he come to understand that these stories are a legacy, a version of immortality, never so important as when death is knocking on one’s door. When father istumblr_nj2bmiq8xQ1roe2pqo8_r2_250 incapacitated, son tells the final story: how he brings him down to the river to be bid adieu by all the fantastic characters that he’s known along the way, to finally pass into the arms of his beloved wife, and to finally become what he always was – a very big fish. I find it very moving and inspiring. Isn’t this what death should look like? Fuck heaven. Tim Burton knows how to do death right.

I read the book, pilfered from my grandfather’s collection, when I was far too young, but The Godfather is so goddamned good that it impressed me even then. The movies offer a whole godfatherplethora of perfect moments, but I’m taking mine from the second one, where Al Pacino delivers the kiss of death. As Michael leans in to kiss his brother Fredo’s cheek, he whispers “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!” Fredo doesn’t die in that scene, but we all know he’s as good as – he’s marked. He’s always been the Corleone family’s weakest link, but now we know for sure that Michael is the strongest. There’s something a little Judas-y about being betrayed by a kiss, something halfway between forgiveness and vengeance that really paints Michael as a complex man and leader. This kiss gives me chills.