For a while there, we could set our watches to Christopher Guest's directorial schedule. Every three-and-a-half years, the mockumentarian would release another gem: Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration. All dry and satirical, all celebratory of their shared performers' mile-deep pools of talent, all unique. But the pattern halted after the latter, Oscar-mocking picture, leaving us without a cinematic Guest gem since 2006. But if he's just been spending all that time developing his new HBO comedy Family Tree, then we can probably forgive him. Especially since he's roping in the comedy world's new prince, Chris O'Dowd.
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The below trailer for the film lands Irish O'Dowd among Guest's usual clan of American, British, and American-feigning-British heroes, including Michael McKean, Jim Piddock, Ed Begley, Jr., Don Lake, Bob Balaban, and (the powerhouse) Fred Willard. Will the rest of the troupe show up for the program? Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey? We can hope... but for now, we're just pleased with what we're already seeing:
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[Photo Credit: Ray Burmiston/HBO]
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As with Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman writers Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy delve into an another world seldom seen--in this case it's the world of folk singing. No not the folk music of Bob Dylan or Joan Baez but the countrified sappy kind whose popularity was at its height in the 1960s. The film starts when folk promoter Irving Steinbloom passes away leaving behind a legacy of music and a family of performers. His son Jonathan (Bob Balaban) decides the most fitting way to honor his father's memory is to organize a reunion concert with some of Steinbloom's best-loved musicians including: Musical genius Mitch (Levy) and his muse Mickey (Catherine O'Hara) the star-crossed duo whose music epitomized young love until circumstances tear them apart; the classic trio The Folksmen (Guest Michael McKean and Harry Shearer) whose records such as Hitchin' and Pickin' were endlessly entertaining for anyone able to punch a hole in the center to play them; and The New Main Street Singers lead by marrieds Terry (John Michael Higgins) and Laurie (Jane Lynch) Bohner a regrouping of the classic '60s group who became the most meticulously color-coordinated "neuftet" to hit the scene. Now for one night only in New York City's Town Hall these three groups will reunite and gather together to celebrate the music that almost made them famous.
The old gang is back and everyone is in fine form. Guest McKean and Shearer turn 360 degrees from their Spinal Tap personas as the insipid Folksmen but it's obvious these old friends know how to work the mostly-improvised material. As do Higgins and Lynch who get to do something completely different from their roles in Best in Show. As Terry and Laurie they certainly have a skewed view towards life living by the doctrines of W.I.N.C. (Witches in Nature's Colors) and Higgins and Lynch play it for all its worth. As the sensitive reclusive--and completely insane--Mitch Levy offers up a performance almost completely devoid of his usual funny mannerisms that is perfectly complimented by O'Hara as the second half of the estranged Mitch and Mickey. The best-performance award however goes to usual straight man Balaban who turns in the funniest bits as neurotic obsessive-compulsive Jonathan. The only sour note is Fred Willard whose portrayal of The New Main Street Singers' obnoxious manager Mike LaFontaine is unfortunately just obnoxious and not up to par with the rest of the cast.
Director Christopher Guest has certainly defined and cemented the mockumentary genre and with A Mighty Wind he adds to his already impressive canon. The film uses the same structure as Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show in that the story is centered around and culminates in a single public event. Yet Wind lacks the emotional fireworks the previous films possessed. Primarily most of the characters seem on the same note without much arc in their development rather than being wildly diverse. When they come together in the end it's almost anticlimactic. In that respect Wind is closer to a true documentary rather than a satirized version of one and it makes for a less fulfilling comedic experience. Sure there are plenty laugh-out-loud moments but it's not sustained. It also seems that some aspects of the movie never made it out of the editing room such as the whole back story regarding the original and current Main Street Singers that goes largely unexplored and unexplained. Perhaps the DVD release of Wind will give us a glimpse at what we missed.
It's a very light week in role call land. What a shame--there's not one sexy star I can talk about (trust me, this is a problem here at Hollywood.com). But I do have the freakish pop singer/superstar category covered. Honestly, what is wrong with Michael Jackson? Boy, I'd really like to go into it, but there's too much to talk about and I just don't have time. Let's focus on the casting choices he's made for his new video "You Rock My World" for now. He's snagged Marlon Brando (who replaces Robert De Niro), some of the cast from The Sopranos, Benicio Del Toro and Chris Tucker to play some parts, and I just have one question--what do you think Jackson did to entice talent like that? Maybe he's paying them buckets of money. Maybe they feel sorry for him. Nevertheless, Jackson, whose career is really taking a turn for the worse with spiraling record sales and little public interest, has decided to return to his glory days by producing this $30 million video, jam-packed with big names--basically making up for a pretty average pop tune none of the radio stations want to play. It's sad, really.
Director and special-effects aficionado James Cameron has decided to concentrate on comic books--and once again, water--for his next project. He will be developing a live-action version of the comic book Fathom, which follows a beautiful young girl named Aspen Matthews. Aspen is found on an abandoned yacht with no memory of her past. Don't you just hate that? You're on a yacht, you're having fun and then--wham! You forget everything. But I digress... The girl grows up, becomes an Olympic swimmer and a marine biologist. During her research she discovers not only a mysterious underwater race but her own water-based powers. This is right up Cameron's alley; he simply loves the water, doesn't he? With his films The Abyss and Titanic, he's getting a name for himself filming epic water adventures. He's even doing a series of underwater specials for ABC with the late Jacques Cousteau's son, Jean-Michel. Someday, I'll have to ask him what his fascination with the deep blue sea is.
Sammy Davis Jr. only wished he could have starred in the latest unbelievable script coming out of Hollywood. Take a gander at this: apparently, talent/literary house The Endeavor Agency has decided to get a little rat-happy. They are hawking a remake of the 1971 rodent-infested Willard written by Glen Morgan and writer-director James Wong. You remember Willard, don't you? That happy story about a socially persecuted young man who gets back at his co-workers with a blood-thirsty rat, starring Bruce Davison. Right. On Tuesday, the agency created a stir by sending the reworked spec script around town, in a cage--with rats. Now, tell me what studio executive is going to pass something like that up? DreamWorks principals Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg and Miramax co-chairmen Harvey and Bob Weinstein were among some of the recipients of the lovely "package." Where's the rat poison?
Michael Cimino is returning to the director's chair with a new project, Man's Fate, a drama set in Shanghai against the backdrop of the Chinese revolution. Based on French author Andre Malraux's novel La condition humaine (The Human Condition), the film follows several Europeans living in Shanghai and the emotional bonds they develop during the tragic turmoil of the onset of China's Communist regime. Cimino is looking at several A-list actors, including Johnny Depp, Daniel Day-Lewis, John Malkovich, Uma Thurman and French actor Alain Delon. Poor Cimino. His career started so big with the Academy Award-winning The Deer Hunter, but has been forever stamped with the ugly label of directing the classic textbook-case flop Heaven's Gate. He'll never be able to shrug this off, unless he directs another Oscar winner. Maybe Fate will be his ticket out of the Gate.
And in television...
Usually I stick with the movies, but this television role call caught my eye. Actress Juliette Lewis is going to make a guest appearance on ABC's Dharma & Greg, playing Jenna Elfman's childhood friend. Now, what the heck happened to Juliette Lewis? It used to be that when a movie actress started doing television, it meant their careers were going downhill. This isn't the case anymore, with the advent of cable and the quality of material being put on television. However, in Lewis' case, we may be looking at old times. If it were Friends or Fraiser, that would be one thing but Dharma & Greg? She came out like gangbusters when she started her career with Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, and especially in her heart-wrenching performance in Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear. But then came The Evening Star and The Other Sister, and, well, you see where I'm going. Lewis on Dharma & Greg is just an interesting step on what still could be a promising career--if she got a better agent.