WAITING FOR GUFFMAN - LOST HIGHWAY
PRIVATE PARTS - SUBURBIA - DONNIE BRASCO
WAITING FOR GUFFMAN
In "Waiting For Guffman", Christopher Guest stars as Corky St. Clair, an expatriate Broadway performer relocated to the American heartland of Blaine, MO. Corky, because of his showbiz background and his Blaine productions of "Barefoot in the Park" and "Backdraft", is given the opportunity to put on the biggest show of his life - the production of "Red, White and Blaine", commemorating the town's sesquicentennial (150th year) anniversary.
Corky scours the town for the talent he needs to put his vision up on the stage, casting Dr. Pearl, the dentist (Eugene Levy), travel agents Ron and Sheila Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine OHara) - who proudly proclaim they've never left Blaine - Dairy Queen counter girl Libby Mae Brown (Parker Posey), a mechanic (Matt Keeslar), and a retired taxidermist (Lewis Arquette) as the players in his production.
"Waiting For Guffman" chronicles the trials and tribulations encountered by the plucky little theater group as they all pitch in to help Corky realize his dream and possible recognition from the mysterious Guffman.
"Waiting For Guffman" owes a lot to Rob Reiner's 1984 mock rockumentary, "This Is Spinal Tap". Chris Guest helped in the development of that project, creating the band and the memorable musical buffoon, Nigel Tufnel, who Guest still portrays on stage.
Guest uses the same mockumentary technique and turns it on small town America, in this case the fictional town of Blaine, MO, whose founders thought they were near the Pacific Ocean when they set down their stakes. The result is a charming and funny little look into the production of a community play in semi-rural America.
Guest, as Corky St. Clair, is a dynamo of enthusiasm, if not talent, who imbues this enthusiasm to the members of the cast of "Red, White and Blaine". The cast, starring Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine OHara and the omnipresent Parker Posey, are solid as the small town residents who have something to say and Corky provides them with a venue for that expression. (Eugene Levy, as Dr. Pearl, auditions with his goofy rendition of "Buba Made A Kishka", representative of the light, charming comedy of the whole film.)
The film starts with the plan to celebrate Blaine's 150th anniversary, commemorating, among other things, the town's founding, a visit by President McKinley which prompted the town folk to declare Blaine the Stool Capital of the World (wooden stools, not the other kind), and a 1946 UFO sighting that predates Roswell.
With this ambitious play ready to go, the casting selection begins, with many of the town's folk showing up to display their diverse talents in a way that has a genuine small town feel. The veteran ensemble film cast play their roles with a goofy charm that suits Corky's enthusiasm.
Finally, the play itself turns out to be anything but a Hollywood-style production. Guest keeps the play in the community spirit with all the cast portraying their roles as you would expect from a dedicated, hardworking group of people, giving their time and talent to their community, a community they obviously care about.
I felt good after watching "Waiting For Guffman", and that ain't a bad way to feel about a movie. I give it a B.
In 'Waiting for Guffman', director, co-writer and star Christopher Guest is Corky St. Clair, a closet homosexual living in Blaine, Missouri with delusions of Broadway grandure.
It's the town's 150th anniversary and Corky is producing "Red, White, and Blaine," a musical history of Blaine's founding, its stature as the stool capital of the world, and a 1946 UFO encounter. Corky is doing everything from garnering talent from the local community to making costumes. He ropes in a singing dentist (co-writer Eugene Levy), Blaine's travel agents who've never left the town - Ron and Sheila Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara) and a Dairy Queen counter girl (Parker Posey) among others.
'Waiting for Guffman' was shot without a script in pseudo documentary fashion and pieced together from 60 hours of material. We follow Corky's travails keepting his talent, raising money, going through bouts of depression which he must be coaxed out of, and his firm belief that if he can get a Broadway scout known as Guffman to see their show, they'll all be Broadway bound.
Guest is the best thing in this slight, sometimes strained, but often quite funny film. Parker Posey also has a highlight performing the Doris Day song "Teacher's Pet." The film goes out on a high note, as Corky explains his collection of show business memoribilia made up of such things as 'My Dinner With Andre' action figures.
After a 4 year absence, director David Lynch returns with "Lost Highway," a nightmarish rumination on identity, good and evil, love and betrayal. Bill Pullman is Fred Madison, a sax player who's overly jeolous of his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette). They begin to receive videotapes of them inside their home and then a Mystery Man (Robert Blake) tells Fred he's met him at his home. After viewing the last videotape, which shows him and another man in his bedroom with his butchered wife, Fred is convicted of her murder. One day a mechanic, Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) is found in Fred's place and is released. Pete doesn't know what's happened, but he returns to his job at Arnie's garage only to become entangled with the girlfriend (also Patricia Arquette) of his best customer, Mr. Eddie (Robert Loggia).
'Lost Highway' is Lynch's best work since his masterpiece, 'Blue Velvet.' Some may find it maddening, however, as the story is anything but linear. For those willing to try something different, 'Lost Highway' has a lot to offer.
One can find many interpretations in this film, but certainly no answers. Only Pete's parents seem to know what's happened, and they refuse to tell him. Is the mystery man God or Satan or neither? Maybe someone should capture all the prominently featured numbers (addresses, motel room doors, prisoner's ID) and see if there's a code to be cracked!
The film is genuinely creepy. A real sense of dread builds in the initial sequence as the suspicious and jeolous Bill Pullman (looking amazingly like Kyle Maclachlan) watches the videotapes his zoned-out impossible to read wife brings in from the front steps. Lynch's visuals are extraordinary. A roaring fireplace startles in its heightened intensity, our heroes heads vibrate horrifically a la 'Jacob's Ladder,' and a flaming cabin in the desert implodes into normalcy. We're always being reminded that these characters are being observed - the Madisons living room has a huge skylight and they live 'right next to the observatory,' there's an open grid over Fred's jail cell and Pete is tailed by the cops. But it's the Mystery Man who apparently sees all and Robert Blake has achieved new levels of weirdness with his red gash of a mouth and kabuki makeup.
Lynch always pays as much attention to sound in his films as he does to his visuals. The film opens with a rushing yellow median strip on a dark highway while David Bowie sings 'I'm Deranged' over the retro title credits. The heightened ambient sound, a Lynch trademark, adds to the feeling of unease. A porno movie starring Arquette's Alice blares over the action as Pete and Alice's robbery scheme results in a gruesome death-by-coffetable. The wild climatic sex scene in the desert is backed by a rush of industrial clatter and screeching wind.
The film offers a few handfuls of humor as well, particularly when Robert Loggia's Mr. Eddie goes on a rampage after a tailgater.
Featured in cameo roles are Richard Pryor, the late Jack Nance ('Eraserhead'), Marilyn Manson and Henry Rollins.
David Lynch is not a filmmaker that appeals to all, or, even, many tastes. His best work, "Blue Velvet" is about the closest Lynch has come to telling a linear story, and that was not exactly simple storytelling. (I'm talking about Lynch films, not "The Elephant Man" or "Dune", where he was a hired gun.)
In "Lost Highway", Lynch asks the viewer to REALLY suspend disbelief as he tells a story of duality, inexplicable body swaps and oodles of Lynchian minimalism, plus a damn good score.
Bill Pullman, who Lynch shoots, suspiciously, to bear a strong resemblance to Lynch regular Kyle McClachlan - this seemed weird - plays sax player, Fred Madison, a man in conflict over his wife, who may or may not be having an affair. Suddenly, they find video tapes on their doorstep that were obviously were made, in the house, without their knowledge. The brutal murder of Freds wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette) ends in his conviction of murder and sentence to death. Then, things get weird!
Fred, in his cell, all of a sudden becomes Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), an auto mechanic, who can't explain the sudden change. Lynch doesn't bother to tell us how the swap took place, either, so all you can do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
For Lynch fans, "Lost Highway" is a terrifically complex film that will requires much thought, analysis, and repeated viewing. God help me when Laura gets this on laser disk.
For non-Lynch fans, but avid filmgoers, it's an interesting, sinister look into the psyche of dual existence, possibly dual personality. Robert Blake, as the Mystery Man, is a spooky presence that enhances the inherent sinister undercurrent that carries all through the film.
Acting is erratic, although that may be the stilted dialogue that Lynch sometimes uses as his expression of arty dialogue. I like Balthazar Getty, who plays Pete in a clueless way that is appealing. Patricia Arquette is interesting a Alice, but mis-acts or is mis-directed as the murdered Renee, again due to the stilted dialogue. Bill Pullman approaches bad, looking blankly at the camera most of the time.
I have to strongly advise that "Lost Highway" is NOT for the populist viewer. It is a complex, sometimes confusing, film from a director who marches to his own tune.
I have to admire the guy and give it a B.
From the media hype we've been hearing for the past several months, the latest event in Hollywood moviedom, eclipsing even George Lucas "Star Wars" juggernaut, is upon us. Howard Sterns long-awaited bio-pic, "Private Parts", is in the theaters and he is waiting for his fans to descend upon the local multiplex.
Telling Stern's life story, to date, the pic begins with 7-year old Howard showing the first inkling of interest in broadcast radio, following him through high school and college, then through the five radio stations he worked in over the years, culminating in his leap to the number one radio talk show in the United States.
"Private Parts", for a non-Howard Stern fan, turns out to be a mildly amusing look at the life-to-date of the self-proclaimed King of All Media. Mainly, the story consists of the episodic events of Howard's life - breaking in to radio, meeting and marrying his mate-for-life, his climb up the media ladder, culminating in his acquiring the status of the top talk show host in America.
Mildly amusing, yes, but not enough to change my mind about Stern. It certainly is not going to make me a fan. It is also one of the more extreme examples of ego fulfillment I've seen on film. Stern tries to have it both ways as he plays up his over the top radio persona - interviewing the first on air naked women, for example - and how, deep down inside, he's just a loving husband and nice family man. The result, with the exception of the radio show scenes, tends to be rather bland.
To the filmmakers' credit, the execution of the story, such as it is, is professional. Betty Thomas and company work hard to keep things paced properly and amusing from beginning to end. Using a Woody Allen-style voice over, Stern describes the events of his growing up, help to speed the process up a little bit. Woody does it better.
Smartly, Stern and director Thomas use Sterns real-life radio crew as themselves. Robin Quivers, Fred Norris, Jackie Martling, and Gary DellAbate, all longtime members of Sterns on-air family, help to make the radio show scenes the tightest parts of the film.
Fans of Stern and his show aren't going to be shown anything they don't already know about their King. Non-fans may learn something about Sterns rise to fame, but, with the sugar-coated telling, he's not bound to win many converts.
"Private Parts" is fair. I give it a C+. I could almost give a B- for one scene involving a kielbasa.
The primary point of "Private Parts" seems to be that Howard's feeling misunderstood and that he loves his wife Alison even though he now has plenty of opportunities to cheat on her. Egotistical? Yes. Funny? Well, mostly, yes.
The high points of "Private Parts" mostly involve Stern's attempts to rile his bosses by being as outrageous as possible, mostly by pushing sexual buttons. After Stern's told off, he develops a sketch that allows him and his cohorts (Robin Quivers, Fred Norris and Jackie Martling, all playing themselves) to say all 7 words banned by the FCC on the air.
When his boss takes him off the air as he's cavorting with his first fully nude guest, Stern takes the on-air broadcast into his boss's (affectionately referred to as 'pig vomit') office and manages to get two NBC executives into a physical brawl. In his early days, he's the first black female copter traffic reporter, spouting 'Kill the white man.' On air sex, women fellating kielbasa, lots of lesbian references and Stern's always taunting call letter announcement add to the circus-like atmosphere.
When Stern's not actually doing his job, however, he's trying to be the Rocky of shock jocks. He's a nerdy college guy who overcomes his pathetic early gigs to triumph in DC and finally take on New York. He gets the girl. He really doesn't tell you much that you probably don't already know about him, except for the fact that his shock tactics are definitely an act. We're also heavily dosed by Stern's voice, an Alan Alda-ish nasal drone that can become tiresome.
"Private Parts" is evenly directed by Betty Thomas ("The Brady Bunch") and features a solid soundtrack featuring AC/DC. How long will it be before "Miss America," Stern's second book, follows?
Adapted from his own play by Eric Bogosian and directed by Richard Linklater, "subUrbia" is the tale of a bunch of aimless twenty-somethings who hang at a local convience store at a strip mall in Burnfield, Texas. In the course of one fateful evening, Jeff, Tim and Buff are met by Jeff's girlfriend Sooze, who's excited because an old high school chum, Pony, who's made it big in the music industry, has promised to stop by for a visit. Jeff feigns disinterest, Buff gets drunk and looks for sex, Tim harrasses the Pakistani store owners and Sooze's girlfriend Bee-Bee tries to avoid the ever-present alcohol. When Pony shows up in a limo with his publicist Erica (indie darling Parker Posey), a chain of events is set off that will impact all but the too-dense Buff.
"surbUrbia" features a terrific ensemble cast. Steve Zahn ("That Thing You Do") is particularly outrageous as Buff, a guy with a minimum wage job who's only ambition in life is to hang outside the local convenience store, drink, and score chicks. Amie Carey is the most animated and optimistic of the bunch as Sooze, an aspiring performance artist - Carey was discovered playing the role in a school production of the play. Nicky Katt's scary as the dark, somewhat insightful, violent and racist veteran who's sport is antagonizing the Pakistani store owner. Dina Spybey brings melancholy to her role as a recovering alcoholic.
The pairing of gen-x director Linklater ("Dazed and Confused") and angry writer/performer Bogosian ("Talk Radio") is a surprisingly good one. "suBUrbia" is a film that doesn't always go where you think it will which is refreshing in today's outpouring of unoriginal Hollywood product. There is a nicely balanced mixture of humor and horror, from Buff's soliloquy/dream of getting high and having sex with a leather clad vixen all day and night while watching "Gilligan's Island" to the shop keeper's final, tortured cry 'You're throwing it all away!'
Shot on location in Austin, "subUrbia" spends an involving two hours showcasing an evening spent with a group of people bound by their similarities whose differences send them away in the morning with vastly changed agendas.
Richard Linklater once again uses his signature storytelling - young Americans, at a crossroad in their lives, coming together for a night, with dawn finding them changed. He is such a talented young director that he makes this story telling technique work, so far at least. I can vouch for his previous works, "Before Sunrise" and "Dazed and Confused", with "subUrbia" bearing the closest kinship to "Dazed...".
Linklater combines good dialogue and characters, by Eric Bogosian (Talk Radio), with a talented young cast of mostly unknowns - the queen of the independents, Parker Posey, and Steve Zahn ("That Thing You Do!") are the exceptions. Linklater takes good advantage of the synergy of an ensemble cast, allowing the young actors to deliver realistic performances. Especially funny is Steve Zahn as Buff, a twenty-something slacker fast approaching full blown alcoholism, but has not a clue. He enjoys life from one beer to the next, has no future prospects and doesn't care. He's just an amiable idiot.
The rest of the cast represent various other human qualities. Jeff (Giovanni Ribisi) has an intense sense of idealism always being questioned by the cynical Tim (Nicky Katt), an Air Force drop-out taking a conscious track toward alcoholism, while living on his government allotment. Pony (Jayce Bartok) is a local boy become rock star and catalyst for the nine characters coming together on this particular night, also offering hope for artistic success to Sooze (Amie Carey), the dreamer. Rounding off the cast are a hard working young Pakistani couple (Ajay Naidu and Samia Shoaib), who own the convenient store that is the stage for most of the story, and a young woman lost in her own despair (Dina Spybey).
Linklater keeps things moving and varied, taking the action, briefly, away from the corner, giving the ensemble something to do besides just hang out. Bogosian's script suits Linklater's storytelling style. Good ensemble cast help things along, too.
Director Mike Newell, best known for his work in "Four Weddings and a Funeral", takes on the American Mafia in "Donnie Brasco", the screen adaptation of the 1989 memoir by former FBI undercover agent, Joe Pistone.
Starring Al Pacino as Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero, a low-level mob soldier who takes newcomer, Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp), under his wing, introducing him to the inner workings of the Mafia families in New York City. Unbeknownst to Lefty, Donnie is a deep cover FBI agent, assigned to infiltrate the mob and report his findings to his Bureau keepers.
Agent Pistone, a family man, must walk a treacherous tightrope between being assimilated into the gangster lifestyle and preserving the life, and family, he had before going under cover.
I was, initially, surprised that Mike Newell was selected to helm "Donnie Brasco". His "Four Weddings..." and "Into the West" were funny and lyrical, respectively, but not the kind of backgound youd expect of the director of a film about the mob. But, going back a few years, we find that he also directed the noir film, "Dance With A Stranger", about the last woman executed in Britian. His eclectic talents are, in fact, suited quite well for "Donnie Brasco".
"Donnie Brasco" is a blue collar gangster film that does more to dig into the inner workings of the mob than either "The Godfather" or "Good Fellas". Those films, classics both, deal with the mob on a glitzy, larger-than-life level. "Donnie Brasco" deals with the working class aspects of mob life, personified by Al Pacino as Lefty, a low ranking member of the Bonanno crime family who aspires for higher status in the family, but just doesnt have what it takes.
Enter Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp), a smart, talented young guy, interested in joining the family, but not pushy about it. He shows Lefty respect and values his many opinions, eventually getting his mob friend to introduce Donnie to the powers that be in gangland hierarchy - an introduction that culminates, following years of deep cover infiltration by Brasco/Pistone, in the fall of a major New York City crime organization.
This break, by the FBI, into the mob is just the catalyst for the real stories told in "Donnie Brasco". The main story is about the relationship that develops between Donnie and Lefty. All the while, Donnie knows he is, ultimately, setting up his friend for a big fall, but does all he can to try to save Lefty from mob vengeance.
Pacino gives his best performance in years as Lefty. He has shrugged his recent, patented, over-the-top manic performances, such as "Heat", for a much more subtle, sensitive (for a Mafia hitman) turn as a man who just wants respect and advancement, making the mistake of picking the wrong person as his protege.
Depp fairs quite well opposite Pacino, going toe to toe with the more experienced thesp, convincing me of his growing affection for the older man. This makes the inevitable betrayal all the more gut-wrenching for both Donnie, and the viewer.
The other, secondary, story revolves around Agent Pistone's home life. Or, should I say, the lack of home life. As Pistone goes under cover, he estranges himself from his home and marriage. Anne Heche, playing his embattled wife, Maggie, takes what is normally called the "thankless wife role" and puts enough strength into her character to avoid the stereotype that might have been under less assured acting and direction.
Supporting cast, including Michael Madsen and Bruno Kirby, flesh out the background without stepping on the toes of the main characters.
Attention to the details of mob life, day to day, are nicely handled, with Pacino giving an ongoing tutorial on "how to be a wiseguy" to Depp, showing the younger man the ropes of being a member of the mob. The explanation of the term "fuggetaboutit" is handled in a funny, but meaningful, manner.
A blue collar gangster movie that succeeds on all attempted levels, particularly acting.
"Al Pacino is just great in "Donnie Brasco." His Lefty is the opposite of Michael Corleone's dignified Don - a third tier mobster with 26 hits under his belt and nothing to show for it except the prospect of an ugly retirement. He's been called the 'Willy Loman' of the Mafia and it's an apt description. His eagerness to take on Donnie Brasco as his protege is more touching than anything else - a hope to get noticed by his colleagues and the possiblity of an emotional replacement for his own drug-addicted son.
Depp is also fine as the conflicted FBI guy who discovers his sensibilities are more in tune with the mob. The family man slowly becomes a dark loner desparately trying to figure out how to save Lefty from the fate he's brought him. His conundrum is interesting - to succeed in his mission he must act like the people he's tasked to bring down. When Brasco is in imminent danger of having his cover blown some quick thinking on his part results in the brutal beating of a Japanese restaurant owner. "Donnie Brasco" presents this dichotomy far better than the similarly themed "Rush" of a few years back.
Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral") creates his own style of gangster film - this is the street Mafia, not the glamorized mob of Coppola or the slickly hep goons of Scorsese (although there is one particularly revolting scene which definitely recalls Scorsese). In Newell's drab, gray world, the local boss (played with surprising restraint but authority nonetheless by Michael Madsen) gets annoyed by the banging noises Lefty's making trying to break open parking meters for the quarters inside. Lefty's wardrobe alone underlines the differences - he's a schlemiel in ill-fitting jogging suits.
The most ironic thing about "Donnie Brasco" is that both Lefty and Agent Pistone/Brasco get fairly equivalent treatment from their respective organizations. As Lefty sadly observes, 'even a dog gets his warm spot on the sidewalk.'
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