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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Guest & Crew Deliver Again

by Jan Stetter/QCFMag.com

For Your Consideration is Christopher Guest’s latest production and collaboration with Eugene Levy. Both as writers and actors, these two men showcase their talent in this comedy. Guest departs from the mockumentary film genre yet the movie has the familiar mark of Guest combining lunacy with reality and coming up with one cerebral comedy.

Once again the talented cast of myrmidons from previous Guest films gather together to spoof Hollywood and all the hoopla that surrounds the Oscar Awards. Four actors filming a movie set in the South in the 1940’s are all vying for an Oscar nomination after hearing that lead actress, Marilyn Hack played by Catherine O’Hara has been favored as an Oscar contender. The film, Home For Purim is a hokey pretext to introduce these self-absorbed actors. It also serves to introduce us to the rest of the ensemble cast who so naturally caricatures all the beautiful “IT People” who sell a Hollywood movie.

It is fun to pick out the ingenious veterans of this film. Jane Lynch, as a TV Hollywood Now! anchor, gives an understated performance that balances the over the top antics of Now! co- anchor Fred Willard. A testament to the chameleon talent of these actors is Jennifer Cooleridge, who conspicuously plays a clueless blonde with power. Sporting a cropped haircut Larry Miller, as Syd Finkelman plays a studio exec whose job it is to convince the movie’s production company to tone down this epic film’s “Jewishness”.

In the span of this film Catherine O’Hara goes from mature film actress to playing an aging, Jewish, dying matriarch on film and then revealing her hip Hollywood botoxed self while promoting the film on all of the talk show circuits; only to be seen the day after the Academy Awards as a drunken disheartened Oscar-less actress who later turns Acting Maven using her superior “acting chops” to enlighten younger, hopeful underlings.

Harry Shearer is the superannuated actor who hopes Home For Purim will revitalize his meager film career and save him from being the pitch wiener (er pitch man) for a national hot dog chain. Ed Begley Jr. convinces us he’s a heterosexual happily married Hollywood gay make up artist; as does Parker Posey present herself as a marginal comedienne trying to crossover into films.

Anybody who is a fan of anyone of these actors will enjoy this movie. If all this sounds crazy enough to be plausible then run don’t walk to see this farcical film, For Your Consideration.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ferrell Departure a Success

Cast, director weave great story into good premise
by Jan Stetter/QCFMag.com
Stranger Than Fiction is an entertaining movie about a mild mannered IRS employee who lives his life in a comfortable fashion, counting his way to each new day.
Will Ferrell plays Harold Crick who counts his toothbrush strokes, the steps to get from his door to the bus line, and the obligatory moments he takes for his daily work break.
His life is neither here nor there. Until one day he hears a voice narrating his numeric existence.
Only he can hear this English accented voice spoken by Emma Thompson, who plays author Kay Eiffel, as she types the details of Harold Crick’s character. Crick is the protagonist in her latest novel—which makes for an entertaining movie premise.

It works due to the talents of director Marc Forster, who himself has a successful film career. He directed the whimsical Finding Neverland and the stark Monster’s Ball. He encourages his actors to define their roles as if they really do live in their characters’ shoes. An element of sweet self-realization for Harold Crick and his tentative moving beyond his calculated comfort zones is examples. Emma Thompson’s refusal to wear makeup for the movie to reflect her character’s recluse nature, and Dustin Hoffman’s quirky performance as a literary authority who is a college professor and faculty life guard makes this movie very pleasurable.

In another instance, Mr. Forster encourages Maggie Gyllenhaal, Harold’s female love interest Ana Pascal, to abandon her contempt for her nemesis, the Tax Man. She is presented as an intelligent, bohemian, café owner who is rebel enough to withhold a percentage of her taxes to show her disapproval of government spending. This action confounds Harold as much as Ana is dumbfounded by Harold’s loyalty to his job and lack of pretense. It is this dynamic that makes us care about these two people. We know people who are uptight and live by the letter of the law and those who are unabandoned and free spirited.

This story could have been successful as a simple love story or even a quaint film about human nature without the vehicle of fantasy mingling with reality. Who could go wrong with the supporting actors who carry this film? It’s as if each one serves to endear them to the heart of this movie.

This movie has heart. And there lies the discomfiture. People going to Stranger Than Fiction expecting a laugh-out-loud performance by Will Ferrell will be seriously disappointed—as that is how the movie is being promoted. Why don't distributors of these movies let the story speak for itself?
Maybe that would be stranger than fiction.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Britain's Two New Offerings

'Mum' & The Queen reflective of class
by Jan Stetter/QCFMag.com

This week’s review is about two British movies playing in theatres. What is nice about reviewing two movies from the same country is the feel for the social decorum of the British from the Royal Family to the minister’s family.

Keeping Mum is a play on words and an appropriate title for this British comedy. It is about a modern day Vicar’s family and the universal monotony and familiarity experienced in marriage.

Remembering the importance of reconnecting with one’s family is given extra attention through the delightful antics of Maggie Smith. She plays a sweet, unassuming house maid whose meddling effects the family’s shortcomings and frustrations. Her dark past comes back to intervene and keep this family together.

Kristen Scott Thomas plays the unfulfilled wife teetering on the brink of an affair with her American Golf instructor. Patrick Swayze is hilarious as the mean, lean Lothario. Kudos to his comic timing and performance. In another surprise performance Rowan Atkinson (universally known as Mr. Bean) plays a serious, intellectual man of the cloth. What this family lacks in unity is rediscovered through the misguided comical transgressions of Maggie Smith’s character. This movie was a delight.

In proper British fashion, propriety prevails over self-gratification in both movies. In the movie The Queen, Helen Mirren plays the current head of England’s monarchy. This movie begins as the new Prime Minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) has been elected to his position. The fatal car crash killing England’s beloved Diana, dubbed the princess of the people, occurred shortly after Blair’s election.

So begins this movie and the account of the days following the princess’ death and the recrimination towards the Royal Family in their dilatory response of Diana’s untimely fate. If an Oscar could be awarded on just the ability to look like the person one is presenting, then Helen Mirren would win hands down. She also brings much more subtle similarities to her performance. Mirren’s controlled expression and modulated speech revealing little emotion in acknowledging the tragedy of Diana’s death for her countrymen was magnificent.

If you are a fan of the Royal Family or a quixotic admirer of Princess Diana this movie will shed some light on this famous family’s dynamics. In a compassionate story detailing the way in which Queen Elizabeth mourned and acknowledged her former daughter-in law’s demise; Helen Mirren shows us the integrity of the English Royal Sovereignty and the lack of awareness of her people’s devotion and grief in Dianna’s passing.

This movie pulls no punches in excusing the overdue acknowledgement by the Queen of Diana who was adored by her entire country. Yet, it does serve to show how the Queen’s insulated upbringing and grooming left her to respond in the only way she knew how.

We walk away with a better understanding and a more tolerant view of the Queen. As I am sure, Helen Mirren will walk away with an Oscar for her portrayal of The Queen.