Saturday, March 17, 2007

For Your Consideration

Early in “For Your Consideration” someone asks Eugene Levy’s character, Hollywood agent Morley Orfkin “Why are you here?” At that point in the film, I assumed that for Levy, the unspoken answer was, “To wash off the stink of all those ‘American Pie’ sequels.” Unfortunately, “For Your Consideration” won’t redeem his career. If anything, it’s a black mark on the once-bright Christopher Guest legacy.

For those not familiar with that legacy, Guest helped write 1984’s classic “This is Spinal Tap.” He was the “These go to eleven” guy in this mock documentary about a fading heavy metal band. Twelve years later he returned to the mockumentary format and made it his trademark with “Waiting for Guffman” (1996), a fake doc about a small-town theater troupe. He followed up with “Best in Show” (2000) and “A Mighty Wind” (2003), hilarious send-ups of dog show people and folk music, respectively. With his core group of actors including Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, and several others who appear in all his films, it seemed that Guest had the comedic Midas touch.

Conceptually, there is no reason “For Your Consideration” shouldn’t be completely hilarious. Catherine O’Hara plays Marilyn Hack, an aging C-list actress appearing in what promises to be yet another lame issue-movie-of-the-week. The film, “Home for Purim” is filled with obscure Jewish cultural references (like the holiday Purim). The characters mouth statements like “It’s a mitzvah” in a rural southern drawl, which is actually amusing for a while. The film is obviously headed for oblivion until some random internet blogger praises Marilyn Hack’s performance as Oscar-worthy. The film’s publicist, who at first isn’t even sure where to look for the blog (“The Internet is that thing with email, right?”) uses the comment to generate considerable Oscar buzz for the film and several of the actors. The big joke is that in tinseltown, a little bit of buzz goes a long way. Unfortunately, it’s a joke that never gets quite as funny as it should.

Maybe part of the problem with “For Your Consideration” is that these actors have just hammed it up one too many times. Instead of the over-the-top-yet-strangely –subtle performances they gave in the brilliant “Best in Show,” we get scenery-chewing at its most world-weary. Catherine O’Hara, in particular, looks strained in this film. After “Home for Purim” filming completes, her character gets botoxed, lip injected, and augmented to prep for Oscar season. It’s an old joke that is timely again due to the ridiculous cosmetic adventures of some modern actresses. Unfortunately, the mild amusement it creates in this film isn’t worth how hard it is to look at O’Hara’s face for the rest of the movie. Most of the other main players are equally lackluster. Eugene Levy just looks like a broken man. Maybe he can’t remember how to act opposite a character that isn’t named Stiffler.

During every previous Chris Guest movie, my face has hurt from laughing almost constantly. I went into “For Your Consideration” ready for some pain, but unfortunately, my face felt just fine by the end. There are funny moments, of course. Don Lake and Michael Hitchcock provide a bright spot as bickering film critics, and the Fred Willard/Jane Lynch Entertainment Tonight spoof is dead-on and dead-funny. Ricky Gervais does his thing as a studio exec (“Tone down the Jewishness.”), but as much as I like Gervais, his shtick was actually a bit out of place here.

I hope that high expectations aren’t making me judge this film too harshly, but I was completely disappointed. I’m not sure I would even recommend watching this on cable unless you have nothing else to do. All artists have their ups and downs. Let’s hope that for Guest and company, “For Your Consideration” proves to be a temporary low.

2 stars.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Early Bond

I was so impressed by the new Bond film that I put a bunch of the original ones on my Netflix queue. After watching “Dr. No” (1962) and “From Russia with Love” (1963), I think I may have been a little harsh on Connery’s Bond in my “Casino Royale” review. Connery did some fine work in these films. “Dr. No” in particular is spare, brutal, and cool. There is nothing cute about Bond in this film. The closest thing to gadgetry involves a detailed discussion of the merits of a .32 caliber Beretta (Bond’s preference) compared to a Walther PPK in .380, which of course is the gun he ultimately made famous. The dialog in “Dr. No” is also nice and spare, without the lame attempts at glibness that later defined the franchise.

“From Russia with Love” is also a fine Bond film, but with all due respect I feel that the cracks are already beginning to show here. While the dialog is mostly excellent, there are a few attempts to give Bond clever one-liners that just fall flat. After killing a SPECTRE agent who is armed with a poisoned blade in the toe of her shoe, Bond comments, “She had her kicks.” The problem with lines like this, in this film and in the other Bond films, is that they are so obviously intended to be noticed that they stop the flow of the story. They also aren’t usually funny. I prefer the more natural, but stylish, dialogue in the film. When Bond discovers, too late, that his supposed contact is actually a SPECTRE assassin, he recalls his adversary’s odd dinner choice and remarks, “Red wine with fish. Well that should have told me something.” The assassin replies, “You may know the right wines, but you're the one on your knees. How does it feel old man?”

Despite a few complaints, I am enjoying re-watching these old Bond films. “Goldfinger”, the third in the series should be on its way soon.