A MIGHTY WIND (Warner, 2003) D: Christopher Guest, w/ Michael McKean, Harry Shearer. Rating: NNNNN
why do i laugh harder at chris topher Guest's and Eugene Levy's improvised satirical ensemble comedies (Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show) on second, third and even fourth viewing than I do on the first? Do the jokes get funnier, or does the humanity of the characters deepen once we've seen their quirkiness? In A Mighty Wind, about the remnants of the commercial branch of the 60s folk music scene, a trio of groups join forces at a memorial concert for their manager. This film has been called the gentlest of the four parodies, but Spinal Tap is awfully affectionate toward its near-brain-dead protagonists as well. Though Rob Reiner is credited with directing Spinal Tap, it fits more comfortably in the subsequent Guest filmography than in Reiner's, both stylistically and in its deadpan tone.
A Mighty Wind has almost exactly the same cast as Guffman and Best In Show - McKean, Catherine O'Hara, Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Guest, Levy, Fred Willard - and along with their long-term rapport they share the idea that comedy is funniest when played absolutely seriously, as if no one in the movie were in on the joke.
There are one or two performances of genius in each of the films. Here, it's Bob Balaban as the single most anal-retentive human being on the planet.
Also worth noting is that A Mighty Wind reunites Spinal Tap's Harry Shearer, who wasn't in Guffman and was only a voice in Best In Show, with Guest and McKean in the Folksmen, the Kingston Trio-like group that in the 80s actually opened for Spinal Tap on occasion. That explains their assurance on their songs, which sound like authentic early 60s folk drivel. Listen closely to the title song.
This Warner Home Video release offers an excellent transfer and great extras.
DVD EXTRAS Half an hour of deleted scenes that are as funny as anything included in the film, complete performances of all the musical numbers, including a full 21-minute version of the memorial concert itself, without the backstage cutaways, the better to appreciate the near-perfect mockery of those Hey, Peter, Paul And Mary Aren't Dead Yet specials on PBS. Fictional musician biographies, and a Guest/Levy commentary. In the special features menu, press the "right" button on your remote and a guitar string will light up. It's an Easter egg - a couple of behind-the-scenes gags and other things.
CONFIDENCE (Lions Gate, 2003) D: James Foley, w/ Edward Burns, Rachel Weisz. Rating: NNN
this is a good, though not great, con game movie with an insanely elaborate plot (it makes The Spanish Prisoner look like a sitcom) and a spectacular supporting cast. Andy Garcia plays an enigmatic federal agent, Donal Logue and Luis Guzmán play bent L.A. cops, and we get a spectacularly baroque turn by Dustin Hoffman as The King, ensconced in his strip club enjoying the perks of being a crime lord. James Foley truly believes there are no small parts, so he doesn't cast small actors in his films, which include Glengarry Glen Ross and At Close Range. Any director who gets a respectable performance out of Ed Burns gets my respect. The good DVD transfer does justice to cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia's heavily saturated colours.
DVD EXTRAS Director, writer and cast commentaries, Sundance Channel Anatomy Of A Scene episode, deleted scenes. English and Spanish subtitles.
THE HOSPITAL (MGM, 1971) D: Arthur Hiller w/ George C. Scott, Diana Rigg. Rating: NNN
SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY (MGM, 1971) D: John Schlesinger, w/ Peter Finch, Glenda Jackson. Rating: NNNN
you never know what'll turn up in MGM's catalogue releases. A special edition of Rob Reiner's The Sure Thing here, culty British horror flick Raw Meat there. And now these two showcases for some of the best actors ever to step in front of a camera. The Hospital, from an outraged script by Paddy Chayefsky, stars George C. Scott as the chief of surgery at a New York hospital that's thrown into a state of chaos when someone starts murdering his medical staff, turning doctors into patients.
The direction is negligible, the script overemphatic (see also Chayefsky's Network), but Scott is a force of nature. The rest of the cast - the terrific supporting cast includes Nancy Marchand, Frances Sternhagen, Barnard Hughes, Richard Dysart - is like bamboo huts before a hurricane.
Sunday, Bloody Sunday, from a screenplay by New Yorker critic Penelope Gilliatt, manages the remarkable feat of making us sympathize with two of the least lovable actors in the British cinema, Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch, each of them in love with the same beautiful young man.
Schlesinger's direction during this period (fresh off Midnight Cowboy) is kind of busy, but he and his cast create a chilly, romantic ache that has no equivalent. This may be Jackson's best film performance.
DVD EXTRAS Theatrical trailers, English, French and Spanish subtitles. Spanish soundtrack on The Hospital.
SLEEPING BEAUTY: SPECIAL EDITION (Disney, 1959) D: Walt Disney, w/ Mary Costa, Bill Shirley (voices). Rating: NNN
For reasons known only to my parents, the great classic Disney animated features are not part of my memory bank, so I have no nostalgic feelings for Snow White, Pinocchio or Sleeping Beauty. This 1959 wide-screen production was Disney's biggest picture of the time and one of its all-time hits. The premiere DVD release has an excellent transfer, some kid-friendly extras and a gorgeously remastered 5.1 Dolby soundtrack. On the other hand, I'm not particularly taken by the film. The animation is beautifully detailed, but the way the Disney animators deployed the multiplane camera so that cameras move between static backgrounds and static foreground objects becomes repetitive. Certain sequences, though - the confrontation between the Prince and Maleficent, for example - are still outstanding.
I'm not sure how kids raised on The Lion King (due on DVD October 7) and Toy Story will respond to this, but those seeking a Disney flash from the past needn't hesitate.
DVD EXTRAS Making-of featurette, contemporary short film Grand Canyon, Tchaikovsky bio from Disney TV (1959), Four Artists Draw A Tree short film from 1959, various games, Design Your Own Dragon art project, wide-screen and pan-and-scan versions of the film, animators' commentary track, design featurette, Once Upon a Dream music video from No Secrets. Live action sequences filmed to model the animation, including The Prince's Capture, Dance sequence. Theatrical trailer and 1995 reissue trailer. Restoration demonstration. English subtitles.
Coming, Tuesday, September 23
THE DANCER UPSTAIRS (20th Century Fox) This DVD contains a portal into John Malkovich's mind: the director's commentary track.
SMALLVILLE, SEASON ONE (Warner) The boyhood of Superman, if Clark Kent were a real hottie.
CASPAR: SPECIAL EDITION (Universal) I like Christina Ricci as much as the next guy, but is there a demand for this?
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb