Category Archives: Archived Movies

A MIGHTY WIND

The master of the mockumentary, Christopher Guest, is back with a new serving of his specialty, and once more it’s a treat. After serving as one of the over-the-hill rock band in Rob Reiner’s “This is Spinal Tap,” Guest went on to send up small-town theater companies in “Waiting for Guffman” and flamboyant dog contests in “Best in Show.” Now in “A Mighty Wind” he hones in on a reunion show by three folk music groups from the sixties and seventies. Though not quite up to the elevated standards of the previous efforts by Guest and his friends, it’s a charming, sometimes brilliant movie, filled with the same droll, understated humor that characterized them.

The set-up is simplicity itself. After the death of Irving Steinbloom, who managed the acts in their heyday, his son Jonathan (Bob Balaban) plans a Town Hall commemorative concert featuring three over-the-hill groups: the always-smiling New Main Street Singers (Paul Dooley, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, et al.), a neon-colored “neuftet” indiscriminately spreading joy; the duo of Mitch & Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara), a Sonny-and-Cherish duo, who were as famous for their romance as for their music until they broke up; and The Folksmen (Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer), a trio whose LPs were remarkable for lacking a hole for the spindle. Much of the film is concerned with the players’ offhandedly humorous recollections and the strains of getting together again; they’re joined by other oddballs, including Fred Willard as the NMSS’s gregarious, goofy manager; Ed Begley, Jr. as a public broadcasting honcho with a penchant for lapsing into foreign phrases; Paul Benedict as a bearded folk-music historian; Don Lake and Deborah Theaker as Irving’s two other children; and Jennifer Coolidge and Larry Miller as a dotty PR agents. The final act is the concert itself, complete with newly-created songs that, while amusingly hokey in their lyrics, also manage a surprisingly authentic feel, along with a by-now obligatory “six months later” wrap-up.

Like “Guffman” and “Show,” “Wind” is truly a joint effort by an ensemble which has become a virtual improvisational repertory company. Though the script is ascribed to Guest and Levy, it actually results from scads of rehearsals and ad-hoc sessions and more than fifty hours of footage that’s afterward been shaped and edited into a brisk hour-and-a-half. It’s a technique that the cast, by now a bunch of old friends playing off one another like a long-time vaudeville team, use to great effect. Though at times the actors go for broad, easy laughs, they more often opt for gentler, more subtle bits, and handle them deftly. (Levy, for example, earns laughter by creating an almost preternaturally subdued character.) To choose favorites is an invidious task; it’s easier to point to the bits that don’t quite come off, or at least don’t work as well as might be hoped. Those would include Willard’s boisterously stupid Mike LaFontaine, who’s not nearly as funny as his dog-show announcer in “Show”; Jim Piddock’s Leonard Crabbe (he’s Mickey’s model train-loving husband); and the home-life weirdness of the Main Street Singers’ Laurie and Terry Bohner (Lynch and Higgins), which is certainly strange but more creepy than funny. Furthermore, the big topper regarding the Folksmen, which closes the picture, is a stretch that doesn’t quite hold. But overall “A Mighty Wind” has a much higher percentage of hits than misses; and the fact that it doesn’t push too hard, quietly building and letting the gems spring out unexpectedly rather than continually italicizing its own cleverness, is a wonderful change from today’s overemphatic farces.

The result is an unforced, affectionately mocking picture which might not generate a constant gale of laughter, but does invite a steady stream of smiles and chuckles.

ANGER MANAGEMENT

Recent history seems to have established a new rule for movie comedy: avoid using songs from “West Side Story” as a gag, especially if you’re going to have them sung by an older star in over-the-top fashion. Robert De Niro did a medley of the Bernstein-Sondheim favorites while feigning insanity in the clunker “Analyze That,” to truly ghastly effect, and now Jack Nicholson, making some of his most extravagant faces–which is saying quite a lot, considering who’s involved–warbles “I’m So Pretty” in duet with Adam Sandler in this feeble farce. (Indeed, the bit gets an undeserved reprise later on.) The result isn’t quite as painful as in the earlier flick, but it’s certainly lame enough.

As a whole, “Anger Management” represents less a plot than a premise that’s milked to death. The script is basically a reverse twist on the 1991 comedy “What About Bob?” In that picture Bill Murray played a lovably troubled patient who inflicted himself permanently on his straightlaced analyst, played by Richard Dreyfuss. Here Sandler (in “Punch Drunk Love” mode) is a milquetoast fellow forced to put himself under the absurdly close care of a lunatic psychologist, played with gusto by Nicholson (reverting to full “Witches of Eastwick” style), after being wrongly convicted of assaulting a stewardess during a flight. What follows is a series of sketches in which Nicholson’s mood-changing Dr. Buddy Rydell bugs and humiliates Sandler’s nebbishy Dave Buznik in a whole variety of ways; unfortunately, the stars have to work under a singular disadvantage–the fact that the material provided by David Dorfman just isn’t very funny. Entirely too much of it is composed of either queasy gay-themed humor or the sort of raucous slapstick violence in which Sandler always seems ready to indulge. The pattern is encapsulated in the two most notable members of Rydell’s therapy group–Luis Guzman’s ostentatiously swishy Lou and John Turturro’s farcically volatile Chuck–and mirrored in such gags as Dave’s discomfort at sharing a bed with Buddy on the one hand and getting into a brawl with a childhood bully-turned-Buddhist monk (a badly-used and understandably unbilled John C. Reilly) on the other. There’s also a romantic subplot involving the long-time girlfriend (a throwaway part for Marisa Tomei) to whom the overly reticent Buznik is unable to commit, which resurfaces in the all-too-predictable finale.

Very little works in the picture. Under Peter Segal’s flat direction Sandler’s sad-sack routine quickly pales and Nicholson’s shtick comes to verge on the desperate. Guzman and Turturro, ordinarily skilled performers, overplay badly in one-note parts. (Indeed, the whole therapy-group business is much less amusing than similar stuff was in the old “Bob Newhart Show.”) Kevin Nealon flames out as Buznik’s doofus lawyer. But even he looks brilliant beside Woody Harrelson, who’s compelled to appear in drag and affect a German accent in a mercifully single scene as a transvestite hooker. (Yes, the movie does sink that low.) A whole raft of people, from Bobby Knight and John McEnroe to Rudy Giuliani, Robert Merrill and a raft of New York Yankees, show up for cameos, to little effect. (Giuliani delivers the “You can do it!” mantra that’s obligatory at the end of Sandler’s underdog sagas, and it must be said that Rob Schneider is missed. Those are words I never imagined having to write.) On the technical side the picture is competently made, but no more.

“Anger Management” isn’t bad enough to get really furious about, but in view of the talent it wastes, mild irritation is certainly in order.