Knight at the Movies Archives
Christopher Guest and Company return and so does James Blond, er, Bond
There is only one Christopher Guest, the master of improvisation who made famous the improvisation film when his Waiting For
Guffman became such a success in 1996. Guest, who had himself co-starred in another comedic improv film, This Is Spinal Tap,
played the lead in Guffman, the ultimate showtune queen, Corky Sinclair. Along with another master of improvisation, Eugene Levy,
Guest created a basic outline for the film, worked out detailed character bios and cast a group of other comic talents to work out his
vision. The result, in which the closeted community theatre director Corky (who picks out his phantom wife’s entire wardrobe) leads a
group of ragtag thespians in an original musical revue, was both rife with laughs and tossed nasty darts at the little town mores it
That movie led to two others created the same way, Best in Show about the world of dog contests and A Mighty Wind which improbably,
at this late date, focused on the folk music scene. Now Guest and Company – for that is what they have become – take on perhaps
the most obvious of targets, the movie business, in For Your Consideration. Each of the films has featured a crack group of
actors with razor sharp comic timing. Former SCTV vet Levy has been joined in each outing by Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, and
Fred Willard. Several others – Jennifer Coolidge, Ed Begley, Jr., Michael McKean, Michael Hitchcock, Bob Balaban, and Harry Shearer
– have also been regulars in the Guest films. As have two of my favorites, one time member of Chicago’s Annoyance Theatre,
actress Jane Lynch and John Michael Higgins. Both played outrageous, hilarious gay characters in Best in Show, then appeared as
man in wife in A Mighty Wind and are now a perky but aggressive entertainment reporter and a clueless film publicist (“The internet,
that’s the one with email, right?”) in the new parody.
Guest starred in the first film but has taken a back seat in subsequent outings. Though he does that again here (as the director of
the film within the film sporting high heeled sneakers), the movie still feels like a subtle sequel to Guffman – a sort of Corky Goes to
Hollywood – in which we see the bit players and the crew members on up to the studio heads all caught up in the possibility that
actress Marilyn Hack (beautifully played by O’Hara) might get an Oscar nomination for her work in the still shooting little indie film
Home for Purim. The hysteria goes into hyper drive when another actress in the film (played by Posey) and the movie’s leading
man (Shearer) begin to get Oscar buzz as well.
Part of the giddy fun of all Guest’s pictures is seeing what looks and accents his regulars have come up with for the new outing and
what crazy tangents their characters will go off on (Coolidge goes to the head of the class in that department pretty much every
time) and that keeps the movie clipping for a good 20 minutes. But then the picture somehow goes a bit off kilter, perhaps because
for the first time, the parody target is overly familiar and well worn. It regains steam in the second half thanks to a screamingly
funny sight gag involving O’Hara (and don’t let ANYONE spoil it for you) then ends too abuptly. As always, O’Hara, another SCTV
veteran, creates fully realized comic creations. In her SCTV days O’Hara’s celebrity impersonations and homages – from Hepburn to
Lola Heatherton and Dusty Towne – were visually hilarious but in the Guest films she’s done without the outsized wigs and make-up
(though she did sport a huge 80s up wave in Guffman). Here, more than in the other films, she combines the pathos underneath
the satire (and in one scene hints a tad at sad, messed up Lola Heatherton) and breaks your heart at the same time she’s getting
laughs. It’s a performance that deserves, well, consideration for an Oscar. Wouldn’t it be the ultimate irony (though a well deserved
one) if she won?
Make no mistake. A new James Bond has arrived. If that hasn’t seeped through the consciousness of moviegoers thanks to a non
stop marketing and publicity blitz the last six months, then the opening credits of Casino Royale make that apparent. The usual
female buxom beauties, a staple of the credit sequence as surely as the new song by whatever up to the moment singer/group can
be rounded up to perform it, get in line behind another buxom beauty – Daniel Craig who steps roughly but surely into the role.
With Craig firmly established for once and for all as the new Bond by the time the credits are done, it’s on to the usual signature set
Though it isn’t clear from the beginning of the picture – which finds Bond trying to stop a villain who’s managing the funds of terrorist
groups (in exchange for a healthy profit) – this is actually a prequel to the other Bond adventures. So, here’s where Bond is first
introduced to his moniker, “007,” where he initially thinks up the martini that’s to be “shaken not stirred,” and straps himself into
the Astin Martin with all the fancy gadgets. None of that computes however as it’s impossible to imagine this blue eyed, blondish
haired stuff growing up to be Sean Connery or any of the other cool, detached, dark haired actors that have made indelible
impressions in the role. And M is still played by Judi Dench (who keeps nagging him to take “emotion out of the equation”) and this
Bond is dealing with Terrorists not Russian double agents or time bombs strapped to sharks. If this had been a true “prequel,” they
would have set it in the late 50s (and wouldn’t that have been dazzling?).
But that silliness aside (who cares about how Bond got to be Bond anyway) – Craig is spectacular in the role – because he makes it
his own and takes the movie (and the series) in a new, fresh direction. This is a Bond with heart – one who cries and pouts and
holds a grudge all the while strutting around in form fitting clothes or shirtless. Craig, it seems, is going to set another new standard
for the series. Now it’s Bond himself who will be the sex symbol – forget Plenty O’Toole and Pussy Galore and all the other Bond
girls. Forget Ursula Andress or Halle Berry strutting out of the ocean in a bikini. This hunky Bond, apparently ordered straight out of
the International Male catalogue, will do those honors himself. Bond has always been a chick magnet – to be sure – but now he’s a
gay magnet too.
And the movie gives Bond an opponent that is a much more enticing nemesis in the personage of the swarthy, sleek and effete La
Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) than the Bond gal pal, frigid Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a twig with breasts and an overbite who seems a
parody of the frosty tart Vanessa Kensington played by Elizabeth Hurley in the Austin Powers series and drags down the movie each
time she appears (bring back Honor Blackman!). The sartorial dandy La Chiffre, perfectly clad in his black Armani and Prada suits,
on the other hand, is ten times more interesting and has the usual Bond movie eccentricities that audiences love – the silver plated
asthma inhaler and the unfortunate habit of weeping bloody tears due to a scar over one eye for example.
But sadly, La Chiffre isn’t given one of those fantastic Thunderball-Dr. No type island lairs or those moo faboo gizmos and he, Bond
and the rest of us are confined to a long (much tooooo long) poker game that stops the picture cold. Once finished, the movie
takes another half hour to wrap up which begs the question – why can’t these blockbusters get in and get out in under two hours? If
Connery, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, and even Lazenby could pull it off, why not Craig and company? A Bond film – even one this
spectacular – wears out its welcome if the finish is too long in coming. Next time go heavy on the editing scissors, continue with the
camera ogling Craig, and maybe even find a song that can make one forget the Bacharach-David “The Look of Love” (which
dominated the original version of Casino Royale as surely as Orson Welles dominated the character of La Chiffre). Okay, forget that
last request – nothing will ever be able to top that pop masterpiece. But a boy toy for Bond – hmmm – that could go a long way
toward helping one to try. And at last it looks like we've got a Sir James that might just entertain such a possibility.
*Due to a mix up, the 11-09-06 print edition of WCT contained two of my columns. In one I reviewed For Your Consideration and
Volver but both films actually opened at later dates in Chicago. So I'm presenting them here to coincide with their actual dates.
I'm also including my review of Casino Royale, which was screened past my regular WCT print deadline.
For Your Consideration-Casino Royale
11-15-06 Windy City Times Knight at the Movies Column*
By Richard Knight, Jr.