Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Friday, November 24, 2006

"For Your Consideration" and "Babel"

For Your Consideration- The latest from director Christopher Guest ("Waiting For Guffman," "Best in Show") stars all of the usual Guest suspects. Unlike their previous collaborations however, this is not a mockumentary. Written by Guest and Eugene Levy, "For Your Consideration" is a satirical skewering of Hollywood's obsession with awards, entertainment news programs, and everything in between. It's very gentle humor. Like Albert Brooks, Guest never oversells a joke. He'd rather go the other way. This sort of subtlety doesn't work for everybody. In fact there were a number of times, particularly early in the film, where I was the only person laughing. As the film went on however, the audience seemed more and more to get in on the joke. I'm wondering how many of them had seen the other films, or "This is Spinal Tap" (one of the greatest movies ever made). I think maybe it's a style that takes some getting used to. For those of us who like this sort of thing though, "For Your Consideration" is anything but "a humorless romp."
The plot of "FYC" concerns Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara), star of the Sunfish Classics art house film, "Home For Purim." The movie is not even done being shot and yet there is already internet buzz around her performance. It seems that she's rumored to be nominated for an Oscar. The on-set mania that this sparks is made even funnier because we suspect that this sort of thing really happens. Soon her co-stars, Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), most famous for dressing up as a hot dog, and Callie Webb (Parker Posey) are rumored to be in the Oscar running too. It's not a complicated plot, but this is not a movie to watch for its plot, it's a movie to watch for its characters and its comic subtlety. It's little moments like an interviewer asking the film's writers (played by Bob Balaban and Michael McKean), "Do you like writing?" Or Fred Willard and Jane Lynch playing the hosts of an "Entertainment Tonight"/"Access Hollywood" style show, that is only slightly more embarrassing than the real thing. Along the way, Guest also satirizes the self-importance of celebrities, agents, and film critics. It's also one of the only films I've seen to mock the art of film promotion, with the movie's stars going everywhere from "Charlie Rose" to "TRL," while doing very little in the way of actual promotion.
"For Your Consideration" is a movie that I expect will grow on me even more with subsequent viewings. The great script is brought to life by a stellar cast, which includes hilarious turns by John Michael Higgins (Wayne Jarvis on "Arrested Development") and Ricky Gervais (David Brent from the UK's "The Office"). If you enjoy Guest's films or Hollywood mockery in general, then you won't want to miss this. 9/10

Babel- Now for something completely different. "Babel" re-teams the writer (Guillermo Arriaga) and director (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) of 2003's "21 Grams," which was excellent, yet thoroughly depressing. This will probably be the final film they collaborate on for awhile, as they apparently had a falling out over it. This sort of thing is fairly common. Earlier this year, writer Frank Cotrell Boyce was so angry with director Michael Winterbottom that he had his name taken off of "Tristram Shandy" (one of my favorite films of 2006). Unlike that separation however, I'm thinking that it's about time that Arriaga and Inarritu had a break from each other.
That's not to say that "Babel" is bad. Far from it. It's just nothing terribly new. Like "Traffic," "Syriana," "City of God," "The Constant Gardener," their own "21 Grams," "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" (written by Arriaga), and a host of others, it follows characters and story lines which seemingly have no connection, and weaves their stories together in a non-linear fashion. Just like all of those films, "Babel" is also very grim. Richard (Brad Pitt) is trying to save his wife Susan's (Cate Blanchett) life in Morocco. However, the language barrier proves a problem, and political issues slow the process down as well. Susan was accidentally shot on a tour bus by a young boy. He and his brother are too scared to come forward. Meanwhile, pieces of the story unfold in Mexico and Japan. Despite the fact that Pitt and Blanchett are "Babel's" two biggest stars, we go long periods of time without seeing either of them on screen. This actually ends up being one of the film's greatest accomplishments, because it emphasizes the fact that in the midst of everything that's happening, Susan is getting lost in the shuffle, even though in the end it's her life that is at stake. "Babel" is a very good movie and there are a lot of discoveries on the way that I will not deprive you of. Had it been made 6 or 7 years ago it would have blown me away. Now however, it feels just a little too familiar to consider it a truly great movie. 8/10

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