Best in Show

Best in Show. Castle Rock Entertainment 2000.
Best in Show. Castle Rock Entertainment 2000.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve probably been aware of this movie since shortly after it came out. I remember for years seeing it on the shelf at the library, picking it up, and putting it down again. It always looked like something I should be interested in, but it never grabbed me. It’s about a dog show. It’s a mockumentary. It’s by Christopher Guest. And none of that ever really put it over the edge for me, until now.

For an improvisational mockumentary with a huge cast, the only thing I know to expect is that I can’t predict anything.

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Movies of my Yesterdays: Clue

moviesyesterdays

clue
Clue. Gruber-Peters 1985.

Movies of my Yesterdays is an irregular series where instead of writing about a movie I’ve never seen, I choose a movie important to my past and discuss why that is.

I clearly remember that the first time I saw this movie, it was on a New Year’s Eve at home. It was one of the rare movies we had on hand that wasn’t made for children, didn’t even look like it was for kids, and wasn’t Star Trek (The only other one that comes to mind is Trading Places, which is very not for kids.) I don’t remember how old I was at the time, but I must have been in middle school or close to it, because I was staying up for midnight and my parents put this on for us. It must have been on the basis of how much I enjoyed the movie that first time, because I remember nothing else about that particular New Year’s, but watching the movie was so formative for me that I recall it every New Year’s Eve, and I’m always pleased when I have a chance to include the movie or the game in a New Year’s now.

A few months or years later I developed an obsession with Back to the Future, and the fact that Christopher Lloyd has a prominent role here deepened my appreciation of this movie. I also think this is most of the reason Martin Mull makes me happy whenever I see him pop up in something. Tim Curry is of course, simply a legend. I can probably make a list of all the movies he makes better, but that would be a needless digression (and it’s probably “everything he’s been in except Rocky Horror” anyway).

As anyone who’s seen the movie probably knows, what makes Clue particularly unique is the multiple-choice ending. I never got to experience the buzz when it was released, where different theaters got different endings and I don’t think it was announced there would be differences, but home releases on tape include all three endings and releases on disc have the option to play one at random. I do have a favorite,  but I find it interesting that the linear version declares only one of them to be “the real one”. I think I’ve heard that it’s the only one that actually lines up with all the details, but I’m not sure if that’s true. There are too many subtle moments to keep track of. Regardless, it’s a fascinatingly unorthodox approach to storytelling.

I’m not sure if I’ve played this movie since college, but it’s never been one I got tired of. By now I can recognize that, in concert with the amazing wit in the dialogue, one of the biggest strengths on display is that the script supports a large ensemble with fantastic characterization for everyone involved without giving too much focus to any one of them. It’s like an English high society detective novel without the high society or the detective, just a bunch of people being nasty to each other while trying to solve a puzzle. Lovely mansion though.

Over thirty years later, this continues to be the paragon of game to film adaptations. Clue is a fairly simple game but with a lot of data points, and while every single one of them are included here, none of them feel forced. There are even half a dozen extra characters added (mostly as cannon fodder) and it still somehow doesn’t feel unwieldy. I don’t think this movie will ever get old.

Coneheads

Coneheads. Paramount Pictures 1993.
Coneheads. Paramount Pictures 1993.

Before watching the movie:

Have I seen this before?  There’s something special in my memory about Coneheads, but I can’t quite place it. I’m fairly sure that I had a friend in Kindergarten or first grade who talked about it fondly, but the only concrete recollection I have is that there were a few clips of it in a Paramount promotional montage on a couple of tapes I liked to watch a lot. And more recently, I’ve seen some of the original sketches. Since my memories are so hazy, and there are a few alternative options, I’m going to conclude for now that I haven’t seen it before, and if I did, it was so long ago that nothing really stuck and my view will still be fresh. However, in the interest of transparency, I’m making this decision public.

While not as widely talked about as other Saturday Night Live spinoffs, this seems to have a pretty positive reputation. The concept certainly offers room for a full-fledged plot and lends itself to a higher budget. In fact, it may be so much more of a movie concept than a sketch concept that it becomes hard to remember it got its start on SNL, like Blues Brothers.

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This Is Spinal Tap

This is Spinal Tap. Spinal Tap Productions 1984.

Before watching the movie:

Mockumentaries tend to be great or mediocre. CSA: The Confederate States of America was disappointing, but mostly because I didn’t expect the direction it took, and it had a much stronger message than I imagined. As a comedy, especially one that is a cult favorite over 25 years later, I expect good things from This is Spinal Tap.

I’m not much into heavy metal, but the point is satire, so it should be pretty good. Also there are a lot of big names and big non-names (you may not recognize the name Harry Shearer, but he’s one of the core actors on The Simpsons), so a lot of star power and star talent.

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