20 items from 2016
Spliced together from interviews, establishing shots, and dramatic reenactments, its subjects’ homegrown aphorisms set against the forceful tinkling of the score, “The Eye Doesn’t Lie” might’ve been made by Errol Morris himself.
Inspired by “The Thin Blue Line,” the fourth episode of IFC’s inventive, erudite “Documentary Now!” — from the frenzied imaginations of director Rhys Thomas and “Saturday Night Live” alumni Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Seth Meyers — mimics the filmmaker’s work so precisely that it comes to resemble an X-ray, showing the bone structure of his distinctive style while (gently) poking fun at it. In this sense, to describe “Documentary Now!” as a parody is to undersell: It’s a wildly funny act of criticism, deconstructing the mechanics of nonfiction in an age defined by the slippage between “reality” and the real.
Starring Armisen and Hader in an ever-changing series of roles—in a pungent send-up of Vice Media, they even play three indistinguishable pairs of plaid-clad, ne’er-do-well correspondents on the trail of a Mexican drug kingpin — “Documentary Now!” is designed with an in-depth knowledge of the form, down to the title sequence. A clever nod to public television, replete with evolving logo, synthesized theme music, and Helen Mirren’s refined introductions, the homage to the likes of “Pov,” “Frontline,” and “Independent Lens” is telling. Though tough, at times, on the familiar tropes of Morris and the Maysles, the creators’ treatment of documentaries is affectionate; their approach is closer to Christopher Guest’s warm, playful comedies, from “Waiting for Guffman” to “For Your Consideration,” than to the sharp satire of “Drop Dead Gorgeous” or “Tanner ’88.”
This is born, it seems, of their interest in the power of nonfiction narratives, and in the process by which such stories take shape. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, “Documentary Now!” is lavish in its praise — Hader’s version of Little Edie Beale, in the series’ tribute to “Grey Gardens,” replicates several memorable moments in the film almost exactly — but it’s when the series turns toward exaggeration and hyperbole that its understanding of the form’s fakery is on fullest display. Against the “direct cinema” aesthetic of the Maysles, “Documentary Now!” depicts the siblings, here known as the Feins, eliciting performances from their subjects, searching the shadows of “Sandy Passage” for the most compelling variant of the truth. (It comes back to bite them, in a way that acknowledges the elements of Gothic horror in “Grey Gardens” by blowing the original to bits.)
Understanding documentaries as a set of narrative techniques, and not simply as a reflection of “the facts,” “Documentary Now!” is at its most astute in the first season’s “Kunuk Uncovered.” Based on 1988’s “Nanook Revisited,” itself an investigation of the stagecraft in Robert Flaherty’s 1922 silent, “Nanook of the North,” “Kunuk” renders explicit the series’ animating principle: “Was the first documentary a documentary at all,” the narrator intones, “or was it something else?” As William H. Sebastian (John Slattery) attempts to mold his subject, Pipilok (Armisen), into the “Eskimo” of his ethnocentric assumptions, mounting dog sledding and spear fishing scenes, he loses control of the project to its central figure. “Kunuk” becomes an artful farce, part Hollywood excess and part careful craft.
Pipilok first demands compensation, securing the managerial services of a local pimp, and then displaces Sebastian altogether, transforming into a tortured auteur. (At one point, he curses out the cast in his native tongue, a true diva of the directing chair.) His aesthetic innovations — recording sound, building sets, developing “point of view” and new forms of movement — are those, roughly speaking, of realism, and “Kunuk” is, in essence, a reminder that the style that doesn’t seem like a style is no less fabricated for convincing us otherwise. In “Documentary Now!” nonfiction is always “something else”: A performance, a manipulation, a construction, adjacent to “the real” but not a mirror image of it.
In fashioning a new short film for each installment—with the exception of the two-part “Gentle and Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee” — the series is an outlier in the Emmys’ nascent Variety Sketch category. Last year’s inaugural field featured five nominees on the traditional “sketch” model, including “Saturday Night Live” and winner “Inside Amy Schumer,” and all, including the final season of the excellent “Key & Peele,” are among this year’s twenty eligible series (up from 17). But given the TV Academy’s tendency to settle into firm patterns, to the point that one might call them ruts, it would behoove voters to honor the heterodox, learned, distinctly non-topical comedy of “Documentary Now!” while the contours of the category are still in flux.
If there’s one aspect of the series we know Academy members can appreciate, it’s the brilliant impression: Schumer and Ryan McFaul were nominated last year for directing the dead solid perfect satire “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” as if inhabited by the spirit of Sidney Lumet, a feat “Documentary Now!” manages many times over, and in myriad registers. Its sketches succeed, in the end, because they’re not sketchy at all, but rather fully realized, remarkably savvy reconsiderations of their subject, which is the creative, sometimes-deceptive act of documentary filmmaking itself.
“The Eye Doesn’t Lie” recalls not only “The Thin Blue Line,” then, but also, by dint of its title, the filmmaker’s examination of visible evidence in “Standard Operating Procedure.” “The pictures spoke a thousand words,” as Army Special Agent Brent Pack says in the latter of photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, launching into the kind of Morris-esque paradox that IFC’s series so beautifully distills. “But unless you know what day and time they were taken, you wouldn’t know what story they were telling.” The eye does lie, of course, and the brilliant “Documentary Now!” is always catching it red-handed.
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- Matt Brennan
Last week saw the wide release of one of the year’s best documentaries, Weiner. Through very funny (and tragic at times) everything in this political profile is real (much to the title subject’s embarrassment). So, let’s turn the tables this week with a fictional comedy, shot and edited as though it’s a documentary. Yes, it’s another example of the hybrid made so popular by triple threat Christopher Guest (it’s almost as though he invented it), the “mock-umentary”. All the way back in 1984, Guest (with director Rob Reiner) torpedoed the serious film format with the look at a fictitious heavy metal band in This Is Spinal Tap (later he, as actor/writer/director, would take on 60’s folk music with A Mighty Wind). Happily a current group of satirists have decided that those music styles are not the only ones ripe for ridicule (rap got »
- Jim Batts
If Andy Samberg were still on “Saturday Night Live,” you wouldn’t have to close your eyes too hard to imagine Conner 4 Real, the cluelessly self-confident idiot white-boy rapper he plays in “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” as the featured playa on one of Samberg’s SNL Digital Shorts. Conner has tattoos running down his arms, and he sports a diamond earring, gold chains, and a hip-hop haircut so unthreatening it looks like it should be called the Ivy League Fade. A middle-class poseur who knows that he’s a sellout but pretends he’s a gangsta, Conner is straight outta Sacramento, and his success is a pure product of marketing. Yet all his trademarks — the baggy clothes and obscene lyrics, the palms-down “inner city” hand gestures — are signifiers of his authenticity.
If Samberg had sprung this character on us back in the day (as Conner himself might put it »
- Owen Gleiberman
Decent comedies that don’t seem that different from one to the next are a trend in Hollywood today, it seems. It’s not that Popstar: Never Stop, Never Stopping, the latest film by SNL veteran comedian Andy Sandberg and his troupe is mediocre as a comedy. It’s actually wildly entertaining. It’s just that, inexplicably, the writers don’t dare go all the way to effectively make the points their jokes are meant to make. The movie fails in that sense to distinguish itself from all the other comedic offerings out there.
To be fair, critics are in part responsible for this. They reflexive dismiss comedies as films not to be taken seriously. Still, Popstar contributes to that perception by unnecessarily apologizing to the for-sale-celebrities it steps over on its attempt to climb above the fray. Too bad, because the movie, like its producers, has great potential. The »
- J Don Birnam
Having achieved success thanks to its network of popular social media stars, Maker Studios is now expanding into film, and its first feature-length offering is less than a month away from its arrival. Internet Famous, which stars Shane Dawson as one of five nominees at a fictitious "Web Star of the Year" ceremony, will be available June 21st on iTunes.
The stars of Internet Famous are all known for their digital work, but in the film, those creators will spoof themselves and their colleagues. In mockumentary fashion, Internet Famous sends up various web star archetypes, including the "one-hit wonder," "the prankster," and others. Beyond Dawson, other creators who appear in the film include Amanda Cerny, Christian DelGrosso, Steve Greene, and Richard Ryan.
- Sam Gutelle
Netflix has rolled out plans to beef up its slate of Disney content from September, when the online streaming giant will become “the exclusive Us pay TV home” of Star Wars, Pixar and Marvel features.
Word comes via the company’s latest blog post outlining the projects set to be added throughout the summer. Those original features include Brad Pitt-fronted drama War Machine, along with Mascots, the comedy flick helmed by Christopher Guest.
In terms of Netfilx’s new Disney partnership, the company didn’t disclose exactly which titles will be hitting the digital platform in the fall. That said, the extract below does indicate subscribers will be privy to the “latest films” coming out of the House of Mouse, indicating Netflix users will be able to stream Star Wars content and the like before they’re available on any other service, as opposed to the exclusive roster of series that include Daredevil, »
- Michael Briers
Ricky Gervais has a cold. He just flew home to England after a stint in the U.S., and he's jetlagged. Nevertheless, he worked a full day, putting the final mix on his upcoming movie David Brent: Life on the Road, which is due at the end of the week. "It couldn't be a worse time, because my ears from the flight are bad, and all I had to do today was listen to the minutiae of the movie," he says in the sort of remarkably dry tone that, unique to Gervais, »
Part one of our in depth interview has Gervais also talking about his editing process, why he shoots with two cameras, his love of 'This Is Spinal Tap', 'David Brent: Life on the Road', if we’ve seen the last of ‘Extras’ and ‘Life’s Too Short’, his thoughts on reality TV, and so much more
- Steve 'Frosty' Weintraub
Chicago – The “Canuck Girls” have hit town, and they brought a lively, passionate and super fun musical about relationships and the environment to CIMMFest! Toronto-based writer/musician/actor/director Jude Klassen created “Love in the Sixth,” and it plays out at the 2016 festival on Sunday, April 17th (3:45p) at the Logan Theatre in Chicago. Click here for complete details.
The film explores relationships, in the post modern mode of Woody Allen, plus has amazing song breaks in the style of Motown, Punk, The Beatles and even “Grease” (if Grease would have had a song called “F**king Love”). The cinematic freedom of Jude Klassen’s director influence is woven throughout the work, as she portrays a rocker Mom named Dani, who is raising a Hunger-Games-loving-environmentally-conscious 12 year-old named Kat (Mika Kay, in a memorable performance).
Dani’s relationship with Sid (T.C. Folkpunk) is complicated, and gets in the way of »
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Adam Fendelman)
Orange Is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne has become the latest name to sign on to Netflix’s original movie A Futile and Stupid Gesture, director David Wain’s (Wet Hot American Summer) biopic of National Lampoon co-founder Doug Kenney.
Variety reports that Lyonne is set to play one of the writers on the humour magazine, which became a major force during the 1970s.
Will Forte (Nebraska) leads the cast as Kenney alongside Joel McHale (Community) as Chevy Chase, Domnhall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as Henry Beard, Thomas Lennon (I Love You, Man) as Michael O’Donoghue, Seth Green (Family Guy) as Christopher Guest, Rick Glassman (Undateable) as Harold Ramis and Jon Daly (Zoolander 2) as Bill Murray.
- Gary Collinson
Right before production kicks off, Martin McDonagh‘s highly anticipated Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has improved a remarkably impressive ensemble. The Wrap report on the additions of Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, and Manchester By the Sea‘s Lucas Hedges, who are to play, in order: a man fancying the picture’s lead (Frances McDormand); said lead’s ex-husband; and said lead’s son.
As previously reported, Three Billboards concerns “a 50-year-old woman whose daughter is murdered and she goes to war with the police in her home town, because she thinks they are more interested in torturing black people than getting justice.” Revealed in the newest update is a bit more about the plot: to shame Ebbing’s police, she “pays for three local billboards lambasting law enforcement officials and goading them into action.” Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell portray the sheriff and “hot-headed protégé,” respectively, while Caleb Landry Jones »
- Nick Newman
Casting continues on the National Lampoon biopic A Futile and Stupid Gesture, with more actors joining the ranks of the new Netflix film.
Seth Green is the latest name to join the cast, with the Family Guy actor set to play Christopher Guest, co-creator of The Is Spinal Tap. Rick Glassman (Undateable) has signed on to play the late Harold Ramis while Jon Daly (Zoolander 2) will play Bill Murray.
The film is based on the best-selling novel by Josh Karp from 2006 and follows “the troubled life and storied career of National Lampoon co-founder Doug Kenney, while charting the impact of the comedy magazine and subsequent media empire it spawned during the 1970s and ’80s.”
Will Forte (Nebraska) plays Kenney with Joel Mchale (Community) as Chevy Chase, Domnhall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as Henry Beard and Thomas Lennon (I Love You, Man) as Michael O’Donoghue. Matt Walsh »
- Scott J. Davis
Casting continues on Netflix’s A Futile & Stupid Gesture, with Seth Green signing on to play Christopher Guest in the film based on the bestselling 2006 book by Josh Karp about the troubled life and storied career of National Lampoon co-founder Doug Kenney. Directed by The Wet Hot American Summer‘s David Wain and written by Michael Colton and John Aboud, the film will also examine how the magazine changed American comedy in 1970s and ’80s. Will Forte stars as Kenney, with… »
Adam Sandler and Netflix’s The Ridiculous 6 is an easy target. It’s the latest lowbrow comedy from a star who’s never been a hit with critics, and whose recent track record at the box office has been hit or miss, to put it mildly. But if you’re eagerly anticipating, say, Joon-ho Bong’s Okja or Christopher Guest’s Mascots, you may […]
The post ‘The Do-Over’ Teaser: Adam Sander and Netflix Team Up Again appeared first on /Film. »
- Angie Han
It’s been nearly a decade since Christopher Guest directed a feature film, and we’re all worse off for it. Happily that’s due to change later this year when his new movie, Mascots, premieres on Netflix complete with most of his usual troupe along for the ride. Until then though we’re forced to revisit his past films. To that end, the recent (and long overdue) release of A Mighty Wind on Blu-ray from Warner Archive was all the reason I needed to give it another watch. Guest and Eugene Levy recorded a commentary track for the film’s initial DVD release, and it’s been ported over to the Blu. Are the duo as entertaining here as they are in every other facet of their professional lives? Only one way to find out. Keep reading to see what I heard on A Mighty Wind commentary. A Mighty Wind (2003) Commentator: Christopher Guest (director, co-writer »
- Rob Hunter
Need a good laugh, but only got an hour and a half? Might we recommend this little lot...
I’m of the firm belief that films work most effectively when their runtime is 90 minutes or less. It forces an economy of story and dialogue which propels the film into its best self. No bloated middle, extended ending, or wasted stories here. This goes double for comedies. They should never outstay their welcome. But they seem to be getting longer, as we recently pointed out here.
So to refresh your movie comedy palette, here are 25 films that are 90 minutes or under. I’ve tried to avoid the more obvious ones, and shine a light on those comedies which might have gone a bit unappreciated over the years, but are well worth a hour and a half of your time. This lean runtime isn’t a guarantee of greatness of course, »
Is the movie comedy that pushes two hours and change really a modern problem? And why are so many comedies so long?
Shakespeare wrote "Brevity is the soul of wit", which partly explains why there's only one good joke in Hamlet. John Michael McDonagh (Calvary, The Guard) said in an interview with this site “if it takes you two hours to tell a story you have failed as a filmmaker. 105 minutes tops is all you need if you're talented.”
The recent Tina Fey/Amy Poehler film Sisters is two hours long. While I enjoyed it, and laughed a lot, it starts to drag slightly in the middle of the party sequence, and feels like it might have benefited from a more brutal editing, killing some darlings and indulgence. It is a film with more to it than creating laughter, but not to the extent that it doesn't »
Read More: 14 Films We Cannot Wait to See at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer has worked on big blockbusters ("Quantum of Solace"), critically acclaimed dramas ("Finding Neverland" and "The Kite Runner"), Christopher Guest mock-documentaries ("Best in Show") and TV comedies (HBO’s "Family Tree"). With "Miles Ahead," Schaefer takes on an indie biopic about Miles Davis, which was a long time in the making passion project for Don Cheadle, who makes his directorial debut and stars as the jazz legend in the free-wheeling take on Davis' remarkable life.What camera and lens did you use? Our main camera was an Alexa Xt recording to ArriRaw. We also shot about one-fourth of the film on Super 16mm film with two Arri 416 cameras with Zeiss Super Speeds, Canon 8-64mm and 11.5-138mm zooms. And of course the Canon C500 recording to an Odyssey 7Q in 10 bit logC. I chose »
- Chris O'Falt
In his directorial debut, Kevin Pollak signs on an impressive roster of actors, comedians, stand-ups, writers, and more, all to come together and answer one of the most dumbfounding questions known comedy lovers everywhere: do you truly have to be miserable in order to be funny?
Actors from Sam Rockwell, Bobby Cannavale, Matthew Perry, Nick Swardson, William H. Macy, Tom Hanks, Maria Bamford, Lisa Kudrow, and more were on film talking about comedy and how they came to it, as were writer/directors Jon Favreau, Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, Larry David, Marc Maron, Lewis Black, and more. And of course, a large score of comedians were in attendance, such as Jimmy Fallon, Amy Schumer, Martin Short, Whoopi Goldberg, Christopher Guest, Greg Proops, Jimmy Pardo, Penn Jillete, Jim Gaffigan, David Koechner, Kevin Nealon, Rob Delaney, James L. Brooks, Andy Richter. And of course a whole lot more people that offer some »
- Catherina Gioino
It's family night on the red carpet for Jamie Lee Curtis. The Scream Queens star and nominee, 57, brought daughter Annie Guest, 29, as her date for the 2016 Golden Globes. "It's really nice because you're going with a girlfriend instead of a child," Curtis says about her grown-up daughter. "I'm really happy to be here supporting my mom," Guest told E! host Giuliana Rancic. Curtis, along with husband Christopher Guest, adopted Annie from her birth mother just after she was born in Dec. 1986. "We were awakened in the middle of the night with the phone call announcing that she was born," Curtis »
- Julie Mazziotta, @julietmazz
20 items from 2016
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