Tag Archives: Catherine O’Hara

Waiting for Guffman (1996, Christopher Guest)

Waiting for Guffman is a story of dreams and dreamers. Director (co-writer and star) Guest opens the film with shots of a small American town, Blaine, Missouri. It’s a town with a lot of history and a lot of heart. Sure, it’s all absurd history, but those absurdities just make the heart beat stronger. Guffman is a mockumentary, starting with the town council going on and on about their sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) celebration. It takes Guffman a while before it gets to the actual storyline.

Because there’s all that absurd history and absurd councilpeople to get through.

There’s going to be a play at for the celebration, directed by a flamboyant, artistically inept New York emigrant (Guest), starring a bunch of local dreamers. Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara are the town travel agents, who also regularly star in Guest’s productions. Willard’s a jerk and O’Hara drinks too much. Neither are talented. Parker Posey is another member of the regular troupe. She’s not talented. Eugene Levy (who also co-wrote the film) is a dentist who wants to be an entertainer. He’s not talented. Matt Keeslar works at the family scrapyard–he’s a hunk who Guest enlists to star then fawns over. He’s not talented. Then there’s Bob Balaban as the high school music teacher who thinks he should be in charge of the production and resents Guest.

Everyone is hilarious. Keeslar least, but he’s still really funny. He’s got a reaction part and he never gets to be in on the joke (of Guest fawning over him). Willard, O’Hara, Guest, Levy, Posey, Balaban–they’re all phenomenal. Much of Guffman is adlibbed and you can just see the actors spark these great ideas and run with them as the scenes unfold. It’s awesome.

Guest is probably the best during these scenes; he’s got the most to do–he’s directing the production, after all–though everyone with a lot of material gives him a run for the money. Meaning everyone but Balaban. He’s sort of an extended cameo, which Guest (as director–of the film, not the stage production in the film) uses to great effect.

But then it’s showtime and Guffman switches gears. Now it’s this absurd stage production and the actors are playing their absurd characters playing these absurdly (and now–intentionally–poorly) written parts. The councilpeople return to do the mockumentary interview spots because, presumably, the leads’ characters are too busy performing. The film mostly gets away with the change in tone, with Guest throwing in some backstage character moments for the actors but never quite enough.

The shift changes the film’s energy and knocks the narrative distance out of whack. Even though Guest establishes the mockumentary device and occasionally the actors even acknowledge it in their performances, it’s gone from how the stage production occurs. Without constant hilarity to distract, the mockumentary device’s problems become a lot more apparent.

When the film wraps up in an epilogue, Guest and company go back to trying to make it funny. They mostly succeed, but the pacing of the jokes is different. Guest and editor Andy Blumenthal cut the epilogue with a different pace–they’re trying to get done, trying to get to the right jokes to close out Guffman.

It works, it just doesn’t match the first act. Guffman suffers from being too funny without strict narrative pacing–even absurd pacing–and not funny enough when Guest has to implement it.

Uneven or not, Guffman’s hilarious, well-directed, and phenomenally acted.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Guest; written by Guest and Eugene Levy; director of photography, Roberto Schaefer; edited by Andy Blumenthal; music by Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer; production designer, Joseph T. Garrity; produced by Karen Murphy; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Christopher Guest (Corky St. Clair), Fred Willard (Ron Albertson), Catherine O’Hara (Sheila Albertson), Parker Posey (Libby Mae Brown), Eugene Levy (Dr. Allan Pearl), Matt Keeslar (Johnny Savage), Lewis Arquette (Clifford Wooley), and Bob Balaban (Lloyd Miller).


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Temple Grandin (2010, Mick Jackson)

The best thing about Temple Grandin is Claire Danes’s performance. She even gets through the parts where she’s thirty playing fifteen. It’s a biopic, there a lot of flashbacks. Director Jackson tries to use a lot of visual transitions for them, but they really succeed because of the teleplay and the performances. To give some credit to Jackson though, it’s not like there’s a lot of de-aging attempts. Temple Grandin’s stylistically simple, but Jackson does seem to understand Danes is the whole show and do everything he can to facilitate her performance.

In a way, having Danes portray the character or is it person when talking about a biopic–anyway. Having her play in the flashbacks forces the viewer to think about the actor, think about her performance. Jackson’s so bland, you’re not even considering it as a creative choice. Instead, the film creates another narrative track. Where’s Danes performance going?

Christopher Monger and Merritt Johnson’s teleplay has a lot of detail, but not a lot of exposition. The information dumps are sudden and big. There’s barely any time spent enjoying or appreciating. It’s functionally fluid, pragmatically plotted.

Then sometime in the second half, after all the flashbacks are done, Julia Ormond–playing Danes’s mother–comes back into the film. Even though Ormond and Danes don’t have any relaxed scenes together for the first third at least, gradually–after Ormond is off-screen for a bit–it becomes clear there’s a similar performance. Danes’s performance is off Ormond’s performance. And then when they’re together more often in the second half, there’s so much more of it to see. It’s really cool and, you know, phenomenal acting.

David Strathairn’s great as Danes’s mentor. Catherine O’Hara’s good as her aunt (and Ormond’s sister). They’re both functional parts, but Strathairn gets a lot more to do. By the second act, O’Hara’s only around to tell Ormond what Danes is doing or not doing. Like I said, it’s a functional film. Very functional.

There aren’t any other standouts in the supporting cast because there aren’t many distinct characters. There are likable caricatures and unlikable ones. No one has a role so much as a function–give Danes something good to play off. And they all do.

Temple Grandin is an superior television biopic. (It’s not TV, it’s HBO). But Danes, Ormond, and even Strathairn and O’Hara could’ve done a lot more if they’d had an ambitious director. Still, Jackson does understand how to showcase his actors. So the performances don’t suffer, they just deserve the same level of filmmaking. And, like any biopic, it helps the real Temple Grandin’s got a terrific life story.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mick Jackson; teleplay by Christopher Monger and Merritt Johnson, based on books by Temple Grandin and Margaret Scariano; director of photography, Ivan Strasburg; edited by Leo Trombetta; music by Alex Wurman; production designer, Richard Hoover; produced by Scott Ferguson; aired by Home Box Office.

Starring Claire Danes (Temple Grandin), Julia Ormond (Eustacia), David Strathairn (Dr. Carlock), and Catherine O’Hara (Aunt Ann).


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After Hours (1985, Martin Scorsese)

After Hours is meticulous. Director Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus work with exacting precision throughout, with the first third of the film serving to prepare the viewer for the rest. The film follows boring, regular guy Griffin Dunne as he impetuously pursues an attractive mystery woman (Rosanna Arquette) in Soho in the middle of the night.

Scorsese, Dunne and writer Joseph Minion never spend any time establishing Dunne beyond his office drone existence–the viewer comes to sympathize with him due to the strangeness of the events unfolding around him. And the events in the first third are strange in a far more reasonable way than later in the film. Dunne has to maintain sympathy even after he reveals himself to be shallow and callous.

Also during the first third of the film, Scorsese uses a lot of obvious, repeated stylizing to force the viewer to pay attention. So many of the later coincidences and occurrences are fast and just in dialogue, the viewer has to be ready to grab them.

Amid all the noise–After Hours moves very fast and often loud–there are quiet moments of startling humanity, both good and bad. It's a concentrated whirlwind.

Fantastic supporting turns from John Heard, Teri Garr and, especially, Linda Fiorentino. As the ostensible love interest, Arquette manages to be a different person multiple times in a scene while still maintaining consistency. She's essential. Dunne's great.

Scorsese's direction is often breathtaking, especially in how he makes Ballhaus's graceful camera movements unsettling.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by Joseph Minion; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Jeffrey Townsend; produced by Amy Robinson, Griffin Dunne and Robert F. Colesberry; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Griffin Dunne (Paul Hackett), Rosanna Arquette (Marcy), Verna Bloom (June), Tommy Chong (Pepe), Linda Fiorentino (Kiki Bridges), Teri Garr (Julie), John Heard (Tom), Cheech Marin (Neil), Catherine O’Hara (Gail), Dick Miller (Diner Waiter), Will Patton (Horst) and Robert Plunket (Street Pickup).


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Beetlejuice (1988, Tim Burton)

How did Beetlejuice ever get past the studio suits? It really says something about eighties mainstream filmmaking and today’s. It’s not just the absence of a likable protagonist—Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis are the main characters for the first forty-five minutes, then hand the film off to Winona Ryder, who carries it until the last quarter, when Michael Keaton finally takes over—but it’s also just really strange.

The script’s a tad tepid. I’d forgotten the conclusion; it turns the movie into a sitcom pilot. I imagine Burton didn’t really care about the script being solid, because he makes the film look spectacular throughout.

It opens with this beautiful shot of a model—Thomas E. Ackerman’s photography is wondrous throughout; it’s a shame Burton didn’t bring him along for Batman—and every subsequent shot is great.

All of the model work is fabulous—even if some of the composite shots are problematic—making Beetlejuice a joy to watch.

What’s not a joy is some of the acting. The script’s weak enough, it’s probably mostly the screenwriters’ fault but still….

Davis and Catherine O’Hara are both bad. Glenn Shadix is, politely speaking, too broad.

But the rest of the cast is great—Baldwin, Jeffrey Jones, Winona Ryder, Sylvia Sidney. Great small stuff from Robert Goulet and Dick Cavett.

And Keaton? He’s funny, but he doesn’t make the movie. The role’s too easy.

But, like I said, Burton’s direction (and the mostly strong performances) make it a joy to watch.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren, based on a story by McDowell and Larry Wilson; director of photography, Thomas E. Ackerman; edited by Jane Kurson; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Bo Welch; produced by Michael Bender, Richard Hashimoto and Wilson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael Keaton (Betelgeuse), Alec Baldwin (Adam Maitland), Geena Davis (Barbara Maitland), Winona Ryder (Lydia Deetz), Catherine O’Hara (Delia Deetz), Jeffrey Jones (Charles Deetz), Glenn Shadix (Otho), Annie McEnroe (Jane Butterfield), Rachel Mittelman (Little Jane Butterfield), Robert Goulet (Maxie Dean), Adelle Lutz (Beryl), Dick Cavett (Bernard), Susan Kellermann (Grace) and Sylvia Sidney (Juno).


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