Recruiting most of his staple players, Guest returns to the screen with his new film and presents a comedic look at the competitive world of mascots. With his trade-mark talking heads formula, combined with the behind the scenes access, Guest attempts to capture lightening in the same bottle that he's been recycling for the past 20 years. The film is essentially a poor man's WAITING FOR GUFFMAN and fails to recreate the spontaneity and sharp-wit of previous films.
Something seems wrong about this movie and it feels incredible lethargic. The snappy improvisation, that was once the backbone to his stories, has dwindled into a lazy series of ad-libs without any sense of cohesion or vibrance. The concept itself is too absurd to have any validity, and what made the previous films so wonderful was that their settings were grounded with plausible circumstances. The events were never the comedic focal point, but rather, the characters and their investment in said events is what provided the point of ridicule and frivolity. MASCOTS on the other hand seems to lampoon an event so ludicrous that it's hard to comprehend it being an actual thing.
The film was released directly through Netflix and when it was first announced it seemed like a perfect partnership. Theatrical releases aren't what they used to be and it's hard to imagine any of Guest's films surviving longer than a week or two at an arthouse cinema, and so an alliance with a major streaming service seemed like the perfect move... and so it's frustrating that the most wasn't made out of this opportunity.
The ensemble of players includes the return of Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, Jane Lynch, Michael Hitchcock, Parker Posey, John Michael Higgins, Ed Begley Jr, Jennifer Coolidge and Don Lake (amongst others), as well as a slate of newcomers including Chris O'Dowd, Susan Yeagley, Sarah Baker and Zach Woods. Clearly all of the above and consummate performers with a strong affinity for improv, and they each have some great moments throughout the film. Sadly the material they've been given is stale and laboured. Also sorely missing from the proceedings are Michael McKean, Catherine O'Hara, Eugine Levy and Larry Miller.
MASCOTS is a misfire from Guest & Co, and may just signal the beginning of the end for what is clearly an exhausted formula, not to mention an exhausted director. It has it's moments and a few loosely scattered laughs, but overall it acts more like that tragic uncle who visits at Christmas and thinks he's a comedian. You feign a smile, force a giggle and feel relief when he's left.
Screened as part of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Hal Hartley retrospective at Melbourne’s ACMI theatre, this long-awaited 85-minute sequel dishes up everything we’ve come to expect from the idiosyncratic New Yorker.
Wrapping up a series that started almost 20 years ago was always going to be a challenge, particularly when the middle chapter, FAY GRIM (2006) was met with such mixed reviews, but here we are 10-years down the track at the conclusion. So, is it actually any good?
Following the (frankly outlandish but fun) scenario in FAY GRIM, Fay Grim (Parker Posey) has spent four years in a correctional facility while her husband Simon (James Urbaniak) has been in hiding. Their only child, Ned (Liam Aiken), has been raised in a Christian household to which he hold no connection but as soon as he’s able he sets out on a mission to find and kill his father for destroying his mother’s life, but when the troublesome Susan (the delightful Aubry Plaza) arrives on the scene things begin to get complicated, again.
A great deal of Hartley’s charm comes from his quirky, intellectual musings, but more so from his freakish ability to ground those musings with solid emotional underpinnings. His films are almost always about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances told in a matter-of-fact deadpan way. When they work (Simple Men, The Unbelievable Truth) they are minor works of unadulterated film genius; when they don’t (FLIRT) they are excruciating.
NED RIFLE, thankfully, fall into the previous category. It’s a much smaller film than the 2.5-hour opus that was its prequel HENRY FOOL, but regardless of it’s brevity, NED RIFLE is surprisingly moving and ultimately exceptionally sweet.
Hartley’s trademark stylistic preferences are front and center but he still has the presence of mind to keep them in check (he doesn’t always). There are times where NED RIFLE is like watching a stage performance; it’s all about the space and how the performers move through it, in and around it and with each other, and most certainly not about how the camera moves. It’s stoic in it’s form and execution but the design is most certainly integral to the finished product. Like the best of Hartley, NED RIFLE feels considered.
The regulars show up and don’t miss a beat, slipping back into their former skins comfortably but it's the latest additions to the series, Plaza and Aiken that leave the greatest impressions. One can only imagine that Harltey’s specificities would either cause a player to flourish or dissolve but both rise to the occasion and hold their own against some well seasoned pros.
It would be a shame if NED RIFLE were to be the last time we meet Hartley’s most charming and enduring creations, particularly now that the series - and Hartley - have had a fresh gust of wind put in their sails. If it is to be that way then RIFLE is a decent way to go out, but if it’s not, then hurry up and bring on the fourth instalment, post haste.
Coscarelli's 2012 film JOHN DIES AT THE END and his 2002 BUBBA HO-TEP reminded us that there's plenty of fuel left in his tank and proved that he remains a genre director to be reckoned with. And despite those two films being 10-years apart they gave us a reason to be excited about a new PHANTASM. Were he to have invested as much energy and creative prowess into the new instalment then we were, indeed, in for a treat.
And here we have it; PHANTASM: RAVAGER.... a blemish on the face of the series. Yep. To say that it is a disappointment is an understatement, and what we've been given is a cheap and ugly lacklustre movie that may as well have been made for daytime television.
We catch up with the series protagonist, Reggie, as he wanders through a desolate desert wasteland. He's the same Reggie we came to love throughout the saga and he continues his search for his friend Mike while evading the ever-ominous Tallman. Nothing's changed and aside from the ravages of time the old feller is looking good. Of course it's great to see Reggie back on screen again and fans will no doubt be salivating at the sight, but the tragedy is that he's stuck in a low-rent film with awful cinematography, bland dialogue, token cameos and stodgy supporting performances.
From the get-go it is clear that this particular PHANTASM is not the work of Coscarelli and it was in fact directed by David Hartman whose career -up to this point – has been spent in animation. The Coscarelli nuance and glossy finish are missing, and the camera ricochets between characters like a blowfly at a barbecue. The narrative repeatedly shifts between parallel dimensions as Reggie wages his personal war against the Tall Man. The back-and-forth setting makes for a convoluted and irritating storyline that feels lazy and contrived. Coscarelli and Hartman have attempted to bring closure to the series by bending the storyline back, as to connect with the original film. It's a nobel convention that is, sadly, under developed and poorly executed.
Of course it must be noted that PHANTASM RAVAGER was Angus Scrimm's final film before his passing, and it is only fitting that his final on-screen performance is of the character he made so iconic. As a fan of the series there is definitely a warm-fuzzy feeling that comes with seeing Scrimm grace the screen one last time.... and the same goes with the fellow series favourites. The team are back together and that's a wonderful thing. What isn't wonderful, however, is the stodgy material they have to work with and the train-wreck of a movie they find themselves stuck in.
Now the questions remain: is this where PHANTASM ends? Does it have a future? And if so, should it be remade or reinvigorated with a story that builds upon the legacy that exists?
The Deepwater Horizon was an oil rig situated in the Gulf of Mexico, 66 kilometres from the American shoreline, which suffered a catastrophic explosion when a geyser of seawater erupted, spewing a high-pressure combination of mud, methane and oil across the platform. The images were broadcast around the globe in 2010 when the incident caught the world’s attention, and the environmental impact continues to this day.
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