Monthly Archives: December 2016

Confetti

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: When the editors of Confetti magazine launch a ‘most original wedding’ competition, they make a rod for their own back in their choice of finalists: two naturists, a pair of ultra-competitive tennis players, and a couple of music lovers who get on with each other but not the bride’s family. As the ‘happy’ couples are helped towards the big day by flamboyant wedding planners Heron and Hough, the likelihood of any of them making it down their bizarre aisles seems increasingly remote.

Fans of the ‘mockumentary’ genre, especially those of Christopher Guest’s semi-improvised works, will find much familiar in Debbie Isitt’s work, especially if they are also familiar with British comedy actors from shows such as The Office, Peep Show or Green Wing. Most people will also have been to enough weddings to appreciate the potential for uncomfortable comedy – or at least ridicule – in the ceremony, and will wonder how Confetti manages to miss nearly all of its targets by a mile.

The set-up is simplicity itself. Confetti magazine, in the guise of Jimmy Carr and Felicity Montagu, run a competition to find Britain’s most original wedding, with an as-yet unbuilt house as the main prize – and whittle the auditioning couples down to three: Matt and Sam (Martin Freeman and Jessica Hynes), who want a top-hat-and-tails Busby Berkeley affair; Josef and Isabelle (Stephen Mangan and Meredith MacNeill) who want a wedding themed around their passion for tennis; and Michael and Joanna (Robert Webb and Olivia Colman), naturists of varying degress of commitment whose idea for a naked wedding makes Montagu nervous from the off.

Although all three couples are given the support and ideas of screamingly gay wedding planners Heron and Hough (Vincent Franklin and Jason Watkins), there are suspicions that the competition is skewed towards Matt and Sam. However, Matt is at his wits’ end with Sam’s interfering sister and Mum (Sarah Hadland and Alison Steadman), and his best friend Snoopy (Marc Wootton) also appears dead-set against the wedding. Isabelle, meanwhile, must cope with Josef’s insane jealousy about her coach Jésus and the fact that the magazine people think her nose is all wrong; and Joanna struggles to restrain Michael’s militant naturism, which is at odds with her unease about nudity in front of the public – and her mother.

Confetti’s cameras follow the couples as the weeks tick down and their plans come together, fall apart and just about come together again on a day of multiple weddings in front of judges. They don’t, unfortunately, capture many laughs along the way. The actors, improvising most of the script, are all perfectly naturalistic, Webb in particular very brave in appearing naked for most of the film; but whether it’s a case of the scenarios not inspiring them or everyone being off form, there are very few laugh out loud moments in Confetti.

The couples capture the stress of impending marriage quite well and at times the film gets quite serious about relationships, but there are no counteracting moments of insanity or delirium. The cast of Guest’s films are occasionally overblown (Fred Willard’s turns in both Best in Show and A Mighty Wind spring to mind), but film comedies often require larger than life inhabitants and the ordinary Middle-England folk portrayed here are dull, the characters not displaying any quirks or signs of an existence beyond the parameters of the film. Even the most interesting and reliably entertaining characters, Heron and Hough, are little more than classic gay stereotypes, and elsewhere the lack of imagination is typified by more than one scene descending into a fight. What else do you do when you can’t think of anything to say?

On the other side of the argument, the film does the actual weddings really nicely – surprisingly, the tennis one is perhaps the best – and you momentarily feel the connection between the lovers that is missing from the rest of the film. But even this turns sour amidst accusations of cheating, and the film fizzles out with a nonsensical decision for all the couples to cut a record (almost definitely ‘borrowed’ from Best in Show). There are incidental pleasures to be found in Confetti, but you can’t help feeling that Isitt planned the ending and hoped to God that her actors and actresses would join up all the dots in comic fashion for her. Sorry, Debbie, but your concept or your comedians – probably both – jilted you badly.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

WFTB Score: 7/20

The plot: Pioneering but lowbrow TV producer Chuck Barris leads a complicated life. Not only does his TV work get mercilessly criticised despite its popularity, and not only is he unable to give his lover Penny the kind of stable relationship she craves; he also happens to be a government agent, carrying out hits for the CIA.

Sam Rockwell plays Chuck Barris, the TV producer responsible for such memorable shows as The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show. However, as the title and opening shots of Barris standing bearded and naked in a dingy New York hotel suggest, this is not a cosy little picture about cosy game shows, but a look at the bizarre and perilous career of a man (possibly) caught up in international intrigue.

The film presents the story as absolutely authentic, using real-life colleagues of Barris such as Dick Clark to talk about the dramatised action, following Chuck from an instructive (if unpleasant) episode from his childhood, through early success as a songwriter, to an initially unsuccessful attempt to get The Dating Game on TV. During this time, his sexual conquests lead him into the company of carefree Penny (Drew Barrymore), who becomes his lover, although not exclusively.

Chuck’s shows eventually get some airtime (although in a far more censored version than he would like), and he is approached by CIA operative Jim Byrd (George Clooney) who makes him an offer he would be unwise to refuse, namely to become an agent himself and help the US Government in their worldwide fight against Communism (their shooting practice targets are, appropriately, Castro and Chairman Mao). The European trips offered by The Dating Game are perfect cover for Barris’s missions, where he comes into intimate contact with another agent, Patricia (Julia Roberts) – or is it Olivia? – who is beautiful and, unlike Penny, literate and clever.

Narrowly escaping death in East Germany, Barris’s double life takes its toll, shown by his drinking and paranoia whilst filming the heavily-criticised Gong Show. Despite marrying Penny, a complete breakdown sees Chuck naked in the hotel room, although there’s still some unfinished business in the spy game and one last meeting with Patricia.

Just like his second film, Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney’s directorial debut deals with a bygone age of television. And just like the later film, I found this effort a curiously incomplete affair. It’s entirely possible that, as a non-American, this stems from my lack of familiarity with the characters and programmes at the centre of events; but if that is the case I would blame the film, in part at least – the viewer doesn’t need everything laid out on a plate, but some context is always helpful.

In terms of how it looks, Confessions… can’t be faulted, with the TV sets, fashions through the 60s and 70s and wintry locations in Europe all looking the part. Furthermore, in the key roles of Barris and Byrd, Sam Rockwell and director Clooney are perfectly solid, even though Barrymore is irritatingly perky and fails to convince as a liberated girl in the late fifties, saying things like “cats and chicks.” Roberts also feels too modern as the shadowy overseas contact, though this may all be part of Barris’s fantasy.

The film’s main problem, however, is that it feels far too safe, especially given the potential of the story (the credits freely admit that elements of the story are fictional, so why not go further?). Surprisingly for a film with a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman (responsible for ripping films like Adaptation and Being John Malkovich), the film is slow moving and fairly dry; somehow you know which bits are supposed to be funny, but they don’t raise a laugh (although there are lovely cameos from Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as Dating Game losers).

The whole thing could have been funnier, sexier, and more dramatic; and the score is as much of a culprit as anything else, light jazz or classics undercutting the drama at every moment. Vitally, too, you barely get a sense for Chuck the man; indeed he’s almost psychopathic in his dealings with relationships, and since he’s fairly loathsome from the start the viewer isn’t much bothered about whether he’s making the whole CIA thing up or not, or whether he turns up dead or alive at the film’s end.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind shows a high degree of polish and Clooney is clearly enthralled by his subjects and how the fight against Communism pervaded his patch (ie. the entertainment industry) in the Cold War years. The era is brilliantly brought to life and in Rockwell’s Chuck, the director has an odd but potentially fascinating anti-hero. However, for the most part that potential is unrealised, and importantly, the answer to the only important question, “Would I want to see that again?” has to be a shrugged “not really”.