Linda Holmes is filing dispatches from the Toronto International Film Festival. These movies will see wider release in the coming months.
Christopher Guest's history with mock documentaries about strivers and dreamers goes back more than 30 years to This Is Spinal Tap in 1984, but he started to establish his repertory company and his style with Waiting For Guffman in 1996, the first feature he directed. Since then, some of the films in this series have been great (Best In Show) and some have not (For Your Consideration), and Mascots lands right in the middle somewhere, limited a little by its similarities to, in particular, Best In Show, Guest's dog-show-people comedy.
Mascots documents the national championship for sports-team mascots ("The Fluffies") that fancies itself a major event, in part because it's being scouted for television by the Gluten-Free Network. Contestants include Chris O'Dowd as a hockey mascot with, for my money, the best visual costume joke in the movie; Zach Woods and Sarah Baker as married, feuding baseball mascots; Parker Posey as an armadillo-masked modern dancer representing for Amelia Earheart; Tom Bennett as a third-generation soccer mascot from the UK; and Christopher Moynihan, a guy who dresses as a plumber to cheer for a football team that seems not to know who he is. Fluttering about are former champs played by Jane Lynch and Ed Begley, Jr., the competition chief played by Michael Hitchcock, and a certain armadillo's secret weapon of a coach, who may look familiar.
The best of Guest's films in this vein get to something genuinely human, if very funny, in the struggles of their characters. Mascots struggles to get there, or at least to get there in a way different from earlier films. Yes, these are decent folks who dream of tiny victories and a moment in the spotlight, but unfortunately, one of the downsides of creative success is that people don't necessarily want to see unlimited variations on the same theme. This film will come to Netflix on October 13, and if you turn it on, you'll find plenty of diversions, if not quite the thrill of its predecessors. As always, the cast is wonderful, and if all you got were the weird mascot visuals, let's be honest: you could do a lot worse.
All I See Is You
Yeesh, this movie.
Directed by Marc Forster (World War Z, Quantum Of Solace, Monster's Ball) and co-written by Forster and Sean Conway, All I See Is You is your basic domestic thriller about a woman with no personality (played by Blake Lively) who gradually gains one as she comes to suspect all is not right with her husband (played here by Jason Clarke). The woman, named Gina, begins the film blind and pleasant, which is the closest she gets to any sort of character definition until she undergoes surgery to restore the sight in one eye so she's less reliant on her husband. But once she has the surgery, the clearly choreographed and telegraphed plot developments begin to grind away, as they must.
It's perhaps noteworthy that Forster has directed substantially more features than he's written and has been more praised for that side of his career. All I See Is You is weak on both counts but significantly better directed than written — it does have its share of interesting and pretty compositions, and its approach to conveying what Gina's blindness feels like is effective, if thorough to the point of excess. The biggest problem by far is the lifeless writing: Gina is so vaguely defined, and so conveniently different from scene to scene depending on what the narrative requires, that she's impossible to invest in because she never seems human. The predictable arc in which she becomes more daring after her surgery and her husband is threatened by her independence is the most obvious one the screenwriters could have chosen, and of the film's two intended shock moments, I was probably 15 minutes ahead of it on one and solidly 45 on the other. That's a long time to wait to get to the part you know is coming. Moreover, it would be lovely if screenwriters could swear once and for all off the habit of assuming that if a character has a disability, that's specific enough for an audience to know her. A character in a movie like this needs and deserves a personality, and blindness is not a personality.
A domestic thriller is a good thing, but when neither the husband nor the wife is interesting and the dynamic between them is one-dimensional, it's awfully hard to invest in one.
The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé! : A Trip Across Latin America
The rock 'n' roll tour documentary is a tough genre to enliven, and starting with a band that's been as widely studied as The Rolling Stones seems a sure path to making it even harder. The hook of this film, though, is that it covers the band's tour earlier this year that concluded with a hard-won show in Havana, Cuba, the result of intense and protracted negotiations and occurring coincidentally only days after President Obama visited.
It's easy, I think, for people in the United States and Europe to think of The Rolling Stones as long into their institutional phase, in which there's no danger left in them at all. (Though take note: one development in the film suggests they're still not high on the Pope's list.) In fact, they were the second Super Bowl halftime show (after Paul McCartney) following the Janet Jackson And Justin Timberlake Incident — they were one of the bands brought in to make sure nothing out of hand happened. And they were censored a bit anyway.
But the thesis of this film is that in parts of Latin America in particular, they have a following that associates them still with genuine rebellion, with times when an English rock band was actually something you weren't allowed to listen to and certainly seemed unlikely to ever see live. Devotion runs deep: there's a fascinating little trip into an Argentine subculture called the Rolingas, who are dedicated to the Rolling Stones and to bands that emulate them.
Mick Jagger may be 73, but the crowds the band draws on this tour are young and old, and they are enraptured, ecstatic in nearly the religious sense of the word, at the opportunity to see the show. Joy that looks like it has simply become too massive to contain explodes out of people as dancing, as weeping, as screaming. And part of that does seem to come from not having had the opportunity to learn to take The Rolling Stones for granted, as many have. In Havana, in particular, where crowd estimates suggested hundreds of thousands of people were at the free outdoor show, The Rolling Stones are still more than just The Rolling Stones. As some of the concertgoers in the film explain, they never, never expected to see this in their lifetimes.
There's no getting around the fact that you still kind of need to be interested in The Rolling Stones to want to watch a whole documentary about them at this point, given that they have never been publicity-shy. There is not so much here that it will likely enthrall anyone completely uninterested in the topic at hand. But this is more than a victory lap for a veteran act; it's an attempt to explain what it looks like when you exist as an institution but can still tour as a rebellion.