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Toronto Film Review: Christopher Guest’s Mascots

Mascots’s rapid-fire gags result in a hit-or-miss pattern, ranging from the wickedly inspired to the overly broad.

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Toronto Film Review: Christopher Guest’s Mascots
Photo: Toronto International Film Festival

It’s been a decade since Christopher Guest’s last mockumentary, For Your Consideration, and his latest, Mascots, suggests that not much about his alternately affectionate and condescending view of human grotesques has changed. He’s committed as ever to scoring laughs off the aspirations of self-delusional dreamers, constantly toeing the line between mocking their cluelessness and celebrating their eccentricities. Guest may choose the heretofore unexplored arena of competitive mascots this time around, but the character types, narrative arcs, and overall comic sensibility still feel all too familiar. To add to the once-around-the-block feeling, Guest brings back his Waiting for Guffman character, Corky St. Clair; even Parker Posey’s Cindy Babineaux is essentially a rehash of Libby Mae Brown, the perky, aspiring actress and Dairy Queen employee she played in the earlier film.

It doesn’t help that the rapid-fire gags result in a hit-or-miss pattern, ranging from the wickedly inspired to the overly broad. The most memorable bits of humor come in the climactic mascot competition, with hilarious routines including a plumber dancing with a life-size piece of excrement and a human-sized fist celebrating hockey fights. Such bizarre moments of physical humor, though, coexist alongside easy digs at reality television—such as a TV network named The Gluten Free Network whose biggest hit is Does That Smell Normal?—and some too-desperate attempts at dirty humor (“cochlear sex,” anyone?)

As self-delusional as his characters often are, Guest typically admires their commitment to achieving their extravagant dreams, however absurd said dreams may be. But while a sense of genuine humanity occasionally peeked through the striving amateur-theater performers in Waiting for Guffman, and especially the has-been folk musicians from A Mighty Wind, precious few of the characters here are so richly drawn. Instead, most seem to be chiefly defined by a single trait, from the bickering married couple, Mike (Zach Woods) and Mindy (Sarah Baker), who channel their hatred toward each other through their mascot routines, to the man, Phil (Christopher Moynihan), who obsesses over a former love interest from high school with whom he’s recently reconnected. It’s as if Guest had figured that the mere act of being a mascot was amusing enough, and felt little need to come up with genuinely colorful characters to match the supposedly weird premise.

In a break from his relentless propensity for snark, Guest offers a touching narrative thread revolving a British mascot, Owen Golly Jr. (Tom Bennett), who’s carrying on the mantle established by his father (Jim Piddock, the film’s co-writer). Tension develops when Owen Jr. wants to expand Owen Sr.’s well-established mascot routine by including a bit with a ladder, which the tradition-bound Owen Sr. rejects. In the routine he performs at the contest, however, Owen Jr. defies his father and brings the ladder in anyway—and the result is a flash of rapturous Charlie Chaplin-like death-defying physical comedy that more than just brings the house down. Unlike most of the other oddballs in Guest’s world, Owen Jr. euphorically achieves his dreams—and for a brief, shining moment, Mascots shows the compassion of which Guest is capable beyond making audience members feel superior to his characters.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8–18.

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Let Your Sanity Go on Vacation with a Trip to the Moons of Madness

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

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Moons of Madness
Photo: Rock Pocket Games

The announcement trailer for Moons of Madness opens with an empty shot of the Invictus, a research installation that’s been established on Mars. The camera lingers over well-lit but equally abandoned corridors, drifting over a picture of a family left millions of kilometers behind on Earth before finally settling on the first-person perspective of Shane Newehart, an engineer working for the Orochi Group. Fans of a different Funcom series, The Secret World, will instantly know that something’s wrong. And sure enough, in what may be the understatement of the year, Newehart is soon talking about how he “seems to have a situation here”—you know, what with all the antiquated Gothic hallways, glitching cameras, and tentacled creatures that start appearing before him.

As with Dead Space, it’s not long before the station is running on emergency power, with eerie whispers echoing through the station and bloody, cryptic symbols being scrawled on the walls. Did we mention tentacles? Though the gameplay hasn’t officially been revealed, this brief teaser suggests that players will have to find ways both to survive the physical pressures of this lifeless planet and all sorts of sanity-challenging supernatural occurrences, with at least a soupçon of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism thrown in for good measure.

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

Rock Pocket Games will release Moons of Madness later this year.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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