Picking this week's films was a bit of a challenge, but it all depended on the angle. Did I just want movies with games in them? Did they have to be performed at parties? Would I consider the likes of Bobby Fischer or Jumanji? Nah. Instead, we've got two films that boast insanely great ensemble casts, have some pretty fierce competition, and yet are wonderful for completely different reasons: The Anniversary Party and Clue. The Anniversary Party
When you pull back the thick layer of mainstream film and start to discover other fare, it's almost inevitable that you'll find a sea of movies you love -- ones that make you wonder why why couldn't have gotten at least a little more buzz. For me, The Anniversary Party is one of those movies. Roger Ebert even describes it as a film that is "largely voyeuristic. We learn nothing we don't already more or less know, but the material is covered with such authenticity and unforced natural conviction that it plays like a privileged glimpse into the sad lives of the rich and famous."
Sally and Joe are a struggling couple who have just reconciled and decide to throw themselves an anniversary party. Played by, written, and directed by stars Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the film uses their own friends, sometimes in roles eerily similar to their own lives, to look into the world of Hollywood, and a world of flawed romance. There's all sorts of drama -- from drugs to lawsuits -- but the real charm comes from the ensemble cast.
Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates play a couple with two children (played by their own, real-life kids), and you can see shimmers of their own life in their performances -- from Cates' character who is an ex-actress who left her work, to a theatrical and humorous performance by Kline and his daughter for the party goers. But some just take on comfortable roles that let them shine -- like Parker Posey's awkward and loose-lipped wife, or Denis O'Hare's tense neighbor, Ryan.
And then there's the game. In the middle of the festivities, everyone puts Charades suggestions into a hat. It could be just a funny little diversion in the film, but instead, it sets up, quickly and simply, a number of layers. John Benjamin Hickey's Jerry is revealed as a tense, sore loser*, Gwenyth Paltrow's Skye reveals some depth that annoys Sally, and Ryan faces not only his neighborly foes, but also his fears of professional inadequacy.
Being one of those out-of-the-spotlight films, here's a mixture of clips that discuss the film, and some fun clips focusing on the actors.
Jennifer Jason Leigh talks about the film, Mrs. Parker, and charades.
*Leigh also reveals in this clip that this bit was written just for him, based on previous charades experiences.
The Anniversary Party on Charlie Rose. -- you must turn the sound up A LOT
BBC Interview about Alan Cumming, his work, and the film.
Alan Cumming discusses what's needed to make a perfect martini.
Clue. Some people love it, and some people don't. Personally, I never understood how anyone couldn't, since it's a film that has been able to make me laugh both as a child and an adult. It's got a great cast, a lot of quirk, and that fantastic trailer above. (Really, with the shite that is trailers these days, this one is just a great example of the trailers of days gone by.)
Just like what was later captured with the spirit of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Clue took what seemed like a flimsy source -- a board game -- and made it into a cult classic. With Tim Curry's Wadsworth leading the festivities, all of the classic players are present -- embodied by some of the greatest names in comedy. The late, wonderful, and sorely missed Madeline Kahn was Mrs. White, Christopher Lloyd took on the creepy Professor Plum, Eileen Brennan was the quirky Mrs. Peacock, Michael McKean perfectly played the antsy Mr. Green, Lesley Ann Warren was the ravishing Miss Scarlet, and Martin Mull was the tense Colonel Mustard.
Better yet, just like the game, the film also featured a handful of alternative endings, all which fit within the confines of the plot, and worked to keep the spirit of the game in tact. While I never got the chance to myself, I love the idea of hitting the theater and getting a different ending every time -- an option you can put to use on the DVD.
TRIVIA: Did you know Yvette (Colleen Camp) later played Mamma Flick in Election?
Splitting up into pairs.
No, meaning yes, meaning...
I am your singing telegram!