Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some capsule reviews of 2008

I haven't reviewed as many pictures this year so allow me to hammer out a few mini-reviews for you:
Baby Mama, directed by no one of importance*, written by Tina Fey and Michael McCullers: I just saw this on DVD and I'd rank this up there with For Your Consideration, The Ladykillers, 10000 BC, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, and Barry Levinson's Man of the Year as having among the lowest ratios between level of satisfaction and level of anticipation. Sometimes a reliable brand, be it Christopher Guest, the Coen Brothers, Roland Emmerich, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Barry Levinson, or in this case Tina Fey let you down. On 30 Rock, Tina Fey writes comedy with such dexterity and precision, that scripts to her show should be used as textbooks to aspiring TV writers because she layers her scripts every kind of comedy imaginable: screwball comedy, anarchic comedy, satire, parody, character-based comedy, rapid-fire-blink-and-you-miss-it dialogue, straight-man-funny-man comedy, self-conscious comedy, etc.

With all this in mind, it's near impossible to think that Tina Fey with so many weapons in her arsenal can miss the mark and fail to produce laughter out of us. Baby Mama, however, is a watered-down version of Tina Fey's brilliance. The only truly brilliant comedic creation was courtesy of Steve Martin who plays an incredibly pretentious health nut. The film is supposed to be anchored by Amy Poehler and Tina Fey's buddy comedy antics but the laughs in that area kind of few and far-between with a pretty by-the-book romance between Fey and Greg Kinnear. If Tina Fey is so boldly endeavoring to reinvent the buddy comedy with cross-gender appeal by inserting females in the lead, couldn't we do without a schmaltzy romance?

Slumdog Millionaire: I loved it, but I had no idea that the rest of the critical community would embrace it so, so it is an added thrill to see this film be embraced by The National Board of Review named it film of the year. The rags-to-riches myth that defined the American spirit is transplanted to India (and how ironic that it's an American game show he's playing on). The format of having him answer questions that correspond to his life is mostly just a gimmick to attract people to the story, and by no means a substitute for the story itself, which has so much to offer. For one thing, it's such a tremendous sensory experience, you're just entranced visually but you can almost feel, smell, and taste what the streets of India are like as well. Part of movies is about escapism in a very literal sense. Movies that take you to faraway lands in the spirit of David Lean, John Huston or Douglas Fairbanks (although, to be fair, the latter probably used a lot of sound stages)and I can only think of a couple exceptions for films in this decade that have transported me to another place. Another thing is that this is just a very romantic film. Obviously, there's a lot of killing and misery in the story to make this the date movie of the year, but this boy is willing to do anything for this girl and as a tribute to the actor, he does it in convincing fashion.

Step Brothers: There's a difference between Step Brothers and Baby Mama. Step Brothers is not up to par with the best work of the Will Ferrell-Adam McKay writing team, but it is not like Baby Mama in the sense that it has made me lost faith in the brand. Many critics seem to not know the difference. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made 7 films together. Would critics have given this film a bigger pass if Will Ferrell and John C Reiley's film were called Talladega Nights II? What I'm getting it is I thought this film was plenty funny and certainly inventive enough. In fact, I stayed in the theater and watched it twice. The big stars of the film are not John C Reilly and Will Ferrell but Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins for holding down straight faces and being convincing as a loving dad and a loving mom of such silly characters. You could insert the characters played by Jenkins and Steenburgen into something like Cheaper by the Dozen or Gilmore Girls and it would still pretty much work.

*The director is Michael McCullers, who also wrote the Austin Powers films, but I don't want to bombard my readers with too much frivolous knowledge. Some directors are important to know and some aren't. The auteur of Baby Mama is Tina Fey.

No comments: