Oh, and I Finally Saw BRIDESMAIDS.

20 06 2011

If, between gasps for air, you find yourself with a spare moment during BRIDESMAIDS, you may find yourself asking the question I did: How is it that this movie didn’t exist before now? How, nearly 30 years after BACHELOR PARTY, are we only now getting its female counterpart? This film – its premise, its potential, hell, its poster – it’s all such a ‘no-brainer,’ to use a bit of Hollywood development-speak, that it’s really a testament to the lack of brains in Hollywood that BRIDESMAIDS wasn’t made many, many years ago. By now, this bitch should already have spawned several sequels, a spinoff, and even an unnecessary reboot starring Colin Farrell.

No brainer, right?!

Hey, there’s no time like the present to welcome the biggest, filthiest, funniest new comedy franchise in many a summer. BRIDESMAIDS is funnier than THE HANGOVER, funnier than THE HANGOVER 2, and THE HANGOVER 3 (guaranteed) – funnier than practically all the phallo-centric comedies to which it presents itself as a yoni-friendly alternative. At least, I found it funnier than all those – but then, Steven Spielblog’s a ladies’ blog. Scram, penises.

Though the material in BRIDESMAIDS breaks no ground (unless you’ve never heard a sex, poop, or poopy-sex joke before,) it’s shocking how fresh it all feels to watch a female-driven comedy that’s not a romantic comedy. A key distinction. Really, I can’t think of another female-driven “broad comedy” at all. Generally, if you’ve got a comedy featuring a female protagonist, the story focuses on her search for loooove – because, you know, that’s apparently all women are capable of thinking about. But with an unflinchingly raunchy screenplay by star Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, and under the direction of Paul Feig (FREAKS AND GEEKS,) BRIDESMAIDS farts all over rom-com conventional wisdom and presents itself as The First Female Gross-Out Comedy, (or maybe the 2nd,) unapologetic and – for the most part – unsentimental.

A toast! To the fact Kate Hudson's not in this movie!

There are signs of tampering. You can sense the powers-that-be pulling at the edges of the film, bulking up the flirtatious subplot between Wiig’s Annie and her Highway Patrol beau Nathan Rhodes (Chris McDowd.) These scenes, too frequent and too long, might as well come with flashing ‘studio notes!’ subtitles across the bottom of the screen. But even with the undertow of rom-com norms dragging at BRIDESMAIDS, filth wins out. And though there are plenty of fine moments for every one of the ensemble cast, (more Wendi McLendon-Covey in the sequel, please,) it’s star/co-writer Wiig who emerges the true heroine. Any actress genetically engineered to star in romantic comedy vehicles – a Kate Hudson or Rachel McAdams or even Anne Hathaway – would have smiled and mugged their way through a role like this, erring fatally on the side of likeability. But Wiig, a true comedienne, is unafraid to get ugly. Her chin turtles back into her neck, her eyes roll, her nose scrunches, and the venom flies. It’s a beautifully ugly thing to behold, and BRIDESMAIDS is filled with one priceless Wiig expression after another – all of which add up to a performance that announces the arrival not just of a new comedy star – but a new kind of comedy star. The “non-romantic-slash-pooping lady star”… for lack of better term.

Although the absence of this film before 2011 is maybe the most remarkable thing about it, and though 2012 will see its share of knock-off’s and wanna-be’s, BRIDESMAIDS is destined to be the first in an overdue new genre – and flaws aside, it’ll likely long remain the best of them, too.


Los Feliz 3 Cinemas, Los Angeles

Sunday June 19, 9:45pm showing


Sofia Coppola’s SOMEWHERE – A Review

20 06 2011

Never see Sofia Coppola’s SOMEWHERE.

Seriously. Never see this bullshit.

Spielblogging for BEGINNERS

20 06 2011

Writer/director Mike Mills’ second feature film BEGINNERS tells the semi-autobiographical tale of his 75 year-old father announcing that he is, and always has been, gay. This actually happened. And more than that, shortly after embracing his new lifestyle, Mills’ father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Fucking life, right? BEGINNERS jumps back and forth in time, telling the stories of his father’s coming out, his illness, and then Mills’ own subsequent depression and resurfacing.

Writer/Director Mike Mills was wise to change the film from its original title, "STOP, OR MY DAD IS GAY!"

Ewan McGregor plays Oliver – the Mills role – while Christopher Plummer is Hal, Oliver’s out father. And while McGregor’s turn is strong (gotta hand it to the man, his American accent continues to improve,) it’s Plummer’s performance that constitutes the single best reason to see BEGINNERS. Even when the film teeters on the brink of over-stylization, Plummer grounds it with a performance that’s authentically joyful. This will unquestionably be Plummer’s second Oscar-nominated performance, after playing a very good Leo Tolstoy in 2009’s very boring THE LAST STATION… It doesn’t hurt that Plummer’s part in BEGINNERS is by far the plum-er of the lead roles; as the bon vivant who’s finally gotten his life’s secret off his chest, he gets to play a new initiate at 75. This part is a prize for any older actor – and it’s clearly the reason this film was made.

As long as Plummer’s up at bat, BEGINNERS makes good on its promise. And when we cut away to scenes set after his death, well, it feels like there’s something missing – and perhaps that’s just Mills’ point. Still, the scenes of Plummer facing his own death are a lot more compelling on the whole than the scenes of McGregor pondering life without his father. And though the scenes in which McGregor finds comfort with Melanie Laurent are somber and sweet, they come off as a little thin. Laurent becomes McGregor’s solace; she herself is wounded, sure, but not very. All in all, she’s a symbol of renewal more than a character, (they meet at a Halloween party, and remove their costumes in the mirror together. GET IT?) and so the payoff between her and Oliver is less than cathartic.

If I were to cast myself in my life story, I'd be Ewan McGregor too. Him or Bronson Pinchot.

One gets the sense that BEGINNERS is based in emotions still so real for its creator that the only way Mills could have formed them into a coherent statement on grief was to do so through a protective layer of structure and style. So, clever though it is, BEGINNERS is not immediate. Based in raw feeling, yes, but this is a fully-cooked meal; I wouldn’t go so far as to call it over-cooked, but I prefer my dramedies a little redder than pink, I guess… As a stream-of-consciousness, it’s too measured and artful to be emotionally accessible. Maybe that’s unfair – and maybe I’ll come around when I see the film again – but it struck me that the distance Oliver puts between the characters around him (that’s his one big character trait,) is a distance that Mills matches between himself and his audience. This may be the journey of a numbed man back into feeling – but that translates into a viewing experience that’s, well, a little numbing.

Then again, I’m just one guy, and my response to BEGINNERS could have a lot to do with what I brought into the theater. See, a friend of mine told me this was a comedy. It’s not.


Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood

Saturday, June 18, 4:30pm showing

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS: When Woody Met Owen

20 06 2011

As he’s gotten on in years, Woody Allen has increasingly remained behind the camera and let other actors play the part of his surrogate on-screen. The results have been mixed. At the upper end of the spectrum there’s John Cusack in BULLETS OVER BROADWAY. Scraping bottom, there’s Jason Biggs in ANYTHING ELSE, or Kenneth Branagh in CELEBRITY. Whereas Cusack is a performer with enough charisma to carry his role without making us wish for Woody, Biggs and Branagh turned in twitchy, superficial imitations of their director. The effect was- ahem, errr, I ah- somewhat uncomfortable. But of all the performers to ever take their turn in loco Wood-entis, it’s Owen Wilson in the Woody’s 44th feature MIDNIGHT IN PARIS who works best. No, really. He’s the best non-Woody Woody – by far – hands down – kaputt. Believe me, I’m shocked too. A Texan Woody Allen?

A scene from MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, starring Owen Wilson, and Paris France.

Nothing about Owen Wilson’s smirking drawl would naturally call to mind the delivery of this era’s most iconic neurotic. But the combination is sublimely hysterical, precisely because it’s so unexpected. In MIDNIGHT, Owen plays Gil Pender, a writer vacationing in Paris who is transported back in time to the 1920’s every night when the chimes strike midnight. The sensation I got watching Owen in this role is one I’ve never felt in a latter-period Woody film – actual gratitude that it was Owen in this role, and not Woody. Yes, we can hear Woody in all his dialogue no matter the character speaking, but for once, in MIDNIGHT, the comparison favors the proxy. (It’s worth noting that Woody re-wrote MIDNIGHT specifically for Owen.) In Woody’s last time travel comedy SLEEPER, his protagonist Miles Monroe, thrust into an absurd future, was a manic man out of time – a clown closer to Harpo Marx than to the persona we now recognize as “Woody.” Gil, by contrast, relaxes right into his alternate reality in a single wordless scene that’s as perfect a comic moment as you’ll see this year. And forgive me for saying it, it’s one Woody might not have been able to pull off so well had he played Gil himself, in some alternate past. Woody’s just not the type of guy you can see saying ‘screw it, it’s a party.’ He’s more the type of guy you can see ditching the party to watch basketball highlights in the master bedroom – as he did in ANNIE HALL. (Thanks, Derek.)

Woody continues his European tour... In 2012, look out for VICKY CRISTINA STUTTGART

There’s no question, Woody needs more Owen in his life. And it goes without saying, Owen needs more Woody, if only to keep him out of another fucking MARMADUKE. I’m as relieved as anyone to see that apparently Woody’s Scarlett Johansson period has stalled – and the promise of Woody’s Owen Wilson period is more exciting than anything since he started diggin’ on Sidney Bechet. OK, maybe that’s overstatement – but I haven’t been so buzzed off an Allen Stewart Konigsberg joint in a long time.

For one thing, this film highlights what very often gets overlooked and underrated in Woody’s works – the surface. This is one gorgeous film. Cinematographer Darius Khondji filters bygone Paris through gold hues – which, oui, is a tad obvious when discussion turns to ‘the golden age’ of Paris. But this isn’t a particularly complex piece, it’s a fable, bittersweet and ultimately simple. Thankfully, the poignancy of the thing is matched by its buoyancy; if it were any less hilarious, it would sag under the weight of its relatively broad themes and fairy tale premise. Yet MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, lovable and light, doesn’t just float, it flies – straight into the company of the Wood-man’s finest.


Los Feliz 3 Cinemas, Los Angeles

Friday June 17, 9pm showing