BRIDESMAIDS: The Film Babble Blog Review

BRIDESMAIDS (Dir. Paul Feig, 2011)

On his highly addictive popcast “WTF,” comedian Marc Maron often talks about comic actors that have a grasp on exactly what’s funny about them. In scene after scene of BRIDESMAIDS, Kristen Wiig nails exactly what’s funny about her.

Lately Wiig has been so overused on Saturday Night Live reprising obnoxious characters that weren’t that amusing in the first place, and then at the same time she’s underused in a string of sideline parts in movies such as PAUL, EXTRACT, MACGRUBER, GHOST TOWN, DATE NIGHT, etc. that it’s so satisfying to report that her first starring role is a real winner.

Wiig’s mastery of nervously nuanced body language, and naturalisticly awkward line readings carries her hapless heroine Annie here hilariously through this uber affable film.

As a former bakery owner turned jaded jewelry store clerk whose life is going steadily downhill, we first meet Wiig in bed with Mad Men’s Jon Hamm in the funniest sex scene since TEAM AMERICA.

Hamm is, in his own words on Conan, an unrepentant douche-bag, who only wants no-strings-attached sex, but it’s obvious that Wiig wants more. Hamm just has a small, and oddly un-credited role, so we know that’s not where this is going.

Wiig’s best friend since childhood Maya Rudolph is getting married, and our sardonic sad sack heroine finds out she has competition in the Maid of Honor department in Rose Byrne as Rudolph’s new upscale best friend.

There are shades of Wiig’s Penelope character from SNL, in a good way, in a bit at an engagement lunch as Wiig and Bryne keep trying to upstage each other, stealing the microphone from each other back and forth in vain to get the last word in.

The other bridesmaids that make up the wacky wedding group are Reno 911’s Wendy McLendon-Covey, The Office’s Ellie Kemper, and Mike and Molly’s Melissa McCarthy whose abrasive fearless performance comes close to stealing the movie, as funny as Wiig is.

On a plane to Vegas, Wiig gets drunk and tries to crash first class repeatedly while the rest of the cast gets in their own crazy predicaments which I won’t spoil. It’s a uproarious scene, but it’s far from the funniest ones on display, as a great sequence featuring Wiig breaking every law in the book driving up and down the road in front of a cop she had a fling with (Chris O’Dowd) tops it. I really can’t explain how this comes about – you’ve just got to see it for yourself.

As that bemused cop, O’Dowd has charming repartee with Wiig and joins the well chosen cast which notably includes the last film role of Jill Clayburgh as Wiig’s ditzy celebrity portrait painting mother.

Despite its predictable rom com trappings and some unnecessary gross-out humor (I could’ve done without a food poisoning/vomit scene in an expensive dress shop), BRIDESMAIDS is one of the funniest films of the year so far (that might not be saying much, I know).

There are more laugh out loud moments than I can count, and Freaks and Geekscreator Feig (who also helmed episodes of Mad Men, 30 Rock, The Office, and Arrested Development BTW) does a great job shaping the material written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo with a touching tone and, for the most part, great timing.

And coming from the Judd Apatow production line it’s a welcome change from the usual boy’s club fare.

Ignore the accusations of BRIDESMAIDS being a female version of THE HANGOVER (although they did cut a Vegas party scene because of the similarity) and the superficial resemblance to such chick flick crap as BRIDE WARS, because this is an extremely funny movie that really should make Wiig a star.

More later…

HOWL: The Film Babble Blog Review

HOWL (Dirs. Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman, 2010)

Allen Ginsberg’s notorious 1955 poem “Howl” comes alive in this striking film that blends grainy black and white faux footage with animation and more conventionally shot color courtroom dramatization.

James Franco, in a career best performance as Ginsberg, recites the bulk of the epic poem throughout the film as it shifts through these alternating filmic strands in the stream of conscious manner of the original writing.

We go back and forth from Franco at his typewriter at the time of the poem’s creation to being in front of a enthralled coffee house audience in 1955, and then as interview subject in his apartment in 1957 in which our subject’s soft spoken answers to an unseen journalist serves as a sort of narration.

Franco’s Ginsberg isn’t present at the obscenity trial over the poem’s content that same year, as defense lawyer Jon Hamm and prosecuting attourney David Straithairn argue whether the work has literary merit or should be deemed filth.

It’s a mezmerizing ride enhanced especially by the dark animation done by Eric Drooker (also available in graphic novel form). Franco’s keystrokes become musical notes that flow off the page into landscapes filled with worker drones in daunting factory settings or stacks of books that make up city skylines.

Further animated interpretations of many lines from “Howl” wind through the fractured narrative while Franco’s impassioned readings flow freely.

Franco obviously studied hundreds of recordings of the real Ginsberg to get his inflections down and along with recreations of photographs and old film, “Howl” has the ring of authenticity.

Hamm uses his well honed Don Draper methods of persuasion to make the case for the poem in court under a compassionate judge played by Bob Babalan. Mary Louise Parker has a tiny cameo as an offended witness and Andrew Rogers as Lawrence Ferlinghetti doesn’t have a single line but still registers in several close-ups.

The rest of the cast is pure decoration – Ginsberg’s unrequited homosexual desire for Jack Kerouac (Too Rotondi) and Neal Cassady (John Prescott) give way to Aaron Tveit who becomes Ginsberg’s life partner, but these relationships are dealt with as just sidelines to all the poetic action. And that’s how they should be.

“Howl” is one of the year’s best films and a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination for Franco. It’s also a great introduction to the era in which Ginsberg’s words sliced through society with a vengeance.

More later…

THE TOWN: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE TOWN (Dir. Ben Affleck, 2010)

“From the acclaimed director of GONE BABY GONE” goes the trailers and TV spot for this new crime thriller that don’t happen to mention that Ben Affleck is that said acclaimed director. For despite the fact that he’s slowly been gaining respect and career clout over the last several years, Affleck is a name still associated with box office poison like GIGLI and PEARL HARBOR.

GONE BABY GONE was indeed a strong directorial debut, but this much larger production is even stronger. “The Town” is about a crew of expert thieves from a one-square-mile neighborhood in Boston that the opening titles tell us is “the bank robbery capitol of America.”

Affleck, Jeremy Renner (THE HURT LOCKER), Owen Burke, and Irish rapper Slaine make up the crew who we meet in creepy green Skeletor masks and dark hoods in action at a downtown Boston bank. They take an employee hostage (Rebecca Hall) as they make their getaway.

They release the blindfolded Hall not too long after with Renner taking her driver’s license and threatening her life if she talks to the FBI.

Which is exactly what she does – in a traumatized state to an agent played by Jon Hamm (Mad Men). Hamm is determined to bring down Affleck’s crew: “This is a not-screwing-around crew, so find me something that looks like a print ‘cause this not-screwing-around thing is about to go both ways!” he exclaims.

The trigger-happy Renner wants to eliminate Hall since she is a potential witness that could bring them down, but there’s a little problem: Affleck may be falling in love with her.

That started with Affleck following Hall and talking to her at a laundromat. He couldn’t resist turning the charm and she almost immediately took to him.

Affleck, of course, wants out of the life of crime but don’t you know it – the crew + an elderly neighborhood florist who has Godfatherly powers (Peter Postlewaite) wants him to pull another major heist.

Everything comes to a head when…oh, I should stop with the spoilers because the best part is seeing how this all plays out. There is heavy artillery, many deaths, and a bunch of vehicles are wrecked if you want to know if it has plenty of action, but its concern for the characters is what drives it.

Even with a number of tough guy clichés and a certain percentage of implausibility in the last third, Affleck’s adaptation of Chuck Hogan’s novel “Prince Of Thieves” is a superb heist film with a compelling emotional core.

This is largely due to its cast who makes this material work. Affleck’s Boston accent is impressively un-annoying and he plays pathos much more convincingly than in the past.

Hamm hasn’t completely shed the skin of the smooth Don Draper, but his confidence in what could have been a standard by-the-book Fed role nicely contrasts with that of the attitude of the crew’s thug-like lo tech methods.

Hall does a lot with a very little of a character – the woman caught in the middle of a boys club’s row. She has cute chemistry with Affleck and the fearfulness is felt in her restrained shakiness. Renner is one note but he plays it well and it’s all that’s needed from him in this tightly plot.

Chris Cooper as Affleck’s prison lifer father is in one especially effective and necessary scene, and there’s also Blake Lively as a boozy bar floozy.

THE TOWN may not be another crime epic on the scale of HEAT or THE DEPARTED, but it’s a major work by a guy who next time – with hope – will have his name up front in the advertising.

More later…