Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dogs, DREAM GIRLS On DVD, And A Doc Full Of Diatribes

"Take myself and subtract movies and the remainder is zero." - Akira Kurosawa 

My sentiments exactly Mr. Kurosawa. More movies to cover so let's get to 'em. The first one I saw at my local home town theater a few days back and there was only one other person in attendance. Pretty fitting as my review makes plain: 

YEAR OF THE DOG (Dir. Mike White, 2007)

Likable Mike White's (screenwriter of CHUCK & BUCK, THE GOOD GIRL, SCHOOL OF ROCK) directorial debut features the very likable Molly Shannon in her first starring role since the SNL derived, and much derided, SUPERSTAR as a lonely woman who just got lonelier because of the death of her beloved beagle named Pencil. 

Encouraged by friends (mostly Regina King) she tries to use the incident to jump-start her love life but with such unlikely mates as gruff nextdoor neighbour John C. Reilly or touchy feely animal caretaker Peter Sarsgaard that doesn't look very likely.

The first half of this "situation tragedy" (as White calls it) is pretty breezy, quirky and mildly amusing. The second half in which Shannon sabotages her job and family ties while trying to rescue every dog at the pound takes a nose dive into tedious cringe-inducing and worse - predictable pathos. YOTD is lamentable - it's a movie with a very likable cast but not one likable character. Hell, even the dogs aren't very likable in this movie. 

More 2006 flicks that I didn't make it to in the theaters but now can catch up with on DVD. I'll start with with the big-ass mock Motown musical: 

DREAMGIRLS (Dir. Bill Condon, 2006)

"Maybe I should go see it with my lawyer." - Diana Ross on Letterman 1/07  
So, the rise and rise of the Supremes-styled girl group The Dreams was the central premise of the popular early 80's award-winning Broadway show that also tied together other R&B also-rans into a tight show-piece spectacular. For the movie version the Motown connection is enhanced - first by changing the locale directly from Chicago to Detroit, second by making slick but slimey Jamie Foxx's Berry Gordy-esque payola scandal into a pivitol plotpoint, and third by having the wardrobe mesmerizingly mirror every album-cover fashion trend in the African American community from '62-'79. 

Beyonce Knowles plays Deena - the Diana Ross of this piece with fellow Dreamettes Anika Noni Rose as wide-eyed innocent Lorrell (who doens't have much of a part) and most gloriously former American Idol loser Jennifer Hudson as Effie who steals the show and the movie from everybody and righteously got an Oscar for it. Eddie Murphy who didn't take home the gold still puts in his best acting in years as James "Early" Thunder who comes on like James Brown by way of Jackie Wilson in his 60's incarnation, then an almost complete transformation into message-music era Marvin Gaye right down to his Denign jacket and rainbow-knit hat. 

Director Condon's movies (KINSEY, GODS AND MONSTERS) are glitzy and glossy yet fairly conventional but that approach appears to work here. The songs as overwrought as the are at times are pretty convincing as pastiche homages and a few are catchy too. Not a miscasted role in sight - Danny Glover, Keith Robinson, John Lithgow, and Jaheel White (Urkel!) among others all play the right notes. Far from perfect DREAMGIRLS is pretty Effing good nonetheless. 

(Dirs. Nick Doob/Chris Hegedus, 2006) 

Very Loosely structured around the launching of liberal radio Air America, the ongoing spats with Right-wing rabble rousers Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter, the 2004 election and on the cuff of a possible senate campaign, this ramshackle documentary about comedy writer/performer turned politcal pundit Al Franken misses the mark.

Footage and commentary that should serve the tension is chopped into forgetful sound-bites while the perspective that a more thorough career evaluation could provide is severely lacking.

There's some tasty tidbits - Franken doing his Henry Kissinger impression right to Kissinger's face at a Newsweek party, angry tongue lashings of Michael Medved and Sean Hannity, and Franken's Republican party convention coverage all amuse but the random clips of SNL sketches and brief visit to the house of his childhood upbringing imply a bigger better story that just isn't being told.

There is no mention of Franken's long-time writing and performing partner Tom Davis or references to the shaky nature of Franken's years at SNL which included a notorious Weekend Update baiting of then NBC president Fred Silverman.

Former fellow writer Michael O'Donoghue (1940-1994) would joke that Franken's sole ambition when getting the SNL gig was the be the first person to say "fart" on TV. Katherine Lanpher, Franken's co-host on his Air America program jokes in this film that he just wants to say "pecker" on national radio.

Looks like the only thing I can gather as insight from GOD SPOKE is that Al Franken cares more about getting a cheap laugh than anything else - I know that's not the full picture but it's the only one on display here.

Finally, another end-of-post tribute to another recently deceased Film Babble Blog favorite - TOM POSTON (1921-2007) - Despite appearances in a number of films, it's his TV work that'll be his legacy. From The Steve Allen Show to What's My Line then onto Get Smart, Alice, CHiPS, Mork & Mindy, The Love Boat, Murphy Brown, The Simpsons, That 70's Show and just about every other show that ever existed, Poston was a solid steady presence in television from the beginning of that cathode-ray tube forum. 

His role as handyman George Utley in one of my all-time favorite shows Newhart gets to me the most. Check out this scene from one of the classic episodes - "A Midseason's Night Dream." It's how I want to remember the man.

More later...

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