Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Danny Baram: Year One. I review YEAR ONE, Plus: A SC Governor RANT O' DOOM!

Well, I'm back, in the midst of what's already been a fairly crazy week. Operating on too little sleep, I'm runnin' on pure adrenaline, baby. But I am here with an all-new all-awesome blog for your reading pleasure, so strap in and keep reading ...

First of all, I would like to mention a couple of pieces of sad news from the last few weeks.

- For one thing, a fond farewell to ED MCMAHON. I'm not old enough to have really enjoyed Ed during his long stint on The Tonight Show, but after having worked on the show for over a year as an NBC Page, part of what made the experience so memorable was the sense of history and tradition that the show did and still carries with it. One of the standout moments for me was the special edition of the show the day after Johnny Carson passed away. Standing there in the studio and watching so many legends, including Ed McMahon, wax nostalgically about the old days ... it really hit home that I was in that instant a small part of a grand showbiz tradition. Very sad to see one of the true TV icons go.

- I'd also like to make mention of DAVID CARRADINE. A true badass of television and cinema, Carradine was one of those mythical performers who didn't seem all that removed from the iconic characters that he played. Thanks to the Kill Bill movies, I and many others of my generation became familiar with the kung-fu icon, and Carradine made you believe that, with a flick of the wrist, he could truly bring you to your knees with the Five Point Exploding Heart Technique. So long, Cain, may your adventures continue in the great beyond.

Also, I want to comment on Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina ... but, honestly, I don't even know what to say. I think what kills me is: okay, he had an affair. It's not the end of the world. But why did he have to be such a lying a-hole about it? And like so many creepy politicians, he had the hubris to believe that he could somehow get away with all of these shenanigans. Not the affair, per se, but the whole flying to Argentina without telling anyone, even his family or staff. For the last time: in this day and age, NOTHING IS SECRET! Why can't people get this through their heads? WTF! Why do we go through this ridiculous cycle of lie, cover-up, confession/apology?! Why can't politicians, celebrities, etc., just be honest about how they live their lives? In America, it's proven that you can still enjoy great personal and professional success even if: you really like the ladies, you're gay, both, etc. SO JUST ADMIT IT! And if your lifestyle doesn't jive with the professed values of the "Grand Old Party," then for god's sake, don't get into politics, and don't pretend to espouse values that you don't actually believe in. And geez, don't be stupid about it! Why can't this guy just have had an affair? If that had been it, few would have cared, and he'd have a bright political future still ahead of him ... maybe. But now he's a lying creep who goes on unannounced sex vacations. That's ridiculous. And the irony is that the Republican army comes out on the news shows and defends the guy for stepping up and being a man and admitting his mistake. Um, hello! He should have done that BEFORE HE TOOK A MYSTERIOUS TRIP TO ARGENTINA WITHOUT TELLING ANYONE! Then I'd be like, okay, this guy has a shred of integrity left. Now, not so much. Ugh.

- Alright, time for a movie review, this time of Harold Ramis' latest:

YEAR ONE Review:

- I really, really wanted to like Year One. To me, it looked like exactly what the comedy doctor ordered - a throwback to the old-school humor of movies like History of the World Part 1 - movies that didn't have to be biting satire or edgy or ironic. I'm talking comedies that are just unabashadly goofy. Comedies with a fun, high-concept premise, that are really only concerned with making you laugh. In some ways, Year One is in that Mel Brooks-ian tradition. But in execution, it too often falls flat, and worst of all, just feels lazy. Whereas the classic Brooks films are notable for their slavish attention to detail, Year One doesn't quite seem to know what it is as a movie. Is it a caveman comedy? A biblical parody? An ironic "let's give ancient guys modern sensibilities" flick? Rather than focusing on any of these areas in aprticular, Year One makes the mistake of just slapping all of these concepts together in a giant comedy stew.

To be honest, the result kind of insults my intelligence. Not that a movie like this needs to be 100% historically or biblically accurate, but ... what the hell? Our main characters in this movie start out living in caveman-like huts. Soon after they meet the bible's Cain and Abel, and their father (Adam, presumably, though I don't think his name is mentioned). Later on they meet Abraham and Isaac, who live amongst a tribe of Jews. After that, they learn that Sodom and Gomorrah are about to be destroyed. At some point, there are Roman-esque slave-traders right out of Gladiator. You can see where I'm going with this, and you can see how things don't stack up to the academically-accurate Mel Brooks films. I'm sorry, but all of the blatant and unexplained inaccuracies are just pointless and lame.

That's not to say that the movie isn't funny, or that it doesn't work in some important ways. The truth is, Year One is a decently entertaining movie. A number of the jokes do click, and a lot (and I mean A LOT) of that is largely due to the awesome cast assembled here. Look, think what you want about Jack Black and Michael Cera, but the two are at the top of their games here in terms of selling the material they have to work with. Black makes a lot of lines funny simply by virtue of his over the top delivery, and Cera's mumblecore stammer is the perfect compliment to Black's runaway train excitement. Honestly, I would love to see these two paired up again - it's actually crazy how good of a comedic duo they could be with the right material. This is a movie that basically kind of coasts on their established personas. Some may get really turned off by that, but I'm a big enough fan of both that they kept me chuckling throughout the movie.

And like I said, the supporting cast is pretty damn amazing. And even when the writing is flat, the actors help make things at least watchable. I mean, David Cross had to me maybe the weakest and most poorly-written role in the movie as the murder-lovin' Cain. But Cross is naturally funny and entertaining enough that he is almost able to make it work, and at the least make the character watchable. Same goes for Paul Rudd as Abel, even though his role (understandably ...) is much smaller.

But I think what keeps this movie afloat is that Black, Cera, Cross, Rudd, and everyone else just seems to be kind of goffing off and having a ton of fun making the movie. Even when the plot gets really dumb and the jokes don't work, you often smile or laugh thanks to the performers' expert timing and pitch-perfect delivery. Take Oliver Platt as a big gay advisor to the King of Sodom. It's a pretty stupid role on paper, but Platt seems to be having a blast playing it, and goes all out with his goofy lisp, uncomfortable come-ons to Cera, etc. Despite the inherent stupidity, I admit that I got a pretty big kick out of Platt here. Even the really small roles get extra love and care from talents like Bill Hader, Hank Azaria, Kyle Gas, Olivia Wilde, Paul Scheer, and McLovin' himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. I give credit to Harold Ramis and producer Judd Apatow for assembling such a great group of talent.

Still ... all the talent in the world can't make up for a script that is, aside from some inspired jokes here and there, pretty weak. A movie like this doesn't need a great or layered plot, but this movie's plot is just plain weak. There's some half-hearted thread about Jack Black being some kind of "chosen one" that is never really picked up on. There's a barely-there dual love-story, but he female characters here barely get in more than a couple of lines, and have less personality than the princesses in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. And the fact that the timeline of the movie is completely broken is a recurring annoyance - it makes it pretty difficult for the film to have any sense of flow or continuity. If this were strictly a series of sketches like THE TEN, it'd be one thing, but the movie tries to be loose and sketch-y yet still have a more traditional and big plotline. Not good.

I was pretty back and forth on whether to check this one out in the first place, given the mostly mediocre reviews. But in the end I felt like the dream-team comedy duo of Jack Black and Michael Cera had too much potential for hilarity for me to pass up. In the end, I was proved somewhat right, as I did overall enjoy the movie, despite its flaws, and to me the handful of genuinely very funny moments and lines of dialogue, and the generally fun pairing of Black and Cera, made this worth a watch. But as a movie on the whole? This one has some serious and noticable flaws, and a plotline that feels rushed and scattershot. History of the World is not going to be usurped anytime soon as the king of historical comedies.

My Grade: B-

- Alright, that's all for now. Peace out, peeps.

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