Saturday Night Live sucks. It's a contention that might be arguable but it doesn't change the fact that SNL hasn't been consistently funny since the '80s. For every Will Ferrell there is a Jimmy Fallon. For every "Cowbell" skit there's a "What Up With That?" Even worse, most of the film knock off's of SNL characters from The Coneheads to The Ladies Man are awful.
But the crop of female comedians that have found their path from that show in the last few years have been formidable. Tina Fey parlayed her semi-lame spot on "Weekend Update" into the wickedly funny film Mean Girls and ultimately the even more sharply hilarious 30 Rock (a show that even makes Tracy Morgan tolerable). Maya Rudolph went from thinly written, annoying Puerto Rican/Jewish stereotypes to warmly enjoyable dramatic work in Away We Go and a gamely fun turn as a prostitute in Mike Judge's criminally underrated Idiocracy.
Now Kristen Wiig has graduated to the big screen with her raunchy, funny and oddly poignant feature writing debut, Bridesmaids.
Annie's (Wiig) life is in free fall. Her bakery, Cake Baby, went under and now she's living with a pair of creepy British siblings (Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson) and working a jewelry store job -- where she uncontrollably dampens the spirits of her customers -- all the while having a loveless affair with a hunky lothario, Ted (the lady-boner inducing Jon Hamm). At this low point, her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), whom Annie has know since childhood, announces her engagement and chooses Annie as her maid of honor.
Lillian also picks the bridesmaids and by proxy four new friends for Annie. Helen (Rose Byrne) is Lillian's recent, "other" best friend, a cloyingly sweet, passive/aggressive rich-girl who immediately puts Annie on edge. Megan (Melissa McCarthy) is the hilariously crass female version of Ricky Gervais while Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) acts as a world--and sex--weary marital mentor for them all. Becca (Ellie Kemper) is the mousy one. There had to be a mousy one.
Annie's romantic fortunes seem to take a turn when she meets a Milwaukee cop, Nathan Rhodes (The IT Crowd's Chris O'Dowd) but it soon becomes clear, between her turmoil over the gravitational forces that are pulling her and Lillian apart and her woeful financial straits that Annie is not cut out for the job of maid or girlfriend. An introductory dinner for the bridesmaids at a hole-in-the-wall Brazilian restaurant induces food poisoning -- the splattery results of which manifest themselves during a visit to a high-dollar bridal boutique. Annie's fear of flying compels her to quaff pain killers with a tumbler of scotch on a flight to Vegas, her antics getting them all booted off the plane by an unlikely looking Air Marshall (Ben Falcone). Ultimately, the clash of Lillian's big day and the disarray of Annie's life begets a rift that threatens to destroy their friendship.
Directed by television and Judd Apatow veteran (whose finger prints are all over Bridesmaids) Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks) and written by Wiig with Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids is essentially a vulgar and sweet Apatow comedy aimed at men as much as women. Such is his modus operandi, but what sets Bridesmaids apart from The 40-Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up is its stellar cast of funny women. The laughs elicited by Feig from Wiig, Byrne, Rudolph, McCarthy and Covey highlight how few and far between films as funny and well written as Bridesmaids actually come along, no matter the gender of its leads.
It's not without problems. A couple of set pieces go a bit long (the "sentiment" duel between Annie and Helen comes to mind) and as is the nature of Apatow-style, improvisational comedies, it feels like some character sub-plots hit the cutting room floor (there was definitely more to those creepy Brit roommates). Annie's relationship with Rhodes feels a little tacked on, existing mainly to get Annie back on the baking horse again, its resolution an afterthought. At 125-minutes the film doesn't actually drag though it could have been tighter.
Despite the bloat, you won't mind spending time with these ladies. Wiig turns in a funny, emotionally nuanced performance and her chemistry with real-life friend Rudolph is transparent. McCarthy is hilariously un-self aware in a role that is at once scatological, sexual and warm-hearted. Bryne turns in a balanced performance in a character whose arc is defined by ultimately not hating her. O'Dowd brings the boyish charm of his IT Crowd's Roy to Rhodes in a role that is sort of thankless, but charming nonetheless. Hamm, on time as always, plays a douchebag to perfection ("This is awkward. I can't figure out a way to tell you to leave without sounding like a dick."). Jill Clayburgh was a welcome sight as Annie's mom, though her role was clearly truncated. Suffering from leukemia, Bridesmaids was her final performance.
Female-led mainstream comedies are, sadly, a rare thing. Bridesmaids is a funny, touching and fresh reminder of why that needs to change.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
My love of Werner Herzog is well known. The man has lived a life as bizarre and tumultuous as any of the epic characters he's put to screen, be it the insane, El Dorado-obsessed Aguirre (one of many roles played by long-time partner-in-batshit crazy, Klaus Kinski); Vietnam war vet and escaped POW Dieter Dengler (portrayed by Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn) or misguided naturalist and bear appetizer Timothy Treadwell (Grizzly Man). Herzog has always been fascinated by man and the philosophical underpinnings of his larger relationship to nature.
So an opportunity to be the first and only filmmaker to document a recently unearthed cave in the south of France that contains the oldest known examples of Paleolithic art, wrought over 37,000 years ago, was, to say the least, up his alley. So much so he even took the leap into 3-D. With Cave of Forgotten Dreams, that gimmick is, for once, used for good.
Atypically structured for anything but a Herzog flick, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, guided by Herzog's lilting, Bavarian accent takes the audience on the ride of his fascination with the Chauvet Cave. Covered by a rockslide some 37,000 years ago, natural erosion and time re-opened the original entrance, discovered in 1994 by a group of speleologists (to whom the film is dedicated). What they discovered was nothing less than a treasure trove of pristine cave paintings untouched by the elements for a few dozen millennia. Achingly beautiful and skilled depictions of prehistoric animals, abstract hand-prints, and quasi-religious, anthropomorphized women were woven over the tactile stone surfaces that can only be seen by walking on a two-foot wide, raised walkway snaking its way through the cloistered caverns.
Beneath the Surface.
The initial scenes document the back story as Herzog works out the logistics of shooting with a four-man crew on a two-foot wide gangplank. Their time is limited to a few hours due to a fear that human emanations might change the climate of the cave, as with the better known Lascaux cave site, which was closed when mold began to appear on its walls.
As he narrates his thoughts, enigmatic musings on the nature of the people that decorated the Chauvet cave, Herzog introduces the scientists studying it, all from different disciplines, who have mapped its every nook, cranny and brush stroke to the smallest 3-D millimeter. One, a former circus performer turned archeologist sees the birth of human expression while an expert in prehistoric weapons lamely demonstrates how the spears used by Paleolithic men could be augmented with hooks to take down the animals on which they fed. Yet others try to piece together a geologic time span whose breadth allows the skulls of extinct cave bears to be covered in ethereally gorgeous calcite crystals. Anthropologists do their best to speculate about the darkly indiscriminate, Darwinian world in which the first men lived alongside the last of the Neanderthals.
Herzog ties it all together into his stark yet giddily excited vision. On a certain level, I've probably never seen a film that moved me to consider my small place in the world with the acuity Herzog elicits here. His musing of sometimes trippy existential questions, combined with the sheer beauty and skill of the art he's documented for the big screen are often humbling. There is a noted style to the artwork; contrasts are embedded in the topography of the stone and motion is rendered in compositions that already artistically obey the as-yet-unthought-of Golden Ratio. It represents the beginning of a golden thread of humanity, sociology, art and religion. Cave of Forgotten Dreams inspires a sense of awe that will stir the soul of anyone who doesn't think the Earth is 6,000 years old.
The film would be just as powerful in 2-D, but Herzog's use of the 3-D format here adds a layer of tangibility making for a truly haunting experience. His camera, guided by cinematographer Peter Zietlinger's able hand, captures all the shadowed dimensionality of the cave's rocky canvas and the depth of the gorgeous and ancient art that festoons it -- giving a sense of space while artfully framing the works with minimal light, time and resources. The film often looks beautiful.
Herzog does go astray in a postscript that attempts to tie the future of humanity to mutated, albino crocodiles housed in a large greenhouse complex fueled by steam from a nearby nuclear power plant located some 20-miles from the Chauvet cave. For Herzog that's comparable to a dancing midget in a David Lynch movie, though. Just has to happen.
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