Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

In case you lived on a deserted island a couple years ago and haven’t interacted with the media since then, I’ll lay out the basic facts that led to the events behind this documentary. Jay Leno announced that Conan O’Brien would succeed him as host of The Tonight Show, then he didn’t leave for years, then, when he finally did leave and O’Brien took over the show, Leno announced that he would start a new show and it would run immediately before The Tonight Show, essentially stealing a chunk of O’Brien’s thunder and audience. Then Leno convinced NBC to move his show to The Tonight Show slot, moving O’Brien to after midnight. O’Brien had enough and quit, quite publicly.

NBC paid him heaps of money and let him leave without suit if he would agree not to appear on television or speak ill publicly about The Tonight Show for one year.

So, does the workaholic, driven O’Brien take this time off to opine or write or spend time with his family? Of course not, hence the title. He launches a live show tour of the US called The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour. This documentary is somewhat about his fall from The Tonight Show and somewhat about his plans for the future, but largely it’s about the tour and, via the tour, a look at his life immediately following the Tonight Show debacle.

O’Brien was a lead writer for The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, Late Night and The Tonight Show. He’s a seriously funny guy whose comedy has greatly impacted modern comedy in ways many people don’t realize. When this crap all went down last year it was a great disservice to him. This doc is an interesting and thorough look at his reaction to this disservice. It is not fluff, it’s a very transparent look at a dark time for O’Brien and it’s certainly a good watch.


Mr. Popper's Penguins

Yeah, that’s right, I saw it. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m reviewing it. Hey, I’ve got nothing to hide.

Tom Popper never had a relationship with his father and, as a result, has a barrier up that keeps him from being too warmhearted or human. He’s a coldhearted commercial real estate agent with a lovely penthouse apartment and a broken down life. His father suddenly passes and leaves Tom a very peculiar inheritance…six penguins. I’m going to let you write the rest of the plot description. I’ll give you only two hints: he doesn’t get rid of the penguins and they serve as a catalyst that brings about the warming of his heart (irony?). Sorry, before laying that bombshell on you, I should have warned you to sit down first, as I know it must have come as quite a shock.

Ok, so, this movie’s plot progression and series of events are totally ridiculous. They are unbelievable , unrealistic and, well, ridiculous. That said, it wasn’t nearly as awful as the critics largely say it is. Jim Carrey is actually quite good in it. The writing is largely crap and the story makes the writing look like a true work of art, but he does a decent job with what he has and is fairly funny at times. Movies like this weren’t made for me (and probably not for most of you), but, let me say this, I saw it as part of a ‘family matinee’ program at a local theater and the kids were downright cheering at the end. My 11-year-old declared it her new favorite movie of all time.

In short, it’s stupid, it’s ludicrous, but it’s also sweet and pretty bearable. I have a close friend whose kids are crazy smart for their age and homeschooled. When I saw this movie, I asked them, when I saw them later that day, if they’d seen Mr. Popper’s Penguins and they said “what do you mean ‘seen,’ it’s a book and yes we’ve read it, we love it.” Turns out it was a Newberry Award winning kids book written in the ‘30’s. Listen to those sweet nerds and read your kids the book, but if you get dragged into seeing the movie, don’t worry, it won’t hurt too much.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Everything Must Go

Everything Must Go is about, well, letting go and moving on. Often our lives begin us down a path and keep us on that path, whether we like or not, whether it is productive or not. Nick’s life was good. He had all the trappings of success, with a wife, a good job and a beautiful house in the suburbs. While his life might look like it is squarely on track, he keeps derailing it with a major drinking problem. This pot of rancid water finally comes to a boil when he has yet another relapse, leading to him losing his wife, losing his job, potentially committing adultery and being locked out of his own house, all in the course of a couple days. Now, his accounts are all frozen, he has no money, all his belongings are sitting on his lawn and he feels like he has nowhere to go. So, what does he do? Drink himself into oblivion? Sit on his lawn until his wife comes back and attempt to get yet another second chance? Or does he move on and put his life on a new path?

While Everything Must Go is a hopeful and enjoyable movie, it lacks a certain amount of dramatic punch with its overreliance on formula. In other words, it’s not a bad movie, but I don’t think a single scene had anything all that surprising in it. You can predict every twist and turn. I’m a big believer that life is what you make of what is given you, and I like that this movie shares that sentiment. What truly keeps this flick out of made-for-tv territory is Will Ferrell’s performance. He is just great. His Nick is well formed, natural and capable of gently keeping the movie from being a major downer. Based on the subject matter, in fact, you would think this would be the most depressing movie of the year, but it’s not at all and that is largely due to Ferrell. He makes a mediocre movie very very watchable. In short, it’s not the best thing around, but it’s a sweet story with a good message and Ferrell knocks it out of the park.