Skip to main content
Tag

intimate strangers

Review: Tropic Thunder, Baby Mama and Paris

By Cinema, Reviews

Tropic Thunder posterYou can for­get all talk of an Oscar for Heath Ledger’s Joker. If any­one is going to win an Academy Award for wear­ing some dodgy make-up in a noisy block­buster no one is get­ting in the way of Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder. Totally believ­able, every second, as Kirk Lazarus, the Australian meth­od act­or (and multi-Oscar win­ner him­self) who under­goes a rad­ic­al skin re-pigmentation in order to por­tray tough-as-nails African-American Sgt. Osiris in the eponym­ous Vietnam epic, Downey Jr’s per­form­ance is a thing of won­der: A mas­ter­piece of tech­nique, tim­ing, self-belief and dare I say it, soul. I’m still chuck­ling days later.

Lazarus is one of a hand­ful of pampered Hollywood stars on loc­a­tion to recre­ate the last great untold Vietnam story – the suicide-mission res­cue of “Four Leaf” Tayback dur­ing the legendary “Wet” Offensive of ’69. Under pres­sure from the stu­dio to get back on sched­ule (and from hand­less “Four “Leaf” him­self, Nick Nolte, to toughen the pencil-kneck panty-waists up a bit) dir­ect­or Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) goes ver­ité. With the help of hid­den cam­er­as, spe­cial effects and some heav­ily armed South East Asian drug lords, Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and Alpa Chino (rel­at­ive new­comer Brandon T. Jackson) find them­selves up to their eye­balls in real­ity. Comedy real­ity, which is the best kind. One of my favour­ite films of the year so far, and I haven’t even men­tioned Tom Cruise’s dancing.

Baby Mama posterCompared to the fero­cious energy of Tropic Thunder, Tina Fey’s Baby Mama seems like a com­edy from a dif­fer­ent era. Fey plays über-clucky Kate Holbrook – suc­cess­ful middle-manager in Steve Martin’s organ­ic pro­duce com­pany. Desperate for pro­geny (yet strangely single), her T shaped tubes make her a poor bet for IVF and the wait­ing list for adop­tion is years long. Surrogacy is her only solu­tion and she barely bats an eye­lid at the $100k price tag (she must share John McCain’s account­ant). Despite the amount of money chan­ging hands it is the sur­rog­ate that inter­views the, what’s the word, sur­rog­atee and she suc­cess­fully passes the aura test posed by white trash “host” Amy Poehler (Blades of Glory).

The lively Poehler kick-starts every scene she is in while better-known stars like Martin, Greg Kinnear and Sigourney Weaver phone in their per­form­ances. Meanwhile Fey (“30 Rock”) is like­able enough, although the char­ac­ter seems to be in a world of her own most of the time, and Romany Malco from The Love Guru plays the token black char­ac­ter – a ser­vant. Baby Mama is fun­ni­er, the more pregnancy-specific it gets. When it goes gen­er­ic (speech-impediments, Martin’s new age schtick) it misses even the biggest tar­gets by miles.

Paris movie posterParis is both the sub­ject and the object of Cédric Klapisch’s ensemble drama about a cross-section of mod­ern Parisian soci­ety. Romain Duris and Juliette Binoche are sib­lings, single, on the cusp of 40 and ali­en­ated from their par­ents. Duris is told his heart con­di­tion may fin­ish him off soon­er rather than later and mopes around the apart­ment, feel­ing sorry for him­self while Binoche (like women every­where) puts her own life on hold to care for him and her three chil­dren. Meanwhile, hang­dog aca­dem­ic Fabrice Luchini (Intimate Strangers) has a crush on his beau­ti­ful stu­dent Mélanie Laurent, his archi­tect broth­er is about to become a fath­er but can­’t stop cry­ing. At street level, the mar­ket stall­hold­ers are also look­ing for love in the big city but have a more dir­ect way of going about find­ing it.

I’ve made it seem a lot more con­trived than it actu­ally plays out. The dir­ec­tion is subtle and the per­form­ances are involving. It does suf­fer from the usu­al French cine­mat­ic philo­sophy, that work­ing class exper­i­ence is some­how more real than the self-absorbed bour­geois middle classes, but actu­ally argues its case pretty well.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 28 August, 2008.