Paul


Paul

Paul still hasn't gotten the concept of the Finger perfected just yet.

(2011) Sci-Fi Comedy (Universal) Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen (voice), Kirsten Wiig, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor, John Carroll Lynch, Jane Lynch, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Blythe Danner, David Koechner, Jesse Plemons. Directed by Greg Mottola

There is a truism about being careful what you wish for. This is particularly true if you’re a science fiction geek on a road trip to America and are driving past Area 51.

That’s what British sci-fi geeks Graeme Willie (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) are doing. They start off at San Diego’s legendary Comic Con (and for those who haven’t been there, it is heaven on earth for the fanboy contingent, a bucket list kind of event) where they meet noted sci-fi author and cult figure Adam Shadowchild (Tambor) who pooh-poohs Clive’s aspirations of being a writer and Graeme’s abilities as an artist. Then it’s into a rented RV and off to see America!

A not-particularly-comfortable encounter with a couple of rednecks (Koechner, Plemons) and a kindly diner waitress (J. Lynch) sends the Brits at warp speed down the Alien Highway where they are overtaken by a sedan which crashes in front of their eyes. When they investigate the wreck to make sure the driver’s okay, they discover to their shock that the driver is an illegal alien – and I’m not talking the sort that George Lopez jokes about. No, this is a little green man, who goes by the name of Paul (Rogen), named after the dog who he landed on with his spacecraft in the opening of the film. Clive promptly faints.

Paul begs Graeme for help, knowing he is being chased by one of those mysterious government agents – Agent Zoil (Bateman) to be exact. Paul needs to get to a particular location so that he can meet up with a rescue ship that will take him home. Graeme being a kindly sort agrees.

What ensues is a road trip odyssey that takes the boys to an American backwater of UFO myth and legend, running into ambitious but ignorant agents (Hader, Lo Truglio), a shoot first, ask questions later Bible-carryin’ shotgun-totin’ Fundamentalist (J.C. Lynch) and his naïve but misguided daughter (Wiig) whose belief system is thrown into disarray by the presence of Paul. When she realizes that all her previously held notions is wrong, she starts cursing up a storm and gets right to drinking, drugging and fornicating. My kind of girl.

Mottola has previously directed comedy gems Superbad and Adventureland. This continues his winning streak, giving us a comedy that is solidly funny throughout, dropping in-jokes about science fiction films and fandom in general like mustard on a hot dog. While some of those insider asides are subtle enough to keep fanboys smug and arrogant, the majority are obvious enough that any moviegoer who has seen at least a few sci-fi movies will get the majority of them.

Pegg and Frost, who established their reputation in such films as Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, are perhaps the best comic duo working today. Their easy rapport helps give Paul its heart and charm, making the two sci-fi geekoids believable without poking fun at the species with undue cruelty which fanboy films often do.

There are loads of cameos and terrific supporting actors here, including Bergen as the grown up version of a girl whose life is forever altered by the crash landing of a space vehicle, and Weaver as the brass-balled head of a mysterious covert government agency. Both Lynches  – Jane and John Carroll – inhabit their roles nicely, with Jane moving a little outside her normal persona as a heart of gold diner waitress with a soft spot for geeks, and John Carroll, nearly unrecognizable as the hellbent pursuer of the geeks who kidnapped his daughter.

As said daughter, Wiig has a role that could easily have been played over-the-top and for parody (and in the hands of a lesser actress – and director – probably would have) but instead, she delivers a subtle and nuanced performance as a woman whose universe is completely shaken up; if she’s a little batty at first it’s completely understandable and so she becomes a sympathetic figure rather than a ridiculous one.

Rogen has gotten some heat from critics for his performance as Paul, which is essentially a motion capture alien who sounds like Seth Rogen. Rogen’s shtick is a little jarring at times, but in defense of the guy you have to remember that Paul has been stuck on this planet for more than 40 years, plenty of time to acclimatize. I thought Rogen gave the movie plenty of character and while whether he has been over-exposed is a matter of opinion, I think he does a fine job here.

Fanboys are going to love the movie a lot more than the average moviegoer and quite frankly, Pegg and Frost have yet to produce much more than a cult following here in the States, nor is Paul likely to generate one. Still, there’s enough here to make it worth your while to check out, particularly if you have a great deal of love for science fiction and its mad, devoted followers. Sci-fi geeks, this is your movie and these are your people!

REASONS TO GO: Laugh-out-loud funny throughout. Lots of sci-fi nerd in-jokes. Pegg and Frost one of the premiere comedy teams working today.

REASONS TO STAY: Hit and miss on some of the humor. May be too fanboy-centric to appeal to a wider audience.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is plenty foul, particularly in Ruth’s case. There is also some drug use and some sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: John Carroll Lynch who plays Moses Buggs is only ten years older than Kirsten Wiig, who plays his daughter.

HOME OR THEATER: I think the movie theater experience is indicated here.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Babel

Advertisements

Adventureland


Adventureland

Jesse Eisenberg is taken aback when he discovers that Kristen Stewart thinks Robert Pattinson is dreamy.

(Miramax) Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Martin Starr, Paige Howard, Margarita Levieva, Wendie Malick. Directed by Greg Mottola

All of us at one time or another have a summer job that at the time we worked it sucked rocks. When we look back on that time in our lives, however, we are almost surprised when we realize our memories of it are fond indeed.

For James (Eisenberg), it’s the summer of 1987. He is getting ready to go to Columbia University, and plans on going to Europe over the summer. Unfortunately for James, his dad is downsized so the money earmarked for his trip has to go to other things. In fact, James is going to have to get himself a summer job.

Qualified to do absolutely nothing, not even fast food, James is beginning to get desperate until he lands a job working the games at Adventureland, the local amusement park. At first, it’s like a living hell; the park is falling apart, the games are rigged and the people there are rude and cruel.

Gradually, James begins to make connections; with Joel (Starr), the bespectacled literary geek who affects a pipe and may be even more picked on than James is; with Connell (Reynolds), the married but cool maintenance man who once played onstage with Lou Reed, at least according to Connell; and most importantly, with Em (Stewart), a fellow games employee who may be even more screwed up than James himself.

Em and James begin an awkward romance, the kind that is so fragile that the smallest stress could blow it away like a dandelion. In that kind of relationship, you tread carefully, each step carefully considered like you’re walking through a minefield which in essence, you are.

Mottola, who previously directed Superbad, steered clear of the raunch of his last movie and instead goes for a sweet-natured dramedy that has at its core a coming of age story but is less that than…well, I’m not sure I can describe it accurately, but suffice to say that the growth that takes place here isn’t the movie’s objective.

The studio, hoping to capitalize on Mottola’s Superbad, marketed it in a way that suggested that Adventureland was similar in tone, and it clearly is not. That may have cost the movie some box office receipts, unfortunately. That’s a shame because this is basically a pretty good film.

Eisenberg, who has been characterized (not unjustly) as a poor man’s Michael Cera, is less annoying than Cera here (which carried over to his next role in Zombieland). However, it is Kristen Stewart who is in my opinion the real reason to see this. While some might hate on her because of her Twilight connection, she is actually a pretty accomplished actress and shows it here with her portrayal of a girl who makes horrible decisions, is desperately miserable and yet remains unbelievably cool.

There are some pretty nice backing performances as well; Hader and Wiig, for example, as the managers of the park who are despised by their employees, and Levieva as the staff slut. It’s all set to a pretty nifty 80s soundtrack that owes more to the Replacements and their ilk than to the more standard Depeche Mode/Wang Chung school of new wave that most period films tend to employ.

Sadly, the movie falls through the cracks between raunchy sex comedy, bittersweet period piece and coming of age drama, with elements of all three. It’s definitely a movie worth checking out, but be warned in advanced that while there are some funny moments, it’s not a comedy per se. It’s the kind of film that can’t really be easily categorized except as high quality.

WHY RENT THIS: A bittersweet paean to summer jobs, uncertain futures and desperate romance.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not raunchy enough to compete with modern comedies and too raunchy to appeal to family audiences.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some drug use, some sexuality and bad language. In other words, I’d probably think twice before letting the kids see this one.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on Mottola’s real-life experiences at the Adventureland park in Long Island; the movie was shot at Kennywood outside of Pittsburgh, however since the real Adventureland has changed so much over the years.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are some fake promos for the fictional Adventureland amusement park as well as an employee training video and drug policy overview.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Miracle at St. Anna

Superbad


Superbad

"You're under arrest. No, really you are. Stop laughing!"

(Columbia) Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Seth Rogen, Bill Hader, Martha MacIsaac, Emma Stone, Aviva, Joe Lo Truglio, Kevin Corrigan, Marcella Lentz-Pope, Roger Iwata, Carla Gallo. Directed by Greg Mottola.

One of the hottest names in comedy in  is Judd Apatow, who is a producer on Superbad. Better still, the writer and one of the stars is another hot name, Seth Rogen (who starred in Apatow’s Knocked Up).

It is the waning days of their senior year and best friends Seth (Hill) and Evan (Cera) have passed through their high school years unremarkably, not cool enough to hang with the “A” crowd and as a result, score with the girls, but not quite dorky enough to be all-out geeks. There is a little tension in the air between them, however; Evan has been accepted to Dartmouth whereas Seth, who is not quite as smart as his friend, could only get into a state college.

They are going through their last weeks being put upon by jocks and wishing they could go to one last party, when they are invited to one by Jules (Stone), one of the cooler girls in school. The problem is that Seth has bragged that they have a fake ID and can get liquor for the party, so Jules is expecting them to. Making things worse, Becca (MacIasaac), a girl Evan has had a crush on, like, forever, is expecting him at the party too.

They might be okay though; their truly dorky friend Fogell (Mintz-Plasse) has gotten himself a fake ID which labels him a 25-year-old organ donor from Hawaii named McLovin (no first name). Seth is pulling his naturally curly hair out by the roots, but Fogell – er, McLovin – is confident. He goes into a liquor store, gets the items on the list provided by Seth and Evan, brings the bottles to the front counter – and gets cold-cocked by a robber.

The case is being investigated by two cops you won’t ever want to see pull you over – Slater (Hader) and Michaels (Rogen). They convince Fogell that they’ll drop him off wherever he wants to go and that they believe he’s a 25-year-old organ donor from Hawaii named McLovin. This forces Seth and Evan to improvise, leading them to the party from Hell. In the meantime, Fogell goes on a ridealong that makes “Cops” look like the “Donna Reed Show”.

This isn’t for the sensitive or the easily offended. The humor can be crude and sophomoric, and four letter words are used with great abandon. That said, this is easily one of the funniest movies of recent years. Some of the gags and jokes were laugh-out-loud, fall-out-of-your-seat, pee-your-pants funny.

The young actors do some really good work here. Mintz-Plasse, who looks like what Stewie from “The Family Guy” might look like when he grows up, is memorable as Fogell, getting not only the smarts right but also the awkwardness and false bravado letter perfect. It’s hard to believe he was only 17 years old at the time of filming. Hill has a great deal of potential, but he was unfocused at times and I wound up kind of getting sick of his character after awhile. MacIsaac is cute, sexy and does one of the better drunk seduction scenes you will ever witness.

Superbad was something of a surprise hit – although in all honesty Columbia’s publicity department pushed it hard. If you can get past the swearing and bodily fluids, you’re probably going to dig it big time. If not, well, there are reruns of I Love Lucy on TV Land that will suit you better.

WHY RENT THIS: Laugh-out-loud funny. Genuinely “gets” teenagers. Walks thin line between sentimentality and maudlin without falling off the rope.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Extremely crude and sophomoric. Final third drags in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: Are you kidding? This is crude, lewd, rude and proud to be that way. Lots of filthy language, plenty of sexual situations and the unrated cut on the DVD is even farther afield than the theatrical release. Not for the kids in any way shape or form even though some of the more mature boys will want to see it.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The lead roles were named for co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are plenty in the extended unrated 2-disc DVD edition. There is a practical joke played on Jonah Hill as well as a faux documentary on actor Michael Cera, a staged interview in which Hill loses it during an interview with a snooty British interview, improvs done in the police cruiser with “special guest stars” including Justin Long, Chris Kattan, Jane Lynch and Kristen Wiig, as well as the traditional Apatow feature “Line-o-rama” in which lines of dialogue from the film are read by different actors.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Angels and Demons