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

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New Releases for the Week of March 18, 2011


Paul

What's wrong with this picture? That's right - nerds with beautiful girls.

PAUL

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

A couple of sci-fi nerds from England decide to take a road trip in the United States to visit all the UFO hot spots. While outside of Area 51, they pick up an unexpected hitchhiker – a genuine alien. However, he is nothing like you would expect an alien to be and as it turns out, the movies got them all wrong! Damn that Steven Spielberg!!! In any case, a shadowy government agency is after them because they want the alien back. They’ll want to keep him as far from Arizona as they can.

See the trailer, promos, interviews, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction Comedy

Rating: R (for language including sexual references and some drug use)

I Saw the Devil

(Magnet) Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, San-ha Oh, Yoon-seo Kim. After the pregnant wife of a police inspector is brutally murdered by a serial killer, the inspector crosses the line of justice and vengeance. In so doing, he becomes worse than the monster he’s chasing. Is there a way back into the light once you’ve embraced the darkness?

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

Limitless

(Relativity/Rogue) Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel. A failing writer discovers a drug that allows you to access all of your brain instead of the 20% or so we mostly use now. His new-found mental capacity at first gives him success, wealth and confidence but it also attracts attention from the unscrupulous who want to exploit him. And let’s talk about side effects shall we? 

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language)

The Lincoln Lawyer

(Lionsgate) Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Philippe, Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas. A sleazy criminal defense lawyer who operates from the back of a Lincoln sedan stumbles into a high profile case that could well be his ticket to the big time. However, complications arise (as they inevitably do) and the lawyer winds up facing a crisis of conscience that may well destroy everything he has.

See the trailer, news stories, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for some violence, sexual content and language)

Lord of the Dance in 3D

(SuperVision Media) Michael Flatley, Bernadette Flynn, Tom Cunningham, Clara Sexton. The worldwide stage hit that popularized Celtic dance comes to the big screen in a lavish 3D environment that brings audiences right on the stage with the dancers. For all you who loved the stage show, this is your chance to become part of the show in this limited engagement performance.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Special Engagement, 3D

Genre: Musical

Rating: NR

Tiny Furniture

(IFC) Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Alex Karpovsky. A young woman moves back in with her mom after her boyfriend leaves her and she graduates college with a degree that’s more or less useless. Competing with an overachieving younger sister, she drinks, has meaningless, passionless sex and takes a dead-end job that she hates. She knows what her potential is; she’s just needing someone to tell her who she is.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language, sexual content and drug use)

 

How to Train Your Dragon


How to Train Your Dragon

Hiccup and Toothless take flight.

(DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrara, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kirsten Wiig, T.J. Miller, Robin Atkin Downes, Phillip McGrade, Kieron Elliott, Ashley Jansen. Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean deBlois

Most of us have a preconceived notion of things. We live our lives in a kind of ordered routine, never questioning whether our ideas of how the world works are actually correct.

The village of Berk sits on a mountainous island in the North. It is, we are told, a very old village – but the houses are all new. That is because the village has a pest problem. Not spiders, termites or mosquitoes but dragons. Lots and lots of dragons of every shape and size. Dragons that breathe fire and swoop from the sky. Some have many eyes, others have many heads. Some are long and slender, others short and fat. They come in every color of the rainbow, and some are as black as night.

Those are the dreaded Night Furies, nearly invisible and lightning-fast. Rather than breathing fire, they emit a kind of pulse wave that flattens everything in its path. They are the most feared of all dragons and no Viking has ever seen one, much less killed one.

You see, the village of Berk has another pest, but those are the ones who actually live there. They’re Vikings and not just any Vikings, they’re Scottish Vikings. I know, I’m confused too; I had understood most Vikings to be Scandinavian but apparently I was mistaken. They’re Scots. All they’re missing are kilts. They do have, however, odd names meant to show how fearsome they are.

The most fearsome of the Scots…err, Vikings…is Stoick (Butler), a massive bull of a man with massive red hair and an equally massive red beard who is the most brave, most fearless and most ferocious of the Vikings. His son however, is not what you’d call a chip off the old block. His name is Hiccup (Baruchel) and he is as scrawny as his dad is beefy. He dreams of being a true Viking, a noble slayer of dragons but he doesn’t have the brawn and when the village is attacked, is banished to the armory to sharpen swords and spears with the one-armed, one-legged Cobber (Ferguson), who was once a fearsome warrior himself but now must content himself with training them and arming them.

One thing Hiccup is good at is engineering machines, and he creates a cannon that can launch a bolo a great distance. Despite the misgivings of Cobber and Stoick, he pulls out the cannon to a hillside but it is so dark he can’t see the dragons flying around in the night sky. Aiming and firing at what he hopes is a dragon, he is surprised when he actually hits something. However, he has a hard time being able to tell what it was and where it fell to.

Stoick knows that the Vikings are losing the war against the dragons. Their only hope to end this war once and for all is to find the dragons’ nest and destroy it. He intends to lead an expedition to do just that but before he goes Cobber advises him to put Hiccup into dragon fighter training, which Stoick knows will probably be another humiliation for his son, but he has really hit bottom.

Hiccup is in a class with the aggressive and pretty Astrid (Ferrara) as well as the cocky Snotlout (Hill), the overly intellectual Fishlegs (Mintz-Plasse) and the warring twins Ruffnut (Wiig) and Tuffnut (Miller). Cobber leads the class and as expected, Hiccup is an absolute failure. Cobber gives the class a book that contains all the information about the different types of dragons that the Vikings know about with orders to read it which the others almost disdainfully turn down. Hiccup takes the book to study it. Know thy enemy, after all.

In the meantime, he goes searching for the dragon he might have taken down and comes upon it in a quarry-like valley. It is all-black and nothing like what Hiccup expected. Here, at last, is his chance to kill a dragon, his chance to be a Viking, respected and admired.

Except the dragon is just as frightened as he is and Hiccup can’t bring himself to kill it. He resolves instead to get to know it, especially when he discovers that the dragon was wounded in the attack and is unable to fly out of the quarry or hunt. Hiccup helps to feed the dragon whom he names Toothless for its retractable teeth. Eventually Hiccup learns how to disable dragons with a single touch, and how to frighten them with eels and so becomes an unlikely success in his class. For his part, he designs a mechanical solution to help Toothless fly again and becomes Toothless’ pilot. The two become reliant on one another.

In the meantime, Stoick returns from an unsuccessful venture but is pleased and proud to hear that his son is finally doing well at something. Hiccup’s success in class has reaped the reward of the honor of being the first in his class to be allowed to kill a dragon. However, Hiccup has discovered that dragons are not the evil creatures the Vikings believe them to be and has learned the secret of their lair, the key to destroying the dragons altogether but within the lair is another secret that changes the dynamic altogether. Can he convince his father, who has never listened to a word he’s said his entire life, that he must change his viewpoint or will both dragon and men perish together at the hands of something far worse?

The latest from DreamWorks Animation may very well be among their best. It certainly ranks up there with Kung Fu Panda and Shrek. Directors Sanders and deBlois, who collaborated on Lilo and Stitch for Disney (deBlois also directed the excellent Sigur Ros concert film Heima), have made a film that soars, literally. The scenes in which Toothless and Hiccup fly together are some of the best animated sequences you’re likely to see this year. We saw the movie in IMAX 3D, and that lent a great deal of immersion to the proceedings. It comes as no surprise that the directors previously were responsible for Stitch; Toothless has a great deal of visual similarity to the alien creature of that movie.

The story, based on the book by Cressida Cowell, is very much Animated Feature 101 and doesn’t hold very many surprises. Still, the dialogue is witty in places and Baruchel is superb as the acerbic Hiccup. This is a movie that is certainly intended for much younger audiences (think single digits) and while adults might get a kick out of certain sequences (particularly the flying ones), for the most part it might bore older children and teens and some of the dragons might terrify the easily frightened.

Still, I found the movie has a certain lopsided charm that I can’t ignore. It’s one of those cases where the sum of the parts doesn’t equal to the whole, and the whole is greater than the sum of those parts. That’s a good thing, incidentally; even if I can’t necessarily explain that charm, I can nonetheless report that it’s there and worth experiencing for yourself.

REASONS TO GO: One of the best-looking non-Pixar animated features yet. Awesome dragon flight sequences will take your breath away. Seriously funny in places.

REASONS TO STAY: The plot is somewhat formulaic as far as family films go.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some cartoon violence but nothing you don’t see on the Cartoon Network day after day. Perfectly fine for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A Night Fury dragon can be seen occluding the stars during the DreamWorks opening banner if you look carefully.

HOME OR THEATER: The flying sequences alone are worth seeing in a theater.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Go-Getter

New Releases for the Week of March 26, 2010


March 26, 2010

Hiccup finds surfing the net is a whole 'nother ballgame when you're a Viking.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON

(DreamWorks) Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrara, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kirsten Wiig. Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean deBlois

Hiccup is a Viking…or rather, he lives in a Viking village and aspires to Viking-ness. However, these Vikings are all about killing the dragons that plague their village and steal their livestock. It has been a war without winner for generations until Hiccup actually meets a dragon and finds that they aren’t the monsters he was raised to believe they were. With the two sides locked in a death match, Hiccup has to find a way to get both sides to learn to see the world differently than they have been bred to in order to avoid the extermination of one or both of them.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, 3D IMAX

Rating: PG (for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language)

Chloe

(Sony Classics) Julianne Moore, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Max Theriot. A married woman, suspecting her husband is cheating on her, hires a prostitute to test the loyalty of her man. But when the prostitute is untruthful about the nature of his fidelity, the family is embroiled in a situation that puts them all at risk. Acclaimed Canadian director Atom Egoyan has remade this from the French thriller Nathalie.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, nudity and language)

Greenberg

(Focus) Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Greenberg is a forty-ish L.A. resident who finds himself adrift at a crossroads in his life. Single, unemployed and house-sitting for his more successful brother, he has nothing to show for his existence on this Earth. Trying to reconnect with old friends in an effort to find the qualities he valued in himself that are lost, he finds instead something unexpected. From director Noah Baumbach of The Squid and The Whale fame.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for some strong sexuality, drug use, and language)

Hot Tub Time Machine

(MGM) John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Chevy Chase. A group of four guys who have been friends for 25 years get together at a ski lodge to drink and muse about how dissatisfied they are with how their lives turned out. The four of them get into the hot tub and pass out there; when they wake up, its 1986 and they have the opportunity of a lifetime – to change their lives for the better. Trouble is, they can also change them for the much worse.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language)

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs


Dino line dancing - the next big Hollywood trend.

Dino line dancing - the next big Hollywood trend.

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Simon Pegg, Seann William Scott, Kirsten Wiig, Chris Wedge, Jane Lynch, Josh Peck, Bill Hader, Karen Disher. Directed by Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier.

For most of us, family isn’t the only thing – it’s everything. There are also all sorts of families, some not so readily apparent as others.

The Ice Age is in full swing and Ellie the Mammoth (Latifah) is expecting a child any day now. Her mate Manny (Romano) is of course as bumbling, moronic and well-intentioned as most cinematic expectant fathers. He builds a playground on which he has stuck snowballs to blunt the sharp branches on trees and beaks on birds. He goes into paroxysms of panic whenever Ellie has indigestion. Still, it’s a great time to be a mammoth. Everything is as it should be, with friends all around and Scrat (Wedge) chasing the ever-elusive acorns.

Still, not all is well in paradise. Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Leary) and Sid the sloth (Leguizamo) are feeling a bit left out. Diego, who is losing some of his predatory edge, having been outrun by a gazelle (Hader), decides to leave for greener pastures. Sid, being Sid, finds some strange eggs in an underground cavern and decides to adopt them as his own children. Scrat has discovered a rival, the seductive flying squirrel Scratte (Disher) who is maddeningly attractive.

Then the eggs hatch and instead of furry little mammals there are carnivorous reptiles – big ones. Think Tyrannosaurus Rex-sized. What’s worse, Mama Rex has come looking for her missing babies and is none-too-pleased to find them with warm-blooded types. She picks them up – and Sid too – and carries them back underground.

As annoying as Sid is, his friends decide to band up once again and go search for him in the cavern. Although Manny and Diego are skeptical as to Sid’s survival chances, Ellie and her entourage – Crash (Scott) and Eddie (Peck) the possums – are insistent, so down below they go.

They find a whole new world there, one of lush tropical vegetation, lava falls and lots and lots of dinosaurs. Some are friendly, some not so much. No time to wonder how this world got here or how it can sustain itself, they’ve got to find Sid. However, they need a guide to this world that is unfamiliar and dangerous. One is provided in Buck (Pegg), a one-eyed weasel (make of that what you will) who has spent years tracking down the gigantic white dinosaur who took his eye. Ahab, meet Moby Dick.

I will say this about Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs – the animation is superb, keeping the cartoon-like qualities that satisfy the kids but keeping it real to satisfy their parents. Strangely, though, the performances are a bit flat. There’s no sense of fun and wonder that made the first two Ice Age movies so entertaining. Instead, you get the feeling that this was rushed through for the sole purpose of filling a spot on the Fox release schedule and making the big bucks that the first two did.

There is also a lot more of Scrat and his new partner here. Scrat has become more popular in many ways than the main characters of the story are. They use him for the trailers as well as the advertisements. Scrat, as in the first two movies, almost never interacts with the main characters. While his sequences are among the best and funniest in the movie, they seem almost like commercial interruptions and I suppose in a way they are. Gotta sell that Scrat merch, after all. Still, I’ve always loved the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons and the Scrat sequences are a lot like that.

This is very kid-friendly in every way with all that implies. When stacked up against the Pixar and DreamWorks movies, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaur doesn’t compare very favorably. Still in all, it’s a pleasant if unchallenging 90 minutes of summertime fun, and the kids are going to want to see it regardless of whether you do or not. Accordingly, make plans to buy this for the tykes if you intend to have any peace in your household over the next few months. Don’t forget the toys, action figures and video games that are sure to be demanded in the wake of the movie.

REASONS TO GO: Extremely well-animated. Nothing here is all that offensive, and the Scrat sequences are hysterical at times.

REASONS TO STAY: Kind of boring, kind of bland.

FAMILY VALUES: Perfect summertime entertainment for bored kids – not so much for their parents.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Buck character was based not on Crocodile Dundee so much, but on Frank Buck, a legendary hunter and adventurer whose exploits inspired the TV series “Bring ‘em Back Alive.”

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The Expanded 2-Disc DVD and Blu-Ray editions include the Scrat Pack, a collection of every Scrat short ever made, some of which are included on DVD editions of the first two films. There are also a couple of Ice Age games. Surprisingly, the DVD is presented in 2D whereas it was released theatrically in 3D. That’s a shame, because the 3D presentation was one of the best of recent years.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Amelia