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

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)

 

The Green Hornet


The Green Hornet

Britt Reid and Kato are a bit early for Mardi Gras.

(2011) Pulp Hero Adventure Comedy (Columbia) Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Tom Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos, David Harbour, Jamie Harris, Chad Coleman, Edward Furlong, Analeigh Tipton, James Franco. Directed by Michel Gondry

The Green Hornet emerged from the radio serial and the pulp fiction heroes that introduced us to masked characters such as The Shadow. It was a different era, to be sure, with a Japanese (and then, beginning with World War II, Korean) manservant and a millionaire playboy, scion of a newspaper publishing empire. These days, that seems like something of an anachronism.

It translated well to a 26-episode run in the late 60s on television, with Van Williams in the title role and the legendary Bruce Lee as Kato. While the show didn’t last long, it remained in the public consciousness due to the involvement of Lee. Dying too young will do that to your legacy.

How will such characters translate to the 21st century however? Britt Reid (Rogen) is the party-hearty son of James Reid (Wilkinson), the crusading publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, a newspaper that was one of the last family-owned holdouts in an era of corporate news and the growing incursion of the Internet on the traditional profession of newsgathering. 

When the father turns up dead, it is left to the son to pick up the pieces. He becomes the de facto publisher of the Sentinel, despite having absolutely no knowledge of the newspaper business nor any desire to learn. He relies on his dad’s right hand man Mike Axford (Olmos) for the day-to-day operation of the business.

When a cup of coffee isn’t to his liking, he discovers that the great coffee that he had enjoyed every morning had come from his father’s car mechanic, Kato (Chou) whom he had fired in a drunken rage (along with all of his father’s other personal employees). You see, Britt’s relationship with his dad was dicey, as his father was constantly belittling him with aphorisms like “Trying doesn’t matter if you always fail” with the understanding that Britt always failed. At least he could probably afford the battery of therapists he would probably need after emotional abuse like that from his dad. 

He rehires Kato and discovers something of a kindred spirit. Kato has an affinity for gadgets and a brilliant engineering mind (he’s also a bit of a perv with drawings of women amongst his engineering diagrams). As dear old dad had grown more paranoid that he might be the target of violence, he’d had Kato outfit a 1966 Chrysler Crown Imperial with bulletproof glass and a few weapons of mass distraction. 

Britt and Kato get drunk as men often do when they’re bonding and go out to deface a statue of Britt’s dad that stands guardian over his gravesite, which men often do when they’re bonding. After detaching the statue’s head, they come across a mugging in process. Britt drunkenly tries to prevent a rape from occurring but bungles it, only to be saved by Kato who is also a talented martial artist. 

The experience turns out to be an epiphany for Britt. It was such a blast helping others; why not do it as masked heroes? And in order to throw a twist into things, why not masquerade as villains so that they can topple them more easily from the inside?

Britt uses his newspaper to publicize the new villain who is dubbed the Green Hornet. This doesn’t please Chudnovsky (Waltz), the kingpin of all L.A. gangs. He’s the sort who walks into a nightclub, only to be insulted by the owner (Franco) for not being hip enough, not being frightening enough and for dressing poorly. Chudnovsky responds by blowing up the nightclub and everyone in it. He is worried that people will not perceive him as frightening. If a ganglord doesn’t have his rep, what does he have?

Britt’s increasing incursions into Chudnovsky’s business earn Britt and Kato the attention of the crime boss. Even though the Hornet and Kato are being helped by Britt’s executive secretary (and budding criminologist) Lenore Case (Diaz) and Kato’s not inconsiderable arsenal of gas guns and door-mounted machine guns, Britt not only has Chudnovsky’s army of goons chasing him but also the police and district attorney Scanlon (Harbour) on his back as well. Will the Green Hornet succumb to insecticide before he’s had a chance to sting anybody?

I am torn on this one. Director Gondry is an incredible visionary with such films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (awesome) and The Science of Sleep (not so much) in his filmography, but this is his first really straightforward mainstream film. He adds some of his unique visual flair, like showing how Kato’s mind slows down when in a stressful situation. The pacing is nice and the action sequences are competently done. For someone who has mostly worked on smaller budget films, Gondry does a terrific job here.

So does Chou as Kato. Chou is a pop star in Asia although not so well known here. His English is problematic, but he has the martial arts chops and the likable charisma needed to entice American audiences. He no doubt will be a star here if he chooses to be – and he can lose the accent a little.

Rogen can be a terrific comic actor but this won’t be a role that I’ll rank among his best. His Britt Reid is obnoxious, arrogant and a bit of a screw-up. He’s not terribly likable and we wind up rooting for Kato more than we do for Reid, who is in dire need of an ass-kicking. It’s hard to root for Britt when he treats everyone around him like crap and comes off as an ignorant, spoiled brat who didn’t get spanked enough as a child. That Britt is so badly developed is certainly the fault of the writers – wait, Rogen co-wrote the script. Tsk tsk.  

Diaz is a beautiful woman who can be a pretty good comic actress when she’s given the right role, but she really isn’t given any role here. She’s eye candy, sure but she isn’t onscreen enough to really make any sort of impression. For my money, I would have liked to see more of her and less of Rogen.

The gadgets here are worthy of the Q Division, particularly the Black Beauty (the tricked-out Chrysler) which takes a licking and keeps on ticking. We didn’t need Britt to give us a “whoooa!” whenever a new gadget was introduced, but still, that’s part of the fun.

And it’s fun that’s the operative word here. This is a highly flawed action adventure comic book kind of movie – but it’s entertaining enough to be worth your time and money. Don’t expect much, just sit back in your stadium seat, munch on your popcorn and let the movie wash over you with its car chases, explosions, gas guns and quips. It’s a wild ride and that’s not a bad summary for any movie.

REASONS TO GO: Chou is a great deal of fun and Waltz has great fun as yet another cartoon villain. Gondry really plays up the cartoonish aspect of the genre. The Black Beauty is mofo cool!

REASONS TO STAY: Brett Reid is such a clueless douchebag that there are times you just want Kato to kick his ass. A few of the gags stretch credulity a bit too thin.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some cartoon violence and there are an awful lot of heavy things dropped on the skulls of an awful lot of people. There’s some foul language as well.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Seth Rogen’s first live-action movie that wasn’t rated “R.”  

HOME OR THEATER: Fun movies like this one should be seen in the theater.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Crazies

New Releases for the Week of January 14, 2011


January 14, 2011
Laugh at my jokes or my friend will shoot you.

THE GREEN HORNET

(Columbia) Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Tom Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos, David Harbour. Directed by Michel Gondry

Britt Reid, the son of a crusading publisher, has disappointed his father all his life. When his father is murdered, Britt’s aimless life takes focus. He wants to make a difference. As Britt Reid, ne’er do well and party animal, he is powerless. Aided by his father’s confidante Kato, Britt takes on the persona of the Green Hornet, a crime fighter armed with amazing weapons and cruising the town in the Black Beauty, a car that puts the Q Division to shame.

See the trailer, promos, interviews, featurettes, clips and a web-only animation here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D

Genre: Comic Book Action

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content)

The Dilemma

(Universal) Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly. When a man sees his best friend’s wife cheating on him, he’s stuck with a terrible choice to make. Does he tell him and put him into a place of misery and pain? Or does he keep it to himself. The problem is the more he tries to make things better, the worse the situation gets.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard,

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements involving sexual conduct)

 

The Heart Specialist

(Freestyle) Zoe Saldana, Wood Harris, Brian White, Marla Gibbs. A group of first year residents discover the joys and perils of medicine at a shabby hospital in South Florida, learning not just about being a doctor but being a caretaker as well. All this happens under the aegis of a kindly Chief Resident, who has a skeleton in his closet that threatens to undo all the good he’s done.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Drama/Thriller/Comedy

Rating: R (for some sexual content and language)

Made in Dagenham

(Sony Classics) Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson. At the Ford Plant in Dagenham, England in the mid-60s, a group of spirited women decide that no longer are they going to accept less pay for equal work as the men. A one day walk-out turned into something a lot more important as the women go up against their union, their company, their community and ultimately the British government in their effort to get justice for all women in the workplace. Based on a true story.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama Based on a True Story

Rating: R (for language and brief sexuality)

Rabbit Hole

(Lionsgate) Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard. In the new movie from acclaimed indie director John Cameron Mitchell, a couple is shattered when the worst thing that can happen to a family occurs. Neither one knows how to navigate their way back home from the labyrinth that is the rabbit hole. This won great acclaim at Toronto and was thought to be a leading Oscar contender this year, although the buzz has died down since then.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements, some drug use and language)

Fanboys


Fanboys

Fanboys on the outside looking in.

(2008) Comedy (Weinstein) Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell, Carrie Fisher, Danny Trejo, Billy Dee Williams, Seth Rogen, Allie Grant, William Shatner. Directed by Kyle Newman

Fans have a kind of sweet madness. I’m not talking about the people who follow something on a casual basis; I mean the full-out, balls-to-the-wall, obsessive, dangerously knowledgeable super-fans; the kind that show up at conventions and name their kids after characters in the movies.

This specific fandom that Fanboys is examining is the Star Wars fans. The movie is set in 1998, just prior to the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and arguably the best time to be a fan of the series – when anticipation had fans jumping out of their skins waiting for the new movie, the first in more than 15 years.

Four school friends who hadn’t been together since graduation meet up at a party; Eric (Huntington), the lone respectable one who was working for his dad’s car dealership which he was expected to take over some day; Hutch (Fogler) who lives in his mom’s “carriage house” (read: garage), Windows (Baruchel) a computer nerd who has a thing for a chat room geek he’s never met and Linus (Marquette), who is somewhat angry about the way things turned out.

It turns out he has plenty of reason to be angry; he has cancer and won’t live to see the next movie in the franchise released. Eric, who was once his best friend, resumes that role and decides that his friend WILL see the movie before anyone else does. The four of them – and Zoe (Bell), a very cool friend that frequents the comic book store Hutch and Windows work at and quite possibly the only girl that could hang with these guys – will drive from Ohio to Marin County, California where Skywalker Ranch is located, break in and watch the movie. Windows’ online crush even claims she can get them the plans to the Ranch which is legendary for its security.

They take off in Hutch’s tricked out van, a kind of rolling convention on wheels, and head vaguely West. On the way they will encounter evil Star Trek fans, the all-knowing Harry Knowles (of Ain’t It Cool News fame) and William Shatner himself as they race the clock to get their dying friend to the ranch. Will it be worth the trip?

Of course, we all know at this point in time that The Phantom Menace was a disappointment but back then the possibilities were endless. The world of fans was anticipating what they thought would be an epic movie and nearly every fan website was in a dither. It was a kinder world.

However, the story of this movie might have made a good movie of its own. The movie was completed back in 2007 but was shelved by studio head Harvey Weinstein who felt the cancer subplot was too grim for the comedy he wanted; he also felt it appealed to a niche audience and not a general one. Both are legitimate points.

Director Newman fought the changes and Weinstein eventually assigned director Steven Brill to reshoot some scenes and re-edit it. Fans went ballistic, launching a campaign to stop the changes, opening MySpace pages (“Stop Darth Weinstein”) and threatening to boycott Superhero Movie en masse. I’m not so sure that was a threat so much as a relief.

Eventually Weinstein relented and allowed Newman to re-cut the movie a third time…only he gave him only 36 hours to do the work. The movie bounced from release date to release date over the course of three years until it finally got an extremely limited release in February 2009 and, as you can see from the box office performance below, died like the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi.

It’s kind of a shame because the movie isn’t too bad. It got a critical shellacking which, frankly, illustrates why critics are out of touch with the audience that comes to the movies. People do get involved with their favorite franchises. Laugh and make fun if you want to, but it fulfills something in people, be it Trekkers, Star Wars fan or Twilighters. Those who judge the lifestyles of these people are the ones who really need to get a life.

For the most part, the performances here are okay although there’s nothing here that’s going to supercharge any careers. Baruchel is sweet as Windows and Marquette has some nice scenes as Linus. Mostly, the star power is in the cameos and there are plenty of those, from Star Wars vets Fisher and Williams to Shatner and Rogen (who is amusing as an overbearing Trek fan).

There are a lot of asides that will have knowing fans nodding in satisfaction; I can see how audiences not super-familiar with the Star Wars saga might feel left out a little. However, the movie really isn’t for them anyway. The DVD extras on several occasions call this a love letter to Star Wars but I don’t think it actually ends up that way. It’s more a love letter to the fans, and not just of Star Wars but of all things that excite the imagination and promote obsession. It’s sweet-natured and while not everything works, I am positive that the love is sincere. I’d much rather see a movie like this one than a thousand big budget big star comedies whose sole reason for being is to fatten the bank accounts of those involved. Sincerity trumps budget every time.

WHY RENT THIS: A very sweet homage to fandom, particularly that of Star Wars. Some of the cameos are actually well thought-out.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit gratuitous in places and the humor – well heck the whole dang movie – is going to appeal to a very limited audience; some of the references will go right over the heads of ordinary folk.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of crude humor, much of it sexual (as you might expect from a bunch of guys who don’t get laid much). There’s also some drug use in the movie, as well as a heaping helping of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The guards at Skywalker Ranch wear uniforms from THX-1138, one of Lucas’ early films (and one he references regularly in subsequent films). The head guard is played in a cameo appearance by Ray Park, who played Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is some webisodes that were available before the movie’s release, as well as a character study but really, most of the extras are relatively mundane as these things go.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $960,828 on an unreported production budget; the film was undoubtedly a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Answer Man

Funny People


Funny People

Jason Schwartzmann, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill are all funny people.

(Universal) Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Eric Bana, Leslie Mann, Jason Schwartzmann, RZA, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari. Directed by Judd Apatow

We love to laugh. Those who can make us laugh with amazing regularity own a special place in our hearts. However, the cost of that laughter can often be unbearable.

George Simmons (Sandler) is one of the planet’s top comedians. His movies have grossed hundreds of millions, and his stand-up act is legendary. He is also undeniably alone; his ex-girlfriend Laura (Mann) left him because George cheated on her. Now, George has just received some devastating news – he has a rare and fatal blood disease. His doctors want to try an experimental treatment, but the prognosis is grim.

Ira Wright (Rogen) is an aspiring stand-up who, as his co-worker Chuck (RZA) at the deli he works at opines, isn’t very funny. Ira sleeps on the couch in an apartment shared by Ira’s friend Leo (Hill) who is also a stand-up comedian (only much better and more successful) and Mark (Schwartzmann) who has hit the jackpot – he’s the lead on an NBC sitcom that, while not very good, at least pays Mark exceedingly well.

George decides to excise his demons through standup and goes to an open-mike competition at his old stomping grounds where Ira and Leo are also performing, along with Randy (Ansari), a rival comic with a biting sense of humor. George is somewhat impressed with Ira and Leo and offers them jobs as writers but Ira, in an uncharacteristic move, cuts Leo out of the equation.

The two form an odd relationship as George hires Ira to be his assistant but there’s definitely a bond between them. Ira is one of the few people…okay the only person…that George can confide in. Otherwise, George is somewhat insufferable, often treating Ira like dirt, so isolated by his own celebrity that he can’t reach out in his hour of need.

Despite the title, this isn’t a movie about comedy or even really about comedians, and despite the plot it’s not a movie about dealing with mortality either. That’s more or less a side issue. What the movie is about is isolation and what it does to us. This is a movie about human beings who happen to work as comedians, but it isn’t about being a comedian.

If this all sounds confusing, don’t be. It works as a matter of fact, particularly the first two-thirds of the movie. Where it falls flat is in the last third wherein George tries to win Laura back from her obnoxiously macho Aussie husband (Bana). Even though Mann gives a thoroughly satisfying performance in her role as George’s muse, the sad fact of the matter is that the situation here is painful in many ways and when Ira pleads “Can’t we just go now” I can empathize.

On the plus side, Sandler and Rogen both give their best performances ever. Sandler shows the kind of depth he displayed in Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me and takes it to new levels. This is far from the lovable kinds of characters he’s played in movies like Happy Gilmore or Bedtime Stories; in fact, George Simmons is a bit of a prick. It takes some courage to go as far out of his comfort zone as Sandler appears to here.

Rogen has mostly played lovable stoners throughout his career. Here, he is a bit more driven, a bit more ambitious and a little less lovable. He’s basically a decent guy and yet he screws over a friend. He is kind of sweet on fellow comedian Daisy (Plaza) but can’t bring himself to ask her out on a date and gets furious with her when she sleeps with Mark. Yes, he’s a bit of a loser but one senses he isn’t going to remain that way for long.

I liked the movie enough to overlook that final reel which doesn’t work as well. The crux of the movie seems to belong more in the relationship between George and Ira than it does to George and Laura; certainly that whole sequence could and should have been cut down significantly.

What works here works really well. The standup sequences are incredible in places, and I did laugh a lot throughout. While there is a good deal of emphasis on penis humor, it isn’t enough to be off-putting. Sadly, the movie was mis-marketed by Universal who portrayed the movie as a straight comedy and it really isn’t that, so the film didn’t do the box office it probably deserved. However, it is worth taking a peek, particularly if you like your movies to run the gamut of emotions.

WHY RENT THIS: Some genuinely funny moments as well as some genuine pathos. Sandler and Rogen are at the top of their games.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The whole winning back of his wife thing is often awkward and uncomfortable.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a tremendous amount of blue language and some crude sexual references; it’s R-rated stand-up comedy for sure.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: George and Ira are named after the brothers George and Ira Gershwin, the famous composer and lyricist who among other things, composed Rhapsody in Blue.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a lot going on, both on the 2-disc Collectors DVD edition and the Blu-Ray.  There is a video diary from Apatow that gives extensive insight into the making of the movie. Archival footage shows Sandler and Apatow appearances on Letterman, Dennis Miller’s talk show and “The Midnight Hour with Bill Maher.” There’s also a faux documentary on Randy, the Ansari character who will be getting a feature film of his own shortly and a “highlight reel” of George’s film career. There are also the full versions of the songs James Taylor performs at the MySpace Party, as well as full jams between Sandler and Jon Brion, and some rapping by RZA. The Blu-Ray version also contains an appearance on the Charlie Rose Show by Sandler and Apatow promoting the film. All in all one of the more impressive packages for any recent release.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Eat, Pray, Love

Zack and Miri Make a Porno


Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Didn't I see this in a letter to Penthouse?

(Weinstein) Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Traci Lords, Katie Morgan, Ricky Mabe, Jason Mewes, Justin Long, Jeff Anderson, Brandon Routh, Tom Savini. Directed by Kevin Smith

I am quite frankly a big Kevin Smith fan. Chasing Amy is one of my favorite movies from the Nineties, and I also adore Dogma and Jersey Girl (which I guess makes me a fanboy). While I wasn’t high on Clerks II or Mallrats I still admire them as well. I guess it’s safe to say he has a whole lot of leeway with me when it comes to his movies.

Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks) have been friends since high school and while they’ve never been romantically involved, they manage to stay close; in fact, they share a dumpy apartment. The electricity has been shut off just before they go to their high school reunion, one which is important more to Miri than to Zack (she’s even managed to procure a new dress for the occasion). Zack works at a coffee bar with his good friend Delaney (Robinson) and Miri is forced to change into her new dress in the coffee bar’s kitchen, which is filmed by a couple of teenaged dickweeds. More on that later.

The reunion is a complete disaster. The guy that Miri is trying to impress, Bobby Long (Routh) turns out to be gay, much to the amusement of Zack who discovers this while talking to Bobby’s gay porn star partner (Long) who then proceeds to out Bobby to the whole class. Ouch.

With funds getting thin, water and power turned off and the prospects of not being able to pay the rent looming, they discover that Miri has become famous for her striptease video which the dickweeds uploaded to YouTube. They need cash quickly and they decide to cash in on Miri’s newfound fame by making a porno. Hey, if Bobby’s gay partner can do it, then it can’t be impossible can it?

Surprisingly, Miri agrees to the scheme. To this end they recruit Delaney as a producer, high school videographer Deacon (Smith regular Anderson) to shoot the movie, as well as several would-be porn stars to act in it; Bubbles (former porn star Lords), Stacey (current porn star Morgan) and the very well-hung (and possibly deranged) Lester (Mewes). They decide to do a Star Wars-themed porno but when circumstances force that to shut down, they decide to film in the coffee bar instead.

However, when the time comes for Zack and Miri to film their own sex scene, they discover that it becomes more than sex. Once the two of them have scenes with other actors, it complicates a friendship which when they least expected it had grown into something else.

Smith is maybe one of the best writers in the business. Yes, he’s fond of using a variety of profanity but he uses it in the same way Hemingway used machismo, as a means to an end. The characters here are all interesting; you could spend time with any one of them and find yourself entertained and you get a room full of them at any given time. There are moments that are hysterically funny, and others that are quietly endearing.

Smith’s movies have a tendency to be rather raunchy on the outside but have a surprisingly tender inside. Chasing Amy for example was one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen, and one that gets what love is more thoroughly than any ten Lifetime Movie Channel movies you could name. Certainly sex is part of the equation, but as it does for Zack and Miri, the movie goes beyond the equation by a really large margin. It’s actually refreshing to see a movie that balances both the emotional with the physical instead of dwelling on one or the other.

Rogen made a name for himself as the endearing schlub in Knocked Up and this movie comes closest to the sweetness of that character. Sure he has an immature streak but you love him anyway, the same way you love that friend of yours that can be counted on to mess up at any given time, but not so much out of malice or stupidity but more out of bad luck and low ambitions.

I can’t tell you why Elizabeth Banks isn’t an A-list star, but she surely deserves to be. She is pretty and smart and plays a character that can hold her own with anybody. Sure, she makes some poor life choices but again, who hasn’t? Roles like this are perfect for Banks, who can be sexy and smart – often the two don’t mix in Hollywood. I’m still hoping for a big breakout film for her, but there don’t appear to be any forthcoming for her for the moment.

There is a lot of graphic nudity, simulated sex and sexual humor here, so this is definitely not for the Puritanical at heart, but those who aren’t easily offended will find this a bit refreshing; a raunchy comedy that actually is more than just funny. It makes you feel good and at the end of the day, isn’t that why you see movies in the first place?

WHY RENT THIS: There is more heart than crotch in this movie despite all signs to the contrary. Rogen and Banks exhibit some real chemistry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sensitive souls will find the overuse of the f-bomb and the frank sexual humor off-putting.

FAMILY VALUES: This very nearly got an NC-17 and while it didn’t really deserve it, there is plenty of sexuality and frank discussion of sex, enough to scare any prude away.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Tom Savini, who plays Jenkins, was the make-up man for Dawn of the Dead which was set in Monroeville, Pennsylvania; the hockey team Zack and Deacon play on is called the Monroeville Zombies.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: As with most Kevin Smith films, there is a wealth of features, deleted scenes and other assorted goodies totaling well over two hours.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Knight and Day

Paper Heart


Paper Heart

Love means never having to say you're too freaking twee.

(Overture) Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera, Jake M. Johnson, Seth Rogen, Demetri Martin, Martin Starr, Bill Hase, Gill Summers. Directed by Nicholas Jasenovec

Love is elusive and difficult to pin down; it’s often difficult to tell if we are truly in it or just feeling surface infatuation and many times we don’t realize we’ve had it until we’ve lost it. It’s a confusing emotion that turns us upside down and inside out, and there are those who simply don’t want to deal with it at all.

Actress/Comedian/Performance Artist/Musician Charlyne Yi isn’t one of those. She is very skeptical about love; she’s never felt it and is fairly certain she never will. Still, she’s curious about it and wonders what all the fuss is about. She takes a camera crew out and interviews a variety of people both known and unknown on the subject.

That’s the movie in a nutshell but there are some things you need to know about the movie otherwise you’ll be hopelessly lost. First, while the interviews themselves are real, the film crew you see on-camera is not. While the director of Paper Heart is in fact Nicholas Jasenovec, the man you see onscreen is not – he’s actor Jake M. Johnson playing Nicholas Jasenovec.

Also, the romance between Yi and actor Michael Cera is also for the most part staged. The two were actually already a couple by the time filming commenced, although the relationship ended while the two were doing a publicity tour (seems kind of cold time to dump your girlfriend but there you have it).

The movie is punctuated by paper and pipe cleaner “animations” put together by Yi and her dad after the shooting had been completed. This is supposed to look artistic and trendy and cute and is in all honesty rather pointless; while something like pathos or warm fuzzies are supposed to be enticed from the audience all I felt was irritated.

The best part about the movie is the actual interviews. While they run the gamut from sincere to silly, they are at least authentic and some of them are quite insightful. There was no pretense in any of the responses and that was quite refreshing after the staged portions which got so twee and so self-consciously cute that I thought the studio should have handed out free insulin to everyone who bought a ticket to see this.

Now, I’m usually not one to pass judgment on the life choices of others, but I have to tell you that I found all the people in the “non-fiction” portions to be a little too condescendingly hip; I felt like I was being laughed at more than anything. Still, the interviews more than make up for the flaws of the rest of the film; if they had stuck to that documentary instead, they might have had a really good movie instead of just a mediocre one.

WHY RENT THIS: The “serious” documentary interviews with ordinary people are actually pretty good.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: OHMYGAWD by the end of the movie you want to kill these pretentious, overbearing, obnoxiously cute people.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words but otherwise this is fine for every audience.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bobcat Goldthwait and Bill Hader were also interviewed for the movie, but their sequences were left on the cutting room floor.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Jonah Hex

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

Monsters vs. Aliens


When a 50 foot woman and an alien robot get together, it's time for urban renewal.

When a 50 foot woman and an alien robot get together, it's time for urban renewal.

(DreamWorks Animation) Starring the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Kiefer Sutherland, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Colbert, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jeffrey Tambor, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski. Directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon.

Monsters represent our fear of the things in the darkness of the world we know. Aliens represent our fear of the things in the darkness of the world we don’t. Sometimes it’s the devil we know that’s preferable.

It is Susan Murphy’s (Witherspoon) wedding day. She’s marrying local weathercaster Derek Dietl (Rudd), an egocentric sort with dreams of anchoring a network news desk. For now he has the weather in Modesto to contend with. Unfortunately, Susan’s big day is going to have a bit of a snag – she is struck by a meteorite which makes her glow – then it makes her grow. A fifty foot bride can give a groom second thoughts for sure.

She’s trundled off to a top secret facility where the government has been housing monsters for years, presided by deranged General W.R. Monger (Sutherland). Currently in captivity are the mad scientist Dr. Cockroach (Laurie), who’s really a nice guy at heart even if he is a cockroach that can build a computer out of a few spare parts and a couple of pizza boxes. There’s also the Missing Link (Arnett), a sort of semi-amphibious relative of Hellboy’s Abe Sapien; the brainless amorphic gelatinous mass that is B.O.B. (Rogen) and a giant caterpillar named Insectosaurus.

Meanwhile, an alien wants the meteorite that made Susan into Ginormica. His name is Gallaxhar (Wilson) and he’s essentially a squid with a large forehead that reminded me of the comic book character Sinestro, and not in a good way. He sends a giant robot to retrieve the meteorite. The combined might of America’s armed forced aren’t enough to stop the robot, and the President (Colbert) is desperate. He needs a miracle. He needs…monsters.

In all honesty, some of the elements here smack at commercialism. The title screams high concept, and in some ways the monsters seem to be designed more for merchandising than to have any sort of meaningful personalities. Still, directors Letterman and Vernon are fortunate that their voice cast does a terrific job. Witherspoon is dandy as Susan, whose self-confidence takes a hit when her boyfriend dumps her and Rogen as the cheerfully mindless B.O.B. steals nearly every scene. Not everyone can fall in love with a Jell-o mold convincingly, but Rogen does it.

As with most kid movies, there are some life lessons to be found here, mostly having to do with being strange and different, and celebrating those unique things. Far from being scary, the monsters are just like us and are far more oppressed by us than we are by them. This isn’t a new point but at least is a valid one.

The script seems a bit rote to me. In recent years we’ve been besieged by computer animated features of varying quality. At the top of the food chain are the Pixar movies, which have grown more and more sophisticated – not only in terms of the technical aspect, but also in the stories being told – as the years have gone by. Other animation divisions, trying to cash in on the lucrative animated feature market owned by Disney for so long, have had some successes (such as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Ice Age) but for the most part haven’t been able to capture that quality. Here, we’re a long ways off. While some of the jokes are legitimately funny, for the most part there is nothing here the average ten-year-old hasn’t seen many times before.

I need to make a comment on the 3D version. The movie is being released both in regular 2D and 3D versions. The 3D was made in the new True-3D process, which DreamWorks Animation boss Jeffrey Katzenberg has hailed as “the future of the movie business.” Maybe so, and in all honesty, it’s quite impressive. Did the movie need to be in 3D? I can’t say that it did. It feels a bit gimmicky, as most 3D movies do. Roger Ebert’s review went on for quite awhile, snarling about 3D in general, labeling it “distracting and unnecessary.” He has a point, but the 3D process doesn’t really affect the movie in one way or the other.

That kids are going to love this is a given. There are marketable creatures in bright colors that are going to appeal to every seven-year-old on the block. The question is, how agonizing is it going to be for their parents to sit through it? Not terribly so, although it won’t go down as easily as, say, Wall-E with discerning moviegoers. Still, this movie is about as brainless as B.O.B. and just as inoffensive. It’s cinematic Jell-O and while there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, if you’re looking for something more substantial, you’ll be better served looking elsewhere.

WHY RENT THIS: The kids will love this. The voice cast actually elevates the material, particularly Witherspoon and Rogen.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The writing is a bit stale, and smacks of a movie that was created strictly for merchandising potential.

FAMILY VALUES: None of the monsters or aliens is particularly threatening or frightening.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of B.O.B. is an homage to The Blob, Dr. Cockroach an homage to The Fly, Insectosaurus to Mothra and Susan to The Incredible 50-Foot Woman.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray and 2-Disc Ginormous DVD editions contain the B.O.B.’s Big Break short in both 2D and 3D (both come with four pairs of 3D glasses), as well as a 3D paddle ball game. The Blu-Ray also comes with a trivia track, while these additions and the single disc basic edition also come with a digital animation video jukebox.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Management