PAUL: The Film Babble Blog Review

PAUL (Dir. Greg Mottola, 2011)

STARMAN meets SUPERBAD in this sci fi comedy that has Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the comic duo from SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ, aiding and abetting an extraterrestrial fugitive voiced by Seth Rogen.

Pegg and Frost, who also co-wrote the screenplay, are a couple of British geeks on an American vacation that kicks off with a visit to Comic-Con in San Diego before making a road trip to alien landmarks from Area 51 in Nevada to Roswell, New Mexico.

There’s a FANBOYS vibe going on as the pair are starstruck at meeting fictional fantasy novelist Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor), whose name is a running gag throughout the film – the joke being that only hardcore nerds know who he is.

Right after stereotypical rednecks (David Koechner and Jesse Plemons) harass Pegg and Frost at a U.F.O. themed diner, our protagonists meet Paul – the CGI crafted little green man from another planet.

“He looks too obvious!” Frost protests, but our snarky title character explains that it’s because pop culture has been inundated with his image in case an encounter occurs.

It turns out Paul, a pot-smoking heavy-drinking party animal of an alien, has escaped from his 60 year imprisonment at Area 51 and is on the run from a government agent (Jason Bateman playing it perfectly straight), so Pegg and Frost’s rented RV becomes his vehicle to an undisclosed location for a spaceship pick-up.

Kristen Wiig, in one of her better performances, jumps on board the RV as a half blind trailer park manager who gets converted from her crazy Christian mind set by the outspoken E.T. and is chased by her father (John Carroll Lynch). Also on the chase are SNL’s Bill Hader and the creepy Joe Lo Truglio as clueless FBI agents.

Every sci fi movie ever seems to be referenced in “Paul”. Lines are lifted from STAR WARS, locations from Star Trek to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS are visited, and then there’s the presence of Sigourney Weaver as “The Big Guy” – Bateman’s boss who will stop at nothing to recapture Paul.

It’s a film for sci fi nerds by sci fi nerds. It’s sloppy and choppy, but it has so many legitimate laughs in it that I didn’t care that it didn’t come close to the visually stylish Edgar Wright films that Pegg and Frost cut their teeth on.

PAUL is fast-paced foul-mouthed fun with an infectious silly tone that never lets up. Although you can see many of the gags coming, they’re still funny when they land thanks to the playful platform provided by Pegg, Frost, Rogen, and director Greg Mottola.

Though I don’t consider myself a STAR WARS fanatic, Trekkie, or sci-fi junkie to any extreme, my inner star-child was greatly amused by these alien antics.

More later…

THE GREEN HORNET: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE GREEN HORNET (Dir. Michel Gondry, 2011)

A $90 million dollar superhero movie dropping in the middle of January may seem like a bad sign, but “The Green Hornet” isn’t terrible – no, it’s just so standard issue, formulaic, and only occasionally funny.

Hmm, maybe it is a bad sign.

Seth Rogen, who also co-wrote and co-executive produced is our unlikely hero here. His character Britt Reid is a partying rich 20 something and fairly close to roles he’s played before. He’s slimmer here, but he’s still the same schlubby loser who lives from buzz to buzz.

When Rogen’s disapproving newspaper mogul father (Tom Wilkinson) dies from a bee-sting, our slang talking bozo inherits his entire estate including his mechanic/man-servant Kato (Jay Chou) who makes a mean cappucchino.

Chou outfits a black Chrystler Imperial with machine guns and bullet proof glass and what do you know – they’ve got a crime fighting duo thing a-happenin’!

Christoph Waltz (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) is the drug kingpin villain who wants to rule Los Angeles with a crew of pimped out thugs and a double-barrelled handgun.

Through the film’s fast pace, albeit one with too many montages, we see Rogen and Chou fight attacking foes, getting their gear together, and smashing up their Imperial so much that they need a line of back-up cars.

There’s also Cameron Diaz in a nothing role as Rogen’s secretary (at least there’s one lady present in this boy’s club I suppose), Edward James Olmos as the newspaper’s long suffering managing editor, and a slimy David Harbour as the District Attorney who’s motives you can see coming from a mile away.

Its a noisy mess of a movie full of destruction displaying very little of the visual style that Gondry has shown in such films as THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. The brief instances of Gondry’s flair are lost in the slick shuffle – a segment with split screens inside of split screens in yet another montage hints at what could’ve been.

As much as I like Rogen and have been highly amused at his work – his jokey jargon didn’t carry the movie through as amusingly as expected. He’s, of course, not an actor that gets lost in a role – he’s just Rogen playing dress-up – and that like just about everything else here gets pretty tiresome.

There’s some entertaining chemistry between Rogen and Chou, but their dynamic seems a bit off at times. However a fight scene between them after a falling out is one of the stand-out set pieces of the film.

As the only one with grace in the cluttered comic book chaos, Chou is the film’s true star. Though underwritten, again like everything else, Chou makes the most of his portrayal of a refined perfectionist who can level an army of gun toting goons.

THE GREEN HORNET is too big, dumb and ho hum to be the major fun its meant to be, but maybe for a mid-January superhero flick it can pass muster.

But just barely.

More later…

Another Round Of Great DVD Commentaries

Several years back I posted about great DVD commentaries with a top ten list of my favorites (“Let Them All Talk” Sept. 29th, 2005). Since then I’ve been collecting notes every time a new (or new to me) commentary was particularly interesting. I’d thought I’d share them in yet another patented Film Babble Blog list. Now, I know a lot of folks don’t listen to commentaries but I thought talking about some really notable ones would encourage folks to give them a try and turn that track on – if only just to sample. So, here goes:

10 More Great DVD Commentaries

1. THE PASSENGER (Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975) A rare feature-length solo commentary track by Jack Nicholson puts this at the top of the list especially as he declares: “This picture, ‘The Passenger’, was probably the biggest adventure in filming I ever had in my life.” His involving comments are helpful because without them the film can be a long haul. Most compellingly is Nicholson’s breakdown of how the final sequence was filmed (contains Spoilers!):

Nicholson: “Now, that shot was the reason they built the hotel. The hotel, in order that the camera be able to dolly out through those bars and out the window…why I hope Michelangelo doesn’t mind my revealing of the magic of his work…was that the entire hotel could be mounted on a crane and broken in half so that they could go out into the courtyard, shoot film back towards the hotel, after they exited, with the hotel having been pushed back together again and reconstructed for the remainder of the shot.”

Whew! Hope Jack sees fit to do other commentaries ’cause that one’s a keeper.

2. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (Dir. John Hughes, 1986)

This customer review on Amazon says it best:

“Film buffs, DVD collectors, and John Hughes fans beware! The “Bueller…Bueller…” edition DVD does not include the commentary track by writer/producer/director John Hughes which was included on the original 1999/2000 DVD release. It is a great commentary and is sorely missed from this edition.”

That’s right, even the new Blu ray of this 80’s teen classic is sans Hughes commentary and the DVD I was recently sent from Netflix was the “Bueller…Bueller…” edition. The Hughes track on the 1999 edition is well worth seeking out because it truly is one of the most insightful listens all the way through. Some sample quotes:

Hughes: “After the film wrapped, Mr. and Mr. Bueller (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett), in real life, got married. At the time we were shooting this, Jennifer Grey and Matthew (Broderick) were dating. It was kind of a strange situation because everybody in
this scene is in love.”

And my favorite bit is the art gallery scene:

Hughes: “And then this picture, which I always thought this painting was sort of like making a movie. A pointillist style, which at very very close to it, you don’t have any idea what you’ve made until you step back from it.

I used it in this context to see that he’s (Alan Ruck) looking at that little girl. Again, it’s a mother and child. The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees. Of course, with this style of painting. Or any style of painting really.

But the more he looks at, there’s nothing there. I think he fears that the more you look at him the less you see. There isn’t anything there. That’s him.” Watch the scene sans commentary here.

Used copies can be found fairly easily of the 1999 version with the commentary as its only special feature (what more do you need?). Just look for the one with the cover pictured to the left.

3. TOUCH OF EVIL: THE 50 ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Dir. Orson Welles, 1958) The packaging is mistaken when it lists the “Preview Version feature commentary” to be Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Restoration Producer Rick Schmidlin. It’s the 1998 “Restored Version” that contains their commentaries. The other versions – the theatrical and preview cuts have fine bonus audio tracks with writer/filmmaker F.X. Feenet and historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore, but it’s the Heston/Leigh/Schmidlin track on the first disc of the wonderful 50th Anniversary Edition that I strongly recommend.

Wonderful moments abound: Schmidlin pointing out: “When you see Joseph Cotton listen to the voice but it’s not Cotton…” Heston: “It’s not Cotton?” Schmidlin: “It’s, uh, Orson’s voice.” Heston: “For Heaven’s sake.” Leigh: “Orson did Joe’s voice?” Also its amusing to hear Schmidlin call out which shots are Welles’s from which are Harry Keller’s later inserts to the repeated rekindling of Heston’s and Leigh’s memories. “You’ve really done your homework” Heston remarks with a slight chuckle in this charming and essential commentary.

4. BLOOD SIMPLE (Dir. Joe Coen, 1984) This beyond odd track features audio commentary by “Kenneth Loring”, the “artistic director” of “Forever Young Films” (a fictional gig – but whatever). Maybe the most surreal listen on this list.

5. TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008)

As 5 time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus in a tense moment making a Vietnam War movie, in black-face mind you, Robert Downey Jr. declares: “I don’t drop character till I done the DVD commentary!” You know what? Like a real method actor, he keeps his word.

In this free form three way between Downey Jr., Stiller, and Jack Black, the snark level is high which is way apt considering the over the top tangents of said film. One such sample bit during the opening mock trailers – specifically “Satan’s Alley” with Downey Jr. and Tobey Macquire as tortured homosexual monks:

Stiller: “Sort of an alternate universe for Spiderman and Iron Man.”
Downey Jr.: “I was trying to ride Tobey when we was shooting this thing but he wouldn’t have none of it. Talkin’ ’bout happily married.”

6. I’M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes, 2007) Haynes’ odd yet transfixing meditation on “the many lives of Bob Dylan” (one of my top 5 films of 2007) confused a lot of people, particularly those unfamiliar with the troubled troubadour’s background. Haynes delivers a commentary that should clear up that huge cloud of confusion as he sites references and breaks down various inspirations for every detail in every scene. Some sample quotage:

Haynes: “This is the entrance of Cate Blanchett in the film. The role of Jude was something that I’d always planned, from the very first concept of the film that I gave to Dylan in 2000, that it would be portrayed by an actress. And the reason for this was really for me to try to get to the core of what this next change really looked like and felt like to audiences at the time. How he became this sort of feline character offstage and this sort of bouncing marionette onstage. Full of all these extravagant androgynous gestures that we’d never seen before and we’d never see again after.

The commentary is filled with so many more elaborate descriptions, or justifications, for every aspect of Haynes’ challenging anti-biopic.


Every Judd Apatow production’s DVD commentary is entertaining, from Freaks ‘N Geeks to PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, but this group cast track with director Mottola, screenwriter Evan Goldberg, actors Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, and producer Apatow is IMHO the best of the bunch. Largely because Apatow brought along his nine-year-old daughter Maude. Apatow tries to get the guys to keep it clean but it doesn’t last long. A sample exchange:

Hill: “This scene is fuckin’ hilarious, man.”
Apatow: “Jonah, Jonah…”
Hill: “Yeah?

Apatow: “Maude’s over there.”
Rogen: “You keep swearing, stop swearing Jonah!”

Hill: “Dude, what is this, bring your daughter to work day? I mean…”
Apatow: “Just be cool man, be cool! This is the only way I could do it…I don’t have a
babysitter, I’m in New York City here to do Conan and Colbert by the way…I don’t have a babysitter so what am I gonna do? Leave her like, uh, with the concierge?”
Hill: “I dunno, dude I’m not…”

Cera: “Like “Home Alone 2!”
Hill: “It’s “Superbad”! I curse the whole movie…the commentary, I mean, it’s like…whatever.”
Apatow: “You know, I’m not trying to ruin it…I’m not trying to ruin it…”
Hill: “Let’s just go back to the movie; let’s just go back to talking about the movie…”
Rogen: “It’s kinda ruining the commentary Judd, if Jonah can’t say
what the fuck he wants to say.
Hill: “Yeah! I can’t curse, why don’t you just…”
Apatow: “You know what? I’m not 15 years old and don’t have a kid – I’m an adult like Greg, I have a child. This is my reality.”
Hill: “If I had a kid I wouldn’t bring it to work with me.”

Whoa – some actual drama there mixed with the laughs. Let’s minus the laughs for this next one:

8. TAXI DRIVER (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976)

Writer Paul Schrader sounds a bit hesitant upon first opening up (“whatever comments I have…are really not from inside the director’s vision”) about the film and his screenplay’s seminal 70’s statement about urban alienation but once he gets going it’s quite a cutting companion piece. Sample quotage:

Schrader: “What happens at the end happens at the beginning.”

“When Marty first told me that he cast Albert (Brooks) I was sort of surprised because, you know, it was a nothing character. Well, that’s the secret: cast the comic in a nothing character and you get somebody interesting.”

“I don’t believe the script should have any references to camera angles whatsoever. There’s only one camera angle in the script, and that’s the tracking shot at the very end, and I put that one in there because I thought that it was important we see this crime scene from the eye of God. And the only way we could make that point is if we put the camera on the ceiling and track.”

9. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (Dir. Lou Adler, 1982) In the interest of space I’ll refer you back to this post (“Talking ‘Bout A Generation Gap” Oct. 3rd, 2008) in which I first babbled ’bout Diane Lane and Laura Dern’s very funny commentary.

10. NASHVILLE (Dir. Robert Altman, 1975)

Luckily before beloved “New Hollywood” auteur Altman died he recorded a number of worthwhile commentaries but this one is absolutely essential for his magnum opus. As rambunctious as Altman was infamous for being, his gruff ingratiating commentary makes you feel like you’re sitting on the couch with him as he rambles. Some random rambles:

“When this film first came out, they hated the music. They said this wasn’t real country music. But I wasn’t looking for good music, not that they make a lot of it there…”

“We cast these cars as carefully as we did the people who drove them.”

“Since we knew that I had no way I could control the palette of this film, the color of this film, because I knew I was going to be dealing in real situation for we were just invading an event. Even though if we created it, we had to deal with…we weren’t paying these people as extras we just had to go where they were.”

Special TV Series DVD Set Honorable Mention: Spaced (Dir. Edgar Wright, 1999-2001) This short lived but brilliant BBC series is outfitted in a nice 3 DVD set with multiple commentary tracks featuring guests like Kevin Smith, Diablo Cody, Patton Oswalt, Bill Hader, Matt Stone, and Quentin Tarantino sparring with Wright and various cast members including, of course, Simon Pegg and Jessica Haynes. Great stuff.

Okay! I hope that’ll point out some good commentaries out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts on essential bonus audio tracks so please send ’em on. You know where to find me.

More later…

FUNNY PEOPLE: The Film Babble Blog Review

FUNNY PEOPLE (Dir. Judd Apatow, 2009)

This movie is further proof of my theory that Judd Apatow wants to be a scatological James L. Brooks. Despite his raunchy bad boy comedy pedigree, Apatow seems, to me, to be emulating the oeuvre of the writer/director/producer famous for classic TV comedy staples like Mary Tyler Moore and Taxi (not to mention extensive work on The Simpsons) and films such as BROADCAST NEWS and AS GOOD AS IT GETS. In other words Apatow wants to make his own TERMS OF ENDEARMENT with dick jokes.

Inching closer to that goal is FUNNY PEOPLE, Apatow’s 3rd film as director, which may look from the marketing to be a comedy that takes dramatic turns but it is really a drama sprinkled with a lot of comic asides. Adam Sandler, Apatow’s former ’80’s room-mate, plays a famous comedian named George Simmons who has made a lot of Adam Sandler-like stupid movies with names like “Mer-man” and “Re-do”. He lives alone in a huge mansion by the beach decorated with posters from his films and his looming loneliness. A young comic, the increasingly skinny Seth Rogen, goes quickly from a brush with celebrity moment with his idol Sandler to being his assistant and joke writer. You could be forgiven for thinking this is just another crude yet tender bromance (brom-com?) in the vein of SUPERBAD or I LOVE YOU, MAN.

A James L. Brookian factor in this is that Sandler is diagnosed with a potentially fatal blood disorder. Rogen is the only one he’s told and the tears start flowing (onscreen that is) when the comic upstart implores his mentor to tell the world of his sickness. There’s also the matter of, as Sandler says onstage: “There is always the one girl out there that got away…the one that got away. Guys have that and serial killers have that.” That comes in the form of former flame (Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann) that our ill protagonist obviously still pines for. She’s married (Eric Bana plays her amusing Australian husband) with children (Apatow and Mann’s daughters Iris and Maude) but she still holds a candle for Sandler. The film then goes from the more interesting world of stand-up comedy, to a less interesting near farce in a Marin County suburban home-set, and in the process, loses its ground.

There are many laughs and genuinely funny people (including Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, and cameos from just about every working comedian in LA) in FUNNY PEOPLE but at 2 hours 26 minutes its way too long with a dragging 3rd act. That’s another reason it’s not a comedy; the unwritten rule that comedies should be around 90 minutes. As such, I could’ve done with more of the backstabbing egos backstage at comedy clubs crux than the ‘will they/won’t they get back together’ relationship rigmarole overall.

There’s also that long running complaint with comedies about all the best jokes being in the trailers and commercials and that’s all too true here. The drama is what’s left, and there’s a lot of it so take note. Still, I bet it’ll be an appealing DVD down the road with an unrated cut, tons of outtakes, extended scenes that are funnier that what’s in the movie, and a crowded cut loose commentary like all Apatow productions have. So even as a mixed bag of a dramedy (or whatever you want to call it) Apatow still makes with the yuk yuks – I just hope next time he gives us more laughs and less pathos.

More later…

FANBOYS: Lame Love Letter To Lucas Has A Few Laughs (New DVD Review)

FANBOYS (Dir. Kyle Newman, 2008)

After doing 2 years time in development Hell, this royally panned project came and went through theaters with warp speed earlier this year. It’s immediately easy to see why. “A short time ago in a galaxy not so far, far away” goes the blue text which fades for the yellow title, done in faithfully curved block STAR WARS font, powering through space to make way for the famous crawl. Yep, it’s that reverential to the beloved space saga but the jokes contained in the crawl like this one: “Ever wonder where these words are flying? Maybe aliens in another galaxy will one day read this and think WTF?” tell us we’re in for crude cheap comedy instead of knowing sci-fi obsessed geek satire.

It’s a shame too, because it’s a interesting premise: In 1998, a group of die-hard STAR WARS fans (Sam Huntington, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, and Chris Marquette) decide to break into Skywalker Ranch to steal a copy of the long awaited EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE. You see, one of them (Marquette) is dying of cancer, so they and obligatory girl geek Kristen Bell, want him to see the movie before his death. Notice I didn’t say it was a good premise, just an interesting one as we all know how EPISODE I turned out – some folks would’ve chosen death over seeing that still reeking pile of CGI, poor plotting, and Jar Jar Binks bullshit. But hey, in the aforementioned premise is the opportunity to parody the lives and dreams of fanatics with pot shots at their arguments over series inconsistencies, disputes with Trekkies, and dead end devotion.

FANBOYS is more concerned with raunchy scatological humor and road movie clichés (like a gay biker bar scene that plays like a outtake from WILD HOGS) than it is with character driven comedy. There are flashes of wit here and there which come mostly in the cameos. Given the subject matter it’s no surprise to see Kevin Smith show up, his pimping out of Jason Mewes is at least as amusing as anything in ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO. Not playing themselves are Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams from the original holy trilogy, they give a bit of credibility to the proceedings even if their parts are little more than walk-ons. For some inexplicable reason, Seth Rogen plays 3 roles – 2 Star Trek nerds and a STAR WARS tattooed killer pimp who the Fanboys tussle with in Las Vegas – yep, it’s that kind of movie.

When William Shatner appears, mocking himself yet again in another throwaway cameo, it’s amusing to note that in the Trek Vs. Wars battle, Star Trek is the reigning winner right now. The J.J. Abrams reboot is bathing in the kind of overwhelming critical acclaim that George Lucas’s prequels never received and its series future looks blindingly bright. FANBOYS is nothing more than star waste in its attempts to be a tribute or homage or comic valentine or whatever. The ending Skywalker Ranch sequence has some charm despite being horribly edited, but it at least hints at the heart this film could’ve had. Just maybe after so many STAR WARS satires from sounder sources like The Simpsons, SNL, South Park, Robot Chicken, Family Guy, etc. this stuff is beyond stale.

Through all of this I’m reminded of a great bit from Late Night With Conan O’Brien: Triumph the Insult Dog (voiced by Robert Smigel) visiting the STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES Premiere back in 2002. Between the bits of the puppet’s prodding ridicule, some young guy dressed perfectly as Spock walks through the hoards of real life fanboys holding his hand high not in a Vulcan salute but in a more universal salute to everyone in the crowd (watch it here). Considering the current status of that rebooted franchise the middle finger seems beautifully appropriate to me.

More later…

OBSERVE AND REPORT: The Film Babble Blog Review

OBSERVE AND REPORT (Dir. Jody Hill, 2009)

Last weekend on Saturday Night Live, Kristen Wiig playing an audience member in a Q & A, said to host Seth Rogan: “You’re in a second mall cop movie? Good luck with that!” It was an obvious dig at his new movie, but once you get past the seemingly similar premise, Rogen’s deluded schlub of a character recalls such an alienated legend in their own mind like De Niro’s Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER more than it does Kevin James’s PAUL BLART: MALL COP. An old school trenchcoated flasher is terrorizing shoppers and employees alike at Forest Ridge Mall and Rogen as head of mall Security is determined to serve up justice. “Hot plates of justice” he specifies to the vein-popping annoyance of the hard nosed police detective (Ray Liotta) called in to investigate.

There is also vandalism and a robbery that Rogen also feels he can handle as he attempts to flirt with Anna Farris as a superficial make-up counter clerk. Rogen trades insults with a kiosk salesman (comedian Aziz Ansari) – one of his many mall adversaries resulting in one of the film’s funniest scenes. Between crude confrontations Rogen gulps free coffee served to him by Collette Wolfe, a sweet girl-next-door but with a leg in a cast, who we know immediately is a better love interest for him than Farris but following Rogen’s every misguided move is the name of the game here. Frustrated with Rogen’s wannabe Police state, Liotta drops him off in a bad neighborhood but it backfires making our would be hero go with gusto into the enlistment process to become a full fledged officer of the law.

Darker than the Judd Apatow produced playgrounds of Rogen’s former films, OBSERVE AND REPORT alternates between edgy and goofy with just the right tone. It’s the best acting I’ve witnessed from Rogen and he’s well matched with the crusty Liotta working his worry lines to great effect, Farris being all too convincing as a vapid vulgar slut, Michael Peña as fellow mall security, and Celia Weston as Rogen’s alcoholic, though supremely supportive mother (as incoherent as she is). Nice comic turns from Danny McBride and Patton Oswalt also fill out the funny.

A much more accomplished and layered film than Jody Hill’s previous piece (THE FOOT FIST WAY), OBSERVE AND REPORT may not be up to the manic comic levels of SUPERBAD or PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (even with the most gratuitous and grotesque display of flabby male nudity this side of BORAT) but it’s still a worthy, if crass, character study that will satisfy fans of lovingly lowbrow comedy such as BAD SANTA or Comedy Central’s Reno 911. Not too shabby a predicament for “a second mall cop movie”.

More later…

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS – The Film Babble Blog Review

So THE DARK KNIGHT is still holding steady at #1 at the box office but riding on its ass at #2 is:

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (Dir. David Gordon Green, 2008)

“Stoner Action Comedy” – those are the key words in all the publicity blitz surrounding this movie. Also the ‘buzz’ (Can’t resist) was that this entry in the juvenile yet thoughtful Judd Apatow produced movie sweepstakes was helmed by David Gordon Green best known for film fare like ALL THE REAL GIRLS, GEORGE WASHINGTON and SNOW ANGELS which has raised a few cineaste’s eyebrows. What we’ve got here is a self-effacing Seth Rogan re-united with his Freaks And Geeks (also an Apatow creation) co-star James Franco as the leads going through some of the same stressful stoned situations that Cheech and Chong (or more recently Harold & Kumar) went through back in the day but this time out we’ve got more heart (of the John Hughes variety), more inventive sideline characters (of the Quentin Tarantino ilk), and lots of sloppy yet involving action (shout outs to the white trash fight scenes of the Coen brothers’ RAISING ARIZONA) to keep us rolling. Sure, on the surface this is SUPERBAD with murder but look closer and you’ll see that PINEAPPLE EXPRESS has a movie mojo of its own.

Rogan plays a process server (funnily called a protest servant at one point by Franco) who spends his days smoking weed between delivering subpoenas, dreaming of being a talk radio personality, and visiting his 18 year old girlfriend (Amber Heard). His new dealer (James Franco), who seems to spend his days watching reruns of 227 while dreaming of being a civil engineer, hooks him up with a rare species of super potent marijuana called “Pineapple Express” which as events go places Rogen at the scene to witness a murder committed by an evil drug kingpin (Gary Cole) and a corrupt cop (Rosie Perez). After that the buzzed buddies are on the run wrongly thinking a fellow dealer named Red (Danny McBride) will help them and that it’s a good idea for Rogen to still make a dinner engagement with his girlfriend and her parents (Ed Begley Jr. and Nora Dunn) while eluding Cole’s hired thugs (Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson). Gross-out humor prevails as our high heroes endure a rowdy car chase, clashes with each other, and finally a warehouse shoot-out with the Ninja-like attack of an Asian gang and many many grotesque woundings.

The premise is so slight that it nearly disintegrates but that hardly matters as there are so many funny lines and a smile inducing joy throughout. Rogan and Franco have a hilarious chemistry especially when disagreeing on their next move with Rogen’s bemused reactions to Franco’s mangling of old cliched sayings: “the monkey’s out of the bottle, man!” Danny McBride, such a stiff in THE FOOT FIST WAY, plays an incredibly amusing character here who steals every scene he’s in as he gets abused more than any one else and even killed over and over a la Kenny on South Park. The only weak scenes are the ones with Cole and Perez who, likable as they are, don’t match the over the top tone as they gruffly flirt while their crooked worlds collide. Likewise Rogan’s girlfriend subplot could be cut altogether which would confirm McBride’s repeated “bros before hos” stance. These are minor grumblings for PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is the funniest movie I’ve seen at the theater this year and has enough laughs for many repeated viewings. With Green’s sturdy direction and Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s gloriously silly screenplay the Apatow universe expands once more with another of a strong line of consistent comedies; movies so full of mayhem and mirth that you don’t have to be stoned to enjoy because they’re baked enough for all of us.

More later…

Pop Culture 101: Today’s Class – KNOCKED UP

I finally got to see Judd Apatow’s hit comedy KNOCKED UP (newly released on DVD) which I really regretted missing last summer in the theaters. I thought it was very funny though it was more of a James L. Brooks style drama than I expected – the 2 hour 13 min. running time should have tipped me off. What really got to me about this anti rom-com about slacker stoner Ben (Seth Rogen) unintentionally impregnating way-out-of-his-league Allsion (Katherine Heigl), is the incredible amount of pop culture referencing going down. The abundance of name dropping, bad impersonations, and snarky wise-cracks would put Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarentino to shame! It’s almost like without these media touch points these people would have nothing to talk about at all. Since I would have nothing to talk about without them let’s take a look at the cinematic schooling KNOCKED UP provides us in pop culture profundity:

WARNING : Many Potential Spoilers

A large percentage of the riffing comes from Ben’s room-mates (Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Jay Barachel, and SUPERBAD‘s Jonah Hill – who all use their real names in the movie). They all have a what they call “the dirty man competition” – a bet that air-headed Martin can’t grow his hair and beard without cutting or shaving for a year. If he lasts that long they have to pay his rent for a year – If he caves and shaves he’ll have to pay all of their rents for a year. So they hurl insults relentlessly at him – calling him SERPICO, Charles Manson, Chewbacca by way of Jay’s horrible impression, and Jonah asking him if he had a hard time changing his name from Cat Stevens to Yusef Islam. Martin: “yeah, it was awkward.”

The gang has a website in the works – Ben’s pitch: “only at * will customers be able to find exactly into what movie their favorite stars are exposed”. It seems to be a premise created soley to riff on Jamie Lee Curtis’ infamous full-frontal in TRADING PLACES, Julianne Moore’s pantless appearance in SHORT CUTS , we actually see them watch the Denise Richards/Neve Campbell lesbian love scene in WILD THINGS on TV, and Meg Ryan’s nude scenes in IN THE CUT. To their later dismay Pete (Paul Rudd) tells Ben there is already a celebrity nudity website called Mr. Skin. Ben rationales – “Good things come in pairs you know? VOLCANO, DANTE’S PEAK. DEEP IMPACT, ARMAGEDDON, right? WYATT EARP, TOMBSTONE.” To which Jay adds – “Panda Express, Yashinoya Beef Bowl.”

* Yep, it’s a real site now.

Random Reference Riffing :

Shortly before Ben and Heigl meet, the guys discuss Speilberg’s MUNICH – all agreeing on its awesomeousity. Ben : “Dude, every movie with Jews we’re the ones getting killed. MUNICH flips it on its ear. We’re capping motherfuckers!” They all drink to Ben’s proclamation – “if any of us get laid tonight it’s because of Eric Bana in MUNICH!”

Paul Rudd’s character Pete is a A & R guy for some never named record label. Photos of him with Elvis Costello and framed album covers (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “Damn The Torpedos” can be seen a few times) decorate the walls of his suburban home. Pete does a number of impressions throughout the film including Robert Deniro (not bad) and in the deleted scenes – Austin Powers (awful). He and Rogen disagree on music – Ben: “If I ever listen to Steely Dan, I want you to slice my head off with an Al Jarreau LP!” The most defining straight-forward statement that Pete makes of course is encased in pop culture – “marriage is like that show, Everybody Loves Raymond but it’s not funny.”

Pete and wife Debbie (Leslie Mann – Judd Apatow’s real-life wife) have kids (played by Apatow’s daughters Maude and Iris) who argue over whether to listen to the soundtrack to “Rent” or the band Green Day from the back seat of Allison’s car on the way to school. Not far from the tree obviously.

Of course you’ve got to have a “boy loses girl” 3rd act conflict development with both couples spliting temporarily. Ben and Pete take a trip to Las Vegas in which they plan to take mushrooms (acquired by Pete from a roadie for The Black Crowes no less) and go see Cirque de Soleil quoting SWINGERS all along the way – “you’re so money!”

On a hotel room TV a scared Ben, tripping out of his mind on those Crowes roadie ‘shrooms, watches CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (we see shots of Steve Martin running around surrounded by his kids’ wacky shenanagins) and remarks “He’s got 12 kids…that’s a lot of responsibility to be joking about. That’s not funny.”

When Ben starts getting his life together and moves out of what was essentially a clubhouse into a respectable apartment he replaces his framed Bob Marley smoking a big ass spleef poster (obviously pictured on the right) for a ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND poster which he hangs in the soon to be nursery.

Dr. Kuni (Ken Jeong) who delivers the baby angrily tells Ben in the hallway – “if you want a special experience go to a Jimmy Buffett concert!” In the bonus features there is a line-o-rama feature that has dozens of alternate lines for many scenes. There’s an amusing run with trying out variations on the Jimmy Buffett line – some examples: “go to Disneyland”, “go to freaking Busch Gardens”, “go to Korea”, and “go to my apartment, it’s phenomenal.”

Another run on the line-o-rama has Jonah Hill saying “Mr. Skin is like the Beatles and we’re like the Monkees” and “Mr. Skin is like Alec Baldwin and we’re like Billy Baldwin.”

The opening credits sequence shower scene from CARRIE is viewed by Ben and Allison for further research.

Loudon Wainwright III plays Dr. Howard and also contributes the songs “Daughter”, “Grey In L.A.”, and “Lullaby” to the soundtrack.

One of the deleted scenes has Jonah spouting out a hilarious rant about BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN which he says “was made by, like, fuckin’ homophobes in my mind!” He drags MASTER AND COMMANDER and Bruce Willis’s full frontal in COLOR OF NIGHT down into his profanity filled diatribe.

Harold Ramis makes a nice (albeit too brief) showing as Ben’s father. He attempts to console his son in an extended scene with an Indiana Jones analogy – “So, he could be like little Indy and you could be Sean Connery.”
Ben: “Or, I could be the guy that got melted when he looked in the Ark.”

Uncredited cameos by obvious Apatow and Co. friends Steve Carrell, James Franco (plugging SPIDERMAN 3 which was released at the same time as KNOCKED UP and is mentioned several times), and Andy Dick are brief blips on the reference radar – helped by Heigl’s character being a reporter for E! Entertainment Television. That definitely hooked up the attitude-infused Ryan Seacrest appearance. Also swift bit parts from SNL‘s Kirsten Wiig and Bill Hader should be noted too.

Whew! That’s a lot of TRAINSPOTTING for one movie. I didn’t even mention the mentions of Robin Williams, Taxicab Confessions, Martin Scorsese, Cartman from South Park, Doc Brown from BACK TO THE FUTURE, Ben’s Mr. Bill T-shirt, Pete’s Tom Waits “Rain Dogs” T-shirt, Vince Vaughn, Matthew Fox from Lost, Fellicity Huffman from TRANSAMERICA, as well as Ben and gang’s posters of Pink Floyd, Hunter S. Thompson, and Fraggle Rock. Okay, now I ‘ve mentioned them.

There will be a test on all this so I hope you took good notes.

More later…

Apatow Arrives Again

So apparently from just about everything I read on the internets writer/producer/director Judd Apatow is the new king of cinema comedy. Apatow, whose credits include the cult TV series Freaks And Geeks, the 2005 hit THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, and KNOCKED UP which was an early summer smash, now has another #1 movie – SUPERBAD (reviewed below). But wait a minute – he didn’t direct SUPERBAD. As this amusing New York Magazine blogpost tells us Greg Mattola did – Apatow was the producer. So why does it seem so much like Apatow was the director? Well, interviews with the cast members who pretty much were all in KNOCKED UP talk about taking notes from Apatow as much or more than they do Mattola and the film has more than one critic considering it part of Apatow’s series of immature-male-moves-forward-movies. Makes some sorta sense for this mass confusion I guess.

So on to the movie itself :

SUPERBAD (Dir. Greg Mattola, 2007) If you’ve heard anything about this movie you know the drill – we spend the day with a few foul mouthed teenagers trying to get laid. Yep – it’s like a zillion 80’s sex comedies as well as a homage to them at the same time. Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg wrote the semi-autobiographical screenplay when they were teenagers but got too old to play the parts themselves. So now we’ve got Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) filling in and a great pair they are. Their kind of chemistry can’t be faked and when joined by Fogle (more referred to as McLovin because that’s his name on his fake ID) played by Christopher Mint Plasse, a lot of hilarious riffing flies through the air. McLovin has his own sideline adventure when he bemusedly befriends a couple of inept cops played by Rogen (he had to put himself in the movie somehow) and Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader. That bit, while it contains some big laughs, feels more like a comic convention than say, some of the other true to life sloppy shenanigans on display. Much better than your average teen flick these days (and better than anything Kevin Smith has done in ages) SUPERBAD isn’t for those who dislike lots of profanity and dick jokes but just about everybody else will find it really funny.

And Now A Recent Release DVD :

THE LOOKOUT (Dir. Scott Frank, 2007) After a prom-night joyride turns deadly, survivor Joseph Gordon-Levitt lives a quiet life with a blind mentor room-mate (Jeff Daniels) spending most of his time dealing with his guilt and trying to get his sequencing in order. You see – his mind still hasn’t recovered from the accident and he has to constantly take notes to remind himself of the order of his day’s events. He’s not as extreme a case as the guy from MEMENTO but far from fully functional. Gordon-Levitt works as a night-shift janitor in a small bank and is being targeted to be an unwilling participant in a bank heist by a gang of pure movie thugs led by Matthew Goode. This is where the conventions of Gordon-Levitt’s condition are exposed as just another piece in the contrived plot puzzle. It seems to take place in a world with only a handful of characters including a friendly bumbling cop who brings Gordon-Levitt doughnuts and whose fate we can see coming way in advance. Also annoying is the thunderous rumbling sound that’s dubbed onto just about every scene. You know, the sound from so many thriller trailers – usually paired with quick cuts to underscore tension and jar us. It’s a suspense string pulling manipulation – CUT IT OUT! Despite the good acting and some solid direction throughout (the sequencing is in perfect order) it’s unfortunate that a routine heist plot is the order of the day. Gordon-Levitt is good though – he proves that like his intense turn in BRICK that he can handle weighty material. With hope next time around he’ll get something weightier than this.

More later…