“The Guilt Trip” is a holiday comedy with a modicum of wit and grit, stock but not rote, as opposed to other current attractions like post-”Fockers” product “Parental Guidance,” which the presence of the abysmally oleaginous Billy Crystal was sufficient to keep me at a distance, despite the presence of attractive players like Bette Midler and Marisa Tomei. While Barbra Streisand’s dominating harridan figure is on paper forbidding—the stock caricature of the mother who can’t communicate because she can’t shut the fuck up—she dovetails nicely with the belligerent grumble of Seth Rogen as her deservedly failing entrepreneur son. Read the rest of this entry »
“The Watch,” known as “Neighborhood Watch” until the Trayvon Martin killing, does have a quartet of macho no-goodniks traipsing the parking lots and cul-de-sacs of “Glenview, Ohio,” late at night but their adversaries are less “the other”—in this case, aliens set to skin them and take their way of life—than themselves. “The Watch”‘s single historic milestone is setting a world land-speed record in movies for the repetition of the word “cum.” You probably wouldn’t hear that word as many times in a weekend’s worth of old-timey Marriott Hotel porn. Read the rest of this entry »
“Take This Waltz” is a daringly ambivalent, emotionally rich drama about the shoals of a stagnant marriage, the crashing waves of new attraction. It’s also writer-director Sarah Polley’s love letter to a bedraggled Michelle Williams, who plays Margot, a drowsy young woman whose life hasn’t come into focus for herself. She’s been married five years to Lou (Seth Rogen), a cookbook writer forever testing chicken recipes, filling the house with scent if not savor. While on a distant writing assignment, she meets another man, Daniel (Luke Kirby), whom she thinks she won’t see again, then sees him on the plane, shares a cab, then finds out he lives directly across the street. Hiding his art, driving a pedicab, he keeps his distance: the middle distance. The tease of the improbable and the undesirable and the so undesirable plays out. As a screenwriter, Polley is as pointillist as a short-story writer and as bold as a signboard painter: big and little gestures mix in winning measure. (“Five-point-oh quakes in the Provinces,” the television news reports.) Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Twenty-seven-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a producer for Seattle public radio, faces a diagnosis of a rare, usually fatal form of cancer with the help of longtime friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), his imperious mother (Anjelica Huston) and Katherine, a trainee therapist (Anna Kendrick).
Stuff of tragedy? Stuff of comedy? It’s the stuff of the superb third feature by Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”), bearing probably as marketable a title as could be found for a based-on-life screenplay that began life as “I’m With Cancer.” Read the rest of this entry »
Longtime friends Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (“Spaced,” “Shaun of the Dead” “Hot Fuzz”) write a warm comedy about two friends, Graeme and Clive, who befriend a CGI alien voiced by Seth Rogen. The setup and payoff are pretty akin to those in “Superbad.” Greg Mottola directed that 2007 high-school comedy and now directs a slightly more grown-up version. In both films, females are the real aliens. This time the friends are sci-fi buffs somewhere in their thirties, at least. Instead of a kid compulsively drawing penises, Graeme, a sci-fi illustrator with the last name of Willy, draws a fantasy female with triple tits. Various terrestials and one extraterrestrial concur: “Awesome.” After a stop in San Diego for Comic-Con, the U.K. duo navigates their RV around the West to visit UFO sites. That’s where they pick up Paul, the runaway. He can party hard and bring the dead back to life. This little green man named himself after the Labrador Retriever he crushed when his flying saucer crashed in rural Wyoming back in 1947. All these years Paul has been sequestered in a secret government base. He phoned technical advice to Spielberg for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and takes credit for inventing Fox Mulder for “The X-Files.” Now he’s on the run from his handlers. They want to extract his stem cells and dissect his brain, so he hopes to catch a saucer ride home. The film’s weakest part is the pursuit by three feds and a shotgun-toting Christian. The latter thinks his daughter (Kristen Wiig) is a victim of kidnapping. She is only in danger of stealing the film. “Paul” is fixated on straight-male intimacy. The quieter scenes border on touching. The rest do not. Geeks will get all the geeky pop-culture references jammed into the script. I did not. With Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, John Carroll Lynch, David Koechner, Sigourney Weaver, Blythe Danner. 104m. (Bill Stamets)
Director Michel Gondry hardly displays the visual play that levitated his “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Science of Sleep.” Here he is tasked with a jokey screenplay by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who earlier co-wrote “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express.” Rich brat Britt Reid (Rogen) is the dissolute son of the late publisher of the The Daily Sentinel in Los Angeles. He plays vigilante on a lark with Kato (Jay Chou), his barista, mechanic and chauffeur. There’s a drug kingpin and a dirty D.A. Lots of cars, guns, fireballs and shattered glass. Cameron Diaz has a cameo role as a temp secretary who knows her crime news. Based on “The Green Hornet” radio series created by George W. Trendle in the thirties, this is thin action comedy that makes little of the superhero and sidekick dynamic. Sad to report, the best line may be Britt’s anticipation of Kato’s unwritten autobiography: “When they adapted it to a movie, I’d watch the shit out of that movie.” In this 3D conversion, there’s this bit of visual business to look for: the very same bad guy who wields a double-barrelled handgun gets two halves of a broken chair leg poked into his eye sockets. That’s the best industry insider joke about 3D to date. With Christoph Waltz, Edward James Olmos, David Harbour, Tom Wilkinson. 87m. (Bill Stamets)
By Ray Pride
The more I think about “Funny People,” the more it seems that Judd Apatow has made precisely the (reported) $75 million home movie he meant to make.
It’s an ungainly gosling, epic with surfaces and, as over its two-and-a-half hour duration, out of its depths with depth. For his third feature, the veteran stand-up-gagman-TV producer-writer-director at times barely channels autobiography. The first three people thanked in the end credits are Garry Shandling, Paul Thomas Anderson and James L. Brooks: three godfathers that offer some notion of the turf he’s hoping to claim. First, there’s the bitterness, passive-aggressiveness, hostility and penis-obsessed humor of Shandling, for whom Apatow wrote on the piercingly harsh classic “Larry Sanders Show.” Shandling’s disappearance from the public eye is often chalked up to questions about mortality like those faced by Apatow’s lead character, George Simmons (Adam Sandler). Secondly, he’s attempting to go beyond the gag-charged confines of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” attempting the tonal range, swooping from comedy to pathos, as in Anderson’s more expansive canvases, as in “Magnolia” or “Boogie Nights.” Third, there are James L. “Spanglish” Brooks’ equally elephantine epics that swoop from pathos to bathos with intermittently brilliant verbal gags. It’s a catalog of well-upholstered influences. Read the rest of this entry »
This is one seriously fucked-up movie. “Travis Bickle, Mall Cop”? Almost. Nearly. Consider two types of return: The return of the prodigal, the return of the repressed. In writer-director Jody Hill’s “Observe and Report,” as Ronnie Barnhardt, a heavily medicated, prone-to-delusion rent-a-cop, Seth Rogen captures vainglorious delusion in a comic style that steadily grows from a disenchanted cipher to something far more paranoid and cruel. Read the rest of this entry »
A vanload of pals since fifth grade drive halfway across the country in 1998 to break into the editing room of George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch so they can sneak a preview of “Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace.” One fanboy has cancer. Another is a girl. They battle Star Trek fans along the way. Director Kyle Newman and writers Adam F. Goldberg, Ernest Cline and Dan Pulick are at fault for this inane, inert road movie. In a self-incriminating instance of it-takes-one-to-make-one, these off-screen fans of “Star Wars” can only offer onscreen counterparts as nitwit nerds. In 1916, Hugo Munsterberg warned of moviegoing youth harmed by “the trivializing influence of a steady contact with things which are not worth knowing.” “Fanboys” only shows that distributors build shelves for good reasons. If only bad films like this would molder there longer. Wasting your time and theirs: Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, William Shatner, Seth Rogen, Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes. With Jay Baruchel, Dan Fogler, Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette and Kristen Bell. 90m. (Bill Stamets)
Class and cash remain at the center of Kevin Smith’s latest, the epigone of scat-chat called “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” The material sings because of his casting of his two leads, with Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as the platonic Pittsburgh roommates who hatch a quick-cash scheme to make amateur porn to get out of debt and discover the feelings they’ve been hiding. (Their giddy rapport almost makes up for the glimpses Smith provides of Jason “Jay” Mewes’ junk.) Smith starts with the idea of the ickiness of thirtysomething poverty, of a sense of not being able to get ahead in the modern workplace. Rogen’s timing is complemented by Banks’, as well as her seraphically deranged laughter at embarrassing moments and brightly pointed passages of frank japery about sex. To put it one way, Smith starts at “snowball” and snowballs from there: the cascade of everyday-vulgar verbiage in “Zack and Miri” is unmatched. And there’s something sweet about the two characters who banter, “Anybody wants to see anybody fuck”; “Who the fuck would want to watch us fuck?” And leave it to Banks: “Fuck you. I have dignity.” Advisory: “Star Wars” porn, clumsy sex and scatology ensue, as well as a joke saying the word “DreamWorks” sounds like “an underground fuck club.” “Rated R on appeal for dialogue, graphic nudity and pervasive language.” Yum. With Justin Long, Tom Savini, Traci Lords, Gerry Bednob, Jen Schwalbach, Brandon Routh. 102m. (Ray Pride)