I like to start my reviews off by getting my bias out in the open. The Green Hornet is a film I walked into not inclined to like because of two elements – I strongly dislike Seth Rogen and I hate 3D movies. With that said, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked The Green Hornet. It’s not a movie that I loved by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a fun, competent movie that is almost ruined by the pointless addition of 3D. The movie works largely because Rogen comes is very natural and not over the top as Britt Reid. He’s a likeable guy who desperately wants to do good: but he ‘s also kind of a lazy hero.
Here’s your first look at the upcoming sci-fi comedy, Paul, written by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg.. Directed by Greg Mottola and starring Frost, Pegg and Seth Rogen [voicing Paul], it is the story of two British comic book geeks who pick up an unusual hitchhiker while on a road trip across the United States.
Paul will be released in North America on March 18,2001, by Universal Pictures.
For his third film as a director, Judd Apatow wanted to tackle something a little deeper than a one-night stand that resulted in a baby or a sexual late bloomer with goofy friends. I can almost see him in the “reading room” when the proverbial light bulb goes off above his head and he shouts, “Imminent death! Of course!”
And so we have a film about a crisis in the life of America’s most beloved comedian, George Simmons [Adam Sandler], who gets the news that he has the rare and usually fatal disease, AML. To balance the darkness of George’s plight, we get a look into the life of wannabe stand-up comic, Evan Wright [Seth Rogen] who works at Otto’s Deli alongside a fellow named Chuck [RZA] who thinks so little of his skills that Evan has to pay him to attend his next performance.
The trailer for Observe and Report makes it look like a raunchy romp. Instead, it’s as bi-polar and off its meds as main character, Ronnie Barnhardt [Seth Rogen], head of security in as generic a mall as we’ve ever seen in a movie.
When a flasher exposes himself to a number of mall customers – and Ronnie’s personal crush, cosmetics salesgirl Brandi [Anna Faris] in the parking lot – it sets off a competition between Barnhardt and Detective Harrison. But, while Ronnie isn’t bright to realize that his second-in-command, Dennis [Michael Pena], isn’t the cool, laid back guy he appears to be, he is tough enough to make Harrison’s set up in a very bad neighborhood backfire [a sequence that suggests Rogen will be up for the action sequences in The Green Hornet].
Unfortunately, outside of terrific performances by Faris and Collette Wolfe [as fast-food server Nell, who has a sweet crush on Ronnie, who is completely oblivious], Observe and Report completely fails to reach its target as a spectacularly dark comedy. Mostly, it’s just spectacularly dark… with intermittent laughs – very intermittent… Even Celia Weston, as Ronnie’s alcoholic mother, is completely wasted. Worse, as the film moves farther into the darkness of bipolar-Ronnie-off-his-meds, even Rogen ceases to convince.
Writer/director Jody Hill keeps things moving, though – which is a blessing, as the movie wraps up in a very quick eighty-six minutes. That’s eighty-six minutes you would be advised to skip in favor of, say, counting molecules or picking your toenails. Seriously, Observe and Report is far less enjoyable than either of those options – Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a better movie!
Final Grade: D+
I’ve had my review copy of Freaks and Geeks: Yearbook Edition for awhile – but only now have I managed to get through all of its many features. This is the kind of DVD package that you have to actually see, full-size, to really appreciate.
Freaks and Geeks, of course, is the classic one-season wonder set in 1980 that revolved around siblings Lindsay [Linda Cardellini] and Sam Weir [John Francis Daley]. Unlike other shows that used metaphors for “high is hell” [Buffy the Vampire Slayer], or “high school is cruel” [Veronica Mars], Freaks and Geeks proud asserted that high school is real – and it may seem earth-shattering while you’re, but in the end? It’s high school. By using siblings who were at different ends of the school population’s periphery, the series [all eighteen episodes] gave us a look at an institution that was far more real than we’d seen before – and because we saw it through the filter of a newbie freak [Lindsay] and an entrenched geek [Sam], it brought back all the epic highs and devastating lows of that period of our lives.
The story of how Po [Jack Black] becomes the Dragon Warrior – despite the skepticism of the Furious Five Masters, Crane [David Cross], Mantis [Seth Rogen], Monkey [Jackie Chan], Tigress [Angelina Jolie] and Viper [Lucy Liu] – is one of the year’s surprise hits, critically as well as at the box office.
The film’s DVD release is full of bonus features and, in a special two DVD package, includes The Secrets of the Furious Five. This twenty-five minute tale finds Po facing his greatest challenge – teaching a class of easily distracted young bunnies the art of king fu [Master Shifu, still voiced by Dustin Hoffman, seems particularly tickled by the situation]. To get the class’ attention, Po relates stories of how each of the Five – Crane [David Cross], Monkey [Jaycee Chan], Mantis [Max Koch], Tigress [Tara Strong], and Viper [Jessica Di Ciccio] – had to overcome such flaws as impatience [Mantis], Compassion [Monkey], control [Tigress], and so forth. Even Master Oogway [Randall Duk Kim] puts in an appearance.
Most of Secrets is filmed in the beautiful 2D style seen in the prologue to Kung Fu Panda, with CG used for scenes that feature Po and his class – and the clever cover art from the two DVDs is designed to be one larger picture when placed side by side.
There is a wealth of features on each DVD.
Kung Fu Panda: Audio Commentary by Co-Directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne; Meet the Cast; Pushing the Boundaries [improvements in CGI]; Sound Design; Kung fu Fighting Music Video by Cee-Lo; Mr. Ping’s Noodle House [watch a master make noodles from a simple ball of dough]; How to Use Chopsticks [this time for sure!]; Conservation International: Help Save Wild Panda; Dragon Warrior Training Academy; Printables and Weblinks [DVD-ROM], and Dreamworks Animation Jukebox.
Secrets of the Furious Five: Po’s Power Play: Learn to Draw [Character animators show how to draw their respective characters]; Dumpling Shuffle [which bowl is the dumpling under]; Pandamonium Activity Kit [DVD-ROM]; The Land of Panda: Learn the Panda Dance; Do You Kung Fu [demonstrations of basic kung fu forms]; Inside the Chinese Zodiac; Animals of Kung Fu Panda [and how they relate to their namesake forms of kung fu], and What Fighting Style Are You?
Grade: Kung Fu Panda – A
Grade: Secrets of the Furious Five – B+
Grade: Features: Kung Fu Panda – A+
Grade: Features: Secrets of the Furious Five – B+
Final Grade: A
Now that I’ve had time to recover from the 2008 World Fantasy Convention, I find I’ve needed to get a bit caught up on the movie front. Both Zack & Miri and Rachel Gets Married are faring poorly at the box office and that’s a shame.
Zack & Miri Make a Porno
Zack & Miri Make a Porno is Kevin Smith’s latest film and is about best friends who are a hair’s breadth from being out on the street. Zack [Seth Rogen] seizes an idea from something Miri [Elizabeth Banks] says – even though she was saying it was something they shouldn’t do – and decides they should go for it. The pair decide that they shouldn’t let their moment of sex on camera change things between them, but of course it does.
Kevin Smith’s script is sharp, concise and combines the sweet and the gross in ways that remind us that he was doing films like this long before Judd Apatow became famous doing similarly themed material. Besides coming up with what seems like it just might be the ultimate poop joke, Smith mines real emotion and, yes, a sweetness that contrasts nicely with balances the film’s over the top material. It’s a good movie. Go see it [stay through the credits – you’ll be glad you did].
Final Grade: B+
Rachel Gets Married
Jonathan Demme returns with a film that returns Kim [Anne Hathaway] to the bosom of her family on the eve of her sister, Rachel’s [Rosemarie DeWitt] wedding. Kim is just out of rehab and her presence is unsettling for everyone, as there layers of pain and dysfunction to be revealed over the next few days. Those levels are so deep that the marriage of Caucasian Rachel to African-American Sidney isn’t even an issue.
Jenny Lumet’s script is solid, but – outside of Kim, at least – pretty low-key. One of the reasons that the film works is that the casting is excellent, especially Debra Winger as the sisters’ mother. Another is that the film often veers in unexpected, but real ways – as with the dishwasher competition between Sidney and his soon-to-be father-in-law [Bill Irwin]. Despite having the deepest emotional reaches to plumb, Hathaway’s [who really does deserve an Oscar® nomination] Kim is the glue that holds the film together, rather than the big scene stealer.
How cool is this movie? Robyn Hitchcock plays at the reception! ‘Nuff said.
Final Grade: A-
Seth Rogen may have used his action sequences in Pineapple Express to audition for his upcoming The Green Hornet, but despite action sequences choreographed for humor as well as thrills, his earnestness in them almost takes deflates the good-natured stoner buddy comedy that Pineapple Express really is.
Dale Denton [Rogen] is a process server who loves his job [mostly because of the costumes he uses to fake out his victims – and the time it affords for smoking up]. After a day of multiple disguises, he stops at his dealer’s place. There, Saul Silver [James Franco] hooks him up with some Pineapple Express – smoke so potent that you can high just smelling it! From there, Dale heads off for one last delivery before calling it a day – a summons for Ted Jones [the comically malevolent Gary Cole], the dealer who supplies Red [Danny McBride], Saul’s supplier. When Dale witnesses Ted and a policewoman [Rosie Perez] kill an Asian man, he freaks out and tosses his roach of PE – which in turn leads Ted to Saul, via Red and things go from easy flowing and happy, to omigawdomigawdomigawd! And I haven’t even mentioned Dale’s high school student girlfriend, yet…
If Harold and Kumar are the stoner Hope & Crosby, then Dale and Saul are the stoner Riggs and Murtagh. Director David Gordon Green somehow manages to takes Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg’s split personality script and makes it feel like a single piece. The action sequences ramp up the tension, but much of the choreography and stunt work have elements of humor to them that hold the film together despite Rogen’s dead serious approach to them. Fortunately, between the ridiculous action, Franco’s ability to just bliss out – even when under fire – and some way out bits with McBride’s Red, the goofily genial absurdity of the film is maintained.
Although Pineapple Express is the weakest of the productions from the Apatow Comedy Factory, it remains, largely, above the average because of its slightly hallucinogenic bromance and its integrity when it comes to maintaining its overall upbeat mood. And did I mention Danny McBride’s Red? Definitely one of the best parts of the flick…
Final Grade: B-
Pandas are perceived as being laid back, relaxed and just enjoying munching on bamboo shoots. Kinda like your fat, old uncle Kenny – only bigger and with fur. Casting a panda as a kung fu master is one of those contradictory images that just automatically provoke smiles and chuckles – if not hysterical laughter. Which is why Kung Fu Panda had to be more than just another animated movie. In order for it to work, the film would have to find a way to make us believe – in with excellent CGI – that Po [voiced by Jack Black], a poor panda working for his father in a noodle house, could make that leap to… wait for it… Dragon Warrior!
In anticipation of the evil snow leopard Tai Lung [Ian McShane] breaking out of the most secure prison in the country, Master Shifu [Dustin Hoffman] has trained the Furious Five – Masters Crane [David Cross], Mantis [Seth Rogen], Monkey [Jackie Chan], Tigress [Angelina Jolie] and Viper [Lucy Liu] – in hopes that one of them would be chosen to fulfill the prophecy of the Dragon Warrior and obtain the Dragon Scroll that would take them to an almost exalted level of martial arts mastery. Through a fluke involving fireworks and a chair, Po finds himself chosen to become the Dragon Warrior by Master Oogway [Randall Duk Kim] – and fierce lessons must be learned by all of them so that, when Master Oogway’s time comes, the Dragon warrior will be ready to face Tai Lung.
Kung Fu Panda is a small miracle in both character and animation development. The script, by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger [from a story by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris] packs as much character into the film as action [and there’s a lot of action!]. Watching Po and his father, Mr. Ping [James Hong] deal with the changes in Po’s life are fraught with genuine emotion; the disbelief of Shifu and the Furious Five combine to make things even harder for the poor Po. The animation of the martial arts sequences add to the depth of the film with their intricacy and clarity.
Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson have done a masterful job of matching voices to characters [Jolie and Liu especially, bring it – and Rogen, counter cast as the tiny Mantis gives his character a surprisingly supple quality] and staging both moments of frenzy and unexpected beauty [the passing of a key character]. Kung Fu Panda is a movie that might have been wholly summarized by its title, but instead is so much more. Thanks to the factors mentioned plus the unexpected range of Black as Po, this is a classic in waiting.
Final Grade: A
This small effort from the Jud Apatow funny factory skips the f-bombs but still manages to be funnier than at least one of his R-rated efforts.
What can you do when you’re corpulent, skeletal or really, really short and are facing your first day of high school? Apparently, you can expect to get thumped on a regular basis; crammed into lockers, trophy displays and such; and get kicked when you’re down.
How can you avoid these problems? Well, there’s always Drillbit Taylor: Budget Bodyguard. As played by Owen Wilson, Drillbit is a homeless deserter who stumbles into a great scam – charging three kids of the aforementioned general builds for teaching them to keep the school bully and his equally malevolent sidekick from using them as punching bags.
The three are the corpulent Ryan [Troy Gentile], the really, really short Emmit [David Dorfman] and the skeletal Wade [Nate Hartley. The bullies are Filkins [Alex Frost, apparently taking his bully role from Elephant and making him a complete psycho] and his sidekick, Ronnie [Josh Peck] – and they are definitely serial killers in training.
The Kristofor Brown/Seth Rogen screenplay features more physical violence than all three of the other hits to come from The Judd Apatow production line [I guess something has to escalate to fill the space of all those missing cuss words]. Steven Brill’s direction is pretty straightforward – the pace picks up for the violence; slows slightly for the jokes [allowing beats for audience response], and slows appropriately for the one romantic plot arc.
It’s the romantic arc between Drillbit, faking his way as a substitute teacher, and the lovely, but lovelorn Lisa [Leslie Mann, who is brilliant as usual] that brings the homeless con man out of his scam and into admitting that he actually likes his intended victims. This revelation occurs just in time to try to stop his equally homeless friends from stealing all of Wade’s family’s possessions.
For Wilson, the character of Drillbit pretty much plays to his strengths: aw shucks charm with an underpinning of darkness. He’s fast on his feet, though not as much as he thinks he is – and, of course, when it comes down to crunch time, he makes the right choices even if the result won’t be that good for him.
The punching bag trio come from the usual assortment of circumstances: Wade’s mom re-married a guy who is proud of having been a bully in school and has two sons who look to be following in his footsteps; Ryan’s single mom dotes on him to the point of enabling his weight gain, and Emmit seems to appear from the ozone.
Filkins has become emancipated, and the idiot Principal Doppler – Stephen Root’s second most oblivious character [after Office Space’s Milton] – takes that to mean he’s a nice, honest boy who is being maligned by the trio’s allegations of violence. The only person outside the trio who seems to like Wade is a little Asian girl named Brooke [Valerie Tian], which is good because he has a definite crush on her – and has joined all the same clubs [including the Asian Heritage Club] as her in hopes that he’ll be able to work up the courage to talk to her.
Ryan’s claim to fame is that he’s a not too terrible rapper – a sequence where he raps against Filkins is one of the movie’s highlights. Emmit, it seems, doesn’t have any notable skills, but shows an immense amount of courage at a crucial moment.
While the climax of the movie might not be what you’d expect – you’d think three nerds would outthink the bullies – there is an intelligence at play in their actions, especially in how they organize them. And there’s a moment near the end that harkens back what we are sure must be an apocryphal tale about Filkins – a perfectly timed bit of business that gives Wilson one final bravura moment to follow up his one moment of genuine heroism.
Sure, Drillbit Taylor doesn’t have the same level of language and gross humor as, say, Superbad, but it still has plenty of bodily function humor and decent sight gags. It never reaches the heights of Superbad, or Knocked Up, but I have to say I enjoyed it more than The 40-Year Old Virgin [despite Steve Carrell, I still don’t regard that one with much respect]. Drillbit Taylor is a little more violent than it needs to be, but it works well enough, overall, that I can recommend it – just.
Final Grade: C+