Sunday, April 27, 2008

More Movies Coming Soon!

I've been terribly busy in the past few weeks, but I absolutely plan to catch up in a major way on all the movies I've missed in that time. I'll also be seeing a lot of movies this summer. In the meantime, I'll direct you to my review which I wrote a while ago for this weekend's release of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Additionally, I'm keeping up with a number of television shows on my TV blog over at TV with Abe. Check that out for a while and I'll be back as soon as I can with movie reviews.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Vulgar and Hilarious: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Judd Apatow and company have been churning out film after film for a little over a year now, and for every classic “Knocked Up” or hilarious “Superbad”, there’s an equally devastating “Walk Hard.” Fortunately, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” falls safely into the first category, and it’s even an improvement upon the earlier Apatow fare.

Jason Segel stars as Peter, a likeable composer for a crappy CSI-style crime series. His girlfriend, the immensely popular star of the show, dumps him unexpectedly and the break-up is very hard on Peter. His friend recommends a nice vacation, and Peter decides to head to Hawaii, only to encounter his former girlfriend, who has brought along her new boyfriend.

The best thing “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has going for it is its spirit of camaraderie. Segel, usually relegated to supporting comic relief in “Knocked Up” and the CBS television show “How I Met Your Mother,” takes center stage here as the straight man. Segel, who also penned the script, displays qualities very much similar to Tina Fey, whose ability to make her roles funny when all the people around her all so outrageous and showy makes NBC’s “30 Rock” a pleasure to watch. Segel is funny to be sure, but it’s his effortless, kind charm that makes him a fantastic hero for this story.

There are plenty of Apatow regulars to be found in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and every one of them is right on key for hilarity. Bill Hader provides great support as Peter’s best friend, but it’s the small roles with players like Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd that are truly winning. Sadly, neither Michael Cera nor Seth Rogen makes an appearance in the film, yet it’s a relief that the crew seems to have found a stellar new set of members whose debut appearances are nothing short of wonderful.

Kristen Bell, who has already achieved immortal cult fame as the lead on “Veronica Mars” and as a recurring guest star on “Heroes” last year, plays Peter’s ex-girlfriend, Sarah Marshall, with just the right mix of good and bad qualities. Her choice of an incomprehensible rock star over Peter makes her seem out of her mind, but it’s not hard to figure out why Peter would want her back. Relative film newcomer Russell Brand is perhaps the funniest performer in the whole film, as Sarah’s outlandish new beau. Mila Kunis, best known for her whiny, ditzy portrayal of Jackie on “That ’70s Show,” makes a stunning transition into respectable film acting as a hotel clerk who feels sympathy for Peter and tries to make his stay all the more enjoyable.

The sunny Hawaiian setting in the film just makes everything seem all the more pleasant and radiant. The film would still be funny were it set in a less tropical location, but the locale gives off an extremely happy feeling which remains throughout the movie. After all is said and done, this is still a lewd, highly uncensored comedy, but it combines the hilarity of “Superbad” with the effective dramedy of “Knocked Up.” The most commendable improvement over those earlier Apatow offerings is that this one isn’t too long – it ends at just the right point, and the last act is wildly and irreverently funny. If this movie is representative of the future of the Apatow troop, there are sure to be a whole lot of terrific movies coming up.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lofty and High-Minded: Smart People

Smart People
Directed by Noam Murro
Released April 11, 2008

"Smart People" is a film about the kind of knowledge that is only useful for taking the SATs or for having intelligent, sophisticated conversations. What the characters know does little to help them manage their daily lives or interactions with other people, a kind of street smarts that the film itself lacks.

Dennis Quaid, his face hidden by a dark beard, stars as disgruntled Carnegie Mellon professor Lawrence Wetherhold who, as one student says, teaches little and then is disappointed when his students turn in substandard work. Lawrence's son James shuns the family and sees it as depressing, while his daughter Vanessa secludes herself from the rest of the world to bolster her grades and participate in Young Republican causes. Lawrence's adopted brother is a lazy, unemployed and unmotivated moocher.

None of the characters are remotely likable. Last year's "Margot at the Wedding" was a failure mainly because it was impossible to sympathize with any of the characters, especially Nicole Kidman in the title role. "Smart People" has far less subtext and thought behind it than "Margot," which it expects to get away with by being a comedy. The film has laughs, but they are sparse and hardly fulfilling.

This film is full of good actors whose respectable talents are not represented here and whose skills cannot make their characters any less detestable. Quaid, who may well be past his prime, evokes only slightly more emotion than in the recent film "Vantage Point" and fails to infuse much personality into the stern professor. Sarah Jessica Parker, whose singular appeal has worked in films like "Miami Rhapsody" and the popular "Sex and the City" series, is whiny and bland as a former student of Lawrence's who harbors inexplicable feelings for him. Thomas Haden Church, who returned to the spotlight in 2004 with a remarkable performance in "Sideways," contributes nothing as Lawrence's brother other than a hilariously terrible mustache.

And then there is Ellen Page, whose roles in "Hard Candy" and "Juno" have earned her universal praise. She tries to make daughter Vanessa into a viable character, but the material she is given to work with is just not strong enough, and it is as if she is simply playing a less interesting version of Juno.

"Smart People" flaunts its knowledge and vocabulary, but its predictable and repetitive script is aimless. Instead of achieving some sort of self-realization, the movie falls flat. Juno, of all people, would not be satisfied with such cliché.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Oh, I Do Feel Really Bad

I have been swamped with work and craziness lately and have barely had a moment for my blogs. I haven't even seen a movie in about a month. Regardless, I do have a review of "Smart People" which I'll be posting on Friday in conjunction with it running in the Washington Square News, and the following week I'll have one for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall". I definitely plan to come back in major force later this spring and certainly this summer.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Nothing Too Memorable: Definitely, Maybe

Definitely, Maybe
Directed by Adam Brooks
Released March 14, 2008

This year's token Valentine's Day romantic comedy pales as far as actual quality goes in comparison to last year's counterpart, "Music & Lyrics", but I suppose the sappy entertainment and romance factor is pretty much on par. Put quite simply, "Definitely, Maybe" is not my kind of movie, in that there is nothing too clever or artistic about it to merit it as a moviegoing experience. I fully recognize that this movie is not meant to be an awe-inspiring, medium-changing extravaganza, but looking at other romantic comedies, it seems to be lacking. One review called Ryan Reynolds "nauseating", and while I often like him ("Smokin' Aces") I have to agree here. As a lead, he oozes annoying traits throughout the entire film. Abigail Breslin plays a girl WAY too mature for her age, and her perkiness and intelligence become tiresome and unbelievable. The three leading ladies are actually cast pretty well - Isla Fisher of "Wedding Crashers" gives the most commendable performance, while Elizabeth Banks and Rachel Weisz have done better in the past but still turn in decent enough efforts. The film's plot - Breslin interrogates her father to find out who her real mother is - is nothing too new or intriguing, and progresses too slowly to make itself worthwhile. See it on a date, maybe, but as a movie itself, I wouldn't say that it's worth much.