Archive for April, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Friday, April 25th, 2008

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Producer/writer/director Judd Apatow’s comedies are quickly becoming a genre of their own. He directed the comedy gems The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and has produced, recently, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Superbad and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, in addition to the upcoming summer comedies Stepbrothers and Pineapple Express. Much like The Coen Brothers or John Ford, Apatow has a stock company, that is a group of actors that he uses again and again, and his eye for comedic talent is just about flawless.

The latest installment in the “Judd Apatow movie” genre is the hilarious Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a self-proclaimed “romantic disaster movie,” a genre that its star and writer, Jason Segel fits into as comfortably as a stoner into a pair of sweat pants (which is a common occurrence in Apatow movies). The film is concerns Peter Bretter (played by Segel), a lovable big oaf of a composer working on a horrible TV show, is dumped by his girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (played by Kristen Bell), who happens to be the star of said television show (it’s worth noting that the show, a pitch-perfect parody of CSI with William Baldwin as the head detective, is called Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime). The break-up scene, which occurs early in the film, is already notorious, and it’s the first example of many of the humiliating things that Segel’s character goes through in this film.

Shattered by the break-up, Peter decides to take a vacation to get his mind off of Sarah. He winds up at a lovely resort in Hawaii, where everything seems perfect, not just the location but also the beautiful hotel clerk with the winning smile (played by Mila Kunis)…until he realizes that his ex is staying at the same hotel, and she’s brought her British rock star boyfriend, Aldous Snow (played by Russell Brand in a scene-stealing performance).

This film is funny, really, really funny. For those of you who have seen the television show “How I Met Your Mother,” you’re probably aware that Jason Segel is a gifted comic actor. What you might have not known, I know I didn’t, is that he’s also a very funny writer. Yes, the set-up is pure sitcom material, but, remember, in comedy it’s all in the delivery. Also, like most Apatow brand comedies, the supporting cast helps out with a lot of the laughs. Bill Hader as Segel’s excitable step-brother, Jack McBrayer as a naive honeymooner, Taylor Willy and Davon McDonald as hotel employees who become quasi-mentors to Peter, and Apatow regulars Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd all help make this movie hilarious.

Some of the biggest laughs in the film need to be seen with no prior knowledge to be fully appreciated, especially Peter’s musical, which gets some of the film’s biggest laughs. I’d also like to point out that Apatow did not, in fact, direct this film (that would be Nicholas Stoller), but it definitely has his unique brand of humor. Check it out.

Shine a Light

Monday, April 14th, 2008

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The biggest surprise regarding the Rolling Stones is not that they’re still playing, but rather that they’re still as raw, vital, intense and, well, kick ass as they were 30 or 40 years ago. In the new Martin Scorsese film Shine a Light, we see the legendary band with a combined age of about 567 years ripping the stage to shreds. Of course, you know the music’s good. But, that kind of goes without saying.

What this film shows, more than anything else, is the sheer joy of performance that Mick, Keith, Rockin’ Ronny and Charlie still have, after all these years. Scorsese, with his legion of cameramen led by Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Richardson, captures the excitement and power of the Stones in an intimate and astounding way; at times it feels like we’re right there on the stage with them.There’s a moment, for example, after a particular exhausting number when Charlie Watts glances at the camera and makes a face. It’s a small moment that probably would’ve been missed if the camera work hadn’t been so obsessively detailed, so thank God Martin Scorsese is known for being a bit of an obsessive.

It was hard for me to be too critical watching this film. One of my favorite bands of all time in a documentary by one of my favorite directors of all time, perhaps I have a bit of a bias. If you want to see a Stones documentary that is digs deep into their history, probes their darkest hour and asks the hard hitting questions, then you should probably see Gimme Shelter or something. This film is pretty much just the concert, but what a concert.The first fifteen minutes or so features Scorsese, Jagger and the gang getting ready for the concert, and Scorsese almost steals the film in these scenes; Scorsese, the easily excitable, visibly agitated director playing a slight caricature of himself (or is he). Take for instance the scene where Scorsese and an assistant weigh the pros and cons of lighting Mick Jagger on fire.

There are a few news clips and bits of interviews pulled over the years interspersed between the clips, but they’re mostly there to show that the Stones once were young like you. To say again, this film is important because of the music, not because of any higher or deeper meaning, but then again, isn’t the music of The Rolling Stones important anyway? We saw the film on IMAX, and this is the way to see the film: the picture is so crisp and clear, and the sound was incredible. This is definitely the way to hear “Sympathy for The Devil.”

Charlton Heston (1924-2008)

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

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No Country for Three Stars

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Without a doubt, the worst part of writing a review is the star rating. It’s silly, it’s a pain in the ass and it’s meaningless, as are similar grading scales like A to F (sorry, Entertainment Weekly, but when did your magazine become a report card??) Most critics use the star system so people can glance at the article without having to, you know, actually read it or anything. Just give it a glance, and, depending on the rating, decide whether or not that’s the movie for them. Based on a stupid star rating. The thing is, I don’t think my actually opinions always go hand in hand with my ratings.
    I’ll give you a recent example. I saw Run Fatboy Run the other day, gave the film two stars, mocked it relentlessly and moved on. But, in the last few days, I have mentioned at least four or five times my intense dislike (maybe even slight hate) for the film. Without the star rating, my true opinions I believe are even stronger. Many film critics do not use a rating system, the most famous example probably being the late, great Pauline Kael who let the power of her words explain to the reader how she felt about a given film. This is, I guess, just my long-winded, rambling way of saying that I’m giving up a rating system, and just going to talk about my reaction to the film, without little stars or letters or thumbs saying it for me. We’ll see how this goes.