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Pineapple Express (2008)
Apatow's Humor Grows Up
Going into this film, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. What I got was something much closer to a traditional Apatow production than I had expected. Not to say that this newest installment, which is the absolute epitome of "bromance", isn't good; in fact it's the most mature form of the Apatow crew's comedy to date.
The plot is relatively basic, and since the plot isn't the highlight of this movie, it really plays a back-burner to the two main characters. Seth Rogen returns to play just about every character he always plays, but with even more of a loser-esquire edge. What I appreciated most about his character is that he's basically content with his station in life. He's middle-aged, he serves legal documents for a living, and he has (trying to avoid spoilers) a "unique" girlfriend. For once, we get a guy who has a bad life, but instead of changing all that, he instead accepts it and tries to make the most of it. The key to this character's acceptance is pot.
While weed could arguably be a character in and of itself, this movie still lingers away from your traditional stoner comedy and instead lends itself more to the likes of Cheech and Chong. Sure, this movie involves pot smoking and is probably enjoyable while high, but non-stoners (like myself) take just as much (if not more) from the developing relationships and quick-wit humor.
James Franco rejoins his Freaks & Geeks crew and really stands out for me as the best performance of this film. We no longer see the clean-cut , rich character he so often is type-cast into and we get to see a mellow drug dealer with a heart. I think that's what Franco was able to give to this role that made me enjoy it so much: that no matter what he does, in the core of his character he's trying to be a genuinely nice and caring person.
From all the directions this review has gone, it's hard to figure out how this could all be wound together into a good movie, and a comedy no less! To my surprise, it does. The film develops without a lack of pacing and you are always laughing out loud. My only complaint is that this focuses just a little too much (dare I say "overkill") on "bros". Apatow is always known for "bromances", but he almost takes it too far in this installment with such terms as "bromosexual", obvious double meanings for sexual behavior, and I think the term "bros before hoes" is used nearly five times. Knowing how the traditional "bromance" works with Apatow helps explain some of the more interesting circumstances with female love interests. At times I almost wondered why a character would be doing what he's doing for a girl when in the next scene he's completely standoffish with her over a much less important issue.
In the end, this was a fun and enjoyable film that will be the perfect summer comedy to finish off a strong season. I really enjoyed it, even though I feel it went a little over the top with "bros" (in fact, I'm getting tired of using the term as we speak). If you like Apatow or smart comedies (ie: Snatch), this is the movie for you.
Marketing Team Doesn't Sell True Benefits of This Film
I initially had reservations about seeing this film, even as a free advance press screening, because of how the trailers portrayed it. Scenes of Angelina (good actress, but isn't she getting ridiculously typecast at this point?) in various states of dress and performing inhuman acts just didn't entice me. I was very pleased as the plot progressed to see that this is merely an initial rush of smoke and mirrors and the real meat of this film doesn't really involve her much.
The plot is pretty simple, so I'll spin it quick. Basically Wesley is a doormat and hates his life until an assassin introduces him to a group of assassins known as the fraternity. The reason he is chosen is that he shares a bloodline with another member. They train him and prepare him to be an aggressive assassin instead of a pushover. I like the way this movie transitions Wesley's change, even though it's kinda preachy a la "Fight Club" and a little too much too fast. The plot moves with the sleek finesse of the fraternity members and always keeps you interested, especially with twists that are much less predictable than recent films and don't require a stretch of the imagination. The whole film comes together with a satisfying ending that leaves smiling. While the film is a little on the testosterone-induced macho side, I don't see it being all that uninteresting to the typical female viewer.
Jolie (who plays as Fox) delivers another good performance, one that is nearly perfected at this point because it's basically recycled. She's beautiful in form and stimulating to watch, but I can't help but thinking that it's Angelina playing Angelina, not a character. Freeman (as Sloan) delivers an intriguing performance that changes the dynamic of his acting as of late. While he still commands the scene like most films, he is playing an interesting new type of role that allows him to be more lighthearted in his later projects. While I enjoyed Freeman's performance, I must still give the golden star to James McAvoy (who plays the lead Wesley) on his stellar jump into a new type of film. He moves the plot with a convincing transition from doormat to bad ass and somehow keeps your eyes focused on his presence even when Jolie is around. As an actor I really know from a random role in "Swimming Pool" and as the Faun in "Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe" I must say he molds into the action lead role nicely; bully for him. The supporting cast does a good job to back these top three, many character actors you'll recognize from various projects, and it all comes together in a nice neat package.
It won't take home any significant awards this year and it will join the many films that are chock full of beautiful babes, hardcore killers, and intriguing setup. The difference is that your film buddy won't be able to predict more than about 1/3 of the twists correctly, which is refreshing with a formula that has been rather overdone. Its a good time and doesn't disappoint for all audiences, especially action junkies.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Surprise Solid Comedy
I often go see advance screenings in my area, especially now that I must officially be on "the list" as I am constantly finding tickets in my work inbox. This was the second Apatow production I've seen in advance and just like "Superbad", this did not disappoint. At the same time, while many of the cast members may be recognizable, there seems to be something different about this installment than I've seen in the likes of "40 Year Old Virgin", "Superbad", or "Knocked Up".
For starters, there was a definite presence of the "TV actors on the big screen" theme here, but I am pleased to report that Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, and Mila Kunis take to movies like naturals. Like many Apatow productions, Segel penned the script and takes over as lead Peter Bretter, proving yet again that with this crew the writer is best suited for the leading role. Segel delivers a character we all know too well from our own personal experiences and never breaks role from the shocking beginning to appropriate ending. I even give Segel extra credit for not completely victimizing his character and pointing out apparent flaws on both ends of the ending relationship.
Kristen Bell plays Sarah Marshall, the iconic ex of the film, but her role sits on the back burner along with the truly hilarious Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) to make way for a leading role in Mila Kunis. From the beginning it is clear that her not-too-smart and shallow role of "That 70s Show" didn't follow her to "Forgetting"'s script. Kunis plays Racheal, a hospitality girl for the hotel that "Forgetting" takes place, and subsequently deals with Peter as he tries to get over Sarah Marshall. Her character is intelligent, charismatic, and appreciative of the good in people, a strong juxtaposition to the seemingly selfish starlet Sarah Marshall. Kunis owns the role with pride, even slipping in gestures and glances that didn't seem to initially be in the script. Hopefully this will open her up for more serious roles than "American Psycho 2" and the typecasting that often happens with TV actresses like her.
The star of the film, in my opinion, easily has to be Russell Brand, who plays the over-conscious over-sexed rock star Aldous Snow. Snow adds the necessary level of comedy that could have been missing from what is truly a tragic plot. About halfway in the film, I couldn't help but snicker to myself just with the presence that Brand creates (complete with perfect costume choices). The only downfall to a character who is truly the Mercutio of this tragedy is that Brand clearly overshadows Bell's performance as Sarah Marshall, who is ironically the most forgettable character of the film.
The writing flows with well-timed jokes, apathetic digs, and shocking vulgar humor. There is even a few moments where you feel Segel was digging on the cast with jokes involving crime dramas (Segel did time on "CSI") and TV actresses in horrible horror movies (Kunis did the atrocious "American Psycho 2"); not sure if it was intentional, but I caught what I thought was a reference. Just as with most Apatow productions, leave the kids at home. Unlike the rest, however, the crude humor doesn't overflow and turn off most audiences (like I noticed with "Superbad"). It also doesn't get very heavy in the least (which is what I felt hurt "Knocked Up"). I think Apatow has found a great balance with this production and Segel's script. I also want to give credit to Nicholas Stoller , who proved that he can be successful as a director after the hit he took from helping write "Fun with Dick and Jane".
All in all, this comedy is just another example of a good time for adults. It keeps a consistently flowing script, unlike many recent comedies that seem to lose pace as they close the story. While crude, the jokes are just light enough to appease most adult audiences and the short 100 minute run time will ensure you won't be glancing at your watch waiting for it to end, just laughing hysterically.
Shoot 'Em Up (2007)
Gun Porn At Its Best
I wasn't really sure what to make of this movie before I went to the advanced screening. I heard from a friend of mine at the Chicago Tribune (she's female, and you'll see why that matters in a second) and she said, "It was so stupid! It was like, BANG BANG BANG, EXPLETIVE EXPLETIVE EXPLETIVE, BANG BANG BANG! Then gallons of blood and we move on." For some reason, the little boy in me that loved the scene in Predator where all of the soldiers shoot at open woods for a complete minute, got very excited. She wasn't kidding, either, that's just what this movie was. Don't worry about the plot, it's not really a concern. Don't worry about the script either, the lines are so over the top and shallow that you know a man wrote this script without allowing anyone to comment on it.
At the same time, this movie is just plain fun. You will find yourself laughing from the moment the movie starts to the ending (which you won't be glancing at your watch while waiting for). There are funny lines, funny situations, and stuff that is so impossible in the real world that you can't help but chuckle. Various moments during the film, I found myself applauding along with the audience, maybe not for the film, but for how writer/director Michael Davis got our hero out of another situation.
The directing, as opposed to the writing, was done very well, especially for a movie like this. If you take the directing too seriously, the script won't work, which is probably why Michael Davis did both. Clive Owen delivers another strong performance, adapting to the cheesy script and outrageous events like a participant in a prank or gag. Monica Bellucci plays the most serious role in the film, and still takes to mocking her life and situation in this movie like the rest of them. My favorite character would still have to be the sly Paul Giamatti, who is given some pretty crazy situations himself but they are coupled with the only lines of any intelligence (or longer than about four words).
By the end of this movie, I was having a lot of fun watching a plot unfold that I didn't really care about. That doesn't deter the film, though, because it's kind of like a stunt show, you're not really concerned with the story. I loved it and, apparently, so did most of the audience. It really reminded me of seeing, well, a live action movie that was more like a video game (we even have coordinated colors for the costumes of the "bad guys" in the various "levels"). I'd like to use this film as an example to my (former) favorite critic Roger Ebert as a perfect example of how video games can be construed in the same light as video games, because Roger, this is clearly a movie made by a large video game fan.
Funniest Movie I've Seen In A Long Time
I got to see an advanced screening the other night, complete with an interview with the cast. I figured this movie could go either way, especially when you consider "40 year-old Virgin" and "Knocked Up" were funny and entertaining, but they weren't exactly loved by all.
I am happy to say this movie was wonderful. The jokes are crude, but dead on, and unlike recent movies with a similar style, like "Clerks 2," the plot moves on without any real downtime (you know, where the plot slows the progress of humor and you find yourself checking your watch). Jonah Hill and Michael Cera have that best friend chemistry that this movie required as well as being dead on with their jokes. The real star of the movie, however, was newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who took the role of Fogell and OWNED it. I got the chance to chat with the actors and I was not only surprised to hear that both Mintz-Plasse and Michael Cera are 18 and 19 respectively.
For the type of movie this is and the brilliant script that Seth Brogen has presented, there is no reason why anyone, young or old, can't relate to this off-the-wall comedy. See this movie!