SXSW 2011: Paul

If you never knew how big of geeks Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were in real life, you will after watching their new film, “Paul,” because it’s bursting at the seams with geeky sci-fi references – particularly the oeuvre of Steven Spielberg, which plays a big role in informing the world of the film. But while there are a lot of winks and nods directed at fanboys, “Paul” is a much broader and more accessible comedy than the duo’s other movies. That pretty much ensures it will perform better at the box office, but despite a steady stream of laughs throughout, the film too often relies on easy and crass jokes, and quite frankly, it’s beneath everyone involved.

Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) are the best of friends – a pair of British sci-fi geeks who have travelled to America to attend San Diego Comic-Con and then take a cross-country road trip across the U.S. Heartland on a tour of UFO hotspots. But when they witness a car crash on the highway and stop to make sure everyone is okay, they’re surprised to see a green alien named Paul (Seth Rogen) emerge from the shadows. Though they’re hesitant to trust him at first, Paul – who’s been marooned on Earth for over 60 years – wins the pair’s trust and help in getting back home. Along the way, they accidentally kidnap a Bible-thumper named Ruth (Kristen Wiig) who reluctantly joins their cause, all while being pursued by a dogged FBI agent (Jason Bateman) ordered to capture Paul for government testing.

paul

There’s a host of other characters that play a part in the adventure – including Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio as a couple of bumbling agents assigned to Bateman, John Carroll Lynch as Ruth’s overprotective father, and Blythe Danner as the little girl who pulled Paul from the UFO wreckage 66 years earlier – but the heart and humor of the movie comes almost exclusively from its three stars. Pegg and Frost pick up right where they left off in “Hot Fuzz” with a natural onscreen chemistry that feeds off their real-life friendship, while Rogen really shines in the title role. This is a buddy movie not just about Graeme and Clive, but the bond that they form with the alien hitchhiker as well, so Paul’s relationship with them has to be completely believable (from the photo-real CGI to his human-like mannerisms) for it to work, and Rogen plays a big part in its success.

Where the movie falters, however, is in how poorly it utilizes the rest of its talented cast, because Graeme, Clive and Paul are so fully realized that everyone else appears one-dimensional in comparison. Kristen Wiig is particularly annoying as Graeme’s love interest, who experiences a drastic personality change shortly after meeting Paul when she abruptly gives up religion and starts swearing like a sailor. It’s meant to be funny, but it gets old really quick, and that’s the biggest problem with “Paul.” The script is needlessly lazy at times, and the only reason some of the jokes even work is because Pegg and Frost have such a great rapport. Fans of their previous work will definitely enjoy seeing the duo reunited once again, but while “Paul” is a solid action comedy featuring a standout performance from Seth Rogen, it’s a film that will make you wonder how much better it might have been with frequent collaborator Edgar Wright in charge.

  

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Saturday trailer #2: “Paul”

Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, an overly relaxed ET voiced by Seth Rogen and director Greg Mottola mix it up in an international trailer with slightly disappointing picture quality in every embeddable version I can find. You might want to check out the version available over at UK Yahoo, but if you’re feeling lazy today like me, this will probably do. This trailer also offers glimpses of characters played by Jason Bateman and, yes, Kristin Wiig who doesn’t appear to be at all annoying here.

I think I agree with Monika Bartyzel that really doesn’t look to be quite in the same ballpark as previous Pegg & Frost outings. Actually, to be honest, it doesn’t even look close to that good in this particular trailer. Considering that Edgar Wright isn’t involved, maybe that’s not too surprising. On the other hand, screenwriters Frost and Pegg and Greg Mottola don’t have some skills of his own and Mottola’s last film, “Adventureland,” had a trailer that many thought sold it short. Let’s hope there’s more going on here than meets the eye in this trailer.

  

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Box office preview: “The Expendables” likely to fend of a mob led by an ugly nanny, unfunny vampires, and flesh-loving fishies

The ExpendablesIt’s very late as I start this and with five new wide releases this week, I’m not going to even attempt to try and describe all of them in any detail. In fact, I’m going to try and make this post as short as possible. Basically, the story is that the prognosticators like Ben Fritz and jolly Carl DiOrio seem to agree that last weekend’s megamacho winner, The Expendables, is the most likely winner of this week’s box office derby. That’s because none of the five movies is seen as being that strong.

Personally, as a geek who adores humorous, old school exploitation horror movies but who is also a gross-out negative gorephobe in no mood to have a bloody penis (!) thrown at me or throw-up thrown in my lap, I honestly don’t know whether to be happy or sad that the apparently rather effective “Piranha 3D” is not expected to do very well for the Weinstein Company. That’s despite what should be a successful formula of blood and breasts. It’s always worked before. The movie has been kept away from most critics but — bad sign — most of the ones who have seen it actually like it.

Expected to do better is the English family comedy sequel from Working Title, “Nanny McPhee Returns,” starring and written by the wondrous Emma Thompson as the anti-Poppins. The film, already a success overseas, is seen as having the best shot at kicking the arse of the ass-kicking “Expendables” septet, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Actually, I wouldn’t bet on anything because with so many movies out, it’s really just kind of a mess and anything can happen. I wouldn’t expect an upset, however, from the Warners “‘hood comedy” “Lottery Ticket” or the PG-13 Jason BatemanJennifer Aniston rom-com involving a “baster baby,” the aptly titled “The Switch” from possibly soon-to-be-moribund Miramax.

Jason Batemen and Jennifer Aniston in

On the other hand, there is another movie that’s actually expected to do rather well and, oh god, I have no goddamn clue why that should be. I mean, if I was eight years old, I might find the title of Fox’s spoof film “Vampires Suck” promising. However, there is an emerging and near universal consensus that, whatever stereotypes might be out there about us Jewish guys being as inherently funny as, say, Canadians, they are more than disapproved by the past work of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. These are the guys who foisted “Disaster Movie,” “Meet the Spartans” and “Date Movie” upon an unsuspecting world. IMDb users are not loving it too much either, although there are nine women 45 and over I really wonder about. Hmm. Both guys have to have mothers, right? That’s two. Grandmothers? Aunts? Great grandmothers? Second cousins?

“Suck” is, I’m sure, the worst reviewed major movie of our not-so-young year. Indeed, the alleged comedy was on the precipice of achieving a rare 0% on Rotten Tomatoes when a lone contrary opinion saved it and got it all the way to a mighty 3%. No, it wasn’t the nefarious and attention-hogging Armond White who found something to not hate in a spoof movie seemingly dripping in the not-funny, but newcomer Michael Ordona of the L.A. Times. Or at least Rotten Tomatoes says it was him. The actual review, at least here, has no name on it. Is somebody ashamed?

The really sad part of this story is that the suck movie was actually released on Wednesday and had a surprisingly okay first day. In theory, it could win the weekend, and that would really suck.

Stay tuned — though it’s looking like my Sunday box office report will likely be delayed to Monday. Can you stand the suspense that long? I know I can.

  

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Thursday night movie news dump

I usually do this on Friday, but the interesting film related stories have been coming fairly hot and heavy all week and it’s time to play catch up. I’m telling you right now, as long as this post is, whatever the most important and interesting story from this eventful week turns out to be, it’ll be the one I skip.

* When I first heard about the project a week or so back, I was taken by the prospect of screenwriter Dustin Lance Black segueing from a biopic about the first openly gay U.S. politician in “Milk” to one about by far the most powerful closeted gay man in American history, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was the first director of the FBI starting in 1935 and, in a real blow to our democracy, intimidated several presidents into keeping him in the position until his death in 1972, a shocking 37 years later.

An already interesting project got even more interesting, however, a couple of days back when word got out that none other than Clint Eastwood, who will be joining the very smal club of octogenerian directors this May, might choose to helm it. (The Playlist broke the news on the 10th that Eastwood was “set” to direct; yesterday Borys Kit of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that he was merely “eying” the project.).

Taken together with “Invictus,” this would be the second time the right leaning but independent-minded Republican would be taking on subject matter that deals obliquely with a significant moral failure of American conservatism. Nearly all well-known conservatives tacitly supported both the racist and fascist pre-Mandela South African regime and Hoover’s uninterrupted reign.

In the case of “Invictus,” the idea of him doing it turned out to be more interesting than the film. However, for the man who embodied “get tough” law enforcement concepts as Dirty Harry to take on a law enforcement figure who enjoyed getting tough with anyone who dared to espouse politics he deemed radical — but not the mafia — that’s a horse of a potentially very different color. One to watch.

Clint Eastwood will take your question later

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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Will “Couples” find box office fulfillment?

Couples Retreat

As if the movie gods themselves wished to offer me some breathing space, this weekend has only one new wide release, and it sure doesn’t strike me as anything to get very excited about. Our own Jason Zingale — who enjoyed seeing a reunion of “Swingers” pals Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau — gave a pretty tepid, just this side of positive, review to “Couples Retreat.” Jason’s take, however, is a hysterical rave compared to the blistering reviews that had the film at a pretty darn rotten 09% “fresh” Rotten Tomatoes rating.

Nevertheless, audiences may differ from the critics. The comedy does boast the appeal of the all-mid-level star cast, which also includes the very talented Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell. Also, the fact that the R-rated blood/body-parts splatter comedy, “Zombieland,” and the PG-rated family food splatter science fiction comedy, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” are dominating the box office right now means that there’s not a whole lot out there in wide release for the non-splattery date movie trade.

Whip ItNow, Fox Searchlight’s hopes of good word-of-mouth-based box office could pan out for the girl-powered sports comedy, “Whip It.” So, if director Peter Billingsley — yes, Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” — wants to avoid a nasty box office defeat, he’ll have to hope there are no pleasant suprises for his fellow ex-child star making a feature directorial debut, Drew Barrymore. Variety‘s Andrew Stewart says the lately somewhat beleaguered Universal expects “decent numbers” whatever those are, but my hunch is that “Couples” will be lucky to be in the top five on this weekend’s hit parade and may not crack double digits. However, I’m nearly always wrong when I stray from the experts. We shall see.

The remaining action this weekend is in terms of limited releases. As per Box Office Mojo, other than some potential Oscar fare we may be discussing in coming weeks, we have “Good Hair,” from Chris Rock and director Jeff Stilson getting excellent reviews and debuting in 185 theaters, as well as the LeBron James-headlined sports documentary, “More Than a Game,” expanding into 44 theaters. “From Mexico With Love,” an old-school boxing/message picture being aimed at the Latino market, is also getting a very decent sized release in 285 theaters. The earnest looking drama has been so successfully hidden from critics so far, it’s not even appearing on Rotten Tomatoes new release listing.

Oh, and I almost forgot the one release that’s probably destined to be more than a trivia question after this week is over. After an extremely successful midnight-only release last week, the canny scarefest “Paranormal Activity” will be getting a normal release in 159 screens this weekend. As it happens, I saw it last night and will be writing up the review after I’m done here, but suffice it to say for now that I personally observed a bunch of presumably jaded, mostly youngish, industry-connected folks at a screening on the Paramount lot last night doing a pretty good impression of the folks in the trailer — well, maybe laughing at their own fear a bit more. This is not just hype.

paranormal activity

  

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