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.

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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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OMG! Brad Bird giving up animation under extreme duress!!! I repeat, “OMG!!!!”

The first 4.5 minutes of this awards video of Brad Bird’s extremely well deserved Windsor McKay Award from the Annies is pretty much your standard career retrospective about the former “Simpsons” creative turned writer/director of the instant classics, “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles,” and “Ratatouille.” In the second half, Bird himself appears. He’s presumably somewhere near the set of his live-action debut, the next “Mission: Impossible” installment, which will star Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg, among others.

The weird part is that he says he’s giving up animation forever, but then it gets weirder and more worrisome.

H/t Mike Fleming.

  

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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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Friday movie news dump: the first Salinger movie, the Sundance beat goes on, etc.

Hey folks. I’ve got a relatively limited amount of time today and, just to add to the drama, the usually excellent free wi-fi at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf slowed down today to a relative crawl for a time while I was researching this. Let’s see how much I can cover.

* Just as I was ready to wrap things up, we have a breaking story. As I sorta alluded to yesterday regarding J.D. Salinger, it’s inevitable his death will pave the way for some new films. It turns out I was, if anything, way behind the curve. Working screenwriter Shane Salerno — whose work, like the planned James Cameron-produced “Fantastic Voyage” remake, bends toward the geek — has been working on a documentary about the writer who became almost as famous for his escape from the public eye as for his actual work, and it’s apparently nearly completed. Mike Fleming has not only broken the news of the formerly under-wraps project, he’s seen most of the movie

* Of course, Sundance continues slogging away, and word of acquisitions by film distributors have been making their way round the usual spots. Indiewire’s Eugene Hernandez has news on the well-regarded “Blue Valentine” with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. He also gives a quick nod to such other highish profile films as “The Tilman Story” (a documentary about the late Pat Tilman), “The Kids Are Alright” (not to be confused with the old rock-doc about the Who) and “Hesher,” a not very appealing sounding film that nevertheless has Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead. The “Valentine” sale is of particular interesting as it was the troubled Weinstein Company that picked it up. Coincidentally, the company named for Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s parents, Mira and Max, has gone on the block.

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Read the rest of this entry »

  

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RIP Edward Woodward

Edward WoodwardI was very sorry to hear earlier this morning of the death at age 79 of a personal favorite of mine, Edward Woodward.  Although he may still be best known for his roles in the acclaimed fact-based war drama, “Breaker Morant,” the espionage/crime-vigilante TV series, “The Equalizer,” and by our friends in England as the cynical, super-tough spy “Callan,” his role in what was once a fairly obscure cult film all but buried by its studio, the 1973 “The Wicker Man,” is getting the lion’s share of attention in most of his  press obituaries, that’s including the very touching one issued by the BBC this morning.

“The Wicker Man” has been one of my favorite movies since I was teenager and remains so now — not even the worst imaginable remake can touch that film, and that proposition has now been tested.  Still, my admiration of the actor Woodward goes well beyond one single role. He was the kind of performer you could rely on to be great in anything and so he was on countless television programs.  A master of understatement who knew when and how to go big (the oft-spoiled ending of “The Wicker Man” being a case in point), he was a real virtuoso whose un-showy approach probably doomed him to being underrated to a certain degree. Still, he didn’t seem to mind and judging from the press accounts I’ve been reading, he was a real gentleman and as fun to be around as his best known characters were definitely not. He was also, by the way, an accomplished Shakespearian stage actor and a fair-to-middling pop singer. It’s a shame he rarely got to do either on screen, though his voice can be heard to powerful effect during the final scene of “Breaker Morant.” (If you don’t mind learning the fate of his title character, or already know it from history, you can see the conclusion here.)

Two of his more devoted fans appear to have been Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, who were smart enough to cast Woodward in “Hot Fuzz,” and you can read their thoughts at Wright’s blog and via a message board post by Pegg. (Big h/t to Beaks.) Wright’s piece is really lovely and I strongly recommend you read all of if . However, here’s one line that tickled me, in the spirit of “it’s funny because it’s true.”

I also remember telling him that Quentin [Tarantino] was a huge fan of his film ‘Sitting Target’ (another great soundtrack – btw) and he looked shocked. I’m not sure anyone had ever complimented him on it. He replied “Well, you must tell your friend he is very strange indeed”.

And so it goes, another great lost. I do want to echo Edgar Wright’s entreaty that, especially you’ve never seen it, you watch the 1973 “The Wicker Man” as fast as possible and avoid any place where spoilers about the ending might be found, which seems to be about 99% of what’s been posted about it recently. (I tried to avoid giving too much away in my 2000 review linked to above.)  Woodward’s portrayal of a repressed, bitter, humorless, but also decent, principled, and compassionate man is, to me, very much what acting is all about.  So, why are we surprised to hear about what a funny and regular guy he was in real life? He was acting — extraordinarily well.

Greg of Cinema Styles has more. Highly recommended.

  

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