Starring: Jason Segal, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”)
Written by: Jason Segal (“The Muppets”) and Nicholas Stoller (“The Muppets”)
Ever since “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” became a hit in 2005, the influence of its director Judd Apatow has been felt in nearly every comedy Hollywood has released since. The raunchy dialogue, the nudity, and the themes of male sentimentality have become a bankable style, used by Apatow proteges and copycats alike.
“The Five-Year Engagement” is the latest vulgar romantic comedy from the Apatow-backed duo of director/writer Nicholas Stoller and writer/star Jason Segal, previously responsible for “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” which itself was responsible for introducing most of the world to Jason Segal’s penis. This time Segal stars as Tom, an affable San Francisco sous chef who opens the film nervously bumbling his way toward proposing to girlfriend Violet (Emily Blunt) by way of a sweetly amateurish skit. With their engagement official, Tom and Violet start to feel the pressure from both sides of the family to marry as soon as possible. However, as it sometimes does, life gets in the way: Violet lands a university job in Michigan, and a reluctantly supportive Tom travels halfway across the country with her, agreeing to postpone their wedding plans while they adjust to life in a new town.
As with the rest of the films producer Apatow has a hand in, the story in “The Five-Year Engagement” is in no particular hurry to unfold. Writers Segal and Stoller take their time, stocking the edges of the story with hilarious minor characters, including the scene-stealing couple played by Chris Pratt and Alison Brie. Director Stoller invites other comedic ringers like Chris Parnell, Brian Posehn, Mindy Kaling, and Kevin Hart to swing by for extended amounts of time just to hang out instead of actually advancing the main plot in any way. The result is a shaggy film that fits squarely in the Apatow/Segal/Stoller brand yet feels like a run-of-the-mill broad romantic comedy at the same time.
With “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Segal and Stoller made a romantic comedy for young men, one wherein the well-meaning man-child was done wrong by an indifferent, uncaring woman. “The Five-Year Engagement” seems to represent an effort to appeal to both men and women, with Segal’s well-meaning man-child being equally responsible for the highs and lows of his relationship with a Blunt’s caring, emotionally-conflicted career woman. At times, though, Segal and Stoller end up outside their comfort zone, littering the plot with threadbare romantic comedy tropes like a fanciful stunt wedding and the rakish older professor (Rhys Ifans) whose ill intentions can be seen coming miles away. But Segal and Stoller still realize the inherent hilarity in seeing Segal’s bare ass, so at least they haven’t forgotten where they came from.
Starring: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine
Directed by: Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2″)
Written by: Kelly Asbury (debut), Mark Burton (“Aliens in the Attic”), Kevin Cecil (debut), Emily Cook (debut), Kathy Greenberg (debut), Andy Riley (debut)
William Shakespeare is probably not turning in his grave since his classic stories have been adapted for the big screen in some form or fashion since the beginning of cinema, but with “Gnomeo & Juliet” he has to at least be wondering, “Why?”
The easy answer to that would be because “Gnomeo” rhymes with “Romeo,” the one of the star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but you can also argue that the cuteness factor of the gnomes themselves was a major selling pitch. More than likely, these fat figurines will easily lure kids and their parents to the theater for a little 3-D hokum. If this finds box-office success, watch out for “The Urchin of Venice.”
Basically following along the same narrative structure as the original play, but replacing all the characters with garden gnomes and other lawn ornaments, “Gnomeo” finds itself at an impasse when it refuses to inject anything fresh and exciting into the picture. Instead, the animated film takes the easy way out and makes absurd references to other films just for the sake of referencing something. Sure, these gimmicks can work well when told in context with the story (see “Shrek”), but “Gnomeo” screenwriters go too far when they find ways to force in jokes into the script featuring quotes and images from “Brokeback Mountain,” “American Beauty,” and a host of other unrelated allusions.
Where “Gnomeo” earns a few chuckles is through its use of satire to pick a little fun at Shakespeare himself. Then there’s the actual animation, which is above average when it captures the porcelain features of the garden gnomes and the clanky sounds they would make if they walked or touched each other (like tea cups toasting). Add to that, some fine voice work from an excellent British cast (Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham) and “Gnomeo” isn’t impossible to watch for a short time.
Still, you can almost imagine the ridiculously large group of novice feature film screenwriters attached to this project sitting in a room together tossing ideas and dialogue back and forth and settling on the most obvious gags. Not nearly as funny as it should have been, “Gnomeo” is the first animated film of 2011 and will easily be lost in the shuffle with the other mediocre family films to hit theaters this year. Here to hoping it doesn’t get worse than this.
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt
Directed by: Joe Johnston (“Hidalgo”)
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker (“Sleepy Hollow”) and David Self (“The Haunting”)
Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro (“Traffic”) phones in his performance as an iconic monster in “The Wolfman,” a re-imaging of the 1941 classic starring Lon Chaney Jr. It’s not only Del Toro, however, who should take the blame for how terribly things go for the creature feature, which was delayed an entire year because of production problems.
Despite starting off on the wrong paw, one can’t ignore the talented cast pinned down for “Wolfman,” including Del Toro. From Oscar winner Sir Anthony Hopkins (“Silence of the Lambs”) to the young and blossoming starlet Emily Blunt (“The Young Victoria”) to the reliable Hugo Weaving (“V for Vendetta”), some of the pieces are definitely here. It’s unfortunate that director Joe Johnston (“Hidalgo”) and screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker (“Sleepy Hollow”) and David Self (“The Haunting”) fail to create any type of suspense or frightening scenes to match these actors’ supporting roles or the eerie gothic cinematography by Shelly Johnson.
Ultimately, “The Wolfman” becomes a film that can’t decide whether it wants to be a throwback to the monster movies of the past mid-century or take the easy way out and go full-gore for mainstream audiences. It chooses both and succeeds at neither.
In the film, Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, a thespian who is summoned home to England after many years away to search for his missing brother Ben. Contacted by Ben’s fiancée Gwen (Blunt), Lawrence returns home to find he is too late. His brother’s body was found mutilated in the woods. Theories begin to flood in as to what could have killed Ben in such a manner. Gypsies? A Bengal tiger? A raving lunatic?
When the townspeople find out Lawrence had been sent to an asylum by his father (Hopkins) years before, suspicions start turning to him. Lawrence becomes a prime suspect when he is bitten in the neck by a mysterious beast. Soon, other folks turn up slaughtered and word spreads that the Talbot household is cursed. Weaving plays Scotland Yard Inspector Abberline, who steps in to hunt down whatever is shredding up residents.
As the carnage continues by way of campy decapitations and close-ups of intestines spread across the ground, Johnston provides no real tone or direction and lets “The Wolfman” ride the wave of blood. Is this a story about a man fighting his inner demons and trying to understand the nightmares he continues to have about the death of his mother or is this a straight-forward monster movie in the same mold as “Underworld” and “Van Helsing?”
No matter what it wants to be, there’s not enough of a story to support “The Wolfman” and Lawrence’s transformation, whether it’s physical or emotional. Relying mostly on computer-generated effect also doesn’t help its cause as it attempts to claw its way back to the roots of the genre. While six-time Oscar-winning make-up artist Rick Baker (“An American Werewolf in London”) had his hand in this one, it’s evident he didn’t have free reign to do what he does best. For that, “The Wolfman” suffers greatly. This setback, however, is only skin deep. There’s a more elusive identity crisis the film runs into that can’t be cured with a few extra prosthetics or layers of facial hair or even a Del Toro performance where the actor actually decides to show up.
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée (“C.R.A.Z.Y.”)
Written by: Julian Fellowes (“Vanity Fair”)
As a period piece, “The Young Victoria” is fairly generic when it comes to offering a history lesson, but credit must be given to Emily Blunt and her portrayal of Queen Victoria during the first years as ruler of England. As the young queen, Blunt plays the real-life character both mature and inexperienced. Add to that some top-notch costume design by two-time Oscar nominated (7-time nominee) Sandy Powell (“The Aviator,” “Shakespeare in Love”) and solid production design and “Victoria” is right at the edge of a recommendation.
Starring: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin
Directed by: Christine Jeffs (“Sylvia”)
Written by: Megan Holley (debut)
It’s no surprise first-time screenwriter Megan Holley fashioned the script for her dark comedy “Sunshine Cleaning” from a report on National Public Radio. It’s just the type of mildly off-beat story one would expect to hear on a show like “All Things Considered”: Two female friends from Seattle start a crime-scene clean-up company.
The inspiration itself might have easily ruined a feature film — characters written with sensitivity and humor usually don’t ride tragedy’s coattails — but Holley and director Christine Jeffs (“Sylvia”) are able to detail the job’s unpleasantness with fake blood and synthetic brain chunks while still managing to create sympathetic characters and a strangely intimate world.
Relocating the women to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and rewriting the female duo as sisters, “Sunshine Cleaning” follows Rose Lorkowski (two-time Academy Award nominee Adams), a 30-something single mother who’s making ends meet as a cleaning lady. Once the popular head cheerleader in high school, Rose relives her glory days through an ongoing affair with married ex-boyfriend Mac (Zahn), who now works as a police officer.
Rose decides she needs a career change after she ends up cleaning the house of a former classmate. She’s also desperate to make extra money to send her eccentric son to a private school because his principal wants her to medicate the boy for his harmless, albeit peculiar, classroom antics (most recently, licking everything he can put his tongue to).
Taking advice from Mac, Rose begins mopping up the blood, and she recruits her burned-out sister Norah (Blunt), who has emotional problems stemming from (minor spoiler alert) their mother’s suicide when they were kids. Why these two would ever decide to start a company where suicide cleanup is part of the job is beyond comprehension, but the lazy parallel does most of the screenwriter’s heavy lifting, and the gals are fairly good at what they do, despite their initial naiveté concerning biohazard-disposal regulations.
Luckily, they receive a crash course in decomp (Tip Number One: You can’t just throw a blood-soaked mattress in a Dumpster) from Winston (Collins), a one-armed model-builder who owns a cleaning-supplies store.
Rose and Norah become haz-mat-suited cleaning women with support from their father (Academy Award winner Alan Arkin, who basically rehashes his grandfatherly role from “Little Miss Sunshine” minus the cocaine), and attempt to scrub away death’s aftermath. In one subplot, Norah searches out a woman named Lynn (Mary Lynn Rajskub of “24”), a suicide’s daughter whose photo Norah discovers while cleaning up the mess left behind.
It’s these small strokes of sincerity — away from the yellow police tape, decontamination suits, and a few standard pseudo-indie-film clichés — that make “Sunshine Cleaning” a bittersweet, honest, and well-acted gem.