The End of the Tour

August 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg, Joan Cusack
Directed by: James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”)
Written by: Donald Margulies (debut)

More than a simple heartfelt tribute to someone who is considered by many as one of this generation’s greatest writers, “The End of the Tour” really wants to understand what exactly was going on in the head of late novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) during the pinnacle of his career when he wrote his epic novel Infinite Jest in the mid-90s. It’s an answer director James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”) and his former college professor and first-time screenwriter Donald Margulies are ultimately unable to offer audiences, but should still be commended for crafting a fascinating and personal character without doing what most films of this nature can sometimes do and turn its main subject into a sacred idol. We may not get any answers from “The End of the Tour,” but with a personality as complex as Wallace’s, it’s difficult to know where the talent and the tortured soul begin and end. Or if one can even exist without the other.

Featuring Segel as Wallace during a five-day-long interview session on the last leg of his Infinite Jest book tour with Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), “The End of the Tour” pits writer versus writer in an intimate retelling of what Lipsky wrote in his own book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which was published two years after Wallace committed suicide in 2008 at the age of 46. Wallace’s death bookends the film as we watch Eisenberg’s Lipsky receive news of Wallace’s suicide and immediately goes into his closet to retrieve the box of recordings of their five-day-long interview, an interview that never actually saw the light of day at Rolling Stone.

With Lipsky’s book, and now with Ponsoldt’s film, fans of Wallace’s writing can get a sense of who Wallace was depending on whether or not you believe Lipsky’s and Segel’s versions of the beloved author are something you consider authentic. While some may argue that Segel does not present a true representation of who Wallace was (read The Guardian‘s review by Wallace’s friend Glenn Kenny), he does create a character with enough depth and interesting perspective to care for him as a real person. What is even more thought-provoking, however, is the dynamic between Segel and Eisenberg as the two men push and pull each other into uncomfortable and emotional corners that neither probably though they would find themselves in when their interview first begins. Think of it as conversational theater.

Sex Tape

July 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jason Segel, Cameron Diaz, Rob Corddry
Directed by: Jake Kasdan (“Bad Teacher”)
Written by: Kate Angelo (“The Back-Up Plan”), Nicholas Stoller (“The Five-Year Engagement”) and Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”)

As far as nightmare scenarios go, it’s hard to imagine a fate worse than having a homemade sex tape being surreptitiously uploaded to a place where all of your friends and family can have it at their fingertips. It is a scenario that is, of course, technologically impossible, haphazardly thrown together and explained in the laziest way possible, a recurring theme in the new comedy “Sex Tape.”

In an effort to pull themselves out of a marriage that lacks in sex, Jay (Jason Segel) and Annie (Cameron Diaz) decide to film themselves during their most intimate moments. As they go to sleep, the video uploads itself to the Cloud and becomes available for all of their friends and family to view. In a panic, Jay and Annie go on a hunt to find and remove every copy of the video that exists.

In order to come up with a way that this ridiculous turn of events could have happened, screenwriters Kate Angelo, Nicholas Stoller and Segel invent an absurd circumstance in which, for whatever reason, Jay gives out an abundance of iPads to his friends, family and, in a joke repeated to death, the mailman. It’s the first in a series of baffling plot points that, despite tons of expositional dialogue, clearly don’t reflect how real life works. Is it really important that comedies be 100 percent factual? Probably not, but it is bothersome enough to be a distraction.

“Sex Tape” also falters by spending far too much time in places it shouldn’t. One example is in a scene involving Diaz and Rob Lowe in which Segel battles a dog. It’s a sequence that feels like it takes up half of the movie and has very little payoff other than a few bits of physical humor. As a result, supporting characters like the one played by Rob Corddry take a backseat and barely get a chance to do anything, despite some funny lines early on.

To their credit, Segel and Diaz go all out when it comes to piling on the sexual content, though there is almost always a completely PG-13 style of blocking nudity or anything too graphic. The film is very reliant on a mix of sexual dialogue and physical humor for laughs with the former being slightly more successful, though most attempts at humor miss the mark regardless.

Technological issues aside, the plot of “Sex Tape” becomes repetitive as the duo goes out of their way to remove every shred of evidence of their sex tape, only to have a far easier explanation explained to them. “Sex Tape” isn’t a completely unfunny movie, but the over-reliance on gross-out sexual humor is its ultimate downfall. Segel and Diaz are clearly having fun here, but perhaps the events of “Sex Tape” are better served as a hypothetical “What If” conversation with friends.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon
Directed by: Jay and Mark Duplass (“Cyrus”)
Written by: Jay and Mark Duplass (“Cyrus”)

As basement-dwelling stoner Jeff (Jason Segel) opens the film waxing philosophical, relating life to the film “Signs,” we know exactly what kind of person he is. He believes in fate; that everything happens for a reason; that there are no coincidences. Of course, at first we might think it’s the pot talking. But as the new Duplass brothers’ film “Jeff Who Lives At Home” progresses, we see that Jeff truly does believe in fate and audiences are taken on his journey to find whatever his destiny may be.

After he gets a call from a wrong number from someone looking for “Kevin,” Jeff curiously ventures out to run an errand for his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon). When he sees someone on the bus named Kevin, he takes it as a sign from above and lets this mysterious name guide him throughout his day. Along the way, Jeff runs into his elusive brother Pat (Ed Helms) who is in the midst of a fight with his wife Linda (Judy Greer) over among other things, frivolous spending. Meanwhile at work, their mother Sharon is dealing with an online secret admirer who is showing a romantic interest in her.

Segel is the heart of the film, which is hardly unimaginable for anyone who has seen his fantastic performance in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Segel creates a character that is strangely vulnerable, but beyond that, a character that moviegoers will really want to see succeed. Helms’ character is the polar opposite of Jeff and a somewhat different turn for an actor who has spent a lot of his recent career doing goofy things in a totally different type of comedy. His chemistry with Segel is clearly evident, especially as a source of subtle wit. The Duplass brothers rely more on throwaway lines, facial expressions or strange situations for their laughs and Segel and Helms prove to be a great team for this brand of humor. Although it’s a smaller role, Greer is having a great last few months with solid dramatic turns in both “The Descendants” and now “Jeff.” Although there is nothing wrong with her performance, the B-story of Sarandon at work is the one storyline that seems a tad misplaced and disruptive to the flow of the film.

With the frequent documentary-style zooming in and out and heavily improvised dialogue, the Duplass brothers don’t stray far away from what they have become known for. It is a unique style that is likely to be polarizing and might come down to personal preference on whether or not it bothers the individual viewer. However, while their style remains unchanged, it is evident that with both “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” and with 2010’s “Cyrus,” the Duplass brothers are maturing as filmmakers. While their debut “The Puffy Chair” is raw and emotionally powerful, their latter two films come off as more polished with bigger named actors and an obviously bigger budget. But even further, there is far more charm to their last two films, especially with this last contribution.

While the film does meander and take a while to develop, the final act of “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” is blindsiding and beautiful as everything culminates in one fantastic sequence. It is a film that may not immediately connect with viewers, but those who stay with it may find themselves surprised as to just how much it grows on them. Perhaps what Jeff is experiencing throughout the film isn’t fate, but rather a random string of coincidences. But Segel brings such sincerity to the character that audiences are inclined to just let Jeff believe whatever he wants if it brings purpose to his life.

The Muppets

November 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper
Directed by: James Bobin (TV’s “The Flight of the Conchords”)
Written by: Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshal”) and Nicholas Stoller (“Get Him to the Greek”)

If watching actor/writer Jason Segel reluctantly trying to impress Mila Kunis by performing a song from his Dracula puppet rock opera in the 2008 comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” made you wish all love was as eternal as a vampire’s, then you must’ve also been as intrigued as I was when news that Segel and Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller would continue playing puppet show by penning the script for a reboot to the famed Muppet film franchise.

After 12 years without a theatrical release (their last was the second-rate, Gonzo-centric “Muppets from Space” in 1999), there would finally be what the studio was calling a fresh take on the beloved cast of characters who first appeared as a group on “The Muppet Show” in the mid ’70s. If by “fresh” they meant “The Muppets” would feel like it was plucked from the days when Bob Hope and Milton Berle would cameo, then, yes, a lifelong Muppets fan like Segel should be proud of sticking to tradition despite original muppeteers like Frank Oz opining about the script’s lack of respect for the characters.

For people like myself, however, who grew up watching reruns of “The Muppet Show” in syndicate and trusted Segel and Stoller wouldn’t harp on homage so much and be brave enough to take some creative license, “The Muppets” is in many ways both a charming return to form and a surprising letdown. Sure, Judd Apatow humor, while usually clever, might be considered much too mean-spirited for the wholesomeness of Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear. But the new version is so far from modern that even Statler and Waldorf would deem parts of it all dried up.

Still, playing the nostalgia card is welcomed. We get a glimpse of the Muppets’ past at the beginning of the movie when we’re introduced to Walter, the Muppets’ No. 1 fan (and a Muppet himself) who grew up collecting their memorabilia and watching the old TV show with his human brother Gary (Segel). When Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams in an equally chipper role as “Enchanted”) invite Walter to tag along on their anniversary trip toLos Angeles, he jumps at the chance to go so he can visit the famous Muppet Theater. Now abandoned, the theater has caught the attention of wealthy oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who wants to buy the building and bulldoze it so he can drill for the sweet crude underneath. The only way to save the theater: raise $10 million in two days by reuniting the now estranged Muppets for one last extravaganza show and telethon.

It sounds easier said than done, which makes Segel and Stoller’s decision to give Kermit, Gary, Mary, and Walter only 48 hours to track down all the Muppets, rehearse, and find a celebrity to host the event and TV network to air it, all the more ridiculously impossible. To help with the time constraints, the writing duo incorporate a few meta techniques to cheat their way through the narrative such as admitting to the audience that a musical montage would be used to skim happily through the Muppet hunt (or making sure said audience remembers they’re watching a movie). None of it comes off as clever as it probably did on paper, but Segel and Stoller stick with it nevertheless. Even the save-the-theater storyline itself didn’t rely on much thought. Whether it’s saving an orphanage in “The Blues Brothers” or a community recreation center in “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” or — get this — the Muppet Theater in 2002’s “It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie,” originality isn’t a key element in the screenplay. Segel and Stoller would’ve had better luck coming up with something imaginative by filling in the blanks of a Muppet MadLibs.

Instead, “The Muppets” goes for quick and easy jokes like outdated references to “Dirty Dancing,” “Scarface,” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Even more contemporary gags like chickens clucking to Cee Lo Green’s always-edited single “F*ck You!” will be overshadowed by the disappointment lingering after you realize another 12 years from now, the biggest cameos in this newest version (Jim Parsons, really?) will be just as memorable as Rob Schneider and Andie MacDowell’s in the last.

Despicable Me

July 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand
Directed by: Pierre Coffin (debut) and Chris Renaud (debut)
Written by: Ken Daurio (“Horton Hears a Who!”) and Cinco Paul (“Horton Hears a Who!”)

While the cuteness factor is at an all-time high in the new animated feature film “Despicable Me,” the elimination of any real conflict between characters is bothersome. Sure, a collection of likeable toons can offer a gleeful experience especially to those of a certain age, but important as it is to have someone to cheer for, it’s also kind of fun to have someone to root against. In “Despicable Me,” everyone is either just so gosh darn adorable or wacky, you might as well be watching an episode of the “Teletubbies.”

The happy-go-luckiness begins with the yellow, scene-stealing, Twinkie-shaped characters known as the minions, who will probably grace every lunchbox and backpack once the new school year starts up next month. The minions, who take on the same type of role as the claw-loving, squeeze-toy aliens in the “Toy Story” franchise, work for the darkly sophisticated Gru (Steve Carell), a supervillain who cuts in line at the coffee shop and hogs the road while driving his oversized, jet-powered vehicle.

When Gru finds out another supervillain known as Vector (Jason Segel) is outworking him by successfully executing high-profile crimes (his latest is stealing the Great Pyramid of Giza), Gru decides he will not settle for being second best. His plan: to steal the moon, a plan that first requires him to get his hands on a shrink ray gun retained by Vector so he can simply pluck a miniature moon right from the sky.

To do so, Gru adopts a trio of orphans – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnus (Elsie Fisher) – to infiltrate Vector’s lair by peddling cookies at his front door. In return, the girls, who make up a major portion of the good-natured spirit of the animation, show Gru that being a supervillain doesn’t mean he can’t also be a loving dad.

And so goes Gru’s transformation from a coldhearted evildoer to compassionate father figure. It’s part of the basic and mostly cliché script by “Horton Hears a Who!” screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul. Aside from Carell’s awkwardly inconsistent voice work as Gru, most of the character’s problems come during his transition from baddie to daddy. “Despicable Me” digs for some sentimentality, but ultimately comes up short.

Left to fill space: the minions, who are bound to be a crowd favorite by the end of the summer. They scuttle, chatter incoherently, and earn their laughs mostly when getting bopped in the head or knocked to the ground. “Despicable Me” deserves a chuckle or two here and there, but the safety net it seems to be working over gets in the way of producing any authentic animated dramedy not found on Nickelodeon.

I Love You, Man

March 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones
Directed by: John Hamburg (“Along Came Polly”)
Written by: John Hamburg (“Meet the Parents”) and Larry Levin (“Dr. Dolittle”)

Making friends was always easiest in kindergarten. Running around the playground pretending to be a stealth ninja was an automatic invitation for anyone your age to jump on board with their imaginary nunchaku and go to town with your imagination. It was so uncomplicated not to have to pass judgment on a potential buddy at the age of five.

In “I Love You, Man,” Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) is a little older and a little more desperate than your average sociable grade-schooler. Never really experiencing what it was like to have a male best friend (his family describes him as a “girl friend guy”), Peter is pressured into searching for a new friend who can become the best man at his upcoming wedding.

While his fiancée Zooey (Rashida Jones) is brimming over with bridesmaids, Peter is a friendless, softhearted real estate agent who starts envying other man-to-man relationships once he’s assigned the task of finding someone he might like to hang out with. He starts his manhunt by going on a few “man-dates” with some prospects and spending some time playing poker with Barry (John Favreau), the husband of one of Zooey’s friends (Jamie Pressly). It doesn’t help, however, that Barry literally hates Peter and both have nothing in common with each other.

Things take a turn for the better when Peter meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), a laid-back, outspoken bachelor who crashes one of Peter’s open houses for the free food. The two hit it off right from the beginning and Peter starts spending more time at Sydney’s “man cave” jamming out on the bass and, well, doing things guys do when the significant other isn’t around. All is well until their bro-mance begins to affect Peter and Zooey’s relationship towards the film’s final act. (What is Peter supposed to do when Sydney wants to go out Sunday, the night when he and Zooey cuddle up and watch HBO?).

As many other comedic filmmakers are starting to do, John Hamburg (“Along Came Polly”) does his best to give us shades of Judd Apatow humor, which is even more evident with the casting of Rudd, an Apatow favorite. It’s a great choice, really, since Rudd can usually do no wrong (with the exception of “Over Her Dead Body”). His sweetly sensitive guy role while typical does mesh fantastically well with Segel.

Aside from the evident chemistry between the two, there are a few ongoing jokes in “I Love You, Man” that stray from the freshness Apatow has built his franchise on. This includes a bit where Peter’s social awkwardness has him constantly spitting out the most incomprehensible expressions when there’s nothing left to say. During these moments, it’s fairly easy to tell where Rudd and other actors are given more room to improvise. That’s when the comedic timing seems to hit a few speed bumps, mostly when a scene is about to wrap up.

Despite some fluffy moments, “I Love You, Man” can still be considered part of the recent onslaught of comedies defined by their quality mix of vulgarity and heart. While Apatow isn’t behind this one, it’s obvious he’s a major influence.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

April 13, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller (debut)
Written by: Jason Segel (debut)

When it comes to riding the coattails of a friend in the film industry things can go as badly as watching Adam Sandler continue to dish out subpar movies for his buddies Rob Schneider, Allen Covert, and David Spade to star in under his Happy Madison production company or they can go as fairly well for others like Greg Mottola, Seth Rogan, and Jake Kasdan. They are only three of a handful of director Judd Apatow’s friends whom he has graced with the opportunity to earn directing and writing credits in films he finances. Sometimes the project works (“Superbad”). Other times, not so well (“Drillbit Taylor”).

In the most recent of Apatow’s work as a producer, he gets courageous again by handing over the reigns for the comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” to first time director Nicholas Stoller and first time screenwriter Jason Segel, who also stars in the film. It’s a hit and miss first attempt where the peeks in humor will have you laughing out loud and the valleys leaving you wondering why the film feels so bipolar.

After getting dumped by his famous TV actress girlfriend Sarah (Kristen Bell), TV show composer Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) takes some advice and drags his broken heart to Hawaii for a much-needed getaway. A trip to an island paradise, however, isn’t going to turn out as Peter expected since Sarah and her new rock star boyfriend Aldous (Russell Brand) have also decided to travel to the same location. Deciding to stay the course and test his emotional strength, Peter ends up meeting Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis), a possible new love interest who could take his mind off of his devil-of-an-ex.

Like with all other Apatow productions, when the humor flows out naturally from the characters the film is at its most sincere and entertaining. Although it takes a while to get Segel’s character out of his self-pitying rut, once he realizes he has something to offer to the opposite sex, the film takes some interesting twists in familiar territory.

Not everything Apatow touches turns to gold, but with Stoller and Segel’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” there is enough refreshing material and awkward deadpan to call it enjoyable.