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.

Neighbors

May 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Seth Rogen, Zach Efron, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Get Him to the Greek”)
Written by:  Andrew J. Cohen (debut) and Brendan O’Brien (debut)

There’s a strange trend affecting this generation’s comedy films. Each of them seems to front-load the laughs while setting the story in motion, only to sputter around near the end, sacrificing jokes in a scrambling effort to pick up some small plot thread and see it through to the end. It’s not that I expect comedies full of cussing and boobs to be tightly-plotted pieces of clockwork, but the shaggy dog nature of a movie featuring a bunch of funny people being funny can turn sloppy in a hurry. “Neighbors,” featuring the shaggiest of the shaggy dogs Seth Rogen squaring off against pretty boy Zac Efron, doesn’t manage to avoid this formula either, but at least it’s funny enough to not matter.

As a 30-something couple with a young baby and a house they’ve sunk all their money into, Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) feel as though their social lives as they knew them are gone forever. Even when plans are made to party with friends, Mac and Kelly can’t even pack up all of the baby’s things before exhaustion takes over. More worries arise when the vacant house next door becomes home to a frat house led by alpha male Teddy (Efron) and his best friend/second in command Pete (Dave Franco.) Thinking the Delta Psi boys will be a constant source of sleepless nights, Mac and Kelly venture next door to make friends and ask that they keep the noise to a minimum. Teddy agrees, but on one condition: should the frat get too rowdy, Mac and Kelly are to call him first, not the police. The agreement is put to the test the very next night, however after numerous calls, Mac can’t reach Teddy, so he calls the police. Betrayed, Teddy starts a war with Mac and Kelly, who in turn scheme to get the frat dissolved by the university.

Story-wise, “Neighbors” starts to lose steam about a half hour in, pretty much as soon as the feuding begins, leaving the middle of the film feeling undercooked and mushy. Director Nicholas Stoller doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with the warring neighbors at first, throwing some hilarious absurdity into the mix when, after Mac takes an axe to a pipe to flood their basement, Delta Psi raises an insane amount of money selling dildos molded from their own penises, earning enough from the sale to fix the basement and buy a hot tub and outdoor speakers. That’s followed up by the Delta Psi’s weirdly menacing Robert DeNiro party, wherein every member dresses as a different Robert DeNiro film character and just stares in Mac and Kelly’s living room, muttering DeNiro catchphrases. These jokes are highbrow and funny as hell, but that tone is later dropped for more run-of-the-mill shenanigans. And you know what? It’s still funny as hell.

Muppets Most Wanted

March 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Ricky Gervais
Directed by: James Bobin (“The Muppets”)
Written by: James Bobin (debut) and Nicholas Stoller (“The Muppets”)

After years of languishing in ho-hum theatrical features and increasingly boring TV movies, Disney finally put the full heft of their family-friendly marketing machine behind Kermit the Frog, Fozzie, and the rest of the gang with 2011’s “The Muppets,” a delightfully nostalgic yet wonderfully fresh take on the late Jim Henson’s greatest creation. Bolstered by the presence of avowed Muppet fan Jason Segal in front of the camera and behind the scenes (he co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller), “The Muppets” managed to win the hearts of jaded old Muppet fans burned by years of mediocre offerings like myself while also successfully introducing the characters to a new batch of young fans—not to mention bringing the market for Muppet merchandise back from the dead.

Because no hit movies in Hollywood are left without one, 2014 brings us a sequel: “Muppets Most Wanted.” Kicking off literally seconds after “The Muppets” wrapped up on Hollywood Boulevard (with stand-ins playing the backs of the sorely-missed Segal and Amy Adams), “Muppets Most Wanted” sends the Muppets packing on a European tour at the urging of shady tour manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais…and it’s pronounced “bad-jee”) that finds them playing some of the swankiest theaters on the continent. Meanwhile Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog—and dead ringer for Kermit, save the presence of a mole—has made a daring escape from a Russian gulag. If you haven’t guessed by now, Dominic and Constantine are working together, using the Muppets’ tour stops as decoys to break into vaults all across Europe. The duo quickly dispatch Kermit to the Russian gulag overseen by closet Kermit the Frog fan Nadya (Tina Fey) while Constantine poses poorly as Kermit, even though none of the other Muppets are any the wiser. With a bumbling INTERPOL agent (Ty Burrell) and a no-nonsense CIA agent (Sam the Eagle) on their trail, Dominic and Constantine plot to steal their biggest prize of all: the British Crown Jewels.

While the laughs are there and the songs, again by Oscar-winner Bret Mackenzie (of Flight of the Conchords fame), are solid, “Muppets Most Wanted” feels much less satisfying than the last effort. The cast, though all seasoned comedy vets, feels more like the cast of a TV movie, as if the three human leads weren’t the first or even second choices for the roles. Again, Segal’s goofy man-child sincerity for the material is missed, leaving the movie with a going-through-the-motions feel which, to be fair, it half-heartedly acknowledges in the big wink of a song “We’re Doing A Sequel” that kicks the movie off. Throw in the fact that it looks like Disney cheaped out, with terrible special effects marring the climax and the final sequence of the film, and “Muppets Most Wanted” feels like an unfortunate letdown.

The Five-Year-Engagement

April 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

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.

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.

Get Him to the Greek

June 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”)
Written by: Nicholas Stoller (“Yes Man”)
 
What happens when you take the most irritating character from the very funny 2008 comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and create a spin-off movie just for him? While a first impression of actor Russell Brand’s narcissistic British rock star Aldous Snow might be as grating as an Emerson, Lake & Palmer track (shudder), he actually grows on you in the new film “Get Him to the Greek.” And even if he doesn’t, you’ll be laughing too hard to care.
 
In the film, Brand reprises his role as a less-sober version of Aldous, lead singer of the popular band Infinite Sorrow, who has since fallen off the wagon when his life begins to spiral out of control. His latest pretentious song “African Child” is receiving some critical backlash (its called “the worst thing to happen to Africa since the Apartheid”) and his Victoria Beckham-esque girlfriend Jackie Q (Rose Byrne) has dumped him.
 
His career is all but over until lowly record company minion Aaron Green (Jonah Hill, who was also in “Sarah Marshall,” but played a different character) suggests to his high-strung boss Sergio Roma (Sean Combs in a scene-stealing role) that booking Aldous for a 10-year anniversary concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles is just the thing the record label needs to make some serious cash.
 
To make it happen, Aaron must fly to London to pick up the fried musician, escort him to N.Y. for some press and then to L.A. for the performance. But when Aaron arrives, Aldous becomes much more interested in partying hard than getting on the flight. When he promises Aaron the time of his life, the concert at the Greek falls a few slots down on the priority list as the two make a mad dash cross country in a riotous road-trip comedy.

As a raunchy, hard R-rated flick, “Greek” resembles some of the more recently successful foul-mouthed comedies of the past few years including “Superbad” and “Knocked Up.” Director Judd Apatow, who seems to have his hand in most of these movies in some form or another, serves as producer on this one.

Brand, who might be viewed as a one-trick pony, gives Aldous more of a human element here that would not have fit well in “Sarah Marshall.” Most of the comedy does work because his character is so reprehensible at times, but the cockiness is balanced out nicely by some surprisingly genuine scenes that deal with depression and loneliness. Also there to keep Brand from going overboard is Hill, who over the last six years has become a comedic genius. His timing, subtle delivery, and overall likeability are taking him places.

While a film like “Almost Famous” might have romanticize what it would be like to spend some time on the road with musicians, “Greek” does the opposite. It takes the rock star lifestyle into extreme territory. It’s only halfway through the year, but “Get Him to the Greek” is the most side-splitting comedy to hit theaters thus far.

Yes Man

December 7, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper
Directed by: Peyton Reed (“The Break-Up”)
Written by: Nicholas Stoller (“Fun with Dick and Jane”), Jarred Paul (“Bewitched”) and Andrew Mogel (deubt)

In Jim Carrey’s new film “Yes Man,” it feels like the rubber-faced star of such movies as “Dumb and Dumber” and “Liar, Liar” is in comedy limbo.

It was a mistake when Carrey tried to jump genres last year with the appalling thriller “The Number 23.” Now, back to do the work he’s best known for (although his turns at drama – “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “The Truman Show” – have been his best projects), Carrey feels like an old jacket. It’s reliable and will keep you warm, but it would be nice to have something a little more hip (why do you think Adam Sandler is jumping on the Judd Apatow bandwagon next year?)

Not to say that Carrey has lost a step. He hasn’t. He’s still the best at what he does and does it with gusto. It never feels lazy but his herky-jerkiness naturally feels repetitious after a while. In “Yes Man,” Carrey takes it down a notch, which relieves some of the hyperactivity best left for a hopped-up Robin Williams on Ritalin.

He plays financial banker and social recluse Carl Allen, a guy who never wants to hang out with his friends and is “commited to saying no” to everything. Carl’s lifestyle changes, however, when he runs into Nick (John Michael Higgins), a former co-worker who coerces him to attend a self-help seminar that he promises will get him out of his rut. At the seminar, headed by the always-positive guru Terrance Bundley (Terrance Stamp), Carl is somehow provoked to take the motivational speaker up on a challenge and say yes to every question he is asked. “Yes embraces the possible,” Terrance declares.

Carl’s transformation into a “yes man” starts off well when he accepts a homeless guy’s offer to drive him into the forest where he lives, runs out of gas, and ends up meeting Allison (Zooey Deschanel), a novice photographer and alternative musician who lives by the seat of her pants. With his newfound obsession to say yes, Carl and Allison hit it off and start a day-to-day relationship filled with activities he was never able to do before.

While the whole idea seems harmless at first, the illogical script gives Carrey free range to do just about anything he wants without second thought. The strategy moves the screenplay along, but everything is just so random at times even the quirky chemistry between Carrey and Deschanel sort of gets lost in their own bizarre world of spontaneity.

Carrey’s bound to find a role that really highlights his more worthy talents, but “Yes Man” isn’t that movie. It’s simply another minor offering that might be interesting to rent on DVD for the outtakes.

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.