The movie’s called PAUL and that’s between y’all

April 24, 2011

The new sci-fi comedy Paul originated with screenwriters, stars and long-time chums Simon Pegg and Nick Frost taking the piss, really. Sitting in a soggy English backyard while rain delayed the filming of their much-loved zombie rom-com Shaun of the Dead, the duo’s producer Nira Park suggested that next time they might want to come up with a story set in a location where the weather wouldn’t play havoc with the shooting schedule.

Quick as you like, Pegg reeled off a location (the desert), a storyline (two British guys find an alien and help him get home) and a central character (“Oh, and the alien’s name is Paul, because he’s so very normal,” smiles Pegg). Then he whipped up a quick sketch of said alien…flipping the bird, no less.

Yes, ladies, he's single

Seven years later, with Pegg and Frost’s other frequent collaborator, director Edgar Wright, off making Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, the two lads decided to bring together a cast of geek-friendly icons (everyone from Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman to Alien’s Sigourney Weaver), a respected director (Greg Mottola of Superbad and Adventureland fame) and a CGI extra-terrestrial with the unmistakable voice of Seth Rogen to create Paul, a road-movie comedy that also serves as a tribute to the films loved by Pegg and Frost.

While Paul may at first glance seem like the kind of project just right for Wright, Pegg believes the movie is better suited to Mottola, whose career has combined low-key indie pictures and mainstream comedies.

“While Shaun of the Dead was something Edgar and I developed together and Hot Fuzz was Edgar’s thing, where I came along for the ride, Paul was always mine and Nick’s thing,” says Pegg. “It was something Nick and I had together, away from Edgar. I don’t think his style really suited this film – we needed it to have a less fantastic, more laid-back style. If the film had been stylistically intricate, Paul himself would have looked less amazing. One of our pitches was [Mottola’s debut feature] ‘Daytrippers with an alien’. And then when we saw Superbad, it became a one-choice situation. He turned what could have been just a profane screwball comedy into something quite lovely by the restrained approach he took.”

Pegg and Frost are known as quite the team, having collaborated on Spaced, Shaun, Fuzz and the upcoming Peter Jackson-Steven Spielberg adaptation of Tintin as well as Paul, but they have also worked separately. One has to wonder if they ever surprise each other when they reunite after a long absence (it was three years between Hot Fuzz and Paul), and how their creative relationship develops as a result.

“Part of the reason our friendship is so long-lived is that I am constantly surprised by Simon, even though I know every atom in his form,” says Frost. “There will always be something he does, even when it’s just us hanging out, that makes me go ‘Oh, that’s fucking great’.”

That IS fucking great

Says Pegg, “I actually notice Nick more watching him in something like The Boat That Rocked than when we’re working together…”

“That’s because you stifle me!” mock-wails Frost.

“When we’re acting together, we play off each other and our performances are dependant – we use the chemistry we have,” continues Pegg. “But I love watching Nick’s work as an audience member. I’m like his biggest fan. His work makes me laugh like I don’t know him but at the same time I’m really proud because I do know him.”

“I think we’re quite aware as performers and writers that the ‘bromance’ shit is only going to last so long,” adds Frost. “And I think Paul is the starting point of us evolving towards what we’ll do for the next 10 years, 15 years or however long our working relationship goes on. We can’t be those characters forever. You have to evolve to survive or people will get bored. And I’d hate that to happen.”

Unhappy medium

April 23, 2011

Change we can believe in

To begin with, a public service announcement: if you’re not watching the animated spy spoof Archer, start watching the animated spy spoof Archer. Because it’s fucking funny, that’s why. And because any show that coins the phrase “babytown frolics” (now a cornerstone of my personal vocabulary), name-checks Bartleby the Scrivener (“Not a big Melville crowd, are we?”) and refers to a comely young lady as “the Pele of anal” deserves your patronage. Season uno is now available from the fine folks at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, and while you should have one or two qualms about lining Rupert Murdoch’s pockets with additional filthy lucre, choke back your Commie tendencies just this once and ring up the sale. It’s worth it.

Ah, it’s good to like stuff, isn’t it? I like liking stuff. To quote Beavis (or possibly Butt-head): “I like stuff that rocks. I don’t like stuff that sucks.” And one of the great things about my line of work is that there are works of creativity and artistry out there that inspire me to sing their praises in the hope of exposing them to a wider audience. Another great thing about this gig? Occasionally you encounter something that disappoints or even offends you to such a degree that you’re inspired to dizzy heights of venom and vitriol. An unadulterated slam can be great fun to write; it can also be great fun to read.

But you know that saying about 90 per cent of everything being crap? Well, that’s not quite true. It’s more accurate to say that 90 per cent of everything is…well, okay, I guess. Tepid. Wan. Mediocre. And how the heck is a cultural commentator meant to come up with fascinating copy about movies, TV shows, books or other forms of expression that are just, I dunno, fine?

No, seriously, I’m asking you guys. Because I’m damned if I know.

It was actually Sucker Punch that got me thinking about this. I’ll admit I was hyped for Zack Snyder’s latest bonbon of eye candy after some semi-scintillating teasers and trailers (the man does give good trailer; that nobody can deny) but after being subjected to two hours or so of sound and fury signifying fuck-all I was left decidedly so-so. I didn’t completely loathe it because I kinda got what Snyder was trying to say, even if he developed a bit of a speech impediment trying to express it, and I felt like his heart was in the right place. So the movie’s a mess, but it’s a mess with some degree of conviction. But I know some people who freakin’ hated it, viewed its sexual politics as retrograde, its depiction of women as offensive and its general concept as asinine. And the passion of their argument got people talking.

And yet strangely underwhelmed. I know, right?

Now, I could understand their point. But I didn’t feel it. Does that make me a bad person? No, the fact that I hit someone with my car on the way home from the screening and drove away without checking to see if they were alive or dead makes me a bad person. So what gets me passionate in the negative? I guess incompetence. And people’s mileage is gonna vary on that. Sucker Punch disappointed me for the afore-mentioned reasons and also because Snyder’s supposedly badass visuals are getting repetitive and, well, kinda ugly in parts. But I saw the germ of a good idea – and more importantly, good intentions – in Sucker Punch. Yeah, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with, huh? Whereas in the movie I’ve hated most so far this year, the fucking useless No Strings Attached, a turgid rom-com with all the precise timing of a street-vendor Rolex, I saw an unwarranted confidence in its own charm and humour. That pissed me off. Of course, there were people giggling themselves silly at the screening I attended, so what the fuck do I know, right?

Taking another RUN at it

April 23, 2011

They don't do posters like this any more. And, yes, there's probably a reason for that. Still a shame, though

Well, the crystal embedded in my palm has started blinking red, which mean I only have a very limited time to tell you about a very highly-anticipated remake. And if you understood what the hell I meant by that, you’ll get that I’m talking about the latest in the very long line of false starts and name-drops that is the second screen version of Logan’s Run. Something of a ‘classic’ – and I can’t emphasis those quote marks enough – mostly due to its intriguing concept, partially its high levels of ‘70s cheesiness and possibly its sizeable amount of Jenny Agutter nudity for a film rated PG at the time, there’s been talk of a remake for not just years but decades now, with seemingly any filmmaker showing any capacity for handling propulsive action with an underlying social component linked with the gig.

For those not in the know, Logan’s Run is the story of a futuristic society where everything is perfect and everyone provided for but the citizenship has an enforced lifespan of 30. Once you reach that age, you’ve got two options: try to a second shot at life in a ritual called Carrousel, which tends to end in a fiery demise for all concerned, or go on the run, in which case you’re targeted by a lethal, ruthless ‘Sandman’ like our hero Logan. When the powers that be learn of an underground railroad helping old fogies elude the authorities, Logan’s few remaining years are wiped off the board and he’s forced to become a runner himself to lead his former allies to the resistance.

Yeah, it's not all as cool as this

Now maybe it’s just me, but that sounds like a cool premise for a thriller. (Damn shame the 1976 version botches the bejesus out of it.) And with what seems to be an increasing focus on society on extending adolescence and worshipping youth – excuse me while I yell at some kids to get of my lawn – it’s got some potentially resonant underpinnings. (Grouchy but often astute online movie pundit Devin Faraci suggested that Justin Bieber would be perfect casting as Logan in a remake. He might be onto something.) Anyway, Bryan Singer was tentatively attached as director as far back as the release of the first X-Men movie, but as of late it’s been shuttled between the likes of Tron Legacy’s Joseph Kosinski and hot commercials helmer Carl Erik Rinsch as all involved have tried to strike a deal.

But some big steps were taken recently, with producer Joel Silver (Die Hard, Predator, the Matrix movies and general awesomeness) declaring that Ryan Gosling was attached as the lead and Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn was aboard as director. Given their indie cred, it’s a fairly unexpected move and one that indicates that this new Logan’s Run might stand out from the crowd. (And in something that outs me as geeky beyond repair, I actually fan-cast Gosling as Logan during some online brainstorming a few years back. Combine that with me calling Henry Cavill as the new Superman before it was officially announced and I’m two for two, y’all! Bow down! Or just pity me.)

Ooh, someone knows Photoshop! (It's not me.)

Refn is perhaps best known for his Tom Hardy prison drama Bronson and his bold, surreal medieval headtrip Valhalla Rising (coming soon from Madman, and starring Mads Mikkelsen as the baddest motherfucker of all time), but both he and Gosling seem keen to use their arthouse bona fides to crack the mainstream their way – they’ve already collaborated on a car-chase flick called Drive with an eclectic line-up of co-stars including Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks and Bryan Cranston. I was already keen to check it out but as a potential trailer for what this duo might do with Logan’s Run it’s now become a must-see.

Review: ARTHUR

April 23, 2011

What’s wrong with Arthur – and there is plenty wrong with this remake of the 1981 Dudley Moore screwball comedy – can be summed up in two words: Brand and booze.

Brand first. The role of a billionaire man-child with a flair for intoxicated mischief would at first glance seem to be tailor-made for the outrageous British comedian with the quicksilver wit and the party-boy persona.

But it’s an ill fit, mainly because Brand’s eccentricities, oddities and general joie de vivre don’t seem like the product of a few cocktails. In fact, it’s hard to tell when he’s sozzled and when he’s not.

Yeah, that's just disturbing

Which leads us to booze. Moore’s original Arthur Bach was a bubbly, boisterous drunk, someone who genuinely seemed to have a blast when half in the bag. And the original movie took a non-judgemental approach to his misbehaviour.

That doesn’t fly three decades on, however. And while someone straightening up and flying right is a worthy goal, it’s also kind of a buzzkill in a comedy if it’s not handled delicately.

So Arthur has a miscast star in a story that has lost a fair bit of its irreverent fizz. That’s quite a letdown, but it’s really only the tip of this movie’s iceberg of inanity.

In telling the story of Arthur, a happily hammered trust-fund gadabout who must choose between love (with the poor but allegedly adorable Naomi, played by Greta Gerwig) and money (he’s being pressured into a business-merger marriage with the domineering Susan, played by Jennifer Garner), every decision the movie makes is either predictably safe or just plain tone-deaf.

Perhaps worst of all, none of the actors seem to be on the same page.

For instance, Brand’s antic nature and Gerwig’s wide-eyed naivety are like oil and water.

"ARTHUR and NO STRINGS ATTACHED in the one year? What are the odds, right?"

Brand and Helen Mirren (as Arthur’s acid-tongued but secretly devoted nanny) have a few touching moments when the story gets serious but otherwise they fail to spark.

And don’t even try to speculate on what the increasingly bearish Nick Nolte is doing here.

Really, Arthur’s only saving grace is the game Garner, who throws herself into her villainous role with admirable abandon.

Her performance aside, this is a movie that seems have had all the fun systematically leeched out of it. Seriously, I’ve had hangovers more entertaining than Arthur.

Review: THOR

April 23, 2011

It takes a certain level of command and charisma to portray a god, let alone the heavily-muscled, hammer-swinging Norse thunder god Thor.

Luckily, Australian actor Chris Hemsworth has that kind of presence and power, and he brings it to bear quite winningly in Thor, the big-screen debut of the Marvel Comics character.

My own torso looks similar when you turn it upside-down

As for the rest of the movie…well, unfortunately, it’s not quite up to the standard set by Hemsworth. It’s no disaster – in fact, it’s an enjoyable and surprisingly funny romp – but it is a little uneven and listless on occasion.

And that’s probably not something audiences would want from an allegedly epic tale of mythical warriors from mystical realms getting into scrapes with fire-breathing monsters and giants wielding swords of ice.

If the finger of blame is going to be pointed at anyone, it’s director Kenneth Branagh on the receiving end.

Best known for his big-screen Shakespeare adaptations (such as the terrific Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing), Branagh may seem like an odd choice to helm a comic-book movie.

But he’s proven himself a strong storyteller with a robust, energetic style in the past, and the themes evident throughout Thor – armies clashing, conflict within a royal family, a headstrong prince undergoing a trial by fire – would seem to be right up his alley.

While there are many aspects that he gets right, however, there’s also a feeling that there are elements of the story that are being given short shrift or even being ignored in favour of getting to the more spectacular stuff.

That’s too bad, because Thor has a rich, fascinating mythology, one that it would be great fun to explore in depth.

Still, even this somewhat rushed interpretation of the tale has its pleasures, telling as it does the familiar but usually fun story of a hero finding his true purpose in life.

Far across the universe, in the fabled kingdom of Asgard, Hemsworth’s Thor is on the verge of succeeding his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, very regal) as ruler.

But when Thor’s quick temper and love of a good stoush sees him reignite an old feud with a powerful enemy, Odin strips his son of his powers (and his favourite weapon, a very cool hammer) and banishes him to Earth.

Not everyone can pull off this look. (Also, is that Will Ferrell? It looks like Will Ferrell.)

Odin hopes that exile will teach Thor the humility he needs to be a great king. But neither of them anticipated the devious plan hatched by Thor’s brother, the cunning Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to claim Asgard’s throne for himself.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Thor is struggling to adapt to life as a mortal while falling for Jane Foster (a lively, frisky Natalie Portman), the woman who found him when he crash-landed in the desert.

Of course, the two worlds are bound to collide violently, with Thor smack in the middle. And the result is a stirring adventure that may not change your world but will certainly enliven your Saturday night.