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Entries in Jason Segel (8)

Wednesday
Jul032013

Despicable Me 2

When I originally wrote about the mediocre “Despicable Me” back in 2010, I ended my review on somewhat of a snarky note, saying that it was “like a fat kid running down the street” and that “it probably won’t get far, but at least it’s trying.” Three years later, my foot has been firmly planted in my mouth and the film has found enough success to warrant a sequel. Yet some things never change. What worked before works here and what didn’t is still ever prevalent. This isn’t a case of a sequel trying to improve on the original. It’s a case of a studio looking at their product, seeing how closely it resembled its predecessor and saying, “Good enough.” Fans of the original will likely enjoy this as well and bring it plenty of success, so I guess I should update my snarkiness to fit a more believable outcome. “Despicable Me 2” is like that surprisingly athletic fat kid running down the street. It shouldn’t get very far, but it somehow does.

Gru (Steve Carell) has given up his evil ways. Those three kids he fell in love with in the first movie, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Elsie Fisher) and Edith (Dana Gaier), are now his entire life and he wants to support them through legitimate means, namely by producing the most awful tasting jelly imaginable. However, he’s soon recruited by Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) and the Anti-Villain League, an organization dedicated to stopping crime on a global scale. Their current investigation has to do with the disappearance of a top secret research facility in the Arctic Circle that contained a dangerous transmutation serum. Given that Gru was once the most brilliant villain on the planet, they need his help, so despite his initial reluctance, he sets out to find the serum and stop the mastermind behind its disappearance.

Like the previous installment, “Despicable Me 2” does not lack an imagination. The sight gags, particularly that come from the mall Gru and Lucy spent most of their time in, are clever and well placed and the minions, those adorably clueless little yellow guys, are just as loony as ever. Their expanded roles in this movie that, without spoiling anything, are central to the overall plot, make way for some great moments that are easily the most memorable and enjoyable of the entire thing. The problem is that much of their humor and, indeed, the entire film’s humor derives from slapstick comedy, the laziest, cheapest, most lowbrow from of humor there is.

Within the first 10 minutes alone, someone falls off a roof, gets hit with a medieval type mace and car, sprayed with a hose and tasered. The movie clearly has a young demographic in mind, an understandable focus, but it caters to them not by offering witty and well written stories like the majority of Pixar or DreamWorks animated films, but rather by appealing to their most basic senses, not unlike when a baby laughs at their parent getting hit in the face with something. What little story it does have is rudimentary and predictable: another love story. The kids, as much as they love Gru, want a mother, so they pressure him into dating, which leads to an overarching theme that is no more effective than the underexplored blossoming of young Margo.

What “Despicable Me 2” is sorely missing, and what “Despicable Me” had in abundance, is a strong antagonist. Vector, voiced so wonderfully by Jason Segel, was a strong character whose eccentric personality and ideals conflicted with Gru’s, leading to a battle of wits that added an ever-so-subtle layer to the original film. This movie lacks that. Because the bad guy is a mystery for the majority of its runtime, no real threat or character is every really established, just the veiled persona the villain hides behind.

Still, “Despicable Me 2” does offer up the same charm of the first movie, even if it is less significant in what amounts to little more than a rehash. It’s inoffensive, goofy and bound to put smiles on the faces of the children and parents in the audience. But with a plethora of other, more meaningful animated films with wonderful messages about growing up and coping with the harshness of life (including the recent “Monsters University”), this just feels like a time waster. It’s by no means terrible, but “Despicable Me 2” needs to do a whole lot more than throw its characters around like abused ragdolls to make it worth the price of admission.

Despicable Me 2 receives 2/5

Wednesday
Dec192012

This Is 40

If you ask me, there are two Judd Apatows: the director and the writer. The director is like Kevin Smith, a man who doesn’t really do much behind the camera in regard to cinematic flare, but knows how to pull a great comedic performance from his actors. The writer, however, is more like Woody Allen. His movies, despite their vulgarity, often hit deeper truths that come from a terrifically structured story, but are long winded, to the point where that sound structure starts to sag, usually all the way to their unnecessary and disappointing conclusions. With the sole exception of The 40 Year Old Virgin, whose runtime felt necessary to the story, all of his movies are like this, from Knocked Up to this week’s This Is 40. That meaning is still there, but you’ll have to sit through a lot of nonsense to get to it.

Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s real life wife) are a married couple who are about to have their 40th birthdays. Naturally, they’re struggling with that realization, especially in the face of their growing troubles. Financially, Pete’s upstart record label, Unfiltered Records, isn’t doing too hot and Debbie’s shop isn’t pulling in enough to keep them afloat. At home, they have their hands full with their two daughters, Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow), the former of whom has hit that rebellious teenage phase all parents dread. Their sex life is on the decline and neither of them are in particularly good standing with their fathers either. Their seemingly blissful existence is about to be tested.

This Is 40, at its core, isn’t really about age, though one could argue their concerns and stresses stem from it. Rather, the film is about life in general, the type of struggles any family could go through, whether they be in their 40s, 60s or even their 20s. It’s about that inevitable period of time in a marriage when things get so tough that the validity of the marriage comes into question. All couples go through it at some point and the question becomes: do you fight through the rough patches or give in? As a 45 year old man married to a 40 year old woman raising two daughters, the story feels like a personal one from Apatow, like he has lived through much of what happens onscreen, albeit to a more comedic extent. If you haven't lived through it, This Is 40 will remind you of your parents, as many movies about aging couples do. It reminds of their struggle with age and mortality, money and lack thereof, and even how your father would fart and laugh while your mom cringes in disgust.

However, the weak link, the thing tearing those reminders down, is Paul Rudd. Although he has proven to be a solid comedic performer in the past, he has always had one problem: he can’t keep it together. During the funnier parts, like the opening scene where he takes a Viagra and talks about his penis, noticeable cracks in his façade seep through. In a movie like, say, I Love You, Man, where it’s all about laughs and the story means nothing, it’s okay, but in an Apatow film that is trying to reach deeper meaning, where the drama is just as, if not more, important than the comedy, it’s a problem.

Because of this, This Is 40 is the weakest and most tonally inconsistent directorial effort from Apatow yet. But again, there is some truthful resonance here, even if it is hidden in a bloated film that runs well over two hours (someone desperately needed to take the scissors to this thing and cut out 20 minutes, at least). In the end the film is optimistic about love, life and family while still acknowledging how hard they can be. In that sense, it’s realistic, but still finds the time to flourish it up with more than a few laugh-out-loud gut busters. This Is 40 is going to be a tough movie to sell, given that the younger crowd won’t be able to relate and the older crowd may find its more juvenile moments off-putting, but it still works, even if it’s on the basest of levels.

This Is 40 receives 3/5

Friday
Apr272012

The Five-Year Engagement

Romantic comedies so often rely on formula, one should be praised when it dares to break the rules. The last film to do so is 2009’s wonderful (500) Days of Summer. This week’s latest, The Five-Year Engagement isn’t quite as delightful or original as that film, but it avoids many of the usual romantic comedy clichés, including the “meet cute” and the initial dislike between the two main characters before they fall in love.

At the outset of the film, Tom (Jason Segel), a sous chef in a San Francisco restaurant, and Violet (Emily Blunt) have already been together for a year. It’s New Year’s Eve and Tom’s acting a little weird, but it’s only because he’s going to propose to Violet. When he does, she accepts and they begin planning their wedding, but a kink is put in those plans when Violet is accepted into the University of Michigan where she hopes to earn a doctorate in psychology. The plan is to do so in two years, so they put off their wedding until she’s done and Tom quits his upscale job to move with her to Michigan. However, she excels in her field and is eventually promoted, so they find themselves stuck there for a few more years, but Tom’s unhappiness is growing and it’s going to put a strain on the relationship.

The Five-Year Engagement grabs you right off the bat. It presents two likable actors playing two very likable people who love each other deeply. It circumvents the overused screenplay tactics like dramatic misunderstandings and the general awkwardness that most romantic comedy screen couples are forced to go through. They’ve already gotten passed all that and even though it’s only spoken, you can feel that they’ve been together for a year already. Segel and Blunt are simply fantastic together and you can’t help but cherish the love they cherish so much themselves.

You could make the argument that Violet is too much of a looker for a tall, pudgy guy like Tom, but it’s not difficult to see what she sees in him. He’s one of the most dedicated, unselfish people in the world and when she breaks the news to him that she was accepted to Michigan and will be moving there for two years (over a bottle of wine she uses to calm her nerves), he’s genuinely happy for her and actually suggests quitting his job and moving there with her; she doesn’t have to ask. Even after he hears from his boss that she was going to make him the lead chef at one of her new restaurants, he still packs up and leaves, knowing that Violet is well worth the sacrifice. He’s willing to give up his dreams and desires he’s worked so hard to obtain so she can have a chance at obtaining hers. It’s impossible not to like Tom.

Violet isn’t selfish either (despite a poorly expressed sentiment that maybe she deserves to be). She never pressures Tom to do what he does and she is always aware of his feelings. She asks him about them so much, in fact, that he tells her to stop, assuring her he’s okay with the situation. Of course, he’s just being his usual supportive self and isn’t entirely okay with it, especially after she breaks the news to him that her two year stay has been extended (a two year stay that is breezed through far too quickly). After sacrificing two years of his life, he’s ready to move on and get back to San Francisco, which is now impossible if he wants to stay with Violet. This inevitably leads to some unavoidable relationship problems, both wanting to follow their dreams without causing the other to give theirs up, a hope that is unattainable.

The unhappiness of such a stressful situation is more than enough to bring forth drama—and in a way that isn’t indicative of your usual formulaic romantic comedies—but The Five-Year Engagement nonetheless falls victim to screenplay doubt, forcing in unnecessary drama on top of the problems at hand, like when Violet’s professor (Rhys Ifans) kisses her after a night of drunkenness. Their friendship is charming at first, so it’s that much more annoying when it devolves into typical rom-com fare. (It’s such a shame that a man and a woman can’t be friends in a Hollywood movie without eventually hooking up.)

At over two hours, The Five-Year Engagement goes on for too long, especially considering so much of the late movie drama stems from that redundant affair and could have been cut out altogether, but what it botches with the drama, it nails in the comedy. This is a very funny movie—not quite as funny as this year’s 21 Jump Street (but then again, it isn’t trying to be)—and it will leave you smiling more often than not. Regardless of its problems, it’s a movie that just makes you feel good and that in itself is worth giving it a recommendation.

The Five-Year Engagement receives 4/5

Friday
Mar162012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

In one way or another, all movies are about destiny. The journey a character takes from a film’s opening moments all the way to its conclusion can easily be defined as such, yet critics and filmgoers still criticize those films for their contrivances and happenstances. Jeff, Who Lives at Home opens with a quote, directly telling the audience that the film they’re about to see is about fate, which will give certain critics a reason to look past the film’s contrived situations, but expressly stated or not, contrivances are contrivances and Jeff, Who Lives at Home is full of them.

Jeff (Jason Segel) still lives at home with his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon). He’s 30 years old and nobody understands him. One day, he gets a call from a wrong number looking for a man named Kevin. Jeff sees this as a sign to look for someone named Kevin because, who knows, that person might just need his help. On a trip to the supermarket that same day, he spots on a man wearing a basketball jersey with the name “Kevin” etched on its back, so he follows him only to be robbed, beaten up and wandering the street where a whole mess of contrived situations lead him to what he thought he was looking for.

If I went through every single one of those aforementioned contrivances in an attempt to defend my stance on the film, I’d be giving away the entire story beat by beat because they continue on, quite literally, until the very last scene where characters who hadn’t seen each other the entire film just happen to intersect at a crucial point in time, so instead let me just give a few early examples. After taking a beating from the kid wearing the basketball jersey, Jeff takes a stroll down the road, the very same one that his brother, Pat (Ed Helms), just happens to be having lunch on (and only spots him because he leaves his table to take a conveniently timed call from his mother). Pat offers to give Jeff a ride home, but after some reckless driving, he slams into a tree, only for the two to spot Pat’s wife, Linda (Judy Greer), across the street at a gas station with another man (both of whom are oblivious to the fact that a sports car at top speed just slammed loudly and violently into a tree).

Jeff and Pat then decide to tail Linda and the mystery man, but eventually lose track of them, so they part ways after an argument. Pat hails a cab and out of all the streets in the entire city it could have driven down, it drives down the one with a Hampton Inn on it and where Linda’s car is parked. Meanwhile, Jeff has hitched a ride on a snack food truck because the company name just so happened to have the name “Kevin” in it. Guess where the truck’s next delivery is? You guessed it. The Hampton Inn. What happens after this point is too story sensitive to discuss due to potential spoilers, but you can be sure moments like those previously mentioned continue to occur, bringing about what can only be described as a mega-contrivance.

Frankly, it’s tiring. This movie is either too stupid to realize the opening quote doesn’t negate its contrivances or it’s so smart it realizes putting that quote there will fool people into thinking it’s something more than what it is. If it’s the latter, it’s a clever ruse, but something tells me the Duplass brothers, the directors behind this and other so called mumblecore films Cyrus and Baghead, aren’t smart enough to pull such a sham, given that they still haven’t even realized how to operate a camera. Like their previous films, Jeff, Who Lives at Home still looks (perhaps intentionally) like an amateur home video, complete with poor framing, little headroom (if any) and misplaced zooms both in and out.

An uninteresting side story involving Sharon’s secret admirer co-worker is just another drop in the fail bucket when stacked up alongside the film’s bigger problems, but it’s not all terrible. A few of the jokes are laugh out loud funny and the lead is quite likable. He’s a bit of a slouch and spends more time smoking weed than looking for jobs, but he genuinely cares about people, as evidenced by a number of scenes, including one where he helps an old lady cross the street. Segel’s sympathetic portrayal of a character that could have easily come off as little more than a loser carries Jeff, Who Lives at Home, but without strong supporting content to aid him, it’s still difficult to care.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home receives 1.5/5

Wednesday
Nov232011

The Muppets

In the mid-50’s, the late Jim Henson introduced the world to the Muppets and for over 50 years, they’ve entertained generations of children and the young at heart. Although it debuted before my time, reruns of The Muppet Show dominated my childhood. I loved the catchy tunes, celebrity appearances and silly puppetry that show spotlighted. Memories from watching it have stuck with me over the past 25 years and I’m grateful for them. In a way, they’ve kept me forever young and even today, those episodes are just as entertaining as ever. For those not yet old enough to have memories of the Muppets, the newest movie, succinctly titled The Muppets, is a great and lively introduction, but for people like me, this is a wondrous treat. It brings back everything that was great about the Muppets and is guaranteed to leave all but the most hardened moviegoers with a smile.

The Muppets follows two brothers, Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (a puppet played by Peter Linz). Gary is in a relationship with Mary (Amy Adams) and they are on their way to Los Angeles for their 10 year anniversary. With Mary’s approval, Gary brings Walter along so they can tour the old Muppets studio. When they get there, they find out that the studio is about to be sold to Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), an oil tycoon who is going to tear it down and drill the ground it rests on. To save it, $10 million must be raised, so Walter, along with Gary and Mary, head off to reteam the old Muppet gang, beginning with the one and only Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire).

Thanks to movies like Muppet Treasure Island and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (the less said about both, the better), the public’s interest in the Muppets began to wane, and with good reason. They hadn’t done much in recent years and what they did do wasn’t particularly memorable. So what I’m about to say may surprise you: you miss them. You might not know it yet, but you do and this movie will prove it. But it doesn’t prove it simply by being a good movie. It does it with an emotional narrative wrapped around the revival of The Muppet Show that asks whether the Muppets are still relevant and if the public still cares about them. (They are and we do.) Watching The Muppets brings back a wave of nostalgia while simultaneously keeping you in the moment and it will set your imagination wild, a feat matched in recent years only by last year’s Toy Story 3.

As with most Muppet adventures, part of the fun of The Muppets is spotting all the cameos. Some are obvious, like Emily Blunt reprising her role from The Devil Wears Prada, and others will only be noticeable to a select few, like a certain rock star who plays the part of Animal in a Muppets cover band (humorously named The Moopets). But the real pleasure comes from the witty writing, which is filled with self-referential humor that acknowledges it’s a musical movie, and the song and dance numbers themselves. The songs are fun, catchy, occasionally sad and the choreography is excellent. By the time the film gets around to singing one of the Muppets’ most cherished and recognizable songs, tears of joy will be streaming down your face.

All in all, this is a delight and any faults are minor at most. Due to the fact that many of the original puppeteers did not participate in this movie, some of the voices sound a bit off and the love story between Mary and Gary is dispensable. The real heart comes in the form of Gary’s relationship with his brother Walter and Walter’s love for the Muppets, which ultimately leads to him finding himself. The tacked on relationship seems forceful and there only for the purpose of having a pretty leading lady, though to be fair, Amy Adams is radiant in the role; the most lovable she has been since winning everybody over in 2007’s Enchanted.

In a way, The Muppets almost feels like a send off for our old friends. It does what any final installment would and brings the story full circle, taking the characters back to their roots and having them relive their magic one last time. Though I’m sure not intended, if this is the last time we see those rascally puppets on the big screen, they can be proud they went out with style. But if we’re lucky, this will be only the first in a string of many more fantastical adventures.

The Muppets receives 4.5/5