Tag Archives: Seth Rogen

Interview: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, and Craig Robinson of ‘This is the End’

Sitting down on a soundstage at Sony pictures at 10 in the morning to talk with Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and Craig Robinson about their end-of-the-world comedy “This is he End,” you cannot help but get the feeling that this is, in fact, the earliest the three actors have been up in a while. With all the actors playing exaggerated versions of themselves, the film depicts what happens when a house party at James Franco’s becomes a last stand, as the biblical rapture happens — with fire and brimstone, chaos and comedy, dogs and cats, living together  — leaving Rogen, Robinson, Baruchel, their reluctant host Franco, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride to face the end of days with minimal supplies and even less intellectual and moral preparedness. We spoke with Rogen, Baruchel and Robinson about comedy,  the four horsemen, the seven deadly sins, the end of the world and about playing a version of yourself, but in italics …

MSN Movies: This started as a short film that you two gentlemen (Rogen and Baruchel) did over the course of two days. Did you approach the studio and say, “We need more money for more swearing and shouting,” or did they approach you and say, “We really like funding swearing and shouting”?

Craig Robinson: (Laughs)

Seth Rogen: (Laughs) The first one. We went to the studio and said we want more money for more swearing and shouting, and they eventually said yes.

All the characters in this are you gentlemen, but the sort of italicized versions of you. Mr. Robinson, is it fun to do like the walking beach caricature of yourself with certain things exaggerated?

Robinson: Yeah, it’s fun ’cause you can’t many any mistakes when you’re playing yourself. You just kind of go for it, and if you do make a mistake like, “Hey, that’s how I talk.”

Rogen: (Laughs)

Jay Baruchel: (Laughs) “That’s what I would do so…”

Robinson: “That’s what Craig Robinson does. I just did it, didn’t I?”

Read the full interview at MSN Movies:

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Character Growth

In April, I was invited to see a sneak preview of the upcoming film “50/50,” which concerns 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who’s fighting cancer, and Kyle (Seth Rogen), the pal who stands by him. It’s based on the true story of Will Reiser, writer, Rogen associate and cancer survivor. I felt like it was fine — sure, it killed a character off just after we got to like him, but by and large it played fair and found some laughs in an experience few of us could imagine. I was sure that, before the movie opened at the end of September, I’d have the chance to think about it more from my distant, abstract, wouldn’t-know-what-it’s-like perspective.

In May, I realized I didn’t like my doctor. So I got a new one. In June, my new doctor poked and prodded me and thought that my liver felt big, so he prescribed an ultrasound. I got one, eventually, on the 19th. And on the 22nd, I was called and asked to come in as soon as possible. My liver was fine, but there were “unusual changes” in my right kidney: a mass about 2 inches across. Which turned out to be cancer. And then, sympathizing with the characters of “50/50″ got much, much less abstract and the end of September felt a lot further away than it did before.

If I were a doctor, I’d know all about cancer — its medical history, the fact its name is from the Latin for “crab” after the knurled, tough masses pulled from dead men, the fact that there are as many kinds of cancer as there are kinds of sandwiches or trees, the survival percentages calculated over five- and-10-year periods with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation. But I’m a film critic, and all I know about cancer is from the movies. This doesn’t sound so bad, but, then again, if you knew about sex only from the movies, and watched only ’80s films, you’d think people made love by lowering their faces toward each other in front of blue-lit Venetian blinds, at which point Tom Cruise just brushes Kelly McGillis’ chin and she explodes in pleasure. Since I know that isn’t the case — sorry, Ms. McGillis — I had to assume the movies weren’t that well-informed about cancer, either.

Diagnosis: Drama

Perhaps the greatest cinematic use of cancer is that it gives guys something they can cry about at the movies without feeling unmanly. In the movies, we’re taught that a real man can walk off any injury, illness or state of distress — see “Die Hard,” “Reservoir Dogs” or, for that matter, “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Therefore, feeling any sympathy for an injured, ill, or distressed man on-screen is, for guys, a big-time no-no.

Except for cancer.

You can’t man up to beat cancer, and you can’t beat it up or shrug it off — meaning that when it’s time to go, it’s time to go, thus making it a perfect dramatic device for when dudes need a trip to the waterworks. “Brian’s Song”? Big-time weepie, especially when James Caan gives that speech. “Magnolia“? Jason Robards reconciles with scumbag son Tom Cruise thanks to Philip Seymour Hoffman in a circle-of-life moment that will have even the hardest-hearted fool reaching for the Kleenex. Akira Kurosawa’s most emotionally moving film, “Ikiru,” is about a man facing a diagnosis of cancer that gives him less than a year to live — a year he intends to live to the fullest. “The Bucket List,” with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman going through a list of fun things to do after busting out of the cancer ward, also makes guys cry — in many cases, though, because it’s just bad and boring.

If you want to put a bromance through some real bro-pocalypse, bring in the cancer. 

This is what “50/50″ does — with no small amount of success, modern humor and reefer smoke — and that level of drama is a pretty solid go-to for screenwriters and directors and actors. Of course, when an actor dies of cancer, they get up after someone says “Cut!” Those of us who have HMOs instead of directors aren’t that lucky. I myself would have loved to have whipped up some drama — and I did — about my diagnosis, but I was held back somewhat by my doctor’s insistence that there was a 10-15 percent chance it could be a cyst — in which case, I would be fine, just fine. Presumably this was either a) true or b) said to keep me from freaking out, but either way, it kind of sapped the movie-learned melodrama from my diagnosis. Wasn’t all this supposed to make me like Debra Winger in “Terms of Endearment”: calmer, wiser, more loving, with better hair? I thought, “If I have cancer, that’s awards-season stuff the academy loves, baby; if I have a cyst, that’s not even a Lifetime movie.”

Body Horror and Bawdy Humor

And now that I think about it, keeping me from freaking out was probably a major goal of my medical team. The idea of something growing inside your body, beyond your control, is the sort of thing David Cronenberg makes movies about. “The Fly,” “Shivers,” “Rabid” — a lot of Cronenberg films feature rogue, or new, or misbehaving organs. (Cronenberg himself has stated that “The Fly” was his way of processing his thoughts on aging and death.) I don’t know if I could have asked  and, frankly, I didn’t want to — but the medical team never offered to show me anything from their tests, like the ultrasound, the CT scans, any of the graphic imaging of the mass.

Good thing, too, I should say, because I’ve seen “How to Get Ahead in Advertising” and “Alien” and “The Manitou” and plenty of other films that show lumps and bumps and bulges manifesting themselves as horrible creatures. My doctors keeping the actual image of the mass away from me was fine, as the movies give us all overactive imaginations. Although, it’s probably no coincidence that a film I returned to during all of this was John Carpenter’s “The Thing” from 1982, with its invading alien composed of nothing more than fluid, shifting, hostile cells, each one with dark purpose, each one independent — and really, I can’t think of a better definition of cancer than that. But I didn’t have to get chemo or radiation — it wasn’t an option for my kind of tumor — so I didn’t have my body changed; I just knew it was changing, and that was odd enough. 

Of course, there are also films that mine cancer for comedy — usually the bleaker and blacker the better. “Fight Club“‘s time among cancer support groups has a comedic edge as finely honed as the blade of a scalpel. From the get-go, with Edward Norton as a quizzical poseur looking for emotional relief in cancer support groups, it savages the language and group-think of the modern age. The Kids in the Hall’s scabrous flop comedy “Brain Candy” mocked the way the media makes cancer into an industry with “survivors” as products through Bruce McCulloch‘s turn as a character named, yes, Cancer Boy. Denys Arcand’s “The Barbarian Invasions” shows the friends and family of a cancer victim coming together to say goodbye, only to realize the patient is not going gentle into that good night, or even the following day. And in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Royal (Gene Hackman) claims to have stomach cancer to stay with his family in order to reconnect with them, but is exposed as the lowest of the low for his callous deception. There were some laughs in my circumstance — when I was told I had to have a complete kidneyectomy, a friend suggested that was a great heavy metal band name — but not a lot. And nothing as good as Ed Norton between Meat Loaf’s breasts or the Kids in the Hall.

Going Out Swinging

Plenty of movies use cancer specifically as a nice, fat, phony-baloney ticking clock to make sure a character only has so much time before performing some essential task. It’s also useful for giving characters an out — an escape hatch where, since they’re dying, they can do whatever they want, and whatever the movie needs. In “Gran Torino,”Clint Eastwood‘s Walt is clearly dying from lung cancer — at one point coughing up blood like Camille — and, thus, when he goes on a multicultural killing spree later, we’re supposed to think “Better to go out in a blaze of glory, full of fire, than go out on a bed, full of tubes.” John Wayne, in “The Shootist,” also has cancer — at least he has Jimmy Stewart to tell him, which I’m sure was a comfort — and decides to spend his last remaining days cutting other people’s remaining days short. Wayne, of course, would himself later die of cancer, possibly sped along by his time on the set of the 1956 release “The Conqueror,” where the producers’ two biggest bad ideas were a) hiring John Wayne to play Genghis Khan and b) shooting near what used to be nuclear test sites. (People magazine disclosed in 1980 that 91 of the 220 cast and crew members had developed cancer in the intervening 24 years — not including extras, or studio workers exposed when the production shipped the radioactive dirt back home for matching shots.

In the original, 1960 version of “Ocean’s Eleven,” Richard Conte confronts a doctor about a diagnosis with one of the most jarringly try-to-be-cool lines ever uttered: “What is it, Doc — is it the Big Casino?” The film never makes it clear what it is Conte dies of exactly — Is it cancer or a heart attack? — but for my money, there’s never been a better euphemism for cancer than “the Big Casino,” and Conte’s knowledge that death is coming is a big part of the film’s finale. Same for “Space Cowboys,” where Tommy Lee Jones’ aging astronaut has some bad news (“What is a pancreas, anyhow? I mean, I don’t know what the damn thing does for you, besides give you cancer.”) that he turns into good deeds. In the absence of such firm and frightening news — and a casino to heist, or a space shuttle to fly alongside Clint Eastwood — I couldn’t take advantage of that movie tradition, either.

Happy Endings

On July 25, just over a month after it was found, doctors at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles removed my right kidney and the mass inside it. My chest X-rays and CT scans were clear, meaning no cancer had migrated — metastasized — to other parts of my body. I went home. I watched movies. I took painkillers. I wondered why the one did not improve the other. I felt horrible. Then I felt better. And a week after my surgery, at the follow-up, my physician told me with German thoughtfulness that they had examined the mass, and, yes, it was malignant. And apparently gone. “While we do not like to say ‘never,’ because of the way mathematics and the universe work,” he explained, “this is something you should not have to worry about ever again.” In a few months, I’ll get a blood test; a few months after that, a CT scan. And I’ll always wait and wonder if my own little cancer movie is going to get a sequel, some story meeting ticking away in my cells and body to write an unexpected new chapter. Probably something else will kill me — a truck, a killer clown, an Adam Sandler film that really does burst a blood vessel in my head.

Until then, I think I’ll do things I like, including — especially — watching movies. And if anyone ever tells me they have cancer and asks if there are any good movies to watch, I’ll say that movies are a diversion, not a diagnostic tool; they’re entertainment, not education; they’re therapeutic, not therapy. And then I’ll tell them the most important thing the movies about cancer taught me about life — namely that, really, watching “The Bucket List” is a waste of time no matter how much of it you have.

From my article at The Hitlist

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TIFF 2011 Interview: Take This Waltz Stars Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman and Luke Kirby

After premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival to near-universal acclaim, the stars of “Take This Waltz” met the press — not Michelle Williams, but Seth Rogen and Luke Kirby (who respectively play Williams’ husband and could-be lover as she’s tempted by chance and desire) as well as Sarah Silverman, who takes on a role as Rogen’s recovering alcoholic sister. MSN Movies took part in a roundtable interview where we and other journalists spoke with the three about monogamy, working with Williams, comedy versus drama and why sex scenes require a member of the crew to hand out high-fives.  

Seth, this movie shows a more serious part than we knew you before. How was it for you to play such a role? Was it freeing? It was freeing for us to see you in such a role.

Rogen: Why is it freeing? No, honestly, I approached it the exact same as I approach anything else. The process, honestly, was exactly like every movie I’ve ever done, really. Watching it’s a little different, because the end product is decidedly more dramatic than the other movies I’ve been in, but while we were making it, it didn’t feel any different than any other thing that I had done. We tried to be real and natural and serve the story as best as I can. I did the same thing. That’s what I always do.

Sarah Polley said today that she really cast you as one of the first people because the goodness came through. Doesn’t that give you a reputation as a –

Rogen: A@#hole? I think that’s part of the reason I can get away with saying all the horrible things I do say: You can tell I’m really not that bad a guy underneath this. Apparently.

I believe that the male audience will be rooting for your character. Do you believe that you’re more somebody that the average male viewer will identify with?

Rogen: Yeah, maybe. I think people tend to identify more with the person who’s in the unfortunate situation than the one who’s in the fortunate situation, generally speaking. That being said, I don’t think my character is really a victim in the movie. I think that he is part of the marriage that’s evolving, and he doesn’t really want to evolve. He’s accepted this is how it’s going to be forever, and his wife has not accepted that. They’re not communicating about that. To me, I think as far as mechanics of the movie go, you tend to sympathize with the person who’s in the disfortunate situation. My character probably could have prevented this whole thing if he was more willing to evolve with the relationship.

There’s a question of Mr. Kirby’s character, if he’s a sincere person or a horrible manipulator. Mr. Rogen, there’s a question if you’re more sinned against or sinning. Was that ambivalence being in the script a great amount of the appeal of doing the film?

Kirby: I don’t think that Daniel’s intentions are all sinister, that he’s pathological in any way. It must have sprung up from his own loneliness that he’s probably feeling prior to meeting Margot. I don’t imagine that he’s a very happy person before that. I think that the dawn breaks when he sees her and sees that she’s present with him. His intentions aren’t bad; he just feels something unleashes and he can’t carry on. It’s giddy; it sheds light on his world. How can you resist?

I only ask because I had a 20-minute long fight with a gentleman who had seen the film about whether or not you were the biggest dick in the world or if you were sincere in your aim.

Silverman: But that’s so great that the movie did that.

Rogen: I always hope my movies lead to physical violence.

You’re in a chapter in your career now where you have a lot of artistic control because producers add an addition to the acting a well. In Sarah’s filming, she has clear, distinct artistic vision for this film. You didn’t have the producer’s hat losing that creative control and having to follow the direction of this creative, artistic director. How did that change the way of going about your recent films? Did you like the lack of responsibility? Did you find yourself acting as a producer even though it wasn’t written on the contracts?

Rogen: No, I’m always happy to do less work than more work. Having one job on a movie is much easier than having three jobs on a movie. I’m more than happy to relinquish control, especially if it’s someone else’s thing. I expect the actors to have a similar attitude when they’re doing our thing. She’s very open. It’s not like she was controlling of every moment of the movie. She’s very collaborative, had a lot of conversations about the scenes and the lines. It never felt like we were just serving her vision. It felt very exploratory at times and that we were trying to find a vision together. I’m more than happy to not do a bunch of shit and do less shit.

Did you create a back story for your character? We don’t see your character as much, but she seems like a rich character.

Silverman: We had rehearsal, and Sarah was very careful to talk to each of us in depth about our characters. I’m sure I have a lot of notions about who she is that may not have transcended film.

Rogen: She skydives, right?

Silverman: She’s really into skydiving.

Rogen: I’ve picked that up.

Silverman: I actually made one choice, because I know people in AA fixate on simple things to obsess about, to go to. Chapstick was going to be that for me, but that’s all I got.

Did you embrace Toronto while you were shooting it?

Rogen: Yeah, it was great. It was a lot of fun shooting here.

Did you feel that Toronto comes through as an actual character in this film? I know Sarah was passionate about the city, and she tried to capture that.

Silverman: I love how vibrant it is, how colorful, and the places she decided to shoot and how she shot it. It was really beautiful. For people who haven’t been to Toronto, if they see this movie they’re going to want to go to Toronto. I love that street where the house was.

Rogen: Me too. It was a great street.

Silverman: The feel of it makes you want to live there. The neighbors sit out on the porch in the summer.

Rogen: And argue with each other really loud.

Can the guys talk about working with Michelle Williams in romantic scenes? She’s a very high performer, it seems. Is she like that when you work with her?

Kirby: She has a massive stillness to her that’s really engaging to be around, inside of the work. It is kind of cliché to say it makes it easier, but —

Rogen: It does.

Kirby: It does. Knowing someone’s available to you, it’s as good as having a really good partner in life. It’s the same thing inside of the scene. You know that that person’s there with you; it casts aside 50 percent of what you had to worry about. You don’t have to call upon any tricks or anything. You’re just inside of it.

She’s never done this kind of sex and nudity ever before. What was it like doing those erotic scenes with her? Was she nervous?

Kirby: Those scenes are always uncomfortable, because there’s at least 10 men in the room.

Rogen: That’s always how I do it. What’s weird about that?

Kirby: It’s exposing and very vulnerable. You try your best to maintain a sense of humor, I think, is the best thing.

Silverman: People don’t realize there’s a sound guy and there’s a camera guy and there’s the boom guy and this and that and then there’s the guy for high fives. There’s a lot set up.

Each one of your characters is in this stage of protracted adolescence: Mr. Rogen with the baby talk, Ms. Silverman with the grotesque selfishness of alcoholism, Mr. Kirby with hie ‘career’ driving a rickshaw …

Silverman: Somebody has alcoholism in his family. Someone’s been to Al Anon.

It paints the entire generation as this generation of permanent adolescence. Do you feel like that’s a fair charge against the generation you’re representing in this film?

Kirby: I don’t know. I know a lot of people in their 80s who get hammered and talk about Korea.

Silverman: I wouldn’t say alcoholism is a part of the kidult phase. It’s been around since alcohol.

Kirby: There is a quality that people who don’t have a privileged life, not to have a lot of uncertainty. There’s nothing else dictating. They can choose.

Rogen: I think movies in the ’60s and ’50s portrayed people as adults only, which was bullshit. I think now our movies are just more realistic. In the movies, they’re all wearing suits and hats and they talk very appropriately, and you know between takes they’re all doing drugs and fucking the shit out of each other. I think we just show that side more as opposed to the other, buttoned-down side, which was pretty much fabricated for movies anyway. I’m sure Rock Hudson had very similar before and after hours. He’s a good reference for that, right? That’s a very good reference for that, safe reference for that.

Silverman: I think that is a generation that exists right now, but I think that other generations that were more adult, I think we’re mistaking adult with not ever asking yourself, ‘What do I like? What do I want?’ Getting married and having kids and things that may not actually be your cup of tea. People forget to ask themselves that.

From my article at The Hitlist

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TIFF ‘11 Review: Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz Has Insights And Edges Sharp Enough To Stab [A]

In Sarah Polley’s Toronto-set drama “Take this Waltz,” Margo (Michelle Williams) stumbles across Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a business trip, only to find he lives across the street; despite being married to Lou (Seth Rogen), Margo can’t stop thinking of Daniel. Or maybe it’s because she’s married to Lou that she can’t stop thinking of Daniel … Following up “Away from Her,” Polley’s second film is sharply dividing critics and audience in Toronto:  Many find it simultaneously exhilarating and depressing; others find it ugly and hateful; a third faction seems to be kicking against the film not for how it says what it says, but, instead, for what it says in the first place.

Like a modernist version of a late ‘60s or early ‘70s relationship film—“An Unmarried Woman,” or “Carnal Knowledge” or “Faces,” for example, “Take this Waltz” first takes nothing for granted, and then takes everything on. Is monogamy viable? Why do we give up the old for the new? Or why do we not when we should? Can we ever be completely happy? Is sex love?

If Polley’s second directorial effort were just talking, it would still be superb; a scene where Kirby explains, at her prompting, exactly what he’d do to (and with, and for) Williams while they sit over martinis in a public restaurant is the most achingly sexual and intimate scene at the movies in 2011, with not a single touch. (The way Williams says the word “No” alone late in that scene—first as a question, then as an answer—is achingly raw.) But Polley has also become, early in her career, a visualist and sensualist of the highest order.

There are one or two mis-steps here, to be sure—a scene with a queeny, mincing aquarobics instructor and its denouement seem like they’re on loan from an Adam Sandler film; Sarah Silverman, as Rogen’s recovering alcoholic sister, is more a screen presence than an actor. And within the first 10 minutes, Williams has a speech about travel anxiety (“I’m … afraid of connections. In airports.”) that might as well have a light bulb-emblazoned sign reading “METAPHOR!” zoomed in on guywires. Those complaints, though, are only because the rest of this film is so good, and so strong, that they seem like cracks in a otherwise flawless creation. I cannot praise Williams and Rogen and the previously-unknown Kirby enough; I cannot convey to you the depths of Polley’s understanding (Polley knows that love is a conspiracy, and that there is no betrayal more traitorous than conspiring against your co-conspirator); I cannot convey the sense of heat and beauty in how Polley films Toronto’s streets and nights.

And yet, “Take this Waltz” is also, for lack of a better words, infuriating and troubling—not because of what it gets ‘wrong,’ but because the things it gets right are buried under your skin like a splinter you can’t dislodge, tearing at the nerves and flesh. Critic Carina Chocano recently wrote a New York Times Magazine piece on how what the cinema needs, perhaps, are fewer “strong” female characters and more real female characters; this film serves as a demonstration of that idea. William’s Margo is deeply flawed, perhaps irredeemably broken, capable of monstrous selfishness in the search for happiness—and human, and as worthy of happiness as anyone. As we are. And Polley isn’t afraid of sex, nor is she banal enough to think it cures all ills, or that it can’t be used as a weapon. (Polley gets the sad fact only people who’ve been in ugly and protracted breakups know: Nothing could ever be more intimate than denying someone intimacy.)

Before you think this all sounds dour and sour, though, also know that there are moments of laughter and joy here. Rogen subsumes his good humor into a performance—Lou, a cookbook writer, knows full well what his chicken-centered work-in-progress is doing to his life and diet—and there’s also a note of play here (even as it feeds into Polley’s theme of permanent adolescence and immaturity extending into our adult relationships); when Williams and Kirby taunt each other as ‘gaylords’ it’s horrible, real, immature and funny. And the films’ use of music—from a raucous party-scene Feist cover of Leonard Cohen‘s “Closing Time,” to a montage set to the Cohen song the film takes its title from depicting a relationship in fast-forward, hot sex and warm affection cooling to calm domesticity and freezing into half-aware snuggling while TV-watching—is excellent, with the exception of a pop-song from the past, used in two scenes, too good and brilliant and thematically appropriate and trashily perfect to name. Suffice it to say that Polley can find the pathos behind an ‘80s one-hit wonder and turn that song’s dimwit chorus into an elegy on how time’s arrow moves only in one direction.

Polley has an eye for detail and an ear for truth; at a press event for the film, she noted how she wanted to make her film go past where a conventional movie like this would end, showing what comes after, and that follow-through is what turns the film from a strong jab into a knockout punch. It may seem ridiculous to suggest that Polley, after only “Away from Her” and “Take this Waltz,” is one of Canada’s and film’s most exciting and important new directors; I’d suggest that contention only seems ridiculous if you haven’t yet seen “Take this Waltz.”

From my article at The Playlist

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Paul (2.5/5), MSN Movies

In “Paul,” the new alien-slacker-road-trip comedy from Greg Mottola (“Superbad,” “Adventureland“), Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play Graeme and Clive, two British sci-fi nerds on an RV tour of the American West. Starting at San Diego’s Comic-Con with planned stops at fabled sites like Roswell, N.M., their plans go awry when they pick up a hitchhiker, Paul, a space alien who crashed back in ’47 and has been under the care of the U.S. government ever since. Paul looks like the traditional alien-mythology “small gray” (big head, spindly body) and talks like … Seth Rogen. As Rogen’s nasal, knowing voice issues pop references from a high-tech CGI creation (“It’s not like I set my phaser to ‘faint!'” he exclaims after his mere presence makes Clive pass out), you keep waiting for him to stop making jokes and start creating character moments or any sense of Paul as anything other than a very expensive sock puppet. And that never quite happens. Pegg and Frost’s script feels a little lazy, here and elsewhere, and that takes a lot of the potential fun out of the film before it even starts.

In fact, almost every joke here wheezes like a fat person going up a flight of stairs, and can be heard coming from about as far away. Frost and Pegg have written together before — “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” as well as the excellent Brit-com “Spaced” — and while those projects all had real characters inside their snap-crackle-pop-culture references, something about “Paul” feels underbaked, like a project the two had half-formed in their heads and blurted out in studio meetings after their first successes when asked if they had anything else in the works. It’s C-minus work from people who normally deliver A-level efforts.

And yet there are some comedy ideas in “Paul” that score, like when Kristen Wiig‘s holy-roller trailer park manager, Ruth, gets a mind-meld with Paul that instantly secularizes her: Once a space alien has poured the secrets of the cosmos into your head like it was a Big Gulp cup, it’s hard to hang on to your Old Testament belief that the Earth is “4,000 years old.” As Wig snaps free from her old life –“I plan on doing a lot of fornicating,” she notes — she’s given a lot of room to be funny, which she takes advantage of. But Pegg and Frost don’t get nearly as interesting — their relationship feels recycled from their earlier projects — and Wiig’s inventive journey isn’t enough to bump the comedic inertia of the film out of its doldrums.

“Paul” also feels like a movie made of other movies — shots out of Spielberg, quotes from “Star Wars” and “Alien,” scenery borrowed from “Close Encounters.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing — part of the fun of a project like this is having it play with familiar pop-culture moments to knock a bit of the dust off them — but when that’s all the film does, it’s a facade with no foundation. The cast looks impressive on paper — supporting players include Jane Lynch, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio — but again, they’re underused. (Bateman in particular is saddled with a gag that epitomizes the laziness of the enterprise, all buildup for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it payoff.)

Paul himself is technically impressive: He looks fake only when leaping or running, in the way that most CGI creations don’t match real gravity especially well; too bad it distracts from a great time-zone joke. And Pegg and Frost’s charm is still real, even if their sparkling, early-career bro-mance now feels more like a dinged-up, late-stage bro-lationship. Mottola keeps things moving swiftly — he has to, or else the ramshackle construction of the film would implode — all the way to the inevitable climax, which feels less like characters standing at a point of resolution than it does a group of actors waiting around for someone to yell, ‘Cut!’ “Paul” has flashes of wit, and it’s peppered throughout with hints of the better film it could have been, but the laughs in it mostly make you wish it had more laughs to offer. It’s a comedic close encounter, but it’s not quite close enough.

From my review at MSN Movies

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An Area 51 Road Trip With Paul stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

Two days before the start of South by Southwest on March 11, the stars of one of the Austin, Texas, festival’s big-ticket premieres met the press … out in front of an RV at the Little A’Le’ Inn in Rachel, Nev., right next to the fabled top-secret airbase Area 51, to talk about space aliens, science fiction and their new film, “Paul.” Co-starring in their third film together, after “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have a natural, easy interplay — one that sparked as I asked them to state which was better, “Star Trek” or “Star Wars“?

With Pegg’s work as “Scotty” in the recent relaunch of “Star Trek,” it was a loaded question. Frost spoke first, nodding to his co-star. “I’m sorry, this is not your film specifically, but I’m going to say ‘Star Wars,’ just because of how it made me feel (as) a child.” So, I asked Pegg, does anything hurt like the betrayal of a friend? “No; that’s actually funny. I think, for me, weirdly, old ‘Star Wars’ pips old ‘Star Trek,’ but new ‘Star Trek’ trounces new ‘Star Wars.’ If there was any debate there, then it wouldn’t seem like I was being partial. There’s no debate. The prequels are dreadful, and the new ‘Star Trek’ is amazing. Even though I’m in it, I’m unbiased.”

Pegg and Frost clearly love science fiction. I asked them what kind of picture they got of America from watching science fiction growing up in England. Frost spoke up: “Aliens are happening constantly. It’s like (“Star Wars” capital planet) Coruscant here. The skies are full.” Pegg added, “It’s like there’s traffic up there. No, it always happens in backwoods places, obviously. We get to see a lot of what’s purportedly between the cities in America. That’s why we did a road trip before we did ‘Paul,’ because we wanted to see what it’s like between airports. You do feel, when you’re out here in these huge expanses, anything could happen.”

And according to co-star and co-writer Pegg, that was the plan in “Paul” — to take sci-fi clichés on the road: “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a film like, say, ‘Little Miss Sunshine‘ or ‘Fandango’ or ‘Sugarland Express’ where one of the characters was Gollum?’ Imagine if Gollum was in ‘Little Miss Sunshine.’ We always see these characters — these amazing creations — in the context of their own universe. Gollum’s in Middle Earth, we see all those ‘Star Wars’ creations in the ‘Star Wars’ universe. You never juxtapose that weirdness with mundane ordinariness. We thought it’d be amazing to see something as advanced as Gollum … sitting in an RV.”

From my article at The Rundown

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Paul Stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost on Making the Effects Special

A big part of “Paul” is the title alien, a computer-generated creation voiced by Seth Rogen, who hitches a ride with Pegg and Frost’s sci-fi nerds on their road trip. I asked the two if while they were writing the film, they ever held back with worries about if the effects to create Paul would and could work, or if they instead just went for it, sure the effects crew could figure it out. Simon Pegg recognized the challenges of pixel-crafted characters: “Yeah, we did want to write the best story possible, but we wanted it to look real. Our problem with CG characters is they have no weight to them.” But, as Nick Frost pointed out, making Paul look real wasn’t just tricky: “(It was) very nerve-wracking as well. We finished the picture 18 months ago, two years ago. We’ve had to wait that long to figure out whether or not it worked. With a creature and a character like this, if Paul is rubbish, you’re finished straightaway. That was very worrying.” As Pegg noted, “We sat down in a restaurant two years ago and said, ‘This is what we want: We want a totally believable character who seems to be there, who can speak conversationally with the live actors. We want it to feel like he’s totally integrated, has presence and weight.’ Then we wrote the film expecting them to meet that challenge, and they did.”

And director Greg Mottola, for one, is happy with the results — even with some complaints. “The thing I said to my agents after this film was if the letters ‘C,’ ‘G,’ and ‘I’ appear again in that order, I’m passing. No, that’s not true. It was very hard, it was very scary. I did not know how scared I should be. Simon and Nick were incredibly bold. They gave Paul a lot of the funny lines, and they play straight man to someone who wasn’t there in parts of the movie. There’s not that many semi-naturalistic comedy performances of CG characters to compare to — unless you could say Jar Jar (Binks), and that wasn’t intentionally funny. I did animation as a kid, stop-motion animation with a Super-8 camera. This is quite a bit different than that, and it was truly satisfying at the end of it. It just took a long time to get there. I’d like to do it again.”

Finally, considering how much of Pegg and Frost’s career has consumed and re-purposed pop culture, I asked them about the scientific phenomenon where radio waves transmit out at the speed of light, so an alien civilization, say, 30 light-years away would just now be getting television from 1981. Which of our old TV shows, I asked Frost and Pegg, did they think alien watchers would enjoy the most? Frost went back to the ’70s: “‘Starsky and Hutch.’ For me, it could bring about peace across the universe. It could restore the balance of the Force.” If the aliens show up with sideburns, driving Gran Torino muscle cars? “If their ships are lined with great big white stripes down the side, we know what they’ve been watching.” Pegg named a more graceful program for what he thought the aliens might like best: “I would say ‘Gentle Ben.’ It would be nice for them.” Frost smiled at the happy thought: “Seeing different species live together in perfect harmony. …” So, I offered, when the alien bears show up in muscle cars, we’ll be prepared? Pegg laughed: “That’d be amazing!”

From my article at The Rundown

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Rocchi’s Retro Rental: Freaks and Geeks (1999)

“I was always picked last for teams, and it was devastating. I gravitated toward comedians, because they were the ones who were pointing out hypocrisy and lying. I needed someone to tell me it was O.K., because I felt really bad.” — Judd Apatow

“Someone from my high school
Must have really hurt me too
Maybe that’s why I
Will always stand by you.”
— “High School,” The Flashing Lights

Knocked Up’s proven itself to be one of the biggest hits of the summer; Superbad will land at theaters on August 10th perfectly-timed to make up for lame, unfunny summer 2007 comedies like License to Wed and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. In other words, it’s Judd Apatow’s world — we just live in it.

Or at least it’s felt that way to me recently, what with my watching the complete series of Freaks and Geeks on DVD. Created by Paul Feig, Freaks and Geeks was a brilliant-but-canceled NBC series about life in Michigan’s McKinley high school around 1980. Judd Apatow — the director of Knocked Up, producer of Superbad — was the executive producer of Freaks and Geeks, and his comedy sensibility — frank and blunt, but warm and honest — is in every episode; if you haven’t seen Freaks and Geeks, or only saw it during the cut-short original run on NBC, I can’t recommend the DVD series enough.

Freaks and Geeks was a nearly impossible sell — a series about teens for grown-ups. It followed the siblings of the Weir family: short, scared and nerdy Sam (John Francis Daley) and smart-but-somewhat-lost Lindsay (Linda Cardellini). In the pilot, Sam’s just trying to get by and stay out of the sights of bullies alongside his friends Neal (Samm Levine) and Bill (Martin Starr); Lindsay, upset and unmoored by the death of her grandmother, is being drawn to the sketchy tribe of undermotivated kids at the periphery of the school’s social set — moody loner Daniel (James Franco), his girlfriend Kim (Busy Phillips), druggy drummer Nick (Jason Segel) and hulking wiseass Ken (Seth Rogen).

And, compared to the normal practices of TV about teens — following the perfect and the pretty through statistics-laden Very Special Episodes — that focus on the far reaches of the social spectrum makes Freaks and Geeks a revelation. The other thing that makes Freaks and Geeks so compulsively watchable is the fact that the characters aren’t always perfect, aren’t always likable, aren’t always right. Lindsay’s thoroughly sincere expressing sorrow at the passing of her old friend Millie’s dog — and she’s also capable of turning Millie’s need for friendship into the lever that gets her parents to consent to her going to a Who concert.

Freaks and Geeks is also, hands down, the best evocation of ’80s teen life ever seen on screen. From disco hysteria to punk rock’s arrival, Reagan-era young Republicanism to the arrival of Atari video game consoles on American shores, it’s all in there. And it’s not window-dressing, either; they’re all part of the character’s lives. The Atari 2600 console in the episode “The Garage Door” isn’t just a minor piece of set dressing; it’s a gift from a guilty adulterous father to a son on the verge of learning about his dad’s betrayal. Who could have thought that a game of Asteroids could have such emotional resonance?

No laugh track, no easy answers, no big stars, no chance: Freaks and Geeks was canceled after the 13th episode. But the DVD set includes all 18 episodes, plus multiple commentaries on every episode. If you can beg, borrow or steal the limited edition 8-disc set that was available only via the show’s website, though, get that — packaged to look like the McKinley High yearbook, it includes all 18 episodes with commentaries and deleted scenes, plus two entire discs of extras — including auditions, outtakes, an hour-long cast and crew Q&A from the William Paley Museum of Television and Radio celebration of the show plus weirdly insiderish footage like the cast and crew’s farewell speeches from their last day of shooting after cancellation came down and wrap party dance numbers.

The cast and crew of Freaks and Geeks haven’t entirely gone their separate ways — Apatow’s seeded Freaks and Geeks cast members in Knocked Up and Superbad and Rogen and Franco will co-star in the upcoming The Pineapple Express, another Apatow-backed comedy. Apatow’s pretty far from his childhood in Long Island — getting picked last for teams and losing himself through watching stand-up comedy — but don’t we all remember the slings and arrows of teen life and carry them with us for the rest of our days in ways large and small? Freaks and Geeks works because it manages to speak to the two seemingly contradictory truths of teen life: High school is horrible, but better things are coming someday. That balance is what makes the show so watchable and fresh even this many years after it was canceled, a brilliant mix of painful honesty and desperate optimism. Apatow probably hated high school, but watching Freaks and Geeks, you can witness bone-deep pain turned to brilliant comedy before your very eyes.

Rocchi’s Retro Rental, SFgate.com.

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