The End of the Tour (B-). If you’re looking for a movie that is basically two smart literary-type guys conversing with each other for an hour and a half, then this is the movie for you. It’s based on a true story: In or about 1996, David Lipsky, a writer for Rolling Stone magazine, interviewed author David Foster Wallace. At that time, Wallace was achieving some celebrity with the successful publication of his immense novel Infinite Jest, and he agreed to let Lipsky interview him over the last few days of the book tour for that novel. Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) plays Wallace, and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) plays Lipsky. Wallace suffered from depression much of his life, and he committed suicide in 2008, so that dark shadow hovers over the movie. In Segel’s portrayal, Wallace comes across as an odd character, but fundamentally decent and very serious about wanting to inspire his readers to be decent people too. Eisenberg turns in a good performance too, but his character (almost) never forgets he is there to do a job, not be a buddy, so it’s hard to like him. Joan Cusack (School of Rock) pops up as the chirpy Minnesotan who drives the Davids around Minneapolis for that part of the tour. I thought it was a pretty good movie, but I probably would have appreciated it more if I had ever read any of Wallace’s work.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Apocalyptic offering is profane, narcissistic, campy, and yes, funny. For me, it succeeded best as a campy horror flick. The premise is simple: James Baruchel visits his buddy Rogen in Hollywood and the two attend a party hosted by James Franco. All the actors play themselves. Also attending the party are: Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, Jason Segel, Mindy Kaling, Paul Rudd, David Krumholtz, Aziz Ansari, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kevin Hart, Martin Starr and Emma Watson. The Apocalypse happens during the party. Some people are immediately sucked up to Heaven in a tunnel of blue light; others fall into a crevice that opens up in front of Franco’s house. The rest (all male with the exception of Emma Watson for a short time in a funny ax wielding performance) are left to navigate the post-Apocalyptic world complete with strange anatomically (enhanced) correct monsters as well as limited food, water and resources. The actors make fun of themselves but primarily the humor is pure frat boy (read: pot jokes, sex jokes, flatulence jokes, masturbation jokes) and the movie drags a bit. Confession: I suspect you will find this movie more funny than I did if you are up on all the roles these actors have played. The ending is bizarre–in a “we-didn’t-know-how-to-end-the-movie” kind of way. The suspense is well timed. This movie deserves its hard R rating. Don’t take your mom or your children!
The Five-Year Engagement (C). I was a little disappointed in this new rom-com produced by Judd Apatow (director of films like The 40-Year Old Virgin). I had seen the trailer for this film a million times, and I was sort of afraid that all the funny parts were in the trailer. Weirdly, a couple of the funny parts were only in the trailer–they weren’t actually in the movie at all! Anyhoo, the premise is that these two really super-nice people, Tom (Jason Segel, The Muppets) and Violet (Emily Blunt, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), who live in San Francisco, get engaged, but then they postpone their wedding because Violet lands an academic position in remote Ann Arbor, Michigan. And then they postpone it again because Violet’s two-year contract gets extended, which really takes a toll on their relationship. Tom and Vi are nice, but they’re not funny (and I’d agree with John Podhoretz in The Weekly Standard that Segel and Blunt unfortunately have very little chemistry). And as the movie drags on for its two-hour running time, Tom and Vi’s relationship problems just become a drag. Nevertheless, I did get a few laughs out of the movie, mainly thanks to the antics of the supporting characters. (And no thanks to the worn-out cliche of the inappropriate/profane rehearsal-dinner toast.) It was nice to see cute Alison Brie of TV’s Community as Violet’s sister Suzie, but she wasn’t given enough to do in my opinion. Bottom line: very skippable.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (B+). I didn’t really think I would care for this movie, and at first I thought I was right. The affable Jason Segel (The Muppets) stars as Jeff, a 30ish slacker who lives in his widowed mother’s basement smoking marijuana and wondering what his destiny is. A wrong number starts him wondering if someone named “Kevin” might be the key to his search for meaning. But then his irritated mother (Susan Sarandon, Solitary Man) calls him from work and sends him on a more prosaic quest: to buy some wood glue to fix a broken shutter. Jeff is easily sidetracked, and while wandering around the city (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) he encounters his older brother Pat (Ed Helms, Cedar Rapids), who has just had a horrendous fight with his wife Linda (Judy Greer, The Descendants). More coincidental encounters ensue, leading the brothers to suspect that Linda is having an affair. As I say, at first I was annoyed. Thirty-year-old slackers are generally not that amusing to me, and Helms’s character is a thoroughly unlikeable tool, and coincidences continue to pile up at an unbelievable rate. But then at some point I just started to go with it, and the film’s conclusion put a smile on my face. I liked it much better than the directors’ last outing I saw, Cyrus.
The Muppets (C-). Seems like this movie has been getting good reviews (Metacritic score 76), so I was kind of excited about seeing it. I’m old enough to have watched “The Muppet Show” during its TV run, and I remember really liking it. But this movie, I’m afraid, was a rather dull affair. Jason Segel (I Love You, Man) plays a guy from Smalltown, USA who has a younger brother named Walter who just happens to be a muppet. He also has a long-time sweetheart played by Amy Adams (Enchanted). The three of them take a trip to L.A., where they find to their horror that the old muppet studios are about to be destroyed by a dastardly oil tycoon (Chris Cooper, Great Expectations). So they go on a quest to reunite Kermit, Fozzie, and the whole gang to put on a telethon to raise the money to save the studio. It’s sincere and earnest and frankly pretty dull.
It makes me wonder if the muppets TV show was really any good either. The only sketch I really remember from it, and I do remember it vividly, is a musical number by a woman guest star in which she’s dressed up as a little girl and sings about how her family kidnaps anybody unlucky enough to stop by their house. It’s still pretty funny; just search on youtube for “muppets” and “you’re always welcome at our house,” or something like that.
Gulliver’s Travels (2010) (C-). The explosive talent of Jack Black (High Fidelity) is wasted in this blah retelling of the Gulliver story. Black plays a loser stuck in a dead-end job in the mailroom of some publishing company. He has a crush on the travel editor (Amanda Peet, The Whole Ten Yards), and somehow manages to get himself assigned to do a story on the Bermuda Triangle. Before you can say “S.S. Minnow,” he is magically transported to the land of Lilliput, where everybody is about three inches tall. Lots of uninspired shenanigans follow as the former loser becomes the Big Man on Campus. Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) are wasted in their small roles as Lilliputians. Don’t waste your time on this study in mediocrity.
I Love You, Man (B). You probably already know the set-up for this movie: the always-entertaining Paul Rudd (This Is 40) plays a guy who gets engaged, only to discover that he has no close male friends to be his groomsmen, much less his best man. He gets increasingly concerned about this state of affairs, which eventually leads him to befriend a slacker dude played by Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), which friendship ironically threatens the very engagement that inspired it. In short, it’s a romantic comedy about male friendship instead of an ordinary romance. It had very few clunker moments, and I enjoyed it throughout. But I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had seen it in a crowded and spirited theater instead of at a Saturday morning matinee with about 3 other people in the theater. Oh, and it should go without saying that the “R” rating is amply justified by the rampant vulgar language. I wonder if these movies would do as well–or even better–at the box office if they cleaned up their act a little bit…