Knocked Up

1280_knocked-up.jpgSummer counterprogramming comes through in a fairly big way with Knocked Up, the follow-up to writer/director Judd Apatow’s sweet, sensible and hilarious The 40 Year-Old Virgin. Steve Carell was charmingly awkward in that movie, but Knocked Up star Seth Rogan is more goofy, with the unassuming smile of a gentle doofus plastered across his face for the film’s duration. Somehow this big lug stumbles into a one-night stand with inebriated TV personality Katherine Heigl and, to the consternation of both parties, a baby is soon on the way. Apatow’s subject is the culture clash between Heigl’s orderly upper middle class lifestyle and Rogan’s Top Ramen digs. Will she accept him for who he is? Will he ever grow up and take responsibility for his actions? Of course they will—it’s Hollywood. The point is how they get there. Without Carell around, the new film doesn’t scale the same outrageous comic heights, but it’s still very funny, with the subjects of pregnancy and childbirth adding a new dimension to the ever-present sex comedy. And as crude as it is—earning its R rating with dirty jokes, raunchy dialogue, and a helping of stoner humor—its witty, family-values approach manages to avoid pandering.

Ocean’s Thirteen

1280_oceans13.jpgThe old razzle-dazzle is back with the release of Ocean’s Thirteen, a third outing in the star-anchored caper franchise. It returns to the neon glow and slot-machine jangle of Las Vegas, where aptly named entrepreneur Willy Bank (Al Pacino) is bilking his erstwhile partners out of their fair share in his new hotel/casino venture, and Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and crew are scheming to take Bank down. To call the ensuing plotline “highly improbable” would be paying it an enormous compliment. It’s ludicrous, contrived, and borderline crazy. Of course, that’s almost completely irrelevant with this cast. Clooney’s great talent is putting on an air of seriousness that suggests he doesn’t know how good he looks doing it. Matt Damon selflessly casts aside movie-star ego and spends most of his screen time wearing a gigantic fake schnozz to gentle comic effect. Brad Pitt remains completely and spectacularly chilled out for the duration. Best of all, director Steven Soderbergh’s camera takes it all in with jazzy, unburdened élan, zipping easily from character to character. Don’t expect an engaging or absorbing heist yarn. But of the summer sequels released so far, it’s easily the least complicated and most entertaining—and probably the smartest.

Hot Fuzz (2007)


If you’ve seen Shaun of the Dead, you already know more or less exactly what to expect from Hot Fuzz, the new comedy from the same writers, director and stars – just as Shaun was a rollicking send-up of zombie movies, Hot Fuzz is a genial (and surprisingly gory) spoof of buddy cop movies — as well as a particularly British subgenre of horror movies that has to do with conspiracies in small villages. Simon Pegg plays Sergeant Nicholas Angel, a gung-ho London policeman transferred to the countryside by bosses who fear he’s making them look inefficient. (Pegg’s performance is hilarious – wiry and fixed with a perpetually piercing glare, he could be playing a parody of Daniel Craig’s James Bond.) After he uncovers the existence of an apparent serial killer amidst the townspeople, Hot Fuzz targets Bad Boys II for mockery, with double-fisted gunplay and overly dramatic camera angles. The story is shamelessly formulaic and drifts briefly into the same kind of tedium that afflicts the genre movies it apes. But there are stretches of brilliant Brit humor and a few huge laughs – it’s all the better if you can see it with the kind of enthusiastic audience that will cheer wildly as the filmmakers recreate an emotional high point from the 1991 Keanu Reeves movie Point Break. B

A version of this review originally appeared in the White Plains Times.

There’s Something About Mary

Cameron Diaz in There's Something About Mary

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve got to admit that I’m inclined to respect any movie that can send a full row of audience members scurrying for the door before the end of the first reel.
So I gave There’s Something About Mary the benefit of the doubt at about 15 minutes in, when the first of the film’s brazen money shots hit the screen. My eyes got wide, I may have gasped a little, and that’s pretty much the intended effect. Someone behind me murmured, “I can’t believe they showed that!” Another family of five headed for the exit. Continue reading

The Big Lebowski


2008 author’s note: Looking back on this review 10 years after I wrote it, I was struck by two things. First, it’s funny to see how much time I was spending trying to work through my ambivalent feelings about the Coens — it seems to come down in part to a performance style that I find grating. Second, I gave this thing a B+? Man, I used to be a hard-ass.

In Jeff Bridges, the Coens have finally found a performer whose offhand presence is a perfect foil for their own loping eccentricity. As one Jeffrey Lebowski, Bridges conjures up the laid-back California counterpart to the uptight shock jock he played in The Fisher King. More solipsist than narcissist this time around, Lebowski is a casual ne’erdowell who describes himself in the mythic third person as “the Dude.”

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Private Parts


On the day I left Boulder, Colorado, to move to New York, I bought a copy of Howard Stern’s just-released book, Private Parts, as a gesture toward learning about the customs of a strange new land. Anyone who paid attention to the ebb and tide of big media knew that Stern was the reigning “shock jock”of New York radio, that his “indecent” radio show had cost his corporate parents hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees payable to the FCC, and that “sophisticated” people were supposed to find him repugnant. (And, oh yes, Film Threat magazine had given a rave review to a Stern video called Butt Bongo Fiesta.) Along with Rush Limbaugh, Stern was the author who most offended Boulder’s excruciatingly correct political sensibilities.

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Mars Attacks!



I’m not quite sure what to say about Mars Attacks!, which is obviously the work of a deranged genius. When Tim Burton’s twisted alien invasion comedy really works, it’s breathtaking and hilarious in equal measure. And when it doesn’t work, it’s just dull. I’m not even sure it works more often than it doesn’t, but where it counts — that is, when this gleefully evil invading force from the red planet gets down to the business of blasting us to kingdom come — Mars Attacks! is brilliant.

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