Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Posted on September 30, 2008 at 8:00 am

“How I Met Your Mother’s” Jason Segal wrote and stars in the latest from the Apatow atelier, another raunchy comedy with a tender heart, and once again the story of a childish and helpless man who is perpetually longing for sex and love but inept with women.
Segal plays Peter who is dumped by the title character in the first scene, and who is so devastatingly nonplussed that he stands before her — and us — naked. Yes, record-keepers, while Apatow’s “Walk Hard” gave us what was probably the first mainstream close-up of an anonymous full Monty, this is the watershed moment for the R rating, at least four sightings of the Monty of the main character.
Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) is the star of a successful television series. After the deadly “We have to talk,” she tells Peter there is no one else but it is soon clear that she is now with a self-absorbed rock star named Aldous Snow (British comic Russell Brand). Peter flees to Hawaii to get away from it all only to find that Sarah and Aldous are staying at the same hotel. Peter sobs in the suite given to him by Rachel (Mila Kunis), a beautiful and sympathetic hotel manager, while Sarah and Aldous have a lot of very loud and athletic sex. Peter feels bad. He spends time with Rachel.
There are some very, very funny moments in this film, though many of them come from seeing Peter behave like a blubbering boob. Apatow regulars Paul Rudd (a happily stoned surfing instructor) and Jonah Hill (a hotel restaurant manager and major Aldous Snow fan) are underused, but Bill Heder as Peter’s brother gets in some good moments giving long-distance advice.
I’m getting a little impatient with these clueless boy-man characters, though. It may be funny that Peter (and Seth Rogan in “Knocked Up” and Steve Carell in “40 Year Old Virgin” etc. etc.) do not understand anything about women, but the people who make the movies should at least make it seem that they know a few. The Apatow crew needs to find a way to create a female character as fully-realized and messy as the men. Both Sarah and Rachel are bland and frustratingly inconsistent, behaving and reacting in whatever way Segal thinks will be funniest for Peter to react to at a given moment. It is a shame to write off, almost write out, half of the population and half of the equation in a movie about romantic complications, especially with actresses as lovely and talented as Bell and Kunis.
Segal writes some hilarious lines, and there is a deliriously random and extremely funny detour into vampire musical theater puppetry. But the film’s happiest surprise is Brand, who seems to be in his own movie, which is perfect for the role of the self-absorbed rock star. His reaction to the gift of a shirt is funnier than all four Montys and singing vampire puppets put together.


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Comedy Romance

Iron Man

Posted on September 30, 2008 at 8:00 am

With its first self-financed production, Marvel has produced one of the best superhero movies ever made, pure popcorn pleasure for its special effects, its story, its villain, and its hero. Director Jon Favreau, star Robert Downey Jr. and a first-class screenplay mix electrifying action, a compelling drama, and top-notch performances. Plus there are the best robot-type characters since R2D2, C3PO, and Hewey, Dewey, and Louie.

Downey plays international weapons dealer/super-brain/playboy Tony Stark as a rock star. He is an industrialist who appears on the cover of Rolling Stone and dates cover girls. He has an answer for every possible question or criticism about the company he runs: “The day weapons are no longer needed to keep the peace I’ll start building beams for baby hospitals.” But he does not have an answer for himself. His own conflicts would haunt him if he would slow down for a moment to think about them. That moment comes when he is captured by jihadists on a sales tour of American armed forces in the Mideast, using his own weapons. Told to recreate his company’s most powerful weapon for them instead he creates something for himself. The mastermind of cutting edge technology reaches back to the oldest of old school combat and creates for himself a high-tech suit of armor so that he can escape. It becomes the first stage in what will transform him into Iron Man. And the more he is protected by his Iron Man suit, the more he begins to open up to himself and others about who he really is and take responsibility for the world he has helped to create.

Downey superbly conveys Stark’s vulnerability and brilliance. He makes every line of dialogue feel improvised and natural, a great counter to the over-the-top special effects and fight scenes. In this middle of this great big movie he gives a subtle performance that is every bit as compelling as the most jam-packed action footage. He evolves as the suit does, trying out new things, coming alive for the first time as he is encased in metal.

The themes of the story has some powerful resonance about America’s role in the world without being heavy-handed. There’s no time for it — everything moves quickly as Stark continues to develop his suit and is attacked by bad guys and good guys and, well, there’s another category I am not going to give away. There is strong support from Terrence Howard as Stark’s military contact and friend, Gwenyth Paltrow, who gives some snap to her role as the indispensable aide de camp, and Jeff Bridges (with his head shaved!) as Stark’s closest business associate. The visuals are bracing and powerful and the action scenes are fanboy heaven. Watch for quick cameos from director Favreau, fan Ghostface Killah, and Iron Man co-creator Stan Lee. But don’t get distracted. Downey is the literal heart of this movie, and like the appliance that keeps Stark alive, he is a power source whose potential seems limitless.

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Fantasy
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