REVIEW: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

7 06 2016

Comedy teams rarely come in trios. We have the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges … and maybe the Wolfpack from “The Hangover” trilogy, if one is feeling generous and contemporary. Otherwise, the duo, the pairs, the buddies or whatever you call them rule the day. It makes sense given how hard developing and maintaining comedic synergy between two people can be. Adding a third person turns a game of catch into a bout of juggling.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” shows more than ever that The Lonely Island can juggle, albeit maybe more with clubs and scarves than swords or fire. The comedy group burst onto the cultural scene over a decade and essentially dragged sketch comedy into the Internet viral video era. After producing countless short musical sensations with their SNL Digital Shorts, they finally put their energies towards a more conventional vehicle – a feature film of their very own. (Not counting 2007’s “Hot Rod,” which they reworked from a script originally intended for Will Ferrell.)

The Lonely Island might be at their peak form when producing episodic, concentrated shorts, though becoming aware of this fact does not lessen the pleasures of “Popstar” in the slightest. The film holds together quite nicely as a piece with a forward-moving narrative engine all of its own, not merely a collection of sketch-like bits and musical numbers. The wacky invented boy band frontman-turned-rapper Conner4Real (played by Andy Samberg) shows they know quite a bit about the contours of modern pop stardom, although they poke fun at it far more in this mockumentary than they point out its hollowness.

But the real marvel of “Popstar” is not their understanding of pop culture. It’s their understanding of themselves.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (January 8, 2015)

8 01 2015

Now that Paul Rudd has officially debuted as Ant-Man, I expect that we’ll soon have to start referring to him as “Marvel’s Paul Rudd.”  Plenty of clueless fanboys will totally think of Rudd as the next Chris Pratt, a comedian that the comic-book magnate picks up from relative obscurity and turns into a bonafide action star.  And I will be sad.

But then, I will wipe away my tears and watch another one of Rudd’s hilarious comedies.  I will think of the time he and I shared a brief word in London, and I will remind myself of how his affable characters appear to accurately reflect his genial real-life personality.  I will remind myself that he is the perfect choice to play me in the movie of my life no matter what career move he makes next (although BuzzFeed recently told me that Benedict Cumberbatch would play me, another choice that suits me fine).

And finally, I will watch one of his comedies that stand head and shoulders above nearly all the other mainstream output.  For the most part, Rudd chooses projects with smarter wit and keener insight than the usual macho lineup of flatulence, misogyny, and homophobia.  Perhaps chief among these is 2009’s “I Love You, Man,” the bromantic comedy that serves as my selection for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  (Yes, I am fully aware this is hardly independent or little-known, although it certainly deserves to be more widely known.)

Rudd, rather than erecting a cool facade, plays his character Peter Klaven as unashamedly dorky and unabashedly earnest.  Though he means well, Peter often stumbles over his own nicety into the verbal equivalent of a pratfall.  The film begins with the happiest moment in his life: proposing to his girlfriend, Zooey (Rashida Jones).  After the initial bliss dissipates, however, things get awkward as Peter seems unable to provide enough groomsmen to match Zooey’s seven bridesmaids.  In fact, he does not even really have a potential best man.

Rather than disappoint his beautiful bride-to-be, and apparently unwilling to suck it up and ask either his father (J.K. Simmons) or brother (Andy Samberg), Peter goes on the hunt for a male best friend.  After a series of hilarious misunderstandings, he comes across Jason Segel’s palatably absurd Sidney Fife, a friendly bachelor that stumbles into one of Peter’s open houses while scouting prospects for a wealthy divorcée.  They hit it off immediately, easily finding conversation topics and mutual interests.

Sidney and Peter’s friendship is purely platonic, yet writer/director John Hamburg replicates the experience of watching a romantic comedy.  We get the beginning stage of figuring out tastes as well as boundaries; we see the way that they bring fulfillment to each other’s lives; we have the classic blow-up fight that turns into a dissolution of an amicable partnership.  As “I Love You, Man” progresses, it exposes the parallels between forging friendships and romantic relationships as well as the absurdities inherent in both.

Peter and Sidney are not just the average dudebro BFFs – they are types to explore and investigate the very nature of human connection.  Although, in the hands of talented actors like Rudd and Segel, they are also fully fledged people that I’d love to slap the bass with any day.





REVIEW: Celeste and Jesse Forever

9 09 2012

I won’t lie: I’m a little ready for the post-“(500) Days of Summer” boom of quirky romantic comedies to die down or at least start getting somewhat original again.  Not that Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg don’t make an infinitely watchable semi-couple in “Celeste and Jesse Forever.”  And believe me, I would much rather a movie buck the genre conventions than accept them completely.

But part of the charm of Marc Webb’s movie back in 2009 was that the anti-romantic comedy was not entire subgenre; it was just one movie that dared to be real.  Now, lack of formula has started to feel like a formula in and of itself.  This reactionary spirit is now starting to inspire that same thing that galvanized it to react in the first place: fatigue.

I have a feeling that perhaps the viewing climate for “Celeste and Jesse Forever” may be the reason why my reaction to the film was not quite as rapturous.  To be sure, Rashida Jones’ script, co-written with Will McCormack, of two best friends who get married and then have to separate to regain their friendship is well-developed and acutely perceptive about the nature of romance.  It’s even accompanied by surprisingly effective direction from Lee Toland Krieger, who uses the camera for powerful emotional impact in a way that humbly doesn’t draw too much attention to itself.

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REVIEW: The Watch

30 07 2012

The post-Spielberg generation of fanboy filmmakers has a few things to learn.  I’m talking about the boys who grew up thinking that Indiana Jones is the slickest hero ever, E.T. is the most benevolent force in the universe, and the alien coming out of John Hurt’s chest in “Alien” is the scariest thing in the world.  They’re coming of age now, and their paying homage to their myth-maker.

We saw the first extreme homage in last summer’s “Super 8,” J.J. Abrams’ pleasant trip down ’80s memory lane that ultimately rips off more than it can chew.  Now, one of the members of The Lonely Island, Akiva Schaffer, is here to give us his Spielberg tribute with “The Watch.”  It’s less of a carbon copy and more tongue-in-cheek parody, but that still doesn’t make its rancid treatment of Spielberg’s hallowed material any less acceptable.

Even without its frequent invocation of the action-movie deity, “The Watch” would still have disappointed on comedic standards.  When I say I didn’t laugh once, I mean it.  No exaggeration.  I did smirk on one occasion, though: a cameo appearance by Andy Samberg.

It’s a failure from concept for writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, whose résumés include the uproarious “Superbad” and the gut-wrenchingly hilarious “Pineapple Express.”  Unless that concept was to replicate the experience of being waterboarded, in which case congratulations are in order.  It’s time to screen this movie for the President, I’m sure he needs some new enhanced interrogation techniques at Guantanamo (which is still open despite his first day in office pledge).

“Got protection,” the film’s slogan asks.  So I’d like to ask you to protect yourself and not see “The Watch.”  Some movies you can’t unwatch.  You can’t get that time back.

Protect yourself from yet another Ben Stiller uptight straight-man grating on your last nerve; let’s be real, that one was already getting dated back in 2004’s “Along Came Polly.”  Protect yourself from the latest iteration of the Vince Vaughn sassily obstreperous man-child.  Protect yourself from a reprisal of Jonah Hill’s disturbed character from “Cyrus” that is reborn here totally humorless.  Protect yourself from the self’-conscious tokenism casting of Richard Ayoade, which ultimately devolves into outright racism.  To use the obvious pun, don’t watch “The Watch.”  Pop “E.T.” into the DVD player for a twentieth viewing.  D