Writer and star Jason Segel concocted this romantic comedy from an experience in his own life. It is a moment recreated right at the top of the film when TV and frustrated puppet theatre composer Peter Bretter (Segel) stands naked physically and emotionally as his TV-series star girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) dumps him for another guy. Not being able to deal with the sudden rejection and unable to perform properly at his job he decides to take the Hawaiian vacation he and his now-ex never got around to. Unfortunately she coincidentally has the same idea and with her English rocker new boyfriend (Russell Brand) in tow and winds up in the exact same resort with poor pitiful Peter. In a tactic designed to prove Sarah made a huge mistake he manages to hook up with the hotel’s pretty and sympathetic concierge (Mila Kunis)--signing up for “activities” she is unlikely to suggest to any other guest. With the Hawaiian paradise as the perfect backdrop the film turns into a classic battle of the sexes as Peter attempts to put the pieces of his shattered heart back together. One of the original regulars of producer Judd Apatow’s short-lived NBC series Freeks and Geeks and now co-star of How I Met Your Mother Jason Segel smartly breaks out of the supporting TV mode and proves his worth as a fine comic movie lead in his sharply observed script inspired by an incident that happened in his own life. Sure to be much discussed and dissected the hilarious opening scenes in which he boldly goes for laughs displaying his full frontal manhood signals him as a screen actor unafraid to let it all hang out there. That’s just perfect for a character who pretty much wears his vulnerability on his sleeve (when he has one on). As a screenwriter he has also given his co-stars choice roles to run with as well. Bell as the vapid TV actress takes what could have been a one-dimensional role and shapes her Sarah Marshall into a believable human being who finally hits a wall in her longtime relationship. Kunis (TV's That '70s Show) is an enormously appealing and warm screen presence and Brand as the loopy rocker steals every scene he’s in with one of the year’s most indelible comic creations. As usual some of Apatow’s stable of regulars turn up here as well with standout bits from Knocked Up and 40 Year-Old Virgin’s Paul Rudd as a loony surf instructor and Superbad’s Jonah Hill as the fanboy restaurant host. Debuting feature director Nicholas Stoller got some early experience on Apatow’s underappreciated series Undeclared and does a nice job here bringing Segel’s creation to the screen. A mark of a good director is good performances and there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. Not too shabby for a first timer. His achievement however is clearly overwhelmed by the imposing shadow of producer Apatow and his star/writer. It’s their show but Stoller goes light on stylistic touches and doesn’t screw it up seamlessly letting the actors the terrific script and the scenery do all the heavy lifting making this Sarah Marshall hard to forget indeed.
Say have you heard the one about the troubled family that forsakes the trials and tribulations of city life for a bucolic new life on a rustic farm out in the middle of nowhere? It’s never a good idea to move into a house when the previous residents of said farm vanished without a trace—and it’s still not a good idea here. Soon teenager Jess (Kristen Stewart) and her three-year-old brother begin seeing ominous apparitions invisible to everyone else. When those specters become violent Jess' sanity is questioned--a double jeopardy for the tormented teen. Stewart Jodie Foster’s endangered daughter in Panic Room is appropriately moody and plucky as the terrorized teen whom no one believes. Penelope Ann Miller and Dylan McDermott are both suitably dense as Mom and Dad with twins Evan and Theodore Turner suitably spooky as the wide-eyed baby brother who can see everything. X-Files regular William B. Davis sans cigarette drops in a couple of times as the local real-estate agent and a grizzled John Corbett plays a shotgun-toting farm hand who the family hires with surprisingly little hesitation. There’s only so much the actors can do with the material and they pretty much do it. Directors Danny and Oxide Pang veterans of such popular Asian scarefests as The Eye and Ab-normal Beauty know their way around a scare and The Messengers has some decent jolts along the way. Ultimately however the peskiest of all problems – the plot – tends to get in the way. As the story pieces fall into place the film itself tends to fall apart. In addition this is yet another horror film that has been given a box-office-friendlier PG-13 rating (in the February issue of Fangoria co-star Corbett makes his displeasure known about this issue). This is the Pang brothers’ first stateside project and despite their stylistic touches there’s an unmistakable sense of selling out.
P.J. Hogan's Peter Pan follows J.M. Barrie's story almost to the letter. A girl on the brink of womanhood Wendy Darling (newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood) loves telling her brothers John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell) stories of dastardly pirates as they sit in their nursery under the watchful eye of their St. Bernard Nana. Her 19th-century Londoner parents however believe the time has come for the young girl to grow up especially her father. Then a cheeky wild-haired boy named Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) flies through the nursery window one night with his trusted yet jealousy-prone fairy Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier) telling Wendy he can take her to a place full of adventure where no one ever has to grow up. She readily accepts the offer and with a few happy thoughts some fairy dust and her two brothers in tow she flies off to Neverland. (Not the ranch…the real place.) Once there Wendy encounters mermaids Indians and the Lost Boys (who refer to her as "mother") and gets the whole pirate experience in Peter's ongoing feud with arch-nemesis Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs). But Wendy soon becomes conflicted because on the one hand she likes hangin' with hottie Peter but on the other she misses her mother. She decides it's probably best to go back and grow up but in her hurry to leave she ends up in Hook's clutches. A rescue ensues. Swords clash ticking crocodiles are fed and fairies are saved as our clever fly boy zooms Wendy and company back to London on a giant pirate ship. But does he stay and grow up himself? Hell no he's a Toys 'R Us kid forever!
All the kid actors in Peter Pan are highly watchable and appealing with angelic faces peaches-and-cream complexions and pouty cherry lips. This is the first time Peter is being played by a real-life boy a fact much hyped by the filmmakers and 12-year-old Sumpter (Frailty) does his best to live up to the expectations. (He's soon to be swoon-worthy material for sure.) He's got a mischievous gleam in his eye and a great sly smile but he really lights up when he's looking into Wendy's adorable face. Hurd-Wood the first-time actress who plays the spirited girl earned her role after a long and involved casting process it's well deserved; she fits the typical English-girl profile perfectly and gets the hang of her craft quickly infusing the character with a natural cheerful energy. It's also refreshing to see the young actors play up Wendy and Peter's feelings of first love which prior films always hinted at but never fully realized. Isaacs in a dual role as the firm-but-loving Mr. Darling and the frightening comical lonely charming needy reprehensible Captain Hook draws on his experience at playing exquisitely awful baddies (The Patriot Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and really sinks his claws into Hook. In a stand out supporting role French actress Sagnier (Swimming Pool) is really fantastic as the vivacious non-speaking Tinkerbell portraying the fairy's conflicted emotions with a silent-film over-the-top technique.
Director/writer P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding) and his team try to distinguish their film from the other Peter Pans of the world by using all the technical and special effects wizardry at their disposal. Hogan says his Peter Pan is the way its author Barrie intended to be when he wrote it as a play over a 100 years ago--full of fantasy and wonder. In a way he's right and production designer Roger Ford and visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar take his vision and run with it giving audiences a very lush Neverland with waterfalls fluffy pink clouds crystal-blue waters and a gorgeous fairy world. But despite the bells and whistles there really isn't anything original and different in this Pan. Even its look at the dark side of Neverland has been done in Steven Spielberg's 1991 semi-sequel Hook which showed the dangers of Neverland. In this version lives really are at stake and the pirates are not cute and fun. Even the mermaids are mysterious and malevolent with scary faces and murderous intentions a far cry from the beautiful if somewhat mean-spirited creatures of the 1953 classic Disney animated adaptation another inescapable influence on the audience. When the crocodile draws near for example tick-tocking away the croc's signature tune from the Disney film comes immediately to mind. People may love those Disney films for those cutesy catchy songs but Peter Pan really is a good story. Heck it's a great story. But it's just been done.
The premise to Old School sounds a bit cringe-worthy when you first hear it--visions of sexist frat house humor wild parties buxom babes and beer bongs dance through your head. OK maybe there's a little of that going on in Old School but the heart of the film is surprisingly more centered than your average balls-out comedy. A trio of twentysomething friends have found themselves at a crossroads in their lives. Mitch (Luke Wilson) a promising real estate lawyer unfortunately catches his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) in a compromising position. Frank (Will Ferrell) a lovable doof marries the sweet Marissa (Perrey Reeves) before realizing he made a big mistake and Beanie (Vince Vaughn) the owner of a successful chain of stereo stores refuses to believe he is the only true family man of the three. When Mitch rents a house near their old alma mater Beanie sees it as a chance to recapture some of that fun-filled college exuberance and turns the house into a fraternity which accepts not just students but any guys out there who want to escape adulthood's travails. The film's antagonist comes in the form of an uptight university dean Pritchard (Jeremy Piven) who bears an old grudge against our intrepid trio and does everything he can to shut the house down. But true brotherhood prevails.
Old School works far better than it should thanks to the chemistry of the three leads. Each has his own particular brand of comedy and the combination keeps you rolling in the aisles. Providing physical comedy Ferrell's Frank a goofy college wild man tamed by matrimony is wonderfully outrageous (but someone should tell him to keep his clothes on). Ferrell also shows a dramatic flair especially when dealing with his troubled marriage. Who would have thought this Saturday Night Live alum could act? Vaughn shows his infinite skill at zingin' out quick-witted one-liners (as he does so well in Swingers). Yet his smarmy Beanie also hints that he loves his life as a stable dad more than he cares to admit. Then there's the likable straight man Mitch a character the easygoing Wilson has perfected to a tee ever since his debut in Bottle Rocket opposite wacky brother Owen. Piven who usually plays wild men in films such as PCU and Very Bad Things gets to try on a different hat as Pritchard the nerd who grew up to be the dean of the school--and it looks like he had fun.
Writer/director Todd Phillips obviously enjoyed his college years. His first studio-released film the 2000 Road Trip offered a raucous yet refreshing look at college life that didn't necessarily go for the gross-out humor at every turn (although some turns were certainly made especially given star Tom Green). With Old School Phillips has matured--a little. Thankfully the film doesn't go for the joke for the joke's sake but remains rooted in how these three men are dealing with the pressures of adult responsibilities coming up with their somewhat misguided remedy to those pressures. But it's still a comedy about aging frat boys. You know going in there's going to be a wild party or two some contemptible drunken behavior perhaps even a hazing scene where new recruits have cinder blocks tied to their nether regions. It happens. Phillips also feels the need to incorporate a clichéd romantic twist around Mitch and a girl he had a crush on in high school. A sweet gesture but not nearly as entertaining as watching three grown men slosh around in K-Y jelly in a female wrestling match.