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Never gonna get laid: (l-r) Cera and Hill in Superbad.

Supergood

By John Brodeur

Superbad

Directed by Greg Mottola

If you’ve ever wondered how many dick jokes can be squeezed into a two-hour film, Superbad has the answer. And if you figure out the answer, let me know—I lost count somewhere around 500. But that’s a small matter in the grand scheme of things, as producer Judd Apatow’s latest phallocentric phenomenon is a riotous celebration of the 16-year-old-male id.

Directed by Greg Mottola, whose last film was the 1997 indie hit The Daytrippers, Superbad spends an action-packed (in all but the main characters’ intended way) day in the life of high-school seniors Seth and Evan, played by Jonah Hill (Knocked Up) and Michael Cera (Arrested Development). Seth is obsessed with sex in a way that only someone with little or no experience on the subject can be; he spends most of the film’s first third outlining what he’ll do when he actually get his hands on a female. Evan is polite, shy and sweet, and pretty much freaked out by the opposite sex.

Things are set in motion when Seth is asked to pick up liquor for a house party. He agrees, with the mind that a party full of drunk girls equals an opportunity to get laid. Enter Fogell, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse in his screen debut. The ungainly Fogell is all geeky glasses and bad haircut, probably 120 pounds soaking-wet. His puberty-ravaged voice revealing him to be the one actual high-schooler in the cast, Mintz-Plasse’s performance is a standout; Fogell, and his fake-ID-sporting alter ego, McLovin, make for one of the great film nerds.

Of course the film’s now-Apatow-standard soft heart shows its face early on, as the boys happen to be sweet on particular ladies, Jules (Emma Stone) and Becca (Martha MacIsaac); naturally, you can see where this is all headed. But the real fun is in the journey, including Fogell’s hysterical adventures with a pair of bumbling, beer-guzzling cops, played by Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live) and Seth Rogen (Knocked Up).

Rogen and Evan Goldberg supposedly co-wrote the script when they were 13, and it shows: The dialogue isn’t always representative of how teenagers talk, but certainly hits on some, um, issues that concern them (i.e., how to hide a boner in homeroom). And the way the kids interact is, if not realistic, at least lifelike. Rather than being divided into cliques and antagonizing each other, the bookworms, jocks, and hot girls actually interact with each other, much the way they might in, you know, an actual high school.

At the heart of the film is the bond between Seth and Evan, friends since childhood, and the fraying of that bond due to their imminent separation, as they will be attending separate colleges in the fall. This is Apatow’s bag—he’s already had a major hit this year with Knocked Up, which dressed a relationship comedy in the clothes of the ultimate male anti-fantasy; here, what seems like a teen sex romp masks an almost- heartwarming coming-of-age film. A cross between Porky’s and Dazed and Confused, Superbad is easily the summer’s funniest film.

A Haunting Reverie

Stardust

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Loosely based on a Neil Gaiman graphic novel, but steeped in Grimm and a spirit of romance, Stardust is probably the best and most imaginative cinematic fairy tale since The Princess Bride. Shop boy Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox) yearns for something more than the confines of his home village. He loves the haughty Victoria (Sienna Miller), who finally agrees to marry him if, and only if, he can bring her the star Tristan has seen fall nearby. Cue the “meet cute,” in which Tristan encounters that star, the bruised and bewildered Yvaine (Claire Danes). But before Tristan can bring his engagement present back to Victoria, he and Yvaine must traverse the dangers of Stormhold, not the least of which is an ancient and evil witch, Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), whose beauty and youth can be restored only by eating the heart of a fallen star. Uh-oh. As if that’s not enough, Prince Septimus (Mark Strong) is searching for a gem hurled into space by his dying father, a king with a nasty penchant for setting his sons against one another in order to enjoy the ensuing bloodshed. It was this gem that knocked Yvaine out of the twilight and down to Earth, and which she unthinkingly wears around her neck. Double uh-oh.

Granted, that’s a lot of plot, and that’s just the beginning. Director Mark Vaughn, who last brought us the eminently stylish gangster flick Layer Cake, handles the details quite well, managing not just to consistently keep us focused on the plot, but to be enchanted by a sense of wonder, a glad willingness to go along for the ride in great anticipation of what amazing thing will befall Tristan and Yvaine next. Vaughn is helped immeasurably by a production design that brings to vivid life all the best illustrated storybooks you’ve ever immersed yourself in. Each shot is perfectly composed: When Yvaine, newly fallen, lays momentarily stunned and helpless, the hardness and severity of her jagged granite landing spot contrasts vividly with the satiny gleam of her silver gown. It’s as if the visuals have a texture, so you’re not just seeing something, but also feeling it.

Thankfully, the narrative matches the quality of the visuals. This is that rare movie that doesn’t play to the 6th-grade level, but takes for granted that everybody in the audience has the wherewithal to follow plot and remember details. The payoff, therefore, is all the richer. While there is plenty of drama, Stardust has a lot of humor, too.

Pfeiffer is fantastic, using her beauty as a sharp counterpart to her utter wretchedness, but showing, as she did recently in Hairspray, that she can deliver a punch line with relish and perfect timing. Most unusual is probably the sight of Robert De Niro as a cross-dressing pirate; the usual goodfella is positively fey as he provides a dashing makeover for Yvaine and Tristan, all the while howling a good many “Shiver me timbers” to keep the crew suitably impressed.

Stardust is the kind of movie for which you need to totally accept an alternate universe where men can be turned into goats, maidens can be transformed into bluebirds, and a star can become Claire Danes. Happily, Vaughn, along with his co-screenwriter, Jane Goldman, have made the suspension of disbelief easy. See this lovely movie now, in order to take advantage of seeing such a sweet and sprawling tale on the big screen.

—Laura Leon

Roman Shambles

The Last Legion

Directed by Doug Lefler

There’s nothing disastrously wrong with The Last Legion—aside from trying too hard in every aspect—and that’s the best thing to be said about it. Set several centuries after HBO’s Rome and around the time of the recent film King Arthur, this sword-brandishing, wanna-be epic is a pastiche of every Dark Ages tale to hit the big screen from Excalibur to Kingdom of Heaven. The “last legion,” however, does not refer to the renegade cadre of soldiers who rescue the child emperor Romulus (Thomas Sangster) from the barbarian usurper of the Western Roman Empire, but to (or what is supposed to be) a climactic revelation. The plot is serviceable except for its gratuitous violence. Romulus’ mother is slaughtered before his eyes—after they nonsensically run out into a courtyard filled with fighting hordes of barbarians. Accompanied by orchestral tidal waves from the score, battles erupt at the drop of an insult, yet after much gnashing of teeth and repeated threats of “kill the boy!” Romulus’ life is spared through the diplomacy of a mysterious priest (Ben Kingsley). Considering that the script (by Jez and Tom Butterworth) is one long cliché, it’s not giving too much away to mention that the priest is eventually revealed to be Merlin (or Gandalf, depending on your preference).

The leader of the cadre, Aurelius, is played by Colin Firth, whose obvious disdain for the role adds some much needed comic relief to some of the cast’s heavy-breathing attempts at British-theater diction. The dialogue is mostly laughable, except when spoken by always-dignified Kingsley. After Aurelius and company break Romulus out of the prison fortress he’s been exiled to, the semi-historical plot switches to a boy-and-his-sword quest story, although by this time, most audiences will be too bored by the cardboard narrative (director Doug Lefler is a former storyboard artist) to pay attention to who—or what—made the sword that was forged for Julius Caesar in Brittany. In this turn to the fantastical, the only element missing is a dragon, though Kevin McKidd, unrecognizable as a barbarian mercenary, chews enough scenery to qualify as one. Aside from watching a talented cast thrashing in the mire of stilted writing, about the only thing that would make The Last Legion worth, er, renting, is lovely and feisty Aishwarya Rai as Mira, an Indian assassin who joins the legion to protect the Roman ally of her emperor, and more importantly, to poleax the renegades with her femininity.

—Ann Morrow


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