gonna get laid: (l-r) Cera and Hill in Superbad.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.