get together, eventually: (l-r) Kunis and Segal in Forgetting
by Nicholas Stoller
Segel is well-endowed. As a comedic writer and actor, that
is. You can make up your mind about the other thing five minutes
into Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the latest film from
Judd Apatow’s busy production stable, and an above-average
romantic comedy that hits on all levels, with a surprisingly
low number of those hits landing below the belt.
Peter Bretter (Segel) is a struggling Los Angeles musician
who, by day, scores (read: plays dramatic synthesizer swells
under) a CSI-style procedural—titled, brilliantly,
Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime—though his dream is
to stage a musical based on Dracula. (It’s a love story.)
His girlfriend of five-plus years, the titular Sarah (Kristen
Bell of TV’s Gossip Girl and Heroes), is the
show’s lead actress, an ambitious attention-hound who leaps
at every photo op, leaving Peter holding her gold-lame handbag.
Five minutes into the film, Sarah breaks off the relationship
seemingly out of nowhere, devastating an in-the-buff Segel.
After a series of one-night stands doesn’t ease Peter’s pain,
his stepbrother Brian (Saturday Night Live cast member
and Superbad cop Bill Hader) advises him to take a
vacation, so Peter heads off to a swanky Hawaiian resort—one
that Sarah used to talk about. Naturally, she’s there too,
and on the arm of new (or perhaps not-so-new) boyfriend Aldous
Snow (Russell Brand), the oversexed lead singer of British
rock band Infant Sorrow. Let the games begin.
This is a very stock-sounding setup, but it works, and for
the right reasons. We aren’t instructed to hate Sarah Marshall,
for one; the breakup scene is staged so early in the film
that we haven’t yet formed alliances. Both lead characters
are drawn broadly at first, through her television clips,
his schlubbery, and that first brief, uncomfortable encounter
between the two (the film’s frequent, unexpected nudity is
either the worst-disguised metaphor ever filmed, or the most
The four main characters are paid equal attention, and they’re
given enough shading that it’s easy to end up rooting for
all of them. Segel backs off of the lovelorn-loser routine
a few notches short of pathetic; Bell has less to work with,
but is sympathetic when she’s given screen time; That ’70s
Show alum Mila Kunis does a fine job of playing guarded-but-vulnerable
as desk clerk/love interest Rachel. The bit players are also
up to the task, especially Apatow regular Paul Rudd as an
airhead surf instructor, and 30 Rock pageboy Jack McBrayer
as a Southern newlywed struggling to please both his new wife
and Jesus simultaneously; Jonah Hill’s waiter-with-a-man-crush
is perfunctory but serviceable.
But it’s Brand’s enlightened rocker who proves most indispensable.
Late in the film, Peter gets upset because he just can’t bring
himself to hate the guy who’s been sleeping with his ex—despite
how ridiculous he appears early on, Brand brings a strong
magnetism to what could have been a cartoonish role. If he
(Brand) isn’t an international superstar within 18 months
(he’s already awfully popular in the U.K.), I’ll eat my pen.
As debut screenplays go, Segel’s has a palpable heart and
plenty of laughs; as first-time directors go, Nicholas Stoller
holds up his end of the bargain just fine. Forgetting Sarah
Marshall is a trifle in the grand scheme of cinema, but
it’s a surprisingly likeable trifle.
by Rob Minkoff
The makers of The Forbidden Kingdom leave no doubt
in our minds as to their veneration for martial-arts movies.
The opening credits themselves are a beautiful yet humorous
paeon to all those poorly dubbed films that your big brothers
watched on Saturday mornings. The plot itself, about a new
kid, Jason (Michael Angarano), who is mercilessly menaced
by South Boston gangsters, is merely the hook on which an
elaborate, hopelessly detailed story unfolds. The main purpose
of the film is to present Jackie Chan and Jet Li matching
wits—and fists, and anything else handy.
Jason escapes the brutal city life by endlessly watching martial-arts
videotapes, and elderly shop owner Hop (Jackie Chan, in one
of two roles) supplies him with plenty—along with hints about
a gloried past buried within the junk of his store. Of particular
interest is a golden staff, which has been waiting for three
generations to be picked up by its rightful owner.
When said Southie gang forces Jason to betray Hop, the old
man ends up getting terribly hurt, and Jason himself takes
a flying leap (with the staff) into . . . ancient China. Dazed
and confused, he falls in with Drunken Immortal, Lu Yan (also
Chan), an inebriated immortal who relays the legend of the
staff, which was taken by trickery from its rightful owner,
the Monkey King (Jet Li), by the duplicitous Jade King. Like
Dorothy in the Land of Oz, Jason can return home only if he
delivers the staff to the Monkey King. Like Dorothy’s trek
to Oz, this is no easy task: The Monkey King has been frozen
in stone, and the path to this peculiar statue is by way of
the Jade King’s forbidden kingdom. However, Jason enlists
the aid of Lu Yan, Golden Sparrow (Liu Yifei) and the Silent
Monk (also Li), and together, this ragtag team sets out to
conquer evil and kick much butt.
Screenwriter John Fusco and director Rob Minkoff glory in
the visually excessive as much as in the tried-and-true machinations
of the kung-fu genre. Sure, you’ve seen the stoic, white-clad
monk before, and yeah, the witch with her long deadly tresses
reminds one of the use of outrageously long sleeves in Hero,
but hey, that’s the point. The Forbidden Kingdom reminded
me a lot of the first time I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark,
when it debuted at the Mahaiwe Theater in Great Barrington.
This was the first time I saw old and young alike lapping
up something cinematic with the same gusto. Steven Spielberg
tapped into our collective love of the Saturday matinee, of
the feeling of invincibility that it conveyed. The Forbidden
Kingdom is no different, existing primarily to let us
watch Chan and Li do their respective stuff, only together.
Indeed, a highlight of the film is their first encounter,
when the Drunken Immortal thinks that the Monk is an enemy.
Their duel is not just exciting, it’s terribly amusing.
While some of the in-between scenes are a little slow—Jason
develops a crush on Golden Sparrow, of course, and she debates
the finer points of revenge with Monk—it doesn’t detract terribly
from the overall sense of mindless pleasure. And while it’s
a treat to see the stars’ quicksilver moves, it’s even more
enjoyable to see them develop the humor and humanity of their
characters. In particular, Li’s Monkey King is an entirely
believable simian being, combining deadly accuracy with goofy
slapstick—an organ grinder’s monkey gone bad, if you will.
In a season of deadly precious and self-important movies,
The Forbidden Kingdom is, like the weather we’re having,
a decidedly refreshing tonic.
by Jon Avnet
It probably shouldn’t matter that a movie titled 88 Minutes
is, in reality, 107 minutes long. It’s possible, given the
sluggish, repulsive way 88 Minutes begins, that exactly
88 minutes elapse from the moment the film’s gimmick kicks
in. (Don’t count on this reviewer to go back and do the research,
however.) The problem is that the audience should feel every
one of those minutes, and this just doesn’t happen.
The gimmick is this: Famed criminal psychologist Jack Gramm
(Al Pacino) gets a phone call telling him he has but 88 minutes
to live. And every few minutes, Jack is reminded of this clock
ticking down (“tick tock, doc,” the computer-voiced caller
taunts him), either by phone or more direct, physical means
such as graffiti on his vandalized sports car.
Jack thinks the whole thing is being orchestrated by a serial
killer (Neal McDonough) scheduled to die by lethal injection
that very evening. Well, duh: We’ve already heard the killer
say “tick-tock, doc” in court. That the police doubt Jack
just makes them seem stupid. (And do you have any idea what
a crime it is to make a great character actor like William
Forsythe, who plays the FBI guy, look stupid?)
Once the gimmick kicks in, the tension should mount—but, as
hinted before, it doesn’t. Ineffectual director Jon Avnet
tries to build tension by cutting between people talking
really fast on cell phones. Since no one, including Pacino’s
character, has anything particularly interesting to say, this
The film can’t decide whether it wants to be serious or salacious.
Pacino’s “genius” doctor is surrounded by beautiful women.
Some are students (Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski) and some
are coworkers (Amy Brenneman, Deborah Kara Unger); all of
them worship Jack. The game is figuring out which witch is
trying to bring the hero down.
The tone of the film varies wildly, from offensive to ridiculous.
The opening scene of a woman gagged, trussed, cut and murdered
is reprehensible; the ultimate revelation of the killer, and
the “gotcha” ending, is silly.
Al Pacino should have used his time more wisely.