Knocked Up (2007)

2018 #64
Judd Apatow | 129 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 15 / R

Knocked Up

I don’t really know why I watched this. Well, I do: it’s because it’s been on one of my 50 Unseen lists for over a decade (as have 14 other 2007 films, of course, but I intend to get round to most of those too), and at the time it was available on two different streaming services, so it sort of sat there going “why don’t you watch me? Go on, watch me!” until I did. And then I actually quite enjoyed it.

It’s about career-driven Alison (Katherine Heigl), who ends up having a drunken one-night stand with freeloading pothead wannabe-porn-website-designer Ben (Seth Rogen). She gets pregnant, and suddenly the mismatched pair are connected for life. Despite the raucous setup, it’s actually a surprisingly sweet, warm, heartfelt movie… with dick jokes. Maybe that’s why this Judd Apatow-masterminded stuff has been such a success: it manages to simultaneously hit two demographics (essentially, rom-coms and frat-coms) that used to be mutually exclusive.

Alongside that main story there’s a subplot featuring Alison’s sister, Debbie (Leslie Mann), and her husband Pete (Paul Rudd). They’re established as supporting characters, but that feels like underselling it — they’re practically co-leads, given the amount of screentime that’s spent on their storyline. You could probably trim much of their stuff out and make a more efficient, more comedy-length movie; but then you’d really be losing something, because it’s actually quite good, mature, genuine material. But it’s just that’s not what this movie is — or, at least, not what it purports to be — and so it’s, like, why is that here? Why isn’t it off somewhere as its own movie? (Debbie and Pete were later the stars of a spin-off, This is 40, which was billed as a “sort-of sequel” — considering they’ve got such major roles here, I can see why. It makes me wonder why they didn’t get Heigl and Rogen back and just go the whole hog, but that’s a question for another review.)

Anyway, being too long was Knocked Up’s biggest problem, in my opinion — chop out 20, even 30 minutes (heck, do it properly and get rid of more, even) and I reckon it’d be better. It’s also a bit needlessly crude, I guess, but I’ve seen far worse and less funny examples of that. It makes up for it by how well-handled the more dramatic parts are. Overall, I liked it a lot more than I expected I would.

4 out of 5

Seth Rogen’s new romcom, Long Shot, is being destroyed by Avengers: Endgame in cinemas everywhere now.

Superbad (2007)

2015 #128
Greg Mottola | 113 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 15 / R

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s semi-autobiographical comedy sets Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) (see what they did there?) on a quest to obtain booze for a party where they hope to copulate. Or, “every American teen comedy.”

Presumably the key to Superbad’s acclaim lies in the details, then. The narrative is implausible (hence “semi-”) but creates amusing situations — it’s a comedy, so, fine. Seth’s all-encompassing sex obsession feels extreme, but also accurate to many teenage boys.

The most interesting aspect is the guys’ college-threatened codependent relationship. Or maybe it’s people saying rude sex words — your mileage may vary.

3 out of 5

The Green Hornet (2011)

2014 #117
Michel Gondry | 119 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

The Green HornetBased on a radio serial that spawned film serials, a famous TV series, and, eventually, comic books, The Green Hornet is a ‘superhero’ saga with a difference. For one thing, technically he’s just a vigilante — no superpowers here — and for another, as noted, it didn’t originate as a comic book. But that’s the milieu the character slots into these days, and so this attempted revival plays in that ballpark.

In this version, rich-kid playboy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) used to want to be a hero, until his domineering newspaper-magnate father (Tom Wilkinson) crushed his spirit. After daddy dearest drops dead, Britt and chaffeur/coffeemaker Kato (Jay Chou) accidentally save a couple from a mugging and decide to fight crime, using Britt’s newly-inherited newspaper, in particular the research skills of secretary Lenore (Cameron Diaz), to help their cause. But LA crime kingpin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) is not impressed with this new threat…

Produced, co-written by and starring Rogen, and directed by quirky Frenchman Michel Gondry, anyone familiar with their CVs will find “a superhero movie made by Seth Rogen and Michel Gondry” to be a pretty adequate summation of The Green Hornet. To clarify, it’s pretty comical, sometimes in that man-child frat-boy way, sometimes with a leftfield quirkiness. The combination makes it unique in the world of superhero movies, but hasn’t gone down well with critics or many viewers.

Run away!Well, screw them — The Green Hornet is brilliant. If you’re after the po-faced angsty worthiness of Christopher Nolan’s Bat-trilogy or the Spider-Man reboot, or even the X-Men films, then you need not apply. This has more in common, tonally, with Kick-Ass, or even Iron Man with the comedy bits dialled up further. That said, those two films were quite popular, so why isn’t this one?

For one, apparently Seth Rogen is doing his usual Seth Rogen schtick. That may be the case, but I’ve never actually seen a Rogen film, so I’m not over-familiar with his MO. His style isn’t top of my list of “how to do good comedy”, but it’s diluted enough here that it largely didn’t bother me. A couple of sections indulge it a little too much, but c’est la vie — it doesn’t ruin the whole film.

Another may be the film’s irreverence. That’s not to say something like Kick-Ass doesn’t have its share of genre disrespect, but while it allows its heroes to be comical it takes its villain seriously (so too Iron Man, actually). In The Green Hornet, everyone’s somewhere on the comic spectrum: Waltz’s villain is obsessed with being perceived as scary, in the end re-christening himself “Bloodnofsky”, dressing in red leather and coming up with an elaborate catchphrase to reel off before killing people. Waltz is, depending on your point of view, subtly ridiculous or phoning it in. It’s not as memorable a creation as his Inglourious Basterds Nazi, but you can rely on Waltz for a quality comic adversary.

The car's the starThen there’s Gondry’s direction, which is often as idiosyncratic as you’d expect. He’s at his peak during the action sequences, which explode in an array of effects and slow-motion to create multiple memorably unique fights and chases. Highlights are the first time Kato unveils his martial arts prowess, and the crazy car-driven climax. Chou and the tricked-out car, Black Beauty, are undoubtedly the stars of these bits — indeed, the film has an overall good line in making Kato the brains behind the operation. I imagine this is subverting the depiction of the Asian sidekick from previous versions, considering when they were made, but as I’ve never seen any I can’t comment fairly.

I imagine those who are enamoured of previous versions were also less keen on this one. There’s probably too much Rogen-esque comedy and Gondry-esque oddness for anyone used to a classic character from a previous era. I can’t blame them for being less-than-pleased by someone trampling all over something they love. For those of us without a previous attachment to the characters, however — and, crucially, with an open enough mind to accept a ‘superhero’ movie that brings a different perspective and style to an arguably-overworked sub-genre — this incarnation of The Green Hornet is a fine piece of entertainment. In fact, I’m tempted to say it’s one of the best superhero movies of the current generation.

4 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of The Green Hornet is on Channel 5 tonight at 9pm.

It merited an honourable mention on my list of The Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2014, which can be read in full here.

Monsters vs Aliens (2009)

2014 #21
Rob Letterman & Conrad Vernon | 84 mins* | download (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

Monsters vs AliensThere seems to be a certain brand of animated film that I think looks dreadful so avoid, then I hear good things about, so I try it and find that, actually, they are really good. There was How to Train Your Dragon, then Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and now — yes, you guessed it — there’s Monsters vs Aliens.

On her wedding day, Susan is struck by meteorite whose contents causes her to grow to 50 feet tall. Seized by the government and renamed Ginormica, she’s taken to a special facility that houses an array of other creatures: B.O.B., an indestructible blob; Dr. Cockroach, a part-insect mad scientist; the Missing Link, a prehistoric fish-ape hybrid; and Insectosaurus, a skyscraper-sized grub. But when evil alien Gallaxhar arrives seeking the energy that gave Ginormica her powers, it’s realised the only way to combat his giant robots is by unleashing the monsters. Yes, it’s The Avengers with ’50s B-movie monsters.

If that doesn’t sound like a fun concept, you’re probably already on a hiding to nothing. It has a love and understanding of B-movies that should keep many a genre fan happy, suggesting it was created for them almost as much as its true audience, namely the same kids as… well, every other US animation. I suppose in that regard it’s a bit like The Incredibles, still one of the best superhero movies in any form.
Monster Squad
That’s a big comparison to make, but one I think Monsters vs Aliens can withstand more often than not. The climax is a little samey — why do all action-y kids CGI movies seem to have the same final act? — but before then it has a nice line in satirical humour, bold and broad characters, and even some quality action sequences. This is not a film where someone had an idea and coasted on it, but where they poured in a lot of love and elements you might not expect — see: satire, in an American kids’ movie! Not to mention the emotion you’ll get from a giant moth. I mean seriously…

Computer-animated kids movies are two-a-penny these days, meaning if it doesn’t have “Pixar” above its logo or a number at the end of its title, there’s a good chance it’ll be brushed off as “oh, another one”. (Of course, to get the aforementioned number on a title you need a successful unnumbered one first — like the other two films I mentioned in my introduction, for example.) There’s probably a lot of dross that’s being rightfully ignored, but some gems seem to have passed by with less fanfare than their enjoyment-value merits. Megamind is one that comes to mind; Monsters vs Aliens is another.

4 out of 5

* Full running time is 94 minutes. A saving of 10 is what you get for watching it in a PAL version (i.e. sped-up 4%) created for broadcast TV (i.e. hardly any credits). ^