Paul

Paul gets a few things right, a few things wrong, and is overall somewhat enjoyable because it knows how to mine a single joke for all of its humor.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released March 18, 2011

Written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

Directed by Greg Mottola

Starring Kristen Wiig, Sigourney Weaver, Mia Stallard, Jane Lynch, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, David Koechner, Jesse Plemons, Jeffrey Tambor, and Seth Rogen’s voice

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Paul opens with a scene of a girl (Stallard) with her dog having a close encounter. Then we fast forward many years and find Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) on tour in America. They’re British bachelors who love science fiction and they have attended a great conference in Las Vegas and are now driving a rented RV around the west, visiting all the important sites involved in alien visitations.

Graeme and Clive encounter some bullies (Koechner and Plemons), and then encounter Paul (Rogen), an alien who has escaped from the government after some 50 years of custody. Paul knows more about American culture than do these Britons and he has assimilated into American culture and language well, despite being obviously an alien.

So Graeme and Clive go on the run with Paul, and are chased by Zoil (Bateman), who appears to be a stone-cold killer and his underlings Haggard (Hader) and O’Reilly (Truglio). But that’s not all. Graeme and Clive meet a born again religionist named Ruth (Wiig), who is blind in one eye and whose religious doctrine precludes any chance at extra-terrestrial life.

Now all are on the madcap, sometimes droll, sometimes actually entertaining journey of their lives.

Critique

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost know how to set up a joke and deliver multiple punchlines for it. There is plenty of that going on, although some of the jokes strain the audience’s tolerance, particularly in the area of Ruth, whose extreme ‘Christianity’ is made fun of at length. This particularly line of jokes is intermittently funny, but too often the humor feels like commentary of some sort, and the jokes are going after easy, lame targets.

The twist with Paul’s character is that while he is an alien, he is crass, has a healthy libido, and is totally irreverent– and is thus not very ‘alien.’ This results in quite a few funny moments, but also gets a little old, until the movie starts allowing Paul to have an arc along with arc his new chauffeurs/companions experience.

One of the major winners for this movie is the pacing and the presence of a wide array of fun characters. Hader is particularly a joy as Haggard, the underling with ambition and who might just end up being too smart for anyone’s good– especially his.

We get treated to Sigourney Weaver’s voice, as she is the boss running Zoil’s efforts to track down Paul. We also get treated to David Koechner’s great comedic timing, as well as Wiig’s remarkable fearlessness.

So, setting aside some of the too-easy targets for humor and a bit too much crass humor, Paul mostly delivers a good time. Pegg and Frost have great chemistry and the effects are totally non-distracting. It’s a pretty good movie, but it won’t appeal to a very wide audience. To enjoy it, you’d have to be a fan of Pegg and Frost, as well as a bit of a science fiction geek.

Content warnings: Lots of very salty language, some sexual references and the like.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4          Overall: 3.5

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Wreck-It Ralph

There’s a reason that Wreck-It Ralph is getting a lot of good press: it’s darn good. Despite a slightly slow second act, this film has a ridiculously enjoyable and quality plot and it tells a story about people who make sense. It helps that Wreck-It Ralph also explores the world of video games far better than Tron.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released November 2, 2012

Written by Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee, Rich Moore, and Jim Reardon

Directed by Rich Moore

Starring Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Mindy Kaling, John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Adam Carolla, Alan Tudyk, and Dennis Haysbert

Rated: PG

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Ralph (Reilly) is the huge, wrecking villain in a video game called Fix-It Felix whose hero is the  perky Felix (McBrayer). Ralph wants to be a hero too so that he no longer is left out and feels outcast. To that end, Ralph exits his video game, makes his way through Video Game Central (in a very clever and creative sequence), and pursues a hero’s medal from a game called ‘Hero’s Duty.’

During his adventures in the other game, he makes a mess of things and encounters the head shooter on the team, Calhou (Lynch). She’s a no-nonsense, tough, rules-following commander who has no time for Ralph’s bumbling. But Ralph gets the medal and it seems that the movie is headed for a too-simple denouement, but it’s just getting started.

He gets away from the game in a pod, carrying one of the ‘bugs’ from Hero’s Duty into a new video game that takes place in a sugary land. Ralph loses his medal in the escape, as well as the bug, which proceeds to make itself at home under the land, laying thousands of eggs in the process.

As Ralph tries to get his medal back, he meets Vanellope (Silverman– in  a role written for her specifically), a young girl who wants to be a racer– which is the main activity of this world– but is told she cannot race because she’s just a glitch. Running the sugar land is King Candy (Tudyk doing a phenomenal impersonation of the mad hatter from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland), a crafty, morally ambiguous fellow who is dead set against Vanellope.

Now Ralph, who was ready to disingenuously pass himself off as a hero instead of a bad guy, must find the ability to be a true hero- which will demand sacrifice. Using his particular talents, he has to help Vanellope, save her video game, and become a real good guy. Along for the ride is Felix, who is a lot more than he first appears to be.

Critique

Wreck-It Ralph is one heckuva good movie due to its writing (plot, characterization, setting), voice-acting, and unbelievably polished and thoughtful animation.

For starters, the writing. This is a seriously good plot, intricate and heartfelt and deep. Everything that happens occurs because of choices made by characters. There are consequences for choices and prices paid and all kinds of craziness that come from these choices. The characters are thoughtfully written as well. Not one of these characters is a one-off static plot device. Winchell and Duncan, the two donut guards, are great examples of fully fleshed out side characters.

Then there’s the setting. What a fully realized world these characters inhabit. Every question you might have about how this world could exist in the same world as real human beings live in is answered. Smart people created this world, filling it to bursting with great ideas based on actual video games, actual people, and with a healthy respect for the comedic.

The voice acting comes up aces as well. Sarah Silverman has found her true calling: voice acting. Please, Sarah, never do anything other than voice acting. John C. Reilly has a large, warm voice– perfect for Ralph. Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch– wow. Their characters would have been so much less if anyone else had done the voices.

But Tudyk is the winner. How talented is this guy? He delivers a performance that doesn’t sound at all like him and could have descended into caricature, but skates right along the edge of goofy and awesome.

Now let’s take a look at the animation. As you see in the clip above, it’s obviously bright and robust. But it’s also thoughtful. One of Pac-Man’s ghosts is in this film, and he behaves and moves exactly as such a ghost should. Same goes for the people in the building that Ralph wrecks in his game. They are technology peers with old Mario games, and they move like those characters move– jerky, pixellated, and with cool sound effects. This thoughtfulness informs the entire movie.

Disney has crafted a non-Pixar animated film that is easily as good, and obviously informed and influenced by, the Toy Story franchise. Funny that The Lorax is the single worst film of the year and Wreck-It Ralph deserves to win an Oscar for best animated film.

Content warnings: Some mildly rude humor and some video game violence.

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

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(This may be my worst movie tie-in encouragement yet. Sorry.)

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