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Paul (Script) – Review

I read the script last night for the über-secret science-fiction comedy Paul. The film is being directed by Superbad/Adventureland’s Greg Mottola and was written by Simon Pegg & Nick Frost.
Albeit long (120 pages), the story was so immersive I read it all in one go.

Check out this incredible Paul cast:

1st row: Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Kristen Wiig
2nd row: Bill Hader, Jane lynch, Jason Bateman
3rd row: John Carroll Lynch, David Koechner, Jesse Plemons, Joe Lo Truglio
Not pictured: Blythe Danner, Jeffrey Tambor, Sigourney Weaver
Here’s the movie in a nutshell:
Alien (Paul) escapes from Secret Service.
Geeks (Clive and Graham) meet Alien.
Geeks and Alien go on the run from Secret Service Agents (Zoil, Haggard and O’Reilly).
Geeks and Alien kidnap on their way a religious freak (Ruth).
Geeks and Alien go on the run from said religious freak’s father (Moses).

The movie is not part of Pegg and Frost’s “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy (comprised up til now of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz).
Actually, Paul reverses the standard dynamic between the two by putting Frost as the lead and Pegg as the sidekick.

As usual though, they play the two main characters, respectively Clive Gollings and Graham Willy, two (sorta) stereotypical nerds. Clive authored Jelva, Alien Queen of the Varvak, a not-so-popular sci-fi book.
As they leave Comic-Con to visit Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway (and Area 51), they encounter, you guessed it, Paul the alien. Seth Rogen will “MoCap” the character.

The Paul alien character would probably be best described as a cross between American Dad’s Roger and the “Take Me to Your Dealer” alien (the poster is actually referenced in the movie).
The former for his intellect and pop-culture knowledge, the latter for his physical appearance…and because he smokes pot.
I guess that’s why they chose Seth Rogen (ha, ha, ha).

Wiig will portray Ruth, a Bible thumper that is both smart (!) and knowledgeable (!!). She gets (somewhat) inadvertently kidnapped by the group. John Carroll Lynch will be her dad, neither smart nor knowledgeable.
Jason Bateman plays the main Secret Service Agent, Lorenzo Zoil. He is followed by two other agents, Haggard and O’Reilly (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio). Jeffrey Tambor is their boss, nicknamed “The Voice.”
David Koechner and Jesse Plemons play Gus and Jake, two stupid meatheads while Jane Lynch depicts Pat, a waitress at the (real) Little A’Le’Inn.

As for Sigourney Weaver and Blythe Danner, I’m having a problem pointing out their role. While IMDb lists Weaver as playing Tara (the woman that pulled Paul out of his Roswell wreckage some 60-odd years ago), it seemed to me like it would fit more Danner (hell, Weaver wasn’t even born in 1947).
That said, I have no clue what the extra character is.

There’s also in the movie a cameo by a famous director (you might guess which), and as well a few scenes at Comic-Con.
At one point, Michael Biehn even makes an appearance (Clive is hoping to ask him if he feels that “the killing of Hicks and Newt in Alien 3, invalidates Ripley’s struggle at the closed of the previous installment.”).
Which makes you wonder what’s going on in the movie since Weaver (aka Ripley) has a role (not as herself), and there are no meta-joke about that either.

Anyways, now that you know the story and the characters, time to talk about the movie itself.
What’s interesting to note is how atypical some of the things in the script are.

First, regarding the obligatory references.
Pegg and Frost know their way around pop culture, so it’s obvious they’re having a blast when they write those nods at many SF movies/TV shows.
What is funny however is that those nods aren’t blatant at all.

For instance, there is at one point a Heroes reference (yes, that one).
Only, this is not a “Hiro/Claire” type of reference, it’s more, let’s just say, obscure.

She called her dog Paul?

Least it wasn’t Mr. Muggles.

Yup, they just talked about the Bennet family dog, Mr. Muggles (dare I say a detail on Heroes).

The same can be said about every other nod in Paul (regarding their subtlely).
There are Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, and Back to the Future allusions, but they do not involve jokes around Cylons, Spock/Kirk or Hoverboards.
There’s even a Pokémon that gets mentioned (and no, not Pikachu or Mudkip)!
Other “tip of the hat” include (among many, many other movies/shows) The X-Files, V, E.T., and Encounter of the Third Kind .
By “tip of the hat” I’m not talking about reenactments (with one notable exception), rather verbal winks like above.
Some other references are even more subtle, and even more random.
Case in point with Jason Bateman’s character. He’s named Lorenzo Zoil, an obvious hommage to the 1992 film Lorenzo’s Oil.
I have no clue why they chose this particular movie though.

The characters from the movie are also (for the most part) actually smart. Even Ruth the Evangelical is, like I pointed out before, knowledgeable!
Obviously, she doesn’t believe in science, but at least she knows about it, and probably knows more about geography than our two hero nerds combined.

This leads me to my final point, and I know I’m burying the lead here, but Paul is a smart comedy.
Actually, it’s way smarter than it might appear at first glance.

If anything, it tackles really well the whole Religion vs. Science debate, mixing both comical dialogues with sensible arguments.
Here is just one of the numerous examples contained in the Paul movie:

How can he be from another world? There is only one world. Our world, created by God the Father.

PAUL sits down next to GRAHAM. RUTH whimpers.

Look, if it makes you feel any better, my existence only disproves the notion of the Abrahamic, Judeo-Christian God, as well as all single earth theologies. Science still hasn’t categorically rule out the notion of divinity, even though evolutionary biology suggest the non-existence of a creator by probability alone.

How could that possibly make me feel any better?

Jesus Christ, I was just trying to be nice!

Hopefully, all those dialogues won’t lose their “serious” edge once they’re done by Seth Rogen.

Nevertheless, Paul has what many comedies do not have: both heart and brain (and the funnies). Here is an example of a good, funny, and smart, R-rated comedy (unlike that other one).
The incredible script coupled with, yet again, a great cast, makes me think this will probably be Pegg and Frost’s best movie to date.
As for its precise date of release, there is none yet, though it should come out in 2010. In the meantime, check out the many video blogs left on the official website.

MacGruber (Script) – Review

You have probably heard by now about the Saturday Night Live sketch entitled MacGruber (a parody of MacGyver).

Wiki describes it best:

The skit sets MacGruber, Vicki, and another assistant (typically played by the current SNL host) in a life or death situation. The sketch always occurs in three parts. The setting is always the sort that stars of action shows find themselves in (an abandoned mine, a warehouse, and so forth), and they always find themselves trapped in the control room (no matter the setting, there is always a control room.) They need to disarm a bomb which is about to go off, and Vicki will call out that there are twenty seconds left, ten seconds, and so forth. MacGruber calls for his assistants to pass him ordinary objects, like rubber bands or bubble gum wrappers (a parody of how MacGyver would typically devise some way of getting out of a jam with typical household objects). Unfortunately, MacGruber is always dealing with some sort of personal issue, and always becomes distracted by this issue, ignoring Vicki’s notices about how much time is left, and the bomb always ends up going off.

So they’re adapting this one-gag 30-second sketch into a 90-minute movie, and it’s going to be the first SNL-based and Lorne Michaels-produced movie in almost a decade (not counting Harold).
Looks like Michaels thinks SNL is again more popular than ever (yeah, right).
MacGruber has also been used as a Pepsi vehicle during this year’s Super Bowl.

The cast will mainly include Will Forte, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph reprising their respective role (Grubes, Vicki and Casey).
It’s still being written by Forte, John Solomon & Jorma Taccone. The latter of which is directing the pic.
Regarding the new characters, Ryan Phillippe is playing the brash Lieutenant Dixon Piper, and Powers Boothe I’m assuming will be Colonel James Faith. As for Val Kilmer, he’ll be portraying the evil Dieter Von Cunth (you read that right).
And, yes, there’s a bunch of lame jokes around his name, mainly MacGruber repeating over and over again:

Time to go pound some Cunth.

Ha ha, that was a really clever pun to make…not.

Now, at this point you’re probably wondering how one can make a movie out of a sketch. The answer is simple: instead of parodying the same scene over and over again (being locked in a control room with a ticking time bomb), the movie parodies 80’s action films in general.
In that sense, it begins to be very different from the original MacGruber sketch.

The story is also really basic.
Grubes is pulled out of retirement to defend his country from Cunth, a man with a nuclear warhead. And this time, you guessed it, it’s personal. Cunth was actually the one that killed MacGruber’s former assistant (and bride to be), Casey.
Shit doesn’t blow every 20 seconds unfortunately. There’s probably like three or four “real” explosions occurring in the entire 90-minute movie.
The famous countdown sequence (by Vicki) is where you’d expect it to be. It’s however longer (three minutes instead of a few seconds) and is overall pointless (do you really expect MacGruber to die?).

In case you’re wondering what the rating will be like, it’s definitely a “Hard-R movie” as Bill Hader put it.
I was actually very surprised at how gory and crude the film was.
For the gore part, we have various head-shots, lots of blood and body parts everywhere. And the opening scene features young soldiers getting mercilessly killed one by one. Not really a funny opener.

As for the crude stuff, you can count on tiny penises and a hairy ass…with a carrot inside it.
Sorry for the image now stuck in your head.
In any case, the crude jokes seem to only be here to add a sense of ridiculousness to the whole movie, but what might have worked for, say, an Apatow production, isn’t necessarily something an SNL movie should base its jokes on. I’m not going to spoil anything but how the movie ends epitomizes this utterly pointless humor. I doubt even South Park would resort to such puerile jokes, and that’s saying something.
The drastic change of tone is even more evident once you look at the original MacGruber skits. They’re not as dark or as stupid (or at least not full of “below the belt” crude jokes).
And this leads me to the main character, obviously Grubes. Turns out, he’s a massive douche, and I don’t mean the good “it’s funny when he’s being an asshole” kind. I’m here talking about the bad “shut up you stupid, stupid man” kind. Saying he’s an egomaniac doesn’t cut it. For half the movie he’s basically insulting people. It’s so bad that you end up almost hating the guy and rooting against him. I was this close to virtually bitch-slapping him. Given that he’s supposed to be our hero, that’s a problem to say the least. Sure, he’s supposed to be this idiotic person that is ready to sacrifice himself for the good of his country, but he turns out to be the complete opposite of that. At one point, he even uses a “good guy” as a human shield! Way to prove your valiantness MacGruber.

But my biggest problem with this movie is probably the fact that it mainly relies on clichés for its jokes.
First, there’s an over-use of “stock footage.” This might be funny for a few explosions here and there (again, check out the old Grubes skits), but when all your expositions shots are only stock, the joke cancels itself out.
The same can be said about all the other clichés used throughout.
Stereotypical scenes and plotlines abound for an hour and a half. You’re obviously not surprised by anything, because you’ve seen it all before a thousand times. If the joke is supposed to be that I’m able to predict a mile away what’s going to happen, then I’m not laughing.
Five pages in, you already have your military general convincing a retired hero “to go back in the game”. Said hero (Grubes) has retired to, wait for it, a monastery in the middle of nowhere (or rather Rio Bamba, Ecuador). If that’s not enough for you, MacGruber is also surrounded by kids speaking in Spanish (though surprisingly not playing soccer/football). I almost forgot to mention those nightmares/memories he’s having about the villain killing his fiancée the day of their wedding (and the various “Noooooooo!” and “Aaaaaaaaah!” that ensue).
Again, a cliché in itself isn’t a joke, it’s just a cliché.

Despite all those numerous flaws, there are a few good scenes here and there. For obvious reasons, I’m not going to enumerate what they are but there’s at least one in a night club that made me smile. There are as well, sometimes, hints of good jokes in the dialogue amongst the ludicrous one-liners. Unfortunately, those moments lead back to the non-engaging storyline.

Overall, despite the lack of any decent plot, I’m confident the cast will pull it off. Forte for one (who shaved his head for the wig) will undoubtedly nail the dialogue and the character. The rest of the cast is also comprised of great actors (what the hell is Powers Boothe doing here?).
That said, I still can’t get past the fact that some of the jokes/scenes are just too absurd.
MacGruber wrapped shooting yesterday (on the 12th) and is scheduled to come out on April 16, 2010.

Unknown White Male (Script) – Review

Here comes another script review for you guys this week with Unknown White Male.
This thriller will star Liam Neeson. It’s supposed to be his next project once he completes The A-Team and Clash of the Titans.

The script was written by Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell (the guys behind Guy Ritchie’s next movie, The Gamekeeper), with some revisions by Dead Like Me‘s Karl Gajdusek. The story is based on Didier Van Cauwelaert’s French novel Hors de moi (published under the title Out of My Head in the US). Unlike in the book, the movie isn’t set in Paris but in Berlin (money, money, money).

What’s it about? Well, it centers on Dr. Martin Harris, a botanist who arrives in Berlin with his wife Liz for a conference (he has been invited to speak at the “World Biotechnology Forum”). After forgetting something at the airport, he takes a taxi back to get it. His plans are cut short however when the car crashes into a river. His life is saved by the mysterious taxi driver, Gina. Martin wakes up in a hospital; three days have passed while he was in a coma. He discovers that another man (Martin B) has taken his identity and has replaced him in every way. Even Liz, the wife, doesn’t seem to recognize her husband.
Lost in a foreign country with no papers, a small amount of cash, and no way back, the “real” Martin tries to uncover the truth behind the most extreme case of identity theft ever. He also seem to have some killers going after him for some reason.
Has our hero gone completely off the rails (is he who he thinks he is), or is there really a giant conspiracy trying to replace him?

At first glance this looks like an interesting thriller with some paranoiac elements echoing The Game. We’re also quickly thrown into the action with the crash already happening around page five.
That said, this is no Taken. In Unknown White Male, I wouldn’t say Neeson kicks lots of asses, as we’re talking more of a deadly cat-and-mouse game throughout Berlin (involving at one point a train colliding with a Land Rover, “pushing the mangled wreck along the tracks into a tunnel [in] a tail of sparks”). The motto here is more “run and hide from the bad guys” than “go hunt them”.
It takes also a lot of time to get decent answers to some of the stuff going on. For the most part it feels like a long chase with no end in sight.
In a way, it looked like a cross between UPN’s 1995 Bruce Greenwood series, Nowhere Man (virtually the same basic premise), and especially a “reverse” Jason Bourne (mainly the first one). It’s kind of a giant mash-up between those two stories only set in Berlin.
Martin even has his own foreign female side-kick that later becomes a love interest and helps him uncover the truth. Whereas in Jason Bourne it was Franka Potente’s Marie, here it’s the character of Gina. Not much originality unfortunately.

And this brings me to two of the main points I want to make about the film.
First, about half-way through the story, the movie shifts tone into a more spy-based thriller. The “real” Martin seems to be hunted by a unit (named Section 15) described by one of the characters as:

Freelance, deniable. They’d work for whoever would pay – public sector, private sector. Second-to-none in their planning and efficiency. They never failed. What’s more, they were invisible. They’d strike, and nobody would even know there had been foul play.

To be clear, we’re talking about an elite assassin squad known for its secrecy. Yet, in the film, we’re witnesses to dozens of murders, crashes, and explosions. So what gives? I mean that’s what I’d call a hell of a mess to clean.
Also, there is this whole deal about the Biotech conference that is never really explained. Even though it is hinted around the end that one of the character’s research was around the “development of a new strain of corn to be made available worldwide without patent or copyright costs,” it still does not justify some of the actions made by a few of the main characters (going back to that “mess” thing).
Now, the second comment concerns a major twist that occurs about two-third into the movie.
I won’t say what it is exactly because it’s pretty major in the storyline, but like The Game’s final twist, this is a revelation that makes you reevaluate the whole shebang. The surprise is so big that it might be hard to swallow for some.
It even stretches this “reverse” Jason Bourne comparison to the max as you’ll see (when the film comes out, you cheat). And if you really, really, want to know the twist, go read the book’s last pages.

Overall, this was a decent read, but the finished product might look like a poor man’s Jason Bourne.
Shooting for Unknown White Male is slated to start around January in Berlin. As said above, Liam Neeson is set to star as the “real” Martin Harris. No clue as of now on who will play Martin B, Liz, or Gina. Joel Silver’s Dark Castle is producing the pic with a release date around 2011.