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Film Review: Superbad

Superbad is admirable, if only for its dual aims of creating the best teen sex comedy ever, and telling an honest story about coming of age, but it is not perfect.

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I never thought I would see the day that 1980s-style teen sex comedies would return to theatres. Movies like Porky’s and Bachelor Party, or even Meatballs(you’ve come a long way, Bill Murray) exemplified Reagan-era excess, the sort of self-centered pleasure seeking that spawned yuppies, coke binges, and the economic recession. Not only were the characters in those movies hell-bent on having a mindless good time, but also the audiences. They were comedies for the monkey in all of us, that feces flinging fornicating inner primate. As the me-decade passed away, so did the me-comedies. Indulgent teen comedies today primarily take the form of the post-modern pastiche, such as the Scary Movie franchise or any of its bastard offspring, referencing so many other movies that they play like a sit-com “clips episode.”

It takes someone like Seth Rogen to bring back the 1980s teen sex comedy. Apatow’s recent films have proven him the fastest pop-culture slinger east of the Mississippi, and funny to boot. Putting that knowledge to use in Superbad, his first self-penned film (along with childhood friend and co-writer Evan Goldberg), Rogen pays tribute to the teen sex romp not through eyebrow arching, wink-wink references, but by building his own from scratch. If you were to take the standard formula that yielded, say, Weird Science, season liberally with Generation X pop-culture, add a dash of Scorsese’s After Hourstransplanted to suburbia, and garnish with Michael Cera you would have Superbad. It is an all-inclusive inventory of one of American cinema’s strangest genres: alcohol? Check. Sex? Check. Dick jokes? Check. Belligerent homeless man? Check (trust me, it’s a common paradigm). And don’t forget all of that madcap tomfoolery! The only thing missing is a stripper or a mud-wrestling match. Though there is a painfully awkward scene involving menstruation.

Normally this type of comedy only succeeds if you are already a fan. A perhaps not-so-shocking admission is that I am not, yet I still enjoyed Superbad. I’ve never liked 1980’s sex comedies. I didn’t even like American Pie. But Superbad is different. One difference is in the atmosphere of the films. In Porky’s, the excess and animalistic indulgence seems like a product of debauched nihilism. In Superbad it is the product of teenage stupidity and experimentation, which takes some of the shaming sting out of it. Another major difference is in the heart. Rogen seems to have learned a bit from working with Apatow, because hidden beneath the motley, hormonally charged exterior of Superbad is a real and in many ways sentimental story, and it works as a film both on its surface (jokes) and at its core (story)—a tack that Apotow has worked magic with twice already.

The MacGuffins that drive Superbad are oh so familiar: get alcohol, get laid. But it is really about friendship and growing up. The focal point of the movie is the relationship between Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera). As their names indicate, they are in fact based on Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Their friendship has reached that awkward point when one has matured, and the other has yet to catch up. Seth exemplifies adolescent obsessions, talking constantly about porn, sex, and … well, that’s mostly what he talks about. In the meantime, Evan has rapidly become a sensitive, caring young man, quietly rebuffing Seth’s sexist comments or consoling their nerdy friend Fogell.

Evan may sound more mature (and in many ways he is) but both have something to learn. Seth, of course, needs a reality check in regards to sex, but Evan has yet to learn the value and meaning of his friendship with Seth. All of this caring and learning is carefully secreted behind a veil of populist humor (quickly becoming a trademark trick of Rogen’s colleague Apatow). An example is when Fogle (or, by this point, McLovin) is drunkenly making out and he offers the complement, “well… I have a boner.” Some will laugh because they remember being so awkward and naïve about sex and their own bodies. Others will laugh because he said “boner.”

This illustrates how Rogen and Goldberg’s writing is just as adept at hitting you in the heart as kicking you in the groin, thanks in no small part to some very talented young actors, perhaps the most capable of all being Michael Cera. By now best known for his role as George-Michael Bluth on the ill-fated Arrested Development, Cera has already proven his comic chops further via his web-sitcom Clark and Michael. He’s in top form in Superbad, possessing a sort of graceless intelligence that comes in stutters and one-liners muttered between innocent grins. He provides the right mixture of naïveté, awkwardness, and subtle wit for the subject matter at hand.

In the end, Superbad is admirable, if only for its dual aims of creating the best teen sex comedy ever, and telling an honest story about coming of age, but it is not perfect. The movie is less polished than Knocked Up, or even The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and it is dangerously overloaded with lowbrow jokes and non sequitur profanity that goes for the crotch level laughs (sure, this is about teenagers, but I’ve never known a kid who used the word “vagina” and permutations thereof so many times in a single day.) But while this element of Superbad gives the distinct impression of hedged bets, its heart is in the right place and somewhere beneath all of the pituitary excretions there is a rough but promising sense of compassion and sense of humor.

SUPERBAD
Directed by: Greg Mottola
Cast: Michael Cena, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen
Distributed by: Sony Pictures

Film Reviews

Film Review: It Chapter Two

The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans

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The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.

It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.

The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material). 

It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.

The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.

As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.

Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.

It Chapter Two is in cinemas now

IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw

If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion

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Hobbs and Shaw

It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.

When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.

Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.

Vanessa Kirby
Vanessa Kirby is one of the highlights of Hobbs & Shaw

Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.

The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.

In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.

HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes

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