11 March 2011


From left, Simon Pegg, Kristen Wiig, Nick Frost and Paul the alien (voice of Seth Rogen) are shown in a scene from the film "Paul."
Watching their movies, especially the ones they make together, you get the sense that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost would be lined up to see them on opening night if they were not the stars.

"Paul," like "Shaun of the Dead" (2004) and "Hot Fuzz" (2007) before it, is filled lovingly with references to other films and pop culture—science fiction and general movie geekdom in this case. It gently pokes fun but never openly mocks its protagonists, sci-fi nuts Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost), playing like a love letter more than anything else.

Pegg and Frost wrote the screenplay together, and when the movie opens with Graeme and Clive attending that hub of geek activity, Comic-Con International in San Diego, you easily can imagine the two actors doing the very same thing.

04 March 2011


Spoons (voice of Alex Manugian), left, and Rango (voice of Johnny Depp) are shown in a scene from the animated feature "Rango."
"Rango" boasts sparkling computer animation rivaling the output of Pixar; its characters include talking lizards, toads, an armadillo, a turtle and various other rodents, bugs and desert animals; and international movie star Johnny Depp headlines its voice cast.

Now here's the thing Paramount Pictures doesn't want you to know: It's not a kids' movie.

Though the littlest ones might be scared by the intensity of the action (which includes a handful of character deaths), there probably is enough excitement and comedy to keep most children entertained. But "Rango" is a full-blown Western, one of the best of the past 20 years, and younger viewers won't recognize its references to other movies (which are wide-ranging enough to include the expected Westerns and other classics, such as "Apocalypse Now," "Chinatown" and "Star Wars") and its near-giddy celebration of genre conventions. They won't know what to make of its hero's existential pondering—"Who am I?" he asks himself several times.

Cedar Rapids

Anne Heche, left, and Ed Helms are shown in a scene from "Cedar Rapids."
"Cedar Rapids" is the rare movie that feels too short.

After a vastly entertaining 87 minutes, most of it in the title city at an annual convention of insurance salesmen, I wanted to spend more time with these characters—idealistic Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), who has never left his hometown of Brown City, Wis., and is positively giddy over his affair with his former junior high teacher (Sigourney Weaver); crude but surprisingly kind-hearted Dean "Deansy" Ziegler (John C. Reilly); friendly, supportive Ronald "Ronimal" Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.); and Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), who uses her weekend in Cedar Rapids as a yearly vacation from all aspects of her daily life.

Helms, known to fans of "The Office" and "The Hangover," takes on his first big-screen leading role with ease. He makes Tim so darn good-natured and likeable that you can't help but root for the guy.

All the characters begin as specific stereotypes, but in short order, Phil Johnston's script allows the actors to develop them into living, breathing people.