Paul - 27th March 2011

This was a film I was really excited about until I heard the two leads and writers of the film, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost being interviewed on the press tour about it.
Lots of talk of compromise with the studio and mentions of going mainstream didn't sit right with me and not because I am a stubborn Hollywood studio basher but because this is Simon Pegg and Nick Frost writing and starring in a film about two Sci-Fi loving Brits, road tripping in America, who happen to pick up a real life Alien in New Mexico, because this is a film with a cast list that reads like a comedy nerd and a film geek's ultimate wish list (throw Bruce Campbell in there and you'd be completely set) and because these are the guys who made Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz on their terms and were hugely successful with that, if they don't know exactly how to do this movie right then nobody does.

The idea that this film was in anyway tampered with so that some family of Reality TV fans from Butt-crack Idaho (no offense Idahoans, just picked a state at random!) would more understand the jokes or be less offended by the science vs. religion debate that re-occurs in the film makes me sick up a little in my mouth with pure fury because it means there is a good version of Paul out there, possibly, and instead what we got was this watered down, fairly amiable but predictable comedy that could've starred Eric Stoltz, Lou Diamond Phillips and a box on a stick for all that it mattered.

They made two statements as to the reasoning behind working within the studio system and one was they needed the money to realise Paul as a fully CG character, which is completely understandable and two was because they wanted to see if they could write and star in a mainstream Hollywood comedy.
Now this second part isn't understandable at all because firstly you'd write something a little more crowd pleasing than this, somewhat niche, idea and secondly, when you already have legions of loyal dedicated fans who love your work and will happily lap up any similarly interesting and inventive stories, why would you want to throw some of that away to get a passing glance from a regular schmo just trying to find something not very challenging to do on a Friday night in Sweaty Crevice, Nebraska? and yet it is apparently the goal of lots of other independent minded geek heros such as Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and even the director of Paul it seems, Greg Mottola. They all, seemingly, want to be Steven Spielberg, who, to my mind, while he has done plenty that I have liked, is one of the least exciting, creatively intelligent or challenging directors ever to work in film.
Simon Pegg too, especially, is attempting to be a cross between Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise rather than be content being himself and while I am in no place to judge and cannot possibly imagine the tempting offers these people get to helm great big movies or star in blockbusters, I just think it's a crushing shame we seem to get a shorter and shorter period of these unique voices doing what they are good at before they are swallowed whole and become just another mass-produced, supposedly crowd-pleasing sound bite.

I don't want to see Pegg in Star Trek 12 or Mission Impossible 4, neither do I want him attempting to forge a successful rom-com career in a series of bland, irrelevant farces and while I accept you can't make Spaced forever, just like that series ended too soon, so has the partnership between the three geniuses behind Shawn and Fuzz. The carrot they dangle in front of fans of a third film together is akin to the Evil Dead 4 rumour that Raimi won't shut up about. If any one of these, now successful, people actually wanted to make these films, they would. They would pursue them with passion and verve instead of, in the case of Raimi, scrabbling around to find a star for a Wizard of Oz prequel nobody wants! Christ on a 3 speed street cleaner it gets me so annoyed I could tear my own teeth out bare handed.

It is possible this is why I gravitate towards the works of Bruce Campbell, Kevin Smith, Terry Gilliam or Tom Waits because while each of them has certainly had brushes with big fame, their time in the spotlight, the opportunity to maybe follow that A-List path if they changed a little and compromised or in the case of Gilliam, Smith and even Campbell noticeable big failures with studio films, they have each forged careers that rely on their abilities, who they are, what their voice is and sticking true to what people love about them without, seemingly and in an overly vulgar way just chasing the almighty dollar.

Anyway, back to Paul and while it may seem like I have strayed from the point somewhat, it actually all factors in to why, for me certainly, Paul was a bit of a failure and a decidedly missed opportunity. Maybe my expectations were too high or maybe I misunderstood it all but it just wasn't engaging enough.

The main problems with Paul is that it's not very funny, there is no character development and the title stinks. Now this may very well be down to studio medalling, a bad editor or a freak occurrence in the space time continuum or it could also be down to the fact that they just didn't write a very good script but whatever the reason, it was a decidedly chuckle free affair with only a few scenes, most notably any time Jo Lo Truglio and Bill Hader are on the screen, worthy of a murmur of hilarity.
In the case of the two leads, Pegg and Frost, this duo, that usually have an enormous amount of screen chemistry because of their close friendship in real life and who are usually hilarious working together, were pretty shockingly boring if I am honest. Simon Pegg had stated that while it is true to say that Frost usually does the comedy and Pegg handles more serious lead man acting, in Paul the roles were reversed whereas actually what happened is neither appears to be the funny one. They don't have carefully defined characters, or much characters at all to be honest, Pegg still handles the bulk of the dialogue and has the romantic lead and the funniest thing Frost does all film is fall over and you saw that in the trailer.

It is just so knee crunchingly annoying that Edgar Wright made Scott bloody Pilgrim and didn't decide to come on board for this because I think after he had a more carefully structured go at the script and with a bit of his visual flair there was enough potential and story here to make a great fan favourite and not the inbetween, not quite one thing nor the other, flip-flopping mess it ended up being.

I am not a jumper on band wagons and I certainly like, watch and own some of the films he has been in but what is it about Seth Rogen that I am missing? He's not particularly a good actor, he has an annoying voice and is neither particularly witty nor gifted as a physical comedian and yet for the last few years he has been everywhere like a particularly pungent gassy emission. His best role was in Superbad as the crazy policeman and he was a little more expressive in the underrated Zack & Miri but I do not think his voice performance here fit the bill, maybe his voice is too recognisable or maybe he wasn't given a lot to work with but a lot of his supposed jokes fall flat and after a while the voice does just begin to grate. The CG creation of Paul though is spot on and he does seamlessly blend into the film without any of the problems that plague a Jar Jar Binks for example and considering his distain for the character in Spaced, it could be considered brave that Pegg would write a totally CG character like Paul.

Also one more bit on the acting and that is, inexplicably filling the film with famous funny people doesn't automatically mean you get a funny film, geek points or hard laughter of recognition and I don't know what's going on but why can't anyone give Kristen Wiig a decent role in a film? she is such a funny comedienne and seems capable of so much but every film she is in, except maybe Adventureland, she has absolutely nothing amusing to do. The running gag in Paul that she discovers swearing has a couple of moments but it would be nice to see that Pegg and Frost could come up with something funnier than finding different ways to say testicles and tiny bladder jokes.

The direction is pedestrian and average at best, which is also annoying as I like Mottola's other films but with Paul I guess he is fine with some of the more normal scenes but anything that required action or a little bit of speed and it was pretty woefully inept unfortunately.

Sci-Fi geek comedy has been done better and funnier both in Free Enterprise and Fanboys, which was also a road trip movie like Paul, and I think the reason for this was those two movies had very set characters that you cared about and didn't shy away from totally immersing themselves in the references and, of course, therefor are cult favourites with a fan base rather than opening across the country in multiplexes everywhere to a distinctly muted reaction and fairly poor box office. Why would a studio, presumably, say "we want to be in the Pegg & Frost business" and then try and tell Pegg & Frost what they can and can't do, it seems illogical to the extreme and absolutely mind boggling. In the press tour interviews I have seen the pair seem less happy and jokey than in the past, I wonder if this has to do with the film they had their arm twisted to produce.

I am so sorry to be so harsh on what is a fairly harmless road movie with a CGI alien, a half-arsed but appreciated attempt to bring up the 'aliens defy the idea of a single deity/religion' debate in something mainstream and some mildly amusing cursing but, for me it had all the ideas and possibility to be a great, great movie without ever actually, really delivering or committing to any of it.
I love the cast, love the plot, love the setting, love the references and I am an atheist, surely this film should've been 10 out of 10 but unfortunately, if it's fun and laughter you're after then I suggest you bypass the movie altogether and go straight to the behind the scenes vlogs they shot using Flipcams, which certainly prove the old adage that a film that is fun to make is hard to watch.

5 out of 10 re-animated dead bird sandwiches
Points from the Wife 6 out of 10

Icebreaker - 6th April 2011

Jane Eyre - 26th March 2011