Jonah Hill

Megamind (2010)

There’s so much to love about Megamind. The blue, bulb-headed villain-hero (Will Ferrell) begs for our affection from the start when he rockets to Earth after his planet and his parents are swallowed by a black hole. His pod lands in a penitentiary, and he is adopted by the prisoners who teach him right from wrong, or maybe that’s wrong from right. At school, his nemesis, Metro Man (Brad Pitt), wins over their classmates with spiffy popcorn tricks while he’s branded a freak and troublemaker. Failed by the system, rejected by society, the kid turns to the only kind of life that gives him validation – a life of super villainy!

Megamind is a bad guy by default, and he’s not very good at it to be honest. After he kills Metro Man quite by accident, he realizes that he doesn’t have what it takes to sow terror and destruction on Metro City (rhymes with ‘atrocity’ if we’re going by his pronunciation). He decides to restore balance by creating a new superhero, one who can give Megamind a sense of purpose again. And again, quite by accident, he creates the superhero Titan, or Tighten if you prefer, when a hapless news cameraman, Hal (Jonah Hill) happens to walk by his lair. But Megamind’s tendency for messing things up puts a wrinkle in his plans when Tighten decides that being bad is much more of a thrill than being good. Our villain finds himself in the unfamiliar position of playing hero in order to save Metro City.

It’s hard not to throw your sympathy behind Megamind. His large crystal green eyes are begging for approval. Ferrell zeroes in on his character’s insecurities. Megamind may talk a tough game, but deep down, all he wants is love and acceptance. As one of the few people who isn’t a great fan of Ferrell’s comedy, especially the physical side, I enjoyed this animated, less spastic version of the actor. The script is witty and filled with quirky sense of humor even if some of jokes may fly over the heads of younger kids. Also the animation is a thrill, whether or not you watch in 3D.

As sympathetic as I am to Megamind, however, I found the characterization of Hal/Tighten not just awful but actively harmful. That’s because he’s not an anonymous cameraman but the colleague of Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey), TV reporter and love interest of all three male leads. Hal has what seems to be an innocent crush on his very able and accomplished partner, but it becomes apparent that he is a misogynistic beast, a man-boy who feels entitled to a woman’s affections and who goes nuts when he doesn’t get them. His transformation only magnifies his destructive behavior, and some of the most offensive scenes play out like a Twitter pile on. Hal’s first move as Tighten is to woo Roxanne. Failing, he kidnaps her and nearly gets her killed just so that he can swoop in to save her. When she still rejects him, the guy explodes, bellowing, “I have powers, I have a cape, I’m the good guy!”

The movie’s messaging is confused, and ultimately the wrong one comes through. On the one hand, it mocks the notion that the superhero gets the girl simply by being the superhero. But at the same time, “the girl” is often at the center of the fighting between Megamind and Tighten, and she never controls her own narrative. Megamind has no problem using his relationship with Roxanne to bait his nemesis, never mind the fact that he gets close to her by shapeshifting into museum nerd, Bernard. At the end of the day, the trajectory of Hal’s character is this: I get the woman I want and deserve or else I will wreak havoc on society. We have enough of this corrosive thinking in real life. Why would I want to watch it in an animated movie?

Released: 2010
Prod: Lara Breay, Denise Nolan Cascino
Dir: Tom McGrath
Writer: Alan J. Schoolcraft, Brent Simons
Cast: Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross, Brad Pitt, J.K. Simmons, Ben Stiller
Time: 96 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

Get Him to the Greek (2010)

I’ve concluded that one’s enjoyment of a movie has a lot to do with expectations, and Get Him to the Greek is an example of this. At first glance it looks like a mindless Judd Apatow production, a portrait of arrested development on the pop-rock circuit. Netflix recommended I make a double feature out of it and pair it with 30 Minutes or Less, which I saw the day before and hated, or Accepted, which I had also seen and disliked less. But the movie turns out to be more, by degrees, than either of its cousins.

On the one hand, it is what the poster suggests, a film about a hedonistic rock star and his slightly clueless friend who indulge in all sorts of irresponsible behavior that writer-director Nicholas Stoller then twists into something more juvenile. It’s not just drug use; it’s a baggie of heroin up the bum that’s popped out like a pellet of baby powder. On the other hand, it also dips into more meditative territory, allowing its characters room for self-reflection. This surprised me, so much so that I found myself imaging a better indie version of the film, maybe something along the lines of meandering John Carney picture (Once, Begin Again, Sing Street).

For better or worse, it is not that. Apatow and his stars are firmly in the driver’s seat and steer it in the direction you’d expect. British radio host and comedian Russell Brand reprises his role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and plays Aldous Snow, a rock star at the top of his game when he releases a song called “African Child.” An ugly anthem of white liberal guilt and white savior complex, the song is a critical and commercial failure and sends Aldous into a downward spiral. He breaks up with his partner, Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), relapses into his various addictions, and stops making music.

Cue A&R man Aaron Green (Hill). He works at a record company headed by Sergio Roma (Sean Combs), who is as emotionally abusive as he is clueless about nurturing talent. Aaron hopes to earn points and Sergio’s good favor by proposing a tenth anniversary concert for Aldous at the Greek Theater, an event that will mark the singer’s iconic performance there and set the stage for his comeback. But first, Aaron must coax his reluctant star out of his London penthouse.

Once he does, the movie is a road trip of sorts, a plane trip really, and each leg is marked by escalating chaos that threatens to derail the concert. There’s a visit to the Today show that goes wildly offscript, as evidenced by Paul Krugman’s (yes, that Paul Krugman) bewildered look. A detour to Las Vegas similarly goes haywire. Aldous tries to make amends with his estranged father (Colm Meaney) while Aaron gets kite-high and inadvertently torches a fur-lined lounge. Those are the tamer moments though. The film also does its best to provoke with a threesome that ends in stereotypical homophobic anxiety. Also Aaron gets raped, and it’s a joke.

These are the reasons I’m not generally a fan of Apatow and company, and I suppose why others are. There’s a great film in here about a musician seeking redemption and a talent scout seeking his way. It’s not an original storyline, but these are two characters who, when stripped of the excess, reveal some depth. Brand is a revelation to me. I’d only known him to be a provocative radio and entertainment personality, someone who appeared on end-of-the-year quiz shows in Britain. He readily deploys that persona but also shows restraint and doesn’t play his character’s more touching moments with any cynicism. Some of my favorite scenes are when Aldous tries to reconcile with Jackie Q (Byrne clearly having a ball as a chavy pop star) and his son, proving that indeed, rockers are real people. Hill has similar moments; Aaron needs to figure out if he’s willing to sacrifice his dignity and his girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss) now that he has his dream job. It’s too bad then that the emotional arc of the story is propped up by an overabundance of frat house humor.

“Little Bird” by Infant Sorrow (Russell Brand):

“Ring Around the Rosie” by Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), just NSFW:

Released: 2010
Prod: Judd Apatow, Joshua Blake, David Bushell, Rodney Rothman, Nicholas Stoller
Dir: Nicholas Stoller
Writer: Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Elisabeth Moss, Rose Byrne, Sean Combs, Colm Meaney
Time: 109 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017

Accepted (2006)

Accepted passes with a low C, which is about the same average grade that the students in this film receive and the reason why they have trouble getting accepted into traditional four year colleges. Bartleby (Justin Long) is one of these seniors. His father has high hopes for him, and those begin with a degree from Harmon College. When he doesn’t make the cut, Bartleby has to trick his dad into thinking he’s still college-bound. He asks his best friend and incoming Harmon freshman, Sherman (Jonah Hill) to create a website for a fictional school to placate his father. A fake acceptance letter and webpage prove insufficient though, and Bartleby finds himself having to create and run an entire school to maintain the façade.

He has a support from a few other drifters. Football star Hands (Columbus Short) loses his athletic scholarship after an injury, brain Rory (Maria Thayer) is rejected by Yale, the only school she applied to, and spacey Glen (Adam Herschman) is just biding his time as a gas station attendant. All of them want something more than a seat in rejection limbo while they wait for another shot at college, so they help Bartleby spruce up an abandoned building that will serve as South Harmon Institute of Technology, or S.H.I.T. Things indeed go to shits when Sherman’s website accidentally sends acceptance letters to prospective students, resulting in a deluge of freshmen on the first day of fake class.

There’s not much room for things to escalate. Bartleby and friends must immediately find ways to cope with actual expectations, and sending students, or their checks, home is not an option. As he tries to keep order though, a funny thing happens and some semblance of class and learning begin to take shape. Unburdened by the academic rigors of an accredited school, the students explore their own interests and craft their versions of degrees and coursework. We see them become adept at woodwork, fashion and design, and skateboarding, which I’ll assume requires some knowledge of physics.

The movie’s energy comes largely from Bartleby averting one crises after another. If he’s not trying to fool his father, he’s trying to impress his high school crush (Blake Lively) or fend off a land grab from Harmon College’s dean. It’s unsophisticated tension that comes from wildly unbelievable yet still predictable scenarios. Everything that could go wrong at a fake college does, from holes in dorm room walls to wacky fill-in dean (Lewis Black) to unexpected parental visits. The humor is lifeless, run-of-the-mill stuff that doesn’t even land with a thud; it just lands, ignored.

But amidst the antics, Accepted does push an argument for education reform or at least expose some cracks in our tertiary school system. It’s not the most compelling defense for why we should reexamine higher education but at least it is one. Bartleby demonstrates intelligence, curiosity, and resourcefulness, qualities we try to cultivate in students and desire in graduates. There’s no reason why more students like him and those at S.H.I.T. shouldn’t have more opportunities that conform to their needs rather than the other way around. One of the few moments that gets an above average grade is when Bartleby realizes that his school didn’t attract a bunch of lazy misfits but a group of people left out because of their unconventional interests and motivations.

Released: 2006
Prod: Tom Shadyac, Michael Bostick
Dir: Steve Pink
Writer: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Mark Perez
Cast: Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Blake Lively, Columbus Short, Maria Thayer, Adam Herschman, Mark Derwin, Anthony Heald
Time: 92 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017