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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Jason Segel

Box office: Do Jason Segel and Jason Statham need new acts?

April 30, 2012 |  7:00 am

Jason Segel's "The Five-Year Engagement" and Jason Statham's "Safe," each released to theaters this weekend, earned disappointing dollars at the box officeThere may be no second acts in American life. Fortunately, Jason Statham and Jason Segel work in the movie business, which is somewhere very far away from mainstream American life.

Just a few years ago, the two Jasons were unquestionably on the rise, albeit in very different genres. Segel could do no wrong as the nice guy in sweet-but-raunchy comedies. Hits such as "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "I Love You, Man" began to flow, and a niche sitcom, "How I Met Your Mother," began to establish itself.

Statham was on his own upward trajectory. After emerging in Guy Ritchie films more than a decade ago, the tough-talking Brit solidified his status as an action hero with a dependable franchise in "Transporter."  He then had a tidy late-summer performer in "Death Race" and was a key younger element in the blockbuster "The Expendables."

REVIEW: 'The Five-Year Engagement'

Then things began to change for both men. Segel staked a great deal of his reputation on his revival of "The Muppets," which was a modest and not entirely memorable performer last year. The streak turned colder this spring in the lower-budget "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," which flopped by all but the most indie of standards (though, to be fair, the movie inexplicably got only a small release in the first place). "How I Met Your Mother" has begun to show its age. And then this weekend, "The Five-Year Engagement" gave Segel the lowest numbers for a wide opening since he became a star.

Statham also has hit a wall, and finally it was one he couldn't punch through. After a 2008-2010 period in which the actor had a prolific four movies that grossed at least $30 million (on modest budgets), Statham's next two pictures, "The Mechanic" and "Killer Elite," each fell short of that mark. Then this weekend he too had one of his lowest openings as a star, with the measly $7.7-million take of "Safe.”

On one level, the story of the two Jasons is an age-old tale -- the actor who went to the well once too often. Studio executives like to say that actors should stay on brand. But the truth is that many performers can only play the same character so many times before audiences start to feel like they've seen it before, and turn away.

The Jasons also may be falling prey to something more specific. Fans didn't just flock to these actors' movies because they liked them; they flocked to these actors because they weren't seeing too many other people do what they were doing.

Prior to Segel and a few of his ilk, we hadn't seen the nice guy toss out ribald barbs. Statham also was a novelty, at least in this age -- a genuine action hero, a man who could punch and kick his way out of a problem with his God-given hands instead of relying on superhero powers (or just brooding darkly about those problems). These were actors, in other words, who staked their appeal on their freshness. And freshness kind of has an expiration date.

The way around this, of course, is to do something totally different and show film fans that you're still capable of surprise. Five years ago that meant a part in a smaller, more prestige-y movie. But there are fewer of those roles than there used to be, and in any event, they're increasingly taken by the likes of Brad Pitt and George Clooney, who have shown an insatiable appetite for them.

Still, some commercial actors are able to make the transition. Check out Jonah Hill, Segel's "Knocked Up" costar, who has cleverly managed to find new avenues for his brand of goofy comedy, in more dramatic vehicles such as "Moneyball" and more action-y pictures like "21 Jump Street."

Both Statham and Segel have several of those new paths open to them. But they’re going to need to start venturing down one or two, or risk becoming tired old acts.


"Five-Year Engagement" a missed opportunity

Jason Statham looks to punch above his weight

"Think Like a Man" is the surprise box-office winner

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Jason Segel and Emily Blunt in "The Five-Year Engagement." Credit: Universal Pictures

Chat live with 'Five-Year Engagement' director Nicholas Stoller

April 27, 2012 | 12:37 pm

Nicholas Stoller and Jason SegelThis post has been updated. Please see the note at bottom.

Writer-director Nicholas Stoller will be joining The Times' Amy Kaufman at 2:30 p.m. Pacific today to talk about his latest collaboration with star Jason Segel, "The Five-Year Engagement." Stoller will also be answering reader questions about anything from "Five-Year Engagement" or any of his other collaborations with Segel.

Stoller and Segel met on the set of the short-lived Judd Apatow series "Undeclared" in 2001. Since then, they have collaborated on "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "The Muppets" and "Engagement," all of which have also starred Segel.

Stoller also wrote the script for Segel's 2010 movie "Gulliver's Travels," which was a big international hit.

And for those who are curious, Segel does drop his pants again as he did famously in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," but don't expect full-frontal nudity again. Though Segel was ready and willing to bear all once again in the name of comedy, Stoller decided there was just no room in this movie for Segel in total.

The film, which also stars Emily Blunt, Alison Brie and Chris Pratt, opens in theaters today and is expected to top the box-office charts.

[Updated, 2 p.m. April 27: Stoller is delayed by traffic. We expect the chat to begin at 2:30 p.m.]


Review: 'The Five-Year Engagement'

Tribeca 2012: Jason Segel’s ‘Five-Year Engagement’ seeks a ring

Movie Projector: 'Five-Year Engagement' expected to reach altar first

-- Patrick Day

Photo: Nicholas Stoller, left, and Jason Segel on the set of "The Five-Year Engagement." Credit: Glen Wilson / Universal Studios.

Tribeca 2012: Jason Segel’s ‘Five-Year Engagement’ seeks a ring

April 19, 2012 |  6:08 pm


Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller conjured up a little box office magic -- or at least some midbudget box-office respectability -- with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek.” Can they make it a three-peat with “The Five-Year Engagement,” which opens April 27?

The pair took the first step toward that goal when they world-premiered their new comedy as part of the opening-night ceremonies at the Tribeca Film Festival on Wednesday.

As they did with “Sarah Marshall,” Stoller and Segel (the latter stars, the former directs, they both wrote) again tackle relationship problems from a slightly more adult perspective than do most R-rated comedies, though this time with less frontal nudity.

Tom (Segel) is a chef; Violet (Emily Blunt) is a psychology grad student. They seem to be in love, but life circumstances force them to postpone the wedding. As they move from San Francisco to Ann Arbor, Mich., so she can pursue her degree, they begin to grow apart. As with most movies produced or godfathered by Judd Apatow, jokes about Chewbacca's anatomy sit alongside more honest discussions of relationships.

The issues of 30-ish couples were on the minds of the filmmakers, even if you couldn’t always tell from their comments Wednesday. “Marriage is a three-ring circus: engagement ring, wedding ring, suffering,” Stoller said before the premiere, doing his best Henny Youngman.

Many of the hallmarks of “Sarah Marshall” pop up here too: the girl who almost gets away, the bad-idea relationship soon made abundantly clear.  Goofy sidekicks and Elmo-impersonating women are also present, so it’s not as if this is Bergman or Truffaut. Still, the movie can have the real problems of real adults on its mind, particularly in an intense bedroom argument that many afterward agreed was the film’s linchpin.

Of course, that also raises the specter of the box-office tweener -- that is, not enough of a drama  to get the “(500) Days of Summer” crowd but also not enough of a romp to lure the young male Apatowians?

Tribeca has been a launching pad for comedies before, particularly when it comes to Universal, where the production company run by festival co-founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal have their deal. The last Universal comedy to open Tribeca, the Tina Fey pregnancy pic “Baby Mama,” was in 2008. There’s a kind of commercial reliability to all these films; "Baby Mama" and the two Stoller movies each took in about the same amount, roughly $60 million.

Possibly bolstering expectations here is that Segel’s profile is higher than ever.The film also features Blunt, the rare BAFTA   nominee to appear in a film from the Apatow clan.

The post-screening party, a wedding-themed affair at the twee Museum of Modern Art, was a who’s who of film types -- in addition to De Niro, occupying a center table and holding court, it featured Michelle Williams palling around with some girlfriends and filmmakers such as Jim Sheridan. Measured by star power, the party was a decisive hit. We'll see if that's true of the film.


Why was Jason Segel’s full frontal scene cut from 'The Five-Year Engagement'?

What makes Jason Segel tick?

Jason Segel's 'Engagement' will open Tribeca Film Festival

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Emily Blunt, Jason Segel and Bill Hader at the Tribeca Film Festival. Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Why was Jason Segel's full-frontal scene cut from 'Five-Year Engagement'?

April 10, 2012 |  3:29 pm

Jason Segel went full frontal in Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Bad news for those of you who were hoping to catch another glimpse of Jason Segel's nether regions in "The Five-Year Engagement": A scene featuring a full-frontal view of the actor has been cut from the film.

Earlier this year, rumors began circulating that the 32-year-old would drop trou in his latest romantic comedy, out April 27. Segel infamously revealed his genitalia in 2008's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," and in recent years other men have followed his lead, including Michael Fassbender in "Shame" and Jason Biggs in "American Reunion."

Segel did indeed shoot a scene sans underwear for "Five-Year," which he co-wrote with Nicholas Stoller (Stoller also directs). The film, which co-stars Emily Blunt, is about a couple who keep sidelining their wedding. In the planned bit, Segel’s character abruptly leaves a sexual encounter, running outside onto snow-covered streets without his pants. The new cut will show only his backside.

“In ‘Sarah Marshall,’ the full-frontal is not completely gratuitous -- it’s kind of a metaphor for his vulnerability,” said Stoller, noting that Segel’s nudity in "Marshall" occurred during an emotional break-up. “When I looked at the scene in the new movie, it did seem gratuitous. I was like, ‘This doesn’t work.’”

Segel was fine with the cut, Stoller added. “He was like, ‘Hey, man, you’re the director,’” the filmmaker recalled.

Weeks ahead of its opening, pre-release audience polling indicates “Five-Year” could be headed for a strong opening.

“That’s a new experience for me, because my last films always had soft tracking," said Stoller, who also directed "Marshall" and "Get Him to the Greek." “This is the first movie I’ve made that the title is the movie -- people know what they’re going to get.”


What makes Jason Segel tick?

'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' lets it all hang out

Jason Segel's 'Engagement' will open Tribeca Film Festival

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Emily Blunt stars with Jason Segel in "The Five-Year Engagement." Credit: Universal Pictures

Jason Segel's 'Engagement' will open Tribeca Film Festival

February 29, 2012 |  6:25 am

Jason Segel at the Oscars.

The Tribeca Film Festival is going to the comedy well this year, announcing that the Jason Segel marital pic “The Five-Year Engagement” will kick off its annual gathering April 18.

“Engagement” follows a couple (played by Segel and Emily Blunt) who seem to have it all figured out but soon find plenty of bumps on the road between their engagement and their wedding. The movie marks a reunion for Segel and director Nicholas Stoller, who last collaborated on the 2008 hit “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” The pair co-wrote the new film, on which Judd Apatow served as a producer.

Stoller deadpanned in a statement that, “To be honest, this is all just a ploy to stand on top of a building with Robert De Niro and look out over New York City at dusk.” Stoller's movie opens commercially April 27.

The festival has moved in different directions with its opening-night slot, one year going serious with “United 93” and another year taking the animated route with “Shrek Forever After.” It last opened with a live-action comedy in 2009, when Woody Allen’s “Whatever Works’ kicked off the festival.

This year’s Tribeca Film Festival, the 11th annual affair, runs through April 29 in downtown Manhattan.


With 'Jeff,' Helms and Segel in a new light

Jason Segel says playing a lovable loser comes naturally

'Bridesmaids:' Judd Apatow wants a comedy Oscars category

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jason Segel at the Oscars. Credit: Joel Ryan/Associated Press

'The Muppets': The rules of writing for a pig and a frog [video]

December 19, 2011 |  6:00 am


Turns out writing a Muppet script is no easy task. Star Jason Segel and his "The Muppets" screenwriting partner Nicholas Stoller, who previously collaborated on "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Get Him to the Greek," spent four years writing a script that both honored the Jim Henson Muppet movies of the past and remained relevant today, they told an audience at the Envelope Screening Series.

That required learning the specific rules of each Muppet and simplifying a very complicated initial premise. Learn more about a rather complex writing process -- one that may have involved adult-size Muppet costumes -- in the video clip below.


'The Muppets' are sweet and subversive: Movie review

'Muppets' director promises plenty of "anarchic stupidity"

-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Walter the Muppet, Jason Segel and Amy Adams in "The Muppets." Credit: Scott Garfield/Disney Enterprises

'The Muppets': The 'perfect' music and Chris Cooper raps [video]

December 16, 2011 |  5:37 pm


"The Muppets" achieved this year what many thought was impossible: It lured in both parents looking to relive their childhood while also attracting children still interested in Kermit, despite his well-worn felt. We chatted with the filmmakers behind the movie, including star, co-writer and executive producer Jason Segel, co-writer Nicholas Stoller, director James Bobin ("Flight of the Conchords") and producer Todd Lieberman as part of The Envelope Screening Series.

In the video clip below, the four men chat about the film's music, and Bobin's stellar decision to lure in Bret McKenzie, one half of his "Flight of the Conchords" duo, who also happens to be a terrific musician, and the interesting conversations Segel had with Oscar-winning actor Chris Cooper about his out-of-character rap in the film.



'The Muppets' are sweet and subversive: Movie review

'Muppets' director promises plenty of "anarchic stupidity"

--Nicole Sperling

Photo: Jason Segel and Amy Adams join a slew of Muppets for an important meeting. Credit: Patrick Wymore/Disney Studios

Jason Segel says playing a lovable loser comes naturally

November 9, 2011 |  3:30 pm

The Duplass brothers, Ed Helms and Jason Segel at a screening of Jeff, Who Lives at Home
If there's one character actor Jason Segel seems to have mastered, it's that of the lovable loser. He began his career playing one on the television show "Freaks and Geeks" as a high school stoner with an unrequited crush. In "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," he played a dopey guy kicked to the curb by his more successful and attractive girlfriend. And in "I Love You, Man," his schlubby character spent his days playing guitar and picking up women at open houses.

In "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," the latest project from sibling filmmaker team Mark and Jay Duplass, Segel tackles the archetype again. This time he's Jeff, an idealistic 30-year-old who lives in his mother's basement, takes bong hits and finds meaningful signs in late-night infomercials.

After an AFI Fest screening of the film Tuesday night, Segel said -- perhaps not surprisingly -- that the role came naturally to him.

"The simplest way I can put it is I just did exactly what they wrote," he said, referring to the Duplass brothers' script. "There was no, like 'What is my process?' or discovering the character."

Though the part may not have been much of a challenge for Segel, the film proved to be more of a struggle for the filmmakers. The Duplass brothers rose to fame after making a string of ultra low-budget, documentary-style films, and first teamed up with a bigger studio on last year's "Cyrus," the Fox Searchlight film starring Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly. "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," which also stars Ed Helms, is set for release by Paramount Pictures in March.

Asked what the most difficult scene was to shoot in the film, Jay Duplass referenced a moment when Segel's and Helms' characters leap off a Louisiana bridge into a threatening body of water.

"That bridge scene was hardest than all of our movies put together prior to this movie," he said. "We shoot in this documentary style, where we let people go into a room and have real interactions and I try to catch it as a documentarian. But when you shoot a bridge scene that has to be storyboarded like that, you have to control it, and then you have to make it shaggy again. Mark describes it as thrift-store shopping. You have to work really freaking hard to make it look like it just fell off the rack and you bought it at J.Crew."

Even during the most-controlled moments of filming, both actors said they appreciated the "calm" vibe the brothers created on set, where both were encouraged to improvise.

"I'm called upon to improvise a lot in different movies and on 'The Office,' and it's a great joy, but it's usually about trying to find the funniest beat or the funniest joke," said Helms, who plays Jeff's brother in the picture. "What was really kind of eye-opening ... was to improvise the most mundane moments."


Mr. Nice Guy Ed Helms

Duplass brothers look to put a 'Pitchfork' in it

Toronto 2011: With 'Jeff,' Helms and Segel in a new light

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: AFI Fest programmer Lane Kneedler, left, Jay Duplass, Ed Helms, Jason Segel, Mark Duplass and Jason Reitman at a special screening of "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." Credit: AFI Fest

Toronto 2011: With 'Jeff,' Helms and Segel in a new light

September 15, 2011 |  8:59 am


Indie-film darlings Mark and Jay Duplass want moviegoers to know something about the stars of their new studio picture, "Jeff, Who Lives at Home."

"People expecting that they'll be seeing the Ed Helms of 'Hangover 2' or Jason Segel in a mainstream comedy aren't going to get that," Mark Duplass told 24 Frames. "Audiences will see these actors do things they've never done before."

Indeed, within the first five minutes of the dramatic comedy, Helms is shown running roughshod over his meek wife (Judy Greer)--a  reversal from the defanged neb the actor has played in many of his television and feature roles such as  "Cedar Rapids," "The Office" and the "Hangover" franchise.

Segel at first seems like he's in a more familiar Apatowian mode as a slacker stoner with his own sense of moral rightness. But his character, too, is soon given a more dramatic spin.

Six years ago, the Duplass Bros. burst on the low-budget indie scene with the crowd-pleasing road movie "The Puffy Chair." Last year they made a leap to the speciaized film world, teaming with Fox Searchlight on the Marisa Tomei-John C. Reilly relationship black comedy "Cyrus."

This film sees them taking the next step, making a movie with Paramount, producer Jason Reitman, Oscar winner Susan Sarandon and au courant stars Segel and Helms.

At a world premiere Wednesday night at the Toronto Film Festival, the duo took the wraps off "Jeff," at least a full four months before the movie hits theaters. (The studio has not dated the picture, but the Duplass' say it will probably come out in early 2012.)

Set in their home state of Louisiana, the movie begins as the titular Jeff (Segel), a 30-year-old layabout living in his mother's basement, receives what he thinks is a sign from the universe (this right after a funny opening monologue about the movie "Signs"). The cosmic indication -- or is it just stoner-perceived coincidence? -- prompts Jeff to start doing strange things, or at least stranger things, like running around the strip malls of Baton Rouge stealthily pursuing strangers and delivery trucks whom he believes are also sending him signs. Each new foray seems to lead him into a new pickle.

In the meantime, Jeff's mother (Sarandon) is getting messages of her own at work, from a secret admirer, while Jeff's toolish and dislikable brother Pat (a goateed Helms) begins running around the city following, by himself as well as with Jeff, Pat's wife, whom he believes is having an affair.

"It's a more densely plotted movie than we've ever done, and it's probably the most dramatic," said Mark Duplass, who also acts and stars in the festival breakout "Your Sister's Sister."

"But there are still squirm bombs," added Jay Duplass, referring to the brothers' penchant for milking comedy out of characters' uncomfortable situations.

The Duplass' had the idea for "Jeff" years ago, but the film, with its street chases and other more lavish shots, couldn't be made on the shoestring budgets they were working with early in their careers. So they waited until they had the standing to get it financed. (At the post-screening Q&A, Mark Duplass, who shares writing and directing credits with his brother on the film, thanked Paramount and others who've "let us make weird movies.")

Perhaps the most personal element of the film for the New Orleans natives is that it concerns two male thirtysomething brothers, which might prompt some filmgoers to see a parallel between art and life.

Asked about the connection, Mark Duplass said, "People always ask how we work so closely and creatively without destroying each other. And this is the opposite: These are two brothers who are estranged and don't know how to talk to each other but because of the events of one day need to learn how to try."

If you want to show that kind of complicated relationship, it helps to land two of the more respected comedy actors out there. When queried about how they pulled off a feat that would have been difficult to imagine earlier in their careers, the brothers put it in symbiotic terms. "We get movie stars," Mark Duplass said at the Q&A, "and they get to do something different."


Toronto 2011: 'Your Sister's Sister' finds a parent

Toronto 2011: Madonna says she has auteur dreams

Toronto 2011: Real drama behind Michelle Yeoh's 'The Lady'

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jason Segel and Ed Helms in "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." Credit: Paramount

'The Muppets' looks to find the rainbow connection [Trailer]

June 20, 2011 | 12:37 pm

It's been one meta teaser after another for "The Muppets" -- goofs on "Green Lantern," goofs on "The Hangover," goofs on its own idea of doing goofs.

On Monday morning Disney released the official, only slightly less postmodern trailer for the Thanksgiving release. Given the love for the original characters, a "Muppets" spot doesn't need to do that much -- indeed, given how much of the humor is situational it really can't do that much -- and it doesn't.

We get the basic premise of Jason Segel's puppeteer helping to reunite the gang, and Kermit in turn rallying the furry ones to perform in a live show. (The movie, and the trailer, keep with the meta vibe of the 1979 original, which featured a movie-within-the-movie.) We get Segel and Amy Adams playing the straight types to the puppets' madcap adventures (lots of Segel brow-furrowing).

And we get the choice shots of the muppets themselves: Kermit and Piggy sharing a tender moment; the requisite in-jokey pile-in-a-car scene, complete with scratchy AM radio version of "Mah Nà Mah Nà;" and close-ups of the supporting oddballs (Animal, the Swedish Chef, Statler and Waldorf). It's all more than enough to whet the appetite without really offering much that stands out.

One of the big questions that's lingered since Disney announced the reboot was whether any movie circa 2011 could find that clever balance between sly grown-up humor and kiddie entertainment that "The Muppet Movie" managed so effortlessly in 1979. One gets hints of that balance here, but not nearly enough to draw any definite conclusions. (Hey, it is just a trailer.)

One also gets the sense that, for all the characters' YouTube ubiquity these last few months, Disney wants to hold back a lot of the surprises (particularly the film's live-action cameos -- one of the pleasures of the original and something that Segel, co-writer Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin are reprising here). Given how many of us will welcome the mere sight of the Muppets in action, it may not matter.


Jason Segel on 'The Muppets': More music, less nudity

Sundance 2011: Elmo talks about his butt

2011 Movie Preview: 'The Muppets'

-- Steven Zeitchik




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