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Entries in dave franco (3)

Friday
May092014

Neighbors

Comedies, perhaps more than any other genre, are subjective. While all can agree that a drama about the loss of a child is inherently sad, not everyone will agree on what is funny. Our senses of humor have been shaped by our upbringing and the various life events we’ve experienced. Some may find humor in blacker than black comedies about death while others simply want their comedies to be lighthearted and goofy. However, there’s a subgenre that of comedy that can only be described as cruel comedy. This cruel humor is what fuels the new Seth Rogen and Zac Efron film, “Neighbors.” If you’re averse to comedy that stems from unlikable characters doing bad things to each other, as I am, this film won’t do much for you. Despite some legitimate laughs, the pervading savagery on display is enough to make “Neighbors” little more than a waste of time.

The story is simple. Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) move into a nice neighborhood with their infant child. They’ve poured nearly everything they have into their new house and are hoping that this will give them the opportunity to raise their kid in a peaceful, happy environment. Their hopes are dashed, however, when a fraternity moves in next door. Despite some initial kind words, a feud eventually breaks out between the couple and the frat, led by President Teddy Sanders (Efron), after a late night party that prevents them from getting a good night’s rest. Mac and Kelly’s only goal from there on out is to get them to leave, no matter what the cost.

The movie tries to set this story up with Teddy as the antagonist, the evil, unruly hellion turning Mac and Kelly’s lives into a waking nightmare, while Mac and Kelly are the heroes we’re supposed to root for. However, Mac and Kelly are no better than Teddy. They manipulate Teddy and his crew while they facilitate many acts of sabotage. Frankly, nobody in this movie handles themselves in a way befitting an actual person and their actions only prove to make things worse. It’s lucky they’re in a movie because in a real world context, they would all be thrown in jail.

Prior to their feud, Mac and Kelly join Teddy and his frat during a party. Their hope is that it will make them seem cool to the kids and, in return, they’ll respect them when they ask them to keep it down, but the night leads to debauchery. They leave their infant child alone in their house while they dance next door abusing any harmful substance they can get their hands on. These people, regardless of their initial intentions, aren’t fit to be parents and the only appropriate following scene would be for child services to show up and take their kid away.

Teddy is even worse and actually goes out of his way to cause harm to the others. At one point, he steals the airbags out of Mac and Kelly’s car and hides them around their house. This leads to some of the dumbest slapstick humor one can imagine, where a slight burst of air sends them flying all the way across the room like an explosion just went off. After Teddy falls prey to a couple of these hidden objects, he begins to search around, poking his furniture with a wooden pole to see if it contains an airbag. He hesitates before poking his child’s bed and lets out a thankful sigh when nothing happens, which is supposed to show that Teddy, as ruthless as he can be, would never sink so low. Unfortunately, that pesky thing called logic rears its ugly head when you consider that Teddy could have very easily been holding his child when he fell culprit to the other hidden airbags, potentially killing it. Teddy, in a very real sense, puts their lives in danger. This, along with so many more violent and abrasive shenanigans, makes the cheery ending seem forced and very, very unlikely.

I imagine many will wonder why this matters in a comedy—as long as you’re laughing, who cares—but there’s more to it than that. “Neighbors” does indeed have some legitimate laughs. Rogen is just as funny as ever, despite a considerable lack of help from Rose Byrne, who just doesn’t have the comedic chops to pull off rolls like this, and Efron plays his character well. The problem is that his character, along with Rogen’s, is cruel, leading to unlikable situations and making many of those potential laughs moot.

If what I’ve written sounds to you like a curmudgeon stupidly complaining about morality in a silly movie that shouldn’t be taken seriously, then you’ll likely enjoy “Neighbors,” and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it rubbed me the wrong way. I’d love to see a movie with these two paired up again, one that doesn’t rely on cruelty to garner laughs, but if one must go in that direction, there’s a fine line between a mean spirit and a silly one. Sadly, “Neighbors” leans a tad too far to the former.

Neighbors receives 1.5/5

Friday
Feb012013

Warm Bodies

It wouldn’t be unreasonable for a cynic to look at Warm Bodies and fear that it will ruin zombies the way the Twilight franchise ruined vampires. Like Twilight, it takes a creature that should be scary and feared and turns it into a lover, trapped in a teen-friendly romance that is sure to be endeared by young girls across the country. Luckily, Warm Bodies is nothing like Twilight. It’s funny, self-aware and all around charming. It occasionally devolves into cheese and hits a few narrative lulls that drag the overall product down, but this is a solid film that takes a concept that really shouldn’t work at all and makes it palatable to a wide reaching audience.

Eight years ago, something happened. What that something was is unclear, but it caused the dead to rise and hunger for human flesh. Now, the humans still left alive have retreated into a confined part of their city, protected by a humongous wall. Of course, resources within that space are finite, so teams must venture out occasionally to gather more necessities. One day, a group of young kids, including Julie, (Teresa Palmer), the daughter of the city’s leader, go out to do just that. Unexpectedly, they are ambushed by the dead. However, one of the zombies actually takes a liking to her, probably due to his prior consumption of her boyfriend’s brain, which causes him to gather his memories and feelings, and he ends up protecting her from the zombie horde. For some reason, when he’s around her, he feels different and actually becomes more humanlike. Nevertheless, he still speaks in grunts with only the occasional monosyllabic word and he can’t remember his name, so Julie starts calling him R (Nicholas Hoult).

The film begins in R’s head with an inner monologue. He’s dead and his brain doesn’t quite function properly, as one would expect from a zombie, but he’s aware of this (just one of many contradictions that deviates from zombie lore). He can’t feel physical pain anymore, but he feels loneliness and lost, sometimes literally given that he tends to wander around unfamiliar places. His desire to be alive, to feel and to love is something we all feel from time to time, especially when our lives become a monotonous loop we seemingly can’t get away from. Not many movies have a set-up and structure that enable them to explore such themes, or at least not in this way, which makes Warm Bodies a unique offering. He may be a zombie, but R is one of the most likable and, oddly enough, relatable characters to be on the screen in quite some time.

Its themes don’t stop and start there, however. Other themes include some we’ve already seen, like the idea of humans living like we’re dead (which was better explored in Shaun of the Dead), and some that are a little too obvious to really work, like desegregation and acceptance in a world of people that are different than you, but the fact that these themes are there at all just goes to show how thoughtful the movie is. It doesn’t desire to be the mopey tween romance it so easily could have become. It shoots much higher. Granted, its central message of “love is what makes us human” is inherently cheesy (and it singlehandedly killed 2008’s Hancock), but Warm Bodies handles it as delicately as a similarly themed movie possibly can. When the end rolls around, you won’t be wiping away tears, but you also won’t be rolling your eyes. In fact, you’re likely to find it kind of sweet.

Although a cliché saying at this point, Warm Bodies is greater than the sum of its parts. If each part was analyzed individually, it would be easy to point out their flaws (like those aforementioned memories that aren’t seen in first person as they should be, but rather in third person, the way they were shot), yet there’s a gentleness and warmness to the film, despite some blood splatter and organ eating, that can’t be overlooked. It poses no threat to the dominance of the more brutal zombies we know and love, instead creating its own little nook in zombie lore that reinvigorates the walking dead in a way few have done before. It’s not your typical romance, but it’s the movie to see this Valentine’s Day. Men and women alike will find something to cherish.

Warm Bodies receives 3.5/5

Friday
Mar162012

21 Jump Street

A great comedy is hard to come by. A great film adaptation, be it of a book, graphic novel, video game or television show, is even harder to find. To find one that is both an adaptation and flat out hilarious seems impossible, but this week’s 21 Jump Street reminds us that both are possible. It takes a largely forgotten show from the late 80s/early 90s and reinvigorates it with style. It deviates from the drama of the original show, spicing things up with over-the-top humor and action cliché spoofing. Much like Bridesmaids last year, it probably won’t make many definitive December awards lists, but it should go down as one of funniest genre exercises of the year.

Schmidt (Jonah Hill) used to be a nerd. He dressed like Eminem (complete with dyed bleach blonde hair), wore braces and had no chance of getting the pretty girl in high school. Jock and fellow schoolmate, Jenko (Channing Tatum) was the exact opposite. He was a popular, good looking sports star that was loved by the ladies. Flash forward a few years and they’re both trying to become cops in the Metropolitan City Police Department. Schmidt isn’t the athletic type and Jenko isn’t brainy, so the two join forces to help each other in their weaker departments. After graduating, they become best friends and are assigned to the Jump Street division, where they go undercover posing as high school kids to find whoever is supplying a new synthetic drug called HFS before it spreads to other areas.

This new film adaptation may not sound like a funny movie, but it most certainly is. Laughs come flying from every direction in 21 Jump Street, with only the occasional lull to bring it down. It’s a buddy cop comedy, action film, parody and self-parody all in one. It specifically makes jokes at the expense of its own existence, commenting on how Hollywood is recycling old ideas hoping no one notices. It embraces old action stereotypes only to mercilessly skewer them moments later, like a late movie bit regarding explosions. For all its zaniness, the writing is sharp, a pitch perfect parody of police procedurals, undercover investigations, and typical teenage behavior. The kids in this movie, for instance, are environmentally aware and study during their free time. The normal pyramid of popularity is flipped upside down, the athletes seen as conformists and the nerds as technical and scientific wizards, able to work together with Jenko as he employs them to tap suspected drug runner Eric’s (Dave Franco) phone.

21 Jump Street is good, smart, vulgar fun. It has more laughs per minute than any movie in recent memory (including Bridesmaids). Much of that is due to the pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, the latter of which has done so little in his career to impress, it would be easy to write him off here as a poor casting decision, but Tatum is spot on. His action movies may be bland and his parts as a romantic lead unconvincing, but his comedic timing is near perfect. Who knew? The only faults that come with his character are purely of the screenwriting variety, which forces him to develop a feeling of jealousy towards Schmidt for now becoming the popular one while he’s seen as the nerd, a status he’s certainly not used to. When he overhears Schmidt talking down about him, presumably for the purpose of the case, his feelings are hurt, a ridiculous and meaningless narrative progression. These dramatics don’t work and serve only to distract from what is otherwise a very funny movie.

A couple other problems drag 21 Jump Street down as well, including an awkward romance that blossoms between Schmidt and high school student, Molly (Brie Larson). Although it doesn’t go too far (at least not until the very end of the film), he’s a cop and she’s likely underage. It’s uncomfortable and unnecessary, but it’s a small oversight in an otherwise hilarious movie. Fans of the original show have every right to be skeptical of the film’s new comedic direction, but this is one of those few times where those skepticisms can be put to rest with relative ease. It’s not the most faithful adaptation in the world, but 21 Jump Street simply works.

21 Jump Street receives 4/5