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Entries in rose byrne (4)

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
Jun032011

X-Men: First Class

This year is the year of superhero overload. The Green Hornet and Thor have already passed while Green Lantern and Captain America are still yet to come. In between those four films is this week’s X-Men: First Class and it’s likely to be the best superhero film you’ll see all year. I’d even go so far as to say it’s the best since The Dark Knight. While it is by no means up to that film’s caliber, it’s nevertheless an immensely entertaining summer thrill ride with terrific action, great performances and some surprisingly effective drama.

As the title suggests, the film follows the younger versions of the X-Men characters as they figure out who they are and what they stand for. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has just finished school and earned his doctorate, giving him the title of Professor. Before he’s able to celebrate, however, CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) enlists his help. Despite her best efforts, her agency won’t believe her when she says she saw mutants that are planning on starting a nuclear world war. Luckily, mutant genetics is Professor Xavier’s specialty. So he, along with his sister, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), and not-yet-an-enemy Erik (Michael Fassbender), begins to recruit mutants to help them put a stop to the evil opposition, led by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon).

If you, like me, are not familiar with X-Men mythology, you will be lost when this movie begins. This is one of those films that loves to jump from place to place, establishing characters in different locales that will have an impact later on in the story. It starts in 1944 Poland at a Nazi concentration camp before jetting to 1960’s New York, Switzerland, England, Nevada, Argentina, Florida, Virginia and even an undisclosed covert CIA research base. In its opening moments, X-Men: First Class shows signs of cinematic ADHD, never truly focusing on anything in particular. Throw in the fact that the film then goes on to introduce no less than a dozen characters (most with superhero pseudonyms), like Angel, Riptide, Azazel, Emma Frost, Beast, Banshee, Darwin, Havok and more, and those without a familiarity with this universe will find the proceedings difficult to grasp.

Because of this, X-Men: First Class takes a while to get going and will not instantly grab many of its viewers. However, it must be said that once it settles down, it becomes easily accessible. Although there are a lot of characters, they are balanced delicately and, aside from a few notable cases (I can’t recall Azazel or Riptide speaking at all during the film), each comes into their own. In many cases, like with Mystique and Magneto, you get to see the downward spiral the characters take towards villainy. There is passion in their personalities and motivations and you come to understand why they choose the way they do.

X-Men: First Class is directed by Matthew Vaughn, the same guy behind last year’s Kick-Ass, an entertaining film that was nevertheless plagued by many problems. In comparison, this film seems to fix a lot of them, showing growth in Vaughn as a filmmaker. Kick-Ass had an inconsistent tone and its over-the-top goofiness undercut the climax’s dramatic intentions. X-Men: First Class avoids that problem by excellently balancing the seriousness of the story with some hilarious comic bits, including a couple of cameos that most viewers will find very amusing.

This is a stylish movie. It’s not as action packed as some will expect, but when stuff blows up, it blows up real good. The CGI is hit and miss, but when you’re having this much fun, you won’t really care. Still, it’s not perfect and when it stumbles, it’s noticeable. The script is so smart and witty that the numerous cheesy speeches about accepting and loving yourself stick out like a sore thumb. While certainly a good message in general and relevant to the story, it’s hand-fed so forcefully it comes off as childish. But don’t let those minor blunders stop you from checking it out. If upcoming films continue in cinema’s recent bout with mediocrity, X-Men: First Class could end up being one of the best of the year.

X-Men: First Class receives 4/5

Friday
May132011

Bridesmaids

If you’re a fan of The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up or pretty much any raunchy R rated comedy to come out in the last few years, pay attention because this movie is for you. Bridesmaids is easily the funniest movie to be released since Get Him to the Greek and could prove itself to be the funniest movie of the year if The Hangover II fails to reach expectations. Coming from Apatow Productions and channeling much of what made his movies so popular, Bridesmaids nails it. It’s a filthy movie with a cast of strong females that can easily stand toe-to-toe with the big boys. While it is certainly nice to see a film of this ilk filled with strong, prominent women rather than big, loud men, focusing on that would be a mistake. Regardless of gender, Bridesmaids is flat out hilarious.

Kristen Wiig plays Annie, an approaching-40-years-old woman who has yet to settle down. She fools around with Ted, played by Jon Hamm, but he isn’t anywhere close to making a commitment and more or less kicks her out of his house after they’re done having sex. One day, her best friend Lillian, played by Maya Rudolph, surprises her with an announcement. Her boyfriend just popped the question and she wants Annie to be her maid of honor. She accepts, but a fellow bridesmaid named Helen, played by Rose Byrne, starts a competition and does everything she can to take the coveted title from her.

If there was ever a cast worth mentioning, it’s this one. On top of those already mentioned, Bridesmaids stars Jill Clayburgh (in her final role), Melissa McCarthy from TV’s “Mike & Molly,” Wendi McLendon-Covey from Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!” and Ellie Kemper, best known as the always smiling secretary from “The Office.” While I can’t speak for their comedic talents solo, putting them together is magic. All of these women bring their own unique style to the show, which creates comedic diversity and keeps the movie from becoming stale too quickly.

Most importantly, however, is that each character is likable, even when they have tantrums that may or may not be warranted. The girls aren’t written like generic romantic comedy females who embarrassingly drown themselves in ice cream and complain about not having a man. Rather, they are three dimensional characters with real problems and emotions that ring true. The parts are written so well and played so convincingly that you’ll find yourself engaged even when you aren’t laughing.

And that’s good because it has stretches where the laughs just don’t come. Many of the jokes stem from the feud between Annie and Helen and they play out for far too long, like an early scene at Lillian's engagement party where they take turn giving speeches in an attempt to one-up the other, passing the microphone no less than six times. Another example comes on an airplane where Annie’s fear of flying, an overused screenplay fear that is boring to begin with, creates a string of unfunny jokes that run on for what feels like at least a good 10-15 minutes. Thankfully, these don’t-know-when-to-quit moments are few and far between. Just when it looks like it’s going to lose itself, Bridesmaids bounces back, usually thanks to the lovely Kristen Wiig, who is so affable and funny you can’t help but fall in love with her.

But just like most other movies with Judd Apatow’s name attached to it, Bridesmaids is too long, running all the way to two hours. Along with the scenes already mentioned, there are plenty of moments that could have easily been cut, tightening the picture and making it that much better. But to complain about such short stretches of tedium seems frivolous considering that the rest of the movie is so wonderful. It’s funny, it has a big heart and it ranks among the best comedies of the last few years. And that’s saying something.

Bridesmaids receives 4/5

Friday
Apr012011

Insidious

Many people consider the horror genre the lowliest form of cinema. Their inherent focus on death can be off-putting and as time has gone on, they have gotten more and more grotesque. To not enjoy the genre is, at this point, understandable. That’s why, as a critic, I’m supposed to scoff at torture porn movies like Hostel and The Human Centipede. And I do. But one film I believe is unfairly lumped in with those films is Saw. The sequels are another matter (although some, like number six, at least manage to provide interesting commentary), but the first film was original and thought provoking and, contrary to popular belief, didn’t concentrate on a large cast of no names getting mangled by overcomplicated contraptions. It was a tight psychological thriller with two skillfully developed main characters who became more nuanced as it went on (though it was by no means perfect). The duo behind that movie, Leigh Whannell and James Wan, have been on my radar ever since that film. They are a force to be reckoned with in the horror community, especially after their severely underrated 2007 film, Dead Silence. Their newest, Insidious, isn’t quite as good as those two films, but given the state of horror these days, it’s still worth a look.

Husband and wife Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) have just moved into a new house. They haven’t quite finished unpacking yet and their days are hectic. Josh works hard during the day while Renai tries to balance out the care of her three children with composing piano music. Suddenly, however, their oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) sadly and unexplainably falls into a coma. Three months pass and he still isn’t awake, but Renai is beginning to hear and see things in the house and she thinks his coma might have been brought on by something not of this realm.

Insidious is your typical haunted house story. Things go bump in the night, faint apparitions appear behind thinly veiled bed canopies and doors creak open and close. Those are only a few of the sub-genre’s tried and true tricks the film borrows. It’s most certainly not original, but it excels in a few key areas and manages to frighten on more than one occasion, particularly in the first act.

The opening scenes perfectly set the tone for the film and James Wan’s visual style is eerie without being overbearing, employing black and white footage in the opening credits montage and canted camera angles to show that something is not right in the house. He has a visual eye for the macabre. Even when things seem normal, you get a sense something unseen is close by. It’s an effect that is not easy to pull off, but Wan does it here.

These early moments promise a slow building ghost movie, similar to something like 1980’s effective chiller, The Changeling, and this is when it works best. Ghosts are left hidden or at quick glimpses and its use of shadows keeps you on the edge of year seat, aware that something could be hidden beneath the shroud of darkness. It’s about what you don’t see, which makes it all the more frightening. Unfortunately, this tight, focused ghost movie becomes more and more ridiculous, and even occasionally laughable, as it goes on. The unsettling feeling present in the early scenes all but vanishes, leaving you only with predictable jump scares as it spirals down the same problematic pathway many horror movies do. As the ghosts become more prominent and the filmmakers put them front and center, it becomes decidedly less scary, stripping away whatever terrifying design your imagination has conjured up and replacing it with something that, frankly, looks kind of stupid.

Insidious, despite its many problems, is anchored by two terrific performances from two accomplished actors and it manages to redeem itself in the last ten minutes or so in a climax that mixes the dreamlike visuals of A Nightmare on Elm Street with the exploration of a survival horror video game like Silent Hill. In the end, Insidious squanders its opportunity to become a truly scary movie, but a few inspired moments and effective frights make it a fun diversion nonetheless.

Insidious receives 3/5