The Blemish » Reviews Better than a slap to the face Fri, 25 Jul 2014 23:35:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ‘Begin Again:’ Music To My Eyes Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:43:02 +0000 The word that came to mind repeatedly while viewing Begin Again is “quaint.” As in, “Aw, how quaint that Adam Levine is acting in movies now,” and, “The idea of Keira Knightly being a brooding singer-songwriter is so quaint!” It may seem like an insult, but it isn’t, necessarily. While eye-rollingly predictable and in many ways totally and completely unrealistic and idealist, Begin Again is terminally cute, and quite quaint, like a kitsch-y farmhouse insisting upon maintaining its charm while cold, concrete apartment buildings go up on either side of it. You can’t blame it for being what it is. It’s not hurting anyone, and you sort of understand why some people would insist on its existence. It’s quaint!

Mark Ruffalo (the corduroy of actors…warm, earthy, New York-y) plays the stumbling, alcoholic Dan, a head of a music label he owns with Mos Def. He’s getting squeezed out of his own company because of the aforementioned alcoholism, along with the fact that he hasn’t signed a successful band in a long time, and he refuses to give in to the label’s shift to cultivated pop stars, television, the Twitter, and other modern-day death traps for happiness. He has an almost-ex-wife in Catherine Keener, and an understandably angst daughter in Hailee Steinfeld. 


On a particularly rough night, Dan trips his way into a bar where there’s an open mic, and he hears “the next big thing” in singer-songwriter Greta (Keira Knightly), a Brit who’s found herself alone in New York after her long term relationship with pop star Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) swiftly went the way of the rock-and-roll-relationship gods. Greta is a writer for the sake of it, with plans to leave and go home the next morning, but Dan convinces her to stay and record with him. They end up producing a whole album, performing throughout New York, in parks, in subway stations, on rooftops, basically in all the places no one would actually be allowed to perform without a permit of some kind. 

It’s fun but totally out there in terms of the plot; unrealistic in the same way that Disney Channel Original Movies are (based in humanity, then simplified, stripped of real conflict, and cartoon-ified). Knightly isn’t a singer, or a songwriter, and she doesn’t really pretend to be one successfully. If another actress, one who actually felt anything for the music, were in her place, perhaps Begin Again would have felt different, heavier, more real. She replaced Scarlett Johansson, who was originally supposed to star. That would have made the movie darker, more sexually-charged than it needed to be, but at least the girl can sort of perform into a microphone. 

Begin Again

Guest stars like Adam Levine (who was just about adequate) and Cee Lo Green, the most hilarious potato of a human being, plant the film firmly in the realm of “cuteness.” It sort of seems like an extended GAP commercial; everyone looks like they’re having fun, frolicking through the streets of New York playing upbeat, sunshine-infused pop songs. So like, what’s wrong with that? I’ll buy those jeans.

Grade: B

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‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:’ And of Every Story Ever Mon, 14 Jul 2014 22:39:10 +0000 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is every story. It’s every movie ever made, every book ever written about family, betrayal, politics, zombies, race, gun control…and apes. Not only is it Planet of the Apes, it’s The Lion King (complete with a villainous traitor with a scar over one eye), it’s Julius Caesar (complete with one hell of a stab in the back), it’s a little bit Felicity (complete with a brooding Keri Russell), and yes, it’s even a touch of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, paralleling itself, with similar characters and interpersonal struggles on both the ape and human sides of the story. I guess we aren’t really that different after all, huh….. It’s entirely predictable, preachy, and platitudinous (definitely looked that one up), yet harmlessly so. Because of its retro earnestness, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes remains entertaining and fun, even if it “apes” itself as well as many of our most classic stories (nailed it).

In this iteration, Planet Earth has fallen due to an epidemic of simian flu, which has wiped out nearly the entire human population (but not everyone!!!). A group of humans that are genetically immune to the disease live in the ruins of San Francisco, but they are slowly running out of power. A small group, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), heads into the woods to repair a dam that, when fixed, will make electricity work, because, science. Malcolm and his group of dam repairers don’t realize, however, that they are headed straight into ape territory, a veritable metropolis of monkeys (I know they’re apes, not monkeys…the things we do for alliteration) led by Caesar, an intelligent, compassionate ape with a soft spot for keeping the peace, even if it means working with those pesky, intruding people.


Caesar’s right hand man is a more embittered ape, Koba, who was captured, tortured, and scarred by humans for a lot of his life. He’s got a justifiable chip on his shoulder, which makes his villainous turn a teensy bit sympathetic, a little less black and white, even though it’s obviously not these innocent, wide-eyed, good humans that deserve to be attacked. Much to the chagrin of Koba and his followers, Caesar agrees to let the humans come do their work on the dam. They tread lightly around each other for much of this time, the key word “trust” being a thing that’s difficult for both sides to earn.

Then, the tense but amicable developing relationship between human and ape is swiftly destroyed by one heck of a misunderstanding, and what proceeds is all out war. It becomes clear early on that the real evil, the thing that causes the most problems in this world, is the existence of guns. There’s a lot of character development and miscommunication that results in bad situations in this movie, but the one thing that remains 100% clear is that bullets are no good. Ever. Guns are unequivocally bad. Hear that, middle American NRA Republicans? Bad. As in, not good.


Andy Serkis, the king of virtual acting, plays Caesar with great dignity. Jason Clarke is solid, Keri Russell is Felicity, and Gary Oldman, who plays the other founder of the human camp, the Shawn Hunter to Jason Clarke’s Cory Matthews, if you will, plays, as we’ve recently discovered, his crazy old self. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a heavy-handed sci-fi epic in a most traditional sense. The morals of the story are more than clear. Characters learn their lessons, then tell the audience exactly what they’ve learned. It’s all-encompassing in kind of a magnificent way. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes marks a return of that vintage attitude of telling big, unambiguous tales in a larger-than-life way. It’s old-school and impressive. You know what’s bad though? Guns. Guns are bad.

Grade: B+

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‘They Came Together:’ Almost Stella-r Thu, 26 Jun 2014 19:59:13 +0000 David Wain brings his brand of off-kilter, super silly meta mockery to a more genre-specific place than usual with his spoofy romantic comedy, They Came Together. The comedy dream team of Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler play Joel and Molly, who narrate the larger-than-life story of the development of their relationship through a framework of dinner with friends (Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper). It’s a much more obvious genre play than his other films, Wet Hot American Summer, Role Models, The Ten, and Wanderlust, and while still laden with absurdist hilarity, it’s unnecessarily overt.

The lovebirds, Joel and Molly, were on again and off again, almost married to other people, business rivals, happy in love, not so happy, happy again, really unhappy, and back to happy. Molly is the owner of a boutique candy shop, while Joel is a corporate drone for the large and impersonal Candy Systems and Research. They meet and hit it off over a mutual love of “fiction books” at the Strand Bookstore, in one of the film’s best sequences. It’s a made-for-movie romance, as they remind us repeatedly throughout.

They Came Together

The movie is full of genre conventions (New York City as a character all its own, a klutzy, cutesy leading lady), direct references to the genre it makes fun of (You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally), and David Wain’s signature stuff. He has several types of go-to joke structures that compose and define his oeuvre. There are conventional situations in which he switches out an object for comedic effect (Joel, as a magic trick, pulls a hamburger from behind a kid’s ear). A second Wain-y custom includes repetition to such an exaggerated point it becomes not funny and then funny again, as evidenced in a “You can say that again,” sequence that’s longer than you ever thought you would sit through. A third is an overarching Stella-like smarminess to his characters, where syllables and shoulder shrugs are drawn out and hit hard to highlight and make funny the specifics of the stereotypes.

It’s Wain’s jokes that shine the brightest here. The over-stated plays on the romantic comedy genre sometimes fall a little flat, unless they’re Wain-ified. Most of the time, they are, but I didn’t find them necessary. Rudd and Poehler are funny as always, as are Cobie Smulders and Ed Helms and staples of Wainland, Michael Ian Black and Chris Meloni. But you never really forget that it’s Rudd and Poehler up there. There’s too much of a story that the characters are used as pawns rather than as living, breathing beings that are easy to identify with. They’re merely caricatures of their movie types, which works for the completion of the satire of the genre, but not as well for making it a movie to connect with on an emotional level. The heart of Wet Hot and even Role Models just isn’t there. It doesn’t make it less funny; it just makes it less of a classic.

Grade: B+

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’22 Jump Street:’ Good Cop, Better Movie Mon, 16 Jun 2014 18:14:08 +0000 It manages its sequelity (sequelness? sequelation?) like Muppets: Most Wanted did, banging you over the head with clever jokes about how movies are never as good the second time around. But in 22 Jump Street, the meta references to the insane budget wasted on this installment and references to the challenge they face of making the same movie without recycling the plot are so pervasive, so intertwined into nearly every line of dialogue, and so integral to every point of the plot, that it is actually really impressive. And really funny.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are back, and Tatum stronger than ever. There is something so sincere and wide-eyed about Tatum’s performances in comedies that is so funny without being the least bit unnatural. Ice Cube is back with his signature scowl that they use and massage to perfection. And Peter Stormare takes a turn as the villain, an actor who is for me so incredibly hilarious in everything he’s in in the most understated way. The real stand out though, is Jillian Bell, whose deadpan badassery is on point.

Jonah Hill, left, and Channing Tatum in Columbia Pictures' "22 Jump Street."

Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) end up at the 22 Jump Street address in a more than convenient fashion. An entire car chase sequence is steered (literally) into the path that destroys the most expensive things. Jenko’s bro-y love for “Lambo’s” culminates in a scene with a Lamborghini that is so not fair. The money is spent obviously and lavishly in a way that could have been showy and douchey, but instead point to a humbleness and humility that’s rare in blockbuster comedies.

The guys land themselves at a college to find a dealer of a new drug, WHYPHY (Which stands for, “Work Hard? Yes. Party Hard? Yes,” a silly acronym that slyly makes fun of acronyms). It’s, on purpose, and very outwardly, the same deal as last time. The same exact assignment, which works to the filmmakers’ advantage on so many different levels. They know the audience is going to come to see the same magic as the first time around. They know the same sort of plot is the safest way to go in terms of keeping the studio happy. They also know it’s the lamest thing to do. But they also know that the plot doesn’t really matter here, so why not keep it the same, acknowledge that, and turn it on its head. It makes everyone happy (audience members who are coming to see funny cops do funny things, the studio, which spent way too much money on a movie about funny cops, and audience members who are always skeptical about sequels and appreciate filmmakers acknowledging that they’ve been given way too much money to make a movie about funny cops).


Phil Lord and Chris Miller (of recent The Lego Movie fame) directed this puppy, and they are A – killing it and B – in one of the greatest positions to be in as Hollywood directors. This point was brought up by my good friend Josh. Lord and Miller keep making movies that have zero expectation attached to them, so when they turn out great, as in this case, or even more than great, as in the case of The Lego Movie, everyone is practically in awe. There’s no doubt this is a temporary position, because now, more and more people will run to buy tickets for movies just because the names “Lord” and “Miller” are attached to them, and that, I suppose, is nearly the definitive example of the existence of expectations. But I think these guys will be OK, and that’s because with 22 Jump Street, they’ve proven to be hyper-aware of the circumstances in which the movies they make will exist, all the contextual arenas they have to consider in order to make everyone really happy. And that’s an amazing skill to have.

Grade: A-

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‘Snowpiercer:’ Frosted Trips Wed, 04 Jun 2014 13:00:00 +0000 In Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer, by the year 2031, the earth has frozen over, and the world’s only survivors are packed into this technological wonder of a train that barrels around the globe in a constant effort to not freeze up and expire. The proprietor of the train is the mysterious and inaccessible Wilford. Curtis Everett (Chris Evans, wonder if the role was written, or at least named, with him in mind) is an able-bodied, attractive white man, so he is naturally the selected leader of the “back of the train,” of a group of people who seem to have been arbitrarily selected to spend their days in squalor, barely surviving in dirty, damp, unlivable spaces. They are perpetually treated like, and covered in, shit, fed nothing but nasty-looking gelatinous “protein bars,” and beaten and trampled upon by the armed guards that dictate their lives.

We are given a slight taste of life at the “front of the train” in select incidences, and they hint at an eccentric class of extreme wealth. A woman in a pristine, mustard yellow pea coat and harsh lipstick comes to steal a child from the back of the train for unknown purposes. Tilda Swinton dons some giant granny glasses, even bigger horse teeth, and an ambiguous European accent with which she eloquently demeans and diminishes the worth of the people unfortunate enough to live in the muck. She touts a belief that this is how things must be, that everyone has their place, that there must be balance in order for the success of the train (which is a not-so-subtle symbol for any class-based society).

In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off all life on the planet except for a lucky few that boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system evolves.

This speech, of course, comes moments before Curtis and the rest of the back of the train rebel and start to take control, car by car. Here is where the comparisons to Cabin in the Woods begin (it’s a good thing). As Snowpiercer progresses, we are slowly lowered into the depths of the mind of Wilford, the strange and god-like control he exhibits over this train, and the obsession with the notion that order can only be maintained by making people suffer. Snowpiercer is no longer just the bloody, underdog revolt actioner it started out as. It becomes downright dark and funny, and so weird, for so much the better.

As Curtis’ group moves up the train, the injustices pile up. The manufactured pseudo-society of the train is slowly revealed to be incredibly indulgent and idyllic in a way that’s so incredibly offensive to Curtis and his people (and the audience) when compared to what they have endured at the back of the train. The good ol’ 1% enjoy greenhouses and aquariums and dance clubs and spas and fresh fruit. It becomes increasingly evident that there was definitely an opportunity to spread the wealth a little bit.

The setup is intentionally coy in such a masterful way. The systematic reveal of the cars on the train gradually sinks Curtis and his people into a totally exhausting bewilderment. It’s heart-wrenching to watch these people discover everything that’s been hidden from them for no good reason for seventeen years.

In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off all life on the planet except for a lucky few that boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system evolves.

Unfortunately, the final scenes, once Curtis reaches the back of the train, are dragged down by a lot of talking. Apparently Harvey Weinstein thought it wise to chop off twenty minutes, which sparked an argument with the director. The end does drag, but cutting time doesn’t seem like the correct choice (and ultimately, the movie was not shortened). So much exposition is shoved into the last twenty minutes, backstory that could have been infinitely more effective if it was dispersed throughout the film. Maybe it’s because we get the explanation of Curtis’ past after everything has gone down. Maybe it’s the fact that Chris Evans (Curtis Everett) isn’t a good enough actor to make those scenes really work. Most likely, it’s a mixture of both that make the last sequence of the movie its own lagging caboose.

But Snowpiercer is an original. That train is an odd and forceful propellant into the genre of dystopian science fiction. The cast is insane (John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, Alison Pill, Jamie Bell, and Steve Park, who is in a lot of things but I will always know him as Mike from Fargo because it is one of the most memorably creepy performances ever in a movie as far as I’m concerned). The dark humor is effortless. The injustices are real. The future is terrifying.

Grade: B+

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‘A Million Ways to Die in the West:’ Welcome to Seth MacFartLand Mon, 02 Jun 2014 02:54:33 +0000 No comedy today needs to be one hour and fifty-five minutes long. A Million Ways to Die in the West is too long, but also not funny enough. Plot-heavy and repetitive, it seems more like a movie written and directed by a guy who earnestly wanted to make a western, but the only genre in his arsenal is crude, rude and otherwise un-subtle comedy. There’s just about no way to watch this movie and think about how much it is not Blazing Saddles, but unlike Blazing Saddles, it doesn’t seem like the jokes are the first priority. Rather the story, the endless amount of story, takes too much precedence.

It’s not entirely unenjoyable; it actually has some pretty funny moments, most of them involving flatulence and/or Neil Patrick Harris. But it’s not a complete or well-structured thesis statement. Yes, there are a million ways to die in the west. No, the way to drive the point home is not to repeat in dialogue how horrible, dirty, and dangerous the west is over and over again. Some of the deaths are funny, but most of them are followed by a tiresome line that reiterates, once more, that yeah, people die in the west. The movie isn’t a comedy about how hard it is to survive in the west. It’s a love story with a single joke conceit thinly coating the plot in the same schtick.


As predicted from the trailer, there’s way too much Seth MacFarlane. He is an accomplished writer/producer/director, a voice over artist, a song and dance man, even a relatively successful award show host, but a thing he is not is an actor. The wink and the nod that goes along with each of his lines is particularly out of place among the other performances in the movie. Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, and even Sarah Silverman are all genuine and likable performers, Harris being the comedic godsend of the movie. Liam Neeson is an odd and serious choice for a villain. Again, he’s very committed to the role in a humorless way, making him a convincing villain, but not at all a funny one.

There are some strange and underwhelming cameos that should have been much better, and an uninspired drug trip sequence. But it’s proved to be one of those movies that you leave feeling underwhelmed then find yourself referencing and giggling at throughout the day. And I fully mean it when I say the most skillfully constructed and funniest jokes in the movie are the ones in which gas gets passed. The man’s got a gift. A gift for farts. And that’s no small pfeat (get it it’s a fart sound!).

Grade: B-

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‘Blended:’ Third Time’s a Bummer Mon, 26 May 2014 22:58:09 +0000 Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore truly have something special when they step on screen together. It’s effortless chemistry, an air of real friendship and love. Blended takes that extraordinary connection, layers it in some of the basest, most offensive and hackneyed conventions, and poops it out into a most unfortunate set of scenes that suffocates all but a few, glimmering moments of goodness.

The premise isn’t genius: two single parent families that “hate” each other end up in the same vacation spot at the same time, and a series of mishaps and sweeter moments bring the parents together, their families “blend.” You understand the title, right? It’s not that hard. I don’t know if the writers really thought the audience was stupid enough not to understand or they feared they didn’t have enough words to fill their nearly two hour movie, but the vacation that Sandler and Barrymore land on is a special week at an African resort, a week for “blended families” to bond. In case you still don’t quite get it, Terry Crews and a chorus of dudes that pop up now and then throughout the movie explain in exaggerated singsong just what a “blended” family is and what the whole purpose of the week is.


Now, I get that Adam Sandler isn’t known for his subtlety, but in the past he’s been able to use his brashness effectively. Here, the jokey asides and the kooky surrounding characters are stale (with the exception of Kevin Nealon, who is always on point and Allen Covert, who is traditionally out in left field, and responsible for one of the funniest scenes in the movie) and reliant on the “crazy” fact that they are in “Africa” (we never get more specific than that). That is not enough to sustain the jokes, and it’s lazy.

Sandler’s character, Jim, a manger of a Dick’s Sporting Goods store, has three daughters, one of whom is in the throes of puberty as a pretty hardcore tomboy, something that I know from experience is not at all fun. But she looks like a girl, and she keeps getting mistaken for a boy throughout the movie, in horribly contrived moments that do nothing but repeat the same awful joke over and over. When Barrymore’s character sees that she has a crush on a boy at the resort, her suggestion is to go to the salon, get a girly haircut, and trade her khakis and polos for floral dresses and lip gloss. It’s such an old-fashioned, normative move with no acknowledgement of such. If the first words out of Barrymore’s mouth were, “You’re beautiful just the way you are, but if you want I’ll take you shopping,” instead of, “You need a girl haircut so this boy will notice you,” (not the exact line), it would have been at least a trifle nuanced. But as is, this brand of jokes, with a strict reliance on overplayed stereotypes and this compulsion toward leveling the intelligence playing field, prevails in Blended. It is offensive to your audience and to people in general to give them so little credit. It’s 2014. Write better jokes.


The really regrettable thing is that Sandler and Barrymore are truly wonderful. This is their third collaboration, but this one will go down as an aberration when held up against the lovely ranks of The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates. It’s a shame, because they are made for each other, and there are a bunch of real moments in this movie. They are convincingly great and flawed parents, ones who fill the inevitable voids for each other’s children. It’s a shame that that stuff wasn’t able to shine through. Shake this off and get it together, Sandler and Barrymore. We want to grow old with you.

Grade: C

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‘Godzilla:’ Monster Mash Tue, 20 May 2014 10:29:38 +0000 The new Godzilla is super old school, replete with dramatic close-up shots of the characters’ sheer awe and terror as they whisper the title of the movie, a larger-than-life sea monster that looks like a bloated dinosaur and doesn’t show his face until an hour in when he’s had the chance to be hyped up, and suitable opponents for the beast, giant creatures also mutated with the help of massive amounts of radiation, but somehow more ruthless and heartless than Godzilla.

What this version lacks, on purpose, is any political undercurrent, any sense that the existence of Godzilla and the destruction he causes is actually a flashing red warning light. Since the film takes place starting in 1999, the history is acknowledged with a somber, knowing head nod, but the movie as a whole veers away from taking a stance, other than the stance that monsters are cool, it’s fun to see them fight and destroy things, and Bryan Cranston is a great actor (too great, in fact, for the role he’s given). The acting as a whole in this Godzilla is actually a little bit beside the point. Ken Watanbe and Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn are all too good, and their roles give them zilch to do, but it’s okay because they’re not the stars. Godzilla is.


It must be a difficult task for a filmmaker to know that no matter what award-winning actors you get to agree to make faces at a green screen, ultimately what people are buying tickets to see is the made up monster your animators and artists put on that green screen after all the filming is done. I am aware this is a gross oversimplification of how these movies are made, which makes it possibly even more terrifying. In a movie like this, not even witty dialogue will save you (and here, they didn’t even make an attempt). The audience isn’t going to clap for banter but a mythical, prehistoric roar.


Godzilla displays another aspect of classic monster movies that is rarely, if ever, seen today: all human life and every man made creation that is destroyed is collateral damage. It’s entirely refreshing that these monsters don’t care at all about obliterating human life. IT’S NOT ABOUT US. Sure, yes, it’s true that if it wasn’t for our ignorance and sheer stupidity they probably wouldn’t even exist, but they don’t set out to kill people. They’re just so big that in the struggle to reproduce and populate the world with massive radioactive bugs (like any living creature with a biological impulse), they happen to raze a whole lot of skyscrapers. We follow and allow the natural fight between Godzilla and these monster mosquitoes to take place, but we are so in over our heads, scrambling to move people away from the situation, flailing around with our little ships and our toy guns while colossal examples of real power go at it.

It’s nice to root for the big guy. Yes, the movie follows a family that’s separated from each other and rightly frightened. But they’re mostly there to provide a point of entry into a world that’s got 99 monstrous problems and the human race is just the tiniest, most annoying one.

Grade: B

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‘Neighbors:’ Liberté, Efronité, Fraternité Mon, 12 May 2014 22:06:55 +0000 For reasons unbeknownst to me, I had problems with both Seth Rogen and Zac Efron. Nothing deep-seated or specific, just a general, vague, “not my cup of tea” feeling when either popped up on screen. But Neighbors looked harmless, and there hadn’t been a big, successful movie comedy that was actually liked by everybody since Bridesmaids, so it was about time. Not that Neighbors will stir up any Oscar nominations, but it’s pure fun, unoffensive not in the sense that it avoids offensive language or ideas, but in the way that big, broad comedy is. It has a specific goal: to make you laugh, and literally nothing else. It doesn’t try to be anything but silly, over-the-top, and hilarious. And it is. Neither Seth Rogen nor Zac Efron bothered me. In fact, both are quite good.

Rogen and Rose Byrne play the parents all 20-somethings hope to become: still full of humor and still at least aware of all the social activity they’re missing out on instead of resigned to the depressing lives of parents who have given up on trying to do the things that make them happy. They have poured all of their money into a nice house that they inhabit with their new family, the two of them and their adorable baby daughter, Stella. They are ostensibly “adults.” Rogen’s Mac has a full-time, gray cubicle office job, and Byne’s Kelly is bored to death staying home with the baby. When a frat, led by Efron’s Teddy, moves in next door, the new-parents-but-still-cool-people-they-swear decide to casually, nonchalantly, just tell the guys to “keep it down.” And thus begins the war. 


Delta Psi throws ragers, replete with drugs and dancing and fireworks, and when Mac and Kelly, at their wits’ end, call the police, Teddy gets his sweet, sweet revenge. To those who say, “the logic of the movie is off. How are they the only ones complaining about the noise?” I take my pointer finger, slowly place it on your stupid, stupid mouth, and say, “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” Realism is not the goal here. Just laugh. It’s funny. With a bevy of wonderful supporting roles played by the likes of Hannibal Burress, Ike Barinholtz, Lisa Kudrow, Carla Gallo, and Dave Franco (yes, in that order), it’s a great joke vessel, full of funnies, crude and gross and physical and witty. Rogen and Byrne are wonderful as parents who are at the edge of their sanity, exhausted and delirious but psyched to have something new to focus on. Byrne, particularly, shows that Bridesmaids wasn’t a fluke. She’s a great comedic actress and holds more than her own against Rogen, who at this point just gets away with the same stuff (albeit because it works). But seriously, Rose Byrne FTW. 


Efron too, shows up ready to play. What keeps this movie from being a total cliché is the characterization of the frat guys. Unlike oh, I don’t know, every movie from the 80’s, Delta Psi isn’t full of testosterone robots. It A – has a variety of types of guys, from the traditional buff idiots like Efron, to the large and in charge, to the meek and nerdy (played by Craig Roberts, the kid from Submarine). They are also not all completely mindless 100% of the time. Dave Franco’s Pete, the VP of the frat, is a smarty-pants architecture major whose priorities shift as graduation nears. Efron’s major “Aha! moment” comes when he, the ripped, untouchable president of Delta Psi, realizes this isn’t going to last forever and maybe, at some point, he should have gone to class. 

There’s a smidgen of heart but a lot of laughs. Directed by Nick Stoller, of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him To the Greek fame, Neighbors is even a little more straightforward, a little more of a standard, big, blockbuster comedy, and that is nearly impossible to say is a compliment these days, but that’s what I just did. 

Grade: B+

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‘Fading Gigolo:’ Woody Be A Pimp? Yes. He woody. Tue, 06 May 2014 19:16:39 +0000 John Turturro wrote, directed, and starred in this Woody Allen-ish, lyrical, New York film, and Woody Allen acts, for the first time in a long time, in a movie that’s not his, presumably because it does so closely resemble his own. Turturro is, and always has been, perfect, from O, Brother Where Art Thou? to Secret Window to Mr. Deeds. In Fading Gigolo, he plays Fioravante, a sensually named hell-of-a-guy, a florist and friend to Woody Allen’s Murray Schwartz (coincidentally, the name of my favorite literature professor in college), an old, charming little man with all the neuroses you’d expect from a Woody Allen character.

Murray had to close down his bookstore but finds a spring in his step with a new plan to earn some cash. Murray’s a sweet talker and Fioravante is a sweet lover, and so he convinces the florist to become an escort, while Murray, his pimp, collects his ten…or fifteen…or forty percent. Fioravante’s first customer is Murray’s dermatologist (Sharon Stone), who is terminally bored and oozing with money and desire. She expresses to Murray that she and her friend (Sofia Vergara, who shows herself to be much more than a loud, cartoonish sitcom character) both reveal their interest in a ménage à trois, and Murray, of course, thinks immediately of his friend.


With some convincing, Fioravante meets first with the dermatologist alone, where it is clear that he is the most sympathetic prostitute there ever was. He’s a careful man, precise and empathetic. The way he handles flowers translates to the respect and soft touch he has for women. When the doctor is visibly nervous, Fioravante exudes soft-spoken confidence. He is slow, in the way that means he takes his time to speak, and when he does, it means he has thought of only the words necessary to convey his point. Often they are clever or poetic or both. Always the effect is that he cares for the conversation and for you more than you probably thought the conversation or you warranted, and that makes you feel really good. This is Fioravante’s gift, in addition to, you know…

The crux of the film is when Murray suggests Fioravante meet with Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), widow of a Hasidic rabbi and mother of six in an Orthodox community in Brooklyn. From here, the film splits into two strands, that weave together tremulously, like a beginner on a bicycle. There is the subtle and increasingly tender, almost puppy love that Avigal and Fioravante develop for each other, and conversely, the slapstick-y and slightly stalker-y investigation of Dovi (Liev Schreiber), the neighborhood watchman who has loved Avigal since they were schoolchildren. It involves quite a silly chase scene in which Murray loses a baguette and slips out of a black SUV, as well as a trial by jury of older than old Hasidic men.

Fading Gigolo takes place in that New York of movies, a city whose soul can be encompassed and expressed by a saxophone solo, a romantic vision of a vintage existence, where days are spent in old bookstores, your laundry gets packaged in brown paper and tied with string, and you wake up in the morning to sip egg creams through straws in corner diners with old men. It’s indicative of the overall tone of the film, at once over-the-top and understated, totally romanticized yet aspirationally human. Perhaps Fading Gigolo is a bit inconsistent this way, but the film is an overtly experimental passion project, and that passion is what drives all the success it garners.

Grade: B+

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