Monthly Archives: May 2016

Trouble in Suburbia

Girls bring the party—and more—in ‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’

Zac Efron, Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne go undercover in 'Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.'

Zac Efron, Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne go undercover in ‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.’

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne & Zac Efron

Directed by Nicholas Stoller

R

When a sorority moves in next door to a family trying to sell their house, it’s trouble.

That’s the quick premise, but this ribald new comedy—a sequel to the 2014 hit—puts a fresh, topical spin on its predecessor, while reuniting its cast and hewing mostly to its original manic framework.

Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), now the parents of a 4-year-old daughter (Elise Vargas) with another on the way, have sold their suburban house…sort of. It’s in a 30-day escrow hold, which means the buyer has a month to decide—or back out. That’s troubling news, because Mac and Kelly have already bought another house, no strings attached.

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Beanie Feldstein, Chloë Grace Moretz and Kiersey Clemons play sorority sisters who declare war on their “old people” neighbors.

It’s especially troubling when a sorority roosts in the vacant, broken-down fraternity house next door. But not just any sorority: The young women of the freshly minted, renegade Kappa Nu (led by Chloë Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein) have split from the campus Greek system, fed up with the leering bros-before-hos sexism of fraternities and the prissy, priggish constraints of the established sororities. At Kappa Nu, it’s weed, wild parties and full-throttle fem-centric fun, all the time.

And look who’s come aboard as their advisor: Mac and Kelly’s old next-door fraternity nemesis, Teddy (Zac Efron). But the girls increasingly see Teddy as out of touch, and his old college frat-boy crew (including Dave Franco, Jerrod Carmichael, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse) have all grown up and moved on faster than him.

Where does Teddy fit in? It may be where you—and he—would least expect…

How all these comedic strands weave together and work is in the hands of director Nicholas Stoller, who also steered Get Him to the Greek, the marvelous Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the original Neighbors. He once again has a great cast, down to the cameos by Lisa Kudrow (as a deadpan dean), Selena Gomez (as a rival sorority president) and Kelsey Grammar (as a pleading parent).

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

The heist scene is “high” on action.

Rogen, who also collaborated on the screenplay, makes sure to push his pro-bong agenda with plenty of pot jokes, including one extended weed-heist sequence that feels like an action-movie parody. But look through the haze (and the randy, raunchy jokes) and you’ll find something else: a movie with empathetic messages about acceptance and inclusion, gender rights and sexism, hypocrisy and double standards, mothers and fathers and daughters, loving families, girls who grow up to become young women, and growing up in general.

And in the middle of it all is its secret weapon, the former High School Musical star Efron, who at the age of 28 has proven his adaptability in a wide variety of roles, particularly comedy. As Teddy, he brings something to the part richer and fuller and much more dimensional than what was flat on the page, an ache to belong and to be “valued” that resonates beyond the script’s jokes about dope, crazy pranks and a raucous rift between crazy college kids and cranky “old people.”

Neighbors 2 is the rare sequel that grew up with its audience, its subject matter and its subjects—and got even funnier and more meaningful in the process.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Naughty & ‘Nice’

Crowe and Gosling mix action and laughs in ‘The Nice Guys’

Ryan Gosling, Maddie Compton, Angourie Rice and Russell Crowe in 'The Nice Guys'

Ryan Gosling, Maddie Compton, Angourie Rice and Russell Crowe in ‘The Nice Guys’

The Nice Guys

Starring Russell Crowe & Ryan Gosling

Directed by Shane Black

R

The opening shot of The Nice Guys pans across the back of the iconic Hollywood sign, grimy and tagged with graffiti, as the lights of the city below glitter in the night like a gigantic box of jewels.

After the Temptations set a ’70s groove to “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” we’re off and rolling ourselves on a raucous, retro-rollicking comedy-adventure romp as a pair of mismatched investigators-for-hire (Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling) team up to look for a missing girl (Margaret Qualley of TV’s The Leftovers). But soon they find themselves in a much deeper drama involving porn stars, pinkie promises, menacing thugs, Kim Basinger in full L.A. Confidential mode, and a shocking conspiracy of catalytic converters and high-ranking collusion.

Writer-director Shane Black made his mark back in the late 1980s with the screenplay for Lethal Weapon, starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. He went on to refine his format—a high-octane mix of cheeky quips and pulpy, explosive action—behind the camera with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and Iron Man 3 (2013).

TNG_Day#48_02022015-325.dngThe movie takes place in 1977, and it revels in the details of its smoggy, sometimes smutty setting. The background hums with tunes from Kiss, America, Rupert Holmes, the Band, Herb Alpert and Earth, Wind and Fire. Chevy Camaros, Caprice Classics and Dodge Coronets line up for 69-cent-a-gallon gas. Billboards trumpet the hottest movies: Jaws 2, Airport 77. Newspaper headlines spread the dread about killer bees from Brazil.

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Matt Bomer

You’ll recognize versatile character actor Keith David as a villain. Matt Bomer from TV’s American Horror Story plays John Boy, an assassin sharing a certain facial feature with the Waltons TV character of the same name. And young Angourie Rice, 14 at the time of filming, almost steals the show as Holly, the daughter of Gosling’s character. She’s the soft heart of this rough-and-tumble story, the tender conscience in the midst of its outbursts of casual violence.

But the real treat throughout is the pair-up of two actors not known for baring their funny bones. Crowe’s Jackson Healey is a rumpled, jaded tough guy who leads with his fists—often sporting brass knuckles. Gosling plays Holland March as a mopey, bottom-feeding P.I. with a drinking problem and a tattoo that reminds him, “You will never be happy.” Their oil-and-water styles initially clash, of course, but eventually smooth into some major movie mojo. (Pay attention and you’ll even catch their nod to classic Abbott and Costello.)

It all builds into a spectacular shoot-out showdown at a gleaming auto expo, where everyone is scrambling to get their hands on a canister containing a reel of film as it rolls, bounces and spins across the floor, out a window, down a street and into the flames of a burning car. That’s one hot movie, as it turns out, in more ways than one.

And so is The Nice Guys, a juicy, slam-bang action-comedy cocktail punched up, pimped out and powered down with rowdy, new-fangled film-noir fun. Hot stuff—catch it.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Captain Crunch

The Marvel gang’s all here in superhero-packed mega-movie

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Captain America: Civil War

Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan & Scarlett Johansson

Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

PG-13

What do superheroes do when they’re not saving the planet? A lot of the same things everyone else does—they prattle around the house, do their best to get along and sometimes get on each other’s nerves.

“Who’s putting coffee grounds in the disposal?” Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) asks his houseguests, which include Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Vision (Paul Bettany). “Am I running a bed and breakfast for a biker gang?”

Crammed into a back of a tiny VW Beetle, the hulking Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) has a request of Falcon (Anthony Mackie). “Could you move your seat up?” Like a grumpy sibling on a family road trip that’s already over-stretched his patience, Falcon isn’t exactly in an agreeable mood. “No!” he snaps.

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Spider-Man (Tom Holland) gets in on the action.

Captain America: Civil War is a big, sprawling superhero mega-movie, with more spandex to the gallon than any flick that’s come down the pike in a long time. The latest in the multi-billion-dollar Marvel cinematic canon, it’s officially the third of the Captain America franchise, but it’s also a continuation of the Avengers movie arc, and it ropes in characters from other Marvel movie properties as well, including Iron Man, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and even the new Spider-Man (Tom Holland), whose movie won’t be in theaters until next summer.

The “Civil War” in the title refers to the major rift that occurs within the Avengers when a United Nations panel wants to rein them in. The global community is concerned about the civilian deaths and wakes of destruction that accompany the superheroes’ bad-guy smackdowns—a theme that also cropped up a few weeks ago in another comics-character slugfest, Batman v Superman.

The Avengers divide into two camps about the issue—those who feel that some international oversight and cooperation is the way to go (led by Iron Man), and the rebels who refuse to sign the accord (team Captain America). That sets the stage for several spats, a couple of subplots, more than two hours of squabbles and one stupendous battle royale in an abandoned airport.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Sharon Carter/Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..? Marvel 2016

Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Captain America (Chris Evans) have a serious huddle.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo keep things moving along with style, substance and significant flair, and they give all their characters time to shine—no easy task when they are so many, including newcomers Chadwick Boseman as an African prince who becomes the Black Panther; Marissa Tomei as Peter Parker’s Aunt May; and Daniel Brühl as the Eastern European über-villain Zemo. There’s also Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Martin Freeman as a CIA official, Emily Van Camp (from TV’s Revenge) as Sharon Carter, and William Hurt as the U.S. Secretary of State. Oscar-nominated Alfre Woodard pops in as an aggrieved mom.

But through it all are the Avengers, the world’s coolest, most powerful cadre of superfriends—family, actually—being ripped apart, fractured from within, pulverizing each other as the divide between them, widened by treachery, becomes filled with distrust, dark secrets and deep wounds from the past.

There’s a whole army of frozen Winter Soldiers, a funeral and a sweet kiss between two characters that may point to future romance.

How does this wham-bam, jam-packed road trip on the superhero highway end? I won’t spoil it. But you shouldn’t be surprised to know that even when it does, it doesn’t, and that the Marvel movie map is still being drawn for Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man and other characters for years to come!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Oh Mama

All-star cast sinks in overly sweetened, sentimental sap

Mother’s Day

Starring Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, Timothy Olyphant, Jason Sudeikis, Britt Robertson & Shay Mitchell

Directed by Garry Marshall

PG-13

 

Mother’s Day the holiday is all about moms, and so is Mother’s Day the movie, which has them of every shape, style, size, temperament and hue.

And life sure looks beautiful, bountiful, wacky and whimsical when it’s played out against a picture-perfect backdrop of suburban affluence by Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, Timothy Olyphant, Jason Sudeikis, Shay Mitchell (from TV’s Pretty Little Liars), Britt Robertson, Jennifer Garner, Jon Lovitz and comedian Loni Love.

This is the third holiday-themed ensemble comedy from Garry Marshall, the veteran TV writer/producer (Happy Days, The Odd Couple, Mork and Mindy) and movie director (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride) who also previously brought us Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. In both of those films, as in this one, an all-star cast of unrelated characters manages to somehow intersect with each other, as improbable as it might seem.

MOTHER'S DAY, l-r: Sarah Chalke, Jon Lovitz, Kate Hudson, Margo Martindale, Aasif Mandvi, 2016.Marshall is a maestro of this kind of comedic mixology, plied and played over the decades. But it seems to have run out of a lot of its steam, at least for contemporary times. Most of his movie gags feel like they’re waiting for a sitcom’s laugh track to back them up, and his bawdy, brusque, broad brushstrokes of humor aren’t what anyone would exactly call enlightened.

“I don’t get that joke, but I think it sounds racist,” says one character when another makes a crack about her ethnicity.

Young boys shock their mom (Aniston) by talking about their genitals; a teenage girl embarrasses her widower dad (Sudeikis) by asking him to buy tampons; a lesbian couple (Sarah Chalke and Cameron Esposito) makes a pink “womb” float for a Mother’s Day event—which another character refers to as a “parade of vaginas.”

Are you laughing yet?

Then maybe you’ll titter when a good-ol’-boy grandpa (Robert Pine) addresses his Indian son-in-law (Aasif Mandvi) as a “towelhead,” or when grandma (Margo Martindale) sizes up a situation by asking herself, “I put on a bra for this?”

MD-01174.CR2The large, talented cast is largely wasted with little do but go with the flow of the overly sweetened, sentimental twists and turns, the not-so-surprising surprises and the eventual resolutions and wrap-ups. But the sap eventually sucks all of them under.

Coincidence is one thing, but here, worlds collide like particles in some kind of bizarre cinematic quantum theory, where strands not only cross and overlap, they magically weave into a crazy Mother’s Day movie smock of American flags, a careening RV, a Tao-dispensing clown, soccer, Skype, llamas, teenagers, toddlers, babies, a cute guy in a comedy club, Aniston with her arm stuck in a vending machine and Sudeikis singing “The Humpty Dance.”

And Hector Elizondo, an actor you should recognize if only because he’s been in every movie Garry Marshall has ever made, all the way back to 1982.

I’d love to see what Garry and Hector—and who knows who else—could do with Election Day. Now that could really be fun.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Punk Rock Shocker

Backwoods gig becomes bloody living nightmare

Green Room

Starring Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots

Directed by Jeremy Saulnier

R

In show business, a “green room” is the spot backstage where performers go to relax, hang out and kick back before or after a show. It’s usually a secluded place of high spirits and hospitality.

But not in this wickedly sharp thriller-chiller horror show about a band of young punk rockers whose gig turns into a ghastly fight for their lives. Barricaded in the club’s grungy green room, they square off against the owner and his army of neo-Nazis when a shocking episode of violence becomes a raging nightmare.

GREEN ROOMAnton Yelchin (Chekov in the Star Trek movies), Alia Shawkat (from TV’s Arrested Development), Callum Turner and Joe Cole play the members of the Ain’t Rights, whose unlikely booking at a backwoods roadhouse full of white supremacists turns into a bloody standoff when they stumble onto the aftermath of a “crime of passion” and can’t get away before the owner (Patrick Stewart) tries to frame them for it—and eliminate them along with all the evidence.

British actress Imogen Poots has a key role as a club patron who inadvertently becomes part of the mayhem as the young rockers—who play music steeped in destruction, doom and death—find out how they fare when suddenly faced with the real thing.

In his debut mainstream theatrical feature, director Jeremy Saulnier, 36, shows an incredible amount of promise. He takes his time setting up the story and establishing the characters, patiently drawing the audience into the subculture of their musical world and their low-rent camaraderie—a slog of constant touring to crappy gigs in their old van, living on food scraps, siphoning stolen gas and playing loud, anarchic songs to indifferent or sometimes hostile listeners.

Saulnier gets the details just right: life on the road, the band’s dedication to their music, their banter and their interactions—and how actual people might react, think and speak when they find themselves in the middle of a situation that suddenly, unexpectedly becomes gruesome and deadly. As another band rumbles through their songs onstage, the dark, ominous tones reverberate through the walls of the club, into the bowels of the green room, like the howls of a great, angry beast.

GREEN ROOMThe movie has the gritty, grubby feel of a film-festival, midnight-madness indie, especially when it gets down to the bloody business of slashing, hacking, shooting, stabbing, ripping and tearing. Who will escape, who will survive? It’s not for the queasy or the faint of heart, but Saulier makes inventive use of his set and props, including the squeal of PA feedback as a weapon, a fire extinguisher and a permanent marker first seen in a band prank.

But the real treat is watching the classically trained Stewart, best known as Star Trek’s wise Capt. Picard and as Professor Xavier, the benevolent leader of the X-Men, in a role that stretches him so far in the other direction. In Green Room, he’s one seriously scary dude mixing evil and eloquence, refinement and malevolence, and hell-bent on maintaining order anywhere things get messy. His harrowing performance gives this raw, edgy, awesomely impressive, little hard-hitting punk-rock movie even more of a visceral kick.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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