Review: ‘Neighbors’ 9.6.14

Extra Large Movie Poster Image for Neighbors

You really can’t go wrong with a Seth Rogen movie. Anyone under 40 will admit he’s this generation’s funny fat guy (sorry Zach Galifianakis, Jack Black, and Kevin James). He’s someone you wish you had as a best friend, or maybe even a big brother. He’s just so goddamn funny. And while although he may have grown increasingly more and more typecast in recent years. Most of the time, you can always count on a Seth Rogen movie to be entertaining and provide you with some healthy doses of genuine laughter.

“Neighbors” is another movie that lends itself nicely to Rogen’s comedic sensibilities. Even if at times it feels like just another Seth Rogen comedy. Directed by Nicholas Stoller who, prior to this, has directed a string of mostly good comedies from 2008’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, to 2010’s “Get Him To the Greek”, to 2012’s underrated “The Five-Year Engagement”. Stoller once again finds himself in familiar comedic territory. A couple of thirty something’s, played by Rogen and Rose Byrne, who are recently married with their first child and brand new home, find their domestic dream taken over upon the arrival of a fraternity led by Zac Effron (not great, but still a “servicable” enough actor) who move in next store. In slightly predictable fashion, given the title, they wind up being the neighbors from hell. I thought the film’s funniest and strongest moments were in its first act, in which both Rogen and Byrne attempt (the introduction scene generates quite a few laughs) to become friendly neighbors and succeed in doing so, only to have Effron and co. clash with their domestic parent lifestyle and begin causing their inevitable mental break down which leads them to start a kind of pseudo war back and forth. It starts off strong, with a lot of laughs produced from Rogen’s usual trademark pop culture reference jokes, as well as that of the fraternity’s. There’s some really hilarious moments involving a flashback in time to the fraternity’s earlier days, as well as a hilarious scene involving hazing. Also there seems to be a running thread of “imitation” jokes that stand out at various points in the film (Dave Franco’s is dead on imitating Robert DeNiro in the Fockers comedies), and some well shot party scenes (apparently the cinematographer cited ‘Spring Breakers’ as being a direct influence on these scenes’ candy colored look), along with a great cast of some of the better, young comedic actors out right now. Ike Barinholtz from “Eastbound & Down” is a standout, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“McLovin” from “Superbad”), Craig Roberts (“Submarine”), Dave Franco (brother of James), and Lisa Kudrow as the college’s dean are all great casting choices. Where the film loses a bit of steam is in its 3rd act, in which the jokes start to feel forced and the plot grows increasing preposterous. Still, a worthwhile comedy. And one that I would recommend. Just don’t go into it with high expectations. If you know what you’re signing up for ahead of time, you most likely won’t be let down. It’s one of those films that’s just funny enough.
Grade: B-

Review: ‘The Double’ 8.31.14

If Woody Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’ is the best movie about middle aged adults falling in love, and Richard Linklater’s “Before Trilogy” is the best set of films about twenty/thirtysomething’s falling in love, then Richard Ayoade’s 2010 remarkable debut – ‘Submarine’ (which made my top 10 films of that year) has got to be the best film about teenagers falling in love. I remember being so moved by ‘Submarine’, so touched, both in its humanity and the way in which its characters were treated. I remember thinking “who is this Ayoade guy”? But at the time I didn’t really care. What I did know is that I just lay witness to one of the most refreshing young talents who made one of the strongest debuts in as far back as I can remember.

So it was only fitting that I would be heavily anticipating Ayoade’s sophomore effort. Especially because from the little bit I read I heard it was more or less an extension of his singular style, his ability to create something new and inventive, while also not conforming to any of Hollywood’s typical movie tropes. All things that were apparent if you saw ‘Submarine’ (and if you haven’t I would highly encourage you to do so). This, co-written and directed by Ayoade, with Avi Korine (Harmony’s brother also getting a co-writing credit), and based loosely on a novel penned by the famous 19th century Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Plus starring both Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska (is there anything this talented young actress isn’t in?). I thought this had the pedigree to be a great film. And for the most part it is. Set in the future, or a setting that gives no indication of space or time, and the story taking place below ground (at least it appeared to me to), following the central character, Eisenberg, who plays his usual awkward, unconfident, nervous self, but which in this case winds up suiting the material well. Who witnesses an attempted suicide while spying on his love interest through a telescope (a nod to Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’), here played by Wasikowska, only to show up the next day to work and there’s a carbon copy of himself, a doppelganger, and that’s where things really start to get interesting. Throughout, I couldn’t stop thinking of Terry Gilliam’s 1985 masterpiece – ‘Brazil’, as this film felt a lot like it in both feel and tone. It’s peculiar, quirky, and very bizarre. It presents the viewer with a lot of questions – are the 2 Eisenberg’s switching identities? Obsessions? Are they both the same person just different versions of one another? This is a film, much like ‘Enemy’, that will have you asking yourself a lot of similar questions throughout. It’s a completely original, highly unique, and singular work. And proves once again that Ayoade is one of the more fresh, talented, and original voices on the filmmaking scene today. This is one that will most likely wind up on my list of Honorable Mentions (#’s 10-20) by year’s end.

Grade: strong B