Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

'Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates' movie poster

Release: Friday, July 8, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Andrew Jay Cohen; Brendan O’Brien

Directed by: Jake Szymanski

Have you saved the date for the Stangle wedding yet? There’s really no need if you don’t typically RSVP for the raunch, for the kind of testosterone-induced antics that invariably wind up with someone’s penis in something it should not be, good-looking women tripping on MDMA and frolicking with horses and a happy ending that materializes out of thin air. I’m not sure if I’m generalizing anymore.

The package looks a bit different because the title is long (though uncreative) and the cast and crew are mostly up-and-comers. We haven’t yet seen anything from director Jake Szymanski, who has a rather prolific short-film résumé that includes 2009’s Denise Richards’ Fun Bags. That’s a title that pretty much gives you everything you need to know about his feature debut, but even still he’s a fresh director with a lot of talent in front of the lens as well, so there is potential here.

After suffering through years of watching his sons make fools of themselves at every single family get-together, the alpha-Stangle, Burt (Stephen Root — bless this man), insists Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac “I’m impossibly photogenic” Efron) find themselves two nice girls to join them as dates to their sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard)’s upcoming wedding in Hawaii. So they put out an ad that eventually gets the attention of hard-partying girls Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick).

The story spends time getting us acquainted with both parties before eventually forcing worlds to collide in a perfectly contrived manner when Tatiana walks out into traffic, creating a scene that eventually introduces them to the boys who just so happen to be in the vicinity. Her recklessness is inspired by wanting to do something nice for her best friend Alice, who is still trying to recover from the fact her would-be husband literally said “I do . . . . not” at the altar.

While Kendrick — annoying as she is in this movie — is the beneficiary of some background development, we never really get to understand why Tatiana is the way she is. Plaza just seems to enjoy playing unreasonably skanky women these days. Since seeing her on Parks & Rec, I thought I was onto the next Kristen Wiig, queen of the deadpan. I’m not sure anymore if she’s playing them ironically or if these are characters Plaza really believes in, but . . . I guess if you have to skank it up, skank it up girl! I’ll still be a fan. God knows why. Maybe because she’s a dead ringer for an ex of mine. Maybe.

Meanwhile, boys will just be boys. Devine and Efron establish a terrific repartee that allows them to rise above every single opportunity Szymanski seizes to subdue them with endless clichés. They may not shift the needle of the narrative into territory worthy of any kind of further cultural, social or psychological/emotional discussion, but they are by far the best thing about a movie that relies heavily on the strength (translated in this case as charm) of its lead performers.

It certainly doesn’t bank on the novelty of its screenplay. Mike and Dave at best offers a surprisingly wholesome message about the importance of family and how they accept you for who you are, no matter how many weddings you turn into Project X. Having people that care about you, about your past, present and future is what matters more than getting your strange on. In a movie of its ilk, that’s a rarity, and why it ultimately won me over.

Mike and Dave

Recommendation: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates doesn’t so much subvert as it manages to balance raunchy comedy with a heartfelt message. Mike and Dave would make Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson proud.

Rated: R

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “Two hands! Pushing the pop! PUSHING THE POP!” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

'Neighbors 2' movie poster

Release: Friday, May 20, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Nicholas Stoller; Andrew Jay Cohen; Brendan O’Brien; Evan Goldberg; Seth Rogen

Directed by: Nicholas Stoller

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne have the worst luck when it comes to suburban living. Last time they were fighting tooth and nail to keep their sanity when a hard-partying fraternity, led by a half-naked Zac Efron, moved in next door. Now, they’re struggling to make sure their house gets sold to another couple when they see an even rowdier group of youngin’s moving in to the former frat house, only this time it’s a sorority established by the perennially annoying Chloë Grace Moretz.

In the annals of pointless comedies, Nicholas Stoller’s follow-up ranks pretty high up there. It’s a film ostensibly designed to tear down the infrastructure portrayed in almost every motion picture that doesn’t “get” what it means to be a part of Greek life. In fairness, the sisterhood has never seemed more legitimate than it does here — despite the fact Moretz’ spoiled brat Shelby has created this group out of her disillusionment during rush week for Phi Lambda. (Oh mah gawd, we can’t smoke weed? Lol, wut?) Stereotypes are not only broken down but trampled upon with the frenzied weight of a summertime bacchanalia.

That’s the only thing truly refreshing about Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising — an awareness that sororities do indeed get a bad rap in movies and for that matter, in the minds of anyone who never found themselves within a thousand feet of the nearest function. Meanwhile, somewhere in the background the Radners are trying to graduate to the next phase of responsible adulthood. But that’s less important than the half-baked rhetoric that college kids can be more mature than their beer-and-jizz-stained attire suggests.

Consider the first impressions Shelby and her friends, Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), have when they enter a frat party one night: there’s a distinctly “rapey vibe” about the place. They’re so disgusted by what seems to be the accepted norm here and everywhere that they start up their own fledgling sisterhood, and wouldn’t you know it, their house is right next door to a couple of nagging thirtysomethings.

And here come the contradictions: Shelby and company are mature enough to recognize a sexist party when they see one, yet they have absolutely no respect for the community around them, especially when their immediate neighbors are scarcely more than a decade older than they are. Shelby’s a daddy’s girl but sees Mac as an anally retentive old man, and she can’t think of Kelly as anything other than a “mom.” Worse, the Radners are far from the most uptight parents you’ll come across. In fact part of the comedy stems from their recklessness (why they don’t separate the adult toys from their child’s playthings is a mystery to me).

It has to be this way, of course, otherwise Neighbors 2 would be a few mean-spirited pranks short of “a good time.” The story lifts the visual and slapstick gags from the previous outing and plops them down here with middling success. The exploding air bag is back as are the slow-motion dramatizations of people smacking into large, stationary objects. Some of it is actually pretty funny but more often than not this is a film that feels tired and uninspired. Bratty behavior dominates while the film’s attempt at thoughtful meditation on growing up feels like a cheap plastic label that a child could easily tear off.

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Recommendation: Nicholas Stoller was funnier the first time he visited this material. There’s really not enough there to justify two Neighbors movies, but this is the day and age we live in, isn’t it? I think the only thing I can recommend this movie on is its willingness to subvert stereotypes here and there, even though these attempts are mostly undone by a series of contradictory actions and strands of character “development.” And why in the hell are there five writers credited here? 

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “I’m a human woman! I need to watch this!”

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Neighbors

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Release: Friday, May 9, 2014

[Theater]

Oh, there’s a condom on my front lawn; I guess here goes the neighborhood.

A young married couple’s dreams of making many a wonderful memory in their first home together are dashed when they learn that a fraternity is moving in next door.

Despite said frat house being filled with rowdy, hormonal twenty-year-olds who all excel at making social connections, it’s Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) who take the first step to meet their new neighbors. Of course, their wanting to introduce themselves doesn’t come without a motive. The Radners would like to lay down some ground rules so that both parties understand one another and life may go on without incident. But after a party one night, any supposed understanding that was held between both houses is quickly forgotten and the Radners are forced to call the police after being kept awake all night.

Mac sees no reason why the phone call should cause problems. After all, they did honor Delta Psi President Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron)’s one simple rule: give him a heads-up before resorting to calling the cops. Indeed, they try their best to honor it multiple times but their calls go unanswered, which leaves Mac and Kelly with no choice but to have the party busted up. Unfortunately, the members of Delta Psi see this as a big breach of trust and an open invitation to start making life difficult for their crotchety neighbors. Pranks escalate from innocent physical gags (surprise, there’s an airbag in your couch!) to some seriously creative stunts that pose threats to public health and safety.

The same directorial vision responsible for relatively robust comedies such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek and The Five-Year Engagement is now taking American suburbia by storm. Originally titled Townies, this is a film where all of the themes are in some way, shape or form recycled from comedies of an Apatow ilk. Call it predictable, but Rogen being Rogen here just might be the best thing for this farce. Even though Stoller’s new film is moulded through formula, here the familiarity creates an experience that’s wholly surprising — if only because of how much pain and how many tears the content is capable of producing.

If comparisons help, think Superbad meets Home Alone.

Many thanks are owed to great chemistry between Neighbors‘ key players. Rogen and Byrne have an undeniable charm that actively boosts one another’s confidence, to a degree that their performances often feel improvised; performances that thrive off an uncontrollable and manic energy present in whatever room they are in. Where Byrne and Rogen must exercise caution in not overplaying their immaturity, boisterous performances from Efron and Dave Franco as fraternity leaders manage to balance maturity and all-out debauchery to the point where each character’s mental state could turn on a dime and remain thoroughly believable.

Admittedly, Efron’s a serious concern going in. He doesn’t seem to be the caliper actor one can take seriously, even when put up against the likes of a man who’s had relative success doing stoner comedies almost exclusively for a living. But preconceived notions of this Hollywood hunk are shattered when Efron reveals a fraternity president who is equal parts prideful and altruistic — convincingly so, too, as he shows compassion towards his pledges in a particular scene which likely no one is going to see coming. Its a development that truly gives Neighbors credibility as a comedy. We want to party with these people because they show some sense of decency. Contrast that to the parents, who demonstrate a surprising thirst for vengeance.

Regardless of its archetypical premise, and the fact that the story won’t exactly be seared into any viewer’s long-term memory, the new film from Stoller is the new big boy comedy on the block. Filled with strong performances — a surprisingly sympathetic Efron is arguably the largest and most pleasant surprise — and an impressive consistency with its variety of gags both perverse and clever, Neighbors is one of the best comedies of the year so far.

For the ladies, I present Zac Absfron

For the ladies, I present Zac Absfron

3-5Recommendation: The obvious attraction is the name Seth Rogen, and coming in at a close second is the conflict he has with the neighboring frat house. Rogen not only doesn’t fall short of, but in some ways he surpasses expectations with a performance that might be his most coherent thus far. His pairing with Rose Byrne is simply perfect, but the fraternity brothers’ characterization is the real winner. They are simultaneously a blast to watch and the biggest reason to root for the older couple. If you expect things to go beyond the ridiculous, this is right up your alley. Plus, this features a full-on fight with dildos, which obviously no comedy can ever be without.

Rated: R

Running Time: 96 mins.

Quoted: “Infinite. . .B.J.’s. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The To Do List

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Release: Friday, July 26, 2013

[Theater]

Finally, another movie to showcase Aubrey Plaza’s ridiculous shpiel. Or however you spell that word — gee, it’s about as awkward to spell as Plaza’s mannerisms have been irresistible. From a quieter role in The Office spin-off (coughrip-off coughParks & Rec, to her winning performance in the spectacular and charmingly quirky Safety Not Guaranteed,  she is an indie-actress with unique sensibilities and an awareness of what she’s doing and even if not why, but how she’s doing what. Or maybe my celebrity crush on her just makes me biased, who knows.

This time Plaza holds nothing back as she takes on the role of Brandy Klark, a studious girl who’s just graduated high school but is finding herself desperately missing something having spent all four years buried under school work and not much else. Consequently she’s the valedictorian of her class. And a virgin.

Set in the early 1990s, here’s a raunchy comedy that wouldn’t exactly receive an ‘A’ as far as delivering its message effectively is concerned. Brandy wants to enter college next fall having at least some some sexual experience, and this point is made clear right from the get-go. As we delve further into Brandy’s nerd-gone-wild character arc, we are beaten over the head about the importance of keeping sex in perspective, what sex means, and what that first hook-up was like. The clumsily-structured situation comedy makes for some hilarious (if not awkward) moments  — mostly due to Plaza’s charm — but it may not suit everyone’s palate as far as quality filmmaking is concerned.

Apparently, this is loosely based around the real-life experiences of first-time writer/director Maggie Carey. When Brandy stumbles into Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) — a college student who appears to be sculpted from stone — at a party that she’s been dragged to by her more outgoing friends, her goal is to shed her nerdiness and figure out how best to get with this guy. In the process, she creates a “to do” list, one filled with all kinds of dirty and degrading acts that she has literally done research on, and she aims to accomplish it all come the fall semester. Though she is undeniably cute, she finds herself having a very difficult (and hilarious) time trying to get this thing going.

She picks up a summer job working at a pool in her home town of Boise, Idado, where she is constantly made fun of by her underachieving manager Willy (Bill Hader) and pretty much everyone else. Coincidentally (and annoyingly conveniently) Rusty works as a lifeguard there, as does another boy, Cameron (Johnny Simmons) who has already shown a genuine interest in Brandy. The public pool is something of a contrived plot device — we spend much more time around it than I thought necessary — but in this case it serves up more than a fair share of laughs and touching (literally, touching) moments.

While the story does get distracted far too much in its divulging of as much sexual innuendo as possible (as if trying to compete with American Pie for the “Most Perverted” movie award would do this film any favors) Plaza’s performance saves the film from being truly bad. Her character’s naivety is both perplexing and humorous; delightfully innocent yet inevitably provocative. As she has been in times past, she doesn’t have to do a whole lot to sell her situation competently. And as far as ridiculous situations go, perhaps none are as ripe for comedy than losing one’s virginity. The smallest matters become mountainous obstacles for her character to try to overcome. When they do, we arrive at the most expected of conclusions: sex is not a big deal, folks.

Well, color me shocked. . .

The To Do List is relatively harmless and most of the characters are agreeable enough. With the exception of Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Andy Samberg who feel like total wastes and who could have been supplanted by any no-name actor (an option which would have strengthened the film, truth be told), the cast turns in solid performances that work to elevate Plaza’s head-in-the-clouds, feet-on-the-ground quirkiness to head-scratching levels. That’s a compliment. I think.

At the end of the day, this won’t really be on many people’s minds, but it serves as a satisfactory study of how the perception of sex vastly differs from the actual experience of it. Again, the lessons to be learned here are anything but inconspicuous (and maybe slightly cheesy) but they’re important enough to warrant this film. I had a surprisingly good time despite its overt chick-flicky appeal.

todo1

2-5Recommendation: Aubrey Plaza fans will delight in this; those who don’t understand her antics — stay far away. This is all her show, plus some. Is this the Superbad chick-flick version? Why yes, that’s probably how I would sum this one up.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher was released June 24 nationwide

Release: Friday, June 24, 2011.

[Theater]

Bad Teacher may be more aptly titled ‘Bad Movie.’

Granted, this was my choice to go see the movie at 12:25 opening night, a showing which effectively puts the audience in a role similar to that of a test screening (ergo the film is already at a disadvantage – we have our own expectations, and no one else’s…). Even so, I feel that the movie fell well short of the excitement and potential gut-busting raunchiness generated in its previews, most notably a scene in which the teacher (Diaz) spikes a student in the crotch with a dodgeball…

Cameron Diaz stars along with Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch and Jason Segel in a motion picture not made for those with a sensitive skin. The movie is rude, crude, and…hell, why not…lewd all at the same time. Foul language and inappropriate jokes are pervasive, and given the backdrop for the movie (a middle school somewhere in Illinois) the dialogue becomes all the more hilarious. Diaz’ character is a burned out schoolteacher who could care as much about her pupils’ performances as she could about her own fiance’s health (in case that reference is confusing, that’s not a whole lot). So long as she is rolling in her hubby’s big bucks, she is detached from everything else. Unfortunately for her, her fiance catches on and soon leaves her behind to deal with her own problems.

And thus, the movie. The ensuing hour and a half remains relatively awkward and joke-free, save for slightly less-than-arousing performances by Punch, Segel and Timberlake. (When did he start making film again, anyway??) Its not that I do not like any of these actors (OK, caught me there with JT……), its just that I agree with many of the reviewers I have come across already: they are given roles and lines that just don’t deliver like they should.

An example may be the stand-off between Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) and Amy Squirrel (Punch), who constantly try to win over the new substitute in town, Scott Delacorte (Timberlake), through various tricks and back-stabbings including a switcharoo with the teachers’ desks, apples doused in poison ivy and leakage of classified information regarding the standardized test examination booklets. These moments are funny in and of themselves, but the acting on the part of Lucy Punch did not have me convinced at all that she knew what she was doing with the script. Or perhaps she was managing her part fine; maybe it was the script that failed.

Seeing that the movie was written by The Office writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, this possibility is somewhat disappointing. While I am a fan of The Office, I was not a fan of the one-liners in Bad Teacher. Some of them, as a good friend of mine put it, were so bad that you feel embarrassed to laugh at them. Half of the things that Timberlake said in the movie fit into this category. About a quarter of the lines belonging to Amy Squirrel were also this way, and the rest….well, I leave to bad acting. However, I cannot rule out the entirety of the cast with such a comment; indeed, The Office‘s Phyllis Smith makes herself known, as a quiet woman with lower self-esteem than Diaz’s character’s self-respect, who only hopes to be half as good a teacher as Ms Squirrel and perhaps a quarter of the flaunt as Ms Halsey.

And Jason Segel plays the gym instructor, Russell Gettis, a friendly, approachable man and arguably the only individual in the film with a head on his shoulders. Segel shines as a good ‘opposite’ to Diaz, though in the end it would be the two who would meet and make amends before the final school bell dismisses us from the theater.

When I first left the theater, I initially thought I was just being a harsh critic (as I feel I always am with movies), especially considering I was watching it at 12:25 the night of its release. “Okay, let’s just see how the movie goes down in the next couple of days,” I thought to myself later on. Well, more than a week has passed and its not looking great for Jake Kasdan and all else who were on board with this half-baked idea of a movie. As I said before, its good to gain perspective from others before deciding for yourself. Now I’m sure of my instincts. The movie was nowhere NEAR as good as the previews made it out to be.

Is Bad Teacher really another casualty of a trailer that reveals the only good parts of a movie? Or are we missing something here….?

Cameron Diaz

Recommendation: See it if you’re a just an unapologetically devoted fan of the guys who wrote The Office. Because this movie and that show are totally not the same thing. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

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