She’s at it again…
She’s at it again…
It’s been a decent year for independent film, what with such gems (and likely Oscar contenders) as The Way, Way Back, Inside Llewyn Davis and Fruitvale Station on the roster, but today I’d like to focus on two others that have received far less publicity but surely deserve their moment in the spotlight.
First up is the best horror flick of 2013. You’re Next hit theaters in August between the year’s two big budget horror films The Conjuring and Insidious Chapter 2, though I’m sure it grossed far less in the box office, which is a damned shame because it is a nearly perfect example of a film that may not reinvent its genre – the premise isn’t anything new or original – but excels so much in its execution that it stands out as a shining success among its peers. In other words: Finally! an example of a horror flick done right! It begins with some actual character development, not merely introducing the Davison family but really showing the dynamics between them at play. They’re a wealthy family celebrating mom and dad’s anniversary in their large, rural home. Within the first 15 or 20 minutes, we learn a great deal about them, but not more than we need in order for the stage to be set. Once all the adult children arrive with their significant others, tension builds, fingers are pointed and right at the peak of a rather heated argument, a living nightmare begins with an arrow shot through the dining room window and into one of the dinner guests. The inept family descends into confusion and futility as more arrows fly into the house, killing some, wounding others, but revealing them all as targets of the murderous intruders lurking outside. It seems they won’t stop until they’re ALL dead.
There’s only one wildcard yet to be played and she is the girlfriend of one of the sons, an Aussie named Erin, superbly played by Sharni Vinson. While the others practically flail about, clueless to what’s happening or why and entirely unprepared to deal with it, Erin immediately responds with practical, useful and effective ideas of not only how to protect themselves and each other, but also to fight back. You read that right: not only do we get a character who kicks ass (and well), but – bonus! – she’s female! She is the stand-out here, acting not as a scared little girl trying to find her inner strength but as a strong and capable woman who reacts intelligently from the initial sign of danger, determined to survive and using every available tool around her. And, boy, is she creative. From here, the flick is perfectly executed with enough violence and suspense to truly scare its audience without ever overdoing it. It is a slasher flick, which means there is a fair amount of blood, but it never feels excessive or gratuitous. And there are several clever and well-placed props which are later used as weapons but they aren’t forced; they actually serve the story.
Bottom line: you won’t find anything groundbreaking or genre-defining in You’re Next but what you will see is a well-written, well-acted and damned well-executed hack ‘em up intruder movie.
The other is a little ditty called Drinking Buddies. I’m hesitant to call it a romantic comedy because, while it does have the feel of the genre, it fails to follow its basic structure as well as avoids its numerous traps. It centers around Luke (Jake Johnson, aka, my new crush) and Kate (Olivia Wilde giving her best performance to date), two buddies who work together at a brewery. The two have intense chemistry and as the story progresses we see they’re basically two versions of the same person. Luke is in a long-term relationship with the lovely Jill (the always charming Anna Kendrick) and Kate is less seriously involved with Chris (Ron Livingston), who, admittedly, seems an odd fit for her. The four take a camping trip and the two couples’ dynamics come more into focus while the dynamics between Luke & Kate and Jill & Chris further develop as well. This isn’t the story of two mismatched couples trading spouses, however, but more an exploration of a scenario: how an attraction that is further enhanced by alcohol can disrupt an otherwise healthy and stable relationship. Throughout nearly the whole of the film, Luke faces the choice between a woman he loves and another he knows he could love and Jake Johnson plays the role with such genuine feeling, the audience can’t help but feel his dilemma with him. In another actor’s hands, Luke could easily have become an unlikable character. But Johnson has the perfect blend of easy charm and real heart, making the audience sympathize with his situation instead of judging it.
I read online that there was no real script for Drinking Buddies, merely an outline, when they started shooting. Which means that almost all of the dialogue is improv. I can’t imagine making or acting in a movie without a script but somehow, it served Drinking Buddies well. Because it forced each actor to behave as though the situation was real. What that gives us is a genuine and truly authentic look at a scenario that very well could be real. Combine that with the charm and charisma of the actors and their lively chemistry with one another and what you’ve got is one enjoyable, often funny and entirely relatable film.
Confession: I have watched Pitch Perfect at least five times now and all within the past couple of weeks. It’s like I just can’t stop. I saved it on my DVR and have been watching it in pieces ever since my first full viewing more than two weeks ago. It’s gotten to where I fast-forward through the non-singing parts, repeatedly watching the song performances, especially the final two. I never watched Glee, not for any particular reason, so I am unable to make the obvious comparison there. But I do generally like musicals and Pitch Perfect manages to combine some really excellent musical numbers with a plot as aloof and relatable as that of Bring It On. Just as any non-cheerleader could enjoy the shenanigans of Bring It On, you need not be an a capella enthusiast to enjoy Pitch Perfect. It’s a sweet, feel-good flick with likeable characters and some really fun music.
The Sing-Off got me into a capella (well, not counting those years in junior high when I adored Boyz II Men) and generally primed audiences across America for this movie. It centers around Beca, played with irresistible charm by Anna Kendrick, a college freshman who has no actual desire to attend college but is giving it a shot to appease her father. She wants to move to LA to start paying her dues in the music industry, hoping to make a career out of DJ-ing. With much coaxing by her dad and a senior named Chloe (the adorable Brittany Snow), she reluctantly auditions for the Bardon Bellas, an all-female a capella group on campus who have an intense rivalry with the all-male group, the Treblemakers. Beca earns a spot with the Bellas and slowly brings new life to their stale routine.
While Kendrick is undoubtedly the star of this flick, it is very much an ensemble movie. Senior and leader of the Bellas, Aubrey Posen (Anna Camp), Chloe and Beca probably get the most lines but supporting characters Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson stealing the majority of her scenes), Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) and Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) hit every mark… and note. (Sorry – couldn’t resist.) The boys make the most of their screen time as well, especially Beca’s love interest, Jesse (Skylar Astin), his nerdy roommate Benji (Ben Platt), and two of the Treblemakers, Bumper and Donald, played by Adam DeVine (of the hilarious series Workaholics) and Utkarsh Ambudkar, respectively. There’s competition, friendship, romance and loads of music but there is also an abundance of humor. Pitch Perfect never takes itself too seriously. In fact, it gets rather silly at times. The vast majority of jokes land and there’s even a big throwback to a certain ’80s icon of pop culture that warms the cockles of my heart.
Of course, as I’ve already hinted, the music itself is what drives it home. The lulls between songs are relatively short and each performance not only plays a relevant role in the central plot but adds a guilty pleasure level of enjoyment, leading viewers like me to watch repeatedly, never tiring of the actors’ unprocessed and natural voices or the fun, practiced choreography. There are even a few cameos the likes of Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins and Donald Faison. That’s right – Turk makes an appearance and anything that lets me watch Turk sing and dance is okay by me.
There isn’t anything terribly original or unpredictable about Pitch Perfect but every minute is amusing, there are loads of laughs and at least 30 solid minutes of fun musical performances. Need more? 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon wrote it. I knew that would hook you. ;)
All right, all you haters, I’m saying this first to get it out of the way: I like Seth Rogen. I like Seth Rogen and James Franco and Jonah Hill and Jay Baruchel and all those other Judd Apatow boys. I liked them in Freaks and Geeks. I liked them in Undeclared and I’ve liked them in every movie they’ve spawned from Knocked-Up to I Love You, Man. Honestly, I wish that I knew these guys in real life and could hang out with them on the regular. So, before you read this review, just know that I am already their fan.
This Is The End is a story about the end – as in, the end of civilization as we know it, the end of the earth as it stands now. It’s the story of what may happen to Seth Rogen and his boy Jay Baruchel should the apocalypse occur while they happen to be attending a house-warming party at James Franco’s new Hollywood mansion. These guys (and so many others) play themselves. Well… exaggerated, semi-ridiculous versions of themselves. Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride round out this sausage-heavy sextet who fill nearly every scene. There are cameos galore, dick and ejaculation jokes out the wazoo and a fifty foot tall Satan sporting one seriously intimidating boner. That’s right – in this apocalyptic flick, the apocalypse is REAL. No zombies, no flesh-eating plague, no nuclear war. Just the earth opening up to swallow all the sinners, fire and brimstone kind of apocalypse that the Bible has promised us. Or at least, as writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg imagine it.
And it is raucously funny. It isn’t deep or complex by any possible definition. There is no greater religious or social meaning, no intricate plot to be found. The story is nothing more than what these guys imagine might happen to them should the apocalypse suddenly, finally, come. What ensues is an hour and 45 minutes of shenanigans. The good news, I laughed for a solid 90 minutes of that 105 min. span. Say what you will about these fellas, they are funny. Yes, their jokes are absurd and juvenile and I freely admit that dick jokes can and most certainly do get old. But they can also hit the mark and in this flick, with this cast, they do, over and over again. Of course, they aren’t all dick and cum jokes, but a great many of them are and they are, somehow, consistently funny. Honestly, I kept waiting to get tired of them, to start yawning instead of laughing but it just didn’t happen. These guys take some of the most inane and predictable material and deliver it in a way that makes people laugh. A lot.
And there’s something about watching actors play themselves in a self-deprecating, mocking way that just amuses the hell out of me. When I first saw the trailer for this, I wondered if it would feel self-indulgent. Like, ‘hey look how much money we’ve got now, we can make any ol’ stupid, shallow movie we want!’ But that never came through, not one bit. Rather than stroke their own egos, they poke fun at themselves and instead of feeling like a voyeur on the lives of the rich and famous, you just feel like you’re in on the fun.
The cast is great, exactly what we’ve come to expect from this crew. Rogen and Baruchel play the leads and their chemistry as old friends who may have slightly out-grown each other works perfectly. McBride is every bit the selfish, insensitive jerk I imagine him to be in the film’s most villainous role (other than that of Satan, of course) and even Franco is capable of making fun of himself by playing on the rumors that he’s awfully full of himself and unhealthily attached to his boy, Seth. Jonah Hill is actually more likeable here, playing himself, than in his earlier roles as the self-absorbed douche bag and each and every cameo will leave you smiling. (Some more than others – ahem, Channing Tatum.) The stand-out in this gang is Craig Robinson, who is simply delightful. He has perfect comedic timing and can do everything from deadpan (The Office) to absurdly silly (Zack and Miri Make A Porno) and he’s hilarious at it all. For real, Robinson belongs in ALL the comedies.
If you hate this crew and have never liked any of their work, I’d say this likely won’t change your mind. But even if your feelings toward them are luke warm, I’d bet you’ll enjoy this. It won’t win any awards or earn a place in cinematic history, but it certainly is one fun gigglefest of a flick.