REVIEW: Neighbors

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Neighbors
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller
Written by: Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien
Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron and Dave Franco

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are disarmingly excellent in Neighbors.  Their performances are so fluid and in sync that they take what would otherwise be an amusing, sometimes audacious series of physical gags and ground it with their portrait of a convincing young marriage. The poster sells a macho showdown between a millennial frat boy (Zac Efron) and a pothead-turned-dad (Rogen), and while that feud is very much at the core of the movie Byrne’s character is in on the raunchy scheming, too.

Andrew J. Coehn and Brendan O’Brien’s script switches effortlessly between the two worlds next door to each other.  Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) are a younger couple who moved to suburbia to “grow up.”  Not long after they move in, Teddy Sanders (Efron) and his frat brothers turn the house next door into a non-stop rave.  The movie leans heavily on their somewhat elaborate frat party set pieces, with a blacklight rave and Robert DeNiro-themed mixers.

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REVIEW: This Is the End

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This Is the End
Directed by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Written by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg (screenplay), Jason Stone (short film)
Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel

This Is the End rotates between being one of the funniest mainstream comedies in recent memory and one of the sloppiest.  If the budget had been hacked in half and forced directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to go without all the CGI demons, it would have been ten times as good.

As it stands, though, it’s hard to argue with a movie where some of the funniest Hollywood actors play themselves during the apocalypse.  Every actor is at the top of their self-mocking form, and when the movie doesn’t detour into much weaker action territory, it’s hilarious.

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REVIEW: Thor

Thor
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, & Don Payne (screenplay), Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, & Jack Kirby (comic)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, and Tom Hiddleston

It’s almost hard not to write off Thor as the beginning of an onslaught of mindless summer action movies.  However, with its welcome injection of humor and a toned-down scale, it rises above that classification if only by a little bit.

The best moments of Thor occur outside Asgard, the homeworld of its hero, in a small town in New Mexico.  He arrives there much like many movie aliens, and director Kenneth Branagh riffs off this aspect quite well.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings alien customs (which closely resembles stereotypical viking culture) to such places as small-town diners and hospital rooms.  In one hilarious instance, he smashes a glass down on the floor and demands a refill.

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Summer Box Office Predictions 2011

1. Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Release date: June 29

Plot summary: The Autobots are back in action after discovering a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the Moon. They find themselves racing with the Decepticons to reach it and learn its secrets in order to ultimately save the human race in some form.

Why it will rule: The first Transformers movie was a $320 million hit and the second skyrocketed to a $410 million hit. Both of those movies were without the third dimension however, which is likely to add somewhere near an additional 25% to box office receipts. Dark of the Moon will enjoy a few of the finer luxuries summer has to offer: an IMAX slot and the Fourth of July weekend it usually dons. Director Michael Bay promises to not necessarily make the third film bigger than Revenge of the Fallen, but darker and more emotional, getting into the mythos and character development, something Nolan has faired well from at the box office.

Why it will fail: Michael Bay has never made a dark, emotional movie with character development in his career. Audiences saw what a car wreck Revenge of the Fallen was and it was panned by every known critic. Given what information is known about the plot and teaser, we have no reason to believe Dark of the Moon will be any different from the first two, except that it will be sans Megan Fox, the eye candy that seemed to bring in salivating young males by the droves. Another critical disaster and story-less film may not be a box office pounding for Bay, but it also isn’t going to be the same out of the world hit unless the trailer is another Linkin Park jammed visual trip.

Estimated box office: $120 million OW / $385 million domestic

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Release date: July 15

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REVIEW: Machete

Machete
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez & Ethan Maniquis
Written by: Robert Rodriguez & Álvaro Rodriguez
Starring: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, and Robert DeNiro

The official end of the Summer 2010 movie season roars by with Robert Rodriguez’s blood-splattered message movie Machete.  Originally showcased as a fake trailer at the beginning of the Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino Grindhouse double-feature in 2007, the cult following of this idea pushed it into production.  Now that the final product is here for everyone to see, they may scratch their heads.

For one, Rodriguez has decided to make the full film version of Machete an indictment of U.S. immigration policy.  If that doesn’t throw B-movie gore-seekers off, Robert DeNiro cheesing it up as a Texas Senator yelling “Welcome to America!” as he blasts immigrants at the border might.  You can’t help but laugh at both of these, the latter pleasantly and the former not so much.  It is this battle of the pleasant surprises duking it out with the unpleasant ones that is at the core of Machete.

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REVIEW: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright (screenplay), Bryan Lee O’Malley (graphic novels.)
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jason Schwartzman, and Anna Kendrick

It almost seemed as if America had had enough of Michael Cera.  His “quirkier than thou,” acting career had cornered its hipster niche, and then pummeled it with character after awkward character until they just couldn’t take it anymore.  As we saw with his two earlier and still best movies, Superbad and Juno, his comic style’s effectiveness is screenplay dependent.  Thankfully, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World‘s got one of those, and it doesn’t pummel you with his long pauses or dopey, annoying sensibilities.

Another thing this potent, and fully alive comic book adaptation’s got is a visual style.  I’d rather be pummeled by fantastic visuals than awkward pauses any day, and director Edgar Wright does this.  It can overwhelm at times, and if it were in 3D it would kill you, but Wright effectively makes up for this summer’s lack of visual polish.  You’ll feel like you’re watching a music video and playing a video game, especially if you’re familiar with the artistry of both mediums.

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REVIEW: Dinner for Schmucks

Dinner for Schmucks
Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by: David Guion & Michael Handelman
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, and Jemaine Clement

The mainstream American comedy is in trouble.  Like the America pre-economic meltdown, it’s been lulled into a state of laziness.  Audiences are being tricked into the same movie over and over again by slick, money-grubbing studio executives, not unlike those bankers and brokers.  And so here we are with Dinner for Schmucks, the latest comic swindler from the modern studio system.

At the helm, if it even matters, is director Jay Roach, who previously brought us Meet the Parents, a funny if not overwhelmingly original movie with a diverse cast that drew in a lot of different people.  With this movie, we get the inevitable pairing of Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, who first worked together on the 40 Year Old Virgin.

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