Stepping out of Neighbors into the cold, calm, dick-joke-free real world, you might find yourself hit with a barrage of "But wait..." moments: "Why did they move into a new frat house just a month or two before the end of college?" "When was it established that she wanted to sleep with him?" "Where did that pledge come from?" "Who was that other guy?" "If he, then why?" "When did?" "How?" "What?" "Huh?!" Yeah, there are enough logical holes in Nicholas Stoller's comedy to warrant an "Everything Wrong with Neighbors" gag trailer and a dozen or two angry message threads. But the tenability of a movie's realism isn't exactly on trial when it sells itself as the Seth Rogen comedy in which a baby eats a condom.
Neighbors eagerly liberates itself not only from the laws of basic reality or tight storytelling, but also from the rigid shackles of any one comic tone. We jump from a slice of life about new parents Mac and Kelly (Rogen and Rose Byrne) who aren't quite ready to say goodbye to their youth instantly to a wild and wacky college farce about the fraternity one house over (led by Zac Efron and second banana Dave Franco), borrowing a lexicon from latter day National Lampoon. As the war picks up between these congenial neighbors-turned-close-quarters enemies, we're invited into a back and forth of vicious, albeit loony, aggression, each maneuver to "get those fogeys/punks next door" escalating in hostility, danger, and independence from earthbound possibility. As we're treated to this ceaseless exercise in human malignance, Neighbors peppers in episodes of cartoon-grade zaniness, macabre pathos, and absolute surrealism. And although it might not seem like all of these comic identities can exist in the same film, Neighbors has a special trick up its sleeve to make it all work: it's funny. Never brilliant, and rarely all that fresh, but always funny.
The frat stuff plays broad, often saddling Efron's sadomasochistic pseudo-villain, Franco's vulnerable prick, and the pair's gang of goons — a wily Christopher Mintz-Plasse and an effortlessly charming Jerrod Carmichael at the top of the heap — with the usual party flick shenanigans like dance-offs and flaming barrels of marijuana. The team of youngsters is at its best, though, when the standard routine is shirked for more peculiar fare, like an abstract non sequitur that has Franco demonstrating a bizarre biological skill, or a fractured history of drinking games as narrated through flashbacks by a passionate Efron.
A good deal of fun can be pinned on the usual assortment of physical gags, pop culture references (one extended bit plays on the film histories of Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, and Al Pacino to endearing results), and the goofball antics of supporting players like Ike Barinholtz (as Mac's zealous, dimwitted pal). But Neighbors' secret weapon is Byrne, outshining the established comedic reputations of her co-stars with her performance as Kelly. Catapulted miles from the doldrums of straight-man-hood, Byrne tops even Rogen in awkward panache (watching her struggling to interact with the younger breed early on in the movie is delightful) and diabolical villainy alike — the very biggest laughs come from Byrne unleashing her furies or executing evil schemes. If Neighbors inspires any lasting impression, it should be a new appreciation for Byrne's chops in the humor department.
Somehow, this farcical grab bag never feels lethally convoluted or overstuffed. While the film's pacing does no great favors — we jump right into the principal conflict, which is a tough beat to sustain for so long — and a few abject narrative leaps keep the story from feeling tidy, these problems feel like a second priority. Even if some of the jokes feel strained or rehashed, if the characters are malleable, if the conceit is overcooked, or if there are too many plot holes to count... we're laughing. So it's working.
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Gun to my head, I might be able to say something positive about 300: Rise of an Empire. In a vacuum, I suppose I'd call its aesthetic appealing, its production value impressive, or its giant rhinos kind of cool. But these elements cannot be taken alone, embroidered on a gigantic patch of joyless pain that infests your conscious mind from its inceptive moments on.
It's not so much that the 300 sequel fails at its desired conceit — it gives you exactly what it promises: gore, swordplay, angry sex, halfwit maxims about honor and manliness and the love of the fight. It's simply that its desired conceit is dehumanizing agony. Holding too hard and too long to its mission statement to top its Zack Snyder-helmed predecessor in scope, scale, and spilled pints of blood, Noam Murro's Rise of an Empire doesn't put any energy into filtering its spectacular mayhem through whatever semblance of a humanistic touch made the first one feel like a comprehensive movie.
Now, it's been a good eight years since I've seen 300, and I can't say that I was particularly fond of it. But beneath its own eye-widening layer of violence, there was a tangible idea of who King Leonidas was, what this war meant, and why Sparta mattered. No matter how much clumsy exposition is hurled our way, all we really know here is that there are two sides and they hate each other.
When Rise of an Empire asks us to engage on a more intimate level, which it does — the personal warfare between Sullivan Stapleton (whose name, I guess, is Themistokles) and Bad Guy Captain Eva Green (a.k.a. Artemisia) is founded on the idea that she likes him, and he kind of digs her (re: angry sex), and they want to rule together, but a rose by any other name and all that — we're effectively lost. With characters who don't matter in the slightest, material like this is just filler between the practically striking battle sequences.
But when the "in-between material" is as meaningless as it is in Rise of an Empire, the battles can't function as much more than filler themselves. Filler between the opening titles and closing credits. A game of Candy Crush you play on the subway. Contemptfully insubstantial and not particularly fun, but taking place nonetheless.
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Without even a remote layer of camp — too palpably absent as Rise of an Empire splashes its screen with so much human fluid that "The End" by The Doors will start to play in your head — there's no victory in a movie like this. No characters to latch onto, no story to follow, no joy to be derived. Yes, it might be aesthetically stunning (and really, that's where the one star comes in... well, half a star for that and half for the giant rhinos), but the marvel of its look shrinks under the shadow of the painful vacancy of anything tolerable.
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Much like the somber melodies that float throughout its 105-minute runtime, Inside Llewyn Davis will remain lodged in your head weeks after you and the film first meet. With Oscar Isaac's "Fare thee we-e-ell..." ringing daintily in your ears, you'll shuffle out from the grasp of the Coen Brothers' wonderland of gray, but you won't soon be able to relieve yourself of what is arguable the pair's best film yet. Llewyn's is a story so outstandingly simple — he's a man who's s**t out of luck, and not especially deserving of any. He wakes up, loses his friend's cat, plays some music, and wishes things were better. And yet his is the Coens' most invigorating and deftly human tale yet.
Llewyn Davis makes the bold, but practical, choice of never insisting that we love its hero. He's effectively a jackass, justifying all the waste he has incurred with the rudeness he showers on the majority of those in his acquaintance. But Llewyn Davis isn't the villain here, either. The villain is the industry, and all the uphill battles inherent to its machinations. The villain isn't Llewyn's substantially more successful contacts — an old pal Jim (Justin Timberlake) and new fellow couch-surfer Troy (Stark Sands), but the listening public that prefers their saccharine pop to his dreary drips of misery. The villain isn't Llewyn's resentful old flame Jean (Carey Mulligan), no matter how many volatile admonitions she might shoot his way, but the act of God surrounding their unwitting adherence to one another. And it's not even the cantankerous and foul Roland Turner (a delightfully hammy John Goodman), but the endless, frigid open road of which each man is a prisoner (if the film has one flaw, it's that this segment carries on just a bit too long, but that might very well be the point). The villain is the cold.
Call it all a raw deal. But the real dynamism isn't in the challenges that happen outside Llewyn Davis, but in the determined toxicity brewing inside as he meets each and every one.
But this isn't the Coen Brothers' Murphy's Law comedy A Serious Man — we don't watch a chaotic pileup of every imaginable trick that the devil can manage to pull. Llewyn is steady throughout, not burying Llewyn deeper but keeping him on the ground, with the fruit-bearing branches forever out of his reach. In its narrative, Llewyn Davis is as close to natural life as any of the filmmakers' works to date. Perfectly exhibited in a late scene involving a trip to Akron, Llewyn isn't a cinematic construct, but the sort of person we know, so painfully, that we are very likely to be... on our bad days.
Still, working in such a terrific harmony with the grounded feel of Llewyn himself, we have that Coen whimsy in their delivery of 1960s New York City — rather, a magic kingdom painted in the stellar form of a 1960s New York City. And not the New York City we're given by the likes of Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen. Closer, maybe, to Spike Lee or Sydney Lumet, but still a terrain unique to moviegoers. A New York that's always recovering from a hostile rain, and always promising another 'round the bend. One that flickers like a dying bulb, with its million odd beleaguered moths buzzing around it against the pull of logic. There is something so incredibly alive about the Coens' crying city; this hazy dream world's partnership with half-dead, anchored-to-earth portrait like Llewyn is the product of such sophisticated imagination at play.
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And to cap this review of one of the best features 2013 has given us, it's only appropriate to return to the element in which its identity is really cemented: the music. Without the tunes bobbing through the story, we'd still likely find something terrific in Llewyn Davis. But the music, as beautiful as it is, is the reason for the story. As we watch Isaac's hopeless sad sack drag himself through Manhattan's winter, past the helping hands of friends and into the grimaces of strangers, as we struggle with our own handfuls of nihilistic skepticism that any of this yarn is worth the agony (or that our attention to its meandering nature is worth the price of a ticket), we are given the rare treat of an answer. Of course it's all for something. Of course it's all about something. It's about that beautiful, beautiful music.
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Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
Ms. I-can't-keep-my-name-out-of-the-press Rosie O'Donnell will be hosting CBS' Survivor: Marquesas reunion special May 19, after the final episode of the current Survivor saga airs in New York's Central Park. She'll be taking over the job from Bryant Gumbel, who has done the honors for the past three Survivor reunion specials.
The show's executive producer, Mark Burnett, told The Associated Press that Rosie "is a fan of the show, she knows all the players and her infectious enthusiasm will add an unbelievable amount of excitement to the event." No doubt.
In the ongoing case against actor Robert Iler, AP reported Officer Brian O'Donnell (no relation to Rosie) testified at a pretrial hearing Monday that he found marijuana and a pot pipe in Iler's pockets when the young man was arrested for second-degree robbery last July 4. Iler, who plays the delinquent A.J. on HBO's The Sopranos, has pleaded innocent to the charges.
Actor Jason Priestley of Beverly Hills, 90210 fame escaped injury when his speedboat collided with another during the Fountain Miami Super Boat Grand Prix on Sunday. Priestley told the Miami Herald it was "just part of racing." Sure.
Mel Gibson was on hand Tuesday to celebrate the opening of a new theater at his alma mater, the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney, Australia. Gibson had donated a chunk of change to help build the theater, and AP reported the actor advised students there to "keep your nose to the grindstone and don't stop dreaming." Words to live by.
Wanna own a piece of Jerry and the gang from Seinfeld? Well, you can if you hurry over to Sotheby's in New York. The New York Post reports Sotheby's will be auctioning off 110 items from the hit NBC show, including props, scripts and costumes, mostly around the $2,000 range. Proceeds will benefit Hollywood Cinema Production Resources.
Someone get this girl some help. Former figure skater and new Celebrity Boxing champ Tonya Harding was arrested for drunk driving Saturday in Battle Ground, Wash., after she crashed her truck into a ditch. No injuries were reported, and Harding pleaded innocent in court on Monday. By consuming alcohol, she has also violated her probation stemming from a charge of disorderly conduct and malicious mischief after attacking her boyfriend with a hubcap in May 2000. Harding could very well see some more jail time.
In the Biz
The immortal line "Book 'em, Danno" may once again be heard by all--that's right, a big-screen version of Hawaii Five-O may be on its way. In an intense bidding war, DreamWorks emerged as the big winner on Monday, snatching up the exclusive rights to the classic '70s cop series, which ran on CBS for 12 years. It starred Jack Lord as the determined Det. Steve McGarrett, who, along with his trusted sidekick Det. Danny Williams (James MacArthur), fought organized crime and corruption on the beaches of Waikiki.
The next Marvel comic book hero to hit the big screen will be The Punisher. Marvel Enterprises, which is riding high on the wave of Spider-Man and Blade, will team up with Artisan Entertainment to make a film about Frank Castle, an ex-soldier not necessarily endowed with super powers but rather a single-minded determination to hunt down the crime syndicate that killed his family. No one has been cast as yet.
Actor Jim Caviezel (High Crimes) will be starring as the legendary American Revolution figure Ethan Allen in Rebels. The historical drama will center on a group of young New England rebels, including Allen, who become the first colonists to stand up against British rule. Most importantly, we'll finally find out the exact time Ethan Allen started making furniture.
Linda Boreman, better known as Linda Lovelace, who starred in the classic 1972 porn film Deep Throat and later became an anti-porn advocate, died Monday in Denver, Colo., of injuries she sustained from a car crash April 3. She was 53 and is survived by her two grown children.
Hundreds of stars are expected at the British Academy Television Awards in London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane tomorrow. This year's BAFTA TV Awards, which cover news, documentary and sports programs, will be hosted Chris Tarrant, who hosts the television quiz show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?. The event could attract criticism if the current affairs spoof Brass Eye wins either of the two major awards for which it was nominated: best comedy and best innovation. The controversial program was the subject of thousands of complaints following a show about pedophilia, the BBC reports. The Television Awards will air on Monday, April 22 at 8:30 BST.
'N Sync member Lance Bass has some competition for his paid seat on a space flight sometime in October or November. According to PageSix.com, 40-year-old mom and former space-mission planner for NASA Lori Garver is also under consideration, as is 39-year-old Polish millionaire Leszek Czarnecki. Bass, you may recall, has already begun a documentary on his preparation for the 10-day mission called Celebrity Mission: Lance Bass.
Just when you thought Tonya Harding's life couldn't possibly take any more bizarre turns, the former figure skater was cited for drunken driving early Saturday morning in Battle Ground, Wash. According to The Associated Press, Harding crashed her pickup truck into a ditch and failed a field sobriety test and breath test administered by deputies from the Clark County Sheriff's office that arrived on the scene. Neither Harding nor her passenger was hurt.
In the Biz
Paramount Pictures was granted exclusive television rights to H.G. Wells' 1938 science fiction novel The War of the Worlds by a Manhattan Supreme Court Judge, Reuters reports. As trustees of the author's estate, Wells' grandchildren had started negotiations with Hallmark to produce and distribute a television miniseries based on the novel. But Paramount asserted exclusive ownership of the TV rights based on a contract signed by H.G. Wells' son Frank in 1951. In a ruling made public Friday, Judge Ira Gammerman said Paramount has the right to televise the motion picture since it has the right to produce it.
Lisa Bonet, who played Denise Huxtable on NBC's The Cosby Show, will not be taking part in the show's upcoming reunion next month. While NBC blames her busy schedule for her absence, Bonet told People magazine that she was uncomfortable with the whole vibe of the show, saying she was offered a "take-it-or-leave-it" type of deal. Bonet also went on to say she thought the reunion project "felt disingenuous and motivated by corporate profit" and that the deal made her feel devalued and disrespected. The episode airs May 19.
It's official: The Osbournes is the biggest hit series in MTV's 21-year history. Last Tuesday's episode was watched by 6.3 million people--up from 6 million the week before--and according to Nielsen Media Research, it's bumped professional wrestling as cable television's biggest show. MTV has three more original episodes on tap before the season ends and is talking to the family about filming another season's worth of shows, the AP reports.
The two surviving members of Nirvana want Kurt Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, the AP reports. Bassist Krist Novoselik and drummer David Grohl want Love to be removed from the business partnership they formed in 1997, which Love argues should be dissolved because her judgement was significantly impaired when she signed it three years after her husband's death. A lawyer representing Novoselik and Grohl said a psychiatrist's evaluation would most likely show that Love was competent when she signed the agreement and that her competence has since deteriorated.
Always willing to embrace controversy, Grammy-winning rapper Eminem is appearing in the video for his new single "Without Me" dressed up like Osama bin Laden and spoofing the Sally Jessy Raphael Show. According to MTV.com, the song is the first single from Eminem's album The Eminem Show, which is due out June 4. The video for "Without Me" will debut in early May on an episode of MTV's Making the Video.
A new scholarship fund will be established at Park City High School in Utah in the name of actor Robert Urich. Urich, who was best known as Dan Tanna on Vega$, and his wife, Heather Menzies, were strong forces in the Utah art community, People reports, helping to raise funds for a performing arts center at the high school when Urich was alive.
Antonio Banderas received the first Anthony Quinn Award for Excellence in Cinema and the Arts Friday at the 10th annual Providence New Latin American Cinema Festival. Quinn, who was born in Mexico and raised in East Los Angeles, died last year at age 86.
Rusty Burrell, a retired sheriff's deputy who served as bailiff on The People's Court, died Monday at his home in Rosemead, Calif., after suffering from lung cancer, the AP reports. He was 76. Burell was a real-life bailiff during the high profile trials of Charles Manson and Patty Hearst, and joined Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Wapner in the reality TV show The People's Court in 1981. The series ended in 1993, but the two reunited several years later to work on Animal Planet's "Judge Wapner's Animal Court.