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From the Blu-Ray Shelf: Josh Reviews Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

I enjoyed the first Neighbors. I wouldn’t call it a comedy classic, but it was a very funny film with a great cast. I loved the Seth Rogen-Rose Byrne combo, and all the frat boys (Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael) were fun. So I was interested in a sequel, though I missed it in theatres this summer.

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Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising got weak reviews when it was released but I enjoyed it. As with the first Neighbors, this isn’t a brilliant or groundbreaking in any way film, but it’s pretty consistently funny and with a very short run-time (only 92 minutes!) it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

While the first film dealt with Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), young parents and first-time home-owners, dealing with the nightmare of a frat house moving in next door, here in the sequel they are preparing to sell their house but now have to deal with a sorority moving in next door.

On the one hand, that premise is such a clear attempt to reset the characters so they can basically retell the story of the first film that it’s somewhat eye-rolling.  On the other hand, it’s such a natural way to get back to the concept that made the first movie fun, that I can’t really complain.

Sequels are hard, and comedy sequels particularly so. There’s a tension between wanting to tell a new story while also preserving what everyone enjoyed about the first film. So often, what happens is that these sequels basically wind up telling the same story again. When this approach doesn’t work, the result is a film that feels boring and repetitive. So the trick for a sequel is to somehow be both new and familiar at the same time.  And so I sort of have to admire the simple premise of Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne battling a sorority instead of a fraternity.  It feels clever at the same time as it is obvious. This is not genius level comedy film-making, but it works.  The film’s short run-time helps the viewer not have to much time to overthink this obvious set-up.  And the terrific cast mines enough humor out of the fun of seeing these characters back in a similar situation that it all comes together.

Where the film is weak is that the new characters introduced, the young women in the sorority, are not anywhere near as interesting as the boys in the first film. They feel far less well-defined, less interesting.

Chloe Grace Moretz feels like good casting on paper as the main new character, Shelby, but I never quite got a bead on her character.  On the one hand, she … [continued]

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Back in 2010, I had a hard time coming up with ten movies I liked enough to put on my Top 10 Movies of the year list.  Last, year, in 2011, I thought there were so many great movies that I had a Top 15 list (and I even squeezed in a few extra movies by including several ties).  I thought 2012 was another fantastic year at the movies.  I could have easily had a Top 20 list this year, but I thought that might have been excessive.

There were a lot of great films I saw in 2012 which didn’t make this list, including: Silver Linings Playbook, Wanderlust, Skyfall, This is 40, Ted, Chronicle, Paul Williams Still Alive, and many more.

As always, I also like to make mention of the many films that interested me that I just didn’t get a chance to see in 2012.  These include: Killing them Softly, Flight, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hyde Park Hudson, Butter, Hitchcock, Wreck-It Ralph, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Holy Motors, Smashed, Detention, and Savages.  So if you loved one or more of those films are are wondering why they’re not on my list, well, now you know.

Here now is my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2012:

15. The Five-Year Engagement This film has really grown on me since I first saw it, early this year.  I love how unusual its structure is — whereas most romantic comedies keep the two main characters apart until the very end, this movie starts with Tom (Jason Segel) proposing to Violet (Emily Blunt).  Things go downhill for there.  For a romantic comedy, this film goes into some grim territory — since much of the movie is about the happy couple slowly growing apart, there are certainly some parts of the film without a lot of yuks.  That threw me a bit the first time I saw the film, but I have come to really love and admire this film for its weird structure and premise.  And while there certainly are a few serious moments in the film, everything else is is pretty much jam-packed with big laughs and wonderful, very memorable characters.  Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) and Alison Brie (Mad Men, Community) steal the film as Tom’s best-friend and Violet’s sister, who meet at Tom and Violet’s engagement party and quickly fall in love, get married, and have kids before Tom and Violet even make it to the altar.  (Chris Pratt singing to Alison Brie at their characters’ wedding is one of my favorite moments I’ve seen onscreen all year.)  But wait, this film also has substantial, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Five-Year Engagement

In the opening scenes of The Five-Year Engagement, Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) get engaged after having been dating for exactly a year.  They seem perfect for one another, and the engagement is quickly followed by a movie-perfect sweet/off-color engagement party.  Bring on the wedding, right?  Well, as you can tell from the title, not quite.  Violet gets accepted into a post-doc at the University of Michigan, so the couple decide to put off the wedding-planning temporarily to move from sunny San Francisco to cold, wintry Michigan.  The movie isn’t called The Two-Year Engagement, so obviously further obstacles spring up in Tom and Violet’s path.

I’ve been enjoying Jason Segel’s work ever since Freaks and Geeks. It’s hard to believe that the weird, gangly kid who the networks refused to cast as the lead in Judd Apatow’s follow-up series, Undeclared, despite Mr. Apatow’s championing of him (and who, as a result, Mr. Apatow snuck into episode after episode in the supporting role of Eric, Lizzie’s stalkerish ex-boyfriend) has over the last few years become a big-screen leading man.  I’ve never stopped being a big fan of his work.  In project after project, Mr. Segel can always be counted on to bring a certain oddball weirdness to all of his characters, but that weirdness is usually tempered by an inherent innocence and goodness.  He’s a fearless performer (yes, Mr. Segel is naked at times on-screen in this film, as he often is) and one not afraid to dive deeply into the well of psychosis.  My favorite section in the film is Tom’s descent into depression, as his two-years in Michigan slides into four and he becomes increasingly bitter about the chef-career he gave up for Violet.  Tom gets weird, and hairy (he sports a hysterical wild-man beard-thing), and obsessed with hunting, and the whole thing comes very, very close to being off-putting, but I thought it was an absolute riot.

The Five-Year Engagement is the third film directed by Nicholas Stoller.  His first film was the absolutely brilliant Forgetting Sarah Marshall (click here for my brief review), which he co-wrote with Jason Segel (who also appeared in the film, in his first major starring role).  Mr. Stoller also directed the sort-of sequel Get Him to the Greek (click here for my review), and he co-wrote The Muppets with Jason Segel (click here for my review).  So clearly Mr. Segel and Mr. Stoller are a well-oiled machine, and The Five-Year Engagement, while not quite as great as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, is a pretty terrific film that benefits greatly from their strong partnership.

It’s also a film that is unabashedly bizarre.  It’s a comedy, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Muppets!

The beginning of The Muppets, the new film starring Jim Hensen’s creations, presents us with a world much like our own: one in which the Muppets have been pretty much forgotten, passed over in favor of more modern sources of entertainment.  Beseeched to get the gang back together and once again put on a Muppet Show, Kermit at first refuses, concerned that there’s no way for the Muppets to ever regain their former status, that the world has changed too much.

It’s a clever way to reintroduce us to these beloved characters as, indeed, it’s been a long long long time since these characters felt at all relevant.  Though I adored The Muppet Show as a kid (and I must have watched the first three films — The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan — dozens of times), I haven’t seen any of the kiddie Muppet films released over the past two decades.  Whatever you think works or doesn’t work in this new Muppets film, we can at least hopefully agree to thank Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin for spearheading a project that takes the Muppets seriously, and that is intended to be enjoyed by kids AND adults, just as the classic Muppets shows and movies were.

There’s been some grumbling in the press by folks like Frank Oz (a tremendous talent who I revere greatly) and other Muppets performers that Jason Segel and the other young turks responsible for this film haven’t been respectful to the Muppets, but that claim couldn’t be further from the truth.  The Muppets is positively dripping with admiration and adoration for these characters, and I was pleasantly surprised by how many loving references to classic Muppets characters and bits were woven into the film.  Most of all, the film’s entire story is clearly designed to prove to the world that the Muppets ARE wonderful characters, and that they CAN still be just as funny, relevant, and entertaining today as they were in the ’70s and ’80s.

One might expect that folks like Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller would try to stuff the film full of crass jokes and dirty humor, but that doesn’t happen at all.  (If anything, the film is a bit TOO square for my tastes.  More on that in a moment.)  And the characters are NEVER played for laughs.  The Muppets generate jokes, but we’re never laughing AT them.  This is an important distinction.  Though most of the characters are voiced by new voice actors (Jim Henson has of course long-since passed away, and Frank Oz declined to participate in the film), the character of each Muppet has been wonderfully preserved, and … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh reviews Get Him To The Greek

I’m a big, big fan of Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  That film really took me by surprise — it’s a very, very funny film, but also one that is remarkably endearing.

The breakout star of the film was, of course, Russell Brand’s rock star Aldous Snow.  Snow was a delirously lunatic creation — a jovial, high-life-living, self-absorbed maniac of a musician who stole every scene of the movie that he was in.  Many of those scenes co-stared Jonah Hill, who had a small role as a hapless waiter who idolized Aldous.

Get Him to the Greek is a feature-length attempt to recapture the energy of Mr. Brand and Mr. Hill’s interactions in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  Russell Brand repises his role of Aldous Snow, while Mr. Hill portrays a new character: Aaron Green, a young music executive.  Aaron has come up with an idea for Pinnacle Records, the company at which he works: in an attempt to revitalize Aldous Snow’s career, and their flagging record sales, they’ll schedule a concert at the Greek Theater in LA on the ten-year anniversary of Aldous’ previous triumphant performance at that venue.  All that Aaron needs to do is to ensure that the hard-living musician arrives at the theater on time to perform.

It’s a familiar set-up, and one can see the road-map for the film’s story a mile away.  Clearly, Aaron is going to have a lot of frustrating moments trying to keep Aldous en route to the theater, and one can also reasonably expect the straight-laced Aaron to be tempted and perhaps at first overwhelmed by the singer’s partying lifestyle.  Perhaps Aldous might also learn some lessons in responsibility from Aaron.

And that, in a nutshell, is the movie.  So don’t expect Get Him to the Greek to turn any comedy film tropes on their ear.  Nevertheless, I was quite taken by the film’s relentlessly entertaining nature.  Director and co-writer Nicholas Stoller has assembled some amazing comedic performers, and he pretty much lets them all cut loose and bounce off of one another for the duration of the film.  There are plenty of scenes that seem to go one for longer than they should, and plenty of scenes that don’t really serve much of a purpose in the film’s story.  But I didn’t mind terribly, because it’s a lot of fun watching these characters interact with one another, and I enjoyed the time we got to spend in their world.

Brand and Hill are reliably hilarious.  For me the biggest surprise was Rose Byrne, who knocks it out of the park as Aldous’ former musical partner and lover Jackie Q, who is now living with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich (who ahas a … [continued]

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Top 10 Movies of 2008! — Part One!

In case you haven’t figured this out already, I LOVE movies.

And in 2009, as usual, I saw a LOT of movies.  Today and tomorrow I’d like to celebrate what I feel were the best of the best of the new films released between January 1st and December 31st, 2008.

Before we dive in, though, I want to acknowledge that, even though I saw an enormous number of new films during 2008, there were also quite a few that, despite my interest, I never got around to see.  These include: Synechdoche, New York; Waltz With Bashir; Doubt; The Wrestler; Che; Rachel Getting Married; Choke; American Teen; Hamlet 2; Changeling; Rocknrolla; and Son of Rambow.  So if you loved one or more of those films and want to know why on earth they didn’t make my list, now you know.

As with my TV lists, let’s start with some Honorable Mentions:

Honorable Mention #1 — The Foot Fist Way.  If you, like most of America, discovered Danny McBride this past summer in Tropic Thunder (as pyromaniac Cody) and Pineapple Express (as the indestructible Red), then you owe it to yourself to check out this film.  The Foot Fist Way was filmed back in 2006, but only saw a release (and a very small one, at that) in 2008.  It is written and directed by McBride, who also has the starring role as a small town Tae Kwon Do instructor who is, shall we say, a little big for his britches.  This is a dark, dark comedy — not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of McBride’s it is a spectacular showcase for his abilities, and well worth your time.

Honorable Mention #2 — Cloverfield.  For months now I’ve been meaning to watch this film a second time, to find out if it holds up on a repeat viewing.  I don’t know if it does, but I will say that the experience of seeing Cloverfield theatrically was one of  the best times I had in a movie theatre all year.  You either buy the conceit (that one of the kids is able to film their whole adventure) or you don’t.  I did, and had no problem getting swallowed up in this intense thrill ride.  Incredible visuals, great storytelling — this was a ton of fun, and a clever twist on the giant-monster-attacks-New-York sub-genre of movies.

OK, and now here’s the top 10:

10.  Burn After Reading — A disc containing the memoirs of ex-CIA agent Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) are stolen, and they wind up in the hands of a pair of not-that-bright gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) who, mistaking them for government secrets, try to ransom … [continued]

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Seen any good movies lately?

I made a comment in my 1st blog entry for the site (on April 15th) about our being in the midst of a movie dead-zone currently. Has anyone else noticed this? There are a lot of exciting summer movies just over the horizon (things kick off with Iron Man in just two weeks)…but its pretty striking to me how few good new movies have been released by the major studios since January. I count only three that I’ve seen:

Cloverfield — It’s not great cinema, but boy did I love this movie. From the tantalizing Star Trek teaser that played in the opening moments right through to the end credits, I was completely hooked into this adrenaline-rush of a movie. Yes, it is even more implausible than a monster wrecking NYC that the kids were able to keep their digital camera rolling throughout the whole thing. But I guess that you either buy into that conceit (and it is a conceit that requires a leap of faith, I grant you), or you don’t. But I’ve got to say I loved every minute of this flick. I’m interested to see if it holds up to a repeat viewing (and to viewing on a small TV screen).

Be Kind Rewind — A sweet, silly little story that celebrates good old-fashioned love of movies and movie-making. There are a lot of us out there, I think, who’d love to be able to pick up a camera and make our own versions of our favorite movies, and this film really taps into that. (I wonder if the filmmakers were inspired by the real-life story of the three boys who created a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark over the course of several summers? Google the article in Vanity Fair from a few years back if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

Forgetting Sarah Marshall — Just saw this one two days ago. Its another home-run from the Apatow comedy troupe. I am something of an Apatow groupie — I was a fan of Freaks and Geeks (Judd Apatow’s failed TV show from 1999) from the first episode. (I don’t know what on earth prompted me to watch it, but I’m glad I did.) I loved Undeclared (Apatow’s follow-up to the cancelled Freaks and Geeks, which was itself cancelled after one fewer episode than Freaks & Geeks)…and, like most of the rest of the world, I thought The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up were both dynamite. Many of the familiar faces pop up in this latest film (Exec produced by Apatow, written by Jason Segel and directed by Nicholas Stoller), including Jason Segel (who gives a terrific performance in the starring … [continued]