Monday, May 12, 2014

Neighbors, Locke, Blue Ruin, Only Lovers Left Alive

Dir. Nicholas Stoller

Seth Rogen, known for playing the lovable "shlub" type in every single film he's in, totally doesn't break character again and plays lovable shlub Mac Radner in the latest from Forgetting Sarah Marshall director/Muppets co-writer Nicholas Stoller (although it's clear that co-producers Rogen and Evan Goldberg had their paws all over the story).  The plot couldn't be simpler - Rogen, his wife (Rose Byrne), and his baby girl just put all their funds into their new home when, wouldn't you know it, a frat house moves in next door (headed by Zac Efron and Dave Franco).  And comedy ensues.  Although the story is pretty self-explanatory, I have to say, Neighbors was an incredibly well-handled comedy.  If you can handle the raunchiness, the script smartly deals with the fear of growing up within both generations (without making the "frat" side simply a joke) while still bringing on laughs at a regular interval.  Although at times the raunchiness goes a little too far, it was still a funny damn movie, with one of the best fight scenes - if you can believe it - I've seen this year (not counting The Raid 2).  Also, I have to give a shout-out to Ike Barinholtz (MadTV), who plays one of Rogen's friends/co-workers in the film, and is absolutely hilarious (and holds a striking resemblance to Mark Wahlberg, so much so that I almost thought I was watching a long lost Wahlberg brother).  If you're a fan of these type of comedies (ie Hangover, Ted), Neighbors is totally worth your time, and if you're a woman, you get to ogle at Zac Effron's sexy abs.

Rating: B

Dir. Steven Knight

Much like Ryan Reynolds in Buried or James Franco in 127 Hours, Locke is a one-man show set all in one claustrophobic location - this time with Tom Hardy behind the wheel of a car.  The entire hour and a half runtime is spent on a neon-lit, seemingly infinite patch of highway with only Hardy's face and his bluetooth hands-free telephone to keep us company.  What the film amounts to is more or less a standard family drama plot boiled down to its bare essentials, almost like listening to a well-crafted radio play.  Watching this one man try to keep his work, home, and personal life from completely spiraling out of control, just through phone conversations and the expressions and emotions he was feeling was unlike any cinematic experience I've had before.  The only problem for me was that the actual story was somewhat unoriginal - the type of thing you'd see in a soap opera, just given a fancier treatment.  Although I wanted to like the movie more for its sheer ambition, ultimately for me the story left more to be desired.  Still I'd say the fantastic performance by Hardy and its singular experience is worth checking it out.

Rating: B-

Only Lovers Left Alive
Dir. Jim Jarmusch

Only Lovers Left Alive is Jim Jarmusch's take on the vampire myth - and of course it's unlike any vampire movie that's ever been made.  These are washed-out, directionless rocker vamps with a taste for blood and cool tunes.  Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play centuries-old vampires, who've seen and learned everything the world has to offer and are jaded to a fault.  I love how vampires in this movie are basically hipsters, and having them live in the Detroit underground rock scene was brilliant.  The vibe of the film feels like a slowly spinning record (the film literally opens spinning around the central characters), and it feels more like you're "hanging out" with these characters than watching a thickly-plotted, laid-out story.  Hiddleston and Swinton are perfect casting for this offbeat world that Jarmusch created, and they work really well together.  However, like Locke, I found that I appreciated it more than I actually enjoyed watching it; after I while I was wishing the "record" would start spinning faster.

Rating: C+

Blue Ruin
Dir. Jeremy Saulnier

Blue Ruin is a film that made headlines recently for being completely funded through kickstarter and ended up winning some awards at Cannes.  It's basically about this homeless drifter, who we know little about at first, who is notified that one Wade Cleland Jr. is being released from prison.  The two have a history (Wade killed his parents - kind of a big deal), and unlike other movies in the genre, the act of revenge is taken fairly early on in the picture.  What Blue Ruin does is show the consequences of said revenge, in a violent, at times black humor-filled manner. This slow-burn, violent, Southern revenge tale has hints of No Country for Old Men and Jeff Nichols' Shotgun Stories (especially concerning the "family" quarrels), and coming from cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier, the movie looks great.  The central performance in the film by Macon Blair was fantastic (and frankly all of the performances), especially at the beginning of the film, as we see him go about his wordless day as a vagrant.  The violence in the film is graphic and comes at unexpected moments, and although I think critics are blowing out of proportion how good the movie is, I think it's a solidly made Coen/Nichols-esque thriller.

Rating: B-

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