Category Archives: 2014

Movies released in 2014.

Review: Neighbors [a.k.a. Bad Neighbours]

Director: Nicholas Stoller
Year: 2014
Score: 7/10

I admit I was impressed by the technological wizardry that enabled footage from Taxi Driver, Meet the Fockers and several other Robert De Niro films to be seamlessly incorporated into this scene.

I admit I was impressed by the technological wizardry that enabled footage from Taxi Driver, Meet the Fockers and several other Robert De Niro films to be seamlessly incorporated into this scene.

Good-natured mash-up of raunchy frat boy comedy (think Old School) and new parents comedy (think Up All Night, or what happens between Knocked Up and This Is 40). It’s reasonably funny – I laughed here and there – but it doesn’t rise to the level of my favourite comedies because it doesn’t have quite enough jokes or silliness or memorably ridiculous characters and situations.

As always, Seth Rogen is Seth Rogen. Rose Byrne is well cast and gives her best comedic performance since Two Hands. Zac Efron is fine too, though his character is a touch one-note at times.

Many of the supporting characters feel like missed opportunities. While the non-central frat boys aren’t actively unfunny, they could have been so much more. Same goes for Rogen and Byrne’s divorced friends; I like Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project, MADtv) but he’s not used all that well, and Carla Gallo is awful (though, to be fair, she had very little to work with). Why is Hannibal Buress’ cop character given nothing funny to do? And why does Jason Mantzoukas get so little screen time?

The relationship between Rogen and Byrne is handled nicely, even if the emotional moments between them don’t feel especially relevant to the main storyline (the battle with the frat). The only ways to fix this would have been focusing more on them as a couple and the difficulties of raising their baby next door to a frat house (the baby is pretty much forgotten after the first act), or making a different relationship (such as the strained quasi-friendship that develops between Rogen and Efron) the emotional core of the movie. Still, this feels like an odd complaint to make about a comedy; I suppose I’ve been spoiled by comedies with more ‘heart’, and now have somewhat unfair expectations. Thanks a lot, Community and Parks & Recreation!

I wish there were more jokes. I wish the frat party scenes had been just a little crazier – perhaps more in the vein of Project X. And I wish I wasn’t completely over Christopher Mintz-Plasse. But I shouldn’t be so critical; as far as comedies go these days, this one’s definitely at the better end of the scale. If I’m picking a Nicholas Stoller movie, I’d still go for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but this is worth watching too.

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Guest Review: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Director: Christopher B. Landon
Year: 2014
Score: 1/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

I too experienced this desire to sew my eyelids shut during his movie.

I too experienced this desire to sew my eyelids shut during his movie.

Having enjoyed Paranormal Activity 4, I thought I’d give this a chance. It was a serious mistake, and I feel cheated out of an hour and a half of my life. I could have gone for a lovely walk. I could have written a poem. Hell, I could have played with my kids. But no – I watched this tidal wave of drivel for 84 minutes.

If anybody cares (you don’t), it follows the story of three teenage friends, one of whom finds a bite mark on his arm. He experiences some cool superhuman powers like being able to lean over a bit, then becomes possessed. The plot is laboured and pointless; it’s like it exists only to justify the daft ending of the previous film. It doesn’t make sense as the events only tie together if you take wild leaps of assumption, and even then it’s still fairly incoherent; it has the feel of a horror film put together by a committee of really bad media studies students. The only moment of enjoyment to be had in this film is when the fat kid falls on his arse.

It bears no resemblance to the preceding Paranormal Activity films, with only token links to the previous ones in order to justify its title. It is a thoroughly pointless film which at no point ventures above its own personal zenith of dreadful.

I was once told that the words ‘explosive diarrhoea’ were considered an example of onomatopoeia as your lips make the same movements saying it as your arse does when you experience it. I would imagine the same could be said of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones as I imagine your lips make the same movements saying it as whatever sphincter it was that ejected this nonsense into a script did.

Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and film fanatic. A fan of racing sims, first person shooters and horror films, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes. Follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 or read his game reviews at http://obscenegaming.wordpress.com.

Review: Muppets Most Wanted

Director: James Bobin
Year: 2014
Score: 4.5/10

No. Just no.

No. Just no.

It’s not a popular opinion, but I loved 2011’s The Muppets even more than the original run of Muppet movies (or at least more than the first one, 1979’s The Muppet Movie, the only one I’ve rewatched recently enough to have reviewed on the site). That makes my disappointment in this bloated, dismal sequel all the more pointed.

The most important elements of a good Muppet movie, in my view, are the jokes and the songs. This fails on both counts. Sure, there are some laugh out loud moments, but not nearly enough of them, and there are several unacceptably long gagless stretches. As for the songs, they’re uneven; some are quite clever and fun, approaching the standard set in the 2011 film, whereas others are quite dull and unmemorable.

Lots of gags and scenes outstay their welcome. A good example is the bit about Miss Piggy singing Celine Dion songs. This morphs into an extended cameo from Dion. Really, all we needed – all that was comedically warranted – was a brief appearance from Dion, perhaps one line in the relevant song; instead, it lasts a minute and a half, completely overdone.

The celebrity cameos are mostly joyless this time around, and overall it seems to be missing the spark that made its predecessor work. Alas, my affection for the Muppets and some of the key performers (Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Danny Trejo, etc.) is not nearly enough to make it a worthwhile viewing experience.

Lastly, I must mention an element I found quite distasteful: the unsubtle Subway product placement, which is apparently part of a broader deal also involving merchandising and Muppet characters appearing in the company’s ads. The scene in question depicts Fozzie eating a Subway sandwich and drinking a Subway drink, with the cup positioned for maximum logo visibility. He even spills some Subway food on a newspaper, which is what enables him to figure out that Kermit and Constantine have been swapped (a key plot point); so we have a product appearing on-screen, as part of a commercial arrangement, that’s actually so integrated into the content that it plays a direct role in the story. In a children’s movie. Ugh.

(Party Central, the short Monsters University spin-off film that precedes the film in its theatrical release, isn’t bad.)

Review: The Lego Movie

Directors: Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Year: 2014
Score: 8.5/10

Lego Movies and Lego Bacon!

Lego Movies and Lego Bacon!

With this hilarious, thoroughly likeable film, writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller prove that their success with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (which I gave 9/10) was no fluke. Remarkably, they’ve now twice managed what the creatives behind most modern animated films strive for but rarely achieve: a film that works just as well for adults as it does for kids.

There are so many cultural references and gags that no child could possibly understand, but they’re interwoven with plenty of jokes for all ages (including constant physical comedy that probably only seems fresh because it’s all done with animated pieces of Lego), so it never feels overindulgent or likely to bore younger viewers. I watched it in a crowded cinema, accompanied by a 6 year old and a 7 year old, and it was great to hear the different reactions around me to the different styles of comedy. I’m not ashamed to admit there were several moments when my young charges turned to look at me, puzzled at what could be making me laugh so hard at a beat that went straight over their heads, but each time they quickly forgot my strangeness when they were themselves bowled over by the next gag.

So many of the voice actors seem to have been selected with me in mind: Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie and Will Arnett, stars of three of my favourite TV comedies (Parks & Recreation, Community and Arrested Development); Will Ferrell and Elizabeth Banks, both of whom I tend to enjoy; plus small roles for people like Will Forte (as Abraham Lincoln, of course) and Keegan-Michael Key (as Pratt’s boss), who I can’t get enough of. Pratt, it must be said, effectively plays a less cartoonishly stupid version of Andy Dwyer, his Parks & Rec character, but he’s so endearing that I can live with that. He’s certainly not as one-note as other TV comedy stars who have transitioned to movies (I’m looking at you, Michael Cera and Aubrey Plaza).

Some other elements worthy of praise: the animation is lovely and quite ingenious, especially the way water and laser weaponry are handled; the numerous homages to The Matrix, one of my favourite films, are nicely done without being overbearing; the song ‘Everything Is AWESOME!!!’ is pretty damned catchy; and the inclusion of live-action characters in the final stretch is a ballsy move that I think pays off.

I don’t have many criticisms. The biggest is the heavy-handedness of the obligatory ‘message’ section at the end; I could have done with more subtlety on that front, especially as it wasn’t as emotionally impactful as the equivalent section of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (though I suspect that’s an entirely subjective reaction). Another is my slight discomfort with the inescapable fact that this is a 100-minute ad for a brand of children’s toys. Lastly, I got the sense that some of the action sequences were a little lengthy in comparison to their entertainment value, so they may become tedious if the movie ends up on repeat rotation in my household.

These minor quibbles aside, it’s an extremely clever film that I wholeheartedly recommend. Lord and Miller’s style of humour is right up my alley, and based on its level of critical acclaim and commercial success, I’m not the only one. Chances are it will work for you too, dear reader, though it may also leave you with a mysterious and unshakable urge to purchase some generic non-branded interlocking brick toys.