Aisle of the Damned: 9/1/16- Kent Hasn’t Seen Empire Records

Have you seen my wiener?

After his admission that he had not seen Empire Records last week, Kent lost several of his friends. But at least we’ve got a couple of animated films to review! Laika Studios (Coraline, Paranorman) has a new stop-motion flick called Kubo and the Two Strings. Meanwhile, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (This is the End, The Interview) decide to call hot dogs ‘sausages’ so they can name their movie Sausage Party, even though nobody actually does that. Are you ready for some cartoons? All that, plus some upcoming movie discussion about Spider-Man: Homecoming and Justice League Dark. Oh, and our recommendations. And we gripe about the ratings system again.

All this and less in Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Soul Heirs- Hot Links

Aisle of the Damned: Episode XXIII- It’s your kids, Professor X! Something’s gotta be done about your kids!

Time for a new episode, humans and mutants! YES. ALREADY. This time, Kent talks about Godzilla, Bryan waxes X-Men: Days of Future Past and we both like Neighbors. Then we wonder bewilderingly about Edgar Wright leaving Ant-Man and David Goyer being a total dick. Join up, will not you?

Music:
The Aquabats– Stuck in a Movie
Huey Lewis and the News– The Power of Love

Go-Kart Godzilla! Woo-ooo-oooo-ooo!

Kent’s Damed Movie Reviews: Neighbors

OK, I usually use quad posters anyway for these, but how could I not use the British version? They spell it with a U!

OK, I usually use quad posters anyway for these, but how could I not use the British version? They spell it with a U!

Over the last several years, it seems like every summer there is one break-out R-rated comedy. The Hangover, Bridesmaids, 40-Year-Old Virgin, American Pie, Ted… it may come early or it may come late, but there is almost always one. I would not be surprised if this year that hit was Neighbors.

This is not to say that Neighbors is as good as all of those aforementioned movies or even that it is as good as last year’s This is the End which involved some of the same people. However where that film required a lot of audience participation to get the most out of it, Neighbors should appeal to a very wide audience as it has an uncanny knack of reaching out to several types of people and it should largely please them all. It manages to be the kind of college frat comedy which has been cranked out since Animal House while also pulling in the audience which Judd Apatow found and exploited so well. Many post-college adults from their mid-20s to late-30s will identify with the new family headed by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, who are coming to grips with the fact that they simply aren’t cool anymore (if they ever were in the first place.)

I had someone express doubts to me about seeing the film, thinking it was somehow a family movie. Rest assured, it is filthy. Zac Efron was already trying to distance himself from his Disney roots, though many of those efforts seemed from the outside to largely keep his persona intact and looked like a very slow, measured campaign. This will napalm that bridge. The fact that Orgazmo received an NC-17 rating and this movie didn’t is one more argument in my never-ending diatribe about the worthlessness of the MPAA’s ratings system.

The plot is actually decently structured and involves a couple newly adjusting to parenthood after putting all their money into a house. They obviously miss their old lives full of partying with their friends when they were perpetually exhausted for different reasons. Still, they seem mostly happy and are putting stock in the classic American dream, as it were. House, car, one-income household, kid…

Then the house next door is taken over by the kind of hard-partying, scheming, cliche frat that seems to exist only in movies, Suddenly their world is, to quote sitcom pitches that were old when Shakespeare was in diapers, turned upside down. While initial steps are taken to preserve the peace, eventually things erupt into all-out war between the parents and the frat, driven by its single-minded president played by Effron.

Nobody at all seeing this movie will think Rogen is breaking new ground. It feels like an extension of his character from Knocked-Up and, frankly, is that such a bad thing? He’s like that ratty hoodie that you don’t throw out because you know exactly what to expect from it. Byrne may surprise people a little bit with how much she throws herself into her role given there are some big ‘gross-out’ gags in the film and she’s involved with many of them. But after Bridesmaids it doesn’t seem like that big of a leap. Still, she really puts herself into the thick of it and keeps up with Rogen 100%. The big surprise is Efron. Is he funny? Not so much. But, and this is a big but, he shows an ability to let the other performers bounce off of him while not seeming completely like a straight man. The real head-turner is how dark he gets at times, dropping his bro mask and showing a person who has a simmering anger underneath.

It’s the dynamic between he and Rogen that really hits home as they are both in different stages of arrested development. Rogen has a desire to still be what he was when he was Efron’s age. He doesn’t want to be the guy that narcs, despite his responsibilities. While the movie takes pains to offer a decently balanced portrait, never showing either side to clearly be the ‘heroes’ of the piece, we’re obviously meant to side with the parents. The script cleverly uses an incident involving the baby to move things over to their side for good, despite the fact that they end up going too far themselves. War is hell, after all. Efron, meanwhile, is trying to make his mark and be enshrined forever in the trophy case of the fraternity. This is his attempt at immortality, knowing that there simply isn’t anything waiting for him once he finishes school and he becomes increasingly desperate and malicious with anything that stands in the way of him becoming a legend to be passed down in the annals of his brotherhood.

Another good aspect about Efron’s performance is that despite being provided a solid psychological motivation to make him more sympathetic, he never plays it up too much. He allows other members like Dave Franco and Christopher Mintz-Plasse to take some of that weight. Emphasis on ‘member.’ Franco seems to be channeling his brother at times with how weird his character can get, but I may just feel that way because I associate Franco the Elder with male genitalia so much at this point and there there is more of that in Neighbors than most comedies, even R-rated ones. Many of those jokes involve Mintz-Plasse who has very little to actually do and might have just shown up because he likes working with these guys.

The film provides several laugh-out loud moments and the fleeting bits of physical comedy serve as highlights. For some reason I think the editing feels off to me though. Quick pacing is demanded of most comedies, but sometimes things feel too breakneck for this kind of film with scenes jumping from one to the other fast enough to cause whiplash. In something like Naked Gun this is not a problem, but when a film is trying to establish an emotional connection like this one is, there may need to be a little more room to breath? I’m not an expert and maybe it will play better at home, but it was an initial impression. It could boil down to having a hard time establishing the passage of time. I am assuming it takes place over several months, but it feels like the whole thing may have happened in a week.

I would have a hard time saying Neighbors is a must-see comedy, but it is satisfying, funny and seriously messed up in spots. I think it will have a lot of rewatchability to it and you may as well see it before you hear about all the jokes from the people at work.

(Three and a half damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: This is the End

You know, like that Doors song.

This is the End is undoubtably one of my favorite films of the year.

It is indulgent, inside baseball and meta to the point of insanity, but it is also hilarious, fearless and… meta to the point of insanity. An apocalyptic Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back for the Apatow-adjacent crowd, it takes full advantage of the celebrity-obsessed culture that exists more than ever in today’s America. The climate wherein actors are scrutinized in every detail. It uses the collective knowledge of their careers and relationships to skewer the TMZ-ized Hollywood bubble with pin-point precision that asks, “Why the hell do we care so much about/listen to these sociopathic dopes?” And yet, in the middle of that an emotional core emerges in the guise of a broken friendship in need of mending, leading you to actually end up caring about a couple of them despite their collective idiocy and bad behavior. If it wasn’t so well done and so self-deprecating, it could definitely come off as a vanity project. Instead it comes across as one of the most original mainstream films in some time and also one of the rare “special effects comedy” success stories. (You may wonder where the $30 million budget went while watching a majority of the film, but you find out in the third act.)

Everyone appearing in the movie plays a heightened version of themselves with little regard for ego. Seth Rogen is the common thread between them, appearing with each of the main players in at least one project. Seth is largely clueless about everything going on, having morphed from being the 20-something, weed smoking guy that echoes his character in Knocked Up to being a full-blown LA phony, taking part in ‘cleanses’ and jumping into fad diets.

This is in contrast with Jay Baruchel, a co-star of Seth’s from Undeclared and a long-time friend that still lives in Canada. (I gushed a wee bit on his hockey movie Goon last year as an example of a sports movie done right.) Jay hates Hollywood and the person that Seth is becoming as he hangs out with his new(er) friends like his frequent collaborator James Franco. Franco has his weirdness level set to 11, but creepily feels like he’s playing his “character” the closest to his real life self. His less than ambiguous affection for Rogen may inspire many, many gif sets on Tumblr when this film comes out on video.

Coming down to spend time with Rogen, Baruchel is dragged out into the belly of the proverbial beast (when he’d rather just hang out and play video games with his friend) to a housewarming party for Franco’s new pad, where we see a bevy of famous faces. I will say right here and now, if you like Michael Cera, you may love him after the beginning of this film. If you hate Michael Cera, you may still cheer. He gives what I would say is the funniest extended cameo in a film since Zombieland.

While Jay gets Seth to pop out for a pack of smokes to get away from the smug, the world starts going to hell. As the craziness piles up, they race back to Franco’s home in the Hollywood Hills where things truly get dicey. Trapped in Franco’s house waiting for help, Rogen, Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride (portraying himself as pure id) proceed to deal with life without an outside world. As society breaks down, wounds are opened up, both physical and emotional.

Gleefully rated R, there is plenty of gore, drug use (I’ve never understood what is supposed to make someone smoking a blunt inherently chuckle-worthy, but there is one fantastically funny bit involving illegal substances), foul language and more wang than you might want to see. So keep the kids at home. Unless your kids are already messed up, then who cares?

I have no idea how this film got made by a major studio because any executive reading the script had to wonder what the hell they’d gotten themselves into. God knows it may not age well because it is so cued into the moment and for maximum effect requires a working knowledge of their movies, careers and relationships. But for the time being it has cult comedy written all over it and with the fantastic callbacks set up throughout the film it will have an immediate shelf-life that rewards multiple viewings.

(Four and a half damns out of five)