Tag Archives: Dave Franco

Nerve

“You have to win to be free.”

Aside from a few stand-out films, techno-thrillers are almost universally crap. Almost always committing at least one of several cardinal sins as they leave the box office and start their journey towards the Poundland bargain bin with all the fanfare of a Brussels sprout infused fart.

They either date themselves really badly (The Net, Hackers), their research consists of little more than a spot of googling or Wikipedia before they start writing, looking for a few cool sounding buzzwords (Swordfish); or they just treat their audience like they’re morons with absolutely no understanding of technology (Blackhat).

Nerve, somehow, does all three.

In a world where everyone is superglued to their phone, only ever looking up to make sure they haven’t missed something to take a picture of and Instagram, Nerve has spread like wildfire. A game where players are paid ever-increasing amounts of money to do dares with ever-increasing risk and amounts of stupidity; subscribers pay insane amounts to watch participants act the fool and make a few bucks doing it. Played like a social media game, where the amount of people watching you determines your rank, the better and more popular you are, the more likely you are to hit the final.

Coaxed into playing by her idiotic friend desperate to become Kardashian famous, Vee (American Horror Story‘s Emma Roberts) finds her first dares simple and gets herself into the game with little effort. Finding herself teamed up with fellow low level player Ian (Now You See Me‘s Dave Franco), the pair find themselves quickly becoming the watchers’ favourites and their dares get ever more lucrative for them. But with that extra prize money comes extra danger and it quickly transpires that Nerve, the watchers and her teammate may not be all they seem.

Considering we live in a world where people filmed a man being talked into jumping to his death, the concept of Nerve is a frighteningly close-to-home one. The kind of thing that’s been brought up in films like Death Race – both versions – and The Condemned, Nerve is in relatively decent company when it comes to looking at how we as a species will gladly watch others suffering, and even pay for the pleasure of watching. It’s tried very hard to makes itself stand out by having it based around the way we live today. Namely, by having a large portion of it centred around teenagers and their bloody mobile phones.

A side note, I’m very aware that this is based on Jeanne Ryan’s YA novel of the same name. I have not and will not be reading it. I have no idea how it compares to the book, I’m assuming it’s a bunch of tweenagers glued to their iPhones and can only assume that this film is aimed at those same teenagers who probably won’t even look up from their screens to watch the film.

There are some glimpses of a good flick here, as players must record their dares on their own phones. Some of the POV scenes from up high look scary and up the tension a little, but it is wasted in a film that can’t seem to get a good rhythm going. Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (who co-directed a couple of Paranormal Activity flicks) do a half decent job of trying to keep the pace up, but the film stumbles over its own untied shoelaces when it insists on adding elements to the mix that are just unnecessary, like verbal cat-fights between best friends or having a dodgy hacker subplot. And speaking of hackers…

Okay, not just hackers, but tech stuff in general in films like this and the overall lack of respect that is shown to audiences when it comes to explaining shit away.

I don’t pretend to be the world’s greatest geek, but it drives me up the wall when a film takes a few cool sounding buzzwords and patronises people that pay to watch it by behaving like they are all-knowing oracles. I can not and will not walk out of your film satisfied if you think it’s ok to explain away everything using nifty sounding words you googled after hearing them in a CSI Cyber episode.

Just because you keep saying “Dark Net” and “Open Source” with conviction, doesn’t mean you know what they are or what they mean. More importantly, it doesn’t mean people like me, that do, will let you forget that. It’s becoming all too common to treat your audience like technological idiots when, in fact, you could have been so much better if you’d clicked on more than the first link that came up when you Asked Jeeves what Bot Net meant. Just… Stop it.

Roberts and Franco are perfectly fine in their roles, doing an ok job with what they have. I don’t know much of the Scream Queens actresses IMDb entries, but hopefully this isn’t indicative of her best work. Franco is an actor I am trying desperately to like. I enjoy watching him act but his body of work is such a massive amount of bland mediocrity that it is getting harder and harder to call myself a fan. The only other note worthy performance comes from Natural Born Killers and Kalifornia alum Juliette Lewis, who seems to be just the right age to play a worried mum now her new career as a rock star doesn’t seem to be panning out.

Nerve is one of those films that serves as an abject lesson in how to ruin an awesome concept. I don’t know, maybe I’m just being nit-picky, but it really bugged me being patronised by a film with all the intelligence of a bowl of cold custard. With its straight from real life idea of people needing validation from the number of likes, shares and retweets they get, it had so much potential. But squandered it with its cheap and obvious attempts to be cool and edgy.

My recommendation – not just to those considering watching this film, but to those that write and direct films like this – is to take a look at Mr Robot. A TV show that delves into some very detailed aspects of coding and hacking, while being very technically accurate and STILL manages to be engrossing for the masses. You don’t have to dumb everything down for fear of your box office numbers. You’ll do much worse by treating your audience like idiots.

Oh, on the off-chance someone of note does read this, Apple MacBooks are not touch screen devices, you fucking twats!

Now You See Me 2

“I hope you’ve been watching closely.”

In 2013, The Transporter director Louis Leterrier brought a little ensemble heist caper to the screen with Now You See Me. With aspirations to be the next Ocean’s Eleven, the film added a cool magical element to spice things up a little from the norm and hopefully make it stand out from the crowd. Sadly, the film set up well, went in a good direction but ultimately shot it’s load early, leaving a limp and disappointing ending.

So of course, we needed a sequel.

A year after successfully escaping the FBI and convincing the world that one of them is dead, the Four Horsemen are itching to get back into the limelight. Our heroic magicians, playing out their own Robin Hood story are finally handed their latest mission by the secret society that they are a part of, The Eye.

When their latest series of tricks set to expose and embarrass another upstanding asshole goes horribly wrong, The Horsemen find themselves the targets; not just of the local law enforcement agencies, but from a faceless voice who has a job for them. Foiling their escape and dropping the magicians off in Macau, the owner of the voice reveals himself to be technology prodigy Walter Maybry; a man with a somewhat personal issue with the wand waving band of thieves. Having been sent off to steal a super computer chip, the Horsemen must find a way to pull off their heist, expose the psychotic tech genius and keep themselves alive and out of a cell.

*Almost* the whole gang is here. Jessie Eisenberg’s Danny Atlas, Dave Franco’s Jack Wilder and Woody Harrelson’s Merrit McKinney all return as the Horsemen, led by – SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FIRST FILM – Mark Ruffalo’s Dylan Shrike. Out for the sequel are Isla Fisher and director Leterrier. In are replacement Horsewoman? Horselady? Lizzie Caplin as Lulu; new director John M. Chu (the man behind such hits as Step Up 2 and GI Joe: Retaliation) and shiny new bad guy Daniel Radcliffe as Walter Maybry.

The film plays more or less the same beats as the sequel to the film the original was copying. That is to say, we are sitting down to watch a magical Ocean’s Twelve. With a little added stupidity.

Maybry has dragged the illusion loving tea leaves into his diabolical little plot because they messed with him and his interests in the first film. He’s also recruited McKinney’s twin brother Chase, who is basically Woody Harrelson, with Matthew McConaughey’s worst, most permed, romcom hair and an awful soul patch. As the story twists, turns and appears to unravel in front of you; nothing is as it seems as we build towards our big reveal.

Sadly, the sequel has the same pitfalls as the first. There are some really good ideas, some interesting set pieces and I am really liking the slightly more comedic tone the film takes. And I’ll be honest, the trailer for this film has had me intrigued for a little while. Specifically, I wanted to know what the hell – the unusually bearable – Jessie Eisenberg was doing in the rain and the context to the whole thing. I’ve got to say, it’s probably one of the coolest scenes I’ve seen recently. But I won’t ruin anything, mainly because it’s part of the third act but it is a butt load of fun to watch. Equally excellent is the team’s effort to steal the computer chip central to this whole story. A five minute long, beautifully choreographed set piece that had me enthralled the entire time.

If only the rest of the film was as good as these scenes.

For a heist movie, it’s clever, it’s a bit of fun and for the most part it’s a decent film. I’d even call it a good old romp. But like its predecessor, it leads to a damp squib of an ending that is far too convoluted for its own good and drags on for far too long. If you liked the first one, even a little bit, I’d recommend Now You See Me 2. But it doesn’t break any new ground. If you didn’t like the first, this wont do anything to change your mind.

Bad Neighbours

Although it’s sometimes too crass for its own good, Bad Neighbours still succeeds by being fast, funny and surprisingly sincere.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Zac_Efron_Seth_Bad_Neighbours_640x360Bad Neighbours works for four particular reasons and being funny, which it is (really, really funny, at that), is surprisingly not number one on that list.  After all, you probably already have this film pegged.  It proudly touts how it is brought to you “by the people who made This Is The End”, it stars Seth Rogen and its various trailers have played up the loud frat nature of most of the film’s humour.  You’re probably thinking it to be yet another Apatow collective comedy: loud, improv-heavy, crass, immature, too long and with nothing going on underneath the surface.  And whilst it is often loud and crass and immature, that turns out to not be the only setting it has.  In fact, the film’s secret weapon turns out to be its total sincerity to its premise; there’s a genuine sadness bubbling underneath the mayhem which is rooted in characters with real problems that they’re venting through the central feud.  There’s more than just “Family vs. Frat” to this movie.

But we shall get to that.  Bad Neighbours follows married couple and recent parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) who are, to put it bluntly, bored.  Mac holds down a dead-end job whilst Kelly’s days are spent in the non-stop company of their newborn child, Stella, and they’re longing for some excitement.  Excitement dutifully arrives in the form of their new next-door neighbours: a college fraternity led by its committed president Teddy (Zac Efron) and his smart best friend Pete (Dave Franco).  Mac and Kelly are wary but nonetheless end up crashing the frat’s opening night party and having a good time, with Teddy and Mac even managing to start bonding.  Unfortunately, the reality of the situation soon hits the parents when the frat start partying the next night.  Until 4am.

Their pleas to keep the noise down going unheard, the pair call the cops which backfires spectacularly and leads to them becoming enemies of the frat next door.  Unable to sell their house (their delightfully scummy realtor is only willing to give them half what it cost to get the place, and that cost all of their money), their other neighbours effectively paid off by the frat to keep schtum and the college’s Dean (an almost film-stealing Lisa Kudrow) being decidedly unhelpful on the matter, Mac and Kelly plot to get the frat out by any means necessary, roping in their divorced mutual friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo) to help.

So, first things last; yes, Bad Neighbours is hilarious.  For a lot of people, and, you know, for a comedy, that fact is pretty frickin’ important and possibly the only thing that matters in the long run.  And it is hilarious, there’s a very strong hit/miss ratio at both the loud, crass end and the more subdued end.  The gags that do misfire are often at the crasser end of the spectrum, going too far to retain any of their humour and reaching a nadir at a protracted sequence involving Kelly having horribly disfigured un-milked breasts; a sequence that’s only barely redeemed afterwards when Mac and Kelly riff on the situation with awful pun after awful pun.  But not everything crass necessarily leads to cringes and desires to just skip ahead: an initially unfunny quick gag revealing Pete’s superhuman ability to produce a boner returns later on for a much better payoff, a standout section of an early montage involves the frat group gathering around the house to see Mac and Kelly have sex (in fact, pretty much any time the pair attempt to have sex is guaranteed several big guffaws), Christopher Mintz-Plasse gets to display quite possibly the most ridiculous gag penis in the history of cinema and the condom joke that’s been played to death in the trailers gets a far funnier punchline in the film proper.

Even outside of the bigger moments, though, the film offers up a consistent stream of solid laughs.  A falling out between Teddy and Pete leads to an extended bro-based reconciliation that actually gets funnier as the gags get worse, the entire scene with the frat’s announcement of a Robert DeNiro-themed party is a guide to how you can turn pop culture references into actual jokes near-effortlessly, both scenes with the college’s completely uncaring Dean are laugh riots and the final setpiece, where Mac and Kelly have to sneak into the frat’s house as everyone is being forced out, is the closest I’ve come to seeing videogame stealth sequences being done on film ab-verbatim and it’s friggin’ brilliant.  The laughs are extremely consistent and they run the gamut from smirks and chuckles to full on belly laughs, helped along by some ruthless editing.  Every joke and beat and plot development gets its due time to breathe but there’s no flab, here.  There are maybe three or four scenes that I noticed were predominately improv and of those I could only cut the breast milk skit (which has little relevance to anything and, as previously discussed, just isn’t funny) and maybe tighten up the pre-epilogue Mac and Kelly chat.  Otherwise, this is a lean-as-hell joke machine.  Its direction is always clear, its aim never rambles and every sequence has been constructed to provide optimum gags at a fast and furious pace.  It’s not another The Five-Year Engagement or This Is 40 is what I’m getting at.

Having said that, and as previously alluded to up top,  Bad Neighbours also carries a surprising amount of sincerity.  This is a movie that commits to its cast of characters first and its premise, frat boys vs family, is there to help drive the characters through their respective predicaments.  A lesser comedy would have had the frats be interchangeable dicks with no depth or reason to care for or hate them, even their leaders.  Bad Neighbours instead frames Teddy’s conflict with Mac as that of the character having an existential crisis; being in the final year of college with next-to-no qualifications, no career prospects and the near-literal embodiment of the future in store, quiet and old and boring, sat right next door to him.  He doesn’t even start up a feud with Mac until they call the cops because, initially, they seem like a fun version of him in 10 or so years’ time, having the house and the wife and the child but still making time to get wasted and cut loose; it’s only when Mac turns out to be everything he fears his future will be that he starts lashing out.  Now, admittedly, this is presented as almost straight text that’s basically spelled out in dialogue by another character, whereas an excellent film would leave it as subtext, but it’s still character work that gives our “villain” a reason for doing the things he does, which is an important way in getting events to resonate.

Similarly, the film uses the premise as a way to show to its lead characters just how well off they actually do have it before the frat moves in.  There’s even a point midway through the film where they’ve basically “won” the war, yet they go and stir up trouble again anyway.  Not because they still want the frat to move out but because they’re bored and this “game” is the most fun they’ve had in a year.  It even flirts with switching narrative sympathies for a short while, too, which could have led to a very interesting finale.  Alas, Teddy takes things a step too far (in a repeat piece of physical comedy that should be hilarious, but instead lands with a thud because the CG used to achieve it is ludicrously fake and cheap-looking) and the long-term stakes are re-stated and the dynamic goes back to normal.  Even if it is a little disappointing a switch-back, it still works and the finale manages to pay off the character work put in to both Teddy & Peter and Mac & Kelly in fun, surprisingly kinda affecting ways.  Nothing that will make you bawl your eyes out or anything but enough to make events on-screen matter and certainly with way more effort than both you and I were probably expecting a film like this to have.

Incidentally, I’d like to take a quick time out to praise the writing of Mac and Kelly as a married couple.  From pretty much frame one, it’s clear that the pair love each other and that they’re committed to each other.  They’re both always in with whatever the other one is cooking up and even scheme together, they’re passionate and when there needs to be a quick gag involving one of the two remarking or insinuating that they’d be willing to sleep with the very handsome Teddy if push-came-to-shove, both of them get involved with the leering.  It all helps create a real-feeling relationship.  Hell, even during the customary late-film teased break-up it lasts quite literally 94 seconds until Mac tracks down Kelly and the pair make up, their love meaning too much to seriously throw away in a brief moment like that.  The film treats them as a loving and devoted couple and trusts that we the audience can accept that as a plausible thing that could happen and it is all the better for it.  Both parties are also subjected to a roughly equal amount of gags at their expense (although Mac does get more because he’s the male lead of the film) and both parties are given equal opportunity to scheme or flip out and go crazy which THANK THE MAKER!

(That last sentence will carry a tonne of weight if, like me, you prefer to see your female comedy lead characters not just relegated to the stern buzzkill straight-man role, but that’s a rant and digression for another time.)

So we’ve already covered the laughs, the tight editing and the fact that there is emotional depth and well-handled characters.  The fourth and final point in Bad Neighbours’ favour is its superb cast.  Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne strike up a fun and very easy-going chemistry together with Byrne being better than expected at keeping up with Rogen’s improv tendencies; they give the script that extra push required to help sell the relationship at the centre of it.  Separated from each other and/or the relationship stuff, they’re still great.  Rogen has a knack for selling anything to the absolute best of his ability (excluding The Guilt Trip, I think I’m yet to see a phoned-in performance from him, in all honesty) and he puts in great work here along with his natural charisma, whilst Byrne seems to be having a tonne of fun when Kelly gets to scheme, pathetically try to act cool or just plain flip out.  Dave Franco also turns in a funny and oddly sweet supporting performance as Pete starts to develop a crisis of allegiance between Teddy and his own future as the film runs on.

The stand out, though, and this is predominately because I genuinely didn’t think he had it in him, is Zac Efron as Teddy.  To put it another way, Bad Neighbours does to my perception of Efron what 21 Jump Street did to my perception of Channing Tatum: he is excellent in this.  It’s not even because he has to play a douchebag, because Teddy isn’t really that much of a douchebag.  He’s actually a relatively nice guy who only lapses into a douche when he realises that he’s thrown away his chance at a future and the last chance he has for what he believes to be immortality is being threatened by the very people he’s terrified he will turn into in a few years.  There are times when Teddy turns full douche and Efron manages to take all of that pretty-boy charm and put it to excellent reverse-use, but the film mostly asks him to be more nuanced than that and he is more than up to the task.  Plus the guy has great comic timing as well as a good screen presence and those, combined with the aforementioned ability to tap into the sadness at the heart of such a character, are what come together to make his scene in the epilogue quite heart-warming as well as really rather funny.  Seriously, he is great in this and I hope this is the start of a career renaissance for him because Efron may have made a proper fan out of me due to his turn here.

So, yes, it is loud and crass and rude, sometimes too much so.  It earns that 15 rating and it wears it with pride, so if you don’t like that kind of humour then Bad Neighbours probably isn’t for you.  But, much like its frat, this is a film that revels in that excess in order to try and hide its true self: that this is a sweet and at times sad film about dealing with aging and mundanity.  The fact that it can communicate those things even during a scene in which Seth Rogen and Zac Efron simulate a knife fight with floppy dildos is a testament to just how important that heart is to the film’s success.  You know, as well as it being hilarious, expertly paced and very well-performed.  Point is, even if nothing about the film’s marketing is speaking to you, you should try and see Bad Neighbours anyway.  And if you are already sold on it?  You’re in for a treat, this is pretty damn great.

Callum Petch is the lyrical gangster, murderer!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!