Tag Archives: Seth Rogen

Failed Critics Podcast: Sausage Party

sausage-party

It’s getting a bit musky in the FC HQ this week as Steve Norman, Owen Hughes and Callum Petch engage in their very own sausage party to review Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s latest collaboration. The foul-mouthed animated comedy pretty much divided the group down the middle, but you’ll have to listen to find out who hated it, who thought it was fine, and who loved it.

Elsewhere on the pod:  hooked on an Ashton Kutcher-fix, Steve reviews time-travelling sci-fi The Butterfly Effect;  Owen realises he should watch a film before coming on a film podcast so squeezes in a first viewing of Roger Corman’s Piranha;  and Callum revisits an old favourite in Scott Pilgrim vs the World to see if he still likes it in the same way as he used to.

Plus there’s quizzing, recommendations, chat about who is a chan of Jackie Fan (who isn’t a Jackie Fan chan?) and Callum comprehensively guides us through this year’s London Film Festival line-up.

Join the same trio again as well as the returning Tony Black next week for (sigh) Ben Hur.

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Bad Neighbours 2

bad-neighbours

“Stop it. You’re only making them sexier.”

2014’s Bad Neighbours (or Neighbours in countries where audiences are trusted to not confuse it with the shitty Australian daytime soap opera) was a surprisingly good film. Not being much of a fan of stars Seth Rogen or Zack Efron, it came out of left field as one of the better comedies of the year, getting some real laughs out of me. It went on to make an absolute fortune and gave us weeks of stupid Twitter headlines of how it “Revitalised the R-Rated comedy genre”. There was never doubt that there was going to be a sequel, but the question was always going to be if it’s stars could repeat its success.

After successfully seeing off Teddy (Efron) and his imbecilic fraternity and moving on with their lives, Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Rose Byrne) discover they are pregnant with their second child and decide it’s time to move to a bigger house. They sell their home and head into escrow – essentially a 30 day cool-down period where a buyer can pull out – but just as they do that, a handful of girls, led by Chloe Moretz’s Shelby, hoping to buck a trend of party-free sororities move in next door and cause all manner of mayhem.

Desperate to get the girls out and not have their potential buyer put off by the large amounts of underage clam next door, the parents call upon the services of the man that nearly beat them the last time, fraternity God Teddy. As guerrilla warfare ensues and both sides throw big punches, only one can come out on top.

Let’s make this short and sweet. This film is fucking ghastly. It’s not a scratch on the first one and absolutely falls into that Hangover thing where just because one is great, it’s assumed that another film with all the same jokes will be ok. It won’t. It isn’t. Fuck you for thinking it is.

The film tries to convince you that it’s about women empowering themselves and not wanting to be pigeon holed by society – and more important to them, the fraternities that seem to have the “right” to party where they don’t.

This is all great and you might even be on their side, until one of the Radner’s fire a shot across the bow and their retaliation is to all hang out on their porch wearing bikinis that barely cover their nipples and writhe across the bonnet of Mac’s car when Kelly comes at them with a garden hose – something the girls react far worse to a little later on when it’s a pissed frat kid with a super soaker, the hypocritical twats.

Efron gets his abs, and his balls, out – proving to us all after his dreadful Dirty Grandpa stint that he’s simply not meant for this shit. While Rogen tries to call back to the weed and dick jokes that got him here but trips over the used condom on the floor filled with the remnant of what used to be actual comedy and landing flat on his face.  But it’s ok, because by the time we get to the end, and we discover it’s all really about how being in one of these snobby, elitist circle jerks leads to having lifelong friends. And guys, that the most important thing in the whole wide world.

Just, piss off.

Bad Neighbours 2 is the worst of the Hollywood sequel machine. Removing all of what made the original great and trying to sell it to you on the “remember that film you liked so much, here it is again” school of thinking. It’s not the first film this year whose best jokes aren’t only in the trailer, but completely missing from the film altogether – did I dream LL Cool J waving a twelve inch black rubber dick around in a trailer for this? I mean, it’s not entirely implausible, I’ve had weirder dreams.

It’s a film that bases almost all of its *cough* laughs around jokes carbon copied from the original; and a wholly unfunny running gag where a toddler plays with her mums dildo, clinging onto it like a security blanket and everyone seems to think this is completely normal and not at all bizarre behaviour. Oh, and the absolutely hilarious bit where Rose Byrne blurts out “Black cock” in front of a black dude. Comedy. Fucking. Genius.

I mean, it’s possible I’m wrong.  Very possible. After all, the screening I was in was filled with people howling with laughter. But they were also all laughing at that horrific fucking Keith Lemon Carphone Warehouse ad that was on just before the film started, so… Make of that what you will.

A complete waste of an hour and a half of my life, you could go and watch this film if you were really desperate for someone to do. But personally I would recommend the far less painful torture of repeatedly trying to staple your balls to a rugby ball.

Steve Jobs

stevejobs

“If a fire causes a stampede to the unmarked exits, it’ll have been well worth it for those who survive.”

How do you tell the story of one of the most famous tech minds in living memory without making it a complete bore? This was pretty much the question that pushed me to watch Steve Jobs. I mean, he was an interesting guy, with an interesting story, if you’re into that kind of thing; but to spend two hours watching a film about the man that made Apple the brand so many of us rely on today doesn’t sound like an interesting prospect to me.

As it turns out, there are a few ways that you make the film interesting. First and most importantly, you give Aaron Sorkin a copy of Jobs’ biography and let one of the greatest screenwriters working today have a go at bringing one of the greatest salesmen to ever live to the big screen. Secondly, and this one both surprised and impressed me, make the conscious decision to not make a biopic and instead focus on making a drama that just happens to be about the Apple co-founder. Finally, do something original, something a little different to make people stop and take notice and think “OK, that could be… worth a look”, and I admit I fell for this one hook, line and sinker as the film takes the thing we all knew Jobs from, his marketing presentations, and makes them the focus of our time with the man.

Made into three very distinct acts, Steve Jobs is set in the moments before three of these presentations. While not necessarily the most famous of his endeavours, we spend time with Jobs before the announcements of some of Apple’s most important, and the tech genius’ most significant, product launches. Beginning in 1984 with the introduction of the first Macintosh computer, the machine that was to usher in a new era for the company and refresh the look of the already dated Apple 2. We meet Michael Fassbender’s titular Jobs as he is fighting to make his demonstration model do what he promised it would do mere minutes before he is due to show it off. The pressure mounts as Steve is forced to deal with confrontations with his friend and company co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), his boss John Sculley (Sorkin veteran Jeff Daniels) and former girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterstone).

The confrontations are still going strong into 1988’s NeXT education focussed computer announcement and continue on for more than a decade to the groundbreaking iMac announcement in 1998 as the visionary’s personal and private lives both reach critical mass at the end of the 90’s. Between the daughter he refuses to acknowledge as his own to the friend he refuses to cut loose, Steve’s personal life can’t help but get in the way and force his focus elsewhere whilst he’s trying to prepare for these life changing events. Knowing an appearance from management can only spell bad things, the arrival of Sculley to play the part of Jobs’ boss can only make matters worse. With each presentation the personal stakes are increased and the business pressure is ramped up for the salesman who can’t seem to get five minutes to catch his breath and take stock of what’s going on around him.

The thing about Steve Jobs: The Movie is that even after several attempts, I can’t write a synopsis that sounds interesting. It’s next to impossible to make a film about a guy who sold computers sound like it’s going to be worth your time. But, as it would turn out, it’s very, very good. It’s a great tag-team of spectacular direction from Danny Boyle – those that know me know how much it hurts me to say that – and first rate writing from Aaron Sorkin.

Honestly, I think the boldest move that Trainspotting director Boyle made was to cast a film full of real life people, most of them still alive, with a cast of actors that look nothing like the people they are portraying and then NOT put a few inches of makeup on to make them look like the famous people they are acting like. Boyle took top notch actors, for the most part, and instead of making the film about how much someone looks like someone else, he let the script do the talking and let the stories be told to the audience by the world class group of guys on the screen.

And “world class” is right. Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of the much loved tech salesman is pure genius, making the role his own as he angrily storms around in the back halls of his audience filled battlegrounds. So convincing is his depiction of the Apple innovator that by the time we get to see him in his now iconic jeans and black turtleneck, we no longer care that he looks nothing like his inspiration; he is Steve Jobs. His now legendary presentations are marred by his inability to cultivate a friendly personal relationship; opting instead for jumping straight to hostility and while that may not have been the ideal way to go about conversations with co-workers, managers and a young girl whom you refuse to admit is yours, it certainly makes for compelling viewing. At Jobs’ side through this entire endeavour is Joanna Hoffman, Steve’s confidant and closest friend and she is the only person that Steve trusts when everything else seem to be falling apart around him. With Kate Winslet in the role that is so important to the subject and the film, an awful lot rests on her shoulders with the fine line between very close friend and something more than that being danced along gracefully by a woman that deserves a supporting actress nod for her efforts here.

With Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen rounding off the cast, with both seamlessly falling into their respective roles, I honestly couldn’t think of a negative thing to say about the choices made in casting if I tried. Daniels’ portrayal of John Sculley, the CEO of Apple and the man responsible for most of the second half of the film, is flawless, seemingly having been in training for Sorkin’s script for three years with his work in the writer’s most recent TV escapade, Newsroom. Similarly, Rogen’s role of Apple co-founder and less famous version of Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, was an interesting choice for both director and actor but it definitely paid off. Having taken a few ideas, and maybe some tips, from buddy Jonah Hill – a guy who cut his teeth with serious films recently with an Oscar nominated real life person role in Moneyball – Rogan’s “Woz” is a splendid one. A man whose bond with Jobs let him get away with so much, but having been scorned one too many times by the marketer that he simply loses his cool is played effortlessly and convincingly by a man most famous for making silly stoner type comedies.

Getting to take a look at how Steve Jobs was in the earlier years of Apple is a real treat and Danny Boyle has done a splendid job of giving us a glimpse of the man’s life through the eyes of those that simultaneously loved and despised him and while the performances are all amazing and each of those representing the real life people responsible for some of the greatest technological advances in recent memory are putting in an amazing amount of work.

The real standout of this show is, as I expected it to be, the writing. I’ve been a fan of Aaron Sorkin’s work for as long as I can remember and I don’t think he’s ever written a dud paragraph in his life. In his second movie where he gets to spend some time with the tech sector, Sorkin proves that he is still best-in-breed with his Steve Jobs script. And whilst the film may be a two hour lesson in Sorkin’s walk-and-talk theatre, it’s a damn good one, and one I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Kung Fu Panda 2

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Firstly, sorry for the sudden two week break.  I had a mountain of university essay work to do and, like a pillock, I don’t pre-write these.  So, anyway…

Last year, DreamWorks Animation celebrated its 20th anniversary.  To mark the occasion, Callum Petch has been going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full-on retrospective treatment.  Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.


kung fu panda 222] Kung Fu Panda 2 (26th May 2011)

Budget: $150 million

Gross: $665,692,281

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%

Jennifer Yuh Nelson is one hell of a director.

If I have one major regret about my work throughout this series so far, it’s that I haven’t talked anywhere near enough about direction.  Part of that is due to my own personal biases with regards to DreamWorks Animation before embarking on this project, with myself having spent much of my life subscribing to the belief that DreamWorks, way more so than Disney or what have you, was a factory that pumped out films collectively rather than individually.  Jeffrey Katzenberg seemingly having his fingers in damn near everything we’ve talked about so far didn’t really help in my attempt to dissuade myself from that notion as we’ve journeyed forth.

The rest is because I am very much learning as I go.  Yeah, to tear down that Wizard Of Oz curtain here, I am not an expert on animation.  In fact, quite frankly, I know very little about the medium, the process, and the history of it all.  If I were to show my work to somebody who has dedicated their life to studying animation, like, say, one of my university lecturers, she would probably make it to about paragraph 4 of the first entry before attempting to gut me like a pig, such is the butchery I have likely committed with regards to talking about animation.

But all of that is OK because a) I have never attempted to claim that I am a super-expert on animation (except when I was a bit younger and much more stupid) and b) I am actively trying to learn and better myself.  For example, I spent a lot of last year referring to different layers of animation, specifically where characters would be animated obviously separately to the background, as “Chroma-Keying” which, as it turns out, is incorrect.  The process, as detailed to me by the Hullaballoo production blog, is actually known as “Compositing”.  See, I’ve learned something – and now so have you, more than likely, yay! – so I don’t feel bad about having gotten it badly wrong beforehand.

Hence why I haven’t referred to directing too much during this series.  Animation is an extremely collaborative medium, where tens to hundreds of people all work on the same project and any of them can make decisions that can alter how something ends up in the finished product.  I was reticent, therefore, to praise specific directors for parts of these films that I liked.  After all, how could I be sure that it was their choices and their quirks and not Visual Effects Artist #5?  But somewhat recently I got to thinking: isn’t that the same thing with live-action films?  And why do I subscribe to this thinking with regards to DreamWorks, yet I will get giddy at the prospect of a Lauren Faust animated film?

Besides, although auteur theory is very much passé and disproven in film and television nowadays, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.  To shift from DreamWorks for a minute, I have recently been making full-on observations as to how I can tell that some of my favourite animated shows are made with certain people at the helm.  In that, yeah, it’s a team effort, but theirs is the creative voice that stands out the most.  For example, Genndy Tartakovsky – who incidentally just turned 45!  Happy Birthday! – is the creator of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack, and both shows carry the same deliberate pacing that works long beats, pauses, and repetitions into their DNA for both dramatic and humorous effect.  It also shows up in The Powerpuff Girls, even though that’s a show by Craig McCracken, because the two were friends and Genndy had a significant hand in shaping that show.  Future shows have shown McCracken to have a faster and slightly tighter voice than Tartakovsky – Wander Over Yonder, for example, wastes not one moment of any of its episodes.

In the end, it was a combination of those and Oliver Sawa’s excellent reviews of The Legend Of Korra over at The AV Club that managed to make me realise that I really should have referred to direction more in this series.  So, with that in mind, we circle back around to our opening statement.

Jennifer Yuh Nelson is one hell of a director.

If you’ve been following along with this series, the name “Jennifer Yuh Nelson” should be relatively familiar to you.  Yuh has been with DreamWorks Animation since 1998, starting as a story artist on Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and the first Madagascar before progressing to Head of Story on Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.  Her true breakthrough came when, as a fan of martial arts movies growing up, she asked to work on the first Kung Fu Panda and was subsequently made Head of Story there, as well as getting to direct the opening hand-drawn dream sequence.  She won an Annie Award for her work on it – which, as we saw back when we talked about it, was more than deserved – and Katzenberg personally approached her to direct Kung Fu Panda 2 as a result of her work.

Hence why Kung Fu Panda 2 looks so damn incredible.  Yuh’s love for martial arts films is on full prominent display, both in terms of individual shots and scene construction – which is what most of this week’s article is going to be, just a heads up on that department – and overall pacing and tone.  Now, I must admit that I am not too familiar with Wuxia and other sorts of Martial Arts films, but I do have enough of a grasp on the style and tones of them to realise that Kung Fu Panda 2 bleeds martial arts films.  It’s one of those (worryingly rare) action animation films that has each frequent action scene actually mean something instead of just marking time.  It’s a film that deals with its character work through equal parts dialogue and action, with both working equally well.

As an example, look at the fight sequence between Po and Master Croc & Master Ox.  No, seriously, look at this thing, I’ll wait.

(You’ll have to follow this link, I’m afraid, as it turns out that embeds for the clip have been disabled.)

It’s not just a fight scene for the sake of a fight scene.  It’s a fun way of livening up what would otherwise be rather dry and boring sequence of Po pleading for help.  The dialogue is written in a way that perfectly complements the action, the music takes on this 70s funk tinge to counterbalance the cheese with some coolness, and the choreography pitches itself as this purposefully silly and slightly cheesy releasing of each character’s various emotions in order to make that sad, defeatist walk into the cell next door an act that has a genuine sadness attached to it rather than just being understatedly humorous.  It’s its own thing whilst still clearly indebted to the classic Hong Kong martial arts films Yuh loves so dearly.

Which, in fact, is very much a running theme throughout the film.  Kung Fu Panda 2 is one of those heavily-indebted animated films that actually takes full advantage of the fact that animation increases the visual and storytelling capabilities to stage things that couldn’t be done (or done this smoothly and naturally) in live-action beyond the whole “talking animals” thing.  For example, look at the rickshaw chase scene that comes immediately after the prison cell fight.  No, seriously, look at it right now.  Do it.

There’s a certain wilful excessive escalation going on in this scene – I’m specifically thinking of everything to do with the basket of baby bunnies – that I could see also occurring in Kung Fu Panda 2’s live-action equivalent, but not with the same sense of flow and believable madcap energy that animation can achieve.  For example, the moment where Po’s rickshaw flies off into the air and he has to spin it around in order to catch the flying children could be pulled off in live-action, but would require multiple frenetic cuts (compared to the controlled, calculated, and varied three shots that it takes up here) and likely a whole lot of distracting green screen work to pull off.  Again: indebted yet its own thing.

Or how about the dragon costume disguise?  Once again, something that wouldn’t feel out-of-place in live-action yet takes full advantage of the medium by utilising the smoother flow and faster possible speed of animation to turn it into an excellent gag.  Not to mention the way in which the film finds every possible spin on the gag that it can and blazes through them in quick succession.  The first time utilising the squash-and-stretch capabilities of animation to create a genuinely inspired piece of toilet humour, the second time playing the image against the kid’s confused horror, the third time using the launched goons for projectiles, and the fourth and final time using clever boarding to create an image reminiscent of top-down arcade maze games, with Pac-Man being the intended but not sole reference.

But, I have wasted too much time on the direction of the comedy.  Instead, the sequences that really impressed me, as in they got me to genuinely say the opening sentence to this entry out loud as the film was still ongoing multiple times, were the more dramatic character revelations and breakthrough sequences – the dramatic stuff, in other words.  For example, much of the dramatic thrust of the film revolves around Po discovering that he is adopted, a revelation played for laughs and legitimate drama without either undercutting the other, and his desire to learn what happened to him.  His slightly overbearing father, Ping, and Po’s eating habits have mostly been a source of comic relief up to this point, but then one exceptional sequence is able to recontextualize the pair of them into genuinely emotional character traits, again without losing the comedy.

Yes, you know what to do now.

It’s the subtle direction choices that make this scene.  How every shot is saturated in this bright, warm golden glow to signify nostalgia which firmly sets us in Ping’s mind without overdoing it to send the technique into parody, the frequent usage of slow dollies into the faces of Po and Ping to connect them both so totally even within a few moments of their first meeting, James Hong’s soft-spoken and deliberately underplayed delivery in sharp contrast to his usual ham-and-cheese, Jack Black’s similarly underplayed reaction to Po’s disappointment at having no concrete answers, the music melting into the very background to let the words and pictures tell the story.

It’s a scene of enormous confidence.  Most animated films are very much content to overcook everything, or just have the characters loudly state the themes or what have you without it fitting their characters, but this scene ends up being typical of Kung Fu Panda 2.  It has the nerve and the confidence to realise that not every joke needs to be a giant laugh-out-loud gutbuster, that a score doesn’t have to force its way to the forefront of the mix to render emotion, and that the viewing audience will get exactly how sad or upset a character feels without having to force their voice actor to strain for emotion or to have the animation flail around wildly.

The best example of this confidence in the viewership, undoubtedly, comes from when Po, under the guide and care of The Soothsayer, finally confronts and accepts his traumatic past.  I mean, just…

First of all, and because you just knew I was going to go straight for this, just look at the transitions between the CG world and the cel-animated memories.  Like, look at them!  The vivid exaggerations of the cel animation, coupled with their bright primary colours that give way to progressively darker shading as we get further and further in, brilliantly convey the dream-like lost childhood memory nature of the revelation that Po initially saw it as.  Note how the wolves themselves seem more demonic, rabid, and dangerous than the snivelling, mangy versions that we’ve been used to seeing in the movie up until that point.  And then how we switch from cel animation for the flashbacks to CG once Po has fully accepted what happened; that these are no longer horrible nightmares, but genuine fragments of his past.  How he has grown to accept the reality of the situation and how they are a part of him.

The score ends up being the most powerful piece of the entire film, striking exactly the right balance between nakedly emotional and spiritually uplifting, the dialogue cuts out literally any line that is not 100% necessary to proceedings because too many words would simply undercut the drama, and the mood remains serious the entire time as Yuh and her team trust the audience won’t grow restless as we deal with this major character breakthrough.  Then there are the actual transitions, the way that the match cuts and smooth pans and camera moves between animation mediums never jar because they utilise more subtle gestures – like the rain drop in CG that substitutes into the hair bun of Po’s mother in cel.  And finally there’s the mini-clip-show which is lingered on precisely long enough to achieve maximum impact without once invoking wonders of unnecessary repetition.

Seriously, Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s direction of this whole film is exceptional, but that sequence is frickin’ virtuoso.  It’s a sequence that heavily reminds me of Avatar: The Last Airbender – in fact, the whole film reminds me a tonne of that and The Legend Of Korra, especially with how Lord Shen is portrayed as a dark mirror version of Po who turned to rage and violence when confronted with parental abandonment – yet feels of its own, its own uniqueness, its own style.  It’s powerful, it’s inspirational, and it couldn’t have been handled better.  Undoubtedly a team effort, but clearly guided and controlled with such skill and passion by one woman.

I could sit here for the next 10 or so A4 pages gushing over Kung Fu Panda 2 and its every last facet – I am pretty much adamant in my belief, by this point, that this is DreamWorks Animation’s masterpiece – but my deadline and word count limit aren’t too far away, so I’m going to wrap up by talking about, what else, the female lead of a DreamWorks Animation film.  Now, in the first Kung Fu Panda, The Furious Five are very much minor characters who exist in service of Po’s story and little more.  We get a tiny insight into their various personalities but not much more than that.  The same is mostly true of the sequel, just with the switching of Go-To Comic Relief from David Cross’ Crane to Seth Rogen’s Mantis, barring one crucial difference.

Tigress is now co-lead.

Now, one could be cynical and claim that this is only due to somebody at DreamWorks remembering that they got Angelina Jolie to voice one of their characters, and that if you’ve gone to that much trouble, you should probably make actual usage of her.  However, I feel that that is severely underselling the character of Tigress in Kung Fu Panda 2.  One of the frequently recurring themes we’ve seen throughout this series – of articles, not the Kung Fu Panda films specifically – has been DreamWorks’ constant voluntary torching and diminishing of any female co-lead they come up with.  Fiona in Shrek, Gloria in Madagascar (although that one hasn’t bothered me so much yet), Marina in Sinbad, and of course Astrid in How To Train Your Dragon; these are (bar Gloria) all females who have their own agency and character and plot arcs, only to have said agency and arcs ripped from them as they suddenly fall for the gravitational pull of the lead male’s genitalia (METAPHORICALLY) and need saving from there on out.

Tigress is a step-up from those, a vast step-up, if not a clean break.  She gets her own plot line and arc, as she learns to slowly defrost that icy demeanour and let people into her life, although it does relate around Po and her relationship to him.  Crucially, however, “relationship” in this case very much points towards “platonic” rather than “romantic.”  It would have been very easy to twist her and Po’s various interactions with one another into romance in order to close out the film with yet another Marina-type scenario, but it instead resists.  Po is an affectionate guy, constantly hugging and professing his love for his friends, and Tigress’ slow releasing of emotion ends up coming as a result of his influence: hence the hug.  It’s not romantic, it’s platonic, a sign that she cares as a friend, further enhanced by her hysterical statue-reaction to being on the receiving end of a proper Po hug at the end, the unfamiliarity for her of that hug robbing the sequence of almost all intended romantic subtext.

Yes, she also gets captured, but only because she thought her one true friend had been killed and she had lost the will to fight, just like the rest of The Furious Five.  Yes, her plot and arc are tied to Po, but she still has her own agency and nobody questions her or her abilities.  Yes, she’s a terse emotionless, mostly humourless girl, but that part of her arc was dealt with in the first film and this one expands her character, softens her edges so that her arc feels more gradual instead of monumental.  There are even times where she gets to display genuine agency, like during the final battle where she takes Lord Shen’s shot meant for Po with no guarantee that she would get out alive.  I’m reminded a lot of Mako Mori from Pacific Rim in terms of how her character is handled, albeit not that revelatory.  It’s not perfect, but it is a major step-up for a company that, as we have touched on multiple times this series, has had a recurring problem with the female gender.

Two months ago, I covered the first Kung Fu Panda and noted how I would never truly be able to love it, despite recognising that it’s a great film and desperately wanting to love it, because I had too much prior life baggage attached to it, although I noted my high hopes for Kung Fu Panda 2.  As you may have gathered, those hopes ended up being more than fulfilled.  I actually finished the film mildly angry, because it turned out that I had spent nearly 4 years voluntarily depriving myself of a modern masterpiece.  Kung Fu Panda 2 is insanely good, the kind of sequel that recognises and improves upon what worked in the first film and jettisons what didn’t, that gets more ambitious, more confident in being able to go darker and have the audience follow along no matter what, and the kind of film where a strong directorial voice is able to elevate an already great film into something even more through their vision and drive.

So I’ll say it again, loud and clear, Jennifer Yuh Nelson is one hell of a director!  Thank the Maker she’s coming back for Kung Fu Panda 3!


A hit with the critics and a runaway smash overseas, albeit a major underperformer at home – a fact that we will touch on again in a few weeks – Kung Fu Panda 2 solidified DreamWorks’ third potential franchise as one that would stick around for the long haul.  Their other film for 2011 would attempt to re-invigorate the Shrek brand by spinning-off the series’ non-Donkey breakout character into his own franchise.  Surprisingly, the move worked with critics and even did decent business at the box office.  But was this all justified?  Next week, we pay one last visit to the Shrek universe and look at Puss In Boots.

A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!

Callum Petch is doing all that he can to be a warm-hearted man.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Bad Neighbours and bad volcano films

Pompeii_movieWelcome one and all to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast, and we’re back to a foursome this week as Steve and Owen are Joined by Matt Lambourne and Carole Petts to discuss new releases Pompeii and Bad Neighbours.

The team also pay tribute to Bob Hoskins, who sadly passed away last week, while the films they’ve seen this week range from the 1964 Danish film Gertrude, to the fantastic documentary Queen of Versailles, via the opinion-splitting American Hustle.

Join us next week for reviews of (hopefully) The Wind Rises, Frank, and Sabotage.

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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)!

Failed Critics Podcast: World War Z

world-war-z-headerWelcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast, featuring some lifeless, shuffling, mindless abominations…TALKING ABOUT ZOMBIES! Pretty sure we’ve used that joke before as well. Sorry.

As well as reviewing World War Z (starring Brad Pitt), we also discuss new releases in the shape of This Is The End and Now You See Me, and pay tribute to James Gandolfini and Ray Matheson who sadly passed away in the last seven days.

Join us next week for a Triple Bill of the Worst Movie Jobs (in ‘honour’ of The Internship), and maybe even a new release or two.

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