Movie Review: “Sleeping with Other People”

Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Andrea Savage, Jason Mantzoukas, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, Natasha Lyonne
Leslye Headland

Writer/director Leslye Headland’s debut feature, “Bachelorette,” was an incredibly cruel and unfunny dark comedy filled with selfish people doing horrible things, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that her follow-up, “Sleeping with Other People,” hardly has a mean-spirited bone in its body. Granted, the characters aren’t exactly saints, but for the most part, they’re likable human beings with very real flaws that you actually care about. That’s a welcome change from the insufferable assholes that populated Headland’s first film, and it helps solidify “Sleeping with Other People” as a sweet and candid romantic comedy that ranks as one of the more enjoyable entries in the genre in quite some time.

It’s been more than a decade since Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) first met as students at Columbia University, where they lost their virginities to one another on the roof of Jake’s college dorm before seemingly vanishing from each other’s life forever. They haven’t had a healthy relationship since that night, with Jake resigned to playing the field as a perpetual bachelor and Lainey’s love life stunted by her obsession with college crush, Matthew Sobvechik (Adam Scott). But when Jake and Lainey cross paths at a sex addicts meeting in New York City, they pick up right where they left off. Though the attraction between them is palpable, they agree to keep things strictly platonic because sex has always played a part in their failed relationships. However, as they spend more time together and begin to act like a real couple, Jake and Lainey must decide whether to break things off and save themselves the heartache or risk giving romance a shot.

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Blu Tuesday: Gotham: The Complete First Season

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Gotham: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: In the wake of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murders, idealistic Gotham City police detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) makes a vow to young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) to capture his parents’ killer, all while dealing with corruption within the police department and Gotham’s burgeoning criminal underworld.

WHY: Bruno Heller’s “Rome” is one of the most underrated TV series of the past decade, so when it was announced that he was producing a crime drama centered around a young James Gordon in pre-Batman Gotham City, that’s pretty much all it took to get me onboard. Unfortunately, despite Heller’s insistence that “Gotham” isn’t about Batman, the numerous villains that pop up throughout the first season suggests otherwise, turning the series into something quite different than even Heller himself probably intended. The allure of exploring the various origin stories of Batman’s rogues’ gallery (arguably the best in all of comics) was undoubtedly too enticing to pass up, so it should come as no surprise that the villains are the stars of the show. Robin Lord Taylor and Jada Pinkett Smith are the obvious standouts as Penguin and new creation Fish Mooney, respectively, while Carmen Bicondova delivers a star-making turn as young Selina Kyle. Ben McKenzie also fares well as Gordon, as does Donal Logue as his morally corrupt partner, but their characters often suffer due to some really shoddy writing. And that’s the biggest problem with “Gotham” – it’s an incredibly mixed bag that succeeds as often as it fails. For every great episode, there are two more that fall flat, and although the show starts to find its groove in the latter half, that inconsistency prevents Season One from being anything more than a mildly enjoyable experiment that still needs to iron out a few wrinkles if it ever hopes to make the most of its potential.

EXTRAS: In addition to a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the series, there are three additional featurettes on the show’s production design, Penguin’s story arc and making the pilot episode, as well as footage from DC Comics Night at Comic-Con 2014, character profiles, deleted scenes and a gag reel.



Blu Tuesday: Mad Max, Star Wars Rebels and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

WHAT: Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is just barely surviving in the post-apocalyptic wasteland when he’s captured by tyrannical leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and forced to serve as a human blood bank for his diseased minions. But when a chance meeting between Max and war-rig driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) – who’s trying to rescue a group of female sex slaves that Joe plans to use for repopulation – results in his miraculous escape, he reluctantly agrees to help get the girls to safety.

WHY: George Miller may be 70 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from outclassing filmmakers half his age by making one of the craziest and most badass action movies in ages. Though “Fury Road” looks absolutely gorgeous, with John Seale’s stunning cinematography providing a painterly quality to the visuals, the real reason to see it is for the action. Conceived as one long car chase, the film is packed with some of the most amazing action sequences you’ll ever see. It’s a minor miracle that no one died during the making of this movie, because Miller’s high-adrenaline set pieces are so visceral and unbridled that you genuinely fear for the lives of the actors and stuntmen with each explosion, car flip and crash. The overcranked, sped-up look works better in some places than others, but for the most part, the gonzo vehicular mayhem is a jaw-dropping assault on the senses that gets weirder as it goes along. Every minute of action is pure cinematic magic, though the dead space in between proves troublesome. Tom Hardy does what’s required of him as the mysterious, soft-spoken Max, but Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is the only character who’s given any actual development, bringing a humanity to her performance that stands head and shoulders above the rest. While the movie would have benefited from a tighter runtime and falls short of the worship-like praise that many people have heaped upon it, this is easily Miller’s best “Mad Max” film yet.

EXTRAS: In addition to a fairly extensive making-of featurette, there’s an interview with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron about their experiences on the movie, a look at designing the cars and other props, some behind-the-scenes footage from filming the action sequences and three deleted scenes.


“Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One”

WHAT: In the wake of the Clone Wars, the Galactic Empire rules the galaxy with an iron fist. But a group of rebels – including Jedi-in-hiding Kanan, Twi’lek pilot Hera, Mandalorian weapons expert Sabine, Lasat honor guard Zeb and astromech droid Chopper – take a stand against their oppressors with the help of newest member Ezra Bridger, a teenage pickpocket with the ability to control the Force.

WHY: Following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and subsequent announcement that more “Star Wars” films were on the way, it only seemed natural to launch a new animated series as part of the hype machine. Though “Star Wars Rebels” doesn’t have anything to do with the upcoming movies (at least, not that we know of yet), it is part of the franchise’s official canon, set between the events of the “Clone Wars” animated series and the original trilogy. Unfortunately, the show is a little confused tonally as a result of trying to cater to both younger audiences and older fans. So while there are some things to really enjoy about “Rebels” (like the action and Ralph McQuarie-inspired designs), I’m not crazy about the jokier, PG-rated bits with Ezra, Zeb and Chopper. Additionally, the endless barrage of cameos featured in the first season (from C3P0 and R2D2, to Lando Calrissian and Darth Vader) is an unnecessary attempt to connect the “Rebels” crew to more familiar characters when it should be trying to exist as its own entity. The allure of that type of fan service is understandable, but it gets to the point where it makes the show feel beholden to the past when it should be looking ahead to the future.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes 14 behind-the-scenes featurettes, a collection of short films, a sneak peek at the upcoming second season and more.


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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September


Now that the summer movie season is finally over, it’s time to turn our attention to fall, and more importantly, awards season. Though you don’t normally see many Oscar hopefuls being released in September, over the past few years, studios have begun rolling out potential contenders earlier and earlier in order to get a leg up on the competition, and there are a few films this month that definitely fit the bill. Of course, if you’re still pining for some mindless entertainment left over from the doldrums of August, there’s plenty of that too.

“The Transporter Refueled”

Who: Ed Skrein, Ray Stevenson, Gabriella Wright and Radivoje Bukvic
What: In the south of France, former special-ops mercenary Frank Martin must rescue his kidnapped father after he unwittingly helps rob a Russian kingpin.
When: September 4th
Why: Apparently, the dearth of original ideas in Hollywood has gotten so bad that movie franchises from the early 2000s are now being rebooted, and if that sounds totally ridiculous, it’s because it is. The last two “Transporter” films may not have been very good, but rebooting the series with a different actor is hardly the answer. If the studio wanted more “Transporter” movies, they should have just done another sequel with Jason Statham instead, because this new version with Ed Skrein (who famously quit his recurring gig on “Game of Thrones” to make the film) looks even more terrible than Statham’s final appearance in the title role.

“The Visit”

Who: Kathryn Hahn, Ed Oxenbould, Olivia DeJonge and Peter McRobbie
What: A single mother sends her two children to visit their grandparents for the week, only to discover that the elderly couple is involved in something deeply disturbing.
When: September 11th
Why: M. Night Shyamalan’s career has been circling the drain for the better part of a decade now, so it’s not surprising to see him reduced to making found-footage horror movies in order to pay the bills. There’s nothing even remotely scary in the trailer to suggest that “The Visit” will be anything other than a disappointment, which is a shame, because Shyamalan used to have a real talent for creating suspense. His last few films were a complete joke, however, and while it would be nice to see him stop the rot with a low-budget genre movie that plays to his strengths as a director, “The Visit” simply doesn’t look the part.

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Movie Review: “We Are Your Friends”

Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski, Wes Bentley, Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer, Jon Bernthal
Max Joseph

For the first third of the movie, “We Are Your Friends” suffers from the exact same problem as its protagonist: it’s trying to combine too many disparate ideas, and is a disjointed mess. When it (thankfully) jettisons the “Entourage” angle of the story, along with the Denis Leary-narrated Ford F 150-style graphics (yep, every word spoken appears on screen, multiple characters do it, and it never works), the movie finally finds its, ahem, rhythm. It turns out, “We Are Your Friends” is “Magic Mike” with turntables, right down to the party scenes oozing with so much potential disease transmission that I wanted a shot of penicillin afterwards, and I’m allergic to penicillin.

Cole (Zac Efron) is an aspiring DJ, playing early sets in the club that his friends promote in exchange for cash, free drinks and, if they play their cards right, women. One night, he opens for popular DJ James Reed (Wes Bentley), and the two wind up partying together. James sees Cole’s potential, and pushes him to come up with a track that will make his name, offering him excellent advice (and free studio time) on how he can find his voice. Cole is grateful for all of this, but it does not stop him from developing feelings for James’ much younger, live-in romantic assistant Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), even though he knows it could jeopardize his best shot at getting to the next level. Cole is also starting to realize how unambitious his friends are, but struggles with cutting the ties.

Emily Ratajkowski has been a model since she was 14 years old, so she’s presumably seen and heard it all, but even she had to have paused for a second or two when director and co-screenwriter Max Joseph may or may not have said to her, “I’m going to shoot a couple of slow-mo bits of you dancing, and the camera is going to be focused on nothing but your rack. You’re cool with that, right?” Clearly, she was cool with that, as the scenes are here (said rack received similar attention in “Gone Girl”), but it has to be disheartening as an actress when you’re trying to build a body of work, and the director spends a substantial amount of time not focusing on your face.

One of the things “We Are Your Friends” gets right is that most kids going out into the world, especially ones that have to fend for themselves right out of high school (the audience only meets one of the boys’ parents, so they are presumably on their own), are hopelessly naïve. Any adult can anticipate 90% of the film’s plot, because they’ve been there before. Cole, on the other hand, hasn’t been there before, and Efron does a nice job of portraying that lack of experience. Unfortunately, what that makes this film is the story of a kid making mistake after mistake until he figures it out. Even the party scenes have a sadness to them, as Cole and his mates remain those immature dopes who take unspeakable jobs for cash (working for a very well-cast Jon Bernthal) so they can continue Living the Lifestyle. They’re pathetic, and that’s the point, but they’re still pathetic.

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