Movie Review: “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”

Starring
Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, Stephen Root
Director
Jake Szymanski

Raunch-com, we need to talk. We’ve been spending a lot of time together (11 years, by my count), and this relationship just isn’t working out for me anymore. Every time you start to tell me a new story, I get all excited, thinking, “This ought to be good,” only to discover that this story just cobbles together elements from the stories you told me a couple of years ago. Do you even recognize that you’ve told this joke before? There are times when I feel like Julianne Moore’s husband in “Still Alice,” if “Still Alice” was a pitch-black comedy. Funny, yet so not funny.

And yet, there are times when you can still bring the goods, though with your most recent story, “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” your ass was saved by some expert casting. Aubrey Plaza? Genius move. it was economical as well, at 98 minutes. Way to get in and out before wearing out your welcome.

Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) are dipshit party boy liquor salesmen who have a history of ruining family events with their brotastic shenanigans. The next family event is the wedding of their little sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard), so the parents give them an ultimatum: they must bring dates, and nice ones at that, so they will be encouraged to behave themselves. The boys are struggling with the concept, so in their infinite wisdom they decide to put out an ad, which quickly goes viral and catches the eye of party girl Tatiana (Plaza), who sees an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii as the perfect way to get her left-at-the-altar bestie Alice (Anna Kendrick) out of her tailspin. Alice and Tatiana’s ruse is to lead the boys into thinking that they don’t know who they are and are just meeting them by chance. It works, but not for as long as they had hoped.

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Movie Review: “Dirty Grandpa”

Starring
Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza, Julianne Hough, Dermot Mulroney, Jason Mantzoukas
Director
Dan Mazer

Dan Mazer cut his teeth as a writer on “Da Ali G Show” and other Sacha Baron Cohen projects like “Borat” and “Brüno,” so it comes as no surprise that his directorial debut relies just as heavily on that brand of inappropriate comedy. Though “Dirty Grandpa” isn’t quite as nuanced as some of Cohen’s work, it has such a laissez faire attitude that you have to admire just how far it pushes the limit of what you can get away with in a studio comedy. The movie feels like it’s trying a little too hard at times, but thanks to some committed performances from Robert De Niro and Zac Efron, “Dirty Grandpa” isn’t nearly as unpleasant as its material warrants.

Efron stars as Jason Kelly, an uptight corporate lawyer who has allowed his father (Dermot Mulroney) to control his life ever since college, including the arrangement of his upcoming marriage to the beautiful but bossy Meredith (Julianne Hough). When Jason’s grandmother dies from cancer and his grandpa Dick (De Niro), whom he used to be close with as a kid, needs someone to drive him to his Florida vacation home as part of an annual tradition, Jason grudgingly volunteers. But as he soon discovers, Dick has ulterior motives for their road trip – namely, to get laid – and persuades Jason to take a detour through Daytona Beach to soak up the spring break festivities after they bump into one of his former classmates (Zoey Deutch) and her rowdy friends (Aubrey Plaza and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) along the way.

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Movie Review: “Life After Beth”

Starring
Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler
Director
Jeff Baena

It’s incredible to think that in the short 10 years since the release of “Shaun of the Dead,” the zombie comedy has practically become its own subgenre, even spawning several “rom-zom-coms” (romantic zombie comedies, a term coined during the marketing for that film) in the process. But while Edgar Wright’s 2004 debut was a blisteringly funny homage to zombie movies, there’s yet to be another film that even comes close to matching its genre-bending wit and sense of fun. Which brings me to “Life After Beth,” the latest rom-zom-com to try and fail at duplicating that success. Surprisingly dull and unfunny for the talent involved, “Life After Beth” is a dead-on-arrival comedy that’s just as much in need of some brains as its title character.

Dane DeHaan stars as Zach, a gloomy teenager mourning the death of his girlfriend, Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza), after she was killed by a snakebite while hiking alone in the woods. Depressed and seeking comfort from Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), Zach is offended when the couple suddenly cuts him off without so much as an explanation. So when Zach goes to their house looking for answers, he’s shocked to discover that Beth is very much alive, although without any memory of the past few days. While they’re not exactly sure how it happened (the possibility of a Jesus-like resurrection is debated), the Slocums are just happy to have their daughter back, and they’re willing to let Zach continue to see her if he promises to keep Beth’s return from the grave a secret. But as Zach attempts to rekindle their relationship, he can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right with her.

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Movie Review: “The To Do List”

Starring
Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Scott Porter, Bill Hader, Rachel Bilson, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele
Director
Maggie Carey

There are lots of individual things to like about “The To-Do List.” Aubrey Plaza delivers a fearless performance as the curious virgin, her supporting cast delivers laughs by the pound, and the movie has a coming-of-age vibe to it that was unexpected but most welcome. (You would think that the themes of first-time sex and coming of age would cross paths often, but they really don’t.) For everything it does well, though, it could have done it better. It’s funny, but could have been funnier. It’s clever, but botches golden opportunities to deliver a memorable, poignant one-liner. It works in fits and starts, but there always seems to be something that derails its momentum.

It is June 1993, and Brandy Klark (Plaza) has just graduated from high school. She is class valedictorian, fond of correcting her friends’ grammar, and the most inexperienced virgin on the planet. After a drunken, mistaken-identity encounter with mysterious college-age hunk Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), Brandy decides that before she heads off to college, she needs to know how to handle herself when it comes to sex, the ultimate goal being losing her virginity to the out-of-her-league Rusty. As she gains experience, though, she loses perspective on how her actions affect those around her, particularly her longtime adoring lab partner Cameron (Johnny Simmons).

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Weekly Web Series Review: Smart Girls at the Party

Described by host Amy Poehler as “a celebration of real friendship, real fellowship, and a kind of community with other girls,” the web series “Smart Girls at the Party” is a kind-hearted, fun and educational program for kids and their parents alike, but especially for young girls. Often specifically focusing on girls who enjoy activities traditionally thought of as being more for boys, the series enjoyed a significant viewership boost in its first season when it introduced its youngest interviewee, seven-year-old Ruby, who speaks precociously about feminism. Its most-viewed episode to date features a 14-year-old boxer named Precela, and another highlight features a young robotics engineer named Rachel.

These are the “girls who are changing the world by being themselves,” in the words of Poehler, who hosts the show with the tongue-in-cheek seriousness of a news anchor before ending each episode with a dance party. Along with producer Meredith Walker and musical director Amy Miles, Poehler explores the special talents and interests of each girl – or in a few episodes, groups of girls – and interviews them, always ending on a “very serious question,” such as “pizza or cotton candy?” or “which is cuter, a baby panda or a baby monkey?” However, despite poking fun at self-serious interview questions, the series never makes fun of the girls or treats them or their interests with cynicism or irony. Instead, it clearly aims to imbue its young audience with a sense of self-worth and individuality, without being boring or preachy.

Now in its second season, the series has markedly improved from its first few episodes, adding a “World Famous 20 Second Song” segment for Miles and boasting higher production values. There are also some familiar faces in the dance parties that parents will enjoy spotting, including Poehler’s husband Will Arnett (who returns from the first season), as well as her “Parks and Recreation co-stars Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones and Aubrey Plaza. Look closely and you’ll also spot folks like Jon Hamm, David Cross and Jack McBrayer in later episodes. With its own new channel on YouTube, “Smart Girls at the Party” is slicker and more fun than ever, and is highly recommended for viewing with children, especially daughters, between the ages of five and fifteen.

  

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