Blu Tuesday: Neighbors, The Rover and Firestorm

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.

“Neighbors”

WHAT: When a college fraternity moves into the house next door, new parents Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) become entangled in a juvenile war with the frat’s tenacious president (Zac Efron) after butting heads over their hard-partying lifestyle.

WHY: I’m a firm believer that the best comedy is grounded in reality, which is why “Neighbors” didn’t really work for me, because nothing that happens in this movie is even remotely realistic. For starters, a fraternity would never move into an ordinary neighborhood without some serious pushback from the rest of the community, and the idea that the other neighbors could be bought off so easily is perhaps the funniest joke in the entire film. (Free car washes are nice, but not at the expense of persistent noise and debauchery.) Furthermore, many of the pranks implemented by the two parties are not only incredibly dangerous, but highly improbable, while the characters (especially Lisa Kudrow’s college dean) are so stupid that it only makes buying into the premise that much more difficult. In fact, it’s hard to imagine any of the jokes working at all without such a good cast, because while Seth Rogen is resigned to his usual shtick (though he does it well), Rose Byrne and Zac Efron deliver some really funny performances. Unfortunately, despite boasting some great individual moments, “Neighbors” never quite gels into the laugh-out-loud comedy that it had the potential to be.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes an alternate opening, deleted scenes, a gag reel, the always popular Line-O-Rama, and some brief featurettes on the characters, the party scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Rover”

WHAT: Set 10 years after a global economic collapse, a hardened loner named Eric (Guy Pearce) attempts to track down the men who stole his car. When he discovers one of the thieves’ brothers left for dead on the side of the road, he forms an uneasy alliance with the redneck half-wit (Robert Pattinson) to help him on his journey.

WHY: David Michod’s “Animal Kingdom” was one of the best-reviewed films of 2010, but if you gave me the choice between that movie and his latest thriller, “The Rover” would get my vote every time. Though it’s plagued by many of the same problems as the Aussie crime drama, including glacial pacing and an alarming lack of character development, the film is a mesmerizing study of two severely damaged men living in a damaged world. Michod may not offer much in the way of plot, but he makes up for it with some gorgeous shots of the Australian outback and a quiet intensity rarely seen in Hollywood movies. That latter part comes through mostly in the performances from its two leads, and while Guy Pearce is excellent as the soft-spoken nomad, it’s Robert Pattinson who really surprises as the twitchy captive. Pattinson has earned a bad reputation due to his involvement in the “Twilight” films, but the actor proves that he’s capable of much better in what is easily his strongest performance to date. “The Rover” is a very specific kind of movie (“Mad Max” by way of Cormac McCarthy) for a very specific kind of audience, and although it’s not for everyone, it’s yet another strong feather in the cap of A24, which is having an excellent year between this, “Enemy” and “Locke.”

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette, but sadly, that’s the extent of the bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Firestorm”

WHAT: When a group of robbers pulls off an armored car heist in broad daylight, hard-nosed Inspector Lui (Andy Lau) leads the investigation to bring them down. But after the usual police tactics prove to be no match for the unscrupulous criminals, Nam must play by their own rules in order to deliver justice.

WHY: “Firestorm” was originally released in Chinese theaters as a 3D spectacle, and it definitely shows, because there’s no shortage of action. In fact, it’s an almost endless barrage of gunfights, car crashes and explosions, to the point that you’re left to wonder how these criminals are getting their hands on so much firepower. Though it starts out as a bit of an homage to Michael Mann’s “Heat,” the movie quickly devolves into a brainless action movie where the lead protagonist is practically invincible (Lui survives multiple car crashes, explosions and multi-story falls with only a few scratches to show for it), while the rest of the Hong Kong cops get shredded to pieces. Furthermore, the good guys are totally inept, failing to hit a single target for most of the movie despite the fact that the criminals just stand out in the open for everyone to see. Writer/director Alan Yuen tries to balance these silly action sequences with subplots designed to add some emotional depth to the story, but they’re so half-baked that they only prove to be a distraction. “Firestorm” is mildly entertaining as a big, dumb and loud shoot-‘em-up, but it could have been so much better, especially with the usually dependable Andy Lau involved.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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Movie Review: “Neighbors”

Starring
Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Director
Nicholas Stoller

Everything about “Neighbors” screams bro – had we been tasked with pitching the script to a producer, we would have said, “’Tin Men,’ with bros” – and then a funny thing happens: Rose Byrne comes along and wipes the floor with every man in the cast. She puts on a master class in comedy here, and in the process (unintentionally, for sure), she out-funnys the funny guy. This is okay, mind you, and in fact wouldn’t even be a problem if the movie had a coherent script, but it doesn’t. It’s a funny script, and it hits all of the right notes in the end, but the path it takes to get there is dubious, to be sure. Someone, anyone, should have gotten arrested.

New parents Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Byrne) have bought a new home, and love their idyllic grown-up existence. The house next door is up for sale, and to their horror, a fraternity moves in. Mac and Kelly, eager to maintain their youth while dealing with being new parents, try to play the part of the cool neighbors at first, but as the frat’s continuous late-night antics threaten to wake their baby girl, they call the police on them after their attempts to contact them go unanswered. The president of the fraternity, Ted (Zac Efron), declares war, and the two sides engage in a series of escalating stunts designed to put the other side down for good, yet they’re strangely chummy the entire time.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to May

may

The summer movie season has officially begun, and this May promises to be one of the biggest yet, with two massive superhero sequels, the return of Godzilla, and the latest comedies from Seth Rogen, Seth MacFarlane and Adam Sandler. And just to make things interesting, there are also a couple of smaller indie films that you’ll want to squeeze into your schedule to help prevent blockbuster overload. After all, there are still three more months of this to go.

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2″

Who: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan and Sally Field
What: Spider-Man’s biggest battle has always been the struggle between power and responsibility, but Peter Parker is about to discover that a greater conflict lies ahead.
When: May 2nd
Why: The first “Amazing Spider-Man” improved upon Sam Raimi’s original in just about every way, but the one thing it lacked was a memorable villain. Director Marc Webb may have taken the criticisms a little too harshly, however, because the sequel already has fans groaning for making the same mistake that some believe ruined “Spider-Man 3”: too many villains. But instead of playing down these rumors, the studio has embraced them by not only revealing the several villains that appear in this movie, but teasing future one as well. It was actually a pretty smart move, because in the post-“Avengers” landscape, fanboys appreciate this kind of forward thinking. The fact that Webb has managed to cast some great actors in the villain roles is just the icing on top, provided he can strike the necessary balance that Raimi was unable to achieve with his last entry in the franchise.

“NEIGHBORS”

Who: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco and Lisa Kudrow
What: A couple with a newborn baby face unexpected difficulties after they are forced to live next to a fraternity house.
When: May 9th
Why: Nicholas Stoller’s last two films were a bit disappointing compared to his 2008 directorial debut, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” but he may have finally stopped the rot with this new frat comedy, which played like gangbusters at SXSW earlier this year. Though Seth Rogen runs really hot and cold with me, the actor appears to be in top form here, while Zac Efron has been begging for a role like this to show people that he’s more than just that dude from “High School Musical.” It’s also nice to see Rose Byrne returning to comedy after scene-stealing turns in “Bridesmaids” and “Get Him to the Greek,” because she’s done some of her best work in the genre. Of course, none of that matters if all the funny material has already been spoiled in the trailers, but judging by the early buzz on this one, it’s safe to say that won’t be an issue.

“CHEF”

Who: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo and Scarlett Johansson
What: A chef who loses his restaurant job starts up a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged family.
When: May 9th
Why: After helping launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe with 2008’s “Iron Man,” it was only natural that Jon Favreau would continue making big Hollywood blockbusters. But following the box office blunder of “Cowboys & Aliens,” nothing pleases me more than to see the “Swingers” scribe returning to his roots with a smaller, more personal film like “Chef.” Though he’s drafted in a couple Avengers friends (Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr.) for some cameos, his newest movie is a refreshingly CGI-free affair. The only special effects you’ll see here are the copious amounts of food porn teased in the trailer, and that’s all done in service of the story, which Favreau has smartly centered around the red-hot food truck trend, making “Chef” incredibly timely as well. If it’s any bit as good as “Swingers” and “Made,” Favreau could have another cult classic on his hands.

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