Movie Review: “The Night Before”

Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon
Jonathan Levine

Every year, a new crop of Christmas-themed films arrives in theaters to help kick off the season, but apart from 2003’s awesome trio of “Elf,” “Love Actually” and “Bad Santa,” Hollywood hasn’t had much luck producing movies worthy of shaking up the usual rotation of holiday classics. Nobody really expected Jonathan Levine’s “The Night Before” to join that illustrious club, but it seemed like it would at least be a fun diversion from the barrage of serious Oscar fare by adding a bit of frat-humor debauchery to the Christmas movie festivities. Unfortunately, it’s not very successful, because “The Night Before” is at best a fleetingly funny comedy that ranks as Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s weakest collaboration to date.

For the past 14 years, best friends Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have spent every Christmas Eve together, a tradition that started as a way to console Ethan after he lost his parents in a car accident. Now in their early 30s, the guys have mutually agreed to end the annual tradition for various reasons: Isaac and his wife (Jillian Bell) are expecting a baby, and Chris, a pro football player who’s found fame late in his career, is simply too busy. Ethan, meanwhile, is still reeling from his breakup with longtime girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Caplan) and is worried that he’s about to lose his friends as well, but when he fortuitously comes into possession of three tickets to the Nutcracker Ball – an ultra-exclusive party that the guys have been trying to get into since their first Christmas Eve – Ethan figures that they can at least go out with a bang.

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Movie Review: “Steve Jobs”

Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katerine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Ortiz
Danny Boyle

Most biopics go to great lengths to humanize their subjects, to show that even the great ones are flawed in some way. “Steve Jobs” sets its subject on fire, and then pokes the body with a stick for 122 minutes. They make it clear from word one that Jobs was a sociopath, blinded by ambition and seemingly incapable of empathy or love. He was an insufferable boss and an even worse father, yet the son of a bitch changed the world.

And the thing is, those are all okay elements to include in the film of someone’s life. More often than not, though, those pieces aren’t the whole story. Here, they are, and it’s framed within a narrative that seems designed to make the audience even more uncomfortable. “Steve Jobs” is well written and well-acted, but it is not an easy movie to like, let alone love. It challenges the audience, and that is an admirable thing, as long as they’re willing to suffer the consequence that people may ultimately decide that they don’t like the movie because the supposed protagonist is an unrepentant jerk.

The film covers three product launches, peppered with a few informative, non-linear flashbacks, over the course of 14 years. The first one takes place in 1984, where Jobs is about to launch the Macintosh. Ridley Scott’s “1984” ad during the Super Bowl had everyone talking, and now it is up to Jobs to deliver. The only problem is, the Mac isn’t ready, and yet he still tells the press that he anticipates record-shattering sales. Before he makes his presentation, though, he has to deal with Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), mother of Jobs’ daughter Lisa, though he refuses to acknowledge Lisa as his daughter. Next up is Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), the man with whom he invented the first Apple computer in a garage, and the two are still quibbling over what turned out to be game-changing innovations that Jobs rejected out of hand.

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Movie Review: “Neighbors”

Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
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.

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Movie Review: “This Is the End”

Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Emma Watson
Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

It makes sense that “This Is the End” turned out the way it did. If Seth Rogen is going to write a script about the Apocalypse, it’s not going to be subtle, nor should it be. (Come on, how boring would that be?) However, in his attempt to spread the wealth among his six leads, he loses sight of what would work best for the story, and in the process loses nearly all of the momentum he and co-writer Even Goldberg gained with an explosively funny first act.

Jay Baruchel (all of the name actors in this movie are playing themselves) flies to Los Angeles for a weekend of bonding with lifelong friend Seth Rogen. Seth asks Jay if he wants to go to a party at James Franco‘s house, but Jay isn’t crazy about Seth’s new friends, and just as he expected, he winds up bored and angry at Seth. When the two leave to get some cigarettes, the Rapture takes place before their eyes, with people being beamed up to heaven while hell is unleashed on earth. They get back to Franco’s house just before a giant hole swallows up everyone but Seth, Jay, James, Craig Robinson and Jonah Hill. Oh, and Danny McBride, who crashed the party and fell asleep in the bathtub.

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One-man mock draft: “The League”

When FX debuted “The League” in 2009, my first reaction was: What took so long? With how popular fantasy football has become over the last decade, I’d been waiting for someone to do a movie or TV show about a bunch of degenerates in a fantasy league. Granted, “The League” is not without its warts, but it fills a growing and rabid niche while also being careful to not exclude people who aren’t into the game. As it says on the show’s official website, “To be a fan of ‘The League,’ you don’t need to know much about fantasy football, or sports at all. You just need to have friends that you hate.” Well put.

In honor of the show’s third season kicking off this week (Thu 10/6 on FX) and Season 2 now being available on Blu-ray and DVD, I decided to stage a one-man mock draft under the following premise: Something has made it impossible for me to manage my team in a long-running fantasy football league this season, and I need to pick my replacement owner from one of the show’s six main characters. From left to right in the photo above, there’s Pete Eckhart, the league’s most successful owner and a shrewd trader who divorced his wife in season 1; Andre Nowzik, the butt of so many jokes who earned a bit of revenge by winning the league’s Shiva Bowl at the end of the first season; Rodney Ruxin, reigning league champ and owner of the well-deserved nickname “The Herdsman”; Kevin MacArthur, lawyer and league commissioner who is still looking for his first title; Jenny MacArthur, who used to co-manage a team with husband Kevin before taking over her own team last season; and Taco MacArthur, Kevin’s younger brother who knows surprisingly little about fantasy football but a considerable amount about weed, women and hooking up. I didn’t include fan favorite Raffi, a no-brainer choice for the last pick, or Raffi’s buddy Dirty Randy, who will be played by Seth Rogen this season in what promises to be a memorable guest appearance.

The commissioner has stepped to the podium and it’s nearly time to make my picks. Check out the quick trailer for Season 3 below and then follow my draft, from #6 to the top pick at #1.

6. Taco
I’ve got nothing against stoners, but I wouldn’t let Taco anywhere near my fantasy team. He’s an idiot, which is usually great for the show but not so much for sustained fantasy success. I’d definitely, however, hire Taco to record a victory song to post on the league message board after I take home the title.

5. Kevin
The first thing to know about Kevin is that he’s the only owner in the group never to play in the Shiva Bowl. Ouch. Aside from Taco (and Raffi), everyone in the league knows more about the game, and wife Jenny actually dumped him to take control of her own team when Raffi was replaced late last season. Kevin is more trustworthy than the slimier Ruxin (below), but playing it safe rarely results in league championships.

4. Ruxin
To be clear, not much separates Kevin and Ruxin in this draft. Ruxin knows what he’s doing when it comes to fantasy football, and he’s ruthless, which is a great quality for any successful fantasy owner. But I just don’t trust the guy. Case in point, near the end of the first season, he let Jenny blackmail him into trading Peyton Manning to Kevin for pennies on the dollar. Still, Ruxin is coming off a Season 2 league title, whereas Kevin has never even sniffed the championship game. I may not trust Ruxin, but I’d choose the upside knowing my team would be competitive with him at the helm.

3. Andre
This guy gets a bad rap. Well, okay, he deserves most of it, but you’ve got to love an underdog. After being the group’s punching bag for so many years, maybe all Andre needs is for someone to believe in him. A case could be made for Andre to go after Kevin and Ruxin, but keep in mind that Andre not only won the Shiva Bowl in the show’s first season, but he also at the time was sleeping with Shiva, the trophy’s namesake and the hot former valedictorian of the group’s high school class. Sure, he took home the dreaded “SackO” as the league’s worst team last season, but I’m playing a hunch and banking on a rebound at #3.

2. Pete
Winning the league three times really beefs up your résumé, but that’s not all Kevin has going for him in this draft. He’s ruthless but not as slimy as Ruxin, he’s mastered the art of lopsided trading, and he arguably knows more about the game than anyone else in the league. He eats and breathes fantasy football, so I know winning would be priority #1 with Pete. Plus, he’s recently divorced and is a notorious slacker at work, so he’ll be more focused on my team than the other guys. So why isn’t Pete my #1 pick? Because he’s not Jenny.

1. Jenny
Like a career backup running back finally getting a chance to shine, Jenny seems destined for stardom now that she’s out of Kevin’s shadow. For years, Jenny made her husband look good with her behind-the-scenes counsel and maneuvering (like the aforementioned Peyton Manning trade with Ruxin), and now she’ll flash her skills while managing her own team. She’s already proven her ability and willingness to get a sweet deal worked out, and after so many years in a supportive role, she’s hungry and ready to thrive. Pete is probably the safer choice but, in more ways than one, Jenny is the hot up-and-comer.


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