Tag: rose byrne

I Give It a Year


I Give It a Year (2013)
★ / ★★★★

After getting to know one another for only seven months, Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall) decide to get married despite major differences in their sense of humor, interests, and personalities. Nine months later, we see them in front of a marriage counselor—who appears rather indifferent to the couple’s struggle—discussing what has gone wrong and asking for advice on how to move forward together.

Only about fifteen minutes into the picture, an overpowering feeling of dread began to creep up my spine and eventually latched onto my brain. Though I tried to be optimistic that it would get better once the material’s wheels start to warm up and get rolling, the screenplay by writer-director Dan Mazer proves painfully conventional, desperate, and cringe-inducing.

Almost every scene involves trying too hard to get us to laugh. Because the supposed punchlines are so forced, from a horrendous speech by the best man (Stephen Merchant) to the manner in which the couple in question meeting or reconnecting with potential mates, we are forced to endure one awkwardly executed scene on top of another. I began to wonder if the film was at all shown to a test audience and, if so, who in their right minds gave the filmmakers positive reactions.

In addition, the would-be comedy in a crumbling marriage is supremely underwritten so the characters come off unbearably whiny. Though Byrne and Spall do what they can as a couple who clash in a passive-aggressive way, they are boring. Josh is supposed to be a writer, but not once did I feel that he was imaginative or passionate enough about his work. Instead, he is given the excuse of having writer’s block and so we see him on the couch.

When it comes to Nat, though she is supposed to be a smart and career-driven woman, we get the feeling that she has no idea what she wants. In some scenes, it feels like we are supposed to be disliking her because she has become so unhappy that she has opened herself up to seeing what another man (Simon Baker) can offer. On the flip side, it is supposed to be cute when Josh is the one wanting to be with another woman (Anna Faris). The double standard is a great source of frustration.

One of the main problems is that although there is a proposed drama in the plot, the screenplay has no understanding whatsoever about how real people think, act, and react. We are not touched or moved when someone gets his or her feelings hurt. We may chuckle because there is a line uttered by a supporting character that is somewhat amusing, but there is no reward for us to chew on. The mood is very sitcom-like—a proposed twelve-episode mid-season television show that gets cancelled after two episodes because no one has bothered to watch—for good reason.

“I Give It a Year” is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to relationship comedies. I like cast, especially Minnie Driver as a woman with a love-hate relationship with her husband, but there is nothing for them to work with here. The movie is a waste of time.

Spy


Spy (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

With her mentor killed in action and the rest of the CIA’s active agents’ identities compromised, Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy), a computer analyst, volunteers to go on a field assignment to track a nuclear weapons buyer (Bobby Cannavale) and report directly to her superior (Allison Janney)—emphasis on track and report. But once actually in the field, starting in Paris, circumstances compel Susan to engage in more than what she has been assigned. Susan’s best friend at work, Nancy (Miranda Hart), backs her up through her mission via an earpiece.

Written and directed by Paul Feig, “Spy” is infectious fun because of its energy, a willingness to take risks both on a physical comedy level and witty banters, and the action offers fresh surprises missing too often in action-comedies. But perhaps what I enjoyed most about the picture is that the script does not rely solely on fat jokes to be funny. Every character is the butt of a joke at one point or another whether it be in terms of their looks, personality, or position of power. It is a comedy with a good spirit.

McCarthy proves once again that she is a star—not a chameleon but a performer who commands powerful magnetism when she is on screen. Her character is required to wear the most ridiculous disguises but McCarthy’s personality and inner-light is so strong, she does not get lost in the unflattering wig and hideous clothes. This is a story of a likable underdog who is underestimated at times because of the way she looks. And yet there is no lesson in the end about loving oneself or something cheesy like that. McCarthy makes the story, even though it is a spy comedy, more grounded, relatable.

Although the material offers a consistent ebb and flow of action and comedy, it does run a little long. The last few scenes, once the twist is revealed, are not as interesting even though the material is still able to deliver a forward momentum. I suppose the whole situation involving a deal going awry during the final act has been done so many times that maybe removing it altogether would have been the best decision. Still, even though the final fifteen minutes offers nothing new, it is watchable and has a few jokes worth sitting through.

In terms of standout supporting performances, it is a toss-up between Jason Statham, playing a very enthusiastic spy (to say the least), and Rose Byrne, portraying a femme fatale with the hopes of selling nuclear weapons. Statham is so intense that it feels as though his character came from a completely different movie—maybe from a pure action flick or a high-end action-thriller. Just about every moment he is on screen, he is making fun of his previous roles involving men with a certain talent for violence and a knack for extrication from trickiest situations. Byrne, on the other hand, is beautiful, as expected, but she has a lot of fun with the role. She oozes sex appeal but mixed with a bit of menace. When her character signals her bodyguards to punish those who have wronged her, it can be chilling especially when the violence happens off-screen.

“Spy” does not change the landscape of action-comedies in any way, but it does offer a good time. Although the template is composed of standard material we expect from the sub-genre, there is enough inspiration here that delivers creativity and intelligence, coupled with amusing performances across the board without the screenplay necessarily relying only on caricatures to make the gags work.

Neighbors


Neighbors (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) have just moved into their new home and are ecstatic to raise their newborn baby girl in it. Just about everything is going right, aside from occasional concerns that they might have lost their youth and sense of fun, until a fraternity moves in right next door. Mac and Kelly are horrified, but they decide to “play it cool.” After all, they were young and in college once. So, they approach the president of the frat, Teddy (Zac Efron), and make sure all of them start off on the right foot. They do… temporarily. Then the loud partying begins.

You know you’re getting old when you start rooting for the parents more than the college students who just want to have some fun. “Neighbors,” written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, offers more than handful funny individual lines and exchanges, but it is far from a comedy that will stand the test of time, the kind that dares to set a standard. It is passable as light entertainment—nothing more—and there is nothing wrong with that if that is what one was looking for.

I enjoyed the performances as a whole especially Rogen and Byrne who play characters that consider themselves as “hip” mentally but their bodies say otherwise. They are convincing as parents who raise a child together, making a lot of mistakes along the way, and craving for some peace and quiet at the end of the day. Because it is relatively easy to buy into their characters, more due to the actors’ charm than a well-written characterization, Mac and Kelly’s efforts to shut down the fraternity becomes a good source of entertainment. There are few lines they are willing to cross to beat the beer-drinking, pot-smoking college students.

Efron and Dave Franco, the latter playing Pete as the frat’s vice president, also share good chemistry. And like Rogen and Byrne’s characters, these two are also thinly written although the effort is clearly there. I liked that the writers make Teddy and Pete nice guys in general. Sure, in reality, there are frat guys who are plain jerks, but from my personal experience, the guys that I met in college who happen to be in a frat are more like Teddy and Pete. You can approach, talk to, and joke around with them without them having to make you feel bad for not being in their circle of bros.

The greatest limitation of the film, directed by Nicholas Stoller, is its relatively stagnant screenplay. It fails to move beyond two neighbors attempting to get the upper hand. Is the point to show that Mac and Kelly, despite having a house and kid, do have some key similarities with their fun-loving neighbors? It would appear so. But such a message is obvious. Discerning viewers will easily recognize this less than halfway through and the rest becomes repetitive.

A dramatic shift in the latter half might have elevated the material. The two leaders of the fraternity should have been key to create a dramatic pull. First, Pete looking forward to starting his career outside of college. Second, Teddy’s fears that he might have peaked. During the Career Fair scene, a man who works for AT&T tells Teddy that they are not interested in considering to hire someone who is dumb. Efron may not be the most versatile actor—yet—but why not explore those fears a bit more?

The answer is, like in most mainstream comedies, to keep the laughs going. It is less of a risk to try to be funny consistently even if it does not feel right for the material than to switch it up suddenly and really surprise the audience, to give them something they did not expect coming into the picture. Such is the definition of average: no more, no less.

Insidious: Chapter 2


Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Though Josh (Patrick Wilson) has succeeded in getting his son (Ty Simpkins) back from the spirit world via astral projection, something else has found its way into Josh’s body and it intends to stay there. So, Josh finds himself stuck in the other realm as if he were one of the dead. His wife, Renai (Rose Byrne), suspects that the man in front of her may not really be her husband after he fails to recognize a song she has written for him. To top it off, her fears are amplified due to the ghostly occurrences beginning to unfold in the house.

“Insidious: Chapter 2,” based on the screenplay by Leigh Whannell, is a witless, humorless, uncreative, and messy would-be horror movie. I was astonished that this embarrassing wreckage is from the mind of the same person who wrote the suspenseful, eerie, genuinely scary predecessor. Even though the first picture ended in a cliffhanger, a sequel should not have been made because there was no script worth putting into celluloid.

If there is one word to describe the film, it would be “reaching.” As in: the movie is constantly reaching for something that simply isn’t there. The supposed scares lack energy and a sense of timing—two key qualities to pull off an adequate horror film. As a result, every attempt to “scare” the audience is so dull to have to sit through.

It throws everything at us: an entity playing the piano when one is alone in the house, something suddenly moving while one explores a dark room, a malicious voice being heard through the baby monitor. And though these things can work if used wisely and sparingly, showing them one right after another communicates nothing but a desperation to impress. I wasn’t impressed. It bored me.

The characters are now aware of the nature of what they are dealing with so suspense and mystery are no longer present. We are asked to do nothing but anticipate how they react. It does not help that there is a strictly enforced formula to the scares as well as in the unveiling of revelations. It is like having to sit through a joke we’ve heard before… only this person is not telling it very well. If the material had been smarter or if the writer had been more ambitious, it ought to have had some kind of a spin with respect to the characters being more aware of what they are fighting against. Instead, it settles for less than mediocrity and just about everything about the picture feels interminable and desultory.

To add insult to injury, the sequel connects one of the most terrifying encounters in “Insidious” into its veins. It feels so forced—something that comes right out of those cheap, badly made, insulting sequels to James Wan’s “Saw” and Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity.” Is this what commercial horror has been reduced to—“connecting” events with its predecessors to appear “intelligent” or “creative”? I find it disgusting, lazy, and insulting.

It is clear that “Insidious: Chapter 2” is not director James Wan’s finest effort. There is nothing to see here unless one is interested in sifting through distractions and clichés. A litmus test on whether or not a scary movie is effective: if you come out of it more frustrated than uneasy to be in your house alone, it has fundamentally failed to do its job.

The Internship


The Internship (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Nick (Owen Wilson) and Billy (Vince Vaughn), a pair of watch salesmen, receive news that the company they work for has shut down. This is most inopportune because, like most adults, they have bills to pay. While searching for jobs online, it occurs to Billy that he and his best friend might have a shot at working for Google. All they have to do is get accepted to a highly competitive summer internship and win a series of challenges against IT-smart—and cutthroat—students hoping for a job right out of college.

There is no denying that Vaughn and Wilson are very good comedic performers, but with a screenplay that is so stale and direction that runs out of energy about thirty minutes in, the hope of saving a sinking ship is null. What we have here is material that should have been filled with whip-smart one-liners about the role of modern technology in our lives, backed with satirical edge—or at least an interesting commentary—about corporate culture, but it settles for being average. I am not a fan of mediocrity.

Part of the problem is that the supporting characters are not asked to do anything other than to serve as weak punchlines. As a result, I found Nick and Billy’s team members to be intolerable. Stuart (Dylan O’Brien), Neha (Tiya Sircar), and Yo-Yo (Tobit Raphael) are supposed to be so intelligent and so driven to succeed that at times they come off unlikable, but the script by Vaughn and Jared Stern does not bother with specifics.

For instance, what does each member contribute to the table? Other than to snag a job after the competition, what is it about working for Google that they find so alluring? Who are they outside of the internship? Because we never learn about them as people with real thoughts and lives outside of the competition, the eventual changes they go through as individuals as well as a team feel completely phony.

It is a shame because the film missed an opportunity to make a real and increasingly relevant statement about human connection. Instead of simply existing as a broad comedy with a frustrating lack of focus, it should have been more pointed with what it is trying to say. All of us have come across really smart people and wondered why they are not more successful or happier in life. The material makes only a small suggestion that social skills, a willingness to express one’s personality, and attempting to get to know others are important elements for success as well as self-fulfillment. It appears as though the material is embarrassed to really get that point across.

The subplot involving a romance between Nick and a Google employee, Dana (Rose Byrne), is desperate at best. The two characters share no chemistry. Notice that their interactions almost always consist of sarcasm. Naturally, they must go on a date eventually. Somehow, we are supposed to believe that the whole charade is supposed to be cute or romantic. I found it insulting because the script assumes that we are idiots.

Directed by Shawn Levy, “The Internship” asks us to invest two hours of our time and it gives less than nothing. We get a couple of jokes about the older generation not knowing terms about the computer or the internet, Asian parents who put too much pressure on their child, and women who work too hard to be good at their jobs. Since no thought or inspiration is put in the screenplay, it ends up wallowing in clichés.

X-Men: First Class


X-Men: First Class (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

A spy for the CIA, Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), had been tracking Sebastian Shaw’s (Kevin Bacon) activities for quite some time. Initially unknown to her, he was a mutant and it was his goal to start World War III between the United States and the Soviet Union. He believed that by having the world’s superpowers obliterate one another, Mutants could finally rise and rule. Shaw was also the man who murdered the mother of Erik Lehnsherr, future Magneto, during the Nazis’ evil rule in Germany. Through rage and other negative emotions, he trained Erik to control his ability. Fast-forward to the 1960s, Erik (Michael Fassbender) hunted the men responsible for his terrible past. Shaw was the final man on his death list. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, I found “X-Men: First Class” to be admirable not because of its action sequences but because its attention was largely on its story. It focused on the complicated relationship between Erik and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). The former favored violence while the other valued diplomacy. We learned that Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), also known as Mystique, were childhood friends and how her loyalty shifted over the course of their friendship. We also met Professor X’s first students: the intellectual Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), the timid Sean Cassidy/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), the assured Armando Muñoz/Darwin (Edu Gathegi), and pretty boy Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till). The cast had great chemistry, especially Fassbender and McAvoy, but I wish the younger actors were given more screen time. The film would have been more fun and exciting if the politics wasn’t always at the forefront. I thought it was wonderful that the screenplay treated us like intelligent audiences by choosing a specific time to establish the parallels and eventual divide in Magneto and Professor X’s beliefs and ethics. But I have to admit that the picture had a certain energy that made me smile with scenes in which the students showed each other their powers and did a bit of destruction while being held by the CIA. Those parts made me realize that maybe it was taking itself too seriously. There were moments of humor dispersed throughout but it needed more to allow the material to breathe. Perhaps two or three grand speeches by Magneto should have been left on the cutting room floor. Furthermore, I’ve heard a lot of negative feedback involving January Jones’ performance as Emma Frost, one of Shaw’s most loyal henchmen, a telepath and whose skin could turn into diamonds. While I thought her acting wasn’t great, I didn’t think she was terrible or distracting. The way I saw her character was she grew up pretty and privileged, though not exactly intelligent despite being able to read minds, and so she was apathetic to the politics around her. To me, all she cared about was being Shaw’s trophy. With some girls, it’s enough for them to have a guy next to them. I want more superhero movies like “X-Men: First Class” because it was clear that it had ambition. Although its tone was vastly different from its predecessors, it made itself an important piece of the package.

Bridesmaids


Bridesmaids (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When Annie (Kristen Wiig) was informed by Lillian (Maya Rudolph), her BFF, that she was getting married, Annie was very happy for her friend yet she was reminded of her own failures. The list included her business venture involving a bakery that went under because of the recession and the fact that she was far from being in a stable romantic relationship. She thought the best she could do was to be in a no strings attached relationship with a womanizer (Jon Hamm) who drove a fancy car and was brazen enough to criticize her teeth. Upon hearing the news, the lingering moment when we noticed her genuine happiness change into critical self-evaluation was “Bridesmaids,” written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, at its best. It wasn’t just a comedy about a wedding but it was about the people that made the celebration stressful and special. When Lillian introduced Annie to little-miss-perfect Helen (Rose Byrne), Annie felt threatened. Helen was rich, men noticed her when she entered a room, and had a natural elegance in the way she carried herself. Annie was just none of those things. One of the most memorable scenes, gloriously awkward and laugh-out-loud funny, involved Annie and Helen attempting to deliver the best toast. The way they snatched the microphone out of each other’s iron grip defined their relationship. As audiences so used to seeing the maid of honor and her rival in more generic and spineless comedies, we expected Annie and Helen to eventually deliver a punch (or purposefully dig one’s stiletto in another’s foot) as the scene went on. But they never did. Part of the joy of watching them together was experiencing the uncomfortable and unbearable tension, their passive-aggressiveness, their willingness to prove that, for Annie, Lillian chose the right friend to be the maid of honor and, for Helen, that she was the more practical choice because she had a talent for micromanagement and the fact that she had connections. The other hilarious bridesmaids were Melissa McCarthy, unapologetically profane and we love her for it, Wendi McLendon-Covey, the extremely unhappy mother of three boys, and Ellie Kemper, bored of her life because everything was rooted in being safe. The unhappiness of these women were relatable, engaging, and ultimately touching. But “Bridesmaids” had its share of gross-out humor. I’m particularly difficult to impress with scenes involving bodily functions but I actually enjoyed those moments. It worked because the material was already very funny. The over-the-top gags were simply icing on the wedding cake (or should I say wedding dress?). Directed by Paul Feig, “Bridesmaids,” character-driven, calculated shots but effortless delivery, and appealing to both women and men, is a rarity in mainstream comedy.

Insidious


Insidious (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The Lamberts, led by schoolteacher Josh and musician Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne), recently moved into a new house with their three kids (Ty Simpkins, Andrew Astor). In the beginning, there were small incidents around the house like books being put out of place but no one ever touching them. Then the changes started to become more noticeable like Renai hearing malevolent voices from a baby monitor when no one was supposed to be upstairs other than the sleeping infant. One night, one of the children, Dalton, went to explore in the creepy attic and fell from a ladder. He was hurt but there was no serious injury. The problem was, the next morning, Dalton wouldn’t wake up. Doctors claimed he was in a coma but they couldn’t explain why. Written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan, “Insidious” was a creative, thrilling, old-fashioned haunted house film. When you’ve seen a lot of horror movies, you start to feel as though you’ve seen everything in the genre, that nothing can surprise you anymore. But there are times when movies like this would come and take you completely by surprise. From its title card in gargantuan red text designed to summon 70s and 80s cheesy horror nostalgia down to its chilling soundtrack, it immediately showcased its knowledge of horror conventions. I got the feeling that maybe it was going to poke fun of the standards. In some ways it did, but I was happier with the fact that it took the known conventions and made them better by altering them just a little bit. In a wasteland of bad remakes and cringe-inducing adaptations, a spice of modernity feels like a new breed. The first half worked as a horror picture because of the way it patiently built the suspense. The ghosts were scary but they didn’t go around following the family (depending on how one sees it). They were just hanging about, taking up the same space as the living. The director was careful in revealing too much. Sometimes the ghosts were on the background and the characters didn’t see them. But the audiences certainly did. Sometimes the apparitions were on the foreground and we had no choice but to scream at the images thrown at us. Because the director varied his camera angles and the types of scares, the film held an usually high level of tension. Each situation was a potential cause of alarm. In a dark room, we knew that something was going to happen but it was a matter of when. “Insidious” also worked as a horror-comedy. Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), a geek tech duo who seemed to have been plucked from Ivan Reitman’s “Ghost Busters,” provided required tension-relievers as they attempted to get bigger weapons to detect the ghosts. Meanwhile, the addition of Lin Shaye as the concerned psychic was an excellent counter-balance to the more comedic moments. Her character reminded us that “Insidious” was a horror movie first and foremost by allowing us to see what she saw in a dark room via Spec’s drawings. For an old-fashioned horror flick, “Insidious” felt progressive, even fresh. Sitting in a packed theater, I felt like the film continually threw snakes of increasing size onto my lap. I screamed louder each time.

Adam


Adam (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

A lonely man with Asperger’s syndrome (Hugh Dancy) who recently lost his father found real connection with a teacher named Beth (Rose Byrne) who recently moved into his apartment building. What I loved about this picture was its ability to show the sometimes comical awkwardness of a character who happens to have Asperger’s but still remain sensitive and accurate throughout. With movies that have such sensitive topics, it’s easy to make fun of the person with a condition to get the laughs. In here, his awkwardness was matched with his romatic interest’s because there were times when she, too, did not know what to say or do. I enjoyed the romance angle of this film but what did not work for me as well was the bit about Peter Gallagher’s character being in court. I thought those scenes dragged a bit. Its connection to Adam’s life was not strong enough except for the fact that Beth and her father were often at odds. Still, I’m giving this movie a recommendation because, from what I learned in school and the reviews I read written by Aspies, it was true to life; how their limited social abilities impact a huge portion of their lives such as making friends, finding the right person they want to spend the rest of their life with, being interviewed for a job or making small talk with strangers. The best scenes are those with Dancy and Byrne being in the same room and trying to connect. At times they may have a wall around themselves but when they do decide to let each other in and really talk about what they’re thinking and try to communicate what it is they want, there’s magic and it works as a love story. And there were just times when Adam found it difficult to be in Beth’s shoes or when he took things too literally. Written and directed by Max Mayer, “Adam” was able to successfully show how it was like for a person who could not express himself the way he wanted to to still find acceptance from others as well as himself. There’s a common mindset that people with autism are all the same, they’re all dumb and are less successful than “normal” people. This picture touched on those three mindsets to show that quite the opposite is true. I was very satisfied with the ending because it was realistic but it wasn’t sappy or heavy-handed. The implications it had were quite touching.

Knowing


Knowing (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

“Knowing,” directed by Alex Proyas, was about a man who stumbled upon a message from a time capsule written by a strange girl fifty years ago. The message consisted of seemingly random numbers but if one decided to look closer, one would find out that it recorded the events of major disasters that were to transpire in the future. Because of all the negative reviews, I had low expectations coming into it. However, the first third was so effective so I naturally thought that the rest of the picture would be as smart and suspenseful. I couldn’t be any more wrong. Nicolas Cage tends to overact in most of his movies and this one is no exception. To me, he was most effective when he first figured out what all the numbers meant. He was able to balance fear, anxiety and excitement while still being that intellectual that he was presented as in the beginning of the film. But the moment Rose Byrne entered the movie, everything started to feel so unbelievable to point where I lost interest. I can’t believe I’m saying this but she actually upstaged Cage when it came to overacting. I actually said, “Just shut up” during one of the scenes because she interpreted her character in such an irksome manner. As for its special and visual effects, sometimes they looked like scenes from video games but sometimes they impressed me. I particularly liked those plane and subway scenes. They looked really haunting and it was very difficult to dispel the images from my head. If such disasters happened, I was convinced that it would look like that. The last third of the movie felt like a completely different movie altogether. I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to that patient and sometimes creepy style of storytelling that pervaded the first third. The third act felt like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (the most recent version), which is not a good thing. Everything felt forced and I had to wonder why the writers felt like they had to do something grand for the sake of being grand. Ultimately, “Knowing” drowned in its own mediocrity. However, I did appreciate its efforts to want to be something more than typical despite its unfortunate yet inevitable outcome.