Tag Archive: Nicholas Stoller


In my review of the original Neighbors, I commented that although I loved how the characters and themes were handled in the film, there were simply too many big comedic moments that fell flat. It was overly raunchy and didn’t deliver enough laughs as one would have expected. Having recently rewatched that film, I can admit that I was probably a little too harsh on it. I still certainly wish that it was funnier, but it’s got a great premise and is incredibly well-directed by Nicholas Stoller. He once again returns to direct Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, a film that’s admittedly a step down from the original, but still a notch above most modern comedies. It’s rare that a comedy sequel ends up being a success and while that label might be a little too generous for this film, it’s certainly not a failure.

Several years after the rivalry of the first film, Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) discovers that she is pregnant with her second child, so she and her husband Mac (Seth Rogen) decide to finally sell their home. After purchasing an idyllic new house, they discover that their old house is in escrow for thirty days, meaning the couple that purchased it can back out at any point over the next month. This disappointing news becomes horrible once they discover that a young sorority has moved in next door. The couple tries to reason with Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), the group’s leader, but they soon learn that the sole purpose of this sorority is to throw parties outside of the frats. Things begin to get wild next-door and it’s only heightened by the arrival of Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), who vows to help this new sorority out.

Neighbors worked as a film about two different groups of people who were afraid of growing older. Mac and Kelly were afraid of the commitment that being new parents would bring, so they chose to distract themselves from this responsibility by focusing on the war with Teddy. Teddy also didn’t want to grow older; about to graduate from college, he saw some of himself in the young couple, so his battle with them was a desperate attempt to hold onto his youth.

The main theme in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising doesn’t work quite as well, but it’s arguably more important. Shelby starts her own sorority to rebel against the sexism that is present in college Greek life. It’s pretty crazy to think that even today sororities can’t throw parties while fraternities can and the film ably skewers this lack of equality. Stoller and his cowriters also showcase the sexism that is inherent in frat parties, which often exists for the sole purpose of bringing in women for the brothers. It works as a progressive message and elevates the film above your typical comedy that features crude jokes about sex and drugs. The only downside is that this message doesn’t really affect Mac and Kelly at all. Whereas the first film showed parallels between the college kids and the parents, there isn’t much of a connection between the two in the sequel.

The humor here is sporadically successful, providing just enough laughs to satisfy moviegoers. A set piece taking place at a college football tailgate is easily one of the film’s highlights and Ike Barinholtz dressing up as a scary clown to casually blend in is easily the highlight of the sequence. Rogen and Byrne are still great together, with Byrne generating so many laughs based solely on her performance that it’s a wonder why more people don’t consider her one of the funniest screen comediennes of this generation. But just like the original film, the humor in this sequel sometimes goes too far, confusing raunchiness for genuine humor. A scene centered around vomit that opens the film is actually funny, but moments involving bloody tampons and a woman going into labor are not.

But even if some of the themes and the humor are shaky, it’s ultimately Stoller who brings everything together into a worthwhile experience. There are very few directors working today that are better at handling comedy than he is. Compared to other entries in this genre, the film is visually excellent and Stoller does a fantastic job editing together montages and extended comedic sequences. Even something as simple as Rogen’s character searching through different garbage bags feels fresh and exciting under his direction. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is the rare comedy sequel that’s actually worth checking out.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising receives 2.5/4

Advertisements

Comedy sequels are rarely a good idea. For every 22 Jump Street or Anchorman 2, there’s a Dumb and Dumber Too or The Hangover Part II. The problem with these films is that they’re usually too reliant on callbacks to the original and don’t have the guts to try something new. That’s a huge reason why Zoolander 2 is nowhere near as successful as its predecessor. Ben Stiller has directed some truly funny comedies throughout his career and the original Zoolander might just be his most popular film to date. It was a stupid film, no doubt, but it walked the fine line of delivering stupid humor in a clever way. It had some great laugh-out-loud moments and it was almost completely quotable from beginning to end. Zoolander 2 has none of these qualities. Other than a few sporadic chuckles, it’s a largely laughless affair that feels desperate when the original felt fresh.

Does the plot really matter in a film like this? Not really, but if you must know, this film picks up years after the original. Male model Derek Zoolander’s (Ben Stiller) wife was killed when his learning center collapsed on her and his son has now been taken away from him. Fellow model Hansel (Owen Wilson) was severely scarred in the disaster and both men are now in hiding. But when several of the world’s most beautiful celebrities are found murdered, special agent Valentina Valencia (Penélope Cruz) believes that Zoolander is the only person who can solve this case. They soon find out that this conspiracy is linked to a notorious fashion guru (Kristen Wiig) and the man that Zoolander helped put behind bars: Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell).

Zoolander 2’s biggest problem is that it’s simply not very funny, only managing to deliver a few sparse chuckles throughout its runtime. Many of the jokes here feel like they were copy and pasted from the original film, with Stiller and co-screenwriters Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg relying too heavily on callbacks (the fact that the film touts four writers certainly didn’t help matters either). There are also so many celebrity cameos scattered throughout that they cause the audience to become numb to their intended comedic effect .The biggest laughs come from Wiig and Kyle Mooney, the former of which delivers such a ridiculous performance that you’ll wish she had a lot more screentime. But unfortunately Stiller and company can’t deliver on the expectations set by the original and continue Hollywood’s tradition of disappointing comedy sequels.

Zoolander 2 receives 2/4

Image

Comedy films often work best with a simple premise; complicate the story too much and there won’t be enough room for jokes. Neighbors has a very simple premise, but it’s also a good one: what if a fraternity moved in next door? This solid premise should have delivered great jokes that generate big laughs, but one can’t help feeling underwhelmed. Sure, there are some chuckles to be had, but there’s certainly not enough to make this comedy as hilarious as it should have been.

Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are a young couple with a newborn daughter. They’re having trouble adjusting to their new lifestyle and they may not want to give up their youth just yet. One day, a fraternity moves into the house next door to them. They visit the house and talk to the fraternity’s leader Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and ask him to keep the noise down. Teddy agrees, as long as they promise to come to him with any complaints and not call the police. Mac and Kelly agree to this promise, but end up breaking it one night when Teddy doesn’t answer his phone. They call the cops and upset Teddy in the process. He decides to make Mac and Kelly’s life a living hell, but they’re not going down without a fight.

Written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, the film’s script doesn’t supply enough jokes to keep audience members laughing through the entire film. When the laughs do come, they mostly amount to a few chuckles here and there, with only a few truly hilarious scenes in the whole film. This is a raunchy movie, which is perfectly fine, but this film’s raunchy jokes feel like they are simply there to gross out audience members and earn an R rating. Raunchy jokes can be hysterical if they are done well, but here they lack the wit and cleverness that many of Seth Rogen’s best films have had. While the film’s script fails to deliver the jokes, it does successfully provide each major character with a well-constructed character arc. Mac and Kelly terrorizing the fraternity to stay young and Teddy terrorizing the family next door because of his fear of growing old adds a nice dose of warmth into what could have been a very cynical film.

Even though the film isn’t as funny as it should have been, director Nicholas Stoller always keeps the film incredibly watchable. With a short runtime, the film moves along at a nice pace and never drags. This is a great looking film and the party scenes within the fraternity’s house are especially gorgeous. Stoller and cinematographer Brandon Trost give each party a distinct look and personality, despite taking place in the same location.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne have excellent chemistry together and Zac Efron gives what might be the best performance of his career, but even they can’t save Neighbors from feeling like a disappointment. The film is put together nicely, but most of the humor can’t live up to the film’s great premise. Leaving the theater, one can’t help but wonder how much funnier this could have been. What should have been the best comedy of the summer is nothing more than a passable 96 minutes.

Neighbors receives 2/4

Image

The Muppets give off such a lovable charm that it’s almost impossible to imagine someone not loving them. They’re lovable characters who always manage to entertain and garner big laughs. Every Muppet character gets at least one memorable moment in Muppets Most Wanted, the follow-up to 2011’s The Muppets. Although this entry may be missing Jason Segel and Amy Adams, audience members will hardly notice; director James Bobin, working from a savvy script that he co-wrote with Nicholas Stoller, keeps the proceedings light and fast paced. With the aid of some fantastic songs by Bret McKenzie, Muppets Most Wanted is a film that will put a smile on the face of every viewer, regardless of age.

Muppets Most Wanted picks up quite literally where the previous installment left off: The Muppets have just finished their newest film and are trying to decide what to do next. This leads into the film’s first song, the hilarious, toe-tapping “We’re Doing a Sequel”. The Muppets hire a new tour manager, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) and he suggests that they go on a world tour. While in Berlin, Kermit the Frog is ambushed by Constantine, an escaped felon who looks like Kermit in practically every way, except for the mole on his right cheek. Constantine frames Kermit by gluing a mole onto his cheek and soon Kermit is in custody and headed toward a Siberian gulag run by Nadya (Tina Fey). Constantine replaces Kermit in The Muppets, which allows him and Dominic to team up and execute their long planned heist. As The Muppets continue to travel across Europe, they arouse the suspicions of CIA Agent Sam the Eagle and Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell, in a ridiculous French accent), just as they themselves begin to grow suspicious of the frog that is now claiming to be Kermit.

Muppets Most Wanted is gloriously self-aware, poking fun at heist films, conventional plot structures and even the previous Muppets film. The film makes references to everything from 1957’s The Seventh Seal to 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption and one can’t help but marvel at the sheer level of ingenuity that Bobin and Stoller put into the script. Being forced to set up the characters and get everybody in place, the film’s first act is the least humorous, but once the film enters its second act, the jokes come fast and furiously. This is a film that will demand a second viewing, if only to catch all the jokes that rapidly fly across the screen.

One of the highlights of The Muppets was the fantastic songs written by Bret McKenzie and, once again, the songs in Muppets Most Wanted do not disappoint. The previously mentioned “We’re Doing a Sequel” starts the film off on an exuberantly positive note and its follow-up, “I’m Number One”, is a fun duet between Constantine and Gervais. “The Big House” is an enjoyable number that features Tina Fey singing in a Russian accent and Miss Piggy’s “Something so Right” is surprisingly moving. But without a doubt, the film’s best number is “I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)”. Sung by Constantine to Miss Piggy, the song is one of the film’s funniest moments and it isn’t difficult to imagine the song being featured on McKenzie’s hilarious show, Flight of the Conchords.

With so many obscure references and subtle jokes, it’s difficult to imagine children understanding most of the film’s humor, but they will likely enjoy all the fun that is appearing on screen. Packed with loads of star studded cameos and an exciting finale, Muppets Most Wanted is a film that adults may enjoy even more than kids. Bobin has once again done a great job with the material and brought back The Muppets in a sweet, smart and savvy fashion.

“We’re doing a sequel, that’s what we do in Hollywood. And everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good,” sing the Muppets early on in the film. Thankfully, in the case of Muppets Most Wanted, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Muppets Most Wanted receives 3/4