Rose Byrne

Review: Apocalypse

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Review: Apocalypse

Once again it’s time to check in with everyone’s favorite mutants: The X-Men, now in their ninth installment in the franchise with X-Men: Apocalypse. This time around we travel to the 1980s where the Egyptian god-like being En Sabah Nur, also known as Apocalypse, is resurrected and tries to take over the world and mold it in his image. Along with his four horsemen, he goes up against a new crop of X-Men mixed with our older crew from the past few films. What could have been a mess, and there are moments that are, turned out to be a rather fun X-Men flick and a worthy part of their franchise as a whole.

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Review: Spy

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Review: Spy

Director Paul Feig’s over-the-top comedies have dominated the box office for the last few years. With his super hits Bridesmaids and The Heat he showed us just how funny adult comedies can be when done right. This summer he gathered his usual suspects of actors and made the hilarious action comedy, Spy. Melissa McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a desk-bound CIA analyst who volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer and prevent a global disaster. Hilarity ensues, the only way Feig and McCarthy can do it.

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Review: Neighbors

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Review: Neighbors

It’s time for this summer’s R-rated comedy Neighbors to lower our brain cells with humor. The newest flick stars Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and is directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). We find couple Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, with a newborn baby, just moving in to a new neighborhood as they are faced with unexpected difficulties following the establishment of a fraternity house that moves right next door. A serious conflict between the two parties ensues, thus putting the neighborhood in chaos and leaving both parties in a battle of wits and wills that will change them forever.

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Bridesmaids

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Bridesmaids

Matinee with Snacks

What’s that noise you hear?  That’s Hollywood falling all over itself in surprise that vaguely raunchy, somewhat scatological female-relationship-driven R-rated comedy is a huge smash.  Hello! We poop and love and chortle — and see movies with stories that interest us –  just as much as men do.

I know this movie wouldn’t have been made if it hadn’t had Judd Apatow as producer.  With two of the leads being SNL alumni (even ones as big-screen reliable as these two), the movie could have been a disaster.  However, the Not Ready For Prime Time Players in question are Kristen Wiig as our relatable lead and Maya Rudolph as the bride.  The titular matching-dress ensemble is flled out by Reno 911’s Wendi McLendon-Covey, The Office’s Ellie Kemper, the unpredictable Rose Byrne, and Melissa McCarthy.  This is a fantastic ensemble thrown into a movie that goes beyond just the bachelorette Hangover.

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Get Him To The Greek

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A key indicator as to whether or not you will be at all interested in this movie is whether or not you liked Russell Brand playing this character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. If you didn’t see that film, Brand plays Aldous Snow, extreme-id-surfing rock and roller party boy sex machine. There he played an abrasive but still cool thorn in the side of the lead, Jason Segal. Here, Brand is the lead. For me, that is why I saw this movie. Brand is fearlessly vulgar, arrogant, funny, vulnerable, and brash. If you don’t like him, stay away because this is a huge love letter to Brand and Snow.

Snow is being herded from London to New York to Los Angeles by music industry flunky Aaron, played against type by Jonah Hill. Aaron is a sweet, low-status fan of Snow (and no relation to the small part he played as Matthew the fanboy waiter in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) who gets to watch his idol tumble from his pedestal in the process. Hill has to wildly compromise and pollute himself just to survive the ordeal of ferrying his narcissistic and charismatic charge to the Greek Theatre for a career-rebooting concert.

Plotwise, this is a straight-up 1980’s goal-achieve goal-achieve buddy road comedy, but with up to the moment information age trappings and gross-out humor. There’s plenty of puke, profanity and — er, pretty girls — but the real story, the real character stuff, comes kind of weirdly crammed in at the end. The movie thinks it’s doing it the whole time, but it’s not.

Like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, this film is directed by Nicholas Stoller. Like Yes Man, it’s written by him. And herein may lie the problem. Get Him To The Greek suffers from a lack of pace and focus, despite great ideas and a great cast. Are we here to see Aaron grow a spine and fix up his sagging hero? Is meeting your idol always this bad? Is love more important than your dreams? Sure, this is just a bawdy buddy comedy, but Greek seems to want to aspire to the same enlightenment subtext that Forgetting successfully (and Yes Man unsuccessfully) delivered. More similarly to Stoller’s writing credit, our heroes glide through some stuff that’s pretty chuckle-worthy and then they just magically come out shiny. As the action builds, the pace and energy get weirder and weirder, like watching a well-known movie with the wrong score.

It’s fun to watch these two actors, who have a great yin and yang chemistry despite Hill being so far outside type. With Hill in the role, we’re waiting for the seemingly inevitable Jack Black explosion of Here’s The Real Me, Y’all! Instead, we have Hill playing Michael Cera. I applaud someone stretching but the guy’s strengths are not meekness and self-effacing bewilderment. Brand is a born rock star, his rangy, heroin-chic looks and shaggy vibe go well with his decent singing voice, overt sexuality, and actual brains. Sean Combs (P. Diddy, Puff Daddy, whatever) plays Aaron’s boss with a facile naturalness, but doesn’t scream “I should be in movies more.” Rose Byrne knocks it out of the park as Snow’s pop princess girlfriend, and Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss is Aaron’s sweet slice of normalcy. The side characters are just that — sides. After all the bare boobs and vomiting and furry walls and angry phone calls, this movie boils down to whether we care about the rocker and his handler. The rocker: yes, maybe surprisingly so. The handler: it feels like something important was left out of his character to make this movie sing over its tempo problems. See Get Him To The Greek for Brand, but save for your pennies for the sweet soundtrack CD.

MPAA Rating R- pervasive language, sexuality, drug use, comic violence, nudity

Release date 6/4/10

Time in minutes

Director Nicholas Stoller

Studio Universal Pictures

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Sunshine

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Danny Boyle takes Cillian Murphy into the sun to restart it? I’ll take two tickets, please, just based on the strength of Boyles’ and Murphy’s 28 Days Later. The preview makes it look impossibly action-packed with plenty of “how will he escape that?” moments. The answers are surprisingly mature, gently paced, and dramatically effective. The original title of Sunshine was the far more apt Stardust; however the Neil Gaiman book to movie adaptation Stardust forced this less mystical title to the fore. The movie is about stardust, those impossibly distant and small molecules of sun energy that have such destructive power but also provide a tenuous life here on earth. We are, as the quote goes, all just stardust; this film carries that theme strongly, even stripped of its more apropos title.

The tone of Sunshine is similar to that of Ridley Scott’s Alien, with some 28 Days Later for flavor: serious, hardworking, with the slow pace of space travel and the enormous pressure of space survival and their mission simmering in the background. What seems at first to be a long, long exposition reveals itself to be the real story, and in a summer filled with spoon-fed ridiculousness, Sunshine is a refreshing treat. The script is so efficient and the characterizations so subtle, we are all caught up in everything by the time the inevitable point of judgement comes; this is which drives the plot home.

I confess there was one moment in Act III where my companion and I exchanged worried glances along the lines of “there it is, there’s the stupid thing that will ruin this movie.” Then as the rest unfolds (as, indeed, does time and space), we realized that the script had covered all its bases and we could relax and enjoy the climax.

As far as I can tell with all the aerospace nerds in my life, the science was sound and the mechanical theories feasible. So much material needs to be explained in movies life this, but Boyle shows us, rather than tells us, most of what we need to know.

Besides Murphy, the actors are a ticklishly familiar bunch of faces, like Michelle Yeoh and Rose Byrne. Byrne you might recognize from 28 Weeks Later, and she is one of the rare hot girls in Hollywood who can really pull off being some kind of intensely technical specialist and still be approachable as a character. Chris Evans (Mace) has a pretty face and a fairly fluffy filmography (Fantastic Four, Not Another Teen Movie) but his Mace is a solid, admirable hero with some great moments. Murphy, of course takes his bottomless crystal eyes and trains them on his crew’s peril and he brings a lot of the heart to the story, as does Yeoh. Finally, Hiroyuki Sanada (Captain Kaneda) makes me want to see everything he does from now on; his captain is sage and deliberate and has a very interesting standpoint.

The movie is gripping and beautiful, twining the music of the spheres with the reptilian brain inside us all. As our astronauts get closer to their event horizon, the camera follows suit with different editing, focus, and mood-altering effects. It’s immensely effective. Sunshine has also done the impossible by reinventing the concept of “high stakes,” it’s a marvelous treat.

MPAA Rating R-violent content and language
Release date 7/27/07
Time in minutes 108
Director Danny Boyle
Studio Fox Searchlight

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I Capture the Castle

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I Capture the Castle is a quiet little film based on the novel by Dodie Smith. I had occasion (when clarifying a plot point after the film) to flip through the book, and the film captures the tone of it very well. Heidi Thomas’ screenplay captures the narrative style of Smith’s book and manages to retain the poetry of Cassandra’s thoughts. It begs you to read it. In retrospect the film didn’t feel like it had mountains of voice over narration, but the amount of tone and information conveyed could only have been done so. Right? No matter what, it bodes well that such a literary screenplay could come across so warmly.

Sisters Rose and Cassandra grow up in a dilapidated castle with a writer’s block-accursed genius father James Mortmain (Bill Nighy) and a complicated mother figure situation. Their brilliant little brother winks in the background like a nighttime star, never getting enough of the story for himself. Rose (the impossibly beautiful Rose Byrne) is beautiful and desperate, Cassandra (the also beautiful, but in a subdued way, Romola Garai) is plain but clever; it’s not the newest formula in the world, but the catch is in the execution. They are of course more than just these archetypes, but for the purposes of a review, that will do. The pleasure is in discovering the truths about everyone. The story is complex and winds through the vagaries of life at the edge of real, full life. The daughters’ lives feel like those of fairy tale princesses trapped in a castle, waiting for their prince to come. They are, but it is much more than that.

For most of the film, it’s a poverty-stricken 1936 in England. The castle portion of the film was shot in the prehistorically pristine Isle of Man. Enter hunky Americans Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil (Marc Blucas) and the Mortmain’s stagnant world of artistic suffering and waiting for what they know not what. Their loyal manservant Stephen (Henry Cavill) paddles alongside them as the river of their story ebbs and flows. He adds layers of poignancy to the story when you least expect him to.

Everyone in the house has to love and be loved in ways they don’t intend or expect, exposing their character flaws and accepting them as one. The movie is sweet and funny and beautiful, and sad. Very, very sad. It has an open ending, and so technically speaking it could be ending on a positive as easily as a negative, but some of the most beautiful and powerful moments, the ones that really change lives, are truly bittersweet. Everyone is so different, so warmly drawn, again it makes you want to read the book and get to know them better.

In a summer full of “summer movies,” I Capture the Castle is a fortress reminding you what is most real and important in life is within. Check it out.

MPAA Rating R-brief nudity
Release date 7/11/03
Time in minutes 111
Director Tim Fywell
Studio Distant Horizon / BBC Films