Kill Your Friends


Alone in a crowd.

Alone in a crowd.

(2015) Comedy (Well Go USA) Nicholas Hoult, James Corden, Georgia King, Craig Roberts, Jim Piddock, Joseph Mawle, Dustin Demri-Burns, Damien Molony, Bronson Webb, Emma Smith, Rosanna Hoult, Ed Skrein, Tom Riley, Edward Hogg, Kurt Egyiawan, Hugh Skinner, Moritz Bleibtreu, Alex Gillison, Ieva Andrejevaite, Osy Ikhile, David Avery, Alannah Olivia. Directed by Owen Harris

Music is a highly personal thing. It can define you, it can color your world, it can take you back to good memories in an instant. It can also make a lot of money for someone.

In the 1990s, it was the era of Cool Brittania, when music from the UK ruled the airwaves. Blur, Oasis and Radiohead were at the top of the charts and even lesser-known bands had their moments in the sun. That was a really good time to be a record company A&R man in Britain.

Steve Stelfox (Hoult) has that very job, and judging from the tabloids it’s all drugs, sex and concerts and that’s pretty much true, but he actually has to sign some bands and those bands actually have to make some money for the label. His good friend Roger (Corden) wants to sign bands that matter, but Steve thinks that’s silly – except that the head of A&R for the label has essentially had a breakdown and the open job is likely Roger’s because he’s been there the longest – and Steve wants that job.

So Steve takes drastic steps to ensure that he has the longest tenure but a curveball is thrown his way when Parker Hall (Riley) is hired; and Hall is bringing with him a highly coveted indie band, the Lazies, in with him. Steve has in turn signed the Songbirds, a Spice Girls-wannabe act who are temperamental and damn near impossible to work with and look to be a dead end for the label.

Steve is aided by his secretary Rebecca (King) who is blackmailing him for a promotion and there is a detective (Hogg)  investigating what happened to Roger, who after interrogating Steve slips him a demo because, you know, he always wanted to be a singer-songwriter. Steve is clever and Steve is ruthless and Steve doesn’t really have much of a conscience; perfect qualifications for the music industry.

Screenwriter John Niven adapted the material from his own novel, and he certainly has some background in the subject – he was actually an A&R guy during the period the novel takes place in. So you figure that some of the goings on had some basis in fact, particularly the back-biting and hustling. That lends an air of authenticity which differentiates this from other films set within the music industry, in which plucky young songwriters who have something to say end up getting a contract. The cynicism here is well-earned.

Hoult is perfectly cast as Stelfox, operating with a furrowed WTF brow alternating with an eye-rolling sneer. The character has been compared to Patrick Bateman in American Psycho but I think that’s a bit of an easy cop-out; Stelfox may be amoral and cynical but he’s not psychotic; he simply has no ethics whatsoever. There’s a very important difference there.

He does the voiceover narration as well, and it’s pretty damn funny. In fact, a lot of the material here is funny to the point I was laughing out loud – possibly because I have an insider’s perspective to the music industry (I was a rock critic for more than a decade) but also because it’s just so damn mean. If you’re in the right mood for this kind of stuff (and I clearly was) there’s a gold mine of laughs here.

I wanted to call attention to the soundtrack. It has a lot of period-accurate and place-accurate music that will instantly bring you back to the era. It’s not all hits either; some of the songs you’ll here were essentially album tracks, but they were not the filler – they were the tracks that could have been singles. There is also some original music and the score is by Junkie XL, who is rapidly becoming one of the best there is.

The movie was a touch too long and there will be plenty who will find it too dark. I will definitely give the caveat that this isn’t the movie for everyone and there are some who won’t take well to the cynical tone. However, as far as it goes, I think the movie accomplishes what it set out to and in fact exceeded my expectations. This is going to be one of those movies you’ve probably never heard of but when you find it on Netflix or some other streaming service you’ll be delighted that you did.

REASONS TO GO: A really great soundtrack. Black comedy that’s laugh-out-loud funny. Nicholas Hoult is spot on in his performance.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit too long and maybe too cynical for some.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots and lots of profanity and a ton of drug use, as well as some nudity, plenty of violence and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie’s protagonist is partly inspired by A&R legend Don Simpson.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: VOD, Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/20/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: High Fidelity
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: London Has Fallen

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This is 40


Love can make anything bearable.

Love can make anything bearable.

(2012) Dramedy (Universal) Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Melissa McCarthy, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Jason Segel, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Annie Mumolo, Robert Smigel, Megan Fox, Charlyne Yi, Graham Parker, Michael Ian Black, Lena Dunham, Joanne Baron, Tatum O’Neal, Chris O’Dowd, Lisa Darr, Ava Sambora. Directed by Judd Apatow

As we get older our priorities change and in changing that aspect of our lives, we ourselves change. In a relationship, we’re constantly having to adjust not only to who we are but to who our partner is. Sometimes, those changes come at the expense of our relationships.

Pete (Rudd) owns a boutique record label that specializes in re-releases and new releases by bands from the 80s and so on. He is thrilled to have Graham Parker on his label, even though most of his friends and loved ones tell him that Parker isn’t going to sell any digital downloads. He is turning 40 although doesn’t look it. His record label is going down the toilet and he’s hinging his future on Parker; to fight the stress he retreats to the bathroom for hours on end and sneaks cupcakes that he swears he’s not eating. He also continues to lend money to his dad (Brooks) even though he can barely keep his own head above water.

His wife Debbie (Mann) is also turning 40 but she’s far less sanguine about it. She tells everyone she’s turning 38. Her trendy clothing store is being robbed blind by one of her employees; the mellow Jodi (Yi) swears it’s Desi (Fox) who drives an expensive car, wears expensive clothes and always seems to have a lot of money. Debbie fights stress by sneaking smokes when she thinks nobody is looking, even though her family thinks she’s quit. She’s completely estranged from her Dad (Lithgow) who ran out on the family when she was four, and the two of them are having trouble finding a way to bond.

Debbie and Pete snipe at each other and argue a lot which drives their kids – teenager Sadie (Maude Apatow) and her little sister Charlotte (Iris Apatow) nuts which they act out by constantly being at one another’s throats. This isn’t a happy family but it’s likely a family you’ve run into in your own neighborhood.

This is kind of a sequel to Knocked Up inasmuch as it concerns two characters who constituted the younger sister and her husband of the main female character. However don’t expect a similar tone as that movie because this is completely different. This isn’t as out-and-out funny as the previous film, for one thing. It’s listed as a comedy but there’s a whole lot of drama here with real world problems creeping into the marriage – financial stress, lack of communication, lack of desire, teenage hormones. Some viewers might find it hitting uncomfortably close to home.

Rudd and Mann come off as a real couple and while they clearly have some intimacy issues, they do have that easy familiarity when it comes to intimacy that couples that have been together awhile possess. It’s easy to picture them as a married couple, which is unsurprising as Mann is Apatow’s real life wife and Rudd has been a friend of his for a long time. The kids are also Mann’s children so her feelings for them (and theirs for her) don’t seem forced.

I was impressed by Mann’s performance particularly. There’s a moment when Debbie asks Pete if they’d have stayed together if she hadn’t have gotten pregnant (which is a bit of the flipside to Knocked Up) and when he hesitates, her look is absolutely priceless and heartbreaking. She does it all non-verbally and I was thinking in the audience “why oh why hasn’t this woman gotten better roles” because frankly she shows here that she can handle anything. I really hope she gets offered a few dramatic leads just so we can see what she’s really capable of. She, like Judy Greer, is much more than a second banana which is what both actresses seem to be cast as mostly.

I thought a few scenes ran a little too long and the pacing could have been a bit better. Universal is selling this as a comedy so I suspect it’s going to get some hating because people are walking into it expecting a laugh riot (and to be fair, with Judd Apatow’s name on it that’s not an unreasonable expectation) and will walk out disappointed. I’m sure that’s affected my rating of the film.

Being not what I expected isn’t a bad thing. There’s a lot to be said for throwing a change-up every once in a while. Young people might look at this and be turned off of marriage for good. All I can say about that is this: every relationship is a struggle and takes a good deal of work. Nothing is ever easy. But making a good woman happy is one of the noblest things a man can do, as is making a good man happy one of the best things a woman can do. In order to do it, there needs to be a lot of communication, a surfeit of honesty, a great deal of humbleness and a glaring lack of ego. These qualities are not always there in quantity and certainly not at every moment. We all go through rough times and they look a lot like this. Kudos to Apatow and his cast for attempting to capture that; it just may not necessarily be what you go to the movies to watch – it maybe what you go to the movies to get away from, and that needs to be a consideration before plunking down your cash at the box office.

REASONS TO GO: Great chemistry between Rudd and Mann. Some moments that are relatable and real.

REASONS TO STAY: Runs a little too long. Lacks the real laugh-out-loud funny jokes. Might be a little too “real” for some.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is quite a bit of sexual material, lots of bad language, a little bit of drug usage and some crude jokes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While neither of the main characters from Knocked Up appear in the film a picture of Alison (Katherine Heigl) can be seen on the wall of the home and Pete mentions that he got the marijuana cookies from Ben (Seth Rogen).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/29/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100. The reviews are pretty mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR LOVERS: In the film, Parker is signed to Pete’s label and performs a couple of songs live – one solo and one with the band. In real life Parker just released a new album which has been acclaimed as one of the best albums he’s ever done.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Waiting For Forever

Going the Distance


 

Going the Distance

Getting typecast in romantic comedies can make any actress a little catty.

(New Line) Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Ron Livingston, Jim Gaffigan, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Natalie Morales, Kelli Garner, June Diane Raphael, Rob Riggle, Terry Beaver, Matt Servitto, Sarah Burns, Taylor Schwenke.  Directed by Nanette Burstein

Long distance romances are a fact of modern life. People meet online, or find jobs halfway across the country; in other words, things happen. Modern technology makes these kinds of relationships much easier than they were a decade ago, but it is still a very difficult proposition.

Erin (Barrymore) is a summer intern at a New York newspaper. She’s hoping to parlay the internship into a full-time job, but there aren’t any to be had so it will be back to San Francisco for further graduate work at Stanford in the fall. She loves New York and wants to be in the middle of things there, but she’ll have to check back in a year; hopefully there will be some available jobs then.

Garrett (Long) is a commitment-phobic guy who works for a record company. While he is passionate about music, he hates his job as the label, terrified at the economic enviornment for record labels, is only going for what appear to be safe acts that are going to generate revenue as opposed to making great music.  His personal life is no better; he goes from girlfriend to girlfriend, unable to understand why they leave him and wondering what it is that he’s missing in his personality to make relationships work. His friend Box (Sudeikis) and roommate Dan (Day) think his best bet is going to the bar and tying one on.

At the same bar is Erin. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the two are going to meet. It also isn’t a stretch to figure out they’re going to hit it off and over Erin’s last six weeks, fall in love. And that once the six weeks are over, they’re going to want to continue the relationship from afar.

That much is a given. However, what is really surprising is that the obstacles that the couple faces aren’t manufactured. They are the kind of things long-distance daters deal with every day. Both Erin and Garrett are working in industries that are on the endangered list;  jobs aren’t plentiful so they are pretty much stuck where they are and that is really what separates the two of them.

There’s a good deal of sex here which is also part and parcel of the long-distance experience. On those occasions they do get together it’s hard to keep their hands off of each other (or other body parts). Sometimes that can lead to fairly embarrassing situations involving dining room tables and paper-thin bedroom walls. That also shows in their phone conversations, and in their relationships with other people. In short, they are both sexually frustrated and constantly horny.

Barrymore projects one of the sweetest natures in show biz, much like Meg Ryan did a decade ago, and has quietly become one of the most reliable romantic comedy actresses in the business. She is sweet but with a core of steel; she takes no crap and stands up for what she believes in both onscreen and off. It is also a good bet that whenever you get a movie that Barrymore is in, the soundtrack is going to be rich with great indie rock acts, and this one is no different in that regard.

Erin has a great relationship with her uptight sister (Applegate) and her somewhat pedantic brother-in-law (Gaffigan) and their devil-spawn daughter Maya (Schwenke). But it is Box and Dan that nearly steal the show; every time they are onscreen, something is going on that’s going to at least make you giggle. Most of the comedy that goes on in this romantic comedy is coming from them.

Justin Long has never been one of my favorite actors, but he does what he does very very well. He seems to be mellowing and maturing as time goes by, which is slowly turning my opinion of him. Here he has a natural chemistry with Barrymore that makes the relationship even more believable. He has a hangdog look and some natural comic timing which I’ve seen in other movies as well as in some of his television work; unfortunately the few comic bits he gets to do really are some of the least successful in the film.

It’s no secret that American romantic comedies have been slowly fading in quality over the past several years. Part of the reason for that has to do with most writers following the same formula; boy meets girl, they fall in love, they are separated by misunderstanding or circumstance and they reconnect in the final reel. Studios will allow no departures from the formula, mainly because these kinds of movies tend to do really well at the box office.

This movie more or less follows the same formula, but fortunately does it in an entirely organic way so that it doesn’t feel formula. As I said earlier, most of the obstacles in the relationship evolve out of real world obstacles. There are no comic misunderstandings, no forced breakups; just two people who love each other that is separated by the circumstances of their lives and frustrated by it.

I also admired that Barrymore didn’t try to play a sweet young thing in her mid-20s. Here, she is in her 30s and trying to make up for lost time after a failed relationship. It made sense and contributed to the overall realism of the movie.

I’m not exactly sure why the movie was exiled to the frozen wasteland that is the Labor Day weekend, traditionally a very poor movie-going weekend. This is a solid, charming little film that doesn’t force its charm nor does it rely on its stars to elevate mediocre material. It isn’t going to rewrite the manual for romantic comedies, but it at least delivers on the formula in a way that isn’t the same old thing. I, for one, appreciate that.

REASONS TO GO: Barrymore is perhaps the most reliable rom-com actress in the business today. This is a romantic comedy that has its feet planted in the real world.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many typical rom-com clichés pepper the plot.

FAMILY VALUES: You’ll be seeing far more of Justin Long than perhaps anybody was ever meant to see; there is also a share of bad language and sexual references that is more than average. There’s also one scene of extended marijuana use; if you’re okay with all of that, let your kids have at it. Otherwise, older teens and above would be my recommendation.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Barrymore and Long are a couple in real life.

HOME OR THEATER: This is a good movie to pop up some popcorn in the microwave, grab a couple of sodas from the fridge and cuddle up next to your honey on the couch for.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: My One and Only