Tag Archives: Alison Brie

Home Away from Home

The Rental

by Hope Madden

Dave Franco has made a movie. James Franco’s younger, less creepy brother has been a welcome, smiling face in films since his teens. Directing his first feature, he sidesteps the more obvious choice of a comedy – given his background – and instead delivers a tense horror about jealousy, deteriorating relationships, and the dangers of Airbnb.

Dan Stevens stars as Charlie, handsome and successful older brother of Josh (Jeremy Allen White). As if Josh doesn’t have enough to live up to, his beloved and brilliant girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand) is Charlie’s work partner and the two just really click.

Together Mina and Charlie land a big deal. To celebrate, they and their significant others—Josh, plus Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie, Franco’s real life wife)—rent a gorgeous, off the grid place for a weekend getaway.

If you’re thinking this is an incredibly common premise jazzed up with a couple of impressive actors, you are correct. But there’s a lot to be said for a good cast.

All four convey a lived-in chemistry that gives the relationship conflicts more resonance. Brie and White, in particular, deliver believable warmth as big sister-in-law/little brother-in-law. Both are dealing with some jealousy, each lending support and guidance to the other. Secondary characters in indie horror are rarely given this kind of opportunity to breathe, but drawing the audience into these relationships benefits the tensions Franco is working to create.

Stevens and Vand work wonders as the morally conflicted central characters. Vand (exquisite in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night—see it!) blends righteous indignation with guilty conscience. This helps her build believable motives for what could, in lesser hands, feel like conveniently poor decision making.

Liberal guilt, entitlement, questionable morality and selfishness rarely come packaged as sympathetically as Charlie, but Stevens is a solid character actor and here he creates a nicely complex character.

Rounding out the small ensemble, the always welcome Toby Huss also finds layers in a character that could easily have been one note.

So, performances are solid and Franco delivers a decent sleight of hand by Act 3. The film feels imbalanced by then, though, as if it wasn’t until  the 11th hour that Franco decided this was a horror movie. There’s enough suffering in the final reel to clarify The Rental’s genre, but that doesn’t mean it entirely works.

Brick by Brick

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

by Hope Madden

Everything is not awesome.

Don’t tell Emmet (Chris Pratt), though. Try as he might (mainly to please the ever-brooding Lucy/Wildstyle {Elizabeth Banks}), he can’t seem to take on the bleak attitudes of those populating Apocalypseburg.

Wait, didn’t that used to be called Bricksburg? It did, but that was before Dad invited kid sister to share in the Lego fun. Since that day, Emmett and his buds live Fury Road-esque in a smoldering wasteland, forever on the lookout for cute but dangerous aliens from the Sistar System.

When said aliens abscond with all the Master Builders (Lucy, Batman {Will Arnett}, Unkitty {Alison Brie}, MetalBeard {Nick Offerman}, and Benny {Charlie Day}), Emmet will have to find some grit to save his friends.

Returning writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller update their 2014 tale, this time directed by Mike Mitchell (Trolls), with some pre-adolescent angst that surprisingly mirrors the post-Trump revelation that everything really isn’t awesome.

Out there in the Sistar System, Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish, a hoot) sings in Disney Villain tones that she is definitely not at all evil. Definitely. Not at all. Meanwhile, she manipulates Batman’s inner narcissist to convince him to marry her in a ceremony Emmet is convinced will bring about Ourmomageddon.

Yes, much of the charm of the original has worn thin. To make up for it, the sequel relies too heavily on pop culture references (a good chunk of the film is about funny, chubby Chris Pratt versus chiseled, hot Chris Pratt and his spaceship full of velociraptors). An abundance of live action plus a clumsy Back to the Future gag fail to entertain as much as they do force the story forward.

Still, Lord and Miller nimbly use the “don’t lose your inner child” theme so popular in family films to cast a side glance at the current bleakening of society. Emmet tries harder and harder to lose his sweetness and optimism in favor of the more masculine stylings of his new friend Rex Dangervest (also Pratt, channeling his Guardians co-star Kurt Russell).

Of course, we all pull for the childlike Emmet to survive, just as the film seems to hope that our own positivity can survive our own Apocalypseville.





Get Thee to a Nunnery

The Little Hours

by George Wolf

Two nuns lead a wandering donkey back home to their convent in the 1600s. The groundskeeper offers them a quiet, respectful good morrow. In response, the sisters promptly unleash a torrent of f-bomb filled abuse his way, with an aggressive command to keep his perverted eyes to himself.

Welcome to the The Little Hours, a desert-dry sendup of one of the classic tales in The Decameron, a 14th century Italian novel.

This update from writer/director Jeff Baena (Life After Beth, script for I Heart Huckabees) keeps the original text’s basic premise. Servant Massetto (Dave Franco) is running for his life after being caught canoodling Francesca (Lauren Weedman), the wife of Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman). Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) offers Massetto refuge as the new groundskeeper at the convent, but only if he pretends to be a deaf/mute.

Deal.

The handsome Massetto is fresh meat to the ladies of the convent, many of whom are not there from a Godly calling. In short order, Massetto is juggling the sweet Alessandra (Alison Brie), the crazy Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza, also one of the film’s producers) and the sexually confused Ginerva (Kate Micucci).

The Holy Grail scene with Sir Galahad in Castle Anthrax will come to mind, and not just for the lustful young ladies. The entire affair has the feel of a Monty Python setup that just never turns a silly corner. The extremely talented ensemble (which also includes Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen and more) plays it nearly stone-faced all the way, just daring you to think there is anything humorous about their anachronistic sex farce.

Some of it is screamingly funny, and other times the film falls flat. Through it all, though, there runs a sly comment on the treatment of women (specifically in the Church) that’s smart and well-played.

It’s never a consistent gut-buster, but The Little Hours is inspired, ambitious lunacy that is always entertaining.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meGfRXMSW9c





Does the Sex Part Always Get in the Way?

Sleeping with Other People

By Christie Robb

The latest rom-com to follow in the footsteps of 1989’s classic When Harry Met Sally is Leslye Headland’s Sleeping with Other People (which was originally pitched as “When Harry Met Sally for Assholes.” It also examines the question of whether heterosexual men and women can be friends.

Like When Harry Met Sally, SWOP starts with a relatively unrealistic flashback scene to college days where unfortunate period clothing choices and bad bangs are supposed to provide sufficient suspension of disbelief for us to see two folks knocking on middle age as dorm inhabitants. Here we meet our romantic leads, Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis), two old virgins aching to give it up. He’s waiting for the right person. She’s been scorned by her person. They decide to bone each other.

Flash forward 12 years and Lainey and Jake meet for the second time at a sex addicts meeting. He, having been abandoned by Lainey after one night, only sleeps with women he is comfortable being left by. She’s still addicted to the love of the dude who rejected her in college and is furtively banging him.

Jake and Lainey rekindle their collegiate spark, but because of their issues, decide to keep things platonic, employing a safe word whenever the sex part rears its head. Of course, things get complicated.

Perhaps SWOP doesn’t break new ground in rom-commery, but it’s delightful nonetheless. The aspirational dialogue, reminiscent of Gilmore Girls in its sweeping references, is brainy but also captivatingly nasty. (There’s a whole rant about “juices” and a masturbation demo that some college kids probably should be taking notes on.)

The raunch helps balance out the more saccharine moments. The casting helps as well. Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black) is great, if somewhat underutilized, as Lainey’s gay best friend. Andrea Savage (Dinner for Schmucks) and Jason Mantzoukas (Neighbors) shine as the cool married couple with kids. Billy Eichner (Difficult People/Parks and Recreation) has an amazing little monologue as a sex addict. The only thing really missing is LeBron, who I believe should now be contractually obligated to appear at least once in every rom-com.

Brie and Sudeikis also really work. Their chemistry is believable and they pull off both the smutty repartee and the longing equally well.

Stick around for the end credits.

Verdict-4-0-Stars