American Animals (2018)

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You’re taught your entire life that what you do matters and that you’re special. In 2003 Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas Allen (Blake Jenner) are four friends who live an ordinary existence in Kentucky. Spencer is a budding artist and following his visit to the Special Collections room at Transylvania University in Lexington, he informs Lipka of the contents. Lipka comes up with the idea to steal the rarest and most valuable books from the school’s library:  it involves tying up the librarian Betty Jean Gooch (Ann Dowd) and making off with the Audubon book, Birds of America, the most valuable one there. They lose their nerve at the first attempt which they prepare for by dressing up as old men. They plot a different approach for the second attempt. As one of the most audacious heists in U.S. history starts to unfold, the men question whether their attempts to inject excitement and purpose into their lives are simply misguided attempts at achieving the American dream and Spencer gave an auction house in NYC his real-life cell phone number with his dumb message on it … How can I tell you if I’m in or I’m out without telling me the first thing about what I might be in or out of.  Writer/director Bart Layton takes a true crime and spins it into something stylish but problematic, a treatise on all-American stupidity. Interviews with the real-life perpetrators, rather humbled after the fact, are interspersed with the narrative drama, which gives it a melancholy quality but the consequent issues in pacing don’t always lead to a pleasing viewing experience. It’s not set up correctly, working against any possibility of suspense. The second attempt at the heist is permitted to progress unimpeded by anything other than the protagonists’ staggering ineptitude. The outcome is inevitable and famous. The film does however blend fact and fiction and the interviews form a kind of Greek chorus, baiting us with the various points of view, Rashomon-like, and at one point even inserts Spencer into the action, albeit briefly. And it does boast Udo Kier in the cast. One day you’ll die

 

Bad Neighbours 2 (2016)

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Aka Neighbours 2:  Sorority Rising.  They’re back! Well, everyone’s gone and grown up. Sort of. Opening on a horribly vomitous sex scene, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne realise they’re having another baby. They’re trying to sell their house and it’s in escrow now which they do not understand even when the realtor tries to explain. All they know is their toddler daughter keeps playing with a pink dildo in front of people. Meanwhile, Zac Efron’s bestie Dave Franco is getting married. To a guy. So he has to move out of their place and has nowhere to go – except back to the old frat house, where some bolshie girls led by Chloe Grace Moretz want to set up an alt-sorority so they can party righteously. He mentors them until they dump him while he’s lecturing them (they do it on their phones). So he teams up with Seth and Rose to get rid of the girls in order that their house sale goes through. There ensues … total mayhem! Screamingly funny, flat out gross out, hilarious, physical, bad taste comedy. Five buckets of money, that’s all you need. For anything! Party on, rad dudettes! Written by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien and director Nicholas Stoller.

Goat (2016)

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Not being a) male or b) someone who feels compelled to join anything, the appeal of fraternities is admittedly beyond my ken. However this account of Brad Land’s initiation to his older brother Brett’s Phi Sigma Mu house at the end of the 1990s is worth a look, if only to illustrate the desperate measures men take to prove themselves. Brad (Ben Schnetzer) is brutally mugged over the summer and is still feeling the after-effects when he goes to Clemson. The hazing he endures during hell week is overseen by Brett (Nick Jonas) who is conflicted about his entry to the group and it includes being ordered to either drink a keg or have sex with a goat. The devastation that occurs following one seemingly innocuous fruit-pelting incident brings matters to a head, as it were. Adapted from Land’s memoir by David Gordon Green with a rewrite by Mike Roberts and director Andrew Neel, this won’t make you feel much different about these nonsensical and violent rituals but Schnetzer and Jonas both give good performances and this is really a story of brothers and what it takes to bring them back together after a mugging drives them apart. There is no real sense of the outside world or sense prevailing, no view of the college at large or other interactions – except partying with some dumb drunk girls. James Franco was instrumental in getting this made and has a supporting role as a big man no longer on campus but keen to get his top off. And just look at those pecs in the titles sequence! Homo sapiens?! (I’m being ironic, obv. Unlike the participants.)