It's easy to hate Zac Efron (High School Musical, Charlie St. Cloud) for being a pretty boy, teenybopper actor with Disney roots. The truth is, however, Efron works hard and routinely pulls off the strongest performance of whatever crappy flick he's starring in (17 Again). It feels unnatural to say it but Efron is among the best of his generation.
And he proves it this week in Neighbours (also known as Bad Neighbours), playing a contemporized American psycho, a frat house leader who sets up shop next to once-hip new parents Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express) and Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids).
First off, viewer beware: this is 2014 and director Nicolas Stoller is very comfortable working in lowbrow, "gross out" comedy terrain — if the image of a baby chewing on a used condom upsets you it might be best to skip this one. But if you're looking for a crazed romping comedy of attrition and hilarity, come get some.
Rogen and Brynes perfectly nail the chemistry of a couple of fun-loving 30-somethings making the best of parenthood and their first home when Efron (and his wingman, the increasingly epic Dave Franco) move their 24-hour shit show of titties and beer pong right next door.
Built mainly as a bunch of antagonistic comedy set pieces, Neighbours doesn't go too hard pushing epiphanies on the human condition. Efron's character is a doppelganger of cool-dad Rogen's past life (on a better workout program) and Rogen's character represents the death of every fratboy's endless party dreams. That conflict of character is milked perfectly with Rose Byrne, tearing around the middle of it all. She steals the picture.
Thanks to Byrne, Neighbours is a rare comedy that appeals to women as well as men. Nicolas Stoller has done that before (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and this time out he's pulled off a film where we can empathize with the characters on both sides of the conflict. Neighbours is 96 minutes of pretty good times and it opens Friday at the venerable Whistler Village 8.
On the local film front, Vancouver/Whistler documentary filmmaker John Zaritsky (a.k.a. Johnny Amsterdam) was recently honoured with a special career retrospective at Toronto's Hot Doc's Film Festival. Zaritsky, famous locally for directing 2002's Ski Bums, also won an Academy Award in 1982 for Just Another Missing Kid.
"I've made about 35 docs over the past 40 years," Zaritsky says, "So to have four of my films shown at Hot Docs is a great honour for a young guy like me. It's one of the biggest doc fests in the world."
Ski Bums screened at Hot Docs, along with 1994's Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo (about a Muslim/Serbian couple shot by snipers while trying to escape to a better life) 2010's Leave them Laughing (a comedian's battle with ALS) and 2007's The Wild Horse Redemption (Colorado inmates learn to train wild mustangs for rehabilitation).
"That one is the most family-oriented film of the lot," Zaritsky says. "Kids can go see it, nobody dies in it, no Johnny Trash naked..." Despite an incredible career, Zaritsky (70) is still working and is currently preparing to shoot a film about eccentrics.
"There have been studies," he says, "and what got me into it is eccentrics live longer, happier and healthier than the rest of us. I've had so much fun already doing pre-interviews — there are a lot of laughs and it takes one to know one. I could have shot the whole film in Whistler, I bet."
John Zaritsky's entire catalogue is the Download of the Week.
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