Movie Review: ‘We Are Your Friends’

Part electronic dance music tutorial and part love letter to Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, “We Are Your Friends” is a surprisingly accessible and sweet story of a group of friends standing on the cusp of adulthood with big ambition and little direction.

Regardless of your taste for pulsing electronic music or actor Zac Efron, both are undeniably appealing in this feature debut from director and co-writer Max Joseph. Though the plot may be predictable, Joseph energizes his coming-of-age musical romance with creative animation, explosive dance scenes and a vibrant soundtrack that’s like an entree to the EDM genre. And Efron brings such heart to the main character, he’s easy to root for.

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For Cole (Efron) and his buddies, the glittery promise of Hollywood is so close, they can practically see it from their hometown 10 miles away in the Valley’s suburban sprawl. Cole is an aspiring DJ, and his three childhood friends are his associates and entourage. There’s his best friend and would-be manager, Mason (Jonny Weston), drug dealer and acting hopeful Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), and the requisite quiet, sensitive guy, Squirrel (Alex Shaffer). All of them dream of escaping the Valley and finding success “over the hill.”

When Cole isn’t out jogging or partying with his pals, he’s in front of his computer, mixing sounds and beats into what he hopes will become the signature song that launches his career.

“If you’re a DJ,” he says in voiceover, “all you need is a laptop, some talent and one track.”

Cole’s luck starts to change when he meets older, established DJ James Reed (Wes Bentley), who immediately and inexplicably takes Cole under his wing and becomes his mentor. Cole covets Reed’s life, from his worldwide fame and hilltop home to his gorgeous girlfriend/assistant, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski). Reed, though, doesn’t seem so thrilled. Bentley is perfectly disaffected as the seen-it-all club veteran who parties away his days and nights, a personified cautionary tale.

Meanwhile, Cole and his friends look for more reliable income by taking day jobs at a mortgage company run by a man with obvious wealth but dubious ethics. Here they get a glimpse into the unrewarding alternative to achieving their dreams. Thus, the career challenges for today’s 20-somethings look much like those of anyone coming of age in middle-class America since the 1960s.

Sophie, like Cole and his crew, is frustrated by emerging adulthood and searching for success. Reed encourages a friendship between Sophie and his protégé, suggesting they can go out and “talk about your millennial angst.”

When Cole and Sophie become more than friends – as you knew they would – the young DJ’s future with Reed and access to big-time gigs comes into question.

“We Are Your Friends” is less a story of millennial angst than a formulaic coming-of-age romance set against the colorful backdrop of rave parties and electronic music. It’s also amusingly educational with its inventive animation explaining how DJs inspire audiences to dance by illustrating how the human circulatory system responds to various beats-per-minute. EDM devotees might find this trite, but it’s a friendly invitation for the unfamiliar.

Director Joseph (best known as a host and producer of the MTV series “Catfish”) captures the vital energy and druggie haze of EDM parties, providing a peek into a world not often seen on the big screen. He shoots the wide suburban streets of the sun-baked Valley in such a way that the images almost look like they’re from another time. And the camera loves his two impossibly good-looking leads.

Efron brings warm accessibility to Cole. Ratajkowski is so beautiful, she’d devour her scenes even if she said nothing at all (which she almost does). If only young-adult angst really looked and sounded this good.

★ ★ ½  out of ★ ★ ★ ★

R for “language throughout, drug use, sexual content and some nudity” 96 minutes

H&M Wants to Reduce Environmental Strains of ‘Fast Fashion’

H&M—the second most-profitable clothing store in the world—has drawn criticism for embodying the “fast-fashion” model of retail. Fast-fashion basically means overproducing cheap clothing, which can be good for consumers but not so good for workers and the environment. (Last Week Tonight with John Oliver explains the problems with fast-fashion H E R E.) Now, the Swedish clothing giant is trying to address some of those criticisms of fast-fashion by offering a $1.2 million annual prize for new innovations in recycled clothing, Reuters reports. Cotton can be reused, but it’s inefficient, and recycled cotton produces poor-quality fabric. And there’s currently no good way to recycle mixed-material clothing at all.

In addition to adding mass amounts of cheap, lightly worn clothing to landfills, H&M is concerned with future shortages in resources, such as cotton, which requires large amounts of water and pesticides, according to Reuters. The project manager for H&M’s Global Challenge Award—launched today—tells the Guardian shoppers aren’t going to stop buying clothes, so companies need to figure out how to reduce the waste from making new garments. But critics say the contest is just a clever way for the retailer to avoid dealing with the actual problem of overproduction. “[Their] model only works if they encourage very frequent purchases, but the consumers are aware of the increasing effect it has on the environment,“ one expert tells Reuters.

Movie Review: ‘No Escape’

Not since Saigon in the 1970s has an American operation in Southeast Asia been as ill-conceived as “No Escape,” a taut, well-made and entirely dubious thriller.

Where does “No Escape” take place? It’s about a Texas family that arrives in an unnamed Asian country only to immediately be swept up in a horribly violent coup that sends them scampering for survival through foreign, unfamiliar streets strewn with bodies and blood.

The film, co-written and directed by John Erick Dowdle (“As Above, So Below”), was shot in Thailand two years ago, after which a real-life coup by the Thai army overthrew the government. Perhaps to avoid too direct a connection to that coup, “No Escape” (initially titled “The Coup”) makes no specific mention of any government. Who needs politics in a political thriller?

Beside the murderous chants of a mob or the bland courtesies of a hotel clerk, the natives have no dialogue.

Instead, they are merely the vague backdrop to the harrowing plight of a white American family: Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare). He, an engineer, has taken a job with a dominant corporation whose ownership of the city’s public works has helped inspire the unrest.

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Having just deplaned and plopped their bags down in a hotel hours before street warfare erupts, a haze of confusion envelopes the Dwyers, just as it does us. Can a thriller about a coup contain next to zero context about the politics and people involved? Is it enough to drop “Taken,” kids in tow, into a faceless Asian nightmare?

Of course it’s not. Granted, “No Escape” may have once existed in a different form and, for one reason or another, cut any local details. But the absence of literally any engagement with the conflict at hand or its native tragedies, “No Escape” sacrifices its legitimacy.

It’s a shame, too, because the filmmaking is often impressive. The movie, shot by the cinematographer Leo Hinstin, opens with a gracefully orchestrated scene depicting the assassination of the prime minister, a shot begun trailing drink glasses and ended with blood.

The action, too, is breathless, as Jack leads his family (sometimes with the help of Pierce Brosnan’s CIA agent) from one close scrap to another, never pausing for a deeper understanding of the turmoil, always elevated by the easy suspense of children in peril.

Around them fall countless victims. But their stories aren’t part of “No Escape.” They’re just exotic scenery.

★ ½ out of ★ ★ ★ ★

R for “strong violence throughout and for language” 102 minutes

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Mr. Robot Finale Delayed Over Today’s TV Shootings

USA’s Mr. Robot, a critically-acclaimed TV series about a hacker and an anarchist (and featuring Christian Slater in the title role), was supposed to air its season finale tonight—but in light of this morning’s on-air journalist killings, the finale is being delayed one week, Mashable reports. “The previously filmed season finale of Mr. Robot contains a graphic scene similar in nature to today’s tragic events in Virginia,“ the network says in a statement. “Out of respect to the victims, their families and colleagues, and our viewers, we are postponing tonight’s episode. Our thoughts go out to all those affected during this difficult time.“

Guess Who’s Coming to Dancing With the Stars?

If you thought that Paula Deen’s various race-related controversies were enough to get her off your television screen forever, think again. Sources tell both E! and Us that Deen will compete on the next season of Dancing With the Stars, which debuts Sept. 14. She was reportedly offered a spot on the show last year, but turned it down because it wasn’t “the appropriate forum for her,“ a source said at the time. Deen has also said herself that she was approached in 2010, but said no because “fat girls don’t look good sweating.“ Also competing or rumored to be competing this time around: Crocodile Hunter daughter Bindi Irwin, Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, jockey Victor Espinoza, and singer Chaka Khan.

Lee, Rowlands, Reynolds to receive honorary Academy Awards

BEVERLY HILLS — Spike Lee, Gena Rowlands and Debbie Reynolds are the season’s first Oscar winners.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Thursday that the filmmaker and two actresses will receive honorary Academy Awards Nov. 14 at its annual Governors Awards ceremony in Hollywood.

Academy members discuss potential honorees throughout the year, said academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, and the board of governors chooses the recipients.

“It’s one of the most exciting meetings of the year because it’s filled with a lot of passion,“ she said in an interview Thursday. “They are responding to the fact that the academy is recognizing talent in front of and behind the camera that has been so instrumental in this business.“

Lee and Rowlands will receive honorary Oscars for their career achievements. Reynolds will accept the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

Isaacs called each of the recipients to inform them of their awards. She said Lee responded by saying, “Get outta here!“

The independent filmmaker and teacher at New York University has two Oscar nominations: Original screenplay for 1989’s “Do the Right Thing” and documentary feature for 1997’s “4 Little Girls.“

Rowlands also has two Oscar nods: Lead actress in 1974’s “A Woman Under the Influence” and 1980’s “Gloria.“

Reynolds, a best actress Oscar nominee for 1964’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,“ is being recognized for more than 50 years of work promoting awareness and treatment of mental health issues.

Isaacs called the actress “a true American star.“

“What is also special about her is with all of her fame through stage and television and certainly as a film actress, how much of her time she has put forth to better other people’s lives,“ Isaacs said. “We thought it was so important to recognize that she has been at the forefront of the mental health issue for such a long time.“

The awards will be presented at a private, untelevised dinner ceremony at Hollywood & Highland.

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