Movie Review: “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”

Starring
Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein, Ike Barinholtz
Director
Nicholas Stoller

The 2014 film “Neighbors” cost $18 million to make and brought in $270 million worldwide. That is a spectacular, “Saw”-like return on investment, so it makes sense that the studio would be interested in making a sequel. There’s just one teensy little problem: there was nothing about “Neighbors” that lends itself well to a sequel. (Also, no one appears to have been asking for a sequel, but that is apparently beside the point.) It’s a film where the main characters each win a battle, but lose what’s left of their dignity. No bonds are forged, and the attempt at a happy ending drips with sadness. One of the first film’s good points was that they didn’t seem concerned about tomorrow because they were having too much fun today. Then tomorrow came, panic settled in, and for God knows what reason, the decision to not make a second film wasn’t considered. This is a mistake.

“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” isn’t even remotely tethered to reality. If this took place in the real world, at least two people would be dead and one would be in traction. It requires “Horrible Bosses 2” logic in order to work, which dictates that if you’ve been badly burned in your personal or professional life, you will learn absolutely nothing from the experience and make the same mistake again. “Horrible Bosses 2,” for the record, was another movie that no one asked for, and it made half as much as the original. Universal should prepare themselves for a similar drop-off.

Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, respectively), now with a two-year-old and another baby on the way, have decided to sell their house and move to the suburbs. They have a family who wants to buy, and the house is put in escrow. The Radners do not understand that the sale is not final until their realtor spells it out for them for the sake of the plot (and the audience); the buyers have 30 days to back out of the deal for any reason. When Mac and Kelly see that a group of rebel girls wants to start a new party-friendly sorority in the abandoned house next door (the house previously owned by the Delta Psi Betas from the first film), they ask the girls to tone it down until the sale goes through. The girls are already annoyed that sororities are not allowed to throw parties, but fraternities are. They are not receptive to this request.

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Movie Review: “The Lobster”

Starring
Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman, Ariane Labed
Director
Yorgos Lanthimos

There was a time when married people used to be envious of their single friends, but dating in the 21st century has become such a weird and awkward process (dominated by superficial dating platforms like Match.com and Tinder) that being single isn’t as attractive as it once was. Director Yorgos Lanthimos explores that strangeness along with the social pressures of marriage with his English-language debut “The Lobster.” Bizarre, refreshingly original and darkly comical at times, the movie is unlike anything you’ve seen before, but while it starts out as a sharp satire on the horrors of dating, “The Lobster” stretches so far into absurdity that its various eccentricities overshadow the point it’s trying to make.

Set in a dystopian future where it’s illegal to be single, the film follows a recently divorced introvert named David (Colin Farrell) as he checks into a mysterious seaside hotel and is given 45 days to find a new mate or be turned into an animal of his choosing. His brother Bob has already been through the hotel and now accompanies him as a Border Collie, a constant reminder of the threat of failure, and David has prepared himself for a similar fate by electing to live out his final days as a lobster due to their long lifespans and his affinity for the ocean.

Though he quickly makes friends with some fellow bachelors (John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw), David has no luck finding a female companion, and with his deadline fast approaching, he decides to take his chances outside the hotel with a rebellious group of singles in the woods. Led by a cold anarchist (Léa Seydoux) who’s trying to bring down the whole oppressive system, the so-called Loners live by their own set of strict rules and punish anyone who so much as flirts with another person. But when David meets his perfect match in Rachel Weisz’s Short-Sighted Woman (none of the characters are given names apart from David), the two risk everything in order to be together.

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Movie Review: “Money Monster”

Starring
George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito
Director
Jodie Foster

Jodie Foster‘s last directorial effort, the Mel Gibson-led drama “The Beaver,” is a slightly unconventional and often brutal movie. The film proved to be a commercial failure, but then again, it’s hardly a commercial movie. Whether or not it connected with audiences, there was an honesty to “The Beaver” that’s not always present in Foster’s latest feature, the real-time thriller “Money Monster.” Although it’s more of a conventional crowd-pleaser, the film fails to resonate as strongly as it should.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the loud, fast-talking host of “Money Monster,” a finance show in the same vein of “Mad Money.” One day, the show’s filming is interrupted when Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) sneaks onto the set and holds Gates hostage at gunpoint. Kyle partially blames Gates for a bad stock tip that resulted in the loss of his life savings after Ibis Clear Capital inexplicably lost $800 million overnight. Nobody has answers, including Gates, and nobody is asking the important questions until Kyle shows up. With the help of his producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), Gates will do everything he can to get to the bottom of what happened, re-discovering his humanity in the process.

That last line sounds cheesy, I know, and it slightly is in execution. It’s not because of the performances or directing, but because the script by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf is treading such familiar territory that character revelations and the big dramatic moments are sometimes more calculated than human. The script is refreshingly efficient — a story that’s cleanly under 100 minutes, especially during the summer, is always a blessing — but it’s almost always serving a formula. Every once in a while, like when Kyle talks to his wife, the story takes a surprising turn, only to find itself back on track towards an inevitable conclusion.

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Movie Review: “Captain America: Civil War”

Starring
Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Don Cheadle, Emily VanCamp
Directors
Anthony & Joe Russo

By all rights, Captain America should be the lamest, worst Avenger. He came of age decades before the topic of segregation was even entertained. Rock & roll hadn’t been invented yet. If Steve Rogers is a real person, he’s likely a racist crank, yelling at the other Avengers to get off his lawn.

Thankfully, the Cap in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is none of those things. Steve Rogers is an open-minded skeptic, for whom Japanese internment camps are still a recent event. (It is not a coincidence that the word ‘internment’ is used in a crucial scene here.) He is mistrustful of the government — and who can blame him, after the events of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” – and therefore loath to see the country he loves overstep its bounds a second time. This makes him a perfect foil for Iron Man/Tony Stark, a man whose genius is eclipsed only by his ego, and for whom reparations and accountability make sense, as long as everyone else pitches in to help him pay his bar tab.

This is the crux of “Captain America: Civil War.” The plot is more streamlined than the ’70s-era, conspiracy-minded “Winter Soldier,” but there are still some unsettling themes at play here, chief among them the concepts of freedom and safety, and the fear of compromising one for the other. The comics on which this film is based were written 10 years ago, presumably to point a finger at the George W. Bush administration for overreaching in terms of surveillance. Sadly, they’re even more prescient now.

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Movie Review: “A Bigger Splash”

Starring
Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson
Director
Luca Guadagnino

At first, “A Bigger Splash” is a feast for the senses. The gorgeous locations, thrilling tunes, and nothing but good times with Tilda Swinton’s rock star feels like paradise. Midway through director Luca Guadagono’s hypnotic film, however, the dream begins to turn into an equally exciting and unnerving nightmare.

Marianne Lane (Swinton), unlike her former lover Harry (Ralph Fiennes), is speechless. After the rock star undergoes a potentially career-ruining procedure, she seeks some peace and quiet with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). They lie about in the sun, make love any chance they get, and, at least on the surface, the two couldn’t look happier. Their brief moments of peace and quiet are interrupted when Harry stops by with his “daughter” Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Harry, Paul and Marianne all share a history together — one that slowly reveals itself over the course of the narrative.

Until the surprising but inevitable third act, that’s about as much plot as there is in “A Bigger Splash,” a film that’s driven far more by atmosphere and character. David Kajganich’s script may feel like a rambling assortment of scenes, but they’re all of a piece, always serving a purpose or revealing something about the characters. When Harry lets loose to some Rolling Stones in a joyful three-minute dance sequence, we see the man Marianne used to love. That man, the one that always tries to live his life to the fullest, comes and goes throughout the film, like all four of the central characters.

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