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 Night Before”

Starring
Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon
Director
Jonathan Levine

Every year, a new crop of Christmas-themed films arrives in theaters to help kick off the season, but apart from 2003’s awesome trio of “Elf,” “Love Actually” and “Bad Santa,” Hollywood hasn’t had much luck producing movies worthy of shaking up the usual rotation of holiday classics. Nobody really expected Jonathan Levine’s “The Night Before” to join that illustrious club, but it seemed like it would at least be a fun diversion from the barrage of serious Oscar fare by adding a bit of frat-humor debauchery to the Christmas movie festivities. Unfortunately, it’s not very successful, because “The Night Before” is at best a fleetingly funny comedy that ranks as Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s weakest collaboration to date.

For the past 14 years, best friends Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have spent every Christmas Eve together, a tradition that started as a way to console Ethan after he lost his parents in a car accident. Now in their early 30s, the guys have mutually agreed to end the annual tradition for various reasons: Isaac and his wife (Jillian Bell) are expecting a baby, and Chris, a pro football player who’s found fame late in his career, is simply too busy. Ethan, meanwhile, is still reeling from his breakup with longtime girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Caplan) and is worried that he’s about to lose his friends as well, but when he fortuitously comes into possession of three tickets to the Nutcracker Ball – an ultra-exclusive party that the guys have been trying to get into since their first Christmas Eve – Ethan figures that they can at least go out with a bang.

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Movie Review: “Steve Jobs”

Starring
Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katerine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Ortiz
Director
Danny Boyle

Most biopics go to great lengths to humanize their subjects, to show that even the great ones are flawed in some way. “Steve Jobs” sets its subject on fire, and then pokes the body with a stick for 122 minutes. They make it clear from word one that Jobs was a sociopath, blinded by ambition and seemingly incapable of empathy or love. He was an insufferable boss and an even worse father, yet the son of a bitch changed the world.

And the thing is, those are all okay elements to include in the film of someone’s life. More often than not, though, those pieces aren’t the whole story. Here, they are, and it’s framed within a narrative that seems designed to make the audience even more uncomfortable. “Steve Jobs” is well written and well-acted, but it is not an easy movie to like, let alone love. It challenges the audience, and that is an admirable thing, as long as they’re willing to suffer the consequence that people may ultimately decide that they don’t like the movie because the supposed protagonist is an unrepentant jerk.

The film covers three product launches, peppered with a few informative, non-linear flashbacks, over the course of 14 years. The first one takes place in 1984, where Jobs is about to launch the Macintosh. Ridley Scott’s “1984” ad during the Super Bowl had everyone talking, and now it is up to Jobs to deliver. The only problem is, the Mac isn’t ready, and yet he still tells the press that he anticipates record-shattering sales. Before he makes his presentation, though, he has to deal with Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), mother of Jobs’ daughter Lisa, though he refuses to acknowledge Lisa as his daughter. Next up is Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), the man with whom he invented the first Apple computer in a garage, and the two are still quibbling over what turned out to be game-changing innovations that Jobs rejected out of hand.

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Movie Review: “Neighbors”

Starring
Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Director
Nicholas Stoller

Everything about “Neighbors” screams bro – had we been tasked with pitching the script to a producer, we would have said, “’Tin Men,’ with bros” – and then a funny thing happens: Rose Byrne comes along and wipes the floor with every man in the cast. She puts on a master class in comedy here, and in the process (unintentionally, for sure), she out-funnys the funny guy. This is okay, mind you, and in fact wouldn’t even be a problem if the movie had a coherent script, but it doesn’t. It’s a funny script, and it hits all of the right notes in the end, but the path it takes to get there is dubious, to be sure. Someone, anyone, should have gotten arrested.

New parents Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Byrne) have bought a new home, and love their idyllic grown-up existence. The house next door is up for sale, and to their horror, a fraternity moves in. Mac and Kelly, eager to maintain their youth while dealing with being new parents, try to play the part of the cool neighbors at first, but as the frat’s continuous late-night antics threaten to wake their baby girl, they call the police on them after their attempts to contact them go unanswered. The president of the fraternity, Ted (Zac Efron), declares war, and the two sides engage in a series of escalating stunts designed to put the other side down for good, yet they’re strangely chummy the entire time.

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Movie Review: “This Is the End”

Starring
Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Emma Watson
Director
Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

It makes sense that “This Is the End” turned out the way it did. If Seth Rogen is going to write a script about the Apocalypse, it’s not going to be subtle, nor should it be. (Come on, how boring would that be?) However, in his attempt to spread the wealth among his six leads, he loses sight of what would work best for the story, and in the process loses nearly all of the momentum he and co-writer Even Goldberg gained with an explosively funny first act.

Jay Baruchel (all of the name actors in this movie are playing themselves) flies to Los Angeles for a weekend of bonding with lifelong friend Seth Rogen. Seth asks Jay if he wants to go to a party at James Franco‘s house, but Jay isn’t crazy about Seth’s new friends, and just as he expected, he winds up bored and angry at Seth. When the two leave to get some cigarettes, the Rapture takes place before their eyes, with people being beamed up to heaven while hell is unleashed on earth. They get back to Franco’s house just before a giant hole swallows up everyone but Seth, Jay, James, Craig Robinson and Jonah Hill. Oh, and Danny McBride, who crashed the party and fell asleep in the bathtub.

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