‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’ Review

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Director: Nicholas Stoller

Writers: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen, & Evan Goldberg

Cast: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ike Barinholtz, Kiersey Clemons, Dave Franco, Beanie Feldstein, Carla Gallo, Selena Gomez and Lisa Kudrow

Synopsis: After a sorority moves in next door, which is even more debaucherous than the fraternity before it, Mac and Kelly have to ask for help from their former enemy, Teddy.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Comedy sequels are always hard. Most of them don’t work or only semi-work because they try to replicate the charm or what made them special the first time around. Very rarely comedy sequels work, and thankfully Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising doesn’t full too much into those pitfalls too much and is actually a different film with some nice callbacks and different-ish story from the first film.

The film follows Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) as they bought a new house for their growing family, and are now in escrow on their old home. They have thirty days to make sure nothing spooks the new buyers, but turns out that new college students Shelby (Moretz), Beth (Clemons) and Nora (Feldstein), start a new sorority because they want to make their own sorority to break away from the Greek system. The problem is that they move into the house next door where the fraternity once lived. Mac and Kelly, scared that they could lose the buyers and the new house, try to find a way to get the sorority to either not party for thirty days, or once again, make them go away. Problem with that is these three are very headstrong and are all about sisterhood and empowerment. Then there is Teddy (Efron) who comes back into the fray.

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Like I said, comedy sequels tend not to work too well, and while Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising does follow some beat-for-beat moments from the first film, it thankfully tries and succeeds – for the most part – to be different and be a better movie. Comedy is subjective, but the sequel is still, maybe even more, raunchy than the first and has a probably more gross-out moment than the first one. Some jokes had made laughing out loud in the theater with everyone else, and while some jokes fall flat or just completely miss, there is a nice wave of jokes that are streamlined throughout the film.

The returning cast of Rogen, Byrne, and Efron are great and feels like they have better chemistry this time around than the first. Chloe Grace Moretz takes the Efron-role from the first one as Shelby, the leader of our new rebel group. Shelby wants to join a sorority but turns it down when she realizes that sororities aren’t allowed to throw parties in their houses, only frats can (which is apparently a real thing). Moretz is fine as the new leader along with her fellow friends and new sisters Beanie Feldstein and one of standouts in Dope, Kiersey Clemons.

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The film does have some social commentary and a theme that runs throughout the film that is centered around the new three female characters, and while the theme is acceptable and reasonable, it’s a bit too heavy handed for me by the end. They poke fun at it here and there, which leads to great jokes, but even though I like the message, I wasn’t all for it.

All in all, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a worthwhile sequel that has some great laughs and run-on jokes that keep you invested in the film and characters. While the themes and social commentary are a bit heavy-handed for me personally, it doesn’t take away the enjoyment of the film as a whole. The case is fantastic together and there is no slow part of the film. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising isn’t the perfect comedy sequel, but it’s one of the better ones out there.

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Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

3.5 out of 5

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‘The Equalizer’ Review

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Dir: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Johnny Skourtis, Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo

Synopsis: A man believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and has dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when he meets a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by – he has to help her

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

 

Based on the CBS show of the same name, The Equalizer – which had one of the highest test-screening results for Sony Pictures – follows Robert McCall (Washington) who enjoys his quiet and simple life. He follows a routine, works at a Home Depot-like store, is friendly with his co-workers Ralphie (Skourtis), Jenny (Anastasia Mousis), Jay (Rhet Kidd), and Marcus (Allen Maldonado), but besides all that he has a problem sleeping. Instead of staying at home he spends his nights at a diner reading classic books and talking to a young prostitute Teri (Moretz). When she shows up the next time, she has a bruised cheek and later ends up in the hospital. When Robert finds out that she has a connection to the Russian mob, he takes matters into his own hands. Unfortunately for Robert, the Russian mob sends in Teddy (Csokas), a violent and smart fixer that wants to take down Robert.

 

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Some of the ads show The Equalizer as another somewhat hardcore action movie and even though the action sequences are very well done and have a ton of great moments, director Antoine Fuqua gives the movie a kind of low-key feel. We see McCall dealing with crocked cops and lower level henchmen before he gets to the big baddies at the end. Fuqua also doesn’t rely on CGI – only some moments – but mostly on the cast and more specifically Denzel Washington, who is in almost every scene in the movie.

 

Since the movie is pretty much the Denzel show – not a bad thing – we get a lot of Robert McCall. We get right from the start that McCall is a bit of a loner, but he does have a relationship with his co-workers, more so with Ralphie, who he helps train to become a security guard by losing weight. But, Washington is once again reliable here playing McCall as a man of mystery who is patient and fearless when the situation calls for it. McCall doesn’t have to use threats to get his point across either and will sometimes even use some wit and jokes when someone else is threatening him. He’s also such a great character that you can’t wait to see him kick someone’s ass.

 

The other thing that McCall brings is what most people will probably call, and what I’ve seen in a few reviews, “Equalizer Vision.” Simply, he looks around the room or surroundings to see what he could use to his advantage. The big example is the highly advertized scene with him taking out a room full of Russians. The nice thing is that it only really happens about twice and although we have seen it in other films, it works here and feels like it belongs to the character. Plus it is a fun way to see how some baddies are going to die.

 

Of course every hero needs a villain right? Here it’s Teddy played by the also always reliable Marton Csokas. Right at the beginning Csokas gives Teddy a remarkable presence and while he plays him as a bit of a talker at the start, you soon realize that Teddy is just as deadly and smart as McCall, if not more. We could have just gotten one scene about how evil he is but Fuqua does show how evil Teddy is and how uncontrollable he can be. They also have a great scene together and I kind of wished it went a little longer because it was great to see the two of them go back and forth.

 

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The rest of the cast holds their own but the movie really does belong to Washington and Csokas. Johnny Skourtis’s Ralphie has some nice moments and scenes with Washington while David Harbour’s crocked cop character serves his purpose. Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo play Brian and Susan Plummer in really glorified cameos as McCall’s friends and former CIA contacts. The role they really play is just telling McCall how deadly Teddy is and who he’s really messing with. Haley Bennett has a small role as Mandy that really goes nowhere but her telling McCall about the first group of Russians.

 

Chloe Grace Moretz’s Teri plays in what you would think would be a big role character wise but it never really happens. Teri is an important character because she’s the reason McCall goes on his rampage of vengeance but after she goes to the hospital she disappears and not to be seen until the end of the movie when she sees McCall again. It is a little unfortunate because Moretz does bring some levity to the character that clearly wants out of current life. Also to the perverts out there, you never see Moretz doing any prostituting, so there’s that.

 

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I mention the action earlier and while the action at the beginning is great to see, it’s the final showdown that truly makes the movie. Everything builds up for the final showdown and we get to see how truly deadly McCall is when he single-handedly takes down bad guys in brutal fashion. The mood in the scene definitely makes the scene more powerful.

 

All in all, The Equalizer is highly enjoyable and the showcase of the movie will definitely be the final showdown at the end. The movie is pretty violent which I wasn’t expecting but not so over the top that will take you out of the movie or ruin it because it kind makes sense. Denzel Washington and Marton Csokas highlight the film, and with Fuqua’s directing I think fans will appreciate the film.

 

The Equalizer

4 out of 5

‘Carrie’ Review

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Dir: Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss)

Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Ansel Elgort and Judy Greer

Synopsis: A reimagining of the classic horror tale about Carrie White, a shy girl outcast by her peers and sheltered by her deeply religious mother, who unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far at her senior prom

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a non-spoiler review as always. I do want say I know it’s going to hard for some not compare this to the original Brian De Palma version. I even found it a bit hard because this movie is a real homage and shares some similarities (and even lines) but I’m going to review this movie for what this movie is.*

 

The movie starts with an interesting scene of Margaret White (Moore) that gives you the sense of how Margaret sanity truly is when he daughter Carrie is born. We fast forward and see Carrie (Moretz) as a teenager in high school. She’s shy, unpopular, a social outcast, and a bit naïve of her body. When Carrie has her period in the school shower she’s truly concerned with what’s happening with her body, even to the point where she thinks she’s bleeding to death. Of course instead of helping, the other girls lead by our main bully Chris (Doubleday) laugh at her and record her pain. It’s at that moment when we start to notice Carrie has something special about her.

It’s also here when we see popular girl Sue Snell (Wilde) take some pity on her and gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (Greer) who shows Carrie some kindness.  After everything calms down, Carrie is told that her mother is coming to pick her up and we see that besides being put on the spot, she’s afraid of her mother.

We don’t blame Carrie for being afraid of her mother. Her mother runs a very strict house, so to speak. She’s very religious and will at times quotes things from the bible (sort of) to Carrie because she’s “misbehaving.” She’ll be even punish herself sometimes to make Carrie stop. Needless to say, she’s a bit unstable.

Moore does do a good job of playing up Margaret. She is subtly frightening and fierce and there is an interesting addition to her character that I kind of wanted to see more of. But, on the other end she can show that she truly loves her daughter and wants to protect her but when she turns on her it makes us look at her differently.

But let’s not forgot, this movie belongs to Chloe Grace Moretz playing our title character. Many believe Moretz was miscast or even saying that they can’t see why they cast Moretz because she’s to pretty to play someone who in the book is not pretty. I don’t think that any of that really matters. Without sounding like most of the pervs out there, Moretz is pretty but it’s her acting that makes her Carrie. Her performance as someone who has been raised in such a horrific, abusive home by her mother is what makes her so uncomfortable in her own skin and withdrawn around her classmates. Some of her strongest moments are when she’s acting across from Moore, especially the final scene, and as Carrie tries to stand up to Margaret and gaining more self-confidence her powers get stronger.

The rest of the cast do their parts as well as they could. Greer as Ms. Desjardin who plays Carrie’s protector and even tries to cheer Carrie up does okay in the small role she has. Wilde and Ansel Elgort are likeable as the school’s it couple, Sue and Tommy, who decide to do something positive for Carrie, after Sue can’t get past her guilt over joining in on the cruel incident with Carrie, so you kind of feel for them at the end.

Of course everything leads up to the infamous prom scene. It’s still a bit disconcerting to see Carrie having a good time at prom only to know she going to have pig’s blood dumped on her. It’s there of course where everyone that’s made fun or laughed at her learn what happens when you push someone to far. Carrie taking out her classmates is a bit terrifying especially when you see she’s kind of enjoying it and doesn’t care who’s in her way.

All in all, Carrie isn’t a bad movie. There are some standout moments and the acting from Moretz and Moore is top notch. However, the movie never really reaches it’s full potential even with the pay off prom scene. Again, there’s nothing wrong with the movie but for my only original movie comment, some of this has been done before.

 

Carrie

3.5 out of 5

‘Kick-Ass 2’ Review

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Dir: Jeff Wadlow (Cry Wolf, Never Back Down)

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Morris Chestnut, Clark Duke, John Leguizamo and Jim Carrey

Synopsis: The costumed high-school hero Kick-Ass joins with a group of normal citizens who have been inspired to fight crime in costume. Meanwhile, the Red Mist plots an act of revenge that will affect everyone Kick-Ass knows.

 

*Review Note: This is a non-spoiler review as always. And if you want, stay after the credits for a quick scene.”

 

Kick-Ass was the little superhero movie that could. Shot on a relatively low-budget, introducing a comic-book character who was new, and featuring just one movie star in Nicolas Cage. The film nevertheless did something nobody thought it would do, get a cult following. Three years later we get a sequel that doesn’t have the same first-time charm the first had but still is a worthy sequel. The movie, like the first, isn’t just about normal people becoming superheroes but also about growing up and dealing with the consequences of their actions.

Mindy Macready aka Hit-Girl (Moretz) is now living her father’s former partner Marcus Williams (Chestnut) and is a freshmen in high school. Marcus tries to deal with the fact that Mindy can’t let go of her old life and all Mindy wants to do is be Hit-Girl and keep her fathers promise of protecting the city but also wants to make Marcus happy and do what he tells her. Marcus also wants Mindy to fit in at school which of course isn’t that easy for her.

Then finally there’s Chris D’Amico (Mintz-Plasse). Now donning an emo look and obsessing with getting revenge on Kick-Ass for killing his father. Chris with one of his family’s bodyguards Javier (Leguizamo) starts to put a team together that includes former convicts and killers. The standout of his evil super-team is Mother Russia played by Russian body builder Olga Kurkulina. Chris also has renamed himself “The Motherfucker.”

Meanwhile at the same time Dave aka Kick-Ass, now a high school senior, is bored with his life but at the same time wants something exciting to happen. Eventually, he pleas to Mindy to help him train and become a better fighter. After Mindy takes Marcus’ advice to stop being Hit-Girl, Dave finds himself wanting to team up and since he can’t have Hit-Girl he finds himself a group calling themselves Justice Forever.

They include a mob enforcer-turned-born again Christian Colonel Stars and Stripes, and his trusty sidekick dog Eisenhower played by Jim Carrey. The group also includes Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), Insect Man (Robert Emms) and a mother/father duo Remember Tommy. They aren’t Hit-Girl level superhero but Kick-Ass joins them anyways to help rid of the city of, as they put it, injustice.

Like I said before, Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t really have the same charm the first did. Probably because we didn’t know what to suspect in the first movie (unless you read the comics) and I’m not saying this is a bad thing. The movie works on its own levels and you really shouldn’t compare this to the first. The message is the same, the humor is still there, and violence is about to maybe a little more than the first. The one thing the movie does have more of is drama. With our main heroes Dave and Mindy having inner struggles to how they really are and having spats with their guardians – Mindy with Marcus and Dave with his father – the movie does slow down a bit so we can feel for the characters. We know who they are and what they can do but no one does.

We see Mindy falling to the pressures of high school and Dave taking responsibility for his actions as he becomes a man. It’s necessary but with the rest of the movie filled with violence and humor it makes the movie tonally a bit odd to take in.

The performances are stronger this time around with the main three cast members. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has some great comic timing and is a little more hands on this time around. Chloe Grace Moretz is better than ever as Hit-Girl. She shows and has the right combination of fearlessness and vulnerability. Christopher Mintz-Plasse goes through a complex journey if that’s what you want to call it. His character makes you both hate and possibly feel a little sorry for him.

The new plays are hit and miss but of course everyone will talk (and have been) about Carrey’s Colonel. Despite his wackiness and humor at times, he does give the movie a bit heart and soul in one particular scene. Wouldn’t say he steals the movie (some will and there’s nothing wrong with that) because I think that goes to Olga Kurkulina’s Mother Russia. She’s a force of nature almost and her fight with Hit-Girl near the end of the movie was definitely a standout.

All in all, Kick-Ass 2 is a ton of fun. If you liked the first movie then you will most likely like this one. It can even be described as a twisted coming of age story. Is the movie for everyone? No. But let’s face it a movie called Kick-Ass probably isn’t going to be for everyone.

 

Kick Ass 2

4 out of 5