NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING. Maybe it's the inevitable softening of my brain or the fact that I've spent enough time around 20-somethings (Millenials!) in recent years to feel roughly twice my actual age (I don't even use Snapchat, you guys), but I thought Neighbors (2014) was not only funny but somehow wiser and sharper than it had any right to be. Among the lactation and dick jokes was a compelling thread about aging vs. growing up, about confronting the end of youth as we imagine it, about one's redefining of identity as a new parent. It's possible I'm assigning gravity a little too freely — maybe also because the movie made me laugh so much — but Neighbors pulled off the rare of feat of being funny and actually being about something. Given the scarcity of satisfying comedy movies these days, I was very pleased. But I assumed it was a one-off, a fluke (a feeling reinforced when the trailer for this sequel started circulating). Despite the presence of the core cast and writers, and the return of director Nicholas Stoller, the very notion of a sequel made me reticent (anybody else still suffering from Hangover hangovers?). But Neighbors 2 delivers more of the same in a pleasantly surprising way.
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) Radner, now parents of a 2-year-old, with another baby on the way, have purchased a bigger house in a quiet suburb, and anxiously await the close of escrow (a concept neither of them grasp) on their current home. Delta Psi has moved on and most the principal members having graduated, so its former party-manse sits vacant. Enter a group of matriculating fresh-women, equally frustrated by the stuffiness of sorority life, the strictures of the dorms and the assaultive male-centricity and straight-up rapey-ness of frat parties. Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) take the lead in founding a new brand of sorority. Enlisting the aid of a now rudderless Teddy (Zac Efron), they take up residence in the Delta Psi house. This horrifies Mac and Kelly and puts the sale of their own house in jeopardy. So begins the second great battle of the Radners' lives, with the women of Kappa Nu proving crueler and more resourceful than anyone might have expected.
To examine Neighbors 2 as feminist treatise might be overextending (it was written and directed entirely by men) but it is woman-positive and gross and funny in an unusual and impressively balanced way. It is first and foremost a mainstream comedy, so the jokes take priority (and as part of the great lineage of campus comedy, some of those jokes are not for the squeamish) but it also finds time to call out the anti-feminists. This is the rare sequel that is not only as funny as its predecessor, but actually has something more, and more subversive, to say with its comedy. R. 92m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE NICE GUYS. For my enjoyment of this I will offer no apology, no rationalization. I expected to love it and I do. The comments to follow are by way of explanation, not justification.
I, like so many, grew up on Shane Black's screenwriting: Lethal Weapon (1987) traumatized and titillated me; The Monster Squad (1987) was a unicorn of childhood that I didn't manage to catch until much later; The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) is as much a part of Christmas in our house as eggnog and presents. And Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), his directorial debut, is just about perfect, remaining one of the movies I can put on any time and sink into, forgetting my troubles. So yeah, I've been looking forward to The Nice Guys a little bit. Oh, did I mention my obsession with Los Angeles crime stories?
Los Angeles, 1977. Private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) pours booze into the wounds left by the death of his wife and the loss of their house in a fire. With more than a little help from his 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), he cobbles together a living, often by accident but sometimes through the use of his not-inconsequential intellect and skills. His investigation of the death of adult film star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) brings him into the path of unlicensed strong-arm specialist Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). Healy's got his own set of problems, mainly around reconciling himself to a life of misdirected violence. Eventually the two figure out they're better off as associates than as adversaries, and go deep into a murder mystery involving the LA porn industry, the Department of Justice and the Big Three Detroit automakers.
Black's mastery of the form is on prominent display, showcased by a labyrinthine plot that he manages to keep compelling through all its twists. The grimy-cool aesthetic is spot on, down to the distinctive costuming and styling. Gosling and Crowe are near perfect comic foils for each other while also investing their characters with real humanity, depth and mournfulness. This movie seems made just for me, but it also succeeds resoundingly in everything it sets out to do. R. 116m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. Mia Wasikowska is back as Alice, tumbling through Tim Burton's fantasy-scape and battling Sacha Baron Cohen as Time. Johnny Depp woke up like this. PG. 113m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. The proto-mutant rises and wages war on humanity and Team Xavier. Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence. PG-13. 144m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE. From your iPhone to the big screen, grumpy animated fowl hurl themselves at interloping pigs. Voiced by Jason Sudeikis and Maya Rudolph. PG. 97m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. The Avengers assemble and rumble in a well-made, satisfying action movie that handles tricky politics and gives promising starts for new characters. PG13. 147m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE DARKNESS. A family visits the Grand Canyon and all they get is this ancient evil haunting them and leaving creepy handprints everywhere. With Kevin Bacon. PG13. 92m. BROADWAY.
THE JUNGLE BOOK. The Kipling story returns to inspire real childhood wonder with seamless CGI, believable animal characters and grand adventure. PG. 106m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY. True story of an Indian mathematician (Dev Patel) and his British Cambridge mentor (Jeremy Irons). R. 97m. BROADWAY.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill