Category: Movie Reviews


The Shallows – Movie Review

In preparation for my viewing of The Shallows, I started thinking about what some of the best shark movies are and I’m disappointed to say that there aren’t many. Obviously Jaws is the king of the subgenre, but over 40 years later and we really haven’t gotten much else. Open Water would probably be my runner-up choice and while Deep Blue Sea is fun, it’s also incredibly stupid. So The Shallows – directed by Jaume Collet-Serra – is actually pretty rare; it’s a shark movie treated with care and doesn’t feel like a low-budget movie that should belong on a sci-fi channel. Is it the best shark movie since Jaws? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a welcome surprise.

Still grieving over the death of her mother, Nancy (Blake Lively) has run away from her family and her responsibilities in medical school. She’s traveling the world and has decided to go surfing on a beach that holds a special connection to her late mother. The secret beach is absolutely beautiful and the only people who seem to know of its existence are two local surfers and the driver that brought her there. As she’s catching the last wave of the day, Nancy notices a dying whale that’s washed into shallow waters. As she floats over to investigate, the bleeding whale attacks a massive shark, which takes a bite out of Nancy. Now stranded on a rock mere hundreds of feet from shore, Nancy will have to use all of her strength and knowledge to outsmart the Great White Beast.

The Shallows starts very strong, with a simply premise that’s told efficiently. Nancy is being terrorized by a big shark, but its size has nothing to do with experimentation or radioactive waste. The idea of being stranded so close to shore may seem like a stretch, but it’s pretty realistic when compared to other shark films. The screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski does a great job at making the audience feel like they’re a part of Nancy’s situation and Collet-Serra provides a steady line of suspense that peaks at a few crucial moments. There are some moments here where the shark will make you jump out of your seat and not since the original Jaws has a shark film so effectively created the feeling that an attack could come from anywhere at any time, particularly in the moments before we actually see the beast.

But what starts as a down-to-earth B-movie gets increasingly more ridiculous as time marches on. The final ten minutes of The Shallows take the simple premise and offer an unbelievable resolution. And the visual effects – which are excellent throughout the majority of the film – don’t hold up in some of the climactic moments involving a buoy. It’s as if a simple meal was ruined by the chef adding too many ingredients onto the dessert. But I’m always a fan of the journey over the destination, so while this certainly has its problems, this is prime summer entertainment. It will make you hungry for more shark movies.

The Shallows receives 3/4

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If there’s one director working today who can be described as possessing movie magic, it has to be Steven Spielberg. The guy made us terrified of sharks, showed us how an alien can be a boy’s best friend and even convinced us that dinosaurs could once again walk the earth. Lately, his filmography has consisted of more prestige historical dramas, such as Lincoln and Bridge of Spies. While this is fine, I’ve been hoping to see him make a return to the more fantastical stories that made us fall in love with him in the first place. The BFG is definitely a step in that direction; it might not be the great return that we were hoping for, but it certainly has its moments and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job with the material.

Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a lonely young girl who wanders the halls of her orphanage at night due to her inability to sleep. One night, she hears a strange noise outside and after venturing over to the window for a peek, she spots a giant being (Mark Rylance) wandering the streets. This giant grabs her out of her bed and carries her to giant country. While she is initially frightened by this miraculously tall individual she soon learns that, unlike other giants, he doesn’t actually eat children. This giant is a vegetarian and he’s nicknamed the BFG (Big Friendly Giant). He and Sophie begin to form a close bond that’s put to the test when the two of them are forced to contend with a group of dangerous giants, led by the hateful Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement).

Based on Roald Dahl’s classic 1982 children’s book, The BFG is a solid effort from all involved, featuring humor, heart and great visual effects. The core of the film is the relationship between Sophie and the BFG and the two great performances from Barnhill and Rylance ensures that their friendship feels as real as possible. Barnhill’s Sophie is charming and relatable, giving us a nice point-of-view as we enter this strange world of giants. Rylance excellently captures the unique personality of the BFG and the screenplay from the late Melissa Mathison hilariously showcases his inability to grasp the English language. This is a legitimately funny film, one that will generate laughs from audience members of any age. A third-act sequence in Buckingham Palace is nothing short of delightful and it gives us the rare opportunity to see Spielberg attempt a fart joke and actually succeed.

What ultimately drags the film down is that it’s pretty forgettable and lacks any fun adventure sequences. It opens strong, sags a lot in the middle, before ending on a high note. Maybe this is just because the film feels too long, but adding in more memorable moments of suspense and adventure certainly wouldn’t have hurt. And while everything regarding the BFG’s concoctions of dreams is an essential part of the plot, its portrayal onscreen is pretty boring. Spielberg does the best he can with the material and while it has its problems, more things work than don’t. Spielberg may be getting older, but he hasn’t forgotten how to make a movie for kids.

The BFG receives 3/4

The idea of a 12-hour Purge where all crime is considered legal is admittedly a ridiculous premise. It’s difficult to imagine any country getting to that level of desperation, let alone the United States. But you know what else has been completely ridiculous? This election cycle. Regardless of your political views, there’s no denying that this has been one of the most over-the-top and entertaining presidential elections in history. So it seems like perfect timing to have these two ideas meet in The Purge: Election Year, the third film in the popular horror franchise. It has potential to really highlight some broad issues with society today, but writer/director James DeMonaco seems to have mistaken subtlety for obvious, in-your-face messages. Not only is this film not half as smart as it wants to be, it also fails to deliver a quality horror movie as well.

Two years after the events of The Purge: Anarchy, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) is now the head of security for presidential hopeful Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a senator who vows to outlaw the Purge if elected. Her main opponent is Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), a representative of the New Founding Fathers, the political party responsible for starting the Purge in the first place. This makes her a clear target and while Barnes ensures that Roan’s home is protected on the night of the Purge, a betrayal from within their group proves that she’s no longer safe. After an assault on her home, she and Barnes venture out into the streets and attempt to survive the one night a year where all crime – including murder – is legal.

I’ve always been a big fan of the premise of these films, but despite a great idea, DeMonaco has yet to deliver the goods. Their attempt at social commentary is incredibly surface level and this film’s focus on politics only creates more inherent problems with the premise. I’m willing to go with this ridiculous idea, but once they start focusing on the politics of it all, it becomes increasingly harder to accept as a reality. But even with these problems, they still can’t even deliver a decent horror film. DeMonaco is simply not a good director, failing to offer up any legitimate scares or compelling action sequences. Many of the films villains are so ridiculously over-the-top that they become comical and any of the film’s attempts at intended humor are cringeworthy at the best and borderline intolerant at the worst. Frank Grillo and Elizabeth Mitchell make for a compelling pair, but that doesn’t stop The Purge: Election Year from being another disappointment in the franchise. These films are nothing more than a great idea in search of a great movie.

The Purge: Election Year receives 1.5/4

Independence Day is one of the films responsible for defining the modern summer blockbuster. It was big, goofy and a lot fun, which ultimately cemented it as one of the best disaster movies of all time. Sequels weren’t quite as common when the film was initially released, but 20 years later, Hollywood is intent on reviving every single existing property. So audiences are treated to Independence Day: Resurgence, a completely unnecessary rehash that loses much of the charm of the original. It may not be as terrible as one would expect, but it’s ultimately forgettable and doesn’t even deliver any great disaster sequences that we’ve come to expect from director Roland Emmerich.

It’s been 20 years since an alien threat came to Earth and nearly wiped out the human race. Since defeating them, humans have taken the technologies that they brought and used them to ensure peace and develop space exploration. On the anniversary of the attack, scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) travels to Africa to investigate a leftover alien spacecraft that has mysteriously turned on its lights. This strange occurrence may have something to do with the arrival of a strange alien spacecraft on the surface of Mars. Levinson believes that this could be a different, more peaceful alien race, but President Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward) orders an attack on the extraterrestrials. But soon another spacecraft arrives, one that’s even more enormous than the ones that came before it. When the alien race begins to drill into the Earth’s core, Levinson is reunited with former president Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman). They and a trio of young military pilots (Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher and Maika Monroe) must work together to bring down the invaders.

The essential elements of the plot are almost identical to the original film: an alien race arrives on Earth and a group of diverse individuals from around the globe must figure out a way to defeat them. But this time, Emmerich and his co-writers seem to have taken the approach that bigger is better; instead of a dozens of large spaceships, this time the aliens arrive in a single vessel that’s 3,000-miles wide. It’s a logical way to raise the stakes, but nothing ever comes across as more intense or interesting. It’s just a lot of formulaic sci-fi action that would feel more at home in the late 90s than today. You could look at this as a welcome throwback to earlier blockbusters, but everything from the humor, to the look, to the set pieces feels incredibly dated. The only action sequence that really works is the climactic chase between the alien queen and a school bus full of kids. It’s certainly not amazing, but it at least feels different enough to stick in your mind.

Although 20th Century Fox would have probably loved to see the return of Will Smith to the sequel, they were unable to drum up the $50 million paycheck that he required. Luckily, we are treated to the return of Goldblum, Pullman and Judd Hirsch, among several others. Maybe it’s because they were introduced in the previous film, but these three actors portray the only characters worth caring about. The film introduces a younger generation of characters and while Hemsworth, Usher and Monroe give fine performances, their characters are paper-thin and generally uninteresting. The younger cast ultimately serves as an apt metaphor for Independence Day: Resurgence; it may have a massive budget and epic scale, but it doesn’t even come close to matching the fun experience of the original.

Independence Day: resurgence receives 2/4

It seems like most people seem to have taken a pretty negative stance on this iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I remember watching the trailer for the sequel in a crowded theater and hearing several audience members groan in annoyance. Part of this probably has something to do with Michael Bay’s involvement as a producer. While you can definitely feel his touch on the finished product, I actually enjoyed 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles more than I thought I would. So I was cautiously looking forward to its sequel and I’m pleased to say that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is even better than its predecessor. This is certainly not high art, but it’s a summer blockbuster that understands its audience and never oversteps its bounds. Add in some decent humor and a few cool action set pieces and you’ve got a pretty fun time at the movies.

After saving the world from total destruction one year ago, our favorite turtles have remained out of the public’s eye. Aside from a select few, no one knows of their existence. Having made a deal with the turtles, Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) has taken credit for saving the city. But when a police transport of the villain Shredder (Brian Tee) goes wrong, the turtles must spring back into action and prevent him from following the orders of the evil mastermind Krang (Brad Garrett). The turtles have the help of April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), but Shredder has an army of his own, including the Foot Clan and a pair of dimwitted criminals, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus).

Directed by Dave Green, the film relies heavily on CGI and while this can often be seen as a negative in modern filmmaking, it actually works surprisingly well here. This is a franchise that doesn’t need to strive for realism and it’s a good thing that Green treats the material like a live-action cartoon. Because so much of the film is CGI, it usually doesn’t feel out of place either; the turtles and their villains might not look real, but fit perfectly alongside one another. And these visual effects allow the filmmakers to attempt some over-the-top action sequences that couldn’t be done in a more grounded action movie. Shredder’s escape from police custody is a lot of fun to watch, as is an awesome sequence that showcases the turtles jumping out of a plane and onto another. It’s only in the third act and the climactic battle against Krang where the action begins to grow stale.

It seems that lately, some blockbusters have tried to take themselves too seriously. There aren’t many live-action, big-budget action movies aimed solely at kids, so this one definitely stands out from the pack. I must be clear: this is far from a good film. It’s immature, forgettable and sloppy, but it does have a nice sense of humor and an overall feeling of fun that carries throughout most of the film’s runtime. Sometimes it’s refreshing to watch a movie that knows exactly what it is and achieves what it sets out to do. Grab some popcorn, candy and a large beverage of your choice. This is some enjoyable dumb summer entertainment.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows receives 2.5/4

A lot of horror films aren’t great, so it’s even more rare to find a horror sequel that gets the job done. The Conjuring was a huge hit back in the summer of 2013, scaring the pants off of critics and making over $300 million worldwide in the process. A sequel to this supernatural shocker was only inevitable, but no one expected it to be almost as good as the original. Returning to the director’s chair is James Wan, who has essentially become a horror juggernaut, making franchises out of Saw, Insidious and now The Conjuring. While most of the sequels to his hit films have been misfires – including the dreadful Conjuring spinoff AnnabelleThe Conjuring 2 is the rare horror sequel that works. Utilizing effective jump scares and frightening imagery, it’s a legitimately scary horror film that’s perfect to see with a crowd.

Six years after their investigation into the haunting of the Perron family, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) continue investigating the paranormal. Having just looked into the haunting of Amityville, there are still many skeptics who don’t believe the claims made by the Warrens. But that might all change when Ed and Lorraine travel to England to help a mother (Frances O’Connor) whose home is being terrorized by an otherworldly force that’s formed an attachment to her daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe). The evidence that this is a real haunting seems strong, but the church wants the Warrens to dig a little deeper to ensure that this isn’t a hoax. What they discover is one of their most terrifying and dangerous cases yet.

The biggest problem with The Conjuring 2 – and really the film’s only major misstep – is that it’s way too long. Unless you’re making an epic horror film like The Shining or The Exorcist, every director should try to generally keep their horror films less than two hours. The Conjuring 2 clocks in at an egregious two hours and fourteen minutes, which is over twenty minutes longer than its predecessor. A large chunk of these extra minutes are devoted to developing the characters of Ed and Lorraine Warren and while that’s fine in theory, a lot of their individual scenes should have ended up on the cutting room floor. Not only does this cause the film to overstay its welcome, it also severely disrupts the flow of the movie. There’s at least one large segment of the film without any legitimate scares and this means that the sequel is unable to match the near-continuous dread of its predecessor.

But if this film had been shorter and tighter, there’s a chance that it could have ended up better than the original. There are some really great scares here that are both subtly scary and in-your-face obvious. One of the best scenes in the movie involves a painting depicting a demon nun. Lorraine Warren chases a spirit into a dark room and finds a painting of the being hanging on the wall. In the darkness, the painting looks like it could be real, but Wan ensures that the audience is never certain. It’s a great scene of anticipation; we know the scare is coming, but we don’t know when. Scenes like this one show how Wan is so great at manipulating an audience for maximum effect. He toys with our anticipation and knowledge of horror films, thus playing the audience like a frightened fiddle.

There are also some quieter scares in the film that work like gangbusters. The aforementioned nun is incredibly discomforting and its appearance at the end of a long hallway is easily the scariest image in the film. If anything is going to frighten you once the movie is over, it’s this. But another great scene occurs when the Warrens are attempting to discover if Janet is really being haunted. Janet tells them that the old man who is haunting her will only appear if everyone in the room turns their backs to her. They comply and while the camera is focused on Ed Warren, a sinister presence slowly begins to transform in Janet’s place. It’s a creepy effect that isn’t initially obvious, but it’s definitely one of the most unique scenes in the film.

Not every scare is quite as effective and one of the monsters feels strangely reminiscent of 2014’s The Babadook, but this is definitely a notch above most modern horror flicks. Wan doesn’t make raw, visceral horror films, choosing instead to treat his material like an amusement park ride. It provides some great thrills while you’re in the moment, but it certainly isn’t likely to keep you awake at night. Unlike this year’s brilliant The Witch, which some people may find uncomfortable or unnecessarily slow, The Conjuring 2 is a horror film that pretty much everyone can enjoy.

The Conjuring 2 receives 3/4

This year’s already seen the release of three major superhero films and it’s hard not to get burnt out on their familiar tricks. But the release of the year’s fourth big budget superhero movie – X-Men: Apocalypse – proves that the genre still has some life in it. The X-Men franchise has always been a step above most other comic book franchises and that’s mostly because of their choice in cast and directors. This may not be the best film in the franchise (that title still belongs to 2014’s excellent X-Men: Days of Future Past) but this is still a great film filled with awesome visuals, great characters and memorable action. It’s easily the year’s best blockbuster so far and the best superhero movie to come along since its predecessor.

Thousands of years ago, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) rose to power as the world’s first mutant. He had the ability to transfer into different bodies whenever he wanted and this allowed him to absorb numerous powers from other mutants. But he was eventually buried at the base of a great pyramid and he stayed that way until 1983. When he once again awakens, he sets out to purge the world of any non-mutants by recruiting four followers that he imbues with great power: Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). As Apocalypse begins to cause mayhem and destruction around the world, it’s going to take Professor X (James McAvoy), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and a bunch of younger heroes to stop him.

It’s a fairly simple story of good versus evil and a nice change of pace from the complex themes of other entries in the franchise. A lot of the film relies on the portrayal of the villain and Apocalypse is one of the most memorable supervillains to come along in quite some time. Although he may be unrecognizable in the role, Isaac’s performance is perfectly menacing and powerful, while the design of the character is memorable and kind of frightening. The fact that they achieved this look through makeup and avoided using CGI or motion capture adds such a deal of weight to the character. He really feels like a legitimate part of the X-Men world and this focus on practical effects is what makes Apocalypse so much more intimidating than other powerful supervillains that are created using digital effects (Marvel’s Thanos comes to mind). Although his character and motivations are somewhat underdeveloped, he’s still a villain that commands the screen.

Praise then must go to director Bryan Singer, who continues to prove that his entries are easily the best in this franchise. It’s actually pretty crazy that he’s able to balance so many different characters, all of whom are given their moments to shine. The story and structure is admittedly a little all over the place, but it never feels confusing or bloated, even with a nearly two and a half hour runtime. The X-Men films simply feel more grand and cinematic than the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the majority of this is in the hands of the director. It also doesn’t hurt things that Apocalypse is a really dark film, more so than most people would be expecting. Children are killed, men get their heads lopped off by Apocalypse and, in one stunning sequence, Magneto even tears apart Auschwitz in a fit of rage. It’s safe to say that you may want to think twice before bringing your kids to this one.

Another reason why this movie might not interest children is its general lack of action. Some fanboys might be disappointed by this, but I found the focus on characters and story, rather than action and explosions, to be refreshing. But the action that is here is still very well done and much more memorable than in any other superhero film so far this year. The final extended action sequence is commendable in how all of the characters are able to work together and really feel like a team. Singer’s able to make the action easy to follow and the final thirty minutes of this film are much better than the airport fight scene in Captain America: Civil War that everyone seemed to be raving about. But the best action in the movie once again comes from Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who uses his speed to rescue an entire school from an explosion. Set to the tune of “Sweet Dream” by Eurythmics, it’s funny, visually interesting and a heck of a lot of fun. The scene may be a retread of his standout sequence in Days of Future Past, but it’s a retread that I had a blast with.

This franchise has always featured a great cast and Apocalypse is no exception. McAvoy continues to grow into the role of Professor X, delivering a performance that fits right alongside Patrick Stewart’s, while never feeling like a simple impression. Fassbender’s Magneto is put through the emotional ringer in this thing and he delivers what might be his best performance in the trilogy as a result. Lawrence once again does a fine job with the role of Mystique, but her portrayal is nowhere near as good as Rebecca Romijn’s in the original trilogy. Newcomers to the team include Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as Cyclops and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler. Out of the newcomers, Smit-McPhee is probably the best, although there’s something to be said about Turner’s ability to portray such a complex character.

Whereas the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes superhero movies, the X-Men franchise features films that just happen to be about superheroes. They’re superior in almost every way including visuals, story, score, performances and direction. Singer has great control over the material and his direction is so strong that it will make you wish he could direct every superhero film from now into the foreseeable future. As a fan of superheroes, these last couple years had me losing faith that this genre could wow me again. But, luckily, X-Men: Apocalypse is the superhero movie we’ve been waiting for.

X-Men: Apocalypse receives 3.5/4

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was a perfect film for Disney. Not in terms of quality – it was actually very forgettable – but in terms of money. Not only did it make over a billion dollars worldwide, but it also set the trend for creating live action versions of classic Disney tales. But that film premiered right after Avatar blew everyone away with its 3D and the marketing for Alice in Wonderland capitalized on the popularity of this viewing experience. Now arriving a long six years after its predecessor, Alice Through the Looking Glass can’t rely on its 3D gimmick to succeed. But instead of trying to recapture the magic of Wonderland that was missing the first time around, the creative minds behind this film have produced something even more bland and uninteresting. It’s completely mediocre in almost every regard and it’s guaranteed to be forgotten not long after leaving the theater.

It’s been years since Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has visited her friends in Wonderland. Out in the real world, she’s become the captain of a ship and has just returned home from a voyage around the world. Upon her arrival she discovers that her former fiancé Hamish (Leo Bill) now runs her father’s company and is forcing Alice to sell her ship in order to save her mother’s (Lindsay Duncan) house. But soon Alice is once again transported to the world of Wonderland, where she is reunited with many of her fantastic friends. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is the only friend who isn’t happy to see her. Having previously thought that his family was killed by the Jabberwocky, the Hatter now has reason to believe that they are actually alive. As the Hatter’s health deteriorates, Alice decides that she must go back in time to find out what happened to his family. But to do so, she must confront the sinister being of Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen).

Director James Bobin has proven that he can be both clever and creative with the two latest Muppet movies, but here his creativity is completely stifled. There’s hardly anything to praise in the film, but there’s also not a lot to be critical of. It’s as if this was made by a machine that knows how to competently piece together a CGI-heavy movie, but has no rational thought into what would actually make a good film. The unique possibilities of Wonderland are endless, but Bobin doesn’t provide us with any interesting new set pieces or characters. Sure it’s fun to see Depp, Wasikowska and Helena Bonham Carter in these roles again, but that’s just not enough. Perhaps the screenplay by Linda Woolverton should have tried to be weird and different, instead of being predictably heartwarming. But ultimately, it’s the lack of imagination from everyone involved that makes the film so dull.

Alice Through the Looking Glass receives 2/4

In my review of the original Neighbors, I commented that although I loved how the characters and themes were handled in the film, there were simply too many big comedic moments that fell flat. It was overly raunchy and didn’t deliver enough laughs as one would have expected. Having recently rewatched that film, I can admit that I was probably a little too harsh on it. I still certainly wish that it was funnier, but it’s got a great premise and is incredibly well-directed by Nicholas Stoller. He once again returns to direct Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, a film that’s admittedly a step down from the original, but still a notch above most modern comedies. It’s rare that a comedy sequel ends up being a success and while that label might be a little too generous for this film, it’s certainly not a failure.

Several years after the rivalry of the first film, Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) discovers that she is pregnant with her second child, so she and her husband Mac (Seth Rogen) decide to finally sell their home. After purchasing an idyllic new house, they discover that their old house is in escrow for thirty days, meaning the couple that purchased it can back out at any point over the next month. This disappointing news becomes horrible once they discover that a young sorority has moved in next door. The couple tries to reason with Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), the group’s leader, but they soon learn that the sole purpose of this sorority is to throw parties outside of the frats. Things begin to get wild next-door and it’s only heightened by the arrival of Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), who vows to help this new sorority out.

Neighbors worked as a film about two different groups of people who were afraid of growing older. Mac and Kelly were afraid of the commitment that being new parents would bring, so they chose to distract themselves from this responsibility by focusing on the war with Teddy. Teddy also didn’t want to grow older; about to graduate from college, he saw some of himself in the young couple, so his battle with them was a desperate attempt to hold onto his youth.

The main theme in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising doesn’t work quite as well, but it’s arguably more important. Shelby starts her own sorority to rebel against the sexism that is present in college Greek life. It’s pretty crazy to think that even today sororities can’t throw parties while fraternities can and the film ably skewers this lack of equality. Stoller and his cowriters also showcase the sexism that is inherent in frat parties, which often exists for the sole purpose of bringing in women for the brothers. It works as a progressive message and elevates the film above your typical comedy that features crude jokes about sex and drugs. The only downside is that this message doesn’t really affect Mac and Kelly at all. Whereas the first film showed parallels between the college kids and the parents, there isn’t much of a connection between the two in the sequel.

The humor here is sporadically successful, providing just enough laughs to satisfy moviegoers. A set piece taking place at a college football tailgate is easily one of the film’s highlights and Ike Barinholtz dressing up as a scary clown to casually blend in is easily the highlight of the sequence. Rogen and Byrne are still great together, with Byrne generating so many laughs based solely on her performance that it’s a wonder why more people don’t consider her one of the funniest screen comediennes of this generation. But just like the original film, the humor in this sequel sometimes goes too far, confusing raunchiness for genuine humor. A scene centered around vomit that opens the film is actually funny, but moments involving bloody tampons and a woman going into labor are not.

But even if some of the themes and the humor are shaky, it’s ultimately Stoller who brings everything together into a worthwhile experience. There are very few directors working today that are better at handling comedy than he is. Compared to other entries in this genre, the film is visually excellent and Stoller does a fantastic job editing together montages and extended comedic sequences. Even something as simple as Rogen’s character searching through different garbage bags feels fresh and exciting under his direction. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is the rare comedy sequel that’s actually worth checking out.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising receives 2.5/4

Making people laugh isn’t easy, so you have to give props to any comedy that can generate big belly laughs. It usually takes a combination of comedic performances, clever writing, steady direction and focused editing to make audience laugh throughout a film’s entire runtime. Shane Black’s The Nice Guys is a great example of how all these elements can come together to form a stellar comedy. A buddy cop noir set in the groovy 1970s, it’s a great showcase for Black’s cool style and two great performances from Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. It may not be about superheroes or dinosaurs, but this is one movie that you definitely do not want to miss this summer.

The year is 1977. Jackson Healy (Crowe)is a tough enforcer who will take any job that comes his way, while Holland March (Gosling) is a bumbling private investigator who can only seem to get hired by lonely old women. When March is hired by a woman to find her missing niece (Margaret Qualley), the two men are put on a collision course with each other. And while their initial meeting ends with a disagreement (as well as some broken bones), these “nice guys” end up working together to find this young woman and protect her from a group of men who seem to be killing everyone in their path. Their investigation exposes corruption and conspiracy at some of the highest levels of power, but they’ll need to figure out how to work together without killing one another if they want to solve the case.

First and foremost, The Nice Guys is a comedy and in that regard, it’s a huge success. Funny from its opening minutes all the way to its final scene, the film’s humor hardly ever misses a beat. Whether it’s the broad humor of dumping a body over a cliff and onto a dinner table, clever one-liners or even some of the more bizarre moments, practically every joke sticks the landing. No doubt Shane Black had a big part in this, but the film wouldn’t have been nearly as funny if it wasn’t for his two lead performances. Crowe is excellent in the role, delivering one of his most natural performances in years. He may not get the most laughs, but he’s the perfect foil to Gosling’s high-strung character. After having focused on overly serious roles for the last few years, it’s great to see Gosling let his comedic chops fly. He’s truly hilarious in the film and he’s responsible for the majority of the film’s big laughs. Whether it’s him cutting his hand while breaking into a building or trying to scream after finding a corpse, Gosling elevates every joke that he’s attached to.

Recreating a noir in its feeling, location and story, Black’s third feature is intentionally hard to follow, filled with so many characters and twists that it practically begs for repeat viewings. This is perfectly fine because The Nice Guys is such a good time that you’ll want to see it again regardless. Crowe and Gosling are so great together that a sequel actually seems like a great idea. It would be great to revisit this strange and hilarious world of the 1970s with two actors who I could watch work together all day. They’re like sugar and spice and The Nice Guys is everything nice.

The Nice Guys receives 3.5/4