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New Releases for Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Genre: Comedy/Sequel

Directed by: Nicholas Stoller

Run time: 92 minutes

Rating: R

Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: It’s hard to make a funny movie.

Humor is so subjective that sometimes what one person finds funny, the rest of the audience may not.

It’s even more difficult to make a sequel to a comedy that is just as funny, if not more so. If you don’t believe me, you only need to check out “The Hangover Part II” or “The Hangover Part III” for rock-solid evidence of my claim.

The 2014 surprise hit “Neighbors” is a perfect example of how the stars sometimes align to produce comedic gold. Director Nicholas Stoller and stars Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron created one of the most original and consistently hilarious films in recent memory, perfectly playing off of a number of iconic themes – parenthood, aging, nostalgia and crude potty humor.

A film like “Neighbors,” much like the classic comedies of the late 1970s and 1980s – “Stripes,” “Animal House,” “The Blues Brothers” – didn’t necessarily need a sequel. It existed in its own cinematic world where it could be appreciated and revered for years to come.

When a sequel was announced, following its impressive $150-million-plus domestic gross, the initial fear was for the easy cash grab, a la “The Hangover” franchise, which saw director Todd Phillips and his stars essentially make the same movie with diminishing results for two subpar sequels that were low on laughs and mired in convoluted clichés.

But sometimes you can catch lightning in a bottle twice, and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is proof of that rare phenomenon.

In many ways, Neighbors 2 is a better movie than the original. It’s certainly just as funny (although I would argue funnier) and it’s definitely smarter.

It’s not surprising to see that pretty much everyone returned for this second helping, but what should immediately make you take notice is how thoughtful and fleshed out these familiar characters have become.

Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Byrne) still live in the home they successfully defended from Teddy Sanders’ (Efron) fraternity threat. They are about to welcome a new addition to the family and it’s time to look for a bigger house.

Teddy hasn’t moved on though, in part because his record has been marred by the criminal charges he accumulated in the first film, thanks to the Radner’s. He still lives with his best bud, Pete (the wonderfully understated Dave Franco), who has recently come out as gay and is preparing to marry his longtime partner. Pete wants Teddy to move out and find a career and start living a grown-up life, but Teddy doesn’t know how. All he wants is to feel loved and appreciated. For him, the term ‘brother’ is more than just fraternity speak. It’s for life.

Enter Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), a new student on the local campus, who discovers during sorority rush week that her hard-partying, weed-smoking aspirations aren’t acceptable for a traditional sorority girl. That kind of hedonistic behavior is best reserved for the boys, she’s told.

Shelby and two other disenfranchised pledges, Beth and Nora, decide to form their own sorority, Kappa Nu, which will be dedicated solely to out-partying every other Greek organization and showing that girls can throw down just as hard as boys, if not more so.

The girls eventually meet cute with Teddy, who suddenly finds a new purpose. And he sets his sights on revenge by once-again proving to be a thorn in the Radner’s plans when he re-opens his former next-door fraternity house to allow the girls a place to stage epic parties.

Unlike a recent spate of movies designed to let women be as bawdy as men – “Bad Moms,” “How to be Single” and “Bachelorette” – the sorority revolution led by Shelby deftly proves that women can party just as hard but they also can learn some valuable lessons about friendship, solidarity and intelligently bucking the status quo.

It’s an empowering message that’s played for laughs but also knows when to make its point.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is proof that funny can transcend traditional expectations. It should have been a bigger summer hit than it was, but this is the type of movie that you likely will be watching and sharing and repeat viewing for a long time to come.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.

Nudity – Brief. Gore – No.

Drug use – Gratuitous.

Bad Guys/Killers – There’s no bad guy here. Everybody just wants to party, man.

Buy/Rent – Buy it.

Dead-end Drive-in (Arrow Video, 92 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Dead-end Drive-in, the 1986 Ozploitation cult classic from Australia, is a strange little slice of cinema.

Set in a dystopian future (at the time, the late 1980s/early 1990s) where young people roam lawless around city streets and drive-in movie theaters are converted to internment camps, playing to the hedonistic desires of youth, director Brian Trenchard-Smith doesn’t really infuse his film with the traditional building blocks of genre film.

There’s no true bad guy other than the faceless, nameless government. There’s no real threat to the two leads, Crabs (Ned Manning) and his smoking hot girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry), other than the theft of two tires from Crabs’ prized hot-rod, which strands them at the drive-in.

The entire film plays like a sociopolitical middle finger to government oppression and a subversive wakeup call about the apathy of youth to either disregard constraints placed on them without reason or rail against the wrong targets of their collective rage.

Still, it’s a fun blast of nostalgia populated with the music and fashion of the early-80s punk and new-wave aesthetic.

Also Available:

Free State of Jones

Bill & Ted’s Most Excellent Collection

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Blue Bloods: The Sixth Season

Gunsmoke: The Twelfth Season – Volumes One and Two

Twin Peaks: The Original Series, Firewalk with Me & The Missing Pieces

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders – The First Season

The Good Wife – The Final Season

Modern Family – Season 7

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