Reel Critics: Rogen grows up? Well, sort of

Seth Rogen built a career in movies out of his pot-smoking, immature slacker persona. Irresponsible behavior, bad language and sexual shenanigans are always present in his films. But the lowbrow comedy is often made palatable by his likable, shaggy-dog demeanor.

In "Neighbors," Rogen finally plays a husband and father trying to be a responsible adult. His wife is played with perfect pitch by Rose Byrne of "Bridesmaids" fame. Together they live in the sleep-deprived world of young working parents raising an infant child.

Their stress is made infinitely worse when the house next door is rented by a college fraternity. The frat house is full of hard-partying bad boys bent on reckless conduct all night long. Unable to cope, the married couple calls the cops.

The resulting war with the frat boys escalates into a modern-day version of "Animal House" on steroids and psychedelic drugs. The string of crazy escalating pranks are at times funny. But most are too stupid and childish to generate real laughter. Rest assured that whether the jokes work or not, they remain rude, crude and lewd to the bitter end.

—John Depko


'Belle' encounters true-life beast

A beautiful little girl is brought to a lush country estate by her father to live with his uncle. Her name is Dido Elizabeth Belle, and her mother has just died. Dido's mother was a slave, her father a handsome Royal Navy admiral. The year is 1769.

At first, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson) are not sure how to explain Dido's presence in their privileged household — perhaps to introduce her as a companion to their other niece Elizabeth. But Dido is a blood relative, and thus is raised as an equal — of sorts.

Based on a true story, "Belle" is sumptuously filmed and gently mannered. Fans of romantic period dramas will love it, but it also has a backdrop of an actual fraud case in British judicial history involving a slave ship. Lord Mansfield, as chief magistrate, made the final ruling on the case, and the film would have us believe that it's his devotion to Dido that influenced the future of British slave trading.

Newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw makes a stunning debut as Dido, and the camera loves her face. She transforms a lightweight romantic piece into a story with a social conscience. Wilkinson, as Lord Mansfield, grounds the film with thoughtful sensibilities.

What I found interesting about "Belle" is how, back in the day, most women were considered a commodity, whether as chattel or marriage material for a man of property — providing they had a dowry. It would seem that a girl could be as much enslaved by poverty and spinsterhood as by the color of her skin.

—Susanne Perez

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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