Movie Review: This is the End (2013)

September 29, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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While I’m not the biggest fan of Seth Rogen, I was really looking forward to This is the End,  an apocalypse movie featuring a bunch of comedic actors as parodied versions of themselves. The list of celebrities in the film is long — the leads include Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride, with cameos from the likes of Emma Watson, Michael Cera, Rihanna, Paul Rudd, Kevin Hart, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Krumholtz, Channing Tatum and Aziz Ansari. The film has received mixed reviews, and I can see why. It’s undoubtedly a good time and funny, albeit a little too hit-and-miss, and could have and probably should have been a lot funnier.

The central character of the whole thing is actually Jay Baruchel (She’s Out of My League, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and How to Train Your Dragon), who arrives in LA to catch up with his buddy Seth Rogen as they head off to a house party at James Franco’s house attended by all the above stars. Midway through the party the biblical End of Days (as depicted in the Arnie movie of the same name) descends upon them and the surviving celebs must find a way to deal with the terrifying aftermath, one that involves demonic monsters and possession.

It’s such an obvious idea, but as you can imagine, it’s also brimming with potential for laughs. I imagine the writers, Rogen and buddy Evan Goldberg, were likely stoned when they wrote this loose script, and it shows. There isn’t much of a plot, and the majority of the movie involves moronic, childish and sexually explicit banter and one-liners from the cast that serve to lampoon themselves.

Each of the actors plays a version of their real-life persona, one that corresponds with the public perception of them. Rogen, for example, is the same goofball you see in all his films, while McBride is the obnoxious slacker he portrayed in Your Highness. James Franco is interesting as a pretentious, sexually ambiguous nerd, though the funniest (and also most obvious) one is Michael Cera, whose has played this over-the-top douchebag version of himself so many times now that it has to make you wonder…

With so many comedians given free rein to show what they can do, you can expect at least some laughs, though how funny you find This is the End will likely depend on how much you like the particular brand of comedy of the six lead characters — ie, loud, profane, occasionally sharp, random, politically incorrect stoner comedy. I’ve always found this type of comedy a bit of a mixed bag. For instance, I really enjoyed Pineapple Express but hated Your Highness and thought films like Superbad and Knocked Up were overrated. I would place this film near the higher end the spectrum, mainly because no particular actor dominates and it was fun watching them play off each other. A couple of clever ideas had me laughing out loud pretty hard.

That said, I think it could have been funnier — perhaps with more scripted jokes, or less, or more editing to refine the material down to just the best parts. There were just too many jokes wasted for missing the mark or being too obvious.

Still, This is the End has enough quality stuff packed into it to make it one of the more memorable comedies of the year. Strangely, even though the story becomes more farcical as it progressed, it did not feel as though there was a mismatch with the “reality” TV style of comedy they were trying to make. That probably says more about reality TV than it does about this film.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: Excellent ending sequence, so stick around for the surprise.

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 7)

December 9, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I think we’re slowly getting there, but there are still a few more installments to come in what feels like a never-ending movie blitz.

Melancholia (2011)

Lars von Trier makes some strange films, and Melancholia is one of them. To be honest, had I watched this film a few years ago I would have categorised it as another contrived arty farty film that bores with pretentious pretty images and little substance, but I guess as I get older I am starting to appreciate these kind of things better.

I’m not sure if this is a spoiler but Melancholia is actually an apocalypse movie. Well, it’s actually a family drama disguised as an apocalypse movie, so don’t expect to see any asteroids or Bruce Willis blowing stuff up. The first half is set at Kirsten Dunst and Alexander Skarsgard’s dysfunctional wedding, where a lot of melodrama happens, and the second half is about the aftermath and how they deal with their impending doom.

I’ll admit, there is some interesting stuff here. The film is lovely to look at and full of, um, melancholy, as the title suggests, and Kirsten Dunst has arguably never been better as the depressed bride. But it’s not really my type of movie, and there is a lotta fluff. I mean, can we really say it’s not gratuitous to have a naked Kirsten Dunst laying on the grass under the moonlight? Not that I’m complaining, but still.

3 out of 5

One Day (2011)

One depressing film to the next. One Day is based on the book of the same title by David Nicholls and focuses on the relationship between Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess, not the serial killer), following them every day on July 15 from 1988 to 2011.

That sounds like an interesting idea for a novel but a potentially and brutally boring one for a movie if handled poorly. Fortunately, Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education) has enough tricks up her sleeve to keep the film compelling enough to keep me intrigued for the majority of its 108-minute running time. The dialogue is crisp and the chemistry between the two leads, powered by strong performances, feels genuine, although Hathway’s accent has apparently been criticised for its inconsistency.

On the other hand, there is the unavoidable monotony of the film’s structure and the occasionally strained melodrama that is more infuriating than romantic. I have to admit that the ending got to me, which was surprising because I didn’t really believe I cared about the characters until then.

3.25 stars out of 5

The Whistleblower (2011)

The Whistleblower tells the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz), a US police officer who goes to post-war Bosnia to work for a security company under the UN where she discovers a shocking human trafficking ring. When she tries to lift the lid on the crimes she finds herself being stifled by the UN at every turn because it does not want to lose its lucrative security contracts.

I was really captivated by this powerful film from start to finish, although I suspect it was more the harrowing subject matter than anything else. It’s revolting what some people would do to make a buck and watching officials perpetrate abuse against the very people they were paid to protect is deeply disturbing.

This bleak but inspiring film is driven by a super performance from Rachel Weisz, even if she is far too pretty to play the role. In many ways, it’s a typical woman-against-the-system type of movie, but I found it surprisingly effective due to the sense of paranoia and frustration created by debut Canadian director Larysa Kondracki. I’d definitely recommend catching this on DVD if you haven’t already.

4 stars out of 5

50/50 (2011)

Seth Rogen movies are often hit and miss for me, but 50/50 might very well be the best Seth Rogen movie ever because he’s only a supporting character. Thankfully, 50/50 is dominated by the wonderful Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who continues to demonstrate his range as Adam, a 27-year-old who finds out that he has cancer. The film is based on the real-life experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser and is directed by Jonathan Levine, who has done a bunch of films I’ve never heard of people.

I’m not ordinarily a fan of comedy dramas, or dramedies, as they are known, because they tend to be stuck painfully in the middle by being neither truly funny nor dramatic. But if they’re all like 50/50 then maybe I would have loved them from the beginning.

This is a real eye-opener and crowd-pleaser that manages to be both genuinely funny and moving. How people deal with cancer is an interesting area that is seldom attempted in cinema, let alone a young man who has his entire life ahead of him, with all those hopes and dreams waiting to be fulfilled. You would think it’s destined to be a bleak film or a disturbing black comedy, but 50/50 reflects life and all its amusing complications and contradictions far better than anyone could have expected.

Perhaps the film works so well is because it contains jokes that worked in reality. I know the fact it’s a true story is likely to be the reason why Rogen shines as Adam’s best friend, because he played the same role in real life to Reiser. He essentially plays himself, generally insensitive, crass and vulgar, but shows flashes of humanity and decency when he needs to. He’s funny in doses but doesn’t annoy, which is when he’s at his best. Rogen should consider retiring right here because it’s unlikely he’ll ever top this performance.

This is a thought-provoking, sweet and touching film that’s as good as any comedy or drama I’ve seen this year.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Paul (2011)

June 21, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I like comedies and I’m fascinated by aliens, so Paul, the new sci-fi comedy written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of Shaun of the Dead fame) seemed right up my alley.  In short, Paul is pretty good, but nothing special.

Paul is about two English comic book nerds and buddies, Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost), who travel across the Atlantic to attend Comic-Con and to take a trip in their RV across the country to visit alleged alien hotspots.  Of course, they run into the titular character, voiced by Seth Rogen, who is unlike all the stereotypes we have come to expect, and that kick starts off a series of wild and wacky adventures.

For me, there were lots of moments where I went, ‘That’s very clever’ and had a giggle or two, but the laugh-out-loud moments were rarer than expected (though, to be fair, there were a couple of ripper gems).  That made it slightly disappointing as I thought the potential for better laughs was definitely there.

My favourite thing about Paul is the Arrested Development connections.  The film is directed by Greg Mottola, who did a few AD episodes back in the day before going on to direct Superbad and Adventureland.  Jason Bateman plays the mysterious Agent Zoil, and there’s also Jeffrey Tambor as a sci-fi writer and Jane Lynch as a themed cafe owner.  They are all brilliant.  I won’t spoil any more than that except to mention that the film also features the likes of Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), Bill Hader (Adventureland) and John Carroll Lynch (my favourite husband from Fargo), plus a few truly awesome cameos.

Ultimately, Paul is what it is.  A few flashes of comedic brilliance, some clever lines, surprisingly wonderful cameos and references — super fun but not exactly super funny.  I’d call it an amusing film with a dash of geeky charm, for the most part an enjoyable chuckler as opposed to a laugh-out-loud kind of movie.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Green Hornet (2011)

January 21, 2011 in Movie Reviews

The Green Hornet is the worst superhero movie I’ve seen in a long time.  Actually, let me rephrase that.  It’s a pretty decent movie about the worst superhero I’ve seen in a long time.  In fact, it’s almost an anti-superhero movie.

Before you read further, let me make it clear that I have never seen the original TV series (or read the comics or heard the radio show or watched the film serials ) that made Bruce Lee famous (other than brief snippets in Bruce Lee documentaries/films), so I have no idea whether this film was faithful to the source material.  I highly doubt that it is, but honestly, I don’t really care.  Regardless of whether the original superhero is anything like the new version, this particular Green Hornet is egotistical, moronic, basically useless — and as a result, very funny.  Some say that Rogen was ‘miscast’ as the superhero.  That’s not correct.  Seth Rogen co-wrote the script (with Evan Goldberg — Superbad, Pineapple Express), and he has essentially reshaped the Green Hornet into his own image as opposed to the other way around.  How can he be miscast if he wrote the character as himself?

So for those wondering how someone as goofy as Rogen could have ever pulled off a superhero, wonder no further — because Britt Reid (the Green Hornet’s alter ego), the wealthy slacker son of a newspaper magnate, is exactly like all of Rogen’s other characters — lazy, incompetent, but with a good heart.  For some that might be a reason not to watch this film, but for me, in an age when superheroes were taking themselves very seriously, it was refreshing to see a superhero that’s not always moody, doesn’t have any special powers or abilities, doesn’t even design or make his own gadgets, and has absolutely no desire to save the world.  Reid wants to be a superhero for the same reason we all did when we were kids — because it’s cool!

This is why The Green Hornet is unlike any superhero movie I’ve seen.  There are guns, fights and car chases (with a very cool car) but it’s predominantly a comedy (as opposed to an action film) — and it’s not a spoof or satire.  The guy who does all the work is not the hero, but his sidekick (in this case Kato, played by Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou — who is beyond huge in Asia).  The ‘love interest’, played sparingly by Cameron Diaz, has little interest in the hero.  And even the bad guy, played by acting god and Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz (from Inglourious Basterds), is a deadpanning hoot.  There’s also a very sweet cameo from one of Rogen’s ex–co stars.  It’s completely farcical and intentionally so.  I think a lot of people are looking at this film straight up and have failed to see what Rogen, Goldberg and director Michel Gondry (the guy directed Be Kind Rewind for goodness sake!) were going for.  This is essentially Pineapple Express for superheroes.  Yes, that means the film is pretty weak, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be lots of fun.

Having said all that, The Geen Hornet is not without plenty of problems.  The biggest one is that the tone and pacing are quite uneven, making the film sporadically entertaining — but it also means it occasionally suffers from sequences that don’t work.  Chou, who only started learning English recently, struggled with some of his lines, though I think he did okay — certainly no worse than say Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li or Rain when they first tried to crack Hollywood.  And of course, Rogen’s stupidity does get a little tedious towards the end, and the film loses steam in that tricky area between the second and third acts, as many films do.  And even though I watched this film in 2D, I’ve heard that the 3D effects absolutely suck.  Don’t waste your money again.

On the whole, however, I still enjoyed The Green Hornet much more than I thought I would, probably because I know nothing of the original character and don’t care.  I suppose it’s the type of film that you need to be in the right mood for, and it certainly helps if you weren’t expecting a ‘proper’ superhero film.

3.5 stars out of 5!

[Note: It's interesting to see how this film developed.  Initially the Green Hornet was supposed to be George Clooney, then Greg Kinnear, with Jason Scott Lee [who played Bruce Lee once] as Kato.  Then the role was offered to Mark Wahlberg before it went into hiatus.  Next, Jet Li was offered Kato, and then Kevin Smith was offered to write and direct, with Jake Gyllenhaal intended for the lead role.  Then in the most interesting development, Hong Kong comedy star Stephen Chow came onboard to direct and star as Kato, before dropping out of both commitments.  Nicholas Cage was offered the role of the villain that Christoph Waltz eventually took.  Each of these configurations would have created a completely different film, but this is what we ended up with!]

Movie Review: Funny People (2009)

September 7, 2009 in Movie Reviews

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Judd Apatow is a name that gets thrown around a lot these days when it comes to comedies (as writer and producer), but in reality, there have only been three films where he has been the director – The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and his latest, Funny People, starring his former flatmate Adam Sandler and a mid-weight-loss Seth Rogen (I believe he’s lost more since).

Very loosely based on some of Apatow’s experiences as a struggling comedian, Funny People is about stand-up comedians and, basically, their lives, from those battling at the bottom, to those living it up at the top.  I don’t want to reveal much more than that.  If you haven’t seen the previews, then good for you, because as usual, it reveals some of the best parts and spoils the surprises.

You hear the names Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, and you may be thinking ultra-hilarious, stupid, vulgar comedy, but Funny People is more accurately classified as a drama-comedy.  Put it this way – it’s more Spanglish and Punch Drunk Love than Happy Gilmore and Pineapple Express.  That said, the film has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, often coming from unsuspecting cameos, of which there are many.  The film did a splendid job of combining people acting as other characters and people playing themselves (or at least public versions of themselves).  Things such as fictional movies and movie posters (some just in the background) mixed in with real-life archive footage added an extra layer of comedic complexity to the film.

The stand-up routines were also apparently written by the actors themselves, performed and shot in front of live audiences and then edited for the movie.  I suspect there must have quite a bit of improvisation too.  It makes me wonder how many of the actual lines were ad-libbed, because some sounded too spontaneously brilliant to have been scripted.

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However, it is the dramatic elements of Funny People that set it apart from Apatow’s earlier films.  There are some pretty emotional scenes in there, and I was surprised how well Apatow pulled them off.  Not all of them scenes may have worked, but enough did to make Funny People an engaging drama as well as a clever adult comedy.

As for the cast, Apatow employs the usual suspects to support Sandler and Rogen – Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Leslie Mann (his wife in real life) and even  his two daughters Maude and Iris Apatow.  The addition that may seem out of the blue to some is of course Eric Bana, who demonstrates his comedic talents to the world (outside of Australia) for the first time.  To fellow Aussies, his hilarity comes as no surprise (as he was a comedian before he turned serious), but I think those who only know him from Hulk and Troy are going to be pleasantly surprised.  Oh, and I must say, I usually find Jonah Hill rather irritating, but he’s actually funny here.  Jason Schwartzman was excellent too.  I knew Adam Sandler was capable of being a great dramatic actor, but was pleasantly surprised by Seth Rogen.  He was very very good.

My main complaint with Funny People is its running time, which at 136 minutes is far too long, even for a drama-comedy.  The ending was also a bit ‘meh’.  Nevertheless, overall this is still a quality film, definitely worth your time.

4 stars out of 5!

 
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