Movie Review: This Is the End [2013]

This Is the End [2013]

This Is the End [2013]
Directors: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
Screenplay: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
Genre: Action/Comedy
Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride
Running Time: 107 minutes

“Something totally not chill happened last night.”

This Is the End is the type of comedy that has something for everyone. Its cast is a veritable who’s who of today’s most popular comedians (all of whom are playing themselves), there are a number of hilarious cameo appearances and, of course, seemingly endless raunchy jokes. Oh, and it’s an apocalyptic flick that isn’t afraid to show its fair share of gore.

When Jay Baruchel arrives in Los Angeles, he’s expecting a weekend of sitting around, getting high and playing video games with his old friend, Seth Rogen. However, Baruchel is reluctantly dragged to a housewarming party held by James Franco where a large number of Rogen’s other, “new” friends are hanging out. Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera and Emma Watson are among the attendees, but Baruchel doesn’t really know any of them. Feeling left out, Jay asks Seth to take a walk with him to the convenience store for cigarettes.

It’s here where the apocalypse hits. Hellfire and brimstone.

This is the End [2013]

The two of them quickly head back to the party where everyone is seemingly oblivious to the end of the world happening outside. A massive sinkhole then erupts outside of Franco’s “fortress”, wiping out most of the partygoers.

Eventually just Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, Robinson, Hill and an unexpected Danny McBride are left inside the house. The six of them band together in an attempt to survive the apocalypse.

As expected with a houseful of comedians, hilarity ensues.

This Is the End [2013]

This is easily one of the funniest movies I have seen in a while, and a lot of that goes to how willing these celebrities are to make fun of themselves. There is *a lot* of self-deprecating humor here, as everything from Rogen’s acting skills to Franco’s sexuality are the recipients of harsh — but hilarious — jokes.

The cameos are even better. Michael Cera damn near steals the show in his limited screen time by blowing countless lines of coke and engaging in illicit party acts. It’s Cera as you’ve never seen him. Another brilliant cameo — one which I will not spoil — happens near the end of the film when a Pulp Fiction Gimp-like character makes an appearance. You’ll never guess who’s under the mask.

Also, this movie gets major props for getting Emma Watson to drop an F-bomb.

This Is the End [2013]

This is the End may be self-indulgent, as it revolves around Rogen (who co-directed and co-wrote this) and his friends, but damn if it isn’t funny as hell. Every character has their fair share of great lines, with everyone playing some version of their own self (though Danny McBride is near full-on Kenny Powers here).

The horror elements come in the form of painful character deaths (an impalement and a severed head are just two notable examples) as well as some rather grotesque-looking demons and other creatures of Hell. The CGI is surpisingly well-done for the latter, though the characters are crudely designed (let’s just say some are so well-endowed that Dr. Manhattan would be jealous).

All of this ties together to form the best comedy of the year so far. I haven’t laughed this hard in a theater in ages, and nearly every line had the audience in stitches. Who knew the apocalypse could be so funny?

8/10

Movie Review: Take This Waltz [2011]

Take This Waltz [2011]

Take This Waltz [2011]
Director: Sarah Polley
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby and Sarah Silverman
Runtime: 116 minutes

It has come to the point where I will see anything Michelle Williams is in. She has become one of the most consistently brilliant actresses over the last few years, and she does not disappoint in Take This Waltz, director Sarah Polley’s second feature film.

Williams stars as Margot, a happily married 28-year-old freelance writer who begins to fall for the curious artist across the street. This new love interest, Daniel (Luke Kirby), intrigues her in ways her loving husband, Lou (Seth Rogen), does not. While Lou is a caring, playful companion, Margot wonders what life would be like with someone else. Her strong attraction to the handsome Daniel begins a “waltz” of sorts — she doesn’t want to cheat on her husband, but she doesn’t want to cease seeing her neighbor as well. Ultimately, something has to give.

We are teased for much of the film’s running time. Margot and Daniel continue to push the boundaries of a platonic relationship, and we are there to witness the internal struggles of both, as well as the obliviousness of Lou. Clearly, this is not an ideal situation for any of them, but the emotions are just too powerful to control.

Take This Waltz [2011] -- Seth Rogen & Michelle Williams

During one critical scene, Margot and her sister-in-law Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) are showering completely nude with a number of other women at the local gym. Stripped of their self-consciousness, they are talking about whatever comes to mind, including relationships (naturally). One older woman bluntly states that “new things become old” — words that expertly resonate within Margot’s love triangle.

In essence, that statement is the moral of the film. Sure, the grass always looks greener on the other side, but is it worth leaving the comforting stability of the present in order to get there? Just how far is too far?

My favorite moments in the film have a key 80s song as their backdrop — “Video Killed the Radio Star.” In one powerful scene, Margot and Daniel are riding together in an amusement park ride as the song blasts over the speakers. They are having a great time, laughing, throwing their hands up in the air. Suddenly, the ride abruptly stops, as does the music. The stark reality of their inappropriate behavior hits them like a bag of bricks — they had a moment of pure bliss without any lingering thoughts of their situation, but it ended just as quickly as it began. The song is also used in a later scene to echo this sentiment.

Take This Waltz [2011]

Take This Waltz is not without faults, however. It takes a while to build momentum, and this may throw off some casual viewers. Also, a strong argument could be made for the film to end about 15 minutes earlier than it did. I was expecting the movie to end on one particularly sad note, but Polley kept it going in favor of adding a different type of resolution. In a way, everything came back around full circle. The jarring transition to the film’s “real” ending threw me off at first, and in fact, it had me question my overall rating. The more I think about it, however, the more I like it. Still, the conclusion will not appeal to everyone.

Not enough can be said about Michelle Williams’ performance here, as she is fantastic as always. Her character is eccentric and lively, and we always have a feel for her mental thought processes. Luke Kirby is also surprisingly great as the rickshaw-driving artist who is charming but with the right amount of sleaze to back it up. Furthermore, it was refreshing to see both Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman in dramatic roles, each doing well with their limited screen time.

The initial reception to Take This Waltz has been decidedly mixed, but for my money this is a moving film that feels both fresh and authentic. Those who have been in similar situations will easily feel a connection. Folks, keep an eye on Sarah Polley — she looks to have a very bright future behind the camera.

8/10

 
Take This Waltz is currently available on demand. The U.S. theatrical release is scheduled for June 29.

Movie Review: 50/50 [2011]

50/50 [2011]

50/50 [2011]
Director: Jonathan Levine
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

Cancer sucks. There’s no denying this. It’s especially devastating when the disease strikes a young person, someone who hasn’t even come close to living a full, healthy life.

This is the story of 50/50; the title, naturally, meaning the odds of beating this form of cancer.

Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 27-year-old healthy male, the type of guy who doesn’t drink or smoke, and one who regularly jogs throughout his hometown of Seattle. He works at the National Public Radio, has a long-time girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), and a devoted best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen). By all accounts, he is a normal dude who is enjoying life.

Lately he has been having lower back pain. It’s a minor hindrance at first, but the pain never goes away and starts to get worse. He goes to the doctor and hears one of the scariest words in the English language: CANCER. As in, he has a rare form of spinal cancer that has a 50/50 survival rate. Commence shock.

50/50 [2011]

Adam’s only real option is to undergo chemotherapy in an attempt to reduce the tumor. He also sees a psychologist, the very inexperienced Katie McCay (Anna Kendrick), who goes through the protocol on how to help cancer patients. In a nutshell, his world has spun upside down.

As he tells his friends and family, they all react differently. Adam’s mother (Angelica Huston) naturally panics and wants to move in with her son, but she already has her hands full with her husband (Serge Houde), who has Alzheimer’s disease. Adam’s girlfriend, Rachael, has a hard time coping with the illness and does not act in the most appropriate manner. His buddy Kyle is sympathetic, but frequently pushes him to use cancer as a way of getting laid.

It’s obviously a difficult situation for all involved. 50/50 chronicles all of this, showing equally the plights, feelings and emotions from Adam, as well as everyone in his life. This is a battle for all of them.

With such a dark subject matter, 50/50 could easily be nothing more than depressing. While the film certainly has a bleak feel to it, there are plenty of well-timed moments of humor to break up the sadness. This is largely thanks to Seth Rogen, who is much-welcomed comic relief, even though his character often acts like a complete knucklehead.

50/50 [2011]

While Rogen helps with the laughs, Joseph Gordon-Levitt absolutely shines in the lead role. This guy sure has come a long way since his 3rd Rock from the Sun days, hasn’t he? His portrayal of Adam is amazing, as he flawlessly shows us the entire gamut of emotions that are natural to the cancer process. Shock, anger, sadness, acceptance. Hell, he even shaved his head on camera for the role. Yeah, he was great in Inception and (500) Days of Summer, but I think this is going to be his coming out party.

I would be remiss not to mention the performances from Philip Baker Hall (Bookman!) and Matt Frewer, two fellow cancer patients that Adam meets during chemotherapy. Hall, in particular, is a favorite of mine, and it was great to see him in this small, but important, role.

Movies like 50/50 are a rare breed. This is a film that will tug on your heartstrings just as often as make you laugh. I am not the kind of guy who cries during movies, but I was holding back major tears during this. Everything felt so REAL, and it’s absolutely tragic that people have to go through something like cancer. 50/50 is one of the best movies to come out so far this year. See it if you haven’t already.

9/10

Movie Review: Paul [2011]

Paul [2011]

Paul [2011]
Directors: Greg Mottola
Genre: Comedy
Language: English
Country: USA

Paul is the story of Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost), a couple of English sci-fi fanboys who have traveled to the United States in order to complete the ultimate supernatural road trip. They stop at the San Diego Comic Con first, and then hit the blazing trail to see Area 51, Roswell and other alien hot spots. Along the way, they stumble upon an actual alien, Paul, who is on the run from the FBI. Paul, voiced by Seth Rogen, joins them in their RV and has his new-found friends set forth on a new adventure — to get to Wyoming, where he can be sent back to his native planet.

So this is another Pegg/Frost comedy, this time without director Edgar Wright at the helm. A lot of people have complained about his omission, but Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) is more than capable to lead these guys. This is a good-hearted spoof, a movie that isn’t overtly hilarious but still maintains its share of laughs, most of which come from the alien Paul. This is standard Seth Rogen in pint-sized CGI form, complete with the pot smoking and beer drinking. Paul’s a likable fellow, a friendly guy full of wisecracks who is always willing to help out those who are nice to him.

Paul [2011]

Pegg and Frost are on top of their games as sci-fi geeks, and there are countless references to the genre within the movie. I am hardly a sci-fi buff, but I noticed more than a few funny “inside” jokes, my favorite of which was a rural bluegrass band playing the music from the famous Star Wars Cantina scene. Fans of science fiction will feel at home here, and you get the sense that both Pegg and Frost are loving every minute of their roles.

Our two socially awkward heroes are aided by an impressive supporting cast. Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, and Sigourney Weaver all have memorable roles and provide some fun moments in the movie. Wiig, in particular, is great as the bible-thumping Ruth Buggs, a woman who is first shown on screen wearing a t-shirt of Jesus shooting Charles Darwin in the face. It is also refreshing to see Jason Bateman in a different type of role, this time playing the hard-nosed FBI agent pursuing Paul.

Paul [2011]

Paul succeeds at what it sets out to be — a light, good-natured comedy that pays homage to numerous sci-fi classics. You don’t have to be a fan of the genre to appreciate the movie, although it certainly helps. While a step below Pegg/Frost’s past efforts in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Paul is still an enjoyable movie about a couple of buddies and their new friend, who just so happens to be an alien.

7/10