This Is the End (2013)

No matter where this directorial debut from Canadian actor Seth Rogen may go — and it goes to some pretty ridiculous places — it always seems to retain the goofy charm of a low-key stoner movie, something like Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) but far more self-referential. After all, everyone in the film is playing a (clearly fictionalised) version of themselves, partying and hanging out in Los Angeles. It’s a brittle conceit, and it works better than by all rights it should, but you can at least imagine all the guys in this film — and it is very much a guys’ film — being friends in real life.

The set-up sees Jay Baruchel arriving at LAX to stay with his old friend Seth Rogen while he’s in town. Both grew up in Canada, and while Jay is concerned Seth is being swallowed up by Los Angeles, Seth’s LA friends see Jay as a last link to the Canadian past he needs to slough off, leading to tension between Jay and the rest of the cast. After a bit of bonding over video games and weed, Seth drags Jay along to James Franco’s housewarming, at a deranged brutalist bunker decorated with kitschy art and populated by a large number of familiar faces. It’s here that the core cast is introduced. If Franco is a preening whiner, then Jonah Hill is chanelling a more right-on holistic West Coast vibe as the ‘sensitive’ emotional actor, while Craig Robinson is a no-nonsense party guy who spends the whole movie wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Take Yo Panties Off”. There’s little point mentioning any of the celebrity cameos here, as part of the fun is in spotting the faces, but it’s fair to say that (as many critics have already pointed out) Michael Cera gets the standout role.

These are enjoyable scenes, certainly, but this is a film about the Apocalypse, and it doesn’t take too long before things get biblical. Part of the joke is that when it comes — and it starts with the Rapture, when the souls of the worthy ascend to Heaven — only actors are left behind, such that Franco’s party becomes something like a gathering of the living damned. Eventually only a handful are left holed up in Franco’s home; they must try to survive and find a way out of the apocalyptic hellscape that Los Angeles has become.

For a film that trades so heavily on Christan iconography, it’s interesting that almost all of the film’s creators are of Jewish upbringing, but perhaps that’s a key to the film’s success. They get plenty of anarchic fun out of their premise, one which trades on the more skewed aspects of theistic belief that are part of the American cultural upbringing, and which have naturally been inculcated through generations of Hollywood fantasies. For the most part Rogen and Goldberg tap into that (there are all kinds of movie-literate quotes, not least from The Exorcist), abetted by their ensemble cast.

It does at times feel strained by its limitations. One such is the fact that this is a very male-dominated film. These kinds of apocalyptic fantasies do, after all, tend to be the preserve of a certain kind of nerdy fanboy and indeed, the opening scenes position Rogen and Baruchel rather neatly as such. To be fair, the film tries to critique its own limitations, such as when Emma Watson shows up briefly, but the guys’ subsequent conversation — with its self-consciously parodic ease at outing one another as potential rapists — still feels in rather poor taste, even if Watson’s response is just right.

However, it always manages to pull itself back on track, with goofy and well-meaning charm. Some of that may be dependent on how much you like the core cast members — they are playing versions of themselves, after all — but for me, the insouciance at the heart of the enterprise was sufficient to carry me through even the most adolescent of dick jokes. There are quite a few adolescent dick jokes. But I laughed even so.


© Columbia Pictures

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Directors/Writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg | Cinematographer Brandon Trost | Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson | Length 106 minutes || Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Saturday 29 June 2013

My Rating 3 stars good

Advertisements

Stuck in Love. (2012)

God knows, there are probably a hundred reasons to dislike Stuck in Love. You could start, or perhaps you could end, with that full stop in the film’s title. It’s a film about writers, you see, the type of rarefied East Coast milieu you get in, say, Noah Baumbach films or in Wonder Boys (2000), also about a frustrated novelist. It focuses on a family of self-involved artistic types (Greg Kinnear is the father Bill, Nat Wolff and Lily Collins play his son Rusty and daughter Samantha), who are introduced in the first few minutes by having their opening lines written out on screen as they speak them, but each in a different typeface to indicate their generational and aspirational differences. But that full stop also indicates a sort of finality to the protagonist’s feelings that foreshadows the way the film concludes. If this kind of preciousness is already putting you off, the film may not appeal to you, but I found it sort of solipsistically charming.

The film’s opening lines are delivered by high school student Rusty, but when famous writer Bill later finds the same words in his son’s journal, he states confidently that they are words that hook in a reader and should be used to start a story; writer/director Josh Boone is clearly pleased with his script. In all honesty, I liked it too, but perhaps because it feels like a tale of romantic angst drawn from my generation. For example, the music the teenage characters all listen to and identify with is music that the same people would have been listening to in the late-90s (Elliott Smith, Bright Eyes). Boone is around my age, so this self-identification probably accounts for elements both of my enjoyment of the script and also my frustration with some of the plotting and the characters.

A lot of the character arcs are just too neat, for example. Cynical Samantha, embittered by her parents’ divorce and her mother (Jennifer Connelly) shacking up with a younger (less literate) guy, is at university, avoiding relationships and embarking on a series of one-night stands with similarly philistine jocks. She has just had her first, cynical novel published when she meets sweet-natured bassist Lou (played nicely by Logan Lerman), and has her cynicism challenged by his relationship with his dying mother, which opens up the possibility of a rapprochement with her own detested mother. Meanwhile, Rusty has been enjoined by his father to grasp life’s experiences while he can, and so hooks up with party girl Kate, a path which leads him back to the seclusion of his own fantastic imagination. Tastes in authors both high (John Cheever) and somewhat more pulpy (the son is fixated on Stephen King) converge as everyone comes to embrace the best in each other over a Thanksgiving meal. Et cetera, et cetera.

It is perhaps never quite so pat, but at times it does certainly verge on the unabashedly sentimental. However, the world weariness conveyed by Greg Kinnear (who even manages to make his stalking of his ex-wife seem sort of adorable in an infantile way), as well as the perky young actors, keep the film interesting. Best of the bunch for me are Nat Wolff as the introverted Rusty and Logan Lerman as soulful Lou, both essaying a sort of vulnerable perplexity, while Lily Collins as the sister is at least convincingly embittered.

It may not be a masterpiece, but I consistently enjoyed Stuck in Love. At its best it really has a handle on its characters and its milieu, however comfortably and at times off-puttingly self-congratulatory and middle-class it may be.


© Millennium Entertainment

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Director/Writer Josh Boone | Cinematographer Tim Orr | Starring Greg Kinnear, Nat Wolff, Logan Lerman, Lily Collins, Jennifer Connelly | Length 97 minutes || Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Friday 14 June 2013

My Rating 2.5 stars likeable

Det Hemmelighedsfulde X (Sealed Orders aka The Mysterious X, 1914)

This series is inspired by the Movie Lottery blog, whose author is picking DVD titles from a hat in order to decide which films to watch. I’ve selected another one from the hat to watch and present my review below.


FILM REVIEW: Movie Lottery 6 || Director/Writer Benjamin Christensen | Cinematographer Emil Dinesen | Starring Benjamin Christensen, Karen Sandberg | Length 85 minutes | Seen at home (DVD), Thursday 13 June 2013 || My Rating 3.5 stars very good


© Dansk Biografkompagni

It’s probably quite difficult to properly appreciate a film that is almost 100 years old (or it may be exactly 100 years old, as some sources list it as produced in 1913; however, I am taking the date from the Danish Film Institute DVD I own, as they seem like they’d be a trustworthy source on matters of Danish cinema). There are sequences here that seem deeply clichéd with such long hindsight, but must have been the height of cinematic sophistication at the time. Yet whatever its flaws, this is a wonderfully crafted piece of filmmaking.

Continue reading “Det Hemmelighedsfulde X (Sealed Orders aka The Mysterious X, 1914)”

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

This series is inspired by the Movie Lottery blog, whose author is picking DVD titles from a hat in order to decide which films to watch. I’ve selected another one from the hat to watch and present my review below.


FILM REVIEW: Movie Lottery 5 || Director Gil Junger | Writers Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith | Cinematographer Mark Irwin | Starring Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Krumholtz, Allison Janney | Length 93 minutes | Seen at Manners Mall, Wellington, Sunday 6 June 1999 (and at home on DVD on numerous occasions, most recently Sunday 9 June 2013) || My Rating 3.5 stars very good


© Buena Vista Pictures

Unlike the previous films I’ve picked from a hat as part of my ‘Movie Lottery’ series, this is one I know pretty well, I think. I’ve watched it many times over the years, and have always enjoyed it, specifically for its likeable ensemble of young actors near the beginnings of their respective film careers. Thinking about it again with the aim of writing a review, I find myself perhaps a little more aware of where its strengths and weaknesses lie. The style, such as it is, leans heavily on the sounds and fashions of the 1990s, and in the end it really does depend on those acting performances, alongside the sparky script, which draws heavily from its trend-setting antecedent Clueless (1995), though here the teen translation is of Shakespeare (where that film took on Jane Austen).

The particular Shakespeare play in question, The Taming of the Shrew, is not one of his best and furnishes a rather silly plot, which the screenwriters have gamely followed through with. Newly arrived at Padua High School, Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) becomes infatuated with the coquettish Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), but her father prevents her from dating unless her older sister Kat (Julia Stiles) does too. So in order to go out with Bianca, Cameron must hook up her sister, for which purpose the school bad boy Patrick Verona suits well (Heath Ledger). The premise doesn’t always make a lot of sense, but here it helps to be adapting one of the Bard’s lesser achievements, so comparisons don’t come off badly for the film.

As mentioned, though, it’s the acting of the ensemble cast that carries the day. Continue reading “10 Things I Hate About You (1999)”

Attack the Block (2011)


FILM REVIEW || Director/Writer Joe Cornish | Cinematographer Tom Townend | Starring John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Nick Frost | Length 88 minutes | Seen at home (TV), Monday 27 May 2013 || My Rating 3 stars good


© Optimum Releasing

Possibly there are exceptions (I’m no connoisseur), but it seems that whenever aliens visit Earth, they stand in allegorically for some popular fear of the era. 1950s films did well trading on fears of an atomic age, while 1970s films were more concerned with loss of identity. In fact, this trope is well enough understood that in Attack the Block one of the disaffected urban youth at the centre of the film gets a speech acknowledging it. For those familiar with the newspaper headlines in the Britain of the 2010s, you’d expect the threat to allegorically represent the fear of immigrants or indeed of the aforesaid urban youth (“hoodies”, to use a popular term referencing a favoured item of clothing). However, Attack the Block is too metropolitan and knowing to be so simplistic: the hoodies, it turns out, are the heroes and the fear is of the state and its oppressive apparatus (the police… sorry, “the feds”).

Continue reading “Attack the Block (2011)”

Pride and Prejudice (2005)


FILM REVIEW || Director Joe Wright | Writers Deborah Moggach (based on the novel by Jane Austen) | Cinematographer Roman Osin | Starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Hollander, Donald Sutherland, Kelly Reilly | Length 129 minutes | Seen at home (DVD), Tuesday 21 May 2013 || My Rating 3 stars good


© Universal Pictures

There have been a lot of adaptations and reimaginings of novels by Jane Austen (there was a particular glut of them in the 1990s), and for my sins I’ve seen a fair few, such that I’m never really sure what’s going on and who’s who whenever an Austen film starts. I feel like I should know the stories better, but they always seem to involve a bit of to-do around social status, some mentions of the gentleman’s annual income, several lengthy dance sequences, and many many glorious frocks. As staples of the ‘heritage film’ — a moribund genre if ever there was one, laid out by Merchant-Ivory and focused above all on bloodless period frippery — they should by all rights be terrible, but I must admit I like the odd period film with all their stuffed shirts and wilful heroines.

Continue reading “Pride and Prejudice (2005)”

Nord (North, 1991)

This series, of which this is the second instalment, is inspired by the Movie Lottery blog, whose author is picking DVD titles from a hat in order to decide which films to watch. As ever, you’ll notice my dust-gathering DVD collection includes a lot more European arthouse films. I’ve selected another one from the hat to watch and present my review below.


FILM REVIEW: Movie Lottery 2 || Director/Writer Xavier Beauvois | Cinematographer Fabio Conversi | Starring Xavier Beauvois, Bernard Verley, Bulle Ogier | Length 92 minutes | Seen at home (DVD), Sunday 5 May 2013 || My Rating 2 stars worth seeing


© Forum Distribution

There’s a lot of empty space in this debut feature from the director Xavier Beauvois, who is most well-known for the contemplative monastic drama Des hommes et des dieux (Of Gods and Men, 2010). The contemplation in this early work is altogether less divinely-inspired, unless it’s by the deities of ancient Greece, who seem to preside over this drama of a family falling apart under the strains of the father’s alcoholism. The empty space is the setting of the title, in the grey industrial North of France, around Calais where the director himself grew up. It seems to suffuse every scene, not least because so many unfold in extreme long shot, with the actors as small presences against the terrain.

Continue reading “Nord (North, 1991)”

I Give It a Year (2012)


NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director/Writer Dan Mazer | Cinematographer Ben Davis | Length 97 minutes | Starring Rafe Spall, Rose Byrne, Anna Faris, Stephen Merchant, Olivia Colman | Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Sunday 10 February 2013 || My Rating 1 star bad


© StudioCanal

I’m writing this to catch up with the films I’ve seen this year; I saw this a month and a half prior to writing this review, and my memory of it has faded. It’s a British romantic comedy involving four people, two men and two women, who are with the wrong partners, basically. The film is about them finding the right ones (i.e. swapping who they’re with).

On the one hand, Rose Byrne is really pretty, and perfectly convincing as an uptight professional woman. On the other hand, not a single one of the four main characters is in any way likeable, which means by the end of the film I really don’t care whether or not they get together with the right person, or are all hit by a bus and die. I can reveal that the latter does not happen, but then what does happen is scarcely any more enjoyable.

What keeps the film from being an utter failure is that there are a number of nice comic cameos. Stephen Merchant as a boorish best friend is essentially in a different movie, and although he’s no more pleasant or likeable than the leads, he is at least intended to be that way; small consolation I concede. Even better is the ever-reliable Olivia Colman, who gets the biggest laughs as a relationship counsellor, even if she’s not particularly believable as one (the joke being that she has terrible relationship issues with her own spouse).

None of the actors is particularly bad: they do what the can with the material they have to work with. It’s just a pity, because this could be a likeable film (there were enough jokes to pack the trailer with mirth), it just manages to miss the target.