This Is The End – film review

This-is-the-End-2013-Movie-PosterIf you think that being trapped with  a bunch of guys telling dick jokes would the equivalent of Hell on Earth – well, according to THIS IS THE END, you are more right than you think – perhaps literally so. The vulgar humor of young guys who have yet to outgrow adolescence is shoved in your face whether you like it or not, but in an excellent example of eating your cake and having it, too, the film happily portrays its characters as hapless vulgarians who deserve the apocalyptic fate that befalls them. In other words, you do not have to like the characters or their sense of humor in order to enjoy THIS IS THE END. We are not laughing with them; we are laughing at them.
James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Johna Hill, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson – along with myriad other familiar faces – play themselves, and not in a very flattering light. Baruchel (who apparently feels about Los Angeles much the same as Woody Allen does) makes a trip out to visit his friend, Rogen, who insists on attending a Hollywood party at Franco’s house. An earthquake or some kind of natural disaster hits, or perhaps it is something more, judging from the strange blue lights elevating bodies into the sky. Is is a massive alien abduction, or could it be The Rapture?
Taking refuge in Franco’s house, along with Hill, McBride, and Robinson, barricade the doors, divide up the resources, and attempt to wait out the disaster, but help may not be coming. Although initially skeptical of Baruchel’s suspicions that this is not a mere natural disaster but a literal, Biblical apocalypse, the survivors are eventually forced to that something downright demonic is going on.
ThisIsTheEndRedBandTrailer1THIS IS THE END belongs to that small sub-genre of films in which Hollywood celebrities attempt to earn brownie points by pretending to be as venal, crass, and self-absorbed as we suspect them to be -presumably, in the hope of convincing us that, if they really were privileged boors in real life, they would not have the sense of humor to attempt the self-effacing portrayals on screen.
Whether this is a con game or a brilliant comic ruse, the results are outrageously effective. Unburdened of the urge to create rounded, sympathetic personalities, THIS IS THE END instead serves up vicious caricatures, uncluttered with complications or subtlety, that shine off the screen with something resembling a hint of truth about the human condition – or at least a darkly satirical version of it. Nobility and moral quandaries are few and far between: when the sh-t hits the fan, you can bet it will be every man for himself; it’s just a matter of who will be the biggest douche-bag about it.

Emma Watson has come to chew bubble gum and kick ass.
Emma Watson has come to chew bubble gum and kick ass.

No one really comes across well. Even Baruchel’s level-headed straight man (he is supposed to be the viewer’s window into this world) is a bit too full of himself, not overtly self-righteous but as will as anybody to sell his comrades out when an opportunity presents itself. Only Emma Watson, who shows up briefly, earns much empathy, putting the smack down on these losers and ripping off their supplies after overhearing (and, to be fair, misunderstanding) a conversation about rape among the guys.
This is one of the film’s funnier sequences and not just because Rogen gets smacked in the face with an ax handle. Baruchel dares to raise the obvious issue of the situation (a single woman among half a dozen men); in an overstated case of denial, the others turn his concern against him, as if he were the one with rape on his mind. (The parallels with our current political discourse, in which people who raise concerns about racism and sexism are shouted down as if they are the real bigots, is obvious.)

SPOILERS

This is the end the raptureFunnier still is the apocalyptic chaos that takes over in the third act. Like a good, low-budget horror film, THIS IS THE END is mostly restricted to the confines of the Franco house, offering us only judicious glimpses of the fiery Armageddon outside. Unlike many of Hollywood’s overstuffed blockbusters, this limited use of special effects renders the shots we do see even more special; by the ending, we get a few truly outstanding set pieces, the last involving what must be at least the second largest penis ever portrayed on screen (unlike most special effects monstrosities, this one is anatomically correct – though not for long!).
The sly joke at the end is that our characters finally learn how to redeem themselves. The problem is, once they know this can be done, they are still on the con, acting in a righteous way in hope of earning a get out of Hell card from the Almighty – a point made with ruthless precision when Franco makes the mistake of flipping someone off while on the point of being elevated to the heavens. His unfortunate demise (being eaten by a former-friend-turned-cannibal) is all the funnier when you recall that, earlier in the film, while brainstorming a bad idea for a sequel to THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, Franco had suggested an ending in which he sacrificed himself to save his friends, only to have the villain eat him. Prophetic words, indeed!

END SPOILERS

Jonah-Hill-Possessed
Jonah Hill - possessed by demons

In spite of the self-reflexive tone, THIS IS THE END will not suit everyone’s taste. The film may hold the crude antics up for ridicule; nevertheless, it indulges in those antics far too much for us to believe that writer-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are doing anything more than offering a slight buffer in the hope of making the antics more acceptable.
Fortunately, the buffer does work. Freed from the boundaries of good taste, Rogen and Goldberg present some of the most outrageously over-the-top comedy ever seen on the silver screen. It’s one thing to have a bunch of guys telling dick jokes all day. It’s quite another to see a towering demon emasculated by a heavenly blue shaft of light.
Now there’s something you don’t see every day!

WHAT I LEARNED FROM THIS FILM

Channing Tatum is Danny McBride’s bitch.
[rating=3]
A Moderate Recommendation on the CFQ scale of zero to five stars.
This is the End sink holeTHIS IS THE END (Columbia Pictures, June 12, 2013) 107 minutes. Rated R. Written and directed by Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen. Cast: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Johna Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson, Michael Cera, Rihanna, Paul Rudd, Channing Tatum, Aziz Ansari.

This Is The End opens June 12

Columbia Pictures releases this apocalyptic comedy from Sony Pictures Entertainment. The second trailer tones down the R-rated frat-boy antics of the Red Band trailer, suggesting that THIS IS THE END might appeal to a wider audience.
Written and directed by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen.
Cast: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Rihanna, Paul Rudd.
Rated R. 107 minutes.
Theatrical Release: June 14, 2013.

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OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL & THE ABCS OF DEATH: CFQ Spotlight Podcast 4:10

The Shamrock Shake is Back for a Limited Time? C'MON!: James Franco and Mila Kunis en route in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.
The Shamrock Shake is Back for a Limited Time? C'MON!: James Franco and Mila Kunis en route in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

Another film that answers questions we didn’t ask, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is a prequel showing how the magical land over the rainbow got its formidable-but-all-too-fallible wizard. Director Sam Raimi makes his 3D debut in this big-budget project, recruiting James Franco as his soon-too-be Oz, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams as a trio of witches good and wicked, and Zach Braff and Joey King voicing some of the kingdom’s more magical inhabitants: a flying monkey and a China girl. Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons bought a round-trip ticket to this fantasy world, and are back to discuss whether the newer actors live up to their original counterparts in 1939’s THE WIZARD OF OZ, if the CG-enhanced visuals add new grandeur to the predecessor’s production design, and if the entire experience is more like a wild ride into a tornado or a soporific stroll through a field of poppies.
Also: Steve gives his opinion of THE ABCS OF DEATH, and what’s coming to theaters next week.

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TED, plus Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN Trilogy – CFQ Spotlight Podcast 3:26

Who Needs a Reboot?: Iconic image from Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN
Who Needs a Reboot?: Iconic image from Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN

Chalk Spotlight host & producer Dan Persons up for the crisis of faith: While he concedes that there are enough laughs in the animated works of  Seth McFarlane to dismiss the notion that the creator of such shows as FAMILY GUY and AMERICAN DAD is everything that’s wrong with televised comedy (an assertion that’s nowhere near true so long as HOT IN CLEVELAND remains on the air), he still had his concerns about TED, McFarlane’s live-action, feature film debut about a guy (Mark Wahlberg) and the rocky relationship he has with his affable, raunchy teddy bear (voiced and performed in mo-cap by McFarlane). So Cinefantastique Online’s managing editor Steve Biodrowski volunteered to check the film out on his own, and in his review at the top of the show gives some idea whether it merits its #1 box-office take.
Then, in anticipation of next week’s debut of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, Dan and Steve sit down to discuss the trilogy that kicked-off the franchise: Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN; SPIDER-MAN 2; and SPIDER-MAN 3. Among the topics covered: who, from Willem Dafoe and his Green Goblin to Alfred Molina and his Doc Ock to Thomas Haden Church and his Sandman to Topher Grace and his Venom, delivers the most credible villain; which film embraces its dramatic elements most convincingly; and is J.K. Simmons truly a gift from the gods?
Also: What’s coming to theaters next week. Actually tomorrow. Actually it’s THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, we said it just above, ya happy?

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes: A Welcome Addition to the Apes Mythological Canon

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) posterRISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – the new chapter in the PLANET OF THE APES series of films – is is an attempt by 20th Century Fox to breathe new life into the venerable franchise. This was a daunting task in that the film had to be done in such a way as to appeal to contemporary movie audiences, and yet also resonate with fans of the forty-three year-old Apes mythology. Thankfully, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES does not disappoint; it is a solid science fiction film that contributes fresh material to the PLANET OF THE APES canon.

Summary

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES takes place in the present in California’s Bay Area. Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) works for Gene-Sys, a biomedical company, where he has completed medical testing on a chimpanzee for a new drug, ALZ-112, which allows the brain to heal itself, offering a number of promising applications, particularly for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Due to the death (during a disastrous attempt to court investors to bring the drug to clinical trials) of “Bright Eyes,” the chimpanzee used for testing of the drug, Rodman secretly takes her newborn baby into his home after the board of Gen-Sys decides that it will no longer fund this medical research. He soon discovers that the enhanced mental abilities of the mother have been passed along genetically to Caesar, the chimp child.
As Caesar grows physically, so do his cognitive abilities, including not only his intelligence but also his self-awareness, and his feelings related to the complicated relationships with humans. As a result of protecting Rodman’s father, Charles (John Lithgow),  from a neighbor during an altercation, Caesar is removed from Rodman’s home and placed in a facility for primates. During his captivity, Caesar comes to resent his lack of freedom and his inhumane treatment at the hands of his human captors. Consequently, he uses his mental capabilities to devise an escape, heading back to Rodman’s home where he steals canisters of the mind-enhancing ALZ-112 to give to his fellow prisoner primates at the facility. He then leads an escape of the apes, gathering more recruits from Gen-Sys and a local zoo, creating an army of simians in revolt against their human captors. As RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES concludes, Caesar and his group of apes find freedom in a Bay Area forest, while the viral wheels set in motion for the decline of the human race suggest the future rise of the ape civilization envisioned in the original 1968 PLANET OF THE APES (although in that case, the cause was nuclear destruction rather than biomedically-induced self-annihilation).

Analysis

As mentioned in the introduction, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was a risky project; odds were that it would be mediocre at best, a failure at worst. Although classic science fiction films have been remade or reimagined successfully at times (e.g., John Carpenter’s 1982 redo of THE THING), more often than not they are seriously lacking, and this was specifically the case in a previous attempt with the Apes franchise (Tim Burton’s 2001 version of PLANET OF THE APES).
The bar was set high in 1968. The original PLANET OF THE APES combined a number of elements to make science fiction history. These included good source material in Pierre Boulle’s novel, Monkey Planet, a solid screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, A-list actors including Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall, John Chamber’s groundbreaking makeup effects, Jerry Goldsmith’s daring score, and Franklin Schaffner’s diection. In addition, the story interacted with cultural and social anxieties and issues of the late 1960s, including the potential for nuclear annihilation, racism, as well as evolution and religious fundamentalism. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has continued in this vein, not only providing amazingly realistic apes through its motion-capture CGI, but also by combining the special effects with contemporary cultural issues, including biomedical ethics and non-human animal rights. In this way, the film provides something for those looking for more than a summer thrill, as well as for those interested in speculative fiction as a foil for social reflection and commentary.
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES also gives evidence of a solid awareness of and respect for the PLANET OF THE APES mythology. At several points, the new film provides nods and a collective homage to the original PLANET OF THE APES and its sequels from the 1970s. A handful of dialogue lines are taken from PLANET OF THE APES, the names of some of the characters and objects from PLANET OF THE APES are found in the reboot, and the television screens in the primate facility quickly flash an image of Charlton Heston. In addition, the storyline and visuals include elements that tie RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES into the mythology established in the previous films. This is found in many of Caesar’s experiences at the hands of his human captors, which mirror those of the astronaut Taylor in PLANET OF THE APES, a brief television news flash about a U.S. spacecraft lost in space which will become the ship that returns in the future to find an earth ruled by apes, as well as the scenes involving the law enforcement officers on horseback battling the apes on the Golden Gate Bridge, which suggest both the imagery of Taylor’s first encounter with the apes PLANET OF THE APES and the symbols of the police state found in CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, of which RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES serves as a fresh reinterpretation.
Commentators have long noted that the original PLANET OF THE APES includes social commentary on race. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES does not include much by way of this element, except for brief glimpses that can be read into the final scene of confrontation between the police and the apes, which brings to mind memories of racial riots of the late 1960s. Perhaps the lack of inclusion of this element of social commentary indicates that our culture has come quite a way in race relations since the main thrust of cultural critique is found elsewhere in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.
One cultural issue that receives special focus in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is the issue of non-human animal rights. This finds graphic representation in a number of ways, from the opening scene in which Caesar’s mother is taken from her home in the jungle to the Gen-Sys labs, to the cruelty at the supposed sanctuary for primates. decades after the first PLANET OF THE APES film (which itself may be read as having something to say about animal testing through ape civilization conducting barbaric experiments on mute humans), RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES updates this topic and presents us with evidence of a greater concern on the part of many in Western culture in regard to their relationship, indeed kinship, with other creatures in the biosphere.
If criticism is to be offered of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, it is slight, at least from this reviewer. The focus is rightly on Caesar and his developing relationship with the apes that he will lead to revolt, but the film might have been strengthened with additional scenes in which Rodman and various medical colleagues debate the issues surrounding ethics in more depth beyond its brief mention. Such a discussion would seem especially relevant to our society’s ongoing debates about stem cell research and other biomedical issues such as the recent news announcement that British scientists have secretly created animal-human hybrid embryos.
With many of the positive initial reviews of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, some discussion has ensued on the Internet as to whether this film presents another indication of a possible tendency for increased frequency in the production of intelligent science fiction films. In recent years, audiences have been able to benefit from films like DISTRICT 9, MOON, SPLICE, MONSTERS, and SOURCE CODE. These thoughtful science fiction films do not mean that action-oriented space opera is going extinct any time soon, but they do provide hope that thought-provoking science fiction may arise more frequently.

Conclusion

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) - The Apes Revolt!The storyline for RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES leaves the door open for new chapters in the PLANET OF THE APES franchise, and Rupert Wyatt, the film’s director, has talked about his openness to a sequel. The work of Gen-Sys has provided the APES mythology with a new genesis that cries out for additions to the ape’s cinematic sacred scrolls. The opening weekend’s box office surpassed studio expectations, but it remains to be seen whether the overall financial results will give 20th Century Fox reason to further develop one of the earliest and most successful science fiction franchises in motion picture history. Given the strength of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, there is reason to be optimistic that thoughtful cinefantastique – with the ability to make us reflect on the difficult questions of our time – can compete with youth-oriented stories about young wizards and glittering vampires. Regardless, I take my hat off to those who brought RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES to the screen. Despite my serious skepticism before hand, 20th Century Fox was able to rekindle my inner “damn dirty ape” and remind me why the PLANET OF THE APES mythology has held my fascination for over four decades.
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (20th Century Fox; released August 5, 2011).  Directed by Rupert Wyatt, Screenplay by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, suggested by the novel La Planete des Singes by Pierre Boulle. Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowa, Tyler Labine, Jamie Harris, David Jewlett.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Cinefantastique Spotlight Podcast 2:30.1

Meet the New Ape, Not at All Like the Old Ape: A MoCapped Andy Serkis takes command in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.
Meet the New Ape, Not at All Like the Old Ape: A MoCapped Andy Serkis takes command in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.

Startling the studios, startling the critics, and startling its delighted audiences, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has arrived to prove that a reboot — in the hands of a skilled director and inspired writers, actors and effects artists — does not necessarily need to serve as Exhibit One in the case for the film industry’s creative bankruptcy. Join theofantastique.com‘s John W. Morehead and Cinefantastique Online’s Lawrence French and Dan Persons as they explore how the latest retooling of a moribund franchise has become the most bracing film of the summer, discuss some emotional nuances director Rupert Wyatt uses to bring depth to the fantasy, celebrate Andy Serkis’ work as our new simian overlord, and sift over some notable glitches in the scenario.
Also: Some thoughts on the revelation that Steven Sodherbergh is directing second unit sequences for  THE HUNGER GAMES; and what’s coming to theaters and home video.

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Your Highness Review

Your-Highness-posterCome, my friends, gather ye ‘round as I share my story. It is a sad tale, of a film with so much lost potential, of powerful actors and directors sacrificing themselves for the sake of a few cheap laughs, of an audience that might have cared once… But do not fear, for the ending is a happy one: I escaped this treacherous labyrinth with only a flesh wound.

Oh so long ago (last weekend) in a land far, far away (everywhere in the United States), the magical director David Gordon Green’s YOUR HIGHNESS (2011) opened after much anticipation in the kingdom. Starring Danny McBride as the slovenly, worthless Prince Thadeous and James Franco as his heroic brother Fabious, Green’s film looked to pick up where this trio’s previous collaboration, 2008’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, left off. But it was not to be. Instead, working from a script by McBride and Ben Best, YOUR HIGHNESS abandons laconic brilliance and inspired improvisation for consistently dull frat-boy humor and a lot of gratuitous nudity.

When Fabious’s virgin fiancé Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel, disastrously wasted) is kidnapped by the evil warlock Leezar (Justin Theroux), the two royal brothers set off on a quest to rescue her. In an adventure that is part Don Quixote and part Lord of The Rings, the duo come to encounter a few obstacles that make me blush just to mention them, and not in a good way. I will not divulge too many of YOUR HIGHNESS’s laughs, because there are precious few, but suffice it to say that such creatures as a jellyfish-like gay Sorcerer and a well-hung minotaur are among them.

The fantasy aspects are not well conceived (many characters’ names end in “-ious” and the only evidence we have for this land being someplace other than Camelot are the two moons in the sky), and no, playing these plot devices for laughs does not create high comedy.

On the other hand, the production aspects are too expertly orchestrated: Tim Orr’s cinematography is nothing if not majestic, costume design is detailed and strong, and even the sets lend the story a feeling of whimsy much ignored by the script.  I was particularly impressed with certain visual effects, such as when a courtly slave named Julie speaks into a fire or when bolts of green light shoot down from the moon.

But here is where this review must get a bit more serious. Some of Green’s earlier films have been poetry in motion, enchanting blends of surrealist spectacle and jaded wisdom. Even PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, which took a very different route than his prior dramatic films, was impressive – not only was James Franco’s performance hysterical and precise, but the film was simply clever. Not so with YOUR HIGHNESS, which squanders not only the wide talents of the Oscar-nominated Franco and the crass McBride, but also performances from such respectable actors as Deschanel, Charles Dance, Toby Jones, and worst of all, Natalie Portman.

Portman just won a well-deserved Oscar, and while this film was deep into post-production before she was even nominated, the question must be posed: Why this film? Portman’s character Isabel (clever, I know) is one of the smallest roles in terms of screen time, and she spends much of it diving half-nude into pools, walking in on Thadeous masturbating, or posing very still for the camera. The role is effectively chauvinistic, and while that’s not an uncommon occurrence in movies, it seems nearly criminal to have cast such a respected and talented actress for it.

YOUR HIGHNESS is highly disappointing. I trusted David Gordon Green to make good films. I trusted Franco, Portman, McBride, and Deschanel to choose their projects a bit more carefully, or at least to go down on different, isolated ships. Although this film does not come straight from “Apatown”, it bears many qualities of a script tossed into Judd Apatow’s trash bin, then pulled out by a janitor and leaked to McBride & Best. Was this perhaps intended to smack big producers who demanded something more high concept in the face? Were the filmmakers and cast possibly working under the delusion I admit to sharing: that they had the Midas touch? What a letdown.

  • Directed by: David Gordon Green
  • Written by: Danny McBride & Ben Best
  • Thadeous – Danny McBride
  • Fabious – James Franco
  • Isabel – Natalie Portman
  • Leezar – Justin Theroux
  • Belladonna – Zooey Deschanel
  • Julie – Toby Jones
  • Courtney – Rasmus Hardiker
  • King Tallious – Charles Dance
  • Original Music by: Steve Jablonsky
  • Cinematography by: Tim Orr

Rise of the Planet of the Apes — Trailer

Here’s the first look at the RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES trailer, and it’s a whole different vibe than I expected.
Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, and Andy Serkis
Directed by Rupert Wyatt, screenplay by Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa
Due out August 5th from 20th Century Fox. (Not yet rated.)
Via Bleeding Cool