I’m at the point where I can pretty much take or leave 3D. As a techie, I want to embrace any technology that’ll expand the cinemagoing experience, but even I have to concede that most of the time 3D is employed as little more than an add-on, just a way to charge extra for stuff that’d be the same with or without depth (visual, that is. We’ll save a discussion of dramatic depth for another day).
Which is why I’m usually jazzed to check out the latest release from DreamWorks Animation. More often than not, those folk go the extra distance with 3D, using it to enhance both the visual canvas and the dramatic impact of their films. That was definitely the case with the original HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, the 2010 fantasy adventure where the third dimension became an active player in an already entertaining and visually stunning film.
So, yeah, there I was at my local multiplex, shelling out the extra bucks for my 3D experience with the new HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2. Did this new adventure — in which the young, Viking dragon-rider Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) faces down a powerful warlord (Djimon Hounsou) and has a family reunion with his long-lost mother (Cate Blanchett) — pay back my investment? In a way, yes; in a way… welllll… Check out my HOUR OF THE WOLF review for the details. Click on the player to listen.
And so, shouldering our backpacks and steeling ourselves against the urge to look back, we leave the doldrums of the start-of-2014 release schedule. Farewell, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES! Farewell, I, FRANKENSTEIN! Farewell, (ugh) VAMPIRE ACADEMY! May our paths never cross again. (A fruitless wish in the case of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY — the next installment is due in the summer.)
ROBOCOP — the remake of Paul Verhoeven’s politically acerbic, wildly satiric, and operatically violent science fiction action film — is much better. How much better, though, is open for debate. While celebrating Brazilian director José Padilha’s success in updating the tale of a noble cop killed in the line of duty who’s transformed into an indomitable crime-fighting cyborg and literal corporate tool, the Cinefantastique team of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons differ on how well this new version addresses its social issues and political commentary. Bottom line: The guys are happier debating the degree of goodness of a truly good film than hashing over how much a misfire sucks rubber donkey lungs. Click on the player to hear the show.
If 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. THIS 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.
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.)
Funnier 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!
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.
A Moderate Recommendation on the CFQ scale of zero to five stars. THIS 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.
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.
What did we ever do to producer Jerry Bruckheimer that he should want to pay us back by taking the beloved “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” episode from FANTASIA (1940) and turn it into a soulless summer snooze-fest that virtually defines everything wrong with would-be blockbusters? The new live-action version of THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE has a trailer just barely good enough to make you hope there might be some fun to be had with the concept of a geeky college kid learning magic from a wizard, but almost every good moment has been squeezed into the coming attractions (and in fact some don’t even make it into the actual film). Viewers tricked into attending this magic show will marvel only at seeing their money go up the filmmakers’ sleeves.
After a prologue showing Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) capturing and containing the evil Morgana (Alice Krige), the story has physics student Davd (Jay Baruchel) identified by Balthazar as the “Merlinian,” a word so silly you wonder if the screenwriters are thumbing their nose at the audience. The Merlinian, it seems, is the only one with the power to destroy Morgana, which is really important because Balthazar’s old rival Horvath (Alfred Molina) is eager to release her so that she can resurrect a bunch of dead wizards and basically bring about the apocalypse, just because that’s the kind of thing villains of this type do. Dave thinks the magic thing is pretty cool, but he’s a bit of a slacker when it comes to practice, because he would rather spend time with Becky (Teresa Palmer), an old friend from grade school, with whom he has recently reconnected. Yeah, the world may be ending, but that’s no reason to interrupt your social life! THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE is remarkable consistent in its enervated presentation. There is no attempt to make us truly fear the coming confrontation with evil, nor is there much in the way of self-satire. Instead, the film settles for a vague kind of jokiness that seems distantly related to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (Dave’s just an ordinary kid, who happens to be fated to face the forces of evil). The “Karate Kid” relationship between Dave and Balthazar never really materializes; the training scenes just sit there like a hat with no rabbit, and the attempt at emotional bonding is tossed off with such indifference that you suspect the filmmakers themselves must believe in magic – i.e., that some miracle would turn all of this dross into gold.
Baruchel gives more or less the same performance he delivered vocally in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, which is at least enough to generate a few laughs – just about the only bright spots in the film. Cage coasts through trying to look cool; he barely even tries to register the script’s shifts from “humor” to “sentiment.” It’s as if he is belatedly trying to save his acting credibility by not wasting his talent on unworthy material, but he hasn’t quite taken the big step toward adopting a camp attitude to express his contempt for the lousy movie he in which he is appearing.
Molina fares slightly better as the villain, but his best moments are in the previews – basically a handful of good lines that never add up to a compelling character. Toby Kebbell is mildly amusing as his young assistant – who fritters his genuine magical abilities away on a career as a flashy professional magician – but the character is wasted. The same can be said for Alice Krige (the Borg Queen from STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT) and for Monica Bellucci (BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, the MATRIX sequels), the latter of whom shows up as Balthazar’s love interest almost as if she were an afterthought in the screenwriters’ minds.
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE is virtually pockmarked with special effects, but except for a Chinese-type dragon and a metallic flying eagle, none of them are memorable; they simply shoot across the screen at regular intervals to interrupt the narrative tedium with a slightly different sort of tedium. With all the available CGI technology, it’s amazing that no one thought to orchestra a really great scene around it, let alone figure out how to build the effects toward a crescendo.
At times the action seems to have been generated at random to fill up the running time and give the characters something to do. You will lose count of the number of skirmishes between Balthazar and Horvath, with Dave in between, dodging plasma balls and other magical firepower. A sequence based on episode from FANTASIA is dropped in for not much more reason that to justify the use of the title THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE. And in a transparently desperate effort to keep Becky involved in the climax, Dave has her climb an antenna tower to disrupt a magical stream of energy that is being relayed around the world – a scene knocked in a handful of shots that generate no suspense but lots of incredulity.
Rather like the recent THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE, THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE is an exercise in not trying very hard – sort of a cinematic version of FIELD OF DREAMS (“Just shoot it, and the audience will come”). This approach can sell tickets to pre-sold viewers eager to visit their favorite characters on screen, but it’s hard to imagine anyone so besotted that they would fall for this second-rate magical routine. In the end, this sorcerer’s biggest trick will be making the audience disappear.
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (2010). Directed by Jon Turtletaub. Screenplay by Matt Lopez and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard; screen story by Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal & Matt Lopze, suggested by the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” episode of FANTASIA. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Tersa Palmer, Toby Kebbell, Omar Benson Miller, Monica Bellucci, Alice Krige, Jake Cherry, James A. Stephens.
The folks over at Sci-Fi Wire have an exclusive new trailer for Jon Turteltaub’s (NATIONAL TREASURE, COOL RUNNINGS) fantasy blockbuster, THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, which you can see for yourselves below:
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE is is a live action re-imagining of the Mickey Mouse Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment in Disney’s FANTASIA, which in turn is based on the late 1890s symphonic poem by Paul Dukas and 1797 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ballad (thanks Wikipedia). This version of the story is being produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and stars Nicolas Cage as the sorcerer and Jay Baruchel as his apprentice.
I’ve come to expect great special effects from a Bruckheimer film but the ones shown in this new trailer are particularly impressive. Not only are they technically lavish but Turteltaub also seems to be doing some really inventive things with the effects. We also get a good look at the central antagonist, Maxim Horvath, who is being played by Alfred Molina seemingly in full on SPIDER MAN 2 baddie mode. If there’s anything about this trailer that leaves me with any doubts about the film it’s Jay Baruchel who just seems to be plain annoying every time he opens his mouth.
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE is due for release on the 16th of July. EDITOR’S NOTE: We had trouble getting Sci-Fi Wire’s video to show up on the website’s front page, so the video up top is the International trailer, which is essential the same. Below you can find the embed for the version from Sci-Fi Wire.