This Is the End

You’re glad when This Is the End comes to an end. Sure, it’s got some laughs, particularly early on, and its emotional end is kind of warm, but otherwise, this is a self-indulgent flick that should never have been expanded from the short film it is based on.

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The deets:

Released June 12, 2013

Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, based on the short film by Jason Stone

Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen

Starring Rihanna, Emma Watson, Mindy Kaling, Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, Craig Robinson, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, and cameos from plenty of other celebs.

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

In This Is the End, the actors play characters that are ostensibly more nutzo and ridiculous versions of themselves.

Story

Jay Baruchel arrives in LA to spend a weekend or so with his pal, Seth Rogen. They have a day of video games and pot smoking and wind up at James Franco’s house for a big party. Baruchel is anti-social and doesn’t really want to be there, but he goes at Seth’s urging.

At the party are a large number of recognizable faces, including Rihanna, Aziz Ansari, the names listed above, and the sadly unfunny Kevin Hart. Before long, Baruchel wants to ditch the festivities, but Rogen convinces him to stick around. But then the Rapture happens and the Apocalypse shows up and everything goes to pot.

None of the celebrities are taken up in the initial Rapture. Most of them die messily, leaving the group of Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Hill, Robinson, and McBride to try to find a way to survive the apocalypse. Baruchel starts quoting from the book of Revelations, although the quotes we hear aren’t really from the Bible; they’re paraphrases and purely made up.

After a fiasco with Emma Watson, the group of selfish survivors has to figure out what’s going on. Finally they come to a realization that they might need to be nice to others, leading to the final scenes where friendship and sacrifice lead to a very disturbing vision of heaven.

Critique

The central premise of This Is the End is funny enough for a skit or very short film: celebrities play awful versions of themselves shoved into an apocalyptic situation wherein they do desperate things to stay alive. The visions of Cera being some kind of girl magnet and these people being more awful to others than we could imagine provide several very funny moments. There are even some solid scenes of dialogue and physical comedy that provide bright spots.

But the story takes a back seat to gross-out humor and celebrities making tongue-in-cheek jokes that seem designed to make the audience think, “Gosh these guys are cool and don’t take themselves seriously.”

Only Franco really was able to find an actual character to play and he does a bang up job. Everybody else coasts and the film drags and its payoff is, while momentarily warming and entertaining, pretty flat.

Ultimately, This Is the End has one joke that it tells over and over in several different ways, and that joke can’t carry the film through some truly gross and graphic language and visuals and scenes. This is a lazy, self-indulgent, mostly flat, surprisingly boring movie.

Stay away from this one. Why audiences loved the movie so much says very bad things about the people who love it.

Content warnings: Everything bad and awful you can imagine is in this, save for female nudity. Language, bloody violence, etc– all there.

Writing: 1          Acting: 2.5          Overall: 1.5

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Now You See Me

Wait until Now You See Me is in the dollar theater, whereupon you can imagine this film is ordering, “Now you see me!”

Built upon an interesting premise and some nuggets of fascinating characters, it doesn’t quite pull of the spectacle it was shooting for and the ‘twists’ aren’t twists so much as they are ‘out of the blues.’

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released May 31, 2013

Written by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt

Directed by Louis Leterrier

Starring Isla Fisher, Melanie Laurent, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, and Michael J. Kelly

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Four magicians who have had hit and miss careers are brought together by a mysterious party. One of the magicians is an accomplished, fast-talking trickster called J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg). Another is a mentalist named Merritt McKinney (Harrelson). The third is Henley Reeves (Fisher), a female magician whose last trick went terribly wrong. And the final of the four is Jack Wilder (Franco), a wily illusionist.

These four are brought together by the mysterious party and we fast forward to them pulling incredible stunts, wherein they teleport a man from the stage in Vegas to a bank vault in Paris and proceed to steal the bank’s money, giving it to their audience. They clearly have an endgame in sight– this isn’t random stuff, and they themselves don’t fully understand why they are being asked to do this by their mysterious benefactor.

Since they’re robbing banks, an FBI agent is sent after them. He is Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo), a cynical fellow who dismisses them as common thieves. He is paired with Alma Dray (Laurent) a semi-rookie Interpol agent who is involved due to the first job happening in Paris. They rope in a well-known former magician who now makes his money by revealing magicians’ secrets. This is Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman), who clearly has a past that he prefers to remain murky.

Finally, you have Arthur Tressler (Caine), who financed the Vegas show and looks to make a large profit off ticket sales as the buzz surrounding our four magicians grows.

These magicians call themselves the Four Horsemen.

So now we have a film that is all about illusion, heists, running from the dogged special agent duo, and which somehow, for a movie about magic, is rather bland. You have reveals that come out of nowhere and the audience is led by the nose through two or three different plots.

Agents Rhodes and Dray get closer to the Four Horsemen, but the question is can they stop the four thieves before they escape? And the next question is: why would they want to stop them?

As reveals come hot and heavy, Now You See Me transforms into an escape flick where brains are used and the good guys, of course, come out on top.

Critique

Now You See Me spends part of its time being ambitious and part of its time deflating the wonder of the eye-popping illusions with lame revelations of how it’s all done. What results is an at-times truly engaging and fun flick and an at-times dreary film that takes the wonder away.

Helpfully, the plot skips along at a blistering pace and it does not wallow in weird non-linearness that keeps the audience from following along. The relationship and chemistry between Rhodes and Dray are nicely developed, whereas the relationships between the Four Horsemen are given very short shrift- which is too bad.

We want to know more about these people. We want to see their journey from middling magicians to spectacular show people. We want to see them being confused about what they’re doing and questioning their mysterious puppet master. Some of this is touched on in passing, but it’s not enough.

When all is said and done, the final, overall end scene between Rhodes and Dray rescues the film from the penultimate scene on the carousel- which feels a little too much of a cop-out. We see that all along a human has had human motivations and has been running a massive plot to try to rectify a wrong, but we needed to see that motivation earlier and more interspersed throughout.

Now You See Me could have been more and better if it had taken more time to figure out who its protagonist(s) were and spent more time helping the audience care about them. As it is, it is a fine film without much of a sympathetic core- mainly because it’s too busy being busy with effects and debunking and twists.

As for the acting, not much is asked of these actors. Ruffalo and Laurent turn in solid performances, Franco does a very nice job, and Eisenberg does his fast-talking smug jerk just as well as usual.

Content warnings: some salty language.

Writing: 3.5          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 3.5

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Fast and Furious 6

Fast & Furious 6 has one goal: satisfy its target audience. Who is its target audience? The fans who keep coming back for each installment in this inexplicably interminable franchise. Luckily, this movie does indeed give the audience generally what it wants: one liners, gravelly voices, very imaginative car chases/explosions, and girls wearing very little.

Interestingly, this one focuses on the theme of family, which may be why it actually approaches the rating of ‘good movie’.

Oh, and if you thought this was the last of the series, think again. Watch through some of the credits; you’ll see where we’re going next.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released May 24, 2013

Written by Chris Morgan, with characters by Gary Scott Thompson

Directed by Justin Lin

Starring Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Gal Gadot, Elsa Pataky, Gina Carano, Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Chris Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, and Luke Evans

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Dom Toretto (Diesel) and his crew have finally gotten out of the business after their big score in Rio. He’s shacked up with Elena (Pataky) and his sister Mia (Brewster) and Brian (Walker) are now committed parents of a tiny baby. The old crew is living high, with Roman (Gibson) chartering planes to party after party, Tej (Bridges) being a wealthy Robin Hood, and Han (Kang) and Gisele (Gadot) wandering Japan together.

But Hobbs (Johnson) shows up again, this time with Riley (Carano) as a sidekick, and Hobbs needs Toretto’s help. A high-tech gang of car-based thieves, led by Owen Shaw (Evans) is running sophisticated jobs, stealing all kinds of fancy components. These are components of a terrible weapon that a well-funded terrorist group would love to get its hands on. The kicker? Letty (Rodriguez) is actually alive and seems to have amnesia, and Shaw has convinced her that she belongs with him.

Now Toretto has to get his crew together and track Shaw and Letty down, stop Shaw’s evil plan, and rescue Letty. Which leads to all kinds of fancy car maneuvering, very noisy gear shifting, and some impressively fast-paced set-pieces.

Making things difficult is Shaw, because he’s smart and doesn’t act like a normal movie villain. Credit to the screenwriter here making Shaw a believable villain.

We know how this will unfold. The villain will get away a few times, although a henchman or two, or more, will bite the dust in the process. Of course, the villain always has more henchmen in the wings. We will find out that there is a traitor, and that the team has played right into the villain’s hands. But the hero team will never give up despite the odds, and they will get the better of the bad guy.

Critique

All of this is indeed what happens. But along the way, something else surprising occurs. Relationships are explored. Self-sacrifice is made. People use their brains to make the plot more interesting, as opposed to being stupid to make the plot convenient and easy.

Sure, there are all kinds of idiotic one-liners, and some of the delivery is smackable, plus there are gratuitous explosions and a large amount of flesh is shown off.

But the movie entertains and delivers a surprise or two. It certainly isn’t great cinema, but it’s fun for a certain type of movie-goer and the acting isn’t so bad you want to yank your hair out and pray that Meryl Streep would show up. No, this isn’t my favorite type of movie, but I found myself enjoying it for the most part.

Content warnings: Some salty language, plenty of violence and explosions, some suggestive behavior.

Writing: 3.5        Acting: 3          Overall: 3

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Olympus Has Fallen

Olympus Has Fallen delivers action, zingers, and explosions. The bad guys are very, very bad and the good guy is very, very determined. Plus, there’s a fight scene at the end that has a beautiful moment.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released March 22, 2013

Written by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedict

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Starring Angela Bassett, Radha Mitchell, Ashley Judd, Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Cole Hauser, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott, and Rick Yune

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Mike Banning (Butler) is on the President’s (Eckhart) Secret Service detail when the President’s wife dies in a car accident. Eighteen months later, Banning is still in the Secret Service but is assigned to the Treasury, because the President can’t stand to remember that terrible night. But now the White House has been brilliantly attacked and occupied by a North Korean named Kang (Yune) and Banning may be the only thing Kang didn’t plan for.

While the President is captive, along with the Secretary of Defense (Leo) and his Vice President and some staff, the Speaker of the House (Freeman) assumes the mantle of President and must deal with the situation. Kang makes serious demands that will totally throw off the balance of power in North and South Korea, and the Speaker needs to decide if he can rely on Banning to pull the country’s rear-end out of the fire.

Banning is able to get into the White House and use his knowledge of the place to play spoiler to the baddies, and thus many explosions and fights ensue, all leading to a suitably satisfying conclusion. We see the conclusion coming, but it’s still smartly done.

Critique

Olympus Has Fallen has a lot going for it. First off, the cast is very good, with Butler delivering if not a great deal of depth, charming accessibility and ruthless determination. He’s smart and knows how to deal death. Melissa Leo gets to really milk the limited time she has on screen as the Secretary of Defense and she does a great job. Freeman has very little asked of him, but adds some gravitas. Eckhart does a workaday job, but his character suffers from not having much to do.

Secondly, the effects are quite good, with the explosions and invasion scenes convincingly brutal and thunderous.

Thirdly, the bad guys are really nasty. They’re also very smart, although there are a few things that will likely bother viewers. More on that later. The bad guys planned the attack well and the occupation of the White House is convincing.

Fourth, the dialogue is, while sometimes a little too cliche, solid and delivers the satisfying zingers we want our modern John McClanes to utter.

Finally, this flick is essentially Die Hard in the White House with its well-prepared and smart bad guys who we want to see meet a messy end and an unstoppable good guy who carries absolute righteousness as a shield.

This is a fun, exciting, emotionally satisfying flick.

The problems arise when you get to thinking about what the bad guys’ plan is. They need to get some codes so that they can do a terrible thing to the USA. Their plan was to extract these codes through torture from the President’s top staff. These people are willing to give their lives to not give up the codes, and really should be allowed to do so, but the too-thin plot needs them to give up the codes. So the plot finds a way and this way does not do the President character any– I mean ANY– favors.

I wanted the writers to take the hard way out and let those staff members have their heroic deaths.

Additionally, there is a scene wherein we need to see some wastes of life due to a general being too hard-headed and not trusting our hero. This scene is awesome and thunderous, but that general would not be such a hard-head if he’s on the joint chiefs– or at least he would be smarter.

Add to these two issues some military idiocy, such as a system that is in place that enables the baddies to even HAVE their plan, as well as crummy flying by a couple of pilots and a Speaker of the House that really, all things considered, had all of one thing that he should have done: blown the bunker to bits.

These are significant issues that make a difference in the movie experience, although the pace is such that most folks probably won’t let themselves stop and think this through until after the flick. Thus, Olympus Has Fallen is still a lot of fun. It’s pretty bloody and all kinds of loud as well.

Content warnings: Lots of blood and violence and swearing.

Writing: 2          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 3.5

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