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Entries in Michael Cera (3)

Tuesday
Jun112013

This Is the End

Ensemble comedies usually come at a price. They usually have too many characters and most aren’t given the screen time they need to feel relevant. Most of the time, and this seems to often be the case, it’s merely an excuse for some millionaire celebrities to hang out with each other and get paid for it. The quality of the film in question means little. Take 2010’s “Grown Ups” as an example, a movie that was almost universally hated by both critics and moviegoers alike that somehow made enough money to get an ill-advised sequel next month. Despite the (mostly) likable cast, it was a film devoid of laughs, heart or even a moderately amusing story. If that movie stands as an example of how to do an ensemble comedy wrong, “This Is the End” is an example of how to do one right. Although it’s by no means perfect, it nevertheless remains laugh-out-loud funny and features a unique and inspired post-apocalyptic story with an interesting message about divine forgiveness.

The film takes place in the real world, with every actor onscreen playing themselves. It’s a typically interesting night for the Hollywood elite and James Franco is having a party to break in his newly constructed home. Craig Robinson is there schmoozing Rihanna through sexually suggestive piano tunes, Danny McBride is doing what he does best and is passed out in the upstairs bathroom, Jonah Hill, being the nicest person in the world, is complimenting his friends at every turn and Emma Watson is relaxing with a beer while Michael Cera, playing against his nice guy onscreen persona, sniffs coke off a nearby table. Jay Baruchel has just flown in from New York with every intention to just hang out with his best friend Seth Rogen, but Seth insists they head to Franco’s party, so they do, despite Jay’s dislike for those present. While there, all hell breaks loose, literally, when the apocalypse starts.

While it would certainly be a stretch to call “This Is the End” a message movie, this set-up leads to an interesting dichotomy between holy grace and a sinful Hollywood lifestyle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, our characters are left behind while those who have led good lives are whisked skywards to heaven. These celebrities have used their fame to sleep with women, buy lavishly expensive material objects and waste their lives away partying and doing drugs. They’re the walking definition of sin, but as the movie goes on, it explores the forgiving nature of a truly loving God, one that shouldn’t be feared as many Christian communities believe, but rather as a God that truly believes in redemption.

Granted, the events that play out are merely there to give the movie somewhere to go (without the hope of salvation, what would be the point?), so I doubt even writers/directors Rogen and his buddy Evan Goldberg would argue their movie has some deep meaning. Everything that happens is there to set-up a joke, a cameo or something so outlandishly absurd you can’t help but laugh at it, yet the film’s greatest strength is in its self-satire. Because it’s playing with fictionalized versions of real actors, it can acknowledge their past work and even poke fun at it. One of its standout moments comes when the guys realize they’re stuck in that house while the world crumbles around them, so they decide to shoot a gritty version of “Pineapple Express 2.” At one point, they even reference 2011’s abysmal “Your Highness,” which Franco and McBride co-starred in, siding with the rest of the film population by commenting that they should never make “Your Highness 2.”

The film goes on to make fun of Seth Rogen’s laugh and one paparazzo even asks him when he’s finally going to start acting, given that every character he plays is exactly the same. Moments like these, coupled with some truly great and inspired cameos that should remain unspoiled, make “This Is the End” the single funniest movie since “21 Jump Street.” Where it falters is in its length, pacing and misunderstanding of the horror genre. With the apocalyptic setting, some fun is had with demonic creatures (particularly when the gang performs an exorcism by quoting lines from “The Exorcist”), but Rogen and Goldberg don’t know how to set up a scare, not so much missing the beats required for it, but rather bypassing the set-up entirely. Most of what happens does so suddenly, usually in the middle of a conversation, and though they work as jump scares, they’re cheap jump scares, similar to a little kid jumping out of a bush on Halloween and yelling “Boo!” It’s a tad startling, but it’s hardly scary.

Its pacing issues come from a padded runtime and jokes that go on for far too long—Jonah Hill’s nice guy shtick quickly becomes grating and one particular scene involving the discussion of ejaculate is too much—yet despite all this, and a really whiny story arc revolving around Baruchel’s dissipating friendship with Rogen, the film succeeds because, well, it’s just plain funny. At the end of the day, comedies don’t need great performances or stylistic direction or a complicated story to work. They only need to make you laugh. If they do, they have succeeded, so by that standard, “This Is the End” certainly does.

This Is the End receives 4/5

Friday
Aug132010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Video games are rarely talked about in the movie world. When they are, it’s usually with contempt. Most adaptations of hit games are mind numbingly bad and Roger Ebert writes video games off as nothing more than worthless entertainment, arguing that they can never be art. I wonder what he’ll think about Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, a film that can only be described as a video game movie that isn’t based on a video game. From the 8-bit Universal logo (complete with Nintendo music circa 1985) to the numerous nods to hit franchises like “Rock Band” and “Super Mario Brothers,” this thing screams video games, and being a gamer myself, I found it quite enjoyable.

Michael Cera plays Scott Pilgrim, a young Canadian who falls for a cutie named Ramona Flowers, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but to date her he must first defeat her seven evil exes. That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. It’s a simple story, as it needed to be, and it’s carried out with wit and style. Scott Pilgrim is a hyperkinetic, off-the-wall, roller coaster of a movie. It speedily moves forward with nary a downtime. However, it doesn’t always move with grace.

The tagline for Scott Pilgrim is, “An epic of epic epicness.” That’s a lot to live up to and, frankly, it falls short of its promised epic epicness, far short. Due to its quick pace, things get a bit hectic, even during dialogue driven scenes, and the film tries way too hard to be quirky and zany. The madcap nature of the movie goes off the rails at times, deviating away from its video game inspiration and traversing into territory that seems forced, even going so far as to use the “Seinfeld” musical sting and a laugh track in one scene.

There’s also Michael Cera who, despite the originality of the material, plays the same awkward, clumsy loser he’s been playing since “Arrested Development,” but all of that is easy to forgive given the energy of the production. While the story revolves around Scott battling seven evil exes, the fights never become redundant. All are varied and have their own unique style. This is a video game brought to life.

And those who play video games will undoubtedly get the most out of it. It may mean nothing to the average moviegoer, but to gamers, hearing the bass line from “Final Fantasy II” will bring a tear to the eye and knowing that the name of Scott Pilgrim’s band, Sex Bob-omb, is a reference to the little walking bombs in the “Mario” games will make them feel special, as they should. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is nerd service, made for nerds by nerds. And I mean that in a good way.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World receives 3.5/5

Friday
Jan082010

Youth in Revolt

I should have known better. Everybody knows that January is dump month, the month of the year where movie studios release the films they have no faith in. After the holidays, where they release the films they think could be big money grabbers or Oscar contenders, theatrical attendance generally goes down a bit. So instead of releasing something of quality, they take whatever they have lying around and plop it here just so they will have something on screens nationwide while they await their next big blockbuster. Despite this, Youth in Revolt looked promising. The trailers were amusing and seemed like only a glimpse at an overall better, raunchier, funnier movie, but naturally, that isn't the case. Youth in Revolt is quite bad and Michael Cera's relatively impressive filmography is now on a running streak of two bad movies in a row with the inclusion of the wretched Year One released earlier this year. Perhaps his usual brand of awkward humor is beginning to wear thin.

The film follows Nick Twisp (Cera), the typical nerdy, virgin teen that usually crops up in these types of pictures. He lives with his mother (Jean Smart) and her boy toy whom he hates named Jerry (Zach Galifianakis). After three Navy men come around to lay the beat down on Jerry, they pack up and take a road trip to a camper site where Nick meets the love of his life, Sheeni (Portia Doubleday). His overwhelming emotions get the best of him and in his desire to win her over, he creates a supplementary persona whom he dubs Francois (also played by Michael Cera), the suave, uncaring, foul mouthed side of him who says what's on his mind and does what he wants. Unfortunately, Nick has to leave the camper site and Sheeni behind, so he comes up with a master plan. He will do terrible things and make his mother's life miserable. This way, she will kick him out and he will have to live with his father (Steve Buscemi) who lives near Sheeni. After blowing up a store with the help of his alternate personality, he gets his wish, but the cops are now looking for him as well.

Youth in Revolt is one mess of an unfunny movie, in large part due to the creepy nature of Francois and the questionable mental state of Nick. The crutch of the film is his split personality, but Francois comes off more as a child predator than he does the cool bad ass side of Nick. Essentially, Nick is talking to himself in the scenes with Francois and forces himself to do things he doesn't want to do. He's mentally unstable, sick of his repressed, secluded self and growing weary of his mother's sluttiness that his kind, gentle demeanor is overtaken by the power of Francois. His brain is so diluted with the foolish thought that he simply can't go on being a virgin (because no 16 year old anywhere is still a virgin) that he basically snaps. This is a guy we're supposed to root for, but I found myself more inclined to root for the police so he could get the proper psychiatric treatments he so desperately needed.

Though it does offer up a few laughs here and there, roughly half are in the trailer (equaling out to about seven or eight total) and they're better edited in it than the actual picture. Similar to the overrated Fantastic Mr. Fox, Youth in Revolt takes a funny joke that was edited with terrific comedic timing in the trailer and adds in an extra shot or two that throws the whole punchline off track. It just goes to show how important editing is. You can have the funniest joke ever on paper, but if it doesn't come across pitch perfect in the movie, it loses its impact.

Michael Cera, though undeniably likable and charming, has more or less played the same character in every movie, including this one. His awkward, nerdy physique and sarcastic humor are intact in Youth in Revolt, but it's old at this point. While Francois is a departure from his usual performance, he is underutilized, only showing up in a handful of scenes, only one of which is funny in the slightest.

I'm not quick to point the finger at anybody in particular when it comes to the failings of Youth in Revolt. The actors do a capable job, the direction is fine and the writing was decent enough, but "capable," "fine," and "decent" aren't exactly impassioned adjectives. The whole affair just seems lazy, with nobody doing anything too awful, but nobody on the opposite end picking up the slack either. The new year is off to a poor start indeed.

Youth in Revolt receives 1.5/5