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Entries in Seth Rogen (7)

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

Wednesday
Dec192012

The Guilt Trip

The Guilt Trip is a movie that should speak to a great number of people. Similar to this year’s Brave, which told a story about the bond between a mother and daughter, the film is about a mother/son connection many of us take for granted. Even though many of us have grown up and moved on and occasionally don’t want anything to do with our mothers, that connection is forever binding and the love is unyielding. The Guilt Trip hits some right notes when exploring this bond, even making its sugary sweetness bearable, so the movie’s problem isn’t that it isn’t narratively interesting. The problem is that it just isn’t very funny. Pegged a comedy, The Guilt Trip’s jokes miss far more than they hit, which drags the surrounding tenderness of its story down to a point where it simply can’t be recommended.

Andrew Brewster (Seth Rogen) is an ex-employee of the Environmental Protection Agency. A chemistry whiz-kid, he has put all of his heart, soul and money into a product called “Scieoclean,” a science based cleaning product that is more effective than other retail cleaning products, but also devoid of any harmful chemicals, to the point where you could even drink it if you wanted to. He’s currently on a cross country road trip where he hopes to sell his product to some major retailers, but first, he goes to New York to see his mom, Joyce (Barbra Streisand). While there, he learns that he was actually named after his mother’s old lover, whom she still retained feelings for. His mom hasn’t gone on a date since his father died when he was eight, so Andrew tracks this man down and discovers that he lives and works in San Francisco. Despite his mother’s grating nature, he asks her to accompany him on his road trip, not revealing that his final “meeting” stop is actually her old lover’s place of work.

Right from the get-go, The Guilt Trip is a hard pill to swallow. Andrew comes off like an unappreciative son, someone who doesn’t necessarily realize how hard his mother must have worked to raise him after the death of his father. He does his best to avoid her and doesn’t even want to talk to her half the time. He’s been so caught up in the stress of what’s amounting to a failed business venture that his mother’s well-being hardly seems to cross his mind. When he finally decides to ask her to accompany him on his road trip, he actually gives her a very short time limit, mere seconds, to decide before pulling the offer off the table. It’s his last ditch effort to stop this trip from happening, yet we’re supposed to believe that he cares enough about her to track down her ex-lover and rekindle their flame? Any believability such a scenario has comes only if you twist it into a selfish motivation; after all, if Joyce is busy with a new (old?) man, she’ll leave Andrew alone.

The Guilt Trip doesn’t give a good first impression, but it thankfully gets better as it goes on. It’s an uphill battle it never really wins—if the peak is a recommendable movie, the film gets a few feet from it and collapses—but it does an admirable job of saving itself from what would have otherwise been an instant write-off. Despite her occasional annoyance, Joyce is energetic and loving, clearly caring more for her son than anything else in the world, as a mother should, and as past events in their lives surface forward, more layers behind these characters are revealed. They aren’t simple archetypes as the beginning suggests, but rather fully realized characters who appear to have lived full lives before the lights went down and we met them. From a screenwriting perspective, that’s a difficult thing to accomplish, especially from a start as lousy as the one here.

The reason The Guilt Trip never takes off, though, is because it’s weighed down by a serious lack of laughs. Through all the crazy exploits and quick one-liners, the film shows itself to be comedically shallow, rarely producing laughter, of which is slight when it actually does. Rogen, the dependable comic he usually is, is much more reserved here (because the script calls for it, to be fair). It’s instead Streisand who gets to go crazy, but, if the end credits ad-lib sequence is any indication, she isn’t very good at it. Perhaps allowing Rogen to summon his wackiness alongside Streisand would have hurt the balanced story, but it certainly would have provided more laughs. That surprisingly sweet tale about a son and mother who love each other, even though they don’t fully understand (and sometimes annoy) each other is the heart and soul of the movie; nearly all of its failures stem from its lack of laughs. If you’re a son or a mother with a son, you’re bound to find something to latch onto in The Guilt Trip, but everyone else will deem it a waste of time.

The Guilt Trip receives 2.5/5

Friday
Jul272012

The Watch

The idea of a comedy centered on a neighborhood watch group isn’t a bad one. Some wild and unpredictable things can happen in a small town on a quiet night, but a premise alone is not enough to sustain a film. Despite a mostly likable cast of actors, this week’s newest film, The Watch, is hopelessly unfunny. It struggles to gain even the slightest bit of momentum, a strange problem in a movie that amps up the unpredictability by throwing invading aliens hell bent on destroying Earth into the mix. The film is only 98 minutes long, but it feels at least double that. It’s a waste of time and talent, both in front of and behind the camera (at least in terms of writing) and it’s sure to be one of the lamest and flattest comedies of the year.

Evan (Ben Stiller) is a nice guy. He’s active in his community and forms a number of groups to better it. He’s also the general manager of the local Costco, a job not many people would find fulfilling, but one that he adores with all his heart. He’s ever the optimist and loves those around him, but one night, his overnight security guard is murdered. Determined to get to the bottom of it, he forms a neighborhood watch with local thrill seekers Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill) and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). They quickly discover that the murderer isn’t human, however, and that an alien race has landed on their planet that intends to wipe them out. Despite the danger, the men vow to stop that from happening.

The Watch does some things you expect and some things you don’t, but it does nearly all of them wrong. For example, in the film, Jonah Hill plays a toughened wanna-be cop, one that has no problem eyeing people down and whipping out his switchblade. He charges headfirst into battle unafraid of the consequences. This goes against our created perception of who this person is as an actor, but the problem is Hill can’t pull this type of roll off. He’s at his best when he’s vulnerable, nerdy and outspoken, not acting like he’s tougher than tough. Vaughn, on the other hand, essentially plays himself. He’s still obnoxious, crude and loud (does he really need to yell every line?) and he overpowers everyone else in the film, especially poor Richard Ayoade, who is given hardly a line to speak at all for the first half of the film and is mostly relegated to sitting their prettily while the rest of the cast plays off each other. Vaughn’s shtick has become tiresome, wearing out its welcome sometime around when the credits for Wedding Crashers ended. He hasn’t had a hit (or even a decent movie) in at least six years and there’s a reason for that. The man needs to switch things up a bit.

Vaughn needed to go against typecast and Hill needed to remain the same. This is just one example of the film having the right idea, but then ignoring it and doing the exact opposite. It correctly puts the group into some precarious situations, but it telegraphs them so far in advance that they’re hardly a surprise when they finally roll around. One of these scenes revolves around a new neighbor who acts suspiciously and may or may not be an alien, but his mannerisms are so sexual that what’s really going on in his basement is obvious. The late movie twist is similarly transparent, but it’s not its predictability that’s the problem; it’s that a certain character’s actions and motivations are called into question once it happens. There’s no real reason behind any of what happens. It just coasts along straining for jokes, never really grabbing any, and then it ends.

But it doesn’t end before a giant action scene so reminiscent of James Cameron’s 1986 sequel Aliens that I’m a little surprised it didn’t reference it. The only thing that separates this alien action scene from others is where the aliens’ weak spot is (I’ll give you one guess), but such immaturity is not inherently funny. After watching this dreck, you’d be surprised if anyone involved in its making has even heard the word “funny.” I’m so vehemently against this brain killing film that I have no qualms telling you to skip it, though the product placement is so egregious, it probably won’t matter. In what amounts to essentially a cinematic fellation of the wholesale store, Costco could have conceivably covered the film’s entire budget. It will most likely be a success, but nevertheless, comedies like this are not okay. Lazy, dull and stupid only begin to describe it. Most real life neighborhood watches are uneventful and boring, but it’s hard to imagine any are more boring than sitting through The Watch.

The Watch receives 0.5/5

Friday
Sep302011

50/50

Cancer is a touchy subject. Make a joke about cancer, or someone with it, and people give you a look like you just punched an elderly woman in the face. To laugh about such a terrible disease seems inappropriate, so kudos to 50/50, the new (only?) cancer comedy, that reaches for the forbidden fruit and takes a big bite out of it. This is a movie with guts that is unafraid to use cancer as a comedic tool, but what many will find surprising is how delicately it’s handled. 50/50 doesn’t make light of cancer; that would be offensive. It treats it as it is and by the end, you’ll realize the joking was the only way these characters could have dealt with it. It’s a smart turnaround that, upon reflection, changes your perception of the movie. The more you think about it, the better it seems.

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works at a Seattle public radio station. He’s a normal guy, just like anyone else. He has a girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), a best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen) and a clingy mother (Anjelica Huston). His life is fine, if uneventful, but it’s shaken up a bit when he finds out he has a very rare type of cancer. His chances of survival are 50%, which is better than most cancer sufferers get, so to fight it, he undergoes chemotherapy and attends therapy with the young Katie (Anna Kendrick), a doctor in training who, if you include Adam, has had a grand total of three patients.

Isolate that plot synopsis and 50/50 would appear to be a serious drama, but more often than not, it lets loose its silliness, including a great scene where Adam awkwardly tries to pick girls up at a bar by telling them he has cancer. Another example is when Kyle exploits Adam’s sickness to bag a date with a pretty girl at a bookstore. These things may seem wrong (especially the latter), but aside from a joke about the late Patrick Swayze, the film never crosses the line. It makes it okay to laugh about cancer, even if doing so feels kind of weird. It takes a deadly, incurable disease and knocks it down to size, treating it like something that deserves to be mocked.

In the midst of all the joking, it sometimes feels like 50/50 is forgetting to acknowledge the enormity of such a disease. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as capable of an actor as he is, doesn’t seem to be putting forth the emotion. It’s hard to tell whether his character is struggling with his diagnosis or has made peace with it. He seems more emotionally distraught when he finds out his girlfriend is cheating on him than he does with the fact that he only has a 50% chance of living. It isn’t until the third act that the feeling finally comes through, but in retrospect, it seems appropriate. Adam is undeniably scared at the news, but is optimistic at first. He passes the news along to his family and friends and he dishes out more consolation than he receives. The gravity of the situation hasn’t yet sunk in. But as time goes on, his health starts to fail, he stops responding to the treatment and one of his chemotherapy buddies, who appeared to be healthy and happy, suddenly dies. Finally, with the awareness that he’s fast approaching death, he starts to break down and lose hope. To go any further would ruin it, but now that I’ve had the time to think about the film, I can’t see these events playing out any other way.

50/50 has a big heart and even though it takes the time to poke fun at cancer, it also acknowledges how scary it is, making it the most faithful depiction of the disease I can recall seeing in the movies. It follows an emotional path that seems authentic, though it’s one that hopefully none of us will ever have to test. 50/50 is one of those rare movies that can make you laugh with a tear in your eye and if you don’t see it, you’ll be missing out.

50/50 receives 4.5/5

Thursday
May262011

Kung Fu Panda 2

It has been an underwhelming year so far at the movies. By this time last year, I had given out a good number of perfect or near perfect scores, but 2011 has disappointed me. Films like Rango and Source Code have stood proud as the best this year has offered, yet neither of them were truly great. I’ve been waiting many months for a movie to come along and really impress me, something that can make me laugh, cry and excite me all at the same time. That movie has finally come in the form of Kung Fu Panda 2. It’s a tour de force, a real achievement in not just animation, but filmmaking in general and it proves once and for all that animation can be just as funny, unique and emotionally gripping as live action cinema. Let’s just put it this way. If this were released last year, Toy Story 3 would have had a run for its money.

When we last saw Po (Jack Black), he was learning to be a kung fu master. He was inexplicably deemed the Dragon Warrior and was tasked with the responsibility of defeating an impending evil heading his way. Because of his large stature and clumsy mannerisms, he was ridiculed by the Furious Five, who refused to believe he held the power to protect their people. They were wrong, of course, and now Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross) and Viper (Lucy Liu) have accepted them into their clan. But a kung fu warrior’s work is never done and a new evil has emerged in the form of Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a peacock determined to take over China.

It must be said that Kung Fu Panda 2 is a sequel of the “if it ain’t broke…” variety. The original film was a solid piece of work in itself and it would be foolish to mess with the formula too much. However, just because something isn’t broke doesn’t mean it can’t be tweaked and made better and that’s precisely what was done here. Kung Fu Panda 2 is funnier and more exciting than the original and its heart seems to have grown tenfold.

Throughout this film’s brief hour and a half runtime, Po goes on a journey of self discovery that is more profound than anything presented in the first movie. As he ventures into battle, he begins to have visions of his family, giving him a desire to learn who he is and where he came from. His discoveries aren’t always pleasant, however, which gives the film an unexpected darker tone than its predecessor. It deals with the idea of making the right choice, even if it’s not the easy one. To elaborate would constitute spoilers, but you will undoubtedly feel sadness for Po as he learns the inescapable truth of his past.

That’s not to say Kung Fu Panda 2 is all dark. It still retains the playful exuberance that made the first movie so darn enjoyable. Also returning is the vibrant and distinctive animation (even when obfuscated by the 3D glasses) that seamlessly transitions from lush computer animation to hand drawn sequences that appropriately elicit the feeling of Chinese shadow puppetry. Perhaps best of all is that the characters are just as charming as you remember. Po is still the awkward, hunger fueled jokester you remember him as. He’s just a little more agile and skilled than before. He also shows more confidence, having been accepted as a legitimate kung fu master, and isn’t afraid to spout off one-liners that are hilariously used to parody various action movie clichés.

The Furious Five that accompany Po are better handled as well. Rather than endlessly make fun of him as they did in the first film, they now see him as a part of their family. It creates a sense of camaraderie among the crew and gives them more sympathetic personalities. The most surprising character, however, comes in the form of Lord Shen, who at first glance is too graceful to be threatening—after all, a peacock isn’t the most ferocious animal on the planet—but looks can be deceiving. He may not have the physical presence of the last film’s antagonist, but he is nevertheless ruthless and destructive. He delights in chaos and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. It’s a cold, calculated approach to villainy, just one of many aspects the filmmakers have carefully thought through.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a wonderful movie. It works on so many different levels, from the pleasing aesthetics to the unbelievable action, that it’s practically guaranteed to please everybody who watches it. While the children they bring will surely enjoy it, adults in the audience may find something deeper hidden in what looks like an otherwise simple tale. To summarize this review, Kung Fu Panda 2 is flat out amazing.

Kung Fu Panda 2 receives 5/5