This Is the End (2013)
by Steve Habrat
With interest rapidly fading in the abysmal The Hangover Part III, the film that almost everyone assumed would be the must-see comedy of 2013, the slot for “best summer comedy” has been left up for grabs. I have a feeling that over the next few weeks, that slot may end up being filled by This Is the End, an apocalyptic horror-comedy from the stoned minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Lovingly paying tribute to a whole string of horror films (look for nods to Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Evil Dead, and Zombie) and firing off laughs faster than a machine gun spits out bullets, This Is the End is a gross-out laugh riot that leaps from one frenzied shock after another. Nothing is off limits here and every single actor or actress in front of the camera (just know that each and every one of them is playing an exaggerated version of themselves) throws themselves into the project with plenty of maniacal gusto. To make it even better, the film boasts such a fresh and unique concept, making you wonder why no one has ever tried something like this before. Did I also mention that the film gets incredibly freaky when the demons come out to play?
This Is the End begins with Jay Baruchel arriving in Los Angeles to hang out with his old buddy Seth Rogen. The two arrive at Seth’s new home where they instantly smoke a ton of weed, watch Seth’s 3D television, and play video games. When their interest fades in doing that, the two decided to go to a housewarming party that is being thrown by James Franco. While at the party, Jay and Seth mingle with countless other celebrities including Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Emma Watson, Michael Cera, Rihanna, Danny McBride, Jason Segel, Mindy Kaling, and Aziz Ansari, to name a few (trust me, there is a slew of others that turn up). After Jay grows uncomfortable at the party, he asks Seth to accompany him to the nearest convenience store so that he can pick up a pack of cigarettes. Suddenly, beams of blue light shoot through the ceiling of the convenience store and suck up several customers. Terrified, Jay and Seth flee into the street where chaos has erupted. The two manage to make it back to James Franco’s home in time to warn everyone. Most of the partygoers refuse to believe their story but after a giant sinkhole appears outside and the Hollywood hills erupt with fire, the guests scatter and most of them die horribly. The only survivors of the incident are Jay, Seth, James, Craig, Jonah, and Danny, who proceed to barricade themselves into the lavish mansion they were all just partying in. Terrified and confused, the group begins trying to make sense of their situation and figure out if the destruction outside will pass or if it really is the end of days.
This Is the End marks the directing debut from Rogen and Goldberg, which would automatically make you assume that the finished product would be a somewhat wobbly experience. While there are a few pacing issues, Rogen and Goldberg show that they are extremely competent and confident blockbuster directors who also know their way around a good horror film. Even if they are borrowing most of their wink scares, there are more than a few moments that will have your arms breaking out in goosebumps. The amount of horror in the film is surprising, but it never once gets in the way of the infinite amount belly laughs strung throughout. You’d assume that the film would exhaust itself early on, especially when you get a load of the numerous cameos crammed into the first fifteen minutes. It’s a giddy delight that just keeps getting more outrageous, especially when Michael Cera turns up as an obnoxious cokehead slapping Rihanna’s ass and blowing a handful of cocaine into Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s face. Honestly, even if you have no interest in the film whatsoever, just go see it for his performance. He pretty much steals the movie. Yet when 98% of the partygoers get sucked down to Hell, the film never even misses a beat. The guys instantly start bickering over food, water, beer, drugs, a Milky Way, masturbating, sleeping arrangements, scavenging, and, yes, there is even a conversation about raping Emma Watson. As if it couldn’t get any better, the guys decided to make a homemade sequel to Pineapple Express.
Perhaps the most inspired part of This Is the End is that Rogen and Goldberg, who also wrote the movie, decided that everyone should just play a cartoon version of themselves. Using the image that most of the public has of them; the guys and gals instantly crank it up to eleven. Rogen goes fully stoner with a sellout edge while Hill goes full nice guy as America’s sweetheart. Robinson brings his teddybear charm while sweating profusely in his “Take off your panties!” t-shirt and McBride unleashes an even darker version of Kenny Powers, if that was even possible. Franco plays with the idea that everyone thinks that he is a bisexual art snob obsessed with Seth Rogen and Baruchel nabs laughs through the idea that everyone is sort of familiar with him but not entirely. Together, they erupt in a flurry of adlib conversations that are just downright hysterical. What is even more shocking is the fact that these guys really go for the throat, burning Rogen for his gravel laugh and Green Hornet and poking Franco for Spider-Man and Your Highness. It certainly is a set that demanded thick skin and deep-rooted relationships. Just when you think you’ve seen everything that This Is the End has to offer, wait until you lay eyes on the axe-wielding Emma Watson, who completely skewers her innocent public image. You will never be able to look at her or Michael Cera the same way ever again.
While This Is the End certainly benefits from its fast and furious humor, there are still a few guffaws that fall painfully flat. This doesn’t happen often but be prepared for one or two lines to be met with the sound of crickets. Despite these fizzlers, This Is the End never looses its momentum and it arrives at a towering inferno climax with a few more cameos and sight gags that are guaranteed to have you doubled over in laughter. The film also dares to get a little preachy in a few places and its interest in the biblical apocalypse was certainly unforeseen, but This Is the End delivers a message that this viewer could stand behind. This message is simple—don’t be a jerk and you’ll be just fine when you meet your maker. Fair enough. Overall, with an inspired idea and a cast that is game to poke fun at themselves and each other’s public persona, This Is the End is ablaze with uncapped creativity, pop culture references, and stoner charm. It may not be for everyone and it is sure to offend your mother, but this is one comedy that begs to be seen with a huge audience ready to have a raucous and raunchy good time.
The Watch (2012)
by Steve Habrat
What do you get when you put Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill in the same movie? Apparently, an extremely mediocre product with a flabby screenplay and a small handful of memorable chuckles. The Watch is the newest comedy misfire in a summer that has been loaded with comedy misfires that really hurt (The Dictator, That’s My Boy). In a way it is pitiful because The Watch stumbled right out of the gate and it has never really been able to right itself. The film has been unfairly overshadowed by the real-life murder of Trayvon Martin, who was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator. The studio countered with scrubbing away “Neighborhood” from the title and they crossed their fingers that the film would still be a big late summer draw. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to realize that their science-fiction/horror/comedy hybrid wasn’t really all that funny or freaky. The Watch really tanks when it asks Vaughn and Stiller to deliver most of the funnies through improvised sequences that are supposed to act as the glue holding the shoddy alien invasion plot together. In all actuality, it is slightly embarrassing for Vaughn and Stiller, who are both talented guys if they are handed the right material. They are just lucky that Hill steps up and does most of the heavy lifting.
The Watch takes us to the small Ohio (!) town of Glenview, a peaceful community that Evan Trautwig (Played by Stiller) calls home. The busybody Evan works as the manager of the local Costco but his public service doesn’t stop there. In his free time, Evan creates a number of neighborhood clubs ranging from the jogging club to the Spanish club. After one of his Costco security guards is gruesomely murdered and skinned one night, Evan decides that he is going to make sure that the killer is brought to justice. Evan forms the Neighborhood Watch with the hope of attracting a slew of gung-ho recruits eager to wrangle this menace. Evan ends up with the mouthy construction worker Bob (Played by Vaughn), the mentally unstable wannabe cop Franklin (Played by Hill), and the recent divorcee Jamarcus (Played by Richard Ayoade). What begins as a distraction from their boring day-to-day lives takes a bizarre turn when the group stumbles upon a strange metallic orb lying on the side of the road. In addition the orb, a number of locals are turning up dead in the most gruesome ways imaginable. As the group’s investigation deepens, they stumble upon an alien invasion that threatens to wipe out the planet.
A good majority of The Watch finds our four concerned citizens plunked down in Bob’s glorified man-cave while they sip beers and gripe about their daily problems. This would all be fine with me expect that these four funny-guys can’t seem to gel. Stiller is all jittery pleas for the group to stay focused while overseeing the club with an iron fist. Stiller’s jitters sometimes seem like they are not simply a character tick but maybe nerves over having to improvise every joke he delivers. Vaughn is the polar opposite of Stiller but not in a good way. He is meant to be the party animal who finds comfort in the company of his bros. Most of his motor mouth improvising will have you wishing he would stick a cork in it for a while and let Ayoade and Hill have the floor. The British Ayoade is a promising talent but he rarely gets a chance to show you what he is made of. While Ayoade tries to brighten things up, Hill takes things from ho-hum to hilarious when he finds his whacked out groove. He gets all the films best lines with his dry delivery. Halfway through the film, Hill gets a moment at a teen party that had my group of friends and I in stitches. Sadly, the sequence doesn’t last long enough so savor it while it lasts.
The best parts of The Watch come from the more emotionally charged moments in the script. Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg serve as the screenwriters here so it is no surprise that the intimate buddy moments are splendidly written. A small scene between Bob and Evan in the middle of the film is a standout, one that narrowly saves the entire film. The scene finds the two just sitting on a park bench having a few beers and talking about all their problems a home. The scene really hits the mark when Evan confesses a piercing secret that really makes you feel for the guy and understand his intensity a bit more. Bob, on the other hand, is a terrified and confused parent who just wants what is right for his teenage daughter, a nice touch to an incredibly annoying character. Meanwhile Ayoade’s, Jamarcus and Hill’s Franklin are both left underdeveloped, surprising considering they are much more interesting than the characters that Stiller and Vaughn are stuck with. The script is eager to give away secrets about Jamarcus so when we finally arrive at the big twist near the end of the film, it falls short because we saw it coming about forty-five minutes ago. We never really do learn much about Franklin, only what he chooses to reveal in early scenes, which is that he is a deranged failure who shacks up with his mom. I was left wanting more from his character.
The rest of the background players of The Watch all quickly evaporate from your memory when the credits roll, which doesn’t really work in the film’s favor. Will Forte shows up as a bug-eyed cop who is dumber than dirt. Rosemarie DeWitt is present as Evan’s wife Abby, who is mostly there to look sexy and try to seduce him. Billy Crudup pops in as Evan’s creepy new neighbor who may be up to no good in his eerily lit basement. The last act of the film falls victim to tons of lousy CGI aliens, distracting explosions, and chaotic gunfights that are meant to riff on action movie clichés. It appears that the filmmakers suddenly remembered that they had to tie up the alien invasion plot so they just blew a bunch of stuff up and called it a day. The rest of the film resorts to clunky jokes about penises, orgies, and fellatio, all of which are complimented by classic hip-hop songs, which do nothing to make the film funnier. I will admit that I did chuckle more than a few times throughout The Watch but I only laughed hard two or three times. I should have laughed hard a hell of a lot more than that, especially with this cast of clowns at the wheel. The Watch ends up being another colossal letdown in the comedy department.
The Green Hornet (2011)
by Steve Habrat
I’ll admit that I was itching to see The Green Hornet the second I heard the buzz (pun intended) about it. I have vague memories of catching the short lived 1966 television series with martial arts legend Bruce Lee as the ass kicking sidekick Kato and Van Williams as the Green Hornet himself Britt Reid. I remember that old theme that still every once and a great while makes its way into pop-culture, whether it is sampled in rap songs or Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. I remember those masked avengers riding around in their tricked out Black Beauty. In fact, I think I was drawn to it because of the similarities to Batman. They both feature a masked millionaire and his sidekick who has come from nothing. They ride around in cool cars. They fight crime in really cool outfits (Although, if GQ ever did a best-dressed superhero list, I think the Green Hornet and Kato may take it from the Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder.). But mostly, they were vigilantes that operated outside of the law. And it was precisely the anti-hero set up that lured me in. Hell, Val Williams and Bruce Lee even had cameos in the popular Adam West Batman television show. While I’m too young to be overly familiar with where the Green Hornet got his start, which was a radio show from the 1930s, I can still hold on to the hope that the film has had some form of respect for him and stayed true to his origins.
Enter the writing team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who also penned the hilarious coming of age story Superbad and whimsical director Michel Gondry, of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Science of Sleep fame. Intrigued yet? You should be. Even if you are unfamiliar with the Green Hornet and Kato, there is still the promise of some truly unique visuals and some stinging humor right? You bet there is, and there is also some bone crunching action, lively car chases, eccentric villains, smoking hot secretaries, really cool cars, and a painfully hilarious cameo from James Franco. Somewhere in there, there’s the plot of playboy Britt Reid (Played by Rogen), the–What else?–slacker son of a newspaper publisher who takes over The Daily Sentinel in the wake of his father’s mysterious death. On the seedier side of town, a murderous villain Chudnofsky (Played by the brilliant Oscar winner Christoph Waltz), who looks like a super villain from the seventies, is slowly trying to control all the crime in gangland Los Angeles. The day after his father’s funeral, Britt wakes up to his morning coffee and to his horror, his coffee is dreadful. Plus, it lacks the elegant and decorative leaf that usually adorns the top. Britt storms through the estate looking for the person who usually makes his morning coffee. That person, he discovers, is Kato (Played by a seriously good Jay Chou), who is also his father’s mechanic. After a night of drunken shenanigans, Britt and Kato decide they are going to become masked vigilantes and take on crime throughout the city. Then the Looney Tunes meets 300 style action kicks into high gear.
By this point, be it from reading what I have described to you or seeing the energetic trailers, you know if this is the type of film for you. If you’re a fan of Rogen’s haw-haw stoner humor or a superhero aficionado, you were probably already in line and have already seen The Green Hornet. If you’re not a fan of either, I can’t really do much to convince you to see it. I suffer from my own fanboy demons, so naturally I jumped at the opportunity to see it opening weekend. Now, I’ll also admit I walked out of the theater with a big grin slapped across my face. The film is cartoonish mayhem at it’s absolute finest. And Gondry can’t resist spicing the film up with his trademark surreal flare. The action scenes are inspired, resembling something out of a video game (Kato hones in on all of the baddies weapons that they are wielding). Rogen never snaps out of his along-for-the-ride shtick and some will find that a hard hurdle to jump over. But it’s Chou’s Kato who’s the real star of the film and even through broken English; you can’t help but love him. Whether he is kicking and punching through countless hoards of Chudnofsky’s henchmen or whipping up countless Black Beauties, Chou is always entrancing. And what about Oscar winner Waltz? Well he seems to be lapping up his new career in Hollywood with demented merriment. I’ll tell you this much about his character, just wait until the climatic showdown. He’ll have you laughing and gripping the edge of your seat. And we can’t forget to mention Cameron Diaz, who seemed to be a last minute addition to make the fanboys drool. She isn’t given much to do but fill Reid and Kato in on some of the criminal activity that is taking place in LA. And how does Rogen fare as a superhero? He pulls it off just fine, even if Chou is the real action star here. Rogen mostly falls back on spewing out silly one-liners and hiding behind Kato. Don’t let that fool you, as Rogen does get his chance to play the hero in a show stopping fight scene at the climax. I’ll confess that it is welcome in a genre that has become dominated by brooding heroes who take themselves a little too seriously. But then again, it’s what we have pushed for isn’t it? Heroes that are more emotionally complex, solemn, and that operate within the world we are familiar with. But The Green Hornet’s main objective is to throw all of that out the window and invite us to just have a campy good time.
Every party has its moments where the fun lags and The Green Hornet does suffer from a few lagging moments. The plot of the film is uneven at points and the more twists that they try to throw into the mix, the more cluttered the plot actually becomes. The film works better when it stays on the straight and narrow path. The entire movie is played up like a psychedelic madcap comedy and trying to give it more depth than it deserves slightly spoils the fun. The opening of the film doesn’t provide much of a back-story to the relationship between Reid and his father. They simply don’t get along and Reid’s father doesn’t understand him. That’s about all we get we are supposed to just accept it. The film is just under the two-hour mark and it leaves us asking why they didn’t go another ten minutes and make their troubled relationship a little bit meatier. And the 3D? It reeks of an afterthought and I will say that it’s the first 3D movie that actually began to bother my eyes.
Through it all, The Green Hornet works because it seems like everyone in it is having a blast. I had as much fun watching it, as I’m sure they did making it. The fact of the matter is that the Green Hornet is a third string superhero. He always has been and will continue to be. His film does not rank among the best of the superhero genre and I don’t think anyone under the sun expected it to run with Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight, Kick-Ass, Iron Man, or Watchmen. It also certainly does not rank with the worst of them (I’m referring to you Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, Punisher and Wolverine!). I went in with high hopes but, due to some of the seething reviews, I had my doubts. I emerged smiling and completely satisfied. Plus, in these early months of the year where Hollywood dumps all of its crap, don’t expect much in the way of solid entertainment anytime soon. The Green Hornet is the best we will get for a while and after sitting through all the serious award contenders, it was utterly refreshing. The Green Hornet is pure fanboy euphoria. Grade: B
The Green Hornet is now available on Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, and DVD.