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Review: This is the End

This is the End

I don’t wanna die at James Franco’s house.

The first of two apocalyptic comedies this summer (the other The World’s End), This is the End is written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and follows a group of celebrities as they stave off the armageddon at James Franco’s house.

End is a showcase for the immature sensibilities of Rogen and Goldberg, who up until now have built their careers on being rude and irreverent. But their films tend to revolve around male friendships, so while crude humour, immaturity and an anti-authority streak defines them, the bonds made through friendships is an appeal of their work too.

Whether its Seth and Evan in Superbad, or Britt and Kato in The Green Hornet, friendship matters. End chucks six actors together and the audience watches as their petty, childish needs bring out the worst in each other.

An oft heard complaint of Rogen & Goldberg is that their films are just about vulgarity and stupidity, but that’s a misconception. If anything that sort of behaviour reveals their intended themes and here it looks at what happens when friendships come under duress in an extreme situation. Just how far will these characters go to save themselves?

The film takes the actors’ personas and twists, amplifies and subverts. Michael Cera plays a cokehead, James Franco is pretentious hoarder of art and Jonah Hill is a two-faced and arrogant. The actors enjoy the opportunity to tear their own images to shreds.

Plot becomes less of an importance once the apocalypse rolls in. Danny McBride enters half-way through and plays the self-absorbed tool that’s become his stock in trade, giving the film something close to a villain.

The film hops from one genre to another (survival film, horror), which keeps it interesting. There are visual effects are on a scale that’s not often seen in comedies and there are indulgent moments and an over reliance on the masturbation jokes that waste a few moments.

Emma Watson storms into the film wielding an axe and high heels, but like the rest of Rogen & Goldberg’s output, End is very male-orientated. The introduction of Watson brings a funny and dark conversation to light, but the lack of female characters throughout their work is disappointing.

If you enjoy their brand of humour then there’s plenty to like in This is the End. With some well-placed cameos the film does more than enough for your time. There is the nagging thought that it could have been funnier, but what we have is a film that’s occasionally inspired and never less than good.

7/10

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Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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Caesar is home

It’s a myth that August is a dumping ground for studios. In recent years we’ve a number of excellent films in that month The Bourne Ultimatum, Inglorious Basterds, District 9 and Scott Pilgrim Vs the World and now we can add Rise of the Planet of the Apes to that as well.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes tells the story of James Franco’s Will Rodman, a scientist developing a cure for Alzheimers by testing it on chimps and apes. He claims he’s found the solution but due to an accident at the facility, his research is sent back to the drawing board and the test apes are killed.

One chimp escapes that fate and comes into Franco’s care. He takes him home and raises it while also giving his Alzheimers suffering father (John Lithgow) the serum which appears to halt the disease in its tracks. The young chimp – now called Caesar – develops an extraordinary intelligence but when Caesar intervenes in a fracas between Lithgow and a neighbour, Caesar is sent to an ape retreat and from there engineers an escape for freedom.

What’s makes Rise of the Apes so interesting is the importance given to its simian characters. Director Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist) tells the story from Caesar’s point of view as Caesar develops into a leader of apes, struggling at first before becoming a figure that leads by example.

The apes are genuine characters: funny, dangerous and angry, each one has an identity. They exist within the environment, interacting with each other and the film’s at its best when they’re on screen. The CG is remarkable, if not wholly photo-realistic.

The human characters suffer in comparison. Franco is game for the scientist that can’t see beyond his own choices and sets the world on course for global meltdown, but his acting feels neutered in some scenes. Lithgow fares better as the Franco’s father who struggles wih Alzheimers, giving the audience a reason to care in the human drama.

The rest of the cast suffer from thin characterisation that makes then too easy to dislike such as David Oyelowo’s business man who’s motivated by greed and success or Tom Felton’s character is your standard bully while Frieda Pinto has a very forgettable role Franco’s girlfriend.

Rise of the Apes delves into the difference between doing what is necessary and violence for violence’s sake. The apes want their freedom back and once the end title plays, it’s difficult not to be happy at the end result.

8/10

Review: 127 Hours

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I’m in pretty deep doodoo here

I think I know what I love about films.

It’s an odd way to start a review but watching 127 Hours made rediscover what that ‘thing’ was that allowed me to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Every now and then i look at my film collection and wonder why I bought certain films and whether they were any good in the first place (Starsky and Hutch?).

For some the reasons were as clear as day; a performance, the dialogue or perhaps a thread that resonated with me. For others I couldn’t quite remember… maybe I indulged myself and bought a film on a whim.

But then I watched 127 Hours and I realised it was the experience, the sensation you get from being caught in the thrall of the narrative, the visuals and the sound. Of not knowing – or in the case of this film, knowing absolutely – what’s coming next but unsure as to how it will be depicted. I feel it’s within that uncertainty that a film feels ‘alive’, constantly changing and confounding in ways that the audience feels engaged with what’s happening. The Red Shoes did that for me and so did watching Metropolis and quite a few others I won’t detail here but immersion is something every film should provide and this film delivers that.

Now, I’m an admirer of Danny Boyle but not a huge fan. I’ve probably watched half of his catalogue, I liked Trainspotting, really enjoyed 28 Days Later and Sunshine but never understood the critical fawning granted to Slumdog Millionaire. A good film but Best Picture? He strikes me as a director not necessarily concerned with executing the narrative clinically but emphatically. Pointing a camera at someone isn’t enough; it has to be almost inside the moment.

It’s that sensory, exhilarating touch that he brings to 127 Hours a film where we know the ending and yet I couldn’t help but be captured by his storytelling and James Franco’s performance. Like Ryan Reynolds in Buried it’s a one-man performance, keeping the viewer engaged in the quite frankly disastrous position he’s in. It could have just been one man fighting the odds, that stirring story that invades our multiplexes every so often but it ends up being more than that. As Ralston says, this boulder’s been waiting for him his whole life; it’s an obstacle, one he placed there in front of him unwittingly. He pretends to be superhuman and crashes back to earth realising he’s in the same world us as the mere mortals.

It’s a film about his character; about how one moment can challenge what we think of ourselves, what others think of us, our aspirations and about how this metaphorical boulder positions itself, ready to halt the inertia and make us consider what else is out there for us.

Boyle and Franco get some great help from A R Rahman’s great, immersive soundtrack. Whoever did the sound design deserves a pat on the back – the booming sound of thunder, cracking of bones and the snapping of tendons is thoroughly startling. Editing deserves some credit too for how it fresh and energetic it can be.

If I had to describe the film with one word I think it would be euphoric and in a film where a man is trapped for 127 hours and cuts his arm off, it certainly wouldn’t have been the first word I would have thought of.

It’s the kind of experience that doesn’t happen all too often and reminds me of Scott Pilgrim Vs the World in the way a director utilises every possible technique and convention under his control.

For all the best reasons I certainly won’t forget 127 Hours.

9/10

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