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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

Review: Paul

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Why does everyone always assume that? What am I doing? Am I harvesting farts?

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost boldly go where everyone else has gone before…

It’s hard to dislike Paul, a nice enough trip down a familiar road that, nevertheless, leaves the feeling that out of the talent they’ve assembled they should have made more out of this material.

Paul follows two British comic book geeks Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost), who are travelling across America to explore the various UFO sites the Midwest offers.

One night, they meet an alien (the title character voiced by Seth Rogen) fleeing from Area 51 and agree to help him the rest of the way home. Chased by federal agents and the fanatical father of a young woman that they accidentally kidnap (Kristen Wiig), Graeme and Clive hatch an escape plan to return Paul to his mother ship.

There’s very little oomph to the proceedings, at least not in a manner that we haven’t seen before. Paul is indebted to its filmic ancestors (Close Encounters, E.T., Aliens) and there’s a timidity about the film in that it doesn’t try to be something new, just old and familiar.

In that sense it’s a celebration of the sci-fi genre but watching it you’re thinking of better, more enjoyable films to past the time with. As a pair Graeme and Clive are your stereotypical fish out of water and they bring a child-like enthusiasm to the film’s first half, but that approach makes for an underwhelming first half hour.

It’s not helped by weak gags either. The mistaking Graeme and Clive for a gay couple feels like a lazy stereotype. The film feels devoid of any sort of comic inspiration.

There’s so much talent in front of the  camera – Bill Hader, Jason Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch – and some talent behind it, which makes the flat tone so surprising. So it’s with a glad welcome that Wiig’s Ruth Buggs gives the film a lift enlivens as a devout Christian who has her faith shaken by the existence of Paul. She’s naive, innocent and ignorant, but falls into the same generic trap by becoming a love interest.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect (among a multitude) is the title character itself. He’s foul-mouthed, rude and the CG is impressive. Beyond that he’s not interesting. Rogen’s voice is a little distracting too.

There are a few emotional touches here and there, but they’re ineffective; a shadow of Pegg’s and Frost’s more interesting genre work before this film. Thankfully the film livens up for its final third, a case of too little to late.

Paul is ok. An amalgamation of different films that it never rises above. It’s a celebration of geek cinema, a homage to films that have inspired many others. It works as a momentary diversion, though you’ll remember this film with as fond a memory.

6/10

Review: The Green Hornet

Seth Rogen,Jay Chou

This city needs our help. We could be heroes!

First things first, The Green Hornet is not as bad as you’ve heard pre-release. Despite its rather low score on Rotten Tomatoes and my friend’s thoughts prior to seeing the film (he heard it was nothing but rubbish but enjoyed it once we left the cinema), it’s better than you would expect; especially for a film with blockbuster aspirations that opened in January. It’s not particularly ambitious and it does falter in some moments but it’s a fun, if wholly generic film.

Now, on to the review proper…

The Green Hornet is the adaptation of the 1940s radio show (I keep thinking it’s a comic book but I may be confusing it with The Spirit) and its subsequent TV show made famous by introducing Bruce Lee as Kato.

Following the exploits of Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) and his sidekick/genius Kato (played with surprising charm by Tony Chou), who after the death of his press magnate father Jack Reid (Tom Wilkinson) takes on the mantle of his crime-fighting work with Kato by posing as villains in an attempt to defuse crime. It reminds me very much of the recent The Other Guys and Sherlock Holmes and, unfortunately, like many buddy-cop movies follows the same exact same blueprint we’ve seen executed too many times.

The initial hook of the film lies in the way it slyly subverts the convention of the super-hero (comic, serial, crusader?) genre by having Reid and Kato pose primarily as villains in order to undermine the monopoly of crime achieved by Chudnofsky (a comedic Christoph Waltz). It’s a refreshing take as we’re used to seeing a hero that’s good/conflicted hero rather than characters jumping head first into crime-fighting making things up as they go along.

However it does make for what could be considered an obnoxious character in terms of Reid who like Tony Stark parties day and night and doesn’t endear himself to the audience by being generally displeasing throughout. I found Rogen’s approach likable as he has enough nous to portray the character’s flaw not as arrogance but for the stupidity it really is.

Reid isn’t particularly intelligent, in fact many of the plans he implements are the concoctions of his secretary Lenore Case [a rather wasted Pepper Pott’s-lite Cameron Diaz). He’s never mustered up to much living in his father’s shadow and (like a few cinematic father-son relationships) doesn’t like his father but his death comes as a shock and his sense of recklessness steers him into becoming [adopts 1940s radio voice] the masked avenger they call The Green Hornet!

Perhaps the most pleasing part of the film is the relationship between Reid and Kato with Rogen’s unconventional looks and Chou’s uncomfortable use of English (which I found endearing rather than off-putting) making for an unlikely coupling and by the time they take the Black Beauty out for their first spree singing to Coolio’s Gangster’s Paradise you may be onboard or completely unamused.

For the most part The Green Hornet succeeds as a comedy whether it’s the Rogen/Chou partnership, a hilarious scene featuring an unbilled James Franco and most of Waltz’s work as a criminal suffering from a mid-life crisis who questions whether he’s scary enough. What it doesn’t achieve as successfully is in the action which apart from Kato Vision (time slows down but Kato moves at full speed) suffers from a surprisingly uninspired direction from Michel Gondry.

Too many times the action sequences were shot in a matter of fact style, cars smashing into objects and pirouetting in the air before performing a few barrel rolls. It lacked the imagination you would expect from Gondry, especially when you see the way he handles Kato vision. It takes away from the enjoyment because of just how banal the action scenes can feel.

Another aspect of the film that leaves the viewer wanting more is the general structure of the film. Despite subverting a few conventions the film simply conforms to them in the second and third act. The first act is the most interesting part of the film but as soon as partnerships are formed, villains established etc does the film dive straight into formula. When Diaz turns up you’ll be hoping that she won’t be the character that upsets the Rogen/Chou dynamic. She does. Beyond that her role is minor, unwittingly assisting Reid in his ‘heroics’ but not contributing much beyond that.

The biggest fault of The Green Hornet is that apart from offering an interesting premise, there’s very little that hasn’t been seen or explored in other similar films. It’s a solid film, enjoyable in a preposterous way. It won’t demand much in the way of intelligence but it’s a fun if unremarkable time to spend in the theatres.

7/10

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