This Is The End

June 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

I’m going to start this review by saying that if you don’t enjoy the presence of actors Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill or James Franco, you may want to steer clear of this movie. The film could be considered a vanity project since they’re playing fictional versions of themselves–but that’s the whole fun of it.

And fun is the best word to describe this movie if you do like these actors; and in this case, obviously I do. I like that they laugh at themselves, and make fun of each other. I like that the other main character of the film, Jay Baruchel (probably a bit lesser known than the other main actors), has no issue saying he doesn’t like these guys. This is a movie that doesn’t take itself that seriously. For a movie revolving around the apocalypse of mankind, that’s a pretty big gamble. But it works if you don’t believe in that kind of thing happening.

So the story is fairly simple: Jay is coming to LA to visit his best buddy, Seth, for a weekend. They haven’t seen each other in a while and deep down, they’re both afraid that they’re losing touch with each other. Jay doesn’t like staying in LA; Seth is comfortable in the lifestyle. He’s taken to partying with his “new” friends including Franco, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and Craig Robinson among others. When Jay and Seth first see each other, it’s a great reunion. Seth shows him around his new apartment, they smoke weed and watch 3D TV and just play around. But then, Seth drops that he wants to go to this mega house party hosted by James Franco. Jay admits he’s not really a fan of James and doesn’t think he likes him either. He doesn’t know most of the other people and the ones he does know, such as Jonah Hill, he also admits he doesn’t like nor does he think they like him. Seth thinks it’s even more important to go to the party in order to bury the hatchet and start over and Jay will see that everything will work out and they’ll all be friends together.

When they first get to the house, the party is well in progress. Franco calls Jay by another name indicating he doesn’t know him, and Jonah Hill is overly friendly to Jay, which makes Jay think he’s just overcompensating and being phony. Seth promises “Jonah is just that nice”. Other guests include Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, Jason Segel, and just about everyone who’s been in a comedy film in the past 10 years…and, Rihanna. Things are going smoothly at the party until Jay runs out of cigarettes and decides to take a walk to a store to buy some more. He gets Seth to go with him and they leave the party, while Jay once again reinforces that he isn’t really into the party.

At the store, something happens. It’s like an earthquake, but then blue beams shoot out of the sky grabbing hold of people and “sucking” them up into the sky. Both Jay and Seth are blown away by this, and when they get back to the party, they can’t believe that no one has noticed anything strange has happened.

But then, an earthquake-like rumble happens again at the party and the guests go outside. Massive sinkholes swallow some of the guests, and Michael Cera is impaled by a street light. After the commotion, there are only a few people left from the party:

James, Jonah, Craig, Jay, and Seth. They decide to bunker in the house and ration everything in the house while waiting to be rescued. Then, there’s a complication. Unbeknownst to James, he had an unexpected guest who passed out in the bathtub: Danny McBride. McBride is unaware of the goingson of any earthquakes and decides to make a large breakfast using a lot of the supplies, and even goes as far as to use the bottled water they have to wash his feet and face.

It’s pretty evident early on that Franco’s not a fan of McBride, and he becomes a source of tension between the crew. Not only that, but Emma Watson appears from outside as another sole survivor from the party. After a misunderstanding about what she thinks these guys may do to her, she runs away. The men are left with each other and very few supplies, and have to go on a water mission to the basement at some point in order to replenish.

Jay is the only one who is convinced it’s the apocalypse. Everyone else thinks it’s just earthquakes. But then, they see demons. Jonah Hill has a rather…interesting encounter with one that leaves him possessed; and by the end, they all know that their souls are doomed or saved based on how good they are to each other and others.

I would say anyone who considers themselves to be a Christian would be appalled by this film; but the movie’s not really for that audience. It’s so full of raunchy and off-color humor that no one devout would even begin to consider going to see it. But if you’re willing to accept that this is a joke, and a cute little tale about friendship and what it means to sacrifice yourself for others, then none of that stuff will bother you.

The demons actually look pretty good. I can’t imagine a lot of thought went into the actual apocalyptic part of the film, and toward the end, some of the movie drags a bit. This is really more of a vehicle for the actors. But there are some very big laughs and the movie moves along otherwise at a very good pace.

There’s nothing earth shattering about this movie that would elevate it above it being just your average comedy; but since you are watching the earth literally shatter, you can at least look at it this way: if you’re going to watch a movie about the end of the world, it may as well be entertaining. Because if the apocalypse does happen, I have a feeling it won’t feel as funny in real life. Just a hunch.

My rating: :-)

Moneyball

September 26, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

Out of all of the sports in America, baseball has the most mystique. That’s always been the pull, I think, in its history. Funny game. Can’t figure it out. We try. We’ve been trying for over a century to put a finger on the pulse of the game. But really, with all of its tradition, its pattern behavior, its rock steady consistency, baseball can be all over the place. We try to normalize it by using statistics to define it. Is this guy a good player, or just a good hitter? We use terms like “5-tool” to quantify how good a player can be. Is there any other sport that we do this for? There are specialists in baseball, but they’re not every day players, like in another sport. In basketball, a scoring specialist can still be in your starting five. In football, a guy with velcro hands will most likely be among your starting wide receivers. In baseball, a guy who just steals bases will be a pinch runner. A guy who can hit in a tight spot is your pinch hitter. If you’ve got a guy with a killer curveball, he’s your 8th inning set up guy–or just someone to bring in to get one guy out. Maybe it’s a lefty-lefty matchup.

In “Moneyball”, the GM of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), along with his numbers-crunching economist, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), are faced with a very common problem among any team that isn’t the New York Yankees. Beane is given a very small payroll, and his team’s been gutted. It’s 2003, following a disappointing 2002 post season series loss to the Yankees. Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen, all blue chip players, are gone. So he’s left to replace these players, which he knows, of course, is impossible. After a dubious meeting with the general manager of the Cleveland Indians to try and re-build his team, he takes notice of a kid that nixes a deal that would send a good prospect to the Oakland A’s. Beane is taken by the kid, a recent Yale grad, who is good with numbers, but isn’t very respected by his bosses. Peter Brand thinks there’s a better way of looking at players–their value, rather than just their name or their hitting ability.

Beane assembles a team of players who don’t even know the position they’re supposed to play (one player is a former catcher who can’t throw anymore, and is expected to play first base). Beane faces opposition from not only his team of scouts, but of his team’s manager as well (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman). He’s taking a big risk by doing something this unconventional, and his team starts off extremely poorly, leading to more criticism from the world of baseball.

He’s also haunted by his own past as a can’t-miss prospect baseball player who was actually considered a “5-tool” player by scouts. He was offered a full scholarship to Stanford, but turns it down in favor of playing in the big leagues for the New York Mets at the young age of 18. What happens in his career isn’t uncommon–he can’t keep up with the game. He eventually is out of the game, and returns as a scout. What’s interesting about Beane is that he’ll look at players the same way he looked at himself. He’s a general manager who was also a former player. He has more of a stake in evaluating the talent of a player, in theory.

Not every move Beane makes works out, and what is very obvious throughout this story is that it’s not all about the wins and losses, although Beane can’t stand to lose. He says nothing matters until you “win the last game of the series”. But what he does is put together a team that finds ways to win because they play a very fundamental game. Nobody steals; everybody is supposed to get on base. It’s small-ball.

Eventually, Beane’s approach does start to work out, though, and even leads to an historic 20-game winning streak by the A’s that puts them in front of the American League West division. There’s a great sequence in which the clinching game starts off as an 11-0 laugher in the 4th inning that convinces Beane to, for once, actually watch the game. He is never seen watching a game prior to this. What he sees in front of his eyes, though, is what every fan goes through when it comes to jinxes. He watches as the 11-0 lead is bled to the point where the opposing team actually ties the game at 11 all. The manager, who had been opposed to Beane’s approach for most of the season, finally puts in a player that Beane had selected. This is the guy who can’t play first base. All he’s brought in to do is get on base. What he does, however, is hit a home run that wins the game.

In that whole sequence, we see what baseball is, and what effect it has on people like Beane. Everything from curses, miracles, redemption, and just the oddball nature of baseball, is illustrated in that scene. It defines what the movie is about. You can’t control baseball–but you can enjoy the ride, sometimes.

Some criticism of the film’s portrayal of the events may be directed at the fact the A’s did not “win anything” while this philosophy was implemented. While Beane himself wants to win, the movie’s agenda and Beane’s isn’t exactly one in the same. What you see are the good little stories that come out of a team that was predicted to be laughing stock of the league. And who says there can’t be great teams that didn’t win a championship? How about the Bills teams of the early 90’s? The 2001 Seattle Mariners that won 116 games. The ’85 Boston Celtics. Sure, a lot of it comes down to your own perspective. But the point of this movie isn’t about winning; it’s about innovating. It’s about striving to change. Baseball is always going to remain the same; but that doesn’t mean you have to go through the motions. And eventually, change works, as illustrated in the last line of the film displayed on the screen about the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004.

As much as this movie involves baseball, those who don’t follow the game or care about it could still enjoy this film. There’s a universal human element to it that can be appreciated by anyone who’s had to face adversity in their life…so pretty much anybody could relate to some of the themes. The performances are strong, and the film has some really big laughs that you don’t necessarily have to understand baseball in order to get. It’s a feel-good type of movie but it isn’t manipulative or patronizing. It’s about as natural flowing as a good, clean, non-Joe West umpired game of baseball.

My rating: :D

Funny People

August 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

It’s evident that the last 5 or so years of American comedy cinema has been dominated by Judd Apatow. Apatow, a mere footnote in the 80’s and 90’s, producing failed comedy shows and dramadies like “Freaks & Geeks”, has become extremely prominent in the world of film, whereas his television career just came to a grinding halt. For him, that’s fine–for us, the audience, it’s been a great ride. I’ve enjoyed his films thoroughly, from “The 40 Year Old Virgin” to “Knocked Up” and “Superbad”, and although I’ve griped from time to time about the running times, the characters in the films and the talented actors he’s used far more than made up for the overlongness of the films.

Now Apatow brings us somewhat of his attempt at a masterpiece. This one has a “serious” plot. While we’re used to Adam Sandler movies being goofy and childish, he’s starting to pry into the world of dramatic roles, and though his success hasn’t been as great as Bill Murray’s or Jim Carrey’s, he’s still grown as an actor. In “Funny People”, Sandler plays George Simmons; a version of Sandler himself, and just as successful. But this version of Sandler is the sad clown–he has no wife, or kids. He has no friends. He is all alone in his mansion, and he jokes at one point at a comedy club: “Guys always tell me ‘Oh my wife’s great. She’s a great cook.’ Really? Well I have a great cook, who is an actual cook. ‘Oh my wife, she’s my best friend.’ Yeah? My cook’s a pretty good friend, too.”

But Simmons did have a love of his life once. Laura, played by Leslie Mann, is the estranged former flame who is now married with her own kids (played by Apatow’s real-life children), and has no interest in rekindling even a friendship with Simmons. Simmons then finds out he has a blood disease that could be fatal. He is put on radical medication that is only in its testing stage, but it’s his only shot at being cured. When he finds this out, he goes to a comedy club and is extremely down, but no one knows why. Enter Ira Wright (played by Seth Rogen) who is a struggling up-and-coming comedian who gigs at the Improv for only 5 minutes and works at a deli for “a living”; he meanwhile rooms with two more successful people–Leo (Jonah Hill), also a comedian; and Mark (played by Jason Schwartzman) who is an actor in a hit sitcom on NBC called “Yo! Teach!”, a horrible send up of what we usually get on the tube on a nightly basis (and yes, it’s on purpose that they made it that bad). Ira performs and impresses George, and he hires him as a writer for his newer material.

The two form a friendship and George helps Ira’s career as he allows Ira to also open for him at gigs as well as write jokes. George also tells Ira about his blood condition, and Ira is the only one who knows about it.

While this is the most complicated plot Apatow has worked with, he seemed to handle all of the different storylines well for the first two acts of the film. But by the third act, the movie seems to try and pull itself into two or three different directions, and by the time it finds its focus in the conclusion, we’re a bit lost on what the movie was actually about.

On the one hand, it’s about a friendship, mentor/student relationship between George and Ira. On the other hand, it’s about a lost love situation that George tries to rekindle and gets caught up in, when he shouldn’t. Then, there’s also a love interest for Ira as well, and a plot involving the fact that Ira was supposed to tell Leo that both of them were going to write for George, and Leo gets mad at Ira for not telling him. It’s evident that Apatow takes on too much for himself to handle, and unfortunately, the movie proves he’s not the stellar screenwriter he may think he is, or others may think. I’ve heard Oscar buzz already about this movie. If this film is nominated for best screenplay, I’m going to give up my dreams of ever becoming a screenwriter, because all would be lost!

It’s frustrating that this film falls apart in the end. I really wanted to like it. In some ways I really did. There are scenes I’d love to watch over and over again. Some of the cameo scenes are fantastic. But as a film, which clocks in at about 136 minutes, it just doesn’t work overall. And that’s a real shame because Apatow has shown a command behind the camera, and as a writer. I think he lost a little touch of reality in this one, and instead of getting “Guernica”, we get a finger painting.

I think he should not try so hard to make a masterpiece, and just let the next story flow naturally. And…seriously, he needs to watch the running times. Comedies should not be over two hours long. It’s just not right.

I’m not giving this a passing grade, but I do think it’s worth a viewing, on DVD or on cable. But I wouldn’t go out to the theatre, unless you want to spend half your afternoon there, and come away somewhat disappointed and confused on why such a wonderful first hour of a film turned into a mess.

My rating: :???: