This is the End

June 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill
Directed by: Seth Rogen (debut) and Evan Goldberg (debut)
Written by: Seth Rogen (“Superbad”) and Evan Goldberg (“Superbad”)

With the impending doom of the Mayan Apocalypse last year, Hollywood took a cue and started churning out apocalypse-themed movies. To the surprise of, well, nobody, we’re all still alive, yet the end of days films keep coming, with nearly a half-dozen in the past two years alone. Based off of a short film made in 2007, Seth Rogen (“Superbad”) makes his co-directorial debut with “This is the End,” a thriller/comedy where some of Hollywood’s funniest young actors get the opportunity to play themselves.

When Jay Baruchel (“She’s Out of My League”) arrives in Los Angeles to visit Rogen, he reluctantly goes with him to a housewarming party at James Franco’s house. While at the party, events of biblical proportion unfold and Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride find themselves barricaded in the “127 Hours” star’s house. Friendships are tested and survival plans are initiated as the six actors try to stay alive.

Though the principal cast are playing themselves, they are exaggerated, fictitious versions. Hill, for example plays a overly nice people pleaser who is trying as hard as he can to get Baruchel to like him. Franco’s eccentricities are played up, especially with the design and set-up of his house. Just from a sheer laugh volume standpoint, McBride is probably the most successful of the bunch, something that is clearly by design. McBride nearly goes full Kenny Powers (his character on TV’s “Eastbound & Down”) as an insufferable and hilarious jerk and screenwriters Rogen and Evan Goldberg (and likely some well-executed improvisation) really highlight his fantastic ability to be a complete ass. Along with the main cast is an absurdly long list of cameos, almost all of which come from filmmaker Judd Apatow’s family tree. The best of these is a brief, but incredibly successful appearance by Michael Cera (“Superbad”), who spends every second of his screen time coked out of his mind.

Since the cast is a virtual six degrees of separation with Apatow, most of these actors have worked with each other in the past. The most noticeable are Rogen, Franco, McBride and Robinson who starred together in “Pineapple Express.” There is a certain ease in which these actors, all legitimate real-life friends, interact and play off of each other. Though there is a concern that things might become one giant inside joke, Rogen and company are able to keep the humor pretty broad for the most part. Still, there are plenty of cut-downs and references to lesser-received movies in the various actors’ careers that require a little bit of knowledge of their filmographies.

The laughs are relatively steady throughout the film, though there is a lull towards the middle and end. As more is revealed about what is actually happening, special effects come into play and the results are a bit mixed. While the CGI itself isn’t bad, the jokes that come from them don’t always hit their target. As the characters figure out what must be done to survive, the film begins to return to form a little bit. It does, however, play out more predictable than probably intended. It all builds up to a final scene that is incredibly bizarre and underwhelming.

Despite a pretty decent laugh ratio, the film as a whole feels a bit piecemeal. A few sections are oddly divided, edited and directed. As a meta-comedy, it’s successful and should give audiences fun looks at real life friends stuck in a life or death situation. The heartfelt parts of the story as well as the actual apocalyptic events, however, don’t work as well and feel a bit hollow.

Shrek Forever After

May 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz
Directed by: Mike Mitchell (“Sky High”)
Written by: Josh Klausner (“Date Night”) and Darren Lemke (“Lost”)

“Shrek Forever After” is being labeled as “The Final Chapter” of a 9-year-long fairytale franchise and well it should be. It’s a sequel that’s squeezing out what little magic is left in it’s ogre-sized tank. It might be superior to the slaphappy third installment in 2007, but there’s still not enough originality to make it a truly happily-ever-after.

In “Forever After,” DreamWorks Animation and screenwriters Josh Klausner (“Date Night”) and Darren Lemke (“Lost”) toss a little of Frank Capra’s classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” into the mix as a more mature Shrek returns to a Shrek-less version of Far Far Away.

With the everyday repetition of his family life (changing baby ogre diapers isn’t as adventurous as he thought it would be), Shrek doesn’t feel like the same nasty ogre that once instilled fear into everyone. Instead of running for the hills when Shrek is near, the villagers now look upon him as a celebrity.

In an attempt to revisit his glory days, Shrek signs a pact with the villainous Rumplestiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who has held a grudge with the lovable ogre since he ruined him chance to take over the kingdom years ago. All Shrek wants is one more day where he can feel like the ogre he used to be. Rumple, however, has other ideas.

Transporting into an alternative universe where he was never born, the Shrek realizes that a lot has changed in Far Far Away. Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is now a strapping warrior leading an underground ogre resistance; Donkey (Eddie Murphy) pulls a carriage for some evil, whip-whapping witches; and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has packed on a few pounds and become a lazy house cat.

To break the spell and return to his regular life, Shrek must get Fiona to fall in love with him all over again and share in “True Love’s Kiss.” Isn’t breaking a spell with a kiss as listless as a storybook tale can go these days?

As in the last two “Shrek” movies, it’s Banderas’ Puss in Boots who steals most of the scenes. Even though there’s not much swordplay in this last film, the now pudgy feline with the Spanish accent is able to match the energy of the new characters, including an army of personable ogres (Craig Robinson and Jane Lynch give funny performances). Cameos by the Gingerbread Man (Conrad Vernon) are also enjoyable. One of the best parts of the movie is when Gingy gives his best impression of a gladiator chopping down fierce animal cookies in a coliseum.

Despite some character highlights, “Shrek Forever After” doesn’t reach the level of the first two installments. It may be the darkest of the series, but it’s light on charm and all around cleverness.

Hot Tub Time Machine

March 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry
Directed by: Steve Pink (“Accepted”)
Written by: Josh Heald (debut), Sean Anders (“She’s Out of My League”), John Morris (“She’s Out of My League”)

Until “The Hangover 2” hits theaters sometime next year, comedy lovers will be itching to find a male-bonding movie as juvenile and riotous as the original Las Vegas romp of last year. The closest they’ll get so far this season is with “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Despite its similar comedic elements and disregard for levelheadedness, the blast-from-the-past flick doesn’t have more than obvious jokes in its arsenal.

Like “The Hangover,” “Hot Tub” features four friends who find themselves on the biggest misadventure of their lives. Instead of Sin City, however, Adam (John Cusack), Nick, (Craig Robinson), Lou, (Rob Corddry), and Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) are vacationing at a Nevada ski resort where the three middle-aged friends used to party back in high school.

Bored with their lives, the trio wants to recapture the glory days when they were all younger, dumber, and full of aspiration. Their trip takes a bizarre twist when the foursome climbs into a mysterious hot tub and are magically transported back to the year 1986 for one more chance to relive their adolescence.

Not only do the boys travel back in time, they also transform back into their teenage bodies (with the exception of Jacob who is already a teen). Since Jacob hasn’t technically been born yet (and since he begins to flicker like Marty McFly in “Back to the Future”), they guys realize if they don’t do exactly what they did 24 years prior, Jacob might disappear and never be born.

The whole idea of the “butterfly effect” is used loosely throughout the film as Adam, Nick , Lou and Jacob search for the hot tub repair man (Chevy Chase in a wasted role) who can get them back to the present day (think Don Knotts in “Pleasantville” without the personality) and run around the resort trying to remember specific aspects of their past so they can keep the future intact.

Most of “Hot Tub” is a one-joke homage to the 80s. It has a number of hilarious moments (especially when Robinson is involved), but wears out the nostalgia after a while. Yes, cassette players and Jheri curls have their place in a movie like this, but why fixate on the obvious?  It’s one thing to create an 80s-inspired world and build a comedy around it, but “Hot Tub” relies too much on the references to get the bulk of its laughs. Legwarmers are funny, but not that funny.

The Goods

August 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames, James Brolin
Directed by: Neal Brennan (debut)
Written by: Andy Stock (“Balls Out”) and Rick Stempson (“Balls Out”)

It’s almost endearing how hard Jeremy Piven fights to make the new comedy “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard” work. While the star of HBO’s “Entourage” tries to carry the film on his shoulders, his new batch of friends – unlike the ones he has on TV – never seem to have his back.

In “The Goods,” Piven plays Don Ready, a used-car liquidator so slick he can talk a stewardess into allowing him to smoke midair. Don is hired by used-car lot owner Ben Selleck (James Brolin) to come in and reenergize his struggling business before they’re bought out by competitors. With his team of misfits in tow – Jibby (Ving Rhames), Brent (David Koechner), and Babs (Kathryn Hahn) – the fearless foursome charge into Temecula, California for a three-day Fourth of July sale that will either make or break the lot.

While the story is set interestingly enough at a car lot, screenwriters Andy Stock and Rick Stempson – whose only other film is the straight-to-DVD movie “Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach” – don’t get to the core of the industry and fail to make the dealership feel authentic.

The laughs are sparse in “The Goods” with most of them coming from actor Craig Robinson (“Pineapple Express”) who plays a strip club DJ hired by Don to keep the lot upbeat for the entire weekend. He refuses, however, to play any music the customers or employees want to hear although his name is DJ Request. Will Ferrell also has a small cameo, which is always the best way to experience Ferrell’s comedic contributions.

The rest of the secondary characters are written with little enthusiasm. Jibby spends most of the movie talking about how he’s never experienced making love to a woman; Brent does nothing more than fend off homosexual advances from Ben; and Babs tries to seduce 10-year-old boy trapped in the body of a 40-year-old man.

While Piven tries to hold it all together in his first lead role in about 15 years, Stock and Stempson act like used-car salesmen themselves and talk a big game before offering us something that sputters and dies long before it even leaves the show room floor.