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.

30 Minutes or Less

August 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”)
Written by: Michael Diliberti (debut)

For most pizza delivery guys, a bad day might involve getting lost in a shady neighborhood, showing up late with an order, or getting stiffed on a tip. For underachieving pizza guy Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a bad day is finding yourself with a bomb strapped to your chest as part of a half-cooked plot by two wannabe criminals. This premise sets the stage for “30 Minutes or Less,” a comedy that boasts more laughs than any other film this summer.

In order to hire a hitman to kill his overbearing Marine father and leave him with a huge inheritance, do-nothing slacker Dwayne (Danny McBride) and his friend Travis (Nick Swardson) devise a scheme to strap a bomb to a pizza delivery man and force him to rob a bank. After Nick grasps the situation he is in, he goes to the only person he can, his friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) as they are forced to put aside their differences and try to get Nick out of the situation.

Eisenberg and Ansari display great chemistry as old high school buddies who constantly bounce jokes and insults off of each other. Eisenberg sheds the socially-awkward character we’ve come to know from many of his comedic performances and plays a confident regular guy, which is a welcome departure. However, a bigger revelation is the performance from Ansari, who is poised to become a comedic star on the big screen.  Best known for his work as a stand-up comedian and his role on TV’s “Parks and Recreation,” Ansari finally gets a major film role and takes full advantage of it.  He zips through a Rolodex of one-liners and ends up with one of the best joke-to-laugh ratios in a comedy this year. It is hard to even call his hilarious non-sequitors “throwaway lines” because even those elicit laughs. Watching these two forced to commit crimes with no clue of what they’re doing is a deep well and never wears out its welcome.

Although still funny in small doses, the weaker duo in the film is McBride and Swardson as faux criminals. McBride has proven to be an acquired taste with his usual routine of unleashing a barrage of improvised vulgarities with varying success. Swardson is a good, albeit small addition as the more tentative Travis, but it is clear that McBride is there for the comedy and Swardson is there to ground him.

This is the kind of comedy that isn’t exactly high concept or deeply meaningful. There’s drug and alcohol intake, crude and sometimes mean-spirited jokes, as well as plans that aren’t too well thought-out and bombs that are too cleverly rigged to be from a couple of know-nothing buffoons.

Despite its lack of depth, “30 Minutes or Less” succeeds where most of the summer comedies this year have failed: its gags are consistent from start to finish.  The one-liners from most of the characters are memorable and director Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”) gets a lot of mileage from the pithy dialogue at the expense of the situation. While “30 Minutes or Less” won’t set a new standard for the comedy genre, it’s a breezy 83-minute caper that’ll gives fans of R-rated material something to cheer about.

Your Highness

April 15, 2011 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman
Directed by: David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”)
Written by: Danny McBride (“The Foot Fist Way”) and Ben Best (“The Foot Fist Way”)
It may only attract an audience who giggles whenever they hear the word “balls,” but “Your Highness” doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a sloppy dish of vulgarity with a mix of frat-boy and deadpan humor served up as a mindless medieval parody. Call it a guilty pleasure if you’d like, but “Your Highness” is as funny as it is un-ambitious. Comedian Danny McBride and Academy Award nominee and winner James Franco and Natalie Portman are so committed to the stupidity, it’s refreshing despite some one-trick pony jokes. Plus, it’s a little dispairing to see that director David Gordon Green, who has given us some great indie dramas like “All the Real Girls” and “Snow Angels” earlier in his career, has decided to change routes, at least for his last couple of films. He may find success if he decides to stay, but it’s an unfortunate loss to indies.

Land of the Lost

June 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Danny McBride
Directed by: Brad Silberling (“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”)
Written by: Chris Henchy (debut) and Dennis McNicholas (“The Ladies Man”)

There’s so much improvisation in the new adventure film “Land of the Lost,” one could honestly wonder why screenwriters were even paid to churn out a script. Actors Will Ferrell and Danny McBride riff off each other so poorly and so many of the jokes fall embarrassingly flat, it’s implausible to think either of these two comedians actually thought any of what they were saying on the set was remotely humorous.

In the remake of the short-lived early-90s TV series of the same name, Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall, a “quantum paleontologist” who is ridiculed from the science world after he announces he has found a way into parallel dimensions using “tachyons,” subatomic particles that move backwards and allow people to travel to a time where the past, present, and future co-exist.

Along with Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), an inspired Cambridge researcher, and Will Stanton (Danny McBride), a backwoods tour guide and shopkeeper, the trio is sucked into a time portal by the doctor’s invention – known as the Tachyon amplifier – and dropped into a world where dinosaurs are running through deserts littered with famous landmarks and Hummer limos.

There they meet a primate named Cha-Ka (Jorma Taccone), who can somehow communicate with Holly, and a killer T-Rex, who is basically in the movie to roar and run after the explorers, which is not necessarily a bad thing if it stops Ferrell from blurting out lines like, “Captain Kirk’s nipples!”

Besides the tired computer-generated dino (phlegm spewing included) and some costumed-monsters that are about as interesting as something pulled straight from a “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” episode, most of the film relies on Ferrell and McBride doing their thing. This includes singing show tunes and Cher songs, incorporating parodies of beer commercials into their skits, and performing the usual bodily-fluid humor.

It’s all very cheesy like the original show and none of it needs to be taken as serious entertainment since it all so very uncreative. Tacky and lowbrow humor is fine, but in “The Land of the Lost,” it’s simplified to its dullest form. It would get a slight pass for its stupidity if it wasn’t for Ferrell and McBride looking like they’d rather be anywhere else except earning a paycheck for what is sure to be one of the worst films of the year.

Pineapple Express

August 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride
Directed by: David Gordon Green (“All the Real Girls”)
Written by: Seth Rogen (“Superbad”) and Evan Goldberg (“Superbad”)

It might not take much to entertain a group of giggly potheads, but when it comes to stoner comedies, the best are the ones that can entertain even the most levelheaded audiences. Although there will always be an infantile “Harold & Kumar” to cancel out more developed efforts like “The Wackness,” the stoner comedies of today seem to be growing back a few more brain cells.

With a perceptive indie director like David Gordon Green (“Undertow”) leading the way in “Pineapple Express,” smokers and non-smokers alike have something to applaud. Not only is this Green’s most accessible film to date, it’s his first shot with an action/comedy hybrid and he makes it his own.

In “Express,” Seth Rogen (“Knocked Up”) plays Dale Denton, a weed-loving process server who witnesses a murder while smoking a doobie outside the home where he is supposed to serve papers. In his frantic state, Dale tosses the joint and screeches off just before the killers, Ted (Gary Cole) and Carol (Rosie Perez), realize that someone has seen them.

Although a bit too coincidental, Ted is able to track down Dale because the roach he throws out his car window is filled with a rare type of marijuana known as Pineapple Express. He knows what it is because he is the drug kingpin who has smuggled it into the city and handed it over to only one supplier, who, in turn, has only one distributor.

The seller is Saul Silver (James Franco), a full-time pot dealer who spends all his time at his apartment watching old TV shows and finding inventive ways to get high (he creates a “cross joint” that must be lit at three separate points for maximum puffage). Dale and Saul’s business relationship is brand new, but Saul quickly befriends him probably because he is the only one that understands his carefree ways.

Dale turns Saul for help when he sees the murder and the duo hightail it out of Saul’s apartment in fear for their lives. From here, “Express” becomes a buddy comedy with a lot more wit and unusual performances, especially from Franco, whose comedic timing is brilliant. As Saul, Franco shows his flexibility as an actor and always keeps that likeable smirk on his face.

As another Judd Apatow production, “Pineapple Express” is a hilarious and, at times, very violent kick in the pants that combines genres just as well as any other comedy this year. Sure, it might be lacking in plot, but it’s never lacking in pot (and that makes the half-baked humor all the more bizarre).