This is the End by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

This is the End by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

While attending a party at James Franco’s house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.

First off, I want to say I am a fan of the Judd Apatow team. Before Judd Apatow made The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, I wasn’t really into the American comedies that were dominated by Ben Stiller, Will Ferrel and Vince Vaughn. The improvisational nature of Apatow’s comedy and the crude sophomoric jokes infused with a heartfelt message hit me on a deeper level. As a lover of buddy cop movies, I’m also generally a sucker for bromance movies, of which I would argue is a close relative. Most of all, I like Apatow’s cast of actors. Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, James Franco… they’re all funny in their own idiosyncratic way and seem to have free reign over their own personas.

This brings me to my first critique of This is the End. The central gag of having the actors play themselves isn’t as funny as the film thinks it is. For example, This is the End‘s version of Michael Cera is a foul-mouthed cocaine addict. Why? Because the filmmakers thought it’d be funny to do a total reversal on Cera’s real life persona. That gag is only truly funny if we know what Michael Cera is like in real life. Most of us, unlike the filmmakers, can only drawn upon Michael Cera’s timid onscreen persona. That creates enough of a contrast to elicit laughs and it does. However, the filmmakers are ultimately more connected to the joke than the audience can ever be, and that is problematic on some level. I get the feeling I should be laughing harder than the film is making me.

Just to reiterate, I did laugh. There were times when the celebrity gag won me over. I liked how the character relationships were set up and they all have great chemistry. Jay Baruchel plays the audience’s avatar and reacts to all colors of obnoxious behavior exhibited by the other actors. Actually, the film even takes it one comedic step further. When Danny McBride enters the film, he does his brand of obnoxious behavior that happens to be so overwhelming, the other annoying actors call him on it and ask him to stop.

When the film doesn’t rely on the celebrity gag and gives something for the characters to do to survive the Apocalypse, it’s much more creative and funnier. I liked the graphic novel-like style that went into the world creation of the apocalypse. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg deliver some surprises to what’s going on outside James Franco’s house. The parts in between that didn’t pertain to surviving the Apocalypse are strung by improvisational dialogue scenes and they stick out as the weaker moments. I recognize the ability to improvise scenes and be funny on camera, but watching the cast react to the fantastical elements was more interesting than watching the celebrities react to each other. As the audience’s avatar, Jay Baruchel ends up being outnumbered as he is the only genuine likable character in a cast of six. So for somebody isn’t already warm to these actors, they easily come off as very unlikable. And that can get taxing rather quickly. The writing isn’t doing enough to build enough character for the cast and the film is completely reliant on what we know of these actors and their past works.

Due to its leaning towards it’s own self-referential quality than being a apocalyptic survival film, This is the End is ultimately a fan film for the Judd Apatow audience. (Think Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back for Kevin Smith’s Viewaskew Universe) If you never liked any of the comedies from the Judd Apatow team, this movie isn’t going to convert you. If you don’t like none of these actors, I’d tell you to just skip it altogether. I am part of the Apatow audience and like these actors, and even with that, it felt like watching one gigantic inside joke.

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4:44 Last Day on Earth by Abel Ferrara

4:44 Last Day on Earth by Abel Ferrara

A successful actor and his younger painter girlfriend spend their last day together in New York City before the world comes to an end at 4:44am.

Apparently there is no chaos on the night of the apocalypse, people casually hang out at bars, they chitchat on Skype, the streets are clear for safe driving and you can even have Vietnamese food delivered to your apartment. The apocalypse itself is not much discussed, but everybody seems to be relatively accepting of their ordeal.

What drew me to the film was Willem Dafoe in an apocalyptic movie. To cut it short, this movie has no character, no plot, and does nothing interesting with the apocalypse. It wasted Willem Dafoe. His character Cisco appears to be concerned about the end but cannot seem to get his priorities straight. He talks to himself on the rooftop of his New York apartmett, wanders around to see friends and contacts his loved ones on Skype to tell them he loves them. He claims to love his girlfriend Skye but doesn’t do much to show it other than making love to her. Is there more he can do to show them he cares? What does he want? I am not really sure.

Shanyn Leigh is really horrid as Skye. To be fair, I haven’t seen her other works. I don’t know if it’s a just bad performance or the lack of character that she is given to play. The worst part is I think it’s both. Skye is annoying in the same way as Maria Schneider was from Last Tango in Paris. She’s pretentious, fragile and passive. Could she be frail because the world is ending? I have no clue. I never found myself sympathizing or rooting for her. There’s a scene where Shanyn Leigh witnesses Willem Dafoe talking to his ex-wife via Skype and goes hysterical and it is cringing to watch. The rest of the time all she does is sit around on the floor working on her abstract painting. When one coat of paint is done, she sets down an electric fan to dry it. Yes! You get to watch paint dry in this movie! And you know what? It’s not a day at the zoo. If they weren’t going to anything with her character, Ferrara may as well have casted someone more attractive or more interesting to play the part. Yes, I know that’s a horrible thing to say but there was nothing going on to keep me invested in these characters or situations. None of these characters act believably to their situation.

Just to tread back for a minute, there is nothing wrong with having characters paint on film. It’s a pretty tricky thing to make work, but it’s been done before. Thus far, I have only see it in 2 Takeshi Kitano films (Hana-bi and Achilles and the Tortoise), he manages to develop character with his characters painting. In Hana-bi, a retired policeman who is confined to a wheelchair is given a set of paints and a beret by the protagonist. He starts to paint and we see a series of his paintings as they improve and become livelier paintings. We see that he slowly finds the purpose in his life again and it’s quite poetic. There’s nothing even close to the craft that can pull that off in this film. I did not expect it but I’m citing Kitano to say that Abel Ferrara does not make attempt anything interesting at all.

What makes it worse is there are archival footage of the Dalai Lama shown on Cisco and Skye’s television to directly tell you the director’s message. I have seen this level of filmmaking during my 2nd year of film school. I worked on an apocalyptic-themed student film similar to this movie. A real raspberry. That 14-minute short ended with a series of archival footage splicing Gandi, the Dalai Lama, Stalin and Hitler together, of which the director reasoned that’s what made his film a social commentary. Assuming Abel Ferrara has more experience than my idiot classmate, how could you not know how uninteresting this was? What was he trying to say about people at the end?

Having seen a series of apocalyptic films done this year, I say go see Melancholia or Perfect Sense. 4:44 Last Day on Earth frustrated and angered me till the middle, and towards I just decided to let go and not to get mad over this movie. I do not know how one can manage to make the apocalypse boring but this certainly takes that mantle.

Though I’d really like to keep the number to that Vietnamese restaurant. In case the end is near, I like to have some Pho delivered to my place.