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June 19/13

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The date that appears above is the date of the most recent reviews. As new reviews are added, the date will change accordingly. The new reviews will appear towards the top of the page and the older ones will move further down. When the page is closed, the items will be archived according to the final date on the page.

Reviewed here: This Is The End (Movie)

This Is The End (Movie) written by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen; based on a short movie by Jason Stone; directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen; starring James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Sera, Emma Watson; with Mindy Kaling, David Krumholtz, Rihanna, Martin Starr, Paul Rudd, Channing Tatum, Jason Segal

The movie opens with the actor, Seth Rogen, waiting at the arrivals level of an airport. We hear a murmur from some passerby: "That’s Seth Rogen." Then the actor, Jay Baruchel, emerges from the arrivals area. He and Mr. Rogen hug in greeting but, within seconds, they’re talking about Mr. Rogen’s irritating laugh and the fact that he plays the same role in every movie.

Any movie that can start on a note like that has won my undivided attention.

It turns out that Mr. Baruchel is visiting L.A., where he always stays with his buddy, Mr. Rogen. Mr. Rogen wants Mr. Baruchel to attend a big party at James Franco’s splendiferous new mansion. Jonah Hill’s going to be there, also Craig Robinson. Mr. Baruchel doesn’t want to go; he doesn’t like those people. Mr. Rogen tries to convince him that they’re really really cool, that if he gets to know them, he’ll really like them.

What a brilliant concept for a movie – get a bunch of actors together, playing themselves, and have them comment on each others’ characters and screen performances. I don’t think anything like it has ever been done before. Mind you, we have to accept that these guys are still playing roles, to some extent; I don’t think any of them appears here exactly as he is when he’s at home. Still, you’ve gotta admit that having actors play versions of themselves is a great shtick.

The party at Mr. Franco’s house provides opportunities for cameos by lots of Hollywood names, Jason Segal and Paul Rudd among them. There are probably several others, including some female stars, whom I didn’t recognize. We get everybody's attempts to seem friendlier than they feel. The efforts to impress each other. The unrelenting effort to appear cool. The vanity: Mr. Franco’s basement is full of posters and props from his old movies. He bristles when Mr. Rogen gets the name of one of his movie’s wrong. In the way of social statire, we get fatuous talk about pets. Also about nutrition: gluten, of course, gets a big mention. And the word "awesome" is thrown around enough to render it unusable forever more.

But you can’t have a movie with just a lot of kibbitzing and kvetching. You’ve got to have some Big Thing happen. So how about the biggest thing of all? How about the end of the world?

The cataclysm starts with huge earthquakes. (Sorry, but there’s no discussing the movie without revealing this much plot.) Buildings collapse. Conflagrations break out all over LA. Select individuals are carried up to heaven on beams of light. Most of the guests from the party attempt to run away but they fall into sinkholes leading to firey depths. Our guys – luckily – run back into the Franco house where they board up the windows and doors, preparing to defend their fortress against desperate intruders (Emma Watson, for example).

Thus we get a parody of all disaster/survival movies. There’s the business of rationing food and water. The arguing about who’s getting more than their share. The bickering over who’s going to take on certain risky responsibilities. The moments of soul-searching and truth-telling when it looks like the end is near.

All of this provides fertile ground for some extremely clever scriptwriting, admittedly in a format that’s episodic and sketchy, consisting mostly of short vignettes, followed by blackouts. At first, when they think this is just an earthquake, Jonah Hill is telling the others not to worry, because important people like actors will be rescued first. He says that he and George Clooney and Sandra Bullock will be plucked out of danger, "and you guys too, if there’s room." Later on, some amusing twists arise when our guys understand that The Rapture is taking place and that they’re not being taken up to heaven because they’re not good people. Given that the final judgement may be at hand, Mr. Robinson advises Mr. Rogen that he might want to leave off taking the Lord’s name in vain. That leads to a discussion of Christ, God, and the Trinity: "Think of it like Neapolitan ice cream." When Mr. Baruchel decides that he needs to perform an exorcism, he’s accused of simply following the script from The Exorcist. Quite reasonably, he responds: "I assume they did their research."

As you may suspect regarding these alumni of the Judd Apatow type of movie, the proceedings aren't all conducted on a lofty, erudite level. Take the crude discussion of bowel regularity. And then there's the private moment when Mr. Hill confides to God that he hates the friendship between Mr. Rogen and Mr. Baruchel: "Maybe it’s their shitty Canadian thing."* You’ll also hear one of the most outrageous tirades that you’re ever going to hear as Mr. Franco and Danny McBride engage in a volley of insulting invective on the subject of male masturbation.

I was especially impressed with Mr. McBride, not just in this exchange, but in his presence throughout the movie. Although he’s considered a card-carrying member of this gang, I’d never seen quite seen the point of him in his previous movies. In this one, though, he has the role of something like the wicked witch who wasn't invited to the party. There’s a fascinating hint of malevolence in his character, even when he appears to be at his most convivial. An actor whose presence in the movie is somewhat astounding is Channing Tatum, given that we're seeing him as a gay sex slave who’s pulled around on a chain. I guess this shows that male movie stars these days  don’t care about their images. And that’s probably a good thing. I would say, however, that it was a mistake to try to make us believe that the angelic Michael Cera could be a sex-crazed cocaine addict. His acting ain't up to it.

The other mistake – for me – is the treatment of the End of the World scenario. In that respect, this movie takes the phrase "over-the-top" to a new level. The special effects are staggering and the sound is overwhelming. You feel like you’re in the midst of the action on that Normandy beach on D-Day. Given the way the film was heading, I suppose it had to come to the literal enactment of the Apocalypse as depicted in the Book of Revelation: fire breathing dragons and all. That surrealistic stuff doesn’t appeal to me; I saw my one and only horror movie when I was twelve and that was enough. But we have to accept the filmmakers’ obligation to reach out to people other than us simple-minded folk who are content with scintillating dialogue. They have to think of the more sophisticated movie-goers, the ones who demand explosions and catastrophes.

Capsule Comment: hellish fun.

* As you know, I can’t guarantee that the quotes in my movie reviews are exact, as I don’t carry any recording materials with me.

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