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ELYSIUM is a bitter-sweet social commentary that uses brutal allegories
to reiterate the alarming rate at which socio-economic and
geo-political ties are disintegrating all over the planet. As a follow
up to the thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining DISTRICT 9
(2009), South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp's latest offering
is yet another visionary parable to mull over. And while the first half
is a frightening impression of the future of humanity, the second half
feels rushed and diluted. Even so, the film has a lot to offer in terms
of visual effects and explosive action.
Although Blomkamp's narrative begins in a dystopian future set in 2154, the story has a modern day setting that uses current events in cleverly hidden metaphors. Consider the following facts: The French Revolution that led to the execution of the monarchy; Derogatory sentiments deriding Android phones as "ghetto" products; Fatalities of illegal immigrants on route to greener pastures; The prospect of space tourism that only the super-rich can afford. Now imagine in the not too distant future, the extremely wealthy live on a pristine space station where state-of-the-art health care prevents people from premature death. The remaining ninety-nine percent of the population are left to suffer on the diseased, polluted and over populated planet we call Earth. Thus begins Blomkamp's setup where the premise is a thematic and often desperate struggle for equality. Amongst Earth's 'ghetto' population, blue-collar worker Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) has always dreamt of shortening the ever widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. Now diseased and dying, the only means of rejuvenating his health lies aboard the titular space station. But preventing Max from leaving Earth is Elysium's iron-fisted Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her rogue agent - the terrifying and almost psychotic Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
Where Blomkamp excels is in presenting a bleak scenario that is not only plausible but also discomforting. Considering the real world disparity between man-made utopias and an unfed infant in so called 'third world countries', it becomes all the more unsettling that this story is not entirely make believe. This is precisely what gives ELYSIUM a powerful yet thought provoking backdrop. All else, from gritty action sequences to the CGI built paradise in space benefits from the current going rate in Hollywood. On the other hand, character development leaves much to be desired. Two-time Academy Award winning Foster is either miscast or given very little to work with, but definitely my biggest disappointment in this film. There is simply no punch in what appears to be her first antagonistic role. Foster shares this downside with William Fichtner, another underrated actor whose talents are wasted in what should have been a key role. Thankfully, Damon and Copley make up for any noticeable lapse in the acting department. Together, their characters portray the fickle polarity of the human nature while also providing the film's testosterone fuelled action, including scenes of intense shootouts and sudden blood splatter.
In a year that coughed up quite a few sci-fi films, with some even treading into apocalyptic territory, ELYSIUM stands on firm ground as a film that tackles social issues head-on. And while this film is far from perfect, there are ample reasons why this film is still worth a trip to the cinema.
By its very nature, a comedy is meant to be funny. This is made
possible by either using clever and well placed wit, or slapstick gags,
or a combination of both. Supposedly intended as a comedy, THE WATCH is
fundamentally deficient in any and all aspects that are essential to
its conception, less so it's making. Instead, what we have here is a
blatant and utter disregard for the genre, made worse by the overuse of
one, just one tasteless gag- the ode to a phallus.
The story begins with the introduction of Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller), a manager at the local Costco department store and an active civic member of the township of Glenview, Ohio. After the gruesome murder of the store's security guard, and the indifference shown by the local police in solving the crime, Evan decides to apprehend the culprit by initiating a Neighborhood Watch unit. Following a somewhat embarrassing public speech, Evan is left with no choice but to recruit the only three people who respond to his call for vigilance. With less than appealing introductions, they are Bob (Vince Vaughn) a family man who needs an excuse to party, Franklin (Jonah Hill) a wannabe cop who has failed to qualify on all counts, and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) a Brit with the kinks for Asian housewives. When more townsfolk start to disappear, Evan and his three stooges discover the presence of an extraterrestrial life form ̶ a green blooded hostile alien lurking in human form, with intent on annihilating the planet (no less).
Anyone reading that synopsis could easily mistake this for a contemporary sci-fi movie. THE WATCH is much more; Try Horror, whodunit murder-mystery, drama, action and a slight case of comedy, all in that order. Considering the combined comic potential of Stiller, Vaughn, Hill and Ayoade, you would expect this to be a laugh out riot. Somehow it just doesn't gel. The film's second biggest failure is the fact that this frat pack formula doesn't seem to work. If anything, it appears overdone. Vaughn plays his favorite character - a protective family man who craves buddy time with just the guys. Stiller is in his comfort zone as the only character caught between doing what he has to do and what he wants to do. Ayoade's performance feels like a Stand-up act; it's got Saturday NIGHT LIVE written all over. Hill is the most disappointing of the lot and goes from his Oscar nominated fervor in MONEYBALL all the way back to his lanky weirdo in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and SUPERBAD. Speaking of which brings me to the film's biggest problem- Seth Rogen's hand in co-scripting this outdated and outrageous story (just a year later, Rogen and gang would do it all over again in THIS IS THE END). Everything from the dialogue to the action feels carbon-copied for Hill, Vaughn and Stiller. They just do and say what they have done and said in previous films. Only this time, profanity is at an all-time high with umpteen references to the male reproductive system. How does this relate to saving the planet from an alien invasion? Believe it or not, it does in the ludicrous manner in which they save the day.
Director Akiva Schaffer, in context the proverbial lamb to the slaughter, does not seem to have had a snowball's chance in hell in putting this very unfunny comedy together. As the director, what are the odds of a successful comedy when the premise is about a small town with no one but four idiots who band together to stop an alien invasion? To find out, I dare say give it a try. If you do, I dare you to watch THE WATCH without looking at your watch.
For some untold reason, Hollywood is usually indifferent when it comes
to treading the ever widening gap between Republicans and Democrats.
Political satires, as we have seen before (Welcome to Mooseport), works
in favor of an international audience by not dwelling into either
philosophy too deeply. That being said, The Campaign does throw subtle
jabs towards Conservatives as well as Liberals, and in doing so, makes
this movie a slapstick lampoon rather than a witty satire. Why? Look no
further than characters played by Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis
one has a heart of gold and the other thinks he excretes gold! Running
for his fifth consecutive year as Congressman of North Carolina, Cam
Brady's (Ferrell) campaign hits a snag after Cam publicly embarrasses
himself in a sex scandal. Seizing the moment, albeit with corrupt
intentions as puppeteers, industrialists Wade (Dan Aykroyd) and Glenn
Motch (John Lithgow) ring up Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) as Cam's
rival contender. A naive and timid family man, Marty is no contest and
Cam has no trouble in drawing first blood at the introductory campaign
launch. This is when the Motch brothers send in campaign manager Tim
Wattley (Dylan McDermott) to Marty's rescue. Tim is quick to turn Marty
around into giving Cam a run for his money. The rest, if you stay
tuned, is a tooth and nail dogfight but typical of a Will Ferrell
movie; think Step Brothers and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
Of the two 'wolf pack' comedies last year, The Campaign might just have the edge over Neighborhood Watch, thanks to Adam McKay's hand in producing and co-scripting the story. Judging from McKay's previous collaborations with Ferrell, comic elements here are a standard affair and as expected, you get to see a grown man behave like a little brat, or in context, a sore loser. As such, Ferrell's Cam resorts to some dirty tricks that translates into crude humor, both above and below the belt. In contrast, Galifianakis's Marty is a watered-down dimwit, but an oddball nevertheless, with honest intentions behind his political aspirations. Pitched on a collision course, Ferrell and Galifianakis are both within character and both within their elements as comedians. The problem I see is that familiarity comes with contempt, part and parcel. Amid the outrageous slander and sledging, tantrum throwing and punches that don't land on target, Ferrell and Galifianakis will make you laugh, some, the same way they have done before. Just don't expect to be rolling down the aisles. As a comedy, the story gets by with regular chuckles where the few original jokes are sporadic yet engaging. But considering the comic talent and various cameos throughout the film, there is hardly any input from the supporting cast. Jason Sudeikis as Cam's campaign manager is mostly sidelined. On the other hand, McDermott's default shadiness in Tim seems to work without any apparent attempt at humor. Then there is Lithgow and Aykroyd whose wit never really manifests into a comic moment. Finally, the feel-good ending undermines all the comic mischief that went into the premise morons who decide to become leaders.
For all that it's worth, this is probably the first political romp aimed at actually making a stance during the 2012 election season in the United States. With multiple spoofs within spoofs, it's no wonder that Motch rhymes with Koch.
Remakes are always tricky. They shouldn't be, considering there is
usually about a decade or so between the original and the remake. In
this case, TOTAL RECALL is remade 22 years after the original. At face
value, this gives the new makers the advantage of using technological
advancements in film production compared to when the predecessor was
made. However, no matter how many times a film is remade, the only true
constant is the story. How it is told defines the necessity of the
remake and its reception. As far as reception is concerned this is the
kind of movie where the audience claps in the end; only because it
Towards the end of the 21st century, Earth is decimated by chemical warfare, thus displacing human population into just two inhabitable territories The United Federation of Britain and the Australian continent renamed as the Colony. People in the Colony, a select few, work for people in the Federation (UFB). This makes the UFB the ironfisted aggressor while the oppressed citizens of the Colony are secretly assembling a resistance. With a revolution on the horizon, Colony worker Douglas Quaid (Collin Farrell) has to console himself with a nine-to-five job at a UFB robot factory. Jaded with this routine, Quaid decides on an artificial memory implant at Recall. Almost instantly, all hell breaks loose. Quaid becomes a high priority target of the UFB and wanted as a covert member of the resistance. Worse, his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) turns out to be a covert UFB agent hell-bent on taking him down. Confused and on the run, Quaid finds Melina (Jessica Biel), a woman who holds the key to his true identity.
So far, the plot feels like a recall, if you will, of the 1990 original. The execution however, leaves much to be desired. On the upside, returning viewers will find some well-placed icons borrowed from the original, including a woman capable of nursing triplets simultaneously. Paul Cameron's cinematography deserves a mention for being a cross between BLADE RUNNER and THE FIFTH ELEMENT. For a 2012 movie, this is nothing new but deserves a nod for art direction. That being said, some viewers may find strong lens flares and strobes annoying enough to induce epileptic seizures. The downside is just about everything else. There is a heavy dose of action but it soon gets repetitive in nature. Quaid and Melina are expert platform jumpers. They get to do this a lot; on and off and through elevators that seem to move in all directions. Between elevators they also get to dismember a hoard of forward marching robots; All 50,000 of them. Between robots our protagonists must jump across more platforms to evade Beckinsale's Lori, who keeps up with the chase like a product placement for a heavy duty battery. All of this goes on like a medley, and then you clap at the end.
Bringing back characters from the original would have been a good thing if these characters were given adequate depth to drive the story forward. Instead, director Len Wiseman has the odds in favour of high octane action while snuffing out the humane aspects of thriving in a post-apocalyptic world. With Mars and mutants out, the story leans toward an altered ending by relying on the manner in which people travel between both territories. This is where the remake branches off from the original in giving the story some originality. Viewers who have not seen the original may also find Farrell better suited as Quaid than Arnold Schwarzenegger was. Then again, in retrospect there is simply no replacement for those cheesy one-liners that made Arnie a popular action movie icon. Our lovely ladies Beckinsale and Biel are best seen in cat-fight mode although the former has some of the meatier butt-kicking scenes and ends up as the main antagonist. Their inclusion adds to the eye-candy, no doubt. Other supporting roles are interjectors at best, from Bokeem Woodbine as Quaid's friend, and Bill Nighy and John Cho in roles too short to be considered cameos.
In the end, the impression left by the original remains stronger. Objectively, this remake doesn't even qualify as popcorn entertainment irrespective of one having seen the original. What do they call leftovers packed into a pie and thrown back into the oven? Rehash! Only this one is half-baked.
Having scripted the first three films of the franchise, Tony Gilroy
returns for this fourth installment of the Bourne series and in the
process, replaces regular director Paul Greengrass. Strike one! It's
not unusual when screenwriters get to direct their own movies.
Normally, this is an advantage to the director who then becomes the
best person to understand how the story should be interpreted on
screen. Clearly, the end result here is not outstanding, nor a sequel,
but more of an off-shoot that begins sometime before the preceding
Except for a mere mention, it takes a good half hour before you realize that Jason Bourne is not even in this film. It takes the rest of the film to realize that this is not about Jason Bourne at all. In fact, Jason Bourne is just the tip of the iceberg, or in my case, a bait to watch this movie. Proprietors of 'The Program', the same government spooks that double-crossed Bourne are now in hot pursuit of another agent that goes by the name Aaron Cross. Headed by Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn) and Eric Byer (Edward Norton), this secret division of the CIA has only recently learned that they have bitten off more than they can chew. You see, there are certain pills that once consumed, serve as powerful genome therapies to the body and mind. Cross needs this to stay one step ahead of the CIA. His only aid is Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who incidentally knows all about these pills. She also knows that there is a way to retain the effects of the pills without the need for periodic consumption, but must first head to the production source - the Philippines.
I wouldn't recommend this film if it weren't for the stellar performance of Jeremy Renner as Cross. Make that Renner and Weisz, the only two redeeming factors in an otherwise unnecessary excuse at prolonging this franchise. Often referred to as a 'late bloomer', Renner brings on the same tenacity we loved about him in the Academy Award winning THE HURT LOCKER. As we have seen before, Renner radiates brute courage when personifying the do-or-die audacity of being pinned to the wall. That said, Renner's Cross is a polar opposite to Jason Bourne. Where the latter lost everything thanks to his superiors, Cross was an average Joe before signing up to 'The Program', to be someone, to be part of something. Once you have this power, this clarity, it becomes a territorial fight to not loose possession of the only things that add value to existence. Renner does this in the most convincing manner possible. Weisz on the other hand, has more screen time than most females in action movies. She not only supports Renner, her performance is at par, while vindicating her inclusion in an otherwise male dominated franchise. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Norton. As the antagonist, he is left with nothing more than barking out orders, which is a waste of his talent considering he could have played the methodical and manipulative villain he is known for.
Coming back to Gilroy, my disappointment lies in the manner in which he chooses to tell his story an action thriller where most of the action is displaced by extended periods of special ops mumbo-jumbo. Despite this, LEGACY has its moments, but these are few and scattered. The action scenes are intense and the franchise's signature chase sequences are back though they lack the finesse of what we've come to expect from previous directors. There is also the overuse of industry jargon that serves to recap, if anything, that Gilroy knows the difference between James Bond and a super soldier; that Robert Ludlum is the real deal in comparison to Tom Clancy; that viewers may have never read any of these books. Strike two! What's worse is the thought that after all the muddled mishmash, Gilroy expects to see this franchise grow by milking the word 'Bourne' and serving it with the word 'Legacy'. Strike three!
If a movie tagline is anything to go by, then EVIL DEAD the remake
should be "The most terrifying film you will experience"; or so the
makers would have you believe. But depending on what makes your skin
crawl, this tagline is either true to the word or entirely misleading.
Void of time and place, an unceremonious prologue tells us that evil exists in and around a desolate cabin in some Godforsaken part of the woods. The cabin is almost rundown but serves as the perfect spot for Mia (Jane Levy) to go cold turkey on her heroin addiction. Aiding Mia's detox is her brother (Shiloh Fernandez), and their friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas), Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci). Mia and David have a strained relationship that is never fully explained, but an unseen bond between the siblings becomes apparent as the story progresses. This of course is merely a distracting subplot because Eric, meanwhile, has discovered a book known as the Necronomicon, or 'Book of the dead'. And before they realize what the book holds within, all hell breaks loose. Quite literally.
For a horror movie remade more than thirty years after the original, visual effects are impressive but rarely do these effects induce the fear or terror that is promised. To begin with, the atmosphere is never chilling or ominous even as demonic possessions start to become the mainstay in the plot. In comparing to the 1981 original, debutant feature director Fede Alvarez has made a competent horror flick that is just a few notches above the schlock-o-meter. The premise and the fight for survival remains faithfully true to Sam Raimi's original, with multiple throwbacks to THE EVIL DEAD franchise. As a homage, this remake could sit fairly well with horror fans relentless with an appetite for blood and gore. On that note, violence is of an extreme nature and Alvarez's camera-work is very unforgiving during the many slicing and dicing, and slashing and stabbing scenes. Even if you choose to close your eyes, you cannot the escape the sound of tearing flesh or many of the other forms of bodily mutilation and dismemberment. In keeping with the exploitation theme of 70s and 80s low-budget horror flicks, Alvarez stays on course and then goes all out for the blood soaked finale. This final showdown benefits from some originality, particularly when good and evil switches positions. But up until this point the suspense and fright factor is pretty much an assembly line production consistent with standard Hollywood pop culture.
Ultimately, the new EVIL DEAD relies heavily on multiple references to the original without so much as exploring creative individuality. That being said, Alvarez and the screenwriters have opted for maximum gore fest instead of working towards really terrorizing the audience. Characters are unremarkable and you don't really bother who lives and who dies. Fernandez's David is particularly annoying as an idiotically gullible protagonist. Levy's Mia has one or two good scenes before becoming possessed but remaining cast members have little or nothing to work with except gallons of cinema grade corn syrup. Potentially, this film had all the wicked ingredients of a perfect remake. If only the makers (including Sam Raimi as the producer) had focused on personifying evil with some sort of tangibility, this film would have easily rubbed decaying shoulders with the likes of THE EXORCIST or THE SHINING. Eventually, what you get is evil dead on arrival. And by this I am also referring to the fact that I slept like a baby.
For a crime-noir film set during Thanksgiving, this wild-goose-chase of
a story is burnt to a crisp, and not in a good way. Cooking the goose,
metaphorically speaking, is débutant screenwriter Zach Dean using a
FARGO-ish plot but injected with steroids. On the other hand, director
Stefan Ruzowitzky puts together a non-stop crime-thriller with an
anarchic perspective. Yet somehow, it all feels like a half-eaten
turkey one that you sink your teeth into only because it appears to
be well done on the outside.
Siblings Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) are on the run after a successful casino heist. Their getaway car doesn't make it through Northern Michigan's infamous whiteouts. Forced to split up, they head toward the Canadian border, but Addison leaves a bloody trail that has Deputy Sheriff Hannah (Kate Mara) and her misogynistic father Sheriff Becker (Treat Williams) in hot pursuit. Meanwhile, Liza hitches a ride with Jay (Charlie Hunnam), an ex-con and shamed Olympic boxer, trying to turn over a new leaf. As fate would have it (or bad karma in this case), everyone ends up at Jay's parents (Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson) farmhouse for that turkey dinner I mentioned earlier.
DEADFALL gets off to good start before slowly breaks away at the seams. Dean's premise is largely a moral dilemma that asks the question "To be or not to be". In reference to the many sub-plots, with every fork in the road, there are clear signs indicating right from wrong, but everyone seems to choose the latter. Addison and Liza are siblings with a troubled past. This is no deterrent for the life they have chosen, but Dean manifests an incestuous sexual tension between the siblings that is as fitting as a penguin in a desert. With Liza forging an unlikely romance with jay, the outlook jumps to redemption. As one of two silver linings, this is where the film comes full circle with dysfunctional family issues taking center stage. From Hannah and her sexist father, to Jay's disconcerting issues with his father, in addition to other sub-plots highlighting domestic violence, the clichés start to pile on as a dark parody to the whole idea of Thanksgiving family gatherings. The second aspect worth mentioning is Bana's taut characterisation of Addison with enough inner demons to call himself 'an angel of death'. Addison's transformation from an anti-hero into an impulsive serial-killer is as fascinating as it is frightening. As Jay's mother June, Spacek is perhaps the only other actor with some form of relief in what is mostly a hackneyed mess. Even so, I found it quite disturbing the way June manages an eerie smirk when a shotgun is inches away from leaving her headless.
There is a lot of violence - made vivid with bloodshed on snow - and some frantic snowmobile chases that keeps the action moving at an acceptable pace. What the film could have done without is a weak conclusion offset by a premise that isn't keen to deliver on its promises, in addition to a series of sub-plots that doesn't seem necessary. In the end, with the amount of plot-bloating stuffing, Ruzowitzky tries to cut a niche for himself but only manages to carve a turkey that is missing a leg a two. Good luck chowing down what's left of it.
The essence of a film lies in its ability to astonish us beyond what we
imagine to be possible (or impossible). Every year just a handful of
films manage to do this by leaving us in a state of awe and euphoria.
For 2013, this is it - GRAVITY is a state-of-the-art film that you
experience, rather than just watch on a big screen. And years from now,
it will be remembered for setting new benchmarks in the filmmaking
Cinematically speaking, this is not just my best movie of the year by the manner in which it is made or narrated, but because of the way it will change the world of motion pictures as we know it. Last year it was Ang Lee's LIFE OF PI and few years ago it was James Cameron's AVATAR. While the common thread running through these films are generous eye-popping visual effects, GRAVITY is far more superior in style, soul, effects and showmanship. That being said, there isn't much of a story here, and like LIFE OF PI before, the central theme is a white-knuckle do or die survival story. But that's where the comparison ends. The opening scene is an unbroken 15 minute long-take that introduces us to veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) and Mission Specialist Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) as they repair the Hubble telescope 600 kilometers above Earth. Matt is commanding his final space mission while Ryan is on her first. They joke around a bit, converse with mission control in Houston (voiced by Ed Harris) and a third astronaut working in the background. Then comes the dreaded "abort" after Houston warns that debris from a missile hit Russian satellite is headed their way. At speeds nearing 20,000 kilometers an hour, this debris becomes shrapnel that rips through their space shuttle, simultaneously killing the crew and severing communications with Houston. Barely surviving the hit, Matt and Ryan are now tiny white dots against the black expanse of outer space. And that's not even the bad news. Low on oxygen and tumbling through hostile conditions of space, their only hope of survival is reaching the International Space Station before the aforementioned debris returns within orbital striking distance.
Matt estimates they have 90 minutes to get to the space station. Incidentally, this is also the runtime of the film where everything happens in real-time proximity. All through this runtime, Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón maintains a visceral deadlock between the viewer's state of awe and the terrifying ordeal playing out on screen. But even against increasing panic, shortness of breath and imminent death, the narrative switches to a frantic fight for survival by clinging on to mankind's most innate virtues hope. Bullock embodies this in the role of a lifetime by constantly allowing her character to evolve. At first she is a rookie medical engineer on her first space mission, then a terrified individual with a tragic past, before learning to tap into the essence of the human spirit. Bullock has come a long way from driving a bus in SPEED to sidelining (excuse the pun) the competition in her Oscar winning THE BLIND SIDE, to flying an entire space station in this film. THIS is Sandra Bullock at her finest and every iota of her portrayal demands another Academy Award nomination. Close behind but with less screen time is Clooney. Equipped with witticisms and pep, Clooney is exactly what you would expect from and actor-director with a thoroughbred resume.
For most of us, GRAVITY is the closest we will ever get to feeling what it must be like in space. This is Cuarón's gift to the cinema industry and the discerning audience alike. Having co-scripted the film with his son, Cuarón's greatest achievement in this film is the technical nuance that has gone into its making. Cinematography is literally out of this world with some of the most spectacular vistas of Earth. There are scenes where the lens shifts from infinite space to within an inch of Ryan's face - a seamless juxtaposition of the vastness of space with claustrophobia. Sound design accentuated by Steven Price's original score is another contrast between surreal imagery and the eerie loneliness of space. These are not just effects in the conventional sense but a profound manner of grafting special effects with the character's emotions and the darkening atmosphere of the narrative; all in 3D that is not only immersive but in a way that becomes the skeletal binding of the story. Phenomenal!
As an only perceivable flaw, GRAVITY can seem preachy at times, underscored by slim propaganda that says something about the selfless courage of the elite men and women who risk life and limb for the greater good of humanity. Then again, such was the message in last year's Academy Award Best Picture ARGO. At the time of writing this review, awards season 2014 is still a few months away. But from where I was seated, I am looking at no less than nominations for sound design, visual effects, cinematography, best leading actress, directing and quite possibly, Best Motion Picture. And then some.
Frat-pack comedies hit an all-time high (excuse the pun) with THE
HANGOVER. In an attempt to raise the bar, THIS IS THE END goes all out
as an obnoxious, sexist, and highly outrageous inside joke. And the
joke's on Hollywood.
The film is essentially set in two parts where we are first introduced to Hollywood celebrities playing themselves. These are not A-list celebrities but established comedians like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and actors of similar ilk. Basically, just about anyone from a Judd Apatow production. They are all here and they play themselves in the most unbelievable manner allowed in an R-rated comedy. The central theme is male bonding with Jay Baruchel exhibiting said issues when his friend Seth Rogen is invited to a party hosted by James Franco. At the party they meet Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel and everyone else you can think of who are not in the same frat-pack league as Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and the likes. As you can imagine, the party is swinging with alcohol, weed, women and crude sexuality including a self-indulgent Michael Cera. But just when you think this is going to be an amped up version of SUPERBAD or PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, the story shifts into darker territory with an apocalyptic end-of-days scenario straight out of the Book of Revelations. What follows is a bizarre attempt at survival but filled with slapstick moments of under-belt humor, decapitation and dismemberment, exorcism, and an unending array of sex-gags; all of which are nothing new to the genre, but questionable as an outrageous comedy that literally grabs Armageddon by the balls.
Is it funny? The answer to that question relies heavily on how much you like these actors or their previous films. We have seen Hollywood actors play themselves in similarly themed comedies. Think Neil Patrick Harris in the HAROLD & KUMAR franchise or Bill Murray in ZOMBIELAND. But by sharing scripting and directing duties with Evan Goldberg, Rogen's achievement, at best, is pulling jokes within jokes. There are multiple references to various Hollywood celebrities (even one about George Cloony and Sandra Bullock), about themselves and characters they have played in their own movies. All this may sit well with die-hard fans but what about the casual movie-goer with little or no tolerance for unintelligent storytelling?
THIS IS THE END gets to a good start with cameos of famous actors playing exaggerated versions of themselves. Emma Watson and Rihanna included, Hill even refers to his Academy Award nomination in MONEY BALL. Then things turn for the worse once Danny McBride arrives on his one-trick-pony, playing his usual crass and narcissistic self. In not saying that the film is entirely unfunny, it is also far from bland. Then again, this becomes a matter of choice. What all this boils down to is the fact that these actors are clearly having fun by mocking themselves. And by doing so, they are also saying that they can afford to do so because the awful truth of the matter remains that as long as idiots pay to watch their movies, they get to walk the red carpet and have a blast in the process. But thankfully, all is not lost if you save your time and money for a similarly themed but far more boisterous comedy instead THE WORLD'S END.
Having resurrected the series after the critically panned sequel 2
FAST 2 FURIOUS - returning director Justin Lin rigs this sixth
installment with an action packed cocktail of nitrous oxide and
adrenalin; a perfectly blended chemical compound that will have you
laughing out loud even as you clench your toes through the film's
high-octane action sequences.
Picking up where FAST 5 ended, US Diplomatic Security Service Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) grants fugitives Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and former FBI Agent Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) a full pardon if they help him take down criminal mastermind Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Toretto is of course uninterested, until Hobbs reveals that Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is alive but working for Shaw. A far as the synopsis goes, that's all you need to know, because that's all there is to it. To be fair, the FAST & FURIOUS saga has always been about high speed races and chases and less about character development or a mindboggling story. And Like the preceding films, the background story in this sixth installment is literally in the back seat, with emphasis on the ride rather than the destination. Neither is FURIOUS 6 the type of film inclined towards rocket scientists or viewers searching for logic. George Smiley burrowing after a Soviet spy within MI6? No. Regular doses of humour, peppered with death-defying stunts? Yes, and there is a truck load of it and it comes at you just as the title promises. This, essentially, is what makes FURIOUS 6 subjectively indulgent, with or without the popcorn. However, there is food for thought and fans of the series could be split debating whether or not this film is the best in the series.
Although Lin injects a fresh canister of cinematic nitro, this latest episode lacks a worthy antagonist even though this film has the largest character ensemble in the series. On that note, characters don't die and dead ones are brought back. While there is a timeline-unknotting-explanation for that, the fact remains that Shaw is heavily outnumbered, and it shows. After five globetrotting adventures, Dom's 'family' has increased in size with many characters reappearing from previous films. In addition, Hobbs is no longer an advisory and along with his team of Special Forces sharp-shooters, becomes Dom's souped-up armory on wheels. There are also issues with continuity amid rip-off moments from iconic action films (think Lethal WEAPON 3). Through all the vehicular carnage, characters can take a beating, and still appear unfazed and unharmed. This carries on till the final skirmish onboard a cargo plane on a take-off run, on what has to be the world's longest runway! Real pilots in the audience would probably wet themselves laughing.
But despite its flaws, some even absurd, FAST & FURIOUS 6 is a high energy action movie and competently made. Fans are treated to having Rodriguez back and there is a whole subplot about her 'new' character. Tyrese Gibson is also back but this time, more than ever, serves one real purpose and that is to shoot out some well-timed one-liners. As a summer opener, it not only revs up the fun-o-meter but also hurtles past the competition as a lucrative action film franchise. Bruce Willis - kindly heed that last line. While it is unusual for sequels to get better with each release, the FAST & FURIOUS franchise seems to mature with age and there is a very strong suggestion of a seventh installment. An end credits scene confirms this with the introduction of a new character. Pay attention to the film's baldness joke and you might just figure out who joins the cast in the next movie. If you do, you might also win premier passes for FAST & FURIOUS 7!
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