This Is the End


Occasionally when sitting through a bad movie with a talented cast, I find myself echoing a question posed by Gene Siskel – “Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?” This question went through my head about a dozen times as I was watching ‘Grown Ups’ back in 2010 – I’m sure the aforementioned documentary would have been far more successful that the scripted comic situations they were bound by. The highly profane, but well-intentioned ‘This Is the End’ features a lineup of A-list comedians playing themselves.

So, Jay Baruchel (you know him, he’s Canadian) arrives in Los Angeles to visit his friend and fellow actor Seth Rogen. They get high, play video games, and head over to James Franco’s house party. There, they meet fellow stars – hey look, it’s Jonah Hill! Craig Robinson! Emma Watson! Michael Cera! Rihanna! Jay and Seth (we’re all friends here, we can call them by their first names now) head to the convenience store; weird stuff happens here – there is a loud explosion followed by people getting sucked up through holes in the ceiling via blue beams that disappear into the sky. Jay and Seth rush back to James’ party where the same thing happens there – the biblically inclined would refer to this as The Rapture; ah, it’s the good ones who ascend into heaven whilst the rest (including a lot of Hollywooders) slip into the fiery pit of Hell when a giant sink-hole opens from the ground. With most everyone (seemingly) killed, James, Seth, Jay, Jonah barricade the home’s door; they discover that Danny McBride is alive and well – he had crashed the party and passed out during the entire event. With Los Angeles in ruins and an anatomically accurate demonic monster on the loose, the survivors try to figure out what to do.

Even though we’ve proven that the Mayan ‘2012’ hypothesis was a monumental miscalculation, the end of the world is still a hot topic at the movies these days – ‘It’s a Disaster’, ‘4:44 Last Day on Earth’, ‘Melancholia’, ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ are among a couple recently examples of this subgenre. But, this picture is more a spoof on their own creative historical work than it is of films about global annihilation – the humor is very much of the self-deprecating variety. The threat of the apocalypse actually gives these actors the opportunity to participate in some relationship workshopping and to clear up any interpersonal conflicts.

I liked the documentarian visual aesthetic (thanks to James’ ‘127 Hours’ camera) – it makes us believe that these guys really do know each other – and these actors (at least some of them) are more or less the way we imagined they would be in real life. Seth appears insecure and like the sort of friend who is very difficult to please. Jay is low-key; he has a select group of people he will open up to but remains mostly reclusive amongst his Hollywood crowd. James is as pretentious as I had suspected (well, didn’t he want to implemented and teach a J-Franco 101 college-based course?).

At the end of the day, the ultimate question is whether or not ‘This is the End’ is funny – it is; and in some moments, outrageously so. I don’t think it’s a perfect comedy – there is an overreliance on penis jokes and bathroom humor, but I admire the fact that the filmmakers (Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen) have thrown the entire pot of spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. The scene that had me laughing the hardest involved a rape joke; not everyone is going to laugh at this – some may be downright offended by it. That being said, unlike ‘The Hangover’ pictures, I don’t think the jokes in ‘This is the End’ are all that mean-spirited. This is partly because Mr.Goldberg and Mr.Rogen are able to demonstrate the vulnerability that accompanies male friendships – these truly are sweet guys as much as they pretend to be otherwise.

Your laugh mileage may vary, but I think there were enough laugh-out-loud moments in ‘This is the End’ to warrant a recommendation. This was clearly a project that the actors loved to be a part of – it shows; there’s a lot of energy onscreen. I’d like to see ‘The Exorcism of Jonah Hill II’ someday. QED.

The Purge

‘The Purge’ – Call it ‘After Midnight’ whereby Ethan Hawkes leaves Julie Deply and Europe to return to the U.S. to sell home security systems. And be in a really bad movie. Written and directed by James DeMonaco, ‘The Purge’ works better as an 85 minute home insurance advertisement than as a commentary of the animalistic urges of man. For those who haven’t seen the trailer, the setup is this: It’s the year 2022 and things are looking good – unemployment is at 1% and the crime rate is comparably low. These optimal economic conditions are well maintained because the government has instituted an annual 12-hour period called “The Purge” during which all criminal activity becomes legal. The Purge is designed as an act of catharsis for the American people, allowing them to vent all negative emotions however they desire consequence-free.

Do I believe such a solution would work effectively in the real world? No, but that doesn’t matter. I do think that the setup of this picture is promising enough to explore some very dark and serious issues. After all, this model assumes that crime is cathartic, but is it really? How exactly does someone transform into a monster during this 12 hour period? Are they able to revert back to their prior self without any feelings of remorse? Such questions aren’t explored – this is because the movie simply devolves into a standard home-invasion picture and completely forgets about its own premise.

Here is what ‘The Purge’ is really about (rather than what it pretends to be about): James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) has made a fine living selling home security systems. While he’s out on the road trying to surpass his sales quotas, his wife Mary (Lena Headey) struggles with her defiant teenager daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and young tech-obsessed son Charlie (Max Burkholder). You see, Charlie is just a kid – the concept of “The Purge” is just too advanced for his feeble mind; proof of this is demonstrated when he lets a panicky and bloodied stranger into their home. What complicates matters further is a group of Purge participants and their leader (Rhys Wakefield) show up at James’ front door demanding that the stranger be released back to them (the stranger is referred to as a “homeless filthy swine”). If James doesn’t comply, the gang will breach the property’s security, enter and kill everyone in the house.

Mr.DeMonaco’s is very fluent in cliché-speak – this is not a close call, this is a very bad screenplay. After the teenager daughter witnesses a horrific act of violence (a situation in which she was rescued from), she responds to her protector with “Things will never be the same ever again.” When James finally makes a decision on how to deal with the unexpected developments that have taken place, he says “This is our home!” What did the injured stranger even do? There are restrictions in terms of the class of weaponry that can be used for “The Purge” – but who enforces this law? Why would Ethan Hawke’s character (who specializes in security) leave his second floor windows unlocked? When a character is forcefully bound to a chair, why would anyone leave a knife on the floor just meters away from him – do they want him to escape? And worst of all, this is a very hypocritical movie asking viewers to take sheer pleasure in the brutal deaths of these home invaders until it concludes with a “Violence is not the answer” message. Mr.DeMonaco penned the screenplay for the remake of ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ (also with Ethan Hawke) – I didn’t like that movie, but I doubt that script was worse than this.

Furthermore, there is absolutely no characterization – everyone is a caricature. A better picture would have given us a little more understanding as to Charlie’s open-handed motivations. As written, however, he comes off as moron who can’t let go of his pacifist mentality – I’m sorry if that is mean but he insists on helping this stranger (who has a knife in his hand and will use it against any of the boy’s family members if he needs to). The Purge participants outside James’ door are a bunch of killer rich kids who look like they belong to a Delta Sigma Pi fraternity. They utter the sort of the pseudo poetic banalities that would force a high school English teacher to assign a failing grade at their attempts at artistic expression and send them off to the psychiatric ward for evaluation. The “gang leader” doesn’t even have a name – according to IMDB, he is credited as “Polite Stranger”.

To add insult to injury, ‘The Purge’ isn’t even well made. With a budget of $3million, it looks $2.9million cheaper than it should. With its dimly lit settings and rapid camera movements, it’s hard to see what is actually transpiring – this is particularly true in its moments of action which are so poorly edited, it’s next to impossible to derive any detail. A tripod shouldn’t be outside of the scope of a $3million production.

The best thing that can be said about ‘The Purge’ is that it is mercifully short at 85 minutes (though it does feel twice as long). It was the #1 film at the box office last weekend, because of an effective marketing campaign which sold viewers on the setup of the picture. But, this is an essentially a second remake of ‘Straw Dogs’ with a socioeconomic hook that dismembers itself after the opening credits. Here’s hoping this weekend’s ‘Man of Steel’ and ‘This Is The End’ have much more to offer – I’m certain they will. QED.