Film Review: This Is The End

Tom says:

James Franco throws a party of biblical proportions in directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s first venture into horror comedy. In true Goldberg/Rogen fashion, expect to see familiar faces from both Superbad and Pineapple Express, as well as many other celebrity appearances, in this apocalyptic cameo-fest that is hilarious from start to finish.

Forget high-school house parties and drug deal getaways, Goldberg and Rogen leave no expenses spared in This Is The End, a tale not restricted to our dimension. After arriving in Los Angeles to visit his good friend Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel is invited to a house party hosted by none other than James Franco, who has just moved into the neighbourhood. On arrival, the place is packed full of famous faces. In the same style as the sitcom Extras, the actors in this film are playing over-the-top caricatures of themselves, such as the overly-loving Jonah Hill, the foul-mouthed Emma Watson and, best of all, the coke-fiend Michael Cera who definitely deserves his own film.

Many of these faces are not around for long, however, as a giant sinkhole opens up outside Franco’s house, swallowing dozens of party guests. The film then takes a turn down the end-of-the-world route which would feel unimaginative and overdone if it was not for the opportunities for comedy that it creates. As with Goldberg and Rogen’s previous films, This Is The End features the same loose-scripted, improvised humour that manifests itself when you put people like James Franco, Danny McBride and Jonah Hill in the same room and, with judgement day happening right outside the door, that happens a lot.

The lack of creativity story-wise slightly lets it down, but that is easily excusable as the non-stop laughs more than make up for it. This Is The End may be the best comedy you see all year.

Gary says:

Evan Goldberg and his hilarious writing partner Seth Rogen, the comedy minds behind the excellent Pineapple Express and Superbad, leap on to the apocalyptic cinema bandwagon and ride it straight to hell with their devilishly funny directorial debut, This is the End.

A packed party at James Franco’s ultra-cool Los Angeles home is the setting, as the world begins to fall apart – dragging doomed celebrities into a fiery sinkhole. The special effects team demonstrate that the devil really is in the detail, with impressive CGI demons and realistic gore affording the film with some truly blockbuster moments.

This is the End’s main strength is undoubtedly the incredibly likeable cast. Rogen and Franco continue their endearing bromance last seen in Pineapple Express, with Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Jay Baruchel also portraying fictional, and quite often bizarre, versions of themselves. There are also plenty of great cameos; particularly from Channing Tatum and the typically innocent Michael Cera who, in this world, is actually an unruly cocaine addict. The film’s bright white climax also provides several surprises that make it very difficult to leave the cinema without an enormous smile across your face.

If you are easily offended, this is not the apocalypse film for you; with a large portion of This is the End’s more lowbrow moments coming from jokes involving the cast’s various bodily fluids. However, this is not to suggest it’s a film void of intelligent humour, as the highly improvised dialogue provides plenty of witty spontaneity.

If you can stomach the gross-out moments, This is the End is a brilliant horror comedy which, for fans of Goldberg and Rogen’s previous work, is completely unmissable.

by Tom Woodcock & Gary Woodcock

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Film Review: Stand Up Guys

Fisher Stevens’ sophomore feature-length, Stand Up Guys, is a bitter-sweet and sentimental story about an ex-stickup man trying to get the best out of the remainder of his life, after being released from prison to find out his old partner has been assigned to kill him.

Valentine, or Val as he likes to be known, played by Al Pacino, has just been released from prison after 28 years, which he served for accidentally killing mob-boss Claphands’ son. Waiting to meet him at the gates of the prison is his old crime-buddy Doc, played by Christopher Walken. What Val soon finds out is that Claphands has told Doc that, in order to save his own life, he must kill Val. And so Val, Doc and their old wheelguy Hirsch, played by Alan Arkin, who they pick up from a nursing home, go on a series of escapades in order to feel alive again before that dreadful moment.

This film is at its best when it is serious. There are moments, in cafés and on late-night strolls through the city, when Val and Doc take the time to talk about past jobs and the lives they used to lead. And I don’t think these moments would work as well with any random old guys playing them. They work because it’s Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, two men that have lived so many lives on screen, two men that, just like Val and Doc, are in the twilight of their careers. These moments work so well because the roles of Val and Doc are so similar to the roles that they’ve played throughout their career, that it almost feels like it’s Pacino and Walken reminiscing about their life’s work, and it makes the hair stand up at the back of your neck.

Overall, the script is not that great but, as you would expect, Pacino, Walken and Arkin make it work – mostly. With such vast experience between them, the trio can pretty much make any character seem believable. But one thing that, if written badly, won’t work well – great actor or not – is comedy. Unfortunately, this film is not very funny. Contrasting those great sentimental moments I mentioned is terribly sad moments, such as the scene where you see Al Pacino sat on a hospital bed with a massive erection. And I say you see Al Pacino, not Val, because it’s Al Pacino. It’s Michael Corleone, Tony Montana and Vincent Hanna. And he’s sat there pretending that he has a massive erection, while Christopher Walken stands and watches the doctor assess it. This is not what I expected such great actors to be doing near the end of their careers, and I don’t know whether to be annoyed at them for taking the roles, or the writer for having the audacity of writing scenes like this.

With such sombre and heartbreaking highs and, for different reasons, sombre and heartbreaking lows, Stand Up Guys is a very polarizing film. But if you choose to forget the middle section, where sincerity is replaced with childish humour, and where Val’s imminent death seems to be forgotten, you might actually find that this film is quite touching.

by Tom Woodcock

Film Review: Spike Island

Gary says:

Spike Island is an entertaining, albeit predictable, coming-of-age drama following the story of four ticketless friends desperate to find a way onto the eponymous island to see their heroes, The Stone Roses, put on the biggest performance of their career. Set mainly in Manchester during the early ‘90s, the film is rife with Madchester stereotypes of ‘mad fer it’ youths striving to follow in their idol’s footsteps and escape their mundane, working class upbringings – at least for a day.

For the most part, the cast provide strong, credible performances – particularly the aptly named Elliot Tittensor, who manages to greatly epitomise the swagger and confidence of the era in his role as Tits, the leader of the young group of protagonists. However, the inclusion of Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, who plays Tits’ love interest Sally, doesn’t quite seem to fit. Perhaps it’s her unconvincing northern accent that makes her seem out of place, as there’s a constant feeling that she’s much more suited to the Red Waste of Essos than the red-bricked backdrop of Manchester.

What ultimately disappoints about Spike Island is its unoriginal narrative and fairly two-dimensional characters. What should be a hard-hitting, emotional sequence involving Tits’ dad suffering from an illness, fails to pack the intended punch; feeling as though it has been included in a fairly futile attempt at affording the film some extra emotional weight. Amongst the clichéd story however, there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments – particularly during a hilarious sequence that pays homage to the Reese’s Pieces scene from E.T the Extra Terrestrial. Fans of The Stone Roses will also find something to adore in the soundtrack, which is packed full of the band’s classic hits.

However, just like fool’s gold, Spike Island flatters to deceive. The excellent music and some strong acting can’t cover up what is ultimately a fairly average film that, in terms of narrative at least, doesn’t really offer anything new.

Tom says:

Mat Whitecross’ Spike Island is a love letter from a generation to one of Britain’s most influential bands: The Stone Roses. In the film, we follow Gary ‘Tits’ Titchfield, played by Elliott Tittensor, and his friends/bandmates as they try to make the journey to the Roses’ now-infamous gig on Spike Island. But this is more than just a gig to these lads, this is a pilgrimage; because Manchester is the world and The Stone Roses is a religion. This film shows how a religion can both comfort you during dark times and distract you from what is really important.

Tits, Dodge, Zippy, Little Gaz and Penfold are a believable group of deprecating-yet-loving friends who are, in fact, in a band themselves: Shadow Castre. Inspired by the Roses’ ability to get out of the red-brick terraces and into national glory, all the boys want to do is get to the gig and somehow give their demo tape to their heroes – because this film, at its best, is about a generation wanting more than the 9-5 working class lifestyles of their parents, and The Stone Roses have proven that it’s possible.

Unfortunately, Spike Island is let down by its sub-plots. Running through the film is a typical teenage love triangle between Tits, Dodge and Sally, played by Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke, that is full of coming-of-age clichés. This, along with the red-brick rivalry with another local band, The Palaver, do create a few roll-your-eyes moments that dampen the impact of the rest of the film.

If you can see past the sometimes-cheesy story-lines, Spike Island is an impressively shot, energetic and funny coming-of-age film that can be enjoyed whether you’re a Roses fan or not.

by Gary Woodcock & Tom Woodcock

Film Review: World War Z

Loosely based on Max Brooks’ much-acclaimed novel of the same name, Marc Forster adds to the recent zombie craze with World War Z: the story of a retired United Nations operative who is forced to leave his family behind for the sake of ending a zombie pandemic. Noted for its realism and social commentary, the 2006 novel was critically acclaimed on release, yet the film adaptation leaves all this behind, instead opting for a generic apocalypse survival narrative that, although satisfactory, feels like it didn’t need to be made.

I’ve never been a fan of zombies. As antagonists, I feel they are bland; by definition, they don’t possess the power of thought, meaning their objective is always the same: infect others. Because of this, zombies feel less like a powerful, independent enemy than the physical embodiment of a virus. The zombies’ mindlessness and predictability leaves it down to the survivors to provide the real entertainment in these films, and it all depends on how they deal with the zombie threat: do they slaughter them or avoid them?

Unfortunately for large parts of World War Z, they choose to slaughter. In large groups, the zombies in this film act much like a swarm of krill or a tidal wave, and ex-UN employee Gerry Lane, played by Brad Pitt, and his army buddies are often found picking them off with high-powered rifles or sometimes even hand-grenades. The zombies in these scenes are cannon fodder, the tension, although great to begin with, dies fast, and it usually ends with a race-against-time situation to get to a helicopter or plane. It’s like Left 4 Dead: The Movie.
The real suspense comes from the scenes in which there is no obvious escape route, or where their objective is obstructed by zombies, such as my favourite scene, in which a passenger on a commercial flight is found to be infected. These kinds of scenes are truly exciting and suspenseful, but unfortunately they are few and far between.

As for the acting in this film, I would say it’s mostly fine. Brad Pitt, as he often does, seems comfortable and believable in his role as Gerry Lane. Mireille Enos, who I rate as an actress and feel is criminally underused in this film, plays Karin Lane, his devoted and concerned wife. Generic as that character may be, Enos plays her well. As a side note, why do casting directors struggle to find child actors that aren’t annoying? Everybody needs to take a leaf out of HBO’s book after Game of Thrones.

The biggest disappointment in World War Z is the plot. This film has been done many times before; be it with zombies or a deadly disease, there are countless movies in which it is left down to a single man/woman to try and save the world from a deadly pandemic and, with very few other original elements, I’m simply left wondering if the producers felt they were making an original, meaningful contribution to the zombie genre with World War Z, or if they just wanted to jump onto the recent zombie bandwagon.

All in all, this film can be exhilarating at times, but its uninspired story and characters stop it from being a potentially good zombie film and leave it as an okay, generic one. I think we all need to take a step back from the zombie genre for a while, until someone comes up with something new.

by Tom Woodcock

Film Review: Behind the Candelabra

Based on Scott Thorson’s memoir of the same name, Steven Soderbergh’s biopic Behind the Candelabra is a touching, funny and tragic tale of forbidden love between a fame-hungry pianist looking to build a legacy, and an animal trainer searching for a father figure.

“What’s important is to be yourself” the eccentric entertainer Liberace tells his young lover, Scott Thorson – fitting advice from a man who, up until his death, fought to hide his true nature from the public. Walter Liberace, played by Michael Douglas, was, in essence, two separate men. He was Liberace: the charismatic, extravagant heartthrob; the charming, winking showman; the first great television entertainer. And in private he was Lee: the materialistic, greedy yet warm-hearted friend; the closet homosexual; the man in need of the latest accessory, be it a coat, a ring or a lover. Liberace was Lee’s mask, an important mask, as a gay pianist would not be able to build the legacy that he strived for, not in the days where homosexuality was not only frowned upon, but illegal. Any accusations of a secret sex life were met with libel cases, and often a television message, directly to the viewer, reaffirming his heterosexuality. In fact, this mask was so vital to the longevity of the Liberace name that he requested to be cremated as soon as possible after his death, as public knowledge of his AIDS contraction would be detrimental. This request was rejected by the coroner, and where is Liberace’s legacy now? In Behind the Candelabra we see his struggle to balance his love for the fame he feels he was made to have, and his lust for the lifestyle he was told he can never have.

Michael Douglas slips seamlessly into the diamond-encrusted role of Liberace and is, as Liberace was in life, the star of the show; each of his lines delivered with the same gentle, loving warmth that Mr. Showmanship himself emitted, not to forget the gracious yet phony smile. But also worth a mention is Matt Damon, who takes the role of Scott Thorson, an animal trainer working in the film industry who, after a meeting backstage, becomes Liberace’s new plaything.  Damon plays the part with the vulnerability and apprehension you would expect from a man suddenly thrown from dog-handling into the centre of Flamboyancy Incarnate’s life. Thorson, who lived in foster home after foster home, sees Liberace not only as a lover but also as a father figure – almost literally at one point – but it becomes apparent to Thorson that he is not so much of a son to Liberace than one part in the play that Liberace calls life – and a part that can very easily be recast. Although sincerity is at the heart of this film, Robb Lowe provides comic relief as Liberace’s hilarious plastic surgeon who seems to have gone to work on his own face; clearly not an advocate of putting his best wares in the shop window.

Visually, this film sparkles. In every frame there is either a hint of gold or the lens will catch the light, causing it to glitter like a diamond.  The set pieces and costumes are fantastic too, be it giant crystal chandeliers or immaculate fur capes, the extreme flamboyancy is a fitting tribute to a man who once bought a golden Cadillac.

As with every biopic, there are strict limitations on the story in Behind the Candelabra, which admittedly do create a few slow moments. However, Liberace’s life was theatrical enough to make sure that you don’t stay bored for long in this revealing and occasionally scandalous story about one of entertainment’s oft-forgotten influences.

by Tom Woodcock