Tagged: James Franco

Review – This is the End (2013)

Director: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride

This is the EndEvery now and then a group of friends will be sitting around, having a few drinks, making each other laugh really hard and they’ll collectively think “We’re pretty funny. Somebody should make a movie about us.” What would happen if that group of guys were all well-known comic actors and had the clout to get someone else to pay for that movie to be made? The answer, as we see with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s This is the End, is you get the most self-indulgent movie ever made.

Under the guidance of Judd Apatow, that peer group of Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Danny McBride and the rest – the core of which started with the short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks and then expanded through films like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad – currently sits at the top of the comedy movie hierarchy. A big part of their appeal has always been that it is so apparent that they are friends in real life, that friendship resulting in an easy, natural chemistry on screen. Unfortunately, This is the End takes that one step too far and it feels like you are watching a series of in-jokes. Plenty of those jokes are still funny, but it feels like they’d be funnier if you knew the actor personally. This feels like a movie they made for themselves.

The setup is pretty simple. Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride – all playing fictional versions of themselves – are at a party at James Franco’s place when the apocalypse occurs. All of the good people are raptured up into heaven but our guys obviously didn’t make the cut. They are left in James Franco’s house/fortress to work out how they will survive in this hell on earth. The resolution is underwhelming and feels slapped together because ultimately the storyline isn’t important. This movie isn’t about the rapture. It isn’t about survival in a post-apocalyptic world. It is about Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and James Franco finding themselves in an extreme situation and being funny. So towards the end of the film when it moves away from that scenario out of an obligation to wrap up the story, it isn’t nearly as engaging.

What saves this movie is the fact that these guys actually are funny guys, and at the end of the day all a comedy really needs to do to pass mark is make you laugh. It is a bit hit and miss, as you would expect from a film which clearly relies as much on improvisation as this one did, but at times it is quite sharp. If you weren’t a fan of Pineapple Express and Superbad you are better off steering clear of this one. It is that same style of frat-boy humour taken up a notch. Plenty of penis jokes. Plenty of drug jokes.

This is the End has cameos, cameos, cameos. Clearly some favours were called in as in addition to our central six characters we get as-self appearances from Michael Cera, Rhianna, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Aziz Ansari, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Channing Tatum and the Backstreet Boys. The best of the cameos though has to be from Emma Watson, who clearly enjoyed the opportunity to leave the world of Harry Potter behind her and jump into some more unashamedly adult material.

If you like the Apatow style of whimsy then This is the End has plenty of laughs for you. But it will leave you feeling a bit like you’ve crashed someone else’s party.

Rating – ★★☆

Review by Duncan McLean

Review – Lovelace (2013)

Directors: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, Juno Temple, James Franco

LovelaceOne of the great peculiarities of film history occurred in 1972. In the same year that The Godfather was released and took the place of Gone With the Wind as the highest grossing film of all time, the second highest grossing film of the year was a hard-core pornographic film called Deep Throat. Deep Throat was a sensation, crossing over to become a mainstream hit. It was reviewed in the mainstream media and discussed on television by the likes of Johnny Carson and Bob Hope.  It is estimated that this film which cost a mere $24,000 to shoot has had a lifetime gross of $600m, making it surely the most profitable film of all time – though it has been suggested that its gross figures were slightly inflated by the mafia, who used their porno theatres to launder money. At the centre of the film’s success was a seemingly ordinary woman, Linda Boreman, who thanks to a very particular talent would become the world’s first pornography superstar, Linda Lovelace. Forty years later, her story has been brought to the screen in the biopic Lovelace.

Lovelace is the first feature film from the documentary team of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. In its early passages the film seems to tell the story of a self-conscious young woman, raised in a conservative Catholic household, who falls in love with a shady man and despite her shyness agrees to perform in low-budget pornographic film to help him get out of debt, all with the hope that it might lead to a career as a legitimate actress. However, at the halfway mark the story skips ahead six years to the film’s pivotal moment. When Linda Boreman went to write her autobiography, Ordeal, the material contained in it was so libellous the publishing company insisted that she take a lie detector test to verify her claims before they would publish it. This polygraph test provides the basis for the second half of the film to go back to the beginning and retell many of the events we have just witnessed from a different perspective. As a result, the Lovelace’s first and second half give us the contrast between the public perception of Linda’s rise to celebrity and the private, disturbing reality of it.

Lovelace is a biopic, its primary focus is on the person of Linda Boreman. As such, it is not really concerned with exploring some of the other interesting areas around the Deep Throat phenomenon, like answering questions of how Deep Throat became such an unlikely hit and what were the contributing factors to this strange moment of porno chic. If those are the areas that interest you, you would be better served seeking out Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey’s 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat.

Lovelace features a strong ensemble cast including the likes of Peter Sarsgaard, Chris Noth, Bobby Canavale, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick and James Franco, led by Amanda Seyfried in the title role. Over the last decade Seyfried has appeared in a number of high profile films – Les Miserables, Mamma Mia, Mean Girls – but it is fair to say that until now she has never been called upon to carry a film. In Lovelace it is all on her, the success or failure of the film was largely going to come down to her ability to connect us to this character and she gives really comes to the fore delivering the strongest performance of her career. But while Seyfried makes us feel for Linda, eliciting a great deal of empathy for this woman trapped in an abusive relationship with no one to turn to, we don’t necessarily come to understand her a great deal more. I don’t know that Lovelace’s screenplay gives us any more insight into the character of Linda Lovelace and the events that took place than was already common knowledge.

Most films about the world of pornography tend to take a pro or anti-porn stance, and the real life Linda Lovelace did become a strong anti-porn activist, but viewers looking for such a stance will find it difficult to identify in Lovelace. The film doesn’t seek to make broad statements about the porn industry because when it comes down to it Lovelace isn’t a film about pornography. It is a film about an abusive relationship. Likewise, anyone buying a ticket to Lovelace expecting to be titillated will be sorely disappointed. This is not that kind of movie. There is nothing sexy about it. It is a heartbreaking story about a woman, victim to an abuse with extremely public consequences.

Rating – ★★★☆

Review by Duncan McLean