This Is The End (2013)

This Is The End (2013)

You know what I like? When films are meta and self-referential. When they’re not afraid to mock themselves or even parody themselves to some extent. I like it even more when actors are willing to poke fun at themselves on-screen. I mean, they must all be aware of their public persona and the way they’re depicted in the media. That’s why it’s great when they get involved with roles / pieces that poke fun at themselves, no matter how subtly. From Zach Galiafanakis‘ Between Two Ferns webisode series of interviews through to Bill Murray in Zombieland, where he answers “do you have any regrets?” with “Garfield, maybe”. I like it. So, how do you make a film about the rapture and the end of days a bit comical? Well, how about getting some of the industry’s current comedic frat-pack and throwing them into the film… as themselves…

This Is The End (2013)

Yes, This Is The End tells the tale of how the world will end – all fire and brimstone whilst the good are raptured into heaven and the rest of us are abandoned here as the Earth becomes engulfed in flames and is dominated by demonic entities. So where does our film decide to position itself for this apocalyptic event? James Franco‘s house warming party of course. And who else is there? Let’s throw in Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride. Not enough for you? Then how about Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Rihanna, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and a whole heap of others. Yes, this is one star-studded film. But don’t for a second think back to the appalling Movie 43 as a reference point here. Thankfully, This Is The End is a far better movie… and is actually rather funny!

This Is The End (2013)

What’s most pleasing about the film is the rapport and on-screen dialogue between the stars. Some are really sending up their characters and acting in a totally atypical way, such as Michael Cera, whilst others embrace how the public perceives them, such as Seth Rogan and James Franco. Rogan has jokes thrown at him about his wooden acting, jarring laugh and inability to play a different character, whilst Franco embraces this artsy, higher-than-thou attitude he’s sometimes painted as having owing to his personal dalliances with trying to acquire every degree under the sun in his spare time. It is simply very, very funny to watch. All of the actors work brilliantly as an ensemble – quite how much is ad-lib and how much is scripted, I’m not entirely sure, but it all works seamlessly.

But what of the plotting? What starts out as a somewhat loose and meandering premise: “oh it’s the end of the world”, suddenly becomes quite compelling and I genuinely found myself enrapt in the world of the rapture. I wanted to know how Franco et al. were going to get out of this situation! Things also got a little crazy when the film started to actually spend money on special effects… you see, This Is The End is quite low tech for the most part; relying heavily on the rapport between the characters and their humorous dialogue. This is great, and thankfully works… but the film turns on its head in its final act. You see, what started out as a humorous little romp about the end of the world turns into something rapidly approaching horror.

This Is The End (2013)

Yes, you read that right… This Is The End actually brings in some effective scares and beautifully animated demons and nasties into the mix. I liked this. Even if it did make me think I was watching the dog-demons from Ghostbusters at one point. I found this change of pace and tone to be quite refreshing and really kept me entertained until the bitter end. The movie doesn’t market itself this way, which is a bit perplexing, but nevertheless – I enjoyed it!

This Is The End (2013)

That brings us to the humour… what of it? As I’ve alluded to until now, the humour works and had me laughing. For the most part. Maybe I’m getting a little too long in the tooth nowadays, but drug jokes / gore jokes / dick jokes don’t make me laugh as much as they used to. And there are a lot of those jokes in here. If you’re not a fan of Superbad, Pineapple Express or any other of the films associated with Seth Rogan and chums, you’re probably not going to be too impressed. Thankfully, for the movie, I am for the most part. But this is probably the film’s biggest weakness, because if you’re not a fan of this humour, you’re going to strongly dislike the movie itself. This is a shame as I genuinely think you should nip out and see this whilst you can.

This Is The End can stand proud: it’s a movie that lives up to the sum of its parts. It doesn’t collapse under its own star power and doesn’t bill itself as the “greatest ensemble cast ever assembled” like that Movie 43 abomination. What you have here is a sharp, funny and mildly horrifying take on the end of the world. It won’t be to everybody’s tastes, that’s for sure, but if you’re at least a fan of some of the stars in this movie then it’ll definitely appeal to you. I can quite confidently state that this may be the best comedy of 2013 so far… but unless the end of the world comes tomorrow, this may yet change… stay tuned!

“It’s the end of the world as we know it”… Well, that’s what REM sang a good while ago. Sure, the rapture looks horrific in This Is The End and I wouldn’t fancy squaring up to any of those demons. But I’m trying to wonder what I’d rather be faced with… a lifetime of fire and brimstone, being tracked down by fierce looking demons, or being forced to watch and re-watch Movie 43 over and over again… Hmmm… just how hot are those coals again??

Phage Factor:

4 Star

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GI Joe: Retaliation (2013)

GI Joe Retaliation (2013)

Do you remember when toys and games were just that? You know… they were just pieces of plastic that you’d play with in your room or in the bath? Oh come on, it wasn’t just me playing in the “water arena” with my pieces of plastic was it? I was about 5 or 6 okay?! Well, I remember those days… and your imagination was definitely enough to dream up all manner of scenarios and events for these toys. Sure, there might have been cartoons, but no-one wanted to make a film about plastic toys. Then the world changed. Our plastic heroes were suddenly on the screen… and before you knew it Hasbro had somehow managed to put Battleships (a game where you just shout grid co-ordinates) into your local cinema. So after the ridiculously underwhelming “success” of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra in 2009, Hasbro has now brought you the much delayed GI Joe: Retaliation. Now with 100% more Channing Tatum. Well… sort of…

Dwayne "The Traps" Johnson...

Dwayne “The Traps” Johnson…

GI Joe: Retaliation follows on from the events of the first film, but decides to scrap the majority of the existing cast in favour of following our new group of “Joe’s”, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Duke (Channing Tatum) and Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), over another bombastic set of events. I don’t feel like I’m “spoiling” anything here to say that I wouldn’t get too attached to Tatum here… his role is very similar to that of Side Effects. It’s another instance of him being billed ludicrously high as a draw card… you will be disappointed. Be warned.

Anyway, this time around the Joes find themselves “betrayed” as an act of “retaliation” from Cobra – their arch-nemeses. What follows is an attempt to restore their good name as US heroes and stop Cobra’s wicked plan from succeeding. I honestly can’t bring myself to write an engaging plot summary, as I dreamt up more thrilling scenarios in my bath last week when I was a child. Oh, and this time around you can add in the original Joe – Bruce Willis as the GI’s attempt to restore their good name. There was a time where I’d always see Bruce Willis being in a film as a true positive… but this time around? Well, you’ve seen A Good Day To Die Hard haven’t you?

Gi Joe Retaliation (2013)

GI Joe: Retaliation isn’t the action movie you were hoping for. This should have been obvious when Paramount delayed the release from June 2012 to April 2013 to add 3D to it. Now, 3D can work – I’m not the critic to tell you that I despise it. It works sometimes, it doesn’t others. But a massive delay to ADD 3D screams cash grab. Some speculated it was to add a bit more Channing Tatum, as his star has risen dramatically following Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street. I’d fall more with the former, as opposed to the latter, that’s for sure!

What of the action? Surely there has to be some great action though right? Well… there are bangs and pops, that’s for certain. Indeed, the children in the audience were whooping and laughing at every single Cobra member that had their rappelling cord cut in a cliff scene. Oh, it’s all fun and games for them. What of the families? They were sons and daughters to people! Children nowadays have no concern for the wellbeing of a family. That’s what’s wrong with Britain! But seriously, there is enjoyment for the younger audience members. For everyone else? You’ve seen it all before.

GI Joe Retaliation (2013)

What you might not have seen before is the size of Dwayne Johnson nowadays. This guy (aka, The Rock) has packed on an immense amount of muscle. Look at his traps! (Traps are the muscles in his neck / shoulder region that make him look so massive). That guy has been doing a hell of a lot of shrugs down the gym. I feel for Johnson, as again he’s in a meat-head role that requires very little acting ability. But he does look massive, so that’s good for him. Hopefully this year’s Pain & Gain can deliver some goods for him. He looks massive in that too! What of the others? I wouldn’t write home about them to be honest. Tatum rivals Anne Hathaway‘s performance in Les Misérables… but only insofar as time on-screen, not in acting ability! And Willis? Once again it looks like he’s wandered onto a set as if by mistake. He seems distracted and a little too laid-back. Looper stands as his only recent performance that really shines. Come on Bruce… please bring back your A-Game!

Ultimately, GI Joe: Retaliation is an underwhelming amalgamation of explosions and muscles. There’s a plot there, but it’s very thin on the ground. It tries to inject suspense and thriller-esque imagery, but fails. Having said that, the film gets an extra half-Phage purely because of Dwayne Johnson‘s traps. That guy deserves the extra half for all that gym time! If you were looking forward to seeing a solid action film, then you’ll be disappointed. Just await the next explosion-fest to hit your local screens in about 2 weeks’ time.

GI Joe should have been left in my toy chest / at the bottom of my bath. Somewhat alarmingly, it appears as though a third instalment is on its way though. Hopefully the script-writers will come and ask me for a decent plot line. I can conjure them up some fantastic ideas. They’ll be way better than the big screen adaptations of Kerplunk and Buckaroo that I’ve got brewing. I’ll go and let the bath run now…

Phage Factor:

1.5 Stars

Side Effects (2013)

Side Effects (2013)

Who doesn’t love looking over the side effects of a medication? Well, if you’re American, you get told the side effects during your television adverts. This is still something I find hilariously shocking each and every time I’m over in your beautiful country. Who’d ever take a medication that “may cause loss of memory, sickness, diarrhoea,  impotence or death”. Seriously? You’d still take that?! Over here in the UK we find all that out via a little slip of paper that’s in the drug’s box. If you’re a hypochondriac you then give yourself all of the ill effects! Well, except the “death” risk. Not many people can fake death. Except David Blaine. So what about Side Effects, the latest film from Steven Soderbergh? Is its sole side effect euphoria, or is it one of those that’s going to incurably blind you… and give you diarrhoea?

Contagion and Side Effects... effectively sister films!

Contagion and Side Effects… effectively sister films!

Now, those that know The Phage personally (beyond my alias) will know how intimately I know the film Contagion. I use it as a reference point a lot in my professional life. And to those that don’t know me in that capacity? Well, I’m The Phage… and you know what that means if you’ve read our “Introduction” section on the left over there. A Phage has a natural affinity for any film about viruses, plagues and biology. So when a new film comes over the horizon in much the same mould as Contagion, The Phage pays attention. Especially when the posters look near identical and it’s from Steven Soderbergh again.

Briefly, Side Effects follows the story of Emily (Rooney Mara), whose husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has recently been released from prison. But Emily’s life isn’t all cheer and happiness… she’s quite depressed, manically so, in fact. After a failed suicide attempt, Dr. Jonathon Blake (Jude Law) – a psychiatrist – enters into her life to try and help her out and return her happiness. His innocent attempts to help her leads him to prescribing her a new drug called Ablixa, on the advice of her previous psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones). But that leads to all manner of crazy occurrences… but is everything that happens down to the drug, or something entirely more sinister?

Side Effects (2013)

Side Effects is an out-and-out thriller. And a damn good one at that. If you read my review of Broken City, you’ll note that the biggest flaw we saw was how “analogue” the plot was; you could see where the film was heading within the first 20 minutes. You certainly can’t say the same of Side Effects. What you have here is an extremely effective thriller with an exquisitely outrageous twist in its tail. You won’t see it coming – I can guarantee that. Maybe though that’s also the flaw in the film because it seems so outlandish! Not in the same way that Indiana Jones: Kingdom of The Crystal Skull was ruined by aliens, but it’s still a little “out of nowhere”.

One of the things I quite enjoyed about Contagion was that massive ensemble cast that was put together. Whilst Side Effects doesn’t quite replicate the large cast, it still features some superb displays of acting. Firstly, we’ve got to talk about the return of Jude Law, who was actually in Contagion. Thankfully, he’s abandoned his quasi-Australian accent here in favour of his natural British accent. Law puts in a great turn here as the plagued psychiatrist Dr. Blake. Similarly, you’ve got to again recognise Rooney Mara for another brilliant role portrayal. She really drew my attention in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and this really showcases her talents yet again. Please, give her more roles. And can I just mention how beautiful she looks here? Oh, I already did? Good. However, I must say I was less convinced by Catherine Zeta-Jones; mainly because of those glasses she wears throughout. They just don’t suit her. I also can’t imagine her as a psychiatrist if I’m honest. Her performance just came across quite stale and added little to the film.

Side Effects (2013)

But her minor misgivings can be overlooked owing to the fantastic overarching plot here. As I said earlier, I dabble in this general field outside of my film life, so I found the content enthralling; just as I did with Contagion. But I’d say that Side Effects is done far better than its spiritual predecessor, as its a lot more coherently put together with far fewer interweaving narratives. Not every film needs a Crash style overcross and I’m glad that Side Effects recognises that. Overall, it’s more straight forward than Soderbergh‘s last effort, but that makes for a far more honed and effective machine that deserves to be viewed.

Side Effects is 2013’s first example of a solid thriller that’ll keep you enraptured from beginning to end. It boasts a cast that (largely) lives up to your expectations and a plot that keeps you guessing where it’ll turn to next. It’s only real drawback is that the end feels somewhat “cheap” and from out of nowhere. The film tries to show you that it’s been hinting at this all along, but ultimately, it wasn’t hinting at this at all. Regardless, Side Effects demands to be seen if you’re a fan of the genre.

So it looks like the only side effects of Side Effects are a slight chance of confusion that will pass with time. Nothing too serious! It’s not like those god awful US infomertials (I love that crazy word… something else we don’t have in the UK… like Vanilla Coke, which I miss). There’s nothing to be particularly scared of with this medication. Just swallow it down and enjoy the ride!

Phage Factor:

4 Star

Magic Mike (2012)

An entertaining, but predictable magic trick…

If you asked me to list some movies that revolve around the age-old profession of stripping, it’d be no problem whatsoever. Of course, you have Showgirls and Striptease from the mid-90’s, whose VHS cassettes were the equivalent of gold dust to every teenage boy of the day; back when a) VHS was the standard, and b) this was the ultimate in semi-accessible titillation… hell, these movies pre-dated 56Kb modems for most! If you preferred a more male-centric clothes-shedding tale then there’s the British classic The Full Monty where a motley crew of unemployed guys from the UK city of Sheffield star in their own strip show. It also made Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff the sexiest song of 1997 and made Post Office queues that little bit more exciting; albeit briefly.

So now we come to Hollywood’s late rebuttal to the UK’s men’s strip show film. I wasn’t aware that a rebuttal was needed, but here it is nevertheless. Magic Mike follows the tale of the eponymous Mike (Channing Tatum) – an “entrepreneur” who dabbles in tiling roofs, building unique furniture… oh, and getting down to a thong as “Magic Mike” for the gathered throngs of women baying for flesh on Thursdays through Sundays. Though Tatum is a key player in the film, it really revolves around Adam (Alex Pettyfer; I Am Number Four, In Time) who’s introduced to the business through Mike. What follows is an enjoyable, occasionally lighthearted, if not lightweight tale of the underbelly of the stripping business.

“What did you say about my shirtless tie outfit?”

The strongest asset of this film is without doubt Tatum himself, who was once upon a time a part-time stripper. Whilst he gets to use some of his dance moves from his days in Step Up, he really showcases his abilities as an actor. In particular, his one-on-one scenes with Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn) are particularly poignant; coming across as effortless and genuinely authentic – the mark of a true actor. The other “top billed” name on the posters, Matthew McConaughey, fares just as well playing Dallas: the club’s owner / MC / dancer, and primary antagonist of the film. What’s so remarkable is that Dallas is instantly dislikeable; you know from the outset that he isn’t a nice guy. Indeed, I found McConaughey‘s character in Killer Joe (reviewed here) – a guy who forces someone to perform oral sex on a KFC drumstick – to be more likeable than Dallas. It’s great to see these two actors again expanding their repertoire and avoiding the clichéd roles they’ve become synonymous with in recent years, as I’ve discussed previously.

Where the film loses its way is the fact that some of the plots seem too railroaded and scripted – you can see the eventual incidents coming from a mile off. You could predict the third act of the film before the fourth thong-clad rear is on-screen. A few decoys are deployed where you expect the plot to go down a certain alley; but overall this isn’t an example of effective smoke and mirrors. A golden era M. Night Shyamalan film this is not. And for those curious about the nudity in the film, yes you’ll see a lot of bethonged rump and guys will have that feeling that they did watching 300: “damn, I need to work out!”. McConnaughey in particular, who’s now cruised past 40, looks in remarkable shape.

Who else is going to be sporting this fetching yellow crop top at the gym this summer? Just me? Damn…

Overall, Steven Soderbergh‘s (Ocean’s Eleven, Contagion, Haywire) film has its heart in the right place, but falters due to a predictable storyline. It also irritatingly leaves a number of plot threads deliberately open for the already talked about sequel. Personally, I feel that Magic Mike needs a sequel about as much as Contagion (a phage’s favourite film – the virus is the star!) does. But then again, this is Steven Soderbergh, a man who is a more than capable director, but he’s also the man that brought you the uncalled for Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen. However, it’s great to see Channing Tatum flourishing into a well-rounded actor who’s deviating from GI Joe-esque roles. The future is very bright for this guy, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

Magic Mike proves to be more of a daytime TV magician than a David Blaine, Penn & Teller or Criss Angel: his tricks are a bit too transparent. The film’s respectable and earns its place, but it’s not playing with the big boys out in Vegas thanks to that plot. But maybe I just prefer a bit of Donna Summers’ Hot Stuff in my strip scenes, as opposed to the latest Skrillex wub-wub-athon… Now where’s my VHS player…?

Phage Factor:

3 Star