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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Spring Breakers (2013)

Spring Breakers (2013)

Spring Break. It’s a concept we don’t really have in the UK, at least not in the way that Hollywood tells me is the norm in the US. We don’t head to the beach, strap on bikinis, take half of it off and drink copious amounts of beer and spirits on the beaches and all start making out. If we did that here, it’d probably be as follows: head to the beach, strap on bikinis, put on at least four more layers, feel pretty miserable that the weather’s so awful and drink copious amounts of tea in a local café. That’s not to say we’re not an exciting nation – we are! I assure you! But our little rock isn’t built for beachy hedonism in the Spring. It also most certainly isn’t built for the sort of debauchery and extreme hedonism on show in Spring Breakers, that’s for sure…

Spring Break forever.

Spring Break forever.

Much has been made of the fact that this is written and directed by Harmony Korine – the guy that brought you the controversial Kids many moons ago. Me? I just associate the name Harmony Korine with the awesomely beautiful song by Steven Wilson (The Phonic Phage recommends it: linked here), so I don’t have much attached to this particular director if I’m being honest. Also, if you’ve just listened to that Steven Wilson song, then this film is the complete antithesis of it. Spring Breakers is big, brash and bold, so check your coat at the door.

The film revolves around four girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) and their quest to go on their first Spring Break down in Florida. They’re seeking the teenage American dream: the drugs, the drink and the debauchery. And they get it. But when it all starts to get a bit out of hand, they’re taken under the wing of Alien (James Franco) – a so-called “gangster”, replete with gold teeth and corn-rows. But how far will the girls go to hit the ultimate high?

Spring Breakers (2013)

It all sounds wonderfully superficial doesn’t it? It looks like a very dumb and gaudy premise for a teen drama, as does the trailer. You’d also probably believe this for the first 15 minutes of the film, which has more topless girls than your average adult entertainment convention. It actually made me feel a bit weird to be sitting there watching it, as I contemplated what the film was actually trying to achieve, and whether I’d be watching this for 90+ minutes. But it all changed dramatically when James Franco entered the fray.

I thought Franco was stunning in this film. He plays Kid Rock Alien – the white boy gangster who’s living “the dream”: huge house, more money than sense and a bloody piano outside by his pool, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. What fascinated me with Franco was how convincing he was as the somewhat deplorable Alien. I found his character detestable, but his acting sublime. He’s acting full-tilt crazy and that accent? Perfect southern drawl. Franco gets a bad rep for sometimes “phoning in” a performance and playing the same role again and again, but this certainly isn’t the case here.

Kid Rock + Die Antwoord = James Franco. Clearly!

Kid Rock + Die Antwoord = James Franco. Clearly!

What of the remaining cast? The four girls? I wonder how this was sold to their agents to be honest, as they spend the vast majority of the film in neon bikinis. Much fuss has been made of this being the one to “break the mould” for Hudgens and Gomez who’ve both been associated with “pure” Disney films in the past. I guess its an attempt at rebranding from them both. I found the four of them to be thoroughly convincing in their roles, no doubt about that. They’re far from weak actresses, but I’d be keen to see what they all move onto next in a more “grounded” film that requires more clothes.

What really merits mention here is the cinematography. The film looks sublime. If I had to pigeon-hole it, it’s somewhere between Savages and Drive (but not as poor as the former, or strong as the latter). The colours are bold and beautiful and some of the shots are the type you wish you could frame and mount on your wall; they’re just that good to look at (and no – I’m not referring to the copious shots of topless girls). If nothing else, you’ll be impressed with how the film looks. I feel I also ought to focus on the soundtrack used here too. As some of you know, in a former life I was involved in the music industry (hence The Phonic Phage), so I have an ear for it. When I saw the trailers for Spring Breakers I was ready to dismiss it out of hand, as any film that makes a song and dance of its soundtrack generally isn’t worth watching. I don’t go to the cinema to watch Glee. But I was surprised. Sure, all of the Skrillex (aka Sonny Moore of now defunct metal band From First To Last) tunes were in place, but so too were compositions from Cliff Martinez. Who’s he? Only the guy that made Drive sound so goddamn fantastic. Essentially this clash of aggression and peace, along with the glaring neon and stunning visuals makes this a sensory feast for the eyes and ears.

Spring Breakers (2013)

This actually leads onto the major drawback of the film… what’s the point of it all? It’s an exhilarating ride to be on at times, but afterwards you don’t really know why you’re so excited by what you’ve just seen when you actually think about it. Either the film’s trying to be too clever for its own good and believes it’s delivering a very poignant message to the audience, or there is no message to be taken away from this and it’s pulled the wool over your eyes with all its visual and aural delights. The plot is there, but it’s somewhat hollow and you almost feel bemused with yourself for liking the film as much as you do. Indeed, you might actually walk out of the screening thinking it was the worst way you could have spent a couple of hours… but that’s the joy of Spring Breakers; Spring Break isn’t for everyone!

Spring Breakers is a lot like the wild party it shows on screen. It’s a giddy concoction of noise and visual splendour, but when it’s all over you’re left wondering what you’ve actually achieved from your time spent there. Sure, the memories of that experience are wedged in your head, but you’ve not learnt anything new; you just know you’ve had a good time. That being said, I think praise needs to fall on James Franco, as I’ve not been intrigued by a character in quite some time. For me, he carries this film on his shoulders and runs with it. If you’re a fan of Franco, or my rambling has tempted you into seeing something you’d normally dismiss as “a stupid teen flick” (despite its 18 rating), then I think you should go out there and make your mind up for yourself…

All this film goes to show me is that you can’t do something like this in the UK. Nowhere in our isles could you stay in a bikini all day and night (who hasn’t tried?!). Also, we don’t have those classy red cups that you US folks always seem to have at every frat / sorority party in the history of cinema. Plus, as much as I liked James Franco‘s deep south drawl, I don’t think we could have a character like that over here. For us, the deep south would be a county called Devon. Sure, the accent’s quite slow and meandering, but it doesn’t have that same allure… not by a long shot.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star