Movies: 'This is the End,' 'The Kings of Summer' & 'The East'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"THIS IS THE END"
This crass, raunchy, ribald comedy begins with co-writer/director Seth Rogen picking up his longtime friend and fellow Canadian Jay Baruchel at Los Angeles International Airport. As they walk through the terminal, a paparazzo approaches them, quizzing Seth: "Why do you play the same character in every movie?"
Despite Baruchel's distasteful reluctance, they move on to James Franco's housewarming party, where they mix and mingle with TinselTown's Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Kevin Hart, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jason Segel and Aziz Ansari -- until the cataclysmic Biblical apocalypse as described in the Book of Revelation hits, an earthquake followed by a sinkhole.
Many are killed, leaving Rogen, Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and uninvited Danny McBride trapped inside Franco's fortress-like mansion, isolated as horned demons and zombies roam the acrid Hollywood Hills while True Believers ascend to heaven in the Rapture.
The survivors turn out to be exaggerated sociological archetypes of any group of male friends, even when their caricatured conversation delves into selfishness, stoner excess, selling out and entitlement in our contemporary celebrity culture.
Unevenly written and indulgently directed by collaborators Rogen and Evan Goldberg ("Superbad," "Pineapple Express," "The Green Hornet"), it's basically a sustained series of sketches of boorish frat-pack lunacy -- with Rihanna, Mindy Kaling and axe-wielding Emma Watson as token females amid the "rapey vibe."
FYI: Although it's ostensibly set in LA, for financial reasons, it was filmed in New Orleans.
As the story goes, when Rogen and Goldberg submitted their directors' cut to the MPAA ratings board, they expected an NC-17 rating, not only because of the vulgar profanity and drug use, but also because of the graphic, often perverted sex scenes, including one between a human and a satanic beast with a phallus larger than Mark Wahlberg's Dirk Diggler in "Boogie Nights." To their amazement, they got an R, which even they admitted was ludicrous.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "This Is the End" is a subversive, self-deprecating, sexist 6, a horror zonk-fest designed to blow a guy's mind.
"THE KINGS OF SUMMER"
Amid the glut of action-packed popcorn pictures and recycled comedy franchises, this refreshingly touching and genuinely funny low-budget, independent dramedy stands tall.
The coming-of-age story revolves around three conflicted teenage boys -- Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso), best friends since childhood, and their odd, eccentric tagalong, Biaggio (Moises Arias).
School's out, leaving them in limbo, caught between tantalizing freedom and imprisonment by their overbearing parents. So they decide to run away from home, build their own ramshackle cabin in an idyllic grove, located deep in the nearby woods, and live off the land. It's not too difficult to borrow tools, scavenge and salvage materials from construction sites and dumpster dive for scraps, particularly when there's a Boston Market conveniently within walking distance. Wielding axes and swords, they are intrepid adventurers.
But, while they border on maturity, these naive adolescents still have some important life lessons to learn. There's plenty of drama in Chris Galletta's episodic script. Conflict surfaces most often between gawky Joe and his cranky, still grieving widower father (Nick Offerman), plus there's an interlude of unrequited love, which threatens the boys' friendship and tests their loyalty, along with quirky Monopoly mayhem.
The film's vivid, bucolic montages, revealing them racing through pastoral fields, climbing trees, splashing in the river, jumping off quarry cliffs and staging an impromptu jam session, banging on pipes, were captured when director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (TV's "Funny or Die") took his actors into the woods near Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and filmed them -- just fooling around, improvising -- enhanced by off-tempo music and off-kilter editing.
Reminiscent of "Stand By Me," "Moonrise Kingdom" and even the similarly themed "Mud," it's a simple, yet timeless, emotionally engaging, irresistibly likeable fantasy with a supporting cast that includes Megan Mulally, Marc Evan Jackson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Alison Brie, Erin Moriarty and Thomas Middleditch.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Kings of Summer" is a compelling 8, cleverly capturing a poignant, formative interlude.
Former FBI agent Sarah (Brit Marling) is now a hotshot operative for Hiller/Brood, a secretive security firm that specializes in espionage for pharmaceutical and corporate clients. When her no-nonsense boss (Patricia Clarkson) dispatches her to infiltrate a radical environmental group that calls itself The East, she tells her live-in boyfriend Tim (Jason Ritter) she's traveling in Dubai.
But instead of boarding an international flight, steely Sarah adroitly exits the D.C. airport, dyes her hair, changes into grubby clothes, dons a backpack and hops a freight train, going off the grid to find this anarchist collective.
Sure enough, one of her traveling companions turns out to be a member of the creepy, cult-like cell she's seeking. Despite some initial mistrust, she's taken to its headquarters, a burnt-out house in the woods and gets on with its scruffy, strangely taciturn leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgard from TV's "True Blood"), and his cohorts, including Doc (Toby Kebbell) and Izzy (Ellen Page). Before long, she's embedded herself in their vengeful, punitive "jams" or calculated retaliations against smarmy corporate executives. "Spy on us, we'll spy on you," they vow. "Poison us, we'll poison you."
Written by Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij, the story's filled with curious communal rituals -- like having the group's members wear straitjackets to dinner, symbolically forcing them to feed each other off big wooden spoons that they grip between their teeth, followed by an awkwardly childish spin-the-bottle game and submissive baptism.
Soon, the Stockholm syndrome sets in, as now-radicalized Sarah feels a growing empathy for their anti-establishment missions and becomes more and more conflicted about being an informant. How will she cope with this moral dilemma?
Brainy actress/writer Marling epitomizes the initiative of the New Hollywood, working in collaboration with Batmanglij to create relevant projects for themselves, including "Another Earth" and "The Sound of My Voice."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of to 10, "The East" is a shrewd, suspenseful 7, a low-tech, cerebral thriller that raises your social consciousness while oozing a pervasive sense of conspiracy and danger.