Stars: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader
Release date: August 11th, 2016
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 88 minutes
Best part: The stellar cast.
Worst part: The racial stereotypes.
Writer/director/producers…actor…Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have made some of Hollywood’s most controversial gross-out comedies. Superbad explored teenage sexual angst, This is the End skewered Rogen and his friends’ fame, and The Interview almost kicked off World War III by pissing off North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. So, What next?
How about an animated sex-comedy about food? Sure, why not. Now, Sony will let them get away with anything. Sadly, Sausage Party proves studio notes and executive decisions are sometimes worthwhile. The movie’s plot is bizarre and simplistic. Hot dog Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) and his girlfriend – hot dog bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) – live next to one another in grocery store Shopwell’s. Frank, alongside fellow sausages Carl (Jonah Hill) and Barry (Michael Cera), believes they will be chosen by the gods, taken to ‘The Great Beyond’ and set free. However, the plan goes awry after an argument with feminine hygiene product Douche (Nick Kroll) leads to a spill, and mass casualties, in the isles. Frank finds out their situation isn’t as it seems.
Sausage Party and Suicide Squad are part of one of 2016’s most irritating trends. Both, featuring wholly predictable plots and characters, are covered in a nasty, immature allure catering to cheap desires. They also feature unique and interesting premises butchered by abysmal execution. Make no mistake, Sausage Party would have made for a kinetic, cutting short movie. Rogen and Goldberg are talented and interesting enough to know better. The final result leaves much to be desired. It lingers between parody and cheap dig at Pixar. Despite the allure, the basic plot follows Toy Story’s friends-finding-one-another story-line step by step. The twists and turns are wholly predictable and lack depth.
Sausage Party relies on the MA15+ rating and the filmmakers’ sense of humour. The comedy is pitifully hit and miss, relying on expletives and sexual references throughout. Every frame features lazy sex, fart, and weed jokes and food puns. If the first three-quarters weren’t haphazard enough, the finale takes some distressing and demeaning left turns. The movie, nowhere near as smart or interesting as it thinks, delivers a broad commentary on organised religion. The food products, convinced of the gods’ kindness, deliver a loud, brash musical number each morning about their fate. However, after that small splash of genius, we’re given borderline-offensive stereotypes from Woody Allen-esque bagel (Edward Norton) to angry Arabic lavash (David Krumholtz). Oy vey!
Sure, Sausage Party has a stellar voice cast and neat ideas. It’s clear Rogen and Goldberg had a clear vision from day one. However, their self-indulgence has gone too far. This may be 2016’s biggest disappointment.
Stars: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park
Release date: December 26th, 2014
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 112 minutes
Best part: Franco and Rogen’s chemistry.
Worst part: The sluggish middle third.
Oh boy, wasn’t 2014 a big year for entertainment?! As music, art, and fashion become universally applicable talking points, cinema almost dropped off the map of public appeal and critical interest. Suffering the lowest cinema attendance numbers in 20 years, Hollywood was taken down a peg. Most importantly, The Interview revealed more than any parody, satire, or documentary could ever hope to. This comedy, offending everyone in North Korea, forced hacking set-up Guardians of Peace’s hand. Seriously, we’re threatening to go to war over this movie?!
James Franco & Seth Rogen.
Don’t get me wrong, The Interview is a decent product. Its light-hearted, fluffy allure makes it a worthwhile 2-hour distraction. Despite the controversy and commercial losses, it doesn’t deserve this much hatred. More-offensive comedies The Great Dictator and Team America: World Police previously took aim at the world’s biggest dick-tators. In a parallel dimension, this would have been crushed under a wave of birdmen, imitation games, and theories of everything. Its formulaic plot and typical casting choices sink any chance of true greatness. We meet Jimmy Fallon-esque talk show host Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) celebrating their 1000th episode of tabloid pap Skylark Tonight. After a profound realisation, Aaron’s affection for the show wears thin. Dave – accustomed to pulling dark secrets out of Tinseltown’s brightest stars – promises Aaron he’ll deliver more legit news bulletins and features. Their wishes are granted by way of a peculiar long-time fan. North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) requests a live interview with Skylark. The CIA, led by Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), tasks the celebrity-destroying duo with assassinating the ruthless dictator.
Franco, Rogen & Lizzy Caplan.
Besides the string of mind-blowing behind-the-scenes events, there is little difference between The Interviewand anything else Rogen and co. have delivered over the past decade. Rogen, directing and crafting the story alongside partner Evan Goldberg, were simply reaching for previous effort This is the End‘s critical and commercial success. The dynamic duo certainly meddle with intriguing concepts. They, refusing to bow down to studio pressures, have much to confess about the studio system. The balance between by-the-numbers plot and bonkers satirical commentary works throughout The Interview‘s opening third. Skylark’s show is a silver lining-free dark cloud over Hollywood. These skits – mimicking the same shallow flash and pizazz as Entertainment Tonight or TMZ – deliver the biggest laughs. Certain set pieces – featuring big-names Eminem, Rob Lowe, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt – let Rogen and co. off the leash. The standard straight man/kooky guy dynamic clicks immediately. The second third, however, crawls slower than United States/North Korea negotiations. The Rogen/Franco formula is pushed aside as Jong-un comes into the picture. Predictably, the central conflict (take a guess what happens here!) stalls this otherwise enjoyable and thought-provoking action-comedy. Despite the second-act flaws, Jong-un nearly steals the show. The baby-faced dictator even gets a convincing and well-rounded character arc. Here, instead of Team America‘s petulant-toddler image, the North Korean leadership is filled with misunderstood nobodies.
“Haters gonna hate, and ain’ters gonna ain’t!” (Dave Skylark (James Franco), The Interview)
Randall Park as Kim Jong-un.
Once again, however, Rogen and co. appear to have more fun making these movies than we do watching them. Though drifting above the Grown Ups series’ stench of laziness, it comes off like a million-dollar get-together. The performances elevate The Interview above Rogen’s recent efforts. Franco’s non-stop charisma and whacky timing bolster several well-thought-out zingers. Rogen’s reserved demeanour balances out Franco’s manic persona. Park’s nubile performance saves several lackluster second-act moments. It ticks all the common-theme boxes. Its anti-celebrity agenda is worth several ironic chuckles. The second-two thirds sharply commentate on US/NK relations. Tearing both countries down, Rogen and co. illuminate several relevant and idealistic viewpoints. For once, the stoner has the right idea! Who Knew, huh? Thankfully, the final third kicks this tiresome comedy into overdrive. The interview sequence, though hammering its pro-freedom/anti-bullying message into the ground, is chock-a-block with hysterical gross-out gags, over-the-top gore, and cute one-liners. Rogen and Goldberg experiment with action, scale, and practical effects. The tank chases, shootouts, and high-flying stunts show off some of the budget. However, despite the chaos and hilarity, its near-two-hour run-time severely dampens the allure.
The controversy surrounding The Interview, including the intense criticism over its subject matter, has little to do with the movie itself. Certainly, it’s not worth the world-destroying hoopla. However, it’s still an enjoyable silly and hysterical ode to Mel Brooks, Abbott and Costello and every bumbling comedic icon in between. Rogen and Goldberg’s raucous sense of humour, solid political messages, and fun action beats are worth the online download price. However, Rogen’s hands-on control is suffocating everything he touches. That beard and belly laugh only get him so far with us Western devils!
Stars: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Danny McBride
Release date: June 12th, 2013
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 106 minutes
Best part: The A-List cast.
Worst part: The gross-out humour.
In the Hollywood Hills resides a bunch of actors who owe everything to writer/director/creator Judd Apatow. This group has spawned numerous big-budget comedies over the past few years – gaining fame and wealth in the process. However, according to horror-comedy and pet project This is the End, these A-list actors are just like us. Their new film is an ambitious yet messy disaster flick that isn’t afraid to place its actors in front of a mirror, and make them face up to what they have become.
Seth Rogen, James Franco & Jay Baruchel.
I’m, of course, talking about such comedic actors as Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel etc. These actors have worked tirelessly together since their hit TV series Freaks and Geeks. They’ve jumped from one project to another – delivering refreshing humour and enjoyable performances. However, they recently have become repetitive and tiresome. In This is the End, these actors/writers/producers/ directors/entrepreneurs admit to their mistakes and defend their greatest works. The movie begins with Jay Baruchel meeting up with his old buddy Seth Rogen. In this movie’s universe, People are so obsessed with Rogen they become hesitant to interact with Baruchel and leave him in the dust (I take it in this timeline no one saw The Sorcerer’s Apprentice either). Baruchel opposes the ridiculous ‘Hollywood’ lifestyle and Rogen’s audacious celebrity friends. To get Baruchel accustomed to Rogen’s larger than life buddies, Rogen brings him to a raging party at James Franco’s enviable new house. Soon after Baruchel becomes bored with the party, earthquakes obliterate streets, a sinkhole opens up in front of Franco’s house, and fires gloriously light up the Hollywood Hills. Stuck in Franco’s house, Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride must wait out the apocalypse.
Our ‘heroes’ plotting their way into heaven.
This self-reflexive and amusing disaster flick is about as subversive as it gets. Having seen many of 2013’s generic Hollywood comedies (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Movie 43, The Hangover Part 3), It’s refreshing to see a farcical, star-studded movie that’s strange, original, and actually…funny. This clever experiment aims to peel back Hollywood’s slick, glossy layers to reveal the horrific sliminess of the rich and famous. Writer/directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, The Green Hornet) have created an honest and Meta cinematic vision. They push so many boundaries here whilst delivering what audiences want most from them. With this type of project, you either end up with an enthralling and stylish flick (Ocean’s 11), or some ungodly creation that comes off like a Holiday video inexplicably released in theatres around the globe (Grown Ups). Despite avoiding the cynicism and laziness of the aforementioned Adam Sandler romp, This is the Endstill comes off as a series of improvisational dialogue sequences and wacky, broadly comedic sketches. Certain scenes are hilariously creative when viewed separately from one another and judged on their own terms. Unfortunately, these random, disgusting, and occasionally hysterical moments don’t come together to create a cohesive and interesting narrative. Beyond the first 20 minutes, many scenes go on too long and a lot of jokes fall flat; missing punch lines and/or charm. However, the dialogue/improvised lines are, for the most part, top notch. This easily quotable movie proves just how talented these actors/writers/directors can be.
For a first directorial effort, Rogen and Goldberg have done a commendable job. However, it seems that everyone involved had much more fun making this movie than I had watching it. This movie exists solely to tear down some of Hollywood’s most popular people and iconic elements. References to each other’s movies come thick and fast while the celebrity cameos make for some of the movie’s best moments (hats off to Michael Cera). This ‘parody of Hollywood parodying itself’ has none of the verve or intricacies of the similarly subversive Tropic Thunder. With the immense talent on display, and the exhaustive number of apocalypse-based movies released this year, Rogen and Goldberg cleverly dissect the importance of fame, friendship, and the end of days. One of the movie’s many surreal twists and turns involves a discussion of why religion should be commended/respected. It’s brave of these comedic talents to be tackling a topic of this magnitude. It’s in these slower moments that the characters and ‘story’ develop beyond the assortment of dick, fart, weed, and rape jokes. Despite the movie’s outlandish tone, references to The Exorcist and Titanic inexplicably become some of the movie’s most beguiling moments. This warped/stoner version of 12 Angry Men needed a sense of style to separate it from such comedies as Pineapple Express (referenced gleefully throughout this movie). Except for a couple of establishing shots, we see little of the apocalyptic events. Also, several bright flourishes/montages distract from the movie’s Big Brother/The Real World style.
“James Franco didn’t suck any dicks last night? Now I know ya’ll are trippin’.” (Danny McBride (Danny McBride), This is the End).
It’s the rapture!
Obviously, This is the End is bolstered by its expansive cast. Essentially ‘The Expendables’ of modern comedy, this talented array of actors clearly enjoys playing up the public’s perception of ‘celebrity’. The actors’ limited range deems this cast perfect for this premise. Despite always playing ‘himself’, Rogen has an engaging screen presence. The conflict between him and Baruchel may be a familiar and unnecessary plot point, but there’s a significant amount of chemistry between the lead actors. Unfortunately, the movie is told from Baruchel’s perspective. It’s not that he’s a bland performer; it’s that he’s easily overshadowed by the more involving actors around him. Franco and Hill (both of whom Oscar nominated) are the movie’s stand out performers. Franco, known for his crazy ambitions and confusing personality traits, is making fun of his pretentious and manic persona. With many jokes directed towards his homoerotic friendship with Rogen, and the questionable art lying around his swanky house, his smirk-filled, charismatic turn creates many big laughs. Hill does a great job making fun of his ‘high horse’ persona (“Dear God, it’s me, Jonah Hill…from Moneyball”). Featuring an earring and inflated ego, Hill is in scene-stealing mode as this excessive character. Trying to make peace with Baruchel, his phoney attempts at niceties continually garner a huge laugh. McBride and Robinson provide many fun moments while Emma Watson pops her head in at the right time.
Despite its obvious flaws, This is the End has enough alluring aspects to warrant a trip to the movies with your buddies. With its ‘outside the box’ concepts and funny, self-reflexive gags, this crowd-pleasing movie does something many recent parodies/satires have failed to do: it says what we’re all thinking.
Verdict: A messy, over-long yet hilarious frat-boy disaster-comedy.
Writers: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay), L. Frank Baum (novels)
Stars: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams
Release date: March 8th, 2013
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 130 minutes
Best part: Raimi’s direction.
Worst part: James Franco in the lead role.
Whether you are a spirited youngster, wicked witch or cowardly lion, everyone is fond of the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. It was a fantasy adventure that defied expectations and became one of the most quotable and referenced films of all time. Any sequel, prequel or re-imagining would pale in the shadow of the original. But the team at Disney have had a crack at it anyway. Oz the Great and Powerful is a surprisingly modest and charming family film.
It is also stands somewhat proudly next to the original. Disney has brought many things back to life. But was this a good idea? Sure, the budget and hard work is plastered on the screen, but did we need it? I think so. The original gave the viewer some light-hearted thrills shortly before WWII. This return to Oz also provides an enjoyable escape from reality. The story itself is pretty straight forward. Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a frustrated, womanising young man trying at true love. Leaving his abused helper, Frank (Zach Braff), behind, a heavy gush of wind picks up his hot air Balloon and sucks him into a tornado (note the similarities to the original). Before you know it, he is transported to the bright and pristine world of Oz. On his journey, he meets the feisty Theodora (Mila Kunis), and Evanora (Rachel Weisz). With the help of Glinda the Good Witch (Michelle Williams), Oz must overcome his insecurities and rid the land of evil.
Rachel Weisz & Mila Kunis.
It’s been a while since the original was first released. The iconic elements remain with me the same way they do with popular culture. It’s a film that everyone thinks of when they hear the word ‘fantasy’. Recently, many big-budget fantasy epics have focused solely on the visuals; failing to grasp either characterisation or story (Alice in Wonderland, John Carter). Don’t get me wrong, Oz the Great and Powerful has its flaws. But it still defies huge expectations. This prequel has a certain charm to it. This tale diverts, for the most part, from the 1939 classic. It chooses instead to bring L. Frank Baum’s original ideas to life. This prequel looks at where it all began. Unlike most prequels, this movie never throws an excessive number of winks and nudges at you. When the references come, they are swift and clever (take some notes, George Lucas!). There are no glittery red shoes, no tin-men and no dogs named Toto. Having said all that, the script is very clichéd. We have seen is story done a thousand times before. They always have kooky characters, a snivelling villain, a timid hero and a prophecy. However, the dialogue and self-aware humour gives this traditional fairy tale a modern twist. The true magician at work here is the film’s director. Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead series, The Spider-man trilogy) is one of the most respected and creative directors working today. He must’ve known you can’t move the ‘elephant in the room’ that is the original. Instead he creates his own vision out of the many clichéd elements on offer. His sense of wonder and nostalgia shines through every elaborate setting and camera angle.
Zach Braff’s monkey character.
The child in Raimi is fighting its way to the surface here. So is the young director famous for creating the phenomenon that is The Evil Dead. The opening and closing credits alone speak wonders for Raimi’s admiration of the original. His directorial flourishes don’t simply stand out; they push everything magical about this film out into the audience. Speaking of that, his use of 3D is both wonderful and wacky. Instead of subtly immersing the viewer, the 3D jumps out at them. The film starts out in a glorious wash of black and white. Raimi’s camera tracks through a crowd of kooky circus performers and attendees. It’s from this moment that the world of Oz is reborn for a new generation. Raimi is paying homage to cinema itself. Much like Hugo, old and new cinema techniques are smoothly pieced together. He believes that directors are some of the best magicians on Earth. The references to both Thomas Edison and old cinema technology are important to this big-budget extravaganza. Raimi has a keen eye for inventive visuals. The film transitions from black and white colour. At the same time, the aspect ratio expands from 4:3 to widescreen. These touches give the film a true sense of wonder. It discusses the magic of cinema whilst communicating to the young target audience. The movie touches on many popular film-making trends. Hollywood has recently released many films that are either based on nostalgia or popular childhood tales (Snow White and The Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters).
“I’ll put on the show of a lifetime! The likes of which the land of Oz has never seen! Magic! Mystery! Prestidigitation! It’ll be my greatest trick yet.” (Oscar Diggs (James Franco), Oz the Great and Powerful).
This film is a step above many of those. Its visual style is what elevates this film above its competition. The special effects, though unconvincing at points, provide a bright technicolour look. The practical effects and creature designs are also second to none. The Munchkins, Tinkerers, peasants and flying monkeys create lasting emotional impact. Unfortunately, some of the iconic characters are miscast. Franco is, without a doubt, a talented actor. When he’s not stuffing up an Oscars ceremony, he is delivering powerful performances in movies such as 127 Hours and Milk. Having worked with Raimi before, he should be comfortable with his surroundings here. He, however, lacks the emotional range and charisma to pull off this type of leading man role. Actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Jeremy Renner would’ve given the character a larger-than-life presence. Having said all that, Franco is still charming at points. His character, for the most part, is thoroughly unlikeable. He never becomes the courageous leader that was promised. Kunis is also miscast. As Theodora, she is given a classic 1930’s china doll look. Her natural beauty and charm stand out when they need to. However, Kunis fails to master the twists and turns of her character. Rachel Weisz is foreboding and sexy as Evanora. I still believe that Weisz and Kunis would’ve been better if they had switched roles. Michelle Williams, in one of her few mainstream roles, steals the show. As the story’s soul, Glenda the Good Witch is a fun character. Joey King and Zach Braff also excel as the China girl and Frank/Finley the Flying Monkey respectively.
Oz the Great and Powerfulproves that Disney is a company full of imaginative ideas. Despite its flaws, this movie reaches out and grabs the viewer without letting go. To find a truly exciting family film, all you have to do is follow the yellow brick road. Tim Burton, eat your heart out!
Verdict: A light-hearted and inventive roller-coaster ride.