Tag Archives: Jonah Hill

This is the End (2013)

ImageHollywood’s track record for stretching a simple gimmick into a 90-minute comedy has not been great. But now, the cast and crew of This is the End laughs in the face of Weekend at Bernie’s, Year One, and Me, Myself, and Irene, and somehow manages it so that this movie flies past the hundred-minute mark feeling almost as breezy and morbidly funny as it began.

The “trick” here, of course, is that all the actors play themselves. Had they taken on different names and resumes, This is the End might be a mildly amusing rehash of the disaster movie genre, but since Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, and Jay Baruchel were cool with poking fun at their previous acting projects and portraying themselves as pricks, the movie takes on a subversive, metafictional layer that has surprising bite. And, oh yeah, there are some pretty funny masturbation jokes, too.

Granted, this isn’t a groundbreaking or even a consistently great comedy, but the jokes land more often than not, and there is something undeniably fun about watching the Apatow crew bitch and moan their way through the apocalypse. They also call in their equally famous friends to get some brilliant, unexpected cameos that are used sparingly but effectively.

In these respects, This is the End provides just about everything fans would want. (They even manage a couple of subtle but reverent Freaks and Geeks references.) And maybe it’s unfair to expect this kind of film to do anything more than that. However, I could help but feel like the whole thing was a bit cheaply constructed. Co-writers Rogen and Evan Goldberg took on directorial duties for the first time, and this may be where ran into trouble. Nobody is asking for Terrence Malick-inspired visuals, but the film has a low-rent look that just pales in comparison to the more cohesive, cinematic polish of movies like 21 Jump Street or Knocked Up. These movies starring the Apatow crew rarely have the cheap or frantic tone that a movie like Year One or Scary Movie does, so This is the End’s lack of finesse unfortunately stands out all the more. It kind of felt like they blew the budget on a couple of CGI-heavy set pieces and figured no one would notice if they cut back on production values a bit and also set 85% of the movie in the same location.

Luckily, the movie is funny and smart enough to excuse most of this. Sure, the rape humour, gore, and dick jokes feel a bit easy, and it would have been nice to get even more of the character-based humour that preys on the actors’ individual tics and insecurities. But the cast here sells what they have to work with. Everyone is great in their own way, but Danny McBride might just steal the show with a balls-to-the-wall crazy version of himself. Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Jay Baruchel doesn’t even have many of the big punchlines, but embraces his persnickety, “voice of reason” persona and is actually really good as the closest thing to a “relatable” character that the film offers. He’s also one of the few players who proves to have the chops to pull off the moments of overt vulnerability and (comedic) terror convincingly, which makes him a welcome anchor for the viewer to share the experience with.

Does This is the End completely earn its requisite “heartfelt” moments, given that it spends most of its runtime consciously trying to one-up itself in terms of shock humour and morbidity? Perhaps not. But the character moments are welcome breathers from the chaos nonetheless, and some of the funniest moments are the offhanded anecdotes that no doubt reflect Rogen and Baruchel’s real-life friendship. It’s nice to see the genuine camaraderie among the cast play out, and This is the End is an all-too-rare project that seems to remain true to its vision and gleefully unique in its spirit.

3/5

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

As long as there is an audience, they will keep making Night at the Museum movies. Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, and Owen Wilson all return for the sequel to 2006’s blockbuster family film, with Amy Adams, Hank Azaria, and Bill Hader joining the all-star cast.

Night at the Museum 2 picks up two years after the end of the first film, and we now find our hero Larry (Stiller) as a successful inventor (I think his invention – a glow in the dark flashlight – is some kind of running gag from the first movie, but it’s all a little bit fuzzy to me). He’s left his job as a night-time security guard at New York’s Museum of Natural Science, but catches wind that the museum is re-vamping its exhibits in favour of new high-tech holograms. Larry goes to Washington, D.C. to rescue the old displays of historical figures (which all come alive at night) from the clutches of an evil Egyptian pharaoh, Kahmunrah (Azaria).

If you’ve seen Night at the Museum, you’ll know exactly what to expect from the sequel – a bumbling Ben Stiller caught in the mayhem of warring historical figures. I liked the first film more than I expected to, and while it doesn’t break any new ground, Battle of the Smithsonian is harmless enough. That being said, director Shawn Levy (known for such gems as The Pink Panther and Just Married) could have pushed things much further, rather than just lazily rehashing the first film.

Children are likely to love the mania and humour of this film, and for the rest of us, there are still a few things to like. At one point, Larry fakes his way into the underground storage area of the Smithsonian museum by posing as a security guard, and he runs into a real guard, “Brundon”, played by Jonah Hill. The two have a lengthy exchange, and while the deadpan humour may be lost on some of the younger viewers, it’s actually pretty funny. At another point, as Larry and Amelia Earhart race through the museum, they jump into one of the art gallery’s moving paintings. They find themselves briefly trapped in a war-era black and white painting, followed by their attackers. That segment of the film, though short, is really well done, and it’s so much more original and interesting than anything else in the entire film. It’s one of the moments that saved the film for me.

Another one of Battle of the Smithsonian‘s saving graces is the always delightful Amy Adams, as spunky Amelia Earhart. Her screwball performance feels like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale franchise. Bill Hader, another new addition to the cast, plays General Custer, and though he has considerably less screen time, Hader makes the best of it, giving a typically charismatic performance. Ben Stiller is also charming, and his performance (as well as his chemistry with Adams) is likely to please both the kids and adults watching.

Though there are things that I like about the Battle of the Museum franchise, one of my major problems with it is that the idea of bringing historical figures into the modern world has been done so many times before. Take a film like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s not exactly a masterpiece, but they get a lot of humour from bringing their collection of historical figures back to the present, and watching them try to navigate today’s fast-paced world. Night at the Museum is mostly contained within the museum setting, and while they get interest from the characters reacting to each other, they largely miss out on the opportunity of having them deal with the fact that they’re in a world totally different from their own. I also remember a kid’s TV show (I think it was Canadian) called Mentors, where they brought historical figures to the present-day world. It was played more seriously, but it was both more educational and deeper (I remember one surprisingly stirring episode with Beethoven) than Night at the Museum has ever been.

If you’re looking for a harmless family movie, you can do a lot worse than Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian. But you can also do a lot better. It’s got some charismatic performances and memorable moments, but the filmmakers are obviously half-assing it. We see hints of something better than a typical franchise film, but ultimately, it feels a bit musty.

5/10