2013’s Best Directorial Debuts: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s “The is the End”

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I’ve been contributing some year-end bits to the Film Stage website, including an entry on “This is the End” for a round-up of 2013’s Best Directorial Debuts:

There was no better cinematic introduction in 2013 than the bad-ass, middle-finger-raised, sneering appearance of Danny McBride in Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s directorial debut,This Is The End. And surprisingly, there were few better debut efforts, period. Rogen and Goldberg took a concept that could have failed miserably — real Hollywood celebs find their party interrupted by the apocalypse — and instead crafted a smart, knowing, Backstreet Boys-including, downright emotionally involving romp unlike any other film this year. It helped that the cast included James Franco (never better), Craig RobinsonJonah Hill, McBride, and a note-perfect Jay Baruchel, but as well as a disparate group that included Emma Watson and an unforgettable Michael Cera. But above all else, there was Rogen, ringleader onscreen and co-helmer off, demonstrating that he is a multi-talented entertainer to be reckoned with. – Christopher S.

It’s Never Too Early: Pondering 2013’s Best Films … So Far

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I think 2013 has been a surprisingly strong year for movies. Okay, maybe not BIG movies, but there have been many smaller films that, to me, will rank high when the year comes to a close. I decided to make June 30 the cut-off here, so any film that has not officially opened before then (that I’ve already seen) is not here—hence, no “Blue Jasmine.” And of course, there are plenty of movies I still need to see that could make a dent: “Leviathan,” “Beyond the Hills,” “Simon Killer,” “The Act of Killing.” You’ll note that there is plenty of 2012 product here, but I am considering any film actually released in 2013 in North America is fair game. This list may change dramatically tomorrow, but today, in random order, here it is:

  • “Stories We Tell”
  • “Frances Ha”
  • “The Place Beyond the Pines”
  • “Upstream Color”
  • “Before Midnight”
  • “The Bling Ring”
  • “Lore”
  • “Mud”
  • “No”
  • “This is the End”

Some others that at the very least are in the conversation, for me: “The Gatekeepers,” “Side Effects,” “Room 237,” “Like Someone in Love,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Fill the Void,” “Spring Breakers,” “To the Wonder,” “Something in the Air” (yes, I think I’ve completely changed my mind on this one), “Ginger and Rosa.”

What do others think? Here are several lists of 2013’s halfway-point bests:

“Upstream Color” still from the film’s official site.

 

A Mid-Summer Report Card: Pondering Superman, Monsters, and “The End”

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We’re at about the midpoint of summer, movie-wise, and it’s been a wild one, with a few hits, several high-profile bombs (“After Earth,” “White House Down,” “The Lone Ranger”), and some indie successes. I have not seen everything – still need to get to “Star Trek: Into Darkness” and “World War Z” – but here are some very brief thoughts on what I HAVE seen. (Note that even though I said “report card,” I’m sticking with the 4-star system.)

“Iron Man 3:”: Not a BAD film , exactly, but one that to my mind did nothing to move along the franchise. Robert Downey Jr.’s shtick has grown increasingly old, and I found the second installment far superior. That being said, Ben Kingsley gives his funniest performance on years. 2 1/2 stars

“Man of Steel”: There are some great moments here, and it will turn out to be, I think, a fine first chapter in a new Superman series. But it’s an odd film, and in some ways, a brutish, unrelentingly grim one. Still, I love Michael Shannon having a role in a blockbuster, and Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, and Russell Crowe each turn in solid performances. What’s up with the insane product placement? By the way, I’m fine with Supe the killer. I come down on the side of the semi-satisfied … barely. Because 2 3/4 is not allowed, I’m going 2 1/2 stars

“Monsters University”: I haven’t seen “Brave,” so I’ve yet to see EVERY Pixar film, but this felt like the weakest by far. It’s entertaining, as they all are, but wayyy too long. 2 1/2 stars seems low, but I gave the superior “Despicable Me 2” 3 stars, so …

“This is the End”: Funniest comedy I’ve seen in some time, and can’t wait to see it again. Backstreet’s back. Yes, I would have liked Michael Cera and Emma Watson to have stuck around a bit longer, but still. 3 1/2 stars

“Before Midnight”: Another insightful, smart, passionate burst from Linklater-Hawke-Delpy. The opening, with the son boarding the plane alone, still gets me. 4 stars

“Frances Ha”: I’ve made my feelings on this clear – still the best thing I’ve seen this summer. 4 stars

“Copperhead”: I’ll be writing a longer review of this one soon; it is compelling, well-acted, and a tad dry, but overall it works – if you care about the Civil War going in. 3 stars

“The East”: Impassioned, brisk, and utterly fake. 2 stars

“The Great Gatsby”: This came out during the summer? Feels like I saw it two years ago. 2 1/2 (being generous)

“Mud”: A twisty coming- of-age epic brimming with great moments and performances. 3 1/2 stars

“Despicable Me 2”: What can I say? It entertained me more than Superman and Iron Man. 3 stars

 

Rentals …

“Hyde Park on Hudson”: This one literally evaporates upon viewing. Even Bill Murray can’t save this dull, strange concoction. It’s a misfire on every level. 1 1/2 stars

“Warm Bodies”: Not particularly funny or clever, despite a game cast. 2 stars

“Mama”: Scary and silly on equal measure, “Mama” has just enough to qualify as slightly above-average horror. 2 1/2 stars

“Quartet”: I love Dustin Hoffman, and it is difficult to find a weak link in the cast, but his directorial debut makes “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” look like a Gregg Araki flick. 2 stars

 

More to come soon, including “Fill the Void,” “The Conjuring,” and, hopefully, “Stories to Tell.”

 

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Weekend Preview: This is the (Week)end for Superman, Seth Rogen, and Jesse and Celine

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As Jeff Simon put it in his Buffalo News review of “This is the End,” with that film, “Man of Steel,” and “Before Midnight” opening locally, “this is, far and away, the movie opening weekend of the year on my scorecard.” Indeed it is, one of the most wildly diverse release weekends in a long, long time.

The number one spot at the box office will most certainly be claimed by Zack Snyder’s Chris Nolan-assisted Superman reboot, “Man of Steel,” but the question is, how big will it open? Some estimates have it pegged at a $100-million weekend, but I’m not so sure. Reviews have been wildly mixed, and I’m still not quite sure I’ve seen a “wow” trailer, so I think $90 mill is a more likely figure. Nothing to laugh at, and in a relatively week summer, it could play well for several weeks. It’s easy now to forget that Nolan’s “Batman Begins” took in “only” $205 mill in North America, but that was in 2005, and for a budget at least $100 million less than “Steel”’s. Warner Bros. is likely hoping for $300-plus, enough to justify a costly “Justice League” follow-up. We shall see. I’ll have my own thoughts on the film here soon.

“The is the End” is something very different, a well-reviewed apocalypse comedy in which some of the Apatow generation’s biggest names — Seth Rogen (who co-directed with writing partner Evan Goldberg), James Franco, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill — play themselves. I’m especially intrigued to see the lovely Emma Watson as “Emma Watson.” The buzz on this is that it is extraordinarily wild; it could represent one of the few imaginative big studio releases of the summer.

While I’m intrigued by “Man of Steel” and “This is the End,” the movie I am anticipating more than any other is Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight,” which opens tomorrow at Dipson’s Amherst and Eastern Hills theaters. This is the third film in the “Jesse and Celine” series; the first, 1995’s “Before Sunrise” and 2004’s “Before Sunset,” are pretty close to modern classics. The idea of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprising their roles, and seeing where things are for this couple, which finally seemed to come together at the very end of “Sunset,” is intoxicating. It is one of the best reviewed films so far this year, and a possible Best Picture nominee, so this is certainly a must-see. More to come on this one, soon. (“Frances Ha” is still showing at Amherst and Eastern Hills, too.)

Note that the documentary “Hey Bartender” is screening Saturday night at the Amherst Dipson; I wrote about the film here.

Francis Ford Coppola’s most recent film, “Twixt,” finally arrived on VOD a few days ago, and ironically, his debut feature, the enjoyably daft “Dementia 13,” is showing on Friday and Saturday night at 9:15 p.m. at the Screening Room. (“Sorry, Wrong Number” screens at 7:30 p.m.)

Here’s something I’ll outline more in the weeks to come: Buffalo.com recently posted the schedule for the University at Buffalo’s outdoor summer film series, and it has some real gems, including “The Place Beyond the Pines.” The proceedings open with a movie that makes me very nervous, since I’ve felt from the get-go that it could be a disaster, Sam Raimi’s “Oz the Great and Powerful.” (I actually have it from Netflix right now. It’s staring at me, angrily.) It shows at 9:15 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18, and Friday, June 21, at the North Campus, and at 9:15 on Wednesday, June 19, at the South Campus.

Meanwhile, I’m a week late in mentioning Bacchus’s Summer Film Series, which is held in its quaint courtyard. The Buffalo-appropriate “Natural” kicked things off yesterday, June 12, but the series continues with “The Truman Show” next week, the 19th, and, even better, “The Big Lebowski” on June 26.

Superman, Seth Rogen, Julie and Celine, cocktails, Coppola, Oz, and a God-like Ed Harris? An eclectic week for movies, to be sure.

 

Photo credit: Left to Right: Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine. Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.