(On Cable TV, January 2014) Now being comfortably in my late thirties, there’s a limit to the amount of amusement I can get from rough frat-boy humor, with its soft-drugs and penile references in-between copious swearing. Still, This is the End knows exactly what kind of laughs it wants to get, and it’s successful at what it does. The focus on the nature of young adult friendships in the face of trying circumstances may not be new (Seth Rogen alone has mined it for the past decade since Superbad) but it adds a little bit more substance to what would otherwise be a juvenile festival of phallic jokes, scatological references and drug humor. This is the End, by its very nature (six actors playing exaggerated version of themselves as the world around them is consumed by a biblical apocalypse) is intensely self-referential, and the corpus of movies and celebrity gossip you have to know before getting the most out of this one is lengthy –it’s best if you have a working knowledge of the live and films of Seth Rogan, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny MacBride, along with a passing familiarity with Michael Cena, Emma Watson, Rihanna and the cast of Freaks and Geeks. Sort of a silly Hollywood home movie writ large, This is the End still manages to get a few laughs and chuckles: Evan Goldberg’s direction is self-assured, there’s a sense that there are no self-imposed limits to the comedy, and the ensemble cast is simply remarkable, both for its presence but also for the lengths at which the performers will go in order to spoof their own screen persona and get their laughs. It also has the decency to end on a very high note, wrapping up a film that compensates for its own worst excesses. The result may not be particularly refined or subtle (although there is at least one laugh-aloud implicit joke when we realize that the heavenly rapture has passed by without claiming a single Hollywood partygoer), but This is the End has the strength of its own immaturity.
(On TV, August 2013) The film’s poster/cover promises dragons attacking downtown Los Angeles in full daylight. What’s not to like? As it turns out, almost everything else. For some unexplainable reason, D-War takes forever to establish its cumbersome mythology before getting to the “dragon wars” part, and viewers can’t be blamed if they start mentally checking out at the blend of age-old mythology, predictable prophecy and meaningless word salad. Bad dialogue, dull cinematography and laborious directing all add up. It’s not just uninteresting: it’s executed in the bland plodding way most SyFy original films are made… something made worse by the fact that with a budget about ten times what SyFy movies usually cost, it’s not a SyFy original film. D-War’s lone redeeming quality of the film is the 15 minutes or so in which the dragons do attack downtown Los Angeles: suddenly, the special effects get better, the human characters disappear, the spectacle ratchets up and the film finally gets a pulse. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last long and it leads to a downer of an ending. While Jason Behr and Amanda Brooks don’t completely embarrass themselves in the lead roles, there’s not much here to boast about (and seeing both Robert Forster and Craig Robinson in fairly silly roles is more surprising than anything else.) If you do want to get the most out of D-War, fast-forward to the dragon attack, and stop whenever they disappear from the screen.