‘This is the End’: saving the world with laughter

The Puritans believed theatre was evil — idle tools of the devil at play. And acting? That was like gambling or stealing for a living — dishonest and definitely immoral. That’s why Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan’s latest collaboration, “This is the End,” isn’t so far fetched. Hollywood is the pit of Hell? Well, that makes sense considering our Puritan roots.

So if, let’s say, Judgment Day comes tomorrow, the Puritans would be A-OK with celebrity A-listers burning away, right?

Maybe so, but their fans wouldn’t approve. We’re fascinated by our sinner culture, our false idols, our celebrities. And we love reality TV — which is why “This is the End” is intriguing at first.

For the first time, we can browse through James Franco’s basement (where he keeps the props for all his movies) and hear Seth Rogan’s laugh (and see if it’s real). We can see our celebrities in their natural habitats: you know, with Michael Cera as a foul-mouthed womanizer and Emma Watson as an ax-wielding badass.

“This is the End,” an extended version of Goldberg and Rogan’s 2007 short, “Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse,” is an end-of-the-world comedy where celebrities play caricatures of themselves.

Scripted and directed by Goldberg and Rogan, the writers of “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express,” “This is the End” follows Jay Baruchel’s arrival to LAX. Baruchel was looking forward to playing video games, smoking weed and bonding with his Canadian pal, Seth Rogan — not going to some elitist celebrity party at James Franco’s mansion.

But lo and behold, he did go and the world ended. Quite literally. Alien abductions, fiery sinkholes, zombies and cannibals, the whole shebang.

And while all the good people got beamed up into heaven, Baruchel, Rogan, Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride were stuck on Hell on Earth — where their survival depended on each other.

This proves difficult for the six self-centered celebs, who fight over every Milky Way and water jug. Franco is a pretentious art snob, Hill is two-faced, McBride is a schmuck. And while they may act (mostly) pleasant around each other, well, we know they’re accomplished comedic actors — who’ve won Golden Globes and People’s Choice Awards and have been nominated for Oscars and Emmys.

While “This is the End” attempts at emotional sincerity (Baruchel’s grand epiphany is that he feels that he lost his pal Rogan to Franco’s celebrity in-crowd), that earnestness is lost when faced with the on-screen personas of self-entitled celebs. Rogan and Baruchel’s bromance doesn’t seem as sincere as the acting of Jonah Hill and Michael Cera in “Superbad,” Rogan and Goldberg’s loosely-autobiographical comedy about two hormonal high school BFFs. It feels cheap, engineered and well, Hollywood — complete with a feel-good deus ex machina ending.

While “This is the End” is an interesting experiment (the actors playing themselves part, not the end-of-the-world part), you can’t help but feel ripped off. Deep down, you know the actors are acting (even if they’re playing themselves). This is why they were  perceived as dishonest and immoral by Puritan standards. But by poking fun at themselves, you also know that they have given you one of life’s greatest gifts — the ability to laugh. And if this is the end, that might keep the darkness at bay just a little longer.

 “This is the End” was written and directed by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg. 


‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’: charismatic cast brings you down memory lane

I hadn’t though of that first day of high school in years, but I couldn’t help reminiscing while watching writer and director Stephen Chbosky’s film, Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Chbosky’s film — which is based on his coming-of-age novel — follows introvert and high school freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman), as he befriends seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson). Charlie, whose best friend committed suicide in the past year before enrolling in high school, relays his story by writing in extremely personal letters addressed to a “dear friend.”

Like Chbosky’s book, Charlie is brutally honest, and that confessional narration allows the viewer to empathize with the protagonist. After all, can’t we all remember feeling like an outsider?

Lerman captures Charlie’s earnest charm. He’s awkward as he shies away from attention in class or at a dance, and naïve as he mistakenly swallows marijuana-laced brownies at a party becoming the butt of a prank. But his underdog status is part of his appeal. Lerman’s face is open and easy to read; yet subtle gestures convince the audience of his honesty. His lips tug upwards in a genuine grin as he laughs. His fingers drum nervously as he confesses traumatic experiences, although his voice is as nonchalant as if he’s talking about the weather. Lerman has grown up since he played Ashton Kutcher’s younger, seven-year-old self in The Butterfly Effect eight years ago, but Lerman retains a sweet innocence as the upperclassmen introduce him to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and dating. Although Lerman had a more explosive role as a smart aleck in The Butterfly Effect, Lerman’s nuanced performance in Perks of Being a Wallflower is certainly as memorable.

Yet Lerman isn’t the only charismatic young actor in the cast. The loving friendship between Patrick and Sam is palpable and infectious that one can see why Charlie sought the two. Your eyes are drawn to Miller, who can be flamboyant and outspoken, and Watson, whose smile is incandescent. As the two tease and banter with each another and welcome Charlie to their group, the viewer vicariously feels invited. Both Miller and Watson enrapture the viewer that you soon forget their past résumés.

While Miller also played a high school student in Beware the Gonzo, he appears naked in Perks of Being a Wallflower — serving his vulnerability on the silver screen as he relays his experiences of trying to sustain a relationship with a closeted, gay football player (Johnny Simmons). The fact that Miller tries to joke around as he’s holding back quivering tears makes his performance more genuine. It’s sad but realistic that you feel yourself grabbing for tissues as tears stream down your face.

Meanwhile, Watson transforms from the bushy-haired girl from the Harry Potter franchise. Her short hair and American accent further separate her from Hermione. While it’s hard to see Elijah Wood as anyone other than Frodo from the Lord of the Rings series, Watson shows that she can be independent of the franchise that gave her her fame. She’s spunky as Sam, and while she’s authoritative as the high school upperclassman (and nowhere near as bossy as Hermione), she is also vulnerable as she cries, “I want people to like the real me.”

Besides the impressive acting from the talented 20-something-year-old cast, Chbosky’s film has that same relatable quality that endeared his book to quiet and confused high school wallflowers. You realize that you’re falling in love with Lerman, Miller, Watson and Chbosky’s words. And as the script provides the time capsule to your high school self — that even though you may “forget what it’s like to be 16 when you’re 17” — Perks of Being a Wallflower reminds you that for “right now, these moments aren’t stories” and you’re alive.

“Perks of Being a Wallflower” was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky based on his novel.

Closing a chapter: A last look at Potter midnight madness

It all began more than a decade and a half ago when J.K. Rowling penned and released “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” scribbling the blueprints on napkins in cafes. Then 10 years ago, the first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” made it on the silver screen, and every boy and girl Muggle grew up knowing the name of Daniel Radcliffe — whose name became synonymous with his silver-screen persona, “the-boy-who-lived.”

Outside The Elephant House in Edinburgh, U.K

As a kid who grew up with Potter and Rowling’s books, I looked forward to spending sticky, humid summers with the Dursleys, if only to read about and return to Hogwarts and that world of magic and wizardry. Yet years of waiting for book releases and midnight movie showings — seven books and eight movies later — that wait if finally over and many fans like me are closing a chapter to their childhoods.After watching director David Yate’s second film installment of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” at midnight with millions of fans across the country and around world last night, one realizes the love and investment one truly has for these actors and characters. This includes shedding tears for Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) and his pensive memories, cheering for Neville Longbottom’s stance (Matthew Lewis) and the Hogwarts professors’ stronghold, appreciating Luna Lovegood’s quirkiness (Evanna Lynch), sympathizing with Lucius (Jason Issacs), Narcissius (Helen McCrory) and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and cringing every time a favorite character died as a casualty of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and Harry Potter’s final face-off.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” takes off from where the film’s November release ended and is truly J.K. Rowling’s end game, winning the love and hearts of many dedicated fans dressed in black graduation gowns, round-framed glasses and diagonally striped green, red, yellow or blue ties — a modern Muggle’s wizarding wardrobe. Watching the death toll of characters as well as how seamlessly clues and puzzle pieces fit together, one comes to realize that Rowling is as sneaky as a Slytherin, as witty as a Ravenclaw, as kind a Hufflepuff and as brave as a Gryffindor. For her to share her gift of storytelling with the world is a real treasure — and just like how Potter and the gang parted with their offspring in the epilogue at King’s Cross and Platform 9 and 3/4 19 years later — it’s a treasure that fans and their offspring will enjoy for years to come in books, movies and Pottermore.

Click here for a related post on Part 1 of the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” adventure.

Revisiting the magic: A look at Potter madness at midnight

I haven’t visited Hogwarts, Platform 9 and 3/4 or the world of witches and wizards in over three years — the last time being when I read the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows shortly after it was released. Yet 24 hours ago, I was at Regal Cinema, waiting in line with true Harry Potter fans. Awaiting for the doors to open and the cl0cks to strike midnight was magical unto itself.

Members of the Harry Potter Alliance at Ithaca College pose for a picture as they await in line for the midnight screening of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

It was exciting to see that everyone had made a trip to Diagon Alley, and picked up their wands from Ollivanders before the gathering — which can been likened to when masses gathered for the Quidditch World Cup. It was amusing to see all the Weasleys roaming around the movie theater, each with their lumpy mismatched sweaters, which had to have been hand-knit by Molly Weasley and complete with giant initials of their names. Even more entertaining were a pair of Weasley twins (two girls sporting flaming red wigs and wizarding cloaks dressed as Fred and George, or rather “Gred” and “Forge”; one of them with a bandage on her ear) — their light-hearted jokes and banter with each other in the hallways would have cost them detentions with Dolores Umbridge, especially for disturbing the peace at the movie theater.

Yet as much as we, Muggles, may wish that we were witches and wizards — and that they simply ‘forgot’ to send us an owl with an acceptance letter to Hogwarts when we turned 11 years old, we had the pleasure to pick up a handful of Floo powder and transport into the wizarding world by watching the first installment of director David Yate’s film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and seeing author J.K. Rowling’s vision on the silver screen.

The movie, which deals with the final battle between He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (Ralph Finnes) and “the boy who lived” (Daniel Radcliffe), was dark and grim, but a good number of “holy” ear jokes and sexual frustration sets a satisfying balance and tone amidst a wizarding war.  When needed, Weasley brothers are a reliable source of comic relief — whether it is Fred (James Phelps) and George (Oliver Phelps) with their antics, or Ron (Rupert Grint) with his comments. Yates does an excellent job in splicing everything together, so that the movie experience does not feel like a bunch of dementors just got out of the Azkaban prison.

Yet the film paints the full, gritty context for war, showcasing sacrifice and valor. In the first sequence, as one is introduced to Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), one also realizes that she must make her parents forget that she has ever existed in order to protect them. In another scene, Ron is lounging by the radio, anxiously listening to hear if any of his family’s names are called. Harry can be seen playing with a tw0-way mirror from his godfather — persistently believing that Sirius Black is alive behind the veil. And to think — the trio are just kids, skipping school to go on a wild horcrux hunt — puts the whole senario into context.

Despite the grave situation, the heart of the books and movies is friendship. Yet the Harry-Ron-Hermione trio is off-center. Perhaps actor Tom Felton, who plays wizard and death eater Draco Malfoy, describes it best in an interview with MTV: “This whole perfect friendship thing kind of goes out the window a bit.”

However, loyalties — however shaken that the might be — do play a big part in the battle of good versus evil. As for screeplay writer Steve Kloves’s and director Yate’s loyalties to Potter fans, the most disappointing part of the movie is when the movie stops with a lack of end credits.

Just like fans would wait in bookstores with excitement, speeding through Rowling’s words when the book came out, fans will wait excitedly for July 15, 2011 — for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 — and to return to Hogwarts, Platform 9 and 3/4 and the wizarding world.