Words: Maxamillian John
If the storm last week kept you indoors then you probably want to go outside now and frolic in the dying embers of autumn. But don't, it's a trap! The outside is actually terrible. My review of the Outside would just read - wet, overcrowded, insects attack randomly, and pizza is only available in specific areas. 3/10. Instead, why not stay indoors with one of this week's DVD releases? Let's have a look at them!
Celebrities love playing themselves in movies and on television - it gives them a chance to show how self-deprecating they are, and that they know how ridiculously privileged their lives are without actually having to forgo anything. That's the basis of Seth Rogen's newest attempt at comedy, 'This Is The End' (★★). Trapped in James Franco's house during the Biblical apocalypse, Rogen, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride must suppress their rivalries and pretensions in order to survive. It's all so archly knowing, I've never cheered so hard for Satan in my life.
Aside from the plot, the individual scenes are actually funny. While the overall conceit of the film is galling - its constituent scenes are more like sketches, and as long as it doesn't slide into indulgence it can wrench out some laughs. Jonah Hill becomes less annoying as the film progresses, and his hamming scene with Franco's prop gun is a highlight. In fact all of the actors become less annoying once we're done with the initial celeb-spotting zoo at the start, with the exception of Seth Rogen, a man who can't even play himself convincingly.
There are some refreshing changes of narrative mode throughout the film, including Diary Room-style interviews recorded on Franco's camcorder and a tongue-in-cheek seventies horror intertitle (that show Rogen's a more imaginative director than he is an actor) and the breaks in an inventory scene display control over comic rhythm. The workshop tone allows for some funny collisions of register, like a great argument over a Milky Way. We've got the individual talents of Hill and Robinson to thank for most of the laughs, their riffing keeping 'This Is The End' afloat. Unfortunately, just when I thought I'd been sufficiently entertained to make up for the movie's cheap conceit, the ending blew me away with its indulgence.
But at least for a comedy, there was some actual comedy present. Because if laughter is the best medicine, director Paul Weitz and writer Karen Croner are the world's worst pharmacists. Their romantic comedy-drama 'Admission' (★) is about an admissions officer for Princeton University and the ordeals that beset her, in a film that's as mind-numbingly boring as it is entirely pointless.
Tina Fey, summoning the folksy, everywoman attitude of her SNL Palin sketches, plays Portia, a career woman battling colleagues for the next promotion while maintaining a rom-com friendly dysfunction in her family life. After her long-term boyfriend leaves her, she starts to become attached to Paul Rudd, who plays the headmaster of a quirky, alternative-lifestyle school, pushing for his top student to get into Princeton. Japes ensue.
Except that we all know where everything's going to end up. We know Fey and Rudd will end up together, and that the annoying, poorly-written kid will get into Princeton, and that Fey will realise her career isn't as important as the personal satisfaction of a happy family. It's like Weitz and Croner plotted a line-of-best-fit for every rom-com ever made. Even the casting is a bore: I swear Paul Rudd just walks straight from one film production to another, never dropping character.
Everything in 'Admission' is utterly conventional, from the over-enunciated voiceover at the beginning to the weedy acoustic guitar tracks that accompany every twee moment of contrived whimsy and every single facet and line of every single character. It might not be 'bad' in the sense that it's incompetent or offensive, but 'Admission' is so unambitious and lazy that it's a completely futile experience. It's not a film, it's a generality. It's 100 minutes of beige.
'Trap For Cinderella' (★★★½) shows this week that even if a movie is predictable, with passionate performances and thoughtful design it needn't kill the experience. It's a remake of the 1965 film 'Piège Pour Cendrillon', itself an adaptation of a Sébastien Japrisot novel, and while director Iain Softley doesn't add anything new to the plot, his refined expression of it justifies the retelling.
Tuppence Middleton, who demonstrated in 'Skeletons' that she can steal even the most accomplished of shows, plays Micky, a wealthy, trendsetting socialite who wakes up in hospital with no memory, having survived a gas explosion. After major reconstructive surgery she goes about investigating her past and the role that her childhood friend, Alexandra Roach's increasingly obsessed Do, had to play in the accident. It's a thriller with quite a few twists, though none that you won't see coming.
The sound design is meticulous, and the orchestral scoring is kept simple. The theme is transposed and re-iterated in a variety of instrumentations, and there's a self-aware and creative employment of third-party songs. The opening few shots are atmospheric and beautiful, although they're helped out by their isolation within the narrative so don't expect the whole movie to be a gallery of wonders. Softley's visuals look their best when they're given room, not squeezed by the pace of the story, so I consider it an advantage that most of the film moves quite slowly.
If you own a Blu-ray player it's worth mentioning that the classic comedies 'M*A*S*H' and 'Do The Right Thing' are released on Monday, although you can already get both of them on DVD for a fraction of the price. But if you own a Blu-ray player you may care less about trifles like 'money'. So it's not a great week for DVD releases. 'Trap For Cinderella' is worth a look, and 'This Is The End' can be entertaining if you've got friends over and no-one really cares what movie is on. You could do worse than going Outside this week after all, like sitting through 'Admission'.
Read previous DVD Digests here. Find more from Maxamillian at @maxltj.