Celebrities Play Themselves in Zany Apocalyptic Comedy
This Is The End
R for crude humor, coarse sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use, violence and pervasive profanity
When Jay Baruchel was picked up at L.A. airport by his close friend and fellow Canadian Seth Rogen, he was disappointed to learn that instead of unwinding, the plan was to attend a housewarming party at James Franco’s mansion where a lot of A-list celebrities would be in attendance. For, despite having achieved his own measure of success, low-key Jay still lives in Montreal, in part to avoid the trappings of such shallow Tinseltown gatherings.
Upon their arrival, Jay awkwardly exchanges pleasantries with the host and Jonah Hill, both of whom he secretly suspects hate him. Furthermore, he’s overwhelmed to find himself surrounded by so many famous faces he’s never seen in person before, icons like including Kevin Hart, Channing Tatum, Jason Segel, Emma Watson and Mindy Kaling, to name a few.
Jay also feels uncomfortable about the booze, drugs and bawdy behavior typified by Michael Cera’s playfully slapping Rihanna on the rump only to get smacked in the face by the pop diva. Then there’s Craig Robinson who sits down at the piano to sing a tune called “Take Your Panties Off,” while sporting a t-shirt emblazoned with the same phrase.
However, all of the above is irreversibly rendered irrelevant when an earthquake registering 9.7 on the Richter scale rocks the city and rips a giant fissure right in front of Franco’s place. The guests scatter in all directions as a widening sinkhole starts to swallow some of the revelers at the same time that blue beams of light lift others heavenward.
Meanwhile, James, Jay, Seth, Emma, Craig and Jonah beat a hasty retreat and barricade themselves inside to await rescue. Eventually it dawns on them that the cavalry might never be coming, since what’s unfolding all across Los Angeles looks more like Judgment Day than the fallout from a momentary shift in tectonic plates.
Thus unfolds This Is The End, a zany apocalyptic comedy marking the directorial debut of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the writing team previously responsible for Superbad and Pineapple Express. This novel adventure proves to be every bit as side-splitting as their earlier offerings, with much of the inspired humor coming courtesy of actors willing to be the butt of the joke despite playing themselves.
Armageddon never looked like so much fun!
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 107 minutes
Backup Singers Belatedly Get Their Props In Pop Music Documentary
Twenty Feet From Stardom
Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexuality
Do the names Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Darlene Love, Claudia Lennear, Tata Vega or Lynn Mabry ring a bell? Probably not, yet you are undoubtedly very familiar with their stellar work as backup singers for a variety of musical icons.
For example, it’s Merry’s powerful voice adding a memorable touch of soul to the Rolling Stones’ classic “Gimme Shelter” in the brief interlude where she makes the most of the opportunity to belt out the bizarre lyrics “Rape! Murder! It’s just a shot away!” The same can be said of Darlene, who not only handled backup duties on hundreds of hits by everyone from Elvis Presley to The Beach Boys to Tom Jones to Sonny & Cher, but even anonymously ghost recorded the lead vocals on such ‘60s anthems as “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “He’s A Rebel” and “It’s In His Kiss,” without getting credit or decent compensation.
Sadly, despite their amazing talents, those pursuing this profession generally have precious little to show financially for their considerable contributions to the annals of rock, soul and other genres. For most of the backups are black and female with gospel backgrounds, and have stories to share about being underpaid, underappreciated and/or outright exploited. In fact, Darlene confesses to having to clean houses as a maid between gigs in order to survive at a low point in her career.
Most backup singers are frustrated artists who spend years helping others shine while waiting for that big break that might never come that could catapult them into the limelight. Finally, thanks to Twenty Feet From Stardom, these neglected sisters are finally getting their props, if not the fortune and mega-fame that has eluded them for so long.
Directed by Morgan Neville, this very entertaining and illuminating documentary includes testimonials by the likes of Sting, Springsteen, Bette Midler, Sheryl Crow and other greats freely paying tribute. A reverential retrospective representing the first tip of the cap to backups I can remember since Lou Reed warbled “And the colored girls go,” on the gritty ditty “Walk On The Wild Side.”
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 91 minutes
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