Niagara Gazette

June 11, 2013

CALLERI: Two new openings are rooted in motion picture history

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — “Before Midnight” and “This Is The End” are as different as night and day, but they do have a common bond. They are both immersed in movie history.

Director Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” is in the tradition of the French New Wave, especially the works of Eric Rohmer and Alain Resnais, who is still making films at age 91. Plot in most of the movies from these three directors is less important than the words, thoughts, and emotions of the characters. “This Is The End” is directed and co-written by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. It will rummage through myriad horror, satanic, and apocalypse pictures. It’s all about plot.

Linklater’s newest feature is his third, after “Before Sunrise” (1995) and “Before Sunset” (2004), to explore the relationship between the American Jesse and the French Celine. They first met on a train in Europe and spent a romantic night together in Vienna. In the second film, they reconnected in Paris where writer Jesse was taking part in a book promotion tour. In “Before Midnight,” they are married with twin daughters and vacationing on a Greek island thanks to an author who has offered them a place to relax for six weeks. There are some peripheral characters, but the focus will again be on Jesse, played by Ethan Hawke, and Celine, played by Julie Delpy.

The movie opens with Jesse at the island’s airport where he is sending his young son back to the U.S. This is the first of the picture’s five extended scenes. The second sequence has Jesse and Celine in a car discussing how he feels about the relationship he has with his son and his intensely disliked ex-wife. Scene three involves the ensemble adult cast as they dine on a patio and talk about writing, love, fame, and the responsibilities people have to those closest to them. Sequence four finds Celine and Jesse strolling around ruins, engaged in a conversation about fantasies.

As we watch, we relax and enjoy what’s spoken because what is said is interesting and because of our familiarity with Jesse and Celine, who come across as a married couple quite comfortable with each other. They met in their 20s and are now at the start of their 40s.

This reverie is shattered in the fifth scene, which takes the film and Celine and Jesse’s relationship into a new direction. The lacerating dialogue reveals how a misinterpreted word, spoken between a husband and wife, can quickly alter how a couple feels about each other. It creates a riveting multi-layered dynamic. My reaction after watching them argue is that this could mark the beginning of the end of their marriage.

“Before Midnight,” which is co-written by Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke is a very good movie. It’s casually, albeit, carefully acted. The film doesn’t go in for big surprises, not that it needs to. I like “Before Midnight,” but not as much as I like “Before Sunset,” which is the best chapter of the trilogy. We are not tired of Celine and Jesse, but we could be. A fourth movie is not necessary.

“This Is The End” is an insanely over-the-top comedy, a raucous send-up of the self-importance of movie stars and their well-crafted public personas. It’s a tribute to horror films such as “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Exorcist,” and “The Devil Rides Out” (also known as “The Devil’s Bride”).

Rogen, James Franco (especially good), Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, and Jonah Hill play themselves in a film that is deliriously disjointed and certainly too long. Most of its comic jolts are dialogue-based. The words may be raunchy, weird, and utterly reliant on references to all kinds of sex and most drugs, but they are delivered with whiplash ferocity. The actors mock their public selves, sometimes painfully so.

It’s the oft-told tale of a group of people trapped in a big house (a temple of modern art and architecture) facing a bewildering and chaotic evil lurking beyond the door.

Baruchel hates Los Angeles. He arrives from Montreal, where he lives, to visit his pal Rogen for a weekend of video games and pot-smoking. Rogen suggests they go to a party at Franco’s new house, where Emma Watson, Michael Cera, Rhianna, Mindy Kaling, David Krumholtz, and other young personalities are having one heck of a time. Within minutes, the end of the world begins with very solid special effects. Some stars die. Some escape.

The core group of six actors attempts to survive. The biggest question for them, aside from what to eat, is will they go to heaven or hell? Telling you more would ruin the experience. “This Is The End” is lunacy without restraint.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.