I witnessed the end of the world last weekend. Twice.
One was actually called, "This is the End," although it probably wasn't. It's about the Apocalypse, but the way Hollywood works, there will probably be a "This is the End, Part 2" in the near future.
It masquerades as a dumb comedy to attract the lowest-common-denominator crowd. It's one more illustration that arrested development is the very definition of the male gender. Take out all the F-words, and the script would be half as long. Take out the jokes about sexual organs and body fluids, and the fears and fascination with being gay, and there wouldn't be much left.
But still, co-written and co-directed by Seth Rogen, who plays himself and co-stars with buddies James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel and Craig Robinson as themselves, it sneaks lots of snarky Hollywood satire in between visions of Los Angeles burning and quaking in the background.
The concept is clever: Baruchel arrives in L.A. to hang out with his old pal Rogen, who promptly gets him stoned and then takes him to Franco's housewarming party for his cool new digs. Unfortunately, the decadent goings-on get interrupted by the end of the world. We're talking biblical prophecy, The Rapture, even an appearance by Satan himself before the final credits role.
There's one scene early on, where a buzzed Franco and Rogen sit down at the party trying to brainstorm a sequel to "Pineapple Express." You sense "This is the End" may have started the same way.
While Michael Cera and Emma Watson actually have to do some acting to portray drug-and-alcohol-crazed versions of their squeaky-clean images, the rest of the cast members stay closer to home, revealing increasingly petty, cowardly, duplicitous, unpleasant aspects of their real selves.
Curiously, the more unappealing they act, the more sympathetic they become. Portraying a hero isn't the same thing as being one, they remind us. They're just actors.
Which is what makes "This is the End" intriguing, rather than just stupid. The warts-and-all portrayals, played for laughs, make this an interesting freeze-frame of this moment in time in Lalaland, and it takes its place in a proud genre - Robert Altman's "The Player" being the most recent example - of Hollywood's fondness for biting the hand that feeds it, right up there on the big screen.
Meanwhile, the end of the world is no laughing matter for Brad Pitt and company in "World War Z." Under the epic direction of Marc Foster, Pitt plays a UN disaster inspector brought out of happy retirement with his family when a Zombie pandemic strikes the globe.
Pitt's Gerry Lane embarks in a desperate chase around the globe in a frantic search for a cure as landmarks from Philadelphia to Jerusalem topple amidst surging chaotic crowds just outside the windows of his jet airliners and helicopters.
"World War Z" has to explain its medicine, its science and its geography to the audience as it goes along, but it keeps the action taut as it does. Despite a few too many aw, c'mon coincidences in the script, it's thought provoking rather than mind numbing.
The film shows what global panic might actually look like, the way a new world order might be orchestrated from an aircraft carrier turned into mission control, as Gerry tries to stay in precarious touch via satellite phone with his wife and daughters, who are among the survivors on the carrier.
Unlike the "This is the End" boys, Pitt really does have the heroic gravitas to not only star, but to bring projects like this to the screen. The value of family and the family of humankind are both trademarks of his epic action adventures.
Whether it's the end of the world or finding ways of avoiding it, he's one of the few guys using his star power to remind us we're in this together.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org