Upstream Color (4.25/5)
Upstream Color is an impossibly tough film to dissect. Taking the form of a creature that rarely appears in cinemas, Upstream Color possesses a foreign anatomy. Once we make an incision to the film’s nearly impenetrable skin, there are organs we can’t even begin to comprehend. But deep beyond its mysterious machinations, Upstream Color boasts a spirit in line with the work of Terrence Malick, where its mercurial imagery says everything the plot refuses to divulge. Written and directed by Shane Carruth, Upstream Color, in its simplest terms, is about a man and woman tempting their hand at understanding their connection to the world and each other. Their bond bizarrely revolves around a single cell organism, one transferred from an orchid to humans to pigs and then finally back to where it all started. The couple, Kris (Amy Seimetz) and Jeff (Shane Carruth), hesitantly falls for one another, despite finding themselves strangely confused by their attraction. In time, they forge a relationship that finds their identities coalescing into one while outside forces alter their lives. This kind of film isn’t particularly aligned to one genre, rather it’s an impressionistic film genetically bonded to the heady nature of the sci-fi genre and imbued with the rapturous love of a romance film.
Boasting surreal editing, making the entire film skip like a hyper-kinetic dream, Upstream Color invades our senses. Shane Carruth, an auteur who came on the scene in 2004 with his time travel film Primer, impressively channels Terrence Malick’s potent imagery. Even when we can’t always discern what’s going on in Carruth’s dizzying screenplay, there’s an emotional tide pulling us under its hypnotic waves. From shots of hands extending out to touch a wall to vacant subway cars, each image evokes one’s search to minimize the world’s vastness. Married to the images is an impressive score, which is mostly composed of primal sounds. Carruth is certainly one of the film’s centerpieces, at least when it comes to his auteur talents, but the film’s big centerpiece is Seimetz, who provides the film with its one traditional emotional entry point. Her frightened eyes are the perfect channel into Carruth’s unpredictable world. Now, I won’t pretend Upstream Color is an easy watch. But I challenge you to peer beyond its novel, infuriating structure and surrender to its whims .
This is the End (4/5)
After talking about an obtuse movie, let’s get to one that’s terribly telegraphed in This is the End. Emulating the overarching theme in Superbad, This is the End finds Seth Rogen (playing himself) entertaining his friend Jay Baruchel (also playing himself) in Los Angeles. There’s a level of distance separating the two, but they affirm their friendship through videogames, candy, and fine herbal supplements. At Seth’s behest, the two pot addled friends ditch their one on one activities in favor of taking in a party at James Franco’s swanky, state of the art bachelor pad. Amidst the drunken and stoned debauchery, Jay’s detest for Los Angeles, as well as Seth’s new friends, bubbles to the surface, exposing their faulty relationship. Then the apocalypse interrupts the party’s flow, forcing Jay and Seth to settle their differences while barricading themselves in Franco’s house with the likes of Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, James Franco and Danny McBride. And in such a confined space, the troupe unleash a flurry of dick jokes, as they fight one another for sustenance as small as a Milky Way.
Considering the talent they had on hand, Rogen and Goldberg, who co-wrote and co-directed the film, were playing with house money. Their first ingenious joke is allowing everyone to play a diluted, preposterous version of themselves. The most consistent laughs come from the altered personalities of James Franco and Jonah Hill. Franco plays himself as a pretentious, self-congratulatory film star with an unshakable crush on Rogen. Hill, fresh off his Oscar nomination, absorbs the personality of an emotionally conscious boy scout who just wants everyone to get along. Watching everyone banter makes for a hilarious dynamic that doesn’t particularly let up. But the film’s real peak performance belongs to Michael Cera, who absolutely kills as a sexual deviant and a booger sugar fiend. His scenes alone represent the peak of Rogen and Goldberg’s meta-joke. In spite of the laughs, the film does show its limits through a bloated running time and a plot that comes and goes as it pleases. This especially holds true near the end when the boys attempt to rectify their situation through divinity. Sans a brilliant cameo, repetitive, one note jokes bog down a rather riotous film. Of course, no one expected a story driven comedy, but it becomes a bit of a detriment when the film is a collection of vignettes held together by a thin strand. Plot be damned, This is the End is one of the year’s most enjoyable, laugh out loud comedies that honestly only requires a perverse sense of humor.