This Is the End (Seth Rogen, 2013) – Years ago I was a regular reader of a British movie magazine called Neon. It was okay, and it didn’t last very long, but it had a stellar monthly parody page, one of which “revealed” the first drafts of some scripts before they were doctored. The pre-William Goldman draft of Good Will Hunting, it turned out, was an ego-farce called Ben and Matt Get Laid.
I don’t mention this in order to talk down Seth Rogen’s first feature. It is ropey and self-indulgent, and it is about him and his friends being awesome as the world around them dies. SPOILER: It’s a debut film in which the director, playing himself, goes to heaven.)
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2013) – Greenberg, released in 2010, was co-written by Baumbach and his partner Jennifer Jason Leigh. It co-starred a sort of mumblecore discovery, the tall and attractively messy Greta Gerwig. Three years later, Baumbach has released a movie co-written by his partner, Greta Gerwig. I scanned Frances Ha for Baumbach’s next muse, but imagine he’ll be sticking with Gerwig, who after a couple years of “breakout” busts (Arthur, Lola Versus), has crafted a memorable character in Frances, a winsomely aimless New Yorker who bounces between friends’ houses as she avoids the realization that she won’t become a breakout dancer at 27. (It’s nice to see Gerwig playing her own age, more or less, after being shoehorned into the role of a college student in 2012’s disappointing Damsels in Distress.)
Frances has a big personality that never fits into place, leeching off a succession of people with more money — from a publishing job, from parents, from marriage — until she can no longer afford it. Baumbach/Gerwig are wise to make Frances a dancer, because the unsophisticated eye (two of ’em right here) can’t figure out the difference between brilliant experimental dance and fiddly nonsense.
World War Z (Marc Forster, 2013) – Everything I had to say was said in a podcast with my colleague Dana Stevens. This is smarter than most horror movies, but dumber than most end-of-days flicks and dumber still than Max Brooks’s wonderful, overthought “oral history.” Brad Pitt slumbers through a role that he worked incredibly hard to win for himself; the third act is basically a video game level, and screams “oh shit we ran out of money for reshoots.” As with The Walking Dead, it pleases me as a pop culture artifact that popularizes a thing I like, disappoints me as an actual slice of entertainment.
Sound City (Dave Grohl, 2013) – The first 60 minutes comprise a fun, sloppy documentary about the salad days of an analog recording studio in Los Angeles. Musicians both iconic (Stevie Nicks!) and cultish (that one dude from Fear!) dish about what it was like to lift one’s head from a mound of cocaine and overdub that one guitar solo that made REO Speedwagon really click with the masses. The next 30 minutes, unfortunately, are spent with Grohl and his famous friends after he buys one of the studio’s boards and installs them in his house, and makes a tribute album of really forgettable songs. Eight of these minutes are spent with Paul McCartney, as he “writes” that horrible song that he, Grohl, and Krist Novocelic played at the Hurricane Sandy benefit concert.