Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Funniest Movie I Saw Last Year: THE LAST MAN(s) ON EARTH



The Last Man(s) on Earth debuted last year at the Austin Film Festival in Texas. Like Napolean Dynamite, this is an indepedently-made comedy, geared for mainstream audiences, that happens to have several Latter-day Saint actors. Thus, while it is by no means "Mormon Cinema," it is being featured at the 2013 LDS Film Festival. You can see it at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 26th at the Scera Xango Grand Theater, located at 745 South State Street in Orem, UT. You can buy tickets here. I'm going to try to be at the screening, so I hope to see you there!

THE LAST MAN(s) ON EARTH (GRADE: A-)

I see and review 4-6 movies a month for this site, and in the last year only one film made me laugh so hard that my sides hurt. The Last Man(s) on Earth is the funniest film I've seen in a long time; not bad for an independent action-comedy with no major stars and a modest budget. It started as a series of YouTube videos in which a pair of idiots give survival tips (though they're more concerned with zombie attacks, asteroid collisions, and saving the girl than actual catastrophes). The webisodes were amusing enough (some were much stronger than others) but the film takes the concept to a whole new gear. It's a riot for both fans and newcomers alike.

The story, as it were, finds two self-made disaster "experts" joining forces with a bombshell brunette and an ex-colleague to prevent the end of the world, predicted by the ominous "Oracle." If the story is predictable (the heroes mess things up, endanger the world, and ultimately redeem themselves), the humor most definitely is not. The script, by Aaron Hultgren, is peppered with brilliant, out-of-left-field zingers and he has the perfect actors to deliver them. There is a contagious camaraderie and chemistry between the cast; they're clearly having fun, and it spreads to the audience.

As Kaduche, Charan Prabhakar (The Mine, One Man's Treasure) exudes the constant intensity of a fearless action hero, combined with willful ignorance of his own incompetence. It's a demanding comedic performance; his character's journey drives the story, and Prabhakar rises to the challenge. Those who've seen him in other films will note just how far against type he plays here. It's easily his best performance yet. (Read my interview with Charan here).

Brady Bluhm is known to audiences worldwide as Billy, the blind kid in Dumb and Dumber; here they get to rediscover his considerable comedic talents some 20 years later. As Wynn, the other half of the main duo, Bluhm displays a charming knack for boyish innocence. He's the perfect child-like foil for Prabhakar's humorous grandstanding. The film has a great deal of fun drawing their friendship as having outward similarities to an actual romance, which they're too innocent and clueless to recognize.

As Violet, Kaduche's quasi-love-interest, Andrea Ciliberti more than holds her own with the other actors. Though she was Miss Missouri in 2005, Ciliberti proves early on that she wasn't cast just for her looks: she's got great comic timing and gives the proceedings a nice shot of attitude. She's also the most grounded character, reacting to the ridiculous exploits of the "heroes" with enjoyable sass.

Darin Southam (who won the lead role in Ephraim's Rescue, coming soon from 17 Miracles director T.C. Christensen) is great fun to watch as he undergoes the metamorphosis from mild-mannered school teacher to a hybrid of romance novel heart-throb and long-lost member of the A-Team. He's a rising talent to keep your eyes on.

With all due respect to the rest of the cast, however, the greatest performance in the film belongs to Rick Macy (The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd). Audiences used to his more pious roles in religious films are in for a treat here, as he cuts loose with a combination of grandiose scenery-chewing and darkly hilarious dry wit. Macy seems to relish playing "The Oracle," a prophet of doom whose divinations of worldwide devastation are mixed with rampant egotism. Macy tackles the unabashedly silly script with zeal. He deservedly earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Filmed in Utah Awards for his work here (the bulk of the film was actually shot in California, but no matter). With limited screentime, Elizabeth Knowelden impresses as a scientist who just might hold the key to saving the world.


The movie's not perfect, of course. Like most comedies it packs too many of its best jokes into the first half. This isn't to say that the second half isn't entertaining; it still is (in fact, my favorite one-liner is towards the end) but the pacing isn't quite as fast and furious as the beginning. This leads to a few slow spots, but thankfully those only last for a few minutes and aren't enough to do the film any serious harm. Also mildly disappointing is the fact that budget constraints keep the inevitable global disaster from being fully realized on screen.


Wisely, however, the filmmakers opt for a "less-is-more" approach, focusing on a ground level battle with zombies when an attempt at large-scale CGI would likely have gone poorly. Hultgren proves himself as capable a director as he is a screenwriter: while in "epic mode" the action is shot and edited with a bold machismo that would do Michael Bay proud (although here it's all used to intentionally humorous effect). Kevin Lee's bombastic musical score sets the tone perfectly. The creative flourishes in the use of titles add to the energy; even the editing is funny, evocative of the work of Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). It is this creativity and sense of fun that carry The Last Man(s) on Earth over its rough patches. Whatever its flaws, you'll be too busy laughing to be bothered by them. For more info on the film, visit lastmans.com


CONTENT OVERVIEW: The Last Man(s) on Earth has not yet been rated, but it would likely be PG-13. It has plenty of battles with zombies, a mildly suggestive scene (that actually, when you see it, goes for innocent laughs instead of naughty humor) and bloody moments that would be disturbing if they weren't so intentionally cheesy and funny (the comedic gore in Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a good reference point).

MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Instead of wishing to be someone else, we should focus on the good we can do with our own talents and opportunities (Alma 29:1-3). The greatest love is to be willing to die for your friends (John 15:13). Not all who claim to be prophets are from God (Matthew 7:15-20).


Make sure to check out my book, 250 Great Movies for Latter-day Families, in bookstores Fall of 2013.


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