Franco, Rogen Face the End in Ugly L.A. Mansion: Movies

“Dirty Wars” bristles at the extralegal, ever-expanding war on terror.

Richard Rowley’s documentary unfolds around reporter Jeremy Scahill’s investigations into covert American warfare and “collateral” victims of targeted killings in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Yet that title, with its conscious echoes of assassination and torture in Latin America, is misleading: This movie is the opposite of strident.

Its palette is almost exquisitely faded. (It won a cinematography award at Sundance.) The music, performed by the Kronos Quartet and composed by its founder, David Harrington, is pensive and mournful.

Sorrow reigns: sorrow over the wrongful deaths of, especially, children and teen-agers; sorrow that an ostensibly progressive U.S. administration has dug in on paranoid policies that create ever more outraged enemies and thus, in a vicious circle, cause the assassination lists to grow and grow.

The last part of the film deals with the killing by drone of Anwar al-Awlaki -- an American citizen, targeted without trial -- and, two weeks later, his 16-year-old son.

Though the picture raises important questions, it doesn’t demand specific policy changes. It doesn’t insist on much of anything, beyond the value of knowing the truth. Its voice remains hushed; it seems to be grieving for America.

“Dirty Wars,” from Sundance Selects, is playing in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and opens Friday in selected theaters across the U.S. Rating: **** (Seligman)

‘This Is the End’

“This Is the End” feels like a beginning.

With lazy “Hangover” sequels and Adam Sandler movies still passing for big-screen comedy, the anarchic debut feature from directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg is fresher than anything this side of the Funny or Die website.

Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson play comically exaggerated (if not unrecognizable) versions of themselves in a film that starts, deceptively, as a middle-key parody of actorly self-regard.

The Canadian Baruchel, low man on fame’s totem pole, is visiting his longtime pal Rogen during a rare trip to Los Angeles, a city the smug Baruchel disdains.

Chasing Fame

Rogen -- presenting himself here as a fame-chasing sell-out -- drags Baruchel to a celebrity-packed housewarming party at Franco’s new, cubist-style mansion, a monstrosity of pretension, modern art and new money.

“I designed it myself,” Franco boasts.

The party ends -- and the broad action-comedy begins -- with earthquakes, fire and soul-swallowing hellholes that herald the Apocalypse, stranding the film’s six bickering headliners inside Franco’s crumbling home.

Arguing over rations, jockeying for status, ganging up against the crude McBride and battling CGI-rendered demons, the gang ponders everything from Milky Way bars and friendship to theology.

“It’s like Neapolitan ice cream,” says know-it-all Franco about the Holy Trinity, sounding a bit dim, a little clever and cocky enough not to care one way or the other.

“This Is the End,” from Sony Pictures Entertainment, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *** (Evans)

What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton on dining and Philip Boroff on theater.

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