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Movie Review: The Interview

Fs9Ql0VIt’s discussed as if it is the most important film of 2014.  Hell, from all the headlines some may think it’s the most important movie of all time.

That movie is, of course, The Interview, and its controversial plot involving the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

The lore around this film’s release is great, and yet muddied.  It is supposedly the motive behind one of the largest cyberattacks in history–a massive breach of Sony Pictures’ network.  This hack has led to private e-mails being leaked and several films hitting bittorrent weeks before theaters.  Debate raged on if the media should cover the contents of these leaked files.

The FBI has claimed North Korea is the group behind the hacks, yet there is compelling evidence that others may in fact be responsible, and The Interview‘s North Korea plot simply a red herring.

Then the hackers threatened physical attacks if The Interview was released and theater chains like AMC to refused to show the film.  With few movie houses still willing to screen the film Sony cancelled the release, and suddenly this movie became about more than just dick jokes–it was about freedom of speech!  Indignant tweets were issued, and even President Obama weighed in calling Sony’s move a “mistake.”

Thus it has been hailed as a triumph of creativity that Sony reversed its decision.  On Christmas Day The Interview will be shown at independent theaters nationwide.  More, starting December 24, The Interview was available for purchase or rent from Google Play or YouTube (though the Google-only release made this film only slightly less difficult for me to watch, having only an Apple TV and a TiVo hooked up to my home theater; this guide helped greatly).

But now that the film is out, available to rent in your home, a far more fundamental question must be asked–will everyone who has decried the film’s cancellation watch it?

Of course taken in the context of the national conversation there is no way a lighthearted comedy like The Interview could hold up.  As an apotheosis for freedom of expression The Interview is lacking, and that should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the oeuvres of the film’s stars James Franco and Seth Rogen.

So tonight I watched this movie and stripped away all thought of the brouhaha surrounding its release to review the film on its own merits.

The story surrounds  TV talk-show host Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen).  When it’s uncovered that their show Skylark Tonight is a favorite of Kim Jong-un’s the duo schedule an interview with the reclusive leader.  Yet the simple fluff piece becomes deadly serious when Skylark and rapaport are approached by CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) drafting the two to assassinate the dictator.

Despite its pseudo-political plot, The Interview is not revolutionary.  This is the second film co-directed by Rogen and his longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg, and it follows very much in the style and one of their first feature This is the End.  Both films are about single guys in above their heads, and so as expected, The Interview movie has more dick jokes than political statements–it’s a film that plays to the stars’ fan base without expanding their appeal.

It’s telling that the movie is strongest in its first act when it is firmly planted in the United States, Franco having “revealing” interviews with Eminem and Rob Lowe.  Lampooning celebrity culture was the backbone of This is the End, and is obviously an area where Rogen and Goldberg feel comfortable.

Additionally the chemistry between the two leads is infectious.  Rogen and Franco have worked together for over a decade since the Judd Apatow series Freaks and Geeks (a series in which Caplan also had a recurring role) and they play off each other very well.  It’s fun to watch them on screen together discussing “stink dick” and  I would have watched an entire comedy revolving around the antics on Skylark Tonight.

But once the duo arrive in North Korea the movie starts to lose its footing.  The bromance between the two leads hits the rocks when Skylark begins to go rogue and bond with Kim, played by Randall Park.  Park is the true weak link in the film; his performance never carries any gravitas, thus undermining the importance of his role as a rogue dictator with an arsenal of nuclear weapons.  More, Franco and Park never show a hint of the chemistry we saw with Franco and Rogen, and the scenes between the TV personality and the dictator drag.

The longer the movie runs the less funny it became, and at a nearly 2-hour runtime The Interview came very close to overstaying its welcome.  The last twenty minutes are painfully unfunny save for some extreme violence.  The film did have a good number of laughs, they just were all packed into the first hour.

So no, there is nothing in this film to rally around.  I suspect that once audiences can actually see the movie they’ll quickly forget the circumstances surrounding its release.  But for fans of the Apatow level of stoner and sex humor, there’s enough here that I give The Interviewmild recommend.

It’s a major victory for freedom of speech, but a very, very minor one for the cast and crew who made The Interview.


December 24, 2014 Posted by | Movies, News | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Movie Review: The Interview

Movie Review: Spring Breakers

Spring Breakersspring-breakers-poster-1

Director:  Harmony Korine

Writer: Harmony Korine

Starring:  Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, and James Franco

Studio:  Muse Productions

Release Date:  March 22, 2013

Harmony Korine, a provocateur with a long rap sheet of films about juvenile delinquency, isn’t the most obvious candidate for directing a teen party movie set on the beaches of St. Petersberg. His previous youth culture explorations have shunned Disney princesses in florescent bikinis in favor of more extreme subjects – a serial rapist spreading AIDS (Kids), a drooling schizophrenic (Julien Donkey-Boy), cat killers on ten speed bikes (Gummo), and fetishists grinding their pelvises against canisters of garbage (Trash Humpers – his most literal celebration of depravity).

Yet the four curvaceous coeds at the center of Korine’s new opus Spring Breakers share a commonality with all the other freaks in his menagerie: they’re poor, horny and bored… and that makes them dangerous. Desperate to escape the crushing sameness of their deserted dorm, Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine, Harmony’s wife) use squirt guns and harsh language to intimidate patrons at an all-night diner into funding their hedonistic vacation. Faith (Gomez) knows she’s courting sin by abandoning her Bible study group for beach time with these hellions, but the utopian promise of Florida’s flesh parade proves equally irresistible to her repressed soul. These girls are sick, and fun is the only cure for what ails them.

Ironically, those most primed for the sun-burnt decadence of a Girls Gone Wild video, or crass Hollywood comedy like Project X, will probably be Spring Breakers’ most disappointed audience members. Korine has never cultivated a taste for commercial storytelling or traditional beauty, and remains fixated on unflattering details as he reduces the foursome’s exploits to a disjointed montage of scooter rides and repetitious drunk talk. Boredom hasn’t been conquered, merely transformed into something more frenzied and sad.

The fun doesn’t begin for viewers until our heroines are jailed and forced to take bail money from Alien, a drug smuggler with delusions of rap superstardom. One look at James Franco’s gold-toothed leer as he leads the ladies from the courthouse into a spaceship-shaped bed blanketed in $100 bills tells you Korine has finally found the proof he needs to convict the American Dream. “Look at my sheeyit! This ain’t nuttin’, I got ROOMS of this shit,” the narcissist boasts as he produces everything from Kool-Aid to Calvin Klein cologne in an effort to impress his guests. It’s Alien who completes Candy and Brit’s transformation into gangsta bitches now packing real firepower, and the trio sail off into a day-glo finale filled with Britney Spears sing-a-longs and drive-by shootings.

Many will call Spring Breakers an empty exercise full of callow behavior, and I’ll not dispute them. Still, I Recommend the movie to anyone able to appreciate the singular way Korine and cinematographer Benoit Debie (Enter The Void) render depravity as its own special kind of beauty. The paradox of their painterly images, married with Franco’s gonzo-yet-human performance, creates empathy for these shallow party girls when their words and deeds might otherwise draw contempt. Korine might not be an artist, but I refuse to label him an exploiter. Perhaps we’ll agree he’s that nose picker that sits in the back of the classroom making sculpture out of his boogers. Certainly Spring Breakers is a gross and glorious mess not soon forgotten.

March 28, 2013 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , , , , , , | 2 Comments