The Interview – A Review

The Interview

I saw The Interview and lived to tell about it.

Much has been made about the new Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy The Interview and the fact that it may or may not have set off an international incident. I had wanted to see the film before the brouhaha, but I was more adamant about seeing it after Sony initially cancelled the film’s premiere and its Christmas release over concerns about threats to the movie houses that showed the film. I thought that pulling the film was misguided and would have a chilling effect on future projects. I was very happy that Sony reversed their decision and decided to release the film after all, both in independent theaters willing to show the film and on-line. I would have preferred to see the movie on the big screen and support the theaters that were willing to show the film, but unfortunately none of the independent theaters in Albany stepped up to show the film. I would have driven to Hudson is possible (about 45 minutes away), but that logistically didn’t work out. So instead, I rented the film from Google Play, popped some popcorn and settled in on my couch to support freedom of expression.

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Because 'Murica.

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Anyone watching The Interview solely out of some sort of patriotic duty who is not normally a fan of Seth Rogen movies was probably sorely underwhelmed with what they watched. The Interview is not any great satire of the North Korean ruler; this is not a film that will topple any regime. Rather, this is a typical Seth Rogen film, full of jokes about shoving things up your butt and other lowbrow humor, that just so happens to have the potential assassination of Kim Jong-un as a backdrop. This was a movie that simply wanted to incorporate real-life into one of their ridiculous movies; if you like Seth Rogen movies overall, you’ll probably like The Interview. If you aren’t a fan of his brand of comedy, the implied patriotism associated with watching The Interview won’t be enough to make you think this is a great film. This isn’t a great film, though I did chuckle several times. It may not be a movie that is worth going to war for, but that’s not the point. The issue was never the quality of the film – the issue was their freedom to tell the story that they wanted to tell.

The plot of the film is pretty straight forward: Dave Skylark (Franco) is the host of a popular show that focuses on interviewing celebrities. Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) is the producer of the show and though he is responsible for the show’s success, he is not fully satisfied with the show’s frivolous content and dreams of turning the show into something more serious. When word comes down the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of Skylark, the duo seize the opportunity to obtain the interview of a lifetime. They are then approached by CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) with one simple request for their trip to North Korea – assassinate Kim Jong-un. Though Dave and Aaron are not particularly qualified to pull off such a caper, they agree, though Skylark begins to have second thoughts once he spends some time with the Supreme Leader. Things escalate and comedy ensues as Aaron and Dave try to convince the other of the right course of action.

Though a lot of the funniest parts of the movie are indeed featured in the trailer, there were still plenty of laughs to be found in The Interview. I really like the easy chemistry between Franco and Rogen, so I may very well be a soft sell for any type of movie that features them. The Interview isn’t necessarily the most sophisticated movie, but sometimes you just need some silly laughs and this film has them. I was entertained throughout the course of the movie, even while listening for the sound of missiles aimed at my apartment (I kid, I kid). I liked The Interview more than I liked Anchorman 2 and I’d put it right in the middle of my enjoyment of Rogen movies – it wasn’t nearly as clever or funny as Superbad, but I did like it more than Pineapple Express.

That being said, I think that Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg need to branch out into some new directions. While I generally enjoyed The Interview, it felt very familiar. Rogen and Goldberg know what kind of jokes work for their audience, but at this point the enjoyment is tempered with the vague feeling that this has become formulaic. The idea for a movie that features two Americans charged with assassinating the leader of another country was creative, but most of the jokes in the film failed to live up to the originality of the premise. A lot of the jokes that they used could have been in any movie, and many of them have been used in other movies in some version or another. I just wish that the creativity that they have for the plot would trickle down to the actual execution (ha!) of the actual comedy in the film. I guess if it ain’t broken you shouldn’t fix it, but we’re nearing the point of diminishing returns. I’m not above some sophomoric humor, but don’t be lazy about it. I think that they can do better than running jokes about the sexuality of liking a Katy Perry song. Silly humor that is actually smart is possible.

Regardless of the above critique, I did laugh out loud several times during The Interview, which is all that ultimately matters. I sincerely hope that the term “honeydick” enters the common lexicon, which will make a lot more sense after you’ve seen the movie. I can understand why Kim Jong-un might not be thrilled with a movie that is centered on killing him, but in all honesty his character comes off as pretty likable for a lot of the film. Kudos to Randall Park for his performance which is actually way more nuanced than you would have thought; while ultimately Team America: World Police is a much better satire, The Interview manages to make Kim Jong-un a more three-dimensional character than how his father was depicted in Team America. He’s still obviously the bad guy, but he’s also kind of a baller which is an amusing juxtaposition. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the awesome wardrobe that Franco gets to wear as Skylark in this film. It’s not necessarily worth seeing The Interview simply to check out his ensembles, but I will say that his cardigan game is pretty strong.

I am glad that I got the chance to see The Interview, though ultimately this is a film that can’t quite live up to the hype that surrounds it. I still think it’s worth seeing if you are a fan of Seth Rogen comedies and if you want to support artistic freedom, but this is not a film that will change the world – nor did it set out to do so. If not for the big deal made about the film, I think it probably would have come and gone without much fanfare. It’s a silly film that is fine, but it’s right in the middle in term of quality and hilarity; it’s not the best that Rogen and Goldberg have come up with and it’s not the worst. My expectation were kind of low based on some of the buzz that I heard prior to release, so the film was actually much better than I thought it was going to be. This wouldn’t have been the film that I would have gone to the mattresses for if I was picking a film to defend, but you don’t always get to pick which battles to fight. I’ll always defend the right of people to make the movie that they want to make and I’m against censorship – let the marketplace decide – but I just wish that The Interview was a slightly better film – not because of the controversy, but because I like good comedies. Stripping away what The Interview has become, it’s a perfectly acceptable and amusing film that fans of Rogen and Franco will probably appreciate but won’t be blown away by.

The Interview is currently in limited release at independent movie theaters and can be streamed through Google Play, iTunes, YouTube and Xbox live. If you can, support your independent theaters.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Santa Claus is Coming to Town Edition

Bad-Santa

My holiday gift to you is to get you caught up on the all the pop culture that you might have missed while prepping for Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza or just some time out of the office. So before Santa makes all his deliveries, check out this week’s pop culture roundup and have a wonderful rest of the week. The blog will resume its regular posting on Monday December 29th.

 

  • This is just outstanding:

  • Garth Brooks decided to drop by a Justin Timberlake concert:

 

  • SNL spoofed Love Actually in this cut sketch:

 

  • SNL also did a solid Serial parody:

 

  • The cast of Orange is the New Black has their own version of the 12 days of Christmas:

 

  • There was some changing of the guard in late night. The Colbert Report aired its final episode

 

  • Craig Ferguson also ended his run on The Late Late Show on CBS:

 

Time for some trailers

  • The final season of Parks and Recreation:

 

  • The Backstreet Boys have a documentary:

 

  • Chris Hemsworth in In the Heart of the Sea:

 

  • Better Call Saul:

 

  • Will Smith and Margot Robbie in Focus:

 

  • Here’s a combo you don’t expect – Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren in Woman in Gold:

 

  • A teaser for season 3 of Bates Motel:

 

  • Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet in A Little Chaos:

 

  • Season 3 of Orphan Black:

 

  • A trailer for the Entourage movie:

 

  • Further proof that Robin Williams was awesome – he and Ben Stiller helped a co-star ask a girl to prom when filming the latest Night at the Museum:

 

  • This is great on many levels –  Ghostface Killah performing at a grilled cheese restaurant called…wait for it….Toastface Grillah:

 

  • In happier news, congrats to Lance Bass on his wedding. Joey Fatone was his ring bearer.
  • Elton John also tied the knot last weekend.

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The exchange of vows. #ShareTheLove

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As always, we end with the supercuts and mashups

  • Here’s a supercut of dorky dads dancing to “Uptown Funk”

 

  • A tribute to Scrooges from TV and film:

 

  • Star Wars meets Grand Theft Auto:

 

  • This fan-made Marvel vs DC trailer isn’t real, but it’s pretty great:

 

  • Mashing up two Christian Bale movies – Knight of Cups and the Dark Knight trilogy – was a no-brainer:

 

  • Here’s a supercut of people whispering:

 

  • A The Incredible Hulk supercut:

 

  • A mashup of 2014 movies:

 

  • And finally, Home Alone recut as a horror film:

 

Happy Holidays!!!!!

This Interview is Over

sony

I wish that this was a post where I had been able to see a film at an advanced screening or at a festival, but sadly it is not. I didn’t get to see The Interview early and right now it doesn’t sound like any of us will be able to see the movie at all – at least for the foreseeable future. After terror threats were made and the four largest theater chains opted to not show the film, Sony made the decision last night to not release The Interview. The latest statement from the beleaguered company indicated that they have no plans to release the film in any form – not in theaters, not VOD, not on DVD. That could change, of course, but right now The Interview is shelved for the indefinite future.

When I first heard about the premise for The Interview, I did raise my eyebrows. While I generally really enjoy anything that Seth Rogen and James Franco do together, a movie where their characters attempt to assassinate North Korea’s Kim Jong-un seemed to be unnecessarily poking a bear that maybe didn’t need to be poked. Let’s face it – Jong-un is not known as a guy who can take a joke, especially when it comes to a movie about people trying to kill him. To be fair, I don’t know how many dictators – or world leaders for that matter – would be totally thrilled with their assassination being the focal point of a comedy, but Jong-un’s actions over the years made it clear that he probably wasn’t going to let the release of The Interview happen without some sort of threat or action.

But just because I didn’t necessarily think it was a wise decision to target Kim Jong-un, that didn’t mean that I didn’t want to see the movie or that they shouldn’t have made it. I may not have chosen that topic, but I support their choice to do so. There have been many instances where movies have made fun of sitting world leaders who aren’t known for their sense of humor. In 1940, Charlie Chaplin wrote, starred in and directed The Great Dictator, a film that tweaked a men you man have heard of – Adolf Hitler. Matt Stone and Trey Parker have practically made a cottage industry out of going after controversial leaders; their feature film Team America: World Police took shots (literally and figuratively) at Kim Jong-un’s father King Jong-il

 

The guys also used their television show South Park as a platform to make fun of some other unpleasant dudes. Saddam Hussein was a reoccurring character on the show, who was in a same-sex relationship with Satan:

south-park-movie-screensaver-free

Osama Bin Laden was also a target; while they didn’t kill him on-screen until after his actual death, they certainly made fun of him:

 

Contrary to what you may read on Facebook and Twitter, Sony’s decision to pull The Interview is not a violation of anyone’s constitutionally protected free speech. The 1st Amendment does many wonderful things, but it only protects speech from government oppression. Private companies are not held up to same standards as the federal and state governments. Believe me – I’m an actual constitutional law scholar. So any complaints about free speech being violated are erroneous.

However, that doesn’t mean that Sony’s decision isn’t problematic. While this may not be a free speech issue, it is certainly a stifling of creative expression which is not good either. By deciding to self-censor and give in to the threats, Sony has not only set a dangerous precedent for other protesting groups but its decision may also have a chilling effect on what is produced in the future. In the wake of Sony’s decision, New Regency has pulled the plug on a thriller starring Steve Carrell that was set in North Korea. I’m sure that other projects will be scrapped or altered – and that’s a shame. Once certain topics become off-limits, that’s a dangerous path. Artist expression has long been an outlet for frustration or commentary about current events. Movies, books and television serve as escapism and entertainment, but they also are forms of protest and can educate or present an unpopular or different viewpoint. It’s a shame when artists in all genres feel that they have to limit who and what they can discuss. And now groups know that if they threaten movie theaters, studios may back down.

Sony was in a tough position and I can’t say that I necessarily blame the theaters for being concerned about the threats that were made. No one wants to see anyone be harmed because of a movie and theaters are not the most secure places in the world, as proved by the shooting in Aurora, Colorado during The Dark Knight Rises. Add to the mix that most theaters have a skeleton crew working on Christmas and there were obviously legitimate security issues to consider. Perhaps Sony was aware that the threats were more credible than the government has let on. I get that a Rogen/Franco comedy might not be the particular hill that you choose to die on. It’s not an easy call. But pulling the movie completely just doesn’t seem like the right decision. Of course, the decision to not release the film in any capacity isn’t totally a moral one – it’s also a business one. By not releasing the film on demand or on DVD, the company can more easily write off the money that they spent on the movie as a loss.

I can honestly say that I would have gone to see the movie if it was shown anywhere in the area. Would I have been a little nervous? Sure. But it was one little thing that I could do in support, to show that we won’t cave to threats. Plus, and I cannot overstate this, I just really wanted to see the movie. But even if there were threats against a Katherine Heigl romantic comedy, I’d still go (even if I understood their impulse – those movies are terrible). I hope that The Interview sees the light of day eventually. And I hope that this event has not set us down a very dangerous road.