Thursday, July 30, 2015

Film Review: The Interview

The Interview
  • Publisher: Columbia
  • Studio: Point Grey Pictures
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release: 25 December 2014
  • Directors: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
  • Producers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Weaver
  • Writer: Dan Sterling
Folks, I've been a North Korea watcher for quite a while now, especially since Kim Jong-eun took the reins of the Hermit Kingdom at the end of 2011.  I've got so much to say about the subject that I'd prefer to save it for a separate editorial, but I'll give you this much to start off with: I hate the North Korean regime the most out of all the geopolitical entities in this world.  More than Vladimir Putin's Russia, more than Red China, more than al-Qaeda or The Artist Formerly Known As al-Qaeda.  Possibly combined.  But you already knew that.  So when I heard that a movie, known as The Interview, was in the works which depicted James Franco and Seth Rogen on a mission to assassinate Kim Jong-eun, you can imagine I tuned in.  Sure, I wasn't expecting the movie to be any good, but it was relevant to my interests.

But then Sony Pictures got hacked, and The Interview's Christmas 2014 release was cancelled.  You can bet I was disappointed from it all, and then some.  And for me, this wasn't just about wanting to see the movie.  I am of the strong conviction that North Korea directed, if not orchestrated, the hack attack, and by capitulating to their government's demands to have the film pulled, Sony set a dangerous precedent.  The North Korean government mouthpieces, primarily their news agency and UN ambassadors, have long fallen back on boisterous bluster to the point of, or so I assumed, no one being able to take them seriously.  But for Sony to have taken them seriously, for once, means that this could happen again.  So to speak, the bar has been lowered.  Or raised.  Or... something.  Let me tell you something, if I were in the same position of power, I certainly wouldn't be inclined to take the same action.  Sure, the hackers threatened terrorist actions to theatres that would show the film, and what they already did was unprecedented, but real talk -- did you actually think they would be able to carry out something like that?  Speaking of which, hackers, you don't call yourselves "Guardians of Peace" and then threaten to re-enact 9/11, which is pretty much the opposite of peace.  That is the same kind of [noun] North Korea pulls on a regular basis, so if the shoe fits...

I happened to be out on holiday as this drama unfolded, and was prepared to write an editorial on the subject when I got back.  (Which I'm sort of already doing.)  But on the day I left for home, Christmas Eve in fact, I heard the news that Sony would be releasing the film in question after all!  Primarily to digital stores with a very small physical presence, but it was something!  So you can bet your sweet bippy I bought it when it went online the next day, and I regret nothing (other than not holding out for the special edition DVD).

But lost in the discussion is perhaps the most important question of all:

Is the movie any good?

Well, that's what I'm here to find out.  Our movie starts out with an episode of Skylark Live, a talk show hosted by a mister Dave Skylark (James Franco), and run behind the scenes by his producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen).  Dave is apparently very good at what he does, managing to get Eminem (played by himself) to admit his (assumedly fictional) homosexuality on live television, but focusing so much on soft news has driven Dave into something of a rut.  So as his thousandth episode rolls around, he makes plans to land an interview with Kim Jong-eun (Randall Park), who as it happens is also big fan of Skylark Live.  But then the CIA gets wind of their plans, and under the handling of a miss Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), Dave and Aaron's interview turns into an assassination mission.  Hilarity ensues.

The Interview's wit and intelligence is somewhere along the lines of the Austin Powers sequels.  Sure, there's a lot of lowbrow stuff to dig through.  At one point, for example, Aaron has to run out into a field at night, to pick up a small, CIA drone-launched, package.  And when the guards (and a tiger) close in on his position, Aaron is forced to hide the device rectally.  However, The Interview also takes steps to intelligently portray more aspects of North Korea, contrasting the images the government tries to push upon itself and others against the reality on the ground.  The very first scene in the movie is a little girl singing a "patriotic" song about slaughtering Americans in increasingly gratuitous detail.  In another instance, when Dave and Aaron get the "red-carpet" treatment upon their arrival in Pyongyang, their limousine "happens to" stop next to a well-stocked grocery store, just as they were trying to discuss the country's state of famine.  Dave visits the store later on, only to discover the shelves were just a mural painted on an empty wall.

In this regard, the standout moment of the film, for me, was the titular interview with Dave and Jong-eun.  Both of them make valid points at first, with Dave asking why North Korea doesn't feed its 25-million population, and Jong-eun blaming it on Western sanctions.  (For the record, I consider that argument as bull[noun] on Kim's part.  The inner workings of North Korea's economy are opaque, but to my understanding, nearly all investments into the country has a habit of ending up used for the leader's personal luxuries, weapons of mass destruction, state-sponsored crimes, and perhaps even support of foreign terrorism.  Heck, even food aid gets taken by their soldiers before they let the civilians have the rest, if at all.)  And then Jong-eun soils himself because... funny.

But then, there's the nuclear programme.  I was a little disappointed when the finale involved an attempted nuke launch, for a number of reasons.  One, in terms of the plot it gets dropped upon us by surprise.  Two, I'm not convinced that their ICBM or (not "and") nuclear weapons capability, as it stands as of this writing, is any threat to speak of.  And three, for the aforementioned reason, I wish our own news/media would devote less attention to North Korea's nukes in favour of other issues, for example the concentration camp system.  Of course, the portrayals of North Korea found within this movie may not convey all the subtleties of that society, such as what their everyday citizens actually think of their own leaders or others, but the regime's strictness being what it is, I'd understand if the writers weren't able to capture those opinions in person.  If I got to write the screenplay for this movie, I'd replace the whole nuke-launch ending with some sort of grassroots revolution, where the Korean people are inspired to depose the Kim regime with minimal guidance from Uncle Sam.  But who cares, I asked in sarcasm mode, isn't it more cathartic to see real-life bad guys get blowed up?  ...What?  It is.  Don't try to act like it isn't.

You may have noticed that this review had less to say on the movie itself, and more on its context as a depiction of my most-hated nation of the post-Cold War era.  But, I honestly don't have much to say about it otherwise.  I once said that The Wind Rises had become, to me, less of an actual product and more of a personal icon, but that description could more aptly apply to The Interview.  Maybe I've just taken in so much knowledge from what the West has been able to gleam about North Korea that nothing in that department surprises me anymore.  Maybe I was expecting more to do with the concentration camp system, for example.  But, you know what?  Neither does The Interview go in the opposite direction, cartoonishly portraying the country as just one man and his missiles.  Put it next to Team America: World Police, which is pretty much just that, and it shows how our understanding of North Korea has evolved over the past decade.  At this rate, we might even be able to shift the discussion of North Korea away from the easier, more news-worthy topics to more meaningful ones.  Except that didn't happen, because the Charlie Hebdo shootings happened just weeks afterward, and the capricious news media being what it is, everyone seemed to forget all about North Korea.  But not this blogger.

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

+ Presents a relatively nuanced view of North Korea.
+ Dave's inner struggle as an evolving artist.
+ Kim Jong-eun gets blowed up.
- Occasional lowbrow comedy.
- A (personally) disappointing ending.

The Call: 65% (C)

No comments:

Post a Comment