The Interview Review: Rogen’s Rampage


Directors: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Writer: Dan Sterling

Stars: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park


Release date: December 26th, 2014

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Franco and Rogen’s chemistry.

Worst part: The sluggish middle third.

Oh boy, wasn’t 2014 a big year for entertainment?! As music, art, and fashion become universally applicable talking points, cinema almost dropped off the map of public appeal and critical interest. Suffering the lowest cinema attendance numbers in 20 years, Hollywood was taken down a peg. Most importantly, The Interview revealed more than any parody, satire, or documentary could ever hope to. This comedy, offending everyone in North Korea, forced hacking set-up Guardians of Peace’s hand. Seriously, we’re threatening to go to war over this movie?!

James Franco & Seth Rogen.

Don’t get me wrong, The Interview is a decent product. Its light-hearted, fluffy allure makes it a worthwhile 2-hour distraction. Despite the controversy and commercial losses, it doesn’t deserve this much hatred. More-offensive comedies The Great Dictator and Team America: World Police previously took aim at the world’s biggest dick-tators. In a parallel dimension, this would have been crushed under a wave of birdmen, imitation games, and theories of everything. Its formulaic plot and typical casting choices sink any chance of true greatness. We meet Jimmy Fallon-esque talk show host Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) celebrating their 1000th episode of tabloid pap Skylark Tonight. After a profound realisation, Aaron’s affection for the show wears thin. Dave – accustomed to pulling dark secrets out of Tinseltown’s brightest stars – promises Aaron he’ll deliver more legit news bulletins and features. Their wishes are granted by way of a peculiar long-time fan. North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) requests a live interview with Skylark. The CIA, led by Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), tasks the celebrity-destroying duo with assassinating the ruthless dictator.

Franco, Rogen & Lizzy Caplan.

Besides the string of mind-blowing behind-the-scenes events, there is little difference between The Interview and anything else Rogen and co. have delivered over the past decade. Rogen, directing and crafting the story alongside partner Evan Goldberg, were simply reaching for previous effort This is the End‘s critical and commercial success. The dynamic duo certainly meddle with intriguing concepts. They, refusing to bow down to studio pressures, have much to confess about the studio system. The balance between by-the-numbers plot and bonkers satirical commentary works throughout The Interview‘s opening third. Skylark’s show is a silver lining-free dark cloud over Hollywood. These skits – mimicking the same shallow flash and pizazz as Entertainment Tonight or TMZ – deliver the biggest laughs. Certain set pieces – featuring big-names Eminem, Rob Lowe, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt – let Rogen and co. off the leash. The standard straight man/kooky guy dynamic clicks immediately. The second third, however, crawls slower than United States/North Korea negotiations. The Rogen/Franco formula is pushed aside as Jong-un comes into the picture. Predictably, the central conflict (take a guess what happens here!) stalls this otherwise enjoyable and thought-provoking action-comedy. Despite the second-act flaws, Jong-un nearly steals the show. The baby-faced dictator even gets a convincing and well-rounded character arc. Here, instead of Team America‘s petulant-toddler image, the North Korean leadership is filled with misunderstood nobodies.

“Haters gonna hate, and ain’ters gonna ain’t!” (Dave Skylark (James Franco), The Interview)

Randall Park as Kim Jong-un.

Once again, however, Rogen and co. appear to have more fun making these movies than we do watching them. Though drifting above the Grown Ups series’ stench of laziness, it comes off like a million-dollar get-together. The performances elevate The Interview above Rogen’s recent efforts. Franco’s non-stop charisma and whacky timing bolster several well-thought-out zingers. Rogen’s reserved demeanour balances out Franco’s manic persona. Park’s nubile performance saves several lackluster second-act moments. It ticks all the common-theme boxes. Its anti-celebrity agenda is worth several ironic chuckles. The second-two thirds sharply commentate on US/NK relations. Tearing both countries down, Rogen and co. illuminate several relevant and idealistic viewpoints. For once, the stoner has the right idea! Who Knew, huh? Thankfully, the final third kicks this tiresome comedy into overdrive. The interview sequence, though hammering its pro-freedom/anti-bullying message into the ground, is chock-a-block with hysterical gross-out gags, over-the-top gore, and cute one-liners. Rogen and Goldberg experiment with action, scale, and practical effects. The tank chases, shootouts, and high-flying stunts show off some of the budget. However, despite the chaos and hilarity, its near-two-hour run-time severely dampens the allure.

The controversy surrounding The Interview, including the intense criticism over its subject matter, has little to do with the movie itself. Certainly, it’s not worth the world-destroying hoopla. However, it’s still an enjoyable silly and hysterical ode to Mel Brooks, Abbott and Costello and every bumbling comedic icon in between. Rogen and Goldberg’s raucous sense of humour, solid political messages, and fun action beats are worth the online download price. However, Rogen’s hands-on control is suffocating everything he touches. That beard and belly laugh only get him so far with us Western devils!

Verdict: A hit-and-miss political-comedy.

The Water Diviner Review: Wing-clipped Crowe


Director: Russell Crowe

Writers: Andrew Anastasios, Andrew Knight

Stars: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney, Yilmaz Erdogan


Release date: December 26th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures, Entertainment One, Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: Australia, Turkey, USA 

Running time: 111 minutes 


 

2½/5

Best part: Crowe’s performance.

Worst part: His topsy-turvy direction.

Many A-list actors, After working on multiple high-demand projects with acclaimed directors, follow a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ approach. This year, several good and bad actor/director projects came to fruition. African-American comedian Chris Rock struck gold with heart-warmer Top Five. However, Hollywood heart-throb George Clooney fumbled The Monuments Men‘s intriguing premise. This Oscar season pits Angelina Jolie’s World War II tear-jerker Unbroken against Russell Crowe’s directorial début The Water Diviner. Sorry Rusty, in this instance, Ange has the edge.

Director/actor Russell Crowe.

Actor/director Russell Crowe.

I’m going stifle this review by outlining my intentions and opinion. I believe the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps’ WWI efforts were valiant and prosperous. The Battle of Gallipoli, soon to celebrate its 100th anniversary, is a defining point in our history. This is where I separate the socio-political talk from my Water Diviner critique. indeed, it’s a heartfelt love letter to our island nation. The story is as ‘true-blue’ as a cockatoo riding an emu riding a kangaroo. It kicks off in 1916, as the Turkish Army – led by Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan) and Jemal (Cem Yilmaz) – witnesses the ANZACs retreating from the Gallipoli Peninsula via the Dardanelles. It then jumps to 1919, and farmer Joshua Connor (Crowe) finds water on his expansive estate. However, he and wife Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie) struggle to overcome their three sons’ demise. Eliza’s depression and eventual suicide kickstart Connor’s mission to find his children’s war-torn graves. Before his real quest begins, he inadvertently comes across petulant hotel owner Omer (Steve Bastoni), his sister-in-law Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), and her son Orhan (Dylan Georgiades). His journey takes him to Gallipoli’s accursed battleground, watched over by Lt. Col. Cyril Hughes (Jai Courtney) and his forces. Connor believes, against all odds, his eldest son, Arthur (Ryan Corr), may still be alive.

Crowe & Olga Kurylenko.

It’s been a critically successful year for period pieces, the Australian film industry, and grizzled protagonists. Crowe, in bringing these great tastes together, creates a derivative and flavourless stew. Certainly, his ambition, intentions, and ideas are exceedingly commendable. More so, his cast and crew choices, determination, and buying power work wonders here. Though his heart is in the right place, he can’t wrap his head around the material. Sadly, The Water Diviner‘s many issues stem from his directorial inexperience. Crowe, handing himself complete control in front of and behind the camera, carries that vanity project aura. His reach exceeds his grasp; causing a rift between his larger-than-life process and tight budget. Certain sequences needed several thousands more to appeal cinematically. Though supported by several companies, from Universal and Warner Bros. Pictures to Channel 7, the movie’s made-for-TV vibe is obvious and inexcusable. It tussles between misplaced vanity and student art-house vibes for extended periods, with certain sequences wholly missing the point. For every heart-wrenching scene or monologue, a cheap-looking and cumbersome set piece bowls over it. His directorial flourishes and shooting style appear inappropriate and uninspired. Lacking Ben Affleck and Mel Gibson’s directorial prowess, his glorious sheen unceremoniously punchers the final product. C’mon Rusty, handing yourself one of the world’s most beautiful women is a plain obvious manoeuvre!

“I measure man by how much he loves his children, not what the world has done to them.” (Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), The Water Diviner).

Jai Courtney.

Jai Courtney.

The Water Diviner is a soulless concoction of Oscar-bait touches and peculiar decisions. In fairness, The movie’s greatest flaws stem from Andrews Anastasios and Knight’s tonally inconsistent screenplay. The central conceit, a regular man searching for answers whilst righting his wrongs, is a fascinating conceit…one we’ve seen in several blockbusters. Connor’s exasperating and awe-inspiring journey through decrepit war zones, thanks to the Crowe’s vision, excels throughout. However, the movie veers into harlequin romance territory for unending periods. Connor and Ayshe’s burgeoning affections turn this war-drama into the English Patient lite. The Istanbul sequences, depicting well-known Aussies playing Turkish caricatures, never convince. Isabel Lucas and Megan Gale immediately distract from the its silky flow. The farm life, father-son bond, and marriage aspects remain underdeveloped. Crowe, thankfully, faithfully develops every Australian and Turkish character. The opening scene, despite the shoddy CGI and single-block-of-land scope, depicts the Turkish characters successfully defending their country. From there, the movie efficiently discusses both sides’ ideals. At times, Crowe’s patriotic side – the ‘Strayan characters saying: “righto” and “mate” profusely; Connor teaching the Turkish characters how to play cricket; the British characters look down on him with snarly glee – shines through.

The Water Diviner is a commendable and ambitious effort willing to discuss major issues. The project, despite Crowe’s bloated aura, is suitably subtle and touching at opportune moments. However, compared to Peter Weir’s war classic Gallipoli, this drama is our film industry’s latest great misfire. His hubris crushes this modest and heartfelt ode to the past and present Australia. Pandering to the ANZAC spirit, the movie’s shoddy production design and lack of focus resembles Crowe’s character: well-meaning yet lost.

Verdict: An ambitious yet messy war-drama.