Film Review: The Interview

 Interview

THE INTERVIEW

Starring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan and Randall Park

Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen

Rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence

by Tommy Durbin

By now everyone has heard of the major controversy behind Seth Rogen and James Franco’s latest film, “The Interview.” If anyone heard of any movie news in the past few months, Sony pulling this film from theaters because of threats to moviegoers who went to the film was probably the most interesting tidbit. It harkens back to the “South Park” episodes that were pulled because of threats from a radical group in New York who took offense to the show’s depiction of Mohammed and threatened violence if the episodes weren’t pulled from the air. Only this time, instead of an important religious figure, the target of Rogen and Franco’s scrutiny is the mysterious leader of the equally mysterious nation of North Korea, home to the only Communist dynasty in history.

If I was being honest, a fair amount of the hype from the film comes from the controversy surrounding it. If it was released without incident, it would probably make a few million above its budget and we’d move on from it after a few months or so, filing it away in our list of typical Rogen and Franco films. However, now this is the film that North Korean terrorists wanted to bomb America for, or something like that. Gosh, now I have to see it! And you know what? It worked! I watched this movie with my fiancée and future mother and brother-in-law because they had heard about the controversy and wanted to see it. They would never have picked it up otherwise. It’s not really their kind of movie. But now with the hype around it, they had to check it out. They were curious, and admittedly, so was I.

So what’s the film about? Rogen and Franco play two people who run a tabloid TV show and both of them want to get more exposure. They find out that the brutal North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a die-hard fan of their show, particularly Franco’s character, who is the host. Rogen and Franco are contacted by Jong-un’s people who ask him if he wants to interview Jong-un to set the record straight about what North Korea is really like. Rogen and Franco accept, but are first contacted by the CIA. The CIA wants the two of them to assassinate Kim Jong-un. The rest of the film is about the two of them bungling their way through North Korea, deciding whether or not to assassinate this world leader who, at least for Franco, doesn’t seem like such a bad guy after all.

One of the major flaws of the film is Franco’s character. When a character’s stupidity is all that moves the plot forward, it’s not really a good sign. He does things that no real person above the age of, say, nine would do just so there’s conflict, not just in terms of “will Kim be assassinated after all” but in terms of his relationship with Rogen. The worst part is there’s no reason for it. Sure, he befriends Kim and has second thoughts so sometimes he’s obtuse about things, but that makes sense because he has motivation for his behavior. He doesn’t want to see his cool new friend die horribly. But it goes beyond that. There are moments when he does something stupid just so there will be tension in the scene. No real adult acts the way he does, and it starts to be grating quickly.

Now, the moronic protagonist who is stupid for the sake of keeping the plot going is a rather common trope, annoyingly enough, but there are times when it can be handled correctly if done perfectly. The best example I have seen is from the TV show, “Archer.” The titular protagonist’s poor behavior will often start the conflict and/or keep it going. However, if you look at his character, his behavior makes sense. He received no love as a child, he never knew his father, his mother was never around, and he’s gone through more highly traumatic experiences than any human deserves. In the present day, he’s constantly praised as the “world’s greatest spy”, he has a ton of money, women and power, and he gets to do a lot of really cool stuff. He hasn’t developed emotionally to the point where he can handle that in a mature way. He has no self-esteem and his domineering, emotionally abusive mother is his boss, so he acts the way he does because it’s a better alternative to being an emotional wreck that can’t function in day-to-day life. So, when he does something stupid and self-centered, thinking more about having fun than the mission, it makes sense.

However, this is not the case with Franco’s character. Again, when he gets in the way of things because he wants to protect his new friend, it makes sense because he’s developed a connection with this guy and doesn’t want him dead. But there is no real reason for a lot of his behavior, something that even Rogen’s character realizes. It makes the conflict forced, and it takes me out of the movie.

Conflict is very important in a movie. It’s arguably the most important thing. Without conflict there’s no story.

However, conflict needs to flow naturally. The actions of all of the characters have to come together in a reasonable way so that the goals of the protagonists and the goals of the antagonists don’t mesh, thereby causing conflict. If the way it comes about is: “We don’t know how to move the story forward, so we’ll make the protagonist say and do something stupid for no real reason,” it’s not a good sign. It shows that the filmmakers don’t really have a good grasp on the story and the characters.

Also, a lot of the humor falls really flat. This is a Rogen/Franco movie, so humor is a big draw, and the audience knows right off the bat that it will be a central part of the film. The two have had successful collaborations before, most notably “Pineapple Express” and “This is the End” The two seem to be trying for a bit of an Abbott and Costello vibe, but they mostly fail, because while the relationship is a bit similar, Abbott and Costello is funny because they never forced jokes, and they certainly didn’t keep them running too long. I can’t say the same about Rogen and Franco here.

Now, I know I’ve been ripping on this film a lot, making it seem like there’s nothing good about it. That’s actually not the case. Franco and Rogen, for all of the flaws in their humor, actually do have excellent screen chemistry. I watch the two of them and believe that their characters have been friends for a long time. On top of that, there are some legitimately funny moments in the film. They actually had a scene or two in there where I was laughing out loud, something that I didn’t expect from the film. When they knock it out of the park, they knock it out of the park.

Also, I rip on Franco’s character for being an idiot for the sake of it, but, actually, he has a character arc: something else I didn’t expect. He matures during the film because of the experiences he endures. His character develops the most throughout the film, and given that he’s largely there to be the funny one to Rogen’s straight man, this is rather refreshing. Characters like his tend to be pretty static, given that they’re not there to be people so much as joke factories.

Randall Park, whom “The Office” fans might recognize as “Asian Jim,” shines as Kin Jong-un, giving a performance with some layers. Sometimes. In how he acts he’s quite good, going from brutal, manipulative dictator to a guy who you want to have a margarita with at the drop of a hat. That takes talent. I’m one of the people who votes for the Razzie awards (the anti-Oscars essentially) so I choose which films are nominated and ultimately win the awards such as Worst Picture, Worst Actor and so on. Park was in the running for Worst Supporting Actor. I don’t see it. He did a really good job with the material he was given.

However, often not even the best actors can act their way through a bad script, and the writers’ attempts to give Jong-un some depth fall flat on their faces. It kind of gets hard to watch sometimes. They have good intentions, and most of the time films like this don’t even try for anything resembling character, but you also have to acknowledge when it doesn’t work.

The biggest strength for the movie, though? The titular interview. I found myself rather surprised, but it was really good. The first half, anyway. It delivers a lot of payoffs that have been coming throughout the film, showing that the screenwriters have a nice attention to detail. Not only that, but it’s a tense scene that I honestly don’t want to spoil for you. The film is actually kind of worth checking out for it alone.

Once it’s over, though, turn it off. Actually, turn it off after the first half. It starts as a showdown, with the two biggest personalities of the film matching wits against each other, but it dissolves into eye-rolling silliness, and all of the quality of the moments thus far just evaporate.

And honestly? That sums up the film as a whole. Sure I could nitpick every single detail or every joke that didn’t work, but ultimately the film fails because every time it looks like it might have a funny joke or a nice moment, it takes it one or two steps too far.

With a little restraint on the part of the screenwriters this could have been a really funny movie. I realize that the Rogen/Franco/Goldberg trifecta specialize in this kind of loud, crass, over-the-top humor and they have made it work, but that doesn’t mean that restraint on some level is unnecessary. It’s kind of like how if a tense scene goes on too long, the tension evaporates and the audience loses interest. If a comedian grins, nudges you in the ribs, and winks one too many times while telling (or re-telling) a joke, you stop laughing and start getting annoyed.

Overall, “The Interview” is a mixed bag. It has definite talent behind it, but the talent is ultimately squandered, save for a few clever scenes. Which is really too bad, because if you dig a little, it shows that they put effort into this film. The fake grocery stores portrayed in the film, as well as the rumor that the Kims are so holy that they don’t even need to use the toilet are legitimate parts of life in North Korea. With one more rewrite from a comedian with a more restrained sense of humor, this could have actually been a decent film. Not a masterpiece, but worth a look.

Final Score: 4/10

 

Tommy Durbin is a UNC senior with a minor in film and the film columnist for The Claw. He can be reached at editor@uncclawmagazine.com. 

The 2015 Oscars

The Oscars 2015

by Jordan Baca

The Red Carpet: Top 5 Best Dressed

5. Sophie Hunter. She sported a custom Calvin Klein red dress with an open hip, laced up the seam. The subtle-but-sexy show of skin and classy flow make her a top five candidate.

Sophie Hunter

4. Naomi Watts. In her metallic Armani gown, Watts wears a modern industrial look. The brick lay pattern goes well with the sleek design, and her dark lips set her look at number four.

Naomi Watts

3. Anna Kendrick. This understated Thakoon dress looked great on Kendrick. Though the dress may not have stood out as unusual, it was elegant and paired well with her accessories.

Anna Kendrick

2. Marion Cotillard. Cotillard is the front woman for Christian Dior, and she rocked a couture piece with an unusual bustle for this event. The dress is one of the most memorable of the night with its bold black band that gives it a slouchy look in the back.

Marion Cotillard

1. Lupita Nyong’o. Nyong’o was best dressed at the 2014 Oscars, and she managed to top the lists again this year in her custom Calvin Klein design. This dress was crafted from over 6000 pearls beaded into a shape-suiting pattern and an open back. Though other looks of the evening seem to be debated, Nyong’o’s gown wins across the board once again.

Lupita

The Ceremony

This year’s Oscar host was not well received in general. Neil Patrick Harris did his best with the material, but much of the humor fell flat and at times could be transgressing. The first joke of the night was about the lack of diversity among the nominees.

Almost immediately after the joke, the opening act began. It was a grand musical number about the movie industry, with cameos from Jack Black (playing the role of a cynical villain of the film industry) and Anna Kendrick. The song was littered with jabs at the industry and then tried to redeem itself by highlighting the good aspects. The opening number was a feat, but unfortunately it was the best part of the hosting at the Oscars.

The musical performances were triumphs, however. “Glory” by Common and John Legend was a wholesome and pulsing performance and it was no surprise when this song won the Academy Award for best original song. Lady Gaga’s tribute to “The Sound of Music” was outstanding in a different way. In this performance, Gaga showed her vocal skill in a way that most people are not used to. Since she has been branded as a pop singer since her career began, this operatic display could contribute to her image transitioning from pop songs to more niched and serious music.

There were a lot of speeches this year that dealt with social and health issues. They gave the ceremony a good undertone, and though the lack of diversity was joked about, the speeches made up for that lack. The issues addressed ranged from equal pay for women to politics, suicide, Alzheimer’s disease and ALS. Finally, the speech from director Alejandro González Iñárritu gave the awards show a nice finish with his words for Mexicans who are often underrepresented in the media.

The Big Awards

Best Picture: “Birdman”

Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne for “The Theory of Everything”

Best Actress: Julianne Moore for “Still Alice”

Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

 

All photos courtesy of Huffington Post Style.

UNC’s Performing and Visual Arts Gala delivers the Hollywood experience

The UNC Gala: Hollywood Then & Now

by Jordan Baca

Photo courtesy of Breelyn Bowe, The Mirror

Photo courtesy of Breelyn Bowe, The Mirror

A snowy night set the scene for the 2015 UNC Gala Saturday.

People from all over Northern Colorado made their way to the Union Colony Civic Center in support of the College of Performing and Visual Arts’ presentation themed “Hollywood, Then & Now.

Before the show began, two galleries full of art showcased the visual prowess of UNC art and design students, featuring pieces in various mediums from sculpture to computer graphics. The galleries were crowded with spectators examining and admiring the pieces. It was an opportunity for high school students to be exposed to the art field at UNC as well.

Both the upstairs and downstairs lobbies of the Civic Center were filled with pleasant chatter and anticipation. Many were dressed for the red carpet and had the opportunity to be photographed upon entering the event. Despite the weather, there was a good turnout for the show.

When everyone filed into the auditorium, the performance began with the musical theater’s presentation of “Just Go To the Movies,” a lighthearted representation of the experience of going to the movies and what role it plays in people’s lives. The musical theater program had several acts throughout the show, including moving solos of “Over the Rainbow” and “The Way We Were.” All of the pieces by the musical theater were well rehearsed and coordinated.

Photo courtesy of UNC Performing and Visual Arts

Photo courtesy of UNC Performing and Visual Arts

“Thanks for the Memory/The Hollywood Production Code” stood out because, while on the surface there were actors chanting the code along to a dance, it was complicated language to be able to express in unison. All of the performers were on time and in step, which made for an impressive and humorous touch near the end of the show. The content of the act, as well as others, exemplified how much film has changed since the industry’s humble beginnings.

Among the rotation of different types of performances, UNC’s Lab 1 jazz band played pieces from famous Hollywood movies like “Charade.” The music and dance was integrated into projected scenes from the movies, which was an entertaining angle for the audience. The Front Range Saxophone Quartet performed “Cantina Band” from “Star Wars:” a jaunty homage to the well-loved science fiction film.

The classical pieces performed by the UNC ensembles were excellent. Songs such as “Forest Battle” from “Return of the Jedi” and “Gabriel’s Oboe” from “The Mission” were skillfully performed and the musicians were visibly immersed in the music.

Photo courtesy of UNC Performing and Visual Arts

Photo courtesy of UNC Performing and Visual Arts

“The Great Train Robbery” with sound effects from the Percussion Ensemble recreated the experience of seeing a silent film while they projected the film along with their music. A loud pop of the snare drum whenever a gun was fired in the film added depth that modern sound effects just can’t do.

Vocal performances by the Concert Choir and Northern Colorado Voices were a unique take on “Somewhere” from “Westside Story” and “Skyfall” respectively. The dancers who accompanied “Skyfall” gave a steamy and entrancing performance.

Photo courtesy of UNC Performing and Visual Arts

Photo courtesy of UNC Performing and Visual Arts

A slam poetry performance by UNC’s Soapbox Productions paid homage to Greeley as a city with a strong recitation of an ode called “Greeley Unexpected.” The poem was delivered by three students, and they used their voices separate and in unison to emphasize every line.

All of the acts were a treat for the eyes and ears, but the finale blew the audience away. The University Symphony Orchestra, Concert Choir, Chamber Choir, Men’s & Women’s Glee Clubs, and Wind Ensemble combined all their efforts to produce “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and “One Day More” from the musical, Les Misérables. The stage was filled to capacity with singers and musicians, and the combined force of the singers and instrumentalists that filled the audience at the end made the songs uplifting and powerful. The finale earned a standing ovation that lasted well after the curtain was closed.

Film Review: Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher 1

Review: FOXCATCHER

Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo

Directed by Bennett Miller

Rated R for some drug use and violence

By Tommy Durbin

My introduction to “Foxcatcher” came a few months before it was released. I frequently go to the film critic site Rotten Tomatoes for movie ratings, reviews, and news, and it was there that I discovered there was already some Oscar buzz for this movie called “Foxcatcher.” More specifically, people were saying that Steve Carell had Best Actor in the bag for his performance in this film. Being someone who, like most people, knows Steve Carell for his comedy stuff like “The Office,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Anchorman” and so on, that certainly piqued my interest. I didn’t know he could turn in performances that could trigger that kind of reaction! That’s not to say that he hasn’t excelled at some more dramatic roles, such as “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Dan in Real Life,” but even those films are largely comedic in tone, especially “Little Miss Sunshine” where he uses his depressed character to add to the wacky family shenanigans.

This time, however, it seemed that he had gone straight for the drama with no comedy sprinkled on for flavor. He was really going to test his mettle as an actor and try to expand his range beyond a funny-man. From what I read a few months before the film’s release, it worked exceptionally well. So, given the hype around his performance and being told that Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo were pretty darned good in it, too, I requested to go see this movie when my parents asked my siblings what the next family movie we’d all go see during Christmas break would be.

Now, I knew that the genre was “true crime drama” but I still knew nothing about the actual story, so I didn’t know what to expect. Even not knowing what to expect, it was still nothing like I expected.

For those of you who don’t want spoilers, then skip down to talks of the acting. For those of you who don’t mind as much, well, I’ll do my best to give an analysis of the plot. The film, interestingly enough, is based off of a true story. Like most, or, let’s face it, all, movies based on true stories, it has some embellishments, but we’ll get to those in a moment. When I first saw that the genre was “true crime” I assumed that it was maybe a robbery movie, or possibly some conspiracy film. Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that this film is about wrestling. Yup, this film is, first and foremost, a sports movie.

The film stars Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz, an Olympic gold wrestler who has been constantly overshadowed by his older brother, David, played by Mark Ruffalo, who is also an Olympic gold medalist but was always seen as having more talent and success. Mark lives alone in a run-down apartment, while David is married with children and has generally had more success in his day-to-day life. An early scene in the movie shows the two brothers practicing some basic wrestling maneuvers, and David easily beats his brother each time. Despite a slight amount of resentment for his brother, David still fully supports him, and they clearly have a strong brotherly love.

Foxcatcher 2

Things turn around for Mark when he is contacted by John du Pont, played by Steve Carell. Du Pont is the heir to his family fortune which came from being the largest black powder manufacturing company in the world. Du Pont is a wrestling enthusiast and wants Mark to get a team together to help the United States win various major wrestling events, culminating with the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul. He created a whole wrestling facility on his family estate and says that he will allow Mark to choose his own team, on top of giving him a healthy yearly stipend. Mark eagerly accepts, though he feels uneasy when du Pont asks him to do everything he can to get David on their team. At first, David doesn’t want to join, as he does not want to uproot his family and move to the estate. However, he eventually does, and a fair portion of the film is about the relationship between du Pont, Mark, and David.

Du Pont’s initial motives are a mystery. Why would this guy who essentially has unlimited money start a wrestling team and name himself the coach? What’s he up to? It has to go beyond a love of wrestling.

This is where the film shines: character development. At least, when it decides to go into detail. It is revealed that du Pont’s mother looks down upon wrestling. She says to him, “Wrestling is a low sport, and I don’t like seeing you low.” Du Pont craves his mother’s approval throughout the film, but she tells him his passion is worth nothing. This adds a lot of depth to his character. He has a dream and a passion in his life, but his status means that he has an image to uphold. Du Pont isn’t a guy who wants to see America return to glory and beat the Soviets, which is what he tells Mark when he hires him, but rather, he is a guy who was never able to follow his dream and is now vicariously living through other, more talented people.

As stated before, the main draw of the film for me going into it was Steve Carell’s performance as John du Pont. I had seen screenshots of him of the film, and he did look different. One of the main challenges a famous actor faces when doing a role is making the audience see the character, not the actor. Many actors can’t overcome this (Tom Cruise in anything except Tropic Thunder) but some actors are almost like shapeshifters, such as Daniel Day-Lewis. Carell sat in a makeup chair for two hours every day to make it so that when the audience looked at the screen, they didn’t see Steve Carell, they saw John du Pont. Did it work?

Nope.

Now, let me make one thing perfectly clear here: that is in no way a bash on Carell’s acting. He does not turn in a bad performance. He gave it his all, and that is plainly obvious every second he’s on screen. The problem is his voice. There’s a certain way that he talks—his inflections, how his voice will go higher, the tone, and so forth—that is recognizable. Visually the makeup artists do everything they can to make John du Pont look nothing like Steve Carell.

Foxcatcher 3

But even that has its share of problems. There are just certain facial features of his that they couldn’t hide. Note the eyes. He’s trying, and he turns in a good performance, but he can’t overcome the hurdle that you see Steve Carell under a bunch of makeup on the screen.

Now, talking about acting wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Both of them turn in very strong performances, especially Ruffalo, who picked up a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role. Personally, I think he’s the frontrunner for the win. Between du Pont’s “du Pontness” and Mark’s inner turmoil, Ruffalo does a stellar job as the one character in the film with emotional stability. He’s a great character for the audience to connect with and almost lean on when the drama unfolding onscreen gets too much for us to handle. He’s level-headed, intelligent, caring, and just an all-around great guy. The audience feels emotionally safe around him, just as Mark feels safer around his brother when push really comes to shove. He may feel resentment for him, but at the end of the day, you can tell just by the way that Ruffalo and Tatum play off of each other that Mark would die for his brother.

So, with performance as a strong suit in the film, and the characters another when given the chance to develop, what are some of the weaker points? Well, the film’s main problem is the pacing. It is a lot of buildup with very little payoff. The characters spend a lot of the film training for wrestling events, but when the events are shown to the audience, they last five minutes. Tops. This thing that is so important to the characters ultimately has very little emotional impact on the audience because we’re given so little time to get involved in the scene. It feels like the director just wanted to get them out of the way so he could get back to scenes where John and David and/or Mark are interacting and reacting to whatever new situation has come up.

The film starts to drag near the end. The tone of the film is one of a slow burn, which is hardly a bad thing if done right, but what the audience expected to be the big exciting scenes are essentially glanced over. The tone of the film is very subdued, and if you’re not patient or want a more upbeat tone for your films, this really isn’t one for you. To keep it from feeling too long, they should have probably cut ten to fifteen minutes of film. There were definitely scenes they could have cut or shortened.

However, just as you start to check your watch and wonder when this stupid thing is going to end, something big happens. I’ll just leave it at that. Anything more would be saying too much. If you do see this film and are bored by the time it’s starting to end, stick with it.

Overall, I would suggest “Foxcatcher.” Once. It’s not really a film that lends itself to repeat viewings. You also should definitely watch it with a group of people so you can talk about it afterwards. This is not an, “I’m bored and this is on Netflix so I’ll lay back and half watch it,” film. You need to give this film your undivided attention to get everything out of it. But, again, it’s worth at least one look if you are willing to sit through a movie with a more subdued tone.

Final rating: 7.5/10

 

Tommy Durbin is a UNC senior with a minor in film and the film columnist for The Claw. He can be reached at editor@uncclawmagazine.com.