The Interview (2015)

The InterviewDave Skylark (James Franco) and Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) are a team, and together they have produced 1,000 episodes of the former’s talk show, Skylark Tonight. While Dave is content covering the latest celebrity scandals, however, Aaron dreams of breaking actual news. Therefore, when they learn that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a superfan of the show, they conspire to land one of the most important interviews in broadcast history. Naturally, their exploits do not go unnoticed by the CIA, and the pair are soon approached by Agent Lacy (Lizzy Caplan) who asks that they ‘take-out’ their interviewee while they’re there — using a time-delayed, Risin-laced transdermal strip and a firm handshake.

It is joked during Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s new movie The Interview that Dave and Aaron’s televised encounter with Kim Jong-un is going to be the most important since ‘Frosty Nixon’, and that one day Ron Howard might make a movie out of it. It’s a good gag, but while said in jest it’s not as absurd as the duo make it sound — at least not anymore. Since it was filmed, The Interview has gone from innocent fun to international incident as North Korea has done everything in its power to block the film’s release — from hacking the studio responsible to threatening any cinemas planning to screen the movie. It was eventually released, but not before being temporarily pulled by Sony, and for a moment there it genuinely seemed as though audiences would never know what all of the fuss was about.

Some would have you believe that the answer is not a great deal; that had it not been for the controversy it courted The Interview would have already been long forgotten. The film has obviously benefitted from near-unprecedented publicity — trailed not as the comedy of the year but the film that almost ended freedom of speech as we know it, it has gone on to become Sony’s biggest digital release of all time, despite calls by some to boycott the studio — but nobody’s being lured in on an empty promise. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, but The Interview is not a movie that should be ignored. Not only is it Rogen and Goldberg’s best collaboration yet — Rogen and Franco too — but the most astute and accessible satirical action comedy since Team America: World Police, with which it shares a similar target, or perhaps even South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.

Imagining Kim Jong-un as a closet Yankophile who loves nothing more than to sip margaritas and lip-sync to Katy Perry, the film is relentless in its ridicule of a man wrongly revered by many as a god. The story — which they conceived alongside screenwriter Dan Sterling — balances silliness with surprising smarts, and though irreverent the script is neither patronising or reductive; it deals in broad strokes but never truly crosses the line(s). Kim Jong-Un might be left smarting come film’s end but it’s unlikely that anyone else will suffer any real offence, something that immediately distinguishes The Interview from anything the cast and crew has produced under the Judd Apatow banner. If anything, The Interview is actually quite sweet-natured, even inviting the dictator himself (bravely portrayed by Park) to join in the fun. Hitler didn’t even get to speak in Inglourious Basterds.

Franco and Rogen are on rare form as Dave and Aaron, the former breaking character as a pretentious, self-perpetuating polymath and the latter regaining levels of likeability unseen since 50/50. They’re each gifted with some truly stunning one-liners, but it’s their easy chemistry that really sells their scenes together — their onscreen bromance now so overt that they’ve all but dropped the b. Standout set-pieces include an early interview with Eminem, their hungover introduction to Agent Lacy and a run-in with a tiger in a clearing outside their residence in Pyongyang. These individual gags might seem silly and typically unsophisticated but they belie some pretty striking satire, including sideswipes at media manipulation and American foreign policy, not to mention nonsensical pop lyrics. The Interview is just full of surprises, from its surprisingly well-judged female characters (Caplan and Diana Bang are both great) to its surprisingly strong cinematography. This isn’t just a feature-length sketch but at least semi-serious cinema.

Obviously it’s hard to view The Interview without any preconceptions, whether inflating its importance or approaching it with undue cynicism, but it’s worth trying. It’s undeniably slack in places, but on the whole Rogen and Goldberg’s latest is a pleasure to behold. Preposterous and puerile, yes, but also political and stuff.

4-Stars

 

 

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Bad Neighbours (2014)

Bad Neighbours

Mac Radner (Seth Rogen) and his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) are looking to begin a new life as parents. Unfortunately, this means spending less time with best friends Jimmy Faldt (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo) in order to focus on the needs of their new-born daughter Stella. To begin with, Mac and Kelly aren’t particularly concerned when infamous fraternity Delta Psi move in next door, as they see themselves as cool parents still capable of having a good time, but when the antics of Teddy (Zac Efron), Pete (Dave Franco), Scoonie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Assjuice (Craig Roberts) begin to threaten their suburban bliss they find themselves calling the police to complain. This breaks a pact they had made with Teddy, and soon it’s all-out war as the neighbours fight for their respective family homes.

There was a certain level of buzz around Bad Neighbours even before it opened to big box office and positive reviews in the US, facilitated by its strong cast and run of funny trailers. Here was a movie that borrowed from a number of different comedy sub-genres: its cast was sourced from films as diverse as Superbad, Bridesmaids and Submarine, it shared a director with Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him To The Greek, and — in a welcome change from the usual sex comedies and spoof movies — was the first frat-comedy to come along since Monsters University. (Nobody saw 21 & Over, so it doesn’t count.) By the usually low standards of the comedy genre it felt almost fresh and original.

Beneath the gross-out gags (Stella mistakes a condom for a balloon) and farcical violence (there’s a running joke involving stolen airbags) there is an underlying melancholy to Bad Neighbours which is incredibly endearing. It’s a film about growing up, accepting that your adolescence is over and moving on with your life. Mac and Kelly are ready to do this at the beginning of the movie, only to be temporarily tempted back to the party when a mob of students move in next door. They’re torn between wanting to seem cool and relevant, and wanting to get a good night’s sleep ahead of another day of bread-winning and breast-feeding; it’s a dilemma that most people will be able to sympathise with. Teddy, however, needs a little more convincing, though there are signs even among Delta Psi that adulthood is on the horizon.

The ensemble get some big laughs out of the material, and though the set pieces delight it’s the smaller moments that make the biggest impression. Nicholas Stoller knows how to stage a party, and you can completely understand why Mac and Kelly are tempted in, but he also knows the attraction of a quiet night in front of the TV. Where the film falters is in its balance of scripted jokes and improvised comedy; as charming as the interactions between characters are (particularly in the case of Rogen and Byrne) there comes a point when you realise that you’ve been smiling rather than laughing. A number of the set-pieces seem wasted, and you wonder whether a tighter script and more polished performances might have gotten to the heart of the scene where ad-libbing has only really scratched the surface. After all, some of the cast are better at it than others, and Efron — so funny in 17 Again and Liberal Arts — struggles most of all.

Nevertheless, Bad Neighbours is a funny, likeable and surprisingly touching piece of work. It’s hit and miss at times (Lisa Kudrow is squandered as the college dean) but ultimately pulls it all together for an almost note-perfect finale. The credits are great, too.

3-Stars

 

This Is The End (2013)

This Is The EndReturning to LA to visit friend and Knocked Up co-star Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel is looking forward to a quiet night in. Upon his arrival, however, he learns that they have been invited to a party at James Franco’s new house, and, reluctantly, accompanies Rogen across town. Before he can convince his friend to take him home, the house is hit by an earthquake, killing various partygoers and leaving Baruchel, Rogen and Franco holed up in his mansion with fellow actors Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride. Read more of this post

50/50 (2011/II)

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of the good guys; he’s a trusting boyfriend, an enthusiastic employee and a keen recycler. When he is driven to the doctors by a recurring back pain, however, Adam is informed that he has a rare type of spinal cancer, an unpronounceable tumour, and a mere 50% chance of survival. While his boorish best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) uses the diagnosis to strike up conversations with women, his estranged mother (Anjelica Huston) seizes the opportunity to reconnect with her distant son and Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) finds herself trapped in a sexless relationship by such inconvenient bad news, Adam is left to come to terms with his own mortality as he is inducted into a world of therapists (Anna Kendrick), chemotherapy and constant, inescapable discomfort – whether he has ever been to Canada or not.

Film: Despite having already raved about Jonathan Levine’s unlikely cancer comedy, an unexpectedly good natured film which somehow still has room for Seth Rogen’s now familiar sex-obsessed stoner, it seems that many still weren’t convinced enough to seek the film out in cinemas.  It’s a shame, really, because former cancer-sufferer Will Reiser’s script strikes such a fine balance between compassion and comedy that it is impossible not to be won over by such a provocative and ultimately poignant treatment of this most sensitive of subjects. Inspired by true events and cast through with accomplished actors, this is as unconventional as sit-coms come.

While it is of course the cancer which drives the movie, providing the basis for some of the movies most touching scenes, much of the comedy comes from the other dramas that result from a diagnosis. So it is, then, that Adam finds himself high on macaroons laced with medicinal marijuana, shaving his head with a razor better acquainted with Kyle’s body hair and compulsively cleaning his therapist’s car. While rarely laugh-out-loud, 50/50 always strives to find truth – if not necessarily humour – in even the most taboo of situations, those that are usually reserved for awards-bait or high melodrama. The characters are so well drawn, so well observed through experience, in fact, that much of the relative mundaneness can be almost as devastating than the original prognosis itself.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is absolutely heart-breaking as the disbelieving Adam, grounding the film with a performance that is as subtle as it is harrowingly raw. Although at times docile, as he tries to come to terms with his illness while himself trying to support those around him – whether its his concerned mother or his trainee therapist – his stable demeanour only serves to emphasise the moments in which his resolve fractures, one scene in particular standing out as he takes his regrets and frustrations out on the interior of his friend’s car. It is perhaps Rogen, however, who impresses most, with his characteristically brash exterior carefully masking a concerned individual who is just as lost and confused as his potentially dying friend.

Sweet natured and respectful, 50/50 nevertheless endeavours – and successfully manages – to find the humour even in the most trying of situations. Witty, moving and occasionally devastating, this is the comedy genre at its very best.

Extras: Both the Double Play and DVD releases of 50/50 come complete with a host of compelling special features: an insightful audio commentary sheds light on the filmmaking process as various cast and crew members discuss the production process; a collection of deleted scenes (with optional commentary), including a great sequence documenting Adam’s short-lived return to work and the film’s original ending; a Making Of documentary titled The Story Of 50/50 which sensitively addresses the impact of cancer among the crew; four mini-featurettes that focus on the destruction of Rachael’s much-maligned painting; and Seek and Destroy, a behind the scenes montage chronicling the burgeoning onset bromance between Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

**50/50 is released on Double Play & DVD from 26 March, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment**

50/50 (2011)

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is just an ordinary twenty-seven year-old. He works in radio with boorish best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), he jogs, avoids phonecalls from his overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston) and has successfully convinced himself that his sexless relationship with girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) is nevertheless destined to bounce back. Visiting the doctor with complaints of back-pain, however, Adam is unceremoniously confronted with the news that he has cancer, and is quickly inducted into a world of therapists (Anna Kendrick), chemotherapy and constant, inescapable discomfort. With everything changing, Adam is forced to accept that his life might shortly be over – whether he has ever been to Canada or not.

This could have been such a different movie; boasting a central performance from coarse manchild Seth Rogen and following the trials and tribulations of a man struck down by an uncommon and severe type of cancer, it could have been dreadful. And inappropriate. And offensive. Thankfully, 50/50, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s latest stepping stone to cinematic supremacy, is none of those things. Drawing from Rogen’s own experiences, through the writings of his real life cancer survivor Will Reiser, director Jonathan Levine scores the perfect balance between comedy and drama, tempering the dick-jokes with a overwhelmig poignancy which develops across the movie with truly devastating aplomb.

Reminiscent in places of a toned down (500) Days of Cancer – Anna Kendrick sports only a hand-full of quirks – 50/50 manages to tell an engaging love story while simultaneously giving its full attention to Adam’s condition. Gordon-Levitt gives arguably his finest performance to date; from his initial “but I recycle” shock at being diagnosed to the heartbreaking realisation that he might very well die, it’s a role that allows him to fire on all cylinders without once falling into melodramatics. Perhaps 50/50‘s biggest success, aside from pulling off Hollywood’s first ever cancer caper, is the way in which it handles life’s smaller ups and downs: the break-ups, romances and overbearing mothers, such that they never once feel contrived.

Bryce Dallas Howard manages to bring immense sympathy to an unfaithful girlfriend trapped by her own humanity, while Anjelica Huston devastates as a pressured mother desperate to help her son should he ever call her back.  It is Anna Kendrick, however, who ultimately wins hearts as the film’s unorganised comic relief. Playing a novice character similar to Up In The Air‘s Natalie Keener in everything but personality, Kendrick’s performance rings surprisingly true as the post-graduate professional who still feels like a child wearing ill-fitting grown-up clothes.

But what of Rogen? While his portrayal of Adam’s weed smoking, sex starved best friend Kyle might not scream versatility, it is thankfully a case of actions speaking loud than words. Forever in the background, it is a hugely selfless performance, one that boasts a tremendous honesty rooted in Rogen’s experience with this exact situation. In a third act twist, hinging on an otherwise nondescript trip to the bathroom, Rogen inadvertently – and indirectly – provides one of the biggest emotional punches of the entire movie.

Touching, life-affirming and occasionally devastating, 50/50 is nevertheless a witty and well humoured tale of cancer, car-cleaning and chemotherapy. Transformed into a frail, angry and increasingly lonely patient, 50/50 is a truly stirring tale of Adam’s struggle to survive and – however unlikely – the most enjoyable film about cancer you are ever likely to see.

Paul (2011)

Fresh from their long awaited geekgasm at the hands of Comic-Con, British tourists Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) round off their American vacation with a road-trip around the country’s most famed UFO hotspots. Re-enacting their favourite scenes from Star Trek and unintentionally annoying the local hillbillies, the travellers are driven off-course when they pick up an Extra Terrestrial hitch-hiker named Paul. On the run from everybody (literally), Graeme and Clive must go on their own sci-fi adventure if they are ever going to help alien Paul phone home and catch a bit of the action they’ve been reading about all these years.

Rather than twiddle their thumbs as common collaborator Edgar Wright went off to make Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost endeavoured to write a love letter to Steven Spielberg in return for being cast in the legendary directors upcoming Tintin adaptation – even going as far as completing the film’s cross-country road trip themselves for inspiration. In this respect they have succeeded entirely, the film is a veritable smorgasbord of homages and obscure references to various geekdoms to deliriously giggle-worthy effect. But Paul is by no means the laugh-a-minute joyride I (and I am guessing you) were expecting as the lights went down and the title card flashed up, however, as a series of failings rob the film of greatness.

Paul‘s biggest problem is its focus – or resolute lack thereof, as the plot meanders gracelessly and the tone all but explodes in a disappointingly inconsequential attempt to be everything to everyone. While little references provoke knowing smiles, a much less enchanting portion of the comedy is unashamedly broad, a saddening blend of American stereotypes and bog-standard Seth Rogen stoner shtick that attempts to poke fun at Christianity with all the finesse of one of Michael Moore’s megaphones. As our heroes trail an ever expanding number of antagonists, stopping only to cavort with conveniently placed cameos and smoke weed, there is very little sense that the plot is going anywhere, other than from A is for Apple to B is for Banana. Unlike previous collaborations Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the plot may go nowhere but the characters don’t either.

That is not to say that Paul is not entertaining. It is. And then some. It is just not as riotous as the premise appears to promise. Essentially a bromantic buddy-comedy road movie genre picture spoof, the potential for Paul is virtually endless, as the titular alien quickly proves the best -and most sympathetic – character Seth Rogen has ever played (as he did not, it turns out, voice Krumm in Aah! Real Monsters). Jane Lynch and Sigourney Weaver are wasted – as the immortal lampoon “get away from her, you bitch!” is squandered on the tongue of a throwaway last act character – and the running time is padded with smaltzy romance and contrived near-misses.

That said, Paul is still an absolute pleasure, made by geeks for geeks and gloriously self-indulgent in the process. Genuinely impressive CGI stands testament to the respect and good-will Pegg and Frost have built up during their time in the states, the movie’s Hollywood gloss outshadowing the majority of Britain’s necessarily less well rendered special effects and science fiction. I found myself lost in the character’s eyes, not only as he brought birds back to life and turned invisible, but also as he stood motionless and emoted with utter conviction.

Where Paul truly comes to life, however, is in its homages. Everything from Star Trek to Alien – Star Wars to E.T. – is honoured and lampooned, Paul‘s resident alien delightfully irreverent to humankind’s depiction of extra terrestrial life. Fulfilling their respects to the genre, Paul could unfortunately been a far more fulfilling experience with a few more drafts, a better controlled momentum and a little more originality.

The Green Hornet 3D (2011)

Based on a comic-book of the same name, the film centres on Britt Reid (Seth Rogen); the arse-hole son of a wealthy and respected media mogul. Following the death of his father, and with his decapitated super-doll still firmly out of the pram, Reid continues to act like a complete jerk until human cafetiere Kato (Jay Chou) shows up to distract him with fancy coffee and an array of shiny things. Having drunkenly decided to become superheroes, the two use Reid’s inherited newspaper to create the Green Hornet persona in a bonkers attempt to fight crime with smaller crime – using a newly recruited receptionist (Cameron Diaz) to unsuspectingly plan their minor acts of vandalism. When their plans backfire and the duo unwittingly invoke the wrath of a psychotic crime-lord (Christopher Waltz), however, Reid’s singular inability to do anything in the face of Kato’s engineering and martial arts prowess drives a wedge between the two crime-fighters, leaving them open to attack.

If Kick-Ass taught us anything, it’s that ordinary people can be superheroes, too. If Megamind taught us anything it’s that being a supervillain is all about presentation. While the Green Hornet is indeed an Everyman, and invariably has the pimped-out hotwheels for the job, The Green Hornet is substantially less successful in its plight than either of the above. The character, unlike Dave Lizewski or Megamind, is criplingly unsympathetic – yet another of Seth Rogen’s arrogant little manchildren who mistakes stupidity for humour. Technically also an action-comedy, The Green Hornet fails to balance the two components by providing an insufficient amount of each.

While Kick-Ass had Hit Girl, however, The Green Hornet has Kato – a genuine superhero among amateurs. Kato is a beacon of interest in an otherwise disengaging succession of character faults and cringey inappropriateness. Sidelined by a jealous Rogen, the character nevertheless holds the viewers attention from one failed gag to another. His burgeoning relationship with 36 year old criminologist Lenore Case even threatens to charm before being nipped in the bud – or kicked in the balls – so that Rogen’s abrasive character can enjoy more screen-time.

As for the addition of 3D there is little to say. Perfunctory at best, the extra dimension adds nothing to the lacklustre story. A persistent apologist for the cinematic domination of 3D – I have never been so underwhelmed by the implementation of this recent fad. While not distractingly bad as in Clash of the Titans, the glasses simply add nothing – not novelty nor a greater potential for an immersive experience.

Although Diaz smiles, Waltz hisses and Rogen bumbles, their contributions are eclipsed entirely by a Taiwanese megastar and his Swiss Army Car. Not a superhero at the movie’s open and hardly a superhero by movie’s end, the Green Hornet is a bland character born into an even blander movie, his buffonery long outstaying its welcome. While Michel Gondry’s direction throws up the odd quirk, the film fails to impact on any level whatsoever – quite the accomplishment for the man who once brought us Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.