The Interview (2014)

2015 #80
Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen | 112 mins | download (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English & Korean | 15 / R

The InterviewSix months on from all the kerfuffle, the storm-in-a-teacup (as it turned out) controversy of The Interview’s initial release has been consigned to the (film-)history books, leaving us with a movie to be judged on its own merits… albeit a movie being judged by a lot of people who probably wouldn’t’ve bothered with it otherwise, just because of the aforementioned controversy.

The story — lest you need reminding — sees James Franco as a trashy TV interviewer and Seth Rogen as his producer who’d hoped for a more high-brow career. When they find out North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of the show, they set out to land the interview that everyone wants. Much to their surprise, they get it… but before they travel to Pyongyang, CIA agent Lizzy Caplan turns up with a request: assassinate Kim. So the pair set off to a brutally oppressed country in order to murder someone — hilarity ensues!

As with so many comedies, your mileage will vary on whether what follows is indeed hilarity or merely inanity. For me, it contained a weight of obvious ‘gags’ and crass ‘humour’, but also enough genuinely amusing bits to keep it ticking over. Park is excellent as the affable Kim, a misunderstood social outcast who bonds with Franco over basketball, tanks, margaritas, and Katy Perry songs. The latter in particular has a great pay-off at the climax.

Some plot beats may feel over-familiar (the nasty guy is actually nice! It leads to our best-mates heroes falling out!), but then you’re not going to get much comedy out of them turning up to find out that Fireworkno, really, he’s definitely as evil as everyone thought. On the bright side, co-writer/directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg also pull off a surprisingly well-constructed through-line about honeypotting/honeydicking, even if it doesn’t wholly hang together if you think about it too much (if Kim was just honeydicking Dave, would those things really make him cry?)

The real-world incidents that dogged The Interview mean it gained far more scrutiny than it ever would have normally, and the final result proves that such faff wasn’t necessary: it’s a Seth Rogen comedy, not some biting political indictment of the North Korean regime — anyone who expected it would be is clearly deluded in some way. Perhaps it’s a shame it wasn’t secretly a genius satire that deserved the extra attention, but at least it’s not bad.

3 out of 5

We’re the Millers (2013)

2014 #59
Rawson Marshall Thurber | 105 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

We're the MillersThe film that technically won Son of Rambow’s Will Poulter the Rising Star Award at the 2014 BAFTAs, We’re the Millers concerns SNL alumnus Jason Sudeikis attempting to pay off a drug debt by recruiting a fake family, with stripper Jennifer Aniston as his wife, homeless Emma Roberts as his daughter, and halfwit naïf Poulter as his son. Together they attempt to smuggle drugs across the border from Mexico. Hilarity ensues.

It’s not, generally speaking, “my kind of film” — that kind being (or “not being”, I guess) “modern mainstream American comedy” — but it’s the third feature from the writer-director of Dodgeball (his second doesn’t seem to merit anybody’s attention), a film I very much liked back-when, so I thought I’d give this a go. I’m glad I did, because while it’s not particularly remarkable, nor likely to redeem that entire genre for me, it is a suitably amusing and entertaining comedy.

The story’s ridiculous, of course, but it’s a comedy so that’s fine. Sudeikis is alright, though for someone apparently dubbed the funniest man in America (I swear I read that somewhere, but can’t find a citation now) this clearly isn’t showing his best work. There are flashes of inspiration though, not least the most perfectly-timed breaking of the fourth wall that you’ll see any time soon. The rest of the primary cast have the best material: Aniston and Roberts play against type (or at least expectation) as the worldly women, while Poulter gets the lion’s share of memorable moments. Well, him and Nick Offerman as the FBI agent they stumble upon. (Between this and The Kings of Summer I’ve ‘discovered’ Offerman this year, and I am amused.)

There is no way to caption this imageReviews for We’re the Millers are resoundingly average across the board, remarkably so (which is why I’m remarking on it). The funny thing is, some critics begrudgingly admit they liked it while giving it half marks, and others are very down on it… while still giving it half marks. It’s the same story for user reviews on Letterboxd, etc. The consensus of more trusted sources is that it’s not a great movie by any stretch, but it’s funny enough and thus achieves its primary aim. And honestly, if a comedy amuses me then I’m happy — that’s its point; its purpose in existence. It doesn’t need to be revolutionary or spectacularly original if it’s still funny. Originality is admirable, but fades if someone does it better later. And if I wanted something deep, I’d be watching something else.

On these points, then, We’re the Millers is a surprising success.

4 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2014. Read more here.

Easy Virtue (2008)

2011 #19
Stephan Elliott | 93 mins | TV (HD) | PG / PG-13

Easy VirtueThere doesn’t seem to be much love in the world for Easy Virtue, a witty adaptation of Noel Coward’s play (previously filmed in the ’20s by Alfred Hitchcock). A quick peek at some of my regular go-tos for such opinion-canvassing reveals a lamentable 6.6 on IMDb and an even worse 52% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. I don’t understand.

The plot concerns a young aristocratic Brit bringing his new American girlfriend — shockingly, a divorcee racing driver — back to his family’s stately home. The family are old money — the proper kind, where all the money’s gone. Cultural clashes and all sorts of other hijinks follow. Hilarity, with pleasant inevitability, ensues.

Obviously Easy Virtue is, primarily, a comedy. Fortunately, it’s frequently hilariously funny. You’d expect nothing less from a work taken from Coward, I suppose, and it doesn’t disappoint… well, didn’t disappoint me — as we’ve seen, others are a different matter. But hush, we’ll try to ignore them for the moment. There’s a decidedly wicked streak to the humour at times (a subplot about the fate of the family Chihuahua; lots of double entendres), which is welcome. The overall tone is light, largely, but not light in the head.

Director Stephan Elliott adds something extra to the wit with his choice of a wonderfully inventive soundtrack. (No disservice to those directly in charge of the music, but I’m certain I read somewhere — Couples and carspossibly in the soundtrack CD’s liner notes — that the following was Elliott’s idea.) Standards from the era are present and correct, but Cole Porter-styled reinterpretations of modern songs like Car Wash and Sex Bomb raise a smile whenever they turn up unexpectedly. It’s fabulously cheeky.

My notes also add that it is “beautifully shot [and] magnificently directed”, but unfortunately I come up short for examples after so long.

It’s not all giggles, though: there’s some surprisingly deep drama and emotions tucked in here, like the truth about Jessica Biel’s character’s past, central to the climax of the film. Naturally it falls largely on the cast to make this work, and they certainly do. The performances are frequently exceptional, especially Colin Firth, who negotiates the humour and drama with ease — his recollections of World War One being one of the darker points, for instance. I’m not entirely sure why but I have a distinct dislike of Kristin Scott Thomas, but here she’s very good as the nasty, coldly cruel mother.

I also particularly want to highlight Phillip, the awkward brother of the neighbours, and as such a minor character, played by Christian Brassington. This is the kind of character who turns up in plenty of comedies; a role that usually stops at “bumbling fool who likes the lead female but has no chance in a sweet, humours kind of way” (succinct, I know). Here, however, the character is redeemed at the end, when he tells a nasty character how cruel she’s been and aids in the ‘rescue’ of said lead female when she’s embarrassingly stranded. Colin Firth is always excellentIt’s still not a big part, nor a showy one, but those little closing tweaks left him standing out for me.

Describing Easy Virtue in a single word is easy: “underrated”. A shame that’s the word to reach for, but equally I’m not sure what other could appropriately encapsulate it. Witty, cheeky and irreverent, with surprisingly dramatic undertones — perhaps “jolly good fun” would suffice. Apart from that being three words.

5 out of 5

Easy Virtue placed 8th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2011, which can be read in full here.