Saturday, December 27, 2014

THE BABADOOK (2014) - A Review
So we went from seeing a not so good movie the day before (The Interview), where the show was sold out and then some, to seeing a much better film (The Babadook) where we were literally the only ones in the theater. Yes, my wife and I had our own private screening. Hopefully business will pick up, because, imperfect though it may be, The Babadook certainly deserves to be seen.

Here's a film that's in a bit of a bind, though, audience attracting-wise. It's being marketed as a horror film, which, in a sense, it is. But it's actually more of a dark drama, with the horror coming from the all-too-common terrors of mental illness and family dysfunction. If you take the single worst moment of stress, frustration, exhaustion, anger and loneliness that every parent must have felt at some time, and extend it out over 90 minutes, then you probably get something like The Babadook.
Essie Davis plays widowed mom Amelia. Noah Wiseman is her seemingly troubled son, Sam. Her late husband died in a car crash while driving Amelia to the hospital while she was in labor. She hasn't been the same since, and hasn't been able to move on - especially since Sam is quick to talk to anyone and everyone about how his dad died while driving his mom to the hospital to have him. Loneliness and a deep sense of loss hang over them like a dark cloud.

A more literal dark cloud appears when Sam becomes convinced that a character named Mister Babadook has entered their lives, and is bent on doing them harm. Sam's increasing paranoia and acting out over this are all it takes to push the family over the edge, with disastrous consequences at work, school, with friends, etc. Soon, what had been a shaky foundation for Sam and Amelia has crumbled altogether, and what had been a slow downward spiral becomes a headlong plunge into Hell.
Is the Babadook real, or imagined? If the Babadook is real, who is really the Babadook? Is the menace to Sam and Amelia internal, or external?
Lots of questions, and I won't answer any of them here, because they're open to interpretation, and you should see the film and decide for yourself. This is the first feature written and directed by former actress Jennifer Kent, and it is a very accomplished piece overall. The acting and direction and (notably gray and black) production design are all excellent. This is very much a women's picture, in the best sense, which raises another quandary for the film, since I suspect that this might well be a story that a lot of women - well, women who are parents, anyway - might really dislike, or feel uncomfortable with. Far from being some out-there horror fantasy, this is a film that goes to some all too real dark places.
Though I liked the film quite a bit, I did have some minor issues with the ending - details of which I will not (SPOILER NON-ALERT!!!) go into here. I urge you to see it for yourself, and then discuss.
In the meantime, here's hoping that some smart producer somewhere is, even as we speak, offering Jennifer Kent lots of money to do something else. Creativity and talent such as she has demonstrated here should be rewarded and encouraged. Here's hoping.

Thanks to Paul at the Darkside for bringing this in. Here's also hoping (again) that business picks up for this film. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

THE INTERVIEW (2014) - A Review
Well, first of all, let me just say that, in a strange way, all the controversy around this film is probably the best thing that could have happened to it. Without it, I think it would have been released on Christmas Day (an odd choice for a release date, to be sure), and been something of a flop, and then quickly forgotten.
Instead, it's a cause, a small piece of Cinema History, and somehow the sum will end up being greater than the parts.
Which is to say, as a film, and just as a film, The Interview is nothing memorable. An interesting and challenging idea, to be sure, but in its execution (mind the pun!) mostly a series of missed opportunities and shallow performances.
But, you ask, is it offensive? I would say yes, because I find comedies that aren't actually very funny offensive. As someone who is fascinated by North Korea, and has read literally dozens of books about the dystopian "Hermit Kingdom," I would also add that I found the gentle and sympathetic way that Kim Jong Un was (mostly) portrayed to be offensive as well. Imagine if Hitler had been portrayed as just being a frustrated painter, and you'll have some idea of how Kim is portrayed here. Given the decades of brutality that his family has personally overseen, I for one am past the point of wanting to "understand" or "empathize" with Kim - he just needs to be gone.
Given all that, as I said above, I think the plot about a shallow celebutante TV host being engaged to assassinate Kim to be both an acceptable and potentially workable plot. But the film both fails to convince, and, more fatally, fails to entertain. Though it was a cheap B-movie,1942's Hitler - Dead or Alive worked similar territory and, if nothing else, delivered the goods in terms of entertainment. Bizarrely enough, I kept thinking how this would have been a great plot for Bob Hope (slick-but-dopey host) and Bing Crosby (fast talking producer) back in the day.
I would pin the blame here on two big problems. One is that co-star/co-writer/co-director Seth Rogen probably should have focused in on just one or two of those jobs, rather than trying to (co) shoulder all of them. The script is mostly limp and juvenile, the direction is hit or miss, and as a screen presence, well, he really isn't.

And his co-star, and ostensible star of the film, James Franco, is just not up to the task - especially given the weak script. His character and performance aren't even one-note, so much as half-note. Yes, it's a farce, but there's absolutely no center to his character, and little continuity - he veers from near-imbecile to sex-obsessed man-boy to would-be serious reporter and crusader and back again - which undercuts the whole film. Especially since the script goes too lightly on Kim (in my opinion).
So, while the movie starts off well, with several good laughs, and a great cameo by Eminem, it quickly bogs down into anal penetration jokes and Franco's wildly unentertaining preening. And, once the story moves to North Korea, it also incorporates a great deal of graphic violence and bloodshed that is, at best, an uneasy mix with the would-be wacky comedy surrounding it. Gore and guffaws can be successfully mixed (paging Mr. Robocop), but the filmmakers here clearly aren't up to the task, leaving us with a film that isn't quite action movie fish or buddy comedy fowl. It winds up being the equivalent of someone shouting the none-too-funny punchline to a joke over and over again, hoping you'll laugh this time.
Uh, no.

The only bright spot to come after the post-opening slump is Diana Bang, who plays the prim and proper contact between the North Korean government and the debased American TV people. She manages to nail both the uptight, authoritarian soldier role, as well as one scene of Jennifer Coolidge-scale uninhibited wildness. Not at all believable, however, is her character's supposed instant attraction to the pudgy and deeply unattractive Rogen. Hollywood male wish fulfillment is on full display here, to be sure.
In any case, Bang, like Ann Savage, lives up to her name, and since she seems to have a lot of projects in the pipeline, I look forward to seeing her again.

The same cannot be said of The Interview. I don't regret seeing it, but see no need to repeat the experience. We came, we saw, we (were not) conquered.
Silver Lining Department: Not only has Paul at the Darkside brought in The Interview, but also, starting today, The Babadook (2014) is finally here! This is a film I've been interested in and excited about for months, so we'll be headed back to the Darkside for the first show of that today. I have no doubt it will be much better than The Interview. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Well now...If you know me, or have read my various blogs, then you'll know that two things I'm very interested in are movies and the amazingly dysfunctional twilight zone of North Korea.
So, many, many months ago, when I heard about the movie The Interview (2014), needless to say I was intrigued and, given the plot, somewhat amazed that such a thing had been made. It is perhaps also needless to say that I immediately made a mental note to see it when came out.

Then, before all the Official Revisionist Lackey Malarkey stared spewing out of North Korea, a few early reviews of the film started circulating. Frankly, they did not sound promising. The backwards, bizarro world of North Korea I find disturbing and fascinating; a movie full of male anal anxiety jokes, on the other hand, just sounded like torture. So I started thinking, well, maybe I wouldn't see The Interview when it opened after all.

So now, after Sony caved, the President raved, and indie theaters waved, The Interview is back on track - at least in a small way. It will be playing here tomorrow, and, coming full circle, we're planning to go see it. I in no way believe that by doing so, we're "fighting terrorists on Christmas Day" like a young guy quoted in an AP article about this whole debacle. But at least we can see for ourselves, decide for ourselves, and yes, in some small way, give the finger to Fat Baby Kim Jong Un.
Speaking of which, it's great that I FINALLY have the PERFECT occasion to wear my new Comrade Red Kim Jong Un Fat Baby t-shirt! (See picture below.) Thanks to Paul at the Darkside for making it all possible. You're an unlikely Santa, Paul, but this year you're bringing the presents and then some.