Sunday, December 28, 2014

Movie Review: The Interview

Threats from North Korean hackers and terrorists notwithstanding, Sally and I sat down to watch The Interview last night.  It's available as a rental for $5.95 on YouTubeGoogle Play, and SeeTheInterview.Com in both HD and SD, and as we sat down last night, Sally said, "Wow.  This is really convenient.  We should watch movies like this all the time."  I agreed completely.

The Interview
The Interview has had a long, hard road to market, but if its release as an art house comedy/day-and-date release online changes the way movies are distributed, we'll all be better off.  In the long run, national theater chains may have shot themselves in the foot with their cowardice here, but that will only hurt them, not consumers and not movie makers.  This is a movie about a revolution; it may yet spark a kind of revolution all its own.

When you decide to make a comedy about North Korea, you have a choice.  You can either be honest about what's going on in the country, or you can gloss over it and stick to jokes about Bond villains and short guys playing basketball.  The Interview starts as a decidedly light-hearted farce, but the filmmakers clearly wanted to take their subject matter seriously, and this created a delightfully ridiculous but still obviously political film.  It's a film that's about truth and journalistic integrity as much as its about overthrowing the Kim family in North Korea, which makes all the controversy surrounding the film kind of poignant.  I don't think Seth Rogen and company set out to make a serious film.  They set out to make a funny film--a farce--about serious topics.  In that, it's of a piece with some of Rogen's other work, notably Knocked Up.

By now, you've probably already seen a synopsis of the movie: James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a Geraldo Rivera-type TV host, a guy who's an excellent interviewer but who takes both himself and his business not at all seriously.  But his show has monster ratings, and when it turns out that Kim Jong Un is a huge fan, Skylark and his producer (Rogen) score the biggest interview in TV history.  Then the CIA asks these guys to assassinate Kim during the course of the interview, and wackiness ensues.

I loved this movie, and James Franco is a big part of why.  He dives into this vapidly shallow, emotional role and owns it, chewing the scenery with absolute delight in every scene.  He has to play it over-the-top or it won't work, and he's clearly reveling in the opportunity.  I also liked Diana Bang as Kim's pet television producer.  She brings off "tough but sexy" convincingly and even manages to look good in a faux-North Korean Army uniform.

The Interview was set to release on 2000 screens nationally, but when the big theater chains pulled out, it was left with 330 independently owned screens and whatever sales it could cobble together online.  The movie made an estimated $1 million on its opening night--an excellent score considering the number of places it was shown--and is on track to make more than $2 million over the course of Christmas weekend.  It's also leading all sales and rentals on YouTube and Google Play, but Sony has declined to release the figures for those revenue streams, making it difficult to gauge the movie's overall profitability.  There's been an estimated 750,000 illegal downloads as well, which I do not understand.  People, if you're downloading this movie illegally, you're actually helping the terrorists.  What the fuck is wrong with you?!  Seriously, I don't know how you live with yourselves after doing something like that.  The shame of helping North Korean terrorists is an indelible blot on your personal honor that will never go away.

Regardless, The Interview cost an estimated $55 million to make and another $25 million to market, which means that although it's one of the most talked about movies in history, it may yet lose money.  However, the leading movie this weekend only made $15M in theaters, so it's highly unlikely that The Interview was ever going to return its costs all in one weekend regardless of how it was distributed.  It seems to me that The Interview was always going to rely on DVD and home-rental sales to reach profitability thanks to its release schedule, so that makes it an estimated test case for the potential of day-and-date release online.

I'm really, really curious to see how many sunshine patriots actually supported this film online.  There was a lot of tough talk on Facebook and Twitter right before Christmas.

Anyway, I liked The Interview.  A lot.  I tend to like Rogen's humor, and I thought James Franco was very good in the movie, and having served in the 2nd ID just south of the DMZ, I already had an interest in the movie's subject-matter.  That was enough for me.  If that's enough for you, too, then see this movie--either to support Sony as it fights the DPRK or to support Sony as it fights movie theater chains.  Either of those goals is laudable, and the film itself is a very, very funny.

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