Everything Could Have Been Awesome: “Whiplash”

MV5BMTU4OTQ3MDUyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTA2MjU0MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Of the films nominated for Best Picture this year, “Whiplash” was the outlier, as it was the one that didn’t fit the mold of recent Best Picture winners. It wasn’t a biopic from a historically volatile period in time, and it didn’t attempt to make any grand social commentary. It’s just a solidly made film that unfolds beautifully with two dynamite opposing lead actors.

It was good to see JK Simmons get recognition at the Oscars for his work in this film. He’s long been a great character actor, but he hasn’t had that dramatic, explosive performance that would get the Academy’s attention. But that’s exactly what he finally got in “Whiplash.”

Many of Simmons' roles have been a bit less serious.

Many of Simmons’ roles have been a bit less serious.

This film is about a young, aspiring jazz drummer just entering music school who is ready to rock ‘n’ roll (not really, there’s a poster in the film that says something to the effect of, musicians without talent play rock). But he’s not just any drummer. Andrew (Miles Teller) aspires to not just be great, but one of the greats in music history, and he’s willing to do anything it takes to attain that status. But standing in his way is the nasty son of a bitch instructor, Fletcher, (Simmons) who is basically a cross between Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant in “Full Metal Jacket” and Darth Vader wielding a conducting baton rather than a lightsaber. Whenever he enters a room, everyone snaps to attention like it’s boot camp. He’s even dressed all in black.

But Fletcher doesn’t want Andrew to fail. On the contrary, Fletcher wants all of his students to become great musicians. But if they aren’t willing to meet his demands, that’s his indicator that they are not the legendary performers he’s looking for. He tears one of his students a new one for playing off-key. The student isn’t off-key anyway, but Fletcher intimidates him into believing he was the offending player, and the fact that he doesn’t realize this is bad enough.

JK Simmons' Fletcher reveals that he's a vampire and attempts to devour Andrew. Actually, he just swears at him a lot

JK Simmons’ Fletcher reveals that he’s a vampire and attempts to devour Andrew. Actually, he just swears at him a lot.

But Andrew’s struggles go deeper than just in class. He’s one of those types who in some ways seems to have supreme confidence in himself, but pushing him gives way to deeply rooted insecurity. That’s evident when he asks a young lady out on a date and doesn’t realize she’s joking when she tells him he needs to go away.

A dinner scene with his family gets to the root of Andrew’s problems. It’s obvious that they are far more impressed with Andrew’s brother because he’s on his college football team, rather than in Andrew’s musical achievements. It takes a music family to understand the heart of a musician, and his family is as far away from that as can be. Andrew rightly takes offense at their apathy toward his passion, and it’s an unenviable position to be in.

But don’t think this is any underdog success story. Teller imbues Andrew with an arrogance and a lack of self-awareness that made it such a joy for Simmons to slap him repeatedly. When he attains success over his fellow drummers/rivals, he accepts his throne with such shit-eating smugness that the audience can’t help but root against this guy. He’s not at all likable, but as his blood feud with Fletcher builds to a breaking point, the viewer can’t help but wait with enthusiasm for the inevitable train wreck.

And when it hits, it really explodes, and it doesn’t disappoint. This is a masterfully crafted film by debuting director Damien Chazzelle, and it shows a whole lot of promise for his future. From the opening with Andrew sitting in the dark speedily hammering out a complex rhythm to the off-the-charts finale, Chazzelle has composed a sharply focused masterpiece that shows off his skills. It kind of came out of nowhere, as this is an incredible first effort, but also because his other movie credits include only writing for a pair of poor-looking horror/thriller movies. On the other hand, his experience in those genres works surprisingly well with this indie drama.

It’s a monologue Fletcher delivers toward the end of the film that raises some interesting commentary on today’s American society. He tells Andrew that he was hoping to find the next jazz prodigy, like Charlie Parker. But he believes that the younger generation is too coddled. He says the most harmful words in the English language are “good job.” That’s why he’s so harsh on his students. He thinks the only way to give them the drive to succeed and weed out the ones who aren’t dedicated enough is to push them to their limits.

c1ab642c80e466d35fccb8e77a4732afHe makes an interesting point, though a poor one. Are young people given more today than previous generations, and is that keeping them from succeeding in life? Firstly, even if they are, much more is also expected of them. There probably are kids in some segments of society whose parents give them the world and ask nothing of them, so they do end up becoming spoiled, lazy, and entitled and more interested in hearing people tell them “good job” rather than actually succeeding. The thing is, those children probably belong to the upper class who are given a lot by their parents, and so when they grow up, they expect the world to fall down at their feet. And they are probably afforded a more extended adolescence because once they decide to get serious, if they ever do, they can always go to their parents for help.

Everyone else, however, is more concerned about trying to get by rather than being a superstar. Sure, that opportunity is supposedly promised to anyone who is dedicated and works hard enough, but that level of success is rare. There are always rags-to-riches stories in the news, but the stories of those who worked hard and didn’t get the right opportunities are less commonly told because no one wants to hear that. As a result, society perceives those people who don’t succeed as spoiled, lazy, and entitled because of that myth.

The relationship between Fletcher and Andrew is similar to that of an abusive parent and a child. Some parents see their children as an extension of themselves and want to live vicariously through them because they see their own lives as less successful than they had envisioned. So they push their children to succeed. Some children respond to the pressure well and thrive, and others can’t handle it and would rather find their own way in life through whatever means. Either way, that leaves scars on those people that last throughout their lives. Andrew seems to be more neglected by his parents rather than being pushed too hard, but he exhibits that insecurity that often stems from parents’ disappointment in their children. But Fletcher pushes his buttons in a way that drives him to work harder because he believes so much in that dream he has of being one of the greatest. Perhaps Andrew is craving that extremely aggressive attention Fletcher gives him.

That approach toward motivation might help some people to become more driven. But what Fletcher doesn’t understand is that other approaches can work for people too. Having positive support from friends and family can drive people to succeed as well, as they feel they have the freedom to find their own paths and their own goals. Different strokes for different folks.

Then again, Andrew is a little shit and it’s pretty understandable that he doesn’t have any friends, as he shuts himself off from everyone for the sake of his own success.

Ironically, the whole idea of competition, comparing yourself to others, and technical skill over musicality runs counter to the essence of jazz. The great jazz musicians played based on feeling and bonding between musicians. It doesn’t hurt the movie, but it makes the goals Fletcher and Andrew are attempting to achieve seem even more vain and nebulous. If your goal is simply to be remembered for something, it’s kind of lacking. Finding your passion in life is probably a better goal to work toward, as passionate people are the ones who do truly great things. Michael Jordan was a great basketball player, but whenever he talks about playing, he always sounds bitter and resentful toward his teammates and fellow athletes rather than happy about the success he achieved.

If there's blood all over your instrument after you're done playing, that's a sign that you're doing something wrong.

If there’s blood all over your instrument after you’re done playing, that’s a sign that you’re doing something wrong.

Another thing about jazz is that it originated in black communities, and the art form rose to prominence through black artists. The movie is about white performers and white families. Certainly white people can play jazz, but movies about jazz and music school aren’t particularly common, and so it really seems like it’s missing some of the purpose of jazz if it is only about white people. There are black people in the movie, but none of them really get to be characters, and so they are basically scenery. It seems like a significant misstep to not even write a black character into the movie. If the movie is about white entitlement, then that’s one thing, but shouldn’t there at least be a nod to the folks who invented that form of music, and more than just the acknowledgement of their existence? This isn’t exactly Hollywood either, it’s a low-budget film made by a rookie director, but Chazzelle has quite a bit to learn about inclusiveness and acknowledgement of diversity.

Despite that flaw, “Whiplash” is one great intense film that should hook most people and trigger horrible memories in those who were music students, or at least aspired to be. It’s a battle of wills, and the audience is waiting to witness the explosion when it happens, but it ends on a somewhat unexpectedly high note (though whether it’s really a positive ending would be up for debate). It was good to see the Academy give this movie some attention, as it doesn’t seem like the stereotypical Oscar movie. As 2014 was an excellent year for movies (though it wasn’t truly reflected in the Best Picture candidates), “Whiplash” was among the best, though not as great as “Birdman” or “Boyhood.” But JK Simmons got a well-deserved Oscar, and it will be exciting to see how Chazzelle develops as a director in the future.

Everything Could Have Been Awesome: “American Sniper”

MV5BMTkxNzI3ODI4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjkwMjY4MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_In Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman, Bruce Wayne sets out to create a symbol of justice, the courage to stand up for the weak against those who would oppress them, and an icon that would provide assurance of the city’s safety for the people of Gotham. Bruce’s ambitions were noble but flawed to the point that it was in question whether they were any benefit to society.

Chris Kyle, an American Navy SEAL, known as the “American Sniper,” purported to be about similar traits to the ones Bruce Wayne attempted to emulate through his random act of heroism. Clint Eastwood’s film shows that these traits were instilled in him from a young age, giving him a simplistic view of right and wrong, that he carried throughout his life.

From the beginning of the film, the viewer is thrown along with Kyle (Bradley Cooper) into a situation in Iraq where he has to make a quick decision, and a painful one. He sees through his sniper scope an Iraqi child carrying what appears to be an improvised explosive device toward a squad of U.S. troops. With Kyle’s moral code in mind, he makes the best decision he is able to, which ends badly for the child. This world is the hell the troops walked into when they were sent to Iraq back in 2002 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and Eastwood provides a harrowing look into that world.

Bradley Cooper arguably gave his best performance to date in portraying Chris Kyle.

Bradley Cooper arguably gave his best performance to date in portraying Chris Kyle.

Of course, for any soldier, there’s more to life than just combat. There are things like going to bars to meet women who will someday become your wife and have children with you. The film delves into Kyle’s home life, as well as his accomplishments in war, providing a much-needed depiction of civilian life for former or currently serving soldiers.

As far as war movies go, in some regards, “American Sniper” is one of the best, offering a glimpse into the life of a single soldier, albeit one who was seen as something of a hero among his peers rather than your run-of-the-mill grunt. This is the first non-documentary movie about the Iraq War to explore factual (to a degree, more on that later) events, which could make a good companion piece for HBO’s “Generation Kill” series. It’s entertaining for the most part. Cooper gives an impressive performance as Kyle, convincingly filling the shoes of a simple Texas boy who deals with trauma from his experiences in battle.

Chris Kyle, the American Sniper

Chris Kyle, the American Sniper

That’s where the movie succeeds the most. There’s always a lot of rhetoric in the U.S. about supporting the troops and placing them in a status above normal people and the sacrifices they make for the good of the country. “The Hurt Locker” touched briefly on life for a soldier after returning home, but no film has captured those sacrifices as completely as “Sniper.” Many war films end with the protagonist soldier going home, but they usually don’t get into what happens after they get home. “Sniper” weaves the traumatic violent experiences of war together with the everyday atmosphere of suburban life, and offers a brilliant contrast between a war-torn country whose inhabitants are under constant threat of terror, and the safe, sterile environment of suburban life enjoyed by well-off Americans. The effects of war on the people who wage it is something people need to see to fully understand the horrors of war. “Saving Private Ryan” illustrated the “war is hell” idea better than anyone had previously with the opening scene on Normandy Beach, but then spent the rest of the movie making war look cool again. “Sniper” avoids making war look like fun and conveys in many ways how being in the military changes people.

That sounds like pretty glowing praise for a movie that’s gotten so much progressive backlash. People who have read this blog before have to be thinking “there’s no way this guy is going to shower this cheap propaganda with this much praise and let it off the hook right?” Right.

If you look at the film a certain way, you can see how it could be an attempt to portray Kyle’s subjective views on the war, without intending to enter into any political commentary on those views, and in some ways it succeeds at doing that. Anyone who shared the experiences Kyle did in the movie could probably understand, at least in part, why he held his harmful views. You could see Islamic militants as simply evil bullies who just want to kill innocents and the U.S. as the protectors of the innocent. You could understand how someone like Kyle could write in a book that he wished he would have killed more Iraqis when he was serving because that would mean more Marines lives would have been protected. Perhaps he and other soldiers are blinded by U.S. patriotism and gung-ho military attitude and really believe that they are defending American soil by traveling to the other side of the world to countries the size of Ohio whose main resource is oil, which is sold to the U.S. to power the tanks that drive through that country’s streets. Maybe troops really are concerned these militant groups that couldn’t afford to manufacture large ships or planes or assemble a real military could invade San Diego.

But the film does reveal its political bias, though it is subtle. The most telling sign that it is attempting to sway or reinforce the audience’s opinion is in the way it embellishes certain events. The incident with the boy carrying the IED was similar to an event Kyle describes in his book where he shot a woman carrying an IED. It was only a boy in the film. Though the real event was horrific as well, it’s not quite as bad as having to shoot a child. There are some events later in the movie where Kyle encounters some grotesquely sadistic extremists that the real-world Kyle didn’t have any experience with.

Many films based on true stories embellish details for dramatic effect, and that sort of thing can be done well, so as not to make a significant difference and to improve the story. But in a movie as politically charged as this one, slight changes can make a major difference. Certainly the use of children in several scenes emphasizes how evil these extremists are, and though no one should argue that religious or political extremists are really good people who are just misunderstood or whatever, it downplays the U.S.’s role in the conflict, which certainly goes back to before Sept. 11, by making those militants, and by association the people of those countries and of Muslim faith, into simple villains (and seriously, Hollywood needs to refrain from killing children in movies; who the hell finds that entertaining?). There is a character referred to as “the Butcher,” who is based on a real person, but one whom Kyle never encountered, nor was christened with the same moniker, but shit, when there’s someone in a movie whom people call “the Butcher,” you know that’s gotta be a bad person before they even appear.

Using children to make a point is a key tactic in trying to make a political statement.

Using children to make a point is a key tactic in trying to make a political statement in a film.

Then, there’s the way Kyle repeatedly and forcefully refers to, either the militants or Iraqis in general, as savages. The real Kyle probably did consider those people to be savages, but repeating it on film emphatically reinforces that stereotype in the audience’s minds with nothing to counter that opinion.

The Marines in the movie are also simplified. Talk to anyone who’s been in the military, and the non-combat stories they’ll talk about probably involve consuming mass quantities of alcohol, possibly some illicit substances, hazing, lots of fucking or at least the intense desire to fuck, and other tales of debaucherous feats (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with any of that). That’s just the stuff on the base. There have been numerous stories of terrible acts committed by U.S. troops against the people in the countries they’ve been stationed in, sometimes depicted in films. Of course, that’s nothing unique to the U.S., as that’s been the nature of war since biblical times.

But the Marines in “Sniper” are the sweetest little boy scouts you’ll ever meet who all just want to go back home so they can get married, and the chatter they make while sitting in the back of a jeep traveling through the dangerous streets of Iraq involves doing the right thing by getting an expensive engagement ring, rather than a cheap knock-off. Sometimes the boys might let a little fuck-word slip here or there, but who can blame them because they’re under so much pressure, having to kill children and all. It creates an us vs. them mentality, and obviously the U.S. is the good guys and anyone who opposes it must be evil.

At the end of the film, after Kyle has been killed at the hands of a Marine, whom people assumed had mental illness (the Marine has mental illness, but militants are all just inherently evil, right?), though in the trial which recently wrapped up, he was considered to be of sound mind and convicted of murdering Kyle. So Kyle goes out, and is given a hero’s funeral, filling Cowboys Stadium. Last month, the day of his death was dubbed “Chris Kyle Day” in Texas to honor him.

So, in many ways, Eastwood (advertently or not) and the U.S. have created their own symbol of justice, the courage to stand up for the weak against those who would oppress them, and an icon for American citizens to rally around, a reminder that the U.S. stands for what is right in the world. The U.S. has turned Chris Kyle into its version of Batman.

Islamic extremists as depicted in "American Sniper" but with less cackling.

Islamic extremists as depicted in “American Sniper” but with less cackling.

And Batman has to have his Joker. Islamic militants who are inherently evil and simply want to create chaos and watch the world burn (nothing to do with the U.S.’s pro-war culture or its invasion of their countries, of course) make for a good villain people can rally against. This has the unfortunate side-effect of anti-Islamic rhetoric invigorated among those who are heavily patriotic and mistreatment of peaceful Muslims, especially in Western countries. But a pro-war culture thrives on us-versus-them mentality, and this film has stirred up a lot of that fervor at a time (as evidenced on Twitter, especially in regard to this film) when the U.S. and Europe are facing a “threat” bearing many similarities to the one in Iraq, as depicted in “American Sniper.”

No one should condone the violent actions of the Islamic State group or the Taliban or whichever militant organization, whether it’s beheading prisoners or attacking a newspaper in France, but to believe that they are the only aggressors in these conflicts is ignorant.

If it’s understandable that people like Kyle see the need to stand up for the innocent against bullies, then the blame should be placed on the ones above them who for their own profit send young men and women into combat, before blaming the people on the opposite side.

While Eastwood’s intent may have been artistic endeavor, rather than to stir up political fervor, it shouldn’t have been difficult to gauge the reactions people would have from watching the film, and if you want to create something free of political bindings, then a director should take all of this into account. Though it might be reductive to label art as propaganda, it’s impossible to ignore the effect it has on an audience.

“American Sniper” was far and away the highest grossing film out of the Best Picture nominees, and undoubtedly the most influential one. It wouldn’t be surprising if it was the only Best Picture nominee most moviegoers went to see in theaters. Though Eastwood has created an important and even essential movie, it also has such great problems politically, that one needs to watch it with a skeptical mind and do some research, so as not to be sucked in by its persuasiveness. Was it one of the best films of the year? It was better than “The Theory of Everything,” but with so many other great films that came out last year, it’s hard to see how this one made it in but others didn’t.

Everything Could Have Been Awesome: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

MV5BMzM5NjUxOTEyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjEyMDM0MDE@._V1_SX214_AL_There are two types of people in the world: Those who love Wes Anderson movies and those who hate them. Those who love them prefer some more than others, but those who hate them will hate all of them, and there will never be any convincing them otherwise.

Essentially, all of Anderson’s movies are the same: Quirky humor, the theme of growing older, well-established actors playing against type alongside his cast of regulars, a sense of over-the-top gravitas (though whether it’s meant to be taken seriously or not is up to the viewer to decide), odd visual symmetries, and all of it bathed in delectable pastels.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is nothing new, in that regard. Anderson fans will eat it up like one of Mendl’s confections. The good thing about Anderson movies is that although they all follow similar patterns, the director has managed to improve upon his previous effort every time out. So, his latest film is always his best.

This version concerns a famous hotel located in the mountains of a small, fictional European country, the Republic of Zubrowka, in the 1930s, where none of the residents is sure which accent they’re supposed to speaking with. The story follows the hotel’s concierge, Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who has a passion for pungent cologne and a penchant for wealthy, elderly women. His new lobby boy, Zero, played in his younger days by the debuting Tony Revolori, works his way into becoming Gustave’s protege and close friend.

One of Gustave’s senior sweethearts, Madame Duchess, portrayed by a completely unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, is assassinated and, being much closer to Gustave than to the rest of her family, makes Gustave heir of one of the world’s most reknowned paintings, “Boy with Apple.” Of course, her family is none too pleased, especially her son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), who then makes it his mission, or more accurately, his hired thug, Jopling’s (Willem Dafoe) mission, to hunt down Gustave and the painting.

Move over, Ralph, Dafoe and Brody get to be the despicable ones this time around.

Move over, Ralph, Dafoe and Brody get to be despicable this time around.

The movie hits all the Anderson trademarks, but with the subject matter of the story, and the backdrop of war-torn Europe, the typically faux gravitas gives way to actual gravitas. Edward Norton plays a rather un-European European softy military commander who is a buddy of Gustave’s and helps him out of some treacherous situations. This is Anderson’s most serious movie, which could be a misleading statement considering how silly it is. It also features some of the darkest humor he has employed in any of his films, especially the scenes involving hit man Jopling.

It’s always fun to see the visiting cast of actors get the Anderson treatment, and this crew is no exception. Fiennes displays a surprisingly natural sense of comedic timing, which may come as a surprise to some, as he’s most known for the countless despicable villains he’s played over the years, and he proves a good hand to anchor a film to, even as an honorable, kind gentleman, though his love interests may be questionable, given the treasures he stands to gain from those relationships. Revolori is a bit of a revelation in his first big role, a natural fit for the dry humor Anderson employs. He makes a good sidekick for Gustave, though much of the story is also about his character. Saoirse Ronan is lovely as Zero’s love interest with a facial birthmark in the shape of Mexico, Agatha. Unfortunately, she isn’t given much to do. Most of Anderson’s usual suspects are placed in mere cameos, but it’s fun to see them when they pop up.

Anderson knows how to find the right angles.

Anderson knows how to find the right angles.

Although Agatha has opportunities to show strength, she mostly plays second fiddle to the men. Her role in Gustave’s and Zero’s activities mostly involves doing work for them. Women’s deaths are commonly used in the story as plot devices or for the male characters’ development. There are some Anderson films where he implements more fully fledged female characters, but invariably, they all mostly concern men and men’s affairs. He’s better than many directors at creating women in his films, usually giving them more dimensions than many female characters, but are often only more complex love interests for the men, rather than simple ones. In this regard, “Budapest” is one of his weaker movies.

As the film opens with a young woman in the modern day visiting the hotel long after it has ceased operation, lured there by a book written by a one-time patron, the movie is reflective on history long forgotten, only passed on through a tour book. It’s a stark reminder of the world as it ages, and one’s experiences eventually become memories, only the best of which will be passed on, and that’s if you’re lucky. An old empty building may house the ghosts of a world gone by, yet it’s also mere cold brick and stone.

Ultimately, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” though a very good one, is just another Wes Anderson film. Fans of his know they’ll enjoy it before they sit down to watch it. It won’t change the minds of those who don’t care for his whimsical worlds of whimsy. It continues his tradition of topping his last film, “Moonrise Kingdom,” though his last three or so have been significant improvements over his earlier movies, as they exhibit stronger storytelling that has come with years of experience. It doesn’t seem like a better film than say, the wondrously creative and innovative “Birdman,” as Anderson hasn’t really broken any new ground with his latest film, or even made any significant shifts from his previous work. It seems like the Golden Globe the movie won may have been more of a legacy award for Anderson than for the movie’s own merits. It probably won’t and shouldn’t win Best Picture from the Oscars this year, but Anderson has created another lovely movie that fans of his will eat up with a spoon.

“The Theory of Everything” Could Have Been Awesome

MV5BMTAwMTU4MDA3NDNeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDk4NTMxNTIx._V1_SX214_AL_Biopics have been particularly popular with the Academy for about the last decade. Asa a result, there have been gads of them in recent years. Some have been great (“Walk the Line,” “The King’s Speech”, “The Queen”), some mediocre (“Ray,” “Fearless”), some downright boring (“Public Enemies,” “Invictus), and a few that took a unique approach (“The Last King of Scotland,” “The Social Network”), generally all of which generated pushes for Lead Actor/Actress nominations, as performers attempted to disappear into the role and recreate famous moments in history. There are several in this year’s Best Picture nominees alone, “American Sniper,” “The Imitation Game,” and “Selma.”

“The Theory of Everything,” a dramatic representation of cosmologist Stephen Hawking’s life, as well as that of his first wife, Jane Hawking, who is equally integral to the film, is a biopic. Unfortunately, there’s not much more to be said about it. That’s not to say it’s a bad film, per se, but it doesn’t make any attempt to add anything new. That’s not to say Stephen Hawking isn’t an interesting figure, but if you’ve seen a fair share of similar movies, you’ve basically already seen this one.

The man

The man

The bulk of the film deals with the Hawkings’ relationship, which began before Stephen’s disabling condition began to manifest itself. Thus, the most compelling thing it does is show both the courage and frustration of a spouse to someone who possesses high ambition, who because of his condition is also increasingly need of a caretaker. Felicity Jones plays Jane as a bold woman who takes a great risk in many ways in marrying Stephen, who faces the specter of a difficult and possibly short life. Eddie Redmayne portrays Stephen as a man with a complex personality who has an awkward outer shell but is quite the cheeky rascal to people who know him well, which comes as a contrast to the image of the wheelchair-bound man with a computer voice most people identify him with.

Once Stephen is diagnosed with his disease, while studying at Cambridge, it is quite an emotional risk he takes in continuing his work, being unsure how much he would accomplish, as doctors give him no more than a few years to live. Jane makes the decision to stay with him and marry him and have children, even with the knowledge that life with Stephen would be not be easy. On the one hand, if the doctors’ predictions about Stephen’s mortality were to come true, she would lose the person she loved and have to raise the kids on her own. On the other, Stephen would eventually be completely paralyzed and require Jane to take care of him for the rest of their lives.

The film does a good job of capturing Jane’s struggles, as well as Stephen’s, as Jane gradually feels her life being drained away, as she is required to give most of her life to taking care of Stephen and her children. Her struggles are embodied in a single man, Jonathan (Charlie Cox), whom she meets at church choir practice, as he is handsome, kind, and able-bodied, and she begins to develop romantic feelings toward him. It is admirable that she is willing to give of herself as much as she does, and it’s a sign of the strength of the Hawkings’ relationship. But her frustration and longing for an easier, more fulfilling life are totally understandable, as the life she has chosen was never going to be easy.

It was a bold move for Jane to stay with Stephen, even after he was diagnosed.

It was a bold move for Jane to stay with Stephen, even after he was diagnosed with his degenerative disease. The film captures her struggles, as much as it does Stephen’s work.

The development of Stephen’s theory on the origin of the universe is presented as almost cursory to his relationship with his wife. His scientific work is what he’s known for after all, not as much for being a husband. The complexity of the theory is presented as long equations on a chalkboard, indecipherable to non-astrophysicists, and presented as a simple explanation, so the audience can understand that he has come a conclusion that is scientifically sound, though not the impenetrable means of achieving that conclusion.

In other biopics, it’s easy to relate the subject’s work to their life, as a running theme throughout the film. For instance, Ray Charles and Johnny Cash were musicians who let their genuine emotions bleed into their songs. Idi Amin was the deranged tyrant of a nation. There are many biopics made about athletes or coaches. Their accomplishments make for a nice juxtaposition with their personal lives, as one influences the other. Of course, music and sports make for good hooks to keep viewers entertained, or in Amin’s case, his violent displays of power and an ugly disposition are terrifying.

The problem when comparing those to “Everything” then, is that it’s difficult to film scienceing. Images of Stephen writing labyrinthine equations on a chalkboard don’t come close to relating what those equations mean into something the audience can care about. As a result, Stephen doesn’t really have anything to be defined by, as far as the film goes. His wife becomes defined by her work to take care of her family. Stephen in some ways becomes defined by his disability, which doesn’t send a positive message.

Certainly, the performances of Redmayne and Jones are the heart of the film, and they’ve both been recognized with Oscar nominations, as co-leads. Redmayne is especially impressive, as he is able to make Stephen a lively figure, even as his paralysis becomes gradually more pronounced. He is still able to communicate the rapture of looking at a Penthouse magazine, even though he can only move his eyes. That’s good acting. He’s able to do it in a way that comes off as sincere, but not offensive or exploitative. Jones is more understated, but she is able to convey the very complex emotions Jane experiences throughout the movie.

The performances are enough to make the movie worth seeing, but otherwise, “The Theory of Everything” is a rather flat, even cold experience. It’s not bad by any means, and the Hawkings’ relationship is compelling. But even as the movie makes an attempt beyond the straightforward telling of the scientist’s life, it comes too late to make any lasting impact. If you’re looking for an entertaining insight into Stephen Hawking’s theories, you won’t find that here. It will likely garner an award for Redmayne, which is deserved, but it doesn’t seem memorable enough to be considered one of 2014’s best films.

Everything Could Have Been Awesome: “Boyhood”

In honor of “The LEGO Movie’s” snubbing by the Academy, Asian & Entertained presents the 2015 Best Picture nominees. Today, “Boyhood.”


MV5BMTYzNDc2MDc0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTcwMDQ5MTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Roger Ebert once said, “it’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” In one sense, that might make “Boyhood” the master of all movies. Being filmed over 12 years, chronicling two children’s growth over that span, and featuring continuity in casting as the adult actors themselves changed over that period, it was an unprecedentedly risky project, with so many variables that could have caused it to be a flop. To its credit, it is well-filmed and a remarkable, peerless precedent set by visionary director Richard Linklater.

But the premise isn’t particularly original: a movie about a white boy growing up is hardly anything new, so that’s one hurdle Linklater needed to overcome to make something viewers would find compelling to sit through for nearly three hours. Sure, it is kind of a curiosity to watch a document of people changing over time, but anyone who invested in home movie camcorders over the years could have done that themselves, with a real family and their real stories, rather than a fictional one, complete with period soundtrack, fashions, and references to world events. They would probably have a hard time getting a studio to buy it and release it in theaters no matter how fascinating that family was, because no one really wants to watch that. But you could watch your own home movies for three hours, and probably have an entertaining time, and why would you want to watch someone else’s.

Then, Linklater also had to be a bit concerned about the actors he hired. Ellar Coltrane, who plays the boy, Mason, was eight years old (though he was playing a five-year-old), as was Lorelei Linklater (Richard’s daughter), who play’s Mason’s sister, Samantha. It’s rare enough to find good child actors, and even rarer that good child actors grow up to be good or successful adult actors (i.e. Hayley Joel Osment). Indeed, there were some rough years in the middle of the movie for those kids, as they appeared either disinterested or unsure of themselves, though by the end, they have both turned out to be pretty decent at playing that character they’d been for over a decade. And once he’d wrapped shooting for the each point of the movie, there would be no going back if he wanted to change something, so sticking with what he had and making it into a cohesive story, took some incredible foresight and ability to adjust for the future, rather than the past. In most filmmaking, hindsight can probably be a rather valuable tool, as the movie isn’t done until it’s done, but it’s easy to see how it would be more of a frustration in this case, as it wouldn’t really do any good.

Is watching some strange kid grow up better than your own home movies?

Is watching some strange kid grow up better than your own home movies?

Thankfully, the movie isn’t just about the boy, or even just him and his sister, but also about the people around him, though it is always from his perspective. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play their separated parents, living in Texas, who obviously hadn’t been planning on having kids at the age they did. Mom tries to navigate a difficult world as a single mother, as Dad has run off and is doing his own thing but comes back to visit every now and again. They both love the kids, and it seems like Dad is a good guy who wasn’t ready for the responsibility. Unfortunately, just being a good guy doesn’t do much to help when he’s not around, as there are always bills to pay and lonely days.

As Mason grows up, Mom starts to take some control over her life, going back to college to further her career, both for herself and to support her family. Along the way, she goes through a couple husbands a few years apart, who both turn out to be abusive drunks. Mason gains and loses a couple families and that’s just part of life. Dad becomes more involved with his kids, but shows no sign that he’s ready to settle down yet, as he’s still on some esoteric quest to find himself. He kind of becomes the cool Dad, who shows that he actually does love and understand the kids, but actually taking care of them, at least from a financial standpoint, is not high on his list of priorities.

The film smartly takes a nuanced view on abusive people. The abusive husbands Mom marries aren’t the stereotypical deadbeat dads who live in a trailer and spend their days at the bar and their nights slapping around their wives, calling them “bitch,” and telling them to get back in the kitchen like most movies or TV shows. The first one, Bill (Marco Perella), is one of Mom’s professors. He’s well off, has two kids of his own, spends his off days golfing, and at first, he seems like a stable person for Mom to be with as she gains her feet in the world. His abuse of his kids is only verbal, and subtle at first, undercutting them as they do normal things kids do. He’s harder on the ones who aren’t his, of course. But then comes the drinking, which he hides or disguises, so the family isn’t aware. As time passes, the drinking becomes more pronounced, and he’s found to be physically assaulting his wife. It’s interesting how the abuse is gradual and increases over time, though the signs are always there to a discerning person. Of course, to many, his taking digs at the kids might just appear to be “tough love.” Years later, when husband No. 2, Jim, (Brad Hawkins, who starred in “VR Troopers” way back in the day), starts to show similar patterns, Mom gets the family out before the problems escalate to the same level.

It’s interesting how the movie contrasts Mom’s other husbands and Dad. Dad seems like he’s never quite got it together himself, but he’s great with his children, and shows he cares about them and takes the time to listen to them and try to understand them, whereas Mom’s other husbands are authoritative and judgmental. When they get into high school, he awkwardly tries to talk to them about safe sex, which shows that he may be no perfect parent, but he really is trying and he does care about his kids, which is probably more than can be said for a lot of parents. But his inability to get his own life together would have made for a poor environment for the kids, and often throughout their lives, Dad’s presence seems to be only cursory. So, although he’s not abusive, he’s still not able to be a healthy member of that family. Eventually, he does turn it around, getting a steady job and finding another woman to settle down with. Perhaps had he and Mom met later in life, it could have worked out for them. But that’s the way life goes.

All of this probably sounds like it belongs on ABC Family rather than on the Best Picture list, and though it has better acting and production, as well as a broader scope, that’s basically what it is. The second half of the movie is where it starts to set itself apart and become a great movie. If this were a typical family film, Mom and Dad would come to realize that they really do love each other after all, and they just had to figure out how to balance their crazy lives with one another, and at the end, there would at least be some sign that it might work out after all, and the abusive guy’s kids could come live with them.

Thankfully, Linklater took a more realistic approach. Instead, Mason, having lived in several cities with different people and different family experiences, starts to become disaffected, as all teenagers do, and starts to realize that he doesn’t want to become either of his parents. But then, where does that leave him? As he works through high school, summer jobs and the teenage party life, it begins to show that he has his mother’s talent and intelligence, and his father’s adventurous spirit, but also has picked up Dad’s lack of work ethic and ability to find his way in the system. So, these reflections help provide some insight into how people can be the product of what they grew up with, which lifts the film above just another coming of age story.

Dad’s and Mom’s progress throughout life also highlights the differences single dads and moms face trying to make it through life. Whereas Dad has the luxury of taking an excursion in Alaska or bumming around with his friends and trying to get a band started that has no chance of becoming anything, he still has plenty of time to be the cool dad who takes an interest in the kids’ lives and trying to help them turn out better than he did. Mom’s life, even when she makes choices for herself, she still has to make them with her kids always in mind. At the end, Dad is on a positive path, starting a new family with a new wife and a new child. Mom is fresh off a second divorce wondering where her life went. That’s important for people to take note of, as men and women definitely have vastly different experiences when it’s just one of them and the kids.

Cool Dad gets to have all the fun with his kids, while Mom is left working to support them.

Cool Dad gets to have all the fun with his kids, while Mom is left working to support them.

The obligatory pop culture references are fun, as they reflect the year and just how silly many of those trends were back then. Period pieces can be cool, but they can only be so accurate when research comes from someone who had studied that period and lived it if lucky. This is a real period piece, as the work was actually being done in the period that part of the movie was about. It is a bit odd to see a movie in 2014 open with a 14-year-old Coldplay song, and it’s easy to forget how popular that song was back then (also weird to think how much Coldplay has changed). Ditto for Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun,” which many who remember when that song was popular, probably assumed they’d never hear it again. It’s cool to see kids waiting in line for a midnight release of a Harry Potter book (remember when people got excited about hardcopy books?) too. But as the years pass, the references become more muddled, especially if they’re supposed to help create atmosphere for a specific year. Who remembers which year that one Vampire Weekend song came out? It was one of those in the past decade or so, but which one? It’s funny how Linklater incorporated world events into the the story too, as Dad is a hardcore Democrat who makes his kids steal John McCain signs out of people’s yards. And when Dad takes his kids to a Houston Astros game, he marvels at how Roger Clemens could still be at the top of his game, even as he was still pitching at a high level in his early 40s. It hasn’t been proven that Clemens was on PEDs then, but plenty of evidence points to a likely answer to Dad’s marveling.

Clemens has always been about silencing critics for one reason or another.

Clemens has long been about silencing critics for one reason or another.

Does the end result justify the time and care Linklater has put into it? It’s difficult to say “no.” The movie’s story might not being anything too original, but it’s like part fiction, part documentary, as the characters literally grow up before the viewer’s eyes. That’s something that has never been done before, and never attempted. It was an incredibly ambitious project, one that likely no one will ever duplicate, and it would be hard to see any reason to do it again. Although Linklater made a large portion of his body of work over that time, some of them excellent movies, he has dedicated at least a bit of the last dozen years to one film, and that deserves recognition. In a year of great movies, this one does stand apart from the rest if for no other reason than its unique approach. It’s a heavy favorite to win at the Oscars, having already picked up Best Drama at the Golden Globes, but it would be hard to say this was the best movie of the year, as it had some stiff competition. But it certainly is toward the top of the list. The Academy could do much worse than to pick this one to win.

Countdown to Liftoff: “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)

MV5BMTk4ODQzNDY3Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODA0NTM4Nw@@._V1_SX214_AL_Following the critical success he received for “Inception,” Christopher Nolan returned to his beloved Batman series one last time with “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012. He would wrap up the trilogy in grand fashion, finishing up loose ends left after “The Dark Knight” and putting a definitive ending to Bruce Wayne’s career as the Caped Crusader. In many ways it served as a love letter to that universe, but also to frustrate many viewers with its odd plotting. This film seems to be the point where many fans started to turn against Nolan, though critics still received it well.

The new villain on the block is Bane, played by one of Nolan’s new favorites, after his excellent work in “Inception,” Tom Hardy. Batman fans might have been disappointed that Nolan went with Bane as the villain in the final act of the series, as there were other iconic baddies that would have been interesting to see get the Nolan treatment: Penguin, Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Clayface, Croc (who gets a sly brief nod), Egghead, Bookworm. It would be intriguing to see what Nolan could have done with any of those (OK, maybe not those last two oddities from the Adam West TV show). But Bane does play an important role in the comics, which are referred to here.

The movie opens with a bang, like “The Dark Knight” did, but this time in even more daring fashion, as Bane, along with a group of minions, hijacks a CIA jet in midair, extracts a VIP he was after, and sends the rest of the plane plummeting to the ground below. Nolan manages to get another great cameo by a lesser-known actor, popular to HBO geeks, Aidan Gillen, who was Mayor Carcetti in “The Wire” and can currently be seen as Lord Littlefinger Baelish in “Game of Thrones.” Bane’s stunt immediately sets the tone for the rest of the movie. He’s taking over, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop him.

Littlefinger would have made a great Batman villain. Too bad he couldn't fly.

Littlefinger would have made a great Batman villain. Too bad he couldn’t fly.

Well, this is a Batman movie, so there’s bound to be someone who can stop him. But that someone who can stop him (Christian Bale) has taken to being a recluse. No longer the socialite he once was, after Rachel’s death, Bruce Wayne has taken to shuttering himself away from the public eye, deep inside his cavernous mansion a la Howard Hughes (though not to the extent that he’s pissing in Mason jars, like one of his visitors suggests). If there’s one animal that can disturb a small furry creature from its slumber, it would be a cat (Anne Hathaway), who manages to nab his fingerprints with little effort.

Hathaway’s version of Selina Kyle is incredibly self-confident, as she is so slinky and slippery that she’s able to get out of hairy situations without any trouble at all. But she’s got bigger things in mind. This Selina is one of those types who can’t wait to see the unjust system of wealth, corruption, and poverty in the city of Gotham come crashing down. As she expresses this desire to Bruce as they run into each other at a swanky party, she unwittingly foreshadows the plot that Bane is preparing to unleash upon the city. The revolution will come, but it won’t be one that anybody in Gotham wants.

The movie does start a bit slow, but in contrast to “The Dark Knight,” it works more as a slow burn building to something bigger, more consequential, with each element being integral to the grander ideas.

Eventually, Bruce does find himself face-to-face with Bane, and is woefully unprepared to deal with this new threat. As he was in the comics, Bane is again the man who broke the Bat, especially referred to into the scene where Bane cripples Bruce, an image ripped directly from the iconic panel. Bruce finds himself exiled to a prison somewhere on the other side of the world, and Gotham is rife for Bane’s takeover.3012618-bane+breaks+batmans+back+2

If the Joker only craved sheer chaos, Bane is the complete opposite, as every move he makes is carefully calculated. It makes him a formidable villain, and he has some grand ideas, which he uses to placate the city as he takes it over. That makes for a different kind of villain, one who in some ways appears more admirable than the other Batman villains in the series, though his seemingly well-intentioned ideas eventually give way to his ulterior motives. He does have the most pleasant demeanor of any bad guy, as everything he says through his breathing mask is delivered in such a kind, gentle tone that it doesn’t sound so bad when he’s telling one of his henchmen that it’s his turn to die in a plane crash or when he lets Bruce know his plan to torture him while he destroys Gotham. His voice is also mixed horribly with the rest of the movie’s sounds, so it has a much higher register than everything else and threatens to destroy your TV’s speakers if they’re not up to the task.

His plot comes to a head, at where else, but America’s greatest passion, a football game. The event is a nice detail that serves both to breathe life into Gotham as a major city, and as the venue of Bane’s takeover. The venue in real life is Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, and the actors portraying the football players were members of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s fun to see Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward in a movie, though Nolan does unforgivably get a detail wrong here: Ward would never be on kick return duty.

HInes Ward was not a kick returner.

HInes Ward was NOT a kick returner.

But thankfully he makes it to the end zone, as the rest of the field, along with all of the players on it are demolished (anyone who’s eager to see quarterback and probable rapist Ben Roethlisberger get killed in a movie might enjoy this). Bane announces to the city that he’s in charge now. He also has a really complicated bomb and the only person who can defuse it he kills in front of everyone.

"SOLD -- to the man in a cold sweat."

“SOLD — to the man in a cold sweat.”

But Bane demonstrates that he isn’t such a bad guy, he essentially upends the system in place. All (well, nearly all) of the city’s police were working at the game, and the ones who are still alive are buried under the stadium. He lets the captives trapped in Gotham’s prisons free and sends the wealthy fleeing to seclusion, because the ones he does find, he’s putting on trial. They’ll be judged by none other than the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) in a short but fun cameo.

Bane promises an inviting form of social anarchy, where the tables are flipped between the social classes, sort of. The citizens basically end up in hiding while the crooks patrol the streets. Of course, the ultimate plan is to blow up the city. But the character does a good job of mimicking those (all?) politicians who talk a good game and promise their constituents the world, while simultaneously plotting their demise.

It’s odd in this case that Bruce represents order, rather than justice. But that’s the place Batman has held in other mediums, such as the animated series. The most interesting antagonists in any story usually have good ideas on what’s wrong with society. But something about their plan, whether their methods or their ultimate goal, are twisted in a way that will cause either a massive downfall for society or themselves to be the only benefactor. Bane (and by association, Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows) is one of those. So, Bane, in essence appeals to the will of the people. It’s poetic that when he takes over Gotham’s version of Wall Street, the thugs he has planted inside the building are posing as a shoe shiner and a janitor. He’s symbolically implementing the will of people, as he overthrows the wealthy and powerful by taking control of their money. But Batman opposes this.

Bruce believes he is actually fighting for the people; that was his stated purpose for creating the Batman. But in reality, he is fighting for the police and the wealthy, both symbols of power and oppression, as he attempts to restore order to the city. Even Bruce is a multi-millionaire mega-corporation owner, even if he is a philanthropist. In all of this, the losers are the people of Gotham. Under Bane, they only find promises of freedom, but with only those loyal to him reaping the benefits, and only until the bomb goes off. Under Batman, things return to the way they were, where the rich and powerful regain control of the city. That seems to be the way things work in the real world as well.

Nevertheless, it is compelling that Bruce is forced to redeem himself for the sake of the city. Bane has stranded him in the prison with a TV and little hope of escaping, planning to force Bruce to watch as Bane dismantles Gotham. But Bruce finds the will within himself to get back on his feet. As his prison mate tells him that his problem is that he isn’t afraid to die, as it basically makes him dead already. Bruce needs to find a reason to live, which he sees in his city becoming as crippled as he is as he watches.

Bane makes a formidable opponent to Batman. But he should have had a breathing mask that didn't break so easily.

Bane makes a formidable opponent to Batman. But he should have had a breathing mask that didn’t break so easily.

The movie does go a bit sour when you try to make sense of Bane’s plot. It’s revealed near the end of the film that his plan is to blow up Gotham using a device that was converted from a nuclear energy source to a nuclear bomb. But blowing up the city could have been accomplished as soon as they got access to the energy source. OK, so Miranda (Marion Cotillard), who turned out to be a traitor to Bruce, wanted to see Batman suffer for killing her father, Ra’s al Ghul. But then sending him to the prison in the desert seems like a waste since she and Bane had Batman all wrapped up in the sewers of Gotham. Maybe they just wanted to see him and the people suffer. That’s understandable, but for how calculating this duo seems to be, they certainly needed some work on their endgame.

And why the hell is there a timer on the bomb? The device was built to be a nuclear reactor, which would have no need for a timer. It was converted into a bomb by Bane’s crew. But their intention was to either detonate it on their own or let it detonate by itself because from decay. Either way, they don’t really care, so they would have no need to install a timer. It’s things like this and the villains entire plot that are built to create suspense, but since Nolan seems to intend his approach to Batman to be realistic, then these issues make the events of the movie seem to be necessitated by the story. That’s bad plotting.

There's no reason this makeshift bomb should have a timer.

There’s no reason this makeshift bomb should have a timer.

That’s disappointing, because the story Nolan has created is quite satisfying. Bruce sacrifices Batman, regardless of whether he himself lives or dies, for the sake of the city, which will always see him as a hero and the symbol of hope that he originally intended it to be. And in case of emergency, he has entrusted all of his Batstuff as a failsafe to Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), real name Robin, who over the course of the movie has proven himself worthy of being a successor.

Whether Bruce has somehow ridden off into the sunset with Selina or is blown up with the bomb which he dragged out over the ocean with the use of his arial vehicle, the Bat, is left up to the viewer to decide, in traditional Nolan fashion. It makes for a great story either way, and it really doesn’t make a difference for the future, since the sure thing is that Batman is out for good (and so was Nolan). The biggest negative on that front will probably be that it turned out that Ben Affleck will be the next Batman, rather then Gordon-Levitt (or anybody else).

Although “The Dark Knight Rises” never reached the heights of “The Dark Knight,” (who could ever top The Joker), and despite the clunkiness of the baddies’ plot to destroy Gotham, this movie ended up being a much more even experience than the 2008 movie. Bruce had a better plotline here. Hardy will always be welcome no matter what role he plays, and despite being a character whose only visible facial features are his eyes, he manages to be expressive enough to pull it off, and it’s a very intelligent and well-written part. After the Halle Berry debacle, the Catwoman character was in need of major overhaul, much like Batman was prior to Nolan’s movies. So, anything would be redeeming in comparison, and Hathaway proved to be adequate even though she probably wasn’t the best fit for the role. Gordon-Levitt is solid as a common cop who is just trying to do his part to help the people of Gotham.

Though this may be the last superhero film Nolan directs, he has left a legacy in his series that will push future comic book films to a higher standard. Since Marvel Studios has become a major box office force, that can only be a good thing. Unfortunately for fans of other heroes sorely in need of big screen representation (Wonder Woman, anyone?), this certainly won’t be audiences’ last taste of Batman, for better or worse (“Batman v Superman” might be pretty bitter). As for Nolan, he has produced some excellent, but nonetheless flawed work, and as his career has progressed, both the bad and the good have become more pronounced. He’s very ambitious, and with the backing of big studios that he lacked early in his career, that ambition has led to some enjoyable, but increasingly frustrating experiences. At age 44, he still has a lot of movies left in him. Every Nolan movie is a major event, and it will be always be intriguing to see what he comes up with next.

We almost started World War 3 over this?



“The Interview” was not at all worth all that trouble. Perhaps the biggest joke is that the Sony almost caused World War 3 over this lazy film. It’s essentially a nothing movie, and considering this is from the group of dudes who came up with the surprisingly self-aware “This is the End,” it even comes as a bit of a let down.

Seth Rogan, playing producer Aaron Rapaport is a bit of a polarizing guy. People either find his throwaway one-liners funny or completely irritating. James Franco, on the other hand plays the talk show host who has an audience with the Supreme Leader himself, Dave Skylark, so over-the-top, it’s as if the guys are trying really hard to convince the audience that this is completely silly and not to be taken seriously at all.

Everybody knows the plot by now. Producer/host duo gets an invitation to interview North Korea’s Kim Jong-un because it’s his favorite show. The CIA contacts the bros to get them to assassinate the supreme leader. And since its Rogan and Franco, you know there’s gonna be lots of stupid jokes about bodily functions and asses. Considering it’s a movie about traveling to an Asian country, you can probably expect come racially insensitive gags.

Surprisingly, the film is bereft of the typical accusing Asian men of having tiny dicks or general impotence, so in a way, that comes as a relief. Instead, there are lots of things making fun of the stereotypical Asian accent and their facial features (Skylark’s same-same but different routine is embarrassing), which are passed off as the dudes being typical buffoonish white Americans. So, instead of the expected frat guy bullshit, it’s more like the stuff you’d have heard in second grade. On the other hand, however, the people in this movie pronounce Kim Jong-un’s name closer to correct than most American’s do. It’s -oon, like baboon, not un, like Uncola.

It’s also incredibly degrading to women in just about every way you can imagine. It casts Lizzy Caplan as a CIA agent whom Aaron accuses of being a honey pot (the practice of using an attractive woman to seduce a man into doing what some sort of higher agency wants). It doesn’t at all go light on fetishizing Asian women, with Diana Bang playing Sook, a North Korean hostess to the Americans, whom Aaron ogles repeatedly and, because Asian women are supposedly enamored with white guys, immediately falls all over him.

But honestly, the majority of the film is mostly pretty harmless. The longest running jokes are Aaron and Skylark riffing with each other, usually about asses, sticking things in asses, saying words that sound like they’re referring to asses even though they aren’t (the “they hate us cause they ain’t us” gag goes on long enough that it’s kinda funny in a stupid way).

The bits with Skylark interviewing his guests in the U.S. are probably the best part of the movie. It’s a shame that they wasted that stuff on this movie because a film spoofing talk show hosts’ attempts to be edgy despite their completely sterile environment because it’s TV and trying to get dirt out of their guests would be quite welcome in the right hands. Everyone probably already knows about Eminem’s “coming out” on the show, which loses its shock value because it’s already been plastered all over news sites. It’s certainly not the smartest gag to pull considering how many gay slurs he’s spouted in his music, but whatever. Rob Lowe’s revelation is by far superior given its pointlessness.

It’s nonsensical that many reviewers have complained about the movie’s lack of political satire, when it obviously had no intention of being anywhere near as smart or as timeless as “Dr. Strangelove.” Director Evan Goldberg surely was aware that to even attempt that without the kind of talent and intentions Stanley Kubrick or Peter Sellers possessed would be completely foolish, wouldn’t work, and would appeal to nobody. They went the cheap route here. It’s simple jokes that everyone will get and maybe half the people who see it will get laughs out of half of it. Don’ t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.

As for the supreme leader, it seems like a pretty fair depiction of North Korea’s dictator. He’s not presented as a silly fat Asian man who has trouble with the ladies or whatever. Instead, he’s a pretty cool guy who loves fast cars and playing basketball, has major insecurities because of who his dad was, is worried about being perceived as gay because he likes margaritas, and the unfortunate circumstance of having immense power and having created enemies out of the rest of the world. Basically, he’s the Ultimate Bro. He’s almost sympathetic, in a way, which actually seems too generous. He is a horrible authoritarian dictator who keeps his people in line with an iron fist and the threat of death to anyone who opposes him. Let’s not forget about that here. In films made in Allied countries during World War II, Hitler never got such a grand treatment.


The biggest problem is the eventual plot Sook concocts to incite upheaval in North Korea, once she’s explained that killing him won’t solve the problems (actually, an intelligent observation). Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool that a North Korean woman is afforded the ability to solve North Korea’s problems. But the plan is to have Skylark use his interview with Kim to expose the leader’s shortcomings to the North Korean people in order to spur them toward an uprising. Probably most North Koreans are pretty well kept in the dark, but people in any country that has as many problems as North Korea does are usually smart enough to figure out on their own that something isn’t right. The problem isn’t that they are brainwashed into believing the propaganda their leader puts out. It’s more that they don’t have forces to overthrow the powerful government. But the movie treats the people as if they are completely in the dark about the atrocities Kim has committed against them, and it’s the white dudes’ job to expose that. It’s a misdiagnosis of the real problem, and it makes the West’s or, specifically, the U.S.’s brand of “freedom” out to be the solution. It makes the people of North Korea (Asians) out to be intellectually and ideologically inferior rather than simply being powerless.

And, of course, showing an American graphically killing Kim certainly could be considered as an act of war. If some Asian or Middle Eastern country made a movie about killing Barack Obama, how would Americans react? Well, conservatives would revel in it, but you know what I mean. There would still be a general outcry and calls for extra helpings of patriotism to be served with every bucket of popcorn and whatnot.

The most annoying aspect in all of this is Franco’s and Rogan’s and, generally, Hollywood’s whining about free speech and bowing to terrorism and all that shit (even though there still is little evidence North Korea had anything to do with the hacking and threats directed at Sony). It’s not really a free speech issue anyway. Obama has been all for showing the movie. It’s Sony that had to accept movie theaters canceling their showings of the film. Weirdly, this was a film the might have been least likely to play in arthouse theaters, but ironically ended up being shown exclusively in those establishments.

The Franco/Rogan tweets would have seemed somewhat tongue-in-cheek if Rogan hadn’t been caught acting like such a baby about all of it.



Worst of all, citing this as a free speech issue is a slap in the face to so many other movies that get the cold shoulder from movie studios because they think it isn’t what white general audiences will pay to see.

Recently, the AV Club posted an interview with David Oyelowo about soon to be released “Selma” about Martin Luther King Jr., and the challenges surrounding that movie’s production. The most disappointing thing to read was when he talked about the movie taking seven years to complete because of the huge resistance in Hollywood to making a film about King that didn’t include some sort of white savior character. King is arguably the most influential figure in the U.S. of the 20th Century, and there really hasn’t been any major production made about his life. There’s been complaints about the suppression of free speech to get this film or similar ones completed, even though it seems like it will have been so deserving of its place in cinematic history. So, it’s ridiculous to hear people complain that “The Interview” needs to be released for “freedom” or whatever. I wouldn’t argue that this movie would be censored, but the truth is that it hasn’t been censored at all. The movie was briefly cancelled by the studio before being released in select theaters and in digital on-demand. That’s all the resistance it has faced.

And when should we expect to see studio-backed films about Asian-Americans made by a Asian-Americans or better domestic distribution of films made in Asia?

“The Interview” is what it is: a pointless movie with an unnecessary amount of trouble stirred up about it. It shouldn’t be anybody’s patriotic duty to see it anymore than eating at McDonald’s or watching football. Nobody is better off for its existence except the people involved in its production. It will represent little more than an embarrassing episode that drudged up a lot of temporary, forced patriotism for no reason. Keep your fingers crossed though, there’s still time for Kim to start World War 3 over this crap.