Tag Archives: North Korea

Movie Review: The Interview (2014)

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Let’s face it, the Sony hacking incident was the biggest blessing for The Interview, the most talked-about movie of 2014. Without all the furore, it would have been just another shitty Seth Rogan comedy, albeit one about two entertainment industry morons hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-in.

I too watched it out of curiosity more than anything else, with the hope that the low expectations created from the bad reviews would improve my overall impression of the film.

And for the first half or so, The Interview was exceeding my expectations. As anticipated, Seth Rogan and James “freak” Franco basically played versions of themselves, which is irritating but not the worst thing in the world. The introduction to Franco’s gossip entertainment show, Skylark Tonight, was a brilliant segment featuring Eminem where we learned that Rogen, the show’s producer, is the straight face of the comedy duo. They followed this up with a few more interesting set pieces such as the Rob Lowe sketch, the setting up of the interview itself and the subsequent CIA training with Lizzy Caplan.

Even the first few scenes after their arrival in Pyongyang contained some solid laughs, and by this stage I was wondering why people appeared to hate this movie more than any of Seth Rogen’s other efforts. I grew optimistic that The Interview could best arguably Rogen’s two best films, This is the End (which I didn’t even like that much) and Pineapple Express.

Ironically, it was when the subject of the interview, Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) appeared on screen that the film began  accelerating downhill. After about half a dozen of laugh-out-loud moments in the film’s first hour — the rule of thumb for a good comedy — I didn’t laugh again. Not once.

Part of the blame has to go to the directors, Seth Rogan and his buddy Evan Goldberg, and another part has to go to the screenwriter, Dan Sterling. It was as though they did not know how to handle Kim’s character. They had the right idea with the daddy issues, the deceit, and the secret love of American culture, but the execution was flat and the punchlines lacked, well, punch.

The main culprit, however, was probably Randall Park, or at least whoever cast him in the role. Park’s version of Kim was simply not comical enough. I know he put on weight for the role, but the added girth simply gave him the heavy look, not the tubby, pudgy cuteness Kim has going for him. Kim looks and feels like a petulant chubby kid, whereas Park comes across as a full-grown man with a mean streak in him. Whether it was the look, the voice, the accent or the expressions, Park’s performance felt off the mark. It’s strange, but the Kim Jong-in I have in my mind just from seeing his photos and reading about him in papers is much more hilarious than the version portrayed in this movie.

Having said all that, half a decent comedy is better than a completely shit comedy all the way through. Accordingly, I have to admit that The Interview is better than I expected. There are moments of satirical brilliance scattered throughout in the first half, but the second half, perhaps constrained by the need to live up to the premise, was a dud filled with obvious gags and witless humour. So I guess you could ultimately look at The Interview in two mutually inclusive ways — a fundamentally shit film with a handful of funny-to-very-funny moments, or just another mediocre Seth Rogen movie that will make no absolutely difference to your life whether you watch it or not.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

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Olympus Has Fallen has been called “Die Hard in the White House”, and for once this description is apt. Of course, it’s nowhere near as good as (what I believe is) the greatest action movie of all time, but all things considered it’s about as good as you could reasonably hope for given the insanity of its central idea — the White House getting taken over by terrorists.

Gerard Butler plays Mike Banning, a former Secret Service agent who gets reassigned to a desk job after a tragic accident. The South Korean president visits and somehow the White House gets overrun by a mysterious terrorist. The US president, played by Aaron Eckhart, is held hostage, and Banning becomes the only man who can save him — and the world!

The premise is as corny as described, but to be honest I didn’t find it all that hard to swallow, thanks to director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter), the man with the coolest surname in Hollywood. Fuqua doesn’t make Olympus Has Fallen realistic (that’s impossible), but he allows us to sufficiently suspend disbelief through clever misdirection and never giving the audience time to think about the plot’s deficiencies by bombarding them with non-stop, blazing action. I just kept thinking, “Yeah, that could happen,” and went along for the ride.

Contrast that with another film I reviewed recently, Red Dawn, also about a foreign invasion of the United States (and one of the worst movies of 2012), and you too will appreciate Fuqua’s supreme filmmaking skills. Though both films have lots of guns and explosions and Americanism, Red Dawn bored me to tears, whereas Olympus Has Fallen had me mesmerised.

The film essentially copies the Die Hard template but ups the stakes about a hundred fold. A capable dude caught in a situation he didn’t expect to be in — but instead of a commercial building you have the White-freaking-House. One man against a whole army of badasses. A mysterious and brutal villain determined to weed him out. Epic gun fights, skilful hand-to-hand combat, exploding helicopters, falling from high places, sceptical allies on the outside, no friends on the inside. Awesomeness.

I’ve never really liked Butler outside of 300,  but here he makes an excellent Secret Service guy because he looks the part. Aaron Eckhart won’t be remembered as one of the best on-screen presidents, but he’s certainly not one of the worst either. He doesn’t get to do a whole lot in this film but he makes the best of what he’s got.

The rest of the supporting cast is stellar. As usual, there is the omnipresent Morgan Freeman in the type of role we have seen too many times; Angela Bassett and Robert Forster as anxious government officials; Aussie Radha Mitchell as the wife; Ashley Judd as the First Lady; and Melissa Leo — the standout — as the feisty secretary of defense.

The weak link was Dylan McDermott, another ex-Secret Service guy. It was probably more how the character was written than his acting, but he came across as totally unconvincing and lacking in personality. His story arc was also poorly conceived and concluded. Just crap.

Also crap is some of the pitfalls of the action film that Fuqua just couldn’t avoid, such as blessing our hero with obvious insights that somehow escape the common man (and all of the president’s staff), the usual America “f*%k yeah” moments, as well as the the odd annoying cliche. I also found it strange that a number of the more interesting plot points were either not explored or wrapped up prematurely. I can’t go into details without divulging them, but those who have seen the film will have an idea.

Nonetheless, Olympus Has Fallen turned out to be far better than I expected. Stylish, explosive and rarely a dull moment, it’s the action film that Die Hard 5 could have and should have been (instead of that silly Russian story). Actually, it would have been a pretty good premise for a 24 movie too, if they ever decide to make one. This is a movie I would definitely keep watching if I happen to stumble across it on TV in a couple of years.

4 stars out of 5!

PS: One of the best decisions the producers made was to make this a R-rated film (MA15+ in Australia), which allowed all the violence it needed to be effective. It will be interesting to see what type of film White House Down (which looks like exactly the same film except with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx), set for release in the summer, will be with what is expected to be a tamer PG-13 rating. My guess is it won’t be as good, but you never know with Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) at the helm.

Movie Review: Red Dawn (2012)

Red-dawn-Poster

Given the recent tensions in the Korean Peninsula, I thought it would be apt to review Red Dawn, a strong candidate for the worst movie of 2012.

A friend told me the other day that I needed to be more definitive in my movie reviews and tell readers to avoid certain movies at all cost. I don’t think I can ever do that because I truly want to believe that every movie has its merits, but I suppose Red Dawn is about as close as it gets to an unwatchable movie.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Red Dawn was supposed to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year. A remake of the successful 1984 film of the same name about a hypothetical Chinese invasion of the United States (changed to North Korea during post-production for the remake — I guess they just dubbed the voices? They probably think all Asians look the same anyway). An all-star cast led by Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Peeta from The Hunger Games (Josh Hutcherson), Aussie bombshell Isabel Lucas and Josh Peck (who starred in that other piece of shit from 2011, ATM — review here). How could things go so wrong?

Honestly, I don’t know. I just know Red Dawn was completely devoid of excitement, drama, tension and most of all, common sense. I scratched my head so many times that my scalp bled for a week.

Hemsworth is a US marine who returns home to visit his father, the town sheriff, and his brother (Peck), a high school football star. Boom, the North Koreans invade, and somehow Hemsworth and a bunch of school kids evade capture and take cover in the woods. Instead of crapping their pants and organizing drunken orgies, the kids decide to become super soldiers and fight back. Go America! F*&% yeah!

Perhaps this concept — kids becoming effective soldiers in an unexpected attack — could have worked 30 years ago. Heck, it kinda worked in 2010, when Aussie filmmakers pulled off Tomorrow, When the War Began (review here), based on the classic novel by John Marsden. But here, thanks to a clumsy script, uninspired direction and cliched plot points, Red Dawn felt like a B-grade affair made by a bunch of people who have lost all touch with reality. Top that off with cheesy dialogue, a predictable storyline, no surprises whatsoever, shitty performances and poor special effects, and what we have on our hands is a royal mess.

Forget how ludicrous the idea of North Korea invading the US, on its own, sounds for the moment. Even if we can accept the premise for a couple of hours, there are still just too many gaps in logic. Why did the North Koreans choose their pointless suburban city? Did they have a presence in all cities? Why did they let the kids run off without pursuing them in the first place? Why is the North Korean army capable of taking over the United States, seemingly with ease, but incapable of standing up to a few kids who have no idea what they are doing? Why can’t trained professional soldiers beat a few kids who just practiced shooting a few bottles in the woods for a week? Why do they keep allowing the kids to sneak into the city to carry out guerrilla attacks and then let them sneak out again? Why do they keep letting the kids get on rooftops (ie, trap themselves), and then let them get away? What the heck were the North Koreans doing in that city again?

So many questions, so little answers.

Hemsworth and Hutcherson exhibit barely passable acting skills, but you could tell from their faces that they knew they were starring in something that was going to be panned for eternity. Peck, on the other hand, was unbearable — a whiny, self-absorbed, greasy-haired douche who discovers the world is not all about him and decides to suddenly grow up and turn into a world-saving hero. None of the other characters were memorable, except for maybe the Chinese, sorry, North Korean army chief (Will Yun Lee), and that was because he played the lead character in the awesome PS3 game Sleeping Dogs!

I’m ashamed to say that I initially thought Red Dawn would be good and was excited to see it. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an absurd joke (complete with unintentional laugh-out-loud moments) and a complete waste of 93 minutes of my life. There were times when I wanted to stop the torture but I persisted until the brutal final shot, which was, of course, the American flag.

0.5 stars out of 5