Posts Tagged ‘james franco’

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What a difference a month makes.

Thirty-some days ago, everybody was up in arms about North Korea’s alleged “hack” into Sony’s purportedly “secure” computer systems, and when word got out that the object of that tiny, starving little nation’s ire was the not-quite-released- at- the- time James Franco/Seth Rogen “comedy” vehicle The Interview, suddenly movie fans everywhere propelled this flick to the top of their “must-see” list — especially when Sony reversed their decision to shelve the film and announced that they were “bravely” going to screen it in select theaters and make it available for purchase online despite the “threats” they’d purportedly received from representatives of dictator Kim Jong Un stating that “9/11-style terrorist attacks” would be forthcoming if the film ever saw the light of day.

Sure, some of us were calling bullshit on the whole thing from the outset (check my facebook and twitter feeds if you don’t believe I smelled a rat from day one) — we’re talking about a country where hardly anybody even has internet access let alone “super-hacker” skills, after all — but now it seems the tide has turned. The movie was screened, no “9/11-style terrorist attacks” ever took place, and everyone who put up tweets along the lines of “going to see The Interview today because, goddamit, free speech matters” can pat themselves on the back for being noble crusaders for the first amendment. The good guys won here, right? Heck, now all of you high-and-mighty “free speech” champions can even see this thing on Netflix absolutely free (which is how I caught it last night).

Except — almost no actual “cyber security” experts believe North Korea was behind the “hack” anymore. The idea that they could even launch “9/11-style terrorist attacks” if they wanted to  is utter nonsense. And Sony laughed all the way to the bank, as a film that no doubt would have been completely lost among a crowd of high-profile, big-budget holiday season releases raked in more money via internet downloads than it ever would have made at the box office.

Let’s just call this for what it is — the most epic publicity hustle in Hollywood history. I promise you, somewhere the late,  legendary showbiz huckster William Castle is having a long, hard laugh at this whole thing, because the scale of Sony’s scam is so far beyond his wildest dreams and imaginings. I couldn’t say for sure whether the “hack” was an “inside job” or not — theories abound that a disgruntled former employee may be the one responsible — but that doesn’t even really matter at this point : the minute Sony’s systems were compromised, either from within or without,  some enterprising marketing whiz there decided to blame it on an easy target, and use the situation to make The Interview both the most-talked about film in a good long while and a symbol for armchair and internet “freedom” crusaders everywhere.

There’s just one pesky little detail that all the carnival barking and righteous indignation in the world can’t cover up, though — the flick itself is a festering, oozing, putrefying,  tapeworm-infested pile of six-week-old dogshit that’s completely devoid of any redeeming qualities whatsoever.

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Meet complete fucking asshole Dave Skylark (James Franco), an egotistical, shallow, stupid TV talk show host who will fuck anything, and his producer, Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen), an insecure, personality-free, tepid nebbish who wants to do “serious” news. The two share a painfully dull Hollywood “bromance,” but much as they might joke about it, (which is absolutely all of the time) don’t worry — they’re not really gay,   and they both spend the better part of the next two hours desperately trying to prove it. In fact, this flick oozes with the kind of deep-seated homophobia that only the self-proclaimed “hip” can get away with, whether it’s playing a fictitious scene of Eminem “coming out of the closet” for laughs, or having Rogen’s dipshit character shove a metallic projectile up his asshole while stressign again and again that nothing’s ever been up there before, the message here is clear — “hey, we’re cool 21st-century cats who have no problem with gay people, but please! Don’t anybody accuse us of being queer ourselves!”

If that setup sounds “funny” to you, then you’ll probably love the overall level of the “humor” in this flick, since it never figures out that being crass, boorish, and crude isn’t the same thing as actual, ya know, comedy. The entire movie is an endless succession of dick jokes, fart jokes, jerk-off jokes, and shit jokes, all delivered with such a coy wink and nudge to the audience that you’ll actually miss being in the first grade because, hell, back then at least you had an excuse to laugh at this kind of garbage — you weren’t old enough to know any better.

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Now you are, though, and I hate to be the one to break it to you, but The Interview is a movie made by morons for morons. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above seriously brain-dead “retard humor” myself — shit, I number King Frat among my all-time favorite films — but at least the makers of the dumb-fuck comedies of yesteryear didn’t think they deserved a fucking medal for their cleverness the way that Franco and Rogen do. I’m especially going to fault Rogen here since he co-directed the film along with Evan Goldberg (who, funny enough, worked with these two assholes and a bunch more on the equally un-funny and ego-stroking This Is The End) and co-wrote the screenplay, but really, when there’s this much blame to spread around, no one is really innocent.

By the time the “action” moves to North Korea, we get a reasonably competent performance from Randall Park as dictator Kim Jong Un, but hey, whaddya know — turns out his character’s entire raison d’etre is to desperately  (and, again, endlessly) prove that he’s not gay, too! All the “honeydick” jokes in the world aside, don’t you worry, hung-up homophobes in the audience — these dudes are all straight as a line and just love pussy.

Problem is, the film itself doesn’t seem to like women very much, as evidenced by the fact that Rogen’s purported “love interest” (played by Diana Bang) is never given a last name, and the closest thing Franco gets to a “love interest” — the duo’s CIA “handler” (Lizzy Caplan) who is in charge of co-ordinating their assassination attempt on Un — is never given a first name. There a million and one “guy movies” out there where women are treated as interchangeable pieces of meat, sure, but few are this fucking brazen about it.

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So, yeah — at the end of the day,  this is what we “fighting for,” I guess. The “right” to watch worthless films with worthless “stars” whose egos are so monumental that they put the real Kim Jong Un — who’s known for having statues erected in his honor and plastering portraits of his face in every building in his country — to shame. Tell you what, if this is what The Interview is like, I don’t want whatever job it is they’re offering.

 

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The big problem with most comedy these days is that it just isn’t funny. Granted, my idea of “good” comedy might be different from yours — I prefer the kind of humor that forces society to take a hard look at itself while simultaneously making us laugh (George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, even some early Richard Pryor are good examples of what I’m talking about), and not the sort that actively encourages us to be even bigger morons and fuck-ups than we already are by celebrating all our most base, lowest-common-denominator elements under the thin veneer of “poking fun at ourselves.”

In other words, I don’t like stupid shit, and this summer’s offerings at the box office are loaded with the worst offenders when it comes to peddling stupid shit. The truly loathsome Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have teamed up again for The Internship. The worst culprits of all, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and David Spade (Chris Rock still gets a pass in my book, though not for much longer if he keeps this shit up) are back in Grown Ups 2. And almost every other unfunny asshole on the planet is on board for the movie that we’re here to (briefly) discuss today, This Is The End.

Yup, friends, the comedy landscape is indeed bleak, and with the spectre of  another brain-dead Will Ferrell extended character sketch breathing down our necks in the form of Anchorman 2, it doesn’t look like things will be improving anytime soon. Oh well — at least Ben Still is nowhere to be found on the radar screen for now.

Seriously, about the only thing This Is The End proves is that the only thing less entertaining than watching Seth Rogen (who also co-directed and co-wrote this stinkbomb along with Evan Goldberg), Jonah Hill, James Franco (who I usually actually like), Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Jay Baruchel, Rihanna, Emma Watson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Channing Tatum playing other people is watching them play themselves. Oh, sure, their characterization here is self-deprecating on its surface, but poke beneath that for one nanosecond and you’ll see that this tone is a phony one and that the real raison d’etre for this film is for all these folks to tell us how awesome they are for a couple of hours. Just mix in the occasional pot, sex, or bodily fluids joke and you’re successfully hoodwinked 95% of the country into thinking you’re really just an average guy or gal like them.

Sorry, not buying it. “Celebrities Vs. The End Of The World” is as shallow an idea in practice as it sounds on paper, friends, and watching the rich and famous try to navigate their way through the apocalypse turns out to be so goddamn idiotic that you’ll be actively wishing for the world to end before the movie does, if only to save you from one more in-joke or self-aggrandizing public chest-thumping in the guise of toilet humor.

Seriously, who is the audience for a movie like this? Are we so obsessed with the vapid celebrity “lifestyle” that we’re willing to genuflect before these people and hand them our cash (full disclosure — I snuck into this one)  for telling us how cool they are to our faces? How pathetic and gullible have we become? How willing  to actively participate in our own cultural dumbing-down?

Ya know, maybe this is all we really deserve at this point, if we’ve become this cowed, complacent, and resigned to our own slow-burn apocalypse. What was it they said about the fall of Rome and bread and circuses?

The only joke in This Is The End is the massive, and frankly kinda tragic, one that’s being played on all of us.

As far as summer blockbusters go, this film probably represents the tail end of Hollywood’s output for 2011 (late August tends to be post-blockbuster season and sees the beginning of the fall horror-movie-release craze), and what do you know, they really did save the best for last.

I suppose more superlatives are hardly in order at this point for Rupert Wyatt’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, a film that breathes a limitless amount of new life into a franchise that audiences and critics alike had given up fro dead after Tim Burton’s crack at it in 2001. But here’s where irony comes into play — while Burton’s film is remembered at this point as more or less and absolute bust, it was actually pretty decently-received by folks at the time, and made an absolute boatload of money. Creatively, though, it felt like something of a dead-end — more a tribute to a once-great series than a springboard for its future. And so, while this latest revamp/rethink probably won’t make anywhere near the money of the 2001 flick (and its budget was somewhat smaller as well), it does in fact provide plenty in terms of a “where do we go from here?” factor, and its more-than-respectable performance at the box office pretty much ensure that there will, in fact, be a “fom here” for us to “go” to, if you catch my drift.

As far as prequels/re-imaginings go, screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have hit on something of a genius idea to form the core of this one — rather than set things in the far-flung, postapocalyptic future, we’re looking at the present day here, and it’s man’s hubris, desperation, and greed that provide the springboard for the rise of intelligent apes rather than nuclear annihilation. Biochemist Will Rodman (James Franco) just wants to create a drug that will cure Alzheimer’s so he can help his father who is struggling with the disease (John Lithgow) get his life back. Ruthless big pharma tycoon Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) just wants to make a boatload of money. Will’s lady-love, Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto) just ants to see that the ape, Caesar, that they’ve injected with Will’s new brain-boosting serum is cared for. And once Caesar gets an understanding of what he’s capable of, and how rotten us human are, he just wants some other apes to get smart like him so he can have some company and they can find some sort of way to fit into the world.

It’ll all end in a massive ape attack on San Francisco, of course, but really revenge isn’t even on Caesar’s radar screen until he and his fellow apes are tortured and abused at the hands of John Landon (Brian Cox) and his sons at the sadistic “animal shelter” they run. And even as he readies his newly-intelligent ape army for conquest, Caesar maintains an amazing degree of love for Will, whose relationship with his super-ape is at the core of this film.

And speaking of Caesar — well, the combination of actor Andy Serkis (of Lord Of The Rings fame) and the WETA digital effects team are the real star of the show here, aren’t they? Once again, as he did when bringing Smeagol to life in Peter Jackson’s epic, it’s Serkis’ expressive face that’s called upon to do all the heavy lifting here, while the WETA folks extrapolate his cranial emoting onto the digital template that becomes the most “realistic” digital ape in movie history. I’m not sure what category you’d put his performance here into, but if Hollywood can figure out a way to nominate Zoe Saldana for her work as a digital stand-in on Avatar for an Oscar, they should do the same for Serkis here. Caesar will by turns capture and break the heart of even the most confirmed cynic (like yours truly). Granted, all the actors here turn in solid performances (Lithgow in particular deserves special recognition for his work), this movie really is Caesar’s story all the way, and its success completely hinges on Serkis and WTA. to say they deliver in spades is an understatement of the highest order of magnitude.

My last piece of admittedly-effusive praise goes once again to the screenwriters — it’s not until the very end that they deliver their most solid punch as far as genius-premise-work goes, when they reveal that the very same drug that gives the apes intelligence spreads a plague that wipes out most of humanity. So while the lingering question for folks familiar with the original film series throughout is one of “okay, it”s obvious enough how the apes are gonna get smart here, but how do we get pushed out of the way?,” the answer turns out to be right there in front of us all along. Clever as shit stuff that is, my friends.

People are calling Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes  “the thinking person’s blockbuster” for good reason. This is intelligent, morally challenging, highly imaginative, wonderfully-executed storytelling. It’s affecting, involving, entertaining, and thought-provoking stuff that engages the mind and the heart, and it’s the best thing to come out of the Hollywood blockbuster machine in at least a decade. If you’ve seen it already, go see it again, and if you haven’t, well, what are you waiting for?

Just when you — and, yes, I — think movie magic is probably well and truly dead and buried, along comes a flick like this to prove it’s still there, just forced into unwanted hibernation by Hollywood’s insistence on gutless lowest-common-denominator-appealing crap at all costs. If anything, let’s hope the lesson the studios learn from the success of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is that they can stop selling the intelligence of their collective audience short and deliver us some truly remarkable product and still make a ton of money in the process. We’re talking with our dollars, and the message that this movie’s success is delivering is loud and clear — now we’ll just have to sit back and wait to see if Hollywood is listening.