The Interview (2015)

The InterviewDave Skylark (James Franco) and Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) are a team, and together they have produced 1,000 episodes of the former’s talk show, Skylark Tonight. While Dave is content covering the latest celebrity scandals, however, Aaron dreams of breaking actual news. Therefore, when they learn that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a superfan of the show, they conspire to land one of the most important interviews in broadcast history. Naturally, their exploits do not go unnoticed by the CIA, and the pair are soon approached by Agent Lacy (Lizzy Caplan) who asks that they ‘take-out’ their interviewee while they’re there — using a time-delayed, Risin-laced transdermal strip and a firm handshake.

It is joked during Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s new movie The Interview that Dave and Aaron’s televised encounter with Kim Jong-un is going to be the most important since ‘Frosty Nixon’, and that one day Ron Howard might make a movie out of it. It’s a good gag, but while said in jest it’s not as absurd as the duo make it sound — at least not anymore. Since it was filmed, The Interview has gone from innocent fun to international incident as North Korea has done everything in its power to block the film’s release — from hacking the studio responsible to threatening any cinemas planning to screen the movie. It was eventually released, but not before being temporarily pulled by Sony, and for a moment there it genuinely seemed as though audiences would never know what all of the fuss was about.

Some would have you believe that the answer is not a great deal; that had it not been for the controversy it courted The Interview would have already been long forgotten. The film has obviously benefitted from near-unprecedented publicity — trailed not as the comedy of the year but the film that almost ended freedom of speech as we know it, it has gone on to become Sony’s biggest digital release of all time, despite calls by some to boycott the studio — but nobody’s being lured in on an empty promise. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, but The Interview is not a movie that should be ignored. Not only is it Rogen and Goldberg’s best collaboration yet — Rogen and Franco too — but the most astute and accessible satirical action comedy since Team America: World Police, with which it shares a similar target, or perhaps even South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.

Imagining Kim Jong-un as a closet Yankophile who loves nothing more than to sip margaritas and lip-sync to Katy Perry, the film is relentless in its ridicule of a man wrongly revered by many as a god. The story — which they conceived alongside screenwriter Dan Sterling — balances silliness with surprising smarts, and though irreverent the script is neither patronising or reductive; it deals in broad strokes but never truly crosses the line(s). Kim Jong-Un might be left smarting come film’s end but it’s unlikely that anyone else will suffer any real offence, something that immediately distinguishes The Interview from anything the cast and crew has produced under the Judd Apatow banner. If anything, The Interview is actually quite sweet-natured, even inviting the dictator himself (bravely portrayed by Park) to join in the fun. Hitler didn’t even get to speak in Inglourious Basterds.

Franco and Rogen are on rare form as Dave and Aaron, the former breaking character as a pretentious, self-perpetuating polymath and the latter regaining levels of likeability unseen since 50/50. They’re each gifted with some truly stunning one-liners, but it’s their easy chemistry that really sells their scenes together — their onscreen bromance now so overt that they’ve all but dropped the b. Standout set-pieces include an early interview with Eminem, their hungover introduction to Agent Lacy and a run-in with a tiger in a clearing outside their residence in Pyongyang. These individual gags might seem silly and typically unsophisticated but they belie some pretty striking satire, including sideswipes at media manipulation and American foreign policy, not to mention nonsensical pop lyrics. The Interview is just full of surprises, from its surprisingly well-judged female characters (Caplan and Diana Bang are both great) to its surprisingly strong cinematography. This isn’t just a feature-length sketch but at least semi-serious cinema.

Obviously it’s hard to view The Interview without any preconceptions, whether inflating its importance or approaching it with undue cynicism, but it’s worth trying. It’s undeniably slack in places, but on the whole Rogen and Goldberg’s latest is a pleasure to behold. Preposterous and puerile, yes, but also political and stuff.




This Is The End (2013)

This Is The EndReturning to LA to visit friend and Knocked Up co-star Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel is looking forward to a quiet night in. Upon his arrival, however, he learns that they have been invited to a party at James Franco’s new house, and, reluctantly, accompanies Rogen across town. Before he can convince his friend to take him home, the house is hit by an earthquake, killing various partygoers and leaving Baruchel, Rogen and Franco holed up in his mansion with fellow actors Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride. Read more of this post

Spring Breakers (2013)

Spring BreakersAfter months spent scrimping and saving, best friends Faith (Selena Gomez), Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Venessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) pool their resources only to discover that they are still hundreds of dollars short of being able to attend spring break in Florida with their peers. While Faith prays for the necessary funds, her cohorts decide to rob a local fast food joint, escaping with enough to embark on their escapades. When a party they are attending is raided and the four of them arrested, however, their vacation takes a dark turn under the influence of gangster-rapper Alien (James Franco). Read more of this post

Oz The Great And The Powerful (2013)

Oz The Great And The PowerfulHaving returned to Kansas with his travelling circus, magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is shown to be a fraud when he cannot heal a young girl who is unable to walk. Forced to flee on a colleague’s hot air balloon, Oscar is pulled into an approaching tornado and transported to the land of Oz. Discovered in the wreckage of his balloon by a witch named Theadora (Mila Kunis), he is informed of a prophecy which predicts the arrival of a saviour — one which she believes concerns him personally. Theadora is not the only witch in Oz with the prophesy in mind, however, and both Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) have plans for Oscar of their own. Read more of this post

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Having watched his father succumb to the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease, Will Rodman (James Franco) has spent the last five years of his life working on a cure. Observing the increased cognitive functions of a chimpanzee subjected to ALZ112, the next stage in testing – the all important human trials – are undermined by a display of violence. Ordered to put down the animal test subjects, Rodman’s assistant stops short when an infant is discovered. Taking it home, Rodman grows attached to the chimp, who quickly displays heightened intelligence suggesting the serum’s effects have been passed down by the mother. Convinced of the drugs effectiveness, Rodman ignores protocol and tests it on his ailing father.

Charles Rodman’s (John Lithgow) speedy recovery is maintained over the next five years as Caeser (Andy Serkis), the adopted chimpanzee, grows up, quickly outperforming many of his human peers at a series of cognitive tasks. When Charles’ immune system begins to fight back against AL112, however, Will returns to the lab in pursuit of a more aggressive strain of the drug. When Caeser displays aggression in protecting a confused Charles, he is deemed dangerous and forced into captivity. Brutalised by his captors, Caeser plans an escape that will not only liberate his fellow apes, but subject them to the same drug that gave his mother such increased intelligence in the first place.

Arrogant scientist, check; cure for Alzheimer’s disease, check; super-intelligent animals, check; so far so Deep Blue Sea. What separates Rise of the Planet of the Apes from its shark-toothed predecessor is its superior balance between set-up and set-piece. For the majority of the movie evolution takes precedence over revolution, Caeser’s growth and development providing an in for audiences that somehow manages to nurture genuine affection for a CGI chimpanzee. Before Caeser is even born, however, we see how the whole programme came into fruition, thanks to the desperate and overraught motivations of one man; a scientist tirelessly trying to help his sick father.

Franco gives an incredibly nuanced performance as Will, one that swings organically from autocratic to sympathetic with very few beats in between. Will’s relief when his father shows signs of recovery is understated but incredibly moving; the relationship he fosters with Freida Pinto’s concerned veterinary surgeon is unnecessary but touching; his parenting of a infant chimpanzee is far-fetched but resoundingly real. Whatever is to be said of the effects and peripheral filmmaking, and there is much to be said, it is Will’s relationship with his father (John Lithgow is quite simply sublime) as much as anything else that makes this film such an unexpected success.

Unexpected? Yes, I believe it is. Prequels don’t have the most assuring track record, and following Tim Burton’s revision of the original movie, neither does the franchise itself. This only serves to make director Rupert Wyatt’s success all the more triumphant. Having previously directed Brian Cox in 2008’s The Escapist, Wyatt reunites with the one time Hannibal for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, adding to an already impressive ensemble which helps to flesh out even the most stock of characters. Tom Felton’s Dodge is pure pantomime villain, but the actor brings the most fleeting trace of humanity to the character, rendering him all the more real.

Let there be no mistake, however, this is Serkis’ movie. Like Lord of the Rings and King Kong before it – heck even without the aid of special effects he managed to steal The Cottage right from under a beautifully profane Jennifer Ellison – Serkis breathes such life into his character that it is utterly impossible to look away. Not least does this allow audiences to emote to what is ultimately a ludicrous combination of a man covered in plastic balls and a few million dollars worth of pixels, but it enables viewers to suspend disbelief even further than they might have been able otherwise. The scene in which Caeser vocalises for the first time, for example, is exceedingly well done. It is nevertheless the scene which, in less able hands, might have easily derailed the entire movie. Deep Blue Sea wouldn’t even have dared.

A combination of outstanding performances, superlative effects work and unparalleled direction ensure that Rise of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t disappoint. Better than it should have been, better than it’s paragraph of a name suggests, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a moving, heartfelt tribute to a cult classic. Telling a small story which is given the freedom to escalate, Wyatt has followed up J. J. Abrams’ Super 8 with a movie of equal power and affection. It looks like summer was a little late this year. Thank goodness it was worth the wait.

The 83rd Academy Awards

Last night saw the annual 83rd Academy Awards crash into a room-full of endangered animals and explode all over a visiting class of schoolchildren. As James Franco and Anne Hathaway took to the stage to punish humanity for Eve’s taste in fruit, the scene was set for a slew of nonsense awards that made the Razzies look hugely original. Thankfully, however, not all of my predictions came true: while Toy Story 3 won best animation, Christian Bale scooped Best Supporting Actor and How To Train Your Dragon was unforgivably overlooked, the Best Director and Best Film awards went to a film that actually deserved them. Here, then, lies a full list of the nominees and respective winnners – or at least as full a list as I could manage at 5 o’clock in the morning. Yes sir, I am a mental person.

Best Picture

The Social Network – Winter’s Bone – The King’s Speech – Black Swan – True Grit – The Fighter – The Kids Are All Right – Toy Story 3 – Inception – 127 Hours

The Oscar which last year went to The Hurt Locker (blah!), this year was awarded to The King’s Speech, an unassuming but deeply incredible movie about overcoming obstacles in the face of one’s duties. While I would have happily seen Black Swan or 127 Hours take home this award – to Nina Sayer’s mirror world or Aron Ralston’s hole respectively – I, unlike most people, can live with The King’s Speech. At least, for example, it didn’t go to The Fighter, True Grit or Inception, becoming in the process a celebration of utter averageness.

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky – Tom Hooper – David Fincher – Joel & Ethan Coen – David O. Russell

Rather than breaking another taboo, and – say – being awarded to a hermaphrodite (equal opportunities!), this years Best Director once again went hand in hand with Best Film. Tom Hooper may have directed a TV movie, but it was the best, most engaging and outstandingly cinematic TV movie of the year.

Best Actor

James Franco – Colin Firth – Jesse Eisenberg – Javier Bardem – Jeff Bridges

Yes, James Franco can look dehydrated; sure, Jesse Eisenberg can invoke the God of awkwardness; and sure Jeff Bridges can move his chin but only Colin Firth gave a performance worth walking onstage about. Conveying a believable stutter, both technically and emotionally, and following up A Single Man with arguably his most inspiring performance yet, Firth had this one coming. In case you needed more proof, however, he is also the only actor to have not starred in Cursed, Tron: Legacy or Eat Pray Love.

Best Actress

Natalie Portman – Annette Benning – Jennifer Lawrence – Michelle Williams – Nicole Kidman

Natalie Portman trained for almost a year to ensure she convinced as ballet protégée Nina Sayers in Black Swan. She also made V for Vendette which, in my book, means has been a dead cert for years. Sure, each of the other actresses gave mightily depressing performances in their respective vehicles, but Portman was the only one who managed psychotic, turning into a black swan in front of our very eyes. With Julianne Moore sadly snubbed, there was no other choice.

Best Supporting Actor

John Hawkes – Christian Bale – Mark Ruffalo – Geoffrey Rush – Jeremy Renner

Oh Jeeze, with the big four firmly out of the way, it really is all down hill from here. Earned entirely by Geoffrey Rush, Best Supporting Actor was sadly mis-awarded to Batman’s teeth. Thanking everyone he had ever met with the worst in mockney accents, Bale appears to have won for mimicking the mannerisms of another human being – some parrots can do that – while giving one of the least likeable performances of the year.

Best Supporting Actress

Hailee Steinfeld – Melissa Leo – Jacki Weaver – Amy Adams – Helena Bonham Carter

Grabbing two out of five nominations, The Fighter was unfortunately a shoe in for Best Supporting Actress. Going to the entirely convincing mega-bitch Melissa Leo, Helena Bonham Carter was robbed of recognition for what might have been her first sane performance in years. It is telling that Leo’s accomplishment is already outshone by one ill-advised Bible-belt-baiting F-bomb.

Best Original Screenplay

AnotherYear – The Kids Are Alright – The King’s Speech – Inception – The Fighter

Thi is, perhaps, the first ever time I have begrudged The King’s Speech one of its awards. Best Original Screenplay? A film which Tom Hooper, in his acceptance speech for Best Director, attributes to his mother’s attendance of a play and which is based on historical fact? Much more deserving was the beautifully devastating  Another Year or the light, yet utterly compelling The Kids Are Alright.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Social Network – 127 Hours – Toy Story 3 – True Grit – Winter’s Bone

The Social Network was good in an alright kind of way. Yes the opening scene stung with its razor-sharp dialogue, but after that it was all a bit ass-numbing really. 127 Hours, however, took a challenging and confined story and edited the shit out of it until it shone of greatness. Danny Boyle is a genius.

Best Animated Film

The Illusionist – How to Train Your Dragon – Toy Story 3

DreamWorks did some sterling work last year, rejuvenating their flagging Shrek franchise, outshining the much-hyped Despicable Me with the far superior Magamind and blowing every other pixel out of the water with How to Train Your Dragon. Their efforts, as predicted, went unrewarded at this year’s Academy Awards, however, as Pixar’s third Toy Story movie stumbled into the limelight for an award that should have gone to one of its far superior predecessors many moons ago. This was the year of the Dragon!

Best Art Direction

Inception – Alice in Wonderland – The King’s Speech – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I – True Grit

You know what, say what you like about Alice in Wonderland but it was a wonder to behold. While The King’s Speech may have been all period, True Grit may have had a decent costume or two and Inception had a few beats Escher would have been proud of, Alice in Wonderland boasted example after example of glorious design. While I would have liked Harry Potter to win something, you could have done a lot worse than the splendour of Wonderland.

Best Cinematography

Black Swan – The Social Network – Inception – True Grit – The King’s Speech

Inception? Really? While it may be the best pick of this sorry bunch, this year’s best cinematography – in my opinion – was showcased in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. Gorgeously shot, and breathing life into endless hillside, old tenements and Daniel Radcliffe’s face, Deathly Hallows: Part I was absolutely gorgeous to behold.

Best Visual Effects

Hereafter – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I – Iron Man 2 – Alice in Wonderland – Inception

I’ll give Inception this one, that scene in which the city folds in half is still absolutely breath-taking. Had it fully utilised its dream setting, however, its deservedness would have been far more striking. Iron Man 2 might have been pretty meh, but the opening tsunami in Hereafter, the opening escape from Privet Drive and Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole were all similarly awe-inspiring. For stand out moment, however, I’d have to give it to Black Swan for that transformation!

Best Original Score

How to Train Your Dragon – Inception – The King’s Speech – 127 Hours – The Social Network

The Social Network? Really? How the Hell did it go? At least Inception‘s bombastic foghorn made it all the way to Top Gear, cropping up in just about every movie trailer since. The real winner, however, was undoubtedly John Powell’s How to Train Your Dragon score, a beautifully elegant, eloquent and uplifting piece of music which fits the action entirely. A mainstay on my playlist ever since, “Forgotten Friendship”, in particularly, is one of the all encompassing, heartfelt and utterly moving scores you will hear all year. Robbed I say!

Best Makeup

The Wolfman – Barney’s Version – The Way Back

While I can just about forgive Alice in Wonderland: Oscar winner, there is no way I can accept a now acclaimed The Wolfman, possibly the year’s worst feature film (Airbender was not that bad!). Barney’s Version and The Way Back may not have featured an entirely unconvincing wereworlf, but at least they weren’t completely irredeemable.

So, there you have it: the Academy was wrong…again! Not worth the sleep hangover, there was at least brief evidence of talent onscreen. For a fleeting moment, Billy Crystal took to the stage with personality and the evening’s first and only trio of jokes. May I take this opportunity to congratulate The King’s Speech, and voice my wish that Spielberg next year wins Best Director for Tintin. Tune in next year, and watch as I am wrong again.

127 Hours (2010)

As Aron Ralston finally arrived at the realisation that he might have to shed his own flesh in order to survive a truly incomprehensible situation, I doubt he paid much thought to who might play him in the eventuality of a retrospective film adaptation. The answer, in any case is, was to be Spider-Man‘s James Franco. 127 Hours, you see, is based on harrowing real events which saw mountain climbing daredevil Ralston lose his footing and fall into the depths of Blue John Canyon, only to be pinned down by the loose rock responsible. Having told nobody of his current whereabouts, Ralston must remain calm if he is ever going to get out of his potentially fatal predicament. Fighting starvation, dehydration and his own delirium, the climber must accept the loss of his crushed arm and find a way out – at any cost.

Prior to experiencing the ordeal that is 127 Hours, I could not quite fathom the claims that it had been over-directed by Danny Boyle. I was both unsure what the term meant and why exactly this was a bad thing: directing was – after all – Boyle’s job. Having finally watched 127 Hours, I now understand the thinking behind such claims, but remain unconvinced that such additional direction has in anyway harmed this, a truly outstanding piece of film-making. The narrative peppered with split-screens, flashbacks and assorted visual quirks, I firmly believe that it is because – and not despite – of this that 127 Hours is such a fulfilling cinematic experience.

Opening with a barrage of urban noise inter-cut with Franco’s escape to the great outdoors, Boyle begins his movie as he means to go on: with an unmatched mastery of visual imagery. As a series of breathtaking establishing shots – emphasising the isolation of Ralston as he bikes, climbed and fraternises with his fellow thrill-seekers – introduce us to Blue John Canyon, a truly labyrinthine network of abyssal crevasses and towering rock-faces, the audience prepares themselves for their protagonists unwitting fall. Disappointing in its lack of pomp and circumstance, the accident is less an event in and of itself than the conduit for a far more pragmatic trauma. Pinned to a canyon wall, Franco – in a truly sublime turn – poignantly conveys the anger, determination and eventual acceptance as he completes a mobility-hindered heroes journey and is forced to re-evaluate the numerous life decisions which have inadvertently lead him to this thoroughly desperate situation.

As a result of Boyles characteristically poetic imagery and ironic song choices, we are able to see his desperation and hear his increasing delirium first hand:  a barrage of drinks brands beautifully convey Ralston’s inescapable thirst, while the juxtaposition of desperation and ditty relay his wandering mindset and increasingly untethered consciousness. As his hallucinations become more vivid and he starts to see himself and his friends and family in the dark, the film pivots from a tale of morality and comeuppance to a celebration of survival and optimism even in the face of overwhelming odds. That this subtly portrayed revelation leaves more of an impression than the controversial amputation scene just serves to illustrate the power of Boyle’s directorial flourishes and Franco’s transcendent performance.

Chronicled across a series of last-ditch recordings which document Aron’s fluctuating mental state, ever-dwindling water resources and a series of personal confessions, the transformation from unlucky every-man to superhuman survivalist sells Franco’s Ralston as a sympathetic human being after his decidedly audacious and over-confident introduction. No longer a victim of his own recklessness, the final act of 127 Hours races through the gore in a pulse-pounding pursuit of salvation. Although Boyle does little to gloss over the gruesomeness of Ralston’s wince-worthy sacrifice – his sound-effect accompanied attempts at severing the nerve proving particularly unpleasant – the preceding scenes have built enough momentum to carry even the most squeamish members of the audience through the trauma and into the light. Excruciating to watch, the relief which Franco positively oozes as he stumbles to freedom quickly abduct your thoughts from the remnants of his arm still unceremoniously pinned to Ralstons’ would-be resting place.

As thrilling and claustrophobic as easy-comparison Buried but without the contrived confines of a single location and real-time pacing, 127 Hours is a traumatising but ultimately therapeutic character study . Concerned more with the enlightenment of a reckless risk-taker than the prices paid for such an epiphany, Danny Boyle’s latest is a compelling, engaging and counter-intuitively uplifting slice of his characteristically visual brand of master storytelling.