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The Interview Blu-ray Review

The Interview (2014) movie poster The Interview

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2014 / Running Time: 112 Minutes / Rating: R

Directors: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg / Writers: Dan Sterling (story & screenplay); Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg (story)

Cast: James Franco (Dave Skylark), Seth Rogen (Aaron Rapaport), Lizzy Caplan (Agent Lacey), Randall Park (President Kim Jong-un), Diana Bang (Sook-Yin Park), Timothy Simons (Malcolm), Reese Alexander (Agent Botwin), James Yi (Officer Koh), Paul Bae (Officer Yu), Geoff Gustafson (Cole), Dominique Lalonde (Jackie), Anesha Bailey (Janet), Anders Holm (Jake), Charles Rahi Chun (General Jong), Guy Fieri (Himself), Ben Schwartz (Publicist) / Uncredited (as Themselves): Eminem, Rob Lowe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bill Maher, Seth Meyers, Brian Williams, Scott Pelley

Buy The Interview from Amazon.com: Blu-ray • DVD • Instant Video

Very few movies genuinely earn "more than a movie" status. Off the top of my head, there was Oliver Stone's JFK leading to Congress passing the JFK Records Act. A pair of 2004 movies, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, experienced commercial success unprecedented for an independent film and a documentary, respectively, that reflected bigger and largely opposite sentiments in the divided country.
The most recent example of a "more than a movie" movie came at the end of 2014. You may not have foreseen international uproar arising from a comedy by writers of Pineapple Express, The Green Hornet, and This Is the End. But The Interview became front page news around the world for several days leading up to its anticipated, cancelled, and then upheld Christmas Day opening.

A single-sentence synopsis was enough to expect some kind of controversy. Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who also produce and share story credit with screenwriter Dan Sterling, the satire vowed to tell the story of two journalists recruited by the CIA to use an upcoming interview opportunity to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. There is a history of films using real dictators for ridicule and parody, from Adolf Hitler in Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator to Saddam Hussein in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut to Kim Jong-il in Team America: World Police. Reactions have varied, from Dictator eventually being held up as an American classic to Team America losing money in a marginal front-loaded run. None of those movies were publically acknowledged by their targets, who have typically been preoccupied with running a country.

But the young, media-savvy Kim Jong-un made known his opposition to the film months before its scheduled opening through an unofficial spokesman and later North Korea's UN ambassador. Then in late November, an anonymous organization calling themselves "Guardians of the Peace" subjected Sony Pictures Entertainment, whose Columbia Pictures produced the film and was soon intending to distribute it, to the biggest hacking of a corporation in history. Embarrassing e-mails, contract negotiations, and disparate actor salaries were leaked and reported as news by many outlets. A number of upcoming films were uploaded to file sharing sites. The one glaring omission was The Interview, believed to have been referenced in the hackers' demand that Sony "pull the movie of terrorism." Those suspicions were confirmed in the coming days, as the media continued to disseminate the juicier items unearthed in the dozens of terabytes of stolen data.

"The Interview" stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as American journalists who land an exclusive interview with North Korea's dictator.

Nine days before Christmas, the hackers threatened a terrorist attack on the order of September 11th on any theater that would show the film. Federal officials found no credibility to the warnings. Still, the next day Sony decided to let theaters back out of their arrangements to exhibit the film. Fearing financial responsibility should any attack actually occur (a precedent foretold by a civil lawsuit in the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting at The Dark Knight Rises), the five biggest theater chains all took Sony up on their offer and reneged on their plans to screen the movie. The film's official website, social media accounts, billboards and posters disappeared and Sony dismissed reports of plans to release the film digitally. It looked like the death of freedom of speech, a fact lamented by many celebrities and politicians, including President Barack Obama, who criticized Sony for essentially caving to hacker demands.

After attempting some damage control and spin on NBC's "Meet the Press", Sony came around on December 23rd by announcing that The Interview would indeed open in theaters on Christmas Day as planned,
just not at the thousands of theaters of those big chains. Independent and arthouse cinemas, a dying breed accustomed to distributing niche films, would have their shot at a coup, getting to exhibit a major mainstream movie that just days earlier was looking to go the way of such fabled unreleased fare as Roger Corman's Fantastic Four and Jerry Lewis' The Day the Clown Cried. More than three hundred of the little theaters signed up to show the film on the same day that the masses would be flocking to the likes of Into the Woods, Unbroken, and the final Hobbit in multiplexes.

Despite all the coverage, from the beginning of television news broadcasts to the front page of daily newspapers, that certainly raised awareness of people far from the targeted demographic, The Interview could not surmount the long odds it faced for theatrical success. Though it grossed more per theater on opening day than everything but the three big aforementioned wide release attractions, the movie could not become the mainstream draw envisioned, like past Rogen-Goldberg comedies had been.

While it would expand to almost 600 theaters eight days later, a decent count comparable to those given the most narrow of Best Picture nominees (Whiplash and Boyhood), The Interview was just not cut out for arthouse success. It would close after a month in theaters with just over $6.1 M in earnings and a little less than that from the few foreign territories that would distribute it.

In this case, theatrical business was just one small part of the story; just ahead of the theatrical debut, Sony also made the film available for download on Google Play and YouTube. Soon after, it made its way to PlayStation Network and iTunes, not to mention illegal torrent sites. Since early February, the movie has been available to stream for free on Netflix.

Sony has cited the $40 million generated by these digital rentals and purchases as some measure of success. It is certainly $40 million they wouldn't have had they let the film perish, as for a few days it seriously looked like they would.

All of these viewing options may not quite have revolutionized the way that movies are released, but they do makes this week's Freedom Edition DVD and Blu-ray editions look like untimely afterthoughts. Afterthoughts loaded with bonus features and still preferable to the many who continue to value physical home media formats.

Lizzy Caplan plays Lacey, the CIA agent the guys suspect is honeypotting them to accept their assassination mission.

James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a vapid personality whose cable series "Skylark Tonight" typically shuns serious news in favor of entertaining celebrity fluff. Our first look at the show finds Dave interviewing rapper Eminem (playing himself), who casually comes out as gay. The next big scoop finds Rob Lowe disclosing he has secretly been bald for thirty years. Dave is popular and well-liked, but his producer and best friend Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) wants the show to tackle more serious issues instead of dabbling exclusively in fluff.

Dave and Aaron get their shot at legitimate journalism when they learn that Kim Jong-un is a big fan of "Skylark Tonight" and willing to grant a rare, unprecedented interview to the show. The exclusive get prompts Dave and Aaron to celebrate with ecstasy, while others in the media to criticize the ethical compromises they'll have to make (Dave agrees to have Kim's people supply all the questions). It also prompts CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) to pitch the assassination plan using a strip of slow, lethal ricin to be transferred in a pre-interview handshake.

Over in North Korea, Dave discovers that Supreme Leader Kim is nothing like he expected. He's a cool guy who drives tanks, secretly loves Katy Perry's music, and has wrestled with some of the same father issues that have troubled Dave. These experiences, along with a carefully choreographed tour of Pyongyang, defy prevalent notions about the country and give the host second thoughts about poisoning the totalitarian leader, a task that seems beyond the capabilities of the two Americans abroad anyway. Meanwhile, Dave takes a liking to Kim's propagandist (Diana Bang), who confesses she's stretched the truth somewhat regarding the state of the nation, which suddenly finds itself in possession of nuclear missiles that could reach the United States' Pacific Coast.

Dave Skylark (James Franco) and President Kim (Randall Park) spark an unlikely friendship in "The Interview."

Rogen and Goldberg have distinguished their comedy from other raunchy R-rated farces by committing to genres wholeheartedly. Pineapple Express, The Green Hornet, and This Is the End may have all had their laughs, but they also played the role of action, superhero, and apocalypse films. Even the pair's first feature as screenwriters,
Superbad, packed some pathos as a genuine exploration of adolescent friendship. The group they most resemble in content is the British trio of writer-director Edgar Wright and his stars/co-writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who have similarly mined zombies, cops, and conspiracy for comedy that also functions as genuinely thrilling cinema.

Like Pineapple Express, Interview fancies itself an action movie. That's the look and tone it maintains with polished, cinematic visuals and some major stunts and conflict. Still, there's no mistaking this for a James Bond or Jack Ryan movie. Comedy pervades the film and it's in the crude manner we've come to expect of Rogen and friends, who got their start under the tutelage of Judd Apatow. Apatow produced Rogen and Goldberg's first forays into screenwriting, but they've gone separate ways, with Apatow clearly preferring to tell conventionally romantic human interest stories and Rogen-Goldberg displaying more of an appetite for genre-infused comedy. Both groups have had their successes while branching out somewhat and necessarily from their big, shared mid-Noughties breakout. There is still much in common between the two types of films. The Interview is full of celebrity cameos and pop culture references (Dave repeatedly describes his and Aaron's friendship in terms of Frodo and Samwise Gamgee).

Despite all the hoopla and becoming the center of international tension and freedom of speech debate, Interview has very little of a political conscience. That it broaches the issues of North Korean famine and concentration camps and, in doing so, raises awareness of them is admirable. But it's a brief diversion between jokes about shoving things up your butt, genital odors, and pooping your pants. I'm a lot less snobby about comedy than some of my fellow critics and won't write something off for being immature or crude (Due Date and Horrible Bosses cracked my recent list of the top 100 films of the half-decade). But such shenanigans have to be funny to warrant praise. The Interview rarely is all that funny. Its story shows some wit and Franco at least makes a concerted effort to create a character a bit different from his stoner persona. But you don't really enjoy spending time with these two buddies and the pointed Kim comedy is less hilarious than uncomfortable.

The Interview Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Service, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: February 17, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($14.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

As discussed above, The Interview looks more like an espionage thriller than a comedy with its dark, contrasty visuals. The 2.40:1 presentation is as perfect as the majority of Sony Blu-rays are. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix also offers some kick, from prominent needle drops to some explosions and gunfire. It seems safe to say that the picture and sound of the Blu-ray are superior to the movie's various other download and streaming options.

Remember K-Fed? Playing himself, Kevin Federline gives a speech in this deleted scene. Timothy Simons tries to cover up his laughter in the gag reel.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. They clearly take their work very seriously, but maintain a sense of humor about it, making this track more enjoyable than most. Though there are some juvenile antics (announced pee breaks, lighters flicking and coughing) and suspicious silences (most noticeably after mentioning that Katy Perry should be invited to the premiere), there's also lots of thought devoted to every topic you can think of, including music selections, costuming,
Randall Park's rapid weight gain, visual references including Argo, missed callbacks they lament, developing characters to earn and lose sympathy, Vancouver filming locations, visual effects, the tiger trainer, cast member creative input, and sporadic use of improvisation. Recorded back in October, the commentary predates the real release controversy and thus sadly sheds no light on it. Still, the two are full of information and easy to listen to, a winning combination rarely found in commentaries these days.

The all-HD video side of things kicks off with "Deleted, Extended and Alternate Scenes" (25:21), which is comprised of fourteen bits unused, shortened, or somehow altered in the film. The sometimes greenscreen-heavy bits include an appearance by otherwise missing Kevin Federline and barely glimpsed at Guy Fieri, but not other stars reportedly paid to be in the film that didn't make it, like Jay Z, Beyoncι, Brad Pitt, Zooey Deschanel, and Neil Patrick Harris.

A gag reel (7:03) titled "The Interview Funny Laughter Montage" preserves goofs and the giggles that come with it.

Line-o-Rama gives us alternate lines from existing scenes. Randall Park describes rapidly transforming himself for his biggest film role to date.

Next, we get three Line-o-Ramas (9:32), showing us unused alternate lines, ad libs, and jokes from three scenes. Not surprisingly, these repetitive montages wear out their welcome.

"Directors of This Movie" (6:41) lets Rogen and Goldberg discuss each other, their spy movie influences, and their crew collaborators, who also talk about working for both. The remarks are complemented by behind-the-scenes footage.

"Spies Among Us" (7:24) celebrates the cast and their characterizations.

"Randall Park Audition Tape" (5:14) shows the actor's screen test for the part, performing across from an off-camera Rogen to frequent laughter. "Great Leader: Getting Into Character" (4:47) focuses on Park's work and his transformation to portray the dictator. "Dating a Dictator" (1:10) gives us Kim Jong-un's dating video.

James Franco and Seth Rogen are Naked and Afraid in their contribution to Discovery Channel's survival series. Directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg welcome you in the closest the disc gets to acknowledging its controversy.

"Puppy Power" (1:56) talks about the film's adorable King Charles Spaniel. "Here Kitty Kitty" (5:19) turns our attention to the movie's other animal (Robbie the tiger) and his challenging work conditions. "Joking Around" (1:54) profiles a couple of executive producers who punch up scenes with dirty jokes.

Finally, we get "Naked and Afraid" (13:47), which pairs up Rogen and Franco for a comic take on the Discovery Channel survival series. They are to endure "21 days" out in the woods with almost nothing at all, not even clothes,
except for toilet paper and sunglasses. Predictably disastrous and not so humorous, it will probably do more for those familiar with the show whose design appears to be upheld. Their privates, of course, are blurred.

In addition, the disc opens with a 19-second video introduction from Goldberg and Rogen extolling you for being a "[expletive, expletive] American hero" by watching the disc.

No trailers play at disc insertion, but the Previews listing runs ads for Digital HD UltraViolet, Fury, The Wedding Ringer, Chappie, and (red band) Home Sweet Hell. Typical for a new Columbia Pictures release, The Interview's trailers unfortunately are not included.

The poster art adapted for the cover also gets formatted to serve as scored 16:9 top menu. The Blu-ray resumes playback and lets you set bookmarks as well.

An insert provides your code and directions for the Digital HD with UltraViolet presentation of the film included with purchase. The case makes no mention whatsoever of controversy. It also interestingly and uncharacteristically does not feature the name Sony anywhere on the package (it's also left off the film's opening).

Dave Skylark (James Franco) and Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) are probably not the guys you want to trust with killing a world leader.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Interview is one of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's weakest movies to date, but I'm with those defending its right to be seen. Sure, The Great Dictator, it's not, but shelving movies that offend some is a dangerous practice and attempting to avoid controversy seems certain to stifle creativity. It'd be nice if The Interview held up its part of the deal and offered a really funny experience, but it is only sporadically amusing, which still puts it among the middle of the pack as far as new comedy films go.

Sony deserves credit for not only releasing the film but treating it to a Blu-ray loaded with bonus features like other comedies from this duo. While I can't recommend the disc on quality, there is obviously enough significance to warrant that you give it a look and decide whether it deserved all the fuss it generated.

Buy The Interview from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Written by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg: This Is the End • The Green Hornet • Superbad
Controversial Films: The Last Temptation of Christ • A Clockwork Orange • I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
The Dictator • Tropic Thunder • 21 Jump Street • The Hangover • Veep: The Complete First Season
James Franco: Good People • 127 Hours | Seth Rogen: The Guilt Trip • Anchorman • Funny People
Written by Dan Sterling: The Sarah Silverman Program: Season 3

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Reviewed February 20, 2015.



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