Review: The Interview – Better Late Than Never, I Guess

Well, now that all of the hoopla over The Interview has died down, we here at Pop Rocking Culture recently watched the movie.  (An aside:  Yes, Blue Striker did watch the movie with Bill, Dad and me.  Blue will tell you, in his words, that this movie is “inappropriate for kids”. I had to cover Blue’s eyes about two times.  When asked for a reaction to the movie, Blue gave a mock vomiting sound — not exactly a thumbs up.)

The Interview is yet another in a string of “bromances” that get a lot of play at the movie theater.  It was obvious that one of the sources the film drew from was the old Bob Hope/Bing Crosby “Road” movies.  This movie could have been called The Road to Pyongyang.  In case you were wondering, James Franco is in the “goofball” Bob Hope role that spurs the plot of the film.  Seth Rogen has the “smart guy” Bing Crosby part, and even gets the girl (for a while).  Yes, I know that Rogen resembles the suave, witty crooner as much as he did Van Williams’ Britt Reid in The Green Hornet.  Read into that what you will.

I admit that I laughed a lot at James Franco’s Dave Skylark character.  His hair, wardrobe, political/social cluelessness and monumental ego were pretty funny.  Skylark’s relationship with Randall Park’s Kim Jong Un is the real romance, er, bromance here.  (I am sure that the gay subtext regarding Kim was one of the things that made the North Korean government unhappy.)  Park had the best role in the movie, as the unpredictable “Supreme Leader”.  Park, who currently plays the dad on Fresh Off the Boat, is definitely a Hollywood version of Kim Jong Un, right down to the perfect teeth.  At one point, I found myself wondering who Park’s orthodonist was. (Oh, come on, NO ONE has teeth that great naturally!)

Unfortunately, at the end, the movie stretches an already absurd story to the breaking point.  The movie becomes a rather bloody, bad (unintentional?) parody of an action movie.  I rolled my eyes at the shift in tone. I thought, all of sudden, these buffoons know how to fight/shoot guns/drive a tank successfully?

To wrap it up, The Interview, while it wasn’t as bad as I expected, wasn’t as good as it could have been.  It wasn’t worth risking the wrath of a country that is both unknown and unpredictable — whether or not North Korea was responsible for the Sony hack.*  I found myself wanting to watch Team America:  World Police again…later.  Because as “inappropriate” as The Interview is for kids, Team America is really inappropriate.  But it’s a much better movie!

*P.S.:  Suki Kim’s memoir about teaching the sons of the North Korean elite in North Korea, Without You, There Is No Us, is a great book.

Opossum Carols, or Walt Kelly’s Xmas Postludicrosity

More Christmas reflections. I played the video for Bill and Blue Striker…their reaction? “What the heck is this?!” If you don’t get it, you’re too young!

Humor in America

As the first snows of December drift across my South St Louis windows, and the last shards of Thanksgiving turkey find their way into the requisite casseroles, cold cuts, and cauldrons of stock, I find myself harkening back to early Advent Sundays of yore.

My childhood, like so many others, was loaded with the humor of the holidays, but one of my family’s favorite traditions always tended in a more marsupial direction. So if you’ie got some time between mixing tubs of “Tom and Jerry” and trimming the tree, I’d like to share one of many meaningful excursions through the absurd quadrants of kiddie Christmas culture.

Charlie3
As I boy growing up in Detroit in the 1970s, I loved watching my mother collapse the last of her gargantuan Thanksgiving feast into a few impossibly crammed Tupperware containers and stuff the serving platters, gravy boats, and silver-plate cutlery away for their long…

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Watching Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967) on Netflix

An Appreciation: Mike Nichols (1931-2014)

I know that this is a bit of a departure from the usual topics here at Pop Rocking Culture, as well as a bit late, but I wanted to write about the late director Mike Nichols.  Nichols passed away earlier this month at the age of 83.  Among other things, Nichols attended the University of Chicago, although he dropped out to pursue an acting career.  (As an aside, I have a degree from the U of C.  Over the years, I’ve noticed that the University of Chicago, like Harvard, is one of those places where the dropouts are as famous as the grads.) Nichols had a successful career as part of a comedy duo with Elaine May during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

But when I think of Mike Nichols, I think of a couple of my favorite movies:  The Graduate (1967) and Postcards from the Edge (1990).  To me, The Graduate is one of the rare movies that is better than the source book.  Mike Nichols’ directing gave The Graduate a needed lighter, more comedic touch (Nichols received an Academy Award for Best Director).  The casting was also a great contribution to the movie’s success.  Much has been mentioned about Dustin Hoffman’s replacing the originally-intended Robert Redford in the part of Benjamin Braddock.  Hoffman, with his earnest, somewhat naive persona and his “average guy” looks, made the character of Braddock sympathetic.  As Nichols eventually realized, it would have been more difficult to get an audience to sympathize with a circa-1967 Robert Redford.  And although Anne Bancroft still played Mrs. Robinson as the self-absorbed predator of the book, her comic timing in the scenes with Hoffman rendered her somewhat likable.

Postcards from the Edge is based on Carrie Fisher’s semi-autobiographical novel.  (An aside for those of you who only think of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, go read Postcards.) Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine play daughter and mother (based on Fisher’s real-life mother, Debbie Reynolds) in the film.  Although Postcards the movie isn’t as good as the book, it’s still pretty funny.  The interplay between Streep and MacLaine is classic, and puts a humorous spin on an otherwise tense relationship.  (For those who care, this film passes the Bechdel Test.)  And watch for the bit where Streep “hangs from a building” during a movie shoot.

Mike Nichols also worked with Meryl Streep on the great, but very serious, Silkwood (1983) as well as the comedy Heartburn (1986), adapted from Nora Ephron’s semi-autobiographical novel (yes, another one) about the dissolution of her marriage to famed journalist Carl Bernstein.  In Heartburn, as in The Graduate, casting plus directing are key elements.  The last time movie audiences saw the character of Carl Bernstein, he was portrayed by a still “earnest and somewhat naïve” Dustin Hoffman in All the President’s Men (1976).  Casting Jack Nicholson as the “Bernstein character” is a 180 degree shift from the earlier film.  Although, like Postcards, Heartburn the movie doesn’t measure up to the book, Nichols’ direction makes it entertaining.

I think that because of his earlier work with Elaine May, Mike Nichols the director had an awareness of women as “real people”, and therefore was able to bring forth fully-formed female performances.  I am sure that it wasn’t hard to do when working with good source materials such as Postcards and Heartburn. However, Nichols’ directing abilities were apparent when it came to fleshing-out the relatively flat character of Mrs. Robinson, as well as later on with the more challenging real-life personas of Karen Silkwood and her friend Dolly Pelliker in Silkwood (screenplay co-written by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen).

With Nichols’ death, Hollywood has lost a true talent.

Throwback Thursday –A Look Back at Dumb & Dumber (1994)

In light of the premiere of  Dumb & Dumber To [not a misspelling]  (“D&DT”) tomorrow, my family and I watched the original Dumb & Dumber (“D&D”) from 1994 a couple of days ago.  I hadn’t seen the movie in years, and wondered how well it would hold up in the 20 years since it first came out. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself still laughing at it.  (Yes, I know that there was a 2003 prequel, Dumb & Dumberer, but this is the only time I will mention it.)

In short, D&D is the story of two not-so-bright guys, Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey), who make a cross-country trip to return a briefcase to a woman whom Lloyd considers “the love of his life”. [An aside – until I did some research, I completely forgot that Jim Carrey was briefly married to Lauren Holly, who played the love interest in the movie.]  The briefcase, of course, is a MacGuffin that serves to propel the story.  It wasn’t until I saw the movie again that I realize the similarity of this film to a couple of Hitchcock films, particularly North by Northwest.  Of course, the guys in D&D were the polar opposite of the sophisticated characters played by Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in the Hitchcock film.

As with all Farrelly brothers’ comedies, this film isn’t for everyone (and you know who you are).  Scatological and just plain gross humor abounds here.  And like the later There’s Something About Mary (1998), the audience is definitely laughing at, not with, the main characters.  And that’s okay, because despite Harry and Lloyd’s “dumb” demeanor, each of the characters has enough guile and street smarts for the audience to see them in a comedic, rather than sympathetic, light.  We see, for example, that Harry and Lloyd are capable of stabbing each other in the back to get ahead.

I always wondered how the Farrelly brothers managed to get Jeff Daniels to play against type in the D&D.  In 1994, Daniels was probably best known for being Debra Winger’s jerky husband in Terms of Endearment (1983).  His pleasantly WASP-y façade isn’t what you would consider as suitable for a crude slapstick comedy.  I can only imagine that doing D&DT was probably a nice break from the serious character he plays on Aaron Sorkin’s  talky, somnambulant (at least to me) The Newsroom.  At least Daniels’ character Harry has a slightly better hairstyle this time around.

In contrast to Daniels, at the time of D&D, Jim Carrey was riding the crest of his comedy career.  Carrey’s Lloyd was definitely the protagonist (and the dumber one) of D&D, given the box office success of films such as Ace Ventura, Pet Detective (1994).  Carrey has seen less success in recent years, however.  Maybe by returning to the scene of this well-remembered and extensively referenced movie, Moe Howard-style bowl cut and all, Carrey will finally get his comeback.  (If so, I hope Eddie Murphy pays attention – Coming to America Too, anyone?)

I admit that I won’t rush out and see D&DT this weekend. My son wants me to see Big Hero 6 with him, and I don’t like going to see a film opening weekend.  But I do hope that the film is as funny as the original, and does well at the box office.  D&DT is definitely a much-needed break from omnipresent big action films, as well as the serious Oscar contenders that dominate the theaters this time of year.

Lynne a.k.a. Poprocker1