Friday, December 26, 2014

Defending an Awful 'Interview' and Welcoming 'Selma', 'Unbroken' and 'Into the Woods'

David Oyelowo (center) as Martin Luther King Jr. in "Selma." Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

There are no good guys in this tale. In the saga of “The Interview” and terrorists and/or alleged terrorists who would seek to stop its release.

Watching this less-than-pedestrian film, Yours Truly could not help but imagine what might transpire if filmmakers in a country without a nuclear weapon had made a film about an assassination attempt of a sitting U.S. president.

As the entire world must know by now, “The Interview” is about the eventual assassination of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. (See video below).

Of course, artists should have the right to express their art in any way they wish, regardless of how repugnant. On the otherhand, detractors have a right to criticize and pillory it. To threaten the artist (s), however, goes beyond the pale.

The film opened on Christmas Day after all, albeit in very limited release simultaneously in a smattering of theaters, online and on-demand. A little more than a week ago, its distributor, Sony Pictures, disclosed that it would not release “The Interview” on 25 Dec., fearing further cyber-attacks from a group called Guardians of Peace.

The film company reversed itself after it was roundly criticized in disparate corners, including the Oval Office.

Other films that opened on Christmas Day are "Unbroken," "Into the Woods and “Selma.” Directed by Ava DuVernay, "Selma" chronicles the civil rights marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. and others in 1965 from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama.

The marches, organized to highlight and protest brutal and barbaric Jim Crow laws, led to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. British-Nigerian actor David Oyelowo, who lobbied for years to play this role, delivers a tour de force performance as MLK.

No such accolade for “The Interview.” It is in the poorest taste, further evidence of the relentless assaults on propriety, civility and respect in this culture, a milieu in which dissent is so often ridiculed and held in contempt.

With respect to “The Interview,” North Korea has essentially been told to get over it. Really, can't you take a joke? Is it surprising that North Korea would not see the humor in “The Interview”? These eyes and ears saw and heard very little humor.

One's time would be better spent in the company of “Unbroken.” Also known as the directorial debut of Angelina Jolie – who is also a producer – the film recounts the story of Louis "Louie" Zamperini (Jack O'Connell ). He went from juvenile delinquent on a trajectory to higher crimes and misdemeanors to Olympic glory to POW degradation to war hero. Mr. Zamperini died in July 2014. He was 97.

The film is based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. “Unbroken tells a uniquely American story. Though typical of the hero's story in its sometimes slavish reverence, “Unbroken” is inspirational and touching.

Imagine. What would the United States do if filmmakers from a nuclear weaponless (or even one with such a weapon of mass destruction) country made a film about the assassination of President Barack Obama or any sitting U.S. president? Imagine:

Angelina Jolie and Louis Zamperini sit for an interview with Tom Brokaw. Photo from "Unbroken" Facebook page.

The United States might threaten military attack on said nuclear weaponless country if the film were released. The United States might shut down the nation's Internet. The United States, through diplomatic channels, might suggest that regime change was necessary if such a film were to see the darkness of a theater.

The United States would consider it an act of war. The United States would make it clear through all of the necessary channels in said country that such a film should not be shown in theaters anywhere in the world. The United States might seek extradition of the filmmakers.

Failing that, this mighty nation would not be above sending an extraction team for the unwitting “artists.” And the United States would pursue other saber-rattling measures.

Perhaps Imagination has run too far away with me, but the outrage over the curtailment of artistic freedom and censorship that sprung up after Sony's decision smacks of hypocrisy.

If the shoe were on the other foot, many of the voices raised against North Korea – which has been accused of orchestrating the cyber-attack without a reasonable standard of proof by the CIA, no less, in an instance of life imitating art – would be demanding that Washington act against such threats to this country and our president.

The United States detests North Korea, and it is not an ally. Consequently – apparently – it does not deserve the due process or respect that we would demand for ourselves and our allies.

A foreign-made film about the assassination of a sitting U.S. president simply would not find distribution in this country. But because “The Interview” imagines the demise of a sitting head of state of whom the United States does not approve, seemingly the film is harmless.

Even President Obama referred to its satiric nature. Sure, it's a satire. Its creators had every right to express their artistic freedom in this way.

Imagine a film that is a cross-pollination of "Cinderella," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Rapunzel." James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim dared to and the result was the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, “In the Woods.” Now adapted for the screen by JL.

At the center of this fantasy is a childless couple that may or may not have been cursed to be barren by a witch. Rob Marshall had his hands full directing this delicious, witty, wicked gumbo. Seemingly, the starts stood in line (or rather, their people did) at Central Casting: Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Emily Blunt, Lucy Punch ...

Imagination continued its machinations as I watched Kim Jong-un portrayed in "The Interview" as an insecure, sex-crazed, power-mad, despot. No doubt, the film will do at the box office better than it deserves. I also hypothesized some outcomes if this Sony Pictures film had been about the assassination of President Obama.

In this scenario, of course, U.S. filmmakers are producing a film about killing our sitting president instead of one about the sitting leader of a detested and despised nation, a country that Washington would have obliterated from the face of the earth by now if not for China and a nuclear weapon as its guardians.

First, a question. Would such a film even be greenlit? Absolutely not, but I digress. Sticking with the premise that the film is about the assassination of a sitting U.S. president, I imagine the following.

The studio would become the subject of Congressional hearings. In turn, said studio would fire anyone remotely associated with the production of the film. The actual producers would be labeled terrorists and/or Enemies of the State.

Agents from the Office of Homeland Security would come banging on – if not kicking in – the doors of the film's producers and various suits at the studio. Perp walks to a cargo vessel en route to Guantanamo Bay would be televised and digitized. I imagine hell breaking loose.

Every naughty deed of which the persons of interest were the author since the age of 2 would be recalled in exquisite, damning detail. To feed the 24-hour news cycle, enemies, dating to first grade, would be unearthed for the purposes of character assassination. Psychiatrists would be pressed into to service to offer armchair psychological profiles that suggest homicidal, terroristic tendencies.

“The Interview" stars James Franco as vain, vapid television interviewer Dave Skylark. Dave's stock in trade is the celebrity interview and confessional. The more salacious and titillating, the better. The film also stars Seth Rogen as his producer, Aaron Rapoport. SR is also one of the film's producers. One could say one of Aaron's most fervent desires is to produce a show that does hard-hitting journalism.

As luck, or an inane Hollywood script would have it, Aaron gets his chance when Dave is plucked to interview Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). Lil Kim,Bill Maher
(who makes one of numerous cameos in the film) calls him, is a huge fan of Dave's show.

After travel arrangements are made – including a visit from the CIA with a scheme for Dave to give the North Korean leader a killer handshake – off he and Aaron go to Asia. That's the premise of the film.

Guardians of Peace allegedly claimed responsibility for hacking Sony computers in late November, exposing embarrassing emails and other information. Sony's initial decision to halt the release of “The Interview” was also informed, a Sony spokesmen disclosed, by the decision of movie theater chains not to show the film, fearing “terrorist” attacks, allegedly made by Guardians of Peace.

Johnny Depp as the wolf in "Into the Woods." Photo from Facebook page.

The alleged hacking of Sony's computers, threats of further hacking and terrorist attacks, despicable acts all. Likewise, for the making and release of “The Interview.”

There are no good guys in this sorry tale.

“The Interview is rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence; visit to learn more about the film.

“Selma” is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language; visit to learn more about the film.

“Unbroken” is rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language; visit to learn more about the film.

“Into the Woods” is rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material; visit to learn more about the film.

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