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‘The Interview’ no heir to Chaplin classic ‘The Great Dictator’

Date: 1/2/2015

I worked over my Christmas break to save you $5.99.

Now streaming: The Interview

Controversy sells tickets. Howard Hughes realized that with his 1941 western “The Outlaw” starting Jane Russell. The film featured a 30 second shot that the Breen Office – the movie industry self-censors – felt was unacceptable and held up the release of the film until 1946. It was then a box office hit.

“I am Curious (Yellow),” a left wing Swedish political drama made a ton of dough in 1968 when it was released here not for its story but for its controversial sex scenes.

We love to see things we are told we shouldn’t see. When I was a kid, the phrase “Banned in Boston” was used to attract people to movies and other pop culture products.

My question is would “The Interview” have been so attractive to people if North Korea hadn’t hacked Sony Pictures because of its subject?  Someone told us we shouldn’t see it, which in turn kicked off a movement to see the film.

It reportedly made $15 million through its online sales this weekend. 

Let me be clear, “The Interview” is not an heir to Charles Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator.” This is not a comedy with a serious intent. The filmmakers are much more indebted to The Three Stooges’ 1940 comedy “You Natzy Spy.”

In fact, when the Columbia Pictures logo opens “The Interview,” the music that accompanies it is the composition used by Columbia back in 1940s.

What amazed me was that Sony execs didn’t see how the subject of this film would undoubtedly prevent it from being released in Asia, a key market for American films.

This is a very broad comedy. James Franco played Dave Skylark, a cable TV interviewer who is pretty much a complete moron. His producer Aaron, played by Seth Rogan, has guided his success. When they are able to obtain an interview with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un they understand their reputations could reach a new level.

The CIA wants them to assassinate Kim in order to spur a revolution and when they make it to North Korea they discover killing Kim may not be as easy as they had been told. Skylark is impressed with the dictator, played as a man-boy by Randall Park. 

People may debate the wisdom of producing a film in which two Americans are depicted as killing a sitting head of state. While I’ll let you ponder that issue, I will say I found the movie to be fairly void of laughs.

Franco’s character is so broad he simply isn’t funny. He’s an obnoxious tool and Aaron’s loyalty to him is difficult to fathom. Rather than try to present a satire on media and politics, more time is spent on slapstick and scatological gags.

Generally I find Seth Rogan pretty funny, but this pairing with Franco, one of today’s most over-rated performers, misses the mark.

The Good List

The following are among the best films I wrote about for this column last year on DVD, online or in theaters in no particular order.

Rewind This” – a funny and nostalgic documentary on the VHS era.

The Prey” – a superior crime thriller from France.

Nebraska” – a moving, subtle, funny and sad film about family with a performance from Bruce Dern that tops his long career.

Captain America: The Winter Solider” – a well-done film that merged the elements of a comic book movie with the one of political thriller.

Her” – a science fiction film that presents a logical story about artificial intelligence.

Snowpiercer” – an audacious look at the ultimate class warfare.

Hangmen Also Die” – Director Fritz Lang’s 1943 wartime thriller still packs a punch today.

Guardians of the Galaxy” – Director James Gunn has done some amazing work as an independent and he managed to carry over his quirky sensibilities to this big budget comic book epic.

Gone Girl” – a great rollercoaster of a thriller that showed that Ben Affleck is still a good actor.

Finding Vivian Maier” – a mystery about a great photographer who hid her work from everyone but herself.

The Babadook” – an amazingly original horror film.

Chef” – a wonderful feel good comedy about a chef who finds redemption through his love of food.

Raw Force” – This astonishingly cheesy 1982 drive-in movie made its debut on Blu-Ray and stands as a textbook example of an era in movie making that has passed.

Bound by Flesh” – a sympathetic look at the lives of the conjoined twins, the Hilton Sisters.

Under the Skin” – Although its story is often slowly paced and the editing isn’t viewer-friendly, this science fiction film addresses how an alien life form develops an affinity with humans.

Bettie Page Reveals All” – The 1950s pin-up queen tells her own story in this accomplished documentary.