Take This Waltz

I’m working on a bunch of things at the moment, but none of them are postworthy yet. I was looking back over some of my older reviews (occasionally painful, often handy yardsticks) and I realised a) I’ve done a whole lot of reviews that haven’t made their way here and b) It’s a bunch of work I’ve already done just sitting there gathering e-dust. I get to plagiarise myself and I just checked with me, and I’m fine with it. Anyway, in an attempt at review diversity and to prove that I don’t just rag on dumb blockbusters, here’s an indie film that I fucking hated. It was originally posted on Cinehouse, where my work occasionally appears.

Take This Waltz (2012)

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz. I only knew her as the lead in Zack Snyder’s surprisingly not crap 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. I haven’t seen her previous film: Away From Her, but by all accounts it’s a powerful and moving piece. I’m always up for a bit of cine-brain food so I sat down and carefully placed the disc in the player. 20 minutes in and I brought up the timer to see how long I had left to go. Not a good sign.

Michelle Williams plays Margot, an aspiring writer who is married to Lou (Seth Rogen), a chef compiling a chicken cookbook. Whilst on an excursion, Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby). Sparks fly and there’s an instant mutual attraction. After finding out Daniel lives very close by, Margot’s temptation to stray from her safe, dependable marriage becomes stronger and stronger and the film deals with her being caught between the two men. Whilst it stars some really great actors, I really got a disingenuous feeling from it all. Michelle Williams’ Margot is meant to be quirkier than a hat on a lamb, but ends up coming across as a cynical approximation of a quirky lass. It’s not her fault as I’m sure this is how she was directed. She’s been fantastic in other films. It’s just all so insultingly twee and precious. There’s a scene early on where she and Daniel are both in the back of a cab, blowing some kind of hanging tassel back and forth. I’m sure this is meant to be charming, but I kept thinking “You’re both fucking adults! What the hell!?” I know adults act like childish dicks all the time (I’d like to think I specialise in it), but it just seemed so laboured and staged.

It’s hard to express the sort of reaction I had to this film. For nearly all of the runtime, it’s an indier-than-thou bullshit romance. It’s the sort of film destined to have monochromatic .gifs of key scenes made of it and plastered all over Tumblr. The dialogue is that special breed of pretentious and whimsical, containing “deep” metaphors. In their first proper meeting, Margot confides in Daniel that she’s been fraudulently using airport wheelchair facilities to make sure she doesn’t miss her connecting flights. She confesses she’s afraid of being afraid of missing connections. Overlooking the appalling misuse of disabled facilities, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this works as a handy plot metaphor too. It’s really not as clever as it thinks it is. As soon as the lines were said, I had flagged them up as narrative signposts, rather than just two people talking. The whole film’s like this and I had a tough time sticking with it.

I think the characters are my main problem. We’re not meant to unequivocally love Margot, but I don’t think you’re meant to dislike her as much as I did. She’s an air-headed, silly little girl who I just didn’t have any time for. Cardboard lothario Daniel, played by Kirby and looking like The Walking Dead‘s Andrew Lincoln run through the “hipster dreamboat” filter a few times, is a struggling bohemian artist type who makes ends meet working as a rickshaw driver around Toronto. If you just let out anything resembling a snort of derision at that character description, this film won’t be for you. Seth Rogen’s Lou is just a nice, average guy and is therefore (intentionally) pretty boring. The only one with some “oomph” about them is Sarah Silverman’s recovering alcoholic Geraldine, who gets a fantastic scene towards the end and gets to say a few things to Margot that I found to be very cathartic.

Look, it isn’t all bad. It’s undeniably a well-made film. Some of the shots and locations are truly beautiful. The film also has quite a candid approach to things which gives an air of reality to proceedings. It’s a compelling illusion until somebody opens their gob and more whimsical crap dollops out. The actors are occasionally allowed to act like real people and Seth Rogen gets some really nice moments. I know I’m not the target demographic for this. There is an audience out there who will love it for what it is- I just don’t want to know them. Had the film stayed on the course it was on for 90% of the total time, it would have been one of the most irritating films I’d ever seen. As it stands, the ending makes up for a bit, but not nearly enough. The very last bit spoils it though. Just even suggesting that Margot can retreat back into her little fantasy land and not learn anything from everything that’s happened was truly maddening.

Take This Waltz is a pretentious, “grass is greener” story that wants to play with romantic conventions, but ends up as an annoying air-headed fantasy with delusions of depth. I’ve only just unclenched my fists to type this review. It pissed me off. Stick that on the DVD cover.

The Interview

Hollywood hacks.

The Interview (2015)

I don’t need to tell you about the furore surrounding this one. Like many people, I found myself wanting to check out the infamous film after it looked like Sony weren’t going to release it. I think it was the forbidden fruit angle. Anyway, all of that quietened down and Sony released it online and in select theatres in the U.S. and it made its way to these rainy shores sometime last week. Being more committed to writing as of late, I figured The Interview was at least worth checking out to see if it was good once the almighty international shitstorm died down. Spoiler: it’s pretty mediocre.

James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a vacuous celebrity talk show host. Seth Rogen plays his producer, unhappy with the shallow nature of the programming. The pair learn that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (Randall Park) is a big fan of the show and, seeing a chance to score some professional kudos, the pair contact NK’s press offices to set up an interview. Their request accepted, Skylark and Rapaport pack their bags for Pyongyang and are contacted by Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), a CIA agent who recruits the duo to assassinate the mental despot whilst they’re over there. The script isn’t great. Whilst there is proper storytelling going on (foreshadowing, actual character arcs) a lot of the jokes suffer from the “throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks” approach. I laughed several times during the film, but I’m more willing to put that down to the buckshot nature of it all, rather than properly crafted jokes. The comedy is broad and vulgar, as you’d expect. I don’t want to come across as some snooty dick who thinks he’s above poop jokes (and there are sooo many in the film). I enjoyed This Is the End a hell of a lot and I liked Rogen’s previous effort Bad Neighbours (simply “Neighbours” in non-UK territories). A lot of the gags in The Interview just seemed quite lazy. I know that now the question is “well, what did you expect?” Well, something a little better than this.

As much as I like James Franco, I’m not sure what the hell he’s doing as Dave Skylark. It’s an incredibly over-the-top tryhard performance and it sunk more than a few comedic moments. The guy can be incredibly funny and has proven so in the aforementioned This Is the End and Pineapple Express. It’s weirdly misjudged. Rogen plays a standard Rogen role, so he balances out some of the Skylark nonsense. MVPs of the film are Randall Park and Diana Bang. Park actually makes you like the Katy Perry liking murderer and makes him seem like someone you’d definitely invite to a night out. Diana Bang also does great work as Sook, Un’s propaganda minister. They’re both layered performances and it elevates the film considerably when they’re both introduced.

When I say the humour’s “broad”, I really mean it. You’re not going to get much more than dick jokes. That’s fine, but the quality of said dick jokes pales in comparison to something like This Is the End. Some of the stuff seemed incredibly dated too. I mean, Lord of the Rings references in a 2014 film, really? They’re not even good ones. Also, nice of them to use Katy Perry’s “Firework” – a song second only to Smash Mouth’s “All Star” in terms of soundtrack overusage. Whilst there are moments that do work, I found myself rolling my eyes at every lazy gag and every hacky joke. For its inflammatory central conceit, the film seems to be happy with sticking to old hat jokes. There’s one scene where Agent Lacey tells the duo she wants them to “take (Kim Jong Un) out”. At this point, the screen may as well flashed up some sing-a-long lyrics at the bottom, complete with bouncing ball. I refuse to believe that there was anyone in the cinema who didn’t know that the pair would misconstrue what she was saying and that the next line would amount to something like “…for drinks?” or “for dinner?”. It’s an incredibly simple joke but they continue riffing on it for a whole minute. A very long feeling minute. There’s no real satire to the film. Just the point that North Korea is weird and bad. Not sure about you, but I didn’t need to slap down the best part of a tenner for that incredible insight. Again, yeah, what did I expect from a Rogen/Franco film? Well, what’s the frigging point of having a controversial plot if you’re going to squander opportunities to actually say something?

The Interview is just about passable. There are hints of a much better script underneath all the lunkhead humour. I will say this, I wasn’t bored at any point, but I really felt like I should be laughing a lot more than I actually did. I’ll shakily recommend it because of the super-subjective nature of comedy, but it’s not something I’d be confident enough in to shout it from the rooftops.