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2016 Golden Globes Nominations Blur The Boundaries Among Genres

By Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

When it comes to comedy, there is the kind of funny that makes you go “ha!,” and there’s the kind of funny that makes you go “huh?”

This year’s roster of Golden Globe nominees in the comedy or musical category encompasses both definitions. It’s reflective of the distinctive identity of the Globes themselves — the only major award that separates drama and comedy — and the complicated nature of some of today’s movie comedies from filmmakers such as the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson.

Among the major Hollywood awards shows, the Globes have the biggest tent, taking in traditional Oscar fare — which has increasingly come to mean smaller, darker independent fare — and the kind of populist movies that the Motion Picture Academy generally overlooks, as well as a few outliers that may not have been on anyone’s radar. This year is no exception, especially in the comedy or musical category.

Alongside two broad crowd-pleasing movies clearly aimed almost entirely at getting laughs — Melissa McCarthy’s Spy and the raunchy Amy Schumer rom-com Trainwreck — are three films that, to varying degrees, stretch the definition of what might be considered a comedy: Joy, The Big Short and The Martian.

All have comedic elements, but none is what you’d call a nonstop laugh riot, nor are they designed to be. Two of the films — David O. Russell’s Joy and Adam McKay’s The Big Short — can be seen as commentaries on the corruption and depletion of the American economy — while Ridley Scott’s The Martian is a sci-fi adventure in which the fate of Matt Damon’s stranded astronaut is at stake.

The films in the drama category are for the most part more traditional award season bait — Carol, The Revenant, Room and Spotlight — although the fifth nominee, Mad Max: Fury Road, is the kind of high-octane action flick rarely acknowledged this time of year.

Whatever the Globes may lack in predictive power for the Academy Awards (as can’t be repeated too often, Globes nominations are made by a small group of members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, not film industry professionals), they frequently make up for in their surprising array of nominations, and a Globes win can imbue a film with a sense of momentum as the awards season rolls on.

That’s especially relevant for The Big Short, which has solidified its standing as an Oscar force to be reckoned with in recent weeks, with a slew of nominations and critics awards. It was directed by one of the industry’s most successful comedy filmmakers, McKay, who also brought us Anchorman and Talladega Nights.

But the film’s subject matter — the 2008 financial crisis — couldn’t be more serious, and alongside many moments of darkly hued comedy, the film delivers a sobering look at the greed and corruption that led to the brink of an economic doomsday.

McKay told The Times recently that he had been looking for years for an opportunity to push beyond the traditional boundaries of comedy.

“The studios like certainty, so I’m a comedy guy and they’ll let me make any comedies I want,” he said. “But there was a little bit of resistance on different types of projects. I just love movies. I’ve always admired Danny Boyle — the way he’s able to jump genres at will.”

The inclusion of Scott’s The Martian raised eyebrows among many who felt that calling the film about an astronaut fighting for survival alone on Mars a comedy bordered on category fraud.

“A comedy’s a film whose #1 goal is to make people laugh,” Spy director Paul Feig tweeted in response. “If that wasn’t the filmmakers’ top goal, it’s not a comedy.”

For his part, Damon said in an interview last fall that comedy was an essential ingredient of the film from the start, as his character, Mark Watney, uses his wry sense of humor to keep his desperation at bay.

“That was one of the things Ridley and I talked about in our first meeting: How do you hold on to the terror and danger and the enormity of what the stakes are for this person and also retain the humor?” Damon said.

The fact is, the Globes’ nominations may simply be reflecting the fact that, both in film and on television, once-rigid genre distinctions are blurring more than ever — something McKay, for one, is happy to see.

“I don’t think genres are as restrictive as they used to be,” he said. “I’d like to keep not obeying the genre so much. The movie I always think about is Something Wild. That had a shocking tone shift halfway through, but it worked.”

The broad spectrum of films nominated by the HFPA is best reflected in the directing category. Five filmmakers who made vastly different movies — including George Miller’s gonzo action film Mad Max: Fury Road, Alejandro Inarritu’s western The Revenant and Todd Haynes’ period romance Carol — will face off.

But while Tom McCarthy’s ensemble drama Spotlight is among the few certified Oscar front-runners, some are predicting the HFPA may give the award to Ridley Scott in part to recognize his entire career.

The acting categories will see Hollywood veterans such as Lily Tomlin, Al Pacino and Jane Fonda face off against relative newcomers such as Schumer, Paul Dano and Alicia Vikander. In a nomination that surely struck a nostalgic chord with older moviegoers, Sylvester Stallone proved a Globes contender for supporting actor in a drama for his understated performance as Rocky Balboa in Creed — 39 years after his last Globes nod for the original Rocky.

“I remember reading that Eugene O’Neill’s father (actor James O’Neill) played the Count of Monte Cristo for 30 years — and I’m past that,” Stallone told The Times of his history playing the perennial underdog boxer. “It’s the one character I actually wanted to follow in perpetuity until maybe his final demise. There’s just something about this journey.”

Now that that journey has taken Stallone to the Globes, could it soon take him all the way to the Hollywood title fight that is the Oscars? Stallone laughed off the prospect.

“My God,” he said, shaking his head. “Listen, I’ve been more than blessed with my share of good fortune.”

©2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr

 

 

Sylvester Stallone Is Back As Rocky Balboa, Who’s In A Fight With Mortality

By Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

In Sylvester Stallone’s mind, he had hung up the boxing gloves. No more jogging up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps. No more “Yo, Adrian!” No more one-armed push-ups to the strains of Gonna Fly Now. No more Rocky.

After 2006’s Rocky Balboa, the sixth installment in the series about the perennial-underdog fighter, Stallone figured he was most likely forever done playing the character he’d first brought to life in the seminal 1976 smash Rocky.

“That movie was the toughest sell of all,” the actor recalled of Rocky Balboa on a recent afternoon. “Rocky V was considered a failure financially and critically. Now 15 years have passed. ‘You want to play a boxer who’s 60 years old — you’re joking, right?’” He let out a low chuckle. “This was Max Bialystock territory.” When the film proved a commercial and critical success, earning $156 million worldwide, Stallone figured he should probably quit while he was ahead.

But if we’ve learned anything about the Italian Stallion, it’s that whenever you think he’s down for the count, he somehow manages to get back on his feet. It’s that indomitable spirit that has made him one of the most beloved characters in movie history. (When the American Film Institute ranked the greatest movie heroes in 2003, Rocky came in at No. 7, between Clarice Starling and Ellen Ripley.)

On Nov. 25, audiences will get one more chance to see Stallone reprise the role that launched him to sudden worldwide fame four decades ago. In Creed, a spinoff of the Rocky franchise directed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station), the aging Balboa reluctantly agrees to train an up-and-coming fighter named Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of his former rival Apollo Creed. This time, Rocky doesn’t personally get in the ring; instead, his biggest fight is with his own mortality as he faces a battle with cancer.

At 69, Stallone finds the idea that Rocky has now come full circle — from small-time lovable loser to world champion to grizzled mentor — both fitting and strange. “I’m now the same age Burgess Meredith was in Rocky — isn’t that weird?” he said. “I’m the guy who’s knocking on the door going, ‘Hey, kid.’ It’s an unbelievable feeling. I’m very proud of it.”

He smiled his crooked smile. “Rocky is the one thing I’ve done right. I’d say my life is about 96 percent failures, but if you just get that 4 percent right, that’s all you need.”

In person, with his muscles bulging under his shirt, Stallone still looks as though he could lay flat a much younger man. Not that he’d want to — like Rocky, he has always been a teddy bear at heart. Before achieving fame, he said, “I walked around with a deep-seated inferiority complex.” He still comes across as modest and self-deprecating, aiming his toughest jabs at himself.

Stallone’s quietly soulful performance in Creed already has some Oscar pundits considering him as a potential supporting actor nominee, but he brushes off that sort of talk. “Can you imagine? That would be really funny, wouldn’t it?” Though he was nominated for best actor for the first Rocky as well as for his screenplay, he has often been treated as a punching bag over the years for what some have deemed his limited acting range and tendency to play monosyllabic roles.

And yet, when Stallone has tried to branch out and play against type, he’s often been smacked down for that as well. In 1997, he received some of the best reviews of his career for his understated turn as a small-town sheriff in the drama Cop Land, but he ultimately felt the film hurt his career. “I was hoping it would be a game-changer, but the feedback from the studio was that it confused people,” he said. “I didn’t mean to confuse people — I was just trying to stretch. That began a long doldrum.”

Over the course of his career, Stallone has appeared in roughly 60 movies — big hits, big flops and everything in between. But he knows he will always be best known for Rocky and John Rambo, the muscle-bound, machine-gun-toting Vietnam vet he played in four films. For a long time he fought against that, but at a certain point he came to accept it and even see it as a blessing.

“There are great careers I envy — like Tom Hanks has done amazing work — and you just have to give them their kudos,” he said. “I wish I’d had the foresight to have been a little more adventurous a little earlier on. But I get it. Nobody wants to see Bruce Springsteen sing opera. Now I think, ‘My God, did I get lucky.’”

Coogler, 29, grew up with a deep love for the Rocky movies that had been instilled by his father. Still, until he met Stallone in person to pitch him the idea for Creed, which he co-wrote with Aaron Covington, he didn’t fully appreciate the depth of his talent.

“I watched all these Stallone movies growing up in the ‘90s like Demolition Man and Cliffhanger, but he was still Rocky to me, so I went into his office expecting him to be that character,” Coogler said. “As soon as I met him, I realized he’s the exact opposite. He doesn’t walk like Rocky, he doesn’t move like Rocky, his personality is totally different — the only thing that’s recognizable is the voice. I remember thinking, ‘This dude is a phenomenal actor to pull off that character and have it be so natural.’ I feel he’s been underused.”

To say that Stallone — who had written all six Rocky movies and directed four of them — was initially resistant to Coogler’s Creed pitch would be an understatement. “I was dead set against it,” he said. “I just didn’t ever see taking this character into this realm. Finally my agent said, ‘For a guy who played Rocky, you’re kind of a chicken.’”

Eventually, Stallone warmed to the idea of bringing Rocky back for one more round, this time as a kind of ringside Buddha and father figure to a younger fighter. “There are certain things I’m allowed to say through Rocky that I can’t say through Rambo or anyone else,” he said. “Rocky is very preachy. He’s just always talking. That’s what Rocky really is: a springboard for the way I see life or wish life was.”

The fact is, Stallone knows that, even though he brought Rocky into this world, the character doesn’t just belong to him anymore. He belongs to all the moviegoers who have been inspired by him over the years, to everyone who’s played Eye of the Tiger to psych themselves up for some challenge, to all those people who, to this day, pose for photos at the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps with their arms raised in triumph.

“How many people run up those steps?” Stallone said. “It’s incredible. Women who are eight months pregnant. People from different cultures. Intellectuals who have nothing in common with Rocky. They’re not running for Sylvester Stallone — I get that. They’re running for the Rocky in them.”

©2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Sylvester Stallone, left, and Michael B. Jordan in “Creed.” (Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros. Entertainment and MGM)

‘The Interview’ Opens, And Directors Are Thankful

By Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Capping weeks of tumult over the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy The Interview, the film finally began to be shown in 331 independent theaters nationwide just after midnight on Christmas Eve. One of the first showings in Los Angeles, a sold-out 12:30 a.m. screening at the Cinefamily Theater, included a surprise appearance by co-directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

“You are the best,” Rogen told the crowd. “We thought this might not happen at all.”

Rogen and Goldberg had been largely out of the public eye for over a week since Sony Pictures first canceled the release of the movie — which centers on the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — after a crippling cyberattack tied by U.S. officials to North Korea. At the eleventh hour, Sony made deals to distribute the film to independent theaters and a video-on-demand platforms, including YouTube and Google Play.

The directors were eager to take a public victory lap.

“The fact that it’s showing here and you guys all came out is super … exciting,” Goldberg said.

Sony had initially planned a wide Christmas Day release for the film in about 3,000 theaters, until the nation’s major exhibitors dropped it after a hacking group calling itself Guardians of Peace threatened violence against moviegoers. Buffeted by criticism from President Barack Obama, among many others, the studio put together a patchwork release unprecedented for a major studio movie.

It remains to be seen how much revenue Sony will be able to draw from the film, particularly given that it is already being widely pirated online. But given that for a few days it looked like it may not be released at all, Rogen and Goldberg were clearly relieved that audiences were getting a chance to see it on the big screen.

“If it wasn’t for theaters like this, and people like you guys,” Rogen said, “this literally would not be … happening.”

AFP Photo

Rogen, Goldberg Keep A Low Profile

By Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

As Sony Pictures’ cancellation of The Interview continues to raise a clamor around the world, the two people at the center of this growing storm — the film’s co-directors, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg — have been silent. James Franco, who co-stars in the film, popped up Thursday night to help Stephen Colbert bid adieu to The Colbert Report. But at press time, Rogen and Goldberg, longtime best friends and collaborators, who just over a week ago were smiling for photographers at the film’s Los Angeles premiere, had not sent out so much as a tweet.

What they originally envisioned as a silly, over-the-top comedy about a TV reporter (Franco) and producer (Rogen) trying to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sparked an international incident unlike anything the film industry has ever seen. Now, in the wake of the devastating cyberattack on Sony Pictures that has been reportedly tied by U.S. officials to North Korea, the film has been indefinitely postponed.

That has put a halt — at least for now — to what has been a long winning streak with some of the decade’s biggest comedy hits. But don’t expect that hiatus to last long.

Coming in to The Interview, Rogen and Goldberg were on a roll that has made them one of the most powerful comedy teams in the industry.

Their directorial debut, last year’s apocalyptic comedy This Is the End, earned rave reviews and proved hugely profitable for Sony. Last summer’s Neighbors, for Universal Studios, which they co-produced and Rogen starred in, earned more than $268 million worldwide and was praised for offering a fresh twist on the otherwise stale frat-comedy genre.

Those successes — which came on the heels of earlier hits they wrote and produced, including Superbad and Pineapple Express — gave them the clout to push The Interview into what was clearly, in hindsight, perilously edgy territory.

Edginess, of course, albeit of a generally juvenile (and nonpolitical) variety, is essential to the duo’s comic brand, as they explained to The Times last month, just days before the Sony hacking came to light.

“Our comedic sensibility was shaped in a lot of ways by what happened in high school, which is why our movies are so immature and stupid,” Rogen said.

“You never know if a movie is going to be funnier or better than your last movie,” he added. “But what we always think is, ‘Maybe we can make the next movie crazier.'”

Rogen and Goldberg are already deep into work on other projects, two of which they’ve trying to bring to fruition for years.

This month, AMC ordered a pilot for a series adapted from the dark, violent comic-book series Preacher, to be executive produced by Rogen and Goldberg, a passion project the two have been pursuing for nearly a decade.

Both in format and genre, Preacher — the story of a preacher possessed by a supernatural being and looks to confront God — marks a major departure from Rogen and Goldberg’s earlier work.

“It will be much more dramatic than comedic,” Goldberg told The Times last month. “At times it will be funny like Breaking Bad was funny, but there are whole episodes that will be, like, scary.”

On the big screen, Rogen is set to co-star in an untitled Christmas comedy, due November 2015, which he and Goldberg produced. After that, the two are co-writing and producing an animated comedy called Sausage Party, a sort of demented, gleefully profane takeoff on Pixar movies like Toy Story about anthropomorphized food.

“Visually it’s a lot like a Pixar movie, but it’s super R-rated,” Rogen said. “We’ve been trying aggressively to make it for years. I feel like it couldn’t have happened until now.”

Sony is set to distribute Sausage Party, due in 2016.

As for their next big-screen directorial effort, Rogen and Goldberg haven’t figured that out yet.

“A couple of days ago we were like, ‘Maybe it’s time to move off of male-friendship movies a little bit,'” Rogen told The Times. “We’ve explored that a lot, and maybe it’s time to try another thing. … We want to do a bigger ensemble movie, something with a lot of people in it. We know so many funny people, it just seems exciting.”

This much is probably safe to say: Whatever film they make next, it won’t have anything to do with global politics.

Photo: Ed Araquel / Columbia Pictures

Seth Rogen And Evan Goldberg Like That Kim Jong Un Doesn’t Get The Joke

By Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s office on the Sony Pictures lot is a lot like you might imagine it to be. A glass marijuana pipe sits on the desk beside Rogen’s computer along with an ashtray filled with the butts of half a dozen joints. An arsenal of Nerf guns lines a shelf along one wall.

On a mid-November afternoon, the sound of yelling could be heard from the next room, where employees of Rogen and Goldberg’s production company were playing the video game NBA Jam, to which a great deal of time has been devoted lately. “If our next movie sucks, it’ll be because of that,” Goldberg said, deadpan.

Since breaking out as writers and producers of 2007’s Superbad and 2008’s Pineapple Express, Rogen and Goldberg have found tremendous success mining comedy gold from the humble terrain of immature man-children. But with their new comedy, The Interview, the pair is taking on their ostensibly most serious subject yet, shifting from dazed and confused stoners to the global stage — and as a result, almost like characters in one of their own buddy comedies, they’ve wandered into the middle of an international incident.

Best friends since childhood, Rogen and Goldberg, both 32, were in this office one morning in late June when they heard the news that the North Korean regime was threatening retaliation against America over The Interview. In the comedy, which opens Christmas Day, James Franco and Rogen play, respectively, a vapid talk-show host and his producer who are recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (Randall Park).

A spokesman for North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the film was tantamount to “an act of war” and threatened “a decisive and merciless countermeasure” if the U.S. government allowed it to hit theaters.

You might think such a warning would be greeted with alarm and perhaps an anxious call to the State Department. But Rogen and Goldberg had a different reaction.

“There was a lot of high-fiving,” Rogen said, letting out his distinctive, rolling huh-huh-huh laugh. “It was exciting!”

Though their movies haven’t always been met with universal acclaim (the 2011 superhero misfire The Green Hornet comes to mind), this is the first time one has raised the ire of a rogue state. In the wake of the recent crippling cyber attack on Sony’s computer system, there has been speculation that North Korea may have been behind the hacking in retaliation for the film.

Make no mistake, though: Although The Interview portrays Kim Jong Un as a megalomaniacal despot who lives in luxury while his people starve, it is no polemic. Nor is it a Ridley Scott- or Michael Mann-style thriller (though Rogen and Goldberg watched those movies for inspiration). It’s a flat-out over-the-top comedy, a bizarro espionage story shot through with gleefully crude and frequently absurd sexual and scatological humor. Imagine Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator with 1,000 more penis jokes and you’re somewhere in the ballpark.

“You never know if a movie is going to be funnier or better than your last movie,” Rogen said. “But what we always think is, ‘Maybe we can make the next movie crazier.’ So it’s nice when you hear, ‘This movie is really crazy.'”

A hot streak

Rogen and Goldberg have been on a roll that has made them one of the most powerful comedy teams in Hollywood. Last year, their directorial debut, the apocalyptic comedy This Is the End, earned rave reviews and proved a sizable hit. This summer’s Neighbors, which they co-produced and Rogen starred in, earned more than $268 million worldwide and was praised for offering a fresh, clever twist on the often dumb frat-comedy genre.

For the two, who first met at age 12 in bar mitzvah class in their native Vancouver, Canada, it all comes back to the love of unapologetically juvenile humor they shared from an early age. “Our comedic sensibility was shaped in a lot of ways by what happened in high school,” Rogen said. (Their production company, Point Grey, is named after the secondary school they attended.) “That’s why our movies are so immature and stupid.”

Rogen and Goldberg began their filmmaking careers as proteges of Judd Apatow. Rogen’s first acting role was on the TV series Freaks and Geeks, which Apatow executive produced, and years later the two served as executive producers on Apatow’s 2007 comedy Knocked Up, which starred Rogen. To this day, their brand of comedy shares the Apatowian blend of heart and raunchiness, though perhaps leaning somewhat more toward the latter than the former.

When it comes to making comedies, the two almost seem almost preternaturally connected. Actors in their films routinely marvel at how in sync they are. “We have no division of labor,” said Goldberg. “I don’t act, but other than that we have the same skill sets. It’s not like I’m the visual guy and Seth is the talk-to-the-actors guy.”

As with many of their comedies, the germ of The Interview sprang out of idle kidding around. Three or four years ago Rogen and Goldberg were having a conversation about TV reporters who score major interviews with notorious figures like Osama bin Laden. “We were joking, like, ‘Why don’t you just kill the person?'” Rogen said. “We thought that could be an interesting idea for a movie: a journalist gets an interview with an evil world leader and then they’re asked to kill him.”

Early on, the two settled on the idea of making the leader of North Korea — who at the time was Kim Jong Il — their film’s villain. “It’s not that controversial to label [the North Korean regime] as bad,” Rogen said. “It’s as bad as it could be.” Recognizing their own limited knowledge of foreign affairs, the two brought on writer Dan Sterling, who had worked on The Daily Show, to help write the screenplay.

Initially Sony had concerns about making comedic hay out of a plot to kill a real world leader and asked if Rogen and Goldberg would consider substituting a fictional dictator instead. “There was some resistance to us calling him Kim Jong Un,” Rogen said.

“I wouldn’t even say ‘resistance,'” Goldberg added. “It was a conversation. They were like, ‘Is that really the funniest way to go?'”

The more Rogen and Goldberg researched North Korea, though, the more convinced they were that the cult of personality surrounding the country’s leader offered unique and irresistible comic fodder.

That said, they didn’t want to turn the North Korean leader into a cartoonish bad guy. Rogen and Goldberg encouraged Park to humanize the dictator, highlighting, for example, his struggle with the weight of his father’s expectations. “The crazy aspects were already there, so it was important to present a well-rounded version of him instead of a caricature,” said Park.

In the end, Franco says his character, Dave Skylark, who hosts an insipid celebrity talk show, is equally the butt of the joke in the film as Kim. “Dave is a horrible public figure in his own way,” Franco said. “The movie satirizes American celebrity culture as much as it does North Korea.”

That may well be. But in June, when North Korea started rattling its saber, it was a gut check for Rogen, Goldberg, and Sony, which had invested roughly $35 million in the film’s production and, as one arm of a vast multinational corporation, is generally not interested in stirring global controversies.

“There was a moment where everyone got in a room and we were like, ‘OK, so that happened,'” Rogen said. “We were just making sure: ‘So everyone’s cool? We’re not going to shy away from this?'”

At that point, The Interview had already been screened for test audiences, and the results were strong enough to help allay whatever fears Sony may have had. Not only did the studio decide to proceed with the movie, it doubled down, shifting it from its planned Oct. 10 release date to a plum Christmas debut.

“Maybe if this was a movie nobody liked, they’d have gotten rid of it, because who wants to be the studio that caused a nuclear war?” Rogen said. “But they could see that people really loved the movie.”

Cohen congratulates

As unnerving as North Korea’s threats over the film may have been, the team behind The Interview recognized that they represented an invaluable piece of free advertising. Sacha Baron Cohen used similar protests from the nation of Kazakhstan over his 2006 comedy, Borat, as part of that film’s marketing campaign to great effect.

“One of our first calls [after the North Korean protests] was from Sacha, congratulating us,” Rogen said. “He was like, ‘Hey, man, I never got a nuclear war threatened!'”

Still, when an unstable nuclear armed dictatorship starts throwing around angry protests, it’s not entirely to be ignored. Rogen and Goldberg have been told there’s a good chance Kim’s regime has already seen The Interview via some sort of digital spying. If so, it’s safe to assume the North Koreans weren’t amused.

As the film’s release nears, Rogen and Goldberg have been advised by experts on North Korea to take precautions against potential retribution such as changing their bank passwords. “A lot of magazines are going to start showing up at my house,” Rogen joked. “‘[North Korea] signed me up for all these mailing lists!'”

Granted, this conversation took place days before the mysterious Sony hacking, but at that point Rogen and Goldberg were clearly not worrying. After all, North Korea lodged similar if somewhat less incendiary-sounding complaints, over the 2004 all-puppet comedy Team America: World Police, which depicted Kim Jong Il as a lonely, English-language-mangling despot who “was sent from the planet Xiron to conquer the Earf.” And that didn’t lead to nuclear Armageddon.

“From our research, we know this sort of insane rhetoric is their bread and butter,” Rogen said. “It’s all for show.”

For its part, Sony — which could use another big hit like last summer’s 22 Jump Street — has marketed The Interview as more an outrageous Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy than any kind of hot-button political movie. A little controversy can be good, but too much can become box-office poison.

Meanwhile, Rogen and Goldberg are already looking to their next projects. Leveraging their successes, the two are looking to break into new genres and formats. They are developing a TV adaptation of the dark, violent Preacher comic-book series and are writing and producing an animated comedy called Sausage Party, a sort of demented, very R-rated take on Pixar-style movies due in 2016.

As for their next directing project, they are looking to branch out there as well. “A couple of days ago we were like, ‘Maybe it’s time to move off of male-friendship movies a little bit,'” Rogen said. “We’ve explored that a lot, and maybe it’s time to try another thing.”

Unless, of course, The Interview starts World War III, in which case all bets are off.

Rogen laughed. “And if it does start a war,” he said, “hopefully people will say, ‘You know what? It was worth it. It was a good movie!'”

Photo: Zennie Abraham via Flickr

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Astrophysicist’s Passion For Exotic Science Inspired ‘Interstellar’

By Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

It started with a blind date.

Theoretical astrophysicist Kip Thorne was a divorced single dad raising a teenage daughter when he got a call in September 1980 from a close friend — fellow scientist Carl Sagan.

Would Thorne be interested in going out with a woman he knew?

Though the shy Caltech professor was far more comfortable contemplating black holes and other imponderables than he was navigating the world of dating, he said yes.

Thorne took his date, Lynda Obst, then a science editor at the New York Times Magazine, to the world premiere of Sagan’s TV series “Cosmos” at the Griffith Observatory. True to science-nerd form, Thorne wore a not very flattering tuxedo — he remembers it being baby blue, though Obst insists it was maroon.

“We really enjoyed each other’s company, but the romance never went anywhere,” Thorne said recently.

Through an improbable series of twists and turns, though, that blind date would lead to director Christopher Nolan’s new science-fiction epic, “Interstellar.”

Science-fiction movies are usually much more fiction than science, but “Interstellar” is deeply rooted in science. Wormholes, black holes, the fifth dimension — what Thorne calls “the warped side of the universe” _ play critical roles in the story of a last-ditch space-exploration mission to find a new home for humankind.

“I can enjoy ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Star Trek,’ but I really appreciate hard science fiction,” said Thorne, who has an executive producer credit on the film. “There have been far too few films of this type, in which the science is embedded in the fabric of the story.”

Thorne went to unusual lengths to ensure that, even where “Interstellar” veers into the realm of pure speculation, there is always some scientific justification to back it up.

During the film’s development, he led a daylong workshop in which 14 scientists, including astrobiologists, planetary scientists, psychologists and a space-policy expert, hashed out ideas. He worked closely with the film’s visual effects team to keep the film’s depictions of black holes and other cosmic phenomena as science-based as possible. He’s also written a book, “The Science of Interstellar,” as a companion to the movie.

Still, he knows he’ll catch flak from fellow scientists for some of the leaps the film makes.

“One eminent colleague here came out of a screening of ‘Interstellar’ and said, ‘I loved the movie but I have a few bones to pick with you about the science,'” Thorne said.

He shrugged.

“Look, I’m 74. I’ve had a career for half a century that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I’m not particularly sensitive to criticism anymore.”

That this scientist wound up rubbing elbows with Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway seems improbable. Then again, when you’ve spent your career studying how space and time can bend and warp, normal ideas of what’s probable or improbable don’t really apply.

Since the start of his career, Thorne has been a star among those who study the stars. (Caltech theoretical physicist John Preskill says of him: “Kip is a visionary scientist.”)

“I got a lot of notoriety early on,” Thorne said. “Much of my career I was just trying to prove I was as good as the world thought I was.”

Although he is a self-described introvert, Thorne is also a born teacher, and he clearly enjoys talking. One moment he’s telling the story of how, in the mid-1970s, he won a scientific bet with his friend Stephen Hawking. The prize? A subscription to Penthouse magazine. (“You have to understand, I grew up in a Mormon culture — I thought that would be a fun thing to bet for.”) The next moment he’s patiently explaining how the imperceptible slowing of time due to Earth’s gravity affects the GPS system in the iPhone resting on the table.

Thorne had remained friends with Obst — who went on from journalism to a successful career as a film producer. Together, they concocted the original treatment for “Interstellar” in 2005.

At that point, the plot was quite different from that in the finished film. (“It involved going through a wormhole to explore things on the other side, but it wasn’t set in the future,” Thorne said.) But its core never changed.

“The idea was to explore the universe as it is,” Obst said. “We thought it was more interesting to look at what this stuff would actually look like than to make it up.”

Thorne had crossed paths with Hollywood only once before, when, in the early 1980s, he suggested to Sagan that he use a wormhole instead of a black hole to get a character in his screenplay for the film “Contact” from one point in space to the other.

If Thorne received a residual check every time a sci-fi movie or TV show has used a wormhole as a plot device since, he would be a far wealthier man.

Still, despite his lack of filmmaking know-how, Obst said Thorne’s way of approaching the mysteries of the universe made him an ideal cinematic collaborator.

“He’s an extremely imaginative scientist,” Obst said. “He once told me his idea of a big time is sitting on a stool on a mountain with a pencil in his hand — that’s all he needed. He loves to play intellectually.”

Thorne didn’t initially set out to be a scientist. Raised in an academic family in a conservative area of Utah, his childhood career aspirations were far more earthbound.
“I wanted to be a snowplow driver when I was a kid,” he said. “Growing up in the Rocky Mountains, that’s the most glorious job you can imagine. But then my mother took me to a lecture about the solar system when I was 8 and I got hooked.”

The “Interstellar” treatment attracted Steven Spielberg, who signed on to direct. Hardly a movie buff, Thorne had seen only one of Spielberg’s films. (Perhaps not surprisingly, it was “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.”)

But in 2010, Spielberg left the project, and it remained in limbo until late 2012, when Christopher Nolan came aboard and resurrected it.

Nolan admits he was initially wary of Thorne’s involvement.

“I was worried that he would just be the science police, telling me what I could and couldn’t do with my story,” said the director, who traces his own interest in space to watching Sagan’s “Cosmos” when he was 10. “But what I rapidly realized in talking to him was that he was able to offer me tremendously exciting narrative possibilities.

“The mind-blowing quality of real science — relativity, gravitational theory, black holes, wormholes — they’re far more exotic than anything I can come up with as a screenwriter.”

The scientist and the filmmaker only really came into conflict once, Nolan said. The director was determined to have a spacecraft in the film travel faster than the speed of light. Thorne balked at the idea.

“Over about two weeks, he finally wore me down and helped me understand that it was impossible according to the theory of relativity,” Nolan said.

Despite the success of “Interstellar,” Thorne doesn’t see a major new career in movies in his future. He has plenty of other things to keep him occupied: researching gravitational waves, writing a science fiction novel, scuba diving, and skiing with his wife, Carolee Joyce Winstein, a professor of biokinesiology and physical therapy at USC.

“Lynda, Stephen Hawking, and I have been talking about another movie project for a while — if that leads to something, it’s likely to be my last one,” Thorne said. (He declined to offer details, but it’s probably safe to assume it’s in the science-fiction genre.) “I’ve enjoyed this, but I’m at that point in my life where I want to do new things.

“I can’t imagine not being in a phase where I’m trying to understand something or create something,” he said. “That’s the essence of life.”

Photo via Flickr