TIME movies

You Can’t See The Interview, but I Did

James Franco and Seth Rogen
James Franco and Seth Rogen in The Interview Columbia

Here's what you missed

A decade ago, when Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police made mock of Kim Jong Il, the North Korean regime didn’t threaten retaliation — maybe because Kim, like all the other people in the movie, was portrayed as a marionette.

The Democratic People’s Republic, under King Jong Il’s son Kim Jong Un, apparently had a more severe reaction to The Interview, in which two American TV journalists (James Franco and Seth Rogen) are charged by the CIA with killing the dictator while they’re in North Korea to interview him. Someone who took issue with this scenario hacked the computers of Sony Pictures, spilling internal gossip and downloading five Sony movies, including four yet to be released. As Stephen Colbert proclaimed on Monday night, the perpetrator “has to be North Korea. The only other person with that capability is a 12-year-old with BitTorrent.”

Hollywood’s escalating tension about cyberterrorism, which is no joke, led to the five largest North American movie chains refusing to show The Interview, and then to Sony’s announcement that it was withdrawing the movie, originally scheduled to open Christmas Day. That’s never happened to a major-studio mainstream film just a week before it was due to appear on thousands of screens.

So reviews like this one may be the public’s only way, for now, to find out what’s actually in the movie. One mixed verdict on The Interview: Beyond the ballsy premise — which got green-lighted by Sony Pictures’ U.S. moguls and its Japanese overlords, before (as the emails reveal) some late editing edicts from above — this is your basic Rogen farce about sloppy-happy-harried stoners trying to bluff their way out of trouble.

We mean Knocked Up, Superbad, Pineapple Express, Neighbors, This Is the End and nearly all other movies Rogen has starred in or written, possibly excepting his voice work for Horton Hears a Who! and the Kung Fu Pandas. Directing The Interview with his longtime writing pal Evan Goldberg, Rogen serves up the usual farrago of sexual outrage and guy-bonding, only this time in the guise of nervy satire using real names. (When Sacha Baron Cohen played The Dictator, he made fun of a whole swath of Middle East tyrants, not just one.)

In a nifty opening scene, a lovely Korean girl sings a wistful, stirring anthem to Western values that U-turns into an international death wish; one line translates as “May they drown in their blood and feces.” (It’s an extension of the “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” song from Bob Fosse’s Cabaret film, in which the camera slowly pulls back to reveal that the handsome blond teen singing it is a Hitler Youth.) Cut to the syndicated show Skylark Tonight, kind of Barbara Walters goes TMZ, with host Dave Skylark (Franco) interviewing Enimem. Suddenly the rap artist declares he’s a homosexual, saying that in rap lyrics “I’ve pretty much been leaving a breadcrumb trail of gayness.”

These two excellent bits in the first few minutes make a skeptic wonder: Have Rogen and Goldberg honed their talents to create, or smoked enough pot to stumble into, a movie that works from start to finish? But as always, they’re just teasing our expectations only to deflate them. The joke barrage becomes hit-or-miss, as if the creators — including screenwriter Dan Stewart, working from a story by Rogen and Greenberg — don’t know or care which is which.

Aaron, the Skyline Tonight producer played by Rogen, does know that his show isn’t 60 Minutes — because a 60 Minutes producer tells him so — and sees a chance to do News That Matters when he learns that North Korea’s Shining Star is Skylark’s No. 1 fan. Yes, he would sit for an interview, instantly stoking dim Dave’s dream of the greatest confrontation of journalist and potentate since David Frost corralled Richard Nixon. “In 10 years, Ron Howard’s going to make a movie out of this,” he exults, mis-recalling the Howard film title as Frosty Nixon. All is swell until the CIA, in the lissome form of Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan from Masters of Sex), adds a wrinkle to Dave and Aaron’s assignment: kill Kim.

Acting with Franco on and off for half his 32 years, since Freaks and Geeks, Rogen plays Aaron as a smart, underachieving 12-year-old, with Franco as his dumb, cute friend. And say this for Franco: few stars can radiate the joy he does in playing an idiot who happens to be popular. Uttering such pearls of sagacity as “This is 2014, women are smart now,” Dave is handsome, empty TV charisma rampant. And the sick thing is that, even to a skeptic, Franco makes grinning inanity attractive.

Pushing bromance even further that in other Rogen movies, the schlub and the stud exchange hugs, kisses and homoerotic endearments. “I am Gollum and you’re my Precious,” Dave tells Aaron. “I will cherish every moment; I will rub your tummy when you get back” — this when Aaron has to retrieve a CIA poison canister that he’s obliged to hide in a body part where, according to the Senate Torture Report, the agency’s interrogators sometimes inserted hummus in their terror suspects. Monitoring the pickup from Langley, Agent Lacey must be pleased that Aaron more or less voluntarily gives himself a colonic. See, that proves it’s not torture!

Amid all the cartoon characterizations, the most complex and sympathetic — or at least pathetic — figure is Kim, played with alternating charm and menace by Randall Park (Danny Chung on the most recent season of Veep). Like Dave and Aaron, Kim is stuck in horny preadolescence. He loves basketball — with the hoops lowered so he can dunk — and Katy Perry, but with the poignancy of a poor little rich boy who must play the adult in his public appearances. Meeting Dave gives him a chance to reveal the real Kim, not a god but just one of the guys: he pees and poos.

Dave’s possibly genuine hookup with this man-child might pose a threat to his American BFF, except that Aaron’s having a fling with Sook, Kim’s most trusted security guard, a role to which Diana Bang (Jiao on Bates Motel) also brings more craft and heft to the project than required of the Occidental performers. Indeed, if the real Kim were to see The Interview, he might be flattered by the portraits of the two main North Koreans — at least until the last reel of political score-settling, war games and Tarantinian stuff blowing up.

In its parade of ribald gags and infantile preoccupation with body parts, not to mention a climactic decapitation, water-balloon style, The Interview displays all the mindless excesses that repressive regimes condemn in Hollywood movies. Which may be Rogen and Goldberg’s point — “See, here’s what they hate about us. And you’re gonna love it.”

Maybe you will love The Interview — if you can ever see the movie — as much as some people hate or fear it. But if you’re hoping for any cogent political satire here, then the joke’s on you.

TIME movies

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The Most Controversial Films of All Time

The Interview is only the latest movie to spark debate

With The Interview, James Franco and Seth Rogen have set off an unintentional firestorm, as hackers opposed to their film’s subject matter have exposed private communications within Sony Pictures. This can’t have been their goal, but controversy certainly was.

Film has stoked passionate argument perhaps more effectively than any other medium — hardly surprising, given its larger-than-life nature. Here are some of the most memorable times that films, either accidentally or on purpose, have incited strong reactions.

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TIME movies

Sony Hackers Reveal How Much Rogen and Franco Were Paid for The Interview

Saturday Night Live - Season 39
Seth Rogen and James Franco appear on Saturday Night Live on Apr. 12, 2014 NBC—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The entire budget for the movie was also leaked, along with the salary details of top Sony execs

The fees paid to The Interview stars Seth Rogen and James Franco are among the latest leaks to result from the recent cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Rogen, who co-wrote the comic film about Kim Jong Un, was apparently paid more than $8.4 million, Bloomberg reports. He plays an undercover reporter sent to assassinate the North Korean dictator, as does his co-star Franco, who reportedly netted $6.5 million for the movie.

The hackers leaked the entire budget of The Interview, which reportedly cost $44 million including a $5,000 cameo fee for Britney Spears’ ex-husband Kevin Federline, and $250 for props like “weed, coke, pills and panties.”

The group behind the attacks is supposedly affiliated with the North Korean regime that described the film as an act of war, and previously leaked several unreleased Sony Pictures films before revealing the compensation details of some of Sony Pictures’ top executives.

TIME Security

Everything We Know About the Massive Sony Hack

Could North Korea be to blame?

Sony is having a rough start to the holiday season. The tech giant’s movie division, Sony Pictures, is the victim of an ongoing cyberattack that has resulted in upcoming movies being leaked, communication systems going offline and Twitter accounts being hijacked.

The timing of the attack has led to increasing speculation that North Korea may have orchestrated it, possibly as retribution for an upcoming comedy in which Seth Rogen and James Franco are tasked with assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Investigators have found hacking tools similar to those used by North Korea in previous attacks on South Korea, according to Reuters.

Here’s everything we know so far about the incident:

The attacks began with an ominous photo

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Sony Pictures employees turned on their computers and were greeted with an ominous picture of red skull and a warning that the company’s “top secrets” would be released if unstated demands were not met.

“We’ve already warned you, and this is just a beginning,” the image reads. “If you don’t obey us, we’ll release data shown the world.”

Another image depicting Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton in hell was posted on Sony Twitter accounts, a sure sign the accounts were compromised. According to a Reddit thread, the hackers claim to have obtained a trove of data that includes passwords, internal financial documents and even copies of celebrities’ passports.

Sony’s communication systems went down for a week

Sony Pictures took down its email and messaging systems for a week as it tried to contain the cyberattack. Employees reportedly had to use phone calls, handwritten notes and fax machines to carry out their work. Multiple reports indicate that Sony’s email system was expected to return Monday, though Sony hasn’t confirmed that yet.

Sony’s big upcoming movies leaked

So far the biggest tangible result of the hack seems to be the leak of five Sony films. DVD-quality versions of Fury, Annie, Still Alice, Mr. Turner and To Write Love on Her Arms are all now available on file-sharing sites.

All of the movies except for Fury have yet to be widely released, so piracy could be a huge blow to their box office take. Over the summer, The Expendables 3 bombed at the box office because a high-quality version of the movie leaked online weeks before it premiered. And a 2011 Carnegie Mellon study found that such pre-release leaks can reduce a movie’s box office take by as much as 19%.

So that’s what we know for sure. But the hack took on a new dimension on Friday, when Re/code reported Sony is investigating North Korea’s possible involvement in the cyberattack, potentially staging the attack from China.

Here’s what we know that actually makes that claim seem plausible:

North Korea hates Sony’s upcoming movie The Interview

Sony’s big Christmas movie this year is The Interview, which stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as TV journalists tasked by the CIA with assassinating Kim Jong-un. North Korean officials are, unsurprisingly, not pleased about a movie that centers on trying to kill their supreme leader for laughs. A government official told North Korean state media in June that releasing the film would constitute “a blatant act of terrorism and war” and would lead to “merciless” retaliation from the country. The government also denounced the film as “undisguised sponsoring of terrorism, as well as an act of war” in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June.

Rogen shrugged off the warning on Twitter at the time, but The Interview was delayed from its original October release date shortly afterward. (Sony has said the delay was unrelated to North Korea’s statements.)

North Korea’s cyberattack capabilities are increasing fast

Residents of North Korea are known to be isolated from the rest of the world, deprived of basic Internet access and other modes of global communication. However, the country is growing increasingly comfortable weaponizing the Internet. In November 2013, South Korean media reported that Kim Jong-un called cyberattacks a “magic weapon” that could help North Korea launch “ruthless strikes” against its southern foe.

A secretive North Korean bureau called Unit 121 is tasked with infiltrating computer networks, planting viruses and carrying out cyberattacks, according to a Hewlett-Packard report on North Korea’s cyber capabilities. The division carries out attacks both from within North Korea and in Shenyang, China, near the North Korean border. South Korean media have claimed that Unit 121 is the third-largest cyber intelligence unit in the world, behind the U.S. and Russia, though China is also up there.

The U.S. government is taking claims of North Korean involvement seriously

Claims of North Korean involvement are credible enough that the U.S. government is reportedly looking into them. NBC News reports that several government agencies are considering North Korea as a possible suspect in the hack. The FBI is among the U.S. agencies now looking into the hack, according to Reuters.

A North Korean diplomat in New York has denied that his country was involved in hacking. “Linking [North Korea] to the Sony hacking is another fabrication targeting the country,” the official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Voice of America. “My country publicly declared that it would follow international norms banning hacking and piracy.”




TIME North Korea

New Kim on the Block: The Rise of Kim Jong Un’s Little Sister

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Sinchon Museum
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Sinchon Museum in Pyongyang in this undated photo released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Nov. 25, 2014 KCNA/Reuters

But who exactly is Kim Yo Jong?

At last, a North Korea rumor proves true: all year, Korea watchers have been buzzing about the rise of Kim Jong Un’s little sister, Kim Yo Jong. She popped up at her father Kim Jong Il’s December 2011 funeral, then reappeared next to her brother on election day in March of this year. (Yes, North Korea has elections, of sorts.) Experts speculated that her presence at a high-profile political event signaled that she was on the rise within the regime but, as with many things in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as it is officially called, the theory was just that — until now.

On Thursday, Nov. 26, in an otherwise humdrum account of Kim Jong Un’s visit to a cartoon studio, state media listed Kim Yo Jong as “vice department director” in the powerful Central Committee of the ruling Worker’s Party. In March, when she was pictured beside her brother on polling day, she was identified only as a “senior official.” Though the precise role of a “vice department director” is unclear, that she has an official title suggests a relatively high-profile, and potentially important, role.

So who is Kim Yo Jong? Korea scholars believe she was born in 1987 or 1988, making her 26 or 27 years old, and that she is close to her brother, Kim Jong Un. Their father, former dictator Kim Jong Il, fathered at least seven children by four women, but Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong have the same parentage. They were raised by their mother Ko Young Hui at a hillside estate, says Michael Madden, the founder of North Korea Leadership Watch. Largely restricted to the palace grounds, they were exposed, for the most part, to family members and close friends. “As they say in [Martin Scorsese’s mafia epic] Goodfellas, ‘There were never any outsiders,’” says Madden. “The life of Kim children was hermetically sealed.”

At some point in the mid-1990s, as North Korea starved, Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong were sent to to school in Switzerland. They studied under pseudonyms, presumably to protect their privacy and keep them safe. Remarkably little is known about their time there, Madden says. Upon returning to the DPRK, Kim Yo Jong likely attended university, although the details of that period are still fuzzy. Her stature within the clan started to crystallize at Kim Jong Il’s funeral, when she was spotted walking directly behind heir-apparent Kim Jong Un.

Analysts are still piecing together what, exactly, Kim Yo Jong does. She has been pictured several times in her brother’s company, often on “field guidance tours” (that’s DPRK-speak for the Kim clan looking at things). These appearances have fueled theories that she serves as a sort of events director and aide to her brother, managing his schedule and accompanying him on trips. If that is indeed her role — and again, these things are difficult to pinpoint — it suggests a level of closeness that would give her access to a lot of information. “She may be one of the only people Kim Jong Un trusts completely,” Madden says.

Her presence at Kim Jong Un’s side is rich with symbolism. Her first official public appearance, in March 2014, came not long after the disappearance of her aunt Kim Kyong Hui, who has not been seen since her husband Jang Sung Thaek was executed in late 2013. Before the purge, Kim Kyong Hui was a close adviser to Kim Jong Il, holding key jobs in the ruling party and “protecting her brother’s flank,” according to Ken Gause, a Korea expert at CNA Corp., a Washington, D.C.–based research firm. Kim Il Sung, the country’s revered founding father, also ruled with a sibling — his brother — at his side (until he demoted him).

This new sibling pairing provides an important sense of continuity. Though North Korea is often called a communist state, it is really more of a totalitarian monarchy. North Koreans are taught that Kim Il Sung was a fearsome warrior who, while camped at the base of Mount Paektu with some comrades, crushed a much larger force of Japanese invaders. His son and heir, Kim Jong Il, is said to have been born at the same site, imbued with the same superhuman abilities — heck, he officially shot 11 holes in one in his first-ever game of golf.

Since the deification of the Kim clan is what makes North Korea tick, providing a symbolic link to the past makes sense, even while power passes to the next generation. “The old power elites loyal to Kim Jong Il are being pushed out,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, in an interview earlier this year. “They will be replaced by new, younger elites who can safeguard the leadership of Kim Jong Un.” So goodbye, Kim Kyong Hui, and hello, Kim Yo Jong.

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TIME United Nations

U.N. Push Against North Korea on Rights Moves Ahead

(UNITED NATIONS) — The world’s boldest effort yet to hold North Korea and leader Kim Jong Un accountable for alleged crimes against humanity moved forward Tuesday at the United Nations, where a Pyongyang envoy threatened further nuclear tests.

The U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee approved a resolution that urges the Security Council to refer the country’s harsh human rights situation to the International Criminal Court. The non-binding resolution now goes to the General Assembly for a vote in the coming weeks. China and Russia, which hold veto power on the council, voted against it.

The resolution was inspired by a groundbreaking U.N. commission of inquiry report early this year that declared North Korea’s human rights situation “exceeds all others in duration, intensity and horror.”

The U.N committee has adopted similar resolutions on the North’s abysmal human rights conditions in the past. But the fact that this year’s resolution includes the new idea that their absolute leader could be targeted by prosecutors has pushed the communist country to make a more furious response as that would pose a setback to its recent efforts to improve ties with the outside world to lure foreign investment and aid and revive the country’s troubled economy. North Korean officials would also view the resolution as a potential embarrassment to their young leader who took power after the death of his dictator father Kim Jong Il in late 2011.

North Korea sent a sharp warning in comments before the vote. Trying to punish it over human rights “is compelling us not to refrain any further from conducting nuclear tests,” said Choe Myong Nam, a foreign ministry adviser for U.N. and human rights issues. His colleagues gave no details on that threat.

Choe also accused the European Union and Japan, the resolution’s co-sponsors, of “subservience and sycophancy” to the United States, and he promised “unpredictable and serious consequences” if the resolution went forward.

The European Union quickly issued a statement welcoming the support of 111 countries in the vote. Nineteen countries voted against, and 55 abstained.

“It is admirable that the member states of the United Nations are acting to protect the people of North Korea when their own government fails to do so,” the head of the commission of inquiry, retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, said in an email, adding that he is confident the Security Council will “act responsibly.”

Human rights groups turned their attention to China and Russia, which could block any Security Council move. “No Security Council country, including China, can deny the horror endured by so many NorthKoreans,” Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement just after the vote. “The time has come for justice.”

North Korea and its allies have argued that a resolution that targets a single country would set a dangerous precedent and that other developing countries could be singled out, too.

The resolution says the commission of inquiry report found grounds to believe that crimes againsthumanity have been committed under policies “established at the highest level of the State for decades.” It calls for targeted sanctions against the people who appear to be most responsible. The commission of inquiry earlier warned Kim Jong Un that could include him.

Cuba proposed an amendment that would have stripped out the tough language on the ICC, but the committee’s member countries voted that down earlier Tuesday.

The mere possibility that its leader could be targeted by prosecutors has put North Korean officials, once dismissive of human rights issues, on edge. In recent weeks, it dangled the possibility of a visit by the U.N. human rights chief, among other attempts at outreach.

“The North Koreans are strongly responding to the U.N. resolution because they think it’s shaking the young leader who’s been trying to consolidate his power since inheriting power only a few years ago,” said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University. “They would think their international image has been seriously hit.”

But the North is unlikely to make good on its threat to conduct a nuclear test because the country knows such an action would invite further international condemnation. Also, there is little chance that Russia and China will let the Security Council refer the North’s human rights situation to the ICC in The Hague, analysts said.

“North Korea’s reaction will mostly be verbal. They may threaten nuclear and missile tests, but they probably won’t carry them out,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

In the chamber Tuesday, a North Korean foreign ministry adviser, Kim Ju Song, was witnessed trying to get a U.N. official to eject Shin Dong-Hyuk, a young man who fled North Korea and has since spoken out against the Pyongyang regime.

The commission of inquiry report was based on interviews with dozens of people like Shin who had fled and detailed abuses including starvation and a system of harsh prison camps containing up to 120,000 people.

North Korea has accused people who cooperated with the commission of inquiry of lying, and it produced a video showing Shin’s father in North Korea condemning him.

But Shin, who bowed to Japan’s ambassador in thanks after the vote, said North Korea’s attempt to intimidate him and others backfired. “This was an overwhelming defeat,” he said.

TIME North Korea

Dennis Rodman Says He Helped Secure Kenneth Bae’s Release from North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and former NBA star Dennis Rodman speak at a basketball game in Pyongyang on Feb. 28, 2013. KCNA—AFP/Getty Images

Because he and Kim Jong Un are such great buddies

“My dear friend for life, Marshall Kim Jong Un” begins the January 2014 letter from Dennis Rodman, in which the former NBA superstar begged the North Korean dictator to release American prisoner Kenneth Bae.

Bae was finally released Saturday after spending two years in captivity, and Rodman is claiming a major share of the credit thanks to his letter to the Supreme Leader, TMZ reports.

In the letter, Rodman writes that although he “understands the crimes [Bae] has committed,” the U.S. needs to see how loving and compassionate the North Korean leader can be.

“I ask for your mercy to prisoner Kenneth Bae and would be eternally grateful for his safe return,” because that would be “a big step towards bridging the gap between our two nations,” the basketball star concludes.

Rodman never received a reply to his letter, but told TMZ that a video released soon after he sent it that showed Bae alive and well was probably not a coincidence.


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