The Disaster Artist


The Franco brothers – together again at last!

(2017) Biography (A24) Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Paul Scheer, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, June Diane Raphael, Megan Mullally, Jason Mantzoukas, Andrew Santino, Nathan Fielder, Joe Mande, Sharon Stone, John Early, Melanie Griffith, Hannibal Buress, Judd Apatow, Bryan Cranston, Charlene Yi, Jessie Hannah Eris, Peter Gilroy, Lauren Ash. Directed by James Franco

 

There are three kinds of bad movies. There are the ones that are just bad, the ones you walk out of in the theater or more usually switch off from your television. There are the ones that are guilty pleasures – movies you know aren’t very good but you still like them anyway because they either speak to you in some way, there’s an actor in it you really like or you simply liked the vibe. Finally there are the “so bad they’re good” classics like Plan 9 From Outer Space or Terror in Tiny Town. One of the most recent examples of this is The Room.

It was made by writer, director and star Tommy Wiseau (J. Franco) who has a decidedly bizarre Eastern European-like accent but claims he’s from New Orleans. With long rock star hair matching his leather rock star pants, he has a look all his own, a kind of heavy metal marching band pirate.

In 1998 he met Greg Sestero (D. Franco) in an acting class in San Francisco. Greg wasn’t very good, unable to commit to his role. Tommy walked in and did maybe the most ham-fisted version of Stanley Kowalski screaming “STELLLLLLLLAAAAAAAH” in history. The two, both of whom have aspirations of making it in the business, become fast friends.

They end up moving to L.A. together and sharing an apartment Tommy has there. Tommy, who apparently has an unending source of money, is rejected by mega-producer Judd Apatow one night – well, he did interrupt his dinner – and decides that rather than waiting for a producer to see the clear star quality he knows he has that he needs to show it by making his own movie.

The thing is, Tommy knows absolutamente nada about making movies and while he hires a professional crew, he chooses to refuse their helpful advice and go resolutely down his own road. From time to time he turns into an actual dictator on the set, bullying actors and technicians alike and firing them from time to time without cause. Nevertheless, somehow the movie gets made and only Tommy seems to know that the movie is completely horrible and yet it will go on to become one of the first cult movies of the millennium.

Both of the Franco brothers are terrific in their performances but particularly James who not only nails Tommy’s bizarre accent and mannerisms but seems to inhabit his head too. Tommy as is pointed out in the movie and by reviewers lives on his own planet and everyone else is just visiting. James has gotten most of the acclaim (and the Golden Globe although surprisingly no Oscar nominations) but Dave deserves a little love too in a much less flamboyant role.

As a matter of fact, the cast is strong throughout as Franco likely cashed in a whole lot of markers to get lots of celebrity cameos – often as themselves – that help make the movie fun in spot-the-celebrity drinking game; you know the one, where you take a shot every time you see a celebrity other than the main roles. I guarantee you’ll be passed out drunk before the film is halfway over. Even given that you may well get a kick out of seeing some familiar stars from the recent past such as Melanie Griffith as a harried drama teacher or Sharon Stone as a harried agent. You’ll also see Seth Rogen at his non-stoner best and Alison Brie (Dave Franco’s real life wife) as Greg’s sweet girlfriend.

Although it shares a certain amount of DNA with Ed Wood, a similarly-themed film that critics seem hell-bent on comparing this to, they are completely different outlooks. Wood is a movie about mediocrity; this is a movie about perseverance. Tommy isn’t a particularly gifted or visionary individual and yeah if he wasn’t wealthy who knows if he gets to make a movie like this but one has to admire his tenacity, even if he occasionally turns into a dick in the process.

There is a question every critic needs to answer when reviewing a film like this – no, you don’t need to see The Room before seeing this and it really doesn’t matter which you see first. I would lean slightly towards seeing this first because you’ll appreciate the Wiseau original much more if you do.

This isn’t one of the best movies of the year but it is a very good movie that I can easily recommend to anyone. Sure it’s a little bit out there – maybe because it gets into the orbit of planet Tommy a little too closely – and some might think it a paean to bad movies – it’s not. Still, those who have ever loved a movie for no reason other than because it was nutty enough to appeal to them will find themselves finding common ground with this film.

REASONS TO GO: Both of the Franco brothers deliver the goods. In fact, the cast is really strong from top to bottom.
REASONS TO STAY: May be too off-kilter for some and some may think it celebrates bad movies.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of profanity, some sexuality and more of James Franco’s butt crack than you may ever wish to see again.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film from A24 to be screened in the IMAX format.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/4/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ed Wood
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Greatest Showman

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What Just Happened


What Just Happened

De Niro contemplates the images of his latest film in the anonymous darkness of a theater.

(Magnolia) Robert De Niro, Catherine Keener, Stanley Tucci, Robin Wright Penn, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis, John Turturro, Michael Wincott, Kristen Stewart. Directed by Barry Levinson

It is said that in space no-one can hear you scream. In Hollywood, not only can everyone hear you scream, chances are the rights to it are in turnaround.

Ben (De Niro), a veteran Hollywood producer, is at a photo shoot for a Vanity Fair feature on the 50 Most Powerful People in Hollywood and he is miffed at where he is placed on the set. In a town where perception is everything, he finds himself off to the side, away from the true power brokers. For a producer, the perception of powerlessness can make his job damn near impossible.

Ben’s latest project, a Sean Penn (played by himself) vehicle called Fiercely, is at a test screening attended by the hard-as-nails studio boss Lou Tarnow (Keener). The test scores are a disaster. Not only is the hero killed at the end of the film, so is his dog, brutally shot by generic Eurotrash hitmen. The movie is scheduled to open the Cannes Film Festival in less than two weeks and Ben is ordered to change the ending or else the vindictive Tarnow will bury the film, preventing its release in any form.

When the news is presented to the film’s manic English director Jeremy Brunell (Wincott), he has a meltdown, not wanting to compromise his artistic vision. Still, those problems pale in comparison to Ben’s next project, which is set to begin filming in ten days. It’s star, Bruce Willis, shows up to the set bloated, grossly overweight and even more terrifyingly, with a beard that would do Stonewall Jackson proud. The film’s backers are threatening to halt production and sue everyone, including Willis’ neurotic and hypochondriac agent (Turturro). To make matters worse, the film’s writer (Tucci) is having an affair with Ben’s ex-wife (Penn), who Ben wants to get back together with despite their attempts at “breakup therapy” which smacks of L.A. flightiness.

While Ben navigates a personal life that is nothing short of a minefield, his professional career is threatening to implode. And buddy, nothing is harder to come back from for a producer than the perception that he is ineffective.

Director Levinson also directed the satire Wag the Dog which skewered politics and Hollywood on the same spear, but this doesn’t have the bite that the other film possesses. The movie’s worst quality is its blandness, and that prevents the movie from being rated highly. What the film has going for it is that the cast is exceptional, led by De Niro who can make ordering a ham sandwich compelling. Willis and Wincott take the over-the-top route, which works out nicely. However, it also serves to illustrate the movie’s other glaring flaw – the characters feel more like caricatures than real people. It’s hard to get behind a movie when the characters in that movie are unbelievable.

There is a fascination with peeking behind-the-scenes in Hollywood. We all have visions of massive egos jousting for higher perches in the pecking order, and to a certain extent that’s true. There’s a certain vicarious thrill with watching rich power players grovel and from time to time get put in their places and that’s the attraction for What Just Happened. It’s unfortunate that a cast this talented and a director with the abilities of Levinson couldn’t have made a better movie, but even their lesser efforts are worth a look.

WHY RENT THIS: An insider’s look at Hollywood from a consummate Hollywood insider. An outstanding cast, led by the always watchable De Niro. Willis and Wincott in particular, give over-the-top performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie falters when covering Ben’s personal life. While some of the scenes are based on real-life incidents, the characters don’t feel reel. The satire is bland, the kiss of death for satire.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is pretty salty and there are some scenes of violence, sexuality and drug use. Probably a bit rough for the younger sorts.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the book the movie is based on is non-fiction, the book’s author, producer Art Linson, chose to film it as a fictional work with fictional characters.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Traitor