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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New Releases for the Week of December 8, 2017


THE DISASTER ARTIST

(A24) Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, Megan Mullally, Sharon Stone  Directed by James Franco

Greg Sestero, an aspiring actor, meets an intense young man named Tommy Wiseau in an acting class. The two men determine to go to Hollywood and make movies; their magnum opus is The Room which some have called the best worst movie ever made. This has been getting some awards season buzz.

See the trailer, interviews and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity)

Just Getting Started

(Broad Green) Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, Rene Russo, Glenne Headley. A former Mob Lawyer now living in Witness Protection has it pretty good. The cock of the walk at the retirement home, he has all the ladies’ attention; that is, until a brash former FBI Agent shows up. When it turns out the Mob has figured out where their former counselor is and have ordered a hit, the two must put aside their petty differences in order to stay in the land of the living.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for language, suggestive material and brief violence)

My Friend Dahmer

(The Orchard) Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff, Anne Heche, Vincent Kartheiser. Before he was a notorious serial killer and a cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer was a high school kid. As told by someone who knew him well at that time, this film is based on the graphic novel of the same name.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for disturbing images, language, teen drug use, drinking and sexual content, and for brief nudity)

November Criminals

(Vertical) Ansel Elgort, Chloë Grace Moretz, Catherine Keener, David Strathairn. When a classmate is brutally murdered, two college kids – unsatisfied with the progress police are making – decide to do the investigating themselves. It takes them deep into a world they have no experience with and puts the both of them in serious danger.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Crime
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic content including teen sexuality, drug material, brief violence and strong language)

Thelma

(The Orchard) Elli Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen. A woman falling in love is a beautiful thing, but when Thelma does it, she discovers that she has strange and frightening powers. Sometimes the most terrifying discovery is who you really are.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Black Clover
Fukrey Returns
Richie
Unexpectedly Yours

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

After You’re Gone
Fukrey Returns
Groove
Haldaa
The Light of the Moon
Lord, Give Me Patience
The Other Side of Hope

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Black Clover
Fukrey Returns
Malli Raava

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Unexpectedly Yours

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Disaster Artist
Just Getting Started
The Light of the Moon

Casino (1995)


Bright lights, sin city.

Bright lights, sin city.

(1995) Drama (Universal) Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, James Woods, Don Rickles, Alan King, Kevin Pollak, L.Q. Jones, Dick Smothers, Pat Vincent, John Bloom, Pasquale Cajano, Melissa Prophet, Bill Allison, Vinny Vella, Phillip Suriano, Erika von Tagen, Joseph Rigano, Gene Ruffini, Dominick Grieco, Millicent Sheridan. Directed by Martin Scorsese

There’s no doubt that director Martin Scorsese is an American treasure. When all is said and done he will go down as one of the great directors of all time – up there with Truffault, Hitchcock, Sturges, Ford, Capra, Kurosawa and Ray. One of the elite.

Casino is one of his masterpieces. Some of his fans believe it is his best, although when you put it up next to Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and The Departed that’s a tough claim to make, but there is certainly some argument to be made for it. In my own case, I tend to have a soft spot in my heart for it, particularly since Da Queen and I visit Las Vegas so often, there’s a particular fascination not just for the setting but the era as well.

Based on the lives of Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, Geri McGee and Anthony Spilotro, the movie takes place in the waning days of the mob in Vegas. Sam “Ace” Rothstein (De Niro) is an expert gambler who has made himself useful to the mob as a sports handicapper, one of the best in the business. He is sent to Vegas by the Teamsters-fronted Outfit to run the Tangiers, and soon doubles their earnings, which delights the bosses back in Chicago.

What is most important to the bosses is the skim, the amount of cash that is taken off the top of the casino’s earnings and sent directly to mob accountants to be hidden, while never appearing in the casino’s balance sheet and thus never getting taxed. As long as the skim is healthy, the bosses are happy and as long as the bosses are happy, Sam’s life expectancy stays reasonable.

His boyhood friend Nicky Santoro (Pesci) is sent to Vegas to be the enforcer, but his brutality and high-strung temperament eventually get him banned from every important casino in Vegas, so he has to resort to burglary to supplement his income. The mob bosses aren’t happy with Nicky but they more or less keep him around.

While this is going on, Sam falls in love with Ginger McKenna (Stone), an ex-prostitute whose boyfriend, Lester Diamond (Woods) was once her pimp and is now a cheap hustler. Sam convinces her to marry him although she is still plainly in love with Diamond, and she does, eventually giving birth to his daughter.

Things start to spiral downward for Sam and his friends as Ginger’s drug abuse, binge spending and affairs with Diamond – and with Nicky – threaten the lives of all three of them. Sam tries to distance himself but if the mob bosses go down, you know they’re going to make sure that no loose ends exist who can put them away.

Although many, including myself, consider the first two Godfather films to be the best movies on organized crime in history, I think it’s fair to say that Scorsese is the best director of movies on organized crime ever. He’s clearly fascinated by the psychology of the good fella, but also as shown here of that of the gambler.

This was the eighth and to date last collaboration between De Niro and Scorsese and they go out with a bang. De Niro is never better than he is here, playing the clever, street smart and somewhat mercurial casino manager. He knows he’s walking a dangerously fine line and knows just how to do it and keep everybody happy, but what he can’t do is control what the people around him are doing and that gets him into hot water. De Niro makes Sam kind of a tragic hero, one undone by the actions of his wife and best friend. It’s almost Shakespearean in many ways.

De Niro is aided by a fine supporting cast, including Stone in her signature role, one that would get her nominated for an Oscar. Her Ginger is high strung, weak, and plainly the kind of woman who can’t say no to anyone if it means she gets what she wants, but at the same time isn’t smart or patient enough to wait for what she wants to come to her. She’s not really a tragic figure – she’s weak, she’s addicted and she can’t escape who she is as much as she wants to. It is amazing Sam fell in love with her but then again, she’s a beautiful woman as Geri McGee was in real life.

Pesci is at his Pesci best here. While he’ll likely be remembered for his character Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas, this will also be part of his legacy, the ruthless and far more sadistic Nicky Santoro who puts an unfortunate’s head into a vise in order to get him to talk (the real life Spilotro actually did just that and in the end his victim talked). Santoro is like a bull in a china shop, a loose cannon likely to go off anywhere and at anytime. His affair with Ginger would be the beginning of the end of the mob in Vegas.

While we see the lights and the glamour of Vegas, we also see the seedier side, the darker side and the side they don’t talk much about in the Chamber of Commerce. The events in Casino are well-documented and were part of Vegas lore; Rosenthal’s fall would lead to the decline of the mob’s influence in Sin City. Vegas in fact changed dramatically in the 30 years since the events here took place, going from the smaller casinos to the multi-billion dollar megaresorts that dominate the Strip today. Even so, there are old-timers who look back to that era with some affection.

What makes Scorsese’s Casino so special isn’t so much that it is based on a true story, or even that the acting performances are so exemplary; it isn’t even the terrific look of the film that cinematographer Robert Richardson assembled (although he didn’t agree; he hated the look of the movie so much that he wouldn’t use the cameras that he used here again for more than 20 years) that captures both the neon glory of downtown Law Vegas and the nascent Strip, but also the back rooms, the gaudy mansions, the seedy and the sensational.

While the third act drags a little for me in watching the final, painful fall of Sam, I can’t help but admire the movie overall as a masterpiece, one of several to Scorsese’s credit. And while Raging Bull was a more intense experience, Taxi Driver the better film from a filmmaking aspect and Goodfellas probably more enjoyable overall, Casino remains more of a sentimental favorite for me. It depicts an era, a mentality and a tragedy that reminds me of Shakespeare and yet is distinctly American. This is a classic that should be on every movie buff’s must-see list.

WHY RENT THIS: One of Scorsese’s best (and that’s saying something). Awesome look at the dark side of Las Vegas. Great performances from De Niro, Pesci and Stone. Gorgeous cinematography.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Ending could have taken less time to gestate.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of violence, some of it brutal; there is also foul language pretty much throughout the film. There are also depictions of drug use and sexuality as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The casino scenes were shot at the Riviera (which recently closed and is scheduled to be imploded in the summer of 2015), while the exterior of the hotel was shot at the Landmark (which was imploded shortly after the movie was shot). However, the events of the film took place at the Stardust which closed in 2006 and was demolished in 2007, as well as at three other casinos which are also gone (but primarily at the Stardust).
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition contains a history of Las Vegas as well as a profile on writer Nicholas Pileggi.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $116.1M on a $50M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental only), Amazon, Vudu, iTunes, Flixster
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Goodfellas
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT: Woman Power Returns!

Total Recall (2012)


 

Total Recall

Colin Farrell is no saint, despite the halo.

(2012) Science Fiction (Columbia) Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy, John Cho, Will Yun Lee, Dylan Scott Smith, Mishael Morgan, Lisa Chandler, Natalie Lisinska, James McGowan. Directed by Len Wiseman

 

It is part of being human to be unsatisfied with the lives we’ve been given. Never mind that we make the choices that determine the course of that life – too often we sit and wonder why our lives aren’t more exciting and daydreaming what we would do if we were Heidi Klum or James Bond.

Doug Quaid (Farrell) builds robotic cops on an assembly line on a late 21st century Earth. Chemical warfare has rendered almost all of it uninhabitable except for the area around Great Britain and most of Australia. Workers live in the Australian section, known as The Colony and travel by a futuristic super-elevator through the center of the earth called the Fall to their jobs in the elite United Federation of Britain, which is ruled over by Vilos Cohaagen (Cranston), the autocratic chancellor. He is happily married to Lori (Beckinsale), a nurse. He and his friend Harry (Woodbine) often go out drinking together. And yet Quaid feels like something’s missing.

In a world where a resistance, led by the enigmatic and reclusive Matthias (Nighy) tries to end the oppression of the UFB in the Colony, Quaid longs for adventure and intrigue. He sees an ad for a company called Rekall which creates artificial memories for any sort of life; from being rich and famous, a chick (or stud) magnet, a secret agent. The latter appeals to Quaid so he decides to avail himself of their services.

Only almost as soon as the needle goes in, the cops come bursting in the door guns blazing. Quaid is the only one left alive and it looks like he’s going to be arrested but suddenly Quaid takes down the officers one by one and is left with not a scratch on him and a stunned expression on his face. When he goes back home to tell Lori about it, she reacts like any wife would if their husband did something without telling them; she tries to kill him (the difference between Lori and Da Queen is that Da Queen would have succeeded).

Confused and frightened, he goes on the run and discovers that he was somehow involved with the resistance, that his name is not Doug Quaid but Carl Hauser and that all of his memories are false, implanted there by the UFB along with Lori who is a crack agent of theirs. They are after something in his head; so is the resistance, who sends Melina (Biel) to rescue him.

They are on the run trying to make it to Matthias and the resistance. Can they get there before Cohaagen carries out his terrifying plan to invade the Colony and murder millions?

Many will recall with affection the 1990 version of this movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin as Quaid/Hauser, Lori and Melina respectively, directed by Dutch auteur Paul Verhoeven. While the early version was set on Mars (mostly), this one is set entirely on Mother Earth and both are loosely based on Phillip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” (referred to in dialogue by the receptionist at Rekall during the movie as a kind of lovely little tribute). While this one is a little closer to the source material, it still isn’t quite what you’d call too faithful to the original.

One of the problems with the original is Schwarzenegger. Not that he’s terrible – his natural charisma carried the movie in a lot of ways – but that he’s too believable as Hauser. The movie works better with Farrell because you can believe him as Quaid much more easily than you could believe Schwarzenegger and you also believe him less as Hauser than you can believe Schwarzenegger – but you can nevertheless believe him. You get more of a sense of his confusion and doubt as to what’s real and what isn’t, his initial frustration and boredom and his later rage.

Beckinsale makes an excellent Lori; loving and cuddly but vicious and ruthlessly efficient at her job as  UFB undercover agent. She’s a fine actress who unfortunately (or fortunately if you want to look at it that way) has been cast in a lot of action roles because of her success in Underworld and it’s sequels. She does get a little bit of a chance to shine as an actress here, enough so that I find myself wishing she had more dramatic roles offered to her because she is so good.

Biel and Farrell have decent chemistry together and she makes a pretty fair action heroine herself. The special effects are pretty spectacular but it’s the action sequences that make this movie worth seeing. From the opening fight in the Rekall office to the climax on the roof of the Fall terminus, this is as well-choreographed as any Asian martial arts masterpiece.

As late summer blockbusters go, Total Recall fits the bill nicely. Judging on the early box office returns and simply that this is a bit darker-toned than the original, this probably won’t be the hit that the original was. However, in many ways it’s a superior movie although quite frankly despite the fact that they are basically related at the end of the day comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. Or maybe, closer to the point, like comparing oranges and tangerines.

REASONS TO GO: Great action sequences. Well thought-out and spectacular.

REASONS TO STAY: Less of a light tone than the original. No Ah-nuld.

FAMILY VALUES: The action scenes are fairly intense and violent; there’s not a lot of gore but there is some. There’s brief nudity, some sexuality and of course foul language. Those who are prone to dizziness should note that there are lots of scenes of things spinning and dropping so you may want to be aware of this.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The fight scene at Rekall was done in one continuous shot; Farrell did his own stunt work for it and it took 22 takes before it was done correctly.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/8/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 30% positive reviews. Metacritic: 44/100. The reviews are bad.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blade Runner

BLADE RUNNER LOVERS: The set design, look and filming style for scenes set in The Colony are very reminiscent of the Ridley Scott classic.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Bleeding House