The Disaster Artist

James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” doesn’t have the personality and vision of Greg Sestero’s book or Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room.”

The Disaster Artist Poster

“You can be called Mark, like that guy from that movie, Mark Damon.” That’s Tommy Wiseau telling his friend Greg Sestero his vision for the best/worst movie ever made, “The Room.”

In Sestero’s book “The Disaster Artist,” which tells the story of how Greg met Tommy and came to make “The Room,” there’s a wonderful chapter in which Greg takes Tommy to see “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” The movie is about an enchanting fraud, a mysterious guy who poses as one identity and seduces his way into becoming a close friend to the protagonist, only for things to turn violent and deadly when he’s exposed as a phony and a shell of a real person. Tommy sees the movie and is inspired, and he goes on to write “The Room.” But Greg sees it and thinks, Ripley IS Tommy.

Tommy Wiseau is an elusive, strange figure. His inscrutable Eastern European accent and broken English, his unruly jet black hair and his bizarre fashion sense of vests, jangly keys and studded black belts just scratch the surface of his mystique. He made the worst movie ever made and has become a cult sensation for it, but is he a genius or a lunatic?

Sestero’s “The Disaster Artist” plays into Tommy’s mystique and never gives you all the answers about him. It jumps around from before and after they started making “The Room,” and as a result, you see the disaster unfolding before you. Continue reading “The Disaster Artist”

Palo Alto

Gia Coppola’s film is based on a collection of short stories by James Franco and stars Emma Roberts.

“What if I don’t think there’s a reason for why things happen?” Films about the high school experience try and bring their characters full circle, taking them through ups and downs that compose a coming of age as though that’s all there is. So when April asks this question of her history teacher, she tacitly recognizes that all these things that make up a teenager’s high school experience are just moments, ones that not every teen will share.

“Palo Alto” captures the more wistful moments of the high school experience. It has highs and lows that alone amount to only so much. Together however, they’re a richer yearbook in the life of a teenager. Gia Coppola’s film aims for the same high mark as “Boyhood”, making profound observations about life via all the little stuff.

Gia Coppola, who draws her visual style of candy color pastels from her aunt Sofia Coppola, finds a different narrative structure than Richard Linklater, borrowing instead from a collection of James Franco’s short stories. Rather than one overarching plot, individual characters provide glimmers of larger narratives and add up to a larger picture of this Palo Alto high school. Continue reading “Palo Alto”

The 3rd Annual Anti-Oscars

The movies and the performers that don’t stand a chance of getting nominated this year.

Each year there are movies and performers that don’t just fail to get nominated for the Academy Awards but aren’t even in the conversation. This is where the Anti-Oscars were born.

Blogs, critics and Oscar pundits spend a lot of time discussing what’s in and less discussing what’s out. So although I’ve taken the time to do actual Oscar predictions, hopefully this piece can shed some light on under the radar work while placing it in the context of this behemoth we call the Oscar race.

See last year’s Anti-Oscars

Best Picture

  • Prisoners
  • The Spectacular Now
  • Spring Breakers
  • The Place Beyond the Pines
  • Upstream Color
  • Frances Ha
  • This is the End
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Some of this year’s actual Oscar nominees are as strong as they’ve ever been, and yet it still boggles the mind that the Academy considers there to be nine better movies than “Before Midnight”. That nominee, along with “Blue Jasmine,” “All is Lost” and “Fruitvale Station,” will likely miss the cut, but they were at least on someone’s radar.

Movies like “The Spectacular Now” and “Frances Ha” are those indie gems that never get noticed by the Academy, maybe an Original Screenplay nod if they’re lucky. They represent the modernity and the youth often missing in the Oscars. They’re actors’ films with minimal story but an exploration of a point in life, and they share the style that makes them distinctly cinema.

Spring Breakers” and “Upstream Color” are on the other end of the spectrum, indies too weird and polarizing to even be considered by the old fashioned Academy, even if their membership is slanting younger. Both utilize excessive style and their directors’ daring vision to create jarring, innovative films, one about way too much and the other arguably about nothing at all. Both however are beguiling, hypnotic mysteries.

In the middle are “Prisoners” and “The Place Beyond the Pines,” both midsize thrillers that were labeled as either too ridiculous or too portentous. They stretch storytelling boundaries with their ambitious screenplays, and they earn major thrills that even some of the likely Best Picture contenders can’t muster.

And last are the two studio movies, “This is the End” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” one a bit more massive than the other. These movies are why most people go to the movies, and they’re the ones that almost never show up on Hollywood’s most important night. They combine massive movie star appeal with rambunctious and accessible storytelling. But most of all, they’re fun. If the Oscars can be  self-serious homework, these movies are a different sort of escapism. Continue reading “The 3rd Annual Anti-Oscars”

This is the End

More so than a scathing look at Hollywood, “This is the End” is Seth Rogen and Company taking the piss, lampooning their screen selves for yucks all around.

There might be a few people disappointed that “This is the End” effectively closes the door on a “Pineapple Express” sequel in one quick, hilarious scene. The “Superbad” reunion is even shorter. And for what it’s worth, “This is the End” might just be the last time you see any of these actors make a movie this silly and outrageous again.

But I guess that’s appropriate for a comedy about the end of the world. If Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were going to make a movie that allows Seth, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride and all their other assorted friends the chance to play the fool one last time, they’d better do so in the most spectacularly destructive way possible.

Although they’re all playing themselves, this time officially, Rogen and Company have effectively driven the stake in their on-screen personas that have followed them through so many films since the “Knocked Up” days. They’ve been impaled by street lamps, sucked into sinkholes, eaten by cannibals and raped by demons, and maybe now they can usher in a new era of comedies from the ashes of their hilariously vulgar corpses.

More so than a scathing look at Hollywood, “This is the End” is the crew taking the piss, lampooning their screen selves for yucks all around. The film begins with Jay visiting Seth in L.A., in which the two have an epic weekend of pot and video games ahead of them. Is this their lifestyle? Perhaps not, but we as an audience can’t truly see them any other way. Continue reading “This is the End”

Spring Breakers

“Spring Breakers” is a grotesque monster movie of excess and vapidness, but it shows that these feelings of release are ugly, horrific and human.

The babes, the bros, the booze, the beaches, even the boobs; they all start to look the same after a while. In party after party, they’re all such identical cookie cutouts that you begin to wonder if anyone who rages this hard and this nonstop could even be called human.

That’s the premise of Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” a grotesque monster movie that slows these celebratory, MTV montages to a lurching, ugly snail’s pace and repeats them ad infinitum. Korine didn’t make this film to shock and desensitize kids, but he didn’t make it for parents to get a horrific peek behind the curtain either. It’s the idea that after so long, being showered in beer doesn’t look too different from being showered in cocaine and hundred dollar bills.

I don’t think Korine means to indemnify any actual spring breakers by labeling them all monstrous criminals. He did after all have to throw this dream party in order to film it into a nightmare. It’s the mindset that goes along with it that is the problem. Spring break is treated by most as an escape from the doldrums of reality, and Korine brands it further as a scary way for teenagers to “find themselves.” Continue reading “Spring Breakers”

127 Hours

Danny Boyle is a chameleon of a director. He’s never made a remotely similar film in terms of genre, and yet each one is undeniably his own. They can be brutal and visceral throughout and yet find a way to be inspirational and exciting in the end. “127 Hours” is one of Boyle’s greatest challenges and greatest achievements.

Boyle took the story of Aron Ralston, a reckless mountain climber who went deep into Utah and got himself trapped in a crevasse underneath a boulder for 127 hours, and made it an exciting, visually stimulating film. We know Ralston survived because his book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” serves as the basis for this film. The way he escaped is almost just as much common knowledge, and the buildup to his eventual escape builds a wonderful tension throughout the film. Boyle feeds us small teases of Ralston weighing his options before making that decision, and in an amazingly nauseating climactic scene, he floors us.

Such is the power of the rest of “127 Hours,” which finds ways to be simultaneously adrenaline fueled and heart stopping, intense and desolate or revealing and claustrophobic. Enrique Chediak’s cinematography is the best of the year because he wonderfully blends the handheld queasy cam with the panoramic HD cam to create those dual emotions. Watch some of the early shots inside the cliff’s cracks looking up at Ralston, and notice how as buried as the camera remains, how much it still seems to capture. Continue reading “127 Hours”