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”

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Zac Efron and Seth Rogen return to wage war agains a neighboring sorority in the sequel to ‘Neighbors’

Neighbors-2-soroity-risingYou could be forgiven for calling “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” the most feminist movie of the year. Such is the state of Hollywood movies when there are so few truly female-fronted blockbusters and comedies that a movie in which teenage girls chuck their bloody tampons into Seth Rogen’s mouth could be considered progressive. But whether or not Rogen and company have made a feminist raunch-fest, they’ve made an often hilarious sequel that at least begs the question.

“I don’t even know what’s sexist,” Rogen’s character says in desperation at one point in “Neighbors 2.” Director Nicholas Stoller could be breaking boundaries or crossing serious lines, but at the end of the day he’s trying to make a funny movie. The divide between sharp political satire and what could be considered offensive and insensitive is often blurry.

Here’s the ugly truth that “Neighbors 2” brings to light: sororities on American campuses are not allowed to throw parties, but frats can. Stoller perfectly captures modern Greek life in a quick early scene, with Selena Gomez leading a flock of girls all dressed in white while wearing halos made of flowers. Their delicate golf claps say it all. Shelby, Beth and Nora (Chloe Graec Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein) together reject this culture and decide that instead of rushing a sorority where they can’t smoke weed and where frat houses literally have “giant arrows pointing upstairs to fuck us,” they’ll start their own sorority, right next door to Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Rose Byrne).

Time and again the movie reminds us that if a man were doing the crazy, vulgar, potty and drug humor that happens here, no one would bat an eye. To be fair, “Neighbors 2” may be pushing its luck; “Bridesmaids” never had to tell the audience how forward thinking it was to have women acting filthy. But Stoller is smart enough to wink at the audience in that, like in the original “Neighbors,” both the Radners and the college kids next door are man-sized children not nearly as mature as they pretend to be.

“Neighbors” was a riot because it flipped the script of what a crazy frat bro could look like in creative ways, and the sequel has more of the same. Zac Efron returns to continue spending the bulk of his time shirtless, even briefly turning into Magic Mike, but at the same time he and his brothers will pull out a ukulele and sing Jason Mraz during a gay wedding proposal. This movie could arguably be as queer as it is feminist.

What’s new has all to do with the girls. They dress like Minions as a form of hazing. They watch “The Fault in Our Stars” all together in their pajamas. They dress up like feminist icons Oprah and First Lady Hillary Clinton, Senator Hillary Clinton, and future President Hillary Clinton. Five dudes may have written the screenplay, but it feels like comedy for women, not just gross-out comedy performed by women.

“Neighbors 2” doesn’t gel quite as well as the original, but it has equal doses of Rogen and Byrne’s dopey chemistry, not to mention some impressively funny cinematic style. Stoller can stage a pretty solid pratfall, and there’s one hilarious sequence where Rogen and Efron, each shirtless and jiggling, are running through a hazy orange fog as “Sabotage” plays in the background. It would be funny even if they weren’t being chased by teenage girls trying to steal back their trash bag full of weed.

So whether “Neighbors 2” is feminist is beside the point. Stoller’s having a lot of fun, and the girls will too.

3 ½ stars

Steve Jobs

Aaron Sorkin’s biopic of the Apple founder is directed by Danny Boyle and stars Michael Fassbender

steve-jobs-movie-poster-800px-800x1259Steve Jobs and Apple didn’t invent the personal computer. They didn’t invent the portable music player, or the smart phone, or the tablet, or most recently wearable tech. What Steve Jobs did was make technology inviting, accessible and fashionable. That was his innovation and his genius. And it’s something of a paradox that the most successful tech giant is not the one with the newest or the best technology, but the one that reaches its users personally.

“Steve Jobs”, the new biopic directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin, expertly plays on the conflict within Jobs’s embattled ideologies. Like Sorkin’s “The Social Network” before it, “Steve Jobs” goes beyond the notion that many great men have to step on others to get to the top. It reckons with the idea of being great and being a good person as two sides of the same coin. It enlists Apple veterans Steve Wozniak, John Sculley and Andy Hertzfeld to take up arms against Jobs’s deceptively flowery rhetoric and his vision of democratization. And yet the film’s style and staging presents a man still in the right, not just an asshole but the only asshole who saw the world in the right way.

Sorkin breaks “Steve Jobs” up into three chapters, each staged in real-time just minutes before the product launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT launch in the late ‘80s after Jobs was ousted from Apple, and finally in 1998 when he was brought back to unveil the iMac. Not only does the screenplay have an identical setting structure, Sorkin layers the narrative structure in a way that’s rife with narrative callbacks and payoffs. It’s excellent dramatizing, even if it largely stretches the truth of the 30-odd minutes between Jobs taking the stage.

One of the first things we hear Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) say is “Fuck You” when his programmer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) says they can’t get the voice demo of the Macintosh speaking “Hello” to work. Boyle shoots the scene in a hazy, docu-realistic filter, and in this first moment looking down on Jobs from the fish eye of the projection screen above, it places Jobs at odds with the world. Immediately Sorkin makes the observation that though the Macintosh was made for “everybody”, the computer can only be opened up by special tools nowhere to be found in the building.

Both the operating system and the computer itself are closed off, incompatible with other products and unable to be customized, perhaps not unlike Jobs himself. And yet Jobs speaks with a vision of the computer’s personality and its ability to be a computer built around how people actually think. Fassbender has a way of delivering every line with a charismatic, uplifting and reassuring demeanor, even as he’s threatening and condescending. Always the PR mastermind, he expertly deflects his ex-wife’s (Katherine Waterston) question about how he feels about his daughter’s financial state of affairs by saying he believes Apple stock is undervalued. He promises to ruin Hertzfeld’s career if he doesn’t get the voice demo working, and he justifies it by saying with a wry snarl, “God sent his only son on a suicide mission, but we like him because he made trees!”

Each of the three segments involves Jobs coordinating with his weary and overworked micro-manager Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), politely acknowledging the journalist Joel Pforzheimer (John Ortiz) and sparring and talking shop with his colleagues Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) and John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). In each segment he’s running late to the stage, he confuses the names of two Andys who work for him, and he argues with his family before conceding to offer them whatever money they need. Jobs is of the sort who has to argue and get his perspective across, even if he decides to give in anyway.

You can see how “Steve Jobs” could function as a recurring Aaron Sorkin series, with repeating jokes and lines and enough walking and talking to fill an entire season of “The West Wing,” but Boyle places a certain rhythm to everything that allows each segment to flow fluidly.

Like Jobs, Danny Boyle is a showman. Rather than the tight, digital aesthetic that the previously attached David Fincher would’ve surely brought to the film, each of the three time periods looks aesthetically evolved from the next. The first is the gritty documentary-realism look, followed by a more operatic, artistic and colorful flavor, to finally the clean, luminous and familiar look of Apple’s brand today.

Boyle and Sorkin also have a good way of bringing the same gravity to early discussions about corporate and tech jargon to later conversations involving Jobs’s family melodrama. It eventually ups the stakes by taking the backstage conflict and putting it in the forefront, with Jobs and Wozniak screaming over the Apple 2 team right in front of the crowded hall of Apple employees. And for all of Jobs’s ability to quote Bob Dylan or speak the praises of Alan Turing, the film is at its best when a character like Jobs’s daughter can reduce his big ideas to the simplest of metaphors, like that the iMac really just looks like Judy Jetson’s Easy Bake Oven.

“Steve Jobs” is Sorkinesque beyond measure, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with Sorkin sticking to something that works, especially when the ensemble performances are as strong as they are here. Fassbender spars with everyone, and even when he loses his cool he never drops the air of greatness he carries on his shoulders, constantly defending his own greatness to anyone who would question it. Rogen graduates Woz from a playful pushover to a solemn and seasoned accomplice who has put up with Jobs’s insistence too many times. Winslet is another powerhouse, seeing through Jobs’s ideologies even as she looks tired and defeated by loyally and slavishly managing Jobs’s life. And Daniels is perfectly at home in Sorkin’s dialogue, with both he and Fassbender so wonderfully combative and fiery.

Steve Jobs has become such a revered fixture of the 21st Century that “Steve Jobs” has reignited discussions about the nature of accuracy in a biopic. It seemed easier to accept that Mark Zuckerberg might be an asshole, but is now harder to imagine that Jobs was anything of a contentious figure. Wozniak says near the end of the film that being a genius and being a good person is not binary. By bending the truth of Jobs’s personality and heightening a discussion around his ideologies, Sorkin’s script contends that in some ways it is.

4 stars


“Neighbors” allows Seth Rogen and Zac Efron to be both snobs and slobs and gives Rose Byrne a great female comedic role.

The millennial generation is so maturing beyond their age that even their college comedies are about old people. “Neighbors” appeals to the generation that knows they have to grow up but isn’t quite sure how. And although it manages to out-raunch “Animal House” et. al., it feels mature, positive and enthusiastic about the future.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne have wonderful chemistry as new parents Mac and Kelly Radner. The movie opens with Mac literally narrating his excitement at having spontaneous sex with his wife in the middle of the day, only to be foiled by their precious baby daughter Stella smiling at them from across the room. This failed attempt perfectly echoes their dynamic, one in which they eagerly try to be great parents and fun, friendly people to their friends and neighbors but end up embarrassing and tiring themselves out at just how hard they try.

Rogen and Byrne are constantly talking over one another in sunny platitudes. Even when they’re swearing and upset they seem incapable of harm, and there’s a great moment when Mac says he’s going to buy a gun and end the life of his neighbors that is so far removed from their cheery demeanor that its almost adorably hilarious.

Mac and Kelly end up directing that anger at their new next door neighbors, the Delta Psi Fraternity and their ring leaders, frat President Teddy (Zac Efron) and VP Pete (Dave Franco). The guys are predictably loud and disturbing to their baby, but Teddy and the frat declare war when Mac breaks a promise Mac made at the Frat’s house warming party: “If we’re too loud, call us before you call the cops.” Continue reading “Neighbors”

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”

Take This Waltz

We applaud when women in the movies are strong, self-assured and dealing with problems the best they can. But they can’t all be headstrong and confident. Surely some of them are immature and even destructive.

Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz” is an admirable attempt to paint such a woman, but its ideas feel vague and uncertain, and its lead character Margo feels strange and unbelievable, even with one of today’s best and most relatable actresses at the helm, Michelle Williams.

We meet Margo on a plane ride home after a business trip, where she’s just met a handsome, but somehow cocky guy named Daniel (Luke Kirby). They talk on the plane and share a cab, and it turns out he lives quite literally across the street from Margo. This is already too good to be true, so as she’s about to leave the cab, she says, “I’m married.” This is the sort of thing you say when you’ve at least thought of sleeping with someone, but it goes against your better judgment.

And it’s a good thing, because Margo is in a fairly happy marriage with the loveable Lou, played by the equally loveable Seth Rogen. The two whisper abusive sweet nothings to one another in bed for fun (“I’m going to skin you alive with a potato peeler,” “I bought a melon baller and want to gauge your eyes out”), which is weird. They seem happy, but without warning she’ll become distant to his games, and of course she hasn’t stopped flirting with that guy across the street (he’s got some violent imagery played off as romantic too).

Margo’s problem is oddly specific. It’s a fear of being afraid. She doesn’t like to “be in-between things.” It takes her the whole movie to figure out that not all of life is full of action, which is fine, but the number of problems caused in her life because of this insecurity makes you wonder if Margo is really just unhealthy. Daniel annoys her at times, but she can’t tell him to screw off, nor just screw him. She won’t address the problems with her husband, but she won’t leave him either.

What does she want? I don’t think she knows. Maybe that’s intentional, but for a while it doesn’t seem like the movie knows either, and for how much we like Lou, audiences may get uncomfortable at Polley over-stylizing these moments of emotional adultery. We see Margo and Daniel swimming elegantly in a glistening indoor pool, their sex scene is dizzyingly erotic and her carnival ride with Daniel to the tune “Video Killed the Radio Star” makes you wonder why she doesn’t have more moments like that with her loving husband.

2 ½ stars


They say laughter is the best medicine, but it’s not an appropriate treatment for cancer, even though it has no cure. “50/50,” a dark dramedy about a 27-year-old who contracts a rare spinal cord cancer, isn’t being “jokey” at our expense. It finds laughs through blunt, direct practicality and acceptance of a bad situation.

Through the unfortunate plight of Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), “50/50” finds characters who address his cancer head-on and reveal themselves as the healthiest people of all. Continue reading “50/50”