Movie Review ~ The Rental (2020)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Two couples on an oceanside getaway grow suspicious that the host of their seemingly perfect rental house may be spying on them. Before long, what should have been a celebratory weekend trip turns into something far more sinister.

Stars: Alison Brie, Dan Stevens, Jeremy Allen White, Sheila Vand, Toby Huss

Director: Dave Franco

Rated: R

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  I love to travel but I’m kinda weird about it.  Here’s the thing, when I go on vacation I want to feel like I’m away from home and want the place I stay to feel special and not like…well, my home.  That’s why I’ve always found the Airbnb craze to be a little whack-a-doo because who would want to stay in a person’s house (or even a place someone else decorated or, shudder, put their bare feet on the pillows?) when you could get pampered at a hotel for sometimes half the cost?  I know that for large parties it may work out better but there’s just something a little creepy to me about the entire set-up.  After watching The Rental, I’m even more convinced I’m right to be worried.

The first feature film directed by Dave Franco (The Disaster Artist), The Rental could have easily gone in another direction that was more cliché and expected and that would have been a gigantic and exasperating disappointment.  Thankfully, Dave seems to have learned from the strange misfires his older brother James made as both a director and star and kept his debut tight.  He also wisely hasn’t made it more difficult on himself by starring in the film as well but instead remains behind the camera as director and co-writer with indie favorite Joe Swanberg (You’re Next) who knows his way around these types of slow-dread genre films.  The result should have audiences ready to check-in and hunker down for a corker of a chiller.

Excited for a weekend away from their busy city lives, Charlie (Dan Stevens, Lucy in the Sky), his wife Michelle (Alison Brie, The Five-Year Engagement), his brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White, Viena and the Fantomes) and Josh’s girlfriend/Charlie’s business partner Mina (Sheila Vand, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) book a beach house in the woods that’s just secluded enough to help them unwind  and party without disruption.  Things get off to a jittery start when Mina, who is Middle Eastern, requests to book the house and is denied but Charlie, who is white, is accepted immediately.  Arriving to find the owner (Toby Huss, Halloween) affable at first but vague when questioned about the perceived racism in the booking snafu, the foursome shake off any lingering bad feelings and try to enjoy their first night at the spacious house.

The calm doesn’t last long though as a night of partying leads to the first of a number of secrets that are eventually exposed, along with a danger that none of them could have ever predicted.  Situations go from bad to worse when a split-second decision changes the course of their weekend plans from a fun retreat with family/friends to a downward spiral of mayhem.  As miscommunication, distrust, fear, and anger start to take hold of the group, what starts as a weekend to relax quickly devolves into a surprisingly effective fight for survival stemming from a mystery they are racing to unravel.  To reveal more would not be playing fair and Franco/Swanberg largely stick to realistic developments that rely on spur of the moment choices and their devastatingly quick consequences.

I was genuinely impressed with the acumen Franco shows for maneuvering his small troupe of actors around and the way he works with Swanberg to keep us on our toes throughout.  The twists and turns presented in The Rental are often unpredictable and you’ll lose valuable time the more you try to figure out what’s happening or where the action will go next.  Leaving little room for extra fat to weigh things down, the 80 or so minutes are free from the normal pitfalls of first time filmmaking, suggesting again that Franco has been paying attention when he’s been on sets these past years as an actor.

Frustrating though they all may be at times and not without blame for much of what happens during this weekend from hell, the characters are all appealing in some fashion.  I’m usually not a fan of Brie (Franco’s real life wife) but she’s quite fun here and despite a slow start where her character is a bit more passive than we’re used to seeing from Brie she revs up and gets a few good zingers in during the second half.  Every time Stevens pops up in a movie my partner notes that ever since he left Downton Abbey the actor seems totally averse to speaking in his native UK accent and here again he’s not wholly successful in showing off his elocution.  Stevens hasn’t quite found his footing, post-Downton and while he’s been well-reviewed in a number of films he continues to come up lacking for me…but in The Rental that cool from a distance feel actually works for his often compromised pseudo-nice guy.  As Charlie’s screw-up brother, White is fine in a role that gradually gets aggravating but it’s Vand’s commanding presence that is the real find here.  Taking the role as serious as it needs to be, Vand handles some character developments and choices that could be poison with an unusual amount of grace, keeping us oddly on her side.

Franco has said the idea for The Rental came from his caution about staying in an Airbnb property and his trepidation shows with an end product that’s drenched in paranoia.  Building to a sharp sting around the halfway mark before rising to a spine-tingling crescendo that’s sustained through the credits, The Rental is a four-star winner for the weary traveler wary of where they lay their head at night.

Movie Review ~ The Disaster Artist

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.

Stars: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, Kate Upton, Ari Graynor, Jacki Weaver, Hannibal Buress, Andrew Santino, Alison Brie, Sharon Stone

Director: James Franco

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  There’s a classic movie theater in my town that used to show the best Midnight Movies.  Before they went digital, they often featured classic movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s in all their celluloid glory.  It was at this theater I saw a print of Adventures in Babysitting, Friday the 13th, The Breakfast Club, and introduced several horrified friends to Showgirls.  Then the financial realities of shipping film stock and the public need for crystal clear projections led the theater to remodel and slowly eliminate these wonderfully nostalgic screenings.  While The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Serenity remained bewildering stalwarts on the roster, another movie started to be featured that I’d never heard of and didn’t have any interest in seeing.  This movie was The Room.

Released in 2003 and now regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, I didn’t experience The Room until about a month ago at a screening organized in anticipation of the release of The Disaster Artist.  If you’ve never seen the movie, I highly encourage you to take it in at a theater with an audience of like-minded adults.  The crowd I saw it with were experienced in the jaw-dropping insanity of writer/director Tommy Wiseau’s crazy drama and their reactions pushed the overall viewing of the movie into one of my favorite nights in a theater of 2017.  Yes, the movie is terrible but it’s so joyful in its awfulness that its impossible not to be hypnotized by it.  I can’t imagine watching it at home with friends or, worse, alone.  It’s meant to be seen in the theater.

Working with a script from Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, adapted from a book written by The Room’s original co-star Greg Sestero (played here by Dave Franco, Now You See Me), director James Franco has turned in a loony albeit quite entertaining film that feels like his most sophisticated exercise to date.  Franco (Sausage Party) not only excels behind the scenes, but it’s been years since he’s been as good in front of the camera as he is playing Wiseu, nailing the mysterious man’s personal tics and hard to place accent.

Charting the development of the film from Sestero’s point of view through its troubled creation to opening night, James Franco has surrounded himself with some of the best and brightest up and coming stars of today as well as featuring cameos from a treasure trove of Hollywood royalty.  One minute Zac Efron (The Greatest Showman) is turning up in a brief role as a hysterically memorable character from The Room and then Sharon Stone (Lovelace) appears as Sestero’s man-eating agent.  Keep your eyes out for Melanie Griffith and Bryan Cranston, too!  It’s so chock full of famous faces I’ll likely need to see it a second time to catch everyone that floats by onscreen.

This is a film aimed squarely at fans of The Room so better do your homework before trekking to the theater to see it.  Scenes, performances, and situations are painstakingly recreated as evidenced in the credits which put the original film and this tribute side by side to show how close Franco got to shot for shot perfection.  Going in with no working knowledge of the film that inspired it will likely cause most of the jokes to go whizzing past, robbing you of the plethora of fun to be had.  Some theaters are doing a double-feature and I’d suggest seeking those out and making a crazy night of it!

I don’t think anyone that heard Franco was making The Disaster Artist ever could have predicted it would come off so well, much less be in the running for several major Oscar nominations in mid-January.  When you think about it, though, making a film about the making of the world’s worst movie is something that seems right up Franco’s alley.  The eccentric actor seems like he’d be a kindred spirit of Wiseau and Franco never seems to shy away from challenging material…the more meta the betta, er, better.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Post

 

Synopsis: A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government. Inspired by true events.

Release Date: December 22, 2017 (limited) January 12, 2018 (wide)

Thoughts: At the Oscars last year, buzz began to build around a rumored collaboration between Hollywood’s most favorite people. Director Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), & Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks) would team up to tell the story of the Pentagon Papers.  Over the next weeks and months, we would get a tidbit here and there but The Post has flown quietly under the radar.  Until now.  I’m sure a number of Oscar hopefuls woke up this morning to see the new trailer for The Post and felt their hearts sink a little bit because it looks like this obvious Oscar bait is going to snag quite a lot of attention.  With an honest-to-goodness all-star cast of A-Listers and well-respected character actors in supporting roles, this looks like a slam-dunk.  If Spielberg can keep this one trucking along (please let it come in under 2.25 hours!) there’s a chance The Post will be headline news during Award Season.

Movie Review ~ The LEGO® Movie

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.

Stars: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman

Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Chris McKay

Rated: PG

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: The first preview for The LEGO® Movie gave me one heck of a headache…so much of a headache, in fact, that I questioned if I’d be able to sit through the full length film upon its release.  The filming style, a mixture of stop-motion and computer animation made to look like stop-motion, was a little too overwhelmingly retro for my tastes and I found myself wishing instead for a Lincoln Log drama instead of LEGO adventure.

After a recent screening of the assembled finished product I found myself desperate for an aspirin (or four) because while the film is endlessly creative and as weird as the day is long, it’s also one of the most overwhelming mind melters you’re likely to see stone cold sober.  I can’t say I liked the film enough to see it again because so much of it was BIGGER BOLDER LOUDER than it had to be but I also can’t rightly tell you not to see it either.

At 100 minutes long, the first 50 minutes plays like a Nintendo game on fast forward, barely stopping for air as it zips through introductions to our main character, an ordinary construction worker named Emmet (Chris Pratt, Her) that’s part of a futuristic society conformed to following instructions to be happy.  It’s a thinly veiled condemnation of our own society and how we follow the popular trends and are content to NOT stand out from the crowd.

Individuality is the lesson of the day kiddos and it’s a message the script from directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller makes abundantly clear as it points out all the ways that Emmet is a drone follower with nary a leadership bone in his plastic body. That all changes when he becomes attached to (literally) the  Piece of Resistance, a mystical object that has the potential to save the world from the evil President Business (Will Ferrell, The Internship, The Campaign) and his  plot to…well…do something that involves Krazy Glue.

Joining forces with a hip rebel (Elizabeth Banks, Walk of Shame, Man on a Ledge), her boyfriend Batman (Will Arnett, The Nut Job), a wise sage (Morgan Freeman, Now You See Me, Oblivion), and a host of wacky LEGO creations, Emmet travels through several cleverly designed LEGO worlds as he overcomes his normalcy to save the world.  Listen up for nicely rendered vocal work from Jonah Hill (This is the End), Channing Tatum (Magic Mike), Liam Neeson (The Grey), Will Forte (Nebraska), Nick Offerman (We’re the Millers), and Charlie Day (Pacific Rim).

Just when I was starting to be won over by the good natured humor and laudable creativity Lord and Miller throw a curveball into the final act that was a heinous mistake.  Not only does it introduce a deus ex machina twist that makes little sense, it can’t maintain consistency with the new rules it set for itself.  It’s a disappointing misstep that unnecessarily breaks up the action, betrays the theme, and isn’t well executed.

Overall, the film is a mish-mash of wild ideas that work well 65% of the time with the other 35% teetering between eye rolling frustration with its brain-stem shaking animation.  I’m not quite sure who the target audience is either.  It’s too sophisticated a concept for small children, even if it does go over their head there are some scary moments they may recoil from (several unhappy children beat a hasty retreat in our theater) so parents should proceed with caution.  While I’ve no doubt it will open big, I get the sneaking suspicion the film will play better at midnight screenings down the road where potheads and hipsters alike will bask in the Crayola box colors on display and acid-trippy stylings.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Lego Movie

lego_movie

Synopsis: An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.

Release Date:  February 7, 2014

Thoughts:  Though I believe with the release of The LEGO Movie we are one step closer to seeing Lincoln Log: The Film or Yo-Yo: The Musical, I must admit that I’m interested to see how well this film will play to larger audiences.  Bolstered by an impressive roster of voice talent including Elizabeth Banks (People Like Us) , Chris Pratt (Zero Dark Thirty), Will Ferrell (The Internship) I’m hoping that the movie itself is easier to watch than the trailer.  While more than a few waves of nostalgia will wash over you as various LEGO characters are introduced, it does look like any number of homemade YouTube videos.  Let’s see if the final product is more animated than it appears because I’m not entirely sure I’ll be able to make it through the film without my head imploding.