Movie Review ~ The Disaster Artist


The Facts
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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.

Movie Review ~ Now You See Me 2

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The Facts
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Synopsis: The Four Horsemen resurface and are forcibly recruited by a tech genius to pull off their most impossible heist yet.

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, David Washofsky, Tsai Chin, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman

Director: Jon M. Chu

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 129 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  I’m just as surprised as you are that 2013’s Now You See Me did well enough to warrant a sequel seeing that I left my screening frustrated at its cheats and wholly averse to its attempts to charm. Still, someone thought it was smart move to assemble the old crew again three years down the line and aside from a new female in the mix, not much has changed about the film or my opinion of the series as a whole.  What could have been a slick summer mea culpa sequel is just another time-wasting sleight of hand.  It’s not that we can see what the actors and filmmakers have up their sleeves, it’s that we don’t care in the first place.

If you haven’t seen the first film you’re going to get some spoilers so if you don’t mind having the final twist of the original spoiled for you keep reading.

In the years since the Four Horseman took down a wealthy mogul (Michael Caine, JAWS: The Revenge) and a shady secret spiller (Morgan Freeman, Lucy) they’ve kept a fairly low profile. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, American Ultra), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson, Triple 9), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco, Warm Bodies) haven’t gone far though and as they’re readying another elaborate trick to expose a cell-phone hacking scam they’re joined by Lula (newcomer Lizzy Caplan, Bachelorette, replacing Isla Fisher as the lone lady in the bunch) who was recruited by their leader, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Marc Ruffalo, Spotlight).  A mole in the FBI agency, Rhodes has been leading his colleagues on multiple wild goose chases, until it all catches up to him and his Horsemen when the tables are turned and they’re split up.

The Horsemen wind up in China, face to face with elvish Daniel Radcliffe (What If) who has grown a beard to show he’s not Harry Potter any longer. There’s some jibber jabber about an all-powerful computer chip Radcliffe wants and a rather lengthy sequence where the Horsemen break into a high security company to retrieve said chip. Hiding the wafer thin treasure on a playing card, director Jon M. Chu (Jem and the Holograms) takes, no kidding, nearly five minutes showing the Horsemen passing the card between each other to avoid being caught by guards that are frisking them. It’s an exhausting passage of time that isn’t nearly as impressive as anyone involved thinks it is.

Meanwhile, Rhodes has to bust Freeman’s character out of jail because only he knows who’s behind the mystery.  A personal vendetta between the two men quickly resurfaces and becomes a focal point for several head-scratching plot twists down the road. When the Horsemen and Rhodes are reunited, the final truth of who the man behind it all is and though the mystery is ostensibly solved, there’s still a good forty-five minutes left.  It’s in these forty-five minutes that I officially checked out as it’s just a series of parlor trick moments that are less than magical.

As I’ve said before, magic tricks onscreen just don’t work for me because there’s no sense of disbelief one can reasonably hold.  When magic is done live and in person, it can be an impressive experience because you learn to not trust your eyes.  On film, when I see a trick being performed in the middle of multiple edits and angles I’m just wondering how many takes and lighting set-ups it took to get it to look right. It just doesn’t work for me.  At all.

Performances here are in line with the broad script.  God love him, Ruffalo acts the hell out of his role and for that I thank him. If only his co-stars had found a way to do the same. Eisenberg is as nebbish and stilted as ever, Franco is disarming but not given much to do, Caplan starts off with spunk but gradually gets reduced to ninth banana, Radcliffe as usual is having way more fun than we are, and Caine and Freeman are just there to cash their checks (at least Freeman is required to both stand up and walk in this film…unlike London Has Fallen).  And poor Harrelson pulls double duty as Merritt and his offensively fey twin.

Capping off with another finale that throws some random turns in at the very end, Now You See Me 2 is slickly made and moves fast but is superficially bland and all together hollow.

Movie Review ~ Warm Bodies

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After a zombie becomes involved with the girlfriend of one of his victims, their romance sets in motion a sequence of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.

Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich, Analeigh Tipton, Dave Franco

Director: Jonathan Levine

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 97 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Though it won’t be released until early February, fans of quirky romance films will want to make some space in their schedule for Warm Bodies.  It’s a unique love story that successfully brings together several different genres and themes to form a successful and quite entertaining winner of a picture.  There’s enough going on in the movie to satisfy the needs of most moviegoers.  If you’re looking for zombie action, there are brains to be eaten.  If you’re starved for a romance and can’t wait for Safe Haven or Beautiful Creatures, you’re in luck because the chemistry between our two leads is wonderful and flows freely from the screen. 

Adapted by director Levine (50/50) from a novel by Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies opens like many post-apocalyptic zombie films do…with legions of slow-moving undead milling about a deserted location (in this case, an airport).  We’re introduced to R (Hoult), a different kind of zombie that will be our engaging narrator and star for the next 97 minutes.  With a wry sense of humor to his narration, R remarks on his situation as a zombie and provides clever commentary on the state of the world. 

On a routine feeding, R happens to chomp down on someone close to Julie (Palmer) and when he catches her eye his undead heart doesn’t so much skip as beat as it does start to beat again.  Protecting Julie from his fellow zombies is a relatively easy task and removes unnecessary suspense from what happens next. You see, the connection R and Julie have over the next few days sparks something in the zombies of the world…a spark that could change the fate of everyone both living and dead. 

The movie is so centrally focused on R and Julie that without the right leads the movie would have been as ho-hum as they come.  Levine has aced his casting exam here by hiring two very good actors that fit together with their parts and each other so well.  Hoult in particular is one of the most endearing zombies you’re likely to meet and his performance is reason enough to see the film.  Looking alarmingly like a young Tom Cruise, Hoult captures the frustration going on inside R with genuine pathos without being as emo as his hair and outfit would suggest.  His leading lady is no slouch either with Palmer (a blonde doppelganger for Kristen Stewart…and a better actor too!) keeping pace with him by turning on her own blend of charm. 

Hoult and Palmer share much of their onscreen time together in an honest dance between two people that shouldn’t be in love but find themselves hopelessly headfirst in the thick of it.  Levine uses a diverse soundtrack to chart the course of their courtship…the music springs forth mostly from a record player and is occasionally sweetened by composers Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. 

Supporting our two lovebirds is Malkovich as Palmer’s father who just happens to be the militant leader of an army that hunts down corpses just like R.  Tipton is a snazzy hoot as Palmer’s best friend as is a nicely restrained Corddry as R’s fellow zombie bud.

Even working with a smaller budget, there are a few nice effects here with the Bonies (zombies that have deteriorated to just bones) adding an extra bump of adrenaline to a few action sequences.  It’s actually in these moments where the movie feels the most flat…probably because the action can’t manage to be more entertaining than the one on one scenes between R and Julie.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll draw some parallels between this film and another classic tale (just look at the character names if you’re stumped) but try not to jump too far ahead of the film that’s in front of you.  With assured performances from Palmer and especially Hoult partnering nicely with Levine’s easy-going direction, Warm Bodies created a nice warm feeling in this viewer – it’s not going to change the face of the romance picture but it’s worthwhile, quality entertainment that I’m happy to recommend.

The Silver Bullet ~ Warm Bodies

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Synopsis: After a zombie becomes involved with the girlfriend of one of his victims, their romance sets in motion a sequence of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.

Release Date:  February 1, 2013

Thoughts: The resurgence of the zombie craze has inspired some interesting projects.  The gigantic popularity of TV’s The Walking Dead has given cable television another hit and 2013’s World War Z is hoping for summer blockbuster status.  Throwing the genre a bit on its ear, Warm Bodies looks like any other troubled teen romance…until you consider that one of the teens is a member of the undead.  What’s interesting about this film is the appearance that everyone is in on the joke-y nature of the premise…which could spell a lot of fun for audiences.  An appealing cast and promising director (Jonathan Levine did great work with 2011’s 50/50) are added bonuses.