Movie Review ~ The Disaster Artist

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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 ~ The Greatest Showman

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya Coleman, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Settle

Director: Michael Gracey

Rated: PG

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: The Greatest Showman is a movie with a huge identity crisis. An old fashioned musical in structure and feel populated with modern style pop tunes and performances, it’s a bizarre film to experience firsthand but one I must admit I’ve had swirling around in my head ever since I saw it. Clever (or cunning) marketing has positioned this gigantic piece of cotton candy to be front and center whether you like it or not. Billboards, television advertisements, a live preview performance in the middle of last week’s A Christmas Story Live!, not to mention endless appearances by its stars on talk shows have all made The Greatest Showman impossible to miss. So with all the hub bub and howdoyado, does it wind up being something you want to fit into your busy holiday schedule?

I guess the answer is how far you like your patience to be tested. For me, the movie works in fits and spurts but the time between the material that lands starts to grow wider the longer this circus is in town. I walked out of the screening feeling like I was going to give this one an outright pan but like I mentioned before, I was seeking out specific songs from the soundtrack before the end of that day. Oscar winning songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land) have a way with a hook and more than one song has the potential to become the earworm you won’t be able shake. I’ve even fallen prey; I’ve been humming the lovely power ballad “Never Enough” sung by Loren Allred (and not by actress Rebecca Ferguson who mimes the singing rather well) for days now.

As mentioned above, the film wants to have its cake and eat it too and that greed starts with the opening credits. The old 20th Century Fox logo appears but then is quickly replaced by the new one as Pasek and Paul’s opening number begins. Why the two logos? If director Michael Gracey wanted to give us a throwback musical, why not start with a bit of retro-ness and juxtapose that with his Moulin Rouge-esque filmmaking style? Or just go modern from the get-go and hit the ground running?

The story of creative entrepreneur and eventual circus ringmaster P.T. Barnum has been turned into a musical already (1980’s rarely produced but quite lovely Barnum) and at 105 minutes the movie is a sanitized Cliff Notes version of Barnum’s humble upbringing and gradual rise to legendary stardom. In fact, the second number of the movie covers several decades of his life as Barnum (Hugh Jackman, Logan) goes from being the poor boy in love with a rich girl all the way through their eventual marriage. You won’t be finished with your popcorn before Barnum and his wife (Michelle Williams, Wonderstruck) have had two kids and are struggling to make ends meet.

Through some quick thinking and creative deception, Barnum manages to secure a loan to buy a museum of stuffed oddities he eventually turns into a theater brimming with side show acts. A bearded lady, the world’s smallest man, a pink wigged trapeze artist (the lovely Zendaya, Spider-Man: Homecoming), and more are all part of the show…and they can sing to the rafters too (so can Jackman and, to a lesser extent, Williams). Barnum’s circus draws huge crowds but doesn’t help gain him access to the cultured upper crust he so desperately wants to be a part of. Even becoming partners with a society darling (Zac Efron, The Lucky One) gets him an audience with the Queen but not the respect of his fellow New Yorkers.

While in London, Barnum becomes enamored with Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (Ferguson, The Snowman) who agrees to come to the states for a Barnum produced tour. Barnum sees it as his chance to go legit and distances himself from his original entertainers, betraying their trust along the way. Hints of desired infidelity can only go so far in a PG-rated family film but Lind doesn’t seem to have sailed across the sea just to sing her song and cash a check. By the time Barnum is arriving by elephant to his daughters ballet recital I was ready for it all to be over…and then it pretty much was.

Working with a by the numbers script from Jenny Bicks (Rio 2) and Bill Condon (Beauty and the Beast), director Gracey never lets his camera (or editor) rest for too long. It’s imitation Baz Lurhman through and through but there’s something oddly watchable about the whole endeavor. Jackman and Efron are fine song and dance men and their number is a percussive highlight, as is Keala Settle’s knockout “This is Me” which sees Pasek and Paul going for Oscar number two. Sure, overall the music largely sounds the same and a few numbers are indistinguishable from the other (I barely remember the song Williams lilts through) but there are a few winners. It’s a strange choice not to have Ferguson do any of her own singing and I think it robs the movie of some sincerity…though to be fair it’s already strange that a world famous opera singer is singing a rafter raiser in her chest voice belt mix in the first place.

So what to do about this weird blend of current sound and throwback moviemaking? It’s far from the worst thing I’ve seen this year and I find myself growing more affectionate for it even as I write this review. It’s desperation to please initially rubbed me the wrong way but the film has its heart in the right place. Would I see The Greatest Showman again? Probably. I wouldn’t run away with this circus but I wouldn’t run from it either.

The Silver Bullet ~ Baywatch

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Synopsis: Two unlikely prospective lifeguards vie for jobs alongside the buff bodies who patrol a beach in California.

Release Date:  May 19, 2017

Thoughts: Winter is definitely coming and if you need a way to stay warm until the summer months I can’t think of a better way to do it than to keep the new trailer for Baywatch on repeat.  What started as a more serious show on network TV turned into an 11-season soapy sun and sand action show that featured a rotating roster of buff guys and beautiful women either before or after their Playboy debuts.  Now comes a big screen take starring Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas) and Zac Efron (That Awkward Moment) and it looks like a whole lot of fun.  I can already tell it’s been carefully made to gently lampoon its source material while giving its stars the maximum shirtless screentime.  Fine by me and as the song goes…”I’ll be ready”.  I doubt this one will need saving when it arrives in May.

Movie Review ~ We Are Your Friends

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Caught between a forbidden romance and the expectations of his friends, aspiring DJ Cole Carter attempts to find the path in life that leads to fame and fortune.

Stars: Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Jonny Weston, Shiloh Ferhandez, Alex Shaffer, Jon Bernthal.

Director: Max Joseph

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: The few times I saw the preview for We Are Your Friends, my head hurt.  Lots of flashing lights, quick edits, pounding music, and Zac Efron feeling the beat in a tank top under the California sun gave me little hope that the finished product would amount to much.  Then early reports indicated that the film was like Flashdance meets Saturday Night Fever with a dash of Cocktail…and I was officially sold. While the film starts off pretty rough for the first half hour or so, there’s something ultimately winning about it.

Efron (That Awkward Moment) headlines the picture as Cole, a DJ with a heart of gold struggling to break into the big leagues.  Living with a buddy (Jonny Weston, an annoyance in the beginning before graduating to valued asset) and working as promoters of a local club with two other friends (Shiloh Fernandez, Evil Dead, and Alex Shaffer) they live for the Thursday nights that are their reward for a job well done.

But, as in all movies with similar themes, they all dream of something more and the chance to “get out” and make something of themselves.  While the others all have admirable aspirations, it’s Efron that gets the focus as he makes the move from clap trap backroom DJ to working posh pool parties and headlining a summer music festival with his music.

Now, I know absolutely nothing about the DJ culture but I do understand that it’s more than just working two turntables and knowing when to scratch and mix the tunes together.  And, to its credit, the film makes an attempt to explain how it all works, but it’s not enough to clue most audiences in on what exactly is happening when Efron intensely turns one knob up high while turning another one down low.  The only thing we know, from Efron’s brow sweat and dilated pupils, is that it’s important stuff and he’s very good at what he does.

Being mentored by a DJ that many feel has sold out (Wes Bentley, Interstellar) has repercussions for the young upstart.  He learns to follow his internal turntable to churn out better music, yes, but also falls in love with the DJ’s assistant/girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski, Gone Girl, Entourage, with lips like life preservers) in the process.  At the same time, he’s supporting himself by working for a shady real estate investor (Jon Bernthal, The Wolf of Wall Street), whose methods put him into an even greater emotional spiral.

What’s nice to report about the film is that it’s probably Efron’s best performance to date.  Ignoring a flawed attempt at emoting near the end (must every Efron movie feature him with tears in his eyes?) Efron ably carries the picture to success and seems at ease with the complexities of the DJ scene.  Passages between Efron and Bentley are the best of the bunch, with both actors doing solid work and never coming off as merely pretending to understand what they’re talking about…but actually believing it.

Music obviously plays a big part in Max Joseph and Meghan Oppenheimer’s script and with Joseph directing, the film feels alive with rhythm from the first frame until the last.  Again, I couldn’t tell you a good beat from a bad one but there are enough music consultants and musicians listed in the credits that I’m confident the movie hits all the right notes.  Brett Pawlak’s cinematography may favor lingering on sweaty body parts a little too much (one sequence covers every inch of Ratajkowski’s flesh several times over) but generally it’s a nice mix of California sun and hypnotic club lights.

Owing a lot to the aforementioned Cocktail, the movie may find itself becoming a guilty pleasure down the line.  It’s relatively inoffensive and pleasant enough to not hold too many of its faults against it, buoyed by Efron’s considerable charisma and Bentley’s commanding performance.

The Silver Bullet ~ We Are Your Friends

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Synopsis: An aspiring DJ looks to make it in the electronic music scene.

Release Date: August 28, 2015

Thoughts: I’m starting to feel a little sorry for Zac Efron at this point because he’s yet to really prove himself as more than just a pretty face with amazing abs.  He’s struggled with dramatic roles that call on him to act (That Awkward Moment, The Lucky One) and his biggest hit has been The Lorax, an animated film he provided vocal work for.  While Neighbors did good business in 2014, you could hardly attribute that success to Efron’s work.

So I’m worried for We Are Your Friends, Efron’s latest attempt to go dramatic as a go-getter DJ that’s trying to catch a break in the popular EDM (Electronic Dance Music) scene.  It looks like a messy “driven to adulthood” film with an amber-hued California as its backdrop.  On the other hand, while his performances aren’t always a success, Efron can’t be faulted for choosing appropriate pictures for his age and peer group and EDM is a hot topic right now…it’s possible that the time is right for Efron’s official “big break” into believable adult fare.

Movie Review ~ That Awkward Moment

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Three best friends find themselves where we’ve all been – at that confusing moment in every dating relationship when you have to decide “So…where is this going?”

Stars: Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, Jessica Lucas

Director: Tom Gormican

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4.5/10)

Review:  I can imagine writer/director Tom Gormican sitting at home late one night and happening upon an early episode of Sex and the City.  Perhaps he caught one of those episodes with its four stars getting into some sexual pretzel involving relationships and that scary four letter word spelled L-O-V-E.  Over brunch at a swanky Manhattan eatery they would talk about all things bedroom related while never stopping to ask, “How’s your mom doing?” before strolling away to their tony loft apartments.

At this point Gormican could have thought to himself, “Hey, guys do that TOO!” and just took several episodes of the popular HBO show and reworked them, replacing Sarah Jessica Parker with Zac Efron, Kim Cattrall with Miles Teller, and Kristin Davis with Michael B. Jordan (sorry Cynthia Nixon, no dude parallel for you!) to provide the male’s eye view of romance in modern day New York.

That’s all well and good and more power to the filmmakers for following a proven model but yikes if the film isn’t terribly shallow and not nearly as insightful or entertaining as it thinks it is.  Even the meteoric charm of the three leads can’t keep the thin film afloat, though Gormican and company do try to distract you with plenty of shots of Efron nearly nude and nobly clearing the way for two females to shine.

Efron (Neighbors, The Lucky One), Teller (The Spectacular Now), and Jordan (Fruitvale Station) are twentysomethings moving through New York City in the ways that only a film would allow…with fantastically gigantic apartments and jobs that don’t require them to be there much of the time.  Efron and Teller work for a publisher and Jordan is a doctor with a marriage on the rocks.  Single and mingle-ing Efron and Teller make a pact with Jordan not to get into a relationship so all three can play the field.  Trouble is Efron and Teller find love quickly while Jordan, a hopeless romantic, keeps going back to a wife (Jessica Lucas, The Evil Dead) that can’t decide if it’s really over.

Efron’s job affords him the kind of stunning NYC apartment that would make the cast of Friends salivate (especially when you consider that Jordan and his lawyer wife live in a place one quarter the size) and his wardrobe of layers upon layers of sweaters, button-ups, and scarves gets the point across that he’s always warm.

While this role feels more age appropriate than what Efron’s been stretching for lately, it still tries to cast him as a cad…a charming cad to be sure…but a cad even so.  This seems to go against what Efron winds up playing so in the end we don’t understand in the least who this guy really is.  Though the unconventional beauty of Imogen Poots catches his eye, for some reason he can’t resist (probably because the script says he has to) doing things that are incredibly disappointing.  In fact, the film hinges on a decision Efron makes that’s so cruelly unforgivable and out of character that I don’t feel he ever fully recovers by the time the credits roll.

This turning point started to really bother me because up until then the movie could have been written off as well-intentioned but slightly off the mark.  That’s also when everyone else in the picture lost their damn minds and started saying, doing, and feeling things that were out of left field.   I choose not to believe that people are so shallow as to negate the emotions of those they claimed to care for so it became increasingly harder to accept that Gormican’s script could have led them down such a cooly mean-spirited road.  It’s a disservice to the talent onscreen to sell them that short.

Poots and Mackenzie Davis are honestly the real reasons to see the film.  Both come pretty close to walking away with their scenes…mostly because Gormican avoids making them stereotypes and the actresses bring a relatable believability to the screen.  And for all the shenanigans they get into, our lead trio do have a chemistry that’s hard to create, though it’s never clear how they became friends in the first place.

Fine for a rental when the day gets rainy but not necessary to trek though winter weather to see in the theater, That Awkward Moment has its fair share of charm but lacks the depth vital to truly make its moment memorable.

The Silver Bullet ~ That Awkward Moment

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Synopsis: Three best friends find themselves where we’ve all been – at that confusing moment in every dating relationship when you have to decide “So…where is this going?”

Release Date:  January 31, 2014

Thoughts: Though Zac Efron is the biggest name of the three leads of That Awkward Moment, 2013 was pretty good to the other two stars of the film.  Michael B. Jordan may be on his way to end of the year award ceremonies after his strong turn as the doomed central figure in Fruitvale Station and Miles Teller headlined the most honest teen romance film in a decade in The Spectacular Now.  It’s nice to see Efron continue to gravitate to more adult fare (until the crude comedy Neighbors comes out in June) and if the right balance is struck between boorish comedy and keenly observed insight into romance among millennials this might be a nice sleeper surprise.

The Silver Bullet ~ Neighbors (2014) – Red Band Trailer

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Synopsis: A couple with a newborn baby face unexpected difficulties after they are forced to live next to a fraternity house.

Release Date: May 9, 2014

Thoughts: Ok…I admit it.  I laughed.  There…you got it out of me.  Even though this isn’t being released until May of 2014, the first trailer for Neighbors made its debut with more than enough laughs to make up for last year’s This is the End (sorry, I just didn’t like it).  Seth Rogen (The Guilt Trip) and Rose Byrne (Insidious: Chapter 2) find themselves living next door to a rowdy frat house lead by Zac Efron (The Lucky One) in all his shirtless glory.  It should be nice to see Efron take on a role that doesn’t require him to take himself quite so seriously as an actor and Rogen and Byrne could probably do these roles in their sleep.  After viewing this red-band (read, not safe for work) trailer and knowing this comes courtesy of director Nicholas Stoller (The Five-Year Engagement) you can count on plenty of raunchy humor that’s hopefully backed up by some honestly funny bits.

The Silver Bullet ~ At Any Price

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Synopsis: A farming family’s business is threatened by an unexpected crisis, further testing the relationship between a father and his rebellious son.

Release Date: April 24, 2013 

Thoughts: When a film critic of such stature as Roger Ebert says that a movie has a performance that is a career high, that’s something I’m interested in seeing.  I enjoy that Ebert seems to take every film on its own merits, rather than go in with any strongly preconceived notions – which is why his request we take note of Dennis Quaid in At Any Price is notable.  As a farmer struggling to keep his family business thriving, Quaid heads a cast that also includes Zac Efron and Heather Graham.  I’m interested to see where this film ends up.