The Disaster Artist

December 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

Nearly 20 years ago, a simple immigrant-turned-citizen Tommy Wiseau had a dream. Nearly 15 years ago, that dream was realized in the form of a film that has been chastised (and lauded) as the “worst movie of all time”, and on par with “Plan 9 From Outer Space”. That film, “The Room”, becomes the basis of this semi-biopic of Wiseau, which is based on the book of the same name by “The Room”‘s co-star, Greg Sestero. Though the POV is Greg’s throughout the book of “The Disaster Artist”, he becomes more of an armchair sidekick in the film version, directed by James Franco. James Franco also plays Wiseau, while his brother Dave plays Greg.

The film begins with both Wiseau and Sestero as struggling actors in San Francisco, during the late 1990’s. They are polar opposites as far as their approach to acting. Wiseau is clueless, but he has no fear. He seems to have passion, but it’s hidden behind a flowing ocean of jet black hair, and opaque sunglasses. Greg meanwhile is timid, almost afraid of acting altogether. Though he wants to be professional, he has a hard time breaking through his shyness.

He is impressed with Wiseau’s fearless attitude, and his mysterious nature. Eventually, he becomes almost like a pupil to Wiseau’s strange master plan, which is to become a Hollywood star. To do that, though, he needs to make a breakthrough. After a showing of “Rebel Without a Cause”, Wiseau thinks he knows the path: just do it. He decides to make his own film. He goes and writes a script, while Greg gets more into acting, and lands an A-list agent, Iris Burton (Sharon Stone, inexplicably underused here). When Wiseau is finished, he’s ready to make the film.

Every single step is a misfire, every instinct goes against Filmmaking 101. He buys equipment rather than rents it; he uses 2 separate kinds of cameras to film: digital and standard 35mm. He fires actors and crew and replaces them like it’s a bodily function. And, above all, he can’t act nor direct competently. He’s only driven by his vision, which is really what this film is about. Deep down, apart from its obvious comedic sequences of showing us the behind-the-scenes of making such a terrible film, there is a heart beating (and bleeding) for the survival of the vision artist.

The film was briefly going to be titled “The Masterpiece”, and I’m glad it was changed back to “The Disaster Artist” because the stress should be on the “artist” and not what he thinks is “the masterpiece”. We all know what “The Room” is–even if you haven’t seen it before seeing this film, or have even heard of it, the film goes through various lengths to show you how bad it is. The end product isn’t the point–it’s the process. It’s the willingness to throw out inhibition, and go for it.

The film is also about friendship. Wiseau is extremely guarded, but he seems to allow Greg into his life without hesitation. Sure, Greg is naive and probably an easy person to become best friends with. But Wiseau sees something genuine inside him, and possibly sees a little bit of himself, before he became so reticent about people. He lies about his age, he lies about where he’s from (“I’m from New Orleans”, he continuously tries to convince others of), and he also seems to lie about where he comes up with the $6 million he spends on making “The Room”. Yes, this film was a multi-million dollar “indie” film. Sometimes, it shows. It was very professionally done, the music is lush and cinematic. It’s very appealing to the eye because it’s competently filmed. The only thing missing is good acting, good writing, and a sense of direction.

But, Wiseau and Greg’s friendship seems to bring the whole project together. Greg convinces Wiseau, even when he starts to doubt himself and the project, and the people he works with, that the film must be made because it’s Wiseau’s, and because this is what they set out to do.

Wiseau gets a little too intense for Greg at times, and the two separate for a time. But the film is finished, and “The Room” becomes legend.

Franco and Co. have a lot of fun with this material. James Franco is absolutely smashing as Tommy Wiseau, nailing every single personality tick and broken English accent. Dave is also very good as the charming and innocent Greg (although the real Greg probably still could’ve pulled off playing himself, he’s only about 7 years older than Dave, and is supposed to be playing someone in their early 20’s). Seth Rogen plays Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor and eventual actual director sometimes; Schklair can’t stand to work with Wiseau, and it’s clear to see why: Schklair is a professional, and a veteran. But, somehow the checks clear and he puts up with him if only for the money. Bob Odenkirk also has an amusing cameo as an acting teacher.

It’s the actors who play the stars of “The Room”, however, that steal the show. Ari Graynor, while not exactly looking like her Lisa counterpart, really captures Juliette Danielle’s performance–and you can’t help but pity the poor woman having to work (and bed) alongside the aggressive and weird Wiseau. Josh Hutcherson, of “The Hunger Games” fame, also doesn’t necessarily physically resemble Denny, but his performance is pitch perfect. Zac Efron even gets Chris-R absolutely perfect, though you may not recognize it’s Zefron. June Diane Raphael plays Robyn Paris very well, and anyone who has read the book knows that Paris is the most sharp of all the actors, and understands Wiseau better than he may understand himself. But the standout performance, the absolute spot-on effort, is by Nathan Fielder who plays Kyle Vogt, also known as Peter in “The Room”. His mannerisms, somewhat elitist, arrogant voice, is captured to precision. In fact, when you see the reenactments, it’s almost hard to tell them apart. And that goes for nearly everyone involved in the scenes. Kudos to the casting director, and the efforts put forth by the actors.

It’s a labor of love, in both “The Disaster Artist” and “The Room”, and it comes through very strongly. Tommy Wiseau may be a strange bird, but he’s oddly likable. He somehow makes a lot of money–not by selling drugs!–and he does something pretty incredible: makes one of the worst movies of all time; and even better, makes you love it so much you’re willing to sit through another 2 hour movie to see it made. If that’s not an immaculate achievement in filmmaking, I don’t know what is. But I do know that I didn’t know it was him, and he’s my favorite customer.

My rating: :-)

Godzilla (2014)

May 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

I suppose it’s not really a necessity to have another Godzilla film, especially made in America–but if we were going to have one, this one is certainly passable. It has a very complex plot for a monster film (but then again, so did “Pacific Rim”), and it misses out on a few notes in its character narrative; but as a monster film, it’s pitch perfect. We don’t get to see the King of the Monsters in all his glory for a long time; but when we do, it’s pretty fantastic.

The story begins with a credit sequence that takes us through little snippets of classified documents that show pictures revealing something that looks like an island in the ocean. During the 1950’s the US tries to destroy it, identifying it as a monster, with nuclear weaponry. Instead of killing it, however, it is later revealed that these giant creatures actually feed off of radiation. When we first meet one of our main characters, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (well played by Ken Watanabe), the year is 1999, and he works on a project called Monarch after discovering fossilized remains of a giant creature, as well as two eggs. We also are introduced to Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife, who work at a power plant in Japan that is reporting seismic activity. Something ruptures in the earth, and the core is shut down, but not before the plant collapses, and gases are released inside, killing his wife.

Fifteen years later, in present day, Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is in the Navy, returning home from duty, when he is told his father has been arrested. His wife tells him to go visit since it’s been so long, and Ford reluctantly goes to bail him out in Japan. He leaves behind his wife and his own son, to help his father. When he gets there, he finds that the town he grew up in is still considered a danger zone with radiation; but Joe, after being released, takes him back and the two realize they do not need radiation suits. There is no radiation. Joe’s prediction is that the plant did not fail, it was something else.

We learn that Serizawa still has the eggs; and when one of them hatches, we are introduced to our first monster in the film: a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). The creature has wings and can fly, and has burning red eyes, flashes of light. The creature destroys the base that was holding it, and we find that there is another creature that’s hatched as well. These two creatures are searching for radiation to feed off of.

Then, the big creature returns. Gojira. The rest of the film tries to balance a narrative between Ford returning to his family, his family surviving the destruction of the monsters attacking each other, and the military trying to take down all the monsters. Serizawa suggests to let nature take its course, let the monsters fight; after all, no blast will destroy these creatures and they will simply feed off any radiation of any nuclear bombs that are exploded on them.

The film does a great job showing the monster fights, although the MUTO’s leave something to be desired as far as creative design. I do like that they gave Godzilla real eyes that we can see into. There is a wonderfully subtle scene between Ford and Godzilla, when Godzilla has fallen to the ground, presumably to die, and just stares into Ford’s eyes. It’s almost as if Godzilla’s saying, “It’s a living…” before disappearing into smoke. But it also lets us know that Godzilla has no issue with us. We’re just in his way. He’s trying to kill the MUTO’s.

The other parts of the film don’t bring much to the table, however, which is a shame. I liked the set up of Ford and Joe being like mirror opposites, with Ford being much more family oriented. That would have to come from the fact that he believed his father was too dedicated to his work and that he wants to provide and be a better husband/father. But that never goes anywhere, and we never get to know the humans enough to really care much about them. I liked Cranston’s character, and really believe they make a narrative mistake by leaving him out of most of the film. I also enjoyed Serizawa’s character as well–that stoic, quiet, knowing and understanding person who seems to have a connection with the monster as well. But most of the human scenes come off as very thin and underdeveloped.

Overall it satiates the appetite of anyone who wants to see a good “monster movie” and it makes Godzilla an appealing screen presence again. Much like Peter Jackson did with “King Kong”, Godzilla isn’t just a city crushing behemoth. While there isn’t as much personality as there is in “King Kong”, Godzilla shows us a side that even makes us root for him. The climactic battle between the monsters is certainly worthy of a theatrical viewing, and some of the cinematography is very well done. Grab a bag of popcorn, nestle in your seat, and enjoy watching the King of the Monsters back on the big screen.

My rating::-)

Argo

October 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

This really happened. Keep that in mind when you watch some of the things this film depicts. A trashy sci-fi film, fake at that, saved the lives of 6 people. Now, some of the facts are a bit worked (the script and source material picked wasn’t originally called “Argo”), and I’m sure some of the climactic scenes are dramatized for effect–but director Ben Affleck does a masterful job of putting it all together in a very fun, very engaging, and very absorbing drama.


The story revolves around what is known as the “Canadian Caper”–after the Ayatollah takes power in Iran during the Iran Revolution, the US embassy is stormed and is taken hostage. Six of the members of the US embassy, however, escaped, and took refuge at the house of an ambassador from Canada. The six that have left aren’t accounted for at first; but the Iranians soon notice that there is a discrepancy in numbers. So they will hunt down the six missing and kill them if found. These are the stakes for the US government, and the CIA is brought in. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, in possibly his most low key role) is the one who comes up with the idea of faking a movie production and claiming the 6 are actually Canadian, on location in Iran scouting for filming a science fiction lark that’s basically a rip off of “Star Wars”. He gets this idea one night while talking to his son watching “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”.


The CIA is hesitant, to say the least, at first. They want to make up a story that the missing six are Canadian, but they are teachers or agricultural industrialists. Mendez points out it’s in the dead of winter in Iran (snow is on the ground), and the only North American school that was in Iran had been closed for almost a year already. Mendez’ plan is “the best bad idea” they have, and so they reluctantly approve it. Fortunately for the CIA, they have a guy in Hollywood that they’ve used before in the past, a make-up artist named John Chambers (gleefully played by the always reliable John Goodman) who happily agrees to help but isn’t quite sure at first how to put it in motion. He enlists the help of a film guru, Lester Siegel (brilliantly played with gusto by Alan Arkin), to bring the project together. They need to make it as “real” as a fake movie as they can–photo ops, a poster, storyboards, a script, and media hype. Somehow they manage to do it (albeit a little too easily as far as the portrayal in the film) and Mendez is assigned to go to Iran, disguised as an associate producer, to meet with the six that are now “part of the film crew”, and get them safely on a plane back to America.


When Mendez gets there, the six escapees are less than impressed with the idea and their covers, and don’t initially trust Mendez (who goes by a cover name). Mendez promises them he’s gotten people home before but admits never in this way. He gives them their cover identities, one being the director, another being a screenwriter, another being a cameraman, etc. They have a day to memorize their covers and know all there is to know about their identities as Canadians, and then they have to go into Tehran to “scout” the location.


It’s a bit less than successful on the scouting, as they’re attacked by some local Iranians who don’t like the look of them; and the housekeeper where they are staying starts to suspect who these six people really are. Tensions begin to mount as the Iranian hostage crisis continues into 1980, and the militants know that six people are missing, and are finding ways to locate their identities.


Meanwhile, Mendez is told by his friend Jack O’Donnell (an Oscar caliber performance by Bryan Cranston), that the CIA has pulled the plug on the “Argo” cover. They’re going to send military to the airport and get them home that way. Mendez doesn’t go for that, and against orders, continues with his plan.


The sequence of getting these six to the airport and the attempt at getting them safely on the plane is exciting, nailbiting, and dripping with suspense. Even though you’re pretty sure you know how this all is going to work out, there are so many close calls (again, most likely dramatized for effect), that you’ll be gripping your seat white knuckled the entire time. This is where Affleck really shows off his chops as a competent and even great film director.


For the most part, Affleck takes a back seat, not a big shot, not overdoing anything, but letting the characters breathe. These six people are the most important in the film, and he lets them be that. His character is the protagonist, but he doesn’t have any big melodramatic uproars or “speeches” that make everyone know that Affleck is at the helm of this whole project. He lets the film speak for itself, and that’s the mark of a true filmmaker.


There are a few little scenes of social commentary about the situation in Iran as well. For a brief moment the camera captures a few Iranians eating at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in downtown Tehran. The camera doesn’t linger, no character makes a mention of it, but Affleck seems to be clearly saying this: they eat our franchised fast food, they entertain the idea of filmmaking in their country, and yet they hate us and want us all dead. Hypocrisy maybe?


Again, he doesn’t push this on us. Only brief glimpses into Iranian lifestyles, and some of the Middle Eastern customs and cultures, and coverage of the demands of the Iranians during the hostage crisis are given. This isn’t a preachy film by any means. But I certainly think there is a message that says “not much has changed” since the crisis ended in 1980. You look at some of the footage, and it is exactly what we still see on the nightly news that goes on over there, especially concerning us, and especially with the recent embassy attack we had only a month ago.


But it’s not all serious, either. The script provides a lot of laugh out loud moments, well delivered by this excellent cast. There are great moments of comic relief just before the suspense can be overbearing.


This is a special film–it gives a deserved nod to the Canadians, to the determination of Mendez, and even the pat on the back from former President Carter who gave the go ahead to keep the mission alive and possible for the six escapees to return safely. This is a quiet film about heroism, but its heroes aren’t big and bulky with witty one-liners and bombastic hi-jinx. Unlike its fake movie counterpart, “Argo” is simply a classy story that says heroes can be soft spoken, but they never give up. And because of that, there’s always hope for a happy ending.


My rating: :D