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: :-)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

December 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

So here we go again. Or do we? Well, Katniss and Peeta are heroes and are back in their District, living in better conditions but the District is still impoverished. The rest of the Districts don’t know that they believe Katiss and Peeta are really in love; but most importantly, President Snow (reprised by Donald Sutherland) doesn’t believe it. He knows they faked it to win, and got one over on him. He can’t handle it, so he tries to play a game of his own, to try and out them publicly while the new Gamesmaker, Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) comes up with a way to get Katniss to expose herself as a fraud and stifle some sparks of a new Revolution.

Katniss is still in love with her longtime friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), but does have some feelings for Peeta. They’re just not strong enough to be considered “true love”. As she and Peeta go on tour through the Districts, they’re given scripts to read to each one; and are basically paraded around to show that the Hunger Games were worth all the death, I guess. I still can’t really figure out the purpose of what the “Hunger Games” is about. I mean, the overall message to the audience. But by now, I don’t think it matters that much. This movie, once it gets going, really is more about the action and adventure…and love. It’s ánot really about having a message.

And, like the first one, that’s all fine well and good. Meaning, I still enjoyed it. I think Jennifer Lawrence is even stronger in this film, showing a more emotionally fragile Katniss who has to be stronger than she was in the first Hunger Games. Hutcherson is still likable as Peeta, and we’re introduced to some new characters too: Finnick (Sam Claflin), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Wiress (Amanda Plummer), and Mags (Lynn Cohen), who cannot speak. Her partner in her district is Finnick, who seems cocky and arrogant but does have a soft heart underneath. Beetee and Wiress are sort of nerds who are more tech savvy. And then there’s Johanna (brutally played by Jena Malone) who…really isn’t necessary at all. All of these characters were former winners of Hunger Games as well. Because of the plan to stifle talks of a new Revolution, Snow believes it’s time to make a distraction with a new Hunger Games. So it’s kind of like, Hunger Games: All Stars. Mark Burnett would be so proud. Oh, Woody Harrelson is back as well as Haymitch. Only he’s even less useful in this…but he still is always drinking. Have to love that. What else is there to do in a dystopian future?

The Hunger Games begin again and it becomes very familiar territory…although I did like the poison fog. It’s quite disgusting what happens to your skin if it engulfs you. But just when it starts getting too familiar, the game is changed. Literally. And what it sets up is a delicious looking conclusion…which we’ll have to experience in two parts, like “Harry Potter”.

Overall, this is a good continuation of the story. I don’t know that I’d call it a true sequel because it’s just another part of a clothesline story that’s inevitably going to conclude itself in the fourth film. It’s like calling “The Two Towers” a sequel. Just doesn’t sound right. Hey maybe if “The Lord of the Rings” was made now, there would be a “Return of the King Part 1” and “Part 2” as well. Can you imagine how long that would be? Probably as long as it was anyway…

“Catching Fire” is fun, and now that we’ve gotten it out of the way that it’s not anything more than that…I suppose it’s time to start just enjoying it.

My rating:á:-)

The Hunger Games

April 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

Oh, those dystopian futures. We can’t seem to escape them in arts and entertainment. The future is always bleak, and it’s always violent. This has been visited many times in film, including the screen adaptation of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, “Blade Runner”, and “Children of Men”. This time, it’s not adults killing each other, though, it’s kids. This plot is almost identical to the film (also a book) “Battle Royale”, but with a few changes. This, too, is based on a popular novel series, by Suzanne Collins. Its protagonist is a girl, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), who is known as a Tribute, when she “volunteers” for her sister who was selected in her District to partake in the annual Hunger Games, a tournament in which 24 Tributes (participants) compete in a battle to the death, and one sole survivor wins. That’s what I call March Madness.

The Districts are all controlled by the Capital, a place where the wealthy inhabitants look like a cross between a Star Trek convention and a Culture Club reunion. This Capital’s fascination with seeing adolescents fight to the death isn’t really explored in the film–except that I suppose it represents the harsh coldness of the ever oppressive government. This is what they’re willing to subject the people to. Oh, and it’s sort of “punishment” because at some point, one District decided to rebel against the Capital. So they control the Districts, which are all ravaged and starving, and they give these Hunger Games out as entertainment (they’re broadcast to all the Districts). They also have their own version of SportsCenter with two hosts, played amusingly and joyfully by Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones, who comment on the games while they go on, and Caesar (Tucci), interviews each participant before the Games.

Before the Games begin, there is a series of trainings by mentors, and Katniss is given Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a former winner in District 12 and a drunk (but he serves more as just comic relief than anything else). He helps her along the way, and the boy from the same district, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). During the interview process, Peeta reveals to Caesar on air that he has had a crush on Katniss, seemingly to spark a new interest in the two of them as they’re hyped as “star crossed lovers”.

The two of them initially don’t get along, but as Katniss recalls in a flashback, Peeta had tried to give her a loaf of bread in the rain. Instead of handing it to her, though, he merely threw it on the ground. She also mistrusts Peeta after his revelation of the crush he has because she thinks he’s only done it to gain favor by the audience. Haymitch is on Peeta’s side, however, and tells her to go along with it because it will help her chances as well.

Throughout the Games, Katniss survives by skills she had learned in her own homeland, including bow and hunting skills. She scores high during the training and is hunted by an alliance of other Districts. She escapes them with the help of Rue (Amandla Stenberg) who forms an alliance with her. Meanwhile, she has to remain faithful to Peeta as rules begin to change, and her own feelings for him do as well.

The performances by Lawrence and Hutcherson are what make this film so captivating. There are some inconsistencies in the plot and some elements that seem to set up for a bigger pay off and don’t–but the genuine chemistry between these two cannot be denied and take you from beginning to end cheering for each of them in your own way.

There are a few logical problems I had with the structure of the Games themselves: everyone at the start is right in a circle. Normally, in a game where you fight to the death to win, wouldn’t everyone just clamor at the center, grab the biggest weapon, and kill everyone they could? That sort of happens, but some people just escape into the woods, leaving themselves to the elements. It seems like if this were an option, it would be a keener idea to drop them off at random points and let them find each other. Besides, according to the Gamemakers rules, they can change just about everything in the Games’ little universe. Everything from starting forest fires to creating mean little dog-like animals seems to be at a finger’s length. So why not just randomly put them in different parts of the forest? I also didn’t see much audience participation. It’s said that they could help the Tributes by sending aid. But the only person who does that is Haymitch, for his own District. And then I thought, if he’s doing that, where are the other mentors for the other Tributes? One of them dies by eating poisonous berries. Wouldn’t their mentor have told them about things like that to watch out for? There are some other contrivances but I’d have to give away some of the secrets of the plot and I don’t want to do that.

The main reason is, for all the nitpicking I could do, I still found myself enjoying it, even though the biggest flaw with it was in its inherent theme that it seemed to be completely ambiguous on whether this dystopian future is good or not. Sure it’s violent and it’s sad to see some of the Tributes die–but on the other hand, sometimes you’re rooting for some for them to die. If you’re trying to make a statement against humankind’s violence, that pretty much betrays your message. If you’re trying to say that this is the way mankind is, then why give us any humanity to side with at all? In the end, you do of course side with Katniss and Peeta. And you certainly have no choice but to be against the cocky Tributes from other Districts who are out to get our heroes. But in a world where the Capital is the ultimate villain, it just seemed like the film merely poked fun at the outrageous way the “infotainment” motif is exploited at the expense of the human lives.

This coming from the director of films like “Pleasantville”, Gary Ross, is somewhat curious to me. In the past he’s had no problem making statements about politics (“Dave”) and the human condition (“Big”) in amusing, heartwarming ways. With “Pleasantville”, even harshly critical ways. But here in “The Hunger Games”, he, like the Capital, just lets these kids go out and slaughter each other without saying much about it. While the ride is enjoyable, it leaves you a bit hollow afterwards. And for something with a premiseáthat hasáthis much gravity, that’s a bit of a disappointment.

My rating: :-)