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: :-)

This Is The End

June 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

I’m going to start this review by saying that if you don’t enjoy the presence of actors Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill or James Franco, you may want to steer clear of this movie. The film could be considered a vanity project since they’re playing fictional versions of themselves–but that’s the whole fun of it.

And fun is the best word to describe this movie if you do like these actors; and in this case, obviously I do. I like that they laugh at themselves, and make fun of each other. I like that the other main character of the film, Jay Baruchel (probably a bit lesser known than the other main actors), has no issue saying he doesn’t like these guys. This is a movie that doesn’t take itself that seriously. For a movie revolving around the apocalypse of mankind, that’s a pretty big gamble. But it works if you don’t believe in that kind of thing happening.

So the story is fairly simple: Jay is coming to LA to visit his best buddy, Seth, for a weekend. They haven’t seen each other in a while and deep down, they’re both afraid that they’re losing touch with each other. Jay doesn’t like staying in LA; Seth is comfortable in the lifestyle. He’s taken to partying with his “new” friends including Franco, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and Craig Robinson among others. When Jay and Seth first see each other, it’s a great reunion. Seth shows him around his new apartment, they smoke weed and watch 3D TV and just play around. But then, Seth drops that he wants to go to this mega house party hosted by James Franco. Jay admits he’s not really a fan of James and doesn’t think he likes him either. He doesn’t know most of the other people and the ones he does know, such as Jonah Hill, he also admits he doesn’t like nor does he think they like him. Seth thinks it’s even more important to go to the party in order to bury the hatchet and start over and Jay will see that everything will work out and they’ll all be friends together.

When they first get to the house, the party is well in progress. Franco calls Jay by another name indicating he doesn’t know him, and Jonah Hill is overly friendly to Jay, which makes Jay think he’s just overcompensating and being phony. Seth promises “Jonah is just that nice”. Other guests include Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, Jason Segel, and just about everyone who’s been in a comedy film in the past 10 years…and, Rihanna. Things are going smoothly at the party until Jay runs out of cigarettes and decides to take a walk to a store to buy some more. He gets Seth to go with him and they leave the party, while Jay once again reinforces that he isn’t really into the party.

At the store, something happens. It’s like an earthquake, but then blue beams shoot out of the sky grabbing hold of people and “sucking” them up into the sky. Both Jay and Seth are blown away by this, and when they get back to the party, they can’t believe that no one has noticed anything strange has happened.

But then, an earthquake-like rumble happens again at the party and the guests go outside. Massive sinkholes swallow some of the guests, and Michael Cera is impaled by a street light. After the commotion, there are only a few people left from the party:

James, Jonah, Craig, Jay, and Seth. They decide to bunker in the house and ration everything in the house while waiting to be rescued. Then, there’s a complication. Unbeknownst to James, he had an unexpected guest who passed out in the bathtub: Danny McBride. McBride is unaware of the goingson of any earthquakes and decides to make a large breakfast using a lot of the supplies, and even goes as far as to use the bottled water they have to wash his feet and face.

It’s pretty evident early on that Franco’s not a fan of McBride, and he becomes a source of tension between the crew. Not only that, but Emma Watson appears from outside as another sole survivor from the party. After a misunderstanding about what she thinks these guys may do to her, she runs away. The men are left with each other and very few supplies, and have to go on a water mission to the basement at some point in order to replenish.

Jay is the only one who is convinced it’s the apocalypse. Everyone else thinks it’s just earthquakes. But then, they see demons. Jonah Hill has a rather…interesting encounter with one that leaves him possessed; and by the end, they all know that their souls are doomed or saved based on how good they are to each other and others.

I would say anyone who considers themselves to be a Christian would be appalled by this film; but the movie’s not really for that audience. It’s so full of raunchy and off-color humor that no one devout would even begin to consider going to see it. But if you’re willing to accept that this is a joke, and a cute little tale about friendship and what it means to sacrifice yourself for others, then none of that stuff will bother you.

The demons actually look pretty good. I can’t imagine a lot of thought went into the actual apocalyptic part of the film, and toward the end, some of the movie drags a bit. This is really more of a vehicle for the actors. But there are some very big laughs and the movie moves along otherwise at a very good pace.

There’s nothing earth shattering about this movie that would elevate it above it being just your average comedy; but since you are watching the earth literally shatter, you can at least look at it this way: if you’re going to watch a movie about the end of the world, it may as well be entertaining. Because if the apocalypse does happen, I have a feeling it won’t feel as funny in real life. Just a hunch.

My rating: :-)

My Top 10 “Under the Radar” Films of the Past 10 Years

November 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Entertainment, Home Video

 I’m all about the past ten years all of the sudden. I’m also all about lists. I love top 10’s, can you tell? Anyway, here’s a list of 10 movies that I thought haven’t gotten enough love and I want to point them out and maybe generate some renewed interest. They may not be the greatest films ever but I enjoyed them for what they were and thought they undeservedly went through the box office with nothing more than a whisper.

  Note: I understand some of these films made it to Critics’ top 10 lists for their respective year. But who listens to critics anymore, amirite?

My Top 10 “Under the Radar” Films of the Past 10 Years

#10: Brick (2005)

 Written & directed by: Rian Johnson

The immediate allure of “Brick” is the dialog. It is a modern film but the dialog is purposely archaic; a throw back to the 20’s and 30’s, with that “hard boiled” detective film noir flavor to it. The reason the idea is fun for this film is that it revolves around teenagers. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan, whose ex-girlfriend has been murdered and he wants to basically solve the case himself. The way the film unfolds is definitely reminiscent of old detective novels, where Johnson said he got his inspiration. The interesting thing is that when you strip away the novelty of the dialog and noir aspects, you still get a pretty well made and intriguing film. Credit the acting of Gordon-Levitt especially because he brings such sincerity to his role that it’s instantly credible. And that’s this film needed badly: the actors had to pull off the dialog. Otherwise it just looks silly. Well, they definitely do and I recommend finding this film and giving it a look.

#9: Ghost World (2001)

Written by Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes / Directed by: Terry Zwigoff 

Daniel Clowes’ “Ghost World” is a graphic novel about a pathetic youth named Edin who, along with her friend Rebecca, derides pretty much everyone and everything, until they grow too close to each other, and then fall apart eventually. The film adaptation is pretty close to the intentions of the graphic novel thanks to the fine directing of Terry Zwigoff (“Crumb”, “After School Confidential”) and the screenplay by Zwigoff and the author of the graphic novel, Clowes. Enid is played by Thora Birch and Rebecca by a very young Scarlett Johansson. Both are very good in their roles as they make fun of the world around them; and then Enid begins to develop a genuine interest in someone she had previously pranked, a loner named Seymour (Steve Buscemi). The film is a great character study of a total hypocrite, much in the same vein of “Catcher in the Rye”. It’s a quiet film, and the eerie ending is left to your interpretation (although I think it’s pretty obvious what it ultimately means). This was pretty critically acclaimed at the time, but you rarely hear about it anymore. Still worth checking out if you happen to run across it.

  #8: “O” (2001)

Written by: Brad Kaaya / Directed by: Tim Blake Nelson

I’m cheating just a tad with this one since it was technically made in 1999, and the release was held up due to the Columbine massacre in April. It was released in 2001, which still allows me to use it in this list, I think. This film is an updated adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Othello”, and in my mind, it’s one of the best modern adaptations of his work. It stars Mekhi Phifer as Odin, a high school basketball star who has everything going for him. Josh Hartnett, in one of his best performances, as Hugo (the Iago character in the play), is jealous of Odin’s talents, and is one of his teammates. He wishes he had Odin’s ability but knows he’ll never be as good as him. So instead of trying to better himself, he intends to ruin Odin’s life. Odin’s love interest is Desi (Julia Stiles) and Hugo creates a plan to make her an ultimate victim, while making Odin responsible for everything. The film’s tone is chillingly quiet and that lends more to its power. Hartnett is so convincing as the self-loathing Hugo, and with its violent climax and ending it’s no wonder why it was shelved after Columbine. But I’m very grateful it was eventually released, because it does such a good job of bringing new life into a play that’s hundreds of years old. While it’s great to see “Othello”, especially when done well; but to be able to relate to it in a modern atmosphere makes it all the more relevant and worthwhile. Credit director Tim Blake Nelson (also an actor, who played Delmar in “O Brother Where Art Thou?”) and screenwriter Brad Kaaya for setting this in a contemporary America where things like this can, and do, still happen. And watching it all unfold is just as shocking as it probably was when it was first performed centuries ago.

#7: The Rules of Attraction (2002)

Written & directed by: Roger Avary

After the success of “American Psycho”, I guess it was fitting to go after another Bateman from Bret Easton Ellis’s satiric library of macabre 80’s novels. This time it’s “The Rules of Attraction”, whose main character (I use that term very loosely) is Sean Bateman (played effectively by James van der Beek). It takes place at a fictional college where very real college things happen. The film’s disjointed narrative parrots the novel in an adaptation that even Ellis said was the “best” that he’s seen. While I still think “American Psycho” is a superior film, just based primarily on the fact that it does have one direct narrative, this film is also entertaining for all its bleakness and ice cold attack on disenchanted and disinterested youth. Unlike “Psycho”, this doesn’t necessarily take place in the 80’s. Instead, the time period is relatively ambiguous but it’s pretty much assumed to take place in the now. I never felt this film got that much praise and it’s a shame because on the whole, it’s quite an experience. It has some very intense scenes (the suicide scene comes immediately to mind, especially with the use of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You”) and it has some very funny scenes (Kip Pardue’s amazingly hysterical and very cynical “European trip” sequence as Victor). I also want to point out my favorite performance and character in the film: Richard “Dick” Jared played by Russell Sams. He only has a brief appearance but it is absolutely hilarious. The film isn’t as easily accessible as “American Psycho” and it lacks the disarming faux-charm of Patrick Bateman; but it does have a lot of scenes that tie a nice chaotic and extremely dark experience together. It may leave you feeling a bit empty; but what else can you expect from Bret Easton Ellis?

#6: Sunshine (2007)

Written by: Alex Garland / Directed by: Danny Boyle

I was an Alex Garland fan after finishing his debut novel, “The Beach” which was adapted by Danny Boyle (I wasn’t a fan of the film at all). His writing ability as a novelist was obviously keen; but I was more impressed once he delved into screenwriting, with his first effort being “28 Days Later” (also directed by Danny Boyle). I don’t know the history of why Boyle and Garland work together, but every time they have, it’s been a great result. Maybe after what Garland saw Boyle do to “The Beach” (the screenplay was written by John Hodge), he decided he would set Boyle straight and show that his talents deserve better treatment. Whatever the reason, it’s paid off, and “Sunshine” is another fine example of this tandem’s efforts. It stars Cillian Murphy as an astronaut whose mission, along with his team, is to ignite the sun which has dwindled, and give it new life for earth. If they fail, it could mean the end of civilization. The premise is an interesting one, albeit it highly unlikely and not instantly credible. I mean, with the “payload” they have, I still don’t think it would do much to help the sun reach its potential to save mankind. But in any event, the execution of the premise is nicely done. The characters aren’t all interesting; but once things start to go wrong with the mission, it gets very interesting. Drawing obviously from movies like “Alien” and “2001”, “Sunshine” touches on a great question of “Can man play God?” They run into an unfortunate villain who seems to answer “No” to that question and there the film somewhat devolves into a slasher flick. But before all of that, I really like how the film works and there’s one scene involving an astronaut that finds out what happens when you “freeze” in space. It’s quite startling but fascinating. It’s certainly not as potent and timeless as “28 Days Later”, but “Sunshine” is definitely a fine film, I think it’s better than some of Danny Boyle’s other films. Definitely more interesting.

#5: I Heart Huckabees (2004)

?

Written & directed by: David O. Russell

David O. Russell is probably one of the most inventive and interesting filmmakers out there. Unfortunately, he’s also one of the meanest, and hardest to work with. Almost every film he does seems to have some kind of story attached about cast members being mistreated (most famously, George Clooney on the set of “Three Kings”; look it up). He’s definitely wears the “delicate genius” badge of honor proudly. But when you see the result, I don’t know how you can complain as simply as audience member. Don’t worry; I’m thinking it’s pretty safe that you’ll never have to work with him. This film is actually probably my favorite of his films, but I’ve enjoyed all of them. I like it mainly because it’s not only a philosophical film–it’s also a satire of philosophy. It’s all about existentialism. When I first saw it, I thought it was just pretentious and purposely over the top. Then I watched it again, and got the joke. It’s making fun of existentialism, as much as it is corporate culture and everything always getting caught up in consumerism. Tommy Corn is easily my favorite character. He’s played joyfully by Mark Wahlberg, which I always point to as a reference whenever someone criticizes him as a “bland actor”. This and Dirk Diggler, to me, prove Wahlberg’s ability. He’s very entertaining and energetic as the main character, Albert’s (played by Jason Schwartzman) Other as it’s called. Here’s a quick synopsis: an Other, in continental philosophy, is the opposite of the Same, which is your identity. I think it’s actually self-explanatory, right? So let’s move on. Anyway, the film’s got a lot of philosophical humor that if you’re into philosophy, you will laugh extensively. But I think the vernacular would even tickle the funnybone of someone who is aloof to philosophy or even downright dislikes it. It’s a bit hard to follow at first, and sometimes it does try to go over your head–but it’s a romp at its root, and it works very well. It’s not something you just pop in and enjoy; but I’d recommend a viewing, especially if you want to learn a little about philosophy. But especially if you don’t. Try and figure that out!

#4: Igby Goes Down (2002)

?

Written & directed by: Burr Steers

Kieran Culkin may never go down in history as the most successful or even most recognizable Culkin–and I’m not sure that it matters all that much. But he wins my heart with his brilliant performance as Igby Slocum, the modern incarnate of Holden Caulfield. While “Ghost World” can serve as maybe the female “Catcher in the Rye”, this is almost its doppelganger. But it does have its uniqueness. Igby is a rich brat whose mother Mimi (played very well by Susan Sarandon) is dying. He hates his mother for an assortment of reasons–but it seems the biggest is because of how she treated his father, Jason (Bill Pullman), who was committed to a mental institution after a nervous breakdown that Igby witnesses as a child. After seeing this harrowing experience, Igby thinks he has some kind of connection to his father. Like he understands what he went through, and that he wants to break from the family because his overbearing mother is the downfall of not only his father, but he himself. He hates his brother, Ollie (Ryan Phillippe, in his usual snobby role), who is a perfect example of what Mimi wants in a son. Igby is the opposite. But he’s always bailed out by her, or D.H., his godfather. Igby is rebellious, but he’s a hypocrite because he is only rebellious in spirit. In action, he takes every bail out he’s handed. He preaches about how empty and hollow the lifestyle of rich people is, but he himself is just as hollow and his escapes never go beyond the reach of his rich mother. The other thing that Igby can’t seem to face is the reality of his heritage. That’s only revealed in the end, but it explains everything. Igby tries to be a tortured soul; but he has no reason to torture himself. He has no real connection with his father. He also doesn’t understand that his whole life, it’s been his mother’s lifestyle that he’s reveled in. So in the end, he’s his own worst enemy; not the whole world. And the worst part is, even if he escapes the world of his mother, he’ll never escape who he is, no matter how far he tries to go. But don’t think this is an overbearing, pretentious re-work of “Catcher”. It has a lot of laughs, and isn’t as dark as it possibly could have been.

#3: Observe and Report (2009)

Written & directed by: Jody Hill

I have a review of this film on this site. I liked it when it came out, and I always felt it got jobbed by being released on the same weekend as “Paul Blart” with Kevin James. This is not a mall cop comedy movie. This is an extremely dark and cynical comedy about the lives of the depraved and self-indulgent. It follows the character of Ronnie Barnhardt (played by Seth Rogen, in his best film role to date), who is indeed a mall cop. But he thinks he’s more than that. He’s ultimately arrogant and has no self awareness at all. He runs a tight ship at the local mall–but there’s a problem. A flasher has been popping up perverting the parking lot, and Ronnie wants to solve the case himself. Of course, actual law enforcement gets involved, including a detective named Harrison (Ray Liotta), who hates Ronnie. Ronnie wants to catch the pervert not only for his own personal glory, but he also seems to be obsessed with impressing Brandi (Anna Faris), the cosmetics girl at a department store that is just as vacant as you could expect a cosmetics girl at a department store to be. He wants to “protect” her and the mall; but his tactics are laughed off by Harrison and Ronnie tries to become a real police officer to prove that he is more than just mall security. He fails the test, not physically, but he is bi-polar and is “off his medication” only because he’s “generally being a badass” and living a good life. Ronnie is not a necessarily likable person; but Rogen’s performance is pitch perfect and he hits the right notes at all the right times. Sometimes moody, sometimes out of line, sometimes inappropriate and vulgar, and even criminal himself…and then at some points, even sweet. The performance that stood out to me, as I indicated in my review, was by Collette Wolfe who plays Nell, a register jockey at a donut/coffee joint in the mall food court. She has a scene that just throws a monkey wrench in the film’s otherwise droll tone. This film is very dark, and not as accessible as a typical Seth Rogen vehicle. It also has some clunkiness, and some of the characters don’t really work for me (like Ronnie’s alcoholic mother); but overall, I think it’s great for that dark heart inside you. You know you want to laugh. And you will. Maybe you’ll feel bad. Good. That’s what it’s all about sometimes.

#2: Moon (2009)

Written by: Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker / Directed by: Duncan Jones

It’s very hard to pull of a feature length film that revolves one character. It doesn’t happen often, but examples to me are “Cast Away” with Tom Hanks and “I Am Legend” with Will Smith (although that film is pretty weak otherwise). But sometimes actors can just carry a film, literally. Well, let me introduce you to Sam Rockwell, because a lot of people don’t seem to know who he is; but he’s definitely recognizable. Guy Fleegman in “Galaxy Quest”; Zaphod Beeblebrox in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”; and most notably, Chuck Barris, in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”. He absolutely commands in this film, which is about a lone astronaut on a mysterious mission on the moon in which he oversees an automated “harvesting” of helium-3 from regolith on the moon’s surface. Something happens to him while he’s exploring one of the harvesters. What happens soon after basically changes the course of the film’s narrative, which I won’t give away–let’s just say, Rockwell has quite a range. And because of his amazing performance (unfairly overlooked by the Academy that year), this film works better than it actually probably should. It’s really a rather simple story. Almost more fitting for a Twilight Zone episode. But his sincerity brings so much more to the story. The film itself is a good one, I should say, even if it is simple. It is very touching, very sad in some ways, but incredibly gripping, especially when you figure out what’s going on. It’s a movie that I don’t even think the filmmakers remember coming out…I don’t remember anyone talking about it. But it’s a certainly a hidden gem.

So now you must be thinking…well Zack, what could be better than “Moon”, right? Well, this one was a hard choice because the ranking of this list makes it seem like some of the films are lesser than the others. Really, I just had to figure out a way to present them and…this is what I came up with.

So here’s number one…and I must say, this isn’t a highly rewatchable film by any means. But it’s worth seeing for sure.

#1: Zodiac (2007)

Written by: James Vanderbilt / Directed by: David Fincher

The Zodiac Killer is possibly one of the most intriguing serial killers of all time. I don’t know how much of a ringing endorsement that is for someone that is only famous for murdering people…but the reason why he’s so interesting is that because of his elusiveness, he’s never actually been captured. Don’t worry, if he were still alive, he’d be in his 70’s at least. How dangerous could he be now? But in the late 60’s/early 70’s, the Zodiac Killer captured the imaginations of millions of Americans, especially on the West Coast where he prowled. David Fincher’s film, which wasn’t a huge box office success, is, in my mind, the best film that’s about catching a killer. Now, no, of course, they don’t catch him. That’s not the point. The journey here is in the absolutely exhausting police work. Fincher dabbled in this with “Se7en”; but with that, we had a conclusion. Here, detectives Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), have to team up with other detectives and spend countless hours pursuing dead leads and red herrings because the Zodiac loves taunting the police, and is so hard to figure out, he remains enigmatic. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith, who wrote the exemplary book “Zodiac” in 1986 (also was the basis of the screenplay), a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, where the Zodiac letters are addressed to. Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a writer for the paper, as a crime reporter. Avery and the rest of the staff at the Chronicle don’t pay much mind to Graysmith; but Graysmith is obsessed with the encrypted nature of the letters, and is able to eventually crack the code of one of them. This gives him credibility to Avery, who somewhat befriends him. Throughout the film, every character is more engulfed into the story, and catching the killer almost becomes more of the story than the killer’s serial murders. And that’s actually what interested me most about the film, which itself is exhausting, clocking in at 157 minutes (162 director’s cut). There are some very creepy moments in the film. One of my favorite ones involves a scene with a suspect named Bob Vaughn, played well by Charles Fleischer. What struck me was not only the odd casting of someone like Fleischer (known mostly as a voice actor, predominately as Roger Rabbit), but also how uncomfortable he is. He’s so awkward and strange, you start to really wonder if he is the killer. Graysmith’s obsession with the case also has its cost on his life–he loses his job and his wife leaves him. But when you see what everyone goes through to find this killer, you realize just how intense police work can be–and when it’s all for naught, what can be extracted from that? Was it all a waste of time? What was actually accomplished? These questions are explored and not necessarily answered by Fincher. But that’s what’s appealing about the film. It’s not about the answers. In some ways it’s just as mind bending as the killer himself. And that’s what makes it such a great film.

Funny People

August 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

It’s evident that the last 5 or so years of American comedy cinema has been dominated by Judd Apatow. Apatow, a mere footnote in the 80’s and 90’s, producing failed comedy shows and dramadies like “Freaks & Geeks”, has become extremely prominent in the world of film, whereas his television career just came to a grinding halt. For him, that’s fine–for us, the audience, it’s been a great ride. I’ve enjoyed his films thoroughly, from “The 40 Year Old Virgin” to “Knocked Up” and “Superbad”, and although I’ve griped from time to time about the running times, the characters in the films and the talented actors he’s used far more than made up for the overlongness of the films.

Now Apatow brings us somewhat of his attempt at a masterpiece. This one has a “serious” plot. While we’re used to Adam Sandler movies being goofy and childish, he’s starting to pry into the world of dramatic roles, and though his success hasn’t been as great as Bill Murray’s or Jim Carrey’s, he’s still grown as an actor. In “Funny People”, Sandler plays George Simmons; a version of Sandler himself, and just as successful. But this version of Sandler is the sad clown–he has no wife, or kids. He has no friends. He is all alone in his mansion, and he jokes at one point at a comedy club: “Guys always tell me ‘Oh my wife’s great. She’s a great cook.’ Really? Well I have a great cook, who is an actual cook. ‘Oh my wife, she’s my best friend.’ Yeah? My cook’s a pretty good friend, too.”

But Simmons did have a love of his life once. Laura, played by Leslie Mann, is the estranged former flame who is now married with her own kids (played by Apatow’s real-life children), and has no interest in rekindling even a friendship with Simmons. Simmons then finds out he has a blood disease that could be fatal. He is put on radical medication that is only in its testing stage, but it’s his only shot at being cured. When he finds this out, he goes to a comedy club and is extremely down, but no one knows why. Enter Ira Wright (played by Seth Rogen) who is a struggling up-and-coming comedian who gigs at the Improv for only 5 minutes and works at a deli for “a living”; he meanwhile rooms with two more successful people–Leo (Jonah Hill), also a comedian; and Mark (played by Jason Schwartzman) who is an actor in a hit sitcom on NBC called “Yo! Teach!”, a horrible send up of what we usually get on the tube on a nightly basis (and yes, it’s on purpose that they made it that bad). Ira performs and impresses George, and he hires him as a writer for his newer material.

The two form a friendship and George helps Ira’s career as he allows Ira to also open for him at gigs as well as write jokes. George also tells Ira about his blood condition, and Ira is the only one who knows about it.

While this is the most complicated plot Apatow has worked with, he seemed to handle all of the different storylines well for the first two acts of the film. But by the third act, the movie seems to try and pull itself into two or three different directions, and by the time it finds its focus in the conclusion, we’re a bit lost on what the movie was actually about.

On the one hand, it’s about a friendship, mentor/student relationship between George and Ira. On the other hand, it’s about a lost love situation that George tries to rekindle and gets caught up in, when he shouldn’t. Then, there’s also a love interest for Ira as well, and a plot involving the fact that Ira was supposed to tell Leo that both of them were going to write for George, and Leo gets mad at Ira for not telling him. It’s evident that Apatow takes on too much for himself to handle, and unfortunately, the movie proves he’s not the stellar screenwriter he may think he is, or others may think. I’ve heard Oscar buzz already about this movie. If this film is nominated for best screenplay, I’m going to give up my dreams of ever becoming a screenwriter, because all would be lost!

It’s frustrating that this film falls apart in the end. I really wanted to like it. In some ways I really did. There are scenes I’d love to watch over and over again. Some of the cameo scenes are fantastic. But as a film, which clocks in at about 136 minutes, it just doesn’t work overall. And that’s a real shame because Apatow has shown a command behind the camera, and as a writer. I think he lost a little touch of reality in this one, and instead of getting “Guernica”, we get a finger painting.

I think he should not try so hard to make a masterpiece, and just let the next story flow naturally. And…seriously, he needs to watch the running times. Comedies should not be over two hours long. It’s just not right.

I’m not giving this a passing grade, but I do think it’s worth a viewing, on DVD or on cable. But I wouldn’t go out to the theatre, unless you want to spend half your afternoon there, and come away somewhat disappointed and confused on why such a wonderful first hour of a film turned into a mess.

My rating: :???:

Observe and Report

April 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Writer/director Jody Hill goes for dark humor, and it’s brazenly illustrated in this uber dark comedy that has a lot of similarities to his new HBO sitcom, “Eastbound & Down” which I think is a very promising show and I’m glad it’s being continued. Seth Rogen’s character, Ronny, is somewhat like EB&D’s “hero”, Kenny Powers. He is self-unaware, and a low life. But Rogen has more charm to him and has the ability to make you laugh with him, and Danny McBride’s approach to Kenny Powers is a little more cynical.

The film follows the misadventures of a rent-a-cop head of mall security, but not in the way “Paul Blart” did. This has a very different approach. Instead of Ronny being bumbling and stupid, he is focused and arrogant. He is determined to catch a pervert who’s been flashing people in a parking lot. He has a posse of mall security cops that are just caricatures but in a way they are amusing. The main interest is Ronny’s pursuit of not only being The Man of the mall, but also becoming a real police officer, and winning the heart of the perfume & make-up counter at a department store–resident glam slut, Brandi. Fortunately for me, Anna Farris actually plays down her role a bit. While her imposing “Look at how obnoxious I am because I’m being ironical!” demeanor is still distracting to me, she actually did get me to laugh a few times.

Once the pervert has done his deeds, a resident detective (Ray Liotta) comes into the story, and Ronny instantly resents him because he’s “taking over Ronny’s case”. He instantly makes the detective resent him, and the usual ensues: detective takes Ronny to place where Ronny should get killed, but Ronny doesn’t. Ronny gets himself into some trouble while trying to “defend” the mall, and since he has “mental issues”, he isn’t allowed to become a cop. Even his drunk mother, who stands by him the entire time, cannot help his situation. But Ronny does charm the heart of a counter girl at a fast food joint who gives him free coffee every day, even when he “should be paying for it”.  There is a very good performance that may go overlooked but I want to point out Collette Wolfe who plays the counter girl Nell, has a scene that actually made me choke up a bit. I hope some scouts take note–she is very promising.

While the movie is dark, and at times a bit over-the-top, it does have its moments of sweetness. The film works overall. It’s not a masterpiece, and it’s not even as funny as it probably should be. There are some laugh out loud moments, but there is so much depravity going on that sometimes it’s hard to find the humor in it. In the end, it’s still enjoyable and I think Seth Rogen has proven again he can be a leading man and not just a side character. His acting ability has definitely grown.

My rating: :smile:

Pineapple Express

August 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

So it’s been a few summers in a row now that Apatow & Co. have completely dominated the raunchy comedy genre, and they’ve had a good thing going. I have to commend Apatow again and again for getting his old guys from past failed shows like “Freaks & Geeks” and “Undeclared” work because they’re talented and their comedy style is different than the typical Hollywood canned sitcommy humor we usually get.

I’ve been very kind to the Apatow movies, while they have been criticized for being too long or the characters weren’t engaging enough, or the story wasn’t great or maybe it wasn’t all it was hyped to be–I’ve always maintained that this is fresher stuff than what you usually get out of Hollywood, and give it a chance. Enjoy it because it won’t last.

I hope to God “Pineapple Express” is not the last entry, because it would leave as sour a taste on your mouth as a roach would. I’m not saying the movie is bad, but it’s probably the weakest effort put forth so far.

From the moment I saw the trailer, I was psyched about this. This looked like our generation’s Cheech & Chong with Seth Rogen again put in the spotlight (he carried the torch well in “Knocked Up”) and James Franco finally in a role that seems like he was born to play, at least since his “Freaks & Geeks” days. The plot looked pretty hilarious, about two stoners who get caught up in a drug scandal and the cops are involved. On top of that, you’ve got the writing team of “Superbad” (including Rogen) which was one of the funniest movies of 2007.

So why do you see the “however” coming? Well, because this movie misfires on things that I thought it would completely nail perfectly. There are “talky” scenes that go nowhere, plot points that have none, and no real direction on the story or why certain people are involved (why is Rogen’s character being into talk radio significant, and why is he dating a hot teenager?). I thought these excursions would go somewhere, but they really don’t. Especially the teenage love affair (that has a rather weak payoff) because there was almost a whole movie just in that little subplot. The script becomes fairly convoluted and the director doesn’t know when to turn the camera off on a scene in which two characters sit there and try to improvise a funny line, but can’t seem to, so they’ll just repeat themselves or just do one of those “improv pauses” and hope we laugh.

The criticism of the Apatow movies being “too long” will not only be a highlighted one, but I’m really going to have to step in and say it myself: dude, a raunchy comedy shouldn’t consistently be more than 100 minutes, and even that’s pushing it. Every one of these movies just feels like there’s a 90 page script turned into 2 hour long movie because of these obviously improved scenes, and when you keep squeezing more and more minutes out of these actors, you see they have nothing left and you CONTINUE to let the camera roll? Save it for the “outrageous unrated and totally out of control” DVD, but when you pay good money to see a movie these days, we shouldn’t be squirming and waiting for the plot to develop.

Now, I criticize because I love, and I think these guys could have done better. A lot better. Are there funny scenes? Absolutely. Will you laugh your ass off at some of the hi-jinx? Of course! Have we seen this all before, and done better? Indeed we have. You will definitely laugh, you will definitely see some cool stuff in this movie. It’s worth a viewing. But it’s not without its flaws and they must be outed because now they’re all making enough money to deserve it.

I know that’s weird logic, but I think the thing is: OK, you came onto the scene, and it was fresh and funny. Now it’s getting a bit stale. Don’t get soft, push yourselves. I know they can do better than this.

I almost was hoping Paul Rudd was gonna come out of nowhere and save a scene or two, but he must be reserved for the next one. I guess they could use a break now and then.

Overall, yeah this is a stoner-action-adventure with some brilliant moments, some extreme violence, and some really funny parts. But as a whole it doesn’t really work, and that’s a shame.

My rating: :?

Family value: Let’s see…massive drug use, lot of people being killed including police officers, as well as police officers included in the drug scandal…yeah, don’t take the kids.

:[ :choler: