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: :-)

Spotlight On: The Polonia Brothers

November 19, 2012 by  
Filed under Blog, Entertainment

If someone ever offers, “Hey, we should watch a Polonia Brothers movie,” it should be taken less as a suggestion and more as a dare. If you think of bad films, some filmmakers come immediately to mind: Michael Bay, Uwe Boll, Tommy Wiseau, and of course, the master, Ed Wood.

Those guys are Alfred Hitchcock compared to the Polonia Brothers.

The Polonia Brothers started their adventures into filmmaking in 1986 when they made a super low budget shock value “film” called “Splatter Farm”. The movie was so obnoxiously offensive that I’m surprised local Ohio authorities (where they live) didn’t arrest them. I can’t think of a film more ambitiously disgusting as “Splatter Farm”–and you may think of a few examples of gross-out movies, maybe even “Salo”. No, “Splatter Farm” is far more depraved. Beheaded blow jays, defecating knives, and incest with an old hag, are just some examples of how this movie tries to offend you. The most offensive thing, though, is its slow pace and bad acting.

But, that was the Polonia Brothers first film. They were 19 years old. Mark and John Polonia. Two identical twins probably kicked in the head a few times when they were kids who live in Ohio. Fast forward to the 2000’s, they were still making equally bad films with no budget and horrible acting. John Polonia died in 2008 at the age of 39, but Mark has taken the torch and continued the crusade to possibly the worst filmmaker ever.

Now, I have seen 10 Polonia Brothers films. That’s 11 more than anyone should ever see in their lifetime. But I’m going to fight the good fight here and give detailed reviews, if you can call them that, for these 10 films.

Now, as a preface, they are all bad. We know this. So they’re not going to be reviewed on the merits of filmmaking because there aren’t any. I’ll go through what I call “Poloniaisms”, things that are the clear mark of a Polonia film, besides just being awful.

There are a few of these films that have been skewered by other reviewers already, such as Something Awful; but they’re taking the wrong approach by being angry by watching these films. I find these films terrible; but I have a certain affection for them. So I’ll probably be kinder than they are. And really, they should lighten up. Most of the films don’t eclipse 70 minutes. I’ve seen many bad films that are far longer, and less interesting. You may suffer through these films; but it won’t be a long suffering.

I will rate the films on a scale of 1 to 10–1 being the worst, 10 being the best. None of these will reach 10, just to let you know.

SPLATTER FARM (1987)

This, again, was their first film. I already explained some things about it, but I haven’t covered everything. You know that it’s bad, that it’s gross, and that it’s offensive. OK. Now I’ll tell you what it’s about. Not a whole lot. Two brothers (played by the Polonia Brothers), go on a trip to their aunt’s house for a vacation on her farm. Why? Probably because there’s not much else to do in Ohio. But they bicker and argue about it and mention a few disturbing things about her on their way there. Meanwhile, we are introduced to the villain of the film, Jeremy. Jeremy is a quiet, sociopathic lunatic who likes killing things and licking blood. After beheading his victims, he forces the head to give him fellatio, and the film never shies away from this. It’s fascinatingly uncomfortable to watch, and unfortunately, it’s the only redeeming thing about it. The film, while only clocking in at a little over an hour, does not have any other plot elements. So there are a lot of dead spots that I guess are supposed to be suspenseful. But the Polonia brothers have a knack for no sense of suspense. The aunt has a really sickening reveal at the end of the film, but by then, you already feel pretty unclean.  So after it’s over, you may want to take a shower or two to wash it away. But Jeremy will probably stick in your mind. He’s actually pretty well played by Todd Smith, one of the most exciting names you’ll ever see in film. He’s certainly more likeable than the other characters, Joseph and Alan (played by the brothers). That’s another thing about the Polonias. They have no sense of character, either; so every protagonist they create is a raging jerkoff. They make fun of each other but in such a way that you absolutely hate both of them. I wanted Jeremy to kill them. Not necessarily do what he does with their heads…but just get them off screen. One thing the Polonia Brothers love is gore. Well, strawberry jam looking gore. And they make a lot of people bleed through their mouth, even if they’ve been struck in the elbow or something. They just have to have someone gush blood from the mouth. It must be a fetish. For a debut, I’ve seen worse. I mean, even Mark Borchardt couldn’t top them, and he was made famous by one of the best documentaries made in the 20th century, “American Movie”. But it would be all downhill from there for these two.

Rating: 6

NIGHT CRAWLERS (1996)

So it’s been almost a decade, and where do the Polonia Brothers wind up? Maybe by now they get to work with some C list actors, or has beens like Michael Biehn or something? No. Not at all. They actually regressed. This movie is ridiculously bad, even for them. Mark Polonia stars with his wife as a married couple (a real stretch). His wife makes Mark look like a great actor. She’s just unbelievably awful…she’s so awful, she’s actually Meryl Streep. She’s wonderful. I love her. They buy this house which is infested with these things called Night Crawlers. The monsters are hilarious. Not hilarious like, they’re cute or even bad puppets like “Hobgoblins” or something. They’re not even props. You could make a more menacing looking monster with Popsicle sticks and a milk carton. In fact, they probably used something similar. I can’t imagine this film costing more than a Jersey Mike’s sub. There’s a side character who’s a reverend who’s a pretty bad actor, too; but really, I wanted to see more of the wife. She lights up my life. They utilize their actual basement a lot in this one. It’s a memorable part of the Polonia’s collection for sure. But I couldn’t really tell you what it’s about…except what I just said. See for yourself. Maybe you can get more out of it.

Rating: 6

SAURIANS (1994)

This must’ve been Mark Polonia’s personal pet project, because John isn’t involved with it. We step back a few years with this one, but trust me, the production values are just as bad. No, they’re worse. This was actually an unreleased Polonia brothers film. Why? I mean if they released “Night Crawlers” and “Splatter Farm”, what the hell wouldn’t they release? Well, here’s the problem, I think. My friend and I had a theory. The movie was filmed first with actual film; then re-formatted on tape. What the effect is…is just godawful. It’s all in slow motion. The whole. Movie. Yes. All of it. You want to talk about suffering? You ever tried to watch more than 10 minutes of a film in slow motion? This one’s over an hour. Not only that…because of it being re-formatted, all of the audio is killed. So the whole thing is overdubbed, I think by just Mark Polonia save for his wife, who makes a great appearance. The plot is about scientists who uncover dinosaurs. Mark Polonia stars, writes, and directs this one. I’ve never thought that archaeologists should wear white pants to an excavation dig, but Mark Polonia doesn’t do research. He doesn’t need to. He wears white pants, damnit. The Saurians themselves? They’re awakened by an explosion and…most of the time, they are just still frames of badly drawn dinosaurs. Sometimes there are some digital effects of some kind of gooey lightning…it looks like Marshmallow Fluff is splayed out all over the screen. So, this one’s probably one of the worst. The overdubbing is sometimes pretty comical, but the slow motion is really hard on the eyes. Everything is hard on the eyes when it comes to the Polonia Brothers films but this is exceptionally nauseating.

Rating: 1

DWELLER (2002)

Here’s another one that uses the Fluffspecial digital effects but this one’s a lot more pleasant on the eyes. Mainly because of a nice cameo by Leslie Culton, star of such classic films as “Hookers in a Haunted House” and “MILF Squirters 2”. She plays a hiker who probably should shed some of her clothing but it’s OK. The Polonia Brothers know which camera angles to use with her well enough. Actually this movie should’ve just revolved around her more. Instead, we get a paltry subplot of 3 guys consisting of Mark Polonia, some other guy, and Jon McBride, who co-directed this film. Yes. This film was directed by 3 people. It could’ve been directed by 12 people and it would still be just as bad. Jon McBride is a favorite of the Polonias, and it’s easy to see why. He possesses the gentle charisma of Kenny Loggins, including the hair, and those soft blue eyes just melt your heart. The three central characters have robbed a bank and are lodging in a house, trying to escape the law. But the law is nothing compared to the Dweller, which is an alien that kills people. All of the classic Polonia Brothers trademarks are here, except for the absence of Mark Polonia’s wife. But jerky protagonists yelling at each other? Check. Someone getting hit in the knee but coughing up blood? Check. Long stretches of film that go nowhere? Check. In fact, sometimes I think they splice Polonia vacation footage into their films just to add to the run time. Probably none of their movies need to reach the hour mark, but all of them find a way. You just have to tip your hat.

Rating: 7

HELLSPAWN (1993)

Another one that has 3 director credits, and it’s written by John Polonia. This one happens to be one of my favorites. It’s ridiculous and stupid, but there’s something really engaging about it. First thing that engages you? It starts with what I call True Life Exposition Text. It tells you, “the events you are about to see are based upon a true phenomena.” Oh man, now you know it’s legit! We do get a cameo then by Mark Polonia as a doctor delivering a baby from his wife, and she gives birth to…a demon. The demonic scourge then goes killing and escapes to the woods. This is a “past event”; and then the film goes to the “present” where we’re introduced to two guys who are going to housesit for some drip named Frank who says he’s going on a fishing trip. But he knows something. One of the two characters apparently likes to sleep with empty crushed beer cans. I guess they take the place of stuffed animals. That guy is the “loser” of the two; but they’re both really losers. While they’re house sitting, the beercan kid comes into contact with the Hellspawn, which it is revealed is the product of “rape” (legitimate? the Republicans can fight over it). The Hellspawn wears a really funny mask and a flannel shirt. So it’s like…from Seattle Washington, I guess. And the Hellspawn has a real soft spot. He wants to be read to. Yeah, he wants a bedtime story. So beercan kid has to read to him. Maybe they’ll go to bed with beer cans and the Hellspawn will teach him to love stuffed animals instead. I don’t know. This movie’s fun to watch, I think. It’s goofy and stupid, and it proves that the Polonia Brothers have a negative combined IQ number. But I like it. And even though it still contains bickering protagonists, I grew to appreciate them. Fun stuff.

Rating: 8

PETER ROTTENTAIL (2004)

Well, we take a real step back on this one. And it had a lot of promise. Think about it: Killer Easter Bunny. Sounds like a slam dunk. I couldn’t wait to see this movie. I was hoping to see Mark Polonia, his wife, Jon McBride, some really stupid antics, bad editing and bad music, and a lot of laughs. Well…the biggest problem was that they tried to conjure their own laughs. Yes, this is their attempt at a horror comedy. Now, if there’s one thing the Polonia Brothers don’t do well, is anything at all involving filmmaking. And what they really don’t understand is comic timing. This film couldn’t be more of a misfire. It’s just fingernails on a chalkboard. And it’s creepy, too, because the “hot chick” doesn’t look older than 16 and a scene involving her removing her shirt that’s used two separate times, just makes you feel unclean. Rottentail himself is the product of a failed kid’s birthday party magician who commits suicide and reincarnates as a killer Bunny Rabbit…I guess because he tried to use the bunny as a disappearing trick? One of the victims of Rottentail is a bum played by Polonia favorite Todd Carpenter. He’s got bigger roles in other films, but he was in “Dweller” as well and boy is he annoying. But I’ll spotlight him later. Mainly, this film tries to make Rottentail into their own version of Freddy Krueger. He has an annoying “bouncing” sound effect and the music IS bad…but it’s because it tries to be cute. And it fails miserably. This one rivals “Saurians” with the hard-to-watch factor. I will give it this: no I won’t. It sucks.

Rating: 2

FEEDERS (1996)

 This is actually the most famous film made by the Polonia Brothers. It put them on the map. Granted, it’ d be a very small map, but this one was quite popular. It was released around the same time of “Independence Day” and probably became the first “mockbuster” as it’s known now. They’d put this film on the shelves to try and fool people I guess into thinking they were going to be watching “Independence Day”. Probably within the first 5 seconds, even the most neanderthal of this species would know that they are watching…something real, real bad. Say what you want about “Independence Day”; uh, it’s far better than “Feeders”. Anyway, it is about an alien invasion. These little…things…eat humans. There’s really no reason given at all for this, and these aliens look really hilarious. But the best thing about it is that it is a total Polonia Brothers Classic. Gang’s all here. Polonia Brother appearance–check. Jon McBride, in his most sensitive and adorable performance–check! Polonia’s wife! CHECK! Sit back, enjoy this masterpiece.

Rating: 8

TERROR HOUSE (1998)

Now for those of you, like me, who have fallen in love with Jon McBride and those piercing blue eyes–well, you’re about to be sorely disappointed. Jon McBride, who co-directs this one, is a real jerk. And he sports a really bad accent, too. And a pony tail. What happened here, man? Oh well. Can’t have it all. Other than that, this movie’s passable. You get another True Life Exposition Text. I love this one. It says basically that there are people who disappear without a trace sometimes. Can you believe that? And what’s really awesome is that…that really has nothing to do with this movie. They try to set it up as this house just swallows you up. But there’s really no evidence of that. Anyway, a couple guys get a $25,000 offer to stay in this house. If they survive, they get the money. But they’re really in over their head. They’re not very bright. One of them is seduced by a very not attractive woman who keeps trying to get him into the bedroom. They’re stalked by a deformed monster…which in Polonia terms means it’s a guy in a rubber mask. The best thing about this though is that the deformed creature decides to wear another mask–wanna guess what that mask is? TAKE A GUESS, YOU WUSS! What? Did you say, “Hellspawn Mask”? YOU ARE CORRECT! Yes! This deformed creature for some reason thinks that taking the Hellspawn mask would either be more threatening or…more…funny. I don’t know. But anyway, that redeems Jon McBride’s hugely miscalculated attempt at character acting.

Rating: 6

BLOOD RED PLANET (2000)

OK, this is my favorite of the 10 films I’ve seen from these guys. There are a few reasons, I guess. First, Jon McBride is great in it. He’s fully in his soul massaging roots here. Then you have Mark Polonia. Then…I mean the best thing about this one…is that it not only features some kind of Napoleon Dynamite voice that’s supposed to be scary…but the puppet alien revealed in the climax has to be seen to be believed. Sesame Street has scarier muppets. This one is deeply rooted in sci-fi horror. I especially like the spaceship sequences which show off the production values like muffin bake sheets that really make you feel like you are on a space mission to Mars! And yes, this alien is a Martian, I believe. The alien can possess humans, like in the case of Todd Carpenter who is insanely annoying in this film. And now I have to talk about this guy. First of all, to say he can’t act is actually closer to a compliment than it is a criticism. He can’t…not…act. He’s also painfully obnoxious because he tries the hardest. He really wants to be a character actor, but he can’t help being a big pain in the ass. I hate his face, I hate his voice, I hate his glasses, and I hate his hair. And the biggest drawback to this one is that he’s in a lot of it. Probably the only thing that keeps me giving this one a 10. But it does include a pretty cute chick, and the surly alcoholic character who in real life is probably the Polonia Brothers resident Dungeon Master when they get together on Saturday nights in the Polonia’s basement to play some serious D&D campaigns. This one’s the goods. And I could watch the ending with that alien over and over and over again. Especially since by that time, Todd Carpenter’s character is DEAD.

Rating: 9

BAD MAGIC (1998)

We’ll end this on a high note, because this one is another one of my favorites. It’s actually the Polonia Brothers’ least favorite. A quote from Mark Polonia reveals this was a film they shot in New Orleans (??) and was some kind of patchwork effort that they weren’t proud of. How they can differentiate between this and any other movie they’ve made, I don’t know. Let’s not ask. Let’s just focus on this one. Well, it stars the only black guy they’ve ever cast in a film. And he really knows the Polonia’s style: no emotion, no acting chops at all. It’s supposed to take place in New York City; but again, all of the city footage was probably from their last NYC vacation. Or it could even be just used stock footage of the city. A former gang member is killed and his brother wants revenge. So he goes to enlist the help of voodoo (more stock footage of foreign countries) and receives such implements of terror such as bottles of poison, a voodoo doll, and the old standard…a garden claw. The rest of the film is the main character invoking the spirit of…uh…Bleckie-Bleck-ay? I love the voodoo doctor who can’t stop laughing at himself that tells him about it. Anyway, nothing stands out too much about the gang members except that they all seem to be named after the Polonia’s pets, and one of them is clearly a man in a wig to represent a hooker…but then…we are given quite a reveal. IT’S A WOMAN! AND NOT ONLY THAT…IT’S POLONIA’S WIFE! I also love that it tries to tell the backstory by splicing it with scenes from “Hellspawn” but not alluding to it as “Hellspawn”. It tries to pass it off as belonging to this film exclusively. This one’s pretty memorable, and it utilizes all of the Brothers’ skills as filmmakers. Oh…Todd Carpenter’s in this one, too, but he dies quickly, thankfully. That’s a good thing.

Rating: 8

So there you go. Do yourself a favor whenever you have 71 minutes to kill and find one of these masterpieces, if you want. And just to give you some visuals…here are some pictures:

The Polonia Brothers

Two Johns: John Polonia and Jon McBride

The Hellspawn!!! RUN!!!

Peter Rottentail. He'll kill you with bad puns and carrots.