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The Disaster Artist

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: James Franco

Stars: Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Bryan Cranston, Dave Franco, Hannibal Buress, Jacki Weaver,James Franco, Jason Mantzoukas, Josh Hutcherson, Megan Mullally, Seth Rogen, Zac Efron

Released: December 6th, 2017

Full transparency: I love Hollywood stories. This fact may be questioned when I tell you that I haven’t yet read actor Greg Sestero and journalist Tom Bissell’s book that documents the behind-the-scenes look at the making of, “the greatest bad movie ever made” that is The Room, but I assure you I am. I know, I know-this may be an even less convincing statement when I tell you that I’ve still yet to see Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film that Sestero ad Bissell’s book, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, is based on which James Franco has now adapted into a movie of his own with The Disaster Artist, but I assure you-I am. I listen to the You Must Remember This podcast, if that helps my credibility at all. The point being that, even without having little to no reference point beyond the handful of clips I’ve seen of The Room on YouTube Franco’s The Disaster Artist is still very much an accessible and easy to understand piece of work that is as much about chasing one’s dreams of stardom and realizing your own passions into a formidable career as it is a good movie about a really bad movie. That said, I loved this movie in a way I kind of haven’t loved a movie in a long time. I mean, I’ve loved other movies this year and loved other movies more, but there is this unique relationship with The Disaster Artist in that it is a movie made completely endearing by the total lack of awareness of its main character and the complete willingness of the second lead to fling himself into whatever he has to do to make his ambitions become reality. Sure, some of these decisions are ill-advised, but the point is that, for an aspiring artist of any kind that feels the industry is designed to keep you out, The Disaster Artist offers a portrait of a couple of guys who decided to take things into their own hands and build their careers on their own backs in the most bizarre and questionable way possible. The idea that this story is being re-created by two brothers whom Hollywood has accepted with open arms and who book consistent, high-profile work is a little ironic, but so is the existence of this movie at all. This caveat of Hollywood elite making more money off of the (once) failed aspirations of those looking for a way in aside, The Disaster Artist is not a movie that looks down on those who want to create, who want to make movies, and who want to be actors, but rather it is a movie about embracing the struggle that finds great affection for the drive of these people that is made into a story worth telling for the pure mystery and oddity at the center of it that is Tommy Wiseau.

It’s 1998 in San Francisco and Sestero (Dave Franco) is a nineteen year-old who has had some prominent modeling gigs, but who wants to be an actor and is attending the American Conservatory Theatre for acting lessons in his hometown. We see that Greg, despite his desire to be an actor is a rather timid personality and scared to expose too much of his emotional vulnerability as pointed out by his instructor (a nice little cameo from Melanie Griffith) whereas when Griffith’s character asks for someone who can really lay it all out on the stage we get our introduction to James Franco’s Tommy who performs this sprawling scene from A Streetcar Named Desire in what is mostly just a series of him climbing on different pieces of the stage or laying on the ground to writhe around on the floor while yelling bit of dialogue to the amusement of everyone, but the understanding of so few. Apparently Greg saw something in this ability of Tommy’s to put it all out there though, and approaches him after class to see if he might mind working on a scene with him. Tommy seems guarded when Greg first approaches him, surprised even that this individual wants anything to do with him, but it is in this moment where The Disaster Artist switches from a movie that began by allowing us to laugh at Tommy to a movie that shows us why this character deserves our empathy no matter how bizarre or weird he may initially come off as being. As both the director and lead character, Franco then follows the path of cementing this odd couple relationship between Greg and Tommy that, while initially difficult to understand, ultimately comes to serve as this genuine point of emotion where the two are open and honest with one another. This is no doubt the reason why it felt like the right time for Franco to work with his brother, Dave, as the two naturally have this connection and unspoken understanding of one another that is necessary to convince the audience this relationship between our two main characters is in fact authentic and not just Greg using Tommy for the seemingly unlimited amount of resources he possesses. As their relationship grows, Tommy and Greg move from San Francisco to Los Angeles in November of ’98 where, within a few months, Greg is signed by the Iris Burton Agency (where Sharon Stone, in another great cameo, shows up as Burton) whereas Tommy simply struggles to hide his European accent in auditions. As Greg settles into life in L.A. and even gains a girlfriend in Amber (Dave Franco’s real life wife Alison Brie) he begins to realize things won’t be as easy as it seemed as his agency calls infrequently and Tommy, despite his wealth, can’t book a job for the life of him. It is at this point, forty minutes into the film, that Greg suggests they make their own movie-sending Tommy into a three year spiral that eventually produces the script for The Room.

And while the set-up of the dynamic between these two characters and the struggles they face once arriving in Hollywood are interesting enough largely due to Franco’s whirlwind performance as Wiseau the meat of the movie really comes into being when he and Greg begin pre-production on the movie. Quirks such as Tommy deciding to buy all of the equipment to film the movie instead of just renting it from a company run by Hannibal Buress and Jason Mantzoukas as well as deciding to shoot simultaneously on both digital and film are just the beginning of the interesting facets that come to light in the latter half of the film. What really makes up the best aspects of The Disaster Artist though is Franco really selling the small details of the mysteries around Wiseau. No one really knows where Wiseau comes from or how he ended up in San Francisco though he will attest to being from Louisiana, “you know, the bayou”, no one knows how old the guys is though he will claim to be Greg’s age to Greg’s concerned mother (Megan Mullally) who can clearly see the guy is in his late thirties to early forties, and no one knows where he gets his money. There is one scene in particular where the script supervisor Tommy has hired for his movie, Sandy (Seth Rogen), goes to the bank to cash his check and half expects the thing to bounce due to the general air of questions and mystery that surround Tommy, but the teller informs Sandy the account he’s drawing from is essentially a bottomless pit. I have to wonder if this detail was included in the book and to what extent the film embellishes as it almost seems too good to be true; too easy a route to go to avoid explaining how Tommy actually funded The Room. It is in these moments, when questions concerning any of these topics arise that Franco’s Wiseau so effortlessly glides past them without a second that as to them coming back around time and time again. To this point, what is so strange about the whole situation is the way in which Tommy seems to be doing so much of it in order to help Greg and to allow him to achieve his own dreams of success and stardom. Whether money was an object or not there is something more, what many label as “malevolent” in the movie, about Tommy’s intentions. Franco and his writing duo of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now) are keen to not lean too far into the sexualized component of the dynamic, but there is certainly an aspect here that indicates there is jealousy on Tommy’s part when it comes to Greg. This is most obviously stated when Greg and his girlfriend decide to move in together, meaning Greg will move out of Tommy’s place, but whether Tommy is attracted to Greg or it’s more that Tommy is attracted to the idea of Greg and wants to be an All-American, good-looking guy like Greg is left up to the audience to decide.

That Franco and his team more or less make the arc of this relationship the arc of the film though leaves us asking these questions and wondering how such a dynamic might ever end in a way that is reconcilable for both parties. Dave Franco presents Greg, who the audience is made well-aware is “in” on the understanding of how odd Wiseau is from the get-go, as this guy who is at first inspired by Tommy, but comes to more or less use the guy for his place in Los Angeles and his ability to produce this movie that offers him a steady paying gig while Tommy comes to terms with the fact that he feels everyone betrays him because of these very things: Tommy impresses with what he has and not who he is because he is unapologetically himself and while not self-aware, understands that people aren’t necessarily taken with him. It’s an interesting case of these two guys using one another in order to accomplish their own goals and being just tolerant enough of each other to make it through their day to day together. That this is the truth we come to at the end of the movie is the film’s biggest downfall because The Disaster Artist wants us to believe that Tommy and Greg become best friends again and remain so through to the present day, but while this is likely the version of the story Franco and team had to agree to in order to get these people’s life rights Franco and team are also sly enough to know they need to suggest something deeper. And whether this deeper understanding of this relationship at the core of The Disaster Artist will be claimed as intentional or not it is certainly there and gives the film this great dichotomy that is true of the real world as well when talking about how we present ourselves in public so as to meet the requirements of what feels acceptable as opposed to how we think, feel, and act in the privacy of our own home. Because movies are typically seen in large dark rooms with only a few other people surrounding you they feel safe and a space where our most private of thoughts and largest of inhibitions can be set free in a way that will serve little to no consequence, but to get to that point someone had to let those things go very publicly in order to create the product you see on screen. This is what Wiseau seemingly did with The Room and what Sestero did with the book The Disaster Artist is based on with the larger idea being that Franco’s movie not only captures the surface-level story of the behind the scenes making-of for the “best worst movie ever made”, but that it also hints at the real, genuine, and raw emotions that forced this product into existence. The fact Franco and his supporting cast that features the likes of Ari Graynor doing a spot-on Lisa, Josh Hutcherson nailing the Denny awkwardness, Zac Efron stealing every scene in which he appears to hilarious results, or Jacki Weaver tenderly talking about her love for acting as the woman who played Claudette re-enacting these infamous scenes is only gravy on top of all the fascinating, weird, and consistently funny things The Disaster Artist chronicles and offers.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

Bad Times at the El Royale ★★★★

Bad Times at the El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp.

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Director: Drew Goddard

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman

Released: 12th October 2018 (UK)

Bad Times at the El Royale has seemingly fallen foul of the particularly hectic October release schedule in the U.K. As Venom and A Star is Born dominate the box-office and with the London Film Festival in full swing, El Royale has not received the recognition it deserves.

Boasting an impressive cast, Bad Times at the El Royale follows seven strangers whose stories intertwine at the El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe. As each person’s agenda for being at the El Royale is revealed, tensions inevitably rises and the characters collide.

From the get-go, El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp. Director Drew Goddard, no stranger to managing madness following his debut A Cabin in the Woods, has crafted an immersive, intricately linked murder-mystery that feels like a grindhouse version of Cluedo. The violence is garish but necessary, the dialogue is short and snappy and the characters are most importantly, interesting. The hardest part of any film with so many moving parts, is making the audience actually bond with those involved. Goddard, who also wrote the screenplay, has nailed this – giving enough back-story for each, whilst holding enough back to keep us learning more.

Between Jeff Bridge’s bad-ass priest, Dakota Johnson’s kill-happy hippy and Chris Hemsworth’s dancing cult-leader, the wider cast have somehow managed to create a credible on-screen dynamic, despite the stark character contrasts. Cynthia Erivo’s soulful singer Darlene is the obvious standout and her interactions with Bridge’s Father Flynn provide some of the most film’s most satisfying scenes. Lewis Pullman’s unassuming concierge Miles is another strong performance deserving of a mention.

The film swaggers along accompanied by its killer soundtrack, which plays a crucial part in the films tonal change from chapter to chapter. It’s dark and violent, yet at times it’s engaging and even emotional. The sharp edits that mash-up the timeline don’t over-complicate the plot, but accentuate the frenzied feeling that Goddard is creating as we head towards the plot’s crescendo.

As expected there are some areas where a film with so much going on inevitably suffers. Jon Hamm’s Seymour is arguably the biggest victim of this, with his character perhaps not utilised as much as it could have been. The film also feels a little too fleshed out in parts, lingering on some of the less necessary aspects and leaving one or two plotlines unexplored as a result.

Bad Times at the El Royale really does feel like a Tarantino movie and that’s no mean feat, Goddard has taken his own style and applied tried and tested techniques to create a compelling, genuinely exciting movie and one that deserves to be enjoyed by a wider audience.

 

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Arctic ★★★★

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Released: 5 December 2018

Directed by: Joe Penna

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir

Reviewed by: Lauren Tina Brady

An expanse of white as far as the eye can see, gently sloping mountains in the horizon, a polar bear pads silently across the snow, pausing briefly to gaze back at the watching man across the valley.

At first Arctic reads as a classic survival narrative; the basic man vs. nature conundrum. I’d recently seen The Mountain Between Us, which draws some very obvious similarities; plane crash, hostile snowy environment, a great expanse needing to be crossed for a chance of survival. However, unlike relying on the pairing of Kate Winslet and Idris Elba for context,  Arctic’s dialogue is bare. This is largely due to the fact that there is only the protagonist for the first third of the film, played by Mads Mikkelsen.

At first it appears to lull you into that false sense of security of knowing exactly how this works out; he sticks to a routine of catching fish, laying out black rocks spelling ‘help’ against the snow and signalling for nearby aircraft. However, crucially, we don’t know who he is. He speaks very little, in both Danish and English. He offers no information to help us piece together a backstory and remains an enigma throughout, which feels fresh. The character becomes more than a person; he becomes the flicker of hope for survival, the spectrum of emotions that occur in the darkest of hours.

There is plenty of drama to keep us on the edge of our seats; he has a chance of escape quite early on – a small helicopter has spotted him and attempts to make it’s way towards him in strong winds leading to a crash. There are two people on board; one is killed with the other, a woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir), who survives but is badly hurt and must be cared for. Suddenly the odds of both surviving are halved; the danger is intensified.

Here is a tale of endurance over survival. This is where Mikkelsen excels; he digs deep to portray every possible emotion through a gruelling and ice-cold journey. He is silent but his face says everything. I laughed in delight, I wept quietly. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing this role.

It’s a feat for Joe Penna, directing his feature film debut. See it for Mikkelsen, stay for the sensitive direction and the stunning cinematography.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Museum ★★★★

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Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios

Stars: Gael García Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Alfredo Castro

Released: London Film Festival 2018

It’s Christmas Day, 1985. College dropouts Juan Nunez and Benjamin Wilson are ready to pull off an audacious heist that will have authorities searching for professional art thieves for years. Based on a true story, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ film sees the duo attempt to steal 140 priceless artefacts from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, Museum explores the mindsets of two would be criminals with nothing to lose.

The tale is narrated by Wilson, played with subtle compassion by Leonardo Ortizgris. Wilson’s role is much like Nick’s in The Great Gatsby, an opinionated and somewhat loyally biased eye through which Juan is diluted. Played by Gael Garcia Bernal, Juan is the film’s focus, a Mexican Cool Hand Luke drifting through his young adulthood. In the hands of another actor, Juan may have come off as entitled, lazy even, but Bernal’s performance layers the character with sympathetic naivety and relatable desire. A perennially youthful, multifaceted actor, Bernal paints buckets of emotion into every micro-expression.

The crime takes place after Christmas dinner, a lively family affair that sees Juan alienated and berated. At first, the silence is reminiscent of the hanging scene from Mission: Impossible; the tension equally palpable. But soon the action changes, pared back to a static style similar to the panels of a comic book. It is a technique repeated throughout the film, the continuity broken up into freeze frames that are not quite motionless, still alive with a touch of movement. Reducing these scenes to a childlike fantasy, Ruizpalacios succeeds in creating the ultimate sense of idyllic, youthful adventure.

Something often ignored in heist films is the aftermath, when the thieves must deal with the fallout of their decisions. Museum’s second act focuses on this aspect, allowing the introduction of an English art dealer, played by the superb Simon Russell Beale. Uncertainty builds from the start of their meeting, as the camera endlessly pans until Juan’s misguided perceptions come crashing down around him. In a script littered with intelligence and comedy, it is a pleasant surprise to see the characters’ raw emotion become the focal point.

Ruizpalacios seems content to pose questions that hang wispily in the air, unanswered: questions of cultural ownership, of morality and greed. He is more interested in the character study at the heart of this story, of a man who commits a crime out of boredom, a sense of nihilism or a desire for adventure, or perhaps a little of all three. It is a fresh idea in a crowded genre, making for a film that is impressive but never quite brilliant, a wonderful adventure that doesn’t aim to blow minds. But does that matter? As Juan says and Wilson relays: “Why let the truth ruin a good story?”, a sentiment Ruizpalacios takes quite literally. Luckily for him, Museum is without a doubt a good story.

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