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THE DISASTER ARTIST: A Good Movie About The Making Of A Bad One

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THE DISASTER ARTIST (Dir. James Franco, 2017)


A few weeks ago I attended a screening of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 opus THE ROOM. I’d seen it before on DVD, but felt like I should get the big screen with an audience experience I’d heard about and it did not disappoint. If you’re unfamiliar, THE ROOM is infamous for being a really bad movie. It’s a San Francisco-set romantic drama that is horribly acted (mostly by Wiseau as the tortured lead), atrociously written (again, by Wiseau), and awfully directed (yep, by Wiseau).

But it has built up a cult following – largely egged on by Wiseau who claims that he meant it to be a so-bad-that’s-it’s-good movie all along – with film-goers interacting with the film ROCKY HORROR-style. Folks attending are encouraged to do things like yell “focus!” when the film gets blurry, toss footballs around during the many scenes where the characters do the same, and throw plastic spoons at the screen whenever a framed picture of a spoon appears (which is often).

The screening was one of many across the country to get people primed for James Franco’s adaptation of Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s book “The Disaster Artist” which tells the story of how THE ROOM was made. Franco plays Wiseau, his brother, Dave, portrays Sestero, and Franco’s long time collaborator Seth Rogen takes on the role of the exasperated script supervisor Sandy Schklair.

Franco’s Wiseau, who has a hard to pin down European accent but claims he’s from New Orleans, dreams of being an actor, but can’t land a part so he bangs out a screenplay and finances his own project, drawing upon millions of dollars that nobody knows how he got – Rogen is surprised when his check clears and is told that it’s a bottomless account.

Franco and his crew dutifully recreate the sets of THE ROOM, and we get an ED WOOD-ish look at Wiseau’s acting and directing style – or lack of – and it’s a hilarious series of haphazard scenes though maybe not as hilarious as its incompetently shot subject.

Johnny Depp was originally slated to star, but I’m glad Franco got the role as he seems to have been born to capture the ridiculous passion of Wiseau. It’s possibly Francos greatest role, and maybe best work as a director though I haven’t seen many of the over a dozen films he’s made.


THE DISASTER ARTIST is among the funniest films this year, but it’s not been a great year for comedies or much else I hate to say. I’m not sure if folks who haven’t seen THE ROOM will totally get it, but they might as it accurately depicts what went down – Wiseau himself says that it gets 99.9% of it right of the and features a bunch of dead on recreated scenes at the end (plus stick around for an after credits stinger). It is oddly amusing, and kind of crazy, that Franco made a good movie about
 a bad one, but he really pulled it off.


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One Last Christmas Eve Blow-Out In THE NIGHT BEFORE

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THE NIGHT BEFORE (Dir. Jonathan Levine, 2015)


Sure, the premise of this Seth Rogen joint is pretty flimsy – i.e. three friends have one last Christmas Eve blow-out and farcical hilarity ensues – but after giving the silly stoner spin to such subjects as the apocalypse, cancer, and Kim Jong-un, I’m cool with that, as long as they keep the laughs coming.

And that they do, right from the get-go with a very welcome voice-over appearance by Tracy Morgan reciting rhyming lines in the familiar style of the classic Clement Clarke Moore poem from which the film derives its title. This gives us the set-up that back in 2001, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Ethan lost his parents in an automobile accident, and in an effort to cheer him up, his friends Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) initiate a hard partying holiday tradition that later comes to include an ongoing quest through the streets of New York City to find the elusive, mysterious Nutcracka Ball, considered “the Holy Grail of Christmas parties.”

In the present day, Isaac is a successful lawyer whose wife (Jillian Bell) is about to give birth to their first child, Chris is a pro football player who’s just started to get a taste of stardom, and Ethan is stuck in a rut as a struggling musician who has to take work that involves dressing as an elf and serving hors d’ourves at a corporate party on Christmas Eve.

The job is humiliating but things look up when while working coat-check Ethan happens upon 3 tickets to the Nutcracka Ball. Ethan gleefully steals them, quits his job, and runs off to find his friends. Meanwhile, in one of the movie’s most implausible moments (of which there are many), Isaac’s wife Betsy gifts him a neatly packaged box of hallucinogenic drugs and encourages him to go wild at his get-together. Yeah, sure.

So the fellows don tacky Cosby-style Christmas sweaters (Ethan’s has a standard line of red reindeer, while Isaac’s has a Star of David and Chris’s a black Santa – see above) and hit a karaoke bar, where they perform Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis,” and run into Ethan’s ex Diana (I forgot to mention that the guy is still reeling from a break-up) played by Lizzy Caplan.

Caplan, who, as a veteran of Party Down, THE INTERVIEW, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, and going way back with these guys to the Freaks and Geeks days, is well acquainted with such sausage party shenanigans, is accompanied by Mindy Kaling (The Office U.S., The Mindy Project), who gets her phone mixed up with Isaac.

This leads to Isaac, who’s gone goofy by consuming most of the drugs in his gift box, getting dick pic texts and not knowing how to respond.

In true Seinfeldian-fashion, each character has their obsessive hang-up – Isaac’s is that he’s too fucked up to function, Chris is wanting to score weed for his team’s quarterback that he’s trying to impress (this is one of the film’s clunkiest scenerios, which involves Mackie chasing Broad City’s Ilana Glazer as an evil drug stealing freak), and Ethan’s is, of course, wanting to get back together with Diana.

And in a wonderfully unexpected appearance, a hilariously deadpan Michael Shannon shows up as the guy’s high-school pot dealer, Mr. Green. This marks the second time that Shannon has stolen a movie away from Gordon-Levitt (see: PREMIUM RUSH). Shannon kills it here – every line is a stone cold gem – so much so that he ought to have his own comedy vehicle some day.

The only thing that matters in a movie like this is if it’s funny, and THE NIGHT BEFORE has some of the funniest moments of any comedy I’ve seen this year, and it has a warm, fuzzy heart that conveys way more genuine Christmas spirit than, say, crap like the dysfunctional family comedy LOVE THE COOPERS (currently #3 at the box office).

The joyous energy that Rogen and gang, including screenwriters Jonathan Levine, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, and longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg, bring to this round of crude gags, dick jokes, drug jokes, wacky mishaps, pop culture riffs, and surprise cameos, is crazy infectious.

THE NIGHT BEFORE is way better than THE INTERIEW, but a notch below THIS IS THE END on the scale of output of from the Apatow alma mater. It may have lazy plotting, some overly obvious set-ups, and much silliness just for silliness’ sake, but it brings so much in the way of laughter, likability, and an undoubtedly sincere theme of friendship, that it more than makes up for those faults.

It did make me wonder how much longer the 33-year old Rogen can make these man-child has to face growing up movies. He’ll probably yet again take a cue from Apatow, and do ‘em til the big 4-0. As long as he keeps bringing the funny, that’s fine by me.


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STEVE JOBS: An Intensely Talky Character Study In 3 Acts

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STEVE JOBS (Dir. Danny Boyle, 2015)


A
s screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and director Danny Boyle have stressed repeatedly, this highly anticipated portrait of the late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs isn’t a biopic – it’s an intensely talky character study told in three acts, each set backstage at crucial product launches in Jobs’ career.


The first third is set in 1984, at the launch for the original Macintosh at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, California. We meet Jobs (Michael Fassbender in his sharpest performance yet and with a flawless American accent to boot) fretting over making the computer say “hello” to introduce itself when turned on for the presentation.

In snappy, witty dialogue largely delivered within walks and talks – a very familiar Sorkin device – Jobs argues with key Mac engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), and his trusted marketing chief Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) over the issue.


Hertzfeld protests: ““We’re not a pit-crew at Daytona, this can’t be fixed in seconds.”

“You don’t have seconds – you had three weeks. The universe was created in a third of that time,” Jobs responds.

“Well, someday, you’ll have to tell us how you did it,” Hertzfeld replies through a smirk.

Yep, there’s that Sorkin snap!

Floating in and out of Jobs’ orbit are Jeff Daniels as Apple CEO John Sculley, who needles Jobs about how they used real skin-heads in the famous “1984” Apple television commercial; Seth Rogen as Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, who wants Jobs to give credit to the Apple II computer team in his speech; and most importantly Katherine Waterson as Jobs’ ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan, and her five-year-old daughter Lisa (Makenzie Moss), whose paternity Jobs denies.

These interactions take us up until Jobs is introduced onstage, then the film transitions to the man and his team preparing for the launch of the NeXT computer system at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. This time our genius is worried that the dimensions are off on what’s supposed to be a perfect cube of a computer.

As he makes the rounds through the facility, Jobs argues with the same folks – Sculley, Woz, Brennan – but he’s beginning to bond with his daughter, played at age 9 by Ripley Sobo, so there’s some significant development there.

The concluding third of the film concerns the launch event for the iMac in 1998 at the same venue as the ’84 Macintosh, and yet again we see Jobs go through the tangled motions with his minions (no, not those Minions!). Perla Haney-Jardine fills the shoes of his daughter at 19, who, of course, gets to finally connect with her father.

There’s some patented Sorkin character cutesiness present in such moments as Jobs telling his Walkman carrying daughter that he’s going to put “a thousand songs in your pocket” (the iPod, duh!), and when Wozniak and Jobs bicker over a Beatles analogy (“I’m tired of being Ringo when I know I was John,” Woz complains), but overall it’s a meticulously sculpted screenplay that’s a shoo-in for a Oscar nomination. I prefer Sorkin’s script for THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but this is in the same lofty class.

As some scenes are strained and some beats are repetitive, STEVE JOBS falls just short of greatness, much like the man himself as these three spotlighted products were financial failures, but its strengths which lie in the delightfully punchy performances by Fassbender and everyone in the cast (seriously, there is no weak link in this ensemble), the volumes of perfectly on point one-liners, and Boyle’s inspired stylistic choices like using different film formats for each era (’84 in 16mm, ’88 in 35mm, and ’98 in digital) elevate it into a series of speculated conversations well worth cinematically eavesdropping on.


Jobs was a visionary, but, yeah, he could also be bit of a dick. Boyle, Sorkin, and Fassbender’s take on the man is that he was well aware of that, but it couldn’t be helped because “there is no off position on the genius switch,” as David Letterman would say.

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