The Disaster Artist (2017): “The Room” Behind the Scenes Tribute (Review)

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The Disaster Artist is one part homage to a director who has more than a little in common  with Ed Wood, one part celebration of someone whose dream reaches a surprising fruition and one part celebration of “The Room.” This behind the scenes tribute to one of the world’s worst films captures the innate weirdness of Tommy Wiesau as auteur.

The film is based on Greg Sestero’s retelling of everything that went into the making of the 2003 cult favorite; a film so bad that audiences took it to their collective bosom and began to worship the atrocity as a delicious comedy.

Directed by James Franco from a screenplay penned by Scott NeustadterMichael H. Weber, Sestero and Tom Bissell, The Disaster Artist is as funny as it is difficult to watch, in places.  The story of how a complete novice, to whom English is a shaky second language, manages to make a movie and pour enough money into the venture to ensure Oscar qualification is entertaining.

“The Room” (the film made by Wiesau) was so monumentally bad that it became a cult favorite and the start of Franco’s “behind the scenes” film has a few celebs from the business explain their fascination with the movie. Even if one has not seen the original, which Franco manages to match shot for shot – several times, The Disaster Artist is funny.

Seth Rogen plays the only character who appears to have any experience making movies and Dave, brother of James, plays Sestero, Wiesau’s object of devotion and the other star of “The Room.” Zac Efron has a cameo as the gun toting thug and the delicious Alison Brie is Amber, Sestero’s girlfriend.

(Ari Graynor, Megan MullallyJosh Hutcherson, Bob Odenkirk, Randall Park and veteran Aussie actress Jacki Weaver round out the cast in a most satisfactory and fun “spot the face” way. These familiar faces really make the film seem like a labour of love.)

It is Amber’s entrance that clarifies Tommy’s “obsession” with Greg and causes the first of many cracks to show in the two men’s relationship.  There are a number of cameos in the film.  Melanie Griffith plays Jean Shelton and  Sharon Stone plays Hollywood agent Iris Burton. The delightful Lauren Ash plays the florist.

Cameo appearances aside, The Disaster Artist can be seen as much more than a biopic about a Polish mystery figure who wants to make and star in movies. It is about tenacity winning out over lack of experience and, somewhat ironically, seems to prove that any moron with enough money can indeed make a movie.

The one thing that shines through is that Tommy knows nothing about making films. He manages to write a screenplay but has to rely upon his hired “experts” to make the film happen. Rogen’s character and the DP both run the two cameras, one of which is a high definition video camera, and try to instill a little realism into the 2003 film.

The Disaster Artist is more like “The Little Train That Could.” The end of the film shows Wiesau, Sestero and the rest of the cast and crew attending the film’s premiere. At the end of the viewing the audience stand spontaneously and give the auteur a standing ovation. The message being that despite the film being funny for all the wrong reasons, Wiesau has managed to entertain his targeted audience. As a result, his little film makes a new kind of history.

Franco does a brilliant job as director and with his portrayal of the rather odd Tommy Wiesau shows that he can really wear multiple hats successfully. (His character Tommy, the real one,  actually makes an appearance toward the end of the post film credits and interacts with “himself” – Franco’s version of Wiesau.)

The Disaster Artist may not be Oscar material but it is funny and hits those parts that many films fail to reach. A real 4.5 star effort that tickles that funny bone while simultaneously pulling off some brilliant cringeworthy moments. It is in cinemas now and well worth the price of admission.

Thelma (2017): Low Key Norwegian “Carrie” With a Twist (Review)

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Co-written and directed by Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt was the other writer who helped on the  screenplay, Thelma is a slow paced, almost languid twist on Stephen King’s “Carrie.” Starring the achingly beautiful Eili Harboe, this suspenseful horror film includes key elements that are present in King’s tale of repression, telekinesis and religion.

The film can also be seen as being influenced by the Richard Matheson tale “It’s a Good Life.” This Twilight Zone story (directed by James Sheldon) dealt with a young boy on a farm who holds his “terrified family” hostage with his incredibly powerful mental ability. The lad, played brilliantly by a young Billy Mumy, can literally “think” someone out of existence if they annoy him.

Thelma has mental powers but they have been repressed with a brand of zealous religion practiced by her family. When the girl goes off to college and starts to fall in love, the power re-emerges with a vengeance. Just before leaving her family, Thelma (Harboe) has a seizure and these become more prevalent at school.

We see the young woman cautiously spreading her wings as she meets Anja, played perfectly by Kaya Wilkins) and as the two become infatuated with one an other, Thelma has an increase in seizures and some disturbing visions/dreams.  Eventually she goes to a doctor for help and discovers that her grandmother, whom she believed was dead, suffers from the same problem. 

After being tested for epilepsy, Thelma tracks her grandmother down and starts remembering a tragic event from her childhood. Her father, Henrik Rafaelsen, a general practitioner, starts treating Thelma as her mother (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) uneasily watches from the sidelines. 

Thelma can be seen as a loss of innocence film, or a “coming of age” tale. Regardless of how the viewer opts to interpret this story, it is beautifully filmed and splendidly executed. At just under two hours, the film is a long one, but it never bores or drags.

The sequences where Thelma seeks help from the medical community do crawl but despite this, interest in the young protagonist does not wander. Trier gives us a plot and storyline that teases with flashbacks and ethereal connections between Anja and Thelma.

Harboe as the naive Thelma gives us just the right amount of wonder and dread as she starts to grow up outside the influence of her strict parents. We learn, as the film progresses, just why Trond and Unni keep close tabs on Thelma; they are already aware of what she is capable of doing.

The horror here is very low key. However,there are moments where it strikes fear right into the heart of the audience. These are not jump worthy moments by any means but the instances, a drowning and a moment underneath an icy lake, reduce us to a primal horror that stays long after the moment appears on screen.

Thelma, unlike “Carrie,” gives us a protagonist that is not a victim but is, rather, a young woman who has lived a sheltered life. There is a reason behind her earlier protected existence. This helps us to develop an empathy with the young girl and her increasing confusion.

This is a full 5 star film that grabs the viewer and draws them slowly into the world of Thelma. Norwegian, indeed Slavic films in general, are, at the moment, top notch and well worth sitting through, despite having subtitles. Check this one out as soon as you can.

Longmire (Season 6) Episode 2: Fever (Review)

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The second episode of Longmire, season six, finds Henry recovering from his ordeal at the Crow reservation. Walt is still facing the wrongful death lawsuit and he starts investigating what happened to his best friend.

Meanwhile, crime continues in the county. A man whose land is a popular place for treasure hunters ends up dead. The solitary man also has cash hidden all over his cabin. Walt has Ferg and Vic start chasing down leads and he stops by Cady’s office to tell her that Jacob Nighthorse must be involved with Henry’s near murder.

This episode features a fair amount of guilt, greed and not a little obsession. Cady’s guilt at possibly aiding Nighthorse to hurt Henry and a man’s stepfather’s guilt at falling out with his son.  After finding the dead man, with all that cash, someone turns up at the station and reports that his brother has gone missing.

Walt heads to a treasure hunters base camp, with the missing man’s brother and asks if anyone has seen him. Longmire bumps into Lucien Connally at the camp and the two men talk about Walt’s court case and why Connally is hunting for treasure. Lucien tells Longmire that he has pretty much figured out where the treasure is really hidden.

Vic finds the dead man’s will, handwritten and not necessarily legal, and they learn who Kayson has left all that cash to. The missing brother uses his credit card at a local hardware store and Cady visits Jacob. It is not a friendly visit and she beats her boss with the stakes that were used to trap Henry.

Walt freaks out when he sees what looks like Malachi Strand’s car and Cady goes to tell her father about confronting Nighthorse. She finds Henry at the Longmire cabin and they talk about Jacob and her attack on Nighthorse.

Lucien suggests that Longmire settle let of court and Walt explains that he tried. He also tells Connally about the murder and asks for his former mentor and friend to help out. Ferg reveals that the missing man never used the credit card. He also tells the two men that the man’s ex-wife used the card.

Walt, and Ferg, force the base camp to search for the missing man and they find him; dead at the bottom of a small cliff. Travis pushes to become more involved with Vic and the baby. During the search, Walt finds that someone returned to the dead goat farmer’s small graveyard and dug up whatever was buried in a grave.

That someone turns out to be Lucien. Walt calls Vic, in the middle of her ultrasound, and she cuts her appointment short. Travis gets upset and asks if Longmire even knows if Vic is pregnant. Walt finds the murder weapon buried in the woods.

Lucien turns up at Longmire’s office with the box he dug up at the farm and Walt works out that the missing man’s brother is the murderer. Henry and the sheriff confront Jacob. Nighthorse gives Walt the doctored books that prove Malachi’s dirty dealings at the casino. He then paraphrases “Jaws” by saying “We need a bigger search party.”

When Walt asks why Jacob is willing to help now, he replies that he more afraid of Malachi than Longmire. Travis turns up and tells Walt that Vic is pregnant. The concerned man has an engagement ring that he intends to give Vic if Walt doesn’t do the right thing.

The obsession in this episode of Longmire reminds us of Walt obsession with Nighthorse and Malachi Strand. Travis’ obsession is still Vic, the dead man’s brother is obsessed with finding the treasure; enough to murder for it, and the stepson is all caught up in hating his former step father.

Greed is covered by the missing man’s brother and all those reluctant helpers out at the treasure hunting basecamp. The guilt belongs mostly to Cady, who feels that Nighthorse betrayed her and put Henry’s life in danger as a result.

This final season of Longmire, especially this episode, makes a huge effort to turn Strand into the bogeyman. Even Nighthorse confesses that he is scared of his former chief of security. This episode also starts to focus on the relationship between Vic and Walt Longmire.

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer(2017): Stilted and Wooden Horror (Review)

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While the story of The Killing of a Sacred Deer is interesting and different, the execution leaves much to be desired. Leaden acting, wooden dialogue and line deliveries that feel stilted all make this odd horror film feel fake and throws one out of the tale being told.

Colin Farrell appears to be sleepwalking through his role as a surgeon whose drunken mistake costs a man his life. Despite speaking in his “native tongue” the Irish actor  comes across as disinterested, bland and disaffected.  The entire cast, with the exception of Nicole Kidman and Alicia Silverstone suffer from the lackluster delivery that writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos seems to expect in his films. 

In The Lobster (Another Farrell vehicle.) the dialogue was equally unenthusiastic but with the surrealistic setting and theme it almost fit. Here, in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, it serves to take the viewer out of the film and it destroys whatever ambiance is needed to sell the horror of the situation.

The film shows young Martin (Irish actor Barry Keoghan) insinuating himself into Dr. Murphy’s life. Murphy accepts the young man  and introduces him to his wife Anna (Kidman), daughter Kim and his son Bob. In return, Murphy is introduced to Martin’s mum, the widow of the man that Murphy  killed.

(Alicia Silverstone plays the disturbed and somewhat twitchy woman in a delicious cameo performance that outshines everyone else in the film.)

The Killing of a Sacred Deer could have been a masterpiece. The setting, the use of discordant music and an interesting plot could have worked brilliantly had the performances not taken away from the film. Lanthimos destroys whatever affect the weirdness of the tale could have had by having his actors throw the viewer out of any disturbing moments.

The characters themselves do not appeal either. Kidman’s Anna is self serving and cold. The surgeon appears to lack any sort of feeling and their kids are  unlikeable. To be fair this is down more to the delivery of their lines rather than any particular shortcomings of the script.

We never learn too much about Murphy or his family before Martin starts his attack. For example, there is no reason given for his insistence that his wife lay stock still during sex and we are reluctantly given the backstory between the surgeon and Martin.

The film shambles along with too little information and not enough time spent on the two main characters. Interaction between Martin and the Murphy family follows the same wooden direction as the dialogue and we never buy into any of the emotions, or the lack thereof,  being shared with the audience.

When things start going wrong with Murphy’s children we literally do not care. Neither child comes across well like their father they suffer from a lack of emotion or nuance in any of their lines. It is as if removing anything remotely resembling a personality was top priority of the director.

The fact that Silverstone, in her “blink and you’ll miss it cameo,” comes out head and shoulders above the rest of the cast makes one wonder if Lanthimos allowed someone else to helm the picture that day.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer could have been a 5 star effort. Instead it is a dull and shambolic attempt at psychological horror that fails abysmally. Give this one a miss…

 

Wonder Wheel (2017): Woody Allen’s Swan Song (Review)

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Despite having Oscar winning Brit actress Kate Winslet on board,  along with fellow Brit performer Juno Temple, Wonder Wheel feels too much like Woody Allen’s swan song in the world of film. Set in 1950’s Coney Island, the film, written and directed by Allen, is part nostalgic remembrance of a by-gone era and part semi-autobiographic nuance.

Despite a stellar cast that includes Jim Belushi and Justin Timberlake, Wonder Wheel is sheer drudgery on celluloid. It is difficult to watch and bogs down repeatedly in several areas. The dialogue, complete with heavy accents and stilted delivery, feels forced and overdone.

Timberlake sounds like he is doing a Woody Allen impression, while Belushi; who is loaded down with an awkward character and dialogue that is   old fashioned and more suited to a amateur dramatics society than a huge film, struggles to make his Humpty feel real.

Humpty (Belushi) is a carousel operator at Coney Island. His wife Ginny (Winslet) has a boy from another marriage and is a former “actress.” Carolina (Temple) is Humpty’s child from his first marriage and she is on the run from her husband; a gangster.

Mickey (Timberlake) is narrator of the film and a lifeguard who is having an affair with the older Ginny. He meets, and falls for, Carolina. The end result is a messy-ish love triangle that ends in tears for all involved.

All these characters are shallow and somewhat two dimensional. Humpty is built up to be a real punch-happy ogre when he drinks. Yet, when he does hit the sauce, never lives up to his billing. Carolina is trying to escape her hoodlum husband and Ginny lives in the past.

The only part of the film that feels legitimate occurs when Ginny describes how she feels about working at the clam house at Coney Island. The unhappy woman, who suffers from migraines, explains that she is playing the role of waitress at the eatery. It is the one moment of truth in the entire film.

There are parts of the film that can be seen as autobiographical. At one point Ginny tells Humpty that he treats his daughter like his “girlfriend” and that when she “dump’s him” again he will be miserable. A little too close to something that one can image Mia Farrow saying to Woody Allen in real life.

None of the characters in the film are likable. We do sympathize to some degree with Ginny; burdened with a son who is a firebug, but none of these people come across as real. Each relationship seems forced and laborious. Wonder Wheel seems more like a stage play than a film.

The actors all either over-act or “under” act. Belushi never really seems to have a handle on Humpty and Winslet goes all “Blanch Dubois” when Woody’s alter ego Mickey, chooses the wrong skirt in the last half of the film.

Wonder Wheel  is not an enjoyable film to watch. While Woody Allen has managed to deliver consistently on his “niche” films, this time he comes up short. The tale is not up to par with his past works and one wonders if perhaps the filmmaker should not hang up his pen and camera.

Winslet manages to make the most of her drama queen role as Ginny and Temple shines equally well as the mixed up youngster who married poorly. Belushi and Timberlake are miscast and the film itself limps to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

Wonder Wheel is a shaky 3 star film that annoys rather than entertains. Give this one a miss…It really does feel like Woody Allen’s swan song.

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