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

greencover1_cc

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.

The Nicest Fella: The Life of Ben Johnson by Richard D Jensen – Last of the Cowboys

Ben Johnson

Published in 2010, The Nicest Fella is about one of the last of the cowboys. Ben Johnson was not just a “screen” cowboy, he was the real deal. Growing up in Oklahoma  Son, as he was known to family and friends, earned his spurs on the back of a horse before doing so on screen.  Johnson came to Hollywood to deliver horses to the film industry at a time when westerns were all the rage and the demand for horseflesh was high.

Richard Farnsworth
Richard Farnsworth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After discovering that he could make more money in a single day than he could for an entire month working on a ranch, he decided to stick around and began doing stunt work.  He worked a lot with another stuntman who became an  actor in his later years, Richard Farnsworth who was later nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Straight Story. Ben would actually win an Oscar for his work in the film The Last Picture Show, which he referred to as a dirty movie because of the cursing and nudity in it.

Richard D Jensen does an excellent job chronicling the life and times of one of Hollywood’s greatest character actors. He had an enormous amount of help from Helen Lee Johnson Christenson, Ben’s sister, who had collected over 30 years worth of information on her famous brother. Jensen himself met Johnson in 1984 at a film festival and the two got on so well that they ditched the festival and spent the evening at a cafe talking. Jensen says that it was then that he knew he would write about Johnson one day.

The book goes back to Ben Johnson’s own famous father Ben Johnson Sr. A rodeo champion and manager of the largest ranch in Oklahoma, he was well known and well respected. Ben Jr, or Son, new that he would have to do something different from his father if he wanted to make his own tracks in the world. Although he would later return to the rodeo world and attempt everything his father had done as a sort of catharsis.

When Johnson first came to Hollywood, the industry was still in it’s infancy. He was not the only real cowboy in the industry. In fact the famous Tom Mix had not only started life as a cowpuncher, but he had worked on the same ranch as Ben Johnson Sr.

Tom Mix
Tom Mix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ben Johnson was the last of the cowboys though. His code and moral stand stayed saddle bound his whole life, He did not hold with using foul language in front of women or children and he would stop others from doing so. This same “code” meant that he continually attempted to get Hollywood money funnelled into his home state to help those who needed it.

Johnson also took a “break” from Hollywood to go back to the rodeo. He is the only actor who won an Oscar and the  Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association‘s Team Roping World Champion title in 1953.  Ben was later inducted  into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association‘s ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1973.

The title of the book came from paraphrasing Johnson’s acceptance speech for winning the Oscar in 1972. At the end of his very short speech, he announced that what he was going to say would cause  a lot of conversation but, “It couldn’t happen to a nicer feller.”

He was right. What the book shows is that very few, certainly not any in the book, had an ill word to say about the man. The cowboy turned stuntman; turned actor; turned rodeo star  and back to actor, was a man of his word and had time for everyone. His strict moral ethos gave him the strength to stand up to notorious bully John Ford, and it says volumes about Johnson. Even more so that Ford, later in his career, would talk Ben into working in The Last Picture Show. If Ford had not “pushed” Johnson to do it, he would have kept turning the role down.

At 299 pages, the book is not overly long, but after biography finishes, Jensen has one of the most complete filmography’s I have ever seen. This was a monument to a great man and the author has laid his foundation carefully and built a wonderful bio of a brilliant character actor.

Johnson

If you are a fan of westerns, you’ve seen Mr Johnson in countless roles in films that range from John Ford’s epic paintings  to Sam Peckinpah‘s brutal realism. Well known as the “sidekick” of Duke Wayne and the best horseman in Hollywood. It is a wonderful read and definitely a book for anyone who is a fan of this excellent character actor.

I have to give this a five out of five stars just because Richard D Jensen does a brilliant job and he is the only writer who has taken the time to write a Ben Johnson biography.  The book is available from most book sellers, but sadly, is not in an ebook format.

Ben Johnson (actor)
Ben Johnson (actor) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michael Smith

United Kingdom

4 September 2013

Three Bad Men John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond by Scott Allen Nollen

IMG_0075

Growing up all three of these men were an integral part of my childhood. Specifically John “Pappy” Ford in the cinemas and of course John Wayne ‘Duke’ and Ward Bond as well, but Mr Bond had the added distinction of being in my folks’ living rooms each week as Major Seth Adams, in Wagon Train.

Of course, I saw all the films and television shows long after they were initially made. The films, I saw on Saturday night at the movies (usually accompanied by a huge bowl of popcorn and a tall ice filled glass of Coca-Cola) and the Wagon Train episodes I watched were the newer ones with John McIntire with the occasional re-run with Ward Bond in. Come to think of it, the McIntire ones were probably re-runs as well.

I do remember with perfect clarity that my family adored the John Wayne film Rio Bravo and we watched it every single time it came on the telly. The Searchers was another family favourite because it was a John Ford film with both Duke and Bond in it; not to mention Hank Worden as good ole Mose Harper. Another John Ford favourite was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

John "Pappy" Ford.
John “Pappy” Ford.

This book, lovingly crafted by Mr Nollen, tells the warts and all story of this triangular “bro-mance” long before that phrase came into vogue. These three remarkably talented men had a love affair with one another that abided until death. Not in a sexual sense, although rumours persisted that Pappy might just have an inclination “that way.” But in a father and two sons sense. Ford often spent more time with his two adopted sons than he did his own children.

Besides taking an in-depth look at all three men, Nollen gives one of the best breakdowns of Wardell Edwin Bond’s career than any other book I’ve read. I never realised that on top of the television shows he made, Bond had over 271 screen credits in films alone. Besides this all-encompassing career breakdown, we learn more of Ward himself, what made the man tick and why, perhaps, he did some of the more unpopular things that he did.

I have long been a fan of all three men and it was delightful to see such an honest telling of these men’s relationship with one another and the myths that they built and embellished over the years. It is disappointing to lose that childlike reverence for great artists, but it is more important to have an adult’s respect for what they accomplished on-screen and off; good and bad.

Wayne, for all his American for all seasons hero, personally stood for political things that hurt his personal image. These same political stances also hurt others in the same industry. Bond had similar feelings and he too practised a very biased type of politics that, like Wayne’s, could be vengeful. It was surprising, to me, to find that John Ford didn’t agree with either of his “two boys” in the area of politics, for I’d assumed (wrongly) that politically all three were peas in the same pod.

John Fords The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
John Fords The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Nollen has given us a personal look at three legends of the silver screen, big and small, and talked to some of the people who worked right along side of them. For a fan of these three talented men, this is a gold mine of a book. I only wish I could have afforded the hardback version instead of having to buy the eBook version.

Not because the eBook is less readable, but for a book about such old Hollywood legends, it would be nice to have an old-fashioned book to hold and look at.

I cannot end this review without giving thanks to Colin over at Riding the High Country blog for making me aware of this book through his excellent review of it.

If you are into books about the entertainment business this will be a 5 out of 5 stars. Only the rules of math keep me from giving it a 6 out of 5.

Wardell Edwin Bond.
Wardell Edwin Bond.

Louis L’Amour: A Biography by Anita Y Tsuchiya

51K3RSEHAiL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-53,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_

Another e-book of the “Reader’s Digest” variety that obviously is aimed at the “limited” reader. Limited as in not feeling like they have the time to peruse a “proper” book versus these watered down versions. As in the American Legend series I just reviewed on Duke Wayne, this book will not break the bank and just under 2 pounds, but it is fairly limited in the amount of information that is related about this iconic author.

I was going to include this book review with my John Wayne review because it was Wayne’s role of Hondo in the picture of the same name that propelled L’Amour even further into the limelight as the film was adapted pretty faithfully from his book. He was not unknown at the time that Hondo was made (as a 3D film yet!) but the public reception of the film was such that L’Amour became even more popular as the preferred storyteller of America’s west.

I grew up reading both Louis L’Amour westerns and those of Zane Grey as well. My father was a huge fan of both authors (with a definite preference to Grey’s novels) and because he had plenty of these books around the house I read them as well. L’Amour’s life, as chronicled by several interviews and articles over the years could have stepped whole out of one of his stories.

He left home and “rode the rails” to find work and an education. He had left school at an early age to “round” out his learning as he felt the academic system used in the formal setting of  his school was lacking. Coming from a family of readers and teachers, he already knew everything that he considered important from a scholastic viewpoint and was eager to learn more than what he had current access to.

For a really great source of  information on Louis L’Amour read his autobiographical novel Education of a Wandering Man. While the book is not all-encompassing, it does relate a lot of facts from the man himself. It is a fascinating inside look at the man who created such iconic sagas with the feudal and familial Sacketts.

During his lifetime, L’Amour was: A boxer, miner, merchant seaman, naval officer, skinner and lumber man.  All these on top of being a top-notch writer of western and adventure novels. He was also an accomplished poet and his daughter Angelique has published a collection of these in Smoke From This Altar.

This biography does touch on a lot of information about L’Amour and it appears to be, again, aimed at the commuter market. For those who do not know who this fascinating man is, it is a good introduction. Sadly the only other biographical information out there is the Education of a Wandering Man and assorted interviews and magazine articles. If you are lucky enough to have access to some of his audio-books you can hear the man himself providing background and information on each of the books.

If you have had the pleasure of reading any of his books you’ll know that the “About the Author” preamble states that he was, amongst other things, shipwrecked, stranded in the Mojave Desert, and was a world traveller. This book doesn’t really relate more than the most basic of information with the odd bit of information that delves a bit deeper.

A 3 out of 5 star book just because it did tell me a few things that I did not know already, quite a feat considering that I have spent years in my spare time trying to learn as much as possible about this writer.

The author Louis L'Amour. (b: 1908 - d: 1988)
The author Louis L’Amour. (b: 1908 – d: 1988)

Final Gig by George Eells: A Sad Stormy Life

Unknown

On October 19th, 1978 police found the bodies of Gig Young and his newlywed wife of three weeks Kim, dead in their New York apartment. Theories of suicide pacts, Triad murderers, and other shady underworld assassinations abounded. Although the police that investigated the double shooting have speculated that Young first shot his new wife and then himself, some people have never bought this scenario.

Author George Eells sets out to tell Gig Young’s less than idyll life story. From his beginnings as the youngest of three children (a “mistake” but apparently not a happy one) called Byron, whose successful father was hard pressed to give him the time of day.To the days leading up to the double shooting. Eells tries to leave no stone unturned and no relationship untold.

Gig Young made a career out of being the second lead in films. He was always the guy who “lost” the girl. He had a beautiful speaking voice and was always impeccably turned out in his films. The only real exception was the 1969 film ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They?‘ in which he played the seedy and unpleasant owner/announcer of a dance hall who is overseeing a “Dance-a-thon.” This role landed him the only Oscar of his career.

Eells has been pretty thorough in his chronicling of Young’s life, paying special attention to his relationships with women. He reveals what each of Gig’s marriages were like and the reasons for their failures. It appears that he did not have a very good self-image and that he suffered from several types of mental “illnesses” that he was able to cover up for quite a long time with drink and pills. Later in his life he used both to excess and then tried to stop, most likely, too quickly.

Like most successful “stars” Young’s life reads more like a tragedy than a triumph. He was very adept at appearing to be the suave, sophisticated, amusing man about town, both on-screen and off. Reality was much different, here was a man haunted by demons and a feeling of not belonging or being wanted. These demons, in all likelihood, had been with Gig since childhood and his success as an actor could not save him from himself.

I only found out about this book while reading the meandering “tribute” to the late Elizabeth Montgomery. It is referenced at least twice. I decided to track the book down and read about this man who had fascinated me when he was alive and whose death confused me.

One of my favourite films when I was growing up was the Doris Day, Clark Gable film Teacher’s Pet. Gig Young played his usual second-lead role as Day’s boyfriend (or fiancé I don’t remember which) who loses her to Gable’s hard-nosed newspaper man. As much as I loved the film’s two “main” leads, it was Young who fired my imagination, especially after my mother explained that he, “Never gets the girl, even though he’s so handsome.”

I broke my usual iron-clad rule about Jane Fonda films (I never forgave her for being “Hanoi-Jane” during the Vietnam War) and watched They Shoot Horses Don’t They? just for Gig Young’s performance. It was easy to see why he won the Oscar. The last thing I saw him do was his small but important role in Sam Peckinpah‘s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. He play the mysterious Quill; one half of a “hit man” double act who hire Warren Oates‘ character to find Alfredo Garcia. After securing his (Oates’) services for a very large amount of money, Oates’ character asks for their names. His slurred, sad, and weary response is, “Dobbs. Fred C. Dobbs.”

He still had the ability to breathe life into whatever role he played. Sadly, he would do only one more film before the incident in 1978. Eells tries very hard to figure out what went wrong both in Young’s life and the week leading up to the double shooting. The end result is a tragic retelling of a star’s life. A story that will leave  you shaking your head and feeling, if truth be told, a little sad and depressed.

On the amount of detail that Eells has put into his book, I’d have to give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars. I’ve deducted a half a star for the overall sadness of the book and the conjecture raised about what happened the afternoon of the 19th of October, 1978. The only people who really know what transpired and lead up to the shooting are gone. They’ve taken their secrets with them and perhaps that is better for everyone involved.

"My Name? Dobbs. Fred C Dobbs."Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia - 1974
“My Name? Dobbs. Fred C Dobbs.”
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia – 1974