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.

The Adderall Diaries (2016): Fiction as Fact – (Review)

Amber Heard and James Franco

The Adderall Diaries is taken from Stephen Elliot’s semi-autobiographical first novel “A life Without Consequences” and the author is quick to point out that this was a work of fiction. Adapted and directed by Pamela Romanowsky (her second feature length film as director) the film follows Stephen Elliot, played by James Franco as he unravels while following a murder case.  The film is, according to the real Elliot, masquerading as fact even though it is based upon fiction.

Amber Heard plays Times reporter Lana Emond, that the film Stephen dates and then falls in love with. Ultimately he alienates the woman as he loses his grip on what is real and what is not.

Ed Harris is Stephen’s estranged father Neil. A man that Elliot has been telling the world is dead. His memoirs, that are on the best seller list, tell of a bullying ogre who made Stephen’s life hell growing up.

Christian Slater plays real life murderer  Hans Reiser who, in the film,  is on trial for  the murder of his mail order wife Nina.  Stephen begins to fixate  on the man and projects his own issues onto the suspect on trial.

Elliot is into BDSM, drugs (specifically Adderall) and has fractured memories of his youth.  His father Neil attempts to reconcile with his son and eventually the two start to converse.

The main message of The Adderall Diaries appears to coincide with what the author says he learned around the time of writing his first novel.  Stephen says that everyone’s version of the truth is their version [sic].  The film does, at least, put this across rather well.

In the film Franco’s Elliot is a man not in touch with himself at all. His gaze, despite being inward,  is narcissist and  blind. His faulty and drug enhanced memories are all blurry and violent. In these his father is the villain and he the innocent victim.

The author lies to everyone but more importantly he lies to himself. The man is on a self destructive path that turns those he cares about away.  Stephen irrevocably damages his relationship with Lana (Heard) and nearly ends his lifelong friendship with Roger (Jim Parrack).

(On a sidenote: Amber Heard has been lumbered with what must be the worst wig or extensions ever seen on a romantic lead. It is a wonder she did not sue the production or at least the director for putting such a mess on her head.)

Slater makes the most of his smaller role as programmer turned murderer Reiser who was convicted of killing the mother of his children. In the film his defense was that he was trying to be a good father. It feels as though he felt that his wife suffered from Munchausen by proxy syndrome (MBPS). Whether this was true for the real Reiser case is not known.

The Adderall Diaries is a fairly downbeat film.  It is slow and despite a fair amount of sex, both kinky and straight, it is a mundane film.  Another problem is that, as portrayed by Franco, Elliot is unlikeable.  When he breaks up with Lena we do not really care.

(Another sidenote: Ed Harris looked shockingly old. Granted the actor is around bus pass age at 65 but he has looked the same for years.  Perhaps it was makeup enhanced but it was a surprise to see Harris suddenly age. Whatever the case it was effective for his role and helped to sell his character’s story.)

The real Stephen Elliot has pointed out a number of inconsistencies with the film. Mainly to do with the publishing world but he says there  are a few discrepancies about his “story” as well.

For someone who lived outside the country for number of years, this fiction presented as fact film was eye opening. It was a total surprise to learn that someone whose product was integral to the Linux kernel murdered his wife for example.

Director Pamela Romanowsky does quite a decent job here but the subject matter lets the side down.  Ultimately it fails to really garner any real interest apart from the childhood story of Elliot and his father. Those flashbacks do beg to be resolved.

The Adderall Diaries is streaming on Amazon Prime at the moment and it is worth a look but definitely not two.  A 3 star film that is quite underwhelming by the end. Although it does have its moments. (Think Ed Harris here.)

Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life: What the Fudge, FOX?

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Before looking at episode 13 of Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life; “How to Survive Your Birthday,” let us take a moment to ask FOX a quick annoyed question.  What the fudge?  We understand that you do not think too highly of your series.  Moving the time slot, weeks going by with no episodes and then slapping two together in what looked like a season  one finale, meant that finding the show was beyond difficult.

Is it any  wonder that the viewing figures dropped?

(It was even hard to find an episode guide on IMDb to see what segment  was scheduled next.  Right now it appears that FOX could be  even worse than NBC in shafting the hell out of their own shows. Re: The Player…)

In what could really be the season one finale, which last Sunday’s double episode obviously was not, episode 13 proved that the writers could dig deep and come up with a ending installment that rocked.  They  provided  multiple sets of whammies  in the storyline.

Romona (Victoria Justice)  yanking Cooper’s trousers down to his ankles, whilst on her knees,  in front of an apartment full of people. Food poisoning. Almost getting eaten by a bear. Being saved by a “mountain man” they believe to be a baby-faced bank robber and that they kidnap. And last but not least;  Josh (Justin Bartha) and Leslie (Liza Lapira) getting stuck with “meth-head” Arvid in the mini-van. 

(On a sidenote here. Who knew that “The Swede” aka Christopher Heyerdahl could do so well at comedy. The actor was truly funny and fit right in with this talented crowd of actors.)

In terms of wrapping things up “How to Survive Your Birthday” at last answers the question of “will they, won’t they?” Romona does make her play though actively seducing Cooper (Jack Cutmore-Scott). That little slice of lust on the carpet is cut short although later on she does move in again on Cooper. 

Kelly too makes her feeling known with planning Cooper’s party for three weeks and splashing out some serious moolah on entertainment and a party bus.

Regardless of intent, we finally  have the Cooper and Kelly (Meaghan Rath) connection that has been hovering around since the first episode.  Sure we knew these two were fated to be together but the fact that is has transpired in episode 13 probably means that there will be no season two. 

Major kudos to the writers who got to wrap up all their  threads in this episode. Some of the better gags in the show included the long running Neal as lesbian with glasses joke.  The entire storyline, with the Cooper disastrous birthday backstory was funny as was Kelly’s being angry with Barrett through most of the episode.

Congratulations to all the actors in the series for putting it on the line with their characters. James Earl and Charlie Saxton were two integral members of an ensemble cast who never disappointed.  

There has been no official word on Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life being cancelled or renewed. Considering how little faith the network has shown in the series  thus far it does not seem likely that the show will be renewed.

Still, at least the show ended on a high note or two. A funny storyline that has  Cooper and Kelly “getting it on” at the end while Boyz II Men plays in the background. If Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life is shot down we can say with all honesty that, “We miss you already Ms. Rath.”

Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? (2016) Lesbian Vampires…Dude (Review)

James Franco and Lela George

The only thing that “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?”has in common with the 1996 original, besides the title, is Tori Spelling.  This new version features lesbian vampires (Dude!) with a curiously flexible standard  when it comes to the male of the species. (More on this later.)

Not too dissimilar to the German vampire film Wir Sind Die Nacht (We Are the Night) this tale of small town vamps is also about  a finite sized group of all female Nosferatu’s.    Unlike the German horror film, these lesbian vampires are slowly adding to their number.  (In We Are the Night, the fanged group reluctantly increase their number  by one.)

James Franco, perhaps the busiest man in Hollywood, produced and provided a story for the re-imagining of this tale.  He also plays a cameo role as the drama teacher/professor. Amber Coney directed and wrote the screenplay for “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” and she also played one of the goth-chic vampires. 

The film looks at the sexuality of Bram Stoker’s original tale about the count and how it is still all about exchanging bodily fluids.  Focusing not on the homoeroticism but a band of 20 something lesbian vampires who kill men who “abuse” women.

In one scene a date rape is about to transpire and the vampires swoop in to save the innocent girl and drain the miscreant dry.  Later in the film;  history repeats itself but with a  very different outcome.

What is interesting about the film, apart from its PG-13 lovemaking between Pearl (Emily Meade) and Leah (Leila George),  is that it challenges gender roles across the board. Franco’s drama professor chooses Leah to play the man who would be king  in the “Scottish Play.”

Apart from serving to be somewhat progressive, as pointed out by Rolling Stone, this re-casting of the lead role allows for what could have been a love interest to become homophobic and bitter. (Herein lies the only bone of contention with the entire film. Bob  -played by Nick Eversman – changes, in the blink of an eye,  from  a lovesick crush to a roofie dropping rapist. Thus proving what every feminist has been saying for years, “all men are rapists waiting to happen.” Seriously?)

SPOILER ALERT – If you have not watched the movie yet skip the next two paragraphs. A’ight?

The object of this second attempted date rape is Leah, whom  Bob has “crushed on” from the start of the film. She is rescued by the vampires and in the ensuing fracas he escapes being bled dry and “changes.”

Later the male wannabe rapist is accepted wholeheartedly into the little group of vampires without question. They even go partying later.  Cue confusion and disbelief from the viewing audience of one.

There is a thread of “true love conquers all” in the love affair between Pearl the vampiric photographer and Leah the danger loving gal .(Who does not ask her mother permission to sleep with her lesbian lover. )

In the film there is a certain amount of claret (blood) splashed about but not copious amounts, this is, after all, Lifetime inspire of the side-boob shots and simulation of sex. The final battle does include some gore but nothing to send the viewer into shock.

“Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” ends on a bit of a flat note and I do not believe for an instant that it is a clever as Rolling Stone believes.  At best it is a re-write of an older Lifetime “classic”  that has been “sexed up” and used the vampire myth to facilitate the more modern take on young love.

Overall the film is slow paced and tends to drag in too many places. The classroom scenes all look and sound authentic; helping to authenticate the setting and give one a sense of place. It still entertains although is could have moved a bit faster pace wise.

Tori Spelling leaves her recent reality show presence behind and is actually very convincing as the mum who is shocked to the core that her daughter loves another woman.  As Leah’s single parent she even manages to convey those mixed feelings of love and protection that one has for any child, however surprised they are at their  life choices.

“Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” is a solid 3.5 star TV movie. It aired on Lifetime on 18, June and will undoubtably air on LMN shortly after. An interesting film that is definitely worth a look.

 

11.22.63: Soldier Boy – Yellow Card (Review)

11.22.63. Soldier Boy brings Jake up to the date in question. Epping is missing huge chunks of memory since his savage beating. Bill gets a release and the yellow card man turns up the night before the assassination attempt.

James Franco in 11.22.63.

11.22.63. Soldier Boy brings Jake up to the date in question.  Epping is missing huge chunks of memory since his savage beating. Bill gets a release and the yellow card man turns up the night before the assassination attempt.   This episode combines frustration with suspense and manages to disturb as well.  It seems that the past is handing out a  metaphorical yellow penalty card to Jake in an effort to stop him.

Jake is slowly recovering from his head injury. Sadie and Deke are helping him to piece his memories back together, but headaches and the medication Jake is taking make the process difficult.  A lot has happened since Epping was hospitalized. For one thing, Miss Mimi has “passed on.”

There is at least one moment of dark hilarity. As Sadie and Jake accompany a guard through the mental facility, the official drones on about rules that the visitors must obey. “Do not stare at the inmates, it makes them go batshit.”  Blackly funny yet impossibly sad at the same time; this man is in charge of these poor people.

Later another comic moment occurs when Deke and Sadie are talking about Jake who is in the other room leafing through a Jodie High School yearbook. As the two discuss whether he is afraid of getting better, Jake says loudly and irritably, “I can hear you.”

Sadie tries to get Jake motivated enough  to remember anything that can help him.  Epping becomes churlish and when Sadie snaps at him, Jake tells her he is sorry. Sadie is made of stern stuff however and replies, “I don’t care about your ‘sorry.'”

This gets through to him and Epping begins trying to remember in earnest.

Jake remembers Bill.

The young man has been moved from the wing Jake placed him in to one where with  patients who cannot pay their bills.  Treatments in the new facility are draconian in nature and Turcotte has been damaged by the electro therapy treatments. The young man looks “shell-shocked” and does not really seem to know who Jake is.

Bill believes that Jake and Sadie are not really there and he becomes agitated.

Sadie and Jake  start the steps to get Bill out of his living nightmare.  The scene is as upsetting as it is poignant. “Don’t be sad,” Bill tells Sadie just before leaping to his death from the office window. Equally sad is his statement to Jake about friendship.

Turcotte has paid double for messing with the timeline as well as his getting involved with Oswald. After Bill’s death, Jake and Sadie search for the name of the man Epping and Bill were spying on, the man who will kill Kennedy.  At one point Deke and Sadie are dancing “The Madison” to a song on the radio and Jake remembers the house that he and Bill shared.

Sadie and Jake find the house and end up going to Lee’s upstairs apartment and as they take with the Oswald, everything comes flooding back. Jake starts to kill Oswald but stops when he brings out his baby daughter.

Back home, Jake lies to Sadie saying he is going to lay down.  Getting his gun he goes to get into the car. Sadie is there already and when he sits in the driver’s seat, she says, “Liar.”

There are two scenes with Oswald that reveal much about his relationships with the women in his life. Both his mother and new wife control Lee, one in a seemingly positive fashion and the other, Marina, in a negative one. In both cases Lee is the pawn in the women’s lives.

Jake and Sadie try to find the gun Lee will use only to find he has already picked it up.  The couple head to wait in front of the book depository and are moved on by the police.  Jake takes the car to a backstreet to wait.

The two talk and Sadie drifts off to sleep.  The car radio messes up and the streetlamp the car is parked under starts flickering. Jake leans out to check the light and when he leans back in the card, the yellow card man (Kevin J. O’Connor) is in Sadie’s seat and the man tells Jake that he “loves Elvis.” 

During the conversation between Yellow Card and Jake, the mysterious visitor implies that time moves on regardless.  Telling the story of trying to save his daughter from drowning in a swimming pool, the yellow card man says to Jake, “she is still drowning.” This sounds like time marches on its original path even if another direction is prompted by action.

After yellow card man leaves  Jake tells Sadie he would rather stay in the past and not save Kennedy and she explains that he cannot do that. The two rush back to the presidential route and Lee sets off to work.  At the end of the episode, he has set up his sniper’s nest and whistling he waits for the motorcade to arrive.

With one episode left of 11.22.63 it is now obvious that Jake will not return to his time unless he has to.  This makes it apparent that something will happen to Sadie, otherwise Jake would chose to stay in the past.  Regardless of the outcome, the Stephen King adaptation has managed to entertain despite differences in the storyline and characters.

The final episode of 11.22.63 airs next Monday, 4 April on Hulu.