The Disaster Artist – A Review

Could it be….an honest to goodness movie review?

Being a movie buff, I’ve been aware of the existence of the cult movie The Room for quite a while, though I have never actually seen it. Part of the reason is because the film is kind of hard to find – unless you attend a midnight screening or own the film, it isn’t readily available on any streaming service. I also sometimes have a hard time with things that are considered so bad that they are good; more often than not, I just think these things are bad and don’t derive much pleasure from them. I like a very limited amount of cringe humor and knowing that The Room has become a classic because it is considered terrible hurts my heart a little. I enjoy the occasional schadenfreude, especially when it involves people that I already dislike, but laughing at someone having a dream and failing spectacularly at trying to make that it a reality wasn’t appealing to me.

So I went in to The Disaster Artist somewhat blind, not being a fan of The Room and not having read the book that the film is based on. I truly wasn’t sure what to expect, especially with James Franco starring and directing. I think James Franco is an interesting guy and while he’ll always have my loyalty from his stint on Freaks and Geeks (as does the rest of the cast), I can honestly say that I’m not always sure what the hell he’s doing with some of his projects. I’m still not 100% sure what to make of his appearance on General Hospital and he somehow managed to make the Lifetime movie Mother May I Sleep With Danger even more bat shit crazy in his remake (introducing lesbian vampires to the plot was an unexpected choice). But I’ll take weird over predictable any day of the week, so I’ve accepted that when it comes to James Franco I’m just along for the ride. I may not understand where we’re going and I may not think it all works, but at least I’m never bored.

It really came as no surprise that James Franco was a fan of The Room, since this honestly sounded like a movie that was right down his alley. And it is that apparent fondness for The Room and its bizarre creator Tommy Wiseau that makes The Disaster Artist so enjoyable. While there are definitely moments where you are laughing at Wiseau (depicted by James Franco) and his attempt to make a movie, The Disaster Artist never feels cruel. It’s a delicate line to walk, and Franco manages to pull it off.

The Disaster Artist tells the story of the events leading up to and including the release of The Room. James Franco co-stars with his brother Dave, who plays struggling actor Greg Sestero. Greg and Tommy meet in an acting class and while Tommy is admittedly odd, Greg is drawn to Tommy’s passion and inhibition. The pair form an unlikely friendship and decide to strike out together for Los Angeles to try and make a go of acting – despite Tommy’s mysterious background and financial situation. After both experiencing career setbacks, Tommy decides to write a film to showcase both them both – which Tommy will also direct. Never mind that Tommy doesn’t seem to have any idea about how movies should be made or isn’t necessarily talented; with a surprisingly bottomless influx of cash and a dream, the duo create The Room.

James Franco does an impressive job of actually becoming Tommy Wiseau; he eerily is able to capture the indeterminate accent and mannerism of this unique man. Seth Rogen, who appears in the film, said during an interview with Howard Stern that Franco stayed in character even while directing The Disaster Artist and that commitment is evident, especially during the post-credit scenes when scenes from The Room and The Disaster Artist run side-by-side. All the actors do a nice job of recreating the mannerisms of the actors in The Room, but James Franco really goes above and beyond.

While The Disaster Artist is about the making of a terrible movie, it is also about the friendship of Greg and Tommy. I think casting the Franco brothers was actually a wise choice, as they have the ideal chemistry and familiarity to tell that story (Dave Franco’s wife Alison Brie also appears, so the film was a true family affair). In an odd way, Tommy and Greg are amplified versions of how the Franco brothers tend to be perceived – James is an artist that makes some unusual professional choices while Dave is the earnest straight man who has had a more conventional career arc. The Franco brothers have not worked together previously and they seemed to have picked the perfect project for their first collaboration.

The Disaster Artist is a very funny movie that does have the occasional depressing moments. But the film never wallows in these too long and there is a definite lightness to the entire film.  Given that I’m beginning my Oscar death race which is usually filled with dark and draining fare, I especially appreciated a potential Oscar contender that was actually fun to watch. Now I’m obsessed with seeing The Room, which is returning to theaters for one-night-only screening on January 10th. I’d also pay to see a shot-by-shot recreation of The Room by the cast of The Disaster Artist. Can someone make this happen?

Right now The Disaster Office may be on the outside looking in come Oscar time, but I’m glad that I made the time to see it. It is easily among the best performances of both Franco brothers and plays beautifully to their respective strengths. The Room may not have made Tommy Wiseau famous, but The Disaster Artist just might. Based on the snippets of The Room that I’ve seen, I’m curious what else Wiseau is cooking up in that strange mind of his.

The Disaster Artist is currently in theaters.

The Interview – A Review

The Interview

I saw The Interview and lived to tell about it.

Much has been made about the new Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy The Interview and the fact that it may or may not have set off an international incident. I had wanted to see the film before the brouhaha, but I was more adamant about seeing it after Sony initially cancelled the film’s premiere and its Christmas release over concerns about threats to the movie houses that showed the film. I thought that pulling the film was misguided and would have a chilling effect on future projects. I was very happy that Sony reversed their decision and decided to release the film after all, both in independent theaters willing to show the film and on-line. I would have preferred to see the movie on the big screen and support the theaters that were willing to show the film, but unfortunately none of the independent theaters in Albany stepped up to show the film. I would have driven to Hudson is possible (about 45 minutes away), but that logistically didn’t work out. So instead, I rented the film from Google Play, popped some popcorn and settled in on my couch to support freedom of expression.

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Anyone watching The Interview solely out of some sort of patriotic duty who is not normally a fan of Seth Rogen movies was probably sorely underwhelmed with what they watched. The Interview is not any great satire of the North Korean ruler; this is not a film that will topple any regime. Rather, this is a typical Seth Rogen film, full of jokes about shoving things up your butt and other lowbrow humor, that just so happens to have the potential assassination of Kim Jong-un as a backdrop. This was a movie that simply wanted to incorporate real-life into one of their ridiculous movies; if you like Seth Rogen movies overall, you’ll probably like The Interview. If you aren’t a fan of his brand of comedy, the implied patriotism associated with watching The Interview won’t be enough to make you think this is a great film. This isn’t a great film, though I did chuckle several times. It may not be a movie that is worth going to war for, but that’s not the point. The issue was never the quality of the film – the issue was their freedom to tell the story that they wanted to tell.

The plot of the film is pretty straight forward: Dave Skylark (Franco) is the host of a popular show that focuses on interviewing celebrities. Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) is the producer of the show and though he is responsible for the show’s success, he is not fully satisfied with the show’s frivolous content and dreams of turning the show into something more serious. When word comes down the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of Skylark, the duo seize the opportunity to obtain the interview of a lifetime. They are then approached by CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) with one simple request for their trip to North Korea – assassinate Kim Jong-un. Though Dave and Aaron are not particularly qualified to pull off such a caper, they agree, though Skylark begins to have second thoughts once he spends some time with the Supreme Leader. Things escalate and comedy ensues as Aaron and Dave try to convince the other of the right course of action.

Though a lot of the funniest parts of the movie are indeed featured in the trailer, there were still plenty of laughs to be found in The Interview. I really like the easy chemistry between Franco and Rogen, so I may very well be a soft sell for any type of movie that features them. The Interview isn’t necessarily the most sophisticated movie, but sometimes you just need some silly laughs and this film has them. I was entertained throughout the course of the movie, even while listening for the sound of missiles aimed at my apartment (I kid, I kid). I liked The Interview more than I liked Anchorman 2 and I’d put it right in the middle of my enjoyment of Rogen movies – it wasn’t nearly as clever or funny as Superbad, but I did like it more than Pineapple Express.

That being said, I think that Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg need to branch out into some new directions. While I generally enjoyed The Interview, it felt very familiar. Rogen and Goldberg know what kind of jokes work for their audience, but at this point the enjoyment is tempered with the vague feeling that this has become formulaic. The idea for a movie that features two Americans charged with assassinating the leader of another country was creative, but most of the jokes in the film failed to live up to the originality of the premise. A lot of the jokes that they used could have been in any movie, and many of them have been used in other movies in some version or another. I just wish that the creativity that they have for the plot would trickle down to the actual execution (ha!) of the actual comedy in the film. I guess if it ain’t broken you shouldn’t fix it, but we’re nearing the point of diminishing returns. I’m not above some sophomoric humor, but don’t be lazy about it. I think that they can do better than running jokes about the sexuality of liking a Katy Perry song. Silly humor that is actually smart is possible.

Regardless of the above critique, I did laugh out loud several times during The Interview, which is all that ultimately matters. I sincerely hope that the term “honeydick” enters the common lexicon, which will make a lot more sense after you’ve seen the movie. I can understand why Kim Jong-un might not be thrilled with a movie that is centered on killing him, but in all honesty his character comes off as pretty likable for a lot of the film. Kudos to Randall Park for his performance which is actually way more nuanced than you would have thought; while ultimately Team America: World Police is a much better satire, The Interview manages to make Kim Jong-un a more three-dimensional character than how his father was depicted in Team America. He’s still obviously the bad guy, but he’s also kind of a baller which is an amusing juxtaposition. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the awesome wardrobe that Franco gets to wear as Skylark in this film. It’s not necessarily worth seeing The Interview simply to check out his ensembles, but I will say that his cardigan game is pretty strong.

I am glad that I got the chance to see The Interview, though ultimately this is a film that can’t quite live up to the hype that surrounds it. I still think it’s worth seeing if you are a fan of Seth Rogen comedies and if you want to support artistic freedom, but this is not a film that will change the world – nor did it set out to do so. If not for the big deal made about the film, I think it probably would have come and gone without much fanfare. It’s a silly film that is fine, but it’s right in the middle in term of quality and hilarity; it’s not the best that Rogen and Goldberg have come up with and it’s not the worst. My expectation were kind of low based on some of the buzz that I heard prior to release, so the film was actually much better than I thought it was going to be. This wouldn’t have been the film that I would have gone to the mattresses for if I was picking a film to defend, but you don’t always get to pick which battles to fight. I’ll always defend the right of people to make the movie that they want to make and I’m against censorship – let the marketplace decide – but I just wish that The Interview was a slightly better film – not because of the controversy, but because I like good comedies. Stripping away what The Interview has become, it’s a perfectly acceptable and amusing film that fans of Rogen and Franco will probably appreciate but won’t be blown away by.

The Interview is currently in limited release at independent movie theaters and can be streamed through Google Play, iTunes, YouTube and Xbox live. If you can, support your independent theaters.

Sneak Peek – This is The End

When the end of the world comes, people like to think that they would rise to the occasion. They would be their better selves and find the strength that they needed to act heroically and keep their loved ones safe. They would be brave and band together with others to survive, helping each other out along the way as best they could. This noble impression is reinforced in countless apocalyptic movies and television shows.

In reality, people would freak the hell out and get into petty squabbles over who ate the last Milky Way while holed up in their home. The new Seth Rogen movie This is The End recognizes this and embraces it. This certainly isn’t the best film of 2013, but I’m willing to bet it may be the funniest. It’s silly and profane, but it is also spectacularly amusing. Once the film started, I didn’t stop laughing until the credits started rolling and even then I still had some residual giggles from what I had just watched.

In This is The End, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and Jay Baruchel play fictionalized (one would hope) versions of themselves. Jay is in town visiting his pal Seth, though their relationship is a bit strained as they have started to grow apart. Jay isn’t particularly fond of Seth’s new posse of friends and reluctantly accompanies him to a house warming party at James Franco’s house. The party is in full swing when the unthinkable happens: the world comes to an end. The ground opens up, the mountains are on fire and chaos rules the night as some people are beamed up into the night sky. The six friends take shelter in Franco’s mansion and do their best to hunker down and make sense of the situation. They are ill-prepared for this sort of situation and soon cabin fever and fear begin to reveal how they really feel about each other.

Written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg – the same pair that wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express (and to be fair, last year’s dreadful The Watch) – This is The End will not be confused for sophisticated or highbrow humor. There are lots of jokes about masturbation, drug use and the like. If that kind of humor offends you or isn’t your thing, than save your cash and go see something else. But if you don’t mind jokes that dip into the crude and inappropriate, This is The End is an amazingly fun ride. Not every joke lands with perfect precision, but the jokes are so rapid fire that you don’t even have time to dwell on the few that don’t work as well. There were probably some jokes that missed that I didn’t even hear because I was laughing so hard at the joke that preceded it and the one that followed it. When the jokes do hit their target, which the majority does, it is some of the funniest stuff I’ve seen on the big screen in quite some time. And as with most Rogen films, it isn’t all poop jokes and related nonsense; underneath all the sophomoric hijinks there is some sweetness and heart.

The cast is outstanding in this movie; it’s a real who’s who of the young comedians working today. The six main actors alone are a Murder’s Row of comedy; any film would be lucky to get two or three of these guys in a movie. Having all of them work together somehow just doesn’t seem fair. This is the most I’ve enjoyed a James Franco performance in quite some time. If he had been this loose and funny at the Academy Awards it would have been a totally different show. It helps that all of these guys are friends or have worked together previously. The chemistry is palpable and they are clearly having so much fun doing this that it is contagious. They don’t take themselves too seriously and are more than willing to have jokes at their own expense, whether it is a reference to Rogen’s “distinctive” laugh to lingering questions about Frano’s sexuality. They just go for it and appear to be having the time of their lives in the process. Add that it is just plain funny to boot and this movie is really firing on all cylinders.

While the leads are stellar, what really takes this movie to the next level are the fantastic cameos throughout the film. I have a sneaking suspicion that Rogen just opened up his rolodex and called a bunch of his famous pals to be a part of this and the film is the better for it. All sorts of funny people pop up and I’m sure that I’ll catch some more people upon repeat viewings. The real scene stealer of them all is Michael Cera. I don’t want to spoil the fun, but suffice it to say that I was glad that I had watched all the new Arrested Development episodes before the screening of This is The End as I’m not sure that I’ll look at him the same way again. There is another standout cameo that is also spectacular, but to say any more would ruin the surprise. Let’s just say that you’ll know it when you see it. It’s outstanding.

Some other thoughts:

  • Any movie that reunites all the male Freaks from Freaks and Geeks automatically gets a B+ in my book.
  • I have no idea what Rihanna is doing in this movie. She’s the only casting choice that didn’t feel organic and stood out.
  • I have no idea why, but “sinkhole de mayo” still cracks me up.
  • The idea that Rogen pitches for Pineapple Express 2? I would totally watch that.
  • Rolling Stone did an interview with 4 of the stars (no Robinson or Baruchel) and to say that Hill isn’t portrayed well is putting it mildly. That dude needs a publicist and to remove the stick from his bum.
  • Ha! The ending is wacky, but if you know me (and I’d like to think at this point you kind of do) you will appreciate why it make me smile despite its lunacy.
  • Unless they changed this after the advanced screenings, no need to stay after the credits. We waited around to see if they would give us another morsel, but sadly there was no additional material.

This is The End is a rollicking summer comedy that exceeded my expectations. The theater rocked with laughter at my screening; it was a diverse crowd but everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. If you are looking for a silly and ridiculously funny movie, look no further. I’m not saying I’m rooting for the rapture, but if it was coming This is The End wouldn’t be the worst note to end it on.

This is The End opens nationwide Wednesday June 12th.