Film Review: The Disaster Artist (2017)

Release Date: March 12th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: James Franco
Written by: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Based on: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made by Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell
Music by: Dave Porter
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Hannibal Buress, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, Megan Mullally, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bob Odenkirk, Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Zach Braff, J. J. Abrams, Lizzy Caplan, Kristen Bell, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Scott, Danny McBride, Kate Upton, Kevin Smith, Ike Barinholtz

New Line Cinema, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Good Universe, Point Grey Pictures, Rabbit Bandini Productions, Ramona Films, A24, 103 Minutes

Review:

“No, no! Very necessary. I need to show my ass to sell this picture.” – Tommy Wiseau

This was one of the most anticipated film sf 2017. It wasn’t just anticipated by me, though. Anyone who had seen Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 cult classic The Room was probably in line on opening night. Plus, it was directed by and stars James Franco, a guy with a deep personal connection to Wiseau who probably still doesn’t get enough credit for his talents.

The film also stars little brother, Dave Franco, as Greg Sestero, Tommy’s best friend and the author of the book this is based on, also titled The Disaster Artist. The book is a pretty exceptional look into The Room and into Wiseau’s life and if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Because even though I did like this film, the book has so much more that Franco couldn’t fit into a two hour movie.

In fact, there are a lot of things in the book that I wish had made it into the movie but I understand why time wouldn’t permit it. I really would have liked to have seen Sestero’s experience working on a Puppet Master film or all the stuff in the book surrounding The Talented Mr. Ripley and how Mark in The Room was named after Matt Damon but Wiseau mistakenly called him “Mark”. But the fact that we got the James Dean bits, was pretty cool.

Both Franco brothers did a great job of bringing Wiseau and Sestero to life. While James will get most of the acting props in this film for his portrayal of Wiseau and how he mastered his accent and mannerisms, I want to be the one person to actually put the focus on Dave. You see, Dave was the actual glue that held this picture together and made it work. He is the real eyes and ears of the audience and we really take this journey with him, as we did in the book. Dave Franco put in a better performance here than he has in his entire acting career. That isn’t a knock against his other work, it’s just great to see him evolve as an actor and display that he has the skills his older brother does. Hopefully, this leads to bigger and better things for the younger Franco and I assume it will.

This film is littered with a ton of celebrity cameos. Bryan Cranston even plays himself back when he was still working on Malcolm In the Middle, before his big breakout on Breaking Bad. The one cameo I loved and had actually hoped to see more of, as the character was more prominent in the book, was Sharon Stone’s portrayal of Iris Burton, Sestero’s agent. I also loved Megan Mullally as Sestero’s mother but who doesn’t love Mullally in everything?

You also get a lot of other celeb cameos, as they introduce the movie. Having known about it and having read the book, I didn’t need the intro but it serves to educate people going into this film blindly and it was still nice hearing some famous people talk about their love of The Room and its significance.

The Disaster Artist serves the story of the book well and the film was a delight. It didn’t surprise me in any way and it was pretty much exactly the film I anticipated. That’s neither good or bad, as Hollywood biopics are usually very straightforward.

Even though there weren’t surprises in the film, this is a fantastic story, that at its core, is about a man not giving up on his dream and forging his own path against those that held him back and told him “no”. The real story behind it all, is that Wiseau’s tale is an underdog tale and it’s a true story, not a Hollywood fabrication. Wiseau did something incredible and although the reception he got might not have been what he initially wanted, he did rise above all the adversity and became a star in an arena where he wasn’t welcome.

The lasting power of The Room isn’t just about how incredibly bad it is, it is that once people know its story, it is hard not to feel an intimate connection to Tommy Wiseau, a guy that should serve as an inspiration in spite of his bizarre personality and tactics.

Film Review: Walk the Line (2005)

Release Date: September 4th, 2005 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Gill Dennis, James Mangold
Based on: Man In Black: His Own Story In His Own Words and Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash
Music by: T Bone Burnett
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Dallas Roberts

Fox 2000 Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 136 Minutes (theatrical cut), 153 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“You wear black ’cause you can’t find anything else to wear? You found your sound ’cause you can’t play no better? You just tried to kiss me because “it just happened?” You should try take credit for something every once in a while, John.” – June Carter

I’ve been a big fan of Johnny Cash since the age I first sprouted ears. That being said, I hadn’t seen this film until recently. Reason being, there were a ton of musical legend biopics popping up in the early 2000s and whether they were critical successes or not, I was pretty burnt out on them.

To be honest, I’m kind of glad that I waited, as I saw this at the right time, when I needed to. Plus, being a good distance away from the slew of other biopics that were in abundance back then, allowed me to appreciate this better than I would have in 2005. Also, my knowledge on old country and rockabilly is richer than it was in 2005, so I was really drawn in to all the other famous characters worked into this picture’s narrative.

Besides just being a really good movie, Walk the Line really gave me an understanding of who June Carter was and why Johnny loved her. The film gave me an appreciation and a respect for her that I didn’t have before. I have to give a lot of the credit for that to Reese Witherspoon, who won an Academy Award for her performance here and deservedly so. She also held her own musically and her performance of “Juke Box Blues” was energetic and awesome. Her duets with Joaquin Phoenix were quite amazing, as well.

Speaking of which, Phoenix truly knocks it out of the park with his performance as Johnny Cash. He had the voice, the mannerisms and exuded the presence of Cash. His covers of Cash’s songs were also well done and more than convincing. One thing that really worked extraordinarily well in this movie were the live performances. Everyone involved in this picture created musical magic.

The film was directed by James Mangold, who most recently directed Hugh Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine, the stupendous Logan. From his work on this film, I can see why Mangold was given the reins to helm two Wolverine films, both of which were really good.

Walk the Line isn’t a perfect movie but it is a solid biopic that is only enhanced by the talent of its stars, its director and its stellar musical performances.

Documentary Review: Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010)

Release Date: May 13th, 2011
Directed by: Craig McCall
Music by: Mark Sayer-Wade

Modus Operandi Films, UK Film Council, National Lottery, 86 Minutes

Review:

I was glad to find this documentary streaming on FilmStruck, a service which every film lover should already be subscribed to.

I have known of Jack Cardiff and his contributions to movies for years but never have I seen anything that talks about the man and really analyzes the great work he did behind the camera for decades.

He was a master of color, of style and became one of the most sought after cinematographers in motion picture history. He was an auteur in the same vein as the greatest directors who have their own distinct styles.

This documentary is done in a general biography style but it spends a lot of time focusing on all the important and trendsetting films that Cardiff was a part of. It also gave me some films that I had to add to my “must see” list.

The coolest thing about Cameraman is that it interviews Cardiff and lets him speak about his work and his experiences. It also showcases directors, actors and other artists who worked with or were influenced by Jack Cardiff.

For those truly interested in filmmaking, film history and film culture, this is a documentary that is definitely worth your time. It is well produced, finely presented and paints a glorious picture of the man’s contribution to the art that he loved.

Documentary Review: Val Lewton: The Man In the Shadows (2007)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2007
Directed by: Kent Jones
Narrated by: Martin Scorsese, Elias Koteas

Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Turner Entertainment, Sikelia Productions, 77 Minutes

Review:

I remember seeing this on television a decade ago and it is where I really discovered who Val Lewton is and why his contribution to the film industry was so important.

When I was a kid, I discovered classic film early, as my mother and grandmother were both avid watchers of AMC, which at the time still stood for American Movie Classics. I also watched a lot of TCM, or Turner Classic Movies, when that cable network debuted. I got pulled in to old school horror, as I loved the Universal Monsters movies, Vincent Price’s Edgar Allan Poe pictures and the movies put out by Hammer with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I didn’t quite experience Val Lewton’s body of work though, until years later.

My appreciation for all that other stuff, really gave me the foundation to appreciate and understand what Lewton was trying to do for RKO Radio Pictures. His mission was to run the B-movie unit for the studio, where he and the artists he brought in, would create films to rival what Universal was doing with all their successful Monster franchises.

I’m glad that I found this on television a decade ago and it was really fantastic revisiting it now, as it is streaming on FilmStruck.

It is produced and narrated by Martin Scorsese with Elias Koteas jumping in to narrate Val Lewton’s actual words.

It is a nice and quick documentary that covers a lot of ground and gives a good amount of time to each of Lewton’s pictures. It also gets into how his collaborations with Boris Karloff came to be and how Lewton initially didn’t want to work with Karloff but quickly grew to love the man’s work, as he helped contribute to these films, which were much more psychological and intelligent than the majority of Universal’s horror pictures.

Lewton created horror movies that had a noir style about them. In fact, his films sort of built a bridge between German Expressionist horror movies like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the film-noir movement of the 1940s.

If you love classic horror or film-noir and haven’t seen Lewton’s films, you need to. You should also check out this documentary, which is a great primer on the man and his work.

Film Review: Hollywoodland (2006)

Release Date: August 31st, 2006 (Venice International Film Festival)
Directed by: Allen Coulter
Written by: Paul Bernbaum
Music by: Marcelo Zarvos
Cast: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Kathleen Robertson, Lois Smith, Molly Parker, Jeffrey DeMunn, Brad William Henke

Focus Features, Miramax Films, Back Lot Pictures, Universal Studios, Buena Vista International, 127 Minutes

Review:

“[about the bullet holes in George Reeves’ floor] Since when do suicides miss twice and start over?” – Louis Simo

This film really grabbed me immediately with the opening theme, which set the tone perfectly for this film-noir styled biopic about the death of George Reeves, the actor who was most famous for playing television’s Superman in the 1950s.

Ben Affleck plays the legendary George Reeves but he is not the main character. Adrien Brody gets the big spotlight in this one, as he plays a private investigator hired to uncover the truth surrounding George Reeves apparent suicide.

This is a very layered film, in the same vein as a classic film-noir, and it features a large cast of characters.

Brody commands your attention as Louis Simo. He exudes charisma and weaves his way through this tapestry with ease and a real air of confidence missing by most actors these days. Brody, as well as Affleck, almost feel overpowered though by the performance of veteran Bob Hoskins, who enters each scene with an aura of intimidation like a massive storm cloud ready to strike out with booming thunder.

Diane Lane puts in a solid performance as well, as do most of the ladies here. It was cool seeing Molly Parker banter with Brody. Robin Tunney and Kathleen Robertson both brought their A-game performances, as well. I wish we got to see more of Robertson, as she’s never quite broken out as a leading lady. Here, she shows that she has got more to offer than just being one of Ian Ziering’s girlfriends from the original Beverly Hills, 90210.

While this wasn’t an exceptional film, it did paint an intimate portrait and it handled the George Reeves situation with care and grace. There were a lot of shady things that happened in his life but the film felt honest and respected the man, even while displaying those flaws. Superman isn’t real and the man was just as human as all of us.

The film feels like it is missing something though. Maybe it’s the fact that it built up towards a resolution but we never really got there. Not in a proper narrative sense, anyway. By the time the credits roll, you’ve been taken on a ride but it just feels like a collection of scenes that don’t reach a solid conclusion.

I like Hollywoodland despite its flaws, in the same way I appreciate George Reeves despite his. It doesn’t fully hit the mark but it does connect with you emotionally and then lingers long after the final scene. In that sense, it is an effective movie.

Book Review: ‘Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles’ by Frank Brady

In recent years, I have grown to like Orson Welles more than any other actor and he is now one of my favorite directors that ever lived.

My first experience with Welles was listening to his War of the Worlds radio broadcast in an American history class in middle school. I had a really cool teacher that would throw in some big pop culture moments into her curriculum, as opposed to just teaching about war and politics.

My second experience was in my film studies class in high school, where my teacher showed us Citizen Kane. I remember being completely captivated by the film, even if the other teenagers were just waiting for the class to get to more modern pictures.

Welles also voiced Unicron in the 1986 animated Transformers movie, which was also a big deal to me even if he had no idea what the film was about and just dialed in his lines.

All these experiences made me have an appreciation for Welles as an artist but it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I started watching his other pictures.

What I didn’t know, is that Welles had an incredibly interesting life and this book covers more ground than I could even imagine.

Citizen Welles is a pretty large biography. It is around 600 pages but Welles lived such an interesting, rich and full life that there were no dull moments. Initially, I wanted a book that specifically covered his work but the man’s life really rivals that of his most famous character Charles Foster Kane.

This book was a big surprise and it is a pretty invaluable resource on the life and work of Orson Welles.

Frank Brady did his research and it shows. There are few biographies that are this comprehensive.

Plus, it is well written, well organized and never gets dull. I got through this 600 page brick in a week. But it also provided a solid distraction, as I was dealing with the after effects of Hurricane Irma.

Film Review: The 20th Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival, Part II (2017)

Having participated in the 20th Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival, I wanted to shine a light on the ten finalists. I’ll break this review into two parts, covering the first block of films before the festival’s intermission and then the second block of films after the intermission.

What the film festival does, is it takes thousands of short films from all over the world, narrows it down to ten finalists and then lets the audience from all the participating venues vote on the winner for best film and best actor. Currently, there are more than 250 venues from six continents that participate.

Just Go! – action, adventure – Latvia (2017):

Release Date: September 28th, 2017 (Manhattan Short)
Directed by: Pavel Gumennikov
Written by: Pavel Gumennikov
Music by: Michael Bahnmiller
Cast: Aleksandrs Ronis, Toms Velicko, Jana Herbsta

11 Minutes

Review:

This wasn’t one of my favorites of the film festival but it was a lot of fun.

The story follows a teen who lost his legs. He is smitten with a girl around his neighborhood. While he is talking to her, she has her purse stolen by two thugs. Without hesitation, the legless teen flies after the thugs in hot pursuit. First he uses his wheelchair, then his car, then moves with just his quick hands, then uses a skateboard and does everything he can to keep up with the thugs until finally being cornered by them in an alley.

The point of this short film is to show that there aren’t really disabilities but just abilities. It is a good representation of this idea and pretty much proves its point while being fast paced and exciting.

The teen wins out, the thugs are defeated and we get a happy ending with a little funny extra scene in the credits.

The teen in the film is actually a player on Latvia’s sitting volleyball team.

Mare Nostrum – drama – Syria (2016):

Release Date: October 26th, 2016 (France)
Directed by: Rana Kazkaz, Anas Khalaf
Written by: Rana Kazkaz
Cast: Ziad Bakri, Zayn Khalaf

Georges Films, Syneastes Films, Philistine Films, 14 Minutes

Review:

At first I didn’t like this film. But the ending and the added context brought everything together like a finely woven tapestry.

Taking place in Syria, on the Mediterranean coast, the film sees a father basically terrify his daughter by throwing her off of a pier, again and again, trying to force her to learn how to swim.

You feel for the girl and understand her pain and the horror that this puts her through but you don’t fully realize why the father is doing this until you get to the end. It is really hard not to hate the father for what he is doing but it makes you understand what a parent’s tough love is and how he only wants his daughter to have a better life.

It also humanizes the struggle of those who are good people that are demonized as enemies because they just so happen to live in a part of the world that many consider a threat. But ultimately, the good people of these faraway lands are victims themselves.

Mare Nostrum is well shot and beautiful. It’s a short film that hopefully gets its message out to more people who might need a reminder that we’re all human beings with our own adversity to overcome.

Viola, Franca – drama, biography – Italy (2017):

Release Date: May 30th, 2017 (Poland)
Directed by: Marta Savina
Written by: Andrea Brusa, Marta Savina
Cast: Antonio Bruschetta, Carlo Calderone, Claudia Gusmano

15 Minutes

Review:

Viola, Franca was damn good and it is almost tied for first place overall with 8 Minutes, but I liked 8 Minutes just a bit more.

That being said, this is the more important of the two pictures and it tells the story of the real Sicilian women that fought against social injustice perpetuated by the Italian government and the Catholic church.

This is Franca’s origin story on how she came to resist what her church and her community tried to impose on her.

In the story, she rejects a despicable local man’s advances. He then waits for her father to go into town and he rapes her. Being that she is now seen as impure by the Catholic church and the community, she is pressured into marrying the very man that raped her. She decides that this is not the course that her life will go and she refuses to conform to the outdated and archaic ways of her culture.

Viola, Franca is the only period piece out of all these films and it feels like it has the highest production value. It employs stock music but the selections work well for the film and the landscape of Sicily is a breathtaking backdrop.

Claudia Gusmano gave the best acting performance in the entire festival.

In A Nutshell – animation – Switzerland (2017):

Release Date: June 9th, 2017 (Japan)
Directed by: Fabio Friedli

5 Minutes

Review:

In A Nutshell is the shortest of all the films in the festival. It is a scant 5 minutes but that’s all it needs to work.

There isn’t a story or actors or anything really, other than everyday objects being animated in an interesting way, showcasing their relation to one another. There isn’t much point to this other than showing these objects evolve from one thing to another forming a perfect metaphorical circle.

The film looks good and is well animated for what it is. But what it is a forgettable art piece reminiscent of a quick time killer segment from a public access children’s show.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot to walk away with.

8 Minutes – sci-fi, drama – Georgia (2017):

Release Date: September 28th, 2017 (Manhattan Short)
Directed by: Giorgi Gogichaishvili, Davit Abramishvili
Written by: Zaza Koshhadze, Mari Bekauri, Giorgi Gogichaishvili
Cast: Slava Natenadze, Ani Bebia, Giorgi Sharvashidze, Donara Gvritishvili, Zanda Ioseliani

12 Minutes

Review:

This ended up being my favorite film of the festival and not just because it went on last and was the freshest in my memory.

8 Minutes told an interesting tale and it really pulled you in.

The film is primarily about a father reconnecting with his son. The father is a career magician. However, the film is set in a time where the sun is about to burn out. In fact, the sun has already burnt out but it takes 8 minutes and 33 seconds for the effects to reach the Earth. This all takes place in that time frame.

The father and the rest of the world know that it is the last moments of life on the planet but the man’s son, who is off on a scientific expedition in the wilderness, doesn’t know what is about to happen. The man doesn’t tell his son but uses the final moments to try and touch him over the phone and to pull of his last great magic trick.

The film is sweet and well acted. It also utilizes some great cinematography and pulls off some magic tricks of its own.

As the world is crumbling and chaos ensues, a father and son find peace.

8 Minutes was fantastic.