film

Review: The Disaster Artist

Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and directed by James Franco, “The Disaster Artist” is the true story of the making of the now infamous cult classic/midnight movie extraordinaire, “The Room”. At the center of this hurricane of a film production is the friendship between Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). The film begins with Greg taking an acting class in San Francisco where he timidly makes an attempt at the scene he’s been given before quietly sitting back down. Immediately after that the acting teacher asks if anyone else would like to make an attempt at the material. One lone voice responds to that call. Tommy Wiseau meanders down the stairs and proceeds to throw everything at his scene, quite literally. He grumbles and screeches, climbs the set structures to jump off and dramatically lay out on the floor- all while wailing without shame. This is Wiseau in a nutshell, confident and shameless-even when his instincts betray his intentions. Greg, meanwhile, is mesmerized by this display of fearlessness and seeks out Tommy after class to seek an attempt at capturing what Wiseau has in spades, confidence beyond measure and consideration. The long-haired and heavily accented force of nature accepts and after a scene in a diner where he pushes Greg to recite some lines loudly while ignoring the onlooking of everyone in the restaurant, they agree to go to Los Angeles to break into acting. These small moments are the foundation upon which the rest of the film rests, two weird nobodies sharing a dream and conspiring to beat the odds and secure that dream.

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This movie could have easily been a joke where the audience laughs at the ridiculous nature and choices of Tommy Wiseau and crew (and admittedly we do), but the film makes a serious effort to never make Wiseau the butt of the joke in a malevolent or mean-spirited fashion. It’s more along the lines of the audience rooting for Wiseau and Sestero, but then laughing when they fail in spectacular fashion. There’s an admirable stab at infusing humanity into the mysterious Wiseau so that we don’t feel as though we’re kicking him when he’s down. Instead the laughter is complimented by a hand offering assistance and encouragement at another go at it.

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After living and striving in Los Angeles for several months with next to nothing to show for their acting efforts, Sestero and Wiseau ultimately decide to try and make their own film instead. With Tommy’s seemingly endless funds and ambition the two scrape together a production crew, and cast the film with much bluster and blundering involved. If you know anything about the basics of filmmaking you’ll find a lot to laugh about. For example, Tommy and Greg go to a film rental shop to get some gear and instead of renting the expensive cameras, lenses, and filmstock, Wiseau opts to simply buy it all, both the film and the video cameras- everything. The budget details for “The Room” must have been staggering and quite amusing. Like choosing to build an alleyway set that looks exactly like the one just outside the studio, or the questionable choice to green-screen the Los Angeles skyline- of which they also have access to. That’s just the tip of the myriad of oddball and expensive creative choices that led to the creation of this very specific movie.

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“The Disaster Artist” is an oddball of entertainment. The Franco brothers did a lot to portray the two midnight movie makers with heart and ambition, and that’s why the film succeeds at the end of the day. Sure, the weirdly acute creative decisions of “The Room” provide hearty laughter with it’s most infamous scenes recreated, “YOU’RE TEARING ME APART LISA!” and “Oh Hai Mark” among many others, but with the grounded focus on friendship and creative ambition against all odds (and then some), “The Disaster Artist” repurposes that same love for the cinema that got so many people involved in filmmaking to begin with. Perhaps the strangest product to come from Hollywood in years, this film was a joy to watch, and laugh with.

 

Final Score: 158 takes of “Oh Hai Mark”

*Oh and for a more in depth look into the horde of celebrity and comedian cameos in the film, check this out:

https://www.wmagazine.com/story/the-disaster-artist-celebrity-cameos-guide

P.S. The next pairing of these two titans of B-movie mania is actually right around the corner. “Best F(r)iends”, written by Sestero and starring both Wiseau and Sestero, has been described as ‘like a Hitchcock noir- but with Tommy Wiseau‘ So that should be quite the unique piece. I say check it out, (I actually will be seeing this one) you probably won’t see anything like it- their track record indicates as much.

P.P.S. It’s also being released in two volumes, a la “Kill Bill”, Vol. 1 will play in 600 select theaters nationwide on March 30 and April 2, followed by Vol. 2 on June 1 and June 4.

film

Review: Krampus, a creature feature for Christmas

The wintry season brings with it the promise of gift giving, hordes of homemade delicacies, and generally warm and fuzzy sensations. This year comes a movie that would like to share the creepy side of the Christmas legend, the titular demon occasionally known as the shadow of Santa Claus, Krampus. The story opens on a wonderfully comedic montage in a typical big box store as consumerism mayhem reaches a violent fever pitch in stereotypical Black Friday style. From here until the end the message is clear to all who enter this tale, don’t let cynicism overwhelm you and make you lose hope, lest darker things come to bump in the night.

‘Krampus’ centers on the Engel family (I see what you did there writers) as they begrudgingly welcome the rest of their family into their home for the Holidays. Things go awry when young Max Engel’s letter to Santa is discovered by his country bumpkin cousins who proceed to make fun of him for his continued belief in the big guy. Max then goes to the dark side by dashing his hopes that this Christmas could be reminiscent of the good ole days by ripping up his letter and throwing it out the window. Thus summoning Krampus to befall the home in a malevolent blizzard.

Directed by Michael Dougherty, ‘Krampus’ succeeds on several fronts. Firstly the production should be praised for its use of practical effects. They offer a far more palpable approach to something that is clearly a lower budget film among such giants as the Marvel Machine and the pop culture phenomenon Star Wars, which we will all be obsessed with shortly. It is refreshing to see such a reliance on costumes, props, and prosthetics. Krampus in particular is always a powerful and creepy presence onscreen. Secondly, the cast all do serviceable performances while not going too over the top, here’s looking at you David Koechner! Adam Scott was a standout to me as he wasn’t playing his typical obnoxious foil in comedies such as ‘StepBrothers’. He really sold me as the father that truly cared despite life taking its toll on him, his family life, and his marriage. Toni Collette also helped the film to stand taller through her performance as well. The two matriarchs of the film, Conchata Ferrell as Aunt Dorothy & Krista Stadler as Omi Engel, have wildly different characters and performances, but they both add to the piece as comedic relief and emotional weight respectively.

My problem with Krampus is that while it is clearly inspired by such 1980’s horror comedies as ‘Gremlins’ and the like, the film does little more than dip its toes in those waters without delivering the extra punch of scary goodness that we all want. As a PG-13 rating the film gets away with some admittedly creepy sights and beats, but it doesn’t quite get to itch that particular scratch. Walking out of the film my first reaction was that if it had gone full ‘R’ with some over the top gore it might have sold me more as a Christmas-Horror flick, but as it stands it was more like a fun ‘What if?’ Christmas tale. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the film, just that it could have gone farther in the direction that it was headed. There was also too much reliance on Krampus’ minions over Krampus himself. He was a captivating presence every time he was onscreen, but his moments were too fleeting in my mind.

There’s also the issue that almost all of the characters are not terribly likable, thus the audience almost roots for Krampus in the end and we have little to no remorse over the carnage that ensues later. The notable exceptions being Max and his grandmother, Omi. There was a singular moment in which Omi, (remember, all the Engels are the good characters) tells Max that the belief in Santa Claus is not so much based on the details about the man himself, but rather what Santa Claus represents, hope, goodness, & the sacrifice of giving. In fact that last part leads me to my biggest issue with the film.

The ending of the film leaves something to be desired though. Especially with the ‘sacrifice of giving’ lesson that Omi introduced in the third act and follows through til the end. Does the ending undermine that lesson? As I see it, yes. The lesson might have been learned, but if there isn’t any staying power in a message, then what is the point? I suppose as a Christmas tale, as well as it being ‘Horror-inspired’, then it must end with those expected warm and fuzzy feelings. The ending simply felt too predictable and a bit lacking to me.

So, if you’re a fan of campy creature features, and don’t mind a Christmas twist, then you’ll likely find merit within ‘Krampus’. Happy Holidays readers!

 

Final Score: 3/5