Review of “The Disaster Artist”

Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is struggling in his acting class in San Francisco. He cannot drop his fear of being laughed at and embarrassed to express himself freely. He then sees another student in the class perform a raw and unapologetically emotional scene. That actor is Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). After class Greg approaches Tommy about doing a scene together. The pair goes to a local restaurant and Tommy begins performing and encourages Greg to let go, talk loud and give his all to the scene. Despite drawing stares and laughter from the other patrons Greg is excited about what they did and about working with Tommy. After hanging around together Tommy suggests they head to Los Angeles and be roommates. Tommy has an apartment in L.A. and says Greg can live with him. Greg is surprised Tommy has an apartment in both San Francisco and L.A. and also drives a very nice Mercedes. He has never talked about his past other than claiming to be from New Orleans despite sporting an accent that sounds Eastern European. Greg also suspects Tommy is far older than he claims. Despite this, the two new friends move to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams of being famous actors; but no matter how hard they try, neither gets any work. Frustrated, Tommy is on the verge of giving up when Greg makes an off-handed comment saying he wished they could make their own movie. Tommy gets excited and begins writing a script for a film in which he and Greg will be the main stars. It will be about love, betrayal, awkward sex scenes, inappropriately laughing at tragic stories and above all else incoherent storytelling. In other words, it will be one of the worst movies ever made: The Room.

James Franco, with the help of writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, has turned an unbelievable book into a painfully believable film called “The Disaster Artist.” There is a great deal of humor to be found in watching someone as utterly inept as Tommy Wiseau, as played by Franco, plowing through the process of making a movie while having no real understanding of how it should be done. There is also a great deal of pain in seeing this strange man with jet-black dyed hair and odd fashion choices trying to make his dream come true by the sheer force of his will. It becomes clear that Wiseau is really only making the movie in order to keep his one and only friend Greg around. The story isn’t so much about someone untalented trying to be a star in Hollywood as it is an expression of love by Tommy for Greg. In that way “The Disaster Artist” is beautiful. In another way, it is infuriating.

Wiseau represents to me the kind of person I have run into on occasion in my life: The clinging, parasitic acquaintance that seems to suck all the energy out of the room when he/she appears. This is the person that doesn’t know when to shut up, can’t take a hint and doesn’t know when they aren’t wanted. He/she is the person that causes many an eye to roll when they enter a room. Franco’s Wiseau is a brilliant personification of this emotional leach. Whenever someone begins attracting Dave Franco’s Greg’s attention, Tommy gets jealous and at one point sabotages Greg’s opportunity to do a guest spot on a sit-com. He’s angered by Greg moving in with his girlfriend Amber (played by Allison Brie) as he sees this as a betrayal. You could gather from these and other possessive reactions that Tommy is gay but I disagree with that assessment. Tommy is lonely and isolated. He sees his friendship with Greg as a unique and special thing since he apparently hasn’t had many friends before. He is overly protective of this friendship so he reacts with jealousy and vindictiveness if he feels it threatened. Tommy is a child in an adult’s body.

Franco disappears into the role of Tommy Wiseau. It is a brilliant portrayal of a man that seems like he is a character from a bad novel. Franco mimics Wiseau’s accent perfectly as is shown by a post-credits scene with Wiseau wearing a short wig, fake mustache and glasses meeting Franco’s Wiseau at a party. The odd speech pattern and mangling of certain words is the most cartoonish of the character’s traits but there is a deadness in the eyes that Franco carries off through the entire film that may be the most disturbing. With a few exceptions during very emotional scenes, Franco is dead from the nose up. He has the look of someone that is in the midst of some sort of mind-altering drug trip. If he wasn’t playing a real person I’d say he wasn’t giving a very good performance; but this may be one of Franco’s best in his career.

Dave Franco gives Greg Sestero a nice bit of character development over the course of the film. Starting off like a puppy that’s looking for an older dog to play with, Dave Franco grows and matures as Greg is exposed to the realities of Hollywood and the eccentricities of Tommy. He either ignores or makes excuses for Tommy’s odd behavior at first; but as time goes on Greg sees Tommy is odd and doesn’t interact with the world the way most everyone else does. It is a well-rounded performance by Dave Franco that is a nice counterpoint to his brother’s peculiar character.

While the Francos dominate the screen time there are numerous other stars in smaller and even cameo roles that do an amazing job of rounding out this slightly off-kilter universe. Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer play members of the film crew and do so in both comedic and dramatic fashion. While both are better known for their humorous turns both their characters make an effort to ground Tommy’s loftier filmmaking efforts with little success. Zac Efron, Jacki Weaver, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson and Nathan Fielder have small roles as actors in the film. Each gets a moment to shine but Graynor probably had the most unpleasant role in the film as she has an uncomfortable sex scene with Franco’s Wiseau. As they are starting the scene Wiseau is fully nude except for what looks like a paper bag hiding his junk. He tells her she looks ugly because of some blemishes on her shoulders and wants makeup to come in and hide them. It is an especially painful scene given the #metoo movement. There are numerous other cameos in the film that could make a fun game on repeat viewings.

“The Disaster Artist” is rated R for some sexuality/nudity and language throughout. James Franco is fully nude except for something covering his genitals. His backside is on full display on a couple of occasions. There is also a simulated sex scene that is played more for humor. Foul language is common throughout the film.

Earlier I said “The Disaster Artist” is infuriating. It isn’t the film but the subject that annoys me. Tommy Wiseau made a movie that has been described as the worst ever filmed. Despite this he has backed into fame which was a part of his goal in the first place. Tommy Wiseau is right up there with the Kardashians for being famous without any real talent. It doesn’t set the best example for those wanting to get into the entertainment business when someone produces a film that is universally recognized as garbage but still manages to make money from his trash. Wiseau, Sestero and other cast members often do Q & A’s before midnight showings of the film that are usually sold out. “The Room” has become a cult classic with audiences donning Wiseau-like wigs and reciting dialog with the characters. While it only made $1,800.00 from its opening weekend, “The Room” is becoming a bona fide money maker and Wiseau is basking in the glory of not only his creation but that of “The Disaster Artist.” James Franco deserves the majority of the praise for his direction and portrayal of the enigmatic artist known as Tommy Wiseau and Franco actually has talent and deserves all the praise he gets for this film.

“The Disaster Artist” gets five stars.

This week a flower-loving bull and the Last Jedi hit screens in your neighborhood. I’ll be seeing and reviewing at least one of the following (Who am I kidding? I’ll see Star Wars):

Ferdinand—

Star Wars: The Last Jedi—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast wherever you download your podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Sausage Party”

In the Shopwell supermarket, the food is fresh…and alive. While the shoppers cannot see the smiling faces of the meats, produce, canned goods and other items, they are sentient creatures that have hopes and dreams for their future. The shoppers in the supermarket are considered gods by the food and being purchased means going to heaven where the gods will love and take care of the food for eternity. One of a 10 pack of sausages, Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) is in love with a bun stocked next to him in a Fourth of July sale display. Brenda (voiced by Kristen Wiig) and Frank believe they are meant to be together in heaven where they can finally have sex. A bottle of honey mustard (voiced by Danny McBride) is purchased but returned to the store and tells the other foods that they’ve been told a lie all their lives. The gods don’t love and take care of them instead they consume them. When honey mustard is about to be purchased again by shopper Camille Toh (voiced by Lauren Miller), along with Frank and his fellow sausages and Brenda and the rest of the buns in her pack, he decides to kill himself by jumping out of the cart. Frank tries to hold on to him and nearly falls out himself. Brenda grabs Frank in an attempt to save her love. The cart is involved in a mishap and some items tumble out including Sammy Bagel, Jr. (voiced by Edward Norton), Lavash (voiced by David Krumholtz) and Douche (voiced by Nick Kroll) among others. Furious that he isn’t getting to go to heaven with the god that chose him, Douche vows revenge on Frank and Brenda. Meanwhile, Frank, Brenda, Bagel and Lavash try to get back to their respective aisles before the store opens again the next morning while avoiding the Dark God Darren the store manager (Paul Rudd) and being thrown in the dumpster. Along the way, Frank begins to question everything they believe about the gods based on what honey mustard said and starts a quest to find the truth.

“Sausage Party” is a very silly, filthy, raunchy and vulgar movie; but it uses all the smut to hide a deeper layer that questions blind belief, racial stereotypes and sexual classifications. It is on its surface a juvenile adult comedy. Given a bit more thought, it is an intelligent challenge to the preconceived notions many of us live by without a second thought. It is a film that will anger many people and could possibly be the target of misguided boycott attempts. Despite it being animated, “Sausage Party” might be one of the more subversive films I’ve ever seen.

While “Sausage Party” works on levels deeper than what is on the surface, that surface has to be funny to get the message across. Writers Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir have packed their screenplay with plenty of jokes along with visual humor to coax the audience into taking the journey into deeper territory. There are food puns aplenty in the script along with a fair amount of drug humor (which turns out to be very important to the story later on). Dirty jokes run the gamut from mild comments about filling buns with sausages to more direct and vulgar remarks about the size of various types of produce and where they could and couldn’t fit. It is not a film for the easily embarrassed or those that consider themselves to be prudish.

The laughter eases what could be for some a painful trip into realms that give many people comfort. Is there a God? What happens after this life? Why are my beliefs any more correct than those of another person? Why should I care what happens to people that are gay, straight, trans, white, black, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian or any other sexual identity, ethnicity or religion? These questions have been asked for centuries and continue to cause anger and division amongst us to this day. The film asks the simple question of why it matters to any of us what someone else believes. How does what someone thinks or who someone loves or what someone worships adversely affect anyone else? Why should we hate or try to change people simply because they are different? Maybe this is considered a hippie or humanist way to think and ignores the teachings of the Bible or the Koran or the Torah or any other religious text. But consider this: It’s ok to not share someone’s belief system. Live your life and don’t feel like you are the world’s moral center, responsible for the actions of others. That, in essence, is the story of “Sausage Party.”

“Sausage Party” is rated R for pervasive language, drug use and strong crude sexual content. The crude sexual content ramps up near the end of the film with an all-out food orgy. There are plenty of sexual jokes made throughout the film. Drug use ranges from smoking marijuana out of a kazoo to bath salts. Foul language is common from about the first sentence of dialog all the way through the movie. There are also incidents of violence against humans and food including a beheading.

Seeing “Sausage Party” with your brain turned off and just going in for the laughs is perfectly alright. It is very funny and there are plenty of points where you likely will laugh out loud. There are also moments where the deeper meaning of the film will shine through and you may actually have a serious thought. Don’t let that dampen your fun with the film; just know there’s more going on under the surface.

“Sausage Party” gets five stars.

This week theatres will be filled with an historical remake, an animated fairy tale and a couple of gun runners. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Ben Hur—

Kubo and the Two Strings—

War Dogs—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Reviews of “The Last Witch Hunter” and “Steve Jobs”

The Last Witch Hunter

After the death of his wife and child, Kaulder (Vin Diesel) joins other 13th century witch hunters in the search for the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) responsible for the plague that killed their families. Within a massive tree, Kaulder finds the Witch Queen and runs her through with his burning sword; however, before she dies she curses Kaulder with immortality. Eight-hundred years later there’s a truce between the priests that oversee Kaulder as the last witch hunter and witches. As long as they don’t practice magic on humans they won’t be hunted, tried before a council and locked up in a prison below the church. The priest that works directly with the witch hunter is called a Dolan. He acts as a guide, confessor and scribe writing down all of the hunter’s adventures. The 36th Dolan (Michael Caine) is retiring and will be replaced by the 37th Dolan (Elijah Wood). On his last night the 36th Dolan dies in his apartment, apparently of natural causes; but Kaulder is suspicious. Looking for the signs of magic, Kaulder finds the elder Dolan was put under a spell that mimics death and was tortured for information. He left clues behind telling the witch hunter to relive his death inside that tree. Needing a potion to help him remember what happened right after the death of the Witch Queen, Kaulder seeks the aid of a young witch named Chloe (Rose Leslie) at a bar that is exclusively for witches. Chloe creates the potion but Kaulder is attacked by a powerful witch named Belial (Olafur Darri Olafsson) trying to stop him. Strange and dangerous forces are trying to keep Kaulder from seeing what happened after the Witch Queen cursed him. The question is why?

With a Rotten Tomatoes score in the mid-teens I was surprised I enjoyed the first half or so of “The Last Witch Hunter.” The writers of the film had created an interesting world largely populated with unique characters doing strange and fanciful things. Had it continued that way I might have been one of the movie’s loudest supporters. As it is, I’m lukewarm on the latest Vin Diesel project because it trades in imagination for generic action thrills.

Diesel actually manages something akin to warmth in parts of the film. He has a brief interaction on a plane with a child and shows a bit of charm. His scenes with Rose Leslie don’t devolve into an uncomfortable romance as I was afraid it might but the pair has a rough chemistry that serves the story. The father/son relationship between Diesel and Michael Caine felt a bit forced but still managed to seem like a friendship that had been around for a while. Elijah Wood is under used in his role so he and Diesel’s characters never feel like they are really partners. Perhaps that was the goal. No one in the movie does a bad job in their role. Sadly, they aren’t given that much to work with.

The film is let down by a third act that is just scaffolding to get to the action/sfx scenes. We get a few brief glimpses at what Kaulder has lost at the hands of the Witch Queen and the events in that third act contradict what we’ve seen before. I’m trying to avoid giving away too many plot details; but the story kind of reverses itself in a blatant attempt to create a need for a sequel. With opening weekend domestic box office of less than $11-million, that seems unlikely.

“The Last Witch Hunter” is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images. We see people stabbed with swords and knives. There are a few large, ugly creatures. The Witch Queen will be scary for the very youngest viewers. A character is impaled on a spike through the shoulder. A character is consumed by vines at the base of a tree. A character is shown ripping their skin off to reveal a different creature inside. Foul language is widely scattered and very mild.

The world of “The Last Witch Hunter” could have been fascinating if the vision of the writers early in their script has been carried through to the end. As it is, the movie becomes a predictable action/fantasy with some decent visuals but is nothing special. I wish it had been the kind of film that put a spell on me but alas, it’s all just a cheap trick.

“The Last Witch Hunter” gets three stars out of five.

Steve Jobs

Preparing to give a public demonstration of the new Macintosh computer Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is berating Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), one of his engineers, because the vocal program is having a hard time saying “Hello.” Jobs wants to show how friendly the Macintosh is and refuses to pull it from the demonstration. His long-suffering personal assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) is attempting to coordinate the presentation while wrangling the taciturn Jobs. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) is trying to get Jobs to thank the Apple II engineers during the presentation but Jobs refuses saying it looks back in the past and the Macintosh is the future. Waiting backstage is Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) with her daughter Lisa. Based on a blood test a judge ruled that Jobs was Lisa’s father but he denies that. In a magazine article, Jobs says that up to 28% of the men in America could also be Lisa’s father. This angers Chrisann as it appears Jobs is saying she sleeps with many different men. Chrisann wants money over and above the child support the judge granted her. Jobs only pays attention to Lisa when she takes an interest in the Macintosh in the dressing room.

“Steve Jobs” tells a story about the face of Apple using three product launch events in front of hundreds of adoring fans. Jobs could do no wrong in their eyes and everything he touched they thought was the next big thing. In the film, Jobs seems to only be comfortable on the stage in front of those that didn’t know him. In the film, being a part of Steve Jobs life seemed like a less than pleasant experience. The movie also is less than pleasant as it loses its belief in itself and tries to turn Steve Jobs into a misunderstood teddy bear.

Michael Fassbender may get some awards season love for playing the title role. His performance is mesmerizing. Jobs is a ball of energy that can become dangerously focused on anyone that he feels has done him a disservice or isn’t living up to his expectations. Jobs is shown in the film as a man with a singular vision he feels must be put forth unadulterated. It’s the same whether he’s involved in business or personal matters. Fassbender is absorbed in the role and it must have been emotionally taxing for him. Playing a person of such conviction and willingness to mow down anyone that might get in the way has to take its toll. Fassbender manages to be charismatic even when making threats or explaining something that doesn’t need explaining. His performance, and the performances of Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels Katherine Waterston and the rest of the cast, is outstanding. Sadly, they are all let down by a script that doesn’t believe in its own convictions.

While Steve Jobs is shown to be able to express a tiny amount of warmth and compassion, the majority of the movie’s two hour running time is spent showing the man as the lowest form of life. He’s rude, egotistical and doesn’t take anyone’s feelings into consideration. If he was anything like portrayed on screen it’s a miracle someone didn’t put a bullet in him at some time in his life. Writer Aaron Sorkin does a good job of making Jobs unlikable. Then, out of left field, we get a scene that could best be described as redemptive. For me, it completely didn’t work. It is pounded into our minds what a dirt bag Jobs is. He denies Lisa is his daughter, he threatens to have Chrisann killed, he is prepared to embarrass one of his engineers in front of an auditorium full of people if the Macintosh voice synthesizer doesn’t work and that’s just a few of the things shown in the movie and then, without any set up or evidence to the contrary, we are shown a warm and fuzzy Steve Jobs. Perhaps, as he aged, Jobs become more human. The movie doesn’t give us any indication that it happens or why. One of the most brutal confrontations occurs not long before this miraculous conversion. Jobs is as blunt and biting as he is in any other scene in the movie and then, a few minutes later, he’s overflowing with love, compassion and contrition. It takes what is a scathing portrait of a well-known figure and cheapens it into a feel-good family melodrama.

“Steve Jobs” is rated R for language. Foul language is infrequent.

I realize I’m in the minority on this one but “Steve Jobs” isn’t the brave and searing portrait of one of the best known tech giants in history; instead, it shows us a flawed but brilliant man and tries to redeem him using cheap emotional tricks. Jobs deserved better.

“Steve Jobs” gets three stars out of five.

Three new movies close out the month of October looking to scare up some business. I’ll see and review at least one of them.

Burnt—

Our Brand is Crisis—

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.