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Review: ‘The Disaster Artist’ is a Genius and Silly Story of Bad Filmmaking

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If the midnight screenings at the local arthouse theaters are anything to go by, The Room is the 21st century’s Rocky Horror Picture Show. A week before the press screening for The Disaster Artist, there was a special theatrical showing of The Room that came with the note “Party Atmosphere.” If you’ve ever been to the screening of a cult movie, you know the type of movie-going experience I’m talking about. Audiences dressed up in costumes from the film cheerfully quoted nearly every hilariously-delivered line of bad dialogue and hooted and hollered with every scene of unintentional comedy. It’s a film so audaciously bad that it’s somewhat charming for its earnest and placed director Tommy Wiseau on the map, though not at the exact destination he wanted.

the disaster artistBased on a biography of the film’s production, The Disaster Artist follows the relationship of amateur actors Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), an average all-American guy, and Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a lanky, long-haired guy with a European accent of indeterminate origin. They first meet at an acting workshop, proving they’re both terrible in front of the class. Greg, however, admires Tommy for his fearlessness to get up on stage, scream “Stella!” repeatedly and nearly destroy the set in his rage. There is an undeniable tenacity and ease to Tommy’s acting, despite the accent and his inability to read jokes or references. It doesn’t matter to Greg; he wants to learn that fearlessness. Tommy teaches Greg promptly by making him perform a reading aloud in a diner, weirding out the patrons. The two actors are still awful, but they’re awful together.

Tommy lets Greg into his life as they become partners in acting, but only to a certain degree. He gives Greg strict instructions not to ask too much about him, including how old he is, where he was born and where his money comes from. His stock answers: Greg’s age, Louisiana and none of your business. Greg doesn’t question it much considering how ambitious and wealthy Tommy is about his lifestyle. They become inspired by James Dean to visit the location of his death and Tommy offers to drive there at that very moment. The two of them aspire to be great actors in Los Angeles, and Tommy already has a downtown apartment paid for. Nobody will hire them for a movie and Tommy decides to write, direct and finance his own film, The Room.

Tommy has all the makings of a classic bad movie director for his lacking moviemaking knowledge, ambitious spirit, and bottomless bank account. Nobody is entirely devoted to Tommy’s vision. Script supervisor Sandy (Seth Rogen) tries as hard as he can to pull back from exploding on Tommy’s inefficient and crude tactics for shooting his film, but others do not fair better. Tommy is a mercilessly egotistical and cruel man on the set. He complains about his beautiful actress having a pimple, refuses to turn on the air conditioning and sets up his own personal toilet in the studio.

What’s most shocking is his awareness of what he is doing from learning by the examples of others in Hollywood. Greg pulls Tommy aside to tell him that he’s been treating his staff like garbage. Tommy retorts that some of the best directors would mistreat their actors, referencing how Alfred Hitchcock would throw real birds at his actors to get them in character. Greg stresses that Hitchcock was a jerk for doing so, but it’s hard to deny Tommy’s logic considering how prolific The Birds became. It’s this rocky road to fame that leads Tommy to believe he is doing the right thing when everyone seems to be against him for all the right reasons.

James Franco melts into this role almost seamlessly putting on the act of the aloof Wiseau. He embodies the voice and mannerisms so well that there’s a natural grace to his comedy as opposed to punching up the portrayal for laughs. Tommy can make audiences crack up with little more than his accent passively making jabs, and James hits all the right beats to make every with Tommy a real treat. Dave Franco is also in top form as Tommy’s right-hand man with an awkward eyebrow raising higher as he squirms in the passenger seat of this wild ride. He encourages and pushes Tommy to keep at it, but will still find himself being betrayed out of the director’s jealousy and ego. We feel for Greg as he starts to see the real monster his roommate indeed is when it comes to snatching those dreams they always talked about.

The Disaster Artist is a great comedy not merely for laughing at Wiseau’s failure of a film, but also his appreciation of what he has truly made. At the premiere screening for The Room, he’s dismayed to see so many people laughing at what he considered drama until Greg points out how happy it made others. It’s a remarkable legacy for a filmmaker who bought his way into being a movie star and came out as something he never expected. He would attend sold-out screenings where he’d sign autographs, toss around a football and embrace the comedic fame made possible by lovers of bad movies. James Franco’s direction and portrayal of Wiseau is stellar not so much because we pity the man but that we celebrate his insane vision and the wild ride it took for him to become an icon. Wiseau doesn’t need our sympathy; he already has our attention from his presence, our money from his sold-out shows and our laughs from his timing and acting. What more could an egotistical filmmaker with dreams of stardom want?

As a bonus, the film’s pre-credit sequence features a side-by-side comparison of actual footage from The Room versus the scenes that were staged for The Disaster Artist. The timing and camera angles are unfathomably accurate, and these sequences serve as the most magnificent tribute for having the Franco brother star in a remake of Wiseau’s film. I don’t think ever laughed as hard at The Room before, viewed here in a weird stereo vision. And just in case you weren’t already rolling on the floor laughing, the post-credit scene features Wiseau himself as a different character who comments on Franco’s voice, making for one of the best cameos and laughs I’ve had all year.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


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Review: “The Predator” is a Humorous Homage, Sometimes Fun

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Shane Black’s The Predator is simultaneously the most no-nonsense and all-nonsense entry of the series. It does away with a lot of the fat for its story, skipping briskly through its introduction so that gory action of a human-hunting alien arrives quickly. It also doesn’t try to take itself seriously, favoring a comedic format to its writing so high on the goofiness it may as well be labeled a parody of the previous films. This odd assembly prevents such a generically titled film from becoming just another tired retread of a dug-up franchise, hit or miss though it may be.

In order to get the bloody gears grinding, Black throws a lot of inexplicably odd actions at the screen. I didn’t set my watch, but I’m pretty sure it was less than a minute before the first Predator marches onto the screen, crashing onto Earth and going about its secret mission. Encountering the Predator and his arsenal is sniper-for-hire and former Army Ranger, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who not only takes to the Predator tech quickly but also takes the risk of swallowing some of it so it can’t be found. To cash in on newly acquired treasures from outer space, he decides to ship the rest of the alien technology to his mailbox. Seems like a ridiculous idea, but it needs to be done so that the story can arrive on schedule to include a Predator-savvy scientist (Olivia Munn), a greedy government villain (Sterling K. Brown), a savant of an autistic kid with a smart mouth (Jacob Tremblay), and a team of mercenaries that includes a jokester (Keegan-Michael Key) and one with Tourette’s syndrome (Thomas Jane).

L-r, Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan Michael-Key, Thomas Jane and Augusto Aguiliera in Twentieth Century Fox’s “The Predator.”

I could detail the elaborate scheme of the Predators and the tactics used by the human characters, but does it matter? There are convoluted plot elements for sure, including the most ridiculous use of Asperger’s Syndrome as a plot twist, but all that this amounts to is the self-aware knowledge of a goofy gore fest. The script, co-written by Shane Black, always seems careful never to go overboard with exposition without a joke in between. A key scene that could have been a bore is the initial alien dissection scene, its purpose to describe the new Predator and decipher his visit. Munn harps on why the scientists have called the alien a Predator when his purpose seems more akin to a big-game hunter.

While the choice to favor knowing comedy or dark action is a smart one, it’s not exactly a home run of ideas. The first act, in particular, has some rather stale nostalgic callbacks that one would expect from a lesser retread. Variations on some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic lines from the first film about choppers and the ugliness of the Predator felt so lame that I started gripping my seat, bracing for the entire film to be this adrift of inspiration. But the film thankfully proceeds down its own silly path by the second act, turning into a non-stop bloody bonanza of alien-on-human action. The gore goes for the gusto so heavily that it becomes just as strong as the comical banter between Holbrook and his team of gun-toting good guys, trying to stop the Predator from killing a kid and the government from killing them first.

The Predator in Twentith Century Fox’s THE PREDATOR. Photo Credit: Kimberley French.

There’s a lot of dumb and messiness in The Predator, but the constant winking from Black’s director and the all-star cast save it from being another PG-13 snoozer of a repeat. Armed with machine-gun speed comedy, violence more than worthy of an R rating, and a giddy sense that is always present, what could’ve been a merry-go-round turns into more of a roller coaster experience of a Predator movie. Black doesn’t exactly rework the Predator mythos into something new or even more akin to its quality camp roots, but he does have fun with the material. And when you’ve got a multi-mouthed alien with braids turning humans into hamburger, you’ve gotta have some fun mocking the spectacle, especially after so many films that take themselves far too seriously.


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“The Nun” Scares Up Strong September Box Office

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September has its first box office champion to topple August’s hit of Crazy Rich Asians, and by a substantial amount at that. The Nun, a spin-off and prequel to The Conjuring 2’s scary nun ghost in the painting, has earned an impressive $53.5 million for its debut weekend. That’s an exceptional premiere to warrant the film’s budget of $22 million, rather high for horror. The future is looking bright for The Conjuring franchise. Still, Crazy Rich Asians is still going strong as the romantic comedy of the year, grossing another $13.6 million for a domestic total now sitting at $136 million. With plans for a sequel already in the works and a chance at hitting $200 million, the film may very well carry deep into fall considering it’s still in the top five after four weeks.

Also debuting to a decent take for the weekend is Peppermint, an action-oriented thriller starring a revenge-seeking Jennifer Garner. The film made $13.2 million in its first weekend which may be a bit disappointing for a $25 million budget, but it may have decent enough to legs to make a profit depending on how September shapes up.

Plenty of the returning films are holding on strong. The Meg, the shark movie with Jason Statham, has remained in the top five long enough to clear its budget, with a domestic total now at $131 million. Also sticking around is the social media thriller Searching, dropping only 25% to make $4.5 million for the weekend, the domestic total sitting at $14.3 million. And BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s comedy about infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan, is still hanging in the top 10, making another $1.5 million for a domestic total of $43 million, stunning results for a $15 million film in somewhat limited release.

View the full box office weekend results below.
The Nun ($53,500,000)
Crazy Rich Asians ($13,600,000)
Peppermint ($13,260,000)
The Meg ($6,030,000)
Searching ($4,515,000)
Mission: Impossible – Fallout ($3,800,000)
Disney’s Christopher Robin ($3,196,000)
Operation Finale ($3,043,000)
Alpha ($2,505,000)
BlacKkKlansman ($1,565,000)

Next weekend will be a battle of a returning alien hunter and an odd thriller. The Predator, a remake of the alien franchise directed by Shane Black, will be in 3,900 theaters while A Simple Favor, a thriller directed by comedy director Paul Feig, will hit 3,000 theaters. Of the smaller releases are Pure Flix’s latest religious picture Unbroken: Path to Redemption and the Matthew McConaughey starring cop drama White Boy Rick. There’s little doubt that The Predator will swoop in to claim the weekend.


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Review: “The Nun” Offers Few Scares and Fun

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And from The Conjuring another spin-off cometh, presenting origins we didn’t really need to know for spooky supporting demons. If these films weren’t already showing cracks, The Nun comes crumbling, struggling to find scary and fun stuff to do with a nun that looks like she went to a goth concert. She looks great with the contrast of white and black that blends perfectly in the darkness. She’s unfortunately squandered in a film that is such a mess it dips between horror, comedy, and adventure.

The setting is 1952, Romania, where a nun has just committed suicide by hanging. To investigate this dark matter, the Vatican sends a ragtag duo of a priest and a nun familiar with the area and the demonic. The priest is Father Burke (Demián Bichir), having previously performed an exorcism and struggling to make himself boring with a crossword puzzle hobby. The nun is Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a yet-to-have-taken-her-vows woman that is a bit of a rebel around the convent with her talk of dinosaurs and not wearing her habit. They venture to Romania, and with the help of a French-Canadian farmer going by the name Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), they’ll discover the dark secrets of the church turned haunted house.

The scare playbook from The Conjuring universe appears very dusty in this film. The majority of frights rely on the cheapest and tiresome of stagings: see something potentially scary in the distance, look away, it’s gone. Irene thinks she spots a nun in the shadows; turns away, turns back, gone. Burke thinks he spots the child he was unable to save from his previous exorcism; there one shot, gone the next. The other overused scare tactic is that of slowly venturing towards something scary. The demons are hoping our holy heroes will be dumb enough to follow every come-hinder spooky trap, to the point where Father Burke is being led by a bell being dragged on a string.

There’s a lot of disbelief suspension required to go along for the ride. There are visions of previous nuns of the church, but they’re staged as unconvincing twists that require the priest and nun to accept the answers of a faceless nun at (no) face value. A scary nun shrouded in black with a sinister voice recommends they spend the night. Surely nothing spooky will happen come nightfall. But, surprise, spookiness on cue! They investigate more and some other nuns they meet recommend staying another night. I’d think about breaking out the good book and a cross on that second sleep considering all the haunted hijinks. The Romanian haunted church comes complete with a graveyard of many crosses, where crows caw during the day and mist mysteriously crops up at night. Oh, and snakes.

Speaking of snakes, the film seems to grow so bored of its by-the-book haunted house method that it slips into Indiana Jones territory. Consider how Frenchie comes to the rescue in the third act as the comical action hero, chopping off the heads of zombies and shooting them with a shotgun. He seems to only come back when it’s time to explore underground passages with torches, searching for a religious artifact that can stop demons from hell. This adventure angle makes Jonas Bloquet the best part of the film, even if it feels like he’s a character that became lost on his way to the set of another tomb.

The Nun delivers the bare bones of what we’ve come to expect from this Warner Bros horror franchise. There’s some decent camera work and some technically sound frights here and there, despite some rather poor editing to keep everything on schedule and twisty. One aspect I could always count on enjoying was the audience reactions during these movies. They didn’t let me down. One viewer was so spooked by the silence after a nun’s cracked neck that he exclaimed “WTF” during the screening. It was the biggest laugh of the movie and one of the few reasons I have left to keep returning to this style of horror because there’s not a whole in The Nun itself to keep me satiated with terror or fun.


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