The Disaster Artist

Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver

Director: James Franco

Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber

The Room is one of those movies that really has to be seen to be believed. It is a movie that fundamentally does not work on any conceivable level, and yet it is so remarkably unique, mesmerising and endlessly rewatchable. It is one of the great cinematic paradoxes; The Room is a terrible film, but it is also great cinema. If you asked the greatest director in the world to make the worst movie of all time, they couldn’t get any closer to making this film than Gus Van Sant could get to making Psycho. Genius (or maybe ‘anti-genius’ in this case) is something that cannot be replicated, it can only be imitated. There is something there behind the shots and between the edits that cannot be faked, a sense of effort and sincerity that only comes across when the artist truly believes in what they are making. With The Disaster Artist, James Franco takes us behind the scenes to show us what was really going on beneath it all.

The movie follows Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), the author of the book the movie is based on, as a young actor in San Francisco. At one of his acting classes he meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a strange-looking man with a weird accent who inspires Greg with his fearlessness. As soon as the two become friends, Tommy suggests that they move to Los Angeles to try and make it big. There Greg signs up with renowned talent agent Iris Burton (Sharon Stone) while Tommy gets turned down by everyone he approaches. Later he grows jealous of Greg as he enters a relationship with Amber (Alison Brie) and becomes more disheartened with every rejection. As Greg’s auditions start drying up, he reaches out to Tommy, who then decides to write, direct, produce, and star in his own movie. Thus he writes The Room, a drama in the vein of Tennessee Williams, and offers Greg a prominent part. Together they set about making this movie with the help of Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen), the script supervisor, and Raphael Smadja (Paul Sceer), the cinematographer. As the chaotic production proceeds and unravels, only Tommy seems blind to the horrendous quality of the movie they’re making.

The obvious comparison here is Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, a movie that celebrates the director who made another movie often proclaimed as ‘the worst ever made’. And ‘celebrate’ really is the right word because what made Ed Wood a great movie was the way it admired Wood’s passion, sincerity and optimism, even as it understood that the movie he was making was rubbish. That same feeling of admiration is present in The Disaster Artist. There’s a scene where Tommy and Greg stand on the sight of James Dean’s fatal car crash and are inspired to follow his example and show the world what they can do, no matter the obstacles. That scene is there because the movie doesn’t want us to laugh at these two for making a crap movie, it wants us to identify with them and root for them to make the movie that, for better or worse, would make them both stars. Tommy may be the Disaster Artist, but he is also a dreamer and it is clear from watching this movie just how much James Franco admires that dream.

Tommy Wiseau with his unidentifiable accent, ambiguous age, and vampiric demeanour is very much an enigma to those who’ve seen him and his movie, and one of Franco’s successes is finding the human being within that enigma. He still allows us to laugh at Wiseau’s strangeness because, to put it simply, he is a very strange person. He insists that he’s from New Orleans despite not sounding like anything from planet Earth, he appears to be infinitely wealthy but cannot seem to explain where the money comes from, and he claims to be the same age as the twenty-something Greg even though, well, look at him! He’s also at the very least sexually ambiguous and the nature of his feelings towards Greg are never made very clear but are enough to raise some red flags with those around them (what with the way he keeps calling him ‘babyface’ and all). There’s also a monstrous side to Wiseau that comes out in his attempt to be the next Kubrick or Hitchcock which Franco showcases in one particularly revealing scene where Tommy mistreats his co-star Julliette Danielle (Ari Graynor). Yet, beneath all of that, Franco is able to find a vulnerable, insecure side to Tommy, someone who wants nothing more than to be admired and celebrated. It is a wonderful performance.

There is tragedy to The Disaster Artist, but from that tragedy comes laughter. The movie Wiseau made may not have been received the way he’d hoped and he may not be the enigmatic, inspired auteur he wanted to be, but through all the heartbreak and humiliation he made a movie that has brought endless joy to millions of people all over the world. To see just how much of a cult following The Room has gathered, look no further than the number of celebrities who join Franco in his celebration. This includes the likes of Kristen Bell, J.J. Abrams, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Scott, and Kevin Smith, who all appear in the opening montage to discuss The Room and the impact it’s had, and also Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Melanie Griffith, Hannibal Buress, and Bob Odenkirk, who all make cameos. It’s a movie which reminds us that there is inspiration to be found not only in the greatest successes but also in the greatest failures, and The Room might very well be the greatest failure in the history of cinema.



The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

Director: Francis Lawrence

Writers: Peter Craig, Danny Strong

Although I’ve never been a particularly big fan of the Hunger Games series I still had relatively high expectations going into this film. I think that it is a decent series overall (I particularly enjoyed Catching Fire), it just hasn’t really ever captivated me in the way it has with its most ardent fans. Despite the gripes that I have with the series though, I do nevertheless think that it has done a good job of establishing its universe, it has an interesting concept with some clever twists added in and there are some good characters in there as well. When I saw Mockingjay – Part 1 last year however I started to develop one major concern. While Part 1 was a solid enough film I wasn’t readily convinced that there was enough plot in there to justify splitting the finale into two. Therefore I wanted to reserve my judgement until I saw this film. Having now seen it I found Part 2 to be a solid and enjoyable film like its predecessor but I stand by my judgement that there wasn’t enough story to warrant a two part finale.

As the rebellion against the Capitol escalates, the Mockingjay Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) tries to help the brainwashed and traumatised Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in his recovery. Enraged by the brutality of this war and frustrated with being used by Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) as a poster child for the rebellion, Katniss takes matters into her own hands by undertaking a mission to assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Helping her in this endeavour are such allies as Gail (Liam Hemsworth), Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and Finnick (Sam Claflin). As they make their way to the Capitol they must combat foes and obstacles reminiscent of those they faced in the Hunger Games. The closer she gets to her goal the more must Katniss question what it is she is fighting for and how much she is willing to sacrifice to end this war once and for all.

I must confess that I am quite ambivalent about this film. On one hand I can’t deny being disappointed by the film’s conclusion. Based on how the film was advertised I was expecting something much more epic like The Deathly Hallows – Parts 2. I won’t give too much away but, simply put, that’s not what happens. The final showdown ends up being something altogether different that to me initially felt underwhelming. In the weeks since I’ve watched it though I’ve thought more about the film’s resolution and must admit that it is actually a fitting end to the series. I thought more about some of the themes that the series has touched upon in its prior films: the role of propaganda in war, the idea that things are not what they seem and the balance between control and freedom. In light of these themes the ending that the film opted for (I should probably note that I haven’t read the books) does make a lot of sense and is in keeping with the ideas raised. It was certainly a bold move to opt for a more challenging ending than the more traditional epic showdown and I must applaud this series for having that kind of tenacity.

Putting the ending aside though there were still a few issues I had with the film that still bother me now. My main issue is the very fact that this film is the second part of a story that I really don’t think needed to be split. The film that I think suffered more from this split was Part 1 since its sole purpose was essentially to set up this film, resulting in a lack of action and progression. Part 2 meanwhile has plenty of both so there was much more for me to enjoy. Some of the dangers that Katniss and her team encounter are certainly thrilling to watch (I wasn’t a fan of those sewer monsters though) and the threat of danger is very present throughout. Some members of the cast, most notably Lawrence, Hutcherson and Sutherland, do shine in this film while others are woefully underused. While the film was able to convey a sense of dread and finality I did think that many of the major character deaths were lacking in emotional weight.

I suppose this film is something of a mixed bag for me but I certainly don’t think it is a bad film by any means. I think the reason I didn’t enjoy it as much as many others have is simply because I wasn’t a huge fan of the series to begin with. This isn’t to say that I disliked it but rather that I wasn’t as invested in the fate of the characters or the outcome of the rebellion as others were. Therefore, while I didn’t find myself particularly excited or moved by this film, I have no doubt that those who are fans of the series will find much to enjoy. Those who want to see how the story ends and where the characters end up will I think be satisfied. It is a good enough film in its own right and is a fitting end to the series.