THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout and some Sexuality/Nudity

Directed by: James Franco

Written by: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber

(based on the book THE DISASTER ARTIST by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell)

Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Allison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Hannibal Buress, Andrew Santino, June Diane Raphael, Nathan Fielder, Brian Huskey, Sharon Stone, Paul Scheer & Jason Mantzoukas

Is it possible to make a great movie about the making of one of the worst movies ever made? Well, Tim Burton already did something along those lines with 1994’s ED WOOD. Now, James Franco has done something similar in 2017’s THE DISASTER ARTIST. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name, THE DISASTER ARTIST chronicles the true story behind the making of THE ROOM, which is widely considered to be one of the worst films of all-time. THE DISASTER ARTIST could have been a hilarious romp that mercilessly took down a weird individual and his passion project. Instead, THE DISASTER ARTIST is hilarious, poignant, and heartfelt! This is a movie about following your dreams…even if those dreams fail miserably.

The year is 1998 and the place is San Francisco, California. Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is a 19-year-old aspiring actor who has trouble emoting in his performances. That all changes when Greg meets strangely accented weirdo Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). Wiseau is fearless in his acting methods, but have a shred of talent in his performances. When Greg and Tommy fail at the seemingly impossible battle to make it big, Tommy decides to write and direct his own movie…with Greg as one of the leading stars. What results is the bafflingly inept production on one of the worst films ever made and a failure so spectacular that it just might be considered a success in its own baffling way.

James Franco has directed films before and none of them seem to be any good. The most recent Franco-directed effort that I sat through was his disappointing adaptation of William Faulkner’s THE SOUND AND THE FURY. I was a bit hesitant that Franco was at the helm of this project, but he thankfully proved all my better judgement wrong. THE DISASTER ARTIST is fantastic and Franco seems like the perfect person to bring it to the screen. Besides the real-world Los Angeles atmosphere that the film evokes, Franco pulls double-duty and plays the role of Tommy Wiseau. To put it bluntly, Franco’s Wiseau impression is pitch-perfect. He has all of the mannerisms down and the unique way of speaking (complete with his unique laugh). Franco nailed this performance!

THE DISASTER ARTIST’s supporting cast sports a bevy of big talent, including Franco’s younger brother Dave in the role of Greg. Though it might be odd to have two brothers acting alongside each other as unrelated characters, this illusion is completely convincing. Dave Franco plays Greg as a level-headed guy who just happens to be friends with the world’s biggest weirdo and has a good heart. Though this film is about the making of THE ROOM, the friendship between Greg and Tommy is the main focus of THE DISASTER ARTIST. Conversations between them range from funny to occasionally intense, as the production brings out serious anger in a few crew members (Greg included).

Other recognizable faces include celebrity cameos and big names in supporting roles. Seth Rogen is especially hilarious as a script supervisor who tries to help Tommy out, but is constantly blindsided by the director’s ego-driven decisions. Paul Scheer is notable as a pissed-off director of photography and really gets his time to shine in the film’s darkest moment (involving an outburst during the filming of one of THE ROOM’s many gratuitous sex scenes). Josh Hutcherson is also quite funny as Philip Haldiman (who played the creepy teenage-ish Denny) and Jacki Weaver gets one great monologue as aged actress Carolyn Minnott (who played Lisa’s cancer-stricken mother).

THE DISASTER ARTIST is likely to win over fans of THE ROOM by injecting some semblance of sense into the sheer incoherence of that film’s final cut. There were lots of scenes in which I immediately thought “Okay, now that part of THE ROOM makes a little more sense.” These moments come as early as the beginning when we see Tommy and Greg watching REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, admiring one line that gets repeated in one of THE ROOM’s most memorable moments. We also see how certain on-set decisions directly affected the entire flow of that film’s insanity. Why did Mark try to throw someone off a roof? Why did Johnny throw a water bottle in a fit of rage? Why does Tommy Wiseau’s hair look like it’s constantly wet? All of these mysteries and more are answered in the course of THE DISASTER ARTIST’s 103-minute running time.

The biggest reason why THE DISASTER ARTIST works is because it’s a story about somebody following their dreams and doing something they love, even if they are absolutely terrible at it. This film captures the love for THE ROOM, whilst also showing the connection that someone can have with their own artistic material. THE DISASTER ARTIST is sure to delight THE ROOM’s cult crowd, whilst also serving as a fantastic piece of filmmaking for moviegoers who enjoy great dramas and comedies. This film is about friendship, ambition, failure, and unexpected success. THE DISASTER ARTIST is just as genuinely moving as it is hilarious. This is one of the best films I’ve sat through in 2017!

Grade: A+

THE HOUSE (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, Sexual References, Drug Use, some Violence and brief Nudity

Directed by: Andrew Jay Cohen

Written by: Brendan O’Brien & Andrew Jay Cohen

Starring: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Ryan Simpkins, Nick Kroll, Allison Tolman, Rob Huebel & Jeremy Renner

Despite starring in hilarious comedies throughout the 2000s, Will Ferrell has been in some real stinkers lately. With the exception of a few animated comedies (MEGAMIND, THE LEGO MOVIE), Ferrell’s recent output has included stale attempts at recapturing past comedic magic (ANCHORMAN 2), lazy executions of fairly funny premises (GET HARD), and some of the worst films of his entire career (DADDY’S HOME). I was hoping that THE HOUSE might wind up being Ferrell’s return to form. The premise was funny, the cast looked solid, and the R-rating allowed extra room for irreverent hijinks. THE HOUSE falls between GET HARD and DADDY’S HOME on Ferrell’s cinematic totem pole. This film is mostly lazy and lots of dull patches frequently overshadow its better moments.

Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) are ecstatic for their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) to head off to college. Alex has been accepted into a prestigious university, but Scott and Kate realize that they don’t have the cash to cover her tuition. To make matters even worse, the town’s annual scholarship program has been shut town by shady councilman Bob (Nick Kroll). Things might turn around though, because Scott and Kate’s eccentric friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) has a brilliant idea to raise lots of funds in a short amount of time. Frank turns his house into an illegal underground casino, while Scott and Kate become his business partners. Wacky hijinks ensue.

I’ll address THE HOUSE’s positive qualities first because there are a few redeeming factors. One of those factors arrives in Jason Mantzoukas. Though the selling points of this film were Ferrell and Poehler, Mantzoukas steals most of the show as the overly eccentric Frank. A subplot about him trying to win back his recently separated wife is tedious, but Mantzoukas even makes these scenes watchable in his absurd line delivery and over-the-top body language. Mantzoukas was one of the best things about last year’s not-as-bad-as-they-said-it-was DIRTY GRANDPA and he’s easily one of the best things in THE HOUSE. Maybe, Mantzoukas’s roles are simply meant to improve low-quality comedies, because he seems to be doing a bang-up job so far.

I’d be lying if I said that THE HOUSE didn’t have a couple of funny scenes. The best bit has already been given away by the red band trailer, though the actual scene lasts longer than the 30 seconds and had me cracking up. If the entire film was as funny as that single sequence, then this would be a very different review. Unfortunately, this scene and a couple of other bits (mostly involving Mantzoukas) are the only things worth praising about THE HOUSE. The rest of this film feels boring, lame, and lazy.

Even though they are the main selling points, Ferrell and Poehler really don’t have much to do in this film. Aside from occasionally mugging at the camera, their married couple characters mostly remain straight-faced and don’t receive many great jokes. We see them acting like dorky parents with their daughter. We watch as they worry and celebrate with Mantzoukas. By the time the film tries to throw them into an over-the-top style, it feels drastically out-of-place and unearned. Most films like this have a natural progression as a character transforms from a boring suburban nobody to a stylish interesting somebody. THE HOUSE never executes that story arc in a natural or funny way, so the viewer is left to roll their eyes and remain completely disconnected towards these characters.

THE HOUSE’s plot troubles don’t stop at its unconvincing story arcs for the two dimwitted protagonists though, because a lot of this film feels like filler. It’s as if somebody was brainstorming what happens in Las Vegas casinos and decided to write those ideas down…and then just threw them into the movie with no rhyme or reason. Stand-up comedians, air bars, massages, fight night, and CASINO-style torture all just come and go, leaving few laughs to be found. Bits of this film might have served better as Funny or Die/College Humor web skits…as opposed to scenes in a comedy that was funded on 40 million and had big names attached to it. A subplot with an unnecessary bland antagonist feels like an afterthought, while Jeremy Renner as a mobster (who shows up for two scenes) would have been a much better baddie to focus on.

THE HOUSE is a missed opportunity. The pieces were there to craft a really funny R-rated comedy, something to draw in crowds who wanted to laugh in 2017’s lackluster summer movie season, and a possible comeback film for Ferrell. Instead, THE HOUSE is lazy, uninspired, and drowns out its funny bits with lots of filler and a script that feels like it never got past the brainstorming stage. There are loads of better Will Ferrell movies and far funnier R-rated comedies out there. If you bet on this flick, everybody loses.

Grade: D+

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and some Action

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Directed by: Chris McKay

Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern & John Whittington

Voices of: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Mariah Carey, Jenny Slate, Susan Bennett, Billy Dee Williams, Hector Elizondo, Conan O’Brien, Jason Mantzoukas, Doug Benson, Zoe Kravitz, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Adam DeVine, Eddie Izzard & Seth Green

The first of three new LEGO movies, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is a spin-off for the popular DC superhero from 2014’s surprisingly awesome THE LEGO MOVIE. Will Arnett has returned to reprise the vocal work for Lego Batman/Bruce Wayne and this film is set entirely within the Lego DC Universe. Filled to the brim with comic book references and call-backs to other movies, LEGO BATMAN never takes itself seriously at all and yet still manages to throw in a touching message about family and friends. Though not as great as its LEGO predecessor, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is the best DC Comics movie to hit nationwide theatrical release in years. This is a delight for parents, teenagers, and Batman fans who enjoy a good laugh.

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In Lego Gotham City, orphan-turned-superhero Batman (Will Arnett) enjoys wearing black, playing loud music and fighting crime. He’s always saving the day, but has never let anybody else into his life…other than faithful butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes). After Batman foils the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) yet again and hurts the evil clown’s feelings, the villain hatches an ingenious scheme for revenge. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) has stepped into her dad’s shoes as chief of police and has enacted a new “it takes a village, not a Batman” approach to fighting crime. Also, Batman has taken young boywonder Robin under his reluctant parental wing. The real challenge Batman has to face though…is overcoming his fears about family.

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Will Arnett’s Batman was easily one of the funniest parts of THE LEGO MOVIE and he brings everything that fans loved about that character into a feature-length running time. Though this film has a handful of slow moments that drag, Arnett’s comedic timing and purposely brooding voice frequently rescue the story from being “too much of a good thing.” The rest of the voice cast is stellar as well, with Michael Cera delivering some of the biggest laughs as lively, no-pants-wearing Robin. Tons of Batman’s rogue gallery make appearances too, including a lot of C-grade baddies that provide giggles from their mere cameos. My two favorite side villains were Catwoman (who’s constantly saying “mew mew”) and Bane (who’s adopted the strange, but awesome-sounding voice from 2012’s THE DARK KNIGHT RISES). Zach Galifianakis also shines in the most sensitive portrayal of the Joker that you’ve ever seen, making for an evil supervillain that throws tantrums like a depressed ex-girlfriend.

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It should come as no surprise that THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is chock-full of movie, TV and comic book references. There are so many jokes within the first five minutes that it seems impossible to catch them all in one viewing. From signs that cheering citizens are holding to bits of dialogue that directly tie into certain films to full-blown footage used from every big-screen Batman in history, there are tons of laughs and in-cannon material here to satisfy diehard Batman fans. The film also throws tons of references towards DC comics in general, featuring cameos from Justice League members and familiar places from Superman’s stories. Even still, the references don’t stop there because there are unexpected non-cannon characters that have a big part to play in the proceedings. I won’t go into detail, but I was grinning ear to ear for a majority of the action-packed climax.

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LEGO BATMAN MOVIE’s message isn’t exactly original, but seems perfectly suited to the nature of Batman’s character and how we’ve seen this character explored in past versions of the material. The film’s lively visuals explode off the screen, looking like stop-motion even though they are actually the result of highly-detailed computer animation. As clever, entertaining and downright fun as LEGO BATMAN is, the plot encounters a few dull stretches. These mainly come in the second act, where we need to see certain things develop. In writing my summary of this film’s story, it struck me that LEGO BATMAN juggles four different subplots and tries to bring them together as a cohesive whole. The script does a solid job of this for the most part, but occasionally meanders as it brings these storylines together. Still, the pay-off, countless references, sheer entertainment value, and never-ending sense of humor are all well-worth the price of admission.

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If you’re a fan of 2014’s THE LEGO MOVIE or any incarnation of Batman, then THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is a must-see! I imagine that DC Comics fans will have a field day with the sheer amount of references, tie-ins, and clever writing; all while kids are having a blast watching Lego Batman run around on the screen. I saw LEGO BATMAN in a sold-out movie theater that was filled with families and an apparent birthday party going on the front two rows. At no point, during any minute of the running time, did a child begin crying or a bratty kid act out in any way. That’s almost unheard of, at least for me. Everybody was glued to the screen and that’s a major feat for any family film. Though the pacing isn’t perfect, but THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is a ton of fun! Sometimes, that’s all you need!

Grade: B+

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