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+

STORKS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for mild Action and some Thematic Elements

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Directed by: Nicholas Stoller & Doug Sweetland

Written by: Nicholas Stoller

Voices of: Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Anton Starkman, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Stephen Kramer Glickman & Danny Trejo

In the world of theatrical animation, it seems that certain companies hold significant sway on the moviegoing public. These include: Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Sony Animation and (to an extent) Blue Sky.  One studio that’s had many underperformers in the past, but seems to be rising in recent popularity is Warner Bros. Animation. Released in a gap between two different LEGO movies, STORKS wasn’t a giant box office hit with audiences or critics. However, this is a fun comedy with vibrant animation, tons of solid jokes, and a heartwarming message.

STORKS, from left: Tulip (voice: Katie Crown), Junior (voice: Andy Samberg), 2016. © Warner Bros./

Storks have delivered babies for centuries, but that service is a relic of the past. Today, storks deliver packages for online retailer Corner Store. When ambitious stork Junior (Andy Samberg) is offered a high-profile promotion from his intimidating boss Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), he soon discovers that the position comes with strings attached. Junior is ordered to fire 18-year-old orphan Tulip (Katie Crown), a former baby that got lost in the company’s system. Unable to go through with her termination, Junior reassigns Tulip to the abandoned mailroom…just as lonely 10-year-old Nate (Anton Starkman) puts in an order form for a sibling. Mismatched pair Junior and Tulip are soon thrust into a hazardous adventure to deliver the newborn baby…while evil Hunter and his pigeon lackey (Stephen Kramer Glickman) are hot on their trail.

STORKS, Pigeon Toady (voice: Stephen Kramer Glickman), 2016. © Warner Bros.

STORKS has colorful animation and wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s clear that lots of love and effort went into making this film, even though it follows a familiar formula and has its share of clichés. The animation style reminded me of CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and MEGAMIND, meaning that it was pretty darn great to look at. There are plenty of jokes sprinkled throughout that adults will catch and lots of kid-friendly humor that viewers of all ages will enjoy. The film’s biggest highlight for me was Pigeon Toady, a brown-nosing runt of a baddie that has a Donald Trump hairdo. One conversation with Pigeon and Junior in an elevator had me cracking up, especially with a final so-stupid-it’s-hilarious punchline.

STORKS, from left: Beta Wolf (voice: Jordan Peele), Alpha Wolf (voice: Keegan-Michael Key), 2016. ©

Much of STORKS works because the wacky sense of humor makes up for any ill will that one could have towards this film’s problems. The characters are running from place to place and coming across various obstacles as they try to deliver a baby to her family, kind of like ICE AGE with a stuck-up bird and a red-headed inventor. The plot is familiar, but many of the jokes significantly raise this story’s entertainment value. Other stand-out moments include: a quiet fight (because the baby is sleeping) against a group of penguins, and frequent encounters with a pack of shape-shifting wolves. These scenes may be childish, but that doesn’t make them any less funny.

STORKS, center: Hunter (voice: Kelsey Grammer), 2016. © Warner Bros.

As far as the voice cast goes, STORKS includes a few notable names. The Lonely Island’s Andy Samberg voices Junior, a character who seems overly familiar and still has a good enough emotional arc. Katie Crown (who is mostly an unknown) is great as Orphan Tulip, gaining laughs purely from her line delivery in certain scenes. Kelsey Grammer is well-cast as the intimidating big bad boss. Meanwhile, Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston play the parents of little Nate. Key and Peele are also hilarious as the aforementioned wolves.

STORKS, from left: Henry Gardner (voice: Ty Burrell), Nate Gardner (voice: Anton Starkman), Sarah

Besides utilizing a familiar formula, STORKS encounters a couple of other problems that hold it back from being great. Nate’s subplot of wanting a sibling and his workaholic parents bonding with him both feel slightly out-of-place in this wacky adventure. This brings me to another problem with STORKS: the pacing. This movie rushes past the viewer in under 90 minutes. Sometimes, that can be great for an animated feature that doesn’t wish to overstay its welcome. However, STORKS plows through important plot points before they’ve even had time to develop. This is especially true of a would-be emotional moment that doesn’t leave much of an impact because it’s resolved less than five minutes later.

STORKS, from left: Junior (voice: Andy Samberg), the baby, and Tulip (voice: Katie Crown), 2016. ©

Even with its flaws, I had a blast watching STORKS. The humor really elevated this film in my eyes. You could predict where the plot was going from the get-go and the film’s pacing compromises a few moments that should have been lingered on, but the humor is plentiful and the animation is pleasing to look at. This may not reinvent the wheel of animated family comedies and might not be up to the levels of many popular CGI family-comedies from other big studios, but STORKS is highly entertaining. If you’re in the mood to laugh or need to pick a quick flick to stick in front of your kids, STORKS should fit both of those needs just fine.

Grade: B

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and Action

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Directed by: Clay Kaytis & Fergal Reilly

Written by: Mikael Hed, Mikko Polla & John Cohen

(based on the video game ANGRY BIRDS by Rovio Entertainment)

Voices of: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key & Blake Shelton

I wasn’t expecting THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE to be great. After all, this film is based on an addicting cell phone app. That’s the current state of the film industry though, where a TETRIS trilogy gets greenlit and an EMOJI MOVIE is currently in production. I watched ANGRY BIRDS with hopes that it might be serviceable family entertainment. Not up to Disney or Pixar standards, but somewhere along the lines of a lesser DreamWorks film. I was horribly mistaken. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE is one of the worst animated films I’ve seen in a long time and it’s not like this film doesn’t have good production values behind it either. ANGRY BIRDS features a talented voice cast and has solid animation, but the script is offensively lazy and a large portion of the jokes fall flat.

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On the aptly named Bird Island, easily infuriated Red (Jason Sudeikis) has been sentenced to anger management. In this frustrating program, the red flightless bird reluctantly befriends speedy Chuck (Josh Gad) and explosive Bomb (Danny McBride). Red’s anger management classes encounter unexpected turbulence when a mysterious ship arrives, filled with green pigs. The pigs are led by charismatic leader Leonard (Bill Hader), who quickly becomes popular in the bird community. However, Red becomes suspicious of these pigs and is written off as paranoid by his fellow feathered citizens. Soon enough, the outcast trio of angry birds become the only hope for Bird Island’s unhatched eggs.

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To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t exactly sold on ANGRY BIRDS being a film from the get-go. The marketing was lame, but I heard a few surprisingly positive reviews and the animation looked good. This film was made by Finnish company Rovio Entertainment, the very same company that made the ANGRY BIRDS app to begin with, and currently holds the record for the largest budget in Finnish film history. Apparently those investments paid off for them, because this film banked at the box office and there’s already a sequel in the works. Why am I discussing the production of this film, rather than the qualities of the movie itself? Well, those details seem remarkably more interesting than anything I can really say about this dull slog of wasted animation.

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The film’s story seems to be making itself up as it goes along, with many filler scenes before the all too brief conflict between angry birds and green pigs. This film seems like an origin story for the ANGRY BIRDS universe, but forgets part of why that game was so enjoyable in the first place. You’re launching birds at evil green pigs to retrieve eggs. This movie takes over an hour before it finally reaches that point, not that it necessarily would have been better to watch birds vs. pigs for an hour of screen time. What I’m getting at is that THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE runs way too long. This film could have easily been shortened by 20 or 30 minutes and it would have made for a less painful experience.

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The film’s talented voice cast is completely wasted on bottom-of-the-barrel potty humor and pop culture references. Both of those can be well-executed in kid’s films, but ANGRY BIRDS drops the ball numerous times. There’s a forced SHINING reference with two pigs, a Calvin Klein ad with a pig, cholesterol jokes and plenty of substituted profanity (e.g. “Peck my life” and “Shell yes”). Are we laughing yet? Well, if those don’t do it for you, surely you’ll be rolling in the aisle from lame bird puns, a sequence of a snot-nosed bird flying through the air and smearing mucus everywhere, butts being thrown into other birds faces, and an elongated pee joke that’s already been spoiled in the trailer. It’s a wonder that THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE wound up hitting 3,932 theaters, because this thing feels like it should be debuting direct-to-video in Redbox and discount Wal-Mart bins.

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Are there any redeeming qualities to ANGRY BIRDS? Well, two adult-aimed jokes are genuinely clever and the animation is fun to look at. I’m not going to pretend like I’m the target audience for THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE, because I’m clearly not. However, THE LEGO MOVIE also sounded stupid in theory and wound up being one of the best films of 2014. It’s possible to make any idea, regardless of how idiotic and stupid it sounds, into a great or fun film, if there’s enough talent, effort and love thrown into the project. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE is not that kind of movie. Instead, this lazy cash-grab will probably occupy bored children for 97 minutes, but likely won’t do much for teenage viewers and adults.

Grade: D

KEANU (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language throughout, Drug Use and Sexuality/Nudity

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Directed by: Peter Atencio

Written by: Jordan Peele & Alex Rubens

Starring: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Method Man, Luis Guzman, Nia Long & Will Forte

After five hysterical seasons of KEY & PEELE, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have finally taken their leap onto the silver screen. Though the comedic duo have starred individually in side roles, this is their first front-and-center big budget feature. KEANU is simple, entertaining, and has noticeable problems. This basically plays out like a 100 minute KEY & PEELE skit, which isn’t a hugely negative statement when you consider that KEY & PEELE is funnier than 99% of modern sketch comedy. The screenplay has a few dull moments (including some plot holes) and the running time is about 15 minutes too long, but KEANU is an enjoyable romp that should please KEY & PEELE fans and animal lovers alike.

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In the aftermath of a nasty break-up, Rell (Jordan Peele) has become hopelessly depressed. This all changes when an adorable kitten shows up on his doorstep. With furry Keanu as a constant companion, Rell now has a new lease on life. He and his cousin, Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), go for a night out to see the newest Liam Neeson movie. They return to find Rell’s house ransacked and cuddly Keanu is nowhere to be found. In order to save the kidnapped kitten, Rell and Clarence pretend to be a pair of hardened drug dealers and infiltrate a local gang. As you might imagine, chaos ensues, bullets fly and bodies pile up…all for the sake of the cutest cat you’ve ever seen.

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KEANU isn’t exactly a revelatory comedy that introduces a ton of fresh jokes and avoids clichés. It actually revels in every familiar step of the action movie formula and seems to simultaneously mocking well-worn plot points as it goes along. The characters of Rell and Clarence are pretty much interchangeable with any of Key & Peele’s other protagonists. They’re simply good guys thrown into a ridiculous scenario which leads to lots of misunderstandings and tense situations being played for dark laughs. As with many KEY & PEELE sketches, KEANU gets more over-the-top and filled with violence as it goes along. This script definitely has the recognizable blend of dark humor and silliness that kept Key & Peele’s comedy show afloat for five seasons. Nods to previous skits are scattered around the background and dialogue, so I imagine that diehard KEY & PEELE fans will likely get a kick out of those Easter eggs too.

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Only two big faces stick out of the supporting cast, while the lesser-known actors (playing the gangsters) make do with what they’ve got. Will Forte has an enjoyably silly role as Rell’s pot-dealing neighbor and got some big laughs out of me, especially in his introduction. Forte’s dreadlocked drug dealer serves as an exposition-spewing plot device, but manages to make his scenes memorable. Method Man takes on the role of domineering antagonist as gang boss Cheddar. This rapper turned occasional actor plays his villain as seriously as possible, which makes Key and Peele’s antics even funnier to watch in comparison.

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KEANU is entertaining, but not without flaws. The opening third is the movie’s peak of hilarity, while the remainder has noticeable ups and downs in momentum. The middle section, particularly a drug deal sequence (featuring a nicely placed cameo) and an elongated George Michael joke, could have used tighter editing. There are laughs in these moments, but I feel the humor would have definitely benefitted from a shorter running time. There are a couple of jokes that fell flat as well, including a music video inspired drug trip, and other opportunities for bigger laughs are passed up. The latter is especially evident during one final scene that seemed to be opening the door for a hilarious punchline, but instead opened up a few distracting plot holes with a well-trodden conventional approach.

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All things considered, KEANU will entertain KEY & PEELE fans and animal lovers. The film occasionally suffers from pacing issues and a few jokes that fall flat, but can still be enjoyed as a fun little comedy. If you are not a fan of KEY & PEELE, this probably won’t do much for you. Viewers who want to watch Key & Peele play around on the big-screen with a budget, smile at lots of close-ups of the cutest kitten you’ve ever seen, enjoy over-the-top bloody shootouts, and chuckle at arguments about whether or not George Michael is an O.G., are bound to find something to like here.

Grade: B

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some Scary Images, Action and Rude Humor

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Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky

Written by: Robert Smigel & Adam Sandler

Voices of: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Asher Blinkoff, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Mel Brooks, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Rob Riggle & Jon Lovitz

I enjoy the original HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA. Though it had nothing on other kid-friendly horror flicks like PARANORMAN and FRANKENWEENIE of the same year (2012), HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA served as a colorful, innocent and funny take on classic monsters. It wasn’t nearly as bad as one might expect an Adam Sandler animated comedy to be either. I had fun watching it, even though it didn’t quite know how to end. I wasn’t exactly opposed to the idea of a sequel and the trailer for this second installment had me intrigued. The advertising for HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 make it seem as if this second film goes in a different direction than the first and for the most part, it does. However, this sequel carries over some of the exact same problems that the original movie suffered from as well.

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Since the events of the first HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, Mavis (Dracula’s daughter) and Johnny (her human boyfriend) have tied the knot. A short while later, the two have a kid. It’s up in the air as to whether their son, Dennis, is a human or a vampire. If he’s a monster, the kid will sprout fangs within his first five years. Dracula becomes concerned that his grandson isn’t the bloodsucking fiend that he hoped he would be and does his best to bring out the monster inside of Dennis, all while Johnny introduces Mavis to the human world in California. There’s only a few days until Dennis’s fifth birthday. Is Dennis actually a vampire? If he’s only human, will Dracula (his vampa, short for vampire grandpa) be willing to accept him for who he is? I guess you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

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I’ll address the positives first. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 is very well animated. There’s a good atmosphere hovering over the whole film that feels like a kid-friendly version of something like THE ADDAMS FAMILY. The characters are all creative and creepily cute in their designs. I especially liked the inclusion of Dracula’s grandpa, Vlad, who appears to be an almost Nosferatu-like presence. The voice cast all fit their roles, with my favorite still being Steve Buscemi as a worn-out werewolf with over 300 kids. The subplot involving Mavis and Johnny in California is more enjoyable for the adults than it really is for children. What’s especially funny are the misguided lengths that Johnny’s parents will go to in order to make Mavis feel accepted in their mortal home. These moments did get some solid laughs out of me.

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The main plot at hand focuses on Dracula and his monstrous crew trying to get Dennis to sprout his potentially nonexistent fangs. While the film gets off to a slow, episodic start, it really finds its stride when Dracula hits the road with Dennis. During this middle section, the film moves from creative set-piece to creative set-piece as the monsters try to showcase their old-school abilities (e.g. the mummy conjuring a sand storm, the werewolf killing an innocent animal, etc.) and ultimately finding that they’re not as young as they used to be. This middle section is also chock full of big laughs for both children and adults. As well-paced as the momentum is, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 doesn’t stick the landing at all. This movie has a really stupid ending. The film seemed as if it was building towards a potentially powerful message that could be taken to heart by both kids and adults, ultimately something you wouldn’t expect at all from a sequel to an animated Adam Sandler comedy. The screenplay botches this by introducing a last-minute baddie for no apparent reason other than to have an obvious villain and also includes a repetitive, cheap fight sequence. This doesn’t exactly sink this entire film up to that point, especially considering that the first movie suffered from the exact same problem, but it is disappointing.

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HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 should definitely keep kids entertained for just under 90 minutes with its colorful animation, obvious jokes and whatnot. There are pieces of adult humor that will go right over children’s heads and the middle is definitely the strongest part of the whole film. Ultimately, if you liked the first HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, then you’ll enjoy this second installment. I consider them on the same playing field. Both films have strong animation, a good premise, and solid laughs throughout. However, they both drag a little too long and don’t quite stick the landing due to tacked-on, dumb endings. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 is cute, harmless fun and that’s all it was ever meant to be.

Grade: B-

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