A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 23: The Disaster Artist

Everyone likes an underdog story. We root for the scrapper, the unbendable, the one who plants his roots like a tree by the River of Truth and says ‘no, you move’. We like the Cinderella Story. We like the U.S. beating Russia. We like miracles.

The Disaster Artist is the underdog tale for the movies. It takes us through the creation, filming and screening of what is considered the worst movie ever – The Room. We meet Greg – an actor in L.A. who makes a fateful friend with Tommy in an acting class. Right away, we know that Tommy is not an actor. They read monologues together and try to grab a piece of the dream that fuels a whole town. In the course of the movie, we see that there is something more to Tommy than what is apparent…almost sinister in its aspect. We watch the miracle splinter, we watch it bend, but we never see it break. As people who know what’s going to happen. We want to scream at Greg as he turns down a bit part in the show Malcom in the Middle – offered by Bryan Cranston, but Greg has to shave off the beard he grew, which would throw the movie off schedule. Rather than abandon the movie, and get a better chance at a career, he sticks to his guns. Miracles come in all shapes and sizes.

This movie is absolutely phenomenal. The acting is meticulously performed. James Franco’s performance is pitch perfect. Stick around for a “Wiseau-off” between Franco and the real Tommy Wiseau in an after credits scene. Not only are the perforances spot on, but the recreation of the movie The Room is eerie. Another post credit scene compares the The Disaster Artist’s performances of scenes in The Room. The care that it took to get every little movement, every little intonation down shows the dedication these actors had to the film.

The humor comes from the disconnect that Tommy has to, apparently, the entirety of reality. Seeming oblivious to the flaming chaos he creates, he forges ahead unflinching towards fame…or infamy if you look at it right. We see him try to act, and while he thinks he’s giving an Oscar winning performance, everyone else, and the audience, cringe with every syllable. We don’t know if he’s all-in crazy, or trying to prank the cast, and the audience in the process (rumors of money laundering aside). In a town that chews up the unwary, Tommy Wiseau punches his way down the esophagus and comes back up covered in juices proclaiming victory.

See this movie. See the after credits scenes, and if you ever doubt that your talents and skills will ever make an impact…remember – Only Nixon could go to China, and only Tommy Wiseau could make The Room.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 22: Bob Lazar: Area 51 and the Flying Saucers

I have been very lucky to have seen Travis Walton in person. For those of you who might not know, Travis Walton is a UFO abductee. His story is told in the book and the movie Fire In The Sky, which I will review later on. If you get the chance, go see him. I am telling you that this is a man who has seen it and lived it. You can look in his eyes and see it.

Another famous name in UFO circles is Bob Lazar, the whistleblower who alleges (don’t shoot me, Cigarette-Smoking Man!) that not only did the U.S. government have flying objects, aliens and backwards engineering, but he had proof that could corroborate his story. He explained in detail how the saucers worked, what fueled them and where they hailed from.

As much as I love documentaries, especially U.F.O. documentaries, I found this one to be a little flat. While his story is well known in the community, this one seemed to be more concerned about his home life, what he does now and keeping his name out there for the notoriety. While he puts on a demeanor of ‘here we go again’ at times, other times he comes off as the 35 year old ex-high school quarterback who just won’t shut up about the time he threw five touchdowns in a single game.

I guess I was looking for more…zip? We got a look at his first appearances explaining how he got to what would be called Area 51, and the other facility that housed the ships. We watched him talk about meeting Edward Teller, then have Dr. Teller deny meeting him…and Bob pulling out a torn page from the directory with his name on it. This particular documentary was rather dry. I finished it, but I had to push myself, which I normally don’t do on such things. This was more of an extended history / puff-piece on a well known member of the community.

Seriously: see Travis Walton in person, or watch the movie Fire in the Sky. You’ll be better entertained.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 21: It Follows

It is very rare that there is a horror movie that I watch and see subtext immediately. The first time I watch any movie, it’s for dumb enjoyment. I just want to let the movie world take me in and quiet all the nagging doubts, crippling depression and self-loathing I’ve had for so long to just be quiet. If a movie is really good, then I’ll see it again and maybe pick up on a couple of things. I’m not a film student, nor a critic. I’m just a guy who goes out and likes movies.

It Follows is a movie that not only scared me, but it really made me consider the impact that our social media driven culture has had on us – especially people of my generation who can remember a time before the Internet, Facebook and Instagram. As the saying goes: the Internet is forever. How many cringe-inducing moments are now forever? Remember that flame war you got into with that guy from Omaha? The Internet does. Remember those naked pictures your boyfriend took of you after a few too many beers? The Internet does (and thanks you for that, too).

While the proverbial ‘It’ has been discussed by the director of his film as a metaphor for STDs, and given that the ‘It’ is something that is passed along by sex until you’re dead – the main character manages to keep one step ahead of it by throwing herself at almost every guy she can find (even on a boat) certainly would make one pause before scrolling through Tinder for a hook-up.

However, I watched the movie and thought about how our online lives are following us. If someone did a dedicated enough search of things I’ve posted (even on this very site), they’re going to come upon some moments that I am not proud of. Even though the digital ‘It’ is perhaps five or six blocks away, it is coming and it is relentless. What makes this even worse is that we sign up for this. We eagerly give our name, email address and phone number to ‘It’ so that we’re not alone. We let ourselves get herded, stamped, appraised and summarily ignored and shunned for failing the ideological purity tests. What might have been way down the street is now stepping through our front door…

…and you can’t hide from it.

While there are some internal logic issues I have with the film, they don’t stand up to some wonderful set shots that will linger with you after the lights come up. The most striking scene for me is the very end. Heroine and Hero – now both befouled – walk distracted from each other down a sidewalk. In the background is an approaching figure.

This is certainly in my top five horror movies, and well worth watching.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 20: Good Bye, Lenin!

A staple of comedy is the growing lie. What starts out a simple seed (“No, sir – you look so…so…marvelous!”) blossoms into a garden of deception and spinning plates that would stagger any politician. The ultimate fun is when, running out of plates, time and energy the whole apparatus collapses. We drink in the anger of the explanations and say to our friends ‘should have been honest from the get-go’.

Good Bye, Lenin gives us no such moment. Featuring my first and best man-crush with Daniel Bruhl, this story is nothing more magnificent than a life-sized replica of the palace at Versailles made out of balanced cards. Some of the contrivances (happened to find unbroken glass jars of the exact kind with intact labels?) are a little out there, but we get the pay-off with the (should be) iconic sight of the statue halves of Lenin being flown to the West. The mother and stroke victim see the world as if should be to them, then pass away with their last breath being a contented sigh. A far better ending than plates crashing.

This movie is also a fair examination about what we would do to shield and protect our loved ones. How many of us would scour the city trying to find old glass jars? Talk our friends and other family members to carrying on the facade to a ridiculous level? Many people would have sat down with our mothers and tried to explain the changes in society. Many people would also end up burying our mothers shortly afterwards. Better to risk truth than take the simpler option? As anyone going through a higly-charged emotional situation can tell you: sometimes the lie is what’s needed.

The mother is an ardent Communist, loyal to the party and the struggle. Telling her that the very system she worked in and supported had vanished literally overnight would have killed her – the MC was told that his mother could not have a shock to her system. Now the stage is set – a page ripped from history, apparently – to see how long we can spin these plates. The plates spin for a long, long time thanks to the dedication of a single son to his mother.

Daniel Bruhl tackles this role with eagerness to help that is heartfelt. All the schemes he talks about and undertakes are done with an innocent sincerity. He never tries to wheedle anything from her, but tries to stay one step ahead as the elaborate scheme grows in complexity. In the end, the mother dies satisfied that her world is preserved and enduring not through a machination of her son, but by the coincidence of a helicopter flying overhead. Seems that God indeed, as Carl Reiner puts it, is a gag writer.

A lot people complain about foreign humor, but this movie proves that comedy has a language that surpasses borders, politics and woe. If you want something funny, but clever not crude – give Good Bye, Lenin! a look.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 19: Audition

Audition is the one movie that almost scared me away from Japanese women.

Almost.

This is a classic of the horror genre and one of the few films that genuinely creep me out. When it comes to horror – zombies, ghosts and outlandish psycho killers don’t really do it for me unless there is some sort of jump scare (which there is in almost every film nowadays…dang it). The ones that really get under my skin, the ones that really affect me are the ones where the threat is not only conceivable, but practical, achievable and completely happen without any external, supernatural agency.

Summoning Satan? Nah. Really want to get to me…

kiri, kiri, kiri…

On this watch through, I was struck by a couple of things that I didn’t notice earlier. Frankly, I am hitting myself on the head that I missed them:

1) Asami always wore white. Here in the West, white is associated primarily with purity, and it makes sense. Asami always came off as someone who was innocent and pure. Not by virture of being closed off from the world, but by virtue of her trials and tribulations. After the accident that damaged her hips and took away her ability to dance, we can see that what was left has been tempered and made stronger.

I don’t think that this is the ultimate case.

In Japanese tradition, white is a funeral color. This is the equivalent of someone dressing goth in the West. She’s constantly in a state of mourning for what she lost, and it’s that grief that’s made her mad. She’s the Eastern equivalent of the widow who doesn’t move past the death of her husband. The men she goes after aren’t there to comfort her, provide for her or anything like that. They are the medium through which she expresses her pain.

2) Who was auditioning for who? We accept the beginning premise that Aoyama was auditioning women to find someone suitable to date (creepy enough on its own), but as the movie continues on, it’s Aoyama who ends up auditioning for Asami. She teases, tricks and torments and Aoyama keeps right on going. This is the bloody equivalent of the old auditioning story of getting up on the stage and after preparing a stirring monologue, being told “You’re bacon. Now sizzle.”

Takashi Miike is one of my favorite directors. His use of subtle time jumps keeps the audience off balance, and letting us get a feel for Aoyama’s confusion and distress over falling into this woman’s clutches. Of all the horror films I’ve seen, this movie and Misery are the two best and the most startling to me. If you are a fan of horror in general, and J-Horror specifically – this needs to be in your collection. It’s well worth the watch…although I wouldn’t hit sites like cherryblossoms.com after watching this.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 18: Hancock

Before Marvel really geared up and DC stumbled out of the gate, there was Hancock – the superhero movie we didn’t know we needed. It faded quickly in obscurity because it wasn’t the typical Will Smith family friendly sort of fare. Crude and violent, this is more the style of Garth Ennis than Stan Lee.

Hancock is a superhero with that’s called F.I.S.S. (courtesy of Aaron Williams) – Flight, Invulnerability, Speed, Strength. The basic package of superheroes. He also comes with abysmal P.R., alcoholism and a bad attitude. While he’s not as bad as The Plutonian from Irredeemable, he’s certainly no DC Comics mainstay.

The real treat to this movie is that it takes a somewhat realistic look at the notion of “what society giveth, society taketh away”. Cancel Culture is older than you think. While Hancock’s struggle to improve himself is fun to watch, it should also point out that sometimes we lend our always-on, celebrity litmus test too much credence. However, I think this one theme is lost in the mythology of the movie, but it’s fine. The overall message of anyone can be redeemed if they work hard enough. Sadly, even this message might get missed in the face of Hancock’s initial crudity.

I would have liked to seen this movie expanded upon. The mythology is nice, and makes sense when fully explained. The writing is good from Vince Gilligan (Lloyd C. Bird alum!) and Vincent Ngo. The direction and camera work are a little shaky, but its a lot better than other films I’ve seen from the same year. It made the budget back and actually earned a profit, but the critical and moviegoer panning didn’t help to get this a sequel.

Much like a lot of films I own, this one is a good movie to turn your brain off to and just laugh. There are some redeeming messages, but not regarding them doesn’t take away from the enjoyment. Give it a whirl.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 17: Dodgeball

There are a lot of movies that I wished I had seen at the theater. Dodgeball is one of them. I’m a horrible procrastinator. I’ll see an advertisement for a movie and I’ll think ‘I should see that’ and that’s the last of that thought. I was raised in the ‘70s, when a movie chain would hold on to a movie for two or more seasons to wring every last penny out of it. So, when a movie that is a hit comes out, I fall back into the mentality of ‘it’s going to be there for a while, I’m not going to stress out over it’.

Then the leaves change and the squirrels hot-wire my car for warmth and I look up at the marquee and see that one film I had been dithering about is now gone. Trust me, you’re not the only one who is overenthusiastic for digital services. I can finally get around to see what the hub-bub is about this Lawrence of Arabia flick is about.

Back to Dodgeball.

This is a perfect summer comedy. Something to go see with friends and you don’t have to really over-exert yourself. Everyone plays to their strengths – Vince Vaughn is the clever and lovable guy. Ben Stiller is the hypercompetive neurotic type and Justin Long is the sweet guy. This is a studio film right now the line, but that’s O.K. – not all formulaic studio productions are soul-sucking, money devouring abominations…just the ones that are put out by Disney (come at me, Mouse House).

I feel we need comedies like this. Not just the ‘underdog wins the big game’, but just a comedy that doesn’t have any sort of hidden political agenda or any other sort of chest thumping. I want a comedy that exists to make me laugh and feel good for a few minutes, not laugh one minute, then rage against society. Dodgeball did that perfectly, and trust me…I am someone who needs to laugh very often.

The only nit pick I have with this film is Alan Tudyk’s character in the final scene. I wasn’t happy that he went back to “pirate-mode” even after getting his haircut and a decent polo shirt. Personally, I would have had him look at the cash and say “Nah. Let’s just call it even”. The whole reason he wasn’t there for the final game was his soul (and shirt) searching. it’s such a small thing, and it didn’t pull me out of the movie that badly. A definitely understated performance was Jason Bateman’s turn as the color commentator Pepper Brooks. His vaguely addled demeanor against Gary Cole’s professional turn was a nice and subtle jab at sports commentary.

The real part shines is when the dodgeballs go flying and everyone takes a hit without flinching. I can tell you, none of them were first-takes. Interesting bit of trivia – when Justin Long is hit by a wrench, he actually suffered an injury, his eyebrow was gashed. The wrenches were all made of foam, but that one that hit Justin was a bit more sturdy than the others. We must all suffer for our art.

But you won’t suffer in watching Dodgeball.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 16: Colossal

This is a movie I really, really tried to like. It had a good cast, and a great concept that I bought into…but I couldn’t invest myself in it as much as I wanted to. As I watched it, I thought that there was something missing in the movie, like there was a scene that would have tied the story together.

One of the reasons why I try to watch movies in the theater first before they hit the stores is because in the period in between theater and store shelf, they can be cut to make room for other things, or because someone in the studio wanted to monkey around with it before it was packaged up and sent out to eager fingers.

A perfect example of this is Star Trek: Generations. In the scene with Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise whatever-letter-was-left, he was told that the helmsman (or helmswoman) was Sulu’s daughter. Kirk was surprised by this, asking Scotty how Sulu could find the time to have a daughter.

He made the time.” was his response.

This small exchange, about thirty seconds, is the whole plot of the movie in a nutshell. When Kirk disappeared into The Nexus and is given his perfect life – he’s not captaining a ship with his hair on fire. He’s having a quiet time in a cabin in Montana (I guess, it’s definitely the Northern Midwest) with someone because when Picard finds him, he’s making breakfast. He’s having the life he sacrificed for Starfleet. This makes his choice to come back to the real world, and sacrifice his life that much more powerful.

That exchange was cut in the VCR release. I remembered that scene in the theater. I even rewound the movie back a couple of seconds (flirting with a hungry VCR. This younger generation will never know the panic) to make sure I hadn’t just checked out mentally for a minute. Nope, it was gone. Someone watching the VCR version would think that Kirk just sacrificed a sweet cabin and some hot Orion girl tail for one last hurrah. No one outside of that initial viewing in the cinema would know that Kirk gave up his perfect, endless life to save some strangers. Again.

That’s how I felt with Colossal. There was a scene, a bit of dialogue or something that would have tied everything together and have it make sense, but it wasn’t in the release I bought (I never got to see it in the theater. I am such a procrastinator). Well, as much sense as a kaiju/romance/chick flick could make. The performances were great – Jason Sudeikis and Anne Hathaway have good chemistry together, and the low-end effects pay homage to the old and honored Godzilla films from Toei Studios. I just wish the story had been a little more coherent for me.

It’s not a bad film. It might benefit from repeat viewings to wear away the novelty and allow a deeper look, but on first blush – it’s not the big must-see I thought it was.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 15: Blazing Saddles

Earlier, when I reviewed Airplane!, I said that it was a movie that they could not remake in the modern era. They couldn’t remake Airplane! because the sight and callback gags are now almost cliché. ZAZ films had a great run and extended several actors careers beyond what they did originally.

Blazing Saddles can’t be remade because of the current political climate. Mel Brooks turning in this script would be blacklisted in the age we live now. While, yes, his comedy is broad, and doesn’t rely on shock value as like, say, Howard Stern – Blazing Saddles glories in making up laugh and cringe at the same time while sending up the entire western genre. A Founding Father of modern comedy, this movie is the bedrock upon which modern classics like Dodgeball and Me, Myself and Irene.

Like a lot of the comedies from this era, it has kept its shine bright, even despite repeated viewings over. This, and a ration of Monty Python made up my Saturday evenings. However, I am finding more hidden gems of hilarity this go-around. This movie was post-modern and fourth wall breaking before such things were made popular (and driven into the ground, if you ask me). In the scene where the town brawl spills into the dance scene, look at the hole where the fight comes in – there is a painted mockup of the mockup of the town. This might not be intentional, but it’s funny in the context of the whole movie. Yes, there are the sight gags that top themselves. Hanging a murderous doctor in his own wheelchair? OK – here’s one better: let’s hang a man and his horse. Let’s go for broke – let’s have the erstwhile hero of the movie moved up to be hung, and have the people awaiting their turn look pissed. Why not make our executioner a medieval hunchback complaining about scheduling? In the Wild West! Why not?

This movie was third film directed by Mel Brooks, proving that he could bring in the cash that the studio demanded. This film also brought in Richard Pryor as a writer and was the first movie to feature former NFL player turned actor and future father to Emmanuel Lewis’s Webster Alex Karras. Madeline Khan, Harvey Korman round out the cast with hilarious turns as the seductive German songstress (another send up of the Western genre is the entertaining lady belting out an innuendo laden song break to a rowdy crowd. Madeline’s song is called ‘I’m Tired’ and is a blunt complaint about constant sex), and the villain who corrects his own name (“Look, it’s Heddy Lamar!” “It’s Headly!”) more often than he hatches plans and wants his rubber frog.

This comedy should be in a place of high honor in your collection – next to Airplane! and Monty Python’s Life of Brian as the Holy Trinity of comedy of Monty Python, Mel Brooks and ZAZ. A perfect piece to drag out on your mental health days and just let yourself laugh out loud.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 14: Trust Me

Yeah…watching Christine wasn’t the best thing. As much as I have grown to loathe the phrase ‘trigger warning, it is appropriate to have one for that movie. So in the spirit of forging forward, I picked the comedy Trust Me starring Clark Gregg of MCU fame.

When it comes to picking things, I am horrible. This explains why I’ve never won the Powerball.

Remember when I reviewed Don’t Think Twice and I mentioned the classical definition of comedy? Trust Me barely even covers that. This movie looks more like a contractual obligation than anything that can be considered heart-warming, funny or even entertain-able.

The big draw here is Clark Gregg, who is front and center on the promo pictures. I have the feeling that this movie was released shortly after Gregg’s turn in the MCU, hoping to get some second or third hand financial blow-back. Blow-back is right because this movie is not funny, and I can’t even repeat that enough to induce semantic satiation.

This is a bare, unflinching look at one man’s efforts trying to do good in the most predatory place on the planet: Hollywood. Checking it out on imdb.com, I see that he wrote, directed and starred in it.

Yeah.

With the star talent he managed to get together (Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy and Sam Rockwell), you’d think this film would have been…better. I found myself watching this movie and waiting for some sort of punchline, rather than some Brazil-esque ending that didn’t really match the tone of the film. To he honest, I don’t think the film knew what sort of tone it was going for.

I can’t say a whole lot about it because there wasn’t a whole lot to it. I still have to question why Apple would put this up as a comedy, I still need to question who greenlit this when there is a whole list of films stuck in Development Hell that are more deserving of a look than this.

I don’t fault Clark Gregg. I’m glad he was able to get this out there, as it’s clearly a pet project of his. I just hope that this misstep (and I am being generous) won’t rob us of any more of his talent. He nails down the charm and wit of Cary Grant effortlessly. He deserves more time on screen.

Just not like this.