Josh Hutcherson

The Disaster Artist

08/12/17

Let me begin with a question: is it ever possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? In this analogy, the sow’s ear is Tommy Wiseau’s movie, The Room (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2017/12/04/the-room/), a film of such toe-curling ineptitude that it actually hurts to watch it – and a film, moreover, that – since its initial release in 2003 – has somehow recruited a sizable coterie of avid fans, who gather at regular midnight screenings around the world to celebrate its general naffness. The potential silk purse is The Disaster Artist, the film about the making of The Room, in which James Franco plays Wiseau and, in a hubristic gesture that Wiseau would undoubtedly approve of, also directs.

Franco’s film opens in San Francisco in the 90s, where we meet young wannabe actor, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), who is struggling to make some kind of impact on the local theatre scene. At a workshop, he encounters Wiseau, a mysterious long-haired individual who, when invited to improvise in front of the other students, unleashes a ‘performance’ of such unabashed fury, that the more inhibited Sestero immediately wants to know more about him. The two men become buddies and, when Wiseau casually suggests that they should go to Los Angeles and ‘get into the movies,’ Sestero happily goes along – Wiseau already has an apartment there and he’s perfectly happy to share it. It soon becomes apparent, however, that there are a lot of unanswered questions concerning Mr Wiseau. Where does his seemingly bottomless pit of money come from? Why does a man who claims to be a native of New Orleans have what sounds like a middle European accent? And why is he so willing to go to any lengths to impress Sestero? Will there be a price to pay?

When, after months of fruitless auditions have resulted in exactly zero film or TV roles, Wiseau announces that there is only one option left: he will write a movie script for the two of them to star in – and then he will direct it. Which is pretty much what happens. Wiseau’s complete ignorance of the film-making process means that he ends up spending over six million dollars on his little vanity project and, since he seems reluctant to heed any advice from professionals, the result of all his labours is an incoherent mess but, undeterred, he sets about arranging a premiere…

It would be very easy to make a cruel comedy out of this but, though the film is often laugh-out-loud funny, Franco’s evident affection for Wiseau shines through in every frame. As the director has said in interviews, it takes as much commitment and ingenuity to make a bad film as it does to make a good one and it will be a hard-hearted individual indeed who won’t feel for Wiseau when his beloved project is greeted by hoots of derision from all who see it. Franco’s impersonation of Wiseau is uncannily accurate, as are most of the other performances here. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot some big names in cameo roles: Sharon Stone, Bob Odenkirk, Seth Rogan, Josh Hutcherson, J.J. Abrams. Oh yes, and there’s Bryan Cranston actually playing himself. Most telling of all is the extended sequence at the end of the film, where scenes from The Room are played alongside their equivalent from The Disaster Artist. They are virtually identical.

So, the million dollar question. Do you need to have seen the original movie in order to enjoy this homage? Well, it may not be an essential requirement, but it certainly helps me to fully appreciate the care and attention that has gone into this project. Mind you, with the new interest in The Room that the film seems certain to generate, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a general re-release is waiting in the wings, which I’ve no doubt will be a bonus for Mr Wiseau.

So, returning to my original question, in this case yes. The sow’s ear has become a silk purse – and this is definitely one of the most intriguing films of the year.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

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21/11/15

Another day, another dystopia.

So, one of the biggest movie franchises of recent years grinds inexorably to its conclusion and the overriding question is this: is there another blockbusting series in the cinematic universe that is so monumentally dull? Seriously, I know this series isn’t really aimed at somebody like me, but my goodness, it moves so slowly and when you find yourself sitting there thinking about what you might have for breakfast tomorrow, that’s surely not a good sign.

At the film’s start, Katniss Everdean (Jennifer Lawrence) is nursing a bruised throat, delivered courtesy of her old squeeze Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) now a brainwashed wreck thanks to the fiendish ministrations of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Enlisted to lead a mission into the heart of the capital, Katniss enlists alongside her other squeeze, Gale (Liam Hemsworth). And guess what? Peeta goes along too, despite the fact that he keeps trying to kill members of his own squad. Go figure.

What follows is a long series of misadventures as the team are systematically despatched by bombs, bullets and er… oil. In between, we are treated to Katniss trying to choose between her two suitors. Will it be hunky Gale or unreliable Peeta (and if you have to think about that, for very long, then you haven’t really absorbed the message thus far)?

To be fair, there’s a decent sewer-set action sequence towards the final third (though the attacking creatures look like they’ve been drafted in from a far better film, Neil Marshall’s The Descent) and then there’s some more explosions before we’re treated to a ‘surprise’ twist which only the visually impaired won’t have seen coming. And of course, this being the final episode, there’s a syrupy coda, which seems intent on undermining the kickass female role that Lawrence has worked so hard to develop.

Of course, one cannot deny the financial success of this series – people are suggesting that together with the Bond and Star Wars franchise, it will single-handedly restore the fortunes of the cinema industry. But the supposed wisdom of the ‘political messages’ incorporated here are little more than fridge magnet sentiments – and it’s particularly galling to see the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final screen moments wasted on this bombastic sludge.

At least the series is finished – that is, until author Suzanne Collins decides to rewrite the first book from the point of view of President Snow. Don’t laugh, it seems to be the prevailing trend.

1.5 stars

Philip Caveney