Seth Rogan

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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Sausage Party

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08/09/16

In the colourful cartoon world created by Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill (and, it should be said,  a whole bunch of other writers), the edible inhabitants of Shopwell’s supermarket have created a convenient myth for themselves – that when they are ‘chosen’ by shoppers, they embark on a journey to The Great Beyond, a paradise where they will be forever happy with their perfect partners. Frank (Seth Rogen) is one member of a pack of frankfurter sausages who longs to be lustily united with Brenda (Kristen Wiig) a shapely hot dog bun. (You’ll already have gathered that the minds behind this concoction are not reaching for anything too intellectual.) When a jar of honey-mustard is returned by a shopper (because he wasn’t quite honey and he wasn’t quite mustard), he terrorises the other inhabitants of the store  with nightmarish tales of what he has witnessed – food being horribly tortured and mutilated before being devoured by humans – which sets Frank off on a convoluted quest to discover the truth about the Great Beyond.

Okay, so Sausage Party is an allegory about religion and the lies that people are prepared to swallow in order to make their existence tolerable – and, to be fair, there are a few clever scenes dotted throughout this film that hint at just how good it might have been if a little more thought had gone into it; but, unfortunately, such scenes are brutally nixed by the barrage of appalling racial, sexual and gender stereotypes to which the plot continually returns. It’s a case of one step forward, two steps back. No sooner have you enjoyed, for instance, the quite clever parody of Saving Private Ryan, than the script is offering some clumsy interplay between a Jewish bagel and a Middle Eastern lavash (that’s Armenian unleavened flatbread, in case you were wondering) that seems purely designed to offend religious sensibilities with its supposedly funny, lascivious er… climax.

Look, this was never going to be a masterpiece – it’s clearly something that’s been put together based on the ramblings of a couple of stoners (‘Hey man, imagine if this food we’re about to eat could talk!’) and, all things considered, it’s surprising that the end result is as watchable as it is. Those who enjoy their humour rude and obvious will doubtless laugh along with this – but its ambitions rarely take it any higher than a snake’s belly – and what can you honestly expect of a film that features a villain that is… quite literally, a douchebag?

And be warned. The central premise of this movie could easily encourage an eating disorder. This is a public service announcement. You have been warned.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

Steve Jobs

16/11/15

Steve Jobs is a strange sort of movie. Danny Boyle’s valiant attempt to capture the wayward genius of Apple’s head honcho is a film that really could only have been made after the man’s death. If he’d still been alive he’d have sued the makers for every penny they had. Not because it’s inaccurate, you understand, simply because that’s the kind of man he was.

Set mostly at the launch of three Apple products – the original Macintosh, the ill-fated Next cube and finally, the iMac, the set up is more like that of a theatrical production – and for all Boyle’s claims that this is a ‘standing-up’ movie rather than a ‘sitting-down’ one, it still comes across as predominantly talky. The script, by Aaron Sorkin, is a cut above most movie dialogue you’ll encounter, which certainly helps, but this frankly isn’t in the same league as The Social Network, with which the film will inevitably be compared.

Jobs (Michael Fassbender), quickly demonstrates the kind of behaviour that had him classed as a major pain in the backside by pretty much everyone who had the misfortune to work with him. He’s obsessed with tiny details, unwilling to take anyone else’s views into consideration and equally unwilling to take responsibility for his daughter, Lisa, who he claims might not actually be his child. His long-suffering assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) is lumbered with the unenviable task of keeping him on track and we see clashes with bearded workhorse Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan) and conversations with the closest thing that Jobs had to a father-figure, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) – unless of course you include his actual biological father, a restaurant owner who used to boast that Jobs ate in his establishment, without ever finding out he was actually waiting on his own son.

Boyle’s films are usually adrenalin-fuelled, razzle-dazzle affairs, so this slow burning, stage bound production will inevitably prove a disappointment to many. Certainly, early indications are that the movie is not exactly putting bums on seats – but it wins through in the end by virtue of Sorkin’s edgy script and a soaring conclusion, where everything finally falls into place.

4 stars

Philip Caveney