The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, James Franco
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“Fargo”)
Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“True Grit”)

As is the case with many of Academy Award-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coens’ projects, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” a six-part Western anthology that leads audiences through the heart of the unforgiving American Frontier, is a worthy addition to the Coens’ darkly funny cinematic canon, which includes classics like “Fargo” and “The Big Lebowski” and lesser-known gems like “A Serious Man.”

Do not, however, go into the Coens’ newest horse opera thinking they are going to deliver another “True Grit” or “No Country for Old Men.” It’s evident from those critically acclaimed films that they have the Western genre down pat, but “Buster Scruggs” is a different kind of movie altogether. Like “The Sisters Brothers” — another unconventional and philosophical cowboy dramedy that hit theaters a couple of months ago — it’s a unique and unpredictably screwy ride.

Of the film’s six vignettes, the one that would win an Oscar on its own in the Best Short Film category is the 20-minute opening segment, aptly called “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” and featuring actor Tim Blake Nelson (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) as the title character, a neatly dressed outlaw and “songbird,” who trots into town on horseback with his guitar only to find a heap of trouble waiting for him at every turn. With the Coens’ whip-smart dialogue and Nelson’s confident and wildly fun performance, “Buster Scruggs” starts off incredibly strong.

While the rest of the segments don’t reach the heights of the first, all of them offer viewers something special — a series of fantastic yarns spun with distinctive themes, pacing and colorful characters. In the segment “Near Algodones,” an unnamed cowboy (James Franco) walks into a dusty bank to rob it but finds his neck at the end of a noose when the teller (Stephen Root) fights back.

In “Meal Ticket,” The Impresario (Liam Neeson) serves as the caretaker to The Artist (Harry Melling), a limbless thespian who recites dramatic verse for townspeople across the Old West until his traveling companion discovers he might have a new plan. In “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” a young woman named Alice Lonabaugh (Zoe Kazan) is left in an uncomfortable position when her brother dies on the Oregon trail. Her future is uncertain until wagon train guide Billy Knapp (Bill Heck) offers her a start at a new life.

Made significant by the Coens’ clever screenplay, the gorgeous photography by five-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) and the beautiful score by two-time Oscar-nominated composer Carter Burwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), “Buster Scruggs” is an epic delight.

Ep. 107 – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (spoilers start at 17:04) and The Disaster Artist

December 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review the year’s most anticipated movie, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” BE AWARE: Spoilers run from 17:04 to 40:35!

They also review last week’s wide release “The Disaster Artist,” which is also the subject of Bonus Episode 13, so give that a listen too!

Click here to download the episode!

The Disaster Artist

December 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen
Directed by: James Franco (“Child of God,” “As I Lay Dying”)
Written by: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (“500 Days of Summer,” “The Fault in Our Stars”)

“The Disaster Artist,” a comedy documenting the creation of the cult-classic film “The Room,” is based on the book of the same name by co-star Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. Over the years, I’ve become intimately familiar with both stories: the over-the-top tale of the film featuring Johnny and his love for Lisa, undone by her infidelity with Johnny’s best friend Mark, and the book featuring the equally over-the-top tale of how the batshit movie came to be.

The film, like the book, chronicles the meeting of Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a mysterious man with an inscrutable accent and long black hair who looks much older than he says he is, and Greg (Dave Franco), a fresh-faced 19-year-old struggling to make it as an actor in San Francisco in the late ’90s.

Tommy and Greg become friends–in Tommy’s case, Greg is really his only friend–and move to Los Angeles to make it big as actors, despite Tommy’s eccentric behavior and his cryptic warnings to Greg to not tell anyone anything about him and his increasing jealousy of seemingly anything Greg gets that he doesn’t, like an agent, or something that steals Greg’s attention, like a girlfriend.

After they both struggle to find work, Tommy vows to write a film for he and Greg to star in and, with Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” as his inspiration, Tommy bangs out the script for “The Room” and digs into what one character calls a “bottomless pit” of money to produce his “All-American” vision his way, including the unorthodox practice of buying film equipment over leasing it and using it to shoot film and HD video side-by-side.

Tommy himself and the script for the film baffle crew members, including the script supervisor and de facto director Sandy (Seth Rogen) and director of photography Raphael (Paul Scheer), who both nearly quit over Tommy’s outrageous behavior, only to be talked out of it by Greg, the checks that are still clearing, and the notion that no one will see the film anyway.

Of course, the film saw the light of day in 2003 and became a midnight sensation thanks to Tommy’s paying to keep it in theaters (to qualify for the Academy Awards!) and an infamous, ominous billboard that lorded over Hollywood for more than a decade.

Easily his best film as a director to date (most of them are really weird and terrible), James Franco also disappears incredibly into Tommy, making him more than just a weird accent and greasy black hair, but also leaving the mystery of Tommy effectively intact. Sure, the audience might want to know some simple things like where Tommy came from, where he gets his money, and just how old he is–but the real Wiseau has never publicly revealed that either.

Franco’s wonderful performance, like the film itself, is easily on par with the Johnny Depp-Tim Burton biopic “Ed Wood,” that film a career-best turn for both, about a delusional, never-give-up director of terrible-yet-sincere movies that share DNA with “The Room.”

The question remains if “The Disaster Artist” will play to a crowd that isn’t familiar with “The Room” and all of its foibles. As someone who has seen “The Room” a dozen times or so, this question is difficult to answer, but without a doubt “The Disaster Artist” is delightfully hilarious and, like the inimitable Tommy Wiseau, has genuine heart.

Bonus Episode 13: The Disaster Artist with Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

December 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

 

It’s a very special “The Disaster Artist” themed bonus episode of The CineSnob Podcast. First up, Cody and Jerrod talk to friend of the show Greg Sestero as he returns to catch us up on the past 2 years of seeing his memoir about the making of “The Room” turned into a major motion picture.

Next, the boys talk with co-author of the book Tom Bissell about how he stumbled upon “The Room,” exploring Tommy Wiseau’s past, and how he helped Greg tell the story of his friendship with Tommy.

Click here to download the episode!

SXSW Review: The Disaster Artist

March 14, 2017 by  
Filed under CineBlog

“The Disaster Artist,” a comedy documenting the creation of the cult-classic film “The Room,” often called “the worst movie ever made,” received a standing ovation from a crowd at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, where the film screened for South By Southwest as a work in progress.

Director and star James Franco, who plays the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau, was on hand along with producing partner Seth Rogen (who has a role as an exasperated script supervisor in the film) and Franco’s brother Dave, who plays Wiseau’s best friend and “The Room” co-star Greg Sestero.

(The actual Tommy Wiseau an Greg Sestero were in attendance as well, receiving a standing ovation themselves as they took the stage for a post-show Q&A.)

The film, based on the book “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever” by Sestero and Tom Bissell, chronicles the meeting of Wiseau, a mysterious man with an inscrutable accent and long black hair who looks much older than he says he is, and Greg, a fresh-faced 19-year-old struggling to make it as an actor San Francisco in the late ’90s.

Tommy and Greg become friends–in Tommy’s case, Greg is really his only friend–and move to Los Angeles to make it big as actors, despite Tommy’s eccentric behavior and his cryptic warnings to Greg to not tell anyone anything about him and his increasing jealousy of seemingly anything Greg gets that he doesn’t, like an agent, or something that steals Greg’s attention, like a girlfriend.

After they both struggle to find work, Tommy vows to write a film for he and Greg to star in and, with Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” as his inspiration, Tommy bangs out the script for “The Room” and digs into what one character calls a “bottomless pit” of money to produce his “All-American” vision his way, including the unorthodox practice of buying film equipment over leasing it and using it to shoot film and HD video side-by-side.

Tommy himself and the script for the film baffle crew members, including the script supervisor and de facto director Sandy (Rogen) and director of photography Raphael (Paul Scheer), who both nearly quit over Tommy’s outrageous behavior, only to be talked out of it by Greg, the checks that are still clearing, and the notion that no one will see the film anyway.

Of course, the film saw the light of day in 2003 and became a midnight sensation thanks to Tommy’s paying to keep it in theaters (to qualify for the Academy Awards) and an infamous, ominous billboard that lorded over Hollywood for more than a decade.

Easily his best film as a director to date (most of them are really weird and terrible), James Franco also disappears incredibly into Tommy, making him more than just a weird accent and greasy black hair, but also leaving the mystery of Tommy effectively intact. Sure, the audience might want to know some simple things like where Tommy came from, where he gets his money, and just how old he is–but the real Wiseau has never publicly revealed that either.

Franco’s wonderful performance, like the film itself, is easily on par with the Johnny Depp-Tim Burton biopic “Ed Wood,” a career-best turn for both, about a delusional, never-give-up director of terrible-yet-sincere movies that share DNA with “The Room.”

The question remains if “The Disaster Artist,” still technically not complete and a little scraggly in the middle, will play to a crowd that isn’t familiar with “The Room” and all of its foibles. The audience at SXSW was certainly made up of devotees (myself included), loudly cheering and laughing at every recreated line and situation (the original film screened right after the Q&A wrapped up…I didn’t stay for that).

Regardless, “The Disaster Artist” is delightfully hilarious and, like the inimitable Tommy Wiseau, has genuine heart.

True Story

April 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones
Directed by: Rupert Goold (debut)
Written by: Rupert Goold (debut)

As eclectic as an actor James Franco is – a career decision that doesn’t always translate into great final products – it’s nice to witness when the Oscar-nominated actor (“127 Hours”) is able to pull back the reigns a bit and create a character that isn’t developed from some kind of cinematic experiment gone wrong. In “True Story,” Franco has a fact-based narrative to reference when he portrays Christian Longo, an Oregon man who is arrested for murdering his wife and children. It’s a somber and often times aggravating turn by Franco, but one that proves the actor doesn’t have to make some sort of convoluted statement with every role he plays.

Directed by first-time filmmaker and writer Rupert Goold, “True Story” follows the crime Christian committed in 2002. After he killed his family, he went on the run to Mexico where he used the alias Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), a name belonging to a New York Times writer who had recently been fired for some sloppy journalism. When Michael finds out Christian has been pretending to be him, he immediately wants to know more about the case and what drove Christian to such a heinous act in hopes of writing a book about the incident and the man behind it. During their meetings in prison, Christian, who never admits to the murders, begins to spin tales for Michael. It’s a friendship formed on manipulation as Michael allows himself to be taken under the spell of the charming convict. Without knowing where the truth lies, Michael is trapped in a frustrating game where he doesn’t have control of the situation.

While Goold’s script will have audiences in the dark for most of the film, it’s probably good to know as little as possible about the true-to-life case before watching “True Story” unravel piece by piece. Hill and Franco work seamlessly together, especially when they’re staring across the table from one another during prison scenes. What’s most interesting is how audiences will find themselves in the same position as Michael during most of the film. Is Christian someone that deserves to be heard or are his words that of a sociopath? Goold does a fantastic job of pushing and pulling the story between his two leads.

Where the film could’ve used a little more tightening is with the larger themes Goold obviously wanted to make come to the forefront. The content is present in the script, but it doesn’t come through in the third act. Goold is looking to say something more meaningful about the deceitfulness of man, but there’s little support. Maybe that’s where Franco should’ve been Franco and stepped in to say something profound. A wasted Felicity Jones attempts to do just that in her only contribution to the film, but it’s not nearly enough to tie everything together with much conviction.

The Interview

December 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Randall Park
Directed by: Evan Goldberg (“This is the End”) and Seth Rogen (“This is the End”)
Written by: Dan Sterling (debut)

Following a bizarre amalgamation of Hollywood controversy and serious political incidents over the last six months, Sony Pictures, in a quick and unforeseen move after pulling “The Interview” from its docket for a Christmas Day release, decided to drop the film on a handful of VOD platforms Christmas Eve afternoon, and allow theaters that still wanted to screen their film on Dec. 25 to do so. What changed the minds of Sony executives is still unclear (Barack Obama’s wagging finger of disappointment? George Clooney’s smackdown on Sony via – ironically – an interview with Deadline), but at least moviegoers (and VOD users) can put everything behind them and enjoy a classic assassination comedy comprised of enough jokes about assholes to make your grandma blush this holiday season.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, “The Interview” stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as Dave Skylark and Aaron Rapaport, a host and producer of a fluff TV show where getting celebrities to drop juicy TMZ-worthy bombshells is the name of the game. When Dave and Aaron find out they have been given the opportunity to interview North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, they jump at the chance to do some real journalism. The CIA, however, step in and insists that Dave and Aaron kill the North Korean leader during their planned visit.

Although inconsistent with its humor, there are major portions of “The Interview” that are gut-busting funny, especially during the first half where we’re introduced to Dave and Aaron and what their TV job entails and the set up for their trip to North Korea. Franco and Rogen play off one another with ease even when some of the jokes barely register and when the middle part of the movie begins to drag. Keeping up with both is actor Randall Park who plays Jong-un just as the script asks – a lonely and oftentimes sympathetic character that is also lined with playboy tendencies and venom running through his veins, which doesn’t figure into the story until the third act. It’s an interesting and somewhat bold characterization for Jong-un by screenwriter Dan Sterling, who could’ve taken the easy route and made him the kind of fat, pouting diaper-baby Americans love to imagine he is. Sterling finds a lot more comedy in scenes where Dave and Jong-un can pal around and find they have things in common with each other before the shit hits the fan.

Don’t expect some sort of biting satire about the evils of North Korea and the real-life insane man that runs the country. Directors Evan Goldberg and Rogen aren’t those kind of storytellers (if that were the case, we would’ve seen some damning message in their Book of Revelations-inspired comedy “This is the End”). Instead, go into “The Interview” expecting pop culture references to be at an all-time high, hilarious one-liners and someone sticking something large up their rectum. Wouldn’t we be in a better place if that combination was the catalyst for fostering peace and security across the globe?

Third Person

July 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody
Directed by: Paul Haggis (“Crash”)
Written by: Paul Haggis (“Crash”)

Writer and director Paul Haggis is no stranger to the narrative device of balancing multiple storylines and character threads and attempting to bring them together physically or thematically. It did, after all, win him a Best Picture Oscar with “Crash,” an award that remains possibly the biggest Oscar stunner of the modern era. With “Third Person,” Haggis, who has only directed two films since 2004, returns to juggling parallel narratives only to clumsily drop them all at once.

“Third Person” tells the tale of three relationships in different stages and circumstances. In Paris, a writer (Liam Neeson) has a complicated relationship with a mistress (Olivia Wilde); in Italy, a businessman (Adrien Brody) has a run-in with a woman (Moran Atias) who is trying to get her daughter back; and in New York, a woman (Mila Kunis) is trying to regain custody of her child from her husband (James Franco) after a serious incident.

Though the screenplay constantly weighs them down, some of the actors of the impressive ensemble are able to turn in good performances in spots. The most consistent of the bunch is Neeson, who finally gets a role where he isn’t kicking ass on air, land or sea. It isn’t exactly nuanced, but it’s one of the least annoying characters in the film. Brody for his part is also fine, particularly where he gets to rattle off a couple of one-liners in the film’s opening. Wilde and Kunis, for their parts, get to show off some chops, though their characters are written tremendously weak. They both get to tap into emotional breakdowns and while their reasons might be absurd (especially in the case of Wilde) they are able to show dramatic range.

The aforementioned characters, however, are just a fraction of the giant roster of people who take up screen time. It becomes a serious issue as Haggis so overstuffs the film that there are often gaps where the audience doesn’t see a certain character for 15-20 minutes – not that the audience would miss any of them. Frankly, the design of the characters and their relationships with one another seems to elicit emotions ranging from indifference to strong indifference.

As the film trudges on, the screenplay and story wither into dust as plot points grow in banality and Haggis runs through the cliché handbook to carry the film forward. The big “twist” and conceit of the film is painfully obvious early on and, for whatever reason, Haggis feels the need to take over two hours to get there. When it finally happens and Haggis pulls the rug from under his audience, it is almost insulting in its execution. If there was anything character or story-wise worth becoming invested in, the last 15 minutes of “Third Person,” including a completely nonsensical, lazy ending, would have been an offense worthy of heaving objects at the screen.

“Third Person” doesn’t really turn into a disaster until its final act. The rest is bad, but generally watchable and mostly inoffensive. In what is becoming a troublesome trend, screenwriters and directors are squandering A-list ensemble casts at an alarming rate. For Haggis, “Third Person” takes a talented cast but a tired idea and runs it straight into the ground. If there is any lesson to be learned from “Third Person,” it is that sometimes less is more.

Palo Alto

June 26, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Emma Roberts, James Franco, Jack Kilmer
Directed by: Gia Coppola (debut)
Written by: Gia Coppola (debut)

It doesn’t hurt in Hollywood when your last name is as recognizable as Coppola. As the most recent of the Coppola clan to add her name into the family’s filmmaking legacy, Gia Coppola, granddaughter of Oscar-winning director/writer/producer Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather” series) and niece of Oscar-nominated director Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”), tries her hand at this moviemaking stuff in “Palo Alto,” a coming-of-age, angst-ridden teenage drama that follows the same tired blueprint of films like the over-praised “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and the unwatchable “The Art of Getting By.” Sure, it’s far too early to tell whether the newest Coppola behind the camera has what it takes to flourish in the film industry, but it’s a rough start when you have to adapt your first screenplay from a collection of pretentious short stories by the talented albeit (in this case) overachieving author James Franco.

In “Palo Alto,” Coppola fashions together weak characters studies on teenagers having to deal with everything from drug use to promiscuous sex to predatory adults. Emma Roberts (niece of Julia Roberts), who has starred in films similar to this like the aforementioned “Art of Getting By” and “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” plays April, a shy high school girl who has a crush on the equally introverted Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val), who hangs out with his self-destructive friend Fred (Nat Wolff). Franco joins the cast as Mr. B, the high school soccer coach who seduces April when she comes to his house to babysit his son.

Other issues come into play throughout the film that attempt to reveal just how unpleasant kids have it these days, but the pity party Coppola throws for each of her characters is far too blatant to dismiss. Not much transpires from the relationships these characters create with one another and even the most important ones to the story (like Teddy and Fred’s friendship) are not fleshed out well enough to understand why these two boys would even acknowledge each other in the hallway much less spend all their free time together.

Coppola, like her famous auntie, has a knack for the toned-down narrative and low-spirited mood you would find in Aunt Sofia’s past films like “The Virgin Suicides” and “Somewhere.” Hopefully, the attention to that kind of stylistic detail by Coppola can be better served in future films where her characters are free to do more than just pout.

Lovelace

August 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone
Directed by: Rob Epstein (“Howl”) and Jeffrey Friedman (“Howl”)
Written by: Andy Bellin (“Trust”)

“Lovelace,” the biopic featuring actress Amanda Seyfried (“Les Miserables”) as 1970s porn icon Linda Lovelace, could be a very minor companion piece to Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 porn epic “Boogie Nights.” While the film doesn’t come close to the depth or emotional resonance of Anderson’s masterpiece, Lovelace herself would have been an interesting secondary character to follow in “Nights” like audiences did with Don Cheadle’s Buck Swope or Heather Graham’s Rollergirl. Instead, “Lovelace” is a solo show that has grand aspirations but isn’t playing in the same league as the big boys. Still, the screenplay by Andy Bellin (“Trust”) is distinctively framed and some inspired casting decisions were made giving “Lovelace” just enough stamina to see it through.

While Seyfried is playing the title role, actor Peter Sarsgaard really has control of the film just like his character Chuck Traynor does with Linda’s life and career. Once Linda meets Chuck, who is just about as sleazy a character as James Woods’ Lester Diamond in “Casino,” there’s no turning back for the innocent Catholic schoolgirl from the Bronx. When Chuck tells Linda they need more money, it’s never a question about how they’re going to get it. Chuck’s plan is definitive when he begins pimping out Linda and then introduces her to the world of pornography.

From here, the fantasy of a perfect marriage and home life is destroyed as Linda finds herself trapped in an industry that praises her for nothing more than a nonexistent gag reflex. As she continues to perform and live with her physically abusive husband, we watch as Linda transforms from a human being into a belittled brand name simply to line Chuck’s pockets. Her claim to fame is the infamous 1972 adult film “Deep Throat,” which is considered one of the most successful ever made.

Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who teamed up in 2010 for the inadequate Allen Ginsberg biopic “Howl” starring James Franco, the duo do a better job making us believe Seyfried is more than a big-name star playing pretend during an era she wasn’t even alive for. For the most part, Seyfried loses herself in the role as does Sarsgaard and other well cast actors like Chris Noth (“Sex and the City”), Bobby Cannavale (“Win Win”) and Hank Azaria (“Along Came Polly”). As Linda’s overbearing and seemingly uncaring mother, Sharon Stone (“Casino”) gets her biggest opportunity to shine since her role in 2006’s “Bobby” and does a commendable job. As Linda’s father, Robert Patrick (“Gangster Squad”) is given the most emotional scene in the film when he asks his daughter what he did wrong that pushed her into an immoral lifestyle.

Linda might have transcended the porn industry in the 70s, but “Lovelace” doesn’t do the same for biopics in general. Her life was a complex one, but Epstein and Friedman only skim the surface. With Linda Lovelace, you have to go a lot deeper than that.

This is the End

June 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill
Directed by: Seth Rogen (debut) and Evan Goldberg (debut)
Written by: Seth Rogen (“Superbad”) and Evan Goldberg (“Superbad”)

With the impending doom of the Mayan Apocalypse last year, Hollywood took a cue and started churning out apocalypse-themed movies. To the surprise of, well, nobody, we’re all still alive, yet the end of days films keep coming, with nearly a half-dozen in the past two years alone. Based off of a short film made in 2007, Seth Rogen (“Superbad”) makes his co-directorial debut with “This is the End,” a thriller/comedy where some of Hollywood’s funniest young actors get the opportunity to play themselves.

When Jay Baruchel (“She’s Out of My League”) arrives in Los Angeles to visit Rogen, he reluctantly goes with him to a housewarming party at James Franco’s house. While at the party, events of biblical proportion unfold and Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride find themselves barricaded in the “127 Hours” star’s house. Friendships are tested and survival plans are initiated as the six actors try to stay alive.

Though the principal cast are playing themselves, they are exaggerated, fictitious versions. Hill, for example plays a overly nice people pleaser who is trying as hard as he can to get Baruchel to like him. Franco’s eccentricities are played up, especially with the design and set-up of his house. Just from a sheer laugh volume standpoint, McBride is probably the most successful of the bunch, something that is clearly by design. McBride nearly goes full Kenny Powers (his character on TV’s “Eastbound & Down”) as an insufferable and hilarious jerk and screenwriters Rogen and Evan Goldberg (and likely some well-executed improvisation) really highlight his fantastic ability to be a complete ass. Along with the main cast is an absurdly long list of cameos, almost all of which come from filmmaker Judd Apatow’s family tree. The best of these is a brief, but incredibly successful appearance by Michael Cera (“Superbad”), who spends every second of his screen time coked out of his mind.

Since the cast is a virtual six degrees of separation with Apatow, most of these actors have worked with each other in the past. The most noticeable are Rogen, Franco, McBride and Robinson who starred together in “Pineapple Express.” There is a certain ease in which these actors, all legitimate real-life friends, interact and play off of each other. Though there is a concern that things might become one giant inside joke, Rogen and company are able to keep the humor pretty broad for the most part. Still, there are plenty of cut-downs and references to lesser-received movies in the various actors’ careers that require a little bit of knowledge of their filmographies.

The laughs are relatively steady throughout the film, though there is a lull towards the middle and end. As more is revealed about what is actually happening, special effects come into play and the results are a bit mixed. While the CGI itself isn’t bad, the jokes that come from them don’t always hit their target. As the characters figure out what must be done to survive, the film begins to return to form a little bit. It does, however, play out more predictable than probably intended. It all builds up to a final scene that is incredibly bizarre and underwhelming.

Despite a pretty decent laugh ratio, the film as a whole feels a bit piecemeal. A few sections are oddly divided, edited and directed. As a meta-comedy, it’s successful and should give audiences fun looks at real life friends stuck in a life or death situation. The heartfelt parts of the story as well as the actual apocalyptic events, however, don’t work as well and feel a bit hollow.

Oz the Great and Powerful

March 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams
Directed by: Sam Raimi (the “Spider-Man” trilogy)
Written by: Mitchell Kapner (“The Whole Nine Yards”) and David Lindsay-Abaire (“Rise of the Guardians”)

There aren’t many movies that your grandparents could have enjoyed as small children that are still capable of entertaining audiences today, but the 1939 MGM classic “The Wizard of Oz” defies convention and remains enjoyable 74 years later. Despite displaying very little of the grammar present in modern filmmaking (like cutaways and performances that aren’t constantly projected toward the back of the theater), “The Wizard of Oz” endures. It’s curious, to say the least, that the last three-quarters of a century has failed to deliver another universally-acclaimed film set in L. Frank Baum’s enchanted Land of Oz. Yeah, sure, there was “The Wiz” and “Return to Oz,” but those remain cult hits at best. Why hasn’t some studio stepped up, eager to craft a modern classic that would also earn them enough cash to build an actual Emerald City?

Twenty-eight years after their aforementioned “Return to Oz” flopped, Disney, um, returns to Oz with the prequel “Oz the Great and Powerful.” James Franco stars as carnival magician Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a low-rent huckster working a sideshow in the dusty Kansas countryside. With the help of his put-upon hype man (Zach Braff), Oz fools the yokels with his sleight of hand and charms the ladies with a never-ending supply of his grandmother’s one-of-a-kind antique jewelry boxes. When one of his romantic encounters comes back to bite him, Oz books it for a hot air balloon. One tornado later, however, and Oz finds himself in Oz. Stumbling out of his wrecked balloon, Oz meets the witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) who tells him of a prophecy wherein a wizard named Oz will defeat the Wicked Witch. Who is the Wicked Witch, you ask? Is it naive, love struck Theodora? Her conniving sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz)? Or their rival, glittery, good-hearted Glinda (Michelle Williams)?

Of course it’s not Glinda. I mean we’ve all seen “The Wizard of Oz,” right? Anyway.

Try as he might, director Sam Raimi can’t overcome two big problems that bog “Oz” down. First, the screenplay, credited to Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, creaks and lumbers under the weight of too much exposition and almost-certain corporate interference. It too-often lazily mirrors the plot structure of the 1939 classic. Second, and most disappointing, is that Franco is completely wrong for the part. The movie needed a natural flim flam man – someone with smarmy charisma to spare; someone like Robert Downey Jr., who was originally cast and dropped out. Franco can be a great actor, but when he’s called upon to laugh heartily like a vaudevillian rascal and shout “prestidigitation!”  he sounds more like a high school drama student getting ready to tie a classmate to cardboard railroad tracks while he twirls his mustache. “Oz” is far from a total blunder, though, and a handful of bright spots stand out. Williams’ warm and radiant Glinda, the magnificent and fragile living doll China Girl (voiced by Joey King), and the whiz-bang climax all point toward the rousing adventure the bloated script and James Franco are keeping hidden behind the curtain.

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