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.

Paper Towns

July 24, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams
Directed by: Jake Schreier (“Robot and Frank”)
Written by: Scott Heustadter (“The Fault in Our Stars”) and Michael H. Weber (“The Fault in Our Stars”)

As the go-to source for screenplays on young love, screenwriting partners Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have had a sizeable amount of success. With “(500) Days of Summer,” “The Spectacular Now,” and most recently “The Fault in Our Stars,” Neustadter and Weber have, for the most part, been able to subvert clichés and avoid tropes to deliver earnest and unique films about love. With another novel adaptation from John Green, “Paper Towns” is perhaps the first truly inauthentic step from the duo.

After drifting apart from being childhood friends, Quentin (Nat Wolff) is visited by free-spirited, rebel teenager and neighbor Margo (Cara Delevingne) in the middle of the night. Needing his Mom’s car to exact revenge on her cheating boyfriend and friends, the conservative do-gooder Quentin agrees and has the best night of his life on mischievous adventures. Hoping to further nurture a childhood crush, Quentin wakes up disappointed the next day to find that Margo has vanished. He does, however, find clues that may point to where Margo is hiding and joins up with friends on an adventure to track her down.

In her first starring film role, model turned actress Delevingne is a welcome revelation. With a twinge of attitude and raspy voice, there’s a certain Emma Stone quality to Delevingne’s performance that shows a lot of potential. It’s a shame that she’s gone for the majority of the film, as her performance is the most intriguing part of the film. Something else that is welcome is Wolff finally being in a likeable role. After turning in the most annoying character of all time in “Palo Alto,” Wolff gets to play not only charming, but vulnerable and proves to be quite good at it. Unfortunately for “Paper Towns,” the levels of performance are where its successes end.

With teen films, there is always the risk that writers and directors become so concerned with being different that they pack their characters and stories with quirks and eccentricities that would never exist in real life. This is where Neustadter and Weber have been successful in the past, showing uber romantic gestures, but still believable teenage (or young) relationships. In “Paper Towns,” however, it all seems for naught.

More to the point, Neustadter and Weber do a poor job of establishing the relationship between Quentin and Margo. (What is the purpose of them finding a dead body if nothing at all comes from it?) Quentin’s alleged love for her that makes him want to go on a manhunt across the country, even after their one night of fun, rings completely false. They haven’t even talked since they were kids! Essentially what he is doing is giving in to the whims of an “eccentric” girl that ran away, which is hardly a reason the viewer to care.

Beyond all of that, there’s an annoying streak that runs throughout the film. One several occasions, gorgeous people complain about having to live up to their expectations and how people only see their coolness and their beauty. It’s a form of self-pity that is, quite frankly, obnoxious. One of the side characters in particular has one of these moments, and it is amplified by a sideplot of a relationship with one of Quentin’s best friends in a storyline that is, once again, completely unbelievable.

If there is any word that can sum up the experience of “Paper Towns,” it is “pointless.” When the entire plot of a film hinges on a relationship that is impossible to buy into, it’s really hard for the whole thing to not feel like a mammoth waste of time. There’s no fun or energy behind anything that is happening, and almost none of its relationship moments are earned. The ending has a hint of refreshingness to how blunt it is, but it also, in a way, further cements the fact that the rest of the film was unnecessary. Unrealistic, annoying, and emotionally hollow, “Paper Towns” is as thin as its title suggests.

The Fault In Our Stars

June 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff
Directed by: Josh Boone (“Stuck In Love”)
Written by: Scott Neustadter (“The Spectacular Now”) and Michael H. Weber (“The Spectacular Now”)

In an adaptation of the wildly popular young adult novel, “The Fault In Our Stars” tells the love story of Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) a 16-year old with lung cancer who meets Augustus Waters, (Ansel Elgort) who is cancer-free after having a leg amputated, at a cancer support group. It’s a story that by its very nature, could be emotionally manipulative and packed with schmaltz. Instead, a fantastic script and impressive performances navigate it away from pure melodrama.

As a film filled with emotionally taxing circumstances and scenes, “The Fault In Our Stars” provides fertile ground for its actors to show their dramatic chops and they do it in spades. Woodley, who was robbed of an Oscar nomination for her incredible work in “The Descendants,” once again delivers a heartfelt performance that shows dynamic acting range. However, Elgort deserves an equal amount of credit and is a true revelation in the film. This is a kid who displays effortless charisma, natural humor, and a confidence that feels completely genuine. He shows emotional depth and vulnerability in his performance. At times, Augustus seems like the perfect, ideal person, but Elgort is so good in the role that it doesn’t really matter.

In a movie with many great performances, the unsung heroes of the film are definitely screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Known for their romantically-themed scripts in “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Spectacular Now,” the duo show an incredible amount of balance with “The Fault in Our Stars.” As an example, they do not let the cancer elements overpower the film and make it a complete bummer. Instead, they let the relationship between these two characters be the star of the film. Admittedly, there are also some missteps along the way. There is some smarty dialogue and voice over work and a scene towards the climax that proved to be ill-fitting and a distraction. Still, with such delicate and naturally dramatic subject matter, Neustadter and Weber have almost the perfect delicate touch needed for this type of story.

There are a few moments towards the end of the movie where the film ever so slightly tips into a manipulation of the heart-strings, but the amount of restraint shown by Neustader, Weber and director Josh Boone should not be discounted. “The Fault In Our Stars” is, of course, tailor made for a teen audience and fans of the novel. It is also an impressive and sincere film that transcends its target audience and should be affecting to all, which is encouraging proof that movies directed at young adults and teens don’t have to be vapid and pandering.

The Spectacular Now

August 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson
Directed by: James Ponsoldt (“Smashed”)
Written by: Scott Neustadter (“(500) Days of Summer”) and Michael H. Weber (“(500) Days of Summer”)

As we meet our protagonist, high school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), he’s drinking a beer, writing a curse word-laden college essay he’s clearly not taking seriously. It not only serves as a placeholder for his character later in the film, but it introduces the audience to some darker themes, chiefly underage drinking and borderline alcoholism. As the film continues, we see bits and pieces of these themes, although nothing really scratches below the surface. It’s an issue that plagues the new coming-of-age drama, “The Spectacular Now.”

After some heavy drinking, popular high school slacker Sutter wakes up to find he has passed out in the lawn of less popular albeit sweet schoolmate Aimee (Shailene Woodley). As their friendship blossoms into something more, Sutter finds himself surprised with how much he cares about Aimee, and how difficult their relationship could possibly become because of the heavy baggage he carries.

Woodley, who was absolutely robbed of an Oscar nomination for her outstanding performance in 2011’s “The Descendants,” is in top form here. Aided by her plain clothes and lack of make-up, she is able to encapsulate the attitude and personality of a girl who is totally comfortable in her own skin, but also the naivety that goes along with being a girl who never had a rambunctious childhood. Her scenes with Teller bring forward a natural on-screen relationship that really grounds the film.

Teller, while good, is only marginally believable as a super-confident, slick and fast-talking teenager. He oozes coolness, but at times it’s difficult to understand why. Kyle Chandler, who is very slowly starting to reap the benefits of his Emmy win for the final season of “Friday Night Lights,” gives the strongest performance of the supporting cast as Sutter’s father. From the second his character appears on screen, Chandler is dialed in and adds little nuances in speech patterns and attitudes that make his scenes a joy to watch.

Frankly, the acting is solid all around. The problem, however, is that despite a wealth of interesting characters, director James Ponsoldt (“Smashed”) doesn’t spend enough time to get to know them. Sutter’s boss played by Bob Odenkirk or his good friend Ricky played by Masam Holden are just two examples of characters who have a lot to add in their brief moments on screen, but then disappear for large chunks of time. We don’t get to truly know these characters, which is disappointing considered the depth they appear to add.

As mentioned before, “The Spectacular Now” presents a lot of darker themes that might not be in a typical coming-of-age film. Sutter, who is finishing high school, is essentially an alcoholic, who drives drunk on several occasions during the film. There’s also the slow corruption of Aimee, who goes from a straight-edge teen to taking swigs of hard alcohol from a flask. The problem, however, is that while these themes are presented and touched on, they’re never fully explored. We see minor consequences of Sutter’s drinking problems, but the stakes are never high and true darkness is never revealed

If nothing else, “The Spectacular Now” is a well-made film featuring fine performances, but the lack of depth in many different facets leaves the viewer wanting more. With such promising elements, it’s a shame the final product is decidedly unspectacular.

500 Days of Summer

March 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend
Directed by: Marc Webb (debut)
Written by: Scott Neustadter (“The Pink Panther 2”) and Michael H. Weber (“The Pink Panther 2”)

With the number of offbeat romantic comedies hitting theaters this summer, there was bound to be some kind of overlapping scenarios between the projects. Not for “500 Days of Summer,” however. The quirky feature debut from director Marc Webb breaks from the pack with a rousing take on the most appealing and maddening factors in the boy-meets-girl relationship.

In “500 Days of Summer,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“The Lookout”) is Tom Hansen, a greeting card writer who immediately becomes infatuated with the new girl in the office, Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), after a brief encounter in an elevator where he discovers they share the same taste in music.

Problem is, Summer doesn’t believe in love. To her, love is a fanciful idea that she is too young to even consider. Still, there is something about Tom that reels in Summer like a schoolgirl, although she keep her distance. It’s almost as if the couple really isn’t a couple at all. We get a true sense of their relationship when they play house in a department store. For Summer, it’s fun to pretend and not have any expectations.

Through delightful narration and a non-linear story (all written – surprisingly – by the duo who gave us the dreadfully unfunny sequel “The Pink Panther 2”), we witness an extensive journey as Tom and Summer touch upon every nuance of a budding romance. Here, Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel basically switch roles as to not follow the same cliché situations we’ve seen before. Tom takes the role of the lovesick daydreamer while Summer seems to be biding her time until someone better comes along.

Unlike other quirky rom-coms of the summer like “Away We Go” and “Paperheart,” (the latter has yet to open in San Antonio) “500 Days” feels a lot less mechanical as it pinpoints all the emotions one might feel through a relationship where one participant doesn’t feel as strongly as the other. From the cold-bloodedness of a breakup to the sheer joy of a first kiss, the film elicits all types of heartache and adoration and is never gimmicky.

What we come out with at the end is an animated and vibrant tour through the lives of two young adults who meet each other when the timing just isn’t right. Depending on where you are in your own life, you can choose a side to empathize with more. There are no wrong answers in “500 Days.” With something as complex as a well-constructed romantic comedy like this, it’s refreshing to know there are also no blueprints involved.

The Pink Panther 2

February 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Steve Martin, Emily Mortimer, Jean Reno
Directed by: Harald Zwart (“Agent Cody Banks”)
Written by: Steve Martin (“The Jerk”), Scott Neustadter (debut), Michael H. Weber (debut)

It’s so dispiriting to remember when Steve Martin was actually funny.

The eccentric things he did during his stand-up act with just a pair of Groucho glasses and a few balloons; sulking through his mansion collecting his essential belongings (e.g. a paddleball) in “The Jerk”; prancing around with Martin Short to “My Little Buttercup” in “¡Three Amigos!”; spooning with the late John Candy in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles”; coming up with “20 something betters” during a dart game in “Roxanne.”

There are so many hilarious scenes Martin has taken part in over the years (most of them in the ’80s), it’s difficult not to wince when you watch him devote his entire self to something as cushy as “The Pink Panther 2,” see it implode, and wonder why no one bothered to tell him how lousy the first one was.

As he did in the film’s 2006 predecessor — a pointless remake of the Blake Edwards 1963 comedy — Martin plays Inspector Jacques Clouseau like a shoddy carbon copy of Peter Sellers’ original French detective. Where Sellers embodied the character, Martin seems to clock in just long enough to trip over police tape and mispronounce the word “hamburger” for the umpteenth time.

In this predictable addition to the franchise, Clouseau is promoted from his “top-level” post as a meter maid to the leader of an “international dream team” of detectives on the trail of a globetrotting thief known as the Tornado who has stolen precious artifacts from around the world, including the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin, and the Imperial Sword. Summoned moments before the Pink Panther diamond is pocketed from Paris, Clouseau teams up with fellow gumshoes (played by Garcia, Molina, Bachchan, and Yuki Matsuzaki) to track the Tornado to Rome.

Considering the first movie earned an unimpressive $82 million at the box office, one can only speculate why any of these series newcomers (not to mention Lily Tomlin, John Cleese, and Jeremy friggin’ Irons!) decided to sign on. It’s fairly evident Clouseau isn’t the only one who’s clueless here.

Whatever the reason, their enlistment can’t possibly be for the humorless material — written by Martin and first-time screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber — which confuses dry comedy with witless banter. A scene in which Clouseau’s right-hand-man, Ponton (Jean Reno), spends an evening washing his friend’s hair in the sink falls flat from the onset, but director Harald Zwart (“Agent Cody Banks”) gives Martin free reign to do just about anything he wants for as long as he sees fit. The excessively infantile sketch turns into a joke about the pronunciation of “jojoba shampoo” while the duo dance a conga in the kitchen.

The only real evidence of Sellers’ earlier films is, of course, Henry Mancini’s timeless theme song, which only dulls the pain for so long. Then you’ll be paralyzed by dull slapstick and forced to suffer alongside a wasted secondary cast and an unimaginative leading man who, at this point, no punch line could save.