I did naht love it, I did naaaht

The Disaster Artist’s refusal to admit that its a lark proves to be its undoing

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At its root, The Room is an all-time great movie in a way something like Snakes on a Plane isn’t* because it wasn’t made with the intention of being a bad movie. The Room was not made for guffaws; every frame of it screams that it is the work of an auteur. The auteur in question, Tommy Wiseau, has three main qualities that all blend together to make The Room so damn singular. Most obviously, Wiseau is perplexing physical presence as an actor, with a, let’s say, unique cadence. Secondly, as a director and manager of tone, Wiseau is inconsistent beyond the point of parody. But what can make The Room turn from camp classic to unwatchable dreck for some is that it’s also incredibly toxic. If it is to be taken as a look into Wiseau’s frame of mind, the diagnosis is clearly misogynistic, egotistical, and paranoid. Don’t get me wrong, I love every second of The Room**, but its incompetency isn’t limited to simply hamfisted moralizing; it’s also that the morals are awful.

Going under the hood of The Room and looking at its guts isn’t and shouldn’t be a purely fun adventure, and The Disaster Artist doesn’t take the assignment that way. But it doesn’t succeed at balancing the idiosyncrasy with the dark side of Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau is presented as a comic figure throughout, with any pathos or sympathy rather quickly brushed aside for a joke. The movie (and the on-set record) give us every reason to think of Wiseau as a villain, but the movie strives to give him unearned redemption, likely to avoid upsetting its subject. James Franco’s Wiseau impression is a fantastic party trick, but he plays the tics to broadly to register the more serious moments. Sure, they may be accurate, but this might be a case of life being too strange for fiction, especially given the straightforward, unadventurous cinematic style.

Much of the film is spent recreating the shooting of The Room, with the cast finding every opportunity to reference their favourite lines and moments (the breast cancer bit comes up a lot, as it should). It’s great fun, especially Seth Rogen’s bewildered script supervisor and Zac Efron’s too-brief turn as Chris R., but it never quite meshes with the Tommy/Greg Sestero tone, and its overuse of references plays as entirely reliant on The Room rather than an attempt to say anything of its own. Were The Disaster Artist just an excuse for a bunch of friends to hang out and recreate a historically bad movie, it would have been a lot more fun to be honest about that, maybe get a bit more experimental with the format, maybe a documentary framing device or something like that. If the overlong pre-credits montage of The Room footage side-by-side with their remake is any indication, that’s what the goal was anyhow.

C

The Distaster Artist (2017)
Directed by James Franco
Starring James Franco, Dave Franco, Ari Graynor, and Seth Rogen
Rotten Tomatoes (91%)

* No offense to that motherfucking plane
** I suppose I could do without the ass shots

Twisted justice, texting spirits, and a dive back into The World of Tomorrow

Quick thoughts on The Lost City of Z, Downsizing, Personal Shopper, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and The World of Tomorrow 2

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – B

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In his English-language debut, The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos had his actors speak in a stilted, direct manner to both immediately make its otherworldliness clear and for pitch-black comedy. In his follow-up, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the same technique is used, once again to increase our willingness to suspend disbelief, but this time in the service of psychological horror. Sure, the movie earns some laughs (“I’m not letting you leave until you’ve tasted my tart”), but the buildup is a bit off-putting, paid off when the central conceit of the latter half of the film is explained succinctly and directly. From there, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is entrancing, a nightmare crash in slow motion and a rumination on culpability and the arbitrary nature of justice. It’s lack of a strong emotional throughline or a singular visual style keep it from reaching the heights of its predecessor, as does its ultimately unsuccessful attempts to have one “The Scene”, but its strong command of tone and deliberate drip of tension still work wonders.

Downsizing – C-

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Downsizing is a complete a total mess, but it takes its dear sweet time making that clear. In Alexander Payne’s first attempt at tying his humanistic comedy to a sci-fi concept, his reach exceeds his grasp, with a half-dozen good-to-great ideas that he tries to pursue simultaneously by the films end, only leading to general annoyance and confusion. If it wants to be a movie about running from problems, the material is there, but it also wants to be a movie about the inescapability of inequality, even in utopia, and the incredible sacrifices that life demands in order to achieve some semblance of prosperity. But the themes dogpile on top of each other into an aimless mash after a fitfully funny opening act, which concludes with the single greatest use of a spatula in film history. If the second half were funnier, a lot would be forgiven, but it leans away from its fantastical elements surprisingly often, with certain shots and elements re-emphasizing the tininess of its characters but for the most part seeming to forget about it (there’s a party/rave scene that screams for little details, but never feels like it takes place in a doll’s house). The concept and first half are solid enough to make Downsizing an interesting curiousity, but it should have thought considerably smaller.

The Lost City of Z – B-

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There’s certainly a classic beauty to The Lost City of Z, an expedition film hewing closer to Master & Commander without sails than Raiders of the Lost Ark without whips. While itself a period piece, the film feels like it comes from another time, with nary a hint of modern humour or camera-winking. It only betrays itself with shoehorned-in attempts at wokeness, having its main characters act as occasional unsubtle mouthpieces for more modern takes on feminism and white superiority. The classic feel comes with all the drawbacks, and the film often feels cold and distant, interesting but unengaging. But when its in the Amazonian jungle, The Lost City of Z is plenty absorbing, with lush frames and stirring suspense. Main character Percy Fawcett spends the film itching to get back to the adventure, and that feeling is certainly contagious.

Personal Shopper – B-

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Personal Shopper is a simultaneously infuriating and fascinating film, but certainly not one that thinks of its audience as dumb. In many ways, its refreshingly direct. Very soon after we find out our main character Maureen is looking to communicate with her brother’s ghost, we see a ghost pretty clearly, removing unnecessary ambiguity. In one very important way, the ending is left confusing deliberate, resulting in an absolutely beautiful sequence of shots through a hotel but leaving the conclusion of one of its story threads unnecessarily open, distracting heavily from the remainder. Personal Shopper does pull off a neat feat throughout, acting as an effective supernatural thriller, technological suspense, and big-city millenial malaise film all at once, anchored by Kristen Stewart’s embodiment of twenty-something stressed and tired, and the film has a lot to say about how we process grief. But it’s late choices keep it from coming together in a satisfying way.

World of Tomorrow Episode 2: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts – B+

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Don Hertzfeld’s World of Tomorrow is one of my favourite fifteen minutes ever created, an beautiful and idiosyncratic sci-fi dive into life, love, and doom. The second installment, The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts, is longer but seems to contain less. It still features the voices of Julia Pott and Winona Mae, the latter Hertzfeld’s five-year-old niece whose ramblings are edited into the character of Emily, and the former her clone from hundreds of years into the future. With Winona Mae a full year older, her musings are considerably more coherent, moving from single-word exclamations to the point where her voice is used to play multiple characters conversing with each other. Segments such as these and the appearance of “memory tourists” more than justify the existence of the sequel, which is hilarious and often poignant, but it can’t help but feel a little less revelatory than its predecessor. The animation is certainly more ambitious, but in increasing the number of 3D effects, it feels less painterly. Still, by diving deeper into clone dystopia, Hertzfeld has produced a vivid, funny, and original short. It’s just not his masterpiece.