The Disaster Artist

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Disaster Artist  (B+).  So, back in 2003, an odd and mysterious fellow named Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed, starred in, and bankrolled a very odd movie called The Room.  It was a laughably terrible melodrama and should never have been heard from again.  But, somehow, it became a midnight-movie cult classic.  I even saw it in a Rifftrax live show back in 2015, although I apparently failed to review it for this site.  The Room really is jaw-droppingly bad.

Now James Franco (Oz the Great and Powerful) directs and stars in this new movie about Wiseau and the making of The Room.  I thought it was very funny, all the more so because it is (based on) a true story.  Franco disappears into the Wiseau role, with his weird European accent, strange awkwardness, and apparently bottomless bank account.  We see Wiseau primarily through the eyes of his best friend Greg (Dave Franco, Nerve), a wannabe actor who puts up with Wiseau’s weirdness and accidentally inspires him to create The Room.  A remarkable list of people signed on for cameos or roles that were barely more than cameos, including: Alison Brie (TV’s Community), Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), Zac Efron (High School Musical 3), Sharon Stone (Total Recall), Melanie Griffith (Working Girl), and Judd Apatow (director, The 40-Year-Old Virgin).  Is the movie just a cruel joke as Wiseau’s expense?  I don’t know.  I’ve read that he approves of the movie, and IMDB says he even had a cameo in it that I missed.  In any event, The Room has supposedly made him a lot of movie over the last 15 years, so I guess he’s doing all right.  I thought the movie was a hoot.

How to Be Single

New from The Movie Snob.

How to Be Single (F).  Time is running out!!!  I don’t mean time is running out to see this movie; unfortunately it’ll be in the theaters a few more weeks before shuffling off, unloved and unmissed, into the movie half-life of DVDs and streaming.  I mean that time is running out for cute Alison Brie (The Five-Year Engagement) to get her movie career going!  Her recent vehicle Sleeping with Other People was horrendous, and her small fourth-wheel role in this stinker will do her no favors either.

Anyhoo, this is a terrible movie about “relationships.”  It reminded me a little of He’s Just Not That Into You, another terrible movie about relationships, only this one was terrible right from the get-go.  Alice (Dakota Johnson, The Five-Year Engagement) is a bland college grad who “takes a break” from her boyfriend and finds herself floundering around, socially speaking, in NYC.  Her older sister Meg (Leslie Mann, The Other Woman) is an obstetrician who has apparently never looked closely at a baby before because as soon as she does, she wants one.  Alice’s friend Robin is played by Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect) acting like Rebel Wilson always does.  And Alison Brie’s character, Lucy, doesn’t seem to know any of the other three and thus seems to be in a separate (very short) movie all her own.  The characters are generally crass and always unbelievable, and toward the end (which is way too far away from the beginning) annoying pseudo-profundities about “being single” start dropping like anvils.  If you want an R-rated romantic comedy, skip this movie and look up Drinking Buddies or rewatch Bridesmaids instead.

Sleeping with Other People

A cry of anguish from The Movie Snob.

Sleeping With Other People  (F).  Is there an actor or actress out there that you just instinctively like and root for and want to be in good movies?  I have a few.  Nicole Kidman, of course.  Chris Pratt (not that he needs my help, with the roll that he’s on lately).  Paul Rudd.  And the female lead of this absolutely terrible movie, Alison Brie.  I’ve liked her ever since I first saw her six or seven years ago on the sitcom Community.  Maybe you know her as Trudy Campbell on Mad Men.  She’s pretty, and she can be funny.  But there’s nothing funny about this this misbegotten attempt at romantic comedy.  It is relentlessly trashy and vulgar, but not in a genial Judd Apatow kind of way.  Plus Brie is unlucky enough to be paired with Jason Sudeikis (We’re the Millers).  Maybe Sudeikis is a lovely person in real life, but I found him insufferable both in this movie and in We’re the Millers—he excels at playing the smug, smarmy, superior, hyperarticulate jerk.  (Adam Scott (Friends With Kids) is another actor I can’t watch without disliking, for much the same reason.  And he happens to be in this movie too.)  Anyway, Brie’s character is messed up and pathetic, and Sudeikis’s is, of course, an unlikeable jerk.  And, as previously suggested, the movie is crass and icky throughout.  Please do not waste your money or your time on this movie.  But do give Community a try if you haven’t yet discovered its quirky charms.  It’s now available on the internets, or so I am told.

The Lego Movie

The Movie Snob finally makes it back to the movies.

The Lego Movie  (B-).  This movie is getting high marks from the critics, but I just can’t go better than “pretty good.”  It’s an animated film about a world made of Legos—a world of bland conformity ruled by the Big Brother-like President Business (voice of Will Ferrell, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby).  But there is a prophecy that an ordinary Lego person will rise up and break Business’s stranglehold on Legoland, and it looks like The Chosen One may be an ordinary construction worker named Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt, her).  His potential chosenness is discovered by a nonconformist chick named Wyldstyle (voice of Elizabeth Banks, Definitely, Maybe), who recruits him to join some sort of rebellion against Business and his main henchman, Bad Cop (voice of Liam Neeson, The Phantom Menace).  The movie has plenty of pluses.  The animation can be very striking, some of the humor is pretty good, and it is fun to pick out all the famous vocal talent at work, including Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), Will Arnett (TV’s Arrested Development), Jonah Hill (This Is the End), Alison Brie (TV’s Community), and many more.  On the down side, as in many regular action movies, many of the action scenes moved so fast in places that I just gave up trying to figure out what was going on.  It started to feel a little long after a while, and I didn’t think the climactic ending was all that great.  Still, I give the film makers credit for trying something reasonably fresh and original.  Oh, and the theme song “Everything Is Awesome” really is kind of awesome.

Community – Season Four

New DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Community – Season Four.  After a lackluster season three, Community went on hiatus for a while and then returned for a shortened 13-episode fourth season (without any participation by show creator Dan Harmon).  The fourth season was definitely an improvement, though not quite a return to the greatness of the first two seasons.  To quickly recap, Community is a Friends-ish kind of show about seven students at a terrible community college called Greendale.  In season one, the seven students formed a study group, and they have been together through thick and thin ever since.  The ringleader is a disgraced lawyer, the slick and cynical Jeff Winger (Joel McHale, The Informant!), while the heart of the group is the sweet and adorable Annie Edison (Alison Brie, The Five-Year Engagement).  Or maybe the heart is really Abed (Danny Pudi, Road Trip: Beer Pong), a Rain Man sort of fellow who comments on all the action as though he were watching a TV show.  Chevy Chase (Vacation) plays the least funny of the seven characters, and I hear he didn’t come back for season five.  Yay!

I’d say the first half of the season is above average, while the second half is a bit more mediocre.  There’s a decent ongoing story line in which Troy (Donald Glover, The Muppets) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) juggle their dating life against the demands of Troy’s relationship with his best friend Abed.  And Ken Jeong’s crazy Ben Chang turns up at Greendale purporting to suffer from “Changnesia” and to believe his name is now Kevin.  High points include a Halloween homage to Scooby Doo and a trip to a sci-fi convention.  I was also glad to see the writers give Britta a higher profile this season; her combination of extreme liberal do-goodism and lack of common sense can be very entertaining.  But the extras on the DVDs didn’t seem as good as in past seasons.

Faithful fans will be rewarded by tons of references to previous episodes and lots of returning bit characters like Todd, Vicki, Garrett, Leonard, and the much-loved Magnitude (Pop! Pop!).  Considering that Community has never been too big in the ratings, it somehow manages to attract plenty of interesting guest stars, including Fred Willard, Tricia Helfer, Luke Perry, Jenny Garth, James Brolin, Brie Larson, Sara Bareilles, and Jason Alexander.  If you haven’t tried Community yet (and if you like smart, absurdist humor), I urge you to give it a try.  Check out my reviews of seasons one, two, and three.

Mad Men – Season 2

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

***  Spoilers about Season One follow ***

Mad Men – Season Two.  Has it really been four years since I watched season one?  I guess I didn’t love it that much.  Anyhoo, I have finally gotten around to watching season two.  It was okay, but I really don’t see what the hoopla about this show is, or was, all about.  As everyone knows, it’s a soap opera about the NYC advertising agency Sterling Cooper set in the 1960s, and it’s especially about one of the ad guys there named Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm, Friends with Kids).  Only Don Draper isn’t really Don Draper; from season one we know that he’s really a guy named Dick Whitman who switched lives with Draper during the Korean War after Draper was killed.  Whitman/Draper has built an entirely new life on this lie, complete with well-paying job, beautiful wife Betty (January Jones, X-Men: First Class), two kids, and a house in the suburbs.  And he keeps adding to the lies by having serial extra-marital affairs.  Don and Betty’s marital problems are front and center during season two, but somehow they don’t really come across as flesh-and-blood people.  What makes them tick?  Who knows?  There are lots of subplots involving the other folks at Sterling Cooper (and their spouses, like cute Alison Brie from Community), but they seldom seem to go anywhere or add up to much.  Still, it’s a watchable show, if only to enjoy the early 1960s fashions and manners.  It’s fun to be shocked by scenes of people smoking on airplanes and happy families casually leaving their litter all over a hillside after a picnic.  Colin Hanks (The House Bunny) has recurring guest role as a Catholic priest who is not a horrible human being, so that’s nice.

Community – Season Three

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Community – Season Three.  (B-)  Quick refresher: Jeffrey Winger (Joel McHale, The Informant!) is a slick ex-lawyer who has been disbarred because he never got a college degree.  So he has enrolled at Greendale Community College to earn a degree and hopefully get his law license back.  Way back in the pilot episode, he inadvertently formed a study group with five lovable misfits—plus a rich old geezer named Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase, Caddyshack), who is not lovable at all.  The show is all about the study group’s escapades, and it’s full of absurdist humor about how terrible a school Greendale is.  I strongly urge you to get a hold of Season One and give it a try.

Unfortunately, Season Three is not as good as Season One and Season Two.  John Goodman (O Brother Where Art Thou) has a recurring role as the dean of Greendale’s air-conditioning-repair school, and the season-long plot arc in which he attempts to recruit Troy is just not very funny.  Somewhat funnier is Abed’s season-long obsession with a British TV show called Inspector Timespace (a transparent  Dr. Who clone).  Early on there’s a really interesting episode in which the gang is gathered in Troy and Abed’s apartment for a housewarming party, and when the pizza delivery arrives they roll a die to decide who has to go downstairs to get it.  For the rest of the episode they play that scenario out seven different ways, depending on who goes to get the pizza—kind of a butterfly-effect sort of thing.  There’s also a funny episode that is an homage to Law & Order, right down to the theme music.  And they get pretty good results repeating a gimmick from the second season: a clip show in which all the “clips” being remembered by the characters are actually brand-new scenes.  But lots of episodes fall flat, like a Christmas episode done Glee-style, and one in which Shirley and Jeff take on some German foosball bullies.  My favorite character, the cute and ambitious Annie Edison (Alison Brie, The Five-Year Engagement) has some decent episodes.  I thought Britta (Gillian Jacobs, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) got a little cheated on screen time, but her bits tended to be very funny when she was on.

As I understand it, Community barely escaped cancellation after the third season, the network fired series creator Dan Harmon, and they are now airing a shortened 13-episode fourth season.  And last I heard a fifth season was still a possibility.  I’m crossing my fingers and hoping they get their groove back.

The Five-Year Engagement

New review from The Movie Snob.

The Five-Year Engagement  (C).  I was a little disappointed in this new rom-com produced by Judd Apatow (director of films like The 40-Year Old Virgin).  I had seen the trailer for this film a million times, and I was sort of afraid that all the funny parts were in the trailer.  Weirdly, a couple of the funny parts were only in the trailer–they weren’t actually in the movie at all!  Anyhoo, the premise is that these two really super-nice people, Tom (Jason Segel, The Muppets) and Violet (Emily Blunt, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), who live in San Francisco, get engaged, but then they postpone their wedding because Violet lands an academic position in remote Ann Arbor, Michigan.  And then they postpone it again because Violet’s two-year contract gets extended, which really takes a toll on their relationship.  Tom and Vi are nice, but they’re not funny (and I’d agree with John Podhoretz in The Weekly Standard that Segel and Blunt unfortunately have very little chemistry).  And as the movie drags on for its two-hour running time, Tom and Vi’s relationship problems just become a drag.  Nevertheless, I did get a few laughs out of the movie, mainly thanks to the antics of the supporting characters.  (And no thanks to the worn-out cliche of the inappropriate/profane rehearsal-dinner toast.)  It was nice to see cute Alison Brie of TV’s Community as Violet’s sister Suzie, but she wasn’t given enough to do in my opinion.  Bottom line: very skippable.

Community (Season Two)

A review from The Movie Snob

Community (Season Two) (B+).  I became a big fan of this sit-com during its first season, but I saw hardly any of the episodes from its second season (2010-2011) in “real time.”  So I was looking forward to seeing the whole season on DVD.  At first, I have to say, I was a little disappointed, but maybe my expectations were a little too high.  As the season went on, I enjoyed it more and more.  The show’s premise, for newcomers, is that a slick lawyer named Jeff Winger (played by Joel McHale) faked his college degree, got found out, and enrolled at third-rate Greendale Community College to get a degree so he can practice law again.  Right away he sets his sights on an attractive blond in his Spanish class named Britta, but when he lies about having a Spanish study group as an excuse to see her outside of class, five of their classmates also show up to join the nonexistent study group.  So the seven misfits become Friends, and they have all sorts of adventures and escapades.  In the first season, I thought five of the seven main characters were very entertaining: Jeff (who plainly has a decent heart beneath his jaded-lawyer carapace), Britta (who passionately embraces political correctness for fear that she doesn’t really believe in anything), Abed (a Muslim with Asperger’s who is hyperobservant and spouts pop-culture references nonstop), Annie (a bright, ambitious cutie whose college trajectory was lowered by a high-school Adderall addiction), and Troy (a dim jock who went to high school with Annie).  Shirley, a middle-aged mother of two dealing with her husband’s running out on her, is not as funny, but she helps keep the show grounded.  The only real stinker in the bunch is Pierce, a skeezy rich older guy played Chevy Chase, whose racist, sexist, homophobic shtick simply isn’t funny.

If you haven’t seen the first season, quit reading now and get it!  (And be warned, there are some SPOILERS ahead if you haven’t seen the first season already.)  If you have seen the first season, I’ll say that the second season is generally pretty good once you get into it, and it has a few real gems.  First of all, you’ll recall the big mess at the end of the first season: Britta and Professor Slater both professed their love for Jeff, who runs away and ends up making out with Annie (Alison Brie) right before the credits roll.  Well, the second season cuts through that knot right away, and the romantic complications are pushed way into the background (without ever quite disappearing).  Which is too bad, as I think the episodes that focus on Jeff, Britta, and Annie are usually the best.  And there are a few of those in the second season—especially one in which Jeff and Annie investigate a conspiracy involving Greendale’s night school, and another in which they both run for student body president.  But there are other highlights too:  one episode is an homage to zombie movies, another to Apollo 13, and still another to the arthouse classic My Dinner With Andre.  One episode is entirely about a game of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  And the two-part season finale about a massive game of paintball gone awry is excellent.  And there are some impressive guest stars along the way, such as Betty White, Drew Carey, Josh Holloway, and LeVar Burton.  Also on the plus side, Greendale’s over-the-top Dean Pelton gets more screen time.

On the minus side, I still dislike Chevy Chase’s character immensely; he becomes pretty villainous over the course of the season.  But more to the point, he’s just not that funny.  Same goes for Ken Jeong’s crazy Senor Chang, who has been demoted from teacher to student and is desperate to join the study group.  Occasionally he has a decent bit, but generally he doesn’t work for me.  Still, on the whole, I give Second Two a big thumbs up.  The outtakes and deleted scenes on the DVDs aren’t much, but there are audio commentaries for every episode and some of those are pretty interesting.  The creators of the show try to push beyond the normal bounds of what a sit-com can be, and sometimes they succeed very nicely.

Community (Season One)

From The Movie Snob

Community (Season One)  (B+).  I saw maybe half of the episodes of the first season of this sitcom when they aired, but I liked watching them on DVD much better.  The star of the show is Joel McHale, who is apparently some sort of TV show host on the E! network.  In Community, he plays Jeff Winger, a slick and smarmy lawyer whose law license has been suspended because it turns out he never went to college.  So he has enrolled at Greendale Community College to try to get his law license back.  In the pilot episode, he decides to chase after an attractive blond classmate named Britta and accidentally finds himself enmeshed in a Spanish study group with six other oddballs and misfits, and comedic stuff ensues.  Jeff’s six amigos are generally pretty funny.  Of course there’s Britta, who turns out to be a perpetually offended feminist killjoy who dropped out of high school, joined the Peace Corp, and is now going to college in her late 20s.  The two kids of the group are Troy, an empty-headed high-school football star and prom king, and Annie (cute Alison Brie), a driven student who landed at Greendale because of an unfortunate Adderol addiction in high school.  Perhaps the funniest character is Abed, a Middle-Eastern fellow of indeterminate age and Aspergerish tendencies who frequently comments on the action by relating everything to something he has seen in the movies or on TV.  Shirley is a divorcee in her 30’s who is going to school to further her goal of starting a brownie-making business.  The only character who really doesn’t work for me is the group’s oldest member, a successful but utterly clueless businessman named Pierce, played by Chevy Chase (Caddyshack), whom I have never found to be all that funny.  Pierce is racist, homophobic, and, in short, not funny.  Anyway, the humor of the show is often absurdist as Jeff has to learn to deal with his six new friends, Greendale’s squirrelly little Dean Pelton, assorted weirdo teachers (such as Spanish teacher Senor Chang (Ken Jeong, The Hangover)), and romantic entanglements with various good-looking students, teachers, and guest stars.  Perhaps inevitably, the show is a bit vulgar and a bit crass, but I still enjoyed it a lot.  The DVDs have quite a few extras–commentaries on every episode, an extended version of one episode. extra shorts, and outtake reels.