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.

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Trainwreck

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Trainwreck  (B).  Two friends of mine separately went to see this movie without really knowing what it was about, and they both emerged appalled, if not scarred for life.  Apparently I have become desensitized to envelope-pushing vulgarity in word and deed on the big screen, because I wasn’t particularly scandalized by this new Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin) comedy.  In fact, I kind of enjoyed it.  It was written by its star, Amy Schumer (TV’s Inside Amy Schumer), and it fits the Apatow mold of being simultaneously pretty conservative and very vulgar.  Schumer plays Amy, a hard-drinking and promiscuous writer for a sleazy men’s magazine.  (Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive) is unrecognizable as her hard-as-nails boss.)  She has absorbed her oafish father’s philosophy that “monogamy isn’t realistic,” and she belittles her little sister (Brie Larson, Short Term 12) for being happily married and happily a step-mother to a nerdy little boy.  Then Amy meets a super nice guy, Aaron Conners (Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins), who is a sports surgeon for superstar pro athletes but also volunteers for Doctors Without Borders.  She actually likes him, which rocks her world, and he actually likes her, which is kind of mystifying.  All I can say is, if you have liked Apatow’s other movies (and I generally have), you’ll probably like this one.

The Best Movies I Saw in 2013, by The Movie Snob

Once again, it is time for The Movie Snob’s annual “best of” column.  As always, the only rule is that I limit the list to films I saw for the first time during the last calendar year.  Thus, you can be sure some 2012 releases will be sprinkled in among the 2013 releases.

Movie of the Year.  It’s another tough call this year.  I gave three movies a straight “A” grade this year, but one of them was a 1949 release, so I’ll temporarily disqualify that one.  As between the other two, I’ll give top honors to 12 Years a Slave.  You’ve already heard all about this movie, if you haven’t seen it already, so I’ll just say it was an amazing, harrowing experience.  It’s a fitting companion to Lincoln, which was my pick for movie of the year last year.

Runner-Up.  If I had managed to see it in 2012, when it was released, I would have picked Zero Dark Thirty as my movie of the year in last year’s column.  If you missed this movie, correct your mistake and see it!  Jessica Chastain gives a fine performance as a CIA analyst consumed with the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the final act of the movie depicting the raid on bin Laden’s compound is a tour de force.

Old-school runner-up.  The third movie I gave a straight “A” to in 2013 was the 1949 classic The Third Man.  It’s just a great, great movie.  Look it up.

Best Action/Adventure Flick.  I’ll pick Man of Steel as last year’s best action movie.  This Superman origin story held my interest from beginning to end.  Plus it featured Amy Adams, which is a plus even though she was kind of miscast as Lois Lane.  I still haven’t seen the new Hobbit movie, so we’ll see if it can give Superman a run for his money.  I also liked World War Z, and I think most zombie fans will too.

Best Animated Movie.  I saw and liked two last year.  Top honors go to Wreck-It Ralph, an entertaining and heart-warming story about the lives of a bunch of video-game characters “after hours.”  I also liked The Croods.  I didn’t have high hopes for that one, but the emotional ending really got to me.

Best Comedy.  This is always a tough category, and last year was no exception.  I didn’t think any of the comedies I saw were great, and the ones I thought were pretty good generally weren’t straight comedies.  I guess the best straight comedy I saw was In a World…, about a woman who is trying to grow up while also trying to break into the very male field of movie voice-over work.  Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 had some good moments, but it’s got a lot of very serious stretches amongst the amusing bits.  And I liked Warm Bodies, which is kind of a zombie romantic comedy, or zom-rom-com, but it is certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste.

Best Documentary.  Hands down, my favorite of the year was 56 Up.  But don’t watch it until you’ve seen all the previous installments in this long-running British series of documentaries.  The series follows a double-handful of British kids from different social classes from their childhoods until now, when they are 56 years old.  Find the first one, 7 Up!, and watch them all.  You’ll thank me.  I saw a couple of other good ones in 2013 as well.  Twenty Feet From Stardom was an interesting look at the careers of some rock-and-roll back-up singers.  Blackfish is a grim, if one-sided, look at Sea World’s mistreatment of its captive killer whales.

Best Drama.  I’ll give top honors to The Spectacular Now, an effective dramedy about a high-school senior who needs to come to grips with his burgeoning alcohol problem, fast.  Another very good dramedy is The Way Way Back, about a young teenaged boy trying to come to grips with his mom’s relationship with a new, unpleasant boyfriend, played unpleasantly by Steve Carell.  I also urge you not to miss Woody Allen’s last movie, Blue Jasmine, starring the sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated Cate Blanchett, and Alexander Payne’s last movie, Nebraska, which may produce an Oscar nominee or two of its own.  Finally, Baz Luhrmann is not for all tastes, but I enjoyed his new version of The Great Gatsby quite a bit.

Best Foreign Film.  Setting aside the British documentary 56 Up, mentioned above, I’ll go with the Italian film The Great Beauty.  The movie is languid and episodic, but it’s still an interesting look at the life of an aging hedonist living among the splendors of modern Rome.  I also saw and enjoyed a couple of older Italian movies—Fellini’s 8 ½ and the post-war classic Bicycle Thieves.

Best Science-Fiction Movie.  Here’s another clear winner: Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  Look for some Oscar nominations for this special-effects extravaganza about a couple of astronauts marooned in space.  I also liked the latest Star Trek movie, Into Darkness, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Gravity.

Honorable Mentions.  What else should you put in your Netflix queue or your streaming list?  Here are a few suggestions.  For drama, you could go with the 2012 release The Impossible, about the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia, or the recent remake of Les Miserables.  The Steven Soderbergh movie Side Effects is a pretty effective and twisty little thriller.  So is Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey.  At the risk of making myself a laughing stock among critics, I’m going to come right out and say I didn’t think The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, was half bad.  Just give it a chance!  Frances Ha is a decent little movie about a young woman trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life.  Short Term 12 is a decent little movie about a home for troubled teenagers and the twentysomethings who try to watch out for them.  I liked American Hustle decently well, and you may still have time to catch that one in the movie theater.  Finally, I finally got around to seeing Kubrick’s The Shining, which is a pretty effective and entertaining chiller.  And I don’t usually like horror movies.

And that’s a wrap!

This Is 40

Happy New Year from The Movie Snob.

This Is 40  (B).  Well, when you sign up for a film by director Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), you expect it to be vulgar and full of characters who swear like sailors.  But this movie features not only Apatow’s lovely wife Leslie Mann (17 Again) but also his two little girls Maude and Iris, so you think maybe he’ll dial the vulgarity down a notch.  Nope; the f-bombs fly as fast and furious as ever.  Anyhoo, the movie is about Pete (the ubiquitous Paul Rudd, Wanderlust) and Debbie (Mann), the married couple seen briefly in Apatow’s 2007 film Knocked Up.  Pete and Debbie are both turning 40, their finances are crumbling, and their marriage is fraying badly.  Although IMDb.com calls the movie a comedy, there are long serious stretches, and Pete and Debbie have some very ugly and unpleasant fights.  At 2 hours and 14 minutes, it is really too long.  And yet, there are some poignant moments and some comic ones that made the film at least somewhat worthwhile for me.  Also, it is amazing to see how many familiar faces Apatow managed to cast in supporting roles, such as John Lithgow (2010), Albert Brooks (Broadcast News), Megan Fox (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), and the hilarious Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids).   McCarthy has a pretty funny (and, of course, profane) tirade in the movie, but during the closing credits they show an outtake of that scene in which McCarthy cracked Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann up and had me positively crying with laughter.  Anyway, this movie is not going to be for everyone (Metacritic.com gives it only 58/100 at this writing), but I liked it enough, here and there, to justify a decent grade.

Get Him to the Greek

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Get Him to the Greek (D). I know, I should have listened to That Guy Named David and skipped this movie. But I saw a decent review. Then I read that it features Rose Byrne (I Capture the Castle) as a pop diva, and I kind of like her. So I gave it a shot. To be sure, I did laugh a few times. But the film is wildly uneven in tone. The comic side involves the trials and travails of a nerdy record-company employee (Jonah Hill, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian) as he tries to escort a washed-up British rock star (Russell Brand, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) from London to L.A. within 72 hours (in time for a big comeback concert). But there is a lot of somber, dark stuff about drug addiction and romantic betrayal too, which makes you not want to laugh when the movie tries to turn funny again. Also, like most or all of these Judd Apatow productions, this movie is stuffed to the gills with vulgar language and sexual perversions of various kinds, so probably no one really ought to watch it. Unlike That Guy Named David, though, I did like Sean Combs as the over-the-top record-company president or whatever he was. I take it Mr. Combs is a person of some note in the music industry in real life?

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (B-). This new comedy was co-produced by the ubiquitous Judd Apatow, who wrote and directed Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I read somewhere that Apatow once said something to the effect that he makes movies that are both conservative and raunchy. This flick is off-the-deep-end in vulgarity, but I didn’t really detect any conservative messages or subtexts. Anyhoo, the story is an archetypal male fantasy. An ordinary joe (Jason Segel, The Five-Year Engagement) gets dumped by his attractive TV-star girlfriend (Kristen Bell, When in Rome), only to meet and connect with an even more attractive girl (Mila Kunis, The Black Swan)–right in front of the ex-girlfriend’s face! And a pretty standard comedic nightmare gets employed too: the guy is so distraught by getting dumped that he impulsively takes off for Hawaii–and ends up at the same hotel as his ex-girlfriend and her rock-star lover! I definitely enjoyed some laughs at the various situations, and sure you root for the guy to end up with the new girl instead of ever getting back with the old one. And what a pleasant surprise to see Steve Landesberg from the old Barney Miller show turn up in a small part! If you can handle lots of vulgarity and male nudity, you might enjoy this movie. All others should steer clear.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

New review from The Movie Snob

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (B+). John C. Reilly (Chicago) stars in this spoof of the rock-star biopic — Walk the Line is its primary target, with a couple of little jabs at Ray thrown in for good measure. Plot synopsis is pointless; what matters is whether you enjoy movies like Talladega Nights, Airplane!, and This Is Spinal Tap. If you like comedy that is keenly observant but also involves a lot of aggressive stupidity, you will probably like this movie. Or if you’re a big Jenna Fischer (Blades of Glory) fan, like I am; she co-stars in the Reese Witherspoon role. I should also warn you that this movie includes some of the most gratuitous nudity imaginable. But what do you expect from a film co-written by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin)?