The Greatest Showman

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Greatest Showman  (B).  This musical has done only so-so with the critics (Metacritic.com score 45/100 last time I checked), but I must say that I was entertained.  The versatile and (to me) eminently likable Hugh Jackman (Logan) stars as P.T. Barnum in a film that is apparently very loosely based on the real Barnum’s life.  It is exceptionally sentimental, setting up all sorts of underdogs for us to root for—the impoverished child Barnum in love with the daughter of a rich meanie, the slightly less impoverished adult Barnum hatching his first scheme to entertain the masses, the gaggle of differently abled people (unkindly called “freaks” by some characters) Barnum recruits for his show, and even an inter-racial potential couple.  There are lots of songs, and I must say they mostly sounded kind of the same to me.  And the big song-and-dance numbers featuring Barnum’s performers resemble the big song-and-dance numbers you might see on “Dancing with the Stars,” and the lights and noise pretty well bludgeon you into submission.  Michelle Williams (Oz the Great and Powerful) isn’t given much to do as Barnum’s wife, but Zac Efron (Neighbors) and the formerly unknown to me Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming) have nice supporting roles and a nice musical number together.  If you don’t mind a little sap and a little schmaltz, I say give The Greatest Showman a chance.

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.

Neighbors

The Movie Snob is sorely disappointed.

Neighbors (D). I knew this was a vulgar, raunchy comedy in the modern vein, but it seemed to be getting good enough reviews to justify a look. Not so! Seth Rogen (This Is the End) and the ubiquitous Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class) star as a married couple with a new baby who get all discombobulated when the Delta Psi fraternity buys the house next door to theirs. After a reasonably amicable meet-and-greet with the fraternity leader (Zac Efron, The Paperboy), things quickly deteriorate into all-out war between the fraternity and the squares. (Well, except these squares don’t mind drinking, and at least one of them enjoys marijuana. But still, they’re in a war with frat boys, so by definition they must be squares. I mean, they have a baby for crying out loud.) It is, as promised, vulgar from beginning to end, and I laughed very seldom. But I can’t deny that I did laugh once or twice, so it gets a D instead of an F. Take that, Delta Psi!

The Paperboy

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Paperboy  (D).  I swear, if Nicole Kidman (Days of Thunder) appears in 10 or 20 more terrible movies, she may stop being my favorite actress of all time.  In this overcooked slab of Southern Gothic, we are in some tiny Florida backwater in the early 1970s, and Kidman plays Charlotte Bless, who’s one of those strange women whose hobby is writing to all these violent prison inmates.  She falls in love with a swamp rat named Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack, Identity), who’s on death row for killing a sheriff.  Matthew McConaughey (Sahara) plays Ward Jansen, an investigative journalist who returns to his hometown to see if Van Wetter was unjustly convicted.  Zac Efron (17 Again) is Ward’s little brother Jack, who’s emotionally crippled from being abandoned by his mother at a young age and who quickly falls in love with the trampy Charlotte.  There are several embarrassing scenes, such as Charlotte and Hillary’s first meeting at the prison, and the scene in which Jack gets badly stung by a bunch of jellyfish and Charlotte helps him out by urinating on his wounds.  I strongly advise you to skip this movie, which shouldn’t be too hard since it seems to have gotten a very short, limited release.

17 Again

Film review from The Movie Snob

17 Again (B). The Borg Queen and I caught a matinee of this flick starring heartthrob-of-the-moment Zac Efron (Hairspray). I think Big is a much overrated movie, so I was not expecting much from this Big-in-reverse tale. Perhaps as a result, I rather enjoyed it. First we get the backstory: in 1989, Efron’s character Mike O’Donnell passes up a chance to play college basketball to marry his (pregnant) high school sweetheart. Fast forward 19 years or so, and Mike (briefly played by Matthew Perry, The Whole Nine Yards) is an unhappy man, estranged from his two children and on the verge of divorce from the same high school sweetheart (now played by Leslie Mann, Knocked Up). An encounter with a mysterious old man soon turns Mike back into his high-school Zac-Efrony self. With assistance from his best friend (dork turned dorky software millionaire), Mike enrolls in high school and tries to figure out the purpose of his quest. It’s no Citizen Kane, but I found it a pleasant diversion. I do feel bad for Melora Hardin (TV’s The Office), stuck in yet another thankless big-screen role–this time as the school principal who is wooed by the hapless computer mogul).

Firefly (TV series)

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Joss Whedon’s Firefly: The Complete Series. I have owned this thing for a long time, but I only recently got around to watching it. I enjoyed the movie Serenity a lot, and there were only 14 episodes, so I don’t know why it took me so long.

The set-up in the pilot episode is promising. Five hundred years in the future, man has colonized a fair amount of space. A central government called the Alliance arose, a civil war erupted, and the Alliance won. After the armistice, one of the defeated rebels, Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, Waitress), acquired a transport ship called the Millennium Falcon–er, I mean, Serenity, and now he and his small crew scrounge a semi-legal living out on the fringe of Alliance space. Life on the frontier is remarkably similar to the American Old West, and although there are laser guns and mechanical transports around, six-shooters and horses are more prevalent. In addition to Serenity‘s crew of five, we add a licensed Companion (a courtesan or geisha type) named Inara who rents a small shuttle from Mal, plus a “Shepherd” or monkish type named Book and the brother-sister duo of Simon and River Tam. Simon and River are on the run from the Alliance, which makes life difficult for Mal but also makes it difficult for him to turn his back on them.

There’s a lot to like about the show. For example, everybody’s favorite Star Wars character is Han Solo, and Mal Reynolds is basically what Han Solo would have become if the Empire had defeated the Rebellion at the end of Episode VI. Also, there are two potential shipboard romances. There’s the relatively uncomplicated one between Simon, who’s a brilliant doctor from a wealthy family, and cute-as-a-button Kaylee, the ship’s engineer. And there’s the more complicated one between Mal and Inara. Han Solo would never have put up with Princess Leia’s becoming a gal for hire, and Inara’s line of work doesn’t sit well with Mal either. That’s one of the more interesting, if confusing, aspects of the Firefly milieu. How well does this whole Companion system really work? Mal is not the only character who refers to Companions by another, less classy name when he gets riled up about something, and Shepherd Book is obviously a little disconcerted by the lovely Inara. (By the way, it’s a kick to see old Ron Glass from Barney Miller as Book.)

The episodes are sort of a mixed bag–some good, some sort of indifferent. I think what makes me give the series less than a whole-hearted endorsement is that a few of the episodes have scenes that are just too dark or gruesome. I had little experience with Whedon’s famous brainchild Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but my very limited exposure to that show gave me the same impression about it. There’s an episode of Firefly in which a couple of series regulars get captured by a bad guy and tortured pretty severely right on screen. And another in which one of the female cast members is threatened with rape in a very brutal yet matter-of-fact fashion. To my mind, the episodes without this kind of material were much better than the ones with it. You should definitely screen each episode before you decide to let young children watch.

Guess that’s about it. Watch for a young Zac Efron (High School Musical 3: Senior Year) guest appearance as a young version of Simon Tam. Also, an attractive actress who guested on the show twice, Christina Hendricks, apparently now appears on Mad Men.

Finally, I’ll plug the movie Serenity again for anyone who enjoys Star Wars or Star Trek; to my mind it was sort of a blend of the two. It is rated PG-13, I think primarily for violence, but for some reason it didn’t turn me off the way some of Firefly did. But my friend The Borg Queen, who yields to no one in her fondness of SW and ST, found Serenity kind of disturbing, so I guess it’s hard to predict these things.