The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist begins with filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Kevin Smith and actors Adam Scott, Danny McBride, and Kristen Bell extolling the strange virtues of The Room. That terrible movie became one of the most unlikely cult hits of the 21st century. The rest of the picture details its strange maker Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and the process to bring it to a midnight theater showing near you.

Just as The Room was Wiseau’s warped vision all his own, this is clearly a passion project for Franco. I suspect many of the other well-known actors who turn up in parts large and small are devotees of the unintentionally hilarious 2003 film that Franco is recounting. Like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, this is a good movie about a bad director. Not as good, but it’s an entertaining watch that doesn’t probe too far into its subject’s real story. Truth be told, maybe we don’t really wanna know.

Tommy Wiseau wouldn’t want it any other way. We first meet him in San Francisco circa 1998 as he pours his heart into Marlon Brando’s monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire at an acting class. His rendering is quite awful, but it’s his devil-may-care attitude and blind commitment that gets the attention of Greg (Dave Franco). He’s a fellow student who’s more reserved. Tommy is too, but in a much different way. His age is a mystery and he’s not about to tell it. A European accent (where in that continent… who knows?) counters his contention that he hails from New Orleans. Most interestingly, Tommy seems to have a limitless supply of money and no one knows why.

His new pal Greg manages to ignore those puzzling personal aspects and they road trip it to L.A. to move in together and pursue their dreams. Although he seems to have some prospects, Greg can’t catch a break. Tommy’s overall bizarre vibe is an immediate red X to casting agents. The only solution is to finance his own feature.

And The Room is birthed throughout a long shooting process with a director who has no clue what he’s really doing. We see Wiseau torment his cast and crew because he read somewhere that’s how Alfred Hitchcock did it. Those who know The Room will revel in revisiting Wiseau (who casts himself as the romantic lead) and his humorously questionable line readings. There’s his screenplay that inexplicably brings up cancer subplots that go nowhere and sex scenes that would be deemed too horrible for 2am Cinemax play.

Franco, who also serves behind the camera, is obviously enamored with getting his portrayal of Tommy’s mannerisms and his journey to make this project as accurate as possible. Even if you’re not familiar with Wiseau’s cinematic opus, one YouTube viewing of an interview with him and you’ll know Franco nails it. The star/director, in addition to casting his brother, finds roles for Dave’s real life wife Alison Brie and his frequent costar Seth Rogen as a perpetually bemused script supervisor. Yet just as the real Tommy made his personal relationships and the shooting experience all about him, so is the case with The Disaster Artist.

That devotion from Franco is enough to make this a worthwhile experience. If you’re looking for any insight into what really made Tommy who he is, you won’t find it here. The ultimate irony is that Wiseau did end up succeeding in a town where that’s nearly an impossible feat. He didn’t know that the earnest drama he thought he was making would result in Rocky Horror Picture Show style late night screening madness. What kind of man could achieve this? We may never know, but it’s a fun question for Franco and others to ponder.

*** (out of four)

Krampus Movie Review

Michael Dougherty’s Krampus begins with a stampede at a mall set to “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”. These are the Black Friday throw downs we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. In some ways, it is scarier and more amusing that what follows for the rest of the film. That said, this anti-Christmas tale is not without its occasional charms and pleasingly out there moments.

For those unfamiliar, Krampus is a centuries old European legend (you can Google) of a ghoulish monster that preys on families who’ve lost their faith in Santa Claus. The yuppie suburbanite Engel family (led by parents Adam Scott and Toni Collette) has almost attained that status, with their young son Max (Emjay Anthony) being the holdout. That changes when their relatives come to visit – they’re a not so well to do clan that consists of David Koechner (think Cousin Eddie with more firearms), his wife and their four children. There’s also aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), whose solution to the non family fun consists of plenty of Schnapps to keep warm and slightly zoned out.

Speaking of warm, when an out of the blue blizzard hits, the house loses power and connection to the outside world. Adam Scott’s mother called Omi (an effectively creepy Krista Stadler) makes certain a constant hot fire is burning and it’s not just to keep the group comfrotable and aunt Dorothy even more toasted. She knows the story of Krampus first hand and that backstory is relayed in a nifty stop motion animation sequence and she’s trying to keep the anti-Claus from coming down the chimney for more than milk and cookies.

Krampus has his set of little helpers to wreak havoc on the family and this allows for gingerbread menaces and more. It also allows for some knowingly chintzy CG effects and some genuinely impressive ones, too. The title character does look pretty imposing. In fact, when we move into the third act, I really wanted to hang out with him a little more.

Dougherty is known most for his screenplays for superhero tales like X2 and Superman Returns. This is his second directorial feature after 2007’s Trick ‘r’ Treat, a Halloween themed horror anthology which became a cult favorite. That also had some demented and funny moments and was a little overrated in some circles. Krampus may attain that same status. The PG-13 vibe is actually welcome here and this does often feel like it could have been made 30 years ago when that rating was churning out similar genre titles like Gremlins or Critters. It’s a picture when a swear word (spoken by our kid protagonist) feels pleasingly well placed and kind of retro cool.

Yet I can’t deny that Krampus isn’t too frightening and that some of the hoped for laughs grow tiresome. It has plenty of spirit, but never attains the level of Xmas horror classic that it wishes to be. Dougherty has now done two fright fests built around the holidays to moderate success. Perhaps his Arbor or Columbus Day take will be that third charm.

**1/2 (out of four)


Black Mass Movie Review

Scott Cooper’s Black Mass features a remarkable performance by Johnny Depp in a rather unremarkable telling of a fascinating true life gangster tale. Taking place over a number of years starting in the mid 1970s, Mass concentrates on the Boston reign of James “Whitey” Bulger, a notorious crime kingpin who was able to evade the law due to his status as an FBI informant. Much of his leeway is due to his friendship dating from childhood with agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). Their union allows Bulger to roam the Bah-ston streets freely while giving up info that has the added benefit of eradicating his North Side Mob enemies. Connolly’s longtime connection leaves him either oblivious to who Whitey really is or perhaps a willful co-conspirator.

The film is told in a predictable flashback style as Whitey’s former associates are being questioned by authorities. For anyone who’s watched the news in the last few years, you’ll probably know the real Bulger successfully was a very wanted fugitive for quite a while. We don’t really become acquainted with these witnesses or the law enforcement agents outside of Connolly, but there’s lots of familiar faces playing them. On the good guy side, we have Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, and David Harbour (who is afforded a chilling dinner table scene with the star). Whitey’s henchman are played effectively by Rory Cochrane and Jesse Plemons. Benedict Cumberbatch’s role as Whitey’s politician brother is also underwritten and Dakota Johnson has a brief role as the criminal mastermind’s first wife. The best bit part belongs to Peter Sarsgaard as a coked out associate mixed up with Bulger’s corrupt involvement in World Jai Alai. That subplot, by the way, practically begs for its own feature if done right. Edgerton’s work is commendable and convincing as we slowly learn the dynamics of his relationship with the informant he’s known for decades and the ties that bind them.

Yet this is unquestionably the Johnny Depp Show. His menacing performance, with his giant baby blues and slicked back receding mane, reminds us of just how terrific this man can be. Depp’s trademark eccentricities are on display, but they feel necessary in service to the role he’s playing and not just present for the sake of being weird. It’s something that downgraded recent performances from him and his intense persona here is a breath of fresh and scary air. Truth be told, though, the moments here when Depp’s Bulger is terrorizing his associates are often the only scenes that generate real excitement.

That said, true story or not, little else feels fresh about Black Mass. We’ve seen a number of similar genre tales (some set in Boston) mingling the worlds of crime, law, and politics with greater effectiveness. One that immediately springs to mind is Scorsese’s The Departed, in which Jack Nicholson plays a more fictionalized version of Bulger. Many of the plot points that show up in Mass are contained in The Departed and it’s far more fascinating in the latter. That Boston gang drama earned Best Picture. Black Mass earns credit for allowing Depp to make this role a memorable one. For that reason alone, it’s probably worth a look for his many fans even if the material surrounding it is familiar and a little tiresome.

**1/2 (out of four)

Krampus Box Office Prediction

A whole different kind of Christmas comedy hits theaters next weekend when Krampus debuts. This ain’t Love the Coopers, folks. Michael Dougherty, known best for his screenplays for superhero pics X2 and Superman Returns, is behind the camera. This isn’t his first holiday themed horror comedy though. He made the Halloween centric cult favorite Trick r Treat years ago.

Krampus focuses on what may be a very bad Santa with a cast featuring Adam Scott, Toni Collette, and David Koechner. The trailers do inspire some hope. Having said that, the first week of December is not fertile ground for new releases as audiences are mostly preoccupied with Thanksgiving leftovers. Additionally, while movie geeks may be looking forward to this, general audiences will probably stay away.

I believe Krampus will be lucky to reach double digits and will predict that it won’t.

Krampus opening weekend prediction: $7.1 million

Black Mass Box Office Prediction

Riding a wave of positive buzz generated from film festivals over the weekend, Scott Cooper’s gangster pic Black Mass rolls out in theaters next Friday and the results could be impressive. A true life story focusing on notorious Boston crime kingpin Whitey Bulger, Johnny Depp plays the title character and it’s nabbed him some of the best reviews he’s had in years. There’s even Oscar talk happening, for Depp and possibly the film itself.

The stellar supporting cast includes Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson, Adam Scott, Peter Sarsgaard, and Corey Stoll. Mass is currently at a pleasing 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. Most importantly, the pic has been well marketed and represents a real choice for adults after the summer blockbusters are now fading.

While the Maze Runner sequel may capture the attention of younger viewers, I look for Black Mass to have a very healthy start. In fact, I believe the chances of it over performing are greater than the alternative. I think it could exceed $30 million out of the gate, but I’ll put it just under.

Black Mass opening weekend prediction: $27.9 million


Hot Tub Time Machine 2 Box Office Prediction

Nearly five years after the original turned into a somewhat minor cult classic, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 hits theaters this Friday and will attempt to at least make what its predecessor accomplished in 2010.

The R rated sequel was supposed to come out this past Christmas, but the studio pushed it to a less competitive February spot. Machine 1 star John Cusack opted not to return for the follow-up, but Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke and Chevy Chase are back to reprise their roles with Adam Scott thrown into the mix.

The original premiered to a decent $14 million with an eventual solid gross of $50 million stateside. I have serious doubts as to whether this sequel can match that. The first certainly has its fans (I count myself among them) yet there doesn’t seem to be a big clamor for a second helping. Even some admirers of the 2010 pic could opt to wait for VOD.

As I see it, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 may struggle to even reach double digits out of the gate and, ultimately, I don’t believe it will.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 opening weekend prediction: $8.3 million

For my McFarland, USA prediction, click here:

For my prediction on The DUFF, click here: