Oscar Predictions: Eileen

Eileen is director William Oldroyd’s sophomore feature after his well-reviewed 2016 rendering of Lady Macbeth with Florence Pugh. This psychological thriller/romance set in the 1960s is based on Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2015 novel and has premiered at Sundance. Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway headline with a supporting cast including Shea Whigham, Owen Teague, and Marin Ireland.

It is already clear this project will generate lots of attention. A number of early takes are raves with some claiming career best work from McKenzie and Hathaway. Ireland is also being singled out as a scene stealer. There’s said to be a twist in the proceedings that has divided critics and may do the same with audiences.

At Sundance, plenty of pics are looking for distribution and Eileen (with comparisons to Carol and Hitchcock) should easily be snatched up. If an awards campaign is in the cards, we’ll see if the trio of actresses can materialize in the convo or if Adapted Screenplay is feasible. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Decision to Leave Review

There is captivation without consummation in Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave, a stunning looking and sometimes confounding slice of pulp fiction. Its central romance is unique in the lack of actual sexual activity mixed with an abundance of genuinely felt romantic tension. There’s a dreamy like tone that echo the fantasies likely occurring in the lead detective’s smitten head. In that sense, calling this the filmmaker’s homage to Vertigo is fair. As in Hitchcock’s masterpiece, the fall may kill you.

In South Korea, the fall does kill a man while rock climbing and Detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) suspects it’s not an accident or suicide. The deceased’s younger wife Seo-rae (Tang Wei) doesn’t behave as the typical widow. She immediately goes back to work as an elder caregiver by reasoning that a living client takes precedent over a dead spouse. Hae-jun has his suspicions while his wild card partner (Go Kyung-po) is convinced of her guilt.

The interrogation scenes between Hae-jun and Seo-rae display the former’s infatuation with her. He treats her to high end cuisine during the probes while dealing with language barriers (she primarily speaks her native Chinese). Outside of the station, he’s eager to stake her out and eventually welcome her to his world. The detective at first seems happily married to the sweet Jung-an (Lee Hung-hyun), but the bliss appears to be a facade. He lives in a separate apartment during the week where his insomnia allows him to obsess over unsolved mysteries. The latest fixation and enigma is Seo-rae.

What is love (as Haddaway once asked) is ultimately the query of Decision to Leave. I won’t deny being a little confused in moments with its quick excursions into unrelated scenes that take the focus away from the central romance. When a key part of the narrative wraps up midway through, the picture flirts with being anti-climatic during the second half. Chan-wook’s impeccable style behind the camera prevents that from happening. So does some well-placed humor.

Both leads are beguiling with Wei in a star making performance. Decision is open ended as to how the viewer might interpret her actions. Some of Seo-rae’s behavior indicates she may love him too. For Hae-jun, maybe he could find the real answers to his hunches about her if his probing brain wasn’t buried in the sand. Or perhaps having that head in the sand is exactly where it needs to be.

*** (out of four)

Summer 1991: The Top 10 Hits and More

It is officially summertime 2021 and that brings my annual seasonal three-part series where I take a look back at the top ten pics, flops, and other notable selections from 30, 20, and 10 years ago. That means I’ll begin with 1991 at a time where Arnold Schwarzenegger said hasta la vista to all competitors.

Let’s count down from #10 to numero Ah-nuld along with other entries worthy of discussion (both good and bad).

10. Doc Hollywood

Domestic Gross: $54 million

Michael J. Fox had a midsize hit with this fish out of water comedy about an uppity surgeon stuck in the rural south. It marks the star’s last solid performer that he headlined.

9. Boyz n the Hood

Domestic Gross: $57 million

John Singleton had one of cinema’s most memorable directorial debuts with this coming-of-age drama set in South Central. He would become the youngest filmmaker ever to be nominated at the Oscars and the critically hailed pic kickstarted the careers of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube.

8. One Hundred and One Dalmatians 

Domestic Gross: $60 million

Disney re-released their 1961 classic three decades after its release and picked up a cool $60 million for it. Later in 1991, the studio would begin another renaissance with Beauty and the Beast becoming the first animated film to nab a Best Picture nomination. Five years later, Glenn Close would headline the live-action version and another reboot, Cruella with Emma Stone, is currently in the top five.

7. What About Bob?

Domestic Gross: $63 million

Bill Murray had one of his signature roles as the multi-phobic patient tormenting shrink Richard Dreyfuss on his vacation. Apparently this comedy was a bit dramatic behind the scenes with the two leads having an actual antagonistic relationship.

6. Hot Shots!

Domestic Gross: $69 million

Spoofs were a hot commodity in the early 90s following the success of 1988’s The Naked Gun. Jim Abrahams, one of that film’s writers, created this sendup of Top Gun and many others that starred Charlie Sheen. A sequel would follow two years later.

5. Backdraft

Domestic Gross: $77 million

Ron Howard directed this firefighting drama that heated up the box office with Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro, and a creepy Donald Sutherland as a pyromaniac. There was even a sequel released in 2019 with Baldwin and Sutherland that went direct to streaming and that I frankly forgot existed.

4. The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear

Domestic Gross: $86 million

The spoofing love continued as Leslie Nielsen reprised his role as doofus detective Frank Drebin in this sequel to the 1988 classic. It couldn’t hold up the original, but it was better than part 3 which followed in 1994. And, needless to say, this was a simpler time for costar O.J. Simpson.

3. City Slickers

Domestic Gross: $124 million

As New Yorkers learning life lessons on a cattle drive, Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, and Bruno Kirby starred in the comedy smash of the summer and costar Jack Palance even ended up with a Best Supporting Actor victory. A less regarded follow-up would come in 1994.

2. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Domestic Gross: $165 million

While his accent was spotty at best, Kevin Costner parlayed his Oscar success from the previous year’s Dances with Wolves into this blockbuster about the robbing from the rich and giving to the poor hero. The highlight was Alan Rickman’s sublime work as the Sheriff of Nottingham while critics mostly turned up their noses.

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Domestic Gross: $204 million

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s android went from being the bad guy in the 1984 original to the good robot in James Cameron’s sequel that gave us eye popping and revolutionary special effects and a dynamite Linda Hamilton returning as a buffed up Sarah Connor. There’s been four more entries in the franchise and none have matched the potency of this one.

Now let’s turn the focus to some other notable releases:

Thelma & Louise

Domestic Gross: $45 million

Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis both scored lead actress Academy nods for Ridley Scott’s now iconic tale of feminism and revenge with an unforgettable ending. This also marked audiences falling in love with a then unknown actor by the name of Brad Pitt.

Point Break

Domestic Gross: $43 million

Patrick Swayze starred in the previous summer’s high earner with Ghost. This surfing action pic from director Kathryn Bigelow paired the actor with Keanu Reeves and has amassed a deserved cult following. An unnecessary remake wiped out in 2015.

Dead Again

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Kenneth Branagh’s sophomore effort after the acclaim of his Shakespearian Henry V was this Hitchcock homage costarring his then wife Emma Thompson, Andy Garcia, and Robin Williams. As tributes to the Master of Suspense go, this is one of the best.

Soapdish

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Robert Downey, Jr., and Whoopi Goldberg are part of the ensemble in this comedy set in the world of the afternoon melodramas that populate the airwaves. Not a big hit at the time, its reception has since grown.

Jungle Fever

Domestic Gross: $32 million

Spike Lee’s tale of an interracial couple played by Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra received critical kudos. The two most memorable performances come from Samuel L. Jackson as a crack addict and Halle Berry (in her feature debut) as his girlfriend.

Madonna: Truth or Dare

Domestic Gross: $15 million

As she often is, Madonna was ahead of the cultural curve with this documentary set during her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour. This was reality programming before it exploded.

Barton Fink

Domestic Gross: $6 million

The Coen Brothers pitch black comedy was the darling of the Cannes Film Festival, winning Picture, Director, and Actor for John Turturro. It would land three Academy nominations including Michael Lerner in Supporting Actor.

Now it’s time for the pictures that either didn’t land with audiences or critics (or both):

The Rocketeer

Domestic Gross: $46 million

Disney was hoping for a new franchise with this comic book based property. Yet the period adventure underwhelmed at the box office. This was a different era for the genre before the MCU changed everything. Director Joe Johnston, coincidentally, would go on to make Captain America: The First Avenger 20 years later.

Dying Young

Domestic Gross: $33 million

This seems hard to believe now, but Premiere magazine predicted this romance would be the largest grossing feature of the summer. Not so much. However, Julia Roberts was just coming off her smash breakthrough Pretty Woman. This didn’t land with audiences in the same way.

Only the Lonely

Domestic Gross: $25 million

Chris Columbus was basking in the box office bonanza that was Home Alone. This rom com with John Candy and Ally Sheedy that followed six months later didn’t cause many filmgoers to leave their homes.

Mobsters

Domestic Gross: $20 million

1990 was gave us lots of mobster fare such as GoodFellas, The Godfather Part III, and Miller’s Crossing. Crowds and critics didn’t take to the Christian Slater and Patrick Dempsey versions of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, respectively.

Hudson Hawk

Domestic Gross: $17 million

Bruce Willis’s vanity project is considered one of the gargantuan flops in history. Grossing only about a fourth of its $65 million budget, it was awarded the Golden Raspberry for Worst Picture of the year.

V.I. Warshawski

Domestic Gross: $11 million

Based on a series of successful novels, audiences didn’t take to Kathleen Turner in the title role for this detective action comedy. It made less than half its budget.

Delirious

Domestic Gross: $5 million

Also set in the world of soap operas, this marked another dud for John Candy in the same season.

Another You

Domestic Gross: $2 million

Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder are a classic combo with well-regarded comedies like Silver Streak and Stir Crazy. Even See No Evil, Hear No Evil in 1989, despite critical scorn, performed well. That’s not the case with their last collaboration (which reviewers also drubbed).

And that concludes my look back at summer 1991. Next up is the sweltering season of 2001!

The Woman in the Window Review

The deeply troubled agoraphobic Anna Fox (Amy Adams) has a habit of avoiding reality in The Woman in the Window by chugging a bottle of wine and distracting herself with classic old movies. This is her way of not dealing with the story unfolding around her. There are times where I could relate as those vintage pictures would provide a better escape than what happens here for the most part.

Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Darkest Hour), Window is based on a 2018 novel by A.J. Finn. It features quite a list of Oscar winners (Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore) and actors you may think have won them (Adams, Jennifer Jason Leigh). The screenwriter Tracy Letts is a Pulitzer winning playwright. With that  level of talent involved, one would think Window would rise above the histrionic Hitchcockian “homage” that it is. Mentioning Mr. Hitchcock might be too complimentary. This shares many similar plot points to 2016’s The Girl on the Train, which was also based on a book meant to be read on an airplane or the beach you rush to after the flight. You could easily call this The Girl on the Painkillers.

Dr. Fox is a child psychologist whose condition has kept her confined to her Manhattan apartment. In addition to her binge drinking/movie watching, she spends most of her day spying on neighbors. The new ones across the street are the Russell family – businessman Alistair (Oldman), wife Jane (Moore), and teen son Ethan (Fred Hechinger). Or maybe not. After the wife and boy visit her, Anna suspects some abuse is occurring in the household. The mystery deepens when Jennifer Jason Leigh shows up as Alistair’s spouse. Maybe the abundance of Anna’s medication is causing hallucinations. Our voyeur tries to enlist the NYPD, led by Brian Tyree’s Henry detective, and her basement tenant (Wyatt Russell) to assist with her amateur sleuthing. There’s also the matter of Anna’s only family. She’s separated from her husband (Anthony Mackie) and they have a young daughter. They turn up in flashback form and saying much more would enter spoiler territory.

The Woman in the Window contains plenty of twists that might have worked in paperback form. The treatment by Wright and Letts is a tonally frantic one. This is primarily a melodrama that begs to be taken seriously from time to time. Some of the performers seem in on it as Oldman, Moore, and Hechinger got the memo to overact wildly. Yet this never reaches its apparent goal of being a genuine guilty pleasure. That’s too bad because the behind the camera personnel and cast in front of it deserved better. Many of those examples are contained in Anna’s cinematic collection in her brownstone where less spellbinding developments are transpiring.

** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: The Woman in the Window

On paper, at least, Joe Wright’s The Woman in the Window has a whole lot of Oscar connections in it. The psychological thriller stars Amy Adams, recipient of six nominations who’s never won (she’s considered well overdue for a victory). Costars include Academy winners and nominees such as Gary Oldman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Julianne Moore in addition to Anthony Mackie, Wyatt Russell, and Brian Tyree Henry. Screenwriter Tracy Letts has a Pulitzer Prize to his name. And Wright has seen two of his efforts (Atonement, Darkest Hour) nab Best Picture nods.

Window hits Netflix today after originally being planned for a fall 2019 premiere via 20th Century Fox. It was pushed back to May 2020 due to reshoots and the COVID-19 pandemic. The pic was finally snatched up by the streamer, foregoing a theatrical release. So there’s the question of whether this is even eligible for the Oscars since it’s not hitting the big screen. Not that it matters.

Word of mouth over the past several months has not been kind and the just lapsed review embargo confirms that. The Rotten Tomatoes score is a troubling 27% with many critics calling it a poor Hitchcock ripoff. Despite the many participants with a nexus to awards attention, Window appears more likely to garner Razzie mentions than anything at the big dance.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Connery. Sean Connery.

It is, quite simply, the greatest screen introduction of all time. Nearly 60 years ago, the suave tuxedoed super agent lighting his cigarette in the posh casino and uttering three words that changed cinematic history.

“Bond. James Bond.”

They were, of course, spoken by Sean Connery. And that line of dialogue, flawlessly delivered, kicked off the franchise of all franchises. The role of 007 was followed by George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. Yet to most lovers of the art form – Connery is Bond. He perfected Ian Fleming’s British hero from the start in Dr. No and continued to do so in the seminole pictures from the series including From Russia with Love and Goldfinger. 

When a performer passes on, as Connery has at age 90, it’s easy to delve into hyperbole. That doesn’t apply here. The man truly was and is an icon. Just being the best and original Bond would be enough to cement that legacy.

However, there’s plenty more. His Oscar winning turn as the tough and gruff Malone in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. His role as the father to Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade. Being Alfred Hitchcock’s leading man in Marnie. His Soviet captain in The Hunt for Red October. The escape artist opposite Nicolas Cage in The Rock. His shining star among other legends in Murder on the Orient Express.

The man who will always be Bond and much more may be gone, but that famous introduction and hours of additional first rate entertainment will be there for us to appreciate. And nobody looked cooler providing it to us.

Sean Connery. Icon. August 25, 1930-October 31, 2020.

Oscar Watch: Rebecca

Remaking Hitchcock is always a tricky proposition, but Ben Wheatley is venturing into that territory with the October 21st Netflix release of Rebecca. The 1940 version from the Master of Suspense is the only film in the legend’s filmography to win Best Picture at the Oscars (though it did not land Hitchcock a directing victory). Armie Hammer, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Riley, and Ann Dowd headline this iteration.

The original source material is actually the 1938 Daphne du Maurier novel and some reviews are saying this 2020 take is actually more faithful than Hitch’s adaptation. Yet it’s getting nowhere close to the raves of what preceded it 80 years ago. The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at a mixed 54%.

In 1940, the trio of Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson were all nominated by the Academy. These would be the roles played now by Hammer, James, and Scott Thomas. While some critics have focused on the work of the latter, I find it doubtful that Scott Thomas could nab her second nomination (her first was 1996’s The English Patient).

Even with the so-so reviews, Rebecca could still get some nods. The Production Design and Costume Design have both been singled out. In my weekly Oscar prediction updates, I had this just on the outside looking in at 6th in the costuming race and I have this making the cut in fifth in Production Design. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Summer 2000: The Top 10 Hits and More

As I do every summer on the blog, I am looking back at the cinematic seasons of 30, 20, and 10 years ago and recounting the top ten hits, other notable pics, and some misfires. A week ago, I covered the summer of 1990 (when we all were “ghosted”). If you missed it, you can peruse it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/18/summer-1990-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

Today brings us to the dawn of the new century. What struck me is that there weren’t a whole lot of outright flops, but the ones that were are rather significant bombs. Let’s take a trip down memory lane of 2000 and were we not entertained?!?!

10. The Patriot

Domestic Gross: $113 million

Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger teamed up with disaster flick specialist Roland Emmerich for this Revolutionary War era drama that managed to just achieve blockbuster status and barely top its reported $110 million budget stateside.

9. Big Momma’s House

Domestic Gross: $117 million

Negative reviews couldn’t prevent this Martin Lawrence comedy from nearly quadrupling its $30 million budget and spawning two eventual sequels. 30% also happens to be its Rotten Tomatoes score.

8. Nutty Professor II: The Klumps

Domestic Gross: $123 million

Eddie Murphy’s sequel to his 1996 hit certainly didn’t get the reviews of its predecessor, but it fell only $5 million short of the domestic gross of part 1 and introduced superstar Janet Jackson as his new love interest. Part 2 also greatly expanded Eddie’s work as other members of the Klump brood. As you can see from numbers 8 and 9, it was a big summer for comedians in fat suits.

7. Dinosaur

Domestic Gross: $137 million

The prehistoric Disney animated adventure is not one of their most talked about titles in recent decades, but it was still a profitable venture that grossed nearly $350 million worldwide.

6. What Lies Beneath

Domestic Gross: $155 million

Despite mixed reviews, Robert Zemeckis’s Hitchcockian thriller starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer landed big with audiences. Its filming schedule is a memorable one. Zemeckis was shooting Cast Away with Tom Hanks and there was a long break in filming so its star could shed weight and grow his long beard. It was enough time for the director to fit in Beneath. 

5. Scary Movie

Domestic Gross: $157 million

The summer’s biggest comedy was a Scream spoof from filmmaker Keenan Ivory Wayans. Shot for less than $20 million, it spawned four sequels and became its own franchise.

4. X-Men

Domestic Gross: $157 million

I recently wrote about the 20th anniversary of X-Men here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/14/x-men-at-20-a-look-back/

That post talks about its significant impact on the comic book genre that has dominated the 21st century.

3. The Perfect Storm

Domestic Gross: $182 million

Wolfgang Peterson’s fact based disaster drama with George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg was not much of a hit with critics, but crowds were swept up in the waves.

2. Gladiator

Domestic Gross: $187 million

Ridley Scott’s historical action drama kicked off summer 2000 and made a global superstar out of Russell Crowe and provided a juicy supporting part for Joaquin Phoenix. The film became an Oscar darling – winning Best Picture and Crowe taking Best Actor. This is the rare summer popcorn pic that achieved awards glory.

1. Mission: Impossible 2

Domestic Gross: $215 million

This sequel cruised to the top spot of earners for the season. Now that there’s been six editions in the franchise, this John Woo directed experience is generally (and rightfully) considered the weakest of the bunch. Yet that didn’t prevent huge grosses.

And now for some other notable features:

Chicken Run

Domestic Gross: $106 million

This still stands as the highest grossing stop-motion animated feature of all time and it doubled its budget domestically. A sequel is in development, but it was recently announced that lead voice Mel Gibson will not be part of the proceedings.

Gone in 60 Seconds

Domestic Gross: $101 million

Despite poor reviews, Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie’s remake of the 1970s heist pic still zoomed (barely) past $100 million and was a solid performer overseas.

Me, Myself & Irene

Domestic Gross: $90 million

The Farrelly Brothers reunited with their Dumb and Dumber star Jim Carrey for this comedy that earned mixed reaction. This was nowhere near the hit that the brothers had two years earlier with their runaway success There’s Something About Mary, but it still made money.

Space Cowboys

Domestic Gross: $90 million

Clint Eastwood guided this “old guys in space” tale alongside Tommy Lee Jones to a very respectable gross and decent critical reaction.

Hollow Man

Domestic Gross: $73 million

Paul Verhoeven’s take on the H.G. Wells novel starred Kevin Bacon and earned a Visual Effects Oscar nomination (losing to Gladiator). While it didn’t make its budget back stateside, it ended up doubling its price tag when factoring in foreign markets. A direct to video sequel followed.

Shaft

Domestic Gross: $70 million

Samuel L. Jackson took over the iconic private dick role from Richard Roundtree (who costarred here) in this sequel from the late John Singleton. Christian Bale memorably plays a villain here. Another sequel followed in 2019 and it was an outright flop.

Bring It On

Domestic Gross: $68 million

Made for only $11 million, this teen cheerleading comedy was an unexpected hit that gave Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union a boost in their careers. Five direct to video sequels followed as well as a stage musical.

The Cell

Domestic Gross: $61 million

Despite so-so reviews, this twisty supernatural thriller with Jennifer Lopez easily topped its $33 million budget. It has continued to have ardent admirers including the late Roger Ebert, who awarded it four stars.

Coyote Ugly

Domestic Gross: $60 million

This tale about saloon life with Piper Perabo and John Goodman managed to take in over $100 million worldwide against a $45 million budget and has become a cult favorite since.

The Original Kings of Comedy

Domestic Gross: $38 million

A stand-up comedy pic grossing this much in theaters is notable. Spike Lee directed Bernie Mac, Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, and Cedric the Entertainer and audiences turned out.

As I mentioned, the total bombs aren’t plentiful here. However, they’re notable:

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

Domestic Gross: $26 million

A pet project of Robert De Niro, this loose take on the 1960s animated series grossed a third of its budget domestically and was quickly forgotten.

Titan A.E.

Domestic Gross: $22 million

20th Century Fox had a big failure here at the start of the 21st century with this animated sci-fi tale with Matt Damon as a leading voice. The price tag was reportedly around $90 million and it made just $36 million worldwide.

Battlefield Earth

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Based on a work from Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, audiences and critics savaged this sci-fi tale with John Travolta. It won a then record 7 Golden Raspberry Awards and was mocked relentlessly for its poor quality.

And that does it, folks! I’ll have 2010 recounted on the blog in the coming days…

Passion Movie Review

Brian De Palma dips into his old bag of tricks once again with Passion, resurrecting his exercises in stylistic silliness. From Dressed to Kill to Body Double to Femme Fatale, it’s the director’s return to what could be described as Hitchschlockian. His affinity for the Master of Suspense has been evident for decades. Unlike Hitchcock, his homages come with a hard R rating and an increased level of the ridiculous. De Palma is winking hard here with throwbacks to past uses of split screen, which is used memorably in a ballet sequence mixed with blood. If only the whole thing were more consistently enjoyable.

The character of Christine (Rachel McAdams) is one that’s basically required to smoke cigarettes and she does. She’s an ad exec with limitless ambition and a do whatever it takes attitude. Her assistant Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) appears more quiet and reserved, but it turns out she’s ruthless as well. She’s having an affair with Christine’s beau (Paul Anderson) and that dynamic creates all kinds of melodrama as Christine wants her in that way as well. It all comes with a heaping of the sleaze De Palma is known for gleefully wallowing in. Karoline Herfurth plays Isabelle’s subordinate who also has a massive crush on her. Essentially, everyone has a thing for Isabelle. Rapace is stuck with the more subdued role while McAdams gets to have a good time with her over the top part.

Dressed to Kill is easily the filmmaker’s finest work in this genre. Nothing has really come close since, but all follow-ups certainly have their flashes of depraved fun. That applies to Passion, but it takes too long to get there. For De Palma aficionados, the nostalgic payoffs don’t really begin until that screen splits and twists start to follow. Unfortunately that’s about an hour into the proceedings. By then, even De Palma’s most ardent fans burning for Passion might have subsided a bit.

**1/2 (out of four)

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)