A Wrinkle in Time is a classic children’s book that I never read growing up, but was keenly aware of its existence, one of a number of books that slipped through the cracks for me growing up. I had purchased the book on my Kindle a few years ago with the intention of reading it eventually. With the release of the film adaptation, I decided to cram this week and read the book between Wednesday evening and Friday morning before catching a Friday matinee of the film. The previews of the film had caught my eye for months and interested me, and, given the quality of Selma, I wanted to see what director Ava DuVernay would do with the project. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the outcome.Read More
I just found out The Big Lebowski was released on March 6th twenty years ago. Not only is it my favorite Coen brothers movie and my favorite comedy, it is my personal #1 movie of all time. Having spent two decades watching this movie multiple times, I wanted to share a bit about my love for all things Lebowski.Read More
Others are mired in their opinions being "subjective". Sad. They worry they're not seeing "all sides" of a cultural debate, and give credence to other opinions willy nilly, especially on tedious, round table NPR shows with titles like "Up, Down, and All Around: Everyone's Damn Viewpoint on Everything." Blah. So exhausting.Read More
Overall, Annihilation has the courage of its convictions to not pander to audiences and spoon-feed its viewers easy answers as to what is happening. Even if it doesn’t quite rise to the level of Garland’s previous film, Ex Machina, for me, it is a notch just below it and still gave me plenty to chew on.Read More
Last year, Get Out was released around the same time of the year (Feb. 24) and it was the first movie of 2017 to be penciled into my year-end list. Black Panther has done the same in being the first movie that I will be penciling into my Best of 2018 list.Read More
After sitting with it a few weeks, and not having the time to write about it immediately after seeing it, the things that kept me from loving it initially have faded while the eccentricities and odd little moment of humor have heightened a bit, leaving me to wonder what an eventual second viewing might hold in a few years. Perhaps my tastes will be more in tune with it’s high fashion by that point, and it’ll be something I can enjoy rather than just appreciate.Read More
We have all had dreams of being a TV/Movie star from when we were young. A small percentage of us try to make that dream a reality. An even smaller percentage of those people actually make in front of millions of viewers. I had the opportunity to speak with one of those people who made her dream a reality, the talented Stephanie Rogers, who has appeared in shows like Saturday Night Live, The Blacklist, The Knick, 30 Rock, Law and Order SVU, Smash, and many others. How did she get there, what has her journey been like, who have been the best movie stars to work with, and what advice would she give to anyone else who wants to live the dream.Read More
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a new Japanese CG anime kaiju film. It was produced by Toho Animation and was animated by Polygon Pictures. It is the 32nd feature film in the Godzilla franchise and the first animated take on Godzilla. It was co-directed by Kōbun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita, with a screenplay by Gen Urobuchi. It was recently released worldwide via Netflix.Read More
Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and everybody and their mother is bound to have a hot take of some kind, so why not me (my mom could care less, though)? There’s bound to be a lot of huffing and puffing out there.Read More
Steven Spielberg is a director who normally operates in two types of modes; alternating projects between big blockbusters and serious filmmaking with awards in mind. His latest, The Post, makes no qualms about what kind of film it wants to be, landing firmly with both feet in the latter camp. Spielberg has never been shy about making films with a message, but they rarely have been so deliberate in their intent to speak to the relevant news of the present.Read More
Musicals are not my favorite genre of film, in fact, they may be my least favorite. Having said that, I have been trying to make an effort to see some of the classics and approach them with an open mind. Similarly, I was not a fan of the western genre for a long time either, but have come to appreciate the genre quite a bit. My exposure to movie musicals is very limited. I remember having to watch Fiddler on the Roof in music class in 4th grade as well as West Side Story at some point in elementary school. I either did not pay attention or I forgot much of it (though I do vividly remember “If I were a rich man…!” from Fiddler).Read More
Guillermo del Toro is a fascinating director. When he is not doing big budget spectacle like Pacific Rim or Hellboy, he is making poignantly beautiful films like The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth. The Shape of Water is his latest film and it is very much in the vein of Pan’s Labyrinth as a Beauty and the Beast type of modern fable.Read More
- OnScreen Chief Film Critic
(This is an incredibly spoiler-free review of the film.)
Carrying expectations into a movie theater is a dangerous game to play. With the Star Wars franchise, this is practically unavoidable. Generations of kids grew up on these stories from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I have to admit that I was particularly susceptible to the expectations game with this film. Not only do I love Star Wars, but I am also a huge fan of Rian Johnson, a director I have been on board with ever since his first film, Brick, came out over a decade ago now. I made a concerted effort to avoid as much news and talk about reviews within the last week or so before seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Episode VIII in the Star Wars franchise. I tried my best to suppress the way I wanted things to play out and embrace the story that Johnson and others had brought to the big screen in this new entry in this new trilogy.
My best efforts were in vain, when the credits rolled, I was certainly on a high, but it was tempered with something I did not want, or perhaps did not expect: a twinge of the bittersweet. I didn’t expect to have to leave the theater trying to figure out how I felt about the movie. Maybe I was overthinking it, maybe I still am. But the more I thought about it and the movie I had experienced settled into my mind and replaced the ethereal idea of the movie that had been in my mind for the last two years, I really began to appreciate what Rian Johnson has made with this film and how he had subverted my expectations and gone in an interesting direction.
(I realize I’ve been using “I” a lot, and if you’re reading this you probably care less about my personal experience and want to know about the movie itself. I swear, going forward will be less about me.)
So what were my expectations going in? I bought into the notion with The Force Awakens that J.J. Abrams was laying a foundation, to play it a little safe, and make sure the new trilogy didn’t get off on the wrong foot. Being a rehash of A New Hope is a very fair critique of The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi, as best I can tell is not a rehash of any of the previous films. However, there are definite nods to several previous films, including A New Hope, certainly The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and surprisingly Revenge of the Sith.
Some of these nods are lines of dialogue that are similar, such as Obi Wan telling Anakin, “I have failed you” on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith. A desert/salt planet shares a lot of similarities to Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, and features a similar assault, though it doesn’t happen right at the beginning of the film. Still another is the royal guard around Supreme Leader Snoke; their stark red suits are meant to evoke the guards of Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi, though they are much more menacing and imposing. There’s also a particularly poignant nod to A New Hope involving the shot of Luke looking at the two suns on Tatooine and Leia’s message to Obi Wan.
These nods to the past ground the story in the Star Wars universe, and are important because the new stories, really, are not about the old characters as much as the new characters. It is great to see the old faces again, and Luke and Leia get greatly expanded roles compared to The Force Awakens. Carrie Fisher gives a great final performance as Princess Leia, reminding us that she was the beating heart of the rebellion back in the day by leading this new resistance, a resistance that teeters on the edge of a knife for much of the film, and much of the plot is about their survival. Their survival rests partly on getting Luke Skywalker off the sidelines and out of self-imposed exile.
Luke is a very different person than he was at the end of Return of the Jedi; despite the pleadings of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Luke is adamant that he is where he belongs and that he cannot be swayed. Few people are the same person they were thirty years ago, and how his character has been aged and how Mark Hamill portrays that is really well done. In fact, how Abrams, Johnson, and company have believably aged the Han, Leia, and Luke characters over these two new films and how the actors bring that to life is really nice. We want to see the characters we love treated with the love and care they deserve, and that has been done here.
But one thing that Rian Johnson has successfully pulled off with this film is a fluid, definite, and full transition from the previous generation of characters to the new class. There is no doubt after this film that Rey, Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), and, yes, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are the primary figures in the story now. And there are some fine supporting figures to round things out too, none less so than Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a resistance fighter who embarks on a risky mission with Finn.
One of the unavoidable things of The Force Awakens was that the new characters were scrutinized for comps to the old characters, similar to how a college basketball player is compared to another current or former NBA player for the sake of context. For instance, “Rey is a mix of Han and Luke.” For me, at least, that fell completely by the wayside here. These characters are their own established persons now. Rey, Kylo Ren, Poe, and Finn all get interesting and clearly defined character arcs that change them from the person they are at the beginning of the film to who they are when the credits roll. And that growth brings them into cooperation in some ways and conflict in other ways.
One of the things Star Wars is known for is the interesting creatures and locations in these films. In the most minor of spoilers, the Porgs are not like the Ewoks, they actually reminded me of the Tribbles from Star Trek more than anything. There are some great little visual flourishes and glimpses of things that make planets feel like a fully realized place in the galaxy. There is one shot of Luke high up on the mountainside of the island he is on; behind and below him, the tail of a monstrous-sized creature appears briefly before submerging again. There is one visual in particular in space that has to be mentioned, it is one of the best visual moments in the entire saga, and it involves lightspeed; I almost got goosebumps in the theater.
Is there anything to be said against this film? A few details hold it back slightly for me. There is one scene involving Leia that didn’t quite work for me. The middle of the film gets bogged down a bit with Rey and Luke on his exile planet. Snoke is a mysterious figure that people had a lot of questions about after The Force Awakens. The lack of back story for him could frustrate some. And it could be argued that the story doesn’t advance the trilogy much, as it seems like it picks up right off the heels of The Force Awakens whereas with the original trilogy and the prequels felt like a significant amount of time had elapsed between films. To some, that could make it seem slight compared to the other films in the franchise.
However, once the final act kicks in, things really pick up and the last 45 minutes of this film are nothing short of a delight. And it should also be noted that the use of The Force in this film has been expanded in new and interesting ways that have not been depicted in previous films. I found this expansion exciting.
I had very little doubt going into Star Wars: The Last Jedi that I would enjoy it, but I came out of the film surprised at the way that I ended up enjoying it and why I wanted to see it again, and possibly for even a third time. It was a very different experienced than I expected. Rian Johnson has succeeded in making a Star Wars movie that is exciting, filled with some great action, and full of engaging characters. It also has some nice nods to previous films without being a retread. I could see it being a divisive entry in the franchise for some, but for me, pun fully intended, it is a force to be reckoned with.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
- OnScreen Chief Film Critic
There is a mantra I stumbled across a few years ago that says, “Life’s too short for bad movies,” or something to that effect. It’s a good mantra that I try to follow as best I can. Bad movies are a dime a dozen. But there is the “so bad it’s good” phenomenon that occurs with some bad movies. Most of the time, movies that people claim fit this category are really just bad. There are probably several factors that going into a movie being so bad that it’s good, but two factors that work in tandem seem to be a lack of self-awareness and a high level of unintentional comedy. These are abundantly available in Tommy Wiseau’s infamous 2003 movie, The Room. Having finally seen it within the last two weeks, I can personally vouch for its reputation for being as entertainingly bad as people claimed it was. James Franco’s The Disaster Artist details the making of the The Room and gives us a glimpse at the unique Tommy Wiseau.
Franco, in addition directing the film, stars as Wiseau, an enigmatic figure who aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meets in an acting class in San Francisco. While Sestero is meek on stage, Wiseau goes big doing a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire, shouting “Stella!” while climbing and writhing all over the place in an unforgettable introduction to the character. They quickly bond and Wiseau’s eccentric boldness brings Greg out of his acting shell. They push one another to pursue their dreams, eventually moving the Hollywood to get into acting, and eventually making their own movie when opportunities fizzle.
The problem is that neither is actually a very good actor and Tommy is not a very talented writer or director. And yet, somehow, The Room gets made. When watching The Room and then looking up information about it, I was shocked to find that the estimated cost of the production was over $6 million. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how it cost that much to be made. Over a decade later, there are no clear answers, either, as to where Tommy got the money to make the movie either, and The Disaster Artist hints at theories, but embraces the mystery of it and the mystery of Wiseau, whose age, where he grew up, and where his money comes from are never explained.
The Franco brothers dominate the film, with James doing a fairly strong Wiseau impression with a funky Eastern European accent (that Tommy claims is because he is from New Orleans) that occasionally sounds like it dips into a Valley Girl tone. Dave Franco’s Greg is essentially the straight man in a very bizarre double act where Tommy, due to his eccentric personality, is the comic relief. Greg, while not a great actor, is more self-conscious and far more self-aware than Tommy.
An important feature of the film is that it is not just about Tommy and Greg, but about the making of The Room. The glimpse behind the camera into how this movie got made is an interesting one and a funny one, even if it becomes a creative hell for some of them. People sometimes complain that Hollywood loves making movies about itself and the creative process, but this one felt different, maybe because The Room is such an atypical filmmaking experience. It really is a train wreck of a movie set, with Tommy Wiseau clearly someone who is in over his head, but he’s the one paying for it, so people tolerate it. Even when he’s at his most unlikeable, it’s still entertaining because it’s so bizarre.
The cast is filled out with all kinds of people who are friends with Franco and little cameos of various comedians, including Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Paul Scheer, Jackie Weaver, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron, June Diane Raphael, Megan Mullally, Jason Mantzoukas, Hannibal Buress, Nathan Fielder, and small appearances by Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Bob Odenkirk, and Judd Apatow as various acting coaches, agents, and producers, along with numerous other small cameos including Wiseau and Sestero. Rogen, Scheer, Hutcherson, Graynor, Weaver, and other bring the behind the scenes stuff on set to life reacting to the incongruities of the scenes, the frustrations at the multiple takes, and the stress of working with Wiseau.
In the end, The Disaster Artist is not a typical biopic or movie based on a true story, because Wiseau is not a typical subject and The Room is not a typical Hollywood success story. It ends up being as much about the process and the struggle to be creative, how difficult it can be to succeed, but how trying it can be to fail too. But sometimes failure leads to its own kind of success, as The Room has turned into a movie with a cult following. As difficult as someone like Tommy Wiseau may have been to work with, there is something to be said that he had the courage of his convictions and actually get it made, and everyone involved was part of a unique experience. The Disaster Artist embraces the disaster and shows that even if Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero didn’t become Hollywood stars, they did become something: cult heroes.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars