‘VHYes,’ Yes, Yes, Ohhh Yes!

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Oscilloscope Laboratories/YouTube Screenshot

Shot entirely on VHS, VHYes is a montage of what happens when a twelve-year-old boy who gets a camera for Christmas 1987 tapes over his parents’ wedding tape with a selection of various late night shows. Thus, it is right up my alley, as I love it when an old, supposedly outdated technology manages to poke its way into a new era. The section that really gets me going more than any other is a parody of a cheesy porno, set in a blazing-hot, global warming-ravaged winter in which a bunch of horny scientists have to get it on with each other to solve the crisis. Since this isn’t an actual porno, the climactic moments are pointedly removed, but I still achieve satisfaction. There’s a certain artfulness to the whole affair (as indicated by the European-but-also-vulgar director’s name, “Dick Pierre”), and it’s always lovely when there’s plenty of personality present even when the conventional wisdom says it’s not needed. And that’s a big reason why I love the persistence of VHS. It’s not just about (or even primarily about) nostalgia. With the tracking lines and unique frame rate and visual noise, there’s just so much personality inherent to the format.

I give VHYes An Indication That I’m Totally Into Its Personality.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Second Act’ Pairs an Inconsistent Message with Sweet and Amusing Friendships

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Barry Wetcher/STX

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens, Leah Remini, Dan Bucatinsky, Freddie Stroma, Milo Ventimiglia, Treat Williams, Larry Miller, Charlyne Yi, Dave Foley, Alan Aisenberg

Director: Peter Segal

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Parents Who Swear in Front of Their Children But Are Trying Not To So That Their Kids Don’t Swear Back at Them

Release Date: December 21, 2018

At the end of Second Act, Jennifer Lopez assures us that we can always take a chance on ourselves and do that thing that we’ve always been holding ourselves back from doing. Alas, that is a huge oversimplification that ignores key details involving randomness and fairness (or lack thereof). You can work hard and be outspoken about your desire for a dream job, but ultimately landing that position requires some amount of luck and other forces beyond your control going your way. But like Dana Scully and her position on supernatural phenomena, I want to believe what J. Lo is telling us. But here’s the thing: despite its title, that’s not really the message of Second Act.

This frothy workplace/rom-com is more about the virtue of adaptability, as well as putting pompous educated folks in their place. A successful second act may very well require adaptability, but it is important to note that Maya Vargas (Lopez) is not the architect of her own second act. She may have ambitions to be more than an assistant manager at a supermarket, but it is her godson who beefs up her résumé with phony credentials, which gets her in the door for a consultancy job at a big-deal cosmetics company. She kills at the interview, because it turns out that, at least in Maya’s case, a GED and years of retail experience are worth just as much as a bunch of business degrees. While she does have to fight off a fair amount of self-doubt, she actually displays a minimal amount of impostor syndrome, considering the circumstances.

You would think that the major conflict from this point on would be Maya fighting to prevent her co-workers from discovering the truth of her background. That certainly plays a part, but it takes a backseat to a huge second act twist (pun not intended by me, but maybe the dramatic irony was intended by the script?) involving Maya and her new colleague Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens). The fallout is played rather sweetly, but it is pretty much impossible to get over how bizarrely unexpected it is. And that is representative of Second Act as a whole: it is a frothy good time despite being inconsistent with its message and purpose. It certainly helps that Maya’s best friend is played by Leah Remini, a real-life chum of Lopez’s who is always served well by a role that allows her to say whatever the hell is on her mind. As for the romance plot, Milo Ventimiglia is not given much to do as Maya’s boyfriend other than take his shirt off occasionally, which is nice to look at but is not typically a versatile tool for a screenwriter.

Second Act is Recommended If You Like: Jennifer Lopez and Leah Remini’s friendship, A bygone era of J. Lo-starring romcoms

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Fake Facebook Profiles

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Disaster Artist’ is James Franco is Tommy Wiseau is the Star Inside Us All

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Justina Mintz/A24

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Megan Mullally, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, Hannibal Buress, Nathan Fielder, June Diane Raphael, Andrew Santino, Charlyne Yi, Melanie Griffith, Sharon Stone, Bob Odenkirk, Judd Apatow

Director: James Franco

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for an Auteur Asshole

Release Date: December 1, 2017 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide December 8, 2017

When I watched Shane Carruth’s 2013 film Upstream Color – about a man and a woman who ingest a larva with the power to drastically affect the human mind – I was excited by the conscious-altering possibilities. But I was ultimately disappointed by the impenetrable narrative. Upstream does have its fans, but I thought an opportunity was missed by presenting an abstract subject with just-as-abstract storytelling. But now we have a film that is more along the lines of what I thought Upstream Color was going to be, and that film is The Disaster Artist, which imposes a typical biopic structure onto one of the strangest individuals of all time. There is the classic rise-fall-rise and a soundtrack that raises the roof with beats that were first hits about a decade before the events of the film, but all this normality only illuminates the unfathomability that is Tommy Wiseau.

Wiseau has achieved a very unique sort of fame as the writer-director-producer-star of the 2003 independent melodrama The Room. It has been called by some the worst movie of all time, but that descriptor is way off-base. A better take that others have offered is “the greatest bad movie of all time,” but that is still not quite right. “A surreal masterpiece” is the moniker that I prefer. For The Disaster Artist to be successful, it does not need to be as surreal as The Room, as The Room already exists. Although perhaps a perfectly valid option would have been to simply remake The Room shot-for-shot with a new cast, which The Disaster Artist does in part in a delightful post-credits segment featuring recreations of classic scenes from The Room presented side-by-side along the originals, displaying how the new versions are accurate to every inch and millisecond.

James Franco directs and stars as Wiseau, and this proves to be the perfect outlet for his incorrigible proclivities. Wiseau is infamously dodgy about his personal background, but based on his accent, it is clear enough that he is from Eastern Europe, though he claims to be from New Orleans. But it is perhaps most accurate to think of him as a vampire caveman alien, as his odd syntax, singular worldview, and inexplicable behavior go beyond simply being lost in translation. Nobody but Tommy could be Tommy, but Franco comes as close as possible. And this is not the sort of lark that much of his career has come off as. Instead, it is in service of a strangely uplifting story about never giving up on your dreams.

Alongside Wiseau is his Room co-star/friend-despite-all-obstacles Greg Sestero (who co-wrote the book of the same name that The Disaster Artist is based on), played by James’ younger brother Dave. The younger Franco is a little more boyish than the deeper-voiced Sestero, but they both have an all-American squeaky-clean handsomeness befitting the moniker “Babyface,” Tommy’s nickname for Greg. The Franco brothers have significantly different faces than Sestero and Wiseau, though their looks are well approximated by solid hair and makeup jobs. This is not an exact encapsulation of the original Wiseau-Sestero dynamic (how could it be?), but there is some weird magic in the Franco pairing that works as an avatar to this weird creative pairing.

I read The Disaster Artist when it was first published in 2013. I have not re-read it since, so my memory of it is not perfectly fresh, but I remember enough to know that there is some streamlining at play here. But the liberties that were taken serve to bolster the film’s thesis that has been borne out by the directions that Wiseau and Sestero’s lives have taken since The Room has become a cult classic. In one scene, Tommy approaches a producer (Judd Apatow) at a restaurant, who assures Tommy that he will never find success in Hollywood in a million years. “But after that?” Tommy earnestly asks. It has not literally taken him that long to achieve his stardom, but “more than one million years later” might be the best figurative way to explain how long it took him to realize his dreams, and that boundlessness beyond normal temporality is the engine that The Disaster Artist runs on.

The obvious antecedent to this film is Ed Wood, but that earlier biopic was released more than a decade after the death of its titular maker of the worst films of all time. Tommy’s story is not over, and now it is inextricably tied up with the most fervent fans of The Room, many of whom populate the cast of The Disaster Artist. There are several moments in this making-of in which classic lines from The Room are uttered in Tommy’s personal life that could come off as fan service but avoid that pitfall because of how nakedly autobiographical The Room is. James Franco and his crew of shockingly eager collaborators have invited us all to take place in this autobiography, and the result is intoxicating.

The Disaster Artist is Recommended If You Like: The Room of course, Ed Wood, James and Dave Franco’s old Funny or Die videos, How Did This Get Made?

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Doggies