‘The Rental’ Has Rented Some Space in My Brain

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The Rental (CREDIT: IFC Films)

Starring: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, Toby Huss

Director: Dave Franco

Running Time: 88 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: July 24, 2020 (On Demand and Select Theaters)

While watching The Rental (in which Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, and Jeremy Allen White play a couple of couples who rent a big ol’ house for a weekend getaway), I had a thought that I anticipate is going to stick around in my movie-watching approach for quite a while: at what point do I stop thinking of the cast members as the actors and start thinking of them as the characters they’re playing?

In this case, that question most saliently applies to Brie, whose career I’ve followed closely and who I’ve watched give countless interviews. As for the others, I’m not too familiar with Vand, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of White, and Stevens is always so twisted right off the bat that I don’t need to ask. So back to how I would answer that question in Ali Brie’s case, and it happens about forty minutes in, as she really starts to doubt the trustworthiness of  her husband (as played by Stevens), and I start to realize we’re not going to see her patented bubbliness anytime soon. (Not to mention she appears to be happily married in real life, and her husband even directed this movie!)

But then this question is much, much trickier as it applies to Toby Huss, who I tend to generally think of as a lovable, avuncular mentor-type. He plays the guy who coordinates the house rental, and there are implications that he might be racist or otherwise non-avuncular. But that could all be a misunderstanding! So, I’m left wondering, am I willing to give Toby the benefit of a doubt because he’s usually such a cool dude? Or does he actually deserve the benefit of the doubt? The freaky-deaky ending doesn’t give us enough time to sort that all out. How dare you make me doubt Toby Huss’ thoughtfulness, Dave Franco!

I give The Rental a Good Review on the High-End Pacific Coast Version of Yelp.

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 7/24/20

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
The Rental (July 24 on Demand) – Dave Franco directs his wife Alison Brie!

TV
-NBA Countdown: NBA Restart (July 25 on ABC)

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

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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

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Lego Ninjago Movie’ is Stupidly the Best Father-Son Bonding Movie in Ages

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This post was originally published on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Olivia Munn, Jackie Chan, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Zach Woods

Directors: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: PG for Ripped-Off Lego Limbs and Feline-on-Toy Destruction

Release Date: September 22, 2017

If you want to learn how to nail down comic timing, you could do much worse than studying the repartee in The Lego Ninjago Movie. This second spin-off of the toy block film franchise and the first based on the speciality Ninjago line (which also already has its own long-running Cartoon Network TV show) should ostensibly be the most action-oriented of the series, but its cast ensures that it is instead defined by the cheeky humor that has buoyed each of the Lego films thus far. The voices of the high school-age core ninja group include improv and sketch veterans like Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, and Zach Woods. And their leader, Master Wu, is brought to life by the always comedically inclined martial arts legend Jackie Chan. As they protect their home city of Ninjago and seek to become one with the elements, they pop off quips like “Can I be the element of surprise?” and display their meta bona fides by complaining about Wu’s “needlessly cryptic metaphors.”

The thrust of the plot mostly revolves around Green Ninja Lloyd (Dave Franco) and his struggle against his father Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), a four-armed warlord seeking to conquer Ninjago who keeps mispronouncing (or correctly pronouncing?) his son’s name as “L-loyd.” Lloyd’s attempts to reconcile with the father who abandoned and forgot about him make for the dopily cliché stuff of legend. This is the same evil-father/chosen-one-son knockoff typical of so many Star Wars copycats. But of course, that dopiness is the point. In a world where love stories begin by opponents in war detecting unbearable beauty on opposite sides of the battlefield and the biggest hit on the radio is the weirdly personal “Boo Lloyd!,” fully embracing clichés only makes sense.

For those of you wondering how the real world intervenes in the block world this time around, it should be noted that there is a cute kitty cat who stomps around the town. Dubbed “Meowthra,” this feline is the secondary villain, the monster that indiscriminately and unknowingly ruins intricately designed block structures.

Where Ninjago falters is in its actions sequences. To be fair, its earthbound fighting moments have plenty of visual wit, but when the ninjas take to the skies, the aerial sequences are as unintelligible as the Transformers series at its worst. But that will only be a minor bother when you make it through to the end credits and fall in love with the latest buoyantly terrific song from a Lego movie.

The Lego Ninjago Movie is Recommended If You Like: Lego’s entire filmography, Star Wars father-son relationship parodies, Silicon Valley, Finding the humor in “Cat’s in the Cradle”

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Ninjanuities

This Is a Movie Review: The Naughty Nuns of ‘The Little Hours’ are Raunchy and Sweet

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

Starring: Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen

Director: Jeff Baena

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for Naked Witchcraft Acid Trips

Release Date: June 30, 2017 (Limited)

Fred Armisen shows up as a visiting bishop about halfway through The Little Hours. It is a hilarious scene, but it encapsulates the trepidation I had upon viewing this flick. In writer/director Jeff Baena’s riff on one of the tales from 14th-century story collection The Decameron, things are getting wild and crazy at a convent, with a trio of central nuns (Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Micucci) getting into sex, witchcraft, and other debauchery. While the premise alone is worth several chuckles, I had worried that it was better suited to a sketch rather than a full feature length, and Armisen’s routine demonstrates exactly what I was thinking of.

As Bishop Bartolomeo, Armisen takes stock of all the sinning that the residents have been getting up to, and it is a potent mix of petty, mundane, and outrageous. Running down kooky lists and taking a few breaks for exasperation is one of Armisen’s specialties. He revels in a litany that includes envy, “being a busy body,” “eating blood,” and “not being baptized.” This recaps everything important that has happened thus far and if this scene had been an SNL sketch (easily imaginable, considering the cast), our imaginations would just fill in the visuals for all that outrageousness. Instead, we get to see all the vulgarity play out, which could be a recipe for exhaustion after ninety minutes, but The Little Hours has some grounding elements to make the whole course palatable.

The focus is on three young brides of Christ – Alessandra (Brie), Fernanda (Plaza), and Genevra (Plaza) – who are either seeking to escape the convent or happy to stay there but not really interested in living the religious life properly. This would all be just a mélange of nuns behaving badly if not for the appearance of runaway servant Massetto (Dave Franco), who strikes up a romance with Alessandra and a deal with the head priest (John C. Reilly) to keep his true nature a secret. The love story is kinda sweet and Reilly is always so invested in the material no matter how ridiculous, elements that help offset all the debauchery, which is fitfully amusing but could have been exhausting if not for these counterpoints. Besides, this film cannot coast on shock value when its ladies do not bother one iota to resemble actual nuns.

The Little Hours is Recommended If You Like: History of the World: Part 1, The sexier scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The To Do List

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Rolls in the Hay