DECEMBER 8, 2017:
THE DISASTER ARTIST – The Room is one of the most notoriously bad movies ever made, and it is a joy to watch. Since it’s release, it has gain a cult following thanks to its incompetent acting, random plotlines and unintentionally hilarious dialogue. In Edmonton, Metro Cinema plays this film on the first Friday of every month. Like the Rocky Horror Picture show, each screening encourages live audience participation, with audience members throwing spoons at the screen. Now we get to see how everything went so wrong in a glorious way with The Disaster Artist.
Based on the memoir by Greg Sestero (who played Mark in the movie), the film recalls his friendship with Tommy Wiseau. Greg (Dave Franco) was young man dreamed of being an actor. It’s in one acting class that he meets Tommy Wiseau (director James Franco), an eccentric, long haired man with a weird accent. Even though Tommy’s extremely private about his personal life and a weird actor, Greg grows to admire his fearlessness and they become fast friends. Then one day, Tommy writes a play called the Room. Thus begins the misadventures that led the making of the infamous disaster.
I’ve read the book and it was glorious. The making of the film seemed like a surreal experience led by an oblivious director with an endless budget. As director, Tommy made many decisions that left the more experienced film crew baffled, including filming pointless football scenes or Tommy shooting a sex scene of him having sex with the lead actress’ belly button. This was also a story of a young actor who struggled with his mother’s disapproval and his own insecurities to reach for his dream. It’s also a look at a fascinating man with a mysterious past.
The film seems to capture all these elements. I’m torn about James Franco as Tommy Wiseau. In some moments, he seems to disappear into Tommy Wiseau. In others, you can’t help but see Franco. I’ll just have to see the movie to find out. I’m more excited to see Seth Rogen as Sandy, the long suffering script supervisor. Sandy was the best part of the books, faced with the unfortunate task of trying to fix Tommy’s unsayable dialogue and trying to rein in Wiseau’s incompetence. He as the Hardy to Wiseau’s Laurel.
I, TONYA – This is a biopic of Tonya Harding, the competitive ice skater whose ex-husband had her bodyguard club fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan in the kneecaps. This scandal took the world by storm and destroyed Harding’s career.
This film considers the life of Harding (Margot Robbie), going from her childhood being trained by an emotionally abusive mother (Allison Janney) and her rise to Olympic potential to her falling for country boy Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and the eventual scandal that destroyed her career. From these moments, we find a girl raised in a toxic environment of hyper competitiveness.
What I find interesting is the style the story is told. Writer Steven Rogers and Craig Gillespie draws inspiration from Wolf of Wall Street by having the main character present their story from their own point of view. Like aforementioned film, this one seems to have Harding talk to the audience, while portraying her worst traits. And yes, I am aware that Robbie also starred in Wolf of Wall Street.
I suspect Harding isn’t so much retelling her life story as she is concocting an alibi to excuse her behaviour.
THE SHAPE OF WATER – Alright, a Guillermo Del Toro film. No current filmmaker has breathed more life into fantasy than this Spanish director. Since his magnum opus Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro’s films have taken geek culture by storm with one hit film after another. Now he returns with a sci-fi film about an unusual romance.
In 1960s America, lonely mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) wipe the floors for a secret government laboratory. Elisa is used to a life of isolation. But then the agency brings a mysterious half-human, half-fish creature (Doug Jones). Well, he’s more Amphibian than fish considering he can live on land as well. Anyway, Elisa develops a bond with the Amphibian Man. But unbalanced hot head Agent Strickland (Michael Shannon) is intent on having the creature dissected in hopes of using it for the Cold War. So, Elisa hatches a plan to break the Amphibian man free with the help of Zelda and neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins).
This film is being mocked as the film where a woman makes love to a fish-man. While on the surface, it seems like a mute woman falling for the Creature from the Black Lagoon. But I think there’s a lot more nuance to this film. I suspect the film will intertwine with events of the cold war, just like how Del Toro’s previous films The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth paralleled the fantasy storylines with the Spanish Civil War. Plus, we have many great actors who are capable of selling this premise, especially Sally Hawkins with her charismatic upbeat demeanor.
What is guaranteed with Del Toro’s films is amazing visuals. He always has a visual style that’s all his own. When you see the set pieces, they have a unique feel to them. The same especially goes for the designs of the creatures in these films. From the Pale-man from Pan’s Labyrinth or the ghosts from Crimson Peak, every supernatural being has a grotesque yet gorgeous look to them that says “Guillermo Del Toro.” It also helps they’re most often played by Doug Jones, who always brings unique body language to each creature.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI – A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
We return to the iconic franchise to end all iconic franchise, this time led by auteur Rian Johnson, who has already created a cult sci-fi hit Looper. It’s interesting to see Johnson direct this film, when he’s more known for grounded indie flicks (Brick) along with a few episodes of Breaking Bad. How well can he handle science fantasy?
The saga begins with many lives changed. First, Rey has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a secluded island. She hopes to be trained by him, but the disillusioned Luke fears repeating his past mistake with training Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Meanwhile, Ren begins training in the dark side with Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Meanwhile, ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) recovers from his fight with Ren and now helps the rebel alliance bring down the First Order.
Do I need to say more? It’s Star Wars. Sure, The Force Awakens may have drawn a little too much from the first movie, but after the godawful prequels, it was a breath of fresh air. With the last two films being box office hits, will Disney allow more space for the more auteur director? We’ll have to wait and see.
What I do notice in this film is the amount of red in this film. There is a strong emphasis on red, appearing on everything from set pieces to the posters. Could there be symbolism behind this colour? We’ll just have to wait for the online theorists to discuss this.
Many Star Wars fans will come into this film with a heavy heart knowing this will be the last time we will see Carrie Fisher as General Leia. It looks like there will be an emotional moment with Leia and her son Kylo Ren.
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN – songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are having an amazing year. On stage, they have taken Broadway by surprise with Dear Evan Hansen, a musical commentary on internet sensationalism that has earned the two Tony Awards. On the big screen, they have people dancing to the soundtrack of La La Land, winning them Oscars for their song “City of Stars.” Now they hope to take the world by surprise again with this cinematic musical about the life of showman P.T. Barnum.
When we first meet Barnum (Hugh Jackman), he is an accountant with a grand imagination. When he’s laid off from his job, he conjures up an idea. Gathering a cavalcade of oddballs and acrobats, he creates what many regard as the embodiment of the circus before animal rights and Cirque Du Soleil.
This has been a dream project for Hugh Jackman since 2009. Jackman has proven himself a born showman through his performances as host for both the Oscars and the Tony Awards. This film seems to be going for the Moulin Rouge approach with modern sounding music in the early twenties. I found Moulin Rouge to be a bit too silly for my taste, but I’m still interested in seeing this film.
DOWNSIZING – This is the time the film studios release the movies they hope will gain Oscar nominations. One such film is this satirical comedy written and directed by Alexander Payne, the man behind such critically acclaimed dramedies as Election and Nebraska as well as Oscar Winners Sideways and the Descendants. Downsizing serves as his first movie in two years.
Set in a not too distant future, a corporation has found a solution to overpopulation, the environment crisis and economic distress. People will be able to live in a life of luxury. There is one catch; people have to go through an irreversible process of shrinking to four inches.
Among the volunteers is Paul Safrenek (Matt Damon), an occupational therapist with money troubles. He and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) see this as a way to solve their money troubles and live the high life. But after Paul goes through the shrinking process, things go wrong for him. First, Audrey declines going through the process. after Paul has gone through it. Now he has to live in a mansion as a recent divorcee.
Not much has been stated about the plot. So far what we’ve seen are moments of wonder of ordinary items from the perspective of tiny people. There are also hints of a conspiracy theory and a plotline with poverty stricken Asian people. What I can guarantee is that things won’t be as hunky dory as the corporation will make it out to be. I suspect this film will be a commentary on gentrification.
Payne has a fantastic ability to take simple plots and bring complex humanity to them. His characters are often severely flawed human beings who often undermine their own chances for happiness. In lesser hands, they would be insufferable. Payne makes us empathize with them enough for us to root for them to overcome their problems.
Payne also proves himself an excellent satirical director. In Citizen Ruth, he takes aim at both sides of the abortion debate. In Election, he used a high school election to provide commentary on modern politics. Even the Descendants begins by mocking our preconceived notions of Hawaii. I am always excited to see an Alexander Payne movie as long as you keep his scripts out of reach of Adam Sandler.
HAPPY END – Don’t expect any mindless entertainment from Michael Hanake. This award winning writer/director creates challenging movies that present the uncomfortable sides of humanity. Instead of spoon feeding you a message, he forces you to play where’s Waldo with his social commentary. Having already won for Amour, Happy End stands to gain Hanake another Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
The rich upper class Laurent family travels to Calais to tend to their senile patriarch Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who is succumbing to dementia. This is one dysfunctional family. His son Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) and daughter Anne (Isabelle Huppert) have taken over the family construction business, much to Georges chagrin. Anne’s son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) has caused a workplace accident through his negligence, which spells lawsuit for the family. Meanwhile, Thomas’ ex-wife has been mysteriously poisoned, forcing the man to care for his bitter daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin). These are just small pieces of the dysfunction plaguing this family. While they’re going through their personal, petty gripes, the country is serving as the backdrop for the European Refugee Crisis.
Like I said, don’t expect any simple messages in a Hanake movie. Already, you can expect issues of Class Warfare, Bourgeois superficiality and the refugee crisis. His film DVDs often come with twenty minute interviews with Hanake the meaning behind each shot and plot point. Even then, he still leaves out some hidden messages.
PITCH PERFECT 3 – Welcome to the conclusion to the raunchy musical comedy that has become a surprise sensation. Now everyone’s favourite acapella team returns for their last hurrah.
The Bellas have gone their separate ways since graduation. All are struggling with limited job prospects. Now, the team decides to reunite for a USO tour. But through their tour, they find themselves in competition against a band who plays instruments.
The film trilogy can be described as a blend of Glee and Bridesmaids, blending upbeat jukebox musical with raunchy humour. I thought the first film didn’t know how the balance the two styles, plus the characters tried too hard to be quirky. In the second movie, I thought they found a perfect balance between the two traits, toned down the quirkiness and told a much better storyline. Through it all, the series had some entertaining characters including wannabe DJ Becca (Anna Kendrick), overly enthusiastic leader (Brittany Snow) and especially scene stealer Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson). Will three times be the charm? We’ll wait and see.
PHANTOM THREAD – Paul Thomas Anderson reunites with Three-Time Best Actor winner Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot, There Will Be Blood and Lincoln) for this fashion period piece.
Set in 1950s London, the film centres around Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a renowned dressmaker enjoying the lifestyle of the rich and the famous while designing for royalty, heiresses and movie stars. He thought he had his life under control, sleeping with many women who serve as his inspiration. That is until he meets Alma (Vicki Krieps), a headstrong young woman who throws Reynold’s perfect life in a loop of inspiration. But their personalities clash, threatening their relationship.
This film will serve as Day-Lewis’ last film before retirement. He is notorious for disappearing into his roles, whether it’s an artist with cerebral palsy, a psychotic oil baron or Abraham Lincoln himself. Could his performance in this film match his previous work? Hopefully.
Not much is known about this film. So far we have the basic premise of the story. What can be said is how the gorgeous the set and costumes look. It’s sure to be a top contender for the Best Costume Oscar. It also seems to have beautiful cinematography.
 Considering the fact unknown actress Hong Chau’s name appears on the film trailers, it’s clear this is going to serve as an important plotline.