Saturday, December 16, 2017

Movie Review: The Disaster Artist

James Franco's incredible performance as Tommy Wiseau is hilarious and shows his range as an actor. Greg (Dave Franco) is a young aspiring actor when he witnesses the wild, inspirational bravado of Wiseau in acting class. He asks the strange man to read a scene with him and Tommy invites him to a restaurant to read a scene in front of the other patrons. Greg feels powerful after the performance and they form a fast friendship. Inspired by Hollywood legends like James Dean, Greg and Tommy set out for Los Angeles much to Greg's mother's dismay. Tommy does not explain how he just has another apartment in Los Angeles on top of the apartment in San Francisco or where he got the money for his Mercedes. He lets Greg take the bedroom while he hangs up curtains for his room.

Greg works to get an agent and land parts in television shows or films and finds some moderate success. He does meet Amber (Alison Brie), a bartender, and Tommy's jealous nature begins to surface. Wiseau makes up elaborate stories to pretend he is having success but his lies are easily disproved and his attempts to impress producers are met with scorn. Feeling downtrodden and defeated, Tommy is ready to give up when Greg gives him the idea to create his own film. The funding for this film remains a mystery but Tommy is convinced he can do it so he sets out to write a screenplay. He comes up with the idea of The Room, writes the screenplay, and shows it to Greg making him read it through while in a restaurant. Greg, in his optimistic nature, agrees to work with Tommy to create it and take on the second lead role. Together they set out to make the infamous film, The Room.

Tommy does not hold back on the expense preferring to buy the equipment instead of rent it and hire on a professional film and television crew including script supervisor Sandy (Seth Rogen) and Raphael (Paul Scheer). They cast the various roles demanding strange performances to earn the lead female role which eventually goes to Juliette (Ari Graynor). Production begins and Tommy's strange behavior becomes immediately relevant to the rest of the crew. He uses two types of cameras, digital and film, and insists on having his own bathroom that no one else can use. He gives strange speeches about human behavior and encourages his actors to believe in themselves but when it's his turn to perform, he freaks out and is unable to remember the lines. Greg has to calm him down and eventually gives him a water bottle which results in an infamously poorly performed scene. 

The production continues but goes awry when Greg tells Tommy that he is moving out. Cast members start to notice that the story doesn't make any sense with plot points being introduced but never being dealt with later. A sex scene proves too much for some workers and another day on set with no air conditioning adds to the troubled work environment on top of Tommy recording the cast members complaining when they think he isn't listening. Greg gets offered a part by Bryan Cranston but he needs to keep his beard as Tommy demands he shave it for a scene. The production runs behind schedule and over budget but Tommy's financial seem limitless as he hires a new crew. Greg confronts Tommy about his mysterious money and origin. The two fight while the new crew films. Greg distances himself from Tommy and finds some success on stage. Tommy returns to him after he does not RSVP to the movie's premiere. The two friends go to the premiere in a limo and watch as everyone laughs at their work. Tommy is embarrassed but Greg encourages him to embrace the humor and be proud of his film.

The performance by James Franco carries the film that would otherwise have a decent story but is not all that entertaining. The humor comes from Tommy's strange behavior and the way Franco betrays him as his younger brother Dave's Greg serve as the person who is somewhat normal but sees the determination in Tommy as something to be followed. The film drags a bit in the middle and I had not yet seen the room so I didn't understand all the jokes during the filming. Now that I have watched the result of Tommy Wiseau's work some of the laugh lines make a lot more sense. James Franco's performance deserves recognition and the film has a lot of good laughs with an inspiring message.  

Friday, December 15, 2017

Movie Review: The Room

Tommy Wiseau's dark romantic comedy is considered one of the worst movies ever for good reason but has also managed to garner a cult following and a popular film following the eccentric creator. Johnny (Wiseau) is a successful banker in love with Lisa (Juliette Danielle) who he plans to marry once he gets a promotion. Through terrible dialogue that is awfully delivered the two discuss their love until Tommy's odd friend Denny (Philip Haldiman) comes in and awkwardly wants to play with them in bed. They push out Denny and the two of them awful sex in what looks like softcore porn. It turns out that Lisa is not quite as in love with Johnny and she seeks the company of Johnny's best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). She seduces him and he agrees and the two of them have sex in another softcore porn scene.

The plot doesn't make much sense following Wiseau's script of bad dialogue and odd character interactions. Denny always wants to play football and is somehow like a son to Johnny. Lisa explains her relationship trouble to her mother Claudette (Carolyn Minott) who tries to stick up for Johnny as do other female characters when Lisa tells them her plans to leave Johnny. The poor banker continues to not get a promotion even after his ideas helped the bank to make lots of money. George struggles with his affection towards Lisa and his friendship with Johnny though this doesn't stop him from continuing to see her when she calls. 

The characters hang out in various areas including an alleyway and on the rooftop. The room either refers to the bedroom or the living room where a lot of the drama happens. Denny has an issue owing money to a drug dealer, Chris-R (Dan Janjigian), though this never really plays out or if it did I had stopped paying attention. Johnny tries to impress Lisa but she has concocted a story where Johnny abused her. In one really hilarious scene, Johnny protests Lisa's story on the rooftop only to find Mark up there. Mark lies about Lisa claiming that she is another woman and telling Johnny a gruesome story that Johnny has the odd reaction of laughing at. The men prepare for a wedding dressing up in suits and playing baseball but there is no wedding. Lisa throws Johnny a birthday party but it turns out that she lies about being pregnant. Her friends and Mark confront Lisa and she lashes out. The emotions change randomly and Mark turns on Johnny.

Johnny and Lisa fight about her behavior at the party, and Johnny locks himself in the bathroom to sob. Lisa calls up Mark and tells him about Johnny's tantrum and Mark insults Johnny who comes out and confronts Lisa. It turns out that Johnny was taping the conversation and plays it in front of Lisa. She decides to leave Johnny for Mark. Johnny grows even angrier and destroys everything in the house before pulling out a gun from his dresser drawer and shooting himself in the head. Denny, Mark, and Lisa all cry over Johnny's dead body and Denny tells the other two to go away. Lisa tries to be with Mark but he is too distressed over his friend's death and leaves her.

This film is pretty awful and the only reason I decided to watch it was because of the new film coming out about the making of this movie. I did think some of the bad dialogue, confusing plot, and terrible acting were entertaining but I don't think I would have enjoyed this film more in a rowdy screening. Wiseau takes the film seriously and his commitment and obliviousness to how bad the film is are the reason that it is so funny. I don't know if it is the worst movie ever, I think I made that one back in my twenties, but it is pretty terrible.

TV Show Review: The Punisher

Marvel joins once again with Netflix to add to the connected universe with its latest installment. While this show has been light on action, it does have some interesting character development. Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) is presumed dead after the events of the second season of Daredevil that I don't totally remember. I'm hoping to rewatch along with this season one day in the future because I found the show mostly slow and hard to pay attention to this first time around. The Punisher is hiding out as a construction worker channeling his rage into hammering a wall. One thing about this shows that seems to be a consensus is that they should be a lot shorter as it takes a while for anything to happen and the show suffers from a dull middle part where Frank is injured for an entire episode. The Defenders felt nicely paced and not too dull at eight episodes even if it has some of its own flaws. 

Trouble finds Frank as some of his construction coworkers rob a mafia poker game. He now has people to take his anger out on and does not show mercy. A secondary plot develops with Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Rivah), Homeland Security agent, who investigates missing weapons. Frank is forced to re-enter the world when he gets a call from Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), aka David Lieberman who is in possession of an incriminating video of Frank and his fellow soldiers. He hunts down the computer hacker and tortures him into giving up information as he recalls his own memories of the brutal memories he performed while serving with Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) and clashed with Rawlins (Paul Schulze). Russo now works for a private security firm secretly involved with Rawlins who is rising up in politics.

Another subplot develops with a veterans support group run by Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore). A boisterous veteran O'Connor (Delaney Williams) lies about his service and recruits Lewis Walcott (Daniel Webber) to some radical viewpoints. Lewis takes it too far especially after he is harassed by a cop while protesting for his second amendment rights. His anger grows until he starts to set off bombs around the city. Working with Micro but also wanting leverage over him, Frank insinuates himself in the life of David's wife Sarah (Jaime Ray Newman) and their two children. Castle seeks out a former member of his squad but is attacked by private security troops. Frank is injured during this part which leads to that gruesome episode of him being healed with the help of Curtis. Madani starts a relationship with Russo as she continues an investigation with Sam Stein (Michael Nathanson). 

The only character tying this series to the other Marvel is Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) Who is brought into the investigation after Madani spots Castle. Karen knows Frank is still alive but keeps his secret even while she becomes the target of Lewis's deadly demands. There is a cool shootout episode in a hotel as Madani discovers that Russo is part of an evil plot to smuggle heroin and killed her partner. Frank saves Karen, and Lewis blows himself up and the Punisher makes it out alive. Russo tightens the noose on Frank and Micro so there is another cool scene where the Punisher takes down a whole squad that I'll want to see again upon a rewatch.  The final fight comes down to Frank and Russo even though the show takes its time for them to face off. Frank is put through another torture but kills Rawlins before he gives up and joins his dead family. Russo and Castle fight on the merry-go-round with Madani coming in and taking a bullet. The result seems to set up a sequel with Frank set free with a different identity. I hope the second season has more Punisher action.

These Marvel shows suffer from long drawn out plots where a lot of other characters slowly develop and only minor developments come at the end of each episode. There are too many plots to follow and I doubt that I covered them very well. I found a lot of the episodes were dragging along and I wasn't always paying attention. I managed to catch the broad strokes of the show. I did like Rivah as the homeland agent and Bernthal is great as Frank Castle even if the role didn't have much to do in the action department. There were other interesting characters but nothing that really stood out. I enjoy these shows, I just wish they were shorter and had more action.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

TV Show Review: Easy (Season 2)

This strange romantic comedy from Netflix that tells different stories in the episodes that are only loosely connected. The stories explore the trouble of romance in various forms along with the difficulties of getting by and other relationships. From a burlesque dancer in a strong feminist relationship to a pair of friends running a brewery, the show bounces all over Chicago and offers up stories that wouldn't normally be told in long twelve episodes continuous plots. The second season continues to tell some of the stories of characters that were introduced in the first season while also introducing new characters. The stories are only loosely connected and don't have many consequences for any overall plot. Still, I find the show enjoyable and entertaining. 

The first episode Package Thief tells the story of a young couple, Lindsay (Aubrey Plaza) and Harrison (Lawrence Michael Levine), who live in a new neighborhood. They have block parties and socialize but other neighbors like Mike (Joe Lo Truglio) go to extremes when a mysterious man starts stealing packages from their doorsteps. Lindsay tries to encourage their neighbors to buy local but she even shows her anger when she catches the thief red-handed and chases him down. The next episode Open Marriage explores a married couple's attempt to sleep with other people. Amy (Lindsay Burdge) proposes the idea in couple's therapy and sets up a date shortly after Kyle (Michael Chernus) agrees to try it. Amy sets up a date but it doesn't go well so she goes home with a stranger while Kyle tries to have sex with someone he knows but she isn't ready.

Side Hustle shows the life of a comedian and Uber driver Od (Odinaki Malachi Ezeokoli) and a writer and prostitute Sally (Karley Sciortino). Spent Grain revisits two friends who started a brewery Jeff (Dave Franco) and Matt (Evan Jonigkeit). Their wives Noelle (Zazie Beetz) and Sherri (Aya Cash) have started a dog treat business with the remaining grain and found success. The friends clash on their vision for the future of the brewery. Conjugality sees author Jacob (Marc Maron) trying to reconnect with his ex-wife Karen (Michaela Watkins) to promote a reissue of his book and it turns into something more. Prodigal Daughter tells the story of a girl Grace (Danielle Macdonald) who pushes her parents including her mother Gretchen (Judy Greer) to rethink their religious faith. 

Lady Cha Cha shows the clashing of views and reality as strong feminist Jo (Jacqueline Toboni) struggles with her girlfriend Chase (Kiersey Clemons) dancing burlesque with her friend Amber (Jaz Sinclair). The final episode of the second season Baby Steps tells the story of a woman Annie (Kate Micucci) who takes care of a child for several days after a bad break up. She wants to have her own child but feels her biological clock ticking. By the end, she asks to be a part of the family not even requiring a babysitting fee.

Easy is a sweet, short, simple show that explores the complications of marriage, companionship, friendship, and all the other relationships that we as human beings must deal with. The multiple stories allow for scenes and characters that we wouldn't always see in a full season. I enjoyed nearly every episode finding them moving and funny in their own unique ways. The show doesn't seem to garner a lot of attention but I was happy to see it show up on the list of new shows available to stream. I know that Netflix is coming up wtih more shows and I look forward to seeing more shows like this one.

Sports: NFL (Week 13&14)

Two weeks of football had a lot of major developments that will have consequences for the playoffs. Top teams suffered major injuries and upsets pushing teams into the Wild Card while other teams' lost their hopes of playing past the regular season. The next few weeks will be full of eliminations and teams earning their place in the playoffs. I did manage to make it into a four-team playoff for my fantasy football league and won the first week of the matchup so I'll try to keep my streak going.

NFC
NFC North
A tough loss to the Panthers pushes the Minnesota Vikings out of the top spot in the NFC after they beat a rough looking Falcons team. Their easy schedule of the Bengals, Packers, and Bears should allow them to reclaim that spot. The Lions and Packers could still have a chance but a lot of luck would have to come there way. The Bears will need to start rebuilding for next year.

NFC South
The most dominant division in the NFC still has plenty of surprises in store. The New Orleans Saints beat their division rivals the Carolina Panthers but then fell to the Atlanta Falcons the next week. The Saints have two easy games against the Jets and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but the Falcons could prove a challenge. Carolina rallied against the Vikings after their loss to New Orleans to tie up the top of the division, though the Saints have the advantage after winning the two head-to-head games. Facing off against the Packers and Bucs should be easy for the Panthers but they'll end in a possible elimination game against Atlanta. The Falcons still have a chance if they can take an easy game against Tampa Bay, but will have to survive a gauntlet of divisional matches to end up on top.

NFC East
After a rough loss to the Seahawks, the Philadelphia Eagles overpowered the Rams but lost their starting quarterback in the process. Philly could cruise to a bye-week and home-field advantage against the Giant, Raiders, and Cowboys but their backup quarterback might not be up to the challenge. The Dallas Cowboys are hanging around but would need some luck and other teams to lose. 

NFC West
The Los Angeles Rams had an easy win over the Arizona Cardinals but the loss to the Eagles keeps them out of the bye week spot for now. The Seattle Seahawks have a chance to steal the top spot in the game this next week. The Rams round out the season with a tough match against the Titans and what should be an easy win against the San Francisco 49ers. Seattle will have Dallas and Arizona to end the season and could get themselves a playoff spot.

AFC
AFC North
The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves at the top of the conference after two divisional wins to put them at eight in a row. Their battle against the Patriots this weekend will determine home-field advantage if they meet in the AFC Championship. The Baltimore Ravens lost their Wild Card spot but could earn it back with three easy games to end the season.

AFC South
The Jacksonville Jaguars earned the top spot after a hard-fought win over the Seahawks. They have an easy road ahead until they face divisional rival and the biggest contender for the top spot, the Tennessee Titans who have a tough game before against the Rams.

AFC East
The New England Patriots lost their third game after an eight-game winning streak. Their game against the Steelers will be exciting and then they'll have to face the Buffalo Bills who are contending for a Wild Card spot. 

AFC West
The Kansas City Chiefs have collapsed in the last few weeks but a win over the Oakland Raiders may have given them momentum. They face the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday night and that will determine the fate of the division. 

With college football winding down, NFL is about to be the only football in town and with the playoffs coming next month, the sport is more exciting than ever. This season had a lot of injuries but it still should be pretty competitive and fun to watch.

TV Show Review: Outlander (Season 3)

The Starz time travel saga shoots ahead into the future while it returns to the past once again. Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) aka Fraser and many other names returned to her present of the 1940s and her first husband Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies) though she confesses that she fell in love with and married another man, Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). Claire is also pregnant with Jamie's child but Frank agrees to raise the daughter as his own. Time travels fast in the first few episodes as Brianna (Sophie Skelton) grows up. claire adjusts to her life and begins to express interest in becoming a surgeon. Meanwhile, in the past, Jamie is imprisoned after the gruesome battle of Culloden and injured on the battlefield. He does manage to kill his mortal enemy Jack Randall, Frank's ancestor.

Facing execution, Jamie is pardoned because of something he had done in the past. He hides out in a cave nearby Lallybroch where his sister Jenny (Laura Donnelly) lives with several children under the threat of constant British searches. Also living at Lallybroch is Fergus (Romann Berrux) who gets on the wrong side of the British troops and loses his hand in the process. Jamie has to save his life when he is left for dead and ends up being captured. In prison, Jamie struggles to survive but bargains with the warden Lord John Grey (David Berry). Claire and Frank struggle to reconcile the past but Frank can never get over Claire's betrayal and he seeks other companions. Claire flourishes as a surgeon working alongside Joe Abernathy (Wil Johnson) who also experiences prejudice due to his skin color. Joe shows Claire a strange skull from the past that belongs to a woman that died under strange circumstances.

Jamie is forced into the service of a family where he impregnates the high-class woman and he is unable to take care of his son. Claire copes with the death of Frank which I actually found quite moving. Claire returns to Scotland as it catches up to where it left off in the second season. Roger Wakefield (Richard Rankin) helps Brianna and Claire discover the history of Jamie following the clues of Jamie's survival. When Roger finds out that Jamie survived, Claire has no choice but to return to the past. She steps through the stones and seeks out Jamie who has started his own printing press while also smuggling whiskey and other alcoholic beverages. Jamie and Claire spend time in a brothel where they make up for last time but investigators and scoundrels are abound leading to trouble in one of the more confusing and boring parts of the show.

With a person murdered and Jamie's printshop set on fire, the couple is forced to flee. They return to Lallybroch where it is revealed that Jamie was keeping another secret, he had married Laoghaire (Nell Hudson) and become a father to her two children. Claire is a bit turned off but has no time to think about it as Jamie's nephew is kidnapped by scoundrels while searching an island for a chest. The show takes a swashbuckling twist as Jamie and Claire set out on the high seas with a grown Fergus (C├ęsar Domboy) and his fiance, Jamie's adopted daughter, Marsali (Lauren Lyle). They struggle to survive on the ship as the crew suspects Claire is bringing bad luck. Jamie clashes with the captain and Claire tries to help a British ship only to lose track of Jamie as the ships split up. Claire jumps into the ocean to escape and ends up stranded on the island. She meets a strange resident and recovers from her trip through the jungle. She is reunited with Jamie and they attend a party. The big twist that makes this season worthwhile and the show a little more interesting is that Gellis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek) survived the execution and escaped to the islands. Claire must prevent her from using another circle of stones and hurt Brianna so she nearly cuts off his head leaving the corpse that will be discovered centuries later.

Outlander slowed down a good bit this season and had whole episodes in the bedroom. The show had some interesting episodes interspersed with long dragging parts but it is still filled with likable characters and clever plot twists even if it takes a few hours of the show to finally play out. I like the time travel stuff but the romance adds a central plot and pulls the central couple together. Balfe and Heughan have great chemistry and are always fun to watch on screen. The story spread out from Scotland and promises even more adventures in seasons to come. I hope to read the third novel soon and get more of the details that the show might not have offered.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Movie Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

In a small town on a small road, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decides that she wants justice for her daughter's murder so she puts up three billboards calling out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for not arresting anyone. She purchases the advertising space from Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones). Deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is angered by the posters and threatens everyone from Welby to Mildred to try and take them down but no crime has been committed. Complicating matters is that Chief Willoughby is dying of pancreatic cancer. Mildred's son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) is upset by the signs because he has tried to avoid the details of his sister's death. Most of the town turns against Mildred and comes out to support Chief Willoughby. 

Mildred experiences backlash even having to drill a hole in the thumb of the dentist in one chill-inducing scene while her face is injected with novocaine. At the local bar, Dixon confronts Red, Mildred, and James (Peter Dinklage), who is addressed derogatorily. Dixon continues to find ways to terrorize Mildred getting an idea from his mom (Sandy Martin) to arrest Mildred's co-worker Denise (Amanda Warren). Chief Willoughby brings Mildred in as the dentist decides to press charges but in the interrogation room the Chief coughs blood on her face and is taken to the hospital but not before insisting that Mildred is set free. Willoughby learns that he will not last much longer so decides to take a day off with his two daughters and his wife Anne (Abbie Cornish).

Mildred faces off against her abusive ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) who left her for a much younger woman. Charlie orders Mildred to take down the signs but she refuses even as he threatens her violently and Robbie has to step in with a knife. It is revealed in a flashback that Mildred taunted her daughter, Angela (Kathryn Newton) about walking alone on the road where she died. Welby also has to ask Mildred for another month's rent for the billboards but before they can negotiate, a mysterious donor delivers the payment in cash. After having an enjoyable day with his family, Chief Willoughby writes a few notes and goes out to his barn to shoot himself in the head. The Chief's death leaves a ripple of repercussions and in one note to Mildred, he reveals that he paid for the billboard forcing her to defend it after his death.

Dixon is so upset that he marches over to Welby's shop and beats up the proprietor of the ad agency and throws him out the window right in front of the new replacement chief, Abercrombie (Clarke Peters) who fires him once he takes over. A man enters Mildred's store and threatens her but he leaves when Angela shows up to deliver the suicide note. Driving home that night, Mildred and Robbie find the billboards on fire. They try to put them out but it is destroyed. Mildred believes Dixon set the fires so she takes revenge on the police by throwing flaming bottles at the station. Dixon is inside, though Mildred didn't know it, and he is burned badly. James covers for Mildred and invites her on a date. On the date, Charlie arrives to taunt Mildred and James but Mildred does not take revenge. Dixon recovers from his burns and finds a suspect who he scratches the face of to get his DNA but receives a beating in the process. He gets Mildred's hopes up but it turns out to not be the killer. Mildred is able to put up the billboards again with copies of the sign. Dixon decides to take revenge on the men who he thinks is a rapist and includes Mildred. Together they drive to Idaho agreeing to decide whether to kill the man when they get there.

The film offers plenty of surprises. The twists and turns are unexpected as they are terrible. The characters are not always the most likable and Dixon inexplicably gets redemption even though he commits some of the most heinous crimes. France McDormand's performance is the most enjoyable of the film and she brings her all-star talent to Martin McDonagh's script. McDonagh also directs a plot that plays out in tragic yet comical form. I enjoyed the film for the most part but recognize some of the issues it fails to fully flesh out and the easy redemption it offers some of its more despicable characters. The film should get some awards recognition but may suffer from some controversy.