The Disaster Artist (2017)

Director: James Franco Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson

The true story of what happened during the creation of cult favourite movie The Room by Tommy Wiseau. Tommy and Greg meet at an acting class in San Francisco, and quickly become friends after Tommy’s positive, can-do attitude to life spurs on Greg to pursue his dream of an acting career in LA. When they move to LA and neither of their careers really takes off, Tommy writes a screenplay and casts himself and Greg in the star roles. However, Tommy’s not a regular director and the film takes some strange turns.

After I sat through The Room late last year, for on reason or another I never made it to the cinema to watch The Disaster Artist, simply¬†through my own general incompetence. It’s been a long wait but I’ve finally watched it- and as hoped I thought it was great. I thought it would just be a good laugh, finding out what happened behind the scenes, but actually the film has a strong plot of its own and it totally changed my perception of the characters. Yes, Tommy Wiseau is a massive weirdo and kind of a dick, but I actually really admired his outlook on life. He doesn’t care what other people think; he believes that if he works for his dream he can achieve it; he pushes Greg to be his best; and he works hard on a project he’s passionate about. Yes, the result was The Room, and although it’s not what Tommy had in mind, it’s a cult favourite that tonnes of people have seen, and the film mentions at the end that thanks to its cult status and appearance at midnight screenings for fans, the film has actually finally made a profit.

James Franco is a divisive actor and to be honest really has been in some crap films, but he’s perfect in this. He plays Tommy (ironically both directing and playing the lead role, just like Wiseau IRL), and his mannerisms and accent are so accurate that it’s hard to tell it’s not actually him. There’s a final scene after the credits in which the real Tommy Wiseau meets the character played by Franco, and you can hardly tell which is which. Dave Franco as Greg is fairly standard as Greg doesn’t really have any stand-out characteristics, but I thought Josh Hutcherson as Denny was hilarious and Zac Efron’s cameo also made me laugh just because he was so weird. James Franco won a Golden Globe for this, which I think is very fitting because I feel like Tommy has had the last laugh over the Hollywood that rejected him.

While there are a fair number of in-jokes shared by those who’ve seen The Room, I don’t think you necessarily have to have seen it to enjoy The Disaster Artist. As I’ve mentioned, the behind-the-scenes is a great story in itself that I think many would appreciate.

4 stars

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Dead Poets Society (1989)

Director: Peter Weir Cast: Robin Williams and a load of nondescript teenage boys

A new English teacher arrives at an exclusive boys’ boarding school and introduces a new way of learning that’s a break from their usual stuffy academia. However, his unusual style doesn’t go down well with everyone.

So after a conversation with a friend in which I stated I thought I’d seen most Robin Williams films, and then proceeded to be corrected when my friend listed off all the ones I haven’t seen, I’m trying to work through his full repertoire. To be honest it probably just feels like I’ve seen all his films as I’ve watched Hook about 3 billion times- but I don’t think I’ll be watching Dead Poets Society quite as many times.

Call me uncultured but I just thought this film was so unbearably dull. I came for the Robin Williams, but I felt like he was barely in it. The scarce bits he was in were enjoyable (funny, but he also does serious very well), but they were interspersed with excruciating scenes about tedious teenage boys, none of whose name I can remember or identify because they all look the same and have no outstanding traits of note, apart for possibly the main two. Even those main two I just didn’t care about- it’s not that they were unlikeable, I just didn’t find them interesting or compelling characters.

I won’t spoil the main climax of the movie, but I thought it was out of place and, to be honest, unrealistic. It was just so over-the-top as a reaction to something that was really not that bad, and I just couldn’t help but think “get over it, you overprivileged nob head”. But, you know, maybe I’m just missing something as the film was an Oscar winner after all (Best Screenplay).

I didn’t like this film (can you tell?) but not because it’s badly made or anything, it just didn’t float my boat. I feel like it’s the sort of film my mum would watch while she’s doing the ironing. Just meh.

2.5 stars 

I, Tonya (2017)

Director: Craig Gillespie Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson

Based on real-life interviews with the main protagonists, I, Tonya charts the story of US figure skater Tonya Harding from her early days in the sport to the 1994 Winter Olympics and the controversy surrounding an incident with her main rival. The film explores the abusive relationships she has with both her mother and husband, and how she faces different treatment and judgment because if her “white trash” background.

I had wanted to see this movie because from the trailer it looked like a dark comedy, which is a type of movie I love. However, after watching it I wouldn’t define it as such and I’d say the comedy element is almost accidental, as the whole thing is based on real testimonies so nothing is supposed to be funny- that’s just how it was. There’s actually a disclaimer at the start of the film saying that it’s based on real interviews, totally “without irony”, which I think is important to bear in mind throughout the film as you watch the ridiculousness of the tragedy unfold. This is actually how the real-life people say that the events unfolded, which makes it even more surreal.

The whole story is really very sad, and I liked how the film doesn’t really try to portray the characters as good or bad, but they all have elements of both so that the audience can decide for themselves. I imagine most people will fall on the side of Tonya, but I found her husband Jeff and her mother to have some good qualities too, meaning they weren’t all bad.

I thought Margot Robbie was excellent in this, and while I agree that Frances McDormand was the right choice to win the Oscar for Best Actress, I think this was the best film I’ve seen Margot Robbie in. I was very convinced by her character and I thought she portrayed Tonya’s anguish and disappointment really well. Allison Janney did win Best Supporting Actress- she’s not in the films loads but she is good in it, and I think she had one of those “Oscar moments” when she explains to Tonya why she treats her like she does and compares it to the relationship she had with her own mother.

The film is quite sweary and the storyline most certainly is not family appropriate, but it’s a good drama so I think a lot of people wold enjoy it. As far as Oscar films go it’s not too heavy and pretentious, so definitely at the easier-to-view end of things. Plus, the soundtrack is really really good.

4 stars

Darkest Hour (2017)

Director: Joe Wright Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ronald Pickup, Stephen Dillane

Winston Churchill has just become Prime Minister following a vote of no confidence in the former PM, Neville Chamberlain, following Chamberlain’s unconvincing leadership at the start of the Second World War. However, there’s not much confidence in Churchill either and a series of events at the start of his premiership forces him to make some controversial decisions.

I love British political history, especially the 20th century, and so this sort of film is right up my street- however I appreciate it’s not for everyone. It certainly helps if you’re familiar with the events, and it’s hard to work out who many of the characters are unless you can work out out from what you know already. It’s very much a thinking film, and not packed with action- although given the circumstances it’s all pretty high tension anyway. It’s long but a lot happens so doesn’t feel too slow.

That said, even it’s not the usual sort of film you’d be in to, it’s worth a watch for Gary Oldman’s performance. I’ve always found Gary Oldman’s roles pretty weird, but he was really good in this to the point that you can’t tell it’s him as he has perfectly encompassed Churchill’s speech and mannerisms (although the prosthetics do help). I really liked King George (Ben Mendelsohn) in this too- I thought it was a compelling part of the plot, a sub-plot almost, to see not only Churchill’s standard WW2 activities that we know quite well but also some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of what was really going on at the time.

This film is Oscar-nominated so worth investigating just for that (so you can confidently discuss it at dinner parties), but also I did learn quite a lot despite already having a good background knowledge of the events, so I reckon it would be interesting if you’re in the mood for a more serious, slow-paced film. I didn’t come out thinking “wow”, but I liked it and will probably watch it again at some point.

4 stars