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The Disaster Artist

Wonder Wheel

December 7, 2017

The Disaster Artist (***) R

After several less than stellar forays behind the camera, actor James Franco has finally struck gold with his behind the scenes take on the making of the infamous cinematic atrocity, The Room. The Disaster Artist, which relates that story, is similar to the now classic 1994 film Ed Wood, in that it thrusts us into the world of those with a creative itch who, unfortunately, possess none of the talent needed in order to undertake such artistic endeavors. The choice to play it as a straight comedy seems to work well when tackling this sort of subject matter and that’s the choice Franco and company have made with their telling of the tale.   

The Room, which was released in 2003 and became something of a cult item along the lines of the aforementioned director Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, is a film that has now reached the status of legendary. Its status, however, is not due to any artistic merits found in the film. Rather it’s because of the unintentional laughter derived from the inept execution of the film, and the joys to be derived therein, which have made it such an enduring favorite and will for sometime to come.

Seth Rogen & Dave Franco in The Disaster Artist   

The central character in the film is Tommy Wiseau, the would-be auteur behind this mass of cinematic junk, capably played by James Franco in one his best performances yet. Tommy is a mystery man, whose nationality and financial means are unknown to all of those around him (so much so that it’s one of the film’s running jokes). When Tommy chances to meet struggling actor, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) they move in together in an LA apartment that Tommy owns. Greg struggles to make it as an actor until Tommy comes up with a plan to make him a star by crafting a film around whatever talent that Tommy perceives Greg might have dwelling within him. Together they combine their creative juices in order to come up with a project they feel will be a certified hit and get them noticed. The duo eventually get the attention they crave but for all the wrong reasons.  

The Disaster Artist is peppered with cameos and great supporting work from many familiar faces. In fact there’s so many it would take up too much space to recognize them all. Let’s just say that my favorite would have to be Seth Rogen’s turn as the exasperated script supervisor who is truly baffled and aghast at the ineptitude he’s forced to lay witness to on a daily basis.   Having some knowledge of The Room is recommended but I wouldn’t say that taking the time to watch the entire thing is required. Just watch a few clips and let The Disaster Artist fill you in on the rest. You’ll have a good time.  

The Disaster Artist is playing in Winston-Salem and Charlotte, as of Friday, December 8.

Wonder Wheel (** ½) PG-13

Woody Allen’s latest film as director/writer, like his last three or four films (I’ve honestly lost count at this point), is another foray into material that he’s mined before but that won’t be a total surprise for those who’ve kept up with the Woodman’s cinematic output here of late. In this film, once again, there is the soul searching and the ache for lasting love and the regret of mistakes made in the past peppered with a sense of nostalgia and wistfulness for a time that’s long past. All of the ingredients are there and yet they never quite come together. It just doesn’t gel like you hope that it will. It’s all wrapped in a beautiful package of stunning period detail and incredible cinematography. That may be enough for those who don’t scrutinize things too closely but for those of us who know better, Wonder Wheel is simply another exhibit in a distressingly growing list of misfires that litter the great filmmaker’s resume. I haven’t given up on him yet but it’s getting harder when each passing project  seems to repeat the same things we’ve heard before and articulated much better in years gone by.

Justin Timberlake has what I would label as the lead role in Wonder Wheel. He is, at the very least, the leading male in the film and serves as onscreen narrator. It’s the 1950s and the setting is Coney Island. His character is Mickey, a college literature student with grand dreams of being the next Arthur Miller by writing a play that will change the world. During the summers he works as a lifeguard to make a little extra income. It’s there on the beach that he chances upon Ginny (Kate Winslet), an unhappily married woman with failed artistic ambitions. Ginny has resigned herself to a life with her husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi), a carousel operator with dim prospects. To make matters worse her son casually starts fire at the drop of a hat (a subplot that goes nowhere) and her husband’s estranged daughter from his first marriage (Juno Temple) has reappeared and is on the run from gangsters. Mickey falls for Ginny and it seems like a match made in heaven. That is until he chances to meet Ginny’s stepdaughter. I’ll say no more.

Timberlake & Winslet in Wonder Wheel

Wonder Wheel is the kind of film that appears on the surface to have all the perfect ingredients for a terrific stew of drama and romance. Somehow it fails to generate the dramatic fireworks that you keep hoping are just around the corner.  It’s breathtaking to look at but as a story the word letdown is the only one that comes to mind at the moment. 

FOCUS couldn’t find any theaters playing Wonder Wheel in this area, which opens nationally December 8.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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