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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

If you love all kinds of movies, and you haven’t yet seen The Room, you really need to change that.

Written, directed by and starring the legendary Tommy Wiseau, it’s possibly the greatest bad movie ever made. It’s so great in its badness, the Rifftrax episode (the movie-bashing bastard stepchild of Mystery Science Theater 3000) with the movie is actually annoying. You just want Mike Nelson and friends to shut up and let you enjoy the pure experience of The Room. No riff is funnier than what is happening in the actual movie.

James Franco pays tribute to Tommy Wiseau with The Disaster Artist in much the same way Tim Burton glorified shlockmeister Ed Wood more than 20 years ago. Franco directs and stars as Tommy, complete with the awesome long vampire black hair and chipmunk cheeks that comprise “the Wiseau.” He also nails the Wiseau mystery accent. (While his IMDb profile says he was born in 1955 and comes from Poland, nobody seems to really know Wiseau’s true background.)

For the first time in a movie, Franco co-stars with brother Dave, who gets one of his best roles yet as the legendarily bad Greg Sestero, friend to Tommy and co-star in The Room. The film starts in San Francisco, with Greg struggling to remember lines for Waiting for Godot in a savagely bad acting class. Strange classmate Tommy lumbers onto the stage and butchers a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire—and a friendship is born. The two agree to work on scenes together, bond in their lousiness and, thanks to Wiseau’s strange apparent wealth, move to Los Angeles to fulfill their dreams to become actors.

After a stretch of unsuccessful auditions, the two decide to make their own movie—and this is where the film really takes off. Fans of The Room will rejoice in hilarious recreations of iconic The Room moments such as, “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!’ and “Oh, hi Mark!”

The supporting cast includes Franco pal Seth Rogen as cranky script supervisor Sandy; Zac Efron as the actor who portrayed the oddly named Chris-R in The Room; and Ari Graynor as the actress who brought the majestic Lisa, Tommy’s onscreen sweetheart, to life. Josh Hutcherson plays the actor who would be Denny, perhaps the most unintentionally frightening character in Wiseau’s movie. Sharon Stone, Hannibal Buress, Melanie Griffith and Randall Park also appear.

The Disaster Artist is actually based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside ‘The Room,’ the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, co-written by Sestero, and the film is heartwarming for multiple reasons. It’s fun to see a misfit make it, even though it’s in a roundabout sort of way, and it’s fun to see that accomplishment depicted by the Franco brothers. It’s about time these guys did something together. Perhaps it’s the first of many future collaborations.

When Franco’s Wiseau watches the final cut of The Room with a rambunctious crowd that loves/hates his movie, Franco delivers some of the best acting of his career—on multiple levels. On the screen in ‘The Room,’ he’s doing a spot-on impersonation of Wiseau, with an odd accent, bizarre facial expressions and a horrific writhing, naked ass during an exquisitely bad sex scene. In the audience, Wiseau sheds tears as everybody around him mocks his movie. Franco succeeds in making us feel terrible for the guy.

That sadness quickly disappears, replaced by euphoria as the crowd cheers his trash masterpiece—and Wiseau embraces the notoriety. By the time the film wraps, it hits you that Franco has somehow made one of the better “feel good” movies of the year.

Make sure to stay for the credits, where Franco plays his re-creations of scenes from The Room next to Wiseau’s originals. The scenes sync up almost perfectly, and are so good that I often found myself confused regarding which was which. Wiseau himself shows up after the credits for what turns out to be the movie’s best cameo.

The Disaster Artist is now playing at the Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940) and the Century La Quinta and XD (46800 Washington St., La Quinta; 760-771-5682).

Published in Reviews

Heavy action is back in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2, a satisfying—albeit super-dark—conclusion to the saga of Katniss Everdeen.

This whole Hunger Games thing could’ve been a super-drag without the presence of one Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. There are moments in this film, and throughout the saga, that suffer a bit from subpar writing—yet Lawrence makes any dialogue sparkle, no matter how mundane it may be. She is an actress who slices through the screen and smacks your face with her every gaze and word.

This film picks up exactly where the last one left off, with Katniss getting her neck tended to after a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) tried to choke her out. Peeta is in a bad place thanks to evildoer President Snow (Donald Sutherland); he’s as unreliable as a friend who dropped some very bad acid. He’s prone to spells during which he wants to kill Katniss, which makes things difficult as she leads Peeta and a squad of rebels on a mission to wipe out Snow for good.

Peeta is on the mission despite his altered state thanks to rebellion President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), who wants the squad to film him and Katniss for propaganda purposes. Katniss is instructed not to engage with the enemy and simply to film videos to inspire the rebel troops—but we all know circumstances will call for her to raise the bow and arrow.

Part 1 was a more laid-back affair, while this chapter amps up the action, especially in the second half. There’s an underground sequence during which Katniss and friends must battle mutants that look a little like the cave creatures from The Descent. It’s during this sequence that returning director Francis Lawrence lets us know that Part 2 will easily be the darkest and nastiest film in the franchise. It pushes the PG-13 rating to its very limit.

In addition to a surprisingly high body count, Part 2 hits hard with its “Don’t trust the government!” message. While we already knew President Snow was quite the scumbag, this film adds another surprising villain to the mix. (Yes, all of you readers of the book knew what was going to happen, but my ignorant, non-HG reading ass got taken by surprise when I saw which way things were going.)

This includes the last screen performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who didn’t quite finish his planned scenes as Plutarch Heavensbee, but did enough for editors to put something convincing together. Plutarch actually makes his exit via a letter to Katniss in a surprisingly poignant move. Hoffman, in his few scenes, commands the screen like no other. It’s lousy that he isn’t with us anymore.

The most improved Hunger Games franchise performance award goes to Sutherland, who took Snow from a preening goofball in the first chapter to someone deliciously villainous by the final film. Like Hoffman, Sutherland only has a few scenes, but they are powerful. Snow’s last two encounters with Katniss are bone-chilling.

Hutcherson does good work as a twitchy Peeta, while Liam Hemsworth is bit humdrum as Gale Hawthorne, the other man after Katniss’ affections. The Hawthorne character winds up being, more or less, useless and disposable by the final chapter. Jena Malone has a couple of good scenes as crotchety Johanna Mason; during one of them, she sports an impressive bald head courtesy of special effects. (She apparently used a stunt head.) Her character’s hair seems to grow back awfully fast, though.

So that’s it for now with The Hunger Games, although I’m sure somebody’s working hard to come up with a way to continue the franchise, just as they did with the Harry Potter universe and the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. You can’t keep a multi-billion dollar franchise down.

I ultimately wound up liking The Hunger Games phenomenon after a crap start, but I am happy to see Lawrence totally free to do other things, like David O. Russell’s soon-to-be-released Joy. She’s only 25, and she’s just getting started.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 is playing at theaters across the valley, in various formats.

Published in Reviews

Things take a darker, more underground and perhaps more understated turn in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1. While the film is a step backward from the rousing Catching Fire, it’s still a sturdy installment.

After being rescued at the end of Catching Fire—shortly after destroying the Hunger Games for good—Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is taken underground to join the rebellion. Rebellion President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to use the reluctant Katniss as a propaganda tool to inspire the masses against the Capitol and its evil leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Katniss is getting a little grouchy at this point, exacerbated by the fact that Snow has imprisoned Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and is using him as a propaganda tool. Televised interviews with Peeta and Caesar (Stanley Tucci, playing my least-favorite character in the series) suggest that Peeta wants the resistance to lay down their arms and accept the Capitol. He’s being labeled a traitor.

In exchange for help rescuing Peeta, Katniss agrees to assist with the resistance and be their “Mockingjay.” In the film’s best sequence, Katniss is asked to perform in a staged, studio production of what’s supposed to be a rousing, call-to-arms propaganda piece. Alas, Katniss can’t act.

It’s decided that a more realistic approach would do, so Katniss goes above ground, where a couple of decent action sequences ensue. A TV crew is embedded with her, and they capture Katniss in real action alongside District 12 friend and semi-love interest Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth, awarded more screen time in this installment).

Mockingjay—Part 1 is the result of taking the final novel in the popular Suzanne Collins series and splitting it in half; after all, more movies equal more dollars. However, I didn’t feel like the material was being stretched out in a detrimental way—like, say, what’s happening with the Hobbit movies. This film has plenty moving it forward, and I like where it ends.

There’s a cliffhanger, for sure, but it’s a cliffhanger with just a one-year wait. In my day, we used to wait more than THREE YEARS for the answer to a nasty movie cliffhanger. My junior high school grades suffered due to the malaise brought on by The Empire Strikes Back cliffhanger. I think it truly damaged me, and may be why I hate parties and am not married.

Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch, now a part of the underground movement, isn’t allowed to drink anymore, so he’s grumpier than Katniss. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has also gone underground, where she is no longer adorned with extravagant wigs, gowns and makeup. It’s actually a pleasure to really see Banks, who takes the character to new places without her powdered face.

Moore is a welcome presence, as she often is in movies. Sutherland has really progressed with the Snow character; I didn’t like him all that much in the first movie. (Actually, I didn’t enjoy much of anything in the first installment.) In one of his final performances, Philip Seymour Hoffman is strong as Plutarch, the double-agent architect of the Hunger Games now helping the resistance. Hoffman completed filming before his passing, so we will see him in Mockingjay—Part 2 as well.

Lawrence doesn’t get to strut her action-heroine stuff as much in this installment (although she does shoot down a plane with an arrow). She’s required to emote more in this one, and a couple of her moments are actually a little overwrought. I’ll blame director Francis Lawrence for the film’s more awkward moments, because I don’t want to blame Jennifer Lawrence for anything. She’s just so damned delightful!

Diehard fans: You already know how Mockingjay will end, so buck up and calm down. I heard people actually crying in the audience, because they were pissed with the cliffhanger ending. Just go read the book again, or practice a little thing called patience. It’s all going to be finished up in next year. Everything is going to be OK.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A new director, some well-placed cast additions, a brand-new cinematographer and a strong central performance from Jennifer Lawrence make The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a vast improvement over the franchise’s first chapter.

Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) and cinematographer Jo Willems (Limitless) get rid of most of the goofy, baroque sheen that made The Hunger Games so annoying. They also have a much better technique for filming action scenes—and as a result, they have made a film that feels quite brutal at times. A film about kids being forced to kill each other should be brutal, and not feel as if it is pulling punches, as the first movie did.

Watching this new film, I was reminded of how the Harry Potter series switched into high gear with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Alfonso Cuarón washed out the color palette and added a new element of darkness to the proceedings. In many ways, Francis Lawrence steals Cuarón’s game—and that’s to the viewer’s benefit. This is an efficient, well-oiled movie machine now.

The sequel picks up soon after the events of the first film, with Katniss and Peeta (Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson) enjoying a relatively calm, reluctant celebrity life after their rule-bending victory in The Hunger Games. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is not happy with the rising popularity of Katniss, and he lets her know that, in person. Soon thereafter, Katniss and Peeta find themselves fighting for their lives again in a rarely invoked tradition of former Hunger Games victors competing against each other.

Gone is that quick-cut, shaky-cam, messed-up way of filming action to mask the violence in what is essentially supposed to be a violent movie. (The movies thus far have been rated PG-13; an R rating would keep many young fans away.) The action is not only easy to follow, but quite exciting. A sequence in which Katniss and friends flee some sort of creeping gas cloud stands as one of the better action scenes this year.

Lawrence takes Katniss to a new, far-more-interesting level this time out. In front of Willems’ lens, she’s looking a little more worn and embittered; I found her believable as a war-torn survivor. She also seems a little more engaged in this movie, as if the new director simply pulled a better performance out of her. Her performance in the first film was fine, but the environment she was put in felt staged. Catching Fire feels more organic.

Sutherland’s Snow gets a chance to be more involved and far more sinister; he is establishing himself as a true villain. Philip Seymour Hoffman climbs onboard as the shady new game master; he’s a far more menacing presence than Wes Bentley and his lame facial hair.

Hoffman is good, but Sam Claflin wins my pick for best new addition to the cast as the preening Finnick Odair. He’s a great, mysterious Hunger Games competitor whose motivations are complicated. He also provides some decent comic relief. Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer also join the cast as competitors, making the group of people in the game far, far more interesting than those in the first film.

In the great tradition of mega-franchises like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire leaves you with a big cliffhanger. Don’t worry; The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (two films will cover one book) is merely a year away. Even better news: Francis Lawrence will direct the two Mockingjay films, so they have a solid chance of being good.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews