Movie Review: The Disaster Artist

Since Force Awakens, December has become a slog. By the time the month comes round, everyone is ready to see the new Star Wars. Nothing else matters and the studios know it. It is an early start to January, the cinematic dumping ground where undesirables are released to recoup a minuscule profit. I do not want to see anything besides Last Jedi this month and one other movie.

In search of fame, best friends Greg and Tommy, played by Dave and James Franco, decide to make a movie. The filmmaking process, however, becomes a test of their friendship as Tommy becomes more erratic and hard to work with.

Disaster Artist is an ATHFCMFFT situation; no one outside of the fan base is going to buy a ticket. Most people have never heard of The Room (not that one), Tommy Wiseau, or get the appeal of bad movies. Unless James Franco’s magnificent performance grabs them, there is no reason anyone would see this film. For me, I was anticipating Disaster Artist as much as Last Jedi. I have never seen The Room, but I looked up a montage of the best scenes, and I am familiar with its impact on the culture of funny-bad movies. For something so prolific, I wanted to see its origin.

That is where the film hamstrings itself. Right off the bat you lose a significant portion of the potential audience by appealing to fans of The Room. A lot of the in-jokes, Tommy’s mannerisms, and references to that hallowed classic will go right over people’s heads. I saw Disaster Artist with a friend who does not understand why some bad movies are funny and she did not like it. I was laughing my head off while she was still as a statue. That is not to say the film is without merit.

The relationship between Tommy and Greg drives the story. You really feel for the two as they struggle to achieve their dreams in spite of their flaws. Greg is a terrible actor who lacks intensity. Tommy is nothing but intense with no self-control. Together they form an unlikely friendship in order to support each other. Greg needs Tommy for motivation and Tommy needs Greg’s dependence. Being brothers James and Dave Franco worked very well together, selling the friendship that made The Room.

The recreation of the behind the scenes of the movie is why you should see Disaster Artist. The collision of Tommy’s personality and ambition with normal filmmaking professionals is the best part. It appropriately makes up the whole of the second act as an obstacle course for Tommy and Greg. Some of the best moments are from this part and it is reason alone to buy a ticket.

Most films are not for everyone. I avoid all manner of genres for financial reasons and as a matter of personal taste. The Disaster Artist has such a niche subject that most audiences will have no clue what is happening. They would not believe that a man like Tommy Wiseau exists in reality when they see James Franco’s performance. However, I think going in knowing absolutely nothing is the best possible scenario. Knowing what the movie is about ruins the mystique behind The Room and the men who made it. Go see it before you spend all your money on Last Jedi.

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Editorial 33: I Wrote A Book

The title says it all. I had this story sitting around for a while until I worked up the courage to get it published. I left it alone a year after writing the book until I went to school and learned a lot more about writing and storytelling. When I flipped through the manuscript I realized how much I got wrong and spent another year getting it almost perfect.

I have always been fascinated with Vikings and Norse Mythology. While they were one of many warrior-based cultures, they were the most prolific. The Vikings radically changed Medieval Europe, traveled farther than any other people at the time, and were unmatched when it comes to combat. The gods they worshipped are even more interesting. Each one, in addition to personifying their respective element, is a war god. Freya is the goddess of fertility, but she is still a warrior. Bragi, god of skalds, does not personify war, but sings to the warriors in Valhalla. One way or another they have some connection to war and I found it all straight up cool.

Back to Valhalla takes the premise of the Viking afterlife and applies it to the whole of Mankind. What if the concept of going to heaven by dying in battle included everyone, from every time period, across the globe? You would have Roman Legionaries drinking with GIs, Zulus fighting Samurais or any number of crazy combinations because they are all in one place: Valhalla.

The story follows Specialist Frank Roehm of the Georgia National Guard. He is deployed to Baghdad during the last months of the Iraq War when a booby trap gives him a face full of shrapnel. Instead of blackness or Heaven, Frank is greeted by a Valkyrie, and flown to the cracked world of Asgard. He is brought to the hall of Valhalla where he meets his father who died in Operation Just Cause and his childhood friend Kevin who bought it in Afghanistan years prior.

I had a lot of fun writing Back to Valhalla and I hope you have fun reading it. The book is available on Amazon in the Kindle store for $3.99USD. Even though I have a background in formatting ebooks, the upload came out decent. Once I get a print version off the ground, it will look much better. I am still working on ways to promote the story, giving out free copies to friends and others, but I have some ideas for spreading the word. Click the link below if you are interested.

http://a.co/f6dObf9

I hope you enjoy my first book as a real author and be on the lookout for a certain screenplay that is three years late 🙂

Netflix Review 1: Marvel’s the Punisher

Oh, boy. Here we go.

Six months after finishing off the gangsters responsible for the death of his family Frank, played by Jon Bernthal, retires from vigilantism and goes into hiding. While haunted by nightmares of his dead wife, a former NSA analyst named Micro, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, contacts him incognito. They team up when Frank learns there is more to his family’s murder than he once thought.

I am going to say something out character as a fan of Punisher. I know the guy like the back of my hand and when you get down to the nitty-gritty, why his family was killed does not matter. The what is more important because it was the trigger that turned Frank into the Punisher. The only why that has any meaning is the question of why he keeps killing after getting revenge.

All this stuff in the show about the CIA’s wet-work operation and tying up loose ends was boring and played out. We get it; Frank did some stuff back in the day that the Company wants to keep secret. They try to kill him, it does not work, and he kills them back. His very simple and complete revenge story was finished in Daredevil season two and the first five minutes of Punisher. We did not need all this convoluted Jason Bourne crap with Homeland Security and a private security firm caught in the middle of a CIA agent’s quest to redeem his masculinity.

The overarching story is the only major issue I have with the show. It was run-of-the-mill, had way too many moving parts, and I totally understand why. Frank is not a difficult character to get, but trying to make a watchable season of 13 one-hour episodes about a Nietzschean Void is impossible. Imagine a show about Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men; that is what a proper Punisher series would look like and it would be horrifying.

An action-based deconstruction of the anti-hero archetype would be an ideal show. Thing is, no one would watch it. It would be depressing with Frank mass-murdering criminals without feeling or remorse with accompanying narration. It is all he wants to do because he is driven by pure animalistic instinct. Delve deep enough into his character and you find there is so much that cannot be put to screen for mainstream audiences. The show Mindhunter is all about the psychology of murderers, but that is not Marvel-friendly material.

Taking out the depth of the character, a straight action show would be indistinguishable from the rest. There has to be something else to break up the monotony. Punisher’s convoluted story had to be that way with a lot more meat on its bones. So, we got the family connection, the CIA operation, and Homeland Security to pad out the show. It would have been fine with just Frank, Micro, and a bad guy in nine episodes.

The actual execution of the story was fine. Each plotline per episode got an equal amount of coverage without overshadowing one another. It worked as a cohesive whole; it is just too bad half of it was not very interesting.

Frank and Micro’s arc was the best part. They have great chemistry as partners in vigilantism with similar experiences. Where Frank lost his family, Micro had to leave his family after a little whistleblowing almost got him killed. Things get interesting when Frank plays surrogate father/husband for Micro’s family. Their personal conflict comes out of their dueling personalities. Where Micro is sympathetic and easy to understand, Frank is a killer with a moral compass. In that way they worked really well together and I cannot wait to see them again for season two.

Another good element of the show is the action. From what I could see, real blanks and squibs were used for the gunfights. You can tell a lot of work was put into making each fight different with a heavy dose of visceral violence. People are stabbed, punched, and pumped full of lead like an old fashion action movie. While not very creative these scenes are flawlessly executed. There is also no shaky cam and you can tell what is happening at all times. I would love to talk about my favorite scene, but I think you should see for yourself.

Those two elements make the show. The rest you can skip.

First is the Homeland Security plot. We follow Agent Madani, played by Amber Rose Revah, and she is terrible. I get characters need motivation for narrative, but Madani was so unlikeable and one-note I could careless. Her whole deal was meant to parallel Frank’s quest for vengeance. She wants justice for an Afghani police officer that was killed under mysterious circumstances and that is all. There is nothing to her. Madani is a boring strong female archetype that no one put any thought into when they had to meet a quota.

She is not even big or tall enough to come off as an agent of anything. She is five-foot nothing with the body of model. In the scenes where she is holding a gun, the weapons are bigger than her. My short friend in the Army was looking to replace her old personal side arm because it was the size of her head. She had to buy a tiny Sig Sauer to have any hope of hitting something. Madani looks like a Barbie doll got mixed in with the GI-Joe toys by accident.

And do not get me started on her partner. The guy is David Arquette annoying.

Then there is the CIA story taken from Punisher MAX. Here we follow the character Rawlins, played by Paul Shulze, who wants to kill Frank before he exposes the Company’s operations. There is a character in MAX of the same name and a million times more interesting. Show-Rawlins is a standard Company man who uses national security to justify his actions. MAX-Rawlins is an asshole that relishes being an asshole before Frank pries out his eyeball with a knife. Being a tough guy piece of shit was a façade because his persona and business depended on it.

Show-Rawlins has that masculine insecurity evident in his need to torture Frank for taking his eye, but the rest of him is boring. He is this box-standard dude that believes in protecting his country, even by illegal means. Something with depth, like the implication he enjoys torture and murder, is nonexistent. Maybe it was the actor’s lack of charisma, but there could have been a scene or two where he is smiling and laughing at the possibility of getting his hands dirty. MAX-Rawlins had a lot more to him beyond the traits of a cartoony Gareth Ennis villain character.

There is plenty of good to be had, but the whole of Punisher would have fallen apart if not for Bernthal’s best performance to date. The guy has the makings of a young Kurt Russel or Clint Eastwood, full of charisma with intensity to boot. Not only does he sell the character’s pain and anger, but he is also scary to watch. I expect nothing less from the guy that accidently clocked Jonah Hill in the mouth on Wolf of Wall Street because he was so into the scene. I have no idea how Bernthal could top this in the future.

When it comes to expectations everyone has a vision they want to see come to fruition. For me and other fans, we wanted an incarnation of Punisher to rival Ray Stevenson in War Zone. The second season of Daredevil gave us a taste of what was to come in the following year. Marvel’s the Punisher is the most we can ask for. There will never be a perfect incarnation, but Jon Bernthal is damn close. I highly recommend it if you are a fan of the character and of action, especially the graphic kind. But get ready to skip over a lot of boring shit to get to the good stuff.

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

The Thor movies have struggled the most since the beginning of the MCU. The first film from 2011 had a bit of an identity crisis, torn between being a Shakespearean drama about Marvel’s Gods and a conventional superhero movie. It succeeded in some places, but Thor really had no idea what it wanted to be. Dark World from 2013 was a step in the right direction, taking into account the eccentric qualities of the characters and world pioneered by artist Jack Kirby, the Neil Armstrong to Stan Lee’s Buzz Aldrin. However, the film took itself too seriously, trying to appear way more important than it actually was. This was at odds with the comedic tone the Marvel movies were known for, failing to strike a balance. Did Ragnarok finally get Thor right or is the character series a failure?

While on the hunt for Infinity Stones across the galaxy Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, learns of a truth his father kept hidden for centuries. Now he must deal with the consequences after he is captured and made a gladiator on a strange world.

Ragnarok takes the best parts of the last two films and brings them together. You have the weird and out-there nature of the material mixed with the broader sci-fi-fantasy inherent in Marvel’s Gods. It all comes together in a cohesive whole as each element complements one another.

The first thing you will notice is the Kirby aesthetic on full blast. The color and complex designs of the sets and costumes are lifted directly from the page. The MCU has always embraced the look of the comics, but Ragnarok takes it far beyond previous attempts. Seriously, the guards standing in the background of some shots look like human-size Celestials. It is reminiscent of 5th Element with an over-designed style that remains within the realm of believability.

Unlike Dark World, Ragnarok is under no illusions about what it is. You cannot make a movie about a guy with a magic hammer and lighting powers and play it straight. Instead of a superhero film with comedic elements, we have a comedy with superhero elements. Ragnarok is entirely focused on being funny and does not take itself seriously. The humor is mundane with seemingly simple jokes and gags made all the more hilarious by the cast. In this way it has a lot in common with the original Ghostbusters.

The cast is the glue that keeps Ragnarok together. If the actors were not funny, then the jokes would have fallen flat, and the aesthetic left looking stupid. With everyone bringing their A-game, this was not the case.

Hemsworth showed he could play a funny man, which was surprising given Thor is always serious. I would never have thought he had decent comedy chops until now (Ghostbusters (2016) doesn’t count). There is a great scene where he talks about Loki tricking him as a kid and his time with Hulk were some of the best moments. It shows how much Thor has changed over years, becoming aware of himself and the people around him. He has allowed the regal persona of his character fall to the wayside thanks to his experiences as a hero.

Speaking of Hulk, Mark Ruffalo stays green for most of his screen time, giving him ample opportunity to flesh out the monster like never before. He talks more, tells jokes, and complains about people liking him because they prefer Bruce Banner. And when he turns human his attitudes become the exact opposite couple with Banner’s awkward personality. Cate Blanchet’s Hela proved to be one of the better MCU villains. Keeping in line with the tone, she hams it up from start to finish, having a ton of fun with a character that loves killing. Karl Urban was great for a short time as Scourge, but the stand out was Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster.

It is best if you see for yourself.

Ragnarok is also the first MCU movie with a memorable soundtrack. Before now the score has been heroic and upbeat with an operatic touch. The usual tunes have become so generic you forget they are actually playing, except for licensed tracks. This time composer Mark Mothersbaugh employed synthesizers for a majority of the score. It was like watching Tron: Legacy with superheroes or something from the 80’s, furthering the out-there and anachronistic feel of the film.

For all its positives there are some issues. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie was boring and uninteresting with a run-of-the-mill backstory. Her performance was fine, but pointless because she had nothing to work with. I also have a personal problem with the “phantom objects” technology that is all over the MCU, where whole pieces of armor and weapons appear from nothing. Gamora’s sword, Star Lord’s mask, and Iron Man’s glove from Civil War form up in CG into physical props. It is so ake, cheap, and all over the place in Ragnarok.

Make it stop.

Joining Blade Runner 2049 as one of the better movies of autumn, Thor: Ragnarok takes the MCU to its logical extreme. The bizarre and eccentric world on the fringes of Marvel is on full unapologetic display. Director Taika Waititi does Jack Kirby proud by bringing such a vivid imagination to life. And thanks to his background in comedy, the film stands as the series’ funniest. No character needed such dramatic changes than Thor. Even if you are not a fan of the MCU, Thor: Ragnarok works as an action comedy and a great movie in a sea of mundanity. Give it a look and be sure to check out 2049 while you are at it.

Skip Justice League, obviously.

Movie Review: Justice League

So, I drastically underestimated the month of November. My vacation went longer than I planned, some stuff happened in between, and there is a lot I want to write about. I also have a Secret Black Project I am trying to push out around December. To put it simply, expect a gradual trickle of posts in the days to come. And now, here is a review I wish I could put off indefinitely.

After the death of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, played by Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot, put together a team to counter future threats. At the same time, an ancient evil scours the globe in search of artifacts that could mean total annihilation.

The DCEU was born in a state of perpetual catch-up. By 2013, when Man of Steel was released, the MCU had an ensemble of well-defined characters and a story spread across different installments. Since then, every studio under the sun has tried to emulate Marvel’s success, and Warner Brothers was the first to give it a try. However, they came out of the blocks a little too fast, and also went backwards.

Justice League suffers from the same issue that plagued BvS. It skipped over the basic foundations of a long form narrative to make that Marvel money. The philosophical underpinnings and deconstruction of a superhero in real life touched upon in Man of Steel were pushed to the background to jump-start the DCEU. I would love to have seen what Zack Snyder was trying to say about Superman, but Warner Brothers wanted its own cinematic universe as soon as possible.

The haphazard nature of the DCEU is baked into Justice League. While there is some development and depth with the three new characters it is not enough. We are given basic details about who they are from interactions with the team, but there is no foundation on which to even know them. Flash is a spaz, Cyborg is brooding, and Aquaman does not care. That is all we get. We do not have to like them, but it would be great to have a reason why we do not like them.

Is there more to Flash behind his spastic personality?

How does Cyborg feel about being brought to life as a robot?

Did something happen to Aquaman that made him a loner?

I would like to know, but there is nothing to go on. You are forced to make assumptions based on how the characters interact with each other and what is there is minuscule to say the least. No time was given to build a foundation for these characters to stand upon and the movie suffers as a result.

Then you have the rushed progression in which the story plays out. The League is quickly assembled before going off on their first mission, followed by a quick digression into an obvious spoiler, and then it ends. It all happens very fast with brief pauses in between. Typical story tropes like a Low Point or the characters having doubt were more or less nonexistent. The whole film was in one ear and out the other with a two-hour run time that felt like 60 minutes. When the credits rolled I almost forgot I actually saw the damn thing.

Another aspect of note is the change in tone. Up until now, the DCEU was established as darker and realistic compared to the MCU. Wonder Woman was bright and optimistic, but carried the series’ signature tone in the visuals and story. I have no issue with what the DCEU is trying to be, but Justice League did. This time, the movie is saturated in color and uncharacteristically happy in a lot of places. It is more an issue of consistency, like Warner Brothers was regretting their past choices, and wanted to backtrack four films in.

As strange as this sounds, the banter and jokes took me right out of the experience. Following up a deadly serious and violent study of the superhero with a movie where characters talk like they do not care felt like a punch in the face. All of a sudden, Zack Snyder walked back everything he was trying to do in the past. Then Joss Whedon showed up to drive the final nail in the coffin. I was expecting the DCEU signature and got a mediocre Avengers clone.

That is Justice League in a nutshell: Avengers if it was Suicide Squad.

These principle issues are why the film does not work, but there is more I feel compelled to discuss. For one thing, Danny Elfman took up the reins of composer in place of Hans Zimmer. The soundtrack was up beat and heroic, not unlike your typical Marvel movie, and pulled me even further out. The DCEU had a rapturous, epic feel thanks to Zimmer’s distinct, albeit annoying use of percussion and horns. Justice League might as well be a separate entity given how the soundtrack makes it stand out.

The villain Steppenwolf is dumb, but not because he is a run-off-the-mill bad dude. He is totally CG, not a guy in a rubber suit or something real. Warner Brothers was so cheap, they could not be bothered to hire someone to wear a relatively simple costume. I would do it for free if it spared audiences from watching that gaudy CG abomination. At least Marvel makes their CG characters look good before putting them on the big screen. Take the ugly Ares character from the ending of Wonder Woman, place him throughout the entirety of the movie, and you have Steppenwolf.

Not much to say about the performances. Honestly, it felt like everyone was just going through the motions, trying to get it over with so they can work on other projects. Gadot was still a great Wonder Woman, but she had a lot more to do in her own film. Affleck really hated the whole situation from start to finish. He clearly has his own ideas for Batman, a character he loves, but he is forced to stand in front of the camera instead of behind it. Despite being an obnoxious prick in real life, Ezra Miller was fine as Flash. He was genuinely funny in some places and stood out the most. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman did not have anything to do and Ray Fisher was a boring Cyborg that was also hamstrung by a bad script.

It is unfair that Justice League had everything stacked against it. I did not want to see it knowing the DCEU has been consistently bad (except Wonder Woman). Nobody wanted to give this movie the light of day and it was intellectually dishonest of me to have such low expectations. Having seen it, I was only proven slightly wrong. Justice League is not terrible or disturbing; it is just not that great. It never took its time to come into its own, to truly define its characters, and skipped all the way to the finish. It is a product without a heart, a soul to set it apart from the rest. Thor: Ragnarok has heart and soul…

You should watch Thor: Ragnarok instead.

Editorial 32: Vacation

As the title suggests, I will be gone for a couple weeks. I am taking a break from writing to focus on personal stuff. For that reason, I will not be able to review Thor: Ragnarok, much to my dismay. However, I will be seeing Last Jedi in December; bought the ticket and everything.

To be clear, I am not doing this because I have given up on writing reviews, given my sparse posting as of late. I can assure you, if movies I actually wanted to see came out once a week, I would post a review for each one. Please pardon the inconvenience.

I will be back.

Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049

I just want this to be good. Nothing else matters. For obvious reasons, I am going to omit the usual plot summary after the introduction.

Trying to succeed Blade Runner is like justifying the existence of Big Bang Theory. It never needed to happen, it should not happen, but for some reason (you know why) it happened. The original Blade Runner is one of the most important science fiction movies ever made. It more or less created cyber-punk and showed sci-fi could be more mature and capable of telling a deep story. Of all the classics it did not need a sequel. Nobody, including other hardcore fans, asked for this. The original was just fine on its own and somehow we got 2049.

Like Force Awakens the deck was always stacked against it. Being better than a bad movie is as easy as punching a blind toddler, but being better than a genre-defining classic is next to impossible. With Force Awakens, callbacks and references aside, it succeeded by being great. As I said in the beginning, all 2049 needs to be is good and watchable.

I would have ignored it had Denis Villeneuve not been involved. So far he has yet to make a bad film with Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival to his name. Rather than buckle under pressure he grabs the reins and leads the way in his most ambitious project yet. Being a visual director he takes full advantage of the world’s unique style. Blade Runner is saturated in neon with lived in and weathered sets, packed to the gills with people and detail. It is surprising how such elements were standard practice back in the day look like pieces of art in a time of overwhelming CG.

2049 maintains the aesthetic of decay while looking updated, being 30 years after the events of the original. It is also darker with light doused in a perpetual haze or relegated to certain areas of the setting. You really feel the world standing on the edge of total collapse, fitting perfectly in line Villeneuve’s signature. He puts the desolation on display with beautifully bleak and imposing landscapes. Most of the interiors are well lit, but emphasize the ever-present grime of the world. Being a noir, Villeneuve makes great use of the darkness to supplement the atmosphere of decay and mystery of the narrative. It helps that the practical and visual effects used in these shots are stunning.

For spoiler reasons I am going to avoid talking about the writing or acting. The latter is obvious, but judging the performances could lead to unintentional revelations. I will say that Sylvia Hoeks was the stand out as Luv, a replicant dedicated to her job, and it was nice to see Harrison Ford care about his role. The man is 75 and a cultural icon, so I understand when he wants a break. Actually, I will give away one spoiler:

The trailer for Pacific Rim: Uprising was shown and it looks like hammered shit.

A couple negatives of note are the music and the placement of a particular scene. The issue of score may have more to do with the theater in which I saw the movie. Whenever a French horn or loud synthesizer would blare, it literally shook the auditorium with a loud creaking noise. I would say about half the tracks in 2049 have this sound and it was irritating. Even Hans Zimmer would tell the composer to tone it down. As for the faulty scene, it comes out of nowhere, like it was from an older draft of the script. The lead up did not fit or feel natural given the tone. Maybe I am missing something, but that scene should have been moved or reworked.

This does not feel like much of a review with everything I left out. Without the name Blade Runner in the title, 2049 is just another great film from Denis Villeneuve. On its own merit it has enough going on that keeping you in the dark is the only respectful thing I can do. A lot of my reviews of good movies are short because why ruin something you should see for yourself? 2049 may not be groundbreaking, but it is well worth the nearly three-hour runtime. It is a great film and that is all that counts in the long run. However, I would advise watching the Final Cut version of the original before buying a ticket.