TV Review: 11.22.63 (2016)

Original Run: February 15th, 2016 – April 4th, 2016
Created by: Bridget Carpenter
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: 11/22/63 by Stephen King
Music by: J. J. Abrams, Alex Heffes
Cast: James Franco, Sarah Gadon, Cherry Jones, Lucy Fry, George MacKay, Daniel Webber, T. R. Knight, Kevin J. O’Connor, Josh Duhamel, Chris Cooper, Annette O’Toole

Carpenter B., Bad Robot Productions, Warner Bros. Television, Hulu, 8 Episodes, 44-81 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I was actually pretty hyped to watch this when it was coming out, three years ago. However, my work life took a turn for the worse and I spent most of 2016 working about 70 hours per week and not having much time for anything else. I actually started this site later in that year when things started to stabilize again but by that point, this slipped down the memory hole.

However, I’ve been wanting to watch Stephen King’s Castle Rock on Hulu. So before getting into that, I wanted to go back and check this out, as it was King’s first Hulu collaboration.

The premise follows a man (James Franco), as he goes back in time to try and stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It’s an interesting premise but it does also seem that the protagonist does it really haphazardly, as messing with the timeline can have some unforeseen consequences and it does. In fact, it has grave consequences, which I think are supposed to surprise you but for fans of time travel stories, it really doesn’t. I kind of sighed and went, “Well, it’s not like this wasn’t an obvious result of his meddling.”

What’s interesting about this though, is that King explores the idea of time itself fighting back during the hero’s journey. It almost feels like horror at times but at the same time, the effect that time has in fighting back against changes seems inconsistent throughout the story. It is really only used where it is convenient to the plot in some way or just to remind you that time is its own master.

I had a problem with that aspect of the story and I felt like it was a wasted opportunity in a lot of ways. Cool concept, half assed execution.

But still, this was damn compelling television. You get drawn into this world, this character’s mission and you do fall in love with some of the characters.

The acting is superb and this is some of Franco’s best dramatic work. But the rest of the cast is also exceptional, especially the love interest, played by Sarah Gadon, the and the best friend/partner, played by George MacKay. But two real standouts were Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald and the evil son of a bitch that was brought to life by Josh Duhamel.

Overall, this was a solid political thriller with a time travel twist. While the time travel stuff was handled pretty willy-nilly, you get so caught up in the proceedings that it feels secondary.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: The Disaster Artist (2017)

Release Date: March 12th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: James Franco
Written by: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Based on: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made by Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell
Music by: Dave Porter
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Hannibal Buress, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, Megan Mullally, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bob Odenkirk, Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Zach Braff, J. J. Abrams, Lizzy Caplan, Kristen Bell, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Scott, Danny McBride, Kate Upton, Kevin Smith, Ike Barinholtz

New Line Cinema, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Good Universe, Point Grey Pictures, Rabbit Bandini Productions, Ramona Films, A24, 103 Minutes

Review:

“No, no! Very necessary. I need to show my ass to sell this picture.” – Tommy Wiseau

This was one of the most anticipated film sf 2017. It wasn’t just anticipated by me, though. Anyone who had seen Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 cult classic The Room was probably in line on opening night. Plus, it was directed by and stars James Franco, a guy with a deep personal connection to Wiseau who probably still doesn’t get enough credit for his talents.

The film also stars little brother, Dave Franco, as Greg Sestero, Tommy’s best friend and the author of the book this is based on, also titled The Disaster Artist. The book is a pretty exceptional look into The Room and into Wiseau’s life and if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Because even though I did like this film, the book has so much more that Franco couldn’t fit into a two hour movie.

In fact, there are a lot of things in the book that I wish had made it into the movie but I understand why time wouldn’t permit it. I really would have liked to have seen Sestero’s experience working on a Puppet Master film or all the stuff in the book surrounding The Talented Mr. Ripley and how Mark in The Room was named after Matt Damon but Wiseau mistakenly called him “Mark”. But the fact that we got the James Dean bits, was pretty cool.

Both Franco brothers did a great job of bringing Wiseau and Sestero to life. While James will get most of the acting props in this film for his portrayal of Wiseau and how he mastered his accent and mannerisms, I want to be the one person to actually put the focus on Dave. You see, Dave was the actual glue that held this picture together and made it work. He is the real eyes and ears of the audience and we really take this journey with him, as we did in the book. Dave Franco put in a better performance here than he has in his entire acting career. That isn’t a knock against his other work, it’s just great to see him evolve as an actor and display that he has the skills his older brother does. Hopefully, this leads to bigger and better things for the younger Franco and I assume it will.

This film is littered with a ton of celebrity cameos. Bryan Cranston even plays himself back when he was still working on Malcolm In the Middle, before his big breakout on Breaking Bad. The one cameo I loved and had actually hoped to see more of, as the character was more prominent in the book, was Sharon Stone’s portrayal of Iris Burton, Sestero’s agent. I also loved Megan Mullally as Sestero’s mother but who doesn’t love Mullally in everything?

You also get a lot of other celeb cameos, as they introduce the movie. Having known about it and having read the book, I didn’t need the intro but it serves to educate people going into this film blindly and it was still nice hearing some famous people talk about their love of The Room and its significance.

The Disaster Artist serves the story of the book well and the film was a delight. It didn’t surprise me in any way and it was pretty much exactly the film I anticipated. That’s neither good or bad, as Hollywood biopics are usually very straightforward.

Even though there weren’t surprises in the film, this is a fantastic story, that at its core, is about a man not giving up on his dream and forging his own path against those that held him back and told him “no”. The real story behind it all, is that Wiseau’s tale is an underdog tale and it’s a true story, not a Hollywood fabrication. Wiseau did something incredible and although the reception he got might not have been what he initially wanted, he did rise above all the adversity and became a star in an arena where he wasn’t welcome.

The lasting power of The Room isn’t just about how incredibly bad it is, it is that once people know its story, it is hard not to feel an intimate connection to Tommy Wiseau, a guy that should serve as an inspiration in spite of his bizarre personality and tactics.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Homefront (2013)

Release Date: November 27th, 2013
Directed by: Gary Fleder
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Based on: Homefront by Chuck Logan
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Rachelle Lefevre, Frank Grillo, Clancy Brown, Izabela Vidovic, Pruitt Taylor Vince

Millennium Films, Nu Image, Endgame Releasing, Open Road Films, 100 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2013.

“Whatever you’re thinking, rethink it.” – Phil Broker

Jason Statham. James Franco.

Both men locked in eternal combat for bayou supremacy.

Well, not really. But what we do have here is two awesome badasses going head-to-head in a story of redneck revenge and bayou justice.

The down side for me was that there really wasn’t enough Statham versus Franco action. The trailer for this film had me thinking that Franco was some sick meth-cooking redneck and that Statham was the dude who had to put him down. In the end, it sort of happened that way but the plot leading up to that point was very layered and there was a lot going on that made the film not as black and white as I had anticipated it being. Of course, this was somewhat of a delight.

Frank Grillo shows up and plays a badass shitbag, which is something he has mastered between this and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There were also appearances by Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, The Kurgan himself Clancy Brown and a few other noteworthy actors.

The film was written by Sylvester Stallone, which I didn’t know until I saw it. The script felt like it was written by Stallone as it had that one-dimensional tough dude dialogue that is 50 percent awesome and 50 percent cheesy. For instance, when one baddie steps up to Statham, our hero utters, “Whatever you’re thinking, rethink it.” Man, I can almost hear John Rambo saying that to a cop about to give him a DUI.

Also, what’s up with Statham. I like the guy but even when he plays an American, he still talks like British ass Jason Statham. Dude doesn’t even try to do an American accent. Then again, it is Jason fucking Statham. I like to pretend that in every film, he is the same character and he’s using different aliases and the other characters in his films just haven’t picked up on the fact that he has a British accent.

I liked this film overall. It wasn’t a classic and will probably be forgettable to me after I do a few shots but it provided me with a better than decent time for just under two hours.

Film Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Release Date: June 26th, 2014 (Palace of Fine Arts premiere)
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Based on: characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Pierre Boulle
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Judy Greer, Kirk Acevedo, James Franco (cameo)

Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 130 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

“I always think… ape better than human. I see now… how much like them we are.” – Caesar

I was a little late going to see this one in the theater but I’ve had a lot going on. Regardless, here I am a week late with my two cents on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

To start, I know that this is a pretty profound statement, but this may be the best Planet of the Apes film to date. There have been seven films before this one and a television series but this film really captures the essence and the whole point of the franchise better than anything else before it. Sure, Charlton Heston fighting apes is a bad ass scenario and the focal point of the original film, unarguably a classic, but this movie trumps it in character, in story, in action and in soul.

The first film in this reboot series was a breath of fresh air after the mediocre Tim Burton attempt at a reboot a decade earlier. Dawn takes that story even further and with the origin already established, is able to throw it all on the line and just get down to business. From the opening scene all the way to the epic end, this film is action filled and drama filled. Both are perfectly balanced and very well executed. The drama gives you more than enough to truly care and the action gives you more than enough to pump your fist to.

The acting is superb but the greatest performance comes from Andy Serkis who plays the lead ape, Caesar. Serkis deserves an Oscar for this and really most of his performances, most notably Gollum from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Unfortunately, the Academy doesn’t yet recognize the performances of actors who play digital characters. However, they aren’t just digital characters, they are created by using motion capture technology – digitizing the actors’ movements and facial expressions. When you see Caesar’s body language and facial expressions, you know that you are looking at a great performance that brings a level of realism and humanity to what would otherwise be a flat digital creation. Hopefully films like this get the Academy to introduce an award for these performances.

Back to the topic of the film itself, director Matt Reeves made his best film to date. That makes me incredibly excited for the upcoming sequel, which he is also directing. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman did a phenomenal job as the three main humans in the film. Toby Kebbell, who played the ape Koba, performed on a level very close to Andy Serkis. Koba and Caesar’s interactions were very real and compelling.

As far as special effects, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes relies heavily on CGI over more practical effects but it doesn’t overemphasize it more than it needs to. The effects are also fluid and fine tuned to the point that you get lost in the story and the action, as nothing feels out of place or so artificial that it is really noticeable.

As good as X-men: Days of Future Past was, this may be the best film of the summer and possibly the year.

Film Review: Alien: Covenant (2017)

Release Date: May 4th, 2017 (Leicester Square premiere)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen, Michael Green
Music by: Jed Kurzel
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Demián Bichir, Guy Pearce, James Franco

Scott Free Productions, 20th Century Fox, 123 Minutes

Review:

“One wrong note eventually ruins the entire symphony.” – Walter

Well, Alien: Covenant finally came out. We’re eight Alien movies deep into the franchise now, if you count the two Alien v. Predator movies (which you actually shouldn’t). Also, this one is a direct sequel to Prometheus and part of the prequel series of films leading up to the original Alien. This is also the third of these films directed by the man behind the franchise, Ridley Scott.

While I generally liked the first prequel, Prometheus, I was never in love with it and it made the whole Alien mythos more confusing. Well, Alien: Covenant does more of the same in an attempt to connect some of the unconnected dots after Prometheus shook the snow globe to hell.

The problem with Alien: Covenant is that it shakes the snow globe even more. I’ve really just gotten to the point where I’m kind of dismissing a lot of the plot details in an effort to not let these films take anything away from the near masterpiece of the original Alien.

One thing is clear though, despite Ridley Scott saying he had a big plan for how all of these films lead to Alien, the people behind these movies are just making stuff up on the fly. There doesn’t seem to be a real plan, it’s sort of like, “Well, we’ve done this, so now how do we get from here to there?” I guess we won’t know for sure until the next film comes out but I can’t see how this is all going to magically come together and make a lick of sense. While I’m not a fan of having to over explain a movie, these films have painted themselves into a corner now and it’s almost necessary to have to spell everything out. Keeping things sort of ambiguous with a few minor reveals, here and there, just makes these films annoying.

Now the acting is top notch and the cast was pretty impressive. I was especially impressed with how good Danny McBride was in a serious role. I hope this opens some more doors for him. I also liked seeing Demián Bichir, as he is starting to get a lot more work and always brings some gravitas and style to a film. Katherine Waterson was a sort of proto-Ripley the same way that Noomi Rapace was in Prometheus but she doesn’t bring it like Rapace did. She’s good but she’s not the great character that Dr. Elizabeth Shaw or Ellen Ripley were.

The effects were a mixed bag. Everything was solid until the final third of the film. The battle on the crane ship was kind of hokey and the CGI was clunky in parts. It was almost comically bad and really ruined the tone of the film. Also, McBride is the pilot. He has one job and he really sucked at it. But at least we got a real alien xenomorph in the sequence.

One scene that worked really well though, was when our marooned heroes had to battle the albino xenomorphs in the grass field. It reminded me of that awesome velociraptor grassland scene from The Lost World where you see people running and raptor tails perking up above the tall grass as they stealthily pick people off.

Also, the scene where the android David is face-to-face with the tall albino xenomorph was really cool until Billy Crudup screwed it up. I wanted to see David communicate with the creature and to see where that was going to go, as he sees these homicidal beasts as his children.

Ultimately, Alien: Covenant is the worst of the three Alien films directed by Scott. It is not a bad film but it doesn’t really seem to have much of a purpose. It advances David’s story beyond Prometheus but nothing about his character or his motivations is surprising. The big twist involving him at the end is not shocking and it was actually anticipated.

Alien: Covenant is really a dud. I’d much rather see them make the Neill Blomkamp proposed Alien movie that features Ellen Ripley and Cpl. Hicks.

 

Film Review: Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Release Date: February 14th, 2013 (El Capitan Theare premiere)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire
Based on: Oz books by L. Frank Baum
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox

Walt Disney, Roth Films, Curtis-Donen Productions, 130 Minutes

Review:

Being a fan of Walt Disney in general and a fan of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, I figured I would check this film out. I wasn’t keen on Disney’s live-action Alice In Wonderland, a few years prior, but considering that this had a pretty decent cast and a different director, I gave it a shot. Besides, Walt Disney made magic with 1985’s Return to Oz, which is still one of the best, if not the best, interpretations of Baum’s work. Also, that film still has a level of creepiness to it that makes it just as unsettling as an adult, as it was when I first saw it as a child.

As far as this film goes, I’m really on the fence. There were scenes and sequences in the movie that were incredibly well done and parts where the writing was superb. Then it would quickly go the other way and give you situations that were beyond ridiculous, even for a CGI fairytale, as well as a huge level of confusion over the characters motivations and evolution throughout the film.

Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz were pretty good in their roles. James Franco was decent but really grew into the role and took charge in the final act of the film. Zach Braff was great as Oz’s assistant in the prologue to the film and as the voice of Finley the flying monkey, a character that one could almost consider beloved had he had more screen time and had he been developed a bit more.

The biggest negative of this film was Mila Kunis. I found this surprising, as I usually like her in most things. However, her transformation to the Wicked Witch of the West was poorly done and her acting in the role went from completely uninteresting and vanilla to so over the top that she became cringe worthy every time she came on the screen.

A special shout out goes to Bill Cobbs, Tony Cox and Bruce Campbell. All three did great in their minimal roles. In Campbell’s case, it was really just a cameo.

The special effects weren’t great and the green screen work in many scenes was pretty deplorable. The evil flying monkeys looked odd and the world of Oz was too fantastical. Yes, it’s a fairytale but the world felt like a crude coloring book done by an angry three year-old who only had four crayons. It was like looking at some bad child art hanging up in a Pizza Hut.

The final battle, if you could call it that, was the highlight of the film and it really showcased the creative ability of director Sam Raimi. He and the writers found a great way to solve the problem of a mere mortal taking on two powerful wicked witches. The final act of the film was the best and it left me feeling some level of appreciation for what I spent two hours of my time watching.

All that being said, I would rather play the Temple Run game based off of this film than ever watch this movie again. In fact, that game is really what motivated me to finally watch this film a few years after its release.