Terrible Saturday Night Double Feature: Ant-Man and The Disaster Artist (Summer Film Log)

It is possible that there is a good film hiding somewhere in the patched-together mess that is Ant-Man (2015), but I doubt it. The film had a troubled production, with original director (and producer/writer) Edgar Wright dropping out because he could see that Marvel Studios would not let him make the film he wanted to make.

I haven’t liked anything Wright has done since Shaun of the Dead (2004), and his last film Baby Driver (2017) looked so insufferable that I’ll likely never sit through it. Still: Wright’s films are his films, marked by his style, his idea of “cool,” and his idea of “humor.” I don’t think his films are particularly good, but they are nevertheless original. The version of Ant-Man that Marvel Studios gave its loyal fandom bears traces of Wright’s vision—“traces” is not the right word; it is too subtle–maybe “chunks” is the word I want: Big “chunks” of the film Wright likely intended are in Ant-Man, delivered mainly via Paul Rudd’s glib charm. And yet the chunks aren’t particularly well-integrated—or maybe it’s unclear what they are to be integrated intoAnt-Man tries to do too many things and ends up not delivering on them; or, rather, it delivers them with slick emptiness that points to the film’s utter inconsequentiality. There are plenty of examples, but none so glaring as when Michael Douglas (playing the original Ant-Man Hank Pym) reconciles a relationship with his emotionally-estranged daughter (Evangeline Lilly who will become the Wasp in the upcoming and inevitable sequel), only to have the moment punctured by Paul Rudd. The breeziness doesn’t feel comedic, but rather a bit nihilistic.

Nothing matters in Ant-Man except setting up the next Marvel Cinematic Universe film. So why not shoehorn in a scene with a flying Avenger? The film sometimes delivers aesthetically—I mean, this is a movie about a guy who shrinks, right? there should be plenty of cool imagery here—but for all its charms à la Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), Ant-Man is ultimately uninterested in tapping the massive potential of a microscopic world. Even worse, the film has no interest at all in exploring the deeper philosophical implications of what it might mean for a consciousness to find its bearings in time/space fundamentally transformed. Ant-Man feels more like a product assembled by committee than an actual film, which is a shame, given all the potential in its basic story.

How I watched it: On a big TV via a streaming service, with my wife and my children, who selected it for our viewing entertainment.

The Disaster Artist (2017) is a bad movie about a bad movie. I’ll admit that the charms of The Room (2003) will forever be lost on me. That film is bad, yes, but worse, it’s boring. (I like my bad films to be not boring).

The Disaster Artist is based on a book of the same name by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. The book chronicles Sestero’s relationship with Tommy Wiseau, the auteur behind The Room (Wiseau and Sestero star in The Room). Director James Franco plays Wiseau and his little brother Dave Franco plays Sestero. James Franco portrays Wiseau as kind of deranged Dracula; Dave Franco plays Sestero as an earnest, empathetic, friendly hero. The Disaster Artist never questions Sestero’s account making The Room. He’s simply the Good Guy.

The Francos are not nearly as compelling as the cast around them, which is larded with ringers like Alison Brie, Sharon Stone, Nathan Fielder, Hannibal Buress, Bryan Cranston, and Seth Rogen. (Rogen’s performance as a script supervisor who ends up essentially directing The Room is probably the highlight of The Disaster Artist).

A good cast is not enough to cover over James Franco’s pedestrian direction though. He takes every possible shortcut, slathering scene after scene with cheap music, staging scenes in the most formulaic way possible, and telegraphing almost every plot point in unnecessary exposition. Franco directs the film as if he is worried your baby boomer uncle might not get what’s going on, squandering much of the weird potential that rests in a character as unique as Tommy Wiseau.

To make sure that all viewers “get it” — or at least get the idea of “getting it” — Franco frontloads the film with talking head celebrities (including Adam Scott, Kristen Bell, and Danny McBride) pretending to improvise their enthusiasm for the ironic charms of The Room.

The Disaster Artist culminates in the premiere of The Room. In Franco’s portrayal, The Room’s premiere audience attunes quickly to the absurdity of Wiseau’s wreck, adopting an ironic vision that allows them to take deep joy in watching a bad film. Franco pours sweetened laughter over the scene. The whole effect is like having someone explain an absurd joke. Who wants to have an absurd joke explained to them?

What the film never does—never even really tries to do—is get into Wiseau’s weird mind. There’s a strange and fascinating story in there, but The Disaster Artist can’t get to it, offering instead contours with no real substance. Indeed, The Disaster Artist seems a bit afraid of whatever’s going on inside Wiseau, and so instead retreats into platitudes about How Great Film Is and How Great It Is To Make Movies and etc.  The Disaster Artist is boringly competent. The Room is a bad film, but at least it’s original.

How I watched it: On an iPad with earphones, lying in bed, trying to follow up Ant-Man with something better, and ultimately finding no success.

4 thoughts on “Terrible Saturday Night Double Feature: Ant-Man and The Disaster Artist (Summer Film Log)”

  1. The intentionality of a film log isn’t enough to justify such pure passivity of consumption.

    Why register disappointment when the perusal and the production of a psychic product are matched by the same imperative to indifference? You are not seeking initiation and the industry isn’t offering any.

    McLuhan may have had something to say about the effect of a world-wide infotainment delivery device where industrial storytellers hope to reach you while on you’re on the crapper and an inevitable reduction of the massage to its medium.

    Plus there isn’t enough room in the world to try to fill it with everything you don’t like.

    So this film log thing, and blog retrospectives of everything that gets down your biblio gullet is edging towards the grotesque.

    By comparison, The Star Wars TFA and TLJ-Anxiety-of-Influence reviews are great! Those essays redeem into the humane a cultural lardmark that has suffered decades of vicissitude from the sort of committee formulation that’s now proffers us Ant Man. SWTLJ Anxiety of Influence revealed a surprising complexity of the movie by (maybe unknowingly) standing on shoulders of a Metzian / Bordwellian tradition of regard for the cinematic gaze, showing the reader a path to appreciation in terms beyond the personal moment of consumption. That’s art in the making, to be initiated and transformed by creation.

    WRT to The Disaster Artist, it does for the Room a celebrity version of what your Summer Film Log is doing for your habit.

    Re the devices-we-watch—big TVs vs iPads: Beware the geometry of your infotainment device doesn’t reduce you to consumption of artificially flavored, mechanically-separated meat products of the mind.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. not really sure how to respond to this comment, which appears very thoughtful, but confuses me right now. the log thing/etc. gives me an excuse to write and hit the “publish” button. sorry if it’s edging into the grotesque.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Push publish, haha! Yes! Forgive me.

    Just re-read your Blade Runner 2049 + Pale Fire review and enjoy the exveptionally insightful take, which greatly increases my enjoyment of that movie and adds true value to the art. If you peruse every reference on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic for BR2049 you will be at a loss to find any professional reviewer with half the insight of your review!

    I guess I commented on Terrible Summer Movie Log out of a pang of neurotic fear: realization that the delivery device now deeply defines movies, and that while iPads and internet-connected smart-TVs make movies more popular than ever, cinema is being eclipsed, and therefore so is cinema criticism.

    I maintain within me a purely idle speculation that there’s a point to which movies can be reduced to patterns of flashing lights and beeping tones, and computers are helping the industry find this acme. As Robert Altman wrote in his 1992 treatment of Hollywood, The Player, a board of executives considers the future of the medium: “We were just discussing the elimination of the writer from the artistic process… If we can get rid of these actors and directors we might have something!” Ant Man is the industry searching out these options.

    Are we, as a culture, discovering movies demonstrate that the bar for acceptance of A.I. is absurdly low? We sit quietly and fixate our attention on a static plane and await an apparition of intelligence to wash over us. Plato’s Cave.

    I saw it observed in an iMDB user-comment about the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) that Spielberg, trying as he did to honor his friend Kubrick’s intentions for the film, failed to grasp that the robots were formed as agents of Kubrick’s very personal ruminations about the future power the medium. And I love thus idea because it redeems Spielberg’s ambitious and fatally flawed movie in terms appropriate to Kubrick’s ouvre. It’s beyond my reach at the moment to coalesce these intuitions into a proper essay. But when I read you treatment of BR2049, I feel an uncanny relief that other regular Joes also sense the possibility for new modes of the medium and criticism, esp as these relate to modes of consumption.

    I think my prev comment was an unfocused attenpt to suggest that you make your relationship to the medium more than footnotes about device formats? Because the industry most certainly is building its products with the devices in mind. There are designers out there with script analysis computers trying to figure out how tailoring the movie to the moment of consumption generates click-thrus to increased revenue.

    Have you seen Marvel Infinity War Part 1? QED

    I truly enjoy this blog. Thank you for publishing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. >>>Push publish, haha! Yes! Forgive me.
      Thanks for the encouragement and nothing to “forgive.” A lot of what I write is crap, but the crap is like…exercise?…that allows me to do a better job elsewhere. I’m out of shape though lately and I think it shows.

      >>>I maintain within me a purely idle speculation that there’s a point to which movies can be reduced to patterns of flashing lights and beeping tones, and computers are helping the industry find this acme.

      I really think that that’s all movies ultimately are: light and sound (and their absences). Really great filmmakers do amazing stuff with that light and sound, but you’re right—the money guys would love to just make a formula of it all.

      >>>Are we, as a culture, discovering movies demonstrate that the bar for acceptance of A.I. is absurdly low? We sit quietly and fixate our attention on a static plane and await an apparition of intelligence to wash over us. Plato’s Cave.

      I would actually say that we don’t even really attend the static plane—we let our attention diverge over multiple planes, allow distraction in our spectation—allow for spectation that has distraction built into it. I watched Miyazaki’s PORCO ROSSO in the theater last month and had to ask the young lady next to me to stop texting.

      >>>I think my prev comment was an unfocused attenpt to suggest that you make your relationship to the medium more than footnotes about device formats?
      That’s actually a sort of end-goal with this project, and part of why I note that stuff…to try to remember how/what I was doing/feeling when I watched…how I watched. In the summer of 2005 I watched a film every day and I wish I had recorded what I watched.

      >>>Have you seen Marvel Infinity War Part 1? QED

      No…I’ll watch it half-distracted on some streaming service 18 months from now! I really haven’t watched all the Marvel films, so I fear it will all be lost on me. I’m honestly really sick of them, which is sad, because when I was a kid I was a huge Marvel fan.

      Liked by 1 person

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