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.




Teaser Trailer for James Franco’s Film Adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Novel Child of God

So James Franco has taken a stab at Faulkner and one of Faulkner’s literary descendants, Cormac McCarthy—in the same year no less. Franco has adapted McCarthy’s 1973 novel Child of God; the film will play this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival.

Here is my review of McCarthy’s novel Child of God.

The Trailer for James Franco’s Film Adaptation of As I Lay Dying Is Pretty Unremarkable

All of this seems so terribly ill-advised. The book is great—not Faulkner’s greatest, but it has a linear trajectory that I do think is filmable—but this trailer seems to portray a pale imitation of someone else’s vision of what a Faulkner film might look like (no, I don’t know what that sentence means exactly, other than this film looks like a bad riff on Faulkner).

I Am Baffled by the Trailer for Spring Breakers, the New Film from Harmony Korine

You remember Harmony Korine, right? The scruffy auteur who gave us the nightmare white trash tornado-disaster cat-killing opus Gummo? The curb-dancing maniac who never got around to putting out that movie where he provoked strangers to beat him up? The guy who broke the Dogme 95 rules on Julien Donkey-Boy, a film featuring a pregnant Chloe Sevigny ice skating to Oval? The guy who stitched Trash Humpers together using VHS decks? The guy who wrote Kids? That guy?

So he has this new movie coming out called Spring Breakers. He wrote and directed the film. It stars James Franco, along with Disney alumni Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez.

Here is the NSFW trailer for Spring Breakers:

I am baffled.

I do not know what to make of this.

Sure, there’s something of Kids in there, but the lurid, saturated cinematography by Benoît Debie (who has worked with Gaspar Noé in the past) has this nauseating MTV/Hype Williams feel to it that seems miles away from Larry Clark’s plain, unadorned style, or Korine’s own patchy VHS buzz.

The film also seems to be a fairly straightforward, character-oriented plot, likely with clear exposition, an arc—all that stuff that Korine was known to dismiss in the past. Now, I’m not saying that Korine should just keep making the same films again and again (not that he’s ever done that, to be clear)—I’m just surprised by the look and feel of Spring Breakers, and how it seems to be marketed. 

My gut feeling, which might be entirely wrong, is that Spring Breakers is an expensive prank, a film shot entirely in ironic quotation marks that the viewer will never see because Korine will never call attention to them. (This potentially puts Spring Breakers in the same territory as masterpieces like Road House and RoboCop).

Lead actor James Franco, who is currently pursuing seven PhDs in irony studies and metawhatevers, would seem an ideal fit for such a prank. Additionally, Franco’s begrilled performance as Alien is clearly channeling wunderkind RiFF RaFF, (Mr. RaFF even has a song called “RAP GAME JAMES FRANCO” which contains the genius hook “Non-stop through desert / Salisbury steak sweater”). RiFF RaFF’s shtick is even more bewildering than Spring Breakers; it’s difficult to tell if he’s some kind of art genius doing the Andy Kaufman thing or just a white kid from Houston with a bizarre sense of humor. Or both. Or neither. Either way, there’s something endearingly intriguing about him, whether you’re watching him infiltrate an art show in Miami or claim that his underwear is “moccasins.”

But back to Spring Breakers—it looks awful—but so did the previews for Wild Things, so, you know. And, again, the marketing isn’t the film. Still, it’s hard to get excited about this one.

“We Kind of Dipped Our Toes into Murder” — Pineapple Express Diner Scene (NSFW)

Terrible Ideas

There’s a new Bowdlerized edition of Huckleberry Finn.

James Franco thinks he can adapt Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

Snooki is a novelist.

James Frey tops The Guardian’s “Best Books of 2011” list.

Also, Frey’s MFA fiction factory scam is landing the guy movie deals.

Clarence Thomas’s ex to publish a “sexually driven” memoir.

James Franco and Michael Cunningham on Writing and MFA Programs

James Franco and Michael Cunningham on YA Fiction (and What You Should Never Ask a Writer)

“Are You Obscene?” — Play the New Interactive Howl Game

Play the new interactive game “Are You Obscene?”  It may be a baldly mercantile device to promote the upcoming Allen Ginsberg biopic Howl, but it’s also pretty fun.

Here’s the trailer for Howl