Best F(r)iends (2017)

Best F(r)iends on paper, does not sound like a good movie or idea. Because it really isn’t. In Tommy Wiseau (who plays Harvey in the film) and Greg Sestero’s (who plays Jon in the film) new film together, a mortician and a homeless man become business partners and their friendship is put to the test. Best F(r)iends is is objectively terrible in every technical standpoint but yet, I didn’t feel myself hating it just because of how much I enjoyed Tommy Wiseau’s on-screen prescence. Even comperable to Wiseau’s performance as the loveable Johnny in The Room (2003).

I think that the actual direction in this movie reeks of the quality of a film student. The amateur lighting, the reliance on stock footage, and the cinematography in some scenes looked like it was shot on the iPhone 7 Plus Steven Soderbergh used to film Unsane (2018). In one shot, the boom microphone was in the frame. Frequent frame rate drops appear throughout the movie which is a first in any live-action film I think I have ever watched. Overall though, it makes for an enjoyable experience just because of the performances from Tommy was so and Greg Sestero as well as the supporting cast and a very outlandish plot that involves the sale of gold through fake teeth, Wiseau licking his new car, and a family of clowns; and this is only the first part. Perhaps director Justin MacGregor is taking inspiration from Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac? (the last movie that I can recall that was released in two parts in quite the same fashion as Best F(r)iends is). By the end of the movie, I was asking for much more of the on-screen pairing of Wiseau and Sestero and I cannot wait until the June 1st release of the second volume.

When I watched the film with a large audience of people at my theater, mostly everyone erupted with laughter and made for a fun viewing environment. Everyone was in on the joke and it was probably the best experience I’ve had watching a movie at the theater since going to see Get Out (2017) on opening weekend. It is the adequate way of watching Best F(r)iends. Just remember when going into this film that doesn’t expect it to be to be like a David Lynch film. However, if you expected it to be like a David Lynch film then you wouldn’t be going to see it. I doubt anybody is actually seeing this movie interested in the plot but, more interested in Tommy Wiseau himself. Becasue, if this film had anyone else starring in it besides Sestero and Wiseau it would be unwatchable garbage.

Note: There was also some pretty lengthy behind-the-scenes footage with a focus on Red Bull for some reason? Then there was a music video starring Wiseau too.

The Disaster Artist (2017)

★★

The tall man with vampire-like structure walks out of fake door and onto the rooftop set. “Oh hai mark” he says in a monotone voice, throwing the empty water bottle on the floor. After the camera cuts, the set erupts with applause. After dozens of takes, Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) had done it. He had finally managed to recite his lines correctly. The Disaster Artist however, is not just about the making of the now infamous film The Room (2003) but much more. It is also a film about the friendship of two actors, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and Tommy Wiseau and their desire to make it big. Showing how the two characters meet in San Francisco and what led them to make The Room.

The story is not the main attraction however, James Franco is. I would actually find it to be near impossible for The Disaster Artist to be good if James Franco was not Tommy Wiseau. The amount of care that Franco put into studying the real Tommy Wiseau is really shown in this movie. From the way he talks and the way his mannerisms are. I felt like it not only played off the character of Wiseau as comedic but also dramatic character trying to be understood by someone in the world.

As far as the directing and writing goes, it is nothing special. Sure there are some jokes that land, but I felt like there were many times where they would point out the obvious ridiculousness of Wiseau’s antics, such as the strange lines of dialogue in The Room which became redundant after a while. Overall, it was a passable job from James Franco’s directing.

Chances are, if you enjoyed The Room then you will like The Disaster Artist, the scenes from the original movie are recreated quite well (at the end they even show them side to side) and it was funny to see actors like Zac Efron and Josh Hutcherson play characters in the film. The ending was a little hokey as it makes the film end a little too comedically compared to what should have been a more serious tone. But the motif of friendship between Wiseau and Sestero throughout the movie is what gives the human connection to the film making it a relatable parable somewhat.

 

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

★★

It’s Star Wars, probably everyone reading this is going to see it no matter what. This second installment of the sequel trilogy includes the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for the series. Rian Johnson made a decisive sequel to the near-universally loved J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens (2015) and decided the take a risk as far as how the story was handled. The audience score (as of right now) on Rotten Tomatoes sits at a surprisingly low 57% (making it tied for the lowest out of all the main-series Star Wars films). What a time to be alive.

Just a heads up, any paragraph below this one is crossing into spoiler territory.

Luke Skywalker is not playing Luke at all. Instead, it is just Mark Hamill playing Mark Hamill. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) uses the force in the dumbest way possible. Puppet-Force-Ghost Yoda appears and it’s a surreal experience that also is kind of unintentionally funny. The Last Jedi is a movie that is inconsistent. It takes a bit for the film to get interesting but when it does, it can feel just like classic Star Wars. There are also some interesting, new world-building ideas as well as some not-so-interesting ones (like those freakin’ Porgs). Overall it is a mixed bag where the positives just narrowly outweigh the negatives.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) is still a character without flaw. Everything comes easy to Rey, she learns the force with little struggle and with pretty much no training from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The only interesting thing that could have been done with her character in The Last Jedi. Which, would have been teaming up with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and joining the dark side. Which is instead thrown away for a fight sequence after the rejection of Ren’s offer. Here’s to hoping that by the time Episode IX comes around in 2019, they will finally give Rey some character that consists of things other than being a prodigy at everything.

Why was Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) killed off? What was the purpose of that character? He was pretty much was given the “Darth Maul Treatment” and not just because they were both sliced in half. Both characters had very little time to do anything meaningful and ended up just looking, instead of being interesting. Also was a golden Gucci bathrobe the most threatening thing that Snoke could have been wearing before his death? Despite his detractors, I still firmly believe that Adam Driver’s portrayal of Kylo Ren is the best thing that the sequel trilogy has going for itself. Ren is what Anakin Skywalker should have been. A bratty, whiny, and childish accomplice to a dark lord that is also a loose cannon. But now, with no leader to follow, this could bring the story in many different, interesting directions.

The most popular criticism that I heard from people about The Force Awakens was that it was just a rehash of A New Hope (1977). Well, for all the people that were afraid that this one would just be a remake of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) it isn’t. However, that doesn’t immediately make one film better than the other. While The Force Awakens was immediately good, like a warm cookie straight from the oven. The Last Jedi may be like a bottle of Merlot, that in two years could be better than it is right now. Or, maybe I could just be in denial, and if I am, at least the space battles make it worth revisiting.  

 

 

 

 

Justice League (2017)

★★

Justice League is a Frankenstein of a film. A movie that seems to be fighting for its own identity. At some moments having Joss Whedon’s comedic writing and bright colors and at others, going back to the gritty and grim Zack Snyder-ized DC. Though, somehow it never seems to be boring. I think that would be quite hard to do actually, considering how many plot lines were crammed into a two hour movie.

I just want to say sorry to Marvel Studios (and Cate Blanchett) for criticizing Hela’s character and purpose in my Thor: Ragnarok (2017) review. Justice League‘s villain, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) is so jammed into this movie that he feels like a joke. Closely resembling the features of other DC antagonist, Ares from this year’s Wonder Woman. If Warner Brothers publicly announced that Steppenwolf was created to be a satire of stereotypical comic book movie villains I would believe them. He ticks all the boxes. He shoots blue portals into the sky sometimes, has evil minions, and has little character past just being “bad” and doing “bad stuff”.

The actual Justice League made me more excited for what was to come rather than what I was actually watching. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) was a pretty solid character and my personal favorite of the crew. Momoa’s portrayal of the character was a tough and playful “dude-bro” that gelled well with the angle that they were going at for his character. I will be highly anticipating James Wan’s Aquaman when it releases late next year. Ezra Miller as The Flash was also a stand-out character. The character gave Whedon a chance to write a couple funny jokes. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) was the weakest new character introduced in this film. He was not the funny and charming incarnation seen in Teen Titans but more of an angsty character (topped off with really bad CG). As far as the three characters that were already introduced. Superman (Henry Cavill) had a weird and creepy half-CG face, Batman (Ben Affleck) was an old man, and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was still a badass. Jeremy Irons’ incarnation of Alfred also felt much more fleshed-out than in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).

Since three out of the six members of the Justice League have to be introduced in this movie. You can assume that the pacing feels rushed. Well you would have assumed right. Everything is all over the place and exposition is just casually thrown around. Without getting into spoiler territory, there are many other things going on and it just feels too excessive for something that could be much more straightforward. The funny thing is, that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was attempting to set up and introduce the Justice League but it was done so poorly that I guess Warner Brothers felt like it was necessary to do it in a more formal fashion.

The CGI in this movie may not be the best, but the fight scenes are pretty enjoyable. As long as you ignore why they are happening that is. Any time that Wonder Woman fights someone or that part at the end where they all team up and fight Steppenwolf (remember, it’s not a spoiler if you know it’s going to happen) was so corny but it is hard to hate it because of how hokey it was played off as. The cinematography was standard Zack Snyder fare. Very dark sets and large wide shots. Some of these shots were even color-corrected in post to look brighter and it fits about as well as Slipknot fit in Suicide Squad (2016).

I can’t say I was disappointed with Justice League. After hearing about the production issues over the past year, I expected it to be much worse than the final product It is a movie that is bad but not in the nearly unwatchable way that David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was. It is dumb and mindless fun that I am unsure if it is self-aware with how messy and tonally uneven it is. Watching it with other people in the theater is not the way to watch this movie however, I would say wait until it gets released on Blu-ray or streaming, get some friends together, and have a good laugh. You can only laugh and talk your friends so loud in a movie theater but in the comfort of your own home that is not an issue.

 

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

★★★

I felt disappointed after getting out of Thor: Ragnarok. I at least thought, that this one would be different from the other, more forgettable entries in the Thor series. With Taika Waititi directing, there were examples of his cool art direction, with the 80s infused setting (and awesome synth-y soundtrack) of the planet Sakaar. There was a lot to love in that aspect. What I found to be underwhelming mainly, was the waste of Hela (Cate Blanchett) as the villain and the wasted potential of exploring Sakaar.

Oh no! Asgard is going to get destroyed! Wait a minute, haven’t we already done this before? Because it sure seems like it. Now this time, Hela the Goddess of Death is the person threatening the people of Asgard. Sadly, Blanchett was wasted in the role. Just like mostly all of the Marvel baddies she is equally as forgettable. Her mere existence as a character is what takes away from the enjoyable parts of the movie. Since Thor is banished to Sakaar, whilst attempting to race back to Asgard before the Goddess of Death threatens other realms. My main issue and question with the story is: Why didn’t the whole movie just take place on Sakaar? Instead of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) having to race back home to fight a generic villain having him arrive back to Asgard would have been substantial. Especially with a gladiator arena thrown into the mix.

Hulk and Thor do in fact, fight in the gladiator arena and it is probably the best part of the film. One of the things I was most excited for was how the relationship between Thor and Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) was going to be handled and portrayed. There were some terrific character building moments, such as when Hulk and Thor are talking to each other for the first time in years. However, I left Thor: Ragnarok wanting more out of the chemistry between the two characters. For other characters, Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster of Sakaar was great casting. Goldblum’s odd delivery of the lines provides some great comedy. Just as equally funny with his delivery was director Taika Waititi’s portrayal of Korg, the gentle rock-giant.

Even though the design of Sakaar was pretty great, I found the CGI to be lacking in some areas. I can sense it becoming dated soon. There were some points where it looked almost like it was done by a film student, rather than a professional that works in the film industry. Such as when walls and floors were smashed. It is unfortunate to see, since these movies are being produced at a rapid speed, they have to fill the scenes with CGI instead of at least some set pieces and miniatures that would help ground the film and not make it look as artificial as it does at some points in the movie.

My overall disappointment with Thor: Ragnarok could have something to do with the past two Marvel Cinematic Universe movies setting the bar so high. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) and Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)  had fun at changing up the standard Marvel formula. Offering solid villains and good pacing. Ragnarok on the other hand, is much more generic by MCU standards. It is, by no means a bad movie, but a passable one. It did not fully embrace the weirdness of the premise and setting which is why I found it to be lacking. It is still the best Thor movie however, which is not really saying much.

 

Downsizing (2017)

My favorite thing about film festivals is that you are able to catch some movies before they get a wide release and try to get the word out to people to go and see them when they do eventually reach theaters. However, Downsizing is the complete antithesis of that statement.

The trailer gives you hope. Hope that something will be done with this interesting concept. Alexander Payne has directed and written some fine films, such as, Sideways (2004) and Election (1999) to name a couple. Movies that tell interesting stories with interesting characters on a much smaller, more personal scale (no pun intended). Downsizing is completely different in that way. I think the idea could work, as people shrinking themselves down to five inches to save the environment Unfortunately, it lacks any direction whatsoever, characters are uninteresting, and the movie is boring.

The lack of any likable characters makes this movie even harder to get through. I haven’t seen Christoph Waltz wasted this badly since Spectre (2016). Matt Damon can not do comedy at all as well. All the characters are wasted, but nothing really can compare to the character Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau). Chau plays a Vietnamese activist that sounds less like an actual person and more like Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). The comedic complexity and questionable racism of the character is that she sounds funny, which is fine, for the first minute or so. Afterwards, when you realize she is a going to be a main character, she becomes obnoxious fast. The best characters are the cameos in the movie. Notably, Laura Dern, Neil Patrick Harris and James Van Der Beek to name a few.

Do you like product placement? Not in the David Fincher way where it adds to the realism. Just overt Adam Sandler-esque product placement? Because if so Downsizing is a great fit for you! Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) works at Omaha Steaks and LL Bean, people eat at Olive Garden, Fed-Ex is mentioned a couple times, there is a giant Nabisco Saltine Cracker that is used to show Paul Safranek how small he became. All of this stuff is shoved in our faces in the worst way possible. Giving it that feeling like the reason why this is Payne’s most expensive feature yet is because of all the product placement that had to be done to get that money.

It could be said that Downsizing is satirical, but in order for that to be true the filmmakers would need to look up the definition of satire. The basic theme of Downsizing is about saving the environment. (I think?) The reason why I am unsure about that is because the way this is conveyed is about as well as Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010) tries to preach about environmental awareness.

Downsizing is like a Saturday Night Live skit that goes on for two hours mixed with a half-baked attempt at satire. It doesn’t know what it wants to satirize but, by golly it attempts to. Alexander Payne is a talented director and I still can not comprehend how he is attached to this horrible film. If you like the idea of Matt Damon being small with little else to offer, then this is the film for you. Everyone else should avoid this film at all costs.      

 

Lady Bird (2017)

★★★★★

I find it difficult to think that I will discover a film this year that I will love more than Lady Bird. How it came at the right time in my life, wanting to break away from my home after college; applying to universities in cities that just really want to live in. It was almost as if Greta Gerwig was tapping into my own psyche while writing this movie.

Other than just the more personal connection I felt to the story. You don’t have to be a senior in High School worrying about your future to enjoy this movie. If you like coming-of-age movies and comedies, Lady Bird will not disappoint. The opening scene immediately grabs you in (not spoiling anything though), making you pay attention and laugh at the fiery and rebellious nature that Cynthia “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) emits. Her journey through the last year of high school is one trek that most of us will or have made at some point in our lives.

As far as Gerwig’s direction went, at some points of the movie I was getting a bit of a Wes Anderson vibe from certain shots. Which is not an insult but, I found it as an interesting stylistic decision on her part. I think Noah Baumbach, gave her helpful lessons on directing and she utilized them in a movie that shot-wise has no problems.

Lady Bird is one of the strongest directorial debuts I have seen in this decade. It makes me look forward to what Gerwig’s directing future will have to offer. With her Husband, Noah Baumbach being a great director as well, I look forward to seeing how they will both inspire each other through their separate directing careers.