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New Film: The Disaster Artist and Other Film News

In 2003, “The Room” opened on a single screen in Los Angeles. Writer, director, producer Tommy Wiseau had made the film largely to give himself and his buddy Greg Sestero a project to work on, given that neither was having much luck securing other roles. Almost immediately it produced buzz on internet forums for its extraordinary awfulness, serving perhaps as a testament to the taste of the casting directors or agents who had passed on the friends.

But that buzz turned from confusion as to the film’s intent to support as it gained a cult audience, eventually making money from midnight audiences that would shout out favorite lines and throw spoons in the air to coincide with the unlikely appearance of framed pictures of said utensils on a side table in the main character’s living room. It’s still awful but it’s a celebrated kind of awful.

Which leads one to wonder just how it all happened. Who was Wiseau, what was he thinking, and how did he pay for it all? And that’s where James Franco stepped in, making his own film and playing Wiseau alongside his brother Dave in Sestero’s place, to tell the story of the making of the film and to explain the frame of mind of “The Disaster Artist” behind it all.

If you’ve never seen “The Room,” the whole thing feels like a spoof of filmmaking – albeit a quite delightful one. The characters, especially Wiseau, seem too broadly drawn and the events seem outrageously unlikely. But if you’ve seen the original film, you can see how remarkably accurate the reproduction is. Indeed, the film closes with a split screen during the credits, with identical scenes from both films playing side by side, amost perfectly beat for beat.

Rather than parody, there’s ultimately an air of respect and admiration for somebody willing to go out on a limb and live their dream, however misguided and inept they might be. Wiseau’s origins may have been a mystery, but his passion was evident. In a sense it’s a little like “Florence Foster Jenkins,” in which, with Meryl Streep similarly inhabiting the title role, we saw that limitless enthusiasm can’t make up for a singer who’s tone deaf. But whereas Wiseau was apparently clueless about his own multi-faceted incompetence, Franco isn’t and he has made one of his best films, focusing on a shared love of cinema, but through the eyes of somebody who actually understands it.

Other film news:

Good news for fans of animation this week, as Disney has decided to remove the widely panned short that’s been playing before screenings of Pixar’s “Coco.” It was so bad that I watched it while the person sitting next to me stared at his phone for the duration of the inappropriately long running time – and it didn’t even bother me. It’s not all altruistic however as, reportedly, Disney has asked theaters to squeeze in extra screenings as a result of the shorter overall programming time. And on top of that, the short itself, “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure,” is now coming to a smaller screen near you as part of ABC’s holiday programming. Short of a reproduction by James Franco, this is one to avoid – while “Coco” is an absolute delight and only more so without this chilly and unsupportive companion piece.

Rotten Tomatoes

A couple of weeks ago, Sacramentan Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” became the film with the highest number of exclusively positive reviews on the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, passing “Toy Story 2” for that honor. Although widely reported as being that site’s best reviewed movie, the “Tomatometer” is a complicated tool. Rotten Tomatoes considers some films with less than a 100% record to be better reviewed if the overall number of reviews is significantly higher and the negatives are still relatively minimal. Thus, “Get Out” and a few other titles are indexed higher than “Lady Bird” for this year despite having some negative reviews.

For comparison, at the time of writing, “Lady Bird” had 175 exclusively positive reviews while “Get Out” has 291 out of 293. Of course, while making a great film isn’t a matter of luck, there’s a certain amount of luck in the order in which reviews are catalogued – one bad review can blemish a perfect record far sooner if it happens to come in early, which is not to detract from Gerwig’s phenomenal project or achievement. What’s actually being missed in all of these reports is that regardless of how the Tomatometer’s algorithms rank films, not only does “Lady Bird” still have an unblemished record, it also has a higher average score than the films ranked higher or the film it superseded. It’s a shame that’s being missed as the combination of the overall percentage and the high ratings are truly exceptional and the Tomatometer does more than simply count “fresh” and “rotten” opinions. In short, critics don’t just like this film, at an aggregate level, they love it. So expect to keep hearing about it as the awards season unfolds – it’s already picking up nominations and wins.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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