The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

November 20, 2018 at 4:32 pm | Posted in 2018 | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

In their on-going attempt to expand their media empire, Netflix has scored it’s best coup to date in getting The Coen Brothers’ newest movie released on their site the same day as in theaters. And what a delightful film, too. This anthology is one of their best films in years, full of Coen wit (sometimes dry, sometimes absurd), and with a dark vein running through it. The story is made up of 6 “chapters” that are not quite evenly divided in it’s 132 minute run time. All the stories are humorous, but the tone of the film definitely shifts throughout. The first story, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” is delightfully silly. If that’s not your thing, don’t worry; none will be as light-hearted as that one. From there, it inches darker until the somber, meditative final scene, “The Mortal Remains,” leaves the audience with a feeling that there was a lot more going on in this film than meets the eye. In fact, that final story, with it’s dark blue hues and cut-out buildings felt more like an allegory; it was saying something about certainty and uncertainty that seemed to be the through line for all of these stories. The film begins with Buster, who speaks directly to the audience. It ends with a stagecoach ride, in which the riders all seem to be speaking bigger truths. In between all the entertainment, these characters are telling us something about life, cruelty, and justice. And, along the way from silly to somber, the Coens take us through scenes that are funny, heartbreaking, and deeply deeply creepy (I think “Meal Ticket” may be the darkest story they have ever made). As is typically true of them, every scene is beautifully constructed and full of rich details. They create mood so beautifully. From start to finish, this was a lush, gorgeous, disturbing work. And it was one of the best films I have seen this year.


The Disaster Artist

December 10, 2017 at 2:35 pm | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

I first heard of “The Room” about 10 years ago, when I saw it playing at a local theater. All I knew for many years is that it was largely considered to be the worst movie of all time and that it was developing a cult following. Recently, when I found out this film was being made, I did some research onto “The Room” and the mysterious Tommy Wiseau who wrote, directed, produced, starred in, and funded the film. What I found was a truly bizarre movie that was really so much worse than I had imagined. But I also discovered a cult following, not unlike the one “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” had when I was young, who go to midnight showings, dress up, shout lines at the screen, throw objects, etc. It has enough of a following, in fact, that James Franco decided to direct and star in a film about the making of “The Room.” I have never been a huge fan of Franco’s, who I find to be pretentious in spades. It’s been almost a decade since his last watchable role, in my opinion. But that hasn’t stopped him from working (he has 12 movies and a mini-series currently in some stage of development/production over the next year). That said, this was his best work, by far. He became Wiseau to an eerie degree, capturing the mannerisms and speech pattern perfectly. This performance deserves an Oscar nomination. The film is told from the perspective of Greg Sestero, who was apparently Wiseau’s only friend. It starts in San Francisco in July of 1998 when they meet and continues through the debut of “The Room” in 2003. Sestero is the hero of the story and comes across as a virtual saint; something that I view with suspicion given that the movie is based on his book. Sestero may be the hero but Wiseau is the reason to watch. Franco’s performance is so uncanny that the ending credits show side-by-side clips of Wiseau and Franco doing the same performance, as though to assure us that this ridiculous story was actually real. Because this is a Franco film, it should come as no surprise how meta it is. It may seem to laugh at Wiseau’s oddness but it also laughs at all of Hollywood. It’s no coincidence that one of the early scenes involved visiting Jame Dean’s crash site and Franco’s career was launched by his portrayal of Dean. Just as it is meant as winking humor when Franco’s Wiseau tells Sestero (who is played by Franco’s younger brother, Dave) that he looks just like Dean and could play him. There are a dozen cameos, some of whom have hardly any lines (see the tags list at the top of this review). One of the best involves Bryan Cranston playing a younger version of himself. This period piece film-inside-a-film allows lots of opportunities for meta-humor, as when a bank teller says he wouldn’t be interested in this film because he only likes period pieces. This is a clever piece of writing from start to finish. By the end, we are no more clear on who Wiseau is or what his motives are but we can’t help but sympathize with his desperate desire to connect. There is something deeply human under all the weirdness that I found quite touching. “The Room” is so bad that it is almost great. “The Disaster Artist” is just great.


Sausage Party

August 14, 2016 at 10:16 am | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


I should have known. I mean, Seth Rogan has not exactly been coy about his sense of humor. I have seen “This is the End,” which he and Evan Goldberg also wrote and which stars most of the same folks. I wasn’t totally naive; I knew the film would be crude and full of innuendo. However, I was just not prepared to spend 89 minutes in a middle school boys’ locker room. Within 5 minutes of the film starting, I was wondering if I should just get up and leave (had I known that the two people I was with were thinking the same thing, I might not be struggling with this review right now). What I was not prepared for initially was the barrage of profanity that was so gratuitous that I felt like I could almost hear the little boys giggle at all the bad words they were getting away with. Perhaps that let up a bit over the course of the film or, perhaps, I just became inured to it. But, fear not, Rogan et al know plenty of other ways to be crass and shocking. The story takes place mostly in a grocery store and focuses on the relationship between a hot dog named Frank (Rogan) and a bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig), so you can imagine all of the crude humor that can arise from a male hot dog and female bun. Actually, you can’t. It’s ridiculous how much they milk that joke, and every sexual joke they can think of. Have you ever wanted to see a teenage boy masturbating a hot dog sticking out of his pants? Well, lucky you! You’ll get to see it here. The saddest thing is that there is the semblance of a deeper story. Rogan and Goldberg are trying to explore issues of diversity, intolerance and faith. Humor can be a powerful and effective way to explore these deeply sensitive issues. I don’t mind that they were willing to take jabs at such charged topics as Arab-Jewish relations, sexuality & gender in Mexican culture, American race relations or belief in God. But it was done in such a juvenile way that I couldn’t help but be disappointed by the results. There is little room for insight if you only get as deep as a well-meaning 7th grader. I am not saying that the film wasn’t sometimes funny. It was. But only occasionally. The rest of the time I sat in silent uncertainty about where this film was going and if it could redeem itself. It couldn’t. That is unless you call a 3-minute long, fully graphic, animated orgy a redemption of sorts. Apparently, they had to tone it down to get the “R” rating. Given what I saw, it boggles the mind to think what ended up on the cutting room floor. But, I should note that the audience I was with loved it. With the exception of the couple who walked out during the orgy scene, they all seemed to be laughing and clapping throughout. And it has generally been reviewed well. And Rogan managed to get quite a group of actors to provide their voices, beyond just the standard cavalcade of adolescents he normally works with. So, plenty of people see the value of a film like this. Just not me. But, as I said, I really should have known.


Interior. Leather Bar.

June 24, 2013 at 10:05 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , ,

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

FRAMELINE FILM FESTIVAL.  Generally, I tend to avoid film festivals because I rarely see films I enjoy.  However, for all the crap I see, there is always a “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” or “The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros” that make it all worth while.  In 1980, the Al Pacino film “Cruising” premiered to much controversy.  Pacino played an undercover cop descending into the depths of the gay community in order to catch a serial killer.  And I do mean “descending” “Heart of Darkness” style into depravity.   Apparently, in order to keep from getting an X rating, director William Friedkin had to cut 40 minutes of sexually explicit footage, filmed mostly in a real leather bar with real members of the gay community.  In “Interior. Leather Bar,” director Travis Mathews (the”In Their Room” series) and James Franco re-imagine those missing 40 minutes.  Well, sort of.  Franco and Mathews appear throughout the movie as themselves (this seems to be a theme for Franco).  We see them, documentary style, discussing their “vision” for the film with the actors, prepping actors, prepping and filming scenes.  We also see actors talking with each other on the set, talking to their agents and family members.  Or do we?  Well, yes and no.  Mathews was at the screening and, as we learned in the Q&A section, almost everything on screen was acted, if not scripted.  What makes this film so brilliant is that, while appearing to be about the missing scene from “Cruising,” it is about much much more; by superficially exploring the homophobia of 30 years ago, the film delves  into homophobia and sex-phobia today.  Franco lays out his intentions in the first scene of the film when he bemoans the potential costs of the legalization of gay marriage.  He lays his claim to leftist sexual politics and proceeds to examine the role sex plays in Hollywood and in the stories we tell ourselves.

This is the End

June 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Posted in 2013 | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

◊ ◊ ½

I feel like I have to divide this post up into two separate reviews.  The first 30 minutes of the film gets 4 lozenges from me but the rest of the film ends up with one.  So, I give the overall movie a very anemic 2.5.   If nothing else, the movie is a window into the minds of the new generation of young comedians who currently reign in Hollywood, most of whom were on display here.  In a sort of never ending loop of referential humor, they all play themselves at a party at James Franco’s house when the apocalypse arrives.  Of course, not a one of them is raptured and chaos ensues.  This is a brilliant premise and, as I said, the first third of the film had me in tears.  I was particularly enamored of Michael Cera’s ruthless self-portrayal.  However, very quickly, the film whittles down to a handful of people who quickly become irritating and the premise gets old.  After that we are left watching them find new ways to be crude.  Like each generation of comics, these folks are determined to push shock-value to the next level and certainly succeed admirably enough here.  Many of the comics of this generation take a particular pleasure in playing up the repressed homo-eroticism of modern American male relationships (see the brilliant “You are so hot” YouTube videos by Dave Franco and Christopher Mintz-Plasse) but even this got tired and felt like an SNL skit that went on too long.  There were definitely parts throughout the movie that made me laugh, they just got fewer and fewer as it went on.  The overly saccharin ending felt disingenuous and I thought that last great laugh moment fell flat and was all a bit sad.  Too bad.  There was the making of a great skit in there; maybe I should have seen the short film it was based on,  instead.

Oz The Great and Powerful

March 18, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , ,


Critics have skewered this film in relation to “The Wizard of Oz” but I must admit to not being a particular fan of that film either.  As most folks know, musicals are not well-beloved by me and I am also not much of a fan of Hollywood dramas of the Thirties; I find them to be saccharin and manipulative  (see “Gone With The Wind” or “Mr Smith Goes to Washington,” as opposed to the brilliant German film of the era, “M”).  So, how to judge this film?  Well, it is not cloying or saccharin.  However, it is a modern Hollywood film, which is to say it plays by it’s own cynical formula; it is all surfaces and no depth.  The audience is treated to a constant barrage of fantastical images in colors so bright is puts Technicolor to shame.  3D (which is, of course, the new Technicolor) is as big a gimmick as color was in the first Oz film.  All sorts of things leap and pop, solely for the purpose of doing so.  In the place of actual character depth and emotions, we are given cuteness, in the form of a China doll and a talking monkey.  Yes, they are cute in the way that only small children and animals can be.  But, as with the rest of the film, there is nothing below that cuteness and, in the end, it only serves to highlight the emotional falseness of the film as a whole.  No real acting is required and none given.  James Franco is perhaps one of the most over-worked (actor, writer, director, poet, teacher) and over-rated (“Spider-Man?” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes?”  Did he really have to do that much acting in “127 Hours?”) actors working today and he is in fine form here, so overplaying the grinning charlatan as to  add new meaning to “laughing at him.”   Even in green make-up, prosthetics and maniacal cackling, Mila Kunis’s voice is so hers that it was impossible not to hear Jacky from “That 70s Show.”  Perhaps, worst of all, I cannot even recommend the special effects of a movie built on them.  We have seen everything here before and, in some cases, done much better.  This isn’t the Thirties, so this film doesn’t end with any moral lessons about courage and love, thank god.  Instead, it ends as all of these movies do, with a jaundiced eye open toward sequels and tie-ins.  Which is worse?  I honestly don’t know.

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.