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Posts Tagged ‘James Franco’

Tim Blake Nelson as Buster Scruggs

“THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS”  My rating: B (Now available on Netflix)

132 minutes | MPAA rating: R

At one point In the Coen Brothers’ “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” several condemned miscreants stand on the scaffold awaiting the long drop.  One man sobs inconsolably; the guy to  his right tries to be sympathetic: “Your first time?”

Now playing on Netflix, “Ballad…” might be considered a toss off…but it’s a hugely enjoyable toss off.

The brothers — Joel and Ethan — have given us six short films set in the Wild West.  They are filled with loquacious characters, memorable faces, off-the-charts beautiful scenery.

In tone they range from comedy (usually of a very dark variety) to O. Henry-ish irony. There are a few moments of sweetness…not that they last. And there are a couple of terrific action sequences.

Zoe Kazan

Of course, the Coens aren’t exactly new to the genre, having given us a brilliant version of “True Grit,” not to mention the sobering modern Western “No Country for Old Men.”  Here they seem to be reveling in the opportunity to pay  homage to traditional Western tropes while playfully thumbing their noses at same.

A broad comic tone is set with the opening segment, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” which features Tim Blake Nelson as a geeky parody of singing movie cowboys.  Buster wears an all-white suit, strums his guitar while riding (“he was mean in days of yore/now they’re mopping up the floor”), and cheerfully blows away anyone who gets in his way, employing a variety of trick shots. Of course, there’s always someone faster on the draw.

“Near Algodones” finds James Franco playing an outlaw with the world’s worst luck. A banker (Stephen Root) doesn’t take kindly to being robbed and fights back wearing armor made of kitchen pots and pans. The outlaw survives one lynching (it’s interrupted by an Indian attack) but he can’t rely on that sort of happy coincidence the next time he’s got a rope around his neck. The whole thing looks as if it were lifted from a Sergio Leone film.

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James Franco as Tommy Wiseau

“THE DISASTER ARTIST”  My rating: B+ 

103 minutes | MPAA rating: R

2003’s “The Room” has been widely heralded as one of the worst films ever made, a screen-splattered mess of bad writing, clumsy direction, incompetent acting and grandiose (and totally unfulfilled) ambitions.

All true. But here’s the thing: “The Room” is also wildly entertaining, an  extravaganza of unintentional comedy. Which is why over the last decade it has become a cult favorite, beloved by midnight audiences who know every inane line by heart.

“The Disaster Artist” is director/star James Franco’s retelling of how “The Room” came to be made, and unlike its source material, this film is intentionally hilarious.

Wha we’ve got here is a comic masterpiece inspired by a dramatic monstrosity.

“The Disaster Artist” is based on actor Greg Sistero’s memoir of making the film with friend and all-around bizarre human being Tommy Wiseau.

The two meet in a San Francisco acting class where Wiseau (James Franco) — a droopy eyed, long-haired wraith with an elusive slavic accent, a malapropism-heavy grasp of English and a borderline creepy personality — stuns his fellow students with a rendition of Marlon Brando’s “Stella!” scene from “A Streetcar Named Desire” that ends with him doing a passable imitation of a grand mal seizure.

Sistero (James Franco), whose desire to be an actor is undercut by his unassertive personality, is fascinated by Wiseau, a guy who marches to his own out-of-sync drumbeat — for example, doing high-volume scene readings over breakfast in a crowded restaurant. A sort of sensei/grasshopper relationship develops, and Wiseau invited Sistero to move with him to L.A. where he has an apartment he rarely uses.

(In fact, Wiseau has apartments in several cities and a seemingly inexhaustible checking account. The source of his wealth remains a mystery, as does his age, nationality and personal history. Did he strike a Faustian deal with the devil? Did he materialize on Earth fully formed?)

Neither man has any discernible acting talent, and after weeks of futile auditioning Wiseau decides to go pro-active. He’ll write a script for a movie that he will direct and finance. He and Sistero will star in it.

They hire real professionals (Seth Rogen, Paul Scher) for their crew and desperate actors (Ari Graynor, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Josh Hutchinson) for their cast and get to work.

 

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James Franco

“THE VAULT” My rating: C

91 minutes | No MPAA rating

At the very least you’ve got to give the makers of “The Vault” props for daring genre blending.

Imagine “Dog Day Afternoon” mating with John Carpenter’s “The Fog.”

The first 45 or so minutes of Dan Bush’s film (he co-wrote it with Conal Byrne) is a fairly standard bank robbery flick.  A crew of thugs invade a downtown bank, take the employees and customers hostage, and prepare to loot the place.

There’s the usual assortment of big hulking tough guys.  But heading up the operation are a couple of women — sisters no less. Leah (Francesca Eastwood, Clint’s daughter) is more or less the cool brains of the outfit.  Sister Vee (Tamryn Manning) is a hot-tempered, fly-off-the-handle type (a role she perfected on “Orange is the New Black”).

There’s also their brother Michael (Scott Haze), on whose behalf they’re robbing the place.  Michael is deep in debt to some very bad guys, so the sisters view this as a rescue mission.

Among the hostages is Ed (James Franco), an assistant bank manager who sports a decades-out-of-style ‘stache and scuzzy sideburns. To save the hostages he lets the robbers know that most of the money is in an old vault down in the cellar.

Early on Leah poses as a potential bank employee and is told during her job interview that it’s hard to keep cashiers at this branch because people think it’s haunted.  Add to that our growing knowledge that 40 years ago this bank was the site of a robbery-gone-wrong and world-class massacre, and you can sense elements of the supernatural creeping in.

Sure enough, once the crooks are down in the basement drilling open an old bank vault weird stuff happens.  Electric lights flicker.

Turns out there’s more than just cash in the vault.

And there you have it.  The well-armed tough guys soon find themselves prey to a small army of shadowy figures who’ve spent decades locked up. Now they’re free to wreak havoc.

Yep, it’s pretty goofy. At least Bush and his players don’t let on that they know it’s goofy.

| Robert W. Butler

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Nicole Kidman

“QUEEN OF THE DESERT”  My rating: C+

129 minutes | MPAA rating PG-13

“Queen of the Desert” is quite possibly the oddest film of director Warner Herzog’s wildly idiosyncratic  career.

A mash-up of woman’s picture, real-life biography and sweeping  “Lawrence of Arabia” images, it stars Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell, a British adventuress, diplomat, archaeologist and feminist who became an expert on the Middle East in the years before World War I.

We first encounter our heroine in 1888. The daughter of a steel magnate, she’s being groomed for a fitting marriage.

“You will not scare the young men with your intelligence,” her mother warns, but Gertrude is having none of it. She’s too independent, too strong willed to endure simpering aristocratic society.

(Kidman, now 49, plays Bell from age 21 to 40. Remarkably, she pulls off the youthful Gertrude, thanks to great makeup and God-given bone structure.)

Her exasperated father finally agrees to let her join the British embassy in Teheran where she soon finds herself falling for Henry  Cadogan (James Franco, struggling to maintain a Brit accent), a low-ranking staff member assigned as her escort. Henry’s prospects aren’t promising, but like Gertrude he loves the desert. And he’s not afraid of her independent streak.

Daddy, however, nixes this liaison, and a heartbroken Gertrude turns her back on romance, devoting herself to travels in the Middle East, crossing vast deserts with a handful of faithful local guides.

During her travels she runs across a young T.E. Lawrence (Robert Pattinson), working on an archaeological dig at Petra in Jordan. Years away from his exploits among the Arab tribes in the Great War, Lawrence already wears the native costume that will become his trademark.  He and Gertrude flirt innocently, but neither is looking for a relationship.

Over years Gertrude is befriended by the Bedouin. She also finds a lover — platonic — in married British statesman Charles Doughty-Wylie (Damien Lewis).

Eventually Gertrude is recognized by her government and with Lawrence is part of the commission that divides up the Middle East in the wake of the war.

 

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sausage-party-post1“SAUSAGE PARTY”  My rating: B

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The animated “Sausage Party” is so thick with puerile sexuality that a viewer must choose between bailing on the whole experience or embracing it in a spirit of unfettered adolescent humor.

I  mean, here’s an R-rated movie about a hot dog named Frank (Seth Rogen) who dreams that Brenda (Kristen Wiig), the bun he has worshipped from afar, will open up and allow him to nestle his full length in her soft, spongy interior.

Other characters include a lesbian taco with a Mexican accent, a bottle of tequila that talks like a wise old Indian chief, a neurotic jar of honey mustard, a box of grits and even a used condom. Then there’s  Lavosh — a Middle Eastern wrap — who is always exchanging insults with a Jewish bagel. The villain of the piece is the megalomaniac Douche (yes, a feminine hygiene product).

These characters are brought to life by a Who’s Who of voice talent that includes Salma Hayek, Bill Hader, David Krumholtz, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Edward Norton, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd and James Franco.

Narratively “Sausage Party” feels likes something a bunch of stoners dreamed up at 2 in the morning (duh).

It’s July 3 in the supermarket, and all of the products sitting on the shelves are pumped because so many of them will be “chosen” by the “gods” (i.e., human shoppers) and taken out of the store to what they are sure will be a paradisiacal eternity in the Great Beyond. They  celebrate their imminent liberation in a rousing song (music by Alan Menken).

Frank and his fellow wieners (they’re crammed in eight to a package) have been gazing lustfully at a nearby package of buns (six to a package…go figure), awaiting the day they will be joined in the hereafter,  “where all your wildest and wettest dreams come true.”

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James Franco

James Franco

“TRUE STORY” My rating: C+

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Every big-city newspaper has a reporter like Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill).  A hotshot writer with an unlimited expense account, Finkel keeps his own schedule, visiting the office only a few times each year to smile condescendingly at his envious colleagues and bathe in their bitter admiration.

Early in writer/director Rupert Goold’s “True Story,” Finkel pays one such rare visit to the newsroom of The New York Times, which has just published his latest Sunday magazine cover story, this one about contemporary slavery in Africa.

Except that this time around Finkel doesn’t have his facts straight. He apparently has combined several individuals into one semi-fictional character (moreover, in the opening scene we saw him pay a source for information…a no-no in the world of legit journalism).

Suddenly this perfect master of newsprint is out on his keister. Plus, once word of the scandal gets out, no other paper will hire him.

“True Story” is based on what happened to the real-life Michael Finkel in the wake of his firing.  He learned that Christian Longo, an Oregon man facing charges of having murdered his wife and three young children, had stolen Finkel’s identity in order to survive on the run.

Having spent way too much time in disgrace, Finkel decides to visit Longo (James Franco) in his jail cell.  Hey, Finkel needs a fan, even if the guy’s a multiple murderer.

He encounters a hooded-eyed sociopath who can seem friendly and perfectly rational, but who refuses to address his own guilt or innocence.  The desperate Finkel,  smelling a best-selling book, cultivates Longo, even coaching him in wordsmithing once the accused man reveals that he’s always wanted to be a writer.

But who’s playing whom?

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Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde

Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde

“THIRD PERSON”  My rating: C  (Opens July 11 at the Glenwood at Red Bridge and the Leawood)

137 minutes | MPAA rating: R

 

There are those who would argue that Paul Haggis’ “Crash” was a bucket of heavy-handed melodrama and that it only received the 2004 Oscar for best picture because the Academy was too cowardly or homophobic to give the award to “Brokeback Mountain.”

To those people I can only say this:  You haven’t seen heavy handed until you’ve sat through all two hours of Haggis’ latest, the artsy fartsy “Third Person.”

Taking the template of “Crash” — several intersecting stories centering on the same theme — Haggis has fashioned an emotionally remote, narratively confused yarn that goes through all the motions without ever delivering a payoff.

In Paris, novelist Michael (Liam Neeson) reunites with the fellow writer Anna (Olivia Wilde), with whom he is having a torrid if idiosyncratic affair (their relationship seems to be as much about baiting as boffing). Every now and then Michael gets a call from the wife he left behind (Kim Basinger, looking beaten down by life).

In New York City, perpetually woebegone Julia (Mila Kunis) is in the midst of a custody case.  Her ex (James Franco) won’t let her see their young son…because the last time Julia took care of him the kid almost suffocated in a plastic drycleaning bag. The penniless, luckless Julia is one of those people who can’t get anything right — not even showing up on time for meetings with her busy lawyer (Maria Bello). Mostly she mopes.

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