Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Jewel in Julia

by Jason Pyles

Note to Readers: Remember, because this is a film-discussion blog, we often discuss spoilers. My comments below are spoiler-ridden, so watch the film first.

Contrast Tilda Swinton’s performance in “Julia” with her role in “Michael Clayton” and you’ll see some opposite-end-of-the-spectrum range. Wow. (She played these roles back to back, near as I can tell from her filmography.)

I often resent the overused assessment that an actor’s performance is “brave,” but I have to resort to it in this instance. Recently I was reading a book about acting, and it criticized many female actors who only take the “pretty” roles, noting that such actresses miss out on rich opportunities. (Indeed, as I thought about it, Charlize Theron won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading role for her performance in “Monster,” a decidedly “unpretty” part.)

Swinton’s Julia character is also a scary train wreck. There’s a moment in the film where another crazy lady (the kid’s mom) goes berserk on Julia, and I thought I was about to see the Kraken versus Medusa. I was literally jittery while watching this brief confrontation. I bring up this scene to illustrate a specific example of Swinton’s nuanced performance: Initially Julia strikes the disturbed mom, but when said mom becomes the mayor of Crazy Town right before her eyes, Julia backs down and backs away carefully. A less intelligent performance would portray Julia as a full-throttle maniac — all the time, no matter what — but even Hannibal Lecter had his sensible moments.

At its core, “Julia” is a tale of redemption, which is quite a feat considering Julia has almost no redemptive qualities. I was impressed that the writers gave us some ironic surprises (such as the double, double-cross in Mexico) and other neat turn-arounds, avoided predictability and maintained a fair degree of realism. Let’s face it, we have no idea how this mess will end, and when it does end, our anti-hero protagonist’s life is still precarious. Yet the conclusion is satisfying. We can imagine how bleakly her life might proceed henceforth.

In summary, “Julia” is a fine example of both a character-driven performance and a smartly written story. I consider it an unusual film because its female protagonist is almost completely devoid of maternal instincts. And I suppose this is my one criticism of the film: Eventually Julia shows some humanity and starts to develop some affection toward the kid. This isn’t the Julia that I met at the beginning of the movie. And while a character’s arc should show some change, this particular character surely would have taken off altogether once she got the 2 million dollars.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"American Splendor"

Check it out - I finally figured out how to post under my own name. Well....Jason figured it out. I had to get a gmail account, which sucks because I have a really good hotmail address, and I'm afraid that gmail is going to take over the world. I really do like my gmail account name too, but it's far longer and will require more explanation than I want to give to everyone.

What does all that have to do with "American Splendor?" Nothing. Nothing at all. Of course, it parallels exactly what Harvey Pikar did in is comic novels - editorializing his own life for the enjoyment and consumption of other people. It's the precursor to blogs.

I think all of us are at least a little bit narcissistic enough to have thought about writing a book or making a movie out of our lives. I know that I have. I have dismissed such thoughts as being silly and arrogant, but after watching "American Splendor" I think maybe I was wrong. Surely my life is or has been as interesting as Harvey Pikar, right?

And that's what I took from the film. We all live interesting lives, even those of us who are quite boring and/or have few hobbies/interests, etc. The fact that your life maybe not full of drama or excitement does not necessarily mean it's not interesting to others. Admittedly, I have never read the comics "American Splendor," but based on what the film showed, Pikar's life was not all that exciting or special, yet it was interesting. Would my life be as intriguing if snippets were chronicled with pictures of me that make me look like an ogre? Who knows, but maybe.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Regarding American Splendor

by Jason Pyles

I came across the trailer for “American Splendor” at the beginning of another film. It immediately appealed to me because I thought it was going to be mostly set in a comic book store and amount to a cross between “Be Kind, Rewind” and the comic book store found in “Fanboys” (you know, the one where Kristen Bell’s character works?).

Neither of those two films was particularly good, but there is something enchanting to me — that I’ll never be able to put into words — about an environment where young, lonely people are making peanuts doing a job they like because they’re immersed in the art that they’re passionate about. I guess it’s that same feeling I get when I think of Tarantino working during his video store days, pre-“Reservoir Dogs” era.

Anyway, I thought “American Splendor” was going to be that kind of magical amalgam, but instead, it’s a less alienating, less metaphysical incarnation of “Synecdoche, New York” — to some similar extent. (That’s it, Andy. “Synecdoche, New York” keeps coming up on this site, so we’re probably going to have to discuss it at some point, although I consider it a very unpleasant experience, despite my deep respect for its genius screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman. Let me know when you’re feeling brave; we’ll endure it together, like we did “The Room.”)

In short, “American Splendor” is a self-aware biopic, of sorts. It knows it’s a movie, and it often breaks the fourth wall. Indeed, the capable cast that uncannily portrays the real-life people is sometimes accompanied by the real-life individuals themselves, which is a wonderfully unusual touch in a biography.

I had a couple of questions: How did Paul Giamatti pull off that squeaky voice? Wow. Did he have to lose his voice somehow, in order to sound like that, or is he just “acting”?

And my next question was answered with a little research. I wondered if that final showdown with David Letterman ever actually aired on TV, because it wasn’t shown in the movie. Well, according to the IMDb.com’s trivia page, “NBC would not lease out the actual 'Late Night With David Letterman' footage where Pekar finally lashed out at Letterman, so the scene had to be recreated with the actors.” However, I found out that NBC did, in fact, air it, and the footage of the actual interview can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0akXKxbflM&feature=related

It starts getting juicy about 7 minutes in.

(Oh, and most people probably know this, but Pekar’s comic-legend/illustrator friend, Robert Crumb, also had a movie made about him called “Crumb” (1994).)

I have never read any issues of “American Splendor,” but for the first hour of the film, I really wanted to. After that, I changed my mind. At first the film is funny and whimsical, something like Harvey himself, but just as it would be to hang around such a person for very long, in time, it loses its charm and his incessant negativity weighs down the film (and this viewer).

Overall, watching “American Splendor” is a good experience, and it just goes to show that anybody can become a celebrity.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"All the Little Animals," comments by Andy

I'm not exactly sure what to write about "All the Little Animals." Bizarre is the word that comes to mind. I agree with Jason's question - "Why would anyone make this movie?"

Being an animal lover myself, I too am saddened when I see animals dead in the road. I too think that automobiles are the most dangerous thing to animals. I felt terrible when I accidentally hit a rabbit, and I nearly cried when I took out a large owl during a road trip last Christmas. But a movie?

And that wasn't even the weirdest part for me. What was deal with the step-father killing Mr. Summers? That didn't make any sense. Why was he so enraged? Bobby was going to sign the papers, and although Bobby apparently had some "terms," we never even got to hear what the terms were. Don't get me wrong, I was glad to see him get his come-up-ins, but it still seemed very far-fetched to me.

Bale is very good though. Too bad about that little tirade of his - it'll probably cost him a well-deserved Oscar.

-thoughts by Andy

Monday, March 15, 2010

Debate: In Cold Celluloid

by Jason Pyles

Eds. Note: This article originally appeared on another blog on December 23, 2008. I recently asked Andy to take a look at it, and he responded on the post below this one.

Ever since the gangster pictures of the 1930s, there has been considerable debate about the portrayal of violence in film — is it exploitative? — or does it serve a meaningful purpose? It’s such an age-old controversy, many people are altogether weary of the discussion. But I have a different question, though it is related to this topic.

In 1967, Richard Brooks released a film called “In Cold Blood” that is an adaptation of Truman Capote’s novel by the same name. Both tell the grim but true tale of two zeros who planned to rob a Kansas farm family and slaughtered them all in the process. The phrase “senseless deaths” has never been more fitting.

(Interestingly, the film stars Robert Blake as one of the killers; you might remember that around 2002, Blake was arrested for the murder of his second wife but was later acquitted in 2005.)

Relative to the explicit and graphic nature of present-day movies, “In Cold Blood” is tame, perhaps even mild enough for a PG rating — minus the profanity.

But here’s the issue: The film is shot in the actual home of the murdered family. This begs an obvious moral question. What was the merit in shooting the film in their home? The reasons must have pertained to authenticity and perhaps because it’s somewhat intriguing, but are these reasons justified? I suspect that it had less to do with artistic motives and more to do with cashing in on a fascinated nation’s curiosity.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder if the same heinous event befell my family — heaven forbid — how would I feel if Hollywood wanted to tell the story within the walls of our sacred home, where the horrific acts occurred?

In his 1968 review of “In Cold Blood,” Roger Ebert wrote this:

“And every detail of the film, from the physical appearance of the actors to the use of actual locations like the Clutter farmhouse, was chosen to make the film a literal copy of those events. I do not object to this. Men have always learned about themselves by studying the things their fellows do. If mass murders of this sort are possible in American society (and many have been), then perhaps it is useful to see a thoughtful film about one of them.”

My Take:

I’ve heard this argument before, but I don’t buy it. I think it’s imperative for us to realize that monsters exist and such dangers are possible, but to me “In Cold Blood” crosses the line with its shooting location. When I watched “Breakdown” (1997), for example, I thought it a valuable cautionary tale, but it was fictitious; whereas, “In Cold Blood” unfortunately happened. (And regarding violence in film, most people think it’s fun to be scared. Fine. So fictitious horror is one thing, but when we watch the “Saw” movies for their “entertainment value?!,” I think that’s sociologically problematic.)

Please feel free to post comments and discuss this question.

[ Note: I might mention, as a mere afterthought, that we’re probably more familiar with the more recent Philip Seymour Hoffman film, “Capote” (2005), about the journalist and author who followed the story and conducted extensive interviews with one of the killers. ]

Debate Comments by Andy

Jason - I don't know if my comments are exactly responsive to yours, but here goes:

I've seen "Capote" but I've not seen "In Cold Blood." I've also seen lots and lots of documentaries and TV shows about murder, death, deceit, etc. I don't think I have a problem at all with using the actual scene of the crime in making the film, especially where "In Cold Blood" was meant to be as accurate as possible. To me, it is akin to what "Cold Case Files" and several other TV shows try to do when they make a show about someone getting murdered. Such shows almost always show as much actual footage as they can. The only difference between those TV shows and "In Cold Blood" is WHAT the show is trying to say. In the TV shows, the focus is usually on how the police ultimately solved the crime, and "In Cold Blood" seems more to be about the actual killing and how the crime was completely senseless.

So to me the question is, societally and individually, "Can I empathize with the victims?" That to me is what horrific violence is all about. It's why I was much closer to tears in "Law Abiding Citizen" when his family was killed in front of him than I was in "Rambo." The fact that both stories are completely fictional makes me be able to enjoy the films without really feeling bummed out, and conversely, it's why when I watch "Saving Private Ryan," and "Band of Brothers" why I am always a little sad, and it's why "Schindler's List" was so powerful and depressing.

And I think that's the point. When a film is made about actual tragic events, the point is to feel human. We are supposed to empathize with the hurt, loss, terror, etc. of the people depicted in the film. I believe that using the actual farmhouse is just one more way to let us in the story. It may be unnecessary to tell the story, but it does add to the reality of it, and ipso facto our feelings (as evidenced by the fact that you found it distasteful).

Violence in film is a tricky subject. On the one hand, showing actual violence takes us from saying "Oh that's a shame" to actually forming our own horror/sorrow/whatever to the events. And such feelings are difference between seeing something on the news and forgetting about it the next day, and remembering the story for a long time. But I also understand why most people wouldn't want to have those feelings, and why we actually crave non-sentimental violence in our movies.

That's what I think.
-comments by Andy

Sunday, March 14, 2010

All the Little Weird Films

by Jason Pyles

By way of background and in partial response to the first paragraph of Andy’s previous post for “Moon,” this blog was established so he and I could continue watching and discussing movies when I moved to West Virginia in 2008. Almost immediately the blog’s purpose was discussion of unusual films. Unusual films like “Gates of Heaven,” “Gerry,” and “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.” (Not run-of-the-mill productions like “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” or “In the Land of Women,” for example.)

In most cases, these unusual films also happened to be excellent films, though we have had a stint or two of terrible, unusual films, just for kicks.

And then there’s “All the Little Animals,” perhaps the poster-child film for this site. Clearly, this is one of our most unusual films yet, to be sure, but setting aside its diegetic content (or what appears within the world of the film), the fact that someone made “All the Little Animals” in the first place surely exalts it far enough into oddity that it must be one of the most unusual films ever made!

Set and made in the United Kingdom, “All the Little Animals” appears to be something of a low-budget film conjured in the early ‘70s, but in fact, it was released in 1998. It stars John Hurt and a 24-year-old Christian Bale who looks to be about 16. Having recently watched Bale in “American Psycho” and then contrasting his performance with this one, I was struck at his range and abilities. One can easily see his commitment to his acting craft, however, by looking at his dangerously drastic weight-loss for “The Machinist” or what he ate on camera for “Rescue Dawn.” At any rate, Bale is not to be trifled with (just ask cinematographer Shane Hurlbut).

Anyway, in “All the Little Animals,” Bale plays Bobby Platt, an animal-adoring innocent who isn’t quite mentally whole. When his mother dies and he is left with his wicked stepfather, Platt runs away and makes an unlikely connection with an even unlikelier character who is much like he is.

The two animal-lovers go about doing their “important work” together, which is quite odd, indeed. This movie is so bizarre and tonally shifty, it’s difficult to know whether we’re meant to be amused or saddened by it — probably both. But what is the purpose of this film? Why was it made? What is it meant to do for its audience? I’m so baffled by this movie.

At any rate, John Hurt (“Alien”) and Bale give wonderful performances, but the real joy of this film is simply experiencing it, and moreover, being able to tell someone else about it. What I mean is this: Watching “All the Little Animals” is like one of those weird nights when you got home extremely late from work in the 1980s, turned on USA’s late-night movie feature and ate way too much greasy food, incurred indigestion, then drifted off to sleep and intertwined your restless dreaming with the crazy movie that was on TV. That’s what watching “All the Little Animals” is like.

So why did anyone ever make this movie? Whose passion-project was this? We know it was initially a book written by Walker Hamilton, so I guess he’s the only one that can truly answer my question. And obviously, Jeremy Thomas directed it — the same guy who bravely produced David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch” — another film this site must someday address. But the fact that “All the Little Animals” exists at all is a wonder.

You know, my favorite film critic, Roger Ebert, often uses a phrase that reminds me of how I feel about “All the Little Animals”: “It is done well, yet one is still surprised to find it done at all.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Moon" as reviewed by Andy

I have to say, participating in this blog is one of my favorite things to do, not because I feel cool doing it (there are only a handful of readers; it's pretty much Jason and me), and not because I particularly like to write. I love this blog because it gives me a forum and reason in which to watch fabulous movies - the kind of movies that make me feel comfortable saying to others that "I watch films."

Bravo is in order for "Moon." Just absolutely brilliant. Probably one of the better screenplays I've ever seen.

Jason said it way better than I could, but I totally agree that what makes "Moon" is Sam Rockwell. I think comparing different roles actors play in different films is a good way to judge the depth of an actor's ability, but even more than that, seeing an actor playing two or more characters in the same movie (and doing it well) is a thing of beauty. The most likely scenario for such a juxtaposition is when a character has multiple personalities (see Edward Norton in "Primal Fear" as a great example) or is a twin. Rockwell's performance in "Moon" is more akin to Nicholas Cage's performance in "Adaptation," and although Rockwell was not nominated for an Oscar as Cage was (Cage lost to Adrien Brody in "The Pianist"), I thought his performance was actually much better.

I think what made Rockwell's performance so great was that, although he was playing clones of the same person, he was able to give convincing separate personalities to each of them. The older "Sam" took the realization that he was a clone much harder than the newer one, going to so far as calling home only to realize that he was several years behind the times. Older "Sam" was also much more of a pacifist, and you easily see how three years of living alone made him a different person. New "Sam" was smart as a whip, tougher than nails, and had an obvious anger problem, and he quickly surmised that there was no going home after the contract was up.

I don't know how they physically shoot these movies, and I imagine that the process has changed somewhat from how movies like "Parent Trap" were originally shot. None-the-less, it still seems to me to be a triumph of directing, acting, and screenwriting when I, as the viewer, believe that I am watching two totally distinct characters up on the screen. So Bravo! Mr. Rockwell and company.

And one quick shout-out to the master Kevin Spacey who had a "Hall"-like delivery as "Gerty." Just a creepy for sure. I fully expected at some point to have "Gerty" say "I can't allow that Sam."

And thanks Jason for always having such cool movies to recommend. I too tuck them in my pocket for when I need to seem really sophisticated in my movie watching. You, however, are.

thoughts by Andy

Friday, March 5, 2010

Landing on the Moon, Cinematically

by Jason Pyles

Perhaps it’s a little hyperbolic to write this, but Duncan Jones’ “Moon” is something like the cinematic equivalent — as far as technological feats go — to landing on the Moon. Indeed, “Moon” is some kind of subtle masterpiece.

Not to sound elitist (because I only know a little more about the cinema than the average person), but “Moon” is the kind of film that only those who are knowledgeable about filmmaking will truly appreciate. But then most masterpieces are lost on the ignorant.

And my last preliminary praise is that “Moon” is one of those proud little possessions that we film buffs who love to be in the know about obscure filmic treasures (like “Man on Wire” and “Touching the Void”) can keep in our back pockets for those occasions when our friends ask us for a really good movie recommendation.

The Premise (no spoilers): “Moon” is a science-fiction mystery set entirely on the surface of Earth’s Moon. It’s about a corporate astronaut (played by Sam Rockwell) who is finishing up a three-year stint as the solitary worker at a Moon base where he oversees the automated harvesting of Helium-3 from lunar rock in order to provide Earth with pollution-free power from nuclear fusion ... or something like that. Anyway, as he is only two weeks away from going home, bizarre and unsettling occurrences ensue.

The first reason “Moon” is great is it was made on a $5 million budget, which is small even when compared to “District 9,” which was made with $30 million (and people still gasped at how good that looked). Well, despite — or perhaps because of — its small budget, “Moon” looks exceptional and quite convincing. It is full of filmic magic tricks and cinematic sleight of hand, from the Moon base to the lunar landscape to some real showing off with its actor, Sam Rockwell.

Speaking of Rockwell, that leads me to the next reason of excellence: “Moon” is primarily a one-man show. Rockwell is, for all intents and purposes, the principle principal (yes, both words) actor. So, you’ve got the same challenging scenario found in “Cast Away,” but handled more brilliantly. (It’s tough to write a screenplay with one actor. That gets really boring for the audience really fast. And though Tom Hanks was excellent in “Cast Away,” the writer, William Broyles Jr. (who is no slouch: “Apollo 13,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Jarhead,” “Flags of Our Fathers”) still had to conjure “Wilson” the volleyball for Hanks to speak to. And though “Moon” ventures into the fantastical associated with science-fiction, it employs “GERTY” (voiced by Kevin Spacey) for companionship. All that aside, Rockwell’s physical delivery of his movements and so forth had to be very precise or “Moon” would have crumbled. (I spotted only one instance of an eye-line match that was askew.)

“Moon” is also exceptional because it is intelligent. It’s not big, dumb fun like “Independence Day” or “Armageddon,” rather, it’s in the same vein and akin to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” except with much more dialogue. “Moon” doesn’t resort to the cliched or commonplace, such as explosions and gunplay and so forth.

The tone of “Moon” is mostly creepy and unsettling, and this is enhanced by its haunting and beautiful score. The film’s primary theme is, in this musician’s opinion, also a masterpiece. It seems to be the precise score that this film requires. And though the tone of the film is usually disturbing, it remarkably, simultaneously borders on comedic. I will discuss spoilers below, but what happens in this film and a few of its scenes could have easily been farcical in the hands of a lesser director, and humorous in the hands of someone like Mel Brooks. Yet “Moon” remains troubling. (And by the way, the director Duncan Jones, who is also responsible for this film’s original story, is the son of David Bowie.) Nathan Parker wrote the screenplay.

And for my final thoughts (finally), I’m going to proceed into spoiler territory, so if you haven’t seen “Moon” yet, trust me and stop reading now.

We come to discover, fairly early in the film that Sam sees a duplicate of himself. And at first he sort of shrugs this development off, which is understandable because he had been seeing other peculiar “illusions” of people around the base. But that still doesn’t explain why the “newer Sam" clone didn’t have an adverse reaction. He was much fresher. Can anyone answer that? I loved how “Moon” draws in the concept of a corporation (or mankind, in general) using cloning — as it inevitably will — in morally questionable ways to benefit the greater good of the whole “back home.” Clones probably would (or are?) considered second-class citizens, devoid of the same rights as the original source person. How fascinating and horrifying it is to think of the Sams’ nightmarish realization: We all would surely think of ourselves as “Jason No. 1” or “Andy No. 1.” We wouldn’t consider our real feelings and memories as some programmed or artificially installed human characteristics. We’d think we were the original, even if we were the 100th version of that person. And then, once you realized you weren’t No. 1, you could be noble and concede to the rights of your source host, giving him what rightfully belongs to him. But what about those feelings of loss and emptiness you had for your family that are just as real as they are for person No. 1? Heartbreaking. Clones, it seems to me, morally speaking, should have the same rights as their original source inspiration. But then, I suppose for that to be possible, we’d have to clone all their family members, too.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"25th Hour" comments by Andy

"25th Hour" was a very poignant film for me and what I do for actually work. I have several times in my career spoken with Defendants shortly before they were to begin serving long sentences. In fact, only a month ago, I represented a gentleman who made some pretty serious mistakes and was set for sentencing. He was out on bail and he and I spoke at length the day before he was to be sentenced to at least six years in prison, possibly ten or more. It was very interesting, surreal, and sad to hear him describe his plans that evening - taking the family and kids to the portrait studio, dinner, and then spending some time with his wife. They also went out for breakfast and fun the following morning. And then at some point that morning, the Judge sentenced him, he hugged his wife, and officers took him to prison. He was very nice guy who made some awful mistakes, and his life changed dramatically one day.

I agree very much with Jason that the one short-coming of the film was that because of the bizarre final hours of Norton's character, we as the audience were only engaged in his story, and we did not fully internalize his struggle.

It's a very disturbing idea to think about going to prison for a long time. I would guess that most parents have disturbing thoughts all the time wondering what their child's life would be like without them (if they died or something), but going to prison is sort a whole new ball of wax. In prison, you get to experience the suffering of those who count on you and whom you have let down. You get to deal with the worry that your spouse is going to divorce you and move on, and you get to know all of the events in your children's lives that you are missing. You get to worry about being sodomized repeatedly because you are an easy target, and you get to worry that there's nobody out there to protect your family.

As for the film, it was a bit of a contrived story, obviously, but I thought it was well done. Jason, I think that maybe the disturbing scene that Dave Chen was referring to was the scene where Norton's character asks his friend to beat the living hell out of him. If so, I agree. It was beautifully disturbing, and quite powerful. Although I must say, don't have your friend punch you in the head while your head is already on the pavement. Bad idea.

-comments by Andy

Wishful Thinking and the 25th Hour

Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” has a wonderfully intriguing premise: A drug dealer (Ed Norton) has been busted and is about to be sent to prison for several years. The film shows us his last 24 hours of freedom before reporting for his sentence.

Somewhat like the “what to do with a corpse” premise, the idea of setting aside your life and going to prison absolutely consumes me with fascination. Both instances pose dramatic questions for the protagonist (and for us, the viewers — “What in the world would I ever do in this situation?”) that are psychologically unsettling.

And though “25th Hour” is well made and an overall good film, unfortunately, it presents us with this particular man’s last 24 hours, instead of stirring us to wonder what we might do with our remaining time. Now, to clarify — of course the film would show us its protagonist’s last 24 hours, but his to-do list is more unique than it is universally applicable; therefore, the spell of pulling our minds into the movie is broken by our awareness that we are simply watching someone else’s problem, someone else’s story.

Still, the subplot involving Philip Seymour Hoffman as a tempted school teacher is also an equally psychologically troubling premise. So, the characters are interesting and engaging, the unfolding events are intriguing and the film is well made. But I wish it were the film I had hoped it would be.

And though I dearly love the guys at the /Filmcast, I’m disappointed that Dave Chen had me all excited for a “very disturbing” final scene. If you happen upon this post, Dave, would you please explain why you thought this last scene (which is definitely ambiguous as to which decision is made) was so disturbing.

Stay Out of “The Room”

by Jason Pyles

Bill Barnes sort of requested that we subject ourselves to “The Room.” Even though we are sick of watching terrible movies, “The Room” is a low-budget film with too much notoriety to ignore on a site about unusual films.

There is a strange phenomenon among movie-lovers in which both excellent movies and truly terrible ones are praised. The only bad movie experience is a mediocre and forgettable one; whereas, a profoundly terrible film can at least have some entertainment value. “The Room” falls into that category.

This film recycles that age-old conflict about a woman who is discontent in her relationship with her fiance, so she begins an affair with her fiance’s best friend. Trouble ensues.

Now, the acting is terrible, as Andy said below, but the performances are eclipsed by the awfulness of the script. Combining bad performances with a bad script enhances the repelling power of both (like that thing when two horses that can pull 600 lbs. each can pull 1500 lbs. when pulling together).

Unfortunately, the entirety of the problem lies with writer, director and lead actor, Tommy Wiseau, much like Andy suggested. Now, I try not to be mean when writing about people, realizing that in this age of the Internet that Tommy Wiseau himself could happen upon this post. And after all, he’s a human with feelings, too.

So, in an effort to give a fair and accurate representation of the film, as gently as I can write it, I will say this: Mr. Wiseau should not have shot this script or cast himself in the lead role. It seems evident that he has never read any books on screenwriting. I honestly wondered if he has watched very many movies at all. Indeed, he breaks, I would say, most of the basic rules of screenwriting — and not in a good way, either. An obvious example of this is all of the unnecessary dialogue and blocking such as ordering food in a restaurant and walking to and from doors. Wiseau’s film needs some serious editorial exclusions. So, the low-budget filming, poor acting and terrible dialogue are enough to make people laugh at the film.

But the joke might be on all its critics. Though “The Room” appears to have been intended to be a serious drama, it may be an intentionally bad film — a la the brothers Raimi. For example, Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell,” from just last year, was awful as far as horror movies go — if it were a serious attempt, but in fact, he intended it to be ridiculous; therein lies its campy humor.

And there are moments in “The Room” when Wiseau seems to be going for humorousness. For example, during one exchange, a character asks him something not overly invasive, and Wiseau’s character responds, “That’s way too personal.” And then in the next breath he asks the inquisitor about his sex life. So many instances like this one make me think that a black comedy was Wiseau’s objective. But if this is the case, it’s not as deserving of its notoriety, because it then becomes mediocre, nothing more. But oh, how sad, if this film was intended to be a serious drama.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"The Room" thoughts by Andy

Gloriously awful. Painful, yet hilarious. I somewhat loathed the idea of watching another movie known simply for how terrible it is, but I'm glad we suffered through. I honestly have never had so much fun watching such a horrible movie. My voice is still hoarse from yelling at the TV.

So what did I learn from watching "The Room?" I learned that I, off the couch, could make a better movie. I also learned that bombing a movie requires sucking at several facets:

1. Have terrible acting. Wisseau and company do this in spades. Of the several credited actors, only one or two had been in anything not "Wisseau related (he has one other film, a documentary called "Homeless in America")." This does not surprise me. The acting was laughable in EVERY SCENE. Only the thug had a decent delivery of his lines.

2. Have a non-sensical plot. I get the film's point as a whole, but can someone please explain to me what the deal was with Denny? I couldn't tell if he was a pervert, or just a drug dealer, and if he was a drug dealer, why did he owe the thug money?

3. Have characters that don't stay through the film. Yes, we meet a friend who is a psychologist, and then later on the film, he's just gone. No explanation of why he wasn't at the party with all of the other friends. imdb.com trivia says that actor left the project after having creative differences with Wisseau. Not surprising. I too almost left the project after having creative differences with Wisseau. The actor must have realized the movie sucked. His lines were then given to another guy whose name I don't believe is given, and whose lines are supposed to be very confrontational and dramatic. They were not.

4. Make me hope for the death of the main character in the denouement. Score!!! Yes, when Johnny was contemplating suicide in the last scene, after his fiance left him for his best friend, I openly cheered for him to shoot himself. And he did. Thank goodness. And then, when bestfriend and ex-fiance walk in, it of course unravels for their relationship. BFF suggests to gal-pal that this will be great for their new relationship, only to find that gal-pal no longer likes him, but is now in love with Johnny (or at least his corpse). End of movie!!!!!

5. Have atrocious production values. Actually, that phrase is somewhat of a misnomer here as there was no value in the production. The entire film occurs in three or four scenes (with some non-sensical football tossing scenes). It would not have been difficult to shoot such a movie, yet almost no attention was paid to set design. And the entire film was shot in both HDTV and 35mm, apparently because Wisseau didn't know the difference between the two.

So what you are left with is an awesomely bad film. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys film enough to mock something terrible. Watch it with a friend. I know this would not have been any fun to watch without Jason and Karl. And keep your remote hand to back-up and re-watch a scene. Yes, it was that good.

My final question is this: Not only was this film released onto the big screen, it was nominated and actually WON a New York International Independent Film & Video Festival audience award for Best Feature film. Really? Really?????

thoughts by Andy