Just four years later, bet it wouldn’t be made: True Story

I wondered if Rupert Goold was one of those writer/directors that critics just don’t like after many disparaged “Judy”, a movie I found quite moving. Hence, I watched “True Story” from 2015 which Goold co-wrote with David Kajganich (from A Bigger Splash!!!) based on the book by former New York Times Reporter Michael Finkel.

Cue Throat Clearing sound effect: Well? Definitely a movie that should have been left as a book, better yet, should have been simply a case study listed in the DSM-5.

I feel the same about this film as I do every time I see yet another new ‘complete biography’ of Hitler come into BookStoreOne where I work in Sarasota, Florida….like why are we giving this monster the time of day? And in fact, not only does the movie, and I assume the book, establish notoriety of the actual sociopathic murderer (which the movie doesn’t do proper justice showing the evidence that proved he indeed killed his whole family), but also makes the book author and part subject of the book also look like, I’m struggling not to use an expletive, a narcissistic jerk off.

A heinous act happens and the person who gets the most attention is the criminal….WRONG. And I think our news media, as much as I can’t stand their non-news bias (this includes the other extreme, too, Fox News) has done a better job of not detailing the criminals’ lives in some of the more recent mass killings. Shun the bad guys, in other words.

The one blessing I can say of the movie, speaking of the media I feel has completely sold out to political leanings, is that the New York Times, having been disproved recently in bold faced untruths, certainly look like idiots in the closing captions of the film in that they would never re-hire Finkel as a reporter, but DID accept articles from the mass murderer, Christian Longo. How’s that for morality and integrity?

As much as I like Jonah Hill and James Franco, they should have said no way to this project and ditto for Executive Producer Brad Pitt.

Standing Ovation: Zellweger as “Judy”

Typically I’d start out by praising a director of a tremendous film like “Judy”, but this screenplay calls for a standing ovation for dialogue. Realistic and witty, Tom Edge (and the original stage playwright Pete Quilter) I hope will win professional awards for their yeoman’s work.

Director Rupert Goold also deserves high praise for a tight movie that moves through the last segment of Judy Garland’s life like a bullet train. Goold previously received accolades for “True Story” with Jonah Hill and James Franco, both guys I totally respect for their brave choices (“Mid90’s” and “The Disaster Artist” respectively). While I need to go back and watch True Story, I have no doubt that Goold has a big future ahead of him.

Rene Zellweger deserves the most praise for owning this role, usurping the spirit of Judy Garland and bringing her back to life. Her moving portrayal as a long sufferer of child acting and abuse to her financial difficulties in later life moved me to tears. For me the hook that touched me most was how much she loved her children, but due to her instabilities, of whom she was unable to adequately care.

Finn Wittrock plays Garland’s last husband Mickey Deans and is definitely an actor to watch. He stood out in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” as the sleazy real estate broker and in Judy is superb at objectively performing the dubious role as Judy’s cougar suitor, yet due to his brilliant acting, we’re left weighing the actuality that perhaps he actually helped her sustain dignity and regrouping at the later stages of her life.

I’ll save any spoilers, but let me just say that I learned plenty about this icon and am absolutely in awe at Zellweger’s transformation. Natalie Portman received an overhype of praise for playing a stoned out Jackie O., while Zellweger actually had to act as the tragic, but gifted Judy Garland. A must see!

Circus Peanuts and Ice Skating Blunders: Wiseau’s “The Room”

Ok, let me say that mixed feelings is an understatement after watching Tommy Wiseau‘s “The Room” which James Franco so lovingly made into something bigger and better than its initial notoriety.

My first kooky analogy is to the difficulty I had even finishing this film:

Imagine being on a desert island and after days of not eating, you find a bag of those gross peach colored circus peanuts (in fact do they even sell them any longer?). You’re starved, so you gorge on half a bag, then the next day you realize you still have nothing else to eat, so you finish the remainder, feeling full, yet nauseous. That was my experience watching The Room. I couldn’t even watch the entire movie in one sitting, but forced myself to go the distance the following day.

Kooky analogy number two:

You’re watching Olympic figure skating, fully aware that someone has trained his keister off to get to this moment and then see him on tumble on his first double toe loop, then tip over during a simple spin, etc. You feel total empathy for his utter despair. Knowing the passion Tommy had for acting made me sad for his inability to possess the skill necessary for greatness.

So I felt disgusted by how bad this film was (circus peanuts) (couldn’t get to the funny it’s so bad feeling) because I knew how much Tommy thought and wanted this to be great (fumbling ice skater).

What else can I say? All the acting was bad if that’s any consolation for Tommy. All the writing was incredibly silly and simplistic. If any good can be said about this film is that the cheesey r&b tunes played during the soft porn scenes wasn’t half bad.

Until I read a full fledged legitimate story of harassment committed by James Franco, I think he’s downright Mother Theresa for caring enough about Tommy to shed him some light/resdiuals/money. James must know that Tommy is broken at some level (flat affect usually equals depression, ptsd or autism) and wanted to give him some props.

Rent The Disaster Artist, you’ll see.

Yes, Virginia, There is a Perfect Comedy: The Disaster Artist

Have you ever eaten a really decadent dessert and after every bite, you can’t help yourself, but exclaim out loud, “oh this is so good!’. Well, that was Carrie and I last night during The Disaster Artist. Each one of us exclaimed at some point, ‘oh my God this is so good’. Not to mention, we realized another thing we have in common (besides being introverted Sagitarians), we both love Nathan Fielder. So an aside for a quick commercial: if you’ve never seen Nathan for You on Comedy Central, seek it out for God’s sake, it’s a classic.

Ok, back to the review: The Disaster Artist is chock full of great cameos, from Melanie Griffith to Sharon Stone, Judd Apatow to Seth Rogen, Nick Kroll to Jacki Weaver…absolute perfection!

Best, best of all is James Franco who, if the Academy Awards honored comedy, would and should get the Oscar. He not only mastered a Polish accent though the character (based on a real man named Tommy Wiseau) insists he’s from New Orleans, but he also did some crazy cosmetic accoutrements to his eyes, one lazy, both a strange color of blue gray.

Not to mention, James Franco, actually has had a Tommy Wiseau experience, meaning he made a passion project film based on Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury which bombed. Hence, James could own this part in more ways than one.

I can really only think of one minor problem and yet I wouldn’t even change this picayune trifle; let me explain. I’m not a big Dave Franco fan. There’s something just a little too doofy about him to make me believe his role. He just reeks of silly to me. However, having him play James’ muse while knowing that their brothers in real life, has to be one of the sweetest double entendre’s since Ryan O’Neal and Tatum were together in Paper Moon.

You’ll laugh in this movie and also be moved. I really can’t say enough about it other than bravo to James Franco for direction and acting (Oscar! Or at the very least Golden Globe!) and props also to the screenwriters: Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber (5oo Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now, also great stuff they’ve done). Go. See. This. Film!

Palo Alto: James Franco’s Atmoshpheric Dystopia

Considering author and director James Franco’s idiosyncratic ways, gives me permission to start my Palo Alto blog with an analogy; that even beginning this review is like trying to mount a gigantic marshmallow…what the hell should be my form of attack?

As I skulk around the marshmallow, deliberating, how about a ‘fun fact’? (an expression that has evolved in a justification for random commentary): did you know that the charter city Palo Alto was named after a large redwood tree “El Palo Alto”?

And a-ha! Now I tricked you, marshmallow, into my first mini rant of the film; two delinquents saw down a 200 plus year old tree and there’s zero repercussions?! I know, I know, it’s ‘just a movie’, but heaven forbid there’s some numb skull who thinks Twain thought the n-word was cool and that harming nature is condoned.
One more old lady type comment: Gee, am I glad I came of age in the 70’s and 80’s when parents still took pride in knowing their kids’ whereabouts and took a stand on curfews and behavior. Remember the shaming voice-over spoken ominously before the late news: “It’s 11 o’clock do you know where your children are?” Time to bring that phrase back, my friends. Because the only difference between ghetto kids running wild, the street urchins of Oliver Twist days and these California hipsters, is the I-phone they all own.
Now the positives:

Palo Alto, the film, makes me want to read Palo Alto: Stories the James Franco book. I want to know the resolution to one of the many strands left untied; for instance, whether the blonde with the McDonald’s ‘over one million served’ fellatio reputation attempts suicide, since movie sections allude to this (cyber bullying against her, a voice over that intimates a gang bang). So if anything Gia Coppola’s screenplay is the unique feat of being a 100 minute book trailer.

Two more pluses: atmosphere and sex scene originality…

Palo Alto had intense atmosphere, not nearly as good as another recent film Under My Skin did, but still the dreamy soundtrack blanketing visual montages helped create a hallucinatory cushion to the sinister undercurrent of self-medicating pain that all of the teens are feeling.

As for the pivotal sex scene between coach and student, an eclipse-like shade that recurrently slides across Emma Roberts’ face (the student) as she folds into the shadow of James Franco (the coach) intensified the moment symbolically. We understood that her ‘light’, aka virginity, was given up to the ‘dark’, emphasizing the importance of this moment in a young woman’s life.

As I plant my spear in the top of the marshmallow*, “Palo Alto” is a sad commentary on modern culture using interesting cinematic tricks and ‘toast-worthy’* acting performances.