Film Review: FLOWER (USA 2016)

A sexually curious teen forms an unorthodox kinship with her mentally unstable stepbrother.

Director:

Max Winkler

The film begins with teen Erica (Zoey Deutch) giving a blow job to a sheriff Dale (Eric Edelstein) in his cop car while being filmed on the cell phones by Erika’s friends  (Dylan Gelula, Maya Eshet).  They threaten Dale, extort money, split the money and go their own ways.  An exciting start of the film, no doubt and what transpires through the rest of the film matches the incident in terms or surprise and vulgarity.

The story settles on Erica and her mother (Kathryn Hahn from BAD MOMS) who loves her but gives her free reign.  Erica makes the extra cash not only for herself but to earn enough for bail to spring her father in prison.  Mum has a new boyfriend and Erica promises to be nice to his son, her new step-brother, Luke (Joey Morgan) who has just been sprung from re-hab.  Luke is mentally unstable, fat and is troubled after he accused a teacher of molesting him.

The sparks start flying when the teacher Will (Adam Scott) is seen at the local bowling alley.  Erica decides to help her step-brother.  Good intentions using bad tactics never result in things going well.  Director Max Winker (son of Happy Day’s ‘Fonzie’ Henry Winkler) plays the film as a black comedy which largely works despite a few flaws.

The script co-written by Winkler with  Alex McAulay and Matt Spicer contains problems the foremost being credibility.  The audience is supposed to believe that Erica can make extra pocket money by giving blow jobs which she finds acceptable.  She also offered to give one to her step-brother out of pity.  When questioned, she likens the penis to be similar to a finger without a nail.  But a finger does not pee or cum either.  The script also has Eric fall in love with her fat step brother who actually have no redeeming qualities except for the only one good deed he had done.  Erica is also put up by her long-suffering mother, a point hard to believe.  When mum finally blows up, the story suddenly becomes believable with the mother/daughter confrontation segment making the film’s best part.

The film benefits from some excellent performances mostly from Deutch as the lead and comedian Kathryn Hahn as the mother.  Hahn has proven her comedic and dramatic potential in films like BAD MOMS but also demonstrates that if the vehicle is extremely bad as in A BAD MOM’S CHRISTMAS even she cannot save the movie.  Adam Scott plays the odd role (as least he is an actor daring enough to undertake risky roles like this one and the one in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2) as the pervert.

The film ends up a rather unbelievable morality tale that borders borders on farce because of the incidents in the story.  The film is supposed to demonstrate that good intentions are all that count.  But it also truthfully shows that if good intentions come about by criminal means there is a price to pay.  Luke ends up in prison and Erica under house arrest.  Entertaining to a point, one wishes the film could have been better.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmYcbgJBv7s

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THE DISASTER ARTIST (USA 2017)

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The Disaster Artist Poster
Trailer

When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.

Director:

James Franco

Writers:

Scott Neustadter (screenplay by), Michael H. Weber (screenplay by) |2 more credits »

 

James Franco has had dozens of credits as both director and actor.  His directorial debuts have never been too stellar unlike his acting (debuts).  He has proven his acting mettle in both comedy (THIS IS THE END, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS) and drama (SPRING BREAKERS).  In his latest outing, he does both directing and acting in a comedic/dramatic portrayal of Hollywood filmmaker Tommy Wiseau.  The odd film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness section to a full house, the reason being that Franco and his gang showed up during the screening.

James Franco and friends appear in this uneven tribute to eccentric filmmaker Tommy Wiseau (played by James) and his friend, actor Greg Sestero (played by brother Dave), whose notoriously awful film The Room has become one of the most beloved cult classics of all time.  (I have never heard of it though.)  Since its release in 2003, The Room has captivated cult audiences on the midnight movie circuit with its discombobulated plot, discordant performances, and inexplicable dialogue.  Drawing on the memoir of the same name, Franco chronicles the making of The Room as recalled by Greg.  The incredulous script supervisor is played by friend Seth Roger.  Other celebrity friends of the Franco’s like Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Zac Ephron also appear.  Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau is over-the-top, which is likely the character of the man himself.  Franco as Wiseau goes about the majority of the film speaking with an accent, shouting and speaking in broken English sentences. 

Films about directors of Hollywood bombs have been done before, most notable being Tim Burton’s ED WOOD.  But Franco’s DISASTER ARTIST bears more similarity to the 1970’s British/Italian comedy starring Peter Sellers as a mastermind Italian crook in Vittorio De Sica’s AFTER THE FOX.  In both movies, there are separate scenes of the film shot, that bear no sense, but when put together during a screening at the end of the film, bring on major laughs.  This is how best to describe Franco’s THE DISASTER ARTIST.  It is a shallow biography of Tommy Wiseau providing no new insight of the man, but it does provide some solid laughs.  The best scene is clearly the one where Wiseau does multiple takes on a segment, never getting it right until finally after uttering the line, “Oh, hi  Mike” generate spontaneous applause from the director and those watching on set (and loud laughs from the audience).

The Franco/ Rogen/Goldberg troupe has an uncanny sense of humour, and the humour and timing works magnificently at times.  The film ends with a split screen of the shots of the actual ROOM side-by-side of this movie.  

A so-so movie but one can always forgive a mediocre movie if it delivers a few good laugh-out loud laughs!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qab3TMg42k

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Film Review: REBEL IN THE RYE (USA 2017)

 

Rebel in the Rye Poster
Trailer

The life of celebrated but reclusive author, J.D. Salinger, who gained worldwide fame with the publication of his novel, “The Catcher in the Rye”.

Director:

Danny Strong

Writers:

Danny StrongKenneth Slawenski (biography “J.D. Salinger: A Life”)

REBEL IN THE EYE is an American biographical drama film based on the author of the famous ‘The Catcher in the Rye’.  It is directed and written by Danny Strong, who adapted the book J. D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski.  Director Strong bought the book rights with his own money which must mean that the book really fascinated him.

A film about successful creative writing appeals to many particularly film reviewers who could learn a thing or two about their writing.  The spill on voice in writing illustrated by a passage read by Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey) in a William Faulkner novel is especially engaging.  He reads a passage in a monotonous tone to illustrate the fact that it is the incidents will make the writing and not the tone.  But if the author’s voice or impression is added, that would be inspiring.  Unless the voice comes across as pompous instead of sincere.

The film follows the life of Jerome Salinger (Nicholas Hoult).  He attends writing at Columbia University where Professor White Burnett grinds him to be a successful writer.  His devastating experiences during the War watching many die during the D-Day beach landing earn him the maturity that finally gets the fame he seeks with ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ but not after suffering mentally.  He is aided by an Indian Swami (Bernard White).

The message in the film is quite obvious – the importance of truth in writing.  Salinger refuses to compromise changing his story to the notes of the New York Times in order to be published.

Besides the story of J.D. Salinger as a writer from budding writer to published author, the film has several major subplots that undermine the film’s goal.  One is the relationship between Salinger and his mentor Whit Burnett.  The second is the failed love affair between Salinger and Oona (Zooey Deutch).   All the action takes place during World War 2 with Salinger himself going off to fight in the war.  The segments with the Indian Swami are more laughable than credible,

In Strong’s attempt to put his voice into his film, he gets too obvious.  One example (too in-your-face metaphor) is the blurred image of Salinger’s face as seen through the glass of his mother in the homecoming dinner.  This also comes across as an attempt to be too pompous instead of sincere – advice that he should have taken himself from the film.

For a film that stresses about voice in a story, Strong falls again into the trap of not following his own advice.  He resorts in too many familiar filming formats.  One is the over-use of voiceover.  Another is obvious at the start of the film when a scene is shown and then the film flashes back to years earlier (in this case 6 years) to the events that precede the scene.  The over use of music, as if to force the audience to feel a certain way (Indian music during the Swami advice segments and a musical interlude when Salinger gets published) is yet another.  Every character in the film speaks the same way – with sarcasm and with anger. 

REBEL IN THE EYE ends up a flawed biography in which director Strong commits all the mistakes the writing professor Burnett in the script warns Salinger never to make.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWRhXMMb7CY

rebel in the rye

Film Review: BEFORE I FALL (USA 2016) ***

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before_i_fall.jpgDirector: Ry Russo-Young
Writer: Maria Maggenti (screenplay)
Stars: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu

Review by Gilbert Seah

The teen best-seller BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver, as well as its film adaptation, asks these questions: What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

BEFORE I FALL is a teen take of MEAN GIRLS and GROUNDHOG DAY. The plot centres on Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch), a high school senior who finds that she may be living the last day of her life over and over until she gets it right. She gets up early morning on Cupid’s Day (St. Valentine’s Day) and dies in a car accident in the early hours of the next day after a house party. She wake up the same Friday morning again and again, like living in hell. She tries everything different – to be especially bad and then good, to see if she will not wake up in the same hell. She finally untangles the mystery surrounding her death, and the story is actually quite a good and unpredictable one at that.

Being a teen groundhog day movie, there are pluses and minuses. The minuses can be observed at the film’s start when director Russo-Young sets up the stage for the plot. The audience follows 4 really spoilt, annoying teen girls as they scream, sing and bully others including mistreating their family members. This route is unfortunately repeated again and again just as Sam relives the same day in her life. But the annoyance is corrected as Sam tries to better herself and thus her group as well.

Though advertised as a comedy, BEFORE I FALL takes a quick turn towards a serious tone. In fact, Russo-Young makes this a message film at the end. But it works, thanks to her directing skills. Russo-Young has made two other unreleased films before this one, with the last one being voted as the best unreleased film of the year.

Zoey Deutch plays well the bad and the good girl, trying two different characters to see how to get out of her repeated day. Elena Kampouris stands out as Juliet, the blond long-hair bullied girl called a psychopath by Sam’s group. Jennifer Beals (FLASHDANCE) still looks very pretty as Sam’s mother.

The dance anthem played at the house party is one of the best mixes I have heard this year. The anthem is repeated as Sam repeats this incident.

There is one goof on Sam’s cell phone – the date at which she finishes the day with. It shows Feb 13th when it should show the 15th, in the early morning after Cupid’s Day. I was confused when I saw the date, which I assume is a goof on the filmmakers’ part. One minor goof should not spoil the film, though one one expects continuity in a film to be important.

BEFORE I FALL turns out a much better film than it appears from the ads and trailer. For a teen film, it surprisingly has enough adult characters (Sam’s parents) and material to keep adults from being annoyed the hell out by the teen characters.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3Zyy4ZXegE

_________

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Film Review: WHY HIM? (USA 2016). James Franco. Bryan Cranston.

why_him_movie_poster.jpgDirector: John Hamburg
Writers: Jonah Hill (story), John Hamburg (story/screenplay), Ian Helfer (screenplay)
Stars: Zoey Deutch, James Franco, Tangie Ambrose, Bryan Cranston, Cedric the Entertainer, Megan Mullally

Review by Gilbert Seah

There are smart dumb comedies and there are dumb, dumb comedies. WHY HIM? directed and co-written by John Hamburg (who wrote MEET THE PARENTS, MEET THE FOCKERS and the ZOOLANDER movies) falls into the latter category. But all is forgiven for like the hit comedy DUMB AND DUMBER, WHY HIM? is quite funny.

As in MEET THE PARENTS and MEET THE FOCKERS, it is the story of the guy trying to impress his future in-laws. The hitch in WHY HIM? is that the guy is a weird monstrous hip games designer millionaire who swears in every sentence he utters. So will Laird (James Franco) be able to charm his future father-in-law Ned (Brian Cranston) so that he can give him permission to wed Stephanie (Zoey Deutch).

The audience is set up for an all-out gross film with the beginning scene where Laird is close to show Stephanie his almost black blue balls in a video chat. The scene shifts to Stephanie’s dad’s birthday celebration where she is video chatting him when Laird suddenly appears in the background and takes off his pants. There is nothing highly original about this comedic set-up but it still brings on the laughs.

Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) invites her father Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) and mother Barb (Megan Mullally), along with their 15-year old brother Scott (Griffin Gluck), to stay with her wealthy and famous boyfriend, Laird Mayhew while visiting her at Christmas. Laird’s vulgar, gregarious, and blunt personality is slightly overwhelming for Barb and Scott, but causes Ned to downright despise him. However, Stephanie insists that Laird is a nice person, and that he makes her happy. But when Laird reveals he plans to propose to Stephanie in only five days, the race to prove himself worthy of her love so Ned can give them his blessing begins. Laird goes out of his way to win over Barb and Scott, while Ned schemes to make sure Laird goes down in flames.

Laird throws a Christmas party for the Flemings that goes out of control. But the three minute Christmas party segment puts OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY to shame. The segment moves on fast, furious and funny and generates more laughs in the three minutes that the entire party section in OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY.

For a film about a wild person, the film stays away from lewd scenes. There are no hard core drugs only marijuana and no smoking is shown – only the after effects (the horny mother inching her husband for sex in the bedroom). Swearing, however is plentiful but done in a humorous manner. There are also bukkake and double dicking jokes (but nothing seen) – which the gays in the audience should be familiar with. The film also steals from the Kato and Inspector Clouseau fights in the PINK PANTHER films with Laird’s man-servant, Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key) always laying in wait to fight him. But these scenes are still funny.

Where the film starts to slack is when it gets emotional with the different relationships (father/boyfriend; father/daughter and boyfriend/girlfriend). The ending 20 minutes drags too long and is a bit of a let down considering the fast pace of the rest of the film. There is a surprise appearance of a famous band at the end of the film. Still WHY HIM? succeeds as quite a hilarious though quite a dumb comedy.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CO6qLC4cL8E
 

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Movie Review: DIRTY GRANDPA (2016)

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dirty_grandpa.jpgDIRTY GRANDPA (USA 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Dan Mazer

Starring: Zac Efron, Robert DeNiro, Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza

Review by Gilbert Seah

Read Interview with the Art Director Jeremy Woolsey

A party scene has one character saying: “Party till you are pregnant!” Another has a prosthetic penis (an erect one at that) in the face of Zac Efron in bed after the De Niro character admits that ‘naked’ is the best way of sleeping.

If the above offends, stay away from DIRTY GRANDPA – the movie. The film is meant to offend. If the above do not do it, De Niro gets to use the ’N’ word later on in the movie. It is what is expected from the British co-writer Dam Mazer, who penned the BORAT and ALI G. characters with Sacha Baron Cohen. But DIRTY GRANDPA is extremely funny, if not a bit inconsistent in its laughs. But if a few jokes fail, one knows there are more successful ones to offend just around the corner.

But the film has a poor start with the funeral services of Dick Kelly’s (De Niro) wife of 15 years. Cousin Nick’s (Adam Pally) drunken shenanigans (speeches and small talk) are unfunny and a waste of time. His later appearance does more of the same and director Mazer would have done better to edit this character out of the film. Then there is the appearance of Dick’s grandson, Jason (Efron) and his annoying fiancé, Meredith (Julianne Hough). The Meredith character and her scenes are also unfunny at all, though her character is key to the film’s plot. John Phillip’s script could have given her a few funny moments.

The film’s simple plot allows for lots of hilarious distractions. Dick fools his grandson Jason to drive him to Florida for spring break for the sole reason that Dick and his late wife go there every year. But Dick has another agenda up his sleeve. He finally confesses to Jason once there in the film’s funniest line: “I have been faithful for 15 years, and all I want to do now is fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!” The two get a chance when they meet two hot chicks Shadia (Zoey Deutch) and Lenore (Aubrey Plaza) on the road.

The film’s funniest parts are nothing less than inspired. At a beach party, there is a ‘Flex Off”, a take off from a ‘Dance-Off’ where Dick and Jason hilariously take on a couple of hunks in the contest. Another exceptionally funny segment is when Jason gets drunk and naked, smokes crack and takes off stoned on a motorbike to a beach where he is mistaken for a child pervert.

Oscar winner De Niro has proven his comedic skills in films like MEET THE PARENTS and THE FAMILY, while Efron has proven himself just as proficient in last year’s NEIGHBOURS. Together, they form a dynamic duo in comedy.

The film’s climax does not involve anything as dramatic as the heroes saving the world but involves the heroes accomplishing an equally daunting task. Dick gets to fuck after 15 years in another very funny segment. If you are prepared not to be offended, DIRTY GRANDPA proves enough filth for the funny bone for the entire 2016.

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