Category Archives: Film

What a subtext, Mark! My (Tommy-approved) interpretation of Guerrero St

This week I was fortunate enough to catch a screening of Best F(r)iends, a new film reuniting The Room duo Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero on screen for the first time, at the Prince Charles Cinema (read my review). I decided to ask Tommy and Greg a question in the pre-film Q&A.

I related to the pair my interpretation of the story Mark tells Johnny about a woman whose cuckolded lover “beat her up so bad she ended up in a hospital on Guerrero St.” (I previously posted this theory on the sadly now-defunct The Room Fan Group on Facebook.) That scene opens with Johnny denying having hit Lisa. What if Mark was, by telling that story, trying to see Johnny’s reaction to domestic violence? And, when Johnny reacts so callously–“haha, what a story Mark!”–Mark takes this to mean that maybe Johnny did hit Lisa, and Mark loses all respect for his best friend and decides it’s fair game to sleep with Johnny’s future wife?

Like many people on the Facebook group, Greg thought I was reading too deep into the scene. But Tommy said he loved the theory and my analysis, encouraging me to write about it, which is what I’m doing here. He agreed with it 100%, but then quite fairly reduced that to 99.9%.

To tell an artist your take on their work, and for it to resonate with them, is a pretty fantastic thing. All the more so considering that the last time I asked Tommy a question, back in 2013, he said he couldn’t understand my accent and asked if I was from North Hollywood.

Best F(r)iends (2017) film review

Tommy and Greg’s reunion film offers both Room-esque laughs and a very watchable thriller.

If you’re not familiar with the 2003 Tommy Wiseau movie The Room, you soon will be. The so-bad-it’s-good cult favorite is about to gain even more notoriety, as James Franco’s film adaptation of its making-of memoir, The Disaster Artist, tours the festival circuit and gears up for general release in December (watch the new trailer).

Having read The Disaster Artist, I’ve been looking forward to seeing its story brought to life on screen. It chronicles not only the making of The Room but also the growth of the friendship between writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau and line producer/co-star Greg Sestero. But perhaps even more exciting is another film whose announcement came out of nowhere last year. It’s the pair’s first collaboration since The Room: a low-budget thriller called Best F(r)iends, written by Sestero and directed by Justin MacGregor (himself a fan). Its gory, surreal trailer had fans wondering what to expect. Would it be like The Room? Would it try too hard to be funny (as Wiseau’s painfully unamusing The Neighbors sitcom did)?

Watching a work-in-progress cut of Best F(r)iends at the Prince Charles last week, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, mostly as a Roomie but also for its rather intriguing story.

The Los Angeles-set story centers on a homeless drifter (Sestero) who starts working for a reclusive mortician (Wiseau). They go into business together with a lucrative but questionable venture. A friendship starts to blossom, but differences over the money they amass quickly breed distrust, descending into a web of lies, manipulation and death masks. At times, the drama can be more amusing than threatening, but I found myself drawn in by the dark, original plot and the authentic rapport that builds between the two characters.

Wiseau’s mortician — disarming and full of life in a macabre setting (with hints of a darker backstory) — is a delight to watch. He is clearly having a ton of fun in the role, and while his lines and delivery may evoke laughter, it totally fits this oddball character. Sestero’s drifter is less interesting. He casually mentions having “worked in the army” but you’d never know it from his behaviour; he presents more as a youth in need of a carer. A “babyface”, you might say.

The film is artfully put together and often very beautifully shot. Out-of-place cuts to nighttime vistas of Santa Monica Pier or downtown LA threaten to be this movie’s “meanwhile in San Francisco”, but they create atmosphere, as does the music by Imagine Dragons’ Daniel Platzman. It makes for some surprisingly emotive moments, particularly when the pair goes on a road trip — though I’m not sure if this is more the fact that I have just grown very fond of Wiseau and Sestero over the past four years.

That’s the nub of it really — Best F(r)iends is very much a film for The Room fans. Though it does not explicitly reference that film (other than a couple of little homages), it has a very similar feel in that it is a serious dramatic story that just happens to be written and performed in unintentionally hilarious ways.

And just as The Room was inspired by some of Wiseau’s own experiences (with some Talented Mr Ripley thrown in), it is hard not to see an autobiographical streak in Sestero’s script: a young man comes to LA penniless and falls in with an unconventional and strangely appealing older brother figure, joins in his oddball venture and tries to make his own mark with it.

Best F(r)iends is a worthy successor to The Room, capturing some of its riotous magic while also offering something new and memorable.

Movie Review: Hitchcock / Truffaut (2015)

Respected critic Kent Jones’s documentary about the book of conversations between the two directors serves as an engaging introduction—or, if you’ve read the book, a worthwhile companion that offers added value.

When I first heard of this film about the conversations that took place between directing giants Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut about the former’s body of cinematic work (collected in a great 1966 book), I wondered if it was going to be a dramatization, a la Frost/Nixon. The interviews Truffaut conducted with his directing hero were of course far less combative and prosecutorial than those between the BBC reporter and disgraced former President, and so it’s hard to see where the dramatic conflict would lie. (So, for instance, the French stage play inspired by the book seemingly needed to add violence into the meeting, which it turned into a “confrontation”.)

That’s all irrelevant, because Hitchcock/Truffaut is not a dramatization; it’s a documentary—and one clearly made with love for Hitchcock’s work. It’s narrated by actor/filmmaker Bob Balaban, who got on famously with Truffaut while shooting Close Encounters of the Third Kind (read his excellent production diary), but it’s really the audio of the H/T interviews (overlaid with footage from Hitchcock films) that drives the film forward, along with pieces to camera from directors who were inspired by the book. Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Peter Bogdanovich and Richard Linklater are only a few among those on the roster here, and what they have to say is often tremendously insightful. Far from simply extolling Hitchcock as an inspiration to them, they all comment substantively on his work. Jones said in a Q&A at the BFI that he was interested not simply in Hitchcock’s technical style as the “master of suspense”—something he felt had been talked about enough already. He wanted to explore Hitchcock the man and the things that motivated him as an artist. Since Hitchcock opened up to Truffaut considerably in the interviews, they offer the best vehicle for exploring those things.

The film uses excerpts of the interviews, and words from the various directors, to provide a whistle-stop tour of interesting themes or questions in Hitchcock’s career. From his childhood fear of police influencing his perennially making “wrong man” thrillers, to his use of physical objects because of their often fetishistic symbolic meanings, and (although not covered in as much detail as it could have been) his working relationship with actresses.

It also does a great job of giving us the historical context attendant to Hitchcock’s career. The film reminded me of the rigors of purely visual storytelling involved in silent era films. It casts Hitchcock’s “actors are cattle” view of directing actors against the evolution of the star system and the rise of schools of acting that made it a serious discipline, and asks whether Hitchcock could have directed a Pacino or Hoffman in his typical way! It also quite interestingly asks what role Hitchcock’s style of filmmaking plays today, when multitudes of stories on different media compete for our attention, and when audiences’ expectations of storytelling have changed–we perhaps expect faster and more intense visual stimulation. Jones points his sights at The Fast and the Furious as an easy target here.

At 79 minutes’ length, the film breezes by. Personally I would have liked it to further develop some of the interesting questions it raised, but having said that, it probably strikes the right balance in terms of making the film interesting to a wide audience. I read the book exactly ten years ago and it’s inspired me to dig it out and re-read. By giving it some context and sharing with us some of the things that great filmmakers got out of reading the book, it offers some new perspectives with which to look back at the book and Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

P.S.: The audio of the conversations between Hitchcock and Truffaut has been available online for the past five years!

Indiana Jones 5: Lessons from the Crystal Skull

Earlier this week, Deadline reported that Steven Spielberg wants to direct Disney’s reboot of Indiana Jones, with Parks and Recreation and Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt donning the legendary fedora. There’s no confirmation, but another Indy film is pretty much guaranteed. In December, Disney CEO Bob Iger tweeted that the Mouse House intended to revisit the franchise at some point.

Bert Macklin and the Raiders of the Lost Park

With this news, I decided to go back and re-watch the last Indy instalment, the much-derided Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Continue reading

Thoughts on Her (2013) and Consciousness

For me, Her is the best film of 2013. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. It was an engrossing, original piece of cinema that delivered an ingenious concept in an emotionally authentic way. It’s the very best kind of sci-fi—one where the premise serves the growth of the characters. Spike Jonze has rightly been honored by the WGA for the script, and by rights he should be getting an Oscar on March 2.

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Creatives at the Cinema: Walter Mitty, Llewyn Davis and Mr. Banks (Review/Essay)

During the farewell fortnight of 2013, I watched three films released during or immediately before the holiday season: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (dir: Ben Stiller), Inside Llewyn Davis (dirs: Joel and Ethan Coen) and Saving Mr Banks (dir: John Lee Hancock). In that order (which, incidentally, is also the ascending order of how highly I rate them). They’re distinct movies that take place in varied settings, but what unites them is that each tells a story about creative people and (perhaps more obviously with the latter two than Walter Mitty) sheds light on some aspect of creativity and living the life of one who creates. I’ll review each film in turn and talk a little about what each has to say about creativity. Mild to moderate spoilers present.

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