Review: James Franco’s ‘Disaster Artist’ is uproarious and moving

My last Buffalo News movie review for the foreseeable future (long story) was a good one: “The Disaster Artist.” I gave it four stars.

The most unexpectedly poignant scene of 2017 comes near the end of “The Disaster Artist,” an uproarious and genuinely insightful creation. It is the premiere night for “The Room,” a film written, produced, directed by and starring a man of mystery named Tommy Wiseau.

If you’ve seen “The Room,” or know the story of the film and Wiseau, you can guess what happened the night of the premiere: laughter. However, “The Room,” is not a comedy. It is, instead, a dark, “emotional” story of betrayal.

It is also a god-awful effort considered by many to be the worst film ever made. And the status of “The Room” became abundantly clear just minutes into that first screening.

The assembled audience — many of whom worked on the film, either in front of or behind the camera — was in hysterics. Meanwhile, Wiseau, played here by James Franco, wept. His film was a joke, and it always would be.

This scene comes after we’ve seen Wiseau meet a fellow actor named Greg Sestero (played by Dave Franco), attempt to make it in Hollywood, fall repeatedly on his face, and, finally, develop and shoot “The Room.” We know he has no dramatic film-making ability, and little grasp of reality.

But thanks to James Franco – who also produced and directed the film – we care about Wiseau. His pain is hilarious and affecting. Yes, it can be both. Similarly, “The Room” is both a nightmare and a joy — a bad, bad film that has filled audiences around with world with real happiness.

Real happiness also comes from watching “The Disaster Artist,” a film that marks Franco’s greatest achievement. He is so intent on doing everything — writing, hosting awards shows, acting on soap operas — that his talent is often overlooked.

The script for “Disaster” by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (based on “Room” co-star Sestero’s book) presents a Wiseau with the absurdity of his public image and an innate likability. The script and the performance make everything about him – from his strange, New Orleans accent to his abundant reserves of cash – endearing.

So, too, is the first chunk of the film, in which Wiseau and Sestero move to Los Angeles to pursue acting careers. Dave Franco nicely acquits himself opposite his brother, making Sestero a relatable audience stand-in.

“Disaster” wisely avoids puncturing the Wiseau myths — no one onscreen learns where he’s from, how he makes his money, or how old he is, and neither does the audience.

And it surrounds him with characters who, like Sestero, are likable non-caricatures including Seth Rogen as the film’s script supervisor; Ari Gaynor, Jacki Weaver, and Josh Hutcherson as “Room” co-stars; and Paul Scheer as the film’s director of photography. These actors make the scenes set around the making of Wiseau’s self-funded epic hysterical.

But it is James Franco who is most memorable. At times unrecognizable, he has crafted a hero for the ages — albeit, a hero who looks like a villain. It’s not hard to see what appealed to him about the story. Similar to Franco, Wiseau was and is a figure often criticized as dangerously self-deluded. Yet he persevered, stayed true to his vision, and triumphed. With “The Disaster Artist,” so does Franco.

Like Tim Burton’s classic “Ed Wood,” “The Disaster Artist” is a testament to the communal joy of movie-making. But more than that, it’s an unforgettable appreciation of the pleasures of movie-watching.

Review: James Franco’s short stories probe youthful angst in ‘Yosemite’

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I reviewed “Yosemite,” a film based on costar James Franco’s short stories, for the Buffalo News. I gave it 3 stars.

Say what you will about the ludicrously overextended James Franco, but never deny his ambition. What other young male actor would star in a re-creation of the sexually explicit deleted scenes from 1980’s “Cruising,” play himself in the “Veronica Mars” feature, and direct a movie about the creation of Tommy Wiseau’s epicly awful cult hit “The Room”?

Yes, only Franco has the chutzpah, for better or worse, to tackle such a head-spinningly diverse selection of projects. If his starring role in Hulu’s soon-to-debut Stephen King adaptation “11.22.63” is a shout, Gabrielle Demeestere’s intimate drama “Yosemite” must be termed a whisper.

Showing from Feb. 5 to 11 in the Screening Room Cinema Cafe (3131 Sheridan Drive, Amherst), “Yosemite” is based on two short stories written by Franco and features the actor in a small role.

While not as emotionally resonant as 2014’s “Palo Alto,” the teen drama based on a collection of Franco’s short stories, “Yosemite” shares that film’s appreciation of the somber minutiae of adolescent life.

Set in 1985 Palo Alto, Calif., “Yosemite” is centered around a trio of fifth-graders, all in the same class, all deeply rooted in a fractured suburban existence. Hovering over the film is the hunt for a mountain lion that is on the prowl, and giving pause to every child and adult in the area.

We are introduced to Chris (Everett Meckler) on an overnight trip with his recovering alcoholic father (Franco) and younger brother. The relationship between child and adult feels suitably forced; clearly, there is a distance between Chris and his old man.

Joe (Alec Mansky) is a quiet, sullen comic book fan whose parents are no longer together after a family tragedy. He was once close with classmate Ted (Calum John), but now the two are at odds.

All three of the young leads are natural, convincing actors. Perhaps the most involving character of the bunch is Alec Mansky’s Joe, a boy clearly in search of guidance and friendship.

He finds it, to some degree, from Henry (Henry Hopper, son of Dennis and the talented lead of Gus Van Sant’s offbeat 2011 film “Restless”). This loner with a stack of comics encourages Joe to read the superhero tales aloud, and seems curiously concerned with his safety.

But like most relationships in the film, there is an undercurrent of danger. There is a definite lack of follow-through on several fronts, specifically the relationship between Henry and Joe. Is he a predator? Is his interest in Joe unhealthy? Demeestere never answers these questions, and that’s clearly intentional.

In fact, the interactions between the three fifth-graders and the adults are all fraught with tension. Even the seemingly normal relationship of Ted and his insomniac father, an early user of the Internet, is, to say the least, strange. (Pay close attention to the text on the computer screen.)

The minefields of youth are clearly of interest to Franco, and Demeestere does a fine job of showing just how difficult life is for all three kids. Even Ted, the most nondescript of the bunch, suffers the loss of a pet (possibly to the mountain lion).

For all its modest successes, “Yosemite” cannot help but feel sleight. Just 80 minutes long, the film always is intriguing, but does not lead anywhere profound. There is a spiritual undercurrent that is especially pronounced in its closing scenes, but like the Joe-Henry relationship, never quite pays off.

Still, Demeestere’s work here is impressive. This small-scale drama is visually arresting and worthy of contemplation, and shows her to be a filmmaker on the rise.

Just her first feature, “Yosemite” is a strange, involving, very quiet film, and whatever it lacks in theatrics it makes up for with mood. It is another unexpected foray for Franco, and while it may garner less press than something like the high-profile “11.22.63,” it deserves an audience.

Review: ‘Yosemite’ is a fine adaptation of two James Franco short stories

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“Yosemite” is a fine film playing for one week only at the Screening Room in Amherst. I gave it three stars in my Buffalo News review.

Say what you will about the ludicrously overextended James Franco, but never deny his ambition. What other young male actor would star in a re-creation of the sexually explicit deleted scenes from 1980’s “Cruising,” play himself in the “Veronica Mars” feature, and direct a movie about the creation of Tommy Wiseau’s epicly awful cult hit “The Room”?

Yes, only Franco has the chutzpah, for better or worse, to tackle such a head-spinningly diverse selection of projects. If his starring role in Hulu’s soon-to-debut Stephen King adaptation “11.22.63” is a shout, Gabrielle Demeestere’s intimate drama “Yosemite” must be termed a whisper.

Showing from Feb. 5 to 11 in the Screening Room Cinema Cafe (3131 Sheridan Drive, Amherst), “Yosemite” is based on two short stories written by Franco and features the actor in a small role.

While not as emotionally resonant as 2014’s “Palo Alto,” the teen drama based on a collection of Franco’s short stories, “Yosemite” shares that film’s appreciation of the somber minutiae of adolescent life.

Set in 1985 Palo Alto, Calif., “Yosemite” is centered around a trio of fifth-graders, all in the same class, all deeply rooted in a fractured suburban existence. Hovering over the film is the hunt for a mountain lion that is on the prowl, and giving pause to every child and adult in the area.

We are introduced to Chris (Everett Meckler) on an overnight trip with his recovering alcoholic father (Franco) and younger brother. The relationship between child and adult feels suitably forced; clearly, there is a distance between Chris and his old man.

Joe (Alec Mansky) is a quiet, sullen comic book fan whose parents are no longer together after a family tragedy. He was once close with classmate Ted (Calum John), but now the two are at odds.

All three of the young leads are natural, convincing actors. Perhaps the most involving character of the bunch is Alec Mansky’s Joe, a boy clearly in search of guidance and friendship.

He finds it, to some degree, from Henry (Henry Hopper, son of Dennis and the talented lead of Gus Van Sant’s offbeat 2011 film “Restless”). This loner with a stack of comics encourages Joe to read the superhero tales aloud, and seems curiously concerned with his safety.

But like most relationships in the film, there is an undercurrent of danger. There is a definite lack of follow-through on several fronts, specifically the relationship between Henry and Joe. Is he a predator? Is his interest in Joe unhealthy? Demeestere never answers these questions, and that’s clearly intentional.

In fact, the interactions between the three fifth-graders and the adults are all fraught with tension. Even the seemingly normal relationship of Ted and his insomniac father, an early user of the Internet, is, to say the least, strange. (Pay close attention to the text on the computer screen.)

The minefields of youth are clearly of interest to Franco, and Demeestere does a fine job of showing just how difficult life is for all three kids. Even Ted, the most nondescript of the bunch, suffers the loss of a pet (possibly to the mountain lion).

For all its modest successes, “Yosemite” cannot help but feel sleight. Just 80 minutes long, the film always is intriguing, but does not lead anywhere profound. There is a spiritual undercurrent that is especially pronounced in its closing scenes, but like the Joe-Henry relationship, never quite pays off.

Still, Demeestere’s work here is impressive. This small-scale drama is visually arresting and worthy of contemplation, and shows her to be a filmmaker on the rise.

Just her first feature, “Yosemite” is a strange, involving, very quiet film, and whatever it lacks in theatrics it makes up for with mood. It is another unexpected foray for Franco, and while it may garner less press than something like the high-profile “11.22.63,” it deserves an audience.

Review: Gia Coppola continues the family tradition with “Palo Alto”

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A film I was dying to see at TIFF but unable to catch was Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto.” I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review it recently for the Buffalo News. Here is my 3 ½ star review.

“Palo Alto” is a rarity in recent American high school cinema. It opens not with a raucous party or a messy make-out scene, but with two teenagers sitting in a beat-up old car, getting stoned, drinking and talking nonsense. Suddenly, the driver hits the gas, and the car smashes into a wall.

Such sudden, foolish accidents are often a reality of teenage life, and opening with a scene such as this makes it clear that first-time director Gia Coppola is aiming to create something greater than the typical high school drama.

Like her aunt Sofia, the already accomplished photographer has an eye for adolescent ennui, and in “Palo Alto,” she deftly captures how it feels to be young, bored, lustful and a little bit scared. In doing so, Gia Coppola has firmly established herself as a thrilling, intelligent young director, one every bit as unique and bright as her aunt Sofia, uncle Roman, grandmother Eleanor and grandfather Francis.

Yes, the Coppola dynasty continues to startle, and if the results were not so noteworthy, it might seem obnoxious. Interestingly, “Palo Alto” stars Emma Roberts, the daughter of Eric Roberts and niece of Julia, and Jack Kilmer, son of Val Kilmer and Joanne Whaley. Both stars are self-assured and wonderfully “real,” just like the film.

Based on actor James Franco’s short-story collection – yes, Franco is seemingly on a quest to win the award for busiest man in show business – this ensemble drama is centered on a group of realistically complex, often troubled teens.

April (Roberts) is a shy, introspective virgin with an odd home life and a crush on her soccer coach, “Mr. B,” played by … James Franco. She often baby-sits his young son, and finds herself the wide-eyed subject of his attention.

Things develop into an expected situation, but the performances of Roberts and Franco keep the clichéd student-teenager affair from feeling rote. Neither character is one-note, and under Coppola’s direction, both are memorably authentic.

Kilmer is Teddy, a quiet, floppy-haired youth who harbors a secret crush on April. After a post-party drive home results in a DUI, Teddy is forced to perform community service, and actually seems to take to it. However, the behavior of his best friend Fred (Nat Wolff) grows increasingly erratic and dangerous.

All of these sexual, drug-and-loneliness-fueled entanglements occur amid school days, parties and soccer games — the monotonous elements of high school life in suburbia. It is an emotional mosaic in which little “happens,” but every look, gesture and touch is bursting with desire.

“Palo Alto” is, then, clearly the work of a photographer, and there are shots of haunting beauty and bleak elegance. The film’s final third, especially, contains several startling moments, visually and thematically. Even the fate of Fred, a character who at first seems the dullest individual onscreen, becomes surprisingly involving.

What keeps “Palo Alto” from qualifying as a truly great film is the sense that it never arrives at any particularly new insight. Coppola’s findings about the teenage wasteland of high school are truthful and wise, but never quite surprising. This means that “Palo Alto” is a coming-of-age drama – period. But it is a successful one, and that is more than enough.

If the film heralds the arrival of a fine new director, it is also noteworthy for establishing that Franco is capable of subtlety as both an actor and a writer (who knew?), that Kilmer is a star in the making, and, most of all, that Roberts is one of her generation’s finest young actors.

The 23-year-old Roberts has perhaps the most perplexingly emotive eyes in recent cinema, coupled with a casual elegance and strength. She has now dabbled in indie films (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”), genre fare (“Scream 4”), and television (“American Horror Story”), but “Palo Alto” indicates that Roberts’ most fascinating work is yet to come.

As for Coppola, her maturation as a writer and director will certainly be intriguing. Remember that aunt Sofia followed her debut, “The Virgin Suicides,” with the startlingly wonderful “Lost in Translation.” Gia Coppola’s next cinematic effort should be just as memorable.

Review: James Franco’s “Actor’s Anonymous” is a fascinating, messy creation

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I reviewed James Franco’s first novel for the Buffalo News, and it was fascinating — to say the least.

“I wanted to tell the truth all the time. I wanted to use my life as a model for my work. I thought that I was interesting enough that this would translate, truth – interesting stuff that people want to read. I could go around to everyone and say only true things, but would that mean anything? When would it get interesting?”

So ponders James Franco in his first “novel,” “Actor’s Anonymous,” a strange, messy, fascinating creation that highlights everything that is unique and obnoxious about the Oscar-nominated star of “127 Hours.” We know it’s a novel because the cover says so, although there is no straight narrative; the book is a loose collection of stories centered around the acting profession. It is … interesting, to say the least.

When did he have the time to write “Actor’s Anonymous”? It’s hard to say, although one thing is certain: No one multitasks like James Franco. Let’s ponder his recent output.

So far in 2013, he starred in the god-awful, hugely successful “Oz the Great and Powerful”; gave the best performance of his career as cornrow-and-grill-sporting gangsta Alien in Harmony Korine’s luridly masterful “Spring Breakers”; appeared as himself, hilariously, in the hit comedy “This Is the End”; awkwardly played Hugh Hefner in “Lovelace”; served as writer and director of adaptations of Faulkner (“As I Lay Dying”) and McCarthy (“Child of God”); directed and starred in a bold, ambitious “reimagining” of the supposed missing 40 minutes of William Friedkin’s still-controversial gay serial killer thriller “Cruising”; appeared in “Palo Alto,” an adaptation of several of his short stories from first-time-filmmaker and grand-daughter of Francis, Gia Coppola; and guest-starred on TV’s “The Mindy Project.”

Mind you, that is not everything. Not even close. In fact, he’s writing this review. Well, a review, somewhere, I’m sure. Or perhaps he is taking courses on “Franco Theory” at the University of Franco Online, as well as teaching (and auditing) the class.

Somehow, in the midst of all his artpop activities, Franco wrote “Actor’s Anonymous,” and it is, to be sure, utterly Franco. It is a text that both embraces celebrity, and trivializes it, that mocks the concept of the “actor,” and cherishes it, that might be in on the joke … or perhaps is not. Just like James Franco.

Or should I say, “James Franco.” The character “James Franco” is all over “Actor’s Anonymous,” but here, he is identified as “The Actor.” He is present in the book’s first actual chapter, “I Am the Actor,” a collection of thoughts centered, like the rest of the novel, on the concept of performance. His ponderings include:

“I’m like a sophisticated prop. I’ll give you all the feeling you want, all the accents you want, all the hairstyles and wardrobe changes you want, and I’ll say whatever you put in front of me. But don’t ask me to take pride in the work.”

“Did Brando deal with fame by getting fat and bitter?”

“[Steve] McQueen was a sex addict and would have threesomes all the time. He wanted to do Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ for the longest time, and then when he finally did it, no one saw it.”

The latter quote is pure and utter, what-the-Franco i.e. it’s simultaneously concerned with sex, celebrity, cinema history, the struggle for artistic acceptance, the sense that none of it matters — or maybe all of it does. Yes, it’s rather preposterous to read these throughout the novel, acting-class-lite talking points that touch on the Marlboro Man, Jack Nicholson, Kenneth Anger, Perez Hilton.

But they are more effective than much of the novel, which is consistently intriguing and well-written, and consistently unpleasant. Franco the writer has a predilection for characters, scenes, and images that are, well, gross.

There is the sorority girl known as “Diarrhea” for the time she – never mind. There is the epic orgy in a Santa Monica public bathroom, a “horrible cement thing with steel toilets, graffiti, and dirty water on the floor, and rust everywhere.”

There is the tale of a young actor stuck working at McDonald’s, where he is propositioned by Juan, a grill cook “shaped like a soft triangle with a huge bulging groin area and a super small head.” Juan speaks no English, but explains his desire through Dylan, a “slow” coworker:

“He licked his top lip and then let his teeth rest in the flesh of his bottom lip. The teeth were small and sharp like he’d filed them. I flashed both hands with all fingers flushed three times and said, ‘For thirty.’ He let his teeth sink back into his mouth and said in a high voice, ‘Twenty-five.’ The words sounded like a ventriloquist was projecting the voice of a small Mexican girl into his mouth.”

It’s a grim, believable scene, but feels rote, as if Franco the author is as desperate to shock as Franco the celeb is to confuse. (“General Hospital” guest-shot? Why not?)

The aforementioned “Actor” returns periodically, generally as a smart-aleck cad. He takes us back to the premiere of “127 Hours” at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival (“a person fainted during the arm amputation scene, then another one fainted before the movie ended”), after which an “OK-looking” girl asked for a picture. The Actor asked her to email it to him.

They were unable to hook up at TIFF, but kept in touch, so to speak:

“[I]n the intervening months she had sent me plenty of photos of her body and especially her [butt], so when she arrived at my Lower East Side apartment, I was ready and she was ready. Not only did she allow me to do everything I wanted to her, she let me film it on my phone.”

Here and elsewhere in the novel, Franco is trying to have it both ways — mocking the prurient nature of Hollywood stardom, while also reveling in it. And occasionally, it works, mainly when it is the Actor spinning these tales.

Or is it always the Actor? Is every chapter, every thought, every character, a different shade of one performer? And is that performer Franco himself? It is a mystery most won’t care to contemplate, but that does not mean readers won’t find the novel an involving experience. I certainly did, even with its faults and absurdities.

What the book hammers home is that James Franco is fascinatingly incomprehensible, an actor-writer-director-whatever who is smart, ambitious, and blazingly silly.

And so it goes: In recent days, the trailer for one of Franco’s next films, “Homefront,” dropped. He plays the villain (!) in this Jason Statham action flick (!) scripted by Sylvester Stallone (!). Around the same time, his most recent directorial effort, a look at the last hours in the life of Sal Mineo, debuted.

That’s Franco: The missing link between Sylvester Stallone and Sal Mineo. May he never change.

This week in Buffalo: Franco and a Fantastic Festival

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Every week offers cinematic treats in the Queen City — tomorrow, for example, the Buffalo Film Seminars screening for the week is Charlie Kaufman’s stunning “Synecdoche, New York” — but this week is especially packed with intriguing options.

The Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival actually began on Friday (November 8) and runs through this Thursday. Billing itself as “7 Days of the Best Independent Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Action, Thriller, Animation, Cult and Fan Films from Around the World,” the festival’s numbers are stellar: 26 feature films, 59 shorts, 13 local productions, and 27 international films. It’s a cool way to see some movies on the big screen that likely would never come our way.

On Friday comes a biggie at Hallwalls: James Franco’s “Interior. Leather Bar.” This is the fascinating “reimagining” from Franco (and co-director Travis Matthews) of the supposed lost 40 minutes of William Friedkin’s still-controversial “Cruising.” I have long found “Cruising” to be a strange, enthralling artifact, and the idea behind “Leather Bar” seems utterly brilliant. The film screens twice, at 8 p.m. and midnight.

And just think, this week also saw the Buffalo openings of “12 Years a Slave” and “All is Lost” …

Review: “Lovelace” is Grim and Hard to Watch, But Often Compelling

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I reviewed the Linda Lovelace biopic cleverly titled “Lovelace” for the Buffalo News, and found it a mixed success. It is certainly not a major triumph, but if you can handle the subject matter, it’s worth watching. I gave it 2 ½ stars.

Did Walter Cronkite say a word that — as “Seinfeld” fans recall — is a female body part that rhymes with a woman’s name on the nightly news? After all, a clip in the film “Lovelace” shows us that Cronkite did indeed report on “Deep Throat,” the infamous 1972 pornographic film smash that became a punch line for Johnny Carson and Bob Hope, and provided a suitable pseudonym for a certain Watergate whistleblower.

My question goes unanswered in “Lovelace,” the story of used, abused “Deep Throat” star Linda Lovelace, and, quite frankly, I’m glad it does. Hearing “the most trusted man in America” make even a passing reference to “Deep Throat” is unnerving yet intriguing, like hearing Queen Elizabeth read aloud from the “Kama Sutra.” (Make that just unnerving.)

Unnerving yet intriguing — that is also an apt description for “Lovelace,” a grim, compelling film directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.

It never approaches the heights of the directors’ documentary work (“The Times of Harvey Milk,” “The Celluloid Closet”), and it never surprises the viewer with shocking insight. But as a set-the-record-straight chronicle of how the “poster girl for the sexual revolution” was taken advantage of and almost destroyed, the film succeeds.

Amanda Seyfried portrays the starlet with the proper mix of kindness, vulnerability and despair. (Interestingly, Lindsay Lohan was slated to star in a competing biopic, one that, like so many Lohan projects, and the actress herself, crashed and burned.)

Linda Lovelace (she died in 2002) became internationally recognized for her role in the film. For much of it, she is an intentionally blank slate, a wide-eyed Florida girl under the thumb of a domineering mother (a frumpy, barely recognizable Sharon Stone).

Typically, she soon meets a moustached, muscle-shirt-clad scary monster, Chuck Traynor. He’s played by super-creep Peter Sarsgaard, an actor who is frightening playing good guys; playing a jerk, he’s downright disturbing. “What are you so uptight about?” is his perennially clueless question.

Traynor soon brings Linda into a world of sloppy, homemade porn and greasy-haired sleaze-mongers, resulting in the higher-scale production of “Deep Throat.” Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale play the film’s driving forces as relatively good-natured horndogs; “Dat’s art, baby!” shouts Azaria’s director, Gerard Damiano.

In fact, the whole making-of comes with nary a protest, and is shot with the “wink-wink” haze that, sadly, usually accompanies stories of “Deep Throat,” that oh-so-wacky porno that even grandma could chuckle over.

This sense of naughty fun turns out to be a nice bit of posturing from Epstein and Friedman. Following the film’s production and its success (James Franco plays Hugh Hefner, by way of James Franco), we jump ahead six years.

Now, Linda is taking a polygraph test at the behest of her book publisher. She is telling all about the physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of Traynor, who forcibly pushed her into the film, and even pimped her out. It is no wonder Lovelace’s memoir was titled “Ordeal.”

We head back in time once more to Linda’s pre-“Deep Throat” days, and see, from her point of view, how nightmarish her life was, and how much worse it turned after the film became a $600 million-grossing (!) cross-cultural smash. (She was paid just $1,250 for the role.)

For all that “Lovelace” does right, it never quite breaks a feeling of déjà vu, thanks to similarly themed sideburn-fuzzy looks at ’70s porn culture like “Boogie Nights,” the dreary “Wonderland,” the 2005 documentary “Inside Deep Throat,” and even Bob Fosse’s “Star 80.”

That aesthetic exhaustion, coupled with the utter bleakness of Lovelace’s abuse, makes the film hard to watch, and tough to recommend. But if it takes away some of the phony humor that is usually associated with “Deep Throat,” and instead forever makes Linda Lovelace’s ordeal an essential part of the story, then it has accomplished something undeniably important.

Photo from Buffalo News review

The Good, The Bad, and The Weird: “Oz the Great and Powerful” Lacks Greatness, Power

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Okay, this is going to be a short one. Sam Raimi’s “Wizard of Oz” prequel/reimagining/what-have-you is not awful, per se. It is simply … Empty. I watched the film a little less than a week ago, and I barely recall a single detail. It is nothing cinema.

The Good:

  • I will give Raimi credit for casting. The sheer concept of James Franco as the Wizard is utterly, bizarrely absurd. Yes, he is miscast, but it is fun watching him play the part, as if this is yet another meta-move from the man whose recent efforts include “Spring Breakers,” a “Cruising” pastiche, and god knows what else. I did not buy him here for a second, but he was still a joy to behold.
  • More casting: I adore Mila Kunis, and quite like Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz. So kudos …
  • Oh, the black and white opening was lovely.

The Bad:

  • Pretty much everything else. Not a moment felt original or gripping. It’s an inoffensive but horribly wasteful creation.

The Weird:

  • Zach Braff? Odd choice.
  • Seriously … James Franco? I mean, REALLY?

It all adds up to a two-star effort, and that’s being generous. I’d expect better from Sam Raimi, but we are talking about the director of “Spider-Man 3,” so … Why should I?

 

Photo: Michelle Williams stars as Glinda in Walt Disney Pictures’ “Oz: The Great and Powerful” (2013)