Out on Friday December 1
James Franco directs and stars in a terrific film about a terribly terrible one. Michael Haneke delivers some family misfortunes and some uncuddly pet themes.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Disaster Artist, Happy End, Most Beautiful Island, Wonder, and The Man Who Invented Christmas.
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The Disaster Artist
Written, directed, produced by and starring Tommy Wiseau, The Room (2003) is a candidate for the best-worst film ever made. Based on Wiseau’s co-star/best friend Greg Sestero’s making-of book, The Disaster Artist examines Wiseau’s (highly questionable) methods through a witty postmodern filter.
We meet the engaging Sestero (Dave Franco) at drama class massacring Waiting for Godot. “You have to expose yourself or no one’s ever gonna care,” says the teacher. Next onstage is Wiseau (James Franco, who directs), who does exactly that. Together, this odd couple relocate to LA to make it big, singularly fail, and decide to create their own movie.
At this point it’s reasonable to worry if we are, effectively, laughing at a handsome actor pretending to be ugly/mentally unwell. Yet Franco goes all-out to convince us this man who “wants his own planet” does actually hail from ours. When it comes to the shoot itself, the film slips into high gear, with knowing cameos, plus Seth Rogen as script editor.
Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber even manage to sweeten this potential comedy of cruelty with an uplifting outro. The biggest compliment you can pay The Disaster Artist is that it makes you want to rewatch The Room, which can’t have been anyone’s plan.
THE VERDICT: A terrific film about a terrifically terrible one, The Disaster Artist is good-bad movie gold. Double bill alert!
Director: James Franco; Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Seth Rogen; Theatrical release: December 1, 2017
Michael Haneke is not, fair to say, mellowing with age. Aged 75, the Austrian auteur here picks at familiar scabs, once more exploring bourgeois guilt, intergenerational conflict, surveillance, sociopathic kids, racial conflict and euthanasia.
Set in Calais, Happy End trains a steely gaze on the Laurent family. Octogenarian George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is the patriarch, while the family construction firm is run by middle-aged Anne (Isabelle Huppert) – whose youngest son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski), is responsible for a bad accident on site.
The Laurents’ privileged existence is further disrupted by a drug overdose, an extra-marital affair and the simmering resentment of the Moroccan servant couple who are daily subjected to their (g)liberal racism.
As is Haneke’s wont, the glacial images tease and torture with their withholding of information, demanding viewers scrutinise the edges and deep backgrounds of every frame in search of answers. Anxiety clogs each scene. And violence, when it inevitably erupts, is typically abrupt and all the more chilling for it.
But Happy End is also diabolically funny – part grisly farce, part horror movie, all Haneke. Some will dismiss it as a greatest hits compilation; try a summation of a life’s work.
Director: Michael Haneke; Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz, Fantine Harduin; Theatrical release: December 1, 2017
Most Beautiful Island
Ana Asensio’s ironically titled writer-director debut chronicles a nightmarish day in the life of the distressed Luciana (Asensio), an undocumented immigrant in New York. Desperate for cash, she agrees to attend a mysterious party, peopled by wealthy gamblers.
Shot on Super 16mm film, this is a taut, timely drama, even if the pay-off doesn’t quite match the build-up.
Director: Ana Asensio; Starring: Ana Asensio, Natasha Romanova, Caprice Benedetti; Theatrical release: December 1, 2017
Based on R.J. Palacio’s bestselling book, Wonder tells of August Pullman (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), a child with facial differences who has a rough time integrating into a mainstream school.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower director Stephen Chbosky traces a rote story arc but works hard to avoid mawkishness, while Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson dial down their star power to serve the story as Auggie’s fretful folks.
Director: Stephen Chbosky; Starring: Julia Roberts, Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson; Theatrical release: December 1, 2017
The Man Who Invented Christmas
Hmm: that would be Christ, right? Er, no. According to this footling fantasy it was Dickens, it being A Christmas Carol that enshrined the traditions we cherish today. Not that he did it alone.
The way this film tells it, the author (Dan Stevens) required visitations from Scrooge, Tiny Tim et al to help him meet his deadline. Humbug? You said it, Ebenezer.
Director: Bharat Nalluri; Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce; Theatrical release: December 1, 2017