James Franco

February 16, 2016

Simplistic TV: 11/22/63

PROMISE
11/22/63 – Promise

Not many reviews of any kind grace the pages of the site much anymore, mainly because we either get around to talking about it on the podcast, log them on Letterboxd (on occasion), and the fact that every other site on the Internet talks about the same stuff over and over ad nausea, so what’s the point? However, since the Grammys are on, and who really gives a crap about seeing 1,000 cut-aways to Taylor Swift being “happy” for every single artist that has ever stepped in front of a microphone, I thought I’d dust off the old writin’ fingers and give a few thoughts on the surprise Hulu Original, the James Franco-led “11/22/63.”

Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, this eight-part series features a time-traveling portal that takes the user back to 1960. Al (Chris Cooper), the proprietor of the diner in which the portal resides, convinces Jake (Franco), a schoolteacher, to travel back into time and stop the assassination of John F Kennedy. With hesitation, Jake enters the portal and is transported back to 1960 and travels to Dallas, Texas.

Most of the time, when King’s works are put to TV or celluloid, the results are mixed. Most of the miniseries’ that aired on network TV back in the 1990s and early 2000s had solid starts, and quickly fizzled out (I’m looking at you “Storm of the Century”). And of course for every “Stephen King’s It” you have duds like “Dreamcatcher,” but being that this is the golden age of TV is almost seems time to see more of King’s work on platforms like Hulu; they can take chances, there are no limits, and with audiences moving to cutting the cord and watching shows on their own time, this might be one of the biggest success stories for any of King’s works and could lead to a revival of “The Stand” or any other work of his that at one time was seen as unfilmable and too big for TV. If anything, at this point in time, in order to tell the story completely, his stories are too small for the silver screen, and perfect for the small screen.

In the first episode, you really get a taste of things to come in this short series. The world seems fully realized in recreating the 1960s with a combination of small town rural and big city Dallas. The creepiness factor moves in with Kevin J O’Connor as the so-called “Yellow Card Man” and the reoccurring comment to Jake; “You shouldn’t be here.”

The early comments are me are as follow; How are they going to show how time travel affects the present, and will eight episodes be enough to tell this story? To the first comment, that is a resounding, “we’ll see” it was partially explained within the first 20 minutes or so, but I’m interesting to see how the bigger implications come into play. As far as the eight episodes, the novel was 800+ pages, so if you figure 100 pages an episode, hopefully it should work, take into account that I’ve never read the novel, so hopefully people loyal to the book will agree on that.

Lastly, you can’t talk a Franco-led show or film without some pretty funny Francoism, and this episode has two whoppers. Early in the show, when Jake first enters the portal, he mentions that there better not be any spiders, and later on, while in 1960, he’s eating pie and mentions how the pie is. Of course this could all be coincidence, but I like to think that Franco is making a concerted effort to relive/make fun of his days in the “Spider-Man” series. Speculation of course, but I like to think that’s what Franco was trying to do.

Overall, from a production, acting, and story standpoint, “11/22/63” is almost unsurpassed. I love the look, I love the tone, and I simply think this is a well crafted and well made adaption of a novel (of course, like I said, I haven’t read the novel, but it looks good) that might have eagles eyes on it from die-hard fans, and TV people alike. Hell, if this works out, we might be looking at more King work going to a studio that knows exactly what to do with it. Don’t mess this up Hulu!     

December 30, 2014

The Interview (2014)

WAR

The Interview –War

There is something to be said about a film that pretty much destroys the trust and security of a movie studio, single-handedly starts a cyber war, and draws the ire of all social media outlets where everyone is suddenly a film critic and each have the best review, “well, it sucks because it sucks.” I’ve always been a huge fan of those types of reviews. “The Interview” is that film and is by far the most polarizing “thing” to happen this year, besides maybe Kim Kardashian’s “Paper Chase.” Who’d of thought that a stoner comedy, at heart, would cause mass hysteria the likes that haven’t been seen since, well, ever.

Out story begins with Dave Skylark and Aaron Rapoport, James Franco and Seth Rogen respectively, who host and produce “Skylark Tonight” a celebrity-trash interview show. After 1,000 episodes, Aaron is looking for something a little more meaningful in his journalistic career. As luck would have it, North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un is a huge fan of Skylark’s show, as well as “The Big Bang Theory.” Feeling that this could be their big break to be taken serious, the duo setup an interview to take place in Pyongyang where Skylark will interview Jong-un. Upon catching wind of their impending interview, the CIA gets wind and wants in on the action, namely seizing the chance to kill the North Korean despot. Dave and Aaron travel to North Korea, and needless to say, hijinks ensue that include dick and fart jokes, while tossing in stereotypical stoner humor with a dash of “wink-wink-nod-nod” movie reference references.

The simple take away from “The Interview” is this; if you like “Pineapple Express” “This is the End” “Neighbors” or anything else that is within the Judd Apatow inner circle, you will enjoy “The Interview,” it’s that simple. Will this film get ripper apart by critics and the Internet? Of course it will. One, mainly because critics who sit in their ivory tower find it incredibly difficult to understand why a film like this would be a political touchstone. I mean, for a little bit there, it seemed like World War III was imminent. Critics hate when something takes over the consciousness of a people when it clearly shouldn’t. Add in the pile on of Internet trolls who say the movie sucks, because well, the movie sucks to them, and you have the bait set for a film to become something that runs in a 24 hour news cycle days on end. Guess what people, you just got trolled by Franco and Rogen. If you didn’t think this is the response they wanted, well, you need to get your head examined.

Sure, the film has plot holes, underwritten characters, is about 25-30 minutes too long, and has large gaps of just uselessness, but would you expect anything less? With that being said, I was never bored, I laughed throughout much of the film, and you can’t deny the fact that Franco and Rogen like making films together and see film as fun and not just something that needs to be respected and cherished, and worst of all, a landmark event. Christ, the film is about two bumblers trying to save the world from a 3rd-world dictator, is there anything more ridiculous than that?

So, is “The Interview” worth the hype? Not at all, its a typical comedy in the Apatow vein that most people should be very familiar with. Is it a bad movie and does it “suck?” Of course not, it’s very funny, absurd, and has plenty of quotable lines. Unfortunately, the film will be better remembered for the “war” it started, which when I think about it, maybe isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Fun Fact:There is nothing fun about North Korea…..

August 10, 2013

True Stories: The Iceman

RUSHED

The thing about reviewing films based on a true story is you’re usually limited to technical aspects of the film.  Barring some historical inaccuracy, the only fair thing to harp on is how the story is told.  Essentially because it all really happened.  You can’t complain about an ending that really happened.  You can’t complain about character choices that really happened.  You mainly hope that the way the filmmakers tell the story is compelling and that the actors give strong and truthful performances of their real life counterparts.  The Iceman, sadly, is a film that seems to fall just short of doing both of those things.

The story of The Iceman centers around the real life story of cold blooded mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski and how he keeps his murderous career a secret from his family.  Essentially, what if No Country For Old Men’s Anton Chigurh on his off days was Danny Tanner from Full House.  It is as terrific a set up and interesting a story for any film.  Just as the plot for that gets started, just as you are ready to see the rise of this hitman through the mob ranks and the elaborate lies he must concoct in order to remain the unassuming patriarch of his family, the film starts a two hour journey to RUSH past both elements clumsily.  And it doesn’t stop.  Both selling points the movie has are handled either through stunted montages or RUSHED time jumps.

One minute, Richard has just entered the world of contract killing.  The next minute, he is a seasoned pro.  All the ins and outs of being an effective hitman and rising through the ranks as the number one mob soldier are skipped over or RUSHED.  A counter to that criticism could be that the film isn’t about the contract killing.  Maybe it is about the family dynamic throughout.  Fine.  One minute Richard is a brand new father struggling to get he and his wife a better place to live.  The next minute, he has a second teenage child and they’re all living in a house in the suburbs.  All his lies to his wife and kids and all of the moments you want to see from a guy leading a dubious double life are skipped over or RUSHED.  Maybe the film isn’t supposed to be about the double life stuff either.  Maybe it is about Richard’s cold blooded nature and the horrible past that leads to the apropos title of this film.  A true character study of a sociopath.  Well, the structure of the film short circuits that by being mum about his upbringing until a sudden exposition dump in one scene.  There is a pivotal part where the normally cold blooded murderer Richard discovers a young teenager has witnessed him killing someone.  He decides to let her go.  Why?  It is alluded to later, but to that point the film had done nothing to hint at this character having a conscience.  Basically the opposite, in fact.  It hadn’t earned that moment.  My point is that if these dynamics of Richard Kuklinski’s life were focused on or fleshed out more instead of sped through, the film would have had a clearer direction.

The cast for The Iceman is of a particularly high quality but a bit misplaced.  Michael Shannon, or as I like to call him, Willem Dafoe 2.0, is the centerpiece of this film.  As much as I do like him as an actor, I am not certain of him in the part of Richard Kuklinski.  Now don’t get me wrong.  The lack of anything but intensity behind his eyes make him perfect as the murderous hitman.  He has made a career of playing people like that.  However, Shannon is somewhat unconvincing as a loving husband and father.  I mean ladies, are you really going home with THIS GUY?  This goes again to my previous dilemma of criticizing true stories.  Perhaps Kuklinski was as stoic a dad as he was in this film.  I’m not sure.  However, I can’t help but wonder how better the movie would have been served if someone like a Thomas Jane, a Josh Brolin or a Mickey Rourke was cast as Kuklinski.  Someone you can buy portraying both facets of the man’s life.   Winona Ryder plays the oblivious wife Deborah.  Ryder is fine here but her chemistry with Shannon is marginal at best.  And though the film wants to split time between home life and mob life, Deborah’s relationship with Richard still feels too short changed.  Right when we start to get a solid emotional scene between the two of them, it ends unceremoniously.  The cast is rounded out by an odd Chris Evans, an almost unrecognizable David Schwimmer, a very recognizable James Franco, Stephen Dorff, and Ray Liotta.  Liotta, a man who’s best role was in a film that had the structure I wish this film would have had.

As true stories go, The Iceman isn’t a particularly high ranking one.  The disjointed and RUSHED method the story is told really hamstrings what this film could have been.  The story of Richard Kuklinski is still best told by the man himself in the HBO documentary Confessions Of A Mafia Hitman.  However, if you happen upon the story’s one dramatization, try to keep up…look out for ice cream trucks…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

June 24, 2013

This is the End

FRIENDS

This is the End – Friends

Modern comedy falls into three groupings; buddy comedies (The Internship) re-hash comedies (any of The Hangover films) and comedy that came from the penis of Judd Apatow.  If it wasn’t for Apatow you could say that comedy would be dead.  Coming from a generation that thought “The Cable Guy” was one of the best comedies of the 1990s, that pretty much sums it up.  But what happens when you get a film that doesn’t have any of Apatow’s fingerprints on it, yet, remains at heart, an Apatow film?  You get the Rapture-inspired comedy, “This is the End.”  A film about friends, redemption, and a lot of jokes about cum.

Let me put this on front street;  “End” will not be for everyone, but it should be if you’ve seen any Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, or Danny McBride film, which I guess would mean that THIS film IS for EVERYONE!  Sure the humor is sophomoric, gross, and the conversations between the actors runs from inane, homoerotic, to, at times, philosophical, but what would you expect from the same guys that brought you “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express.”

“End” revolves around a party at James Franco’s new house where he’s invited everyone from Kevin Hart to a coked-up Michael Cera (who steals every scene he is in). Between the cocaine lines, bong hits, and Capri Suns, The Rapture begins, sucking people into heaven in blue light, while sinners remain on earth.  A majority of the cast dies, but a small group, including Rogen, Hill, McBride, Franco, Craig Robinson, and Jay Baruchel,  survive and slowly turn on each other while trying to figure what to do in the now-post Ap

If you’re looking for a plot and/or story, you’re looking for the wrong thing.  “End” is clearly a comedy showcase from Rogan to Robinson.  Each actor gets their chance to shine and it’s hilarious the watch even if you kind of know where the story is heading come the climax (that sentence is full of innuendo, but so is this film).  There will be some people in the audience that might feel divided about the humor, that ranges from potty-talk, to mean-spirited, but remember; it’s comedy anyway you slice it, and unless you are simply someone with no sense of humor, you’ll get a chuckle every few minutes.

What sets “End” apart from other Apatow fare, as well as any other comedy that’s been in the multiplex lately is the film’s take on celebrity.  “End” plays out more like a reality TV show, which might make you wonder; are these actors really like this in real life?  The answer is; maybe, maybe not.  Most of use are used to the characters that Seth Rogan, James, Franco, and Jonah Hill play in their movies; man-boys that smoke pot, have menial jobs, yet somehow end up for the better come the end of their films.  “End” takes this idea and puts it in some semblance of reality, yet all the actors are still playing a caricature of themselves from their films.  It’s an interesting way to view the film when you think about whether these guys have slowly taken up a role in “real” life that they are known for from their films.  It’s meta upon meta upon meta……

If you don’t want to get that deep, that’s fine, “End” is still the funniest movie that you’ll see all year without a doubt, and that should be enough to get you’re money.  However if that’s not enough…..spoiler alert……the Backstreet Boys are in it.  Now if that doesn’t make you want to pony up about 10 duckets, well, I’m sure you can still check out “The Hangover: Part III” at the dollar theater.

Fun Fact:  Over the course of their careers, The Backstreet Boys have sold over 130 Million records.  Suck on that N’Sync!

March 23, 2013

Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers – Guilty

Every once in a while, a film comes around that changes your life.  A film that you’ll tell your kids and grand-kids that ushered in a new wave of cinema.  A film that will be a landmark moment where all film-goers collectively get out of their seats, and initiate “the slow clap.”  A film that will be broken down in film schools across the world and film historians will bring up in conversations with the likes of “American Beauty”, “Casablanca”, and “8 1/2.”  Well, this isn’t this film, not even close, but despite what a lot of people have said, and are saying, “Spring Breakers” might not be pretty, but it just might be the biggest guilty pleasure film in recent memory.

“Breakers” can be lumped into two categories; it’s either a soft-core porn that is cashing in on the popularity of “Disney girls” who are trying to break free of their kiddie-image, but they are being exploited just as bad, if not worse.  Or, you can look at it as a caricature of Spring Break culture that you might have seen on MTV back in the early 1990s, and an expose on small town life versus “the real world.”  I promise, I will not dig that deep into this movie, because if you go into “Breakers” looking for deep meaning or a reason why the movie was made you are going to miss out on a film that is super fun, super awesome, and super stupid, but stupid in that way that you might have said back in the 1990s, ie, STUPID FRESH!

In case you haven’t heard, the plot is simple.  Four friends, Candy, Cotty, Brit, and Faith, don’t have enough money to go to Spring Break in Tampa/St. Pete, Florida so they do what any rational young college student would do; rob a restaurant to finance their trip.  After their successful robbery, the four girls head to Spring Break for the time of their lives, that is until they’re arrested and the party is over, or is it?  Bailed out of jail by a small-time gangster named Alien, played by James Franco in probably his most memorable role to date, things go from bad to worse for the four friends as they leave behind their dreams of the best Spring Break ever, and it turns into a nightmare…..or does it?

Part of the fun of “Breakers” is not knowing fully what the film is about.  Yes, at heart, it’s a skin flick that shows PLENTY of boobs, close up shots of crotchal areas, and any parent’s nightmare of what their precious little boys and girls are doing in vacation resorts around the country from late March to April.  Yes parents, your kids are probably having unprotected sex all over the place, while doing funnels of Natty Light, after doing coke off a townie’s ass.  C’mon, we’ve all been there before.

A few things surprised me about “Breakers” besides the fact that I truly enjoyed it, almost too much in fact.  Say what you will about Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens; but they can act.  Yes, I said it, they can act.  I was almost surprised at how down and dirty they got, especially Hudgens, who gives the 2nd best performance in the film, but that best performance goes to Franco, who creates a character that is part Tony Montana, part Saul from “Pineapple Express,” and part rapper Paul Wall.  His creation of Alien is in fact other worldly, and his “Look at my shit!” and for lack of a better term, gun blowjob scene, are the highlights of the film. And like my co-reviewer said in his “OZ” review, Franco loves to mug for the camera, and he’s at his best in “Breakers” completely self-aware that he is in complete control of character.  Oh, by the way, for you wresting fans, your old pal Double J, Jeff Jarrett, makes a cameo as a Jesus freak.  Yes, that Jeff Jarrett.

This film is polarizing, and people are either going to love it or hate it, just like most of Harmony Korine’s films.  Let me put it this way, if you’ve seen “Kids” and “Gummo” and you hated them, save yourself  the money or just be lame and watch “The Croods” or “Tyler Perry’s: Temptation.”

“Spring Breakers”…….”Spring Breakers” forever………

Fun Fact:  Jeff Jarrett, while wrestling for the WWE, was a six-time Intercontinental Champion, a record at the time, which was broken in 2004.

March 16, 2013

Oz The Great And Powerful

PROPER

Little self involvement time.  I haven’t written a review in a while mainly because I’ve been busy preparing content for our monthly podcast here at Simplistic Reviews. (SELF PROMOTION DURING SELF PROMOTION…SO AWESOME)  Anyway, when the days between reviews started piling up, I became cautious picking the PROPER comeback movie to review next.  (I was this close to reviewing Parker there for a minute, so count your blessings.)  This week, however, I happened to go against my previous judgement and against many preconceived assumptions by the masses and watch a film that made me anxious to talk about.  The film is Oz The Great And Powerful.  A movie that I have heard maligned even before it came out.   A movie that certainly does not deserve it.

Oz The Great And Powerful is a….DUN DUN DUUUUN!!!…prequel to the 1939 cinematic classic The Wizard Of Oz.  And for those who have been hiding under a rock in a cave in Timbuktu, The Wizard of Oz is about a Kansas girl named Dorothy who is whisked away by a tornado and sent to a magical world where wicked witches are the norm, munchkins are a plenty, and lions are cowardly.  Dorothy journeys to find a supposed wizard who can send her back home.  That wizard…74 YEAR SPOILER ALERT…turns out to be just a man behind a curtain named Oz.  Oz The Great And Powerful fills in all the blanks on how he got there and why certain witchly characters got their wickedness.

Now maybe because I’ve had to rewatch Star Wars episodes 1 through 3 for my 9 to 5 job, I’m standing on a hyperbole soapbox here.  However, I don’t regret saying that Oz The Great And Powerful is one of the greatest….DUN DUN DUUUUN!!!….prequels ever made.  My favorite, by the way is The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.  When the familiar pieces of The Wizard Of Oz began to neatly fall into place in Oz The Great And Powerful, I got the same feeling I had when Blondie picks up that iconic poncho.  The same feeling I didn’t get when Lucas clumsily dropped his pieces on the ground, brushed off and forced onto me at the last minute.  The Good The Bad And The Ugly sets up a world that, frankly, is pretty easy to set up.  The Wizard Of Oz is anything but.  It has enough oddly shaped moving parts to make an Ikea salesman blush. (Rimshot.  Nailed it.)  One day I’ll have a discussion about how the land of Oz is just an imaginary place where one subconsciously goes to work out their inner issues.  A theme this film duplicates and also nails by the way.  However, for the sake of avoiding an even bigger monicker as an overly-analytical, auteur theory douche, I’ll stick with the simple things that make this film work.

I was very surprised that Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland disappointed me.  I thought that his famously quirky style would be perfect for the material.  It is why I was worried that director Sam Raimi might stumble into the same pitfalls with Oz The Great And Powerful.  Alice In Wonderland and The Wizard Of Oz are two worlds that are terrific at hiding morose, gruesome, and inappropriate subtext under colorful, shiny, childish window dressing.  Burton brought more of the morose subtext to the light, thus dragging down Alice In Wonderland away from what it was intended.  Whereas, Raimi keeps the balance and tone of his film’s predecessor.  I believe Raimi knew it was suicide to mess with a formula as delicate as The Wizard Of Oz.  Burton made subtext the focal point when he should have remembered it is the wonder the makes the world.  Raimi thrives here and never takes his eye off the ball.

Despite being an actor I very well should hate, I can’t help but like James Franco.  Perhaps it is his ‘in on the joke’ personality and the fact he never takes himself too seriously that disarms me.  His talent, when he’s trying, is undeniable.  This isn’t Franco’s finest work but I believe he’s perfectly cast as Oz.  Oz is a failed showman.  A man with the potential for great things, but seems to never be 100% genuine.  A man you want to expose as a fraud not laud as a talent.  Franco seems to fit the bill.  Since Spider-Man Raimi has seemed to know how to use Franco’s more unpopular tendencies.  His mugging for the camera never feels out of place in a Raimi film.  And his tender moments, ones that would be cheesy in any other film, seem right at home here.  Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams stand tall, where other actors would sleepwalk.  That includes Weisz’s great nod to, coincidentally Return Of The Jedi, and having a sorcery battle with Williams that rivals even that of Gandalf and Saruman.  But the stand out here is Mila Kunis.  She has been proving since That 70s Show that shes not just a pretty…pretty…pretty…damn she’s pretty…face.  It is probably known to all her role in the film.  However, I won’t spoil it other than to say she completely humanized and made me empathize with a character I thought would be impossible to.  

Oz The Great And Powerful isn’t the greatest film you’ll see this year by a longshot.  But it knows what it wants to be, it knows what it has to be, and accomplishes these things nearly perfectly.  Don’t believe me?  Close your eyes and imagine for a moment what you deem a PROPER…DUN DUN DUUUUN!!!…prequel to one of the most classic, iconic, and ‘out there’ films in almost the last hundred years.  Click your heals three times, open your eyes, watch Oz The Great And Powerful…then tell me I’m wrong. 

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