Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


The Disaster Artist

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — The fact-based comedy “The Disaster Artist” (A24) is certainly not a film for everyone. Wholly unsuitable for kids, it also includes elements that many adults will prefer to avoid.

Yet the movie manages to exert an odd but undeniable appeal so that those grown-ups willing to overlook its lapses in taste are likely to be richly entertained.

This study in strangeness focuses on the eccentricities of notorious self-funding filmmaker Tommy Wiseau (James Franco, who also directed) and on his friendship with a more conventional character, aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). Their mutual encouragement of each other’s ambitions led to their collaboration on Wiseau’s famously bad 2003 movie “The Room.”

Intended as a drama, “The Room” has instead become a cult classic laughfest, cherished for its pervasive awkwardness and nonsensical subplots by attendees at midnight showings. The chronicle of how this stinker came to be made also provides a steady supply of hilarity. Perhaps more significantly, though, “The Disaster Artist” touches viewers’ hearts as its central relationship endures through numerous strains.

In adapting Sestero and Tom Bissell’s eponymous 2013 book, screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber play cleverly on one of Hollywood’s most overused themes. Namely, the need to believe in your own aspirations which, given sufficient faith and trust, will inevitably come true.

Here the audience is presented with a dream that maybe should have been left in Wiseau’s off-kilter imagination — and that only reaches its fulfilment in the most ironic of ways.

The humour occasionally goes astray, particularly in scenes playing male nakedness for laughs, and the dialogue is overstuffed with vulgarity. But there is none of that lazy reliance on jokes about sex or bodily functions that makes so much of Tinseltown’s ostensibly comic fare tiresome and banal.

Rather, the Franco brothers skillfully serve as foils for each other throughout, Sestero’s straight-arrow personality helping to highlight his pal’s somehow endearing peculiarity. The sophistication and subtlety they achieve go a long way in making the excesses or waywardness that sometimes characterize “The Disaster Artist” forgivable.

The film contains recurring rear nudity, brief simulated sexual activity, cohabitation, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, a milder oath and frequent rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

The Star
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — A holiday treat suitable for all but the tiniest, “The Star” (Sony) is a delightful animated version of the Christmas story told from the perspective of some of the animals present in the manger.

Director Timothy Reckart and screenwriter Carlos Kotkin skillfully balance religious themes such as the importance of prayer and the value of forgiveness with a more secular message about pursuing your dreams. They also throw in a healthy dose of straightforward entertainment.

They work their way into the biblical narrative of Jesus’ birth through the adventures of a gentle donkey from Nazareth named Bo (voice of Steven Yeun). Curious about the world beyond the grain mill where he carries out his monotonous work, Bo yearns to exchange his life of drudgery for the fame and prestige to be gained by joining the storied royal caravan.

Bo’s best friend, a lively dove by the name of Dave (voice of Keegan-Michael Key), shares this ambition. And the pals get their chance to fulfil their aspirations when Bo successfully escapes his confinement, though he injures his leg in the process.

Bo is tended to by no one less than Mary (voice of Gina Rodriguez), after which his quest takes a detour. Despite the mild disapproval of Joseph (voice of Zachary Levi), Mary adopts her patient as a pet. Bo, in turn, becomes dedicated to protecting the parents-to-be, as they journey to Bethlehem, from the murderous scheming of King Herod (voice of Christopher Plummer).

Bo is aided in this endeavour not only by Dave but, eventually, by an affectionate sheep called Ruth (voice of Aidy Bryant) whom the pals encounter along the way. Together, the critters do what they can to thwart the unspeaking hulk of a soldier Herod has dispatched to slaughter the Holy Family and the pair of ferocious-seeming but not entirely evil dogs, Thaddeus (voice of Ving Rhames) and Rufus (voice of Gabriel Iglesias), accompanying him.

As a range of characters rely on prayer for guidance and strive to do God’s will, Mary and Joseph present the image of a well-balanced marriage by being strong for each other in moments of trial or doubt. Though some liberties are taken with the scriptural account — Catholic viewers will especially notice the absence of the phrase “Hail, Mary” from the Annunciation scene — overall, the script is faithful to the Gospels.

The inclusion of lighthearted humour, moreover, does nothing to detract from the appropriately reverent treatment of the movie’s sacred subject matter. Though a couple of silly guano-themed lines designed to make little ones giggle might have been dispensed with, overall this is a very solid choice for family viewing. All the more so, as it may serve as the starting point for a discussion of faith in general and of the Incarnation in particular.

The film contains scenes of peril and a bit of very mild scatological humour. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


Just Getting Started
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — There’s bad, there’s awful and then there’s “Just Getting Started” (Broad Green). This dismal attempt at comedy is so epically empty that it makes the average “Porky’s” sequel seem like a scintillating masterpiece.

The desultory plot pits Duke Diver (Morgan Freeman), the old goat who manages a Palm Springs resort for retirees, against his establishment’s newest guest, 10-gallon-hat toting would-be man of mystery Leo (Tommy Lee Jones).

Though their machismo-driven competition spans the golf links, the poker table and the chess board, it ultimately aims at, but never quite reaches, the boudoirs of the past-their-prime barflies both men are fond of chasing. The arrival of Suzie (Rene Russo), a corporate executive who has been dispatched to check up on Duke’s business practices, eventually gives the rivals a new prize for which to strive.

Oh, and at the behest of mob wife Delilah (Jane Seymour), someone is trying to kill Duke.

Besides its smirking attitude toward promiscuity, writer-director Ron Shelton’s movie, in which a cast of talented headliners is criminally wasted, registers as false, flat and self-satisfied. It’s also a work of such unrelieved dullness that watching its wheels spin can at times be mesmerizing.

But not for long. The appearance of the final credits, when at last they mercifully begin to roll, feels like a reprieve from Alcatraz.

The film contains brief gunplay, sexual humour and references, a couple of uses of profanity, about a half-dozen milder oaths and at least one rough and numerous crude and crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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