The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Release: Friday, November 9, 2018 (limited) 

→Netflix

Written by: Joel Coen; Ethan Coen 

Directed by: Ethan Coen; Joel Coen

For a fleeting moment The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the new Coen brothers film — a big shiny red apple waiting to be plucked from the ever-growing Netflix tree — was also available for more traditional consumption in theaters. But who wants to be a traditionalist when what is most conveniently available to you is a dingy theater chain down the road called Cinépolis — a place where the box office is no longer used, the employees couldn’t care less about making patrons feel welcomed, the quality of the projection is appalling and the seating choices you’re given are either Sticky Seat A or blown-out Chair B. I don’t know about overrated, but when one weekend outing to this crumbling facility costs you the same as if not more than a one month subscription, “tradition” is inarguably overpriced.

Netflix and the like will never replace the wow factor of the big screen, yet they are making life a little cushier, providing more viewers more direct access to more quality offerings. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a prime example, a six-part western anthology soaked in the Coen aesthetic — it’s equal measures funny, strange and morbid, features spectacular landscape photography and it’s all pulled together by a wonderful cast, not to mention the filmmakers’ deep, abiding love for the genre. Their latest marks a return to ingenuity following 2016’s rather forgettable Hail, Caesar! and has garnered Oscar nominations in the Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design and Original Song categories, firmly placing Buster Scruggs among the better streaming options of the New Release variety.

The Coen brothers’ 18th collaboration provides a collection of independent stories ranging in tone from playful and romantic to macabre and downright weird — one chapter tickling your ribs before the next punches you in the gut. Speaking of tradition, the narrative style draws attention to what has consistently set the Coen brothers apart from the rest, their ability to merge the farcical with the fucked-up not only on display within each scene but as well highlighted by structural juxtaposition (right now I’m thinking of the contrast between “Near Algodones,” featuring James Franco as a bank robber who gets more than he bargained for when he comes up against Stephen Root’s bank teller, and “Meal Ticket,” with Liam Neeson playing a traveling entertainer willing to do anything for a better paying gig).

Like the Coens’ previous effort, Buster Scruggs is a lovingly crafted ode to a historically significant time in Hollywood — the era of the great western. Unlike Hail, Caesar!, however, here you’ll find a more harmonious balance of style and substance, the film literally bookended by the opening and closing of an old hardback, each segment segued by page-turning, complete with colored illustrations and a few sentences that clue you in to what is about to unfold.

Meanwhile the production design is brilliantly realized, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel adapting different color gradients and tints to coordinate with the predominate colors in any given vignette. Take for example the pastel yellows of the opening movement, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” featuring Tim Blake Nelson as a fast-talking, even faster gunslinging outlaw who has to his name one of the most creative kill shots of all time; the piney greens of “All Gold Canyon,” featuring singer Tom Waits as a lonely prospector; and the dusty browns of “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” the film’s longest segment and arguably most emotive, with Zoe Kazan as Alice Longabaugh, a young maiden whose 1000-mile journey to Oregon is complicated when she meets a true gentleman along the way, a wagon train leader named Billy Knapp and played by Bill Heck.

Despite the lack of common characters and an array of different outcomes the arrangement is hardly random. The action contained within each chapter — some of which are more loquacious than action-driven, admittedly — address a motif of survivalism, or more accurately, the fatalistic way life and death often intersect on the unforgiving frontier. The final segment — “The Mortal Remains,” which finds five strangers en route to Fort Morgan, Colorado via stagecoach debating the “two types” of people who exist in the world  — wraps both the physical and the philosophical journey up on a decidedly weird note, addressing not just the mortality of man but his morality as well.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs may not be the best Coen brothers film — it’s not even their best western (that honor still belongs to No Country for Old Men with Bad Haircuts). Yet the overall experience is never less than intriguing and more often than not surprisingly hard to predict.

The best daggum chompers you ever did see on a cowboy

Recommendation: What’s most appealing about The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the variety of experiences offered up. If one part doesn’t quite grab you, you won’t have to wait another year or two for something better; sit tight for another 10 to 20 minutes and you might find yourself more at home. No two stories feature the same characters and each present unique conflicts. Each have their own charms and quirks. It may not be among the Coens’ most original works but it may be one of my personal favorites, packing a hell of a lot of intrigue into two-and-a-half rather fleeting hours. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 133 mins.

Quoted: “There’s just gotta be a place up ahead, where men ain’t low down, and poker’s played fair. If there weren’t, what are all the songs about? I’ll see y’all there. And we can sing together and shake our heads over all the meanness in the used to be.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Why Him?

why-him-movie-poster

Release: Friday, December 23, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: John Hamburg; Ian Helfer

Directed by: John Hamburg

My biggest gripe with Why Him? It’s actually not that it represents yet another painfully unfunny Christmas comedy. Well, it kind of is. I’m dismayed more because it is a painfully unfunny Christmas comedy starring James Franco and Bryan Cranston.

Bryan Cranston! Also translated as: Walter White, Shannon, Robert Mazur, and of course, Hal Wilkerson.

Now he’s Ned Fleming, a name you won’t be able to remember beyond the parking lot of your local cineplex. It’s always painful to see a great actor slumming it, but for Cranston to star in a vehicle that made me mad at even James Franco — someone whom I actively defend for being unusual and pretentious — it begs the question why do we even try to admonish professional actors for the choices they make in careers that never directly affect us? It’s clear our outrage, pretend or real, never accomplishes anything.

Ned Fleming is the father of Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), and he shares in my pain. When he is invited to California for Christmas, forced to buck family tradition of spending the holiday in Michigan, he becomes dismayed by the man his daughter is currently seeing: James Franco with a shit ton of tattoos! He plays a billionaire game developer named Laird Mayhew, an obnoxious caricature of the actor himself whose own modus vivendi runs counter to just about everyone on the planet because he himself is an art project constantly evolving and expanding.

The Ned-Laird feud could have been played for laughs, but a script co-written by director John Hamburg and Ian Helfer seems to have forgotten to incorporate the jokes. Unless the joke is, of course, ultra-meta: everyone who just bought a ticket hoping for the good times to roll via a decent if disposable new entry into the crowded genre of farcical family/Yuletide comedies has just gotten ripped off. And Bryan Cranston and James Franco are in it — why them?!

why-him

Recommendation: Goodness, no. But I will say this: the film at least afforded fans of KISS to watch Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons stoop to a new low by making a totally awkward cameo towards the end of the film. So there is that.

Rated: R

Running Time: 111 mins.

Quoted: “I mean, what in God’s name is a double-dicker?” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Little Prince

'The Little Prince' movie poster

Release: Friday, August 5, 2016 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Irena Brignull; Bob Persichetti

Directed by: Mark Osborne

The Little Prince is a gem. It’s a crime it never received a theatrical release. It’s a heartwarming journey rivaling anything Pixar has created on an emotional and intellectual level, and perhaps it’s the complex, multi-layered animation that truly sets the film apart, interweaving crude stop-motion with crisp, computer-generated imagery to produce an aesthetic you’ll struggle to find elsewhere.

Kung Fu Panda director Mark Osborne’s enchanting tale is a reimagining of the 1943 French novella of the same name, penned by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a successful commercial pilot (and novelist, poet, aristocrat and journalist) prior to World War II. The man once traveled to American shores in an attempt to convince the government to bring the fight to Nazi Germany following his disenfranchisement from the French Air Force in the early 1940s. He spent a little over two years in the States writing what would later become three of his most popular works. He later would re-join the Force only to disappear mysteriously soon thereafter à la Amelia Earhart.

Saint-Exupéry’s experiences as an aviator factor into this modern interpretation of The Little Prince in curious ways. (It should be noted, however, that his original story was published before he enlisted.) Fantastical elements are of course front-and-center and the story is entrenched in the stresses of modern living, but under the surface lie untold mysteries and tales of bravery, heroism and self-discovery. Strong emotional hooks are drawn from an impressive, inspired voice cast and Osborne’s touch, though ultimately nothing unique, is just confident enough to steer the story in a direction that, come the end, very well may have you in tears. The good kind, of course.

We’re introduced to The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy, who thus far has Interstellar, The Conjuring and Ernest & Celestine on her résumé, and at the time of writing she’s yet to turn 16) who lives in a very grown-up world driven by rules, schedules and obedience. Her Mother (Rachel McAdams) wants her to attend the prestigious Academy so she can grow up and become an essential, contributing member of society. The initial interview does not go well as the panel, led by Paul Giamatti‘s intimidating and overly harsh instructor, springs an unexpected question upon her that causes her to panic. Mother has a Plan B: make her daughter cram so much studying into each and every day of her summer vacation she’ll be sure not to have any distractions (i.e. friends).

Mother draws up an impossibly elaborate Life Plan and constructs it so that each minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year is accounted for. Soon enough, The Little Girl rebels. She befriends their eccentric, hoarding and elderly neighbor, The Aviator (Jeff Bridges), who is introduced as the scourge of this SimCity-esque neighborhood — one comprised of identical blocky houses and roads filled with cars driving identical speeds and in organized right-angled patterns. Mother looks at the situation like so: “Just think about [his] house being the reason [ours] is available. This is the place where you’ll learn to grow up and become Essential.” (I paraphrase.)

The Aviator is a wonderful creation, and Bridges brings the character to life in ways that are difficult to fathom. Practically speaking, his performance is little more than a voice laid over/synced up with a cartoon character. It’s not the genuine article, and yet, he is mesmeric as he regales The Little Girl about his past experiences with an enigma he calls The Little Prince, whom he met after crashing his plane in the Sahara Desert many years ago. The Little Prince (voiced by the director’s son Riley) shows him a world where everything is possible, a reality that The Aviator has been trying for years to communicate to anyone willing to listen. Finally he has found someone who will, even if her intelligence means she’s skeptical about certain details.

The Little Prince is a space-traveling young lad who once lived on a tiny planetoid, a celestial object so small you could traverse on foot in a matter of minutes and whose existence is constantly being threatened by hungry tree roots eager to take over the entire planet. He left this world and a Rose he fell in love with (voiced by Marion Cotillard for some reason) in search of greater truths amongst the cosmos. In the present day, The Little Girl decides it is her responsibility to track down The Little Prince and prove to The Aviator that he still does exist, and that even though he has grown into a jaded, passive adult, he never abandoned the child within.

The Little Prince astounds on a visual level. It is an exercise in contrasts, the real world from which The Little Girl temporarily escapes suffocating with its seriousness and sterility, while the universe expands into this wondrous, strange space in which individual worlds are populated by simplistic, insulated communities comprised of childless, passionless adult drones. Scale is quirkily reduced to something almost tangible. We’re not talking interstellar travel here, more like a weekend road trip amongst the stars. You’ll find the stop-motion animation reserved for backstories concerning The Aviator’s relationship with The Little Prince while the rest operates in a pristine, colorful world that gives Disney a run for its money.

Much like a Roald Dahl creation, The Little Prince refuses to condescend to its pint-sized viewers. It strikes a delicate balance between entertaining youngsters while providing the more jaded a few different ways to look at the lives they’ve shaped for themselves. Occasionally the chronicle trips into the realm of the pretentious with a few overly-poetic spits of dialogue that attempt to spice up an already fairly advanced narrative. It doesn’t have to try so hard. The exploration of just what it was that caused the kid in us to go away is profound enough on its own.

The Little Prince

Recommendation: The Little Prince offers adventurous viewers something a little different. Generally speaking the story arc isn’t something you’ll be experiencing for the first time, but it’s the incredible nuance and the textures and the layers to the animation that make it one of the most original works this former animated-film-skeptic has seen all year. Stellar performances abound. There’s even a cute fox voiced by James Franco, a Benicio del Toro-sounding snake and Albert Brooks is along for the ride so the cast is reason enough to check it out. Also, stop-motion. Have I mentioned how awesome the technique is? Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. Available on Netflix.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “It is only with heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Sausage Party

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Release: Friday, August 12, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Seth Rogen; Evan Goldberg; Kyle Hunter; Ariel Shaffir

Directed by: Greg Tiernan; Conrad Vernon

Sausage Party represents Seth Rogen’s strongest screenwriting effort since Superbad. It’s been even longer since he’s been this charming in a lead role as well, and he plays a six-inch-long frankfurter. Or sausage, wiener, whatever. He’s a real hot dog in this outing, a riotous, deliriously perverse bite of modern satire that will in all likelihood cause you to think twice the next time you’re thumbing through greens-turning-brown in your local Wal-Mart.

In the world of Sausage Party, Wal-Mart would be the Warsaw ghetto for perishables. In the world of Sausage Party the Food Pyramid takes on an entirely new meaning, a reality that’s manifested brilliantly via anthropomorphic food groups. There’s hierarchy and a universal belief system that shoppers are Gods. Food items believe they’re destined for great things once they’re Chosen, that they’re headed for a place called The Great Beyond where they’ll enjoy an eternity of being loved and treated like royalty by the human that rescued them from their prisons/shelves. A place where a sausage like Frank (Rogen) looks forward to slipping inside a nice, warm bun. A place where an Arabic flatbread named Kareem Abdul Lavash dreams of being greeted by 77 bottles of extra virgin olive oil that will help him stay lubricated and not dry out and be nasty and shit.

Broader arcs, involving Frank’s quest to save his sweet friends (and even salty foes) from continuing to be blinded to a horrible reality — food gets eaten, not laid — and Brenda’s determination to not act on her own sexual urges in fear of upsetting the Gods, are not exactly revelatory. Nor are the main beats delivered en route to one of the most ridiculous afterparties you are likely to ever see. (Yeah, This is the End may have been blessed by the Backstreet Boys but you’ve never seen food porn until you’ve watched this movie.) Because the story is rather store-brand generic, you’re left sort of worrying if there is a way Rogen and company can wrap things up without cooling off completely or melting down or some other food metaphor that suggests deterioration.

But there is no need to worry. At all.

And broad arcs be damned by the way. Getting lost in this supermarket is just way too much fun. There’s so much to see and do. Rogen, once again reunited with Evan Goldberg and aided as well by Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir (the latter two co-wrote The Night Before with Goldberg, a rare case in which Rogen did not share writing duties), has crafted a genuinely hilarious and heartfelt film that manages to strike a near-perfect balance between satire and sobriety. One wouldn’t necessarily think Sausage Party has any right to be stepping into arenas like proving the existence of God, thereby the purpose of religion, or that packaging certain foods into certain aisles could be viewed as segregation but we should never downplay Rogen’s creativity.

In this adventure there is strength in numbers. That applies both to the mission Frank and friends find themselves embarking on as well as to how we’re able to connect with this strange little world. Frank is joined with varying degrees of hesitation by fellow wiener Barry (Michael Cera), who suffers from serious confidence issues; Frank’s love interest, the curvaceous bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) and two squabbling neighbors from the International Foods Aisle in David Krumholtz’ Lavash and Edward Norton’s argumentative bagel Sammy (I still can’t believe that was not the voice of Woody Allen). The diverse selection of characters makes the watch more dynamic and energetic. Nevermind the fact that mainstays like Ketchup, Mustard, apples and oranges are wholly unoriginal, they don’t really lend themselves to comedy. And even though a hot dog does take center stage, brilliantly the summer grilling classic is broken down into two distinct characters. And of course we know why.

Food puns abound and as is expected, ethnic, gender and religious stereotypes play a role in deciding which items we are going to spend time with (for example: the non-perishable items are colored as wizened old Native Americans who have seen it all and it’s no coincidence that the film’s primary antagonist is a Douche named Nick Kroll. Er, played by Kroll, rather . . .). Incensed after Frank cost him his chance to go to The Great Beyond during a shopping cart collision, Douche sets out on a murderous vendetta to take out the wiener (and bun) responsible for not only the missed opportunity but his new physical deformity. (In this reviewer’s opinion we venture a little too deep into TMI territory when watching him mentally breaking down, mourning his lack of purpose. And we really could have done without 90% of Kroll’s brutal dude-broisms.)

It wouldn’t be a comedy from the Rogen-Goldberg school of puerility if it doesn’t make you feel at least a little guilty for laughing at some of the things you end up laughing at. Even still, Sausage Party (hehe) finds a number of ways to justify genre-defining tropes like making sex jokes out of literally everything. Wiig brings strength, courage and conviction to the part of a sexy piece of bread. Some things will never change though, as even here Rogen’s every bit the pothead we’ve come to love him for being as he finds room for a scene where a wiener gets roasted with a can of water and a gay Twinkie, and he does it without disrupting the flow of the narrative. The characters are well-defined and each have individual motivations for survival, which is critical in helping us actually “buy into” the situation at hand. (Let’s get real: we never take any of this seriously but we take it far more so than we thought we would when the project was first announced.)

Sausage Party is classic Seth Rogen-Evan Goldberg. It’s rib-ticklingly funny from start to finish, with only a few brief moments where all action comes to a halt in favor of more somber reflections on the state of life in a grocery store that’s about to erupt into civil war. You’ll find almost every alum from previous Rogen-Goldberg offerings here, and, hidden behind the guises of ordinary foods, they become icons. This is far too fattening a meal to keep having, but damn it all . . . why does fat have to taste so good?

Stephen fucking Hawking gum and Michael Cera the wiener

Recommendation: Irreverent, profane, over-the-top, delirious, and bizarrely heartwarming. Sausage Party uses anthropomorphism to its advantage and then some, creating memorable characters out of mundane food items and giving them distinct human personas that we can identity with and care about. (Obviously some more than others.) The rules of course still apply: fans of Seth Rogen’s sense of humor need apply while all others who aren’t big on the guy probably won’t find much mustard to squeeze out of this one. Visiting the supermarket will never be the same again, and I think that more than anything is the mark of an effective comedy.

Rated: R

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “Banana’s whole face peeled off, Peanut Butter’s wife Jelly is dead! Look at him, he’s right there.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

True Story

true-story-poster

Release: Friday, April 17, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Rupert Goold; David Kajganich

Directed by: Rupert Goold

True story: Rupert Goold’s cinematic adaptation of the memoir penned by disgraced New York Times writer Michael Finkel elicits more yawns than being forced to sit through days’ worth of testimony in an actual courtroom would.

It ought to be a compliment that this would-be crime thriller plays out with the fastidiousness of a trial hearing, but obsession with detail and determination to present evidence in a nonlinear fashion don’t translate into a compelling narrative. Ironically the slow-burn nature of this event is what ends up turning viewers off circa the halfway point. If you are really determined, you might give the last half the courtesy of staying awake long enough to see what the judge’s ruling is.

James Franco is Christian Longo, an Oregon man accused of murdering his wife and three children and who’s apprehended while laying low in Cancún for a time. Jonah Hill portrays Finkel, whose fabrication of certain details regarding his cover story on the African slave trade leads to his dismissal from the paper and a long period of unemployment. The two become entangled when Longo claims to be Finkel upon his arrest. Finkel — and by extension, we — demand an explanation as to why he chose his name. He wants exclusive access to Longo, but he’s limited to the sessions the prison will provide. In exchange for giving the journalist the inside scoop, he wants to learn to write, as he’s been a longtime admirer of Finkel’s work. Longo also wants Finkel’s word that he won’t divulge any information to outsiders.

These discussions constitute the bulk of True Story‘s narrative, and while they offer the pair of leads a chance to bite into their most somber material thus far in their careers, they also offer viewers many an opportunity to tune out and wonder if they’ve left the sprinklers in the yard running. (It’s alright, when I get back I’ll have a nice patch of overly-watered grass to enjoy watching grow.)

When Goold isn’t spending time highlighting Hill and Franco’s remarkably restrained performances — and if there’s any real reason to go and see this film it is for them rather than the shocking case — he’s weaving back and forth between cuts of Longo’s past and shots of a superfluously cast Felicity Jones as Finkel’s wife, Jill. As little as her dramatic prowess is utilized here Goold could have cast anyone. Why he opted for an undoubtedly expensive bit of casting is almost as much of a head-scratcher as how Longo, by all accounts a seemingly normal man, could be capable of such a heinous crime. Not to mention, Hill and Jones don’t particularly make for a convincing on-screen couple. Romance doesn’t necessarily have to be depicted (don’t worry, it’s not) but chemistry never hurt a film.

If I’ve given the impression True Story is a terrible movie, I should probably rephrase my major complaint. The odd relationship between Christian Longo and Michael Finkel attracts, though ultimately this story, this investigation into what is true and what isn’t has the feel of a compelling A&E True Crime segment. That Goold never does anything outrageous, like drastically alter facts in order to derive a denouement more befitting of cinematic spectacle is a strength. But again, the irony is a killer.

We should be impressed by how much True Story disturbs us. We should feel offended by the crime. We shouldn’t feel indifferent.

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2-5Recommendation: The film completely subverts previous conceptions of James Franco and Jonah Hill. The pair give incredible performances (this might be Franco’s best work since becoming Aron Ralston) but they’re unfortunately wasted in a sluggishly paced film that doesn’t add up to much in the end. I’d recommend a rental for the performances but not the drive out to the theater.

Rated: R

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “Sometimes the truth isn’t believable. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not true.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com  

Just a Quick Thought

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So. Sony has been hacked. And it’s been officially confirmed that Korea did it. Now a movie we all want to watch, nobody will be able to watch because it made some important people very mad.

It looks like it might be time for another Quick Thought, then, eh? Cuz, what the eff is going on now with this: Team America: World Police screenings canceled.’ Word has been trickling out that other unsavory movies might indeed by banned from future theater screenings permanently in the wake of an unusually bitter cat fight between Korean officials and American comedians/Hollywood executives.

Remember when we (or maybe just a lot of us) thought it was a bit humorous that current Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un made no subtle suggestion that he would be steamed if we released James Franco and Seth Rogen’s latest comedy, The Interview, to the general public? (Or really to anybody I guess?) He declared the film release “an act of war.” It seems the joke’s on us now, and it will be more surprising at this point to see this movie actually opening (maybe not on Christmas as promised) out of some sort of grand marketing ploy that had all of us biting our nails, pulling hair out over the thought of the launch of World War 3. All over a movie.

So, to you, dear readers: are these actions to ban the film(s) from being screened justified? Should these things be seen as more than an entertainment package? Does The Interview in particular cross any boundaries?


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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

The Franco Files #11

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Welcome to December, and the 11th and final installment of the 2013 run of The Franco Files.Sniffles. It’s really real now you guys. Last post I may have prematurely started the countdown but now it’s. . .well it’s all over but the crying. Fortunately. . .I already have something in the works for the New Year.

For this last edition I’d like to do things a little bit differently. Rather than looking back on yet another role from his past, let’s take a look into the very near future and make some (un)educated guesses about what he’ll be contributing to upcoming political satire The Interview, set to release Christmas Day. It will once again reunite Franco with his old buddy Seth Rogen and for now at least appears to be set up to be another potential hit in the same vein as Pineapple Express and This is the End.. This might be fun trying to speculate just what he’ll be doing and then actually see the movie — only to find out how wrong I was here. (Or, you know. . .how right I was.)

(I will also include a list of every Franco File I’ve posted in case the other links are hard to find. . .which they shouldn’t be, but sometimes these little lists are just easier. I hope you have enjoyed this feature. To the future!)

James Franco

Francophile #11: Dave Skylark, The Interview

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Comedy

Character Profile: Dave is the host of his own celebrity talk show, Skylark Tonight, a production overseen by his good friend Aaron Rapoport (Rogen). Now then, given the controversy already being kicked up by this movie — from North Korean leaders’ point of view this movie is poised to “make a mockery” of their militaristic methods and dictator, Kim Jong-Un — it would stand to reason Franco’s character is going to embody a lot of the ignorance foreign leaders often view Americans as having. I am just spitballing here, but here’s a character that very well could make us (me?) cringe at the lack of social/political etiquette a person in this position ought to have.

If you lose Franco, the film loses: any hope for keeping the peace! (Why do I think Franco is going to be the only thing Kim Jong-Un and his cronies are going to take a shine to?)

Out of Character: “[on the Sony hacks — the ones that Kim Jong-Un wishes he had actually been behind] All the girls who got any Instagram messages from me this year, or last year — the hackers did it! It was the hackers!”

SPECULATE the Performance (relative to his other work): 

3-0


THE FRANCO FILES:

  1. Aron Ralston, 127 Hours
  2. Saul Silver, Pineapple Express
  3. Alien, Spring Breakers
  4. James Franco, This is the End
  5. Harry Osborn, Spiderman trilogy
  6. Oscar Diggs/Oz, Oz, the Great and Powerful
  7. Mr. B, Palo Alto
  8. Marty Freeman, The Iceman
  9. Will Rodman, Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  10. Mr. B, Palo Alto (yay for glaring editing errors! I seriously haven’t noticed there were two of these until just now. . .wow)
  11. Dave Skylark, The Interview 

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Photo credits: http://www.showbizz411.com 

The Franco Files #10

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Welcome to November, and the second-to-last edition of The Franco Files!*

You know what? I’ll just spare you the time of looking around on the page for an explanation for that asterisk that sits naggingly in the previous sentence and just explain right here: it basically indicates that this is pretty much the end of TFF in the form we currently know it. I am still not yet sure what I will do after this or with what actor/actress I might go with. In fact I’m thinking of drafting up a list of five to ten people and letting you guys decide who I should shine the spotlight on next.

I’ve really enjoyed doing this feature and hope you have enjoyed reading along. I probably haven’t said much about Franco that you haven’t known already, but maybe. . .just maybe. . . I have drawn attention to some of the things he’s helped create that some of you may not have known about before. And if there’s any justice in the world of movie blogging, this feature has served its purpose thus far; it should now be abundantly clear to my readers that I dig what Franco has been doing and hopefully will continue to do with his career.

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Francophile #10: Mr. B, Palo Alto

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama

Character Profile: Everyone loves Coach B. Well, a lot of the girls on the Palo Alto High varsity soccer team do, anyway. He’s a nice guy and more than a little flirtatious with a few of them, in particular the pretty but ambivalent April (Emma Roberts). His laid-back attitude and nonchalance about his inability to separate professional and personal capacities will envelop him in a dodgy, clandestine relationship with a student. Mr. B is a shady character whose personality allows him to stay just on the periphery of being unlikable. 

If you lose Franco, the film loses: Franco’s somehow-charming sleaziness. It works wonders with this morally questionable school employee, a role in which he’s never actually considered himself fit to play. Trust me when I say that this is the kind of role tailor-made for those lining Franco up in their crosshairs, ready to snipe criticism at him left and right for exhibiting a school notebook’s worth of despicable character traits. All formal complaints leveled against his character’s actions and decisions are understandable, but if you were to ask this reviewer no one else could do Mr. B better than James Franco.  

Out of Character: “I had just assumed I wasn’t going to be in it. [Gia] had been talking to me about other actors for the role of Mr. B. And then after talking to me about other people for about a month, running names by me, she finally said to me, ‘You know I’ve always wanted you to be in it, you’ve been one of my favorite actors since Freaks & Geeks,’ and I thought maybe she’s just buttering me up to play the slimeball. Up to that point I’d done everything possible to help them make the movie, including helping them find financing and everything, so I wasn’t going to say no, I’m not going to be the bad guy. Also, I wasn’t ignorant of the fact that she comes from a Hollywood family, and probably in the back of my head I thought that if anybody has film-making in her blood, it’s gotta be Gia.” 

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work): 

3-5


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com

The Franco Files #9

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Welcome to October, and the ninth edition of The Franco Files! I suppose now would be a good time to make the announcement. I have decided that I will officially end this thread in December, effectively concluding this feature as we currently know it with 11 entries on December 10. I would continue into next year, but there are a few reasons I’d like to bring this to an end.

First and foremost, I have covered a good bit of ground with James Franco already. At this point I think most of the entries are going to be turning towards discussing new roles (there are a few old ones I would have probably overlooked), so I think it’d be best to keep this as a look back at what he’s done, rather than a constant update on his new stuff. There are regular reviews for that. 🙂 Secondly, there are too many other actors/actresses I would like to shine a spotlight on as well so unfortunately James’ time in the light must come to an end. Third, I think finishing this particular thread in December just makes the most sense. My only regret is not starting it off in January, so that way I would have had a full year dedicated to this. Still, 11 months ain’t bad.

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Francophile #9: Will Rodman, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Drama/Sci-fi

Character Profile: Will Rodman is a scientist at the Gen-Sys labs, five years into a project aimed at curing Alzheimer’s, which his father tragically is succumbing to. He’s a hard-working, good man whose work ethic dictates decency, even if his experiment would ultimately lead to a global catastrophe in the form of the simian flu (code-named ALZ-112 in the lab). Under Rodman’s direction, an ape imported from Africa is injected with the virus to ascertain if the brain really does heal itself. When it’s later discovered in another ape — a baby chimp Will takes home — to actually do just that, plus generate increased levels of intelligence and awareness, the next logical step is to apply it to the human brain. Will concocts a stronger version of the 112 formula and labels it 113, and then injects his increasingly despondent father with it, with disastrous consequences. With Will there are many questionable tactics used but ultimately, and given everything that goes down in Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ brilliant sequel, of course we know that he didn’t mean for any of this to happen. As his bond with Caesar (the baby chimp he saved from death at the hands of scientists wanting to shut down the experiment at Gen-Sys) matures and evolves to the point of a heartbreak, we know this to be true.

If you lose Franco, the film loses: the reason why we care about Caesar in this film. Mr. Franco puts in some hard work to effect a strong relationship forged between man and ape, and in writing that sounds ridiculous but on-screen Franco, man oh man does he sell it. While it really is more about how Andy Serkis is able to capture our hearts that makes the film such a unique experience (that and the top-grade CGI), the basis for Caesar’s ultimate trajectory stems from how he was treated before he truly knew what and who he was. We have to thank Franco for giving Will Rodman enough gravitas to care about him as well as the ape. 

Out of Character: “While we’re acting, [Andy]’s not in an ape suit, he’s in these gray pajama-looking things with censors all over his body and these dots on his face that will help the effects team read his expressions on the computer, so that everything that Andy is doing is captured. So you would think that acting opposite someone like that and trying to think of them as a chimpanzee would be difficult. But, from the first scene we had together on, it[s] easy, because Andy is so good at the behavior and he’s so connected to what he’s doing and — you know, the other actors — that he allows my imagination to take over, and I really can treat him as if he were a chimpanzee.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):

3-5


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.joelederer.com 

The Franco Files – #8

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Welcome to September, and the eighth edition of The Franco Files! Still going strong here, folks. . .even despite my apparent inability to really get going on diving deeper into his filmography beyond the recent things that I have seen him in. Some fan, eh? I know, I know.

Here’s me reaching. Today’s entry is not Franco’s most substantial contribution to film, at least in terms of total screen time. But what he does here is still worthy of mention. Dramatic chops? Check. Actual chops? Yeah, he’s involved in some sort of scuffle here. Mutton chops? Well, you can debate his hairstyle all you want. I’m kind of getting away from my point. . . . Where I was going with this bit was, it’s interesting having seen Franco in all of these significant roles, taking the lead even in some instances, and then switching to watching him dutifully fulfill what’s required of a pretty minor supporting character. I’m sure many out there would prefer him to take on these sorts of roles more often. Me? Eh, I’m not one of ’em. I am, however, willing to take whatever I can get.

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Francophile #8: Marty Freeman, The Iceman

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama/Crime

Character Profile: Originally written for the part of a Softee ice cream truck creepazoid named Mr. Pronge (shudder), which was subsequently changed to a Mr. Freezy truck driver — same name — played by an incredibly effective Chris Evans . . . Franco’s role ultimately becomes that of an even less major supporting role as a meddling middle-man whose relationship with infamously brutal mob boss Roy DeMeo isn’t particularly clear but a connection exists nonetheless. Franco turns up the smarmy factor to effect a seedy character without having to do too much. (Although I wish he had a little more than this.)

If you lose Franco, the film loses (MAJOR SPOILERS): one of Richard Kuklinski’s most offensive moral backtrackings. The murder of relatively innocent Marty Freeman paints the contract killer in the most cold-blooded light possible, as Kuklinski first intimidates the hell out of and then demands a cowering Marty to pray to God before he pulls the trigger. Granted the scene is written fantastically but it still comes down to Franco’s ability to convince us of the terror associated with being on the wrong end of a gun, particularly in a moment as desperate as this.

Out of Character: [Michael Shannon, who plays the lead Richard Kuklinski, on meeting Franco for the first time:] “You know, James is very into poetry. I like James. I met him in Boston at a train station. I was just standing there one day waiting for a train back to New York and this guy walked up with a baseball cap and sunglasses and a big bushy beard and a trench coat. I kind of thought he might be—he wasn’t dirty—but he looked kind of like he might be homeless.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):

3-5


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com