Franco pays tribute to The Room in doomed bromance tragicomedy

Updated November 23, 2017 15:02:18

The 2003 film The Room has a reputation as the worst film ever made.

A vanity project gone wrong, it was made by an independently wealthy Polish American film buff named Tommy Wiseau, and still screens regularly around the world for audiences seeking a so-bad-it’s-good fix.

If you haven’t bought it online or made it one of the regular cult screenings in cinemas, you can’t understand just how inept a feature film can be.

It has boilerplate dialogue, flimsy sets, a rooftop location with a dodgy green screen backdrop of San Francisco, and a cliche-ridden, barely coherent plot about a man whose fiance cheats on him with his best friend.

Think Douglas Sirk crossed with Melrose Place as a community TV show that never gets beyond the pilot stage.

But at the centre of the mess, in the lead role, is the expressionless presence of Wiseau himself — a slightly stooped, wiry figure with long, greasy rock star hair and a lazy eye, who delivers all his lines with an off-putting lack of affect, even when he’s shouting in anguish, like his acting role model James Dean.

The Disaster Artist, a film about the making of The Room based on the memoir of the same name by actor Greg Sestero, delves beneath the unintentionally comic surface to find a thinly veiled cry for help.

Directed by James Franco, who also plays Wiseau, it’s scripted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber, a duo famous for romantic films like 500 Days of Summer. Which makes sense, because The Disaster Artist is on one level the story of a bromance.

It’s about Tommy and Greg meeting in acting class, sharing Tommy’s flat in Los Angeles and trying to break into the business.

Then, when Greg (played by Franco’s brother Dave) falls in love with a woman he meets in a bar, Tommy retreats into himself and channels the trauma into the story of The Room.

Franco reveals Wiseau’s loneliness

With clear echoes of other films about doomed homoerotic attractions, like Behind the Candelabra, Beau Travail and even Death in Venice, Franco’s film becomes a perceptive tragicomedy.

His instinct as director — using low-budget naturalism so the absurdity of what’s happening is starkly apparent — works well, as does his performance of dazed, stoner blankness and slurred Euro speech.

It initially seems like he’s doing an impression for a joke, but darker undertones are revealed as Tommy becomes a tyrant on set.

What Franco’s performance brings out is a sense of emotional pain that’s perhaps not obvious in the real Tommy Wiseau.

That said, his staging of The Room’s shambolic and tortuous shoot is often a hilarious spectacle, and includes shot-for-shot recreations of some of the more inadvertently funny scenes (you won’t need to have seen it to enjoy them).

Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Ari Graynor and Jacki Weaver feature among the cast and crew, all mirroring our own disbelief, embarrassment and confusion.

Wiseau, meanwhile, remains an enigma.

True to life, Franco’s on-screen version of the man reveals scarce details about his past. He never explains the source of his Eastern European accent, or his multi-million-dollar fortune — described by a bank teller in the film as a “bottomless pit”.

But a brief mention of a road accident suggests his mind has been left slightly scrambled.

What’s most essential to Franco and his screenwriters is Wiseau’s loneliness and inability to win the respect of those around him, despite often lavish displays of largesse.

For the crowds that still flock to screenings of The Room to laugh and shake their heads at his obliviousness, Franco’s thoughtful tribute offers an affectionate and moving backstory.

Recommended viewing.

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, film-movies, biography-film, comedy-film, director, actor, united-states

First posted November 23, 2017 14:18:26

Should we be ashamed to watch Kevin Spacey’s films?

Updated November 23, 2017 12:51:18

Enjoying the work of Kevin Spacey the actor doesn’t make you a bad person.

Even now, knowing what you’ve read about him in the media, you are under no moral obligation to switch the channel if American Beauty comes on.

Enjoying the actor’s work doesn’t mean you tacitly endorse the alleged behaviour of Kevin Spacey the private citizen.

Glengarry Glen Ross remains a masterpiece. But you’d probably think twice about watching it on your iPad on a crowded train, wouldn’t you?

The moral panic around people watching — and appreciating — Spacey’s many critically acclaimed dramatic performances isn’t about Kevin Spacey and whether he deserves an audience.

Let’s not forget, he hasn’t been convicted of anything. This is about us. It’s about how Spacey reflects on us as arbiters of public virtue.

Because in 2017, the people we admire, much like the brands we buy and the ones we boycott, form an integral part of our own identity.

We’ve learned to treat the virtues of our favourite public figures and our favourite brands as if they’re our very own.

When our favourite celebrity sends a Tweet attacking Donald Trump or attacking sexism, or — as is quite likely — attacking Mr Trump’s sexism, we retweet.

When Justin Trudeau makes a progressive political statement with his socks, all of his supporters own a share of the credit.

When Beyoncé Knowles awards someone a scholarship, we all award someone a scholarship. Celebrities invite us to partake in their good deeds — and we gladly accept.

The blurb for Beyoncé’s #Beygood initiative is explicit:

“We’re all in this together. Each and every one of us can make a difference by giving back. Join Beyoncé and #BEYGOOD.”

A solid set of ethics are now part of the artist’s public persona.

“Woke” celebrities need only mutter in support of a popular idea and their social capital rises. It rises because we amplify it. We amplify it because it reflects well on us.

Social media has enabled celebrities and brands to communicate a social purpose at a volume that was impossible before. They can reflect back to us what we want to see in ourselves.

They’re allies to our cause. They prove to us that we chose wisely in elevating them with our patronage.

So when they fall short of the standards we demand, as humans often do, it feels like a personal betrayal. We put them in this position of great influence.

Abusing trust

But investing this heavily in the social construct of a celebrity is unhealthy.

It’s what drives us to worry about whether or not we’re allowed to still like the actor Spacey or enjoy his work.

When Rolf Harris was convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault (now reduced to 11), it was a relatively new experience for us as an audience — it genuinely shocked us.

Harris was a “national treasure”. Jimmy Savile was different. His public persona was never cuddly or pure like Harris’.

“Not Rolf too!” we protested. “That’s my childhood ruined.” We weren’t equipped to be let down to this extent.

We were so stunned at the deception that we barely spared a thought for the actual victims.

Post-Savile and Weinstein (who, let’s not forget, has also not been convicted of any crime), that primitive, naive “Not you, Rolf!” reflex has evolved into a much more visceral protection of our own identity.

This is why we question ourselves so harshly when one of our own transgresses.

Evolving concurrently to the morals as marketing concept was it’s ethical counterweight. If liking ostensibly good artists made you a good person, then surely it also reflects on you when they transgress.

And the bar for outrage is getting ever lower.

Your fave is a problem

Three years ago, six bloggers founded a Tumblr page called Your Fave is Problematic.

It’s a meticulously compiled and zealously moderated archive of celebrity transgressions.

High-profile individuals accused of micro-aggressions, cultural appropriation and fat-shaming were chronicled daily. It marked a turning point in what was already a burgeoning call-out culture.

The blog implicated not only the transgressor, but their admirers.

The tone — and of course the name of the blog — effectively lays the blame for the celebrity’s transgressions at the door of his or her admirers.

If you see your favourite singer on here, that’s on you. Make better choices.

Of course, if you never liked Spacey to begin with, it doesn’t matter.

Your identity remains intact, enhanced even. It’s as beneficial to a person’s identity when someone they dislike proves them right by being a bad person.

There’s a reason Google searches for Spacey and Harvey Weinstein costumes spiked the week before Halloween this year. For some of us, it’s all fun and games.

When the person never formed part of our own personal brand, their behaviour doesn’t impact us.

Why do some people get a pass?

Some celebrities have acted so wickedly that there’s no question of whether to disavow them.

It’s impossible to hear any song by Lostprophets — not that you’re likely to — without instantly recalling the horrors of what singer Ian Watkins did.

Few will argue that the band are due a critical reappraisal any time soon, even if 83.3 per cent of its members did nothing wrong.

The egregiousness of his crimes gives some of us a clarifying moral wisdom. It’s just safer to never, ever put a Lostprophets record on. Even for a joke.

But when you consider less open-and-shut cases, it’s hard to know how to proceed.

Yet-to-be proven allegations, denied allegations and even plain old rumours are either cast-iron proof of a person’s lack of virtue, or it proves that the “other side” are making unfounded claims, depending on your existing opinion of that person.

It often comes down to politics and ideology. The American right barely concealed their schadenfreude when the Democrat-supporting Weinstein was outed as a sexual harasser.

Their opposite numbers were quick to point to the current inhabitant of the White House in response.

But when we invest so heavily in the public image of someone we don’t know, we do become blind to how problematic they are.

Woody Allen and Roman Polanski have continued working while dogged by allegations of moral equivalence to those made against Spacey.

And as I write this, Manchester’s The Happy Mondays are on a UK tour. The band’s dancer, Bez (Mark Berry) will be with them as always, delighting audiences who probably don’t know — or can’t remember — that he went to jail in 2010 for “throttling” his girlfriend.

Michael Fallon recently quit as UK defence secretary for touching Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee 15 years ago. She’d already forgiven him, but have we?

We’re right to question which people we admire — but the intense process of self-interrogation and policing of those who may consume the work of someone like Spacey is not healthy.

Cary Cooper is 50th Anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School, and visiting professor at Lancaster University.

Originally published in The Conversation

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, actor, sexual-offences, psychology, united-states, australia

First posted November 23, 2017 12:21:40

Kimberley kids go from the outback to the Opera House for Dance Rites

Seven dancers from Western Australia’s remote north are preparing for the national indigenous dance competition Dance Rites in Sydney this week.

Movieland, the video store that hasn’t been killed by the internet

Posted November 23, 2017 06:21:49

As Australians continue to lap up the latest at-home and on-demand entertainment, a local video store in regional New South Wales is refusing to close its doors.

Mandy McKay and her husband John opened the doors to Movieland, on the mid-north coast, 36 years ago and do not plan on shutting up shop anytime soon.

With titles heralding back to the dawn of DVD right through to the newest releases, Ms McKay said movie magic and rental was not dead.

“It has been an interesting ride. Opening our doors in 1986 there was a totally different hunger for home entertainment,” she said.

“We were tempted into the business because it was so exciting to consider having the picture theatre in your home.”

Back to the future thanks to VHS

Despite the clear quality of vision and sound from DVDs these days, Ms McKay still has a soft spot for old-school video cassettes.

“I still think videos were the best movie watching option. They were long-lasting, hard to damage,” she said.

“When you look on our shelves now it’s all very slim line … but if you step behind the counter, it’s a very different story.”

In the stockroom, stacked over 2.7 metres high, Ms McKay has kept all of the store’s old VHS cases.

She refuses to let the huge amount of plastic make its way to landfill, and now uses the cases to house DVD rentals.

“It’s my own version of hoarding. We have so many of them and they just keep growing in numbers — just like gremlins,” she said.

“It gives me a real kick to pass a VHS box across to kids these days. They wonder what on earth I am handing them. Of course the DVD is inside. I have just remodelled the box.”

Horror flicks a long-term favourite

Ms McKay said she had to dust the cobwebs off her memory to recall the hustle and bustle in her store when they first opened.

“Videos weren’t sold over counters to begin with. It was very exclusive, and we used to have lines out the door for very specific films,” she said.

“Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg was a favourite. When that first came out we had people on week-long waiting lists and everyone wanted to get their hands on it.”

Ms McKay said even now comedies were a favourite, but many of her customers chose to lurk in the horror section.

“Our town seems to love a good scare. Our thrillers and horrors leave the shelves regularly,” she said.

“And shark movies — your Sharknado series and Jaws are regularly hired out.”

Although Ms McKay receives a bundle of new releases every week, she said there was one standout film that was forever a favourite.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s a classic, and clearly there isn’t a very good pirate version online, so I regularly have people asking for it specifically.”

Generations of loyal customers

Ms McKay said the business would not still be standing in the art deco-themed town if it were not for its loyal customers.

“I am privileged to say I have met generations of families who are movie buffs. I have whole families associated to one rental card, and they appreciate the hard copy,” she said.

Shirly Clarke has been a regular customer for 17 years, and said the cat at the front counter made the store feel like home.

“Saber the cat is absolutely a talking point. It’s special to walk into a store where everyone knows your name,” she said.

“I still remember the first time I ever hired from a video shop as a child. We hired near 10 scary movies, and I have been hooked on movies since.”

Tony Whealan has been a regular for four years and said the classics were his favourites.

“You can’t go past The Green Mile. It’s far too expensive to head to the cinemas these days, and Mandy has films I haven’t seen in years,” he said.

Unreliable NBN keeps people coming back

Ms McKay believes NBN is one of the major reasons for her business’s continued success.

“We are a little bit out of the way in Wingham and the internet signal isn’t great,” she said.

“So who would sit at home watching a pixelated image when you can have a clear picture with a DVD?”

Ms McKay said even as take-home entertainment continued to progress with the introduction of 4K digital resolution technology, Movieland would continue to supply its town.

“The industry isn’t as set in stone these days, but my hope is to be here for another 10 years. We will be here for future generations.”

Topics: film-movies, arts-and-entertainment, human-interest, offbeat, lifestyle-and-leisure, wingham-2429

Canberra couture designer reflects on rollercoaster journey to Paris Fashion Week

High-end fashion designer Hajar Gala’s parents wanted her to become a doctor, but after migrating from Azerbaijan to Australia she pursued her dream to showcase her designs at Paris Fashion Week – a dream now achieved.

Pixar chief takes leave after ‘missteps’ with employees

The boisterous, Hawaiian shirt-wearing personality behind some of the most beloved children’s films of the past 30 years, like Toy Story, is the latest entertainment titan to be exposed for claims of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct in the workplace.

20 years on, let’s remember Michael Hutchence for his talent, not the headlines

Updated November 22, 2017 14:00:36

Since his death on November 22, 1997, in a room at Sydney’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Michael Hutchence’s legacy has been coloured as much by his private life as his contribution to music.

The tabloid press in Britain and Australia were relentless, making much of his high-profile romances, particularly his affair with British television presenter Paula Yates, who at the time had three children with her husband, the singer Bob Geldof.

There were other ups and downs, as Hutchence — a lanky, charismatic performer — found intense fame and media scrutiny off the back of hit INXS records like Kick (1987) and X (1990).

On that Saturday morning, 20 years ago, INXS were due to rehearse ahead of their upcoming Australian tour in support of 1997’s Elegantly Wasted.

Hutchence never showed up. The band heard the news the way the rest of the world did, through the media.

The singer’s death silenced, far too soon, a phenomenal voice — moody, sexual, and dynamic, able to shift effortlessly from fragile to cocksure.

Hutchence didn’t so much sing things as tell them coyly (on songs like Devil Inside) or boldly declare them (when the band was really kicking, like in Just Keep Walking). His voice fit perfectly in the nooks and crannies of the angular guitar lines.

Still, in the popular consciousness, Hutchence the celebrity has arguably outlived Hutchence the musician.

Yates, who died of a heroin overdose in 2000, suggested in a 1999 television interview that Hutchence’s death may have been an accidental result of autoerotic asphyxiation, a claim that travelled far and further obscured the talents of the man involved. (New South Wales coroner Derrick Hand had considered that possibility and dismissed it.)

“The tragedy of it all is that’s how people remember Michael now, as the guy who hung himself,” Tim Farriss, one of three brothers in the six-piece band, told Double J’s Myf Warhurst recently. “And that’s a real shame.”

In recent weeks, more has emerged — via the Paradise Papers leak — about the managing of Hutchence’s estate, and how much of the money it generates is going to Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily, the singer’s only child.

For fans, though, much of this is incidental. What are they remembering on this day, two decades on?

They remember the post-punk moments (1980’s self-titled album), the funk moments (Suicide Blonde, Need You Tonight) and the big pop moments (Baby Don’t Cry).

They remember the small shows and the really big ones — the biggest being at Wembley Stadium in 1991, in front of a crowd of 70,000, a performance that solidified their place in pop history.

And they remember the songs, which — 40 years since the band started, and 20 years since the singer’s death — still stand up.

That’s how it should work. Hutchence, if nothing else, was an entertainer. That he can still entertain us today, through his music, is proof that his legacy should not be based on headlines.

Topics: music, arts-and-entertainment, australia

First posted November 22, 2017 13:38:21