The Disaster Artist (James Franco, 2017)

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James Franco’s story of the making of the latest “Worst Movie of All-Time”, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (which plays monthly at the Central Cinema and other places around town) feels like all the cool kids got together to make fun of the freakiest, geekiest kid in school. I mean, the movie opens with an actual Disney princess talking about how terrible the guy’s movie is, kicking off a series of so-bad-it’s-hilarious proclamations by Hollywood successes. I haven’t seen The Room, bad movies just make me feel bad. And laughing at them only makes me feel worse. And from what I have seen, and from its depiction here in exacting recreations, seen side-by-side with the original over the closing credits, it is impossible not to laugh at The Room.

The obvious comparison is with Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, of course. But that was a film that really tried to understand its subject as an actual human being, rather than just an opaque manifestation of weirdness. We want Ed Wood to fulfill his dreams and we feel for him at every failure and (humble) triumph: it doesn’t matter that his art is terrible, at least he succeeded in making something that meant something to him. And Glen or Glenda, at least, is so personal and horrifying an object that it arguably qualifies as great art, despite the fact that the corporate video store I worked at in the 90s deemed it so bad we would rent it out free of charge.

Franco never bothers to look at Wiseau the same way: he’s too opaque a collections of quicks to have an actual personality to express, and he isn’t even allowed to be the center of his own story. This is a story about Greg, a wanna-be actor (played by Dave Franco) who met a weirdo and together they made a terrible movie that everybody laughed at. And in our degraded age that has somehow become the same thing as making something great.

Queen of the Desert (Werner Herzog, 2015)

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Werner Herzog’s biopic of British archeologist Gertrude Bell premiered more than two years ago at the Berlin Film Festival to poor reviews, and is only this week making its way onto American screens. Why this should be is not immediately clear, the ins and outs of which international art house films make it into domestic distribution is far too complex a matter for my mind to comprehend, but I believe it involves some combination of corporate nepotism, the star system and random chance. The stars in this case are what make the film worth watching, as Nicole Kidman can enliven even the deadest of features, and this might be her most heroic effort in that vein to date. There’s almost nothing of Werner Herzog in the film, though there might have been once: Bell superficially appears to be his kind of a hero, obsessed with a harsh landscape, driven outside the bounds of society to do something remarkable, but at nearly every level the film feels compromised. Herzog is the only credited writer, but this has all the hallmarks of a film written and edited by a committee.

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