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In the picture

Pixar’s Day-of-the-Dead gem is as lively as they come; James Franco takes on worst movie ever – and wins.

In the picture

Coco *** ½

*ing: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renee Victor Directed by Lee Unkrich

With its cast of skeletons and macabre “I see dead people” vibe, Coco may be the strangest thing ever to come out of the Pixar animation factory. That’s a good thing. Their latest animated movie finds the company spreading its wings and pushing into new territory, including betrayal and murder, without neglecting its family franchise responsibilities. It’s a tricky business, which Pixar, mostly, pulls off in high style.

Lee Unkrich, his co-director Adrian Molina and their team of screenwriters have conceived Coco as a salute to Mexican culture – the voice cast is almost entirely Latino, as are the settings. The film’s hero is 12-year-old Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), a kid from the small village of Santa Cecilia who just wants to sing and play guitar. But his family of shoemakers forbids it. Why? It’s seems Miguel’s great-great-grandfather deserted his wife and daughter to hit the road and make it as a singer. His daughter, Mama Coco (Renee Victor), now sits silently in old age, lost in memories she never speaks of. Miguel, however, is driven to follow in the footsteps of Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the Mexican Elvis who died young  – a church bell gonged him – but left behind hit songs and movies that the boy obsesses over. He even fantasizes that Ernesto could be his great-great-grandfather. If only the lad could meet him.

Which brings us to the dead. In one of those plot loopholes perfect for fables and kid-flicks, Miguel steals a guitar from the de la Cruz mausoleum, which leaves him cursed. The boy’s only recourse is to cross a bridge made of a magical marigold petals and slip into the underworld on Día de Muertos, beg forgiveness and maybe meet the late, great troubadour himself before being permitted to return to the land of the living. Did we mention that Miguel’s hairless pup, Dante (!), follows him. Too cute? Maybe. But his furry friend offers much-needed comic relief.

It’s a lot of plot, but the movie charms itself into our good graces when it enters the netherworld, a neon-colored  nonstop fiesta that’s a blast even if you’re just a bag of bones. And, oh boy, those alebrijes, the fantasy creatures that leap around like Mexican folk art brought to vibrant life! It’s here that Coco picks up visual punch and a creative head of steam. On the Day of the Dead, those who’ve passed to the other side can also cross over to the living, as long as someone remembers them in the real world. If not, there’s nothing.

While the kiddies wrestle with that conundrum, grownups will be treated to a story that involves real-world issues. Miguel finds a guide to the spirit world in Hector (Gael García Bernal), a scam artist who brings him to his idol Ernesto. What happens next is something viewers should discover on their own, but let’s just say more than a few family mysteries. Bernal and Bratt do their most resonant voice work in these scenes, and kudos to the latter for showing real vocal chops on the film’s biggest song, ‘Remember Me,’ a lush ballad from the Frozen duo of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. There’s also ‘Un Poco Loco,’ a snappy duet for Miguel and Hector that’s a real spirit lifter (literally).

Coco brims over with visual pleasures, comic energy and emotional wallop. The climax is a real weeper as well: There’s something indelibly moving about a child getting in touch with the ancestors he’s lost and forging a bond that can last over time. Of course, a lesson is being preached to children about the need to respect elders. But Pixar’s 19th feature brings a soulful core to that message that helps the film ride over its rougher patches. It’s not in the master class of, say, Toy Story, Inside Out or Wall-E. But it’s definitely worth remembering.



The Disaster Artist  *** ½

*ing: Alison Brie, Zoey Deutch, Zac Efron, Christopher Mintz-Plasse Directed by James Franco

Director, producer, actor – James Franco is firing on all creative cylinders in The Disaster Artist, and it’s telling that this restlessly inventive star (his critics are always bitching that Franco tries to do too much) is giving everything he has to a movie about … the worst filmmaker of the 21st century. We’re talking about Tommy Wiseau, whose 2003 feature The Room made him the spiritual heir to Golden Turkey hall-of-famer Ed Wood. The cross-dressing Wood was dead when Tim Burton made his 1994 tribute to the joy of making movies, no matter how crappy the result; Wiseau is alive and kicking at any perceived slight. But that didn’t stop Franco – who stayed in character as the Room creator while directing the film – from forging ahead and adding his own sense of the psychological bruises that accompany failure.

The Disaster Artist actor-director opens up about why ego is a killer, Broadway musicals and Obama getting his name wrong. The film starts in San Francisco, where Greg Sestero (Dave Franco, a.k.a. James’ kid brother) meets his future director/costar at an acting class. The teacher (Melanie Griffith, in one of the movie’s many celebrity cameos) cringes when Wiseau – he of the long dark hair and Gothic vampire vibe – repeatedly shrieks the name “Stella” as if summoning the spirit of A Streetcar Named Desire-era Brando from the Great Beyond. It’s fitting that these two men bond in rejection, since that’s all they face when they move to Los Angeles. Sestero finds an agent and a girlfriend (Allison Brie); Wiseau finds rejection from a miffed Judd Apatow in a restaurant. (“You’ll never make it, not in a million years,” the Knocked Up director tell him. “But after that?” asks Tommy.) Then Wiseau decides to write his own movie and self finance it with $6 million he’s raised from mysterious sources. It will star his best friend and himself. It will be called The Room.

Everything about this would-be Orson Welles is mysterious, from his age (he absurdly asserts to be 19) to his Eastern European-sounding accent (he claims to be from New Orleans). Franco mines the role for fun, especially since Wiseau proves equally hopeless as an actor, a writer and a director. In one scene, he blows take after take on one simple scene. Meanwhile, behind the camera, the crew – fronted by a wickedly deadpan Seth Rogen – recites the lines in unison that Wiseau can’t get out of his garbled mouth:

“I did not hit her.

It’s not true,

It’s bullshit.

I did not hit her.

I did nawwwwttttt!

Oh, hi Mark.”

If getting your jollies off of Wiseau’s follies was the only thing that mattered, The Disaster Artist wouldn’t be much of a movie so much as a series of mocking comic moments. But Franco and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer, The Fault in Our Stars) are after something more crucial to the creative process. Even when The Room becomes a cult hit, with audiences shouting the dialogue back at the screen a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Franco and the writers doesn’t cheat on the hurt. Instead, they make their hero a martyr for anyone who longs to make art without the minimum requirements for the job. What motivates Wiseau? A drive to create? A desire for fame? A need to impress Sestero, whom he may or may not be in love with? The film lets these questions hover around the action in ways that give the film a soulful core.

And as a director, Franco succeeds beautifully at bringing coherence to chaos, a word that accurately describes the making of this modern midnight-movie phenomenon. Do you need to see The Room to appreciate The Disaster Artist? Not really. The recreations of key scenes from that kitsch classic are shot with stunningly tacky verisimilitude and played to the scrappy hilt by an up-for-anything cast, including Zac Efron, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson and Jacki Weaver. These merry pranksters make sure that this movie is a comic bonanza that deserves to form its own cult. But it’s James Franco who hits a new career peak as actor and director by making sure his film is as heartfelt as it is hilarious. The Disaster Artist is his baby. But the movie beautifully pays tribute to both their talents.

– Courtesy: Rolling Stone



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