Review Round-Up: 1922, The Square, and The Disaster Artist

Posted: December 12, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Written by Daniel Simpson

1922

19221922 falls under the very specific sub-genre of “direct to Netflix Stephen King horror adaptation released in October 2017”. The other film is Gerald’s Game, an interesting movie with a unique premise that fell apart at the end. 1922 has a different problem. The film is pretty well-made and is consistently competent the whole way through, but there just isn’t much to this story. A farmer kills his wife and deals with the consequences, practical, psychological, and supernatural. You more or less know exactly how the story will play out within the first fifteen minutes or so and stretching the length out to 100 minutes is just tedious. I think this might have worked better as part of a horror anthology or something. Taken on its own terms, 1922 is fairly insubstantial. Still, director Zak Hilditch does mine some pretty effective horror visuals.

C

 

The SquareThe-Square-poster

I’ve spent the last five years of my life in academia. Straight after completing my undergrad, I delved right back in and am currently attempting my Masters degree as an Arts student. As such, I spend a lot of time listening to and having conversations related to aesthetics, what defines art, and class disparity while sitting in the relative comfort of the university’s walls. I don’t mean to dismiss higher education as I’ve greatly enjoyed my time at school, and have definitely gained a lot, but I also have to admit that the question, “Are we all just full of shit” does enter my mind quite a bit. It can definitely feel like people (myself included) are just spouting pseudo-intellectual statements to sound smart and the hypocrisy of often speaking for the lower class and the marginalized while simultaneously living a very privileged life is not lost on me. I bring all of this up because Ruben Östlund’s new film The Square, while not set in a university, satirizes the very liberal intellectualism that I seem to encounter almost every day.

The film follows museum curator Christian (Claes Bang) as he attempts to promote a new conceptual piece called “The Square” while also navigating an increasingly tumultuous personal life. His primary concern as the movie opens is a pickpocket which takes his phone and wallet. Knowing what apartment building the phone is being held, Christian drops a threatening letter in each and every mailbox in the building, a decision which will have drastic consequences.

As I said, The Square is primarily a satire of the liberal elite. In this respect, the film actually makes an interesting companion piece to Get Out, except where that film was about exploring the aforementioned’s relationship with race, The Square is more generally about class. Christian fancies himself as a progressive intellectual, a man of certain ideals and values who expresses sympathy to the lower and working classes. And yet in practice, Christian is repeatedly untrusting of “that sort of person” and after he is slighted he is openly hostile. Christian tries to overcompensate for this later, but such efforts come off as disingenuous and desperate. The film isn’t out to make Christian as a full-on villain or even as a bad person, but Östlund does note the hypocrisy inherent to the character.

We see this attitude reflected on the museum as a whole. The titular art piece is built on the notion that, “Within the square, we all share equal rights and obligations”. Fine ideal, except it also implies that there is a world outside the square as well. Indeed, the film mostly concerns itself with the inner circle of the upper class a can live in relative privilege, while the exterior of “The Square” represents a looming chaos just outside. Another key exhibit sees a man acting like a gorilla for a collection of bemused socialites at a dinner party, which struck me as a metaphor for how the upper-classes love to engage with “the other” from afar, but are not prepared for the facing the consequences of class difference. This reading is perhaps a bit of a reach though.

I think analyzing The Square is important, but I also worry I’m making the film sound way more daunting and inaccessible than it really is. In fact, much of The Square plays as a full on comedy, with some really humorous looks at the pretentiousness of modern art and an insane viral marketing campaign. The comedic high-point though is definitely a bizarre sexual episode the main character experiences. The story can also be appreciated on a surface level as we watch Christian try and navigate through an increasingly frustrating situation populated with interesting characters and memorable scenes. Claes Bang gives a great turn in the lead role. Christian is a character who needs to be professional and suave, but also someone who is kind of an asshole, kind of a dork, and always on the verge of falling apart. That’s a difficult balancing act, but Bang pulls it off, and it’s fascinating to watch him come closer and closer to the edge throughout. Elizabeth Moss also gives a really memorable turn as a journalist who has a relationship with Christian. Moss quickly establishes a smart and likable character, but there’s also something a little unhinged and odd about her and Moss has a lot of fun playing this.

The Square is directed by a guy named Ruben Östlund, who previously made a movie called Force Majeure that got some really good reviews. I still haven’t seen that film, but I’m definitely inclined to go back and check it out if The Square is any indication. Östlund not only balances a very tricky satirical tone and gets great performances from the likes of Bang and Moss, but he also has a great sense of visual filmmaking. There’s nothing particularly showy about The Square’s cinematography, but the film is nonetheless highly expressive in its visuals just from camera placement and depth of frame. The man is also able to navigate between scenes which are genuinely tense and genuinely hilarious, and sometimes both at once, in a way which looks effortless. Some people will likely be put off by the film’s abrupt ending or the fact that Östlund does not define everything, but The Square is still a great piece of cinema that’s a lot more accessible than one might think.

A

 

The Disaster Artistthe disaster artist

The Disaster Artist tells the true story of the making of The Room, one of the most infamous “so bad it’s good” movies. Specifically, the film looks at delusional “filmmaker” Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and his meeting and budding friendship with actor and eventual co-lead of The Room, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco).

Though the film is having a limited release and will likely snag some nominations for Best Actor and Adapted Screenplay, The Disaster Artist is perhaps best understood as a mainstream comedy. The bromance at the center of the film is not totally dissimilar from what’s seen in stuff like The Interview or Superbad. What’s more, while another filmmaker could have really embraced the romanticism of pursuing the dream in spite of a total ineptitude, or a darker character study on Tommy Wiseau, The Disaster Artist plays it right down the middle. The film doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s judging Tommy and it paints him sincerely, but Franco and the screenwriters are not blind to Tommy’s more unsavory aspects. There is definitely elements of manipulation and jealousy at play in terms of his relationship with Greg and the film also doesn’t shy away from his borderline abusive behaviour on set. But the overriding aspect of the film is how Franco is able to mine this bizarre and inept person for comedy. The film isn’t making fun of Tommy Wiseau, but it’s certainly fascinated with him and finds humour in the strangeness.

In addition to playing Wiseau, James Franco also directed the film and he is an appropriate choice. Both men are these odd, fairly aloof guys who spearhead directorial efforts that the rest of the world just seems to dismiss as weird. Of course, Franco is way more talented than Wiseau, but I don’t doubt Franco feels some kinship to Tommy and that certainly helps inform the tone of this film. Of course, it’s not Franco’s direction of The Disaster Artist that will likely be remembered, bus his acting. Franco is excellent at capturing the bizarre mannerisms and speech habits of the real Tommy Wiseau. This is more than just a good imitation though. Franco is giving a real performance here, and his portrayal of Wiseau never dissolves into caricature. Much of the film’s humour derives from Franco’s performance, but the screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber is a fine piece of comedy writing in and of itself and the supporting cast is also full of capable comedians.

2017 has proven a surprisingly great year for comedies and as far as mainstream entertainments go, The Disaster Artist might just be the best one. The film could certainly have gone deeper and I’m not wild about the tone of the ending, but the fact is the film is consistently entertaining. I laughed the whole way through, whether from Franco’s performance, the colourful supporting cast, the witty dialogue, or the general absurdity of these people and this production. It’s by no means the best movie of 2017, but is perhaps the most easily recommendable. The film is such a breezy entertainment and I suspect even those who’ve never seen The Room will find a lot to enjoy.

A-

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