Backstage Spotlight: Ten Facts about James Franco

The year 2010 really put James Franco in the spotlight. He starred in 127 Hours, got nominated for his first Academy Award, co-hosted the Oscars, and plunged into Hollywood spotlight, being recognized as the man of every trade, from painting, to getting his doctorate, to teaching on the college level, to acting in soap operas. It’s 2012 now and we haven’t heard much about the big guy of 2010 in quite a while. The tide changed, and Ryan Gosling became the man of 2011. Who’s to say who will be the big guy of 2012? I’m betting on JGL, seeing that he’ll be in five films this year. But that’s another story.

I decided now was a good time to write on Franco because he isn’t the man of the hour, but he’s significant enough in this generation that I think he’ll continue to do great things. I first thought of him when I was coming up with my favorite actors, and he would have made a great #6 on my list (The list is now updated to include him – check it!).

10. He looks and sounds a lot like his younger brother (shocker, right?).

I also thought of him this past weekend when I saw his younger brother, Dave, costar in the hilarious 21 Jump Street. The similarity between their looks and especially voices is uncanny!

9. He’s the Cameo King in my book.

James Franco might have more uncredited cameos than any other actors I’m aware of. The HolidayNights in RodantheThe Green HornetKnocked Up, 30 Rock, Date Night (OK, that’s the only one he was credited for). He’s either playing an action star, grieving son, mob boss, or hilariously arrogant version of himself. Check out his cameo in The Holiday below.

8. He’s a really funny guy.

With multiple videos on Funny or Die, Franco does everything from introducing us to his family, to crying about his cat, to giving “acting” lessons to his younger brother. Check out this lesson where he tried teaching his brother, Dave, about “green screen acting.”

7. He values education.

Anyone who has gone to college knows that credit loads exceeding the early 20s bracket are time-consuming at best. After a good glance at his Wikipedia page, I read that one semester Franco enrolled in “62 course credits per quarter compared to the normal limit of 19.” It’s pretty hard to believe this, so I decided to look up the source noted. I then proceeded to read a lengthy, but absolutely fascinating article written by Sam Anderson, published in New York Magazine back in July of 2010. In there, he cites that Franco, indeed, did take on the 62-credit load at UCLA, and following that, well, here, I’ll just let you read the excerpt from the article below:

As soon as Franco finished at UCLA, he moved to New York and enrolled in four of them: NYU for filmmaking, Columbia for fiction writing, Brooklyn College for fiction writing, and—just for good measure—a low-residency poetry program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. This fall, at 32, before he’s even done with all of these, he’ll be starting at Yale, for a Ph.D. in English, and also at the Rhode Island School of Design.”

Yes, you read that right. Anderson goes on a funny rant following that, describing how Franco will become president and something to do with aliens, I think. The article is incredibly insightful, and worth a read if you’re even the slightest fan of Franco.

6. He’s a man of many every trade.

OK, so perhaps it is more accurate to describe Franco as a jack of many trades, not all. But it’s pretty unimaginable how he balances all of the graduate credits, the acting career, the interviews, the poetry writing, the teaching, the soap opera roles in a given day, week, month, and year. Does the guy sleep? Well, this picture was taken back a couple years ago, claiming that he’s quite the sleeper in class; although it was later revealed that he was attending an additional art seminar and was tired.

5. He worked at McDonald’s.

Before he took on a gazillion credits and studied at several major schools, he went to UCLA to get his undergraduate in English, but dropped out at age 19 to pursue acting. Since his parents did not support his decision to quite school in pursuit of an acting career, Franco had to support himself – and took a job at McDonald’s. Franco is quoted in this Entertainment Weekly article saying that after working at McDonald’s, he was no longer a vegetarian.

4. He’s won only one big award: Golden Globe for the titular role in James Dean.

Check out his acceptance speech at the ceremony. A couple fun things to notice in the video: first, he’s so young! second, the guy is incredibly modest; and third, did you catch that closing shot of a young Brad Pitt? Funny!

3. He’s up to star in the 2013 film, Oz: The Great and Powerful.

Intended to be a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Sam Raimi (also Franco’s director in the Spider-Man series) will be directing this fantasy take. It’s interesting how many people enjoy giving us “before” or “after” stories about The Wizard of Oz. Take the Gregory Maguire famous book series that insighted the national popular musical, Wicked. Will there be comparisons? Franco will be playing the lead role in the film, who, from what I’ve read, turns out to be the wizard. See for yourself by reading the synopsis below, courtesy of the film’s Wikipedia page:

Oz The Great and Powerful imagines the origins of L. Frank Baum’s beloved character, the Wizard of Oz. When Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot with fame and fortune being his for the taking….that is until he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity, and even a bit of wizardry, Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but into a better man as well.

2. He produced and directed a documentary entitled “Saturday Night,” based on the behind-the-scenes of his two hosting stints for Saturday Night Live.

I was planning to embed a video for his SNL monologue when he hosted back in 2009, but I can’t find it anywhere on YouTube, so here’s the link (do check it out! it’s hilarious).

ArtsBeat gives their take on the documentary in this article. Here’s a video I have yet to watch; it’s a panel made up of Franco and some of the member from the Saturday Night Live cast at Tribeca.

1. He got a D . . . in an acting class.

Well, from what I learned from the video, it was a “directing actors” class, so technically it would be more of a directing class. Even so, you have to hand it to him for being ironic there. The sleeping photo does come up, but Franco explains the craziness behind how he got a D in the class to Roger Friedman. It’s interesting, and funny nonetheless.

Hope you learned something new about James Franco! I definitely did while researching. What are some interesting facts you learned about people in the film business?  

AEOS Double Review: Win Win and Warrior

Last weekend, I got to see two GREAT movies that probably would have made my top 10 list for 2011 (or very close to it), had I not already made the list days earlier.

Win Win and Warrior are incredibly different movies, but the one thing they share in common is fighting. In Win Win, Paul Giamatti plays a frustrated high school wrestling coach. Warrior features Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as estranged brothers, both with past mixed martial arts skills who enlist in the same fighting tournament.

WIN WIN

Paul Giamatti, in like every other movie he plays any type of role in, shines, playing a guy named Mike Flaherty who’s a struggling attorney and coach of a pathetic high school wrestling team. He and his wife, Jackie, played by the lovely Office alum Amy Ryan, have two daughters. Mike is well aware that his job is not paying the bills, and that he needs to do something, and fast. One of his clients, Burt Young (Leo Poplar), is without a guardian and will be forced by the state to stay in a retirement home. The catch is that whoever is Young’s guardian is in for a nice sum of money each month. Mike convinces the judge that he’s the man for the job, and takes the title of Mr. Young’s guardian. The only problem is that Mike doesn’t have time between his jobs and family to watch an elderly man, so he enlists him in a retirement home anyway–convincing him that this is what the judge ruled–while still cashing in the checks.

Not much later, Young’s grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), meets with Mike, and a whole new set of actions take place. Kyle takes up residence with the Flaherty’s, enrolls in the local high school, joins Mike’s wrestling team–and becomes the star wrestler–meanwhile, Mike is continuing to cash Young’s checks in secret.

It all comes together in the end, although as a viewer, I wondered how that was going to be possible as it seemed to get messier as time went by.

I really enjoyed this movie. The actors all looked like regular, every day people, and in part, made it such a believable story. The relationship between Mike and Kyle grew, almost claiming a father/son-like relationship. Mike provided for and encouraged Kyle, while Kyle gave Mike a reason to believe in wrestling again.

Thomas McCarthy both wrote this brilliant script, as well as directed the film. He’s played a variety of small roles, but his most well-known accomplishment is his screenplay for the Pixar success, Up. Win Win is only his third movie to have directed. I hope to see more from this guy in the near future.

While the story was exceptionally strong, a lot of credit has to go to the actors for developing and playing out strong characters. Bobby Cannavale, who played Mike’s best friend, Terry, was especially humorous in scenes, breaking the drama up a little bit. Giamatti and Ryan worked well together as husband and wife, and parents wanting to always do the right thing, but sometimes failing. Alex Shaffer might have been the stand-out in the cast, playing a realistically troubled, yet kind and grounded teenager.

Win Win was a highly underrated movie for 2011. It’s definitely worth a watch.

Win Win = 4/5 eyes on screen.

WARRIOR

Initially, I wasn’t going to see Warrior. I didn’t fine The Fighter from 2010 entirely compelling, and wasn’t up for another fighting movie. But from the excellent reviews I was reading on the movie, I decided to give it a chance, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.

I am officially a Tom Hardy fan. I’ve seen him in Inception and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and his role in Warrior is exceptional–and surprisingly left off awards lists. Between an incredibly convincing American accent, and playing such a complicated character, Hardy went in for the kill in Warrior. Stripped of any kind of happy demeanor, being estranged from both his now sober father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), and older brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), Hardy’s character Tommy comes home and announces to his father that he’s interested in taking up fighting again. He gets his dad to train him, but reminds him that there would be only training–no affection, connection, familial ties, forgiveness–just training.

On the other end of the spectrum, Edgerton plays the dead opposite type of character–a high school physics teacher who’s married, has a family and friends. But with facing financial issues and the ugly possibility of his house foreclosing, Brendan, too, takes up fighting again, asking his friend Frank Campana (Frank Grillo) to train him.

Warrior is filled to the brim with spot-on performances, including both Frank Grillo as Brendan’s trainer, and Jennifer Morrison as Tess Conlon, Brendan’s wife. Nick Nolte hits just the right rhythm as the failed father trying to win back his sons. We feel for his character throughout the entire movie, even as we learn that his past is what drove both his sons from him. But he’s changed now and he wants his sons to know that–only they don’t care anymore. Paddy listens to self-help tapes and claims multiple times that he’s 1000 days sober, even turning down a drink from Tommy. Paddy again tries to connect with Tommy, only to be given one of the biggest verbal smackdowns of how he’s old and unneeded. He hits the brink of suicide, throwing in the towl. Tommy finds beer bottles all over the floor the next morning, Paddy crying while mindlessly chanting random lines from self-help tapes. It’s then that Tommy finally forgives his father.

The movie had a couple of those great moments, like when Tommy forgave his father, that brought Warrior full circle. The dramatic moments were well-paced and the fighting scenes were rough, but choreographed well enough to not appear like it was too easy or too hard to win.

Warrior is a moving, compelling, and heartwarming movie that relies not on the sport as its center, but a broken family struggling to mend itself together. It has a lot of heart, and a lot of great moments.

Warrior = 4/5 eyes on screen