Friday, November 5, 2010

James Franco – Movies Spotlight – November 2010

James Franco is best known for his role as Harry Osborn in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy. However, he has a very good dramatic and comedic track record, the Spider-Man series being the only real blockbuster type films he has appeared in (I am not counting Annapolis, and neither should you). Franco stars in this month’s film 127 Hours, directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, about Aron Ralston – the hiker who got his arm caught under a boulder and was trapped with no help, having to resort to extreme measure to survive.

Early Career:

Franco got his start one TV in an episode of Pacific Blue, then in the TV movies 1973 and To Serve and Protect, and an episode of Profiler, from 1997 through 1999. Then he had his first big break (sort of), starring in Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s fantastic Freaks and Geeks (if you have not seen this yet, you must!), which also stars Seth Rogen and Jason Segel. Sadly, the series was cancelled at the end of its first season. But due to his exposure as a series regular, Franco got bigger film roles: supporting work in Never Been Kissed and starring in Whatever It Takes (both not so great rom-coms). His second big break came when he won the role to star as James Dean in the TV movie biopic. Critics applauded his performance and suddenly he was in high demand.

Spider-Man and Stardom:

Coming off his role as James Dean, Franco had lots of offers. He auditioned and was considered for the role of Peter Parker, the role eventually going to Tobey Maguire. However, director Sam Raimi was impressed and cast him and Parker’s friend and son of the villainous Norman Osborn, Harry. Spider-Man was a massive hit and suddenly made Franco a star (and celebrity). He also appeared in both the sequels in the series: the wonderfully good Spider-Man 2 (one of my favorite films) and Spider-Man 3 (the film that Sony executives ruined). Franco could have followed in the footsteps of many and opted to get paid and continue to make blockbusters and less satisfying films (both for the audience, yes I mean Annapolis here, and for him as an actor, through, as we all well know, there are fantastic blockbusters and roles in them too), but he decided to primarily take roles in smaller films.

Independent Films:

Following Spider-Man, Franco took roles in City by the Sea, a crime drama with Robert De Niro, and in Robert Altman’s The Company. He then returned to work on the Spider-Man series. Between the second and third in the series, Franco made the prison war film The Great Raid for Miramax, the epic romance (Romeo and Juliet like) Tristan + Isolde for Scott Free Productions and the war film Flyboys about young Americans who volunteered for the French Air Force before the U.S. entered WWI (all three are decently good films). After finishing Spider-Man 3, he took a role in Paul Haggis’s In the Valley of Elah, and followed it up with a fantastic performance in Gus Van Sant’s Milk. He also stars in this year’s film Howl, about the obscenity trial of poet Allen Ginsberg.

Newfound Comedic Career:

Aside from his work on Freaks and Geeks, Franco was known for his dramatic work and talent for most of his career before 2008. He has a funny cameo in Apatow’s Knocked Up, but it is in Pineapple Express that his true comedic brilliance comes to life for a wide audience. He also has a fun bit part in this year’s Date Night and guest-starred as himself on 30 Rock. Working again with David Gordon Green (director of Pineapple Express), he stars in the new comedy Your Highness, which originally was scheduled to be released this Fall, but was pushed to the other big comedy month April (2011). The film is written by Eastbound & Down’s Ben Best and Danny McBride and stars, along with Franco and McBride, Zooey Deschanel, Natalie Portman, Damian Lewis (did I mention he is in Band of Brothers), and Justin Theroux. The film is apparently hysterical, with Franco providing another great comedic performance.

James Franco – Writer-Director:

Franco, always being interested in directing and writing, attending Columbia University’s writing program, made his fist films in 2005: Fool’s Gold and The Ape (both comedies). Working again with writing partner Merriwether Williams and actor Vince Jolivette, Franco made the drama Good Time Max about two genius brothers that take different life paths and grow apart. He then branched off on his own to make four shorts: Herbert White, The Feast of Stephen, The Clerk’s Tale, and Masculinity & Me. Making his feature film debut as a director, Franco made 2010’s Saturday Night – a documentary about what it takes to create a full episode of SNL. The film has been quite well received. He also has The Broken Tower (which he also wrote) slated for a 2011 release about the American poet Hart Crane, Franco will also star in the film.

Future Projects:

In addition to his film The Broken Tower and the comedy Your Highness, Franco also has two more films in production with 2011 expected releases: Rise of the Apes, a prequel to Planet of the Apes (because this is a film we really need…Is it?), and Maladies, about a talented actor who retires at a young age due to a perceived mental illness and decides to move to a small town with his best friend and deranged sister (let the drama, or fun, begin). Franco is also rumored to be in contention to play the lead in The Iceman, the true story of Richard Kulinski: contract killer and family man (on an unrelated side note, he was also in a bunch of recent episodes of General Hospital, calling his role performance art).

James Franco’s Selected Career Highlights:

1.)    Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)* – lead – available on DVD
2.)    James Dean (2001) – lead – available on DVD
3.)    Spider-Man (2002) – supporting – available on Blu-ray/DVD
4.)    Spider-Man 2 (2004)* – supporting – available on Blu-ray/DVD
5.)    Pineapple Express (2008) – lead – available on Blu-ray/DVD
6.)    Milk (2008)* – supporting – available on Blu-ray/DVD
*editor’s picks
James Franco’s filmography is also available on to rent and stream

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