Review – Lights! Camera! Mayhem! (“The Bubble”)

So, you think that making a movie is easy, huh? Many films have tried to show the crazy antics of a film team in action (Ed Wood, Tropic Thunder, Bowfinger, etc), but this behind-the-scenes film of a movie production goes beyond the pale!

In this absurdist Netflix/Judd Apatow film, the pandemic never looked so funny. Y’know those ridiculous movie franchises (Spy Kids, Resident Evil, Step Up) that just keep going? Well, imagine a film series called Cliff Beasts and they’re on number six, but this time shooting in England at an ultra-isolated, super-posh, lavish hotel straight out of Downton Abbey. The director is little-known Darren Eigan (Fred Armisen) and his producer is frazzled Gavin (Peter Serafinowicz), who is constantly at war with nasty studio head, Paula (Kate McKinnon). But Gavin’s worries have just begun; the cast has arrived and they’re a bunch of neurotic, vain, and crazy people!

Leading the Cliff Beasts 6 sequel are: returning actors Sean Knox (Keegan-Michael Key) who just started a new religious group (“it’s not a cult!”), writer Dustin Mulray (David Duchovny) and his sometimes lover, Lauren VanChance (Leslie Mann), and Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan), who is coming back after leaving Cliff Beasts 4. Newbies are: serious actor Dieter Bravo (Pedro Pascal), TikTok sensation Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow), and nervous Howie Frangopolous (Guz Khan) as the film’s comic relief. Shooting on a huge green-screen lot adjacent to the hotel is advantageous, but the cast isn’t prepared for all their Covid precautions, like their maddening two-week quarantine from each other. . .twice!

Then comes the exhausting shooting days with the actors either complaining, hurling on each other due to a flu epidemic, or demanding more lines. And when they’re not shooting, everyone’s got their own personal hang-ups or story that we get a glimpse of, like: Dieter wants to bang the hotel clerk (Maria Bakalova), but settles for his online personal trainer (Daisy Ridley), Krystal is scared of losing her massive TikTok fanbase, Dustin and Lauren can’t decide whether to get back together or not, Gavin isn’t sure of the new security agent, Mr. Best (Ross Lee), who seems a bit too sadistic, and end-of-her-wits Carol who wants to organize the others, but they just won’t listen to her.

As the shoot drags on, things get progressively worse with Dustin railing against the film’s integrity, some cast members quitting or getting injured, and Carol desperately trying to get out of her contract, especially when she finds out about a sudden decision to make Cliff Beast 7 back-to-back with Cliff Beasts 6! It’s a wild and nutty look at Hollywood movie-making with a generous helping of British humor thrown in. Surprisingly, for a Judd Apatow project (he co-wrote and directed), there is no gratuitous nudity and bad language. Apatow (40-Year-Old-Virgin, Knocked-Up) and co-writer Pam Brady (South Park TV series) have written a very funny, almost surreal send-up of what goes on behind the camera with actors, producers, flunkies, and studio heads.

You get to see some of what they’re filming (the finished product with the CGI dinosaurs), but the funniest parts are the after-hours where their individual quirks, neurosis, and desperation really explode. Nobody in this hotel is sane and trying to see them try to keep their sanity is half the fun. Oh, and keep an eye out for all the celebrity cameos that pop-up here and there, from Benedict Cumberbatch to James McAvoy. Everyone is hilarious and creates a bizarre/alternate version of themselves.

Karen Gillan, who usually plays a sullen, serious Nebula in the MCU, really gets to shine as the voice of reason. Key and Armisen are always funny no matter what they do, and McKinnon slays as a sorta Less Grossman from Tropic Thunder. And Serafinowicz is perfectly cast at the pompous English producer who’ll make this picture. . . no matter what! Apatow and Brady fill this movie up with scene after scene of nutty, ridiculous, absurd goings-on that’ll make you think twice about being an actor on a location shoot.

**Now streaming exclusively on Netflix

Ed Wood (1994)

In the annuals of low-budget filmmaking, there was Ed Wood, master of the bad movie. One has to only watch his magnificently awful Plan 9 From Outer Space to see what horrible filmmaking is all about. Terrible acting, extremely low-budget props (paper plate flying saucers!), a laughable script, and much more. That was Ed Wood!

Directed with a very strange touch by Tim Burton, this semi-biography movie deals with Wood (Johnny Depp), a struggling filmmaker and closet transvestite living in Hollywood, circa 1952. After meeting and befriending a washed-up Bela Lugosi (an incredible Martin Landau), he gets funding to make a low-budget film called Glen or Glenda, about a closet transvestite living with his girlfriend. Wood even gets his real-life girlfriend, Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker), to star with him in the movie, based on himself.

But as that movie flops, Dolores introduces Ed to the Amazing Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), a TV psychic that Ed takes advice from. Next comes the hilariously bad Bride of the Monster, which only gets made because some meat-packing tycoon’s son is allowed to be the leading man in the picture! More actors and weirdos start to populate Ed’s world as his movie-making career starts to explode. Lugosi, acting strange and doing drugs, is Ed’s only real “star” for his audience draw, and his newest picture, Plan 9 From Outer Space, plans to be his biggest yet. . . until Lugosi dies. But that doesn’t stop Ed!

Ed just substitutes Dolores’ chiropractor for Lugosi in a few scenes (his face is covered) and, heck, the audience will never know! Spoiler alert: they knew! Burton and Depp prove to be a formidable team (they made eight films together!) as this movie captures the quirky Burton-esque style of filmmaking with Depp’s chameleon acting. But the real dessert in this magical meal is Landau as Lugosi, which won him a much deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar. . . and a Best Makeup Oscar for Rick Baker for his Lugosi prosthetics.

Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote this brilliant script based on their own personal Ed Wood biopic they wrote while at USC film school. Pretty cool, huh? Shot in black and white by Burton, this is one of those odd-duck films that bombed at the box office, yet was hailed as a critical masterpiece by moviegoers. How does that work again? People and critics loved it, but it lost major $$$ for Disney? Meh, go figure. Just like the hysterically laughable The Room, have some fun and rent/stream some of Ed Wood’s real classic films and see what wonderfully awful filmmaking was all about.

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