Two Trips To The Movies (One Back) – “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002) 8.15.15 and “The End of the Tour” 8.16.15

This was my third consecutive weekend in a row where I visited the Portland Art Museum so I could catch yet another film in all seven films they are showing honoring one of the greatest American cinematic auteurs – Paul Thomas Anderson. I’ve always considered “Punch-Drunk Love” to be somewhat of a minor work in the filmography of this undeniably talented and incredibly influential writer/director’s. Maybe, because at the time of its release, it seemed like a rather odd shift in direction for the director who was coming off the powerhouses of his three previous works – 1995’s “Hard Eight” (a.k.a “Sydney), 1997’s “Boogie Nights”, and 1999’s “Magnolia” (the latter two films as mentioned in previous reviews are up there in my top 10 films of all time). So coming off one of the strongest one, two, three debut punches of almost any other director I can think of in history. To say they would be hard acts to follow would be a grave understatement. That, and the casting of the then still funny Adam Sandler as the lead, whose previous work had only been in comedy, seemed to be a rather strange casting choice. Anderson still to this day when reflecting back on the film says “it was and will be the only art film ever starring Adam Sandler”. And while I remember liking the movie when it initially came out I can’t necessarily say I loved it, especially in comparison to the two films that preceded it. Though I still went into it feeling an almost moral duty or obligation to see it as part of this ongoing retrospective of the director. Because I, as do many others, feel that it’s incredibly important to look at a director’s entire body of work. Especially with writer-directors that I admire and hold in such high regard as someone like Anderson.

The story itself revolves around Barry Egan (Adam Sandler). He’s a single man who his self-employed and owns his own business selling novelty items. He has seven rather overbearing sisters, who we’re introduced to via telephone at the beginning of the film. Barry is a lonely guy, who one night decided to call a phone sex line and is put on with a girl named “Georgia” (drawing up comparisons to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character in Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” (1993) ). He winds up getting himself caught up in a scam, and Georgia and her shady, sleazy business partner (played in a small part but a scene stealing Philip Seymour Hoffman). Barry is overwhelmed with stress as a result of it. All the while thinking he may have found a loophole in a Healthy Choice promotion that offers frequent flyer miles (lifted from a true life story). Just when Barry couldn’t possibly be any more down on his luck in walks the beautiful (and very talented) Emily Watson’s character, Lena. The two fall for one another under some rather strange circumstances and well, the rest of the picture more or less focuses on how two people, who couldn’t be more different from one another, and under strange circumstances, fall madly in love.

“Punch-Drunk Love” is certainly far from being Anderson’s best work. But even as a standalone film, it’s a uniquely strange, bizarre, and often times funny one. It’s also the first film in Anderson’s oeuvre where he begins to branch off from his previous style and work and shift into new forms of storytelling. Which in looking at a director’s body of work, I think is the one of the most important parts – the ability to keep things refreshing and original while staying true to your craft. I remember at the time of its release thinking that as much as I loved his two films prior, I wished that his next piece would be a little something different from the ensemble driven dramas that Anderson had mastered and built his career on up to that point. And boy this couldn’t be any different from anything he had done to date at that point. Sandler puts in a rather impressive performance as a man constantly on edge who mind you also has a very (and I mean very) bad temper mixed in with aggression problems (providing some of the film’s funniest and classic moments). It utilizes his comedic talents rather well but placing him in a role with a bit more of a dramatic turn. And surprisingly he pulls it off quite nicely. But what was striking to me this time around as how great of job Anderson does at shifting into unfamiliar terrain and pulls off a rather charming, heartfelt, and well polished love story with a lot of heart. It’s a minor work in the scope of Anderson’s seven films to date. But even despite its minor flaws (it never really “takes off”) it still is an impressive take on what we know to be the American romantic comedy.

[B]

The next film of the weekend was the newly released “The End Of The Tour” starring Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel. Despite my not being too particularly fond of the film’s two leads (I really only liked Eisenberg in Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” (2005) and David Fincher’s “The Social Network). Segel I’ve liked in a handful of work like in his earlier TV series “Freaks and Geeks” (1999), “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2007), “I Love You Man” (2009) and still my favorite of his – “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” (2011). But after watching a trailer that piqued my interest mixed in with the based on a true life story that took place between Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Eisenberg) and famed author David Foster Wallace (Segel), who Lipsky gets put on assignment to interview the rather eccentric and immensely popular literary writer Wallace. It struck me as something that quickly caught my interest especially after seeing that it opened to rave reviews among critics, I thought it would be a great choice for my movie meetup group as it looked like something that had the potential to appeal to all tastes.

To expand on the brief synopsis of the film I hinted at above. We are first introduced to the up-and-coming, young, 30-year old Lipsky. A Rolling Stone journalist whose bogged down with covering stories he just doesn’t seem interested in and is looking for his big break. That big break comes when he is employed to cover an assignment where he would be invited into famed writer David Foster Wallace’s world for five days as he wraps up the end of his speaking tour advertising his new book that would go on to be his most popular and greatest literary achievement – ‘Infinite Jest’. Lipsky gets complete and total access to Wallace life and covers his day-to-day life through a series of candid interviews as they embark on the last few remaining stops on Wallace’s book tour. That’s essentially the film’s set up, as it becomes sort of “buddy road trip drama” that gives us insight into the world of one of the most famous and successful American authors of the 1990’s.

“The End of the Tour” sheds light on the literary world with what feels must have been a well researched story in recreating what it must have been like for its two central main characters during this short period in time. What I liked most about the picture was its take on the nature of celebrity, particularly with Wallace’s character, but as the journalist Lipsky spends more and more time with the beloved author. They begin to form a special kind of bond and friendship which comes across as totally natural and convincing, with each of its two leads taking up almost frame within the film, and their chemistry felt both relatable and authentic. Jason Segal puts on what’s probably his best real performance to date, as the bandana wearing, long-haired, unshaven author Wallace. It’s a rather impressive performance from an actor, who similarly to Adam Sandler in “Punch-Drunk Love”, shows that Segel can do drama and not just comedy like his cohort. It’s a believable and transformative role for Segel that shows he has quite a bit of range as a dramatic actor. Eisenberg on the other hand, feels out-of-place and miscast, and at least to me, plays the shaky, anxiety-ridden, unsure of himself character that he seems to become typecast in almost all of the work I’ve seen him in post-“Social Network”. Also, unlike Segel’s transformation into getting Wallace’s look and mannerisms down, Eisenberg looks exactly like he always does. And both my fellow movie meetup fans and I agreed and wondered, did he change anything outside of his usual persona and acting abilities to play this role? Well, it didn’t seem like it. Also, there’s some great in-depth, introspective talks that go on throughout the course of the film that play out almost like an homage to the great “Before Trilogy” films directed by Richard Linklater. Sure we get some great insight into the minds of the great writer and journalist, but at least to me, while I admired its exploration into them. It just felt a little too slight and somber throughout the entirety of its duration, sort of how I felt about Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” (which I liked but thought it to be very average). And that’s more or less similar to how I would up feeling about this film. For fans of literature who are familiar with author David Foster Wallace and his rise to fame and unwanted celebrity, you might like this film a bit more than I did. But despite the impressive turn by Segel, it wound up being a slightly above average dialogue driven talk fest with plenty of insight, but just not enough feeling.

[B-]

The End Of The Tour – Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel

Sunday, Aug 16, 2015, 4:30 PM

Regal Fox Tower 10
846 Sw Park Ave Portland, OR

6 Portland Film Enthusiasts Went

The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Eisenberg) and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace (Segel), which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, ‘Infinite Jest.’ Co-starring Anna Chlumsky and Joan Cusack.

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A Trip To The Movies: Review – “Trainwreck” 7.19.15

“Trainwreck” is the new Judd Apatow directed comedy written by and starring Amy Schumer. Like with any new Apatow comedy, I like so many others (evidenced by the sold out crowd at the showing I saw), share quite a bit enthusiasm for his work. After all, even though Apatow has his fair share in a number of Producing credits (“The Cable Guy”, “Superbad”, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, “Pineapple Express”, “Get Him To The Greek”, “Bridesmaids”, and “The 5-Year Engagement”, to name a few. After working in television on both the short-lived “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared”, as a feature-length film director, he only has 4 films under his belt. First, what some consider to be his best, was “The 40-Year Old Virgin”, which made a then almost unknown Steve Carell into an almost overnight sensation. This followed by “Knocked up”, which was the launching pad for Seth Rogen’s career (prior to that he really was only known for starring in the two aforementioned Apatow TV series), to what I consider his best film to date – the Rogen/Adam Sandler comedy “Funny People”, to his last and probably most poorly received film “This is 40”. I was excited to hear that Apatow was returning without his usual cast – missing here is his real life wife and regular star of his films, Leslie Mann. Nor were his children cast (a move that I always thought was a rather narcissistic one on Apatow’s behalf). Also missing here was Rogen, who has starred in two of his three films prior (I don’t know about you, but I think a lot of us are kind of burnt out on Seth Rogen). What interested me most about his newest project was not only did Apatow seem to be branching out in terms of casting but even more so, that he cast the little known (to the film world that is) Amy Schumer, a stand up comic whose been creating quite a few waves on the comedy circuit for years. That and she penned the screenplay and got a sole screenwriting credit along with landing a role as the star of the film. It’s because of my love of Apatow comedies and the word-of-mouth buzz that Schumer absolutely knocks the role out of the park that once I saw the film advertised and opened to much praise from both users and critics alike that I rushed out to the theater to be one of the first to catch my first glimpse at the newest from the reigning and undisputed king of comedy.

The film opens with one of the stronger and funnier opening scenes as a father (Colin Quinn – expertly cast) tries to explain to his two young girls why he and their mother are getting divorced by using dolls as an analogy (“like kids do, adults eventually get tired of the same doll and want to branch off and play with other dolls”). Flash forward 23 years, and we are introduced to the two young girls from that opening scene. Amy (played by Amy Schumer) as she explains her life in voice-over. A late twenties/early thirty-something teenager stuck in an adult’s body. While she takes her job seriously as a writer for a popular New York magazine, her personal life is in shambles (well, according to the viewer anyway, though Amy would tell you otherwise). She sleeps with as many men as possible, and along with a montage of drunken one night stands where she plays by a set of rules (never sleep over after sex, no cuddling, fuck em and flee, the list goes on and on) we learn where her priorities lay (with the exception of work – mostly drinking and sex). This is counterbalanced by her younger sister (played by my favorite under 30 actress – Brie Larson, whose done some really strong work both inside and out of comedy) as well as her husband (“Sleepwalk With Me”‘s Mike Birbiglia) and her young nephew (one of those young Science geeks who their grandfather/Colin Quinn sums it up rather hilariously – “he’s the type of kid we used to beat up in school”). While Amy loves her sister, she is also somewhat disgusted of her domesticated lifestyle, which in some ways gives her own kind of self rationalization and justification to continue living the lifestyle that she does. That is until she is given the assignment of writing a piece on a young medical doctor who works with sports athletes (again, played by another one of my favorite comedic actors to perfection by Bill Hader). I won’t go too much further into it other than to say that she develops a relationship with him, one that even she never thought possible (is Amy actually capable of being able to “love” someone?).

In summary, “Trainwreck” works on a number of different levels but is also slightly flawed. Here, Apatow puts his best yet ensemble piece yet, with Schumer paving the way and bringing a certain likability and authenticity to her performance in what I thought was the best part of the film (believe the hype, she is nothing short of astonishing here). As was Bill Hader in the boyfriend role, Brie Larson as her younger sister, Tilda Swinton as Amy’s boss, Colin Quinn as her dad, Mike Birbiglia as her brother-in-law, and get this – both former WWE star John Cena as one of her only serious boyfriend’s prior to Hader’s character and who I had my doubts about but who puts in one of the best real life sports athlete performances by Lebron James (apparently he can play Basketball and do comedy). The story has a lot of heart. And the first half had the audience laughing so hard from minute to minute that I heard a lot of people around me ask – “what did they just say”, as they were still laughing from the joke that preceded it. It’s what Apatow does best. And similar to what Noah Baumbach has done with Greta Gerwig, it becomes quite apparent that Schumer acts as his direct source of inspiration for and muse here and is the comedic actress he’s been waiting for all along to do a project with as she really does hit all of the right notes. Here’s what detracted a bit from the film for me. Like “Funny People” and “This Is 40”, writer Schumer and Apatow tell a story that at about the halfway point, falls more into dramatic territory and while the jokes remain consistently funny throughout, I personally felt like the momentum of the film died down a bit in its second half as Amy goes through a somewhat predictable self-transformation from her former self into her new-found self as her relationship with Hader’s character gets more serious. That being said, there’s plenty of laughs galore here and as promised, Schumer is a revelation here as she puts in one of the stronger female comedic roles that I’ve seen since Jenny Slate in last year’s “Obvious Child”. At times a bit formulaic but consistently funny from start to finish. “Trainwreck” winds up being one of Apatow’s stronger efforts in his still small but expanding filmography in a film that marks Amy Schumer as one of the most exciting, new young talents in a film that should please almost any fan of feel good comedies even despite some of its flaws.

[B]

This Weekend! Judd Apatow’s new comedy “Trainwreck” – Sun, 7/19 350 @ Fox Tower

Sunday, Jul 19, 2015, 3:45 PM

Regal Fox Tower 10
846 Sw Park Ave Portland, OR

13 Portland Film Enthusiasts Went

It’s never to early to start planning for the next movie meetup! In what looks like it’s gearing up to be the comedy of the summer. I for one am excited for the new film from the director who has brought us some of the best and most notable comedies of this century so far (“The 40-Year Old Virgin”, “Knocked Up”, “Funny People”, “This is 40”). The r…

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TV Series Review – “Bloodline” (Season 1) 5.9.15

I can count on one hand how many TV series that I’ve actually taken the time to watch more than just a few episodes of. Maybe because I just never bought in to the whole “binge watching” phenomena that seems to go hand in hand with watching them. In thinking back, the only 4 TV series that I’ve actually watched in their entirety are “Twin Peaks” (1990-1991 = still my favorite series of all time), “Freaks and Geeks” (1999-2000), “The Sopranos” (1999-2007), and “The Wire” (2002-2008). Beyond that I’ve tried to invest both time and effort into watching “Breaking Bad” (2008-2013) and last year’s “The Knick”. Both shows which for some unknown apparent reason I just couldn’t get into and hung the towel with after maybe half a season or so. I pretty much always skip over anything about TV shows or series that I see printed online or in some cases, are advertised for on TV.

Except for in the case of this little TV series that came along which I heard was being heralded as the best Netflix original series since “House of Cards” which I knew more about by reputation than anything itself as it’s yet another series that didn’t really interest me in the slightest. What caught my attention about this particular series was not only that it came highly recommended by two of my co-workers (which always makes for stimulating water cooler talk come Monday morning), but by its incredible cast consisting of 6-time Oscar nominee Sissy Spacek (you know the bar is being set and high for cable TV when they can enlist an actress of this caliber), Oscar nominee Sam Shepard, Emmy award winner Kyle Chandler (for 2006’s “Friday Night Lights”), Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn (who I’ve recently declared as being the best character actor currently in the business), Linda Cardellini (ironically who starred in one of the series mentioned above = 1999’s “Freaks and Geeks”), and Oscar nominee Chloe Sevigny. At the time I was and am still awestruck of how a TV series could have possibly assembled such an amazing cast. Which was one of if not the main reason of how and why I got lured into it.

Netflix’s “Bloodline” originally aired back on March, 20th of this year, with all 13 episodes of its first season being available at once. The show itself is a family drama/thriller that revolves around a one Rayburn family. A wealthy upper crust family who own a very successful Inn down in the Florida Keys. The Rayburn’s consist of the patriarchal father Robert (played by Sam Shepard) and mother (Sissy Spacek), along with their four children; the eldest Danny (in what’s sure to be an Emmy nomination later this year by the mightily impressive Ben Mendelsohn), the second son John (Kyle Chandler, who should also garner a nomination for his strong work here), Norbert Leo Butz as the youngest son (an actor of great talent who I was previously unfamiliar with up to this point), and the youngest sibling, the sister, played by Linda Cardelliini. In typical family noir fashion everything looks good from the surface but nothing is as it seems. The show starts out by introducing us to the eldest brother Danny (Mendelsohn) who really acts as its central figure. Danny is the black sheep of the family, the one that got away, who happens to also have a bad drug habit but who comes back into the lives of his family when a celebration takes place in honor of their name in the season pilot. The events that transpire from this point forward examine the interpersonal dynamics of the family, as secrets and scars are revealed when layer upon layer of their family history unfolds and we are shown the inner depth and darkness of what happens to people when they try and leave the past behind but the past isn’t quite through with them yet.

This is a gritty, dark, and deeply probing psychological family drama that explores the inner depths of what lies underneath a family’s surface when their past resurfaces and the great lengths they try and take to cover them up after decades of secrets, deception, and lies. It works on just about every technical level from its stunning cinematography of the Florida Keys in both it’s sunshine paradise and murky swamps (nicely done metaphorically), to within its ability to grasp the viewer and engage them into its intricately woven plot, to its masterful writing, and what winds up surprisingly equaling the sum of its parts in the acting department (hard to do when you have this much talent on display). As already mentioned both Chandler and Mendelsohn give spectacular performances, particularly that of the latter, whose character seems drawn from something similar to that of the diabolical Robert DeNiro in Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” (1991). The inner workings and pathos that Mendelsohn brings to his role is further proof that he’s one of the greatest character actors working in the business. I couldn’t think of any other actor who could bring this much depth to a part. Which I’ve always said is the greatest testament to an actor’s performance, when you can’t possibly imagine any other actor pulling it off as well as they do. It’s also consistently rewarding as no episode seems to go wasted and every one that proceeds the last plunges deeper and deeper and darker into the inner lives of the Rayburn family. Culminating in a great last couple of episodes where everything is brought to the forefront and a devastating and tragic event occurs which was both disturbing and shocking and left me foaming at the mouth for another season (which is already slated for 2016). As far as TV series’ go, this is one of the better shows I’ve seen, which even despite my admittedly limited palette, I can confidently say that anyone who chooses to take the time and invest themselves in it will be both highly rewarded and left salivating for more.

[A-]