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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Midweek Roundup: 2 New-To-DVD/VOD Reviews – “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” + “Manglehorn” (7.1.15)

First up in a series of back to back films I watched so far this week, was an independent film starring the Oscar nominated Rinko Kikuchi (2006’s “Babel”), in a film that had one of the more interesting concepts that I had heard about this year. And one that had a long theatrical run here in Portland, at mainly some of our more art house theaters. Coming off strong word-of-mouth and a synopsis built around a young Japanese woman (played by Kikuchi), who goes about her mundane existence somewhat jaded by the life that she’s living in as a secretary to a rather wealthy philanthropist. One day she stumbles across a VHS recording of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo (1996). She grows a certain fascination and obsessiveness with the film, particularly that of the scene where Steve Buscemi’s character buries the suitcase of money he gets from the ransom, and goes about planning a trip to the United States in hoping that she can go back to the exact location in which it was buried, in hopes that she’ll find the money and escape the monotony of her everyday life.

This was just as much of a hidden treasure of a find, much like the hidden gem of the VHS tape its main character finds and pursues as the main story line of the film. Anyone who is a fan of the original film (and I can’t speak for the series, having not seen it) will find this story entertaining as it puts a new spin on a person’s movie-fed obsession where the lines of reality and faux fiction are blurred to whereas someone who’s not familiar with movies (like the Kikucki character) might take something they see in a movie as reality and pick up where the story left off. Kind of like an updated, more contemporary version of the old series of books – “Choose Your Own Adventure”. Besides the original and inventive plot which alone should draw the viewer in. It features a rather strong, stand out performance by the brilliant and under utilized Japanese actress Kikuchi, and plays out like a character study about one woman’s hopefulness and new found sense of self-worth as she makes the trek from Tokyo to the rural icy winter of the North Dakota setting of which the original film was based in. It’s a somber piece, with a lot of it shot in beautiful wintry landscapes in the Dakotas. It allows the viewer to immerse themselves and invest in her “quest” to find the ransom money, and suspend disbelief in the sheer absurdity of her intentions. As well intentioned as they may be. This is for a specific type of target audience. For lovers of both the original “Fargo” and moviegoers looking for something a bit different than what they’re used to. I personally really enjoyed this film and the deft handling of the story, and found myself finding it to be quite enjoyable from beginning to end. This one already landed itself a spot on my list of Honorable Mentions of the films I’ve seen (so far) this year. I can say with some degree of confidence that it should not disappoint, especially for fans and lovers of more modern day, contemporary independent cinema. [strong B]

The second one up was from a director whom I really admire, the very young and talented David Gordon Green. Who’s maybe the most divisive independent filmmaker on the scene but who’s career trajectory draws similarities to that of someone like a Steven Soderbergh. Who, like Soderbergh, seems to have adapted the “one for them, one for me” approach to film-making. I loved his more indie friendly early work that he’s done with films like “George Washington” (2000) and “All The Real Girls” (2003). He then seemed to go in a bit more of a mainstream direction with films like “Pineapple Express” (2008), “Your Highness” (2011), and “The Sitter” (2011), only to seemingly be returning to his more independent roots with his back-to-back films released within the same year – 2013’s “Prince Avalanche” and the understated but brilliant character study “Joe”. So based on mere credibility alone and the shift in which his career has been taking as of late I sought this one out.

“Manglehorn” is the second feature film I’ve watched in two weeks starring Al Pacino, who, seems to be in sort of a resurgence phase as he’s been attached to more interesting looking projects like this one and the recently reviewed “Danny Collins”, also released this year. It takes a look at the life a character that seems slightly familiar to others like Bill Murray in last year’s “St. Vincent”. He’s a bigot, unlikable character, full of regrets of how his life could have played out but didn’t. In a series of voice-overs, we learn that he lost the once love of his life because well, he was too selfish to realize that he had much of a good thing going for him. He know lives in solitude as a locksmith. He sees his somewhat regularly, but because of his own failures, doesn’t seem to be able to develop much of a relationship with him. He tries to form a bond with a local banker (played by Holly Hunter) and an ex-drug addict turned massage parlor owner (played by one of the more interesting casting choices in art house director Harmony Korine). It’s through these relationships that he tried to “reconnect” with himself, but ultimately winds up failing at, because, well, he’s an old man set in his ways.

This was a mediocre film by Gordon Green, which has quite a few strong elements, particularly that of Pacino, who proves once again why he is one of the greatest actors of the past half century or so. When given the right kind of role and material, like this one, he’s one of those actors that can make a somewhat familiar, cliche driven script into something much greater than. His performance here is top notch, despite the contrived script and often times poor execution. There are themes here that will resonate with anybody, both young and old, about things like regret, remorse, and one’s ability (or lack thereof) to try and change. It’s somewhat of a mess when looked at an analyzed as a whole. But for Pacino’ performance alone, and a story that at times felt universally human, I can give it a recommendation. Along with another brilliant score by the post-rock band, Explosions in the Sky, it’s certainly not a great film, but is just good enough and worthwhile of a recommendation. [B-]

Review: “The Skeleton Twins” 12.13.14

I guess I wasn’t entirely sure what drew me into wanting to see this film. Other than that I had heard and/or read mostly positively priases and it scored well on the various movie review sites that I visit. That and coming off the heels of two dark films that I watched last weekend in the form of both “Calvary” and especially “Nightcrawler” I think I was in the mood for a bit more lighter-fare. But even more so, I’ve particularly always been a fan of Bill Hader and often feel as if he’s much too underutilized in films and mostly plays bit parts. So the promise of seeing him in something where he played the leading man in piqued my interest from the start. Being in that I’m really a Saturday Night Live novice post anything 2000, I can’t say that I’m familiar at all of any of his work on that show. Along with co-star Kristen Wiig. I know neither of them from their work on that show, but rather from supporting parts in movies I’ve seen like 2011’s “Paul”, a movie in which both of them starred in. I also liked Hader in comedies like “Superbad” (2007), “Knocked Up” (2007), “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008), “Pineapple Express” (2008), “Adventureland” (2009), and “This Is 40” (2012). Also, a lot of people don’t know this, but Hader was employed as one of South Park’s head writers for a couple of seasons. There’s a great “making of” South Park documentary that I caught on Netflix streaming awhile back. That shows Hader in his element as they give us a glimpse into the writing and making of a South Park episode. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, regardless of what you think about their show, are so unbelievably successful that they can pull in guys like Hader to write for them. And it’s through this documentary that I found myself developing a deeper respect for him as both an actor and writer. His sheer talent is undeniable. As for Wiig, I can’t say I’ve really seen her in anything outside of the afore-mentioned “Paul” (no I have not seen “Bridesmaids”) and in her hilarious supporting turn in the often much too underrated “MacGruber” (2010). So just based on word of mouth and the fact that I was looking for some lighter fare with a couple of young comedic actors I thought I would give this one a whirl.

The film opens to a rather coincidental and tragic event, both which take place on opposite coasts by 2 siblings – Bill Hader’s Lou and Kristen Wiig’s Maggie. It is through this mere act that the brother and sister are reunited after 10 long years of being estranged from one another. Lou, who seems to be in a very dark place and in desperate need of some much-needed love and support, gets an invitation by his sister Maggie to come stay with her and her husband (played by Luke Wilson, in a great supporting turn) in rural upstate New York. he takes her up on said offer and moves from his dismal life in Los Angeles to her much more suburban-esque home and lifestyle in upstate New York. As is with a lot of siblings, both on-screen and off, they seem to click almost right away and pick up right from where the beat left off. Lou hesitantly acclimates himself and is brought into both his sister and husband’s seemingly domestic home life, and given that she still lives in the same hometown in which they grew up on, starts to revisit some of his past. Facing past failures upfront and face to face, and we begin to learn a bit about his back story. Though while Maggie’s lifestyle seems to be idyllic from the outside. She too is also plagued with her own past failures and her inability to be the wife that her husband, Luke Wilson’s character, appears to deserve as he is a kind-hearted, compassionate, and loving husband. Who also seems invested in his brother-in-law Lou’s recovery from some of his past failures. The two siblings begin to learn that they’re really not much different from one another and are plagued by the same events that happened to them as kids, which makes things rather difficult and opens up doors to facing some of their let downs and disappointments from their childhood. It is through this bonding which things begin to resurface and they begin to realize that they’re not much different than one another. Even despite of them having spent so much time apart.

“The Skeleton Twins” winds up being one of the biggest sleeper hits of the year in terms of its genre. It’s a very sad but honest look at two siblings so troubled and scarred from their childhood that even while in the comfort of one another’s presence, their past seems to catch up with them and makes them face their true fears and disappointments about the flawed adults in which they’ve become. The film brough a lot of my own personal feelings to light, having lived a similar, somewhat tumultuous childhood. The way in which the two siblings’ bond is portrayed is spot on and both Hader and Wiig give complex, layered performances that felt sincere, real, and truly human. It just goes to show that two actors who are better known for their comedic work in, if given the right material, can truly shine as dramatic actors. In fact, I was so impressed by their performances, that I found myself totally immersed myself in the story and emotionally invested in their 2 characters, that I was taken by quite a surprise. There was a certain rawness, a certain authenticity if you will, that I have to say I didn’t think these particular leads could pull off. But they do and then some. Anybody with a sibling or siblings should be able to identify with a lot of the themes explored in this film. As it really does a great job at depicting the ties that bind while also acknowledging that the past may be through with us, but we are never through with the past (a quote lifted from Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” (1999) ). There’s an emotional core to the story that seemed totally believable and had me invested from start to finish. Nevermind that I counted maybe 3 or more scenes that were so raw, so poignant, and so heartfelt, that I found myself either being completely moved by them or evoking a beaming smile. This is one of the saddest feel good movies that is executed almost perfectly along with being incredibly well acted, that I’d be hard pressed not being able to recommend it to just about anybody. This is a film that totally took me by surprise, and one that I would employ you to see as its maybe one of, if not the best, dark comedies that I’ve seen all year.

[B+]

Review: ‘Joe’ 6.18.14

This is a strong, well constructed, assured directing effort by David Gordon Green, who as you may know, has recently gotten back in touch with making gritty social dramas like he did at the start of his career with films like ‘George Washington’ and ‘All The Real Girls’ over more Hollywood based fare like ‘Pineapple Express’, ‘Your Highness’, and ‘The Sitter’. You can tell, especially with this film, that’s he’s getting back in touch with his roots of telling bleak social dramas set in the South. Nicolas Cage, in what might be his finest, multi layered work since ‘Leaving Las Vegas’, just goes to prove that he’s a fine actor if given the right material (which is rare I know) and really shines here giving a stellar performance, as does Tye Sheridan, who I have to take off my hat to after a string of back-to-back quality films (‘The Tree of Life, ‘Mud’, & now this). He’s proving to be one of the promising young actors (only 17) in the business. Heartfelt, raw, confident storytelling. In a film that was just graded slightly lower was because it was a bit slow to start. This is one, in formulating my “best of the 1st half of 2014”, that is high on my list of honorable mentions. Definitely worth seeking out.

Grade: B/B+