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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A Trip To The Movies – Review: “American Sniper” 1.17.15

Let’s face it Clint Eastwood hasn’t directed a great film in a decade. His last really good film was his 2004 masterpiece – “Million Dollar Baby” which was an absolutely stunning achievement garnering Academy Award nominations in almost every category, including a well deserving Best Actress win for Hilary Swank. This is an especially important thing to highlight because Eastwood’s creative output (a film every other, sometimes twice a year) has been at an all time high during these past 10 years. His back to back War films “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” (2006) both were failures, both from a cinematic stand point and in terms of box office revenue, and little to next to nobody I know saw either one of them. Then came maybe his best yet still underwhelming year in 2008 with the release of both “Changeling” and “Gran Torino”. Both semi worthwhile efforts despite having their fair share of flaws. 2009 brought us his first collaboration with Matt Damon, the sports drama “Invictus”, an Eastwood effort that I skipped as it didn’t pique my interest in the slightest, that and I’m not particularly a fan of films that cast Damon in the lead role. 2010’s “Hereafter” I too skipped as it was a poorly reviewed film that featured another collaboration between Eastwood and Damon once again in the lead role. The year after he released the J. Edgar Hoover biopic “J. Edgar” (2011) featuring a stand out Leonardo DiCaprio performance in what was an otherwise long, tedious, and boring film. Enter 2014 and Eastwood planned to release another 2 films – the first based on a book about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons called “Jersey Boys” which featured no well-known actors and got mediocre to below average reviews, and basically flew under the radar of just about everyone I know (most people I talk to didn’t even know it was an Eastwood film). This being his latest film, which looked like it had some serious promise after revealing one of the better looking and well constructed trailers I had seen all year. That and the “surprise” Oscar nominations this past Thursday morning recognizing it for both Best Picture and star Bradley Cooper in the Best Actor categories quickly catapulted it from a “I’ll probably see that movie once it comes out in the theater” to a “how quickly can I get to the theater to see it” status. I then bought my advance tickets the night of the announcements, expecting the crowds to look like something similar to that of the newest “Hunger Games” release. All of that aside, I can’t say I had the highest of expectations for it, as it looked like it had the workings to either be a great film, or yet another Eastwood disappointment.

The film introduces us its real life based on a true story character Chris Kyle. A Texas man who spends most of his time at the bull races trying his best to make a living as a cowboy. His then current relationship quickly dissolving and he begins feeling unfulfilled as to where his life is heading. Like most people, he doesn’t seem content on just “being”, and strives to look for something more out of life and for himself (a lesson he is taught at an early age by his father in a flashback dinner scene with both him and his younger brother). Chris decides at a rather late age of thirty to enter the Navy, and in a montage showing him and other recruits going through basic training, it seems like he is tailor-made to be suited for his new calling as he is everything the military represents – he’s a man of high moral value that stands for loyalty, discipline, and dedication to the cause. Not to mention he’s an expert marksman. During one weekend he meets a young woman (played by the increasingly impressive Sienna Miller, who played another high-profile role this past year in Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” as Mark Ruffalo’s wife). They seem like a perfect fit and soon after decide to get married (in one of the first of many great scenes that I thought clearly exemplified a soldier’s loyalty to their cause over that of their own family – a major theme and focus of the story). Chris and his new wife quickly get accustomed to their newly married, domesticated lifestyle, only to have Chris get deployed for his first of four tours. The film then quickly transports us to the Middle East, where we see Chris as a Navy Seal sniper picking away at militants in combat. The camera looking up the barrel of his gun and square into his eyes as he picks off his targets right and left. Chris becomes an almost martyr-like hero to his peers as he continues to save life after life with his expert skills as a sniper. But at what cost will all of this have on Chris’s psyche and even more importantly, will it have on his increasingly distant wife and children, who seem to be deeply affected by Chris’ absence as he goes back and forth between tours in the Middle East and being back stateside with his family.

This is a landmark achievement between director Clint Eastwood and star Bradley Cooper and it turned out to being something much more than I had expected which was a pleasant surprise. There are many things I’d like to point out about this film that I liked, but I’ll try to keep it to just the essentials. First off, it’s an incredible character study with Cooper in his career best performance to date. I thought he was great in “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) and good in “American Hustle” (2013) (but didn’t think he deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination). But this film puts him on a new platform as an actor. His restrained, subdued, yet expressive performance is nothing short of amazing. He also put on about 40 pounds of muscle (which looked to be about double that) to play the role, and is almost unrecognizable as his normal baby face appearance is transformed into someone much more tough and rugged. Which is a true testament to Cooper as an actor as you can tell he must have totally immersed himself into the role. Unlike Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”, despite the transformative physical appearance, there is an undeniable sense of serious acting chops underlying his performance from within. The second thing I wanted to point out is that it feels nothing like a standard Clint Eastwood film, who tends to follow a lot of stereotypical Hollywood movie tropes with his usual lyrical narrative approach to storytelling. There is very little here that resembles that. Though a couple of minor criticisms I had of the piece is that some of the scenes at home felt melodramatic and laid the sentiment on a bit too thick. That and I thought they downplayed the relationship between Chris and his younger brother. Outside of that though I thought it was an incredibly confidently directed and assuredly shot piece of filmmaking, and is both compelling and captivating from start to finish. Which is remarkable given that Eastwood is in his later years and we may only get another film or two out of him until he retires from moviemaking all together. The scenes of Chris during his tours of duty are visceral, gripping, taut, and utterly intense. One could only imagine the difficulty of this shoot as the “sniper scenes” were filmed brilliantly giving the viewer fly on the wall access to the proceedings. Lastly, and what surprised me most, was how it defied my expectations, particularly when it came to how Chris’ heroism is portrayed. I thought at the hands of Eastwood it could have had some serious potential to fall into flag waving American propaganda territory. Had it of been depicted in this way which I honestly thought it might I would have most likely liked it a lot less than I did. But there was nothing even remotely glorifying the Navy Seals and/or military, as many of them including Chris, are faced with difficult ethical and moral decisions in scenes both inside and outside of war that I thought were presented rather deftly by Eastwood and the rest of his writing team. The last thing I thought to be rather profound, that in a fully packed sold out theater, not one person clapped when the house lights came on and the credits rolled. Every person piled out and exited the theater one by one like zombies and it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. I think they like me, were so moved by the experience of what they had just seen, that they had a hard time coming up with much of anything to say. Which is why you’ll always hear me encouraging people to see movies at the theater or cinema, as it truly is one of the few last remaining communions we have. A place where a group of people can have a collectively shared, present moment experience. And this was another perfect example of that. Ladies and gentleman, even at the tender ripe young age of 84, Clint Eastwood is back.

[B+]