The Invitation

'The Invitation' movie poster

Release: Friday, April 8, 2016 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Phil Hay; Matt Manfredi

Directed by: Karyn Kusama

Dinner parties tend to get awkward when guests start dropping dead.

Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body; Aeon Flux) invites you inside the strange goings-on of what was supposed to be a casual get-together among longtime friends, friends reuniting after a traumatic event. Paranoia and mistrust run rampant in The Invitation as painful memories from the past are dredged up and inauspicious developments in the present combine to form one of the most tension-rich environments you’re likely to get in a mystery thriller of its ilk.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to call Kusama’s latest film fairly predictable stuff. Even if you’re only half paying attention you’re likely going to make a good assumption as to how everything wraps up. The disastrous dinner party scenario isn’t played out per se but it is formulaic and there are certain limitations not even the likes of Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, who share writing duties here, can overcome. Still, writing within limitations doesn’t mean you have to restrict your creativity — if anything it means just the opposite — and this deliciously suspenseful, utterly engaging and nerve-racking story is proof these writers enjoy embracing that challenge. The main beats you can feel coming well in advance but there’s a wealth of material in between that make The Invitation a plump cherry to savor.

The story is about a man returning to his former residence after he’s accepted an invitation to a dinner being thrown by his ex-wife and her new husband. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is on the way over with his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) when his distracted driving results in striking an animal in the middle of the road. So yeah, okay, maybe it’s not the subtlest way of foreshadowing what comes later but the moment succeeds in preempting tension that will rarely excuse itself from the narrative going forward.

That tension sets in in earnest when Will and Kira arrive and are greeted by friends they haven’t seen in some time. Things are definitely awkward, everyone needs a first drink. But everyone also seems a little . . . odd. Maybe that’s just the way Will is perceiving things. Bobby Shore’s camera sticks close by his side as he reacquaints himself with the house he once lived in. He’s quiet and stand-offish, resulting in a number of instances where friends come up to him and ask how he’s doing. Telling him they love him. Maybe it’s just the hosts that are off-putting. After all it can’t be easy listening to your ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) vehemently declaring how intent she is on living a life free of pain and grief now; how she wants a troubled past with Will to be forgotten and moved beyond.

Her husband David (Michiel Huisman) spouts the same gibberish, passionately reciting some bullshit philosophical utterances touted by a “grief support group” the two have recently joined. David even goes so far as to show everyone a video of what goes on during their “sessions.” (Yes, everything is now going to be in mystery quotes.) The contents are “fairly disturbing” to say the least. We continue to ride the night out from Will’s point of view, his mounting discomfort shedding the thin veil of subtlety it had earlier. He’s very suspicious of this David fella and not because he’s the guy his ex is now seeing.

To get everyone’s minds off of the weirdness he just subjected them to, David suggests they participate in an ice-breaking game called ‘I Want,’ a variation on ‘I Have Never,’ and the evening takes another interesting turn when Eden wants to kiss Ben (Jay Larson), the same guy she briefly became hostile towards for making a harmless joke moments ago. This is just one example of the woman’s erratic behavior. At this point we wish we could be Claire, a guest who has become so uncomfortable she just wants to leave, despite the hosts’ protests. Somewhere along the way an unexpected guest has arrived, an imposingly large man named Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch). He’s from the same support group. Meanwhile, the partiers are still awaiting the arrival of Choi (Karl Yune), a friend who promised to show up early.

A talented cast and crew help Kusama realize the potential in her cult-themed thriller. Marshall-Green brings a quiet intensity to his part as a conflicted Will but aside from him there are no particular standouts; rather, the ensemble of relative unknowns fails to register a false note in their emotional responses. Major spoiler-related actions notwithstanding, people behave in The Invitation as you would expect them to in real life. These aren’t people you ever really like, something that actually works in the film’s favor as it merely compounds the stress. The characters are each their own oddball, constantly demonstrating behavior that could prove to be their own undoing. Best of all, no one character is defined by a singular emotional outburst; they have names, not labels.

Throughout, Kusama’s direction remains disciplined and keenly focused on the biased perception of an unreliable protagonist. (Or is Will the only sane one in the room?) Kusama employs flashbacks that occasionally feel heavy-handed but contrasted against the vagaries of Will’s shifty demeanor they become vital. They help us appreciate why this get-together was never going to feel normal. It’s her work behind the camera that ensures The Invitation remains a consistently rewarding watch, and despite the third act gut-punch losing a bit of its edge due to some blatant foreshadowing earlier, everything winds up in a snap that’s just too good to resist.

Recommendation: Despite its predictability, The Invitation is simply too well-acted and executed to ignore. It’s claustrophobic and intimate and awkward and tense and pretty much everything that makes the formulaic dinner-party mystery thriller great. An able cast helps convince while strong work from behind the camera marks this as a project clearly everyone believed in. A very fun and rewarding watch, highly recommended. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “Forgiveness doesn’t have to wait. I’m free to forgive myself and so are you. It’s a beautiful thing. It really is.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Café Society

'Cafe Society' movie poster

Release: Friday, July 15, 2016 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Woody Allen

Directed by: Woody Allen

I think I’ve cashed in the last of my goodwill towards all things Woody Allen by checking out Café Society, yet another movie about New York, being Jewish and being young, dumb and hopelessly lovesick. The weight of Allen’s neuroticism has become crushing in the present tense. The novelty of his vaguely pervy sentimentality wore off years ago, and while we may find ourselves surrounded by familiar scenery here, the days of Manhattan and Annie Hall have all but disappeared in the rearview.

It’s not that I have ignored that unwritten rule of avoiding a film you know you’re not going to like from the word ‘go;’ I have for the most part enjoyed spending time in Allen’s hyper-self-conscious little fantasies but it’s apparent now that fantasy is all the man is and will ever be about, be it his directorial touch or his shady real-life persona. Semantics, really. Some just leave it at ‘pervert’ or ‘creep’ and if I ended up feeling uncomfortable for Kristen Stewart that must mean I agree to some extent with those labels as well. I mean, it’s Kristen Stewart.

I am, however, disappointed I ignored a personal rule: Stay away from anything Woody Allen that looks suspect, regardless of whom he has talked into working with him. The problem with Café Society isn’t one of objective quality. The film is stunning to behold, set in two of America’s most famous cities and lensed with a certain verve you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Vittorio Storaro’s seductive soft focus and brilliant color palette perpetuate Allen’s love for The Big Apple and the effervescent glow makes Los Angeles look like a place we would all like to live someday. That’s an impressive feat.

The cast is equally effective in seducing: beyond the gimmick of casting Adventureland‘s stoned-in-love Jesse Eisenberg and the aforementioned Stewart, we get a stuffy Steve Carell as an obnoxious L.A. agent named Phil Stern. He so happens to be the uncle of Bobby Dorfman (Eisenberg) who is looking to get his foot in the door in 1930s Hollywood. Corey Stoll plays Bobby’s brother Ben, a New York gangster with an affinity for burying his enemies in fresh concrete (that’s actually pretty funny). Blake Lively is lovely as Veronica, Bobby’s bride-to-be, while Ken Stott and Jeannie Berlin revel in their roles as the quintessentially bickering, old-country Jewish couple. Oy vey, they’re so cliché.

There’s little to complain about when it comes to the film’s technical aspects. Instead Café Society‘s simple themes — finding a partner who will complement you in every aspect of life; being unable to escape your past — suffers from having lived a life thrice. There’s nothing to experience here that you haven’t in countless entries into Allen’s extensive filmography, which is to say that we have probably seen this movie in various incarnations no fewer than 20 times. No filmmaker can be that prolific and that consistently groundbreaking. Not even visionaries like Georges Méliès, who belongs to that oh-so-prestigious club of directors with 200+ titles to their name.

I know, I know. It’s a little extreme to be associating a pioneer like Méliès with someone like Allen but bear with me. The point is, his harping on budding romance has become passé and his creative funk continues in this latest excuse to pad a résumé. Eisenberg is a fresh-faced youngster in Hollywood who has taken up an off-the-cuff offer from his uncle to do odd jobs for him in exchange for the opportunity to make valuable connections. Along the way he falls for the cute secretary, Vonnie (Stewart) and is smitten by her lack of pretense. Trouble is, she’s currently seeing another, much older man and things are both serious and seriously complicated.

Heartbroken and disillusioned, he heads back to New York where he helps his older thug brother run a high-class nightclub that attracts many a wealthy douchebag politician and various nameless sycophants. It is here Bobby is introduced to Lively’s Veronica, with whom he casually jokes about having the same name as his ex. Well, joking is a strong word in a Woody Allen movie. It’s more like, he lusts after her because of the similarity. They soon marry and even have a child. But is life with Veronica (Vonnie 2.0) everything Bobby wants? The past comes back to haunt him when Vonnie 1.0 stumbles into his club one random evening. Of all the night clubs on all the city blocks in Manhattan, why did she have to choose this one?

Very little of Café Society feels like it’s designed to burrow in the longterm memory.  This is particularly offensive when we’ve had stronger characters and more compelling plot lines to follow in Allen’s back catalogue alone. Modern Allen is a flaccid Allen. He seems to get off on repeating himself. ‘Café Society’ is both a term used to describe the crowds that gather at various trendy clubs as well as the name of a specific club started up by Barney Josephson in 1938 in the New York neighborhood of Greenwich Village, today infamous for being one of the most expensive places to live in the States.

There’s one other theme apparent, an age-old lamenting over how people change over time. I can’t get into the nitty-gritty of that without ruining the movie for those still waiting to take this all in, but suffice it to say I find that talking point ironic. The more things change the more they stay the same. It’s certainly true of a director who mistakes quantity for quality. There’s very little romantic about doing the same things over and over again for decades.

Kristen Stewart and Steve Carell in 'Cafe Society'

Recommendation: Tedious fluff piece. Café Society represents more of the same from Woody Allen: annoying characters complaining about their love lives all while trying to find an inspiration for changing themselves for the better. I can’t say this movie is generic but it probably will be for those who have an appreciation for earlier Allen. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart prove they do have good chemistry together though, so at least there is that. And the movie is an absolute delight from a visual standpoint. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 96 mins.

Quoted: “Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy director.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

'Batman vs Superman - Dawn of Justice' movie poster

Release: Friday, March 25, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Chris Terrio; David S. Goyer

Directed by: Zack Snyder

I see civil war erupting between the die-hards and the casual-hards (and let me quickly interrupt myself here: casual-hards are people like me who don’t really have a firm grasp on either the mythos or even all of the character trajectories in the source material, we’re just here for the spectacle, that is, the overall product not simply the CGI spectacle). Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is no mould-breaker but it does provide in its last half hour set one of the most intense assaults on the senses that cinema has ever created.

It’s overlong, it’s melodramatic, it’s preachy and more often than not it’s a child kicking its foot in the dirt with hands in pockets because it doesn’t know how to play nice with everyone else and now is forced to spend time alone. Maybe its playing out so scornfully is a function of a super-human sense that no matter what it does, some critics are just going to tear it limb from limb. Similar to how the fanbase is likely to poke holes all through its not-so-textured skin, columnists at large — probably not Lois Lane or Perry White though — are going to have, and have been having this week, a field day trying to convince the rest of the populace why it’s not something you should go and see. Hilarious. That’s like an armor-less Batman going toe-to-toe with a Kryptonian and expecting to emerge the victor.

Despite the film suffering once again from gorging on an overabundance of material, the overarching narrative remains simple and simply compelling: this is the episode where the Batman and the man of steel get into a bit of a spat. An older, wiser and ever more embittered Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) fears the powers of the metahuman known as Kal-El/Superman (Henry Cavill) will perpetually go unchecked unless he intervenes. Meanwhile, the other guy doesn’t think much of all the vigilantism in Gotham that has only succeeded in perpetuating the “weed effect,” as a dejected Batman himself puts it — you crush one weed and pull it out only for another to grow in its place. He’s talking, of course, about criminals. The Dark Knight hasn’t done shit in the way of gardening in the last several years when we first swoop in to meet him.

Zack Snyder, putting himself in the crosshairs much like J.J. Abrams did last year, reaffirms that his gritty style challenges the senses, and that your eyes and ears in particular best come prepared in this bombastic epic that pits the stealthy deceptiveness of Batman against the brutal physicality of Superman — a being, it ought to be said, finds himself falling out of favor with much of mankind following the destructive events in Metropolis two years prior. There’s much anticipation for how a modern film could or should handle the DC Universe’s version of the Neo-Agent Smith battle (sans the whole thing about one of them being a total psycho bent on the unequivocal destruction of man), and yet, for all that’s at stake, Snyder impressively manages to contain his excitement, teasing out the relationship patiently . . . perhaps too patiently for some.

That’s why half of the film manifests as a relatively slow meditation on a number of more human concerns: things like aging, losing one’s relevance, sense of purpose and the loss of innocence are all touched, though never harped upon. Some areas could use some expansion, surely. And yes, that would mean sacrificing a bit of the pixelated action sequences later on. But it’s the steady camerawork of Larry Fong that guides us through the seedy streets of a broken Metropolis, as well as a still-despairing Gotham, an observance of how both time and people have moved on. There’s a bittersweetness to the way Affleck carries himself as a 40-ish-year-old man in a cape whom most have forgotten about by now. There’s a longing for a return to the time when Kal-El first thundered his way to earth, an aura of mystery (or is that terror?) swirling about his godly physique and impossible strength.

Dawn of Justice is most powerful when it’s sending up the deific Kal-El; there are some unforgettable shots of the man in the red cape, one in particular of him hovering above a flooded town, a mother reaching out to him from the rooftop of a submerged house recalls Regan’s possessed soul clawing for the form of Pazuzu outside her window, only in this case we’d like to think the reach is one towards heaven and not hell. Then there’s the image of Cavill’s face imploding in the vacuum of space, his body dangling in suspended animation before awakening once again. If you were asking me which figure is done the most justice (e-hem), I favor Cavill’s Superman. As an image, he’s too powerful, too ferocious, too graceful to ignore. And the Brit looks comfortable as ever in the suit.

It’s not for a lack of trying for Affleck. Unfortunately he’s in a similar position as Jared Leto, attempting to put his own spin on an icon that has been so solidified in the most recent Dark Knight trilogy that any steps taken to divorce from that image will inevitably be labeled as at best inferior and at worst unholy. Affleck doesn’t seem to mind the pressure though; he’s convincing as a surlier, lonelier billionaire with a penchant for creating lots of fancy, shiny new toys and Jeremy Irons as Alfred makes for wonderful companionship but it’s just not the same as Christian Bale and Michael Caine. It’s just not. For these most somber of circumstances though, perhaps this is the Dark Knight we deserve.

For all of its visual symbolism and the bravado with which Cavfleck (please let me be the person to coin that one) carries itself throughout, there are some questionable decisions that hold Dawn of Justice back from becoming the classic it is so close to being. I’m not referring to Jesse Eisenberg’s brilliantly unhinged performance as the evil genius Lex Luthor — his nervous, passive-aggressive and awkward countenance isn’t a natural thing to watch at first but the guy builds some serious strength as the movie plods forward and as his position in this universe becomes slightly more clear. I’m also not referring to the limited screen time afforded Gal Gadot’s ass-kicking Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (though this was an aspect that let me down considerably).

No, the concern is more of a financial nature, and how the studio seems to have mishandled the responsibility of allocating resources properly. For a film budgeted at an estimated $250 million (you can make 25 movies for that price tag), it sure doesn’t look like it. Perhaps part of the issue here is inherent in the sprawling ambition of the story. Because we are dealing with so much complexity, one of the battles Snyder and company picked was to close the physical gap between Metropolis and Gotham, such that only the Delaware River separates these two disparate worlds. When human-Krypton-Bat drama eventually reaches critical mass and the ultimate threat is revealed, so much happens in one indeterminate pile of rubble that nothing looks good.

In some ways the quasi-headache that the action set piece becomes finds us at the threshold of ridiculousness; our demand for quality superhero cinema shouldn’t rely on CGI orgies to get the job done. But that’s old news since the superhero movie fad took off (thanks Iron Man). The only way it seems possible to hit home how crazy these creations are is to go upwards, in one direction. In keeping with what Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch decrees during one of the inevitable government intervention scenes, unilateral decision making is bad for business. But that still doesn’t really answer the mystery as to why, with all of this money, the CGI renderings in particular stand-out moments look like extracts from films in the late ’90s and early 2000s. It’s bizarre.

What’s not bizarre is the critical derision Dawn of Justice is suffering. This is what happened with Man of Steel, remember? Superman stepped in and parted the red sea of fandom. Dawn of Justice is mind-blowing in some aspects and lacks restraint, thereby quality control and thereby consistency, in others. It’s huge and it’s a few trims shy of a true final cut. But it is at the basic level, entertaining and that’s all this little dude wanted out of a movie of this scale. Maybe I regret not being a fanboy?

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 7.02.01 PM

Recommendation: . . . do I . . . do I have to say something here? Really? Okay. Well, if you’re on the fence about this, the good news is that Ben Affleck isn’t a disaster (he’s also no Christian Bale) and that the film also makes some room for female talent and as macho as the film is, the timing of Wonder Woman is spine-tingly well-judged. She’s reason enough to go see this. So is Jeremy Irons. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 153 mins.

Quoted: “The Red Capes are coming! The Red Capes are coming!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.ernest93.deviantart.com; http://www.imdb.com

Windsor Drive

Release: Friday, August 28, 2015 (limited)

[Vimeo]

Written by: T.R. Gough

Directed by: Natalie Bible’


This review happens to be my fourth contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. I’d like to thank James for giving me the chance to check this one out!


While there are some momentary glimpses of inventive horror film-making, there’s little doubt the short format would have served Windsor Drive‘s purposes better and that’s the only thing that’s clear after sitting once through.

Obscured by an overwhelming number of confusing and convoluted scene changes and music video-style edits, Windsor Drive strives for conjuring a moody, noir-esque vibe but instead results in an exasperating experience lacking in logic and inspiration. Knoxville, Tennessee native Natalie Bible’ has something on her mind about the degree of psychological asylum people are willing to sacrifice for the sake of a shot at the big time (specifically for an acting gig in this case) but unfortunately whatever that message is supposed to mean to anyone not in showbiz is extremely difficult to access.

In fact, trying to deduce what Windsor Drive is saying — other than that crazy people are drawn towards crazy professions like acting — is like digging through a stack of needles to find a single straw of hay. It’s painful and damn tedious. I’m having flashes of Shawnee Smith in Saw II, rummaging through a knee-deep stash of filthy syringes dumped into a pit in that decrepit home. I may not have bled as much (or at all), but the effort to keep going was, well . . . cut to the shot of her Amanda falling to the ground after finding the key and having completely expended her physical and psychological strength.

Film features a bevy of soap opera stars who are as easy on the eyes as they are grating on the ears. These relative unknowns unfortunately aren’t convincing in the slightest; luckily T.R. Gough’s haphazard script doesn’t have much time for dialogue, so most of the awkwardness presents in the stiff way these people carry themselves. With the exception of star Tommy O’Reilly fully committed to the fragile actor role — his River Miller’s archetypical tall, dark and handsome physique offers a fairly threatening character — supporting roles, mostly female, are sketches of actual people. Samaire Armstrong’s Brooke, one of River’s exes, is relegated to line rehearsals like, ‘No, please don’t leave. You should stay and have sex with me again,’ only the dialogue isn’t quite as profound.

River moves to the L.A. area to find a proper acting gig, wanting to leave his past behind in which a girlfriend tragically took her own life. He takes a room in a house run by two hipsters, hipsterly named Wulfric (Kyan DuBois) and Ivy (Anna Biani) who have, I don’t know, something weird going on. Most of the narrative is spent in this place, a brooding ground where the three roommates occasionally interact and ruminate on how hard it is to find a good gig as an actor. Then River finds out there’s a small part in a remake of the Windsor Drive movie. Bible’ teases out a few of the lines he has to rehearse in a sequence of admittedly brilliant shots that blur the line between the head space he gets in in character and the one he leaves behind in the real world. There needed to be more of that.

Should Bible’ have gone the short film route, one of the piece’s most nagging issues would have most assuredly been eliminated: feigning creativity in order to reach a certain run time. Shots cut and re-cut so that they play over and again upside down, in reverse and in different color palettes (all semi-related, of course) and framing speeds become so commonplace it’s clear that passing time is the primary objective. Best case scenario, Windsor Drive is amateurish with a bit of potential; at worst it’s one of the more pretentious bits I’ve seen. Condensing the timeline might not have guaranteed its salvation, but tightening the focus would have steered the project away from pretense quickly.

Recommendation: Windsor Drive features a few pretty cool scenes but there are far more minuses than pluses to this one. I can’t really recommend the film on its acting or directing pedigree but it does look good despite the horrible decision to cut it like an extended music video; and the lack of dialogue in favor of visual cues makes for occasionally stimulating viewing. Though rough, this film won’t stop me from keeping an eye out for Bible’ going forward.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 78 mins.

Quoted: “Some might find it a little odd, strange perhaps, but there is a method to the madness. There are only two relevant human emotions, love and fear. All others are meaningless.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.traileraddict.com; http://www.imdb.com

Trainwreck

Release: Friday, July 17, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Amy Schumer

Directed by: Judd Apatow

So I’m wondering if it’s some weird coincidence I’m listening to some softcore R&B while trying to decide whether Trainwreck‘s sappy or touching. There were some parts in this movie that were less than . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I’m sorry, but this song is really damn good!

#guessthesong #winaprize

I genuinely should not be admitting to this, in the same way I shouldn’t fess up to going to see the flick on my own. (Le weep . . . ) But here I am, apologizing for nothing. Except for maybe leaving my phone number on the screen with the rapidly dissipating hope that maybe Amy Schumer would magically be in attendance, read it and then call me! Realistically, I’d be apologizing for my vandalizing the theater screen with desperation Sharpie.

Amy prefers one-night stands to having a boyfriend, to the point where she becomes uncomfortable when some hunk begs to stay the night. ‘Nope, out — out with you!’ But that’s before her editor at a gossip magazine (Tilda Swinton, yet again unrecognizable) sends her on an assignment to scoop up the dirt on Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a sports doctor. A meet-awkward turns into a proper first date, then a second and a third and a . . .

In spite of herself Amy starts having feelings for Dr. Connors, and before long she’s introducing him to Kim as well as earning the attention of LeBron James, a client and good friend of his. LeBron makes it clear Amy should be taking this relationship seriously, for Aaron is a good dude who needs not for his heart to be broken like a basketball player‘s ankles. In his feature film debut, LeBron is a minor revelation, becoming far less distracting than other superstar athletes who have come before. Shumer’s script certainly helps, but The King can actually act. Same applies for 12-time WWE Heavyweight Champion John Cena, who takes pleasure in spoofing his ridiculous physique as Amy’s sort-of fling, Steven. (Let’s not mention New York Knicks’ Amar’e Stoudemire, though.)

By design an off-putting, self-centered character, it speaks to Schumer’s talent that Amy, in all but one or two scenes, comes across as a thoroughly likable and empathetic twenty-something. Though her refusal to settle down with someone is clearly symptomatic of deep-seated insecurities. Since childhood Amy and her sister Kim (Brie Larson) have operated under the assumption that monogamy isn’t realistic. That was dad’s point of view, anyway. But kids grow up and the siblings take different roads — Kim, who was never really close with her father, takes the one more frequently traveled by having a family while Amy takes her dad’s words to heart.

If the buzz in a packed Thursday evening screening was any indication, Trainwreck is going to go down as Judd Apatow’s most fervently discussed film. The crème de la crème of cinema focusing on the casual encounter; his magnum opus of the minor comedy — minor, being a relative term. Like many of his productions Trainwreck is concerned with central characters — typically awkward adults — who become victims of and are desperate to escape their own personal arrested development. Amy happens to be a very strong example of the typical Apatowian character. As with tradition, the story remains slight but this time the film’s thematic aspirations — the necessity of personal commitment and its associated trepidation — feel more sincere and even more wholesome.

If there’s one thing more apparent than the brilliance of the lead performances, it’s how superior Trainwreck is to Apatow’s last effort, the middling middle-age dramedy we’ve already forgotten about, This is 40. Comparisons are often meaningless, particularly in a genre that’s as immune to consensus opinion as comedy, but if we are considering the two films in terms of the wealth and consistency of well-crafted jokes, then Apatow and his movie-making mojo have returned with a vengeance three years after an apparent hiatus from all the hilarity (and yes, the occasional sappy scene).

Recommendation: This free-spirited ride may address a certain text-messaging generation more eagerly than it tries to embrace a larger audience but Apatow’s style has never been for everyone anyway. For those who identify with Apatow Productions, the latest offering is absolutely not one to miss. Schumer and a fun, often surprising cast pull out all of the stops in Trainwreck.

Rated: R

Running Time: 125 mins.

Quoted: “My boy got intimate, sexual intercourse! Ohhhh!” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Park City

park-city-movie-poster

Release: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 (limited)

[iTunes]

Written by: Hannah Rosner; Julia Turner

Directed by: Hannah Rosner

Undoubtedly best viewed through the eyes of a filmmaker, Hannah Rosner’s mockumentary offers up a fairly fun adventure for those curious about behind-the-scenes action in the life of an aspiring indie film crew.

A mostly satisfying blend of documentary-style intimacy and mumblecore imperfection, Park City follows passionate director Joey (Joey Mireles), diva actress Jill (Jill Evyn), business-savvy producer Hannah (Hannah Rosner) and stoner/moral support/assistant Dave (David Hoffman) as they make their first trip to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah armed only with their first film Hearts and Cash, and a few dollars to their name.

Crammed into a Prius with her co-stars and camera equipment (iPhone(s), perhaps?) Rosner makes the most of a literal low overhead by intercutting footage of the adventure with interviews with the crew as they describe the experience before, during and after. The crux of Park City arrives when, after a successful evening of “mingling” with some of the movers and shakers and partying down with the more accessible crowd (that was more the successful part), Hannah and Joey are rudely awakened by the discovery that their only copy of Hearts and Cash has disappeared.

With mere hours before their screening, they attempt to rationalize last night’s events and possibly track down the film reel. Naturally there are obvious suspects in fellow filmmakers, and Jill’s self-centeredness makes her a candidate as well. Meanwhile, Dave’s eyes have glazed over in the fog of marijuana and he doesn’t seem to be bothered by the developments. With frustration mounting and time running out, will the team’s first attempt at getting exposure end up blowing up in their face? Is a generally bad experience ultimately still good experience?

In posing these questions this low-key, relatively amateurish misadventure doesn’t aspire to reinventing the reel. It aims for crowd-pleasing, if not the general public then a specific group of like-minded individuals. Then again, and in spite of an ostensibly exclusive subject and a starlet who seems intent on portraying performers in an unflattering light (Evyn ironically might be the best actor on display as she is good at getting on your nerves), Rosner is knowingly winking at anyone who has taken those first, scary steps in pursuing a life goal. Okay, so perhaps this generalization overloads the film’s quota of cliché, but I’d like to think Rosner’s work isn’t as pretentious as some are likely to write it off as.

While it’s difficult to overlook the shaky acting and occasional technical difficulties — audio seems to be spotty in places and it’s more than likely this film was shot using an iPhone — Park City is an experience worth soaking up.

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3-0Recommendation: Park City might be aimed more for those plugged into the industry but there’s enough here to recommend to anyone with a general interest in film and the filmmaking process. The mockumentary has its moments of weakness (what film doesn’t?) but Rosner manages to overcome many of them by offering fun and interesting twists along the way. Think The Hangover on a much more modest budget, and with less set destruction, less vulgarity and definitely less Mike Tyson.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 86 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.ptsnob.com 

TBT: Wedding Crashers (2005)

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Throwback Thursday March-es on with the final entry of the month hitting on yet another comic note. Really, comedies are pretty easy to review for this feature since they make up a majority of what I have in my DVD collection. They lay strewn across my floor in front of my T.V. and very often I find myself weaving a path through them as I shuffle throughout my apartment. When nothing seemed to be standing out for this week, a white and red cover grabbed my attention and it was none other than another solid comedy featuring two actors who often find their contributions to comedy maligned, sometimes perhaps excessively so. Though I don’t deny the accusations of the pair becoming a predictable routine at this point, I cannot and will not hate on the chemistry that is quite evident between Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Sure, their usage has been at times misjudged or mishandled. Such is the nature of what they’ve chosen to do this point in their careers; its a very hit and miss approach. And maybe they are more miss than hit, and so be it. Very similarly to a post I did last year, I think I’ll use this space to get on my high horse as I defend why I support a movie like 

Today’s food for thought: Wedding Crashers

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Release: July 15, 2005

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If you are going to crash a wedding, you better do it with a Vince Vaughn who is in Swingers-mode and the other guy who looks like he’d be willing to throw back a shot with you even at the most inopportune of times. Yes indeed, if you happen to have the likes of Jeremy Grey (Vaughn) and John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) in your midst you may well get your tickets to the boobs-‘n-booty show punched if you even so much as take a sip of their outrageous Kool Aid. Just don’t drink the other stuff, unless getting roofied is your sort of thing.

You might consider them, particularly Vaughn’s larger-than-life Jeremy, as a pair of frat guys who strategically and perpetually avoided growing up. That’s precisely who both of them were, and that’s precisely the lesson to be learned in Wedding Crashers. One needed only to mention the term ‘wedding season’ to witness them pitching tents in the crotch of their pants. They may have posed as divorce mediators at the film’s open, but off the clock (which is to say for the rest of the duration) they posed as anything but when in the presence of their other ‘clientele,’ single women they picked up at weddings. In their world of hard partying, ‘mazel tov’ may as well have meant ‘Hello’ and ‘get lost’ was translated as ‘I love you.’

David Dobkin followed up Shanghai Nights with this completely reckless and gleeful joyride that pit Vaughn and Wilson alongside one another as they assumed their most infectious roles to date. Other terms that might apply: sleazy; dishonest; desperate. Sure, those are all good, although they are largely dismissive of how good Vaughn and Wilson’s chemistry was here. Vaughn was the yang to Wilson’s comedic yin. Or the other way around; whatever, it still works.

Jeremy and John had become quite skilled in the art of the con, and with the latest season of festivities drawing to a close, Jeremy decided to raise the stakes and the thrills by crashing a major wedding event hosted by none other than U.S. Secretary of the Treasury William Cleary (Christopher Walken). It would be the last big hoorah of the year. His partner’s reluctance to dive in headfirst, however, caused Jeremy to question his commitment to the cause, perhaps even to their friendship.

And because this was a movie, John eventually caved and the next thing we knew we were waist-deep in politicians, pretense and another ridiculous scheme concocted by the two sex-fiends/lawyers. While the day was intended to honor Secretary Cleary’s daughter’s wedlock, neither she nor her husband-to-be were intended to be the focus. What ensued proved you can’t apply peanut butter without jelly: Vaughn and Wilson shared the screen so as to never really draw more attention to the other. In tandem, the two were fantastic, with Vaughn working his size and a very goofy, doe-eyed stare to his advantage while Wilson poured on the saccharine sweetness like they were molasses. Both had proved to be successful strategies in the weddings leading up to this. Would they be as successful with the women they inevitably meet at this spectacular occasion? Or would their hard-on for hard partying go flaccid right at the last second?

This raunchfest not only benefitted from the two great and energetic lead performances in Vaughn and Wilson, it featured an intensely humorous antagonist in Bradley Cooper’s break-out performance as Sack Large (yes, that indeed would make it Large Sack if ever to be written out on a legal document). Cooper at the time was convincing as this tough-guy jock who really had no interest in his girlfriend, Claire Cleary (Rachel McAdams), other than to make her his trophy wife, but the character is so much funnier now when one pauses to consider how against-type he was playing. But he was not alone in the strong contributor category. A very strange man named Todd (played by Keir O’Donnell), the son of the prestigious William Cleary provided a great foil for Vaughn’s Jeremy as Jeremy reluctantly became entangled in the family with the excitable red-head woman he intended to one-night stand. Todd took affection to Jeremy and this side story offers up some of the film’s most painful guffaws.

Not forgetting the quality Will Ferrell cameo as Chazz, who was the notorious albeit deluded man who invented ‘the rules of wedding crashing,’ or the beautiful montage of half-naked women being bedded in the film’s earlygoing set to the classic celebratory song ‘Shout,’ Wedding Crashers has assured its place among the great raunchy comedies of modern day filmmaking. It has all the trademarks of a classic, in the interest of full (frontal nudity) disclosure.

With increasing numbers of people subscribing to the notion that the Vaughn-Wilson comedy vehicle has long since run out of gas, perhaps a revisiting of Wedding Crashers is in order, just to remind one’s self of why the pattern exists at all. Why have they been recycling themselves? What once worked really well that doesn’t so much anymore? It’s hard to imagine there being another Crashers-quality match-up between Vaughn and Wilson, even for this fan. 2005 spawned a comedy that simply hit all the right notes, romantic, comedic and otherwise.

Yes indeed, we have a stage-five clinger on our hands.

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3-5Recommendation: It’s a great reminder of the potential Vaughn and Wilson have on screen together. Having not reached a comedic level like it since, it’s easy to understand a lot of the complaints guided their way yet some of it seems excessive. Wedding Crashers sees the two in fine form, along with it bringing out sterling performances from a varied and deeply talented crew of comedians and comediennes. This one’s for anyone who ever said weddings can’t be fun. What a blast this procession is.

Rated: R

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “It’s the first quarter of the big game and you wanna toss up a Hail Mary! I’d like to be pimps from Oakland, or cowboys from Arizona, but it’s not Halloween. Grow up Peter Pan, Count Chocula. Look, we’ve been to a million weddings. And guess what, we’ve rocked them all!”

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