Monthly Archives: September, 2015

VIFF 2015 Review: Cop Car

A corrupt cop (Kevin Bacon) had his car stolen by two eight year-old boys in the dark comedy Cop Car.

A corrupt cop (Kevin Bacon) had his car stolen by two eight year-old boys in the dark comedy Cop Car.

What do you get when you mix two eight year-old boys, a corrupt cop, a crooked man, a female witness and an empty cop car all out in the middle of Colorado? You get a bizarre dark comedy called Cop Car.

The film starts with two eight year-old boys, Harrison and Travis, walking along the Colorado farm land cussing and having fun. During their fun, they notice an empty sheriff car not running and nobody inside. They go in to check it out and find the keys. They’re able to turn it on and the two start their fun.

We found out how it got there. A corrupt sheriff named Kretzer appears to have killed two men; there’s one lifeless in the trunk and one Kretzer buries in a hole. Kretzer returns to where his car was parked only to find it gone. All that remains is his empty beer bottle. He goes to town to try and steal a car for himself. Nobody can know of his plot. Once he steals one, he goes to town and alerts the police of what happened. Meanwhile the boys are driving superfast on the highway and catches the eye of a passing motorist who questions what she sees. She reports it to police but they think she’s crazy. Even she’s seen sitting at a diner questioning what she saw.

Kretzer believes it and sends the boys a radio message letting them know they’re in trouble. But they don’t hear it because they’re playing around with the police tape and assault rifles in the car. All of a sudden, they hear a thump coming from the trunk. The other man is alive and scared as hell. However he’s shocked to see two boys looking at him. The two help free the man from his ‘shackles.’ Sheriff Kretzer sends another message to the two boys, this time more comforting. They boys say to meet him at a location but it’s at the gunpoint of the man who threatens them and their families if they don’t do as he says. Then he goes with the two assault rifles hiding behind the windmill right in the remote rural highway.

SPOILER ALERT: The ending of the movie will be revealed from this point on. If you want it a complete surprise, do not read any further.

Sheriff Kretzer arrives. He sees the two boys in the car but suspects something suspicious. Coincidentally the witness is driving on that same highway and bumps into the sheriff car again. She gets out relieved that she is not as crazy as they say she is but ready to give those two boys a good talking to. However she’s shot and that’s when the shootout between Kretzer and his hostage occur. The hostage is dead. Kretzer is badly injured and the two boys are scared as hell. They shoot the car window down by accident and Travis is accidentally shot. It’s up to Harrison to drive back to town for safety. But not without one last pursuit by Kretzer which proves fatal for him. The film ends with Harrison still driving over 70 mph with the lights flashing and the sirens on.

I don’t think the film was intended to give a social message. I don’t need to see this film to know how corrupt a lot of cops can get. What I think director Jon Watts and co-writer Christopher Ford are trying to do is tell a story and have fun with it. They have fun showing the wonders of what it’s like to be a child to the point their cussing and diarrhea joke seem like a disgusting but charmingly funny reminder of how we were kids. They have fun showing the two boys having fun in this bizarre and even dangerous situation. They have fun with a corrupt policeman whose stuck in the middle of his crime right and tries to ‘set things right.’ They have fun with the witness who questions what she saw. They have fun with the hostage in the trunk who doesn’t seem to have a clue what’s going on.

They also have fun with the audience. One of the elements in making it a dark comedy is that they have us at the edge of our seats. They show two boys driving off in the sheriff’s car shouting ‘this is our cop car!’ and leaving us the audience nervous and afraid of what will happen next. They show police tape by the car as Sheriff Kretzer sends the boys a message only for us to learn the two boys are having fun with it. They show the boys playing with the guns, even the assault rifles, leaving us afraid a bullet will go off any minute but it doesn’t. They show the hostage threatening the boys and demanding they relay Kretzer a message only to appear clueless in what he’s about to do. I think that’s one thing Watts and Ford try to do: play with our fears. I know I was afraid as hell what would happen next. Even that scene at the beginning of the boys trying to crush the snakes in the snakehole was the first sign of the fun Watts and Ford were going to have with us.

However both Watts and Ford do set a moment where the fun ends and things become more serious: right at the shootout. The carefree fun even ends for the boys as it finally sinks into them the danger they’re about to face. I think the moment when it gets darkly serious was timed right.

The film shows a lot of surprises. Firstly we’re all surprised not to see the two boys land the car in any dangerous hill. We’re also surprised the hostage in the trunk is alive right while the boys are playing around. We’re surprised to see the witness actually bump into the site of where the boys are with the car. We’re surprised of the hostage’s plans of his own on Kretzer. We’re surprised the sheriff not only survives the shootout but is fit enough to drive. We’re surprises that Harrison is able to turn to avoid the truck while Kretzer smashes into it. We’re also surprised to see despite playing around with the car and the guns, the moment Travis gets shot is when he uses it for help. We’re also surprised to see the best driving of the boys come from Harrison as he’s rushing back to town for safety in the pitch dark and the police lights flashing.

The film is full of ironies. However one of the best qualities of the film is not just of what we know but of what we don’t know. In fact the film will leave us asking a lot of questions. Why did Kretzer kill one man and hold another hostage? What exactly was the hostage after that he was trying to kill Kretzer? Why did the witness have to get shot? I think it’s trying to have us decide for yourself why things were this way. Even the ending leaves us asking a lot of questions. Will Travis be okay? Will Harrison drive back to town safely? I think that was the quality of the ending. I believe it lets us create our own ending to the story.

Watts and Ford delivered a good fun dark comedy. I wouldn’t call it a stellar movie but it’s hard to notice the imperfections. Kevin Bacon’s performance as the corrupt Sheriff Kretzer may be Golden Globe worthy but I don’t think it’s Oscar worthy. He made the right comedic choices in his character for it to work and fit with the story. Shea Whigham was funny as the bumbling hostage. Camryn Mannheim made the most of her brief appearances in her minor role. The two boys, Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson, owned the show. It’s funny how they cussed, played dangerously and told a crude joke but still managed to maintain the innocence of childhood.

Cop Car first got a lot of good buzz at the Sundance Film Fes5tival and has been an attraction at various film festivals this year. It was given a box office release in August but only grossed up to $150,000. That’s odd for a film starring Kevin Bacon.

Cop Car is a surprise treat. I’ll admit the movie left me so nervous and afraid of what will happen next, I wanted to walk out. Nevertheless it was a delight to watch.

VIFF 2015 Review: Nina Forever

Nina ForeverMy first taste of the more edgy film making shown at the VIFF was the British movie Nina Forever. You don’t know whether it’s a horror movie or a romance!

The story begins with what we think is a dead body on the road after an accident. Instead it appears to come alive again and get up. We meet Holly, a young paramedic student who breaks up with her boyfriend because he thinks she’s too nice. While working at her part-time job at a pharmacy, she meets Rob as she comes to help him after an on-the-job accident.

Holly and Rob start a relationship and have sex together but are interrupted all of a sudden by Rob’s deceased girlfriend Nina now undead and bloody. Holly is shocked and Rob is trying to make like nothing happened. They try and go about it and move on but Nina returns again while the two have sex. Holly tries playing seductively with Nina in order to win the battle but it doesn’t work. Holly tries to learn more about Nina and even meets her parents. Holly even tries to get a ‘Nina Forever’ tattoo like Rob’s but Nina keeps on returning. Even the two having sex on Nina’s grave fails to end her recurrences. Moving in with Rob and changing everything about the house every time she returns fails to fix the problem.

It’s then Holly decides she’s had enough and wants out. Holly goes for on-the-job training as a paramedic and a car crash victim she helps save changes her. She even catches the interest of one of her students. She takes him to her place to have sex with him, thinking Nina’s as far gone as Rob only for her and the audience to get a big surprise. The film ends on a confusing note.

I’ve seen films done before of one person in a relationship trying to rid themselves of a past beau before. However this film is something different. This is a case of one person in a relationship trying to move on past his deceased beau. This is no easy task as Nina would even make clear: “We never really ended it.” That adds to the situation and adds to the story. However the story is something funny that it becomes a case of the undead girlfriend unearthing itself. I know the movie is trying to show a bizarre and humorous story on the theme of the difficulties of moving past a deceased beau but this story takes a bizarre and humorous twist.

Overall the film comes across as bizarrely funny and often unpredictable. Even at the beginning, you don’t expect an undead ex-girlfriend to come up from under the bed. You expect the new girlfriend to play along with the undead girlfriend even less. It’s humorous because it’s trying to mesh a romance with a horror movie with a message about human nature. A very unique combination by the Blaine brothers. However there were many areas in the film that didn’t appear to make sense, especially the ending. There were times I had my head scratching. There were even a few times I may have mistaken Rob’s parents as Nina’s parents or if it was a trick from the film makers the whole time.

This is Ben and Chris Blaine’s first attempt at a feature-length film. Both are better known for their television work. Their first effort is good but imperfect and its flaws show. The acting from Abigail Hardingham, Cian Barry and Fiona O’Shaughnessy are very good. They pull all the right moves in making this bizarre film work. Especially the character work of Fiona portraying an undead woman with sexual desires unfaded. The parents were a good addition, especially with them being the ones away from all the supernatural weirdness. The music added to the film also blended in well with the film.

Nina Forever is an original comedy horror film that will get you laughing and even freak you out. However it does have some noticeable imperfections like moments that don’t make a lot of sense. Nevertheless a good first feature film from the Blaine brothers.

VIFF 2015 Review: A Flickering Truth

Reels of Afghani film hidden from decades of warfare and political regimes are uncovered for restoration in A Flickering Truth.

Reels of Afghani film hidden from decades of warfare and political regimes are uncovered for restoration in A Flickering Truth.

“When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied “then what are we fighting for?”

-popular internet quote

A Flickering Truth is the first documentary I saw at the VIFF. I’m a bit mistrustful of documentaries but this was an eye opener.

The film opens with some Afghani men looking for a job. The job pays lousy even with their pay boosted 4 times the amount of their original offer. The boss, Ibrahim Arify, seems like a dictator giving orders and belittling his workers and his abilities. Then you see what business this is: Afghan Film. Over time, you see what their mission is. Their job is to restore many old films to show the Afghani people on a national tour.

Over time you will see this is no vanity effort. Afghan Film is more than just a film company. It’s a building archiving both the entertainment films and film footage of news events. Inside the building of Afghan Film are films that had to be kept in private rooms and hiding places. We’re dealing with film in a country that has gone through corrupt tyrannous rule for about half a century. The company came about while Afghanistan had a king. The king was friendly and helped the Afghani people mostly live well despite their impoverished conditions. Then he was deposed in a coup d’etat by his uncle in 1973 and it was downhill from then on. More than five years later his uncle was hanged and the Soviets invaded. The Soviets left in 1987 and the Mujahideen took over. Then the Taliban in 1996. After war was declared to oust the Taliban, Afghanistan became a democracy and more freedoms were restored. But not without daily threats on people’s lives that continue today. Even standing in a line-up to vote in an election is a threat on your life. That’s Afghanistan.

Afghan Film was a company that was under thread of the constant regimes and the tyranny that came with it. As we watch Arify get the project under way, we learn what type of films Afghan Film has kept hidden and has ready to show. They show archived footage, mostly in black and white of Afghanistan’s moments of history from military marches on camelback in the 1930’s to footage of the king’s visit to Washington in 1963 and a warm reception from President Kennedy to footage of the royal family swimming at the palace to even the most brutal aftermaths of war and political upheaval. Their final film footage was of the 1996 hanging of President Najibullah by the Taliban.

Afghan Film is not just film footage. They also have archived many entertainment films they’ve had hidden. Many of the films were of war dramas but there were also many romance films. They even archive Afghani films made during the silent era of the 1920’s and even a drama made back in 1936: films that came to be long before Afghan Film was founded.

What Afghan Film was saving this whole time was a part of Afghanistan’s cultural and historical identity. What their saving it all from and why becomes very obvious over time. Seeing of what the films of archive and entertainment contain are easy to see why the various political regimes and especially the Taliban would consider it a threat. We see films of kings and rulers, of luxury, of fields of poppies, of feelings of love, of conscientious thought, and even women without burkas or veils. Seeing the images and one’s knowledge of the Taliban can easily see why the Taliban would consider it a threat. In fact, film or even television entertainment of any kind was not allowed during their control of the entire country. Much of the film we see in the documentary is only a small portion of the film from Afghanistan. Most of Afghanistan’s films have been burned by the Taliban. All those hidden films they bring out and even recover in hiding places are the lucky ones.

We see the importance of saving the films. We also see the huge task of restoring the films and having them ready to show the crowds. It’s a challenge as they can only do so much themselves. Sending them off to foreign countries to do it for them is also a challenge as restoration is not always guaranteed. There’s one scene where one film which was sent to South Korea for restoration makes it back unrestored because the company was too busy The company did send a letter of apology. They show the difficulty of planning the national tour. Sure, the Taliban doesn’t control the whole of Afghanistan anymore but there are many areas especially around the border of Pakistan where Taliban control remains. We’re even reminded of the current situation of Afghanistan when we see the shattered glass of the former Afghan Films president’s apartment from a bomb blast.

The restoration and national exhibition of the films are not just simply a mission but also a mission of personal nature for the past president Isaaq Yousif and his successor Ibrahim Arify. Yousif has been president of the company for many decades. He was orphaned at 13 and was never matched with a woman in his lifetime. The film was his life. We see films he acted in when he was younger. He’s one who has survived the various regimes and civil wars in the country. There was a time the Afghan Film office was even his personal home. Ibrahim Arify was luckier as he fled Afghanistan in the 1980’s to live in Germany. He married an Afghani woman and had three children. His wife and two of his children are afraid to set foot in Afghanistan. Life in Germany helped make Arify a good business man and admires those of his colleagues that stayed behind, even those that were killed. The mission is almost like a ‘passing of the torch’ from Yousif to Arify especially since this happens during the last year of Yousif’s life. We even see Yousif’s grave.

The restoration is completed and the films make their tour. Arify has to return to Germany as Afghanistan is holding an election and foreigners risk having their lives threatened. The tour starts in Kabul and will be an outdoor showing. Security is there. Popcorn is popped. The crowd enjoys what their seeing. The tour visits many town halls and schools and is a huge success and shows promise for the future.

The most revealing moment of the documentary comes at the end when the people are watching the films. All this that has survived regimes and destructive wars. As the films are shown, the cameras focus on the people viewing. The most profound images are those of the children. They’re watching images of times when Afghanistan was prosperous, films of people not afraid to speak their emotions and women not restricted to what they wore. As the children watch, who knows what confidence it will give them towards their own future?

This documentary is a revealing introspect from Pietra Brettkelly. She not only shows us the films but the people behind restoring them and the country that’s it’s taking place. It’s like we’re looking inside-out into Afghanistan, what the country is been through and why this is so important. Hearing Arify and Yousif talk about the country and its history in both its positive and negative aspects sheds a light on what we’re dealing with. Hearing Arify describe the Afghani people as lazy by nature does get you thinking too: “If the Afghani people weren’t so lazy, the Taliban wouldn’t have lasted a week. People think I act like a dictator. You have to be like a dictator to get the people to do their job right.”

Actually that was a quality Brettkelly included where she lets the men in the film tell their story. Even the female actors of films past give a unique introspect. The film is an excellent documentary that appears put together very well. I don’t know if it tells the whole history of Afghani film but it tells a lot. It even presents the events leading to the exhibition in a very good manner. It may appear a bit disorganized at times but it does it very well.

A Flickering Truth may not stand out from many documentaries as we know it but it does show something unique and a story that deserves to be told. It almost makes those words from Churchill, whether he really said them or not, look very true here.

It’s VIFF Time Once Again

CinemaYes, it’s that time when I volunteer for the Vancouver International Film Festival and see movies for free. At least when I have that lucky chance during my usher duties.

The festival opens Thursday September 24th and runs until Friday October 9th. This year’s festival looks full of energy. If you remember last year, it set a per-screen attendance record. Hopefully they can break it again or even break the total attendance record this year too. This is especially relieving since the future of the VIFF was questioned when the Granville 7 theatre closed. The last two VIFFs have been able to run very successfully under the new format and set-up. Having many theatres within various areas of the downtown and even including the Rio has not hurt attendance.

There aren’t that many changes in terms of screening of films. One minor change for the Rio is that they will be showing films on five nights at 11pm instead of 11:30. Another difference is that there’s an increase in the number of days films at the three screens of the International Village will be shown. It used to end on the last Sunday of the fest. Instead it will end the day before the fest closes: four more days. That will allow for more showings.

As for this year’s lineup, there will be 375 films shown over nine screens and sixteen days. Films with big buzz include:

Brooklyn – John Crowley directs this drama/comedy starring Saoirse Ronan that is loaded with buzz. Opening Gala film.

I Saw The Light – Tom Hiddleston takes a break from playing Loki and plays Hank Williams in this biopic. Closing Gala film.

Arabian Nights – Portuguese director Miguel Gomes directs a trilogy of films inspired by, but not adapted from, the novel.

Beeba Boys – Deepa Mehta directs a crime drama. Definitely one to raise eyebrows, especially among Indo-Canadian communities.

Dheepan – This year’s Palme d’Or winner from Cannes. Spotlights Sri Lankan refugees trying to make a living in Paris.

High-Rise – Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel that seems like a 70’s version of 50 Shades Of Grey.

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words – Ingrid Bergman like you’ve never seen her before in rare film footage and an intimate look at the legend.

Louder Than Bombs – A family melodrama starring Jesse Eisenberg and Amy Ryan that can get overheated but touches on human emotions.

Room – Stars Brie Larson and William H. Macy. This Irish-Canadian drama may seem like a focus on one family until you learn its ugly truth.

A Tale Of Three Cities – A Chinese romance/drama directed by Mabel Cheung that is based on the real life story of Jackie Chan’s parents.

This Changes Everything – a documentary where Naomi Klein puts the right-wing pundit and other global warming critics in their place.

Youth – Remember how I did The Great Beauty? Director Paolo Sorrentino makes his English-language debut of a retiring director reflecting on his past. Stars Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda and Paul Dano.

As for volunteering this year, we’re now back to doing a single venue. However there are exceptions such as advertised jobs at certain venues such as in the case of disassembling and various other duties. Or my case where I work the International Village but want to volunteer on the two days it’s not operating such as yesterday. Fortunately I was given the bonus option of volunteering for Cinematheque. It was a good first night where I ushered and I was able to see a film. Review coming soon.

Anyways the VIFF has begun again. Be prepared for more films, fun and excitement.

Double Movie Review: Inside Out and The Minions Movie

You saw I did a triple-movie review yesterday. That’s what I plan to do as far as reviewing summer movies. Review two or three summer movies that are in the same genre. Yesterday was a review of three summer comedies. Today is the review of the two hit animated movies of the summer: Inside Out and The Minions Movie. Both were two of the biggest hit movies this 2015 and both were different but both also had their own qualities.

Inside Out features five characters of human feelings and takes one to an amazing world of the subconscious.

Inside Out features five characters of human feelings and takes one to an amazing world of the subconscious.

INSIDE OUT

This is actually Pixar’s first original movie since Brave. It’s been awhile and it was commonly assumed that the buzz of Pixar–the buzz of quality and creativity–was fading with movies like Cars 2 and Planes. They also had to face the fact in recent years they were no longer alone at the top with Illumination Entertainment emerging and Walt Disney Studios returning to their winning ways. However Pixar did come back with a vengeance this year with Inside Out.

Pixar went once again to its dream team with Up director Pete Docter doing the direction as well as co-writing the script with Josh Cooley and Meg Le Fauve. Michael Giacchino returns to do the music and vocal talent comes from the likes of Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Diane Lane, Bill Hader and John Ratzenberger.

The biggest achievement of the film is that it doesn’t just simply deliver a great story that can keep the audience intrigued but it creates a unique and dazzling world of the human mind. Here they invented the world of the human brain called Headquarters, creates characters related to human emotions, creates a system where emotions are delivered by Headquarters subconsciously via a control console that any of the five emotions can control, has memories kept in colored orbs in its own storage system and has islands that reflect the most dominant aspects of a person’s personality connected by the train of thought which is an actual locomotive.

That already looks like creative stuff on pen and paper. However it took Pixar’s animators to make this world come alive. If you’ve seen Inside Out, you too would be dazzled to see the world inside the mind of Riley Anderson, the main character. It’s one thing to think up this world. It’s another thing to have this world come alive on screen and be good enough to dazzle and even mesmerize the audience. Were you mesmerized? I was.

However despite the mesmerizing world, it still had to have a solid and entertaining story to go with it. The story consists of five characters representing the five core emotions. Those emotional characters are inside the mind of Riley Anderson: a hockey-loving 11 year-old girl who is trying to adjust to a move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Promising enough. However it also took the right juggling of the story to go from focus on Riley to focus on the emotions and their world inside Riley’s head. It was a balancing act.

The story had to make Riley a likeable and identifiable character. It also had to make the emotions likeable characters too. Like it couldn’t make Anger as an abusive brute or Sadness into a manic depressant. C’mon, this is a family film for people to enjoy rather than see characters that cut deep. I’ll admit I did find the story rather confusing at first. However it starts to make more sense over time long after you leave the theatre. Inside Out is like a lot of Pixar movies where the focus is more on the story or the world rather than it being too character-driven or too entertainment-driven. That’s how Pixar has created some of the best animated movies of the past 20 years and that’s how they succeed here again.

Inside Out isn’t simply another charming animated story from Pixar but an escape to a world that will leave you dazzled. The ending will even get you thinking you have five characters in your head just like them!

The Minions movie is about Stuart, Kevin and Bob searching for a master of evil to serve.

The Minions movie is about Stuart, Kevin and Bob searching for a master of evil to serve.

MINIONS

Without a doubt, this decade’s top movie stars are not of flesh and blood but yellow and pill-shaped. Yes, the Minions who have been the aces at stealing the show from Gru in all the Despicable Me movies. Their popularity over time made the possibility of their own movie eventual. However it was to be a big question of The Minions Movie. Yes, they can steal the show from Gru but can the hold their own? Or will people become sick of an hour and a half of Minions?

Firstly in order to do a 90 minute-long film about Minions, one should have a solid but entertaining story to go with it. Interestingly enough they didn’t pick Despicable Me writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio to write the story. It went to newcomer Brian Lynch who actually wrote for the Minions Mayhem short three years ago. Despicable Me co-director Pierre Coffin returns to direct this but his co-director this time is Kyle Balda, who co-directed The Lorax with Despicable Me co-director Chris Renaud. Renaud is Executive Producer of the Minions movie. Hmmm, looks like Pixar’s not the only animation team in town.

The story does seem a bit formulaic as they try to look for a master of evil to serve. The master they think they found turning on them isn’t that original either. Even the ending where they eventually find themselves the master of Gru was not unexpected. The strength of the story was for it to have a decent plot but put major emphasis on the entertainment factor. Let’s face it, people are in love with the Minion characters. If one writes a story that’s very plot-centred like most Pixar movies, the flavor of the Minion characters would be lost. People love the goofy nature of the Minions. They story could not be two plot-centred if the Minions had to have their hyper but cute charm maintained.

Nevertheless they had to have a good story not just to keep it going to a feature-length but to entertain as well. That was achieved well with the story of Scarlet Overkill having them under their wing. Sandra Bullock made Scarlet fun to watch. Even if you knew the Minions would turn out okay with whatever Scarlet plotted against them, the movie still kept you wondering and hoping that they’d come out alright.

I give the writers and directors credit to writing and directing an entertainingly good story of how the Minions found Gru. However like most other movies, I usually question the choices made or if it could have been done better. Sometimes I wonder was it a good idea to pick three Minion characters as the lead Minions instead of maybe more? Was there too little time spent on how they met Gru at the end? Was Bob more idiotic than he should be? Actually I can’t really judge because I’m not a Hollywood writer. However I do feel that the ‘Hair’ number shouldn’t have been the only Minion musical number.

Minions is a mission accomplished: making a feature-length film of the top scene stealers in Hollywood right now. However it is imperfect and can make some people think it could have been done better.

As for the two movies, they both turned out to be the two biggest money makers of the year. Sure, Jurassic World is #1 but both are comfortably in this year’s Top 5 with Inside Out grossing $352.8 million and Minions grossing $332.8 million. It looks like animated movies are among the strongest films out there right now. Often they’re better at making favorite characters than most live-action movies. What Pixar and the other animation teams have up their sleeves has yet to be seen.

Inside Out and Minions are two of the biggest winners of the summer. they not only entertained but they also showed why animated movies are one of the tour de forces in moviemaking right now.

Triple Movie Review: Trainwreck, Vacation and Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

Okay, I said I’d do double-movie reviews reflecting a common theme. I actually would like to try something different: a triple-movie review. All three are comedies from this summer. All had a pre-opening buzz to them and all had mixed results. I know summer’s long over but I don’t mind publishing this now as this is more of a movie ‘summary than a movie review.

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader star as an unlikely couple in the unlikely romantic comedy Trainwreck.

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader star as an unlikely couple in the unlikely romantic comedy Trainwreck.

Trainwreck

Okay. I’ll start with a film that had medium-sized buzz. The film featured a rising comedic talent named Amy Schumer who also wrote the script. The film was directed by Judd Apatow who has delivered some of the best comedies in the last 10 years like the 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Bridesmaids. Here he and Amy both deliver the best comedy of the summer.

Part of it was giving it a common situation of the offspring of negligent parents. One daughter, Kim,  has things together and is making the effort to make a family. The other, Amy who is actually the prime source of the film’s humor, is a successful writer but lives irresponsibly and has a negative outlook on just about everything and everyone. Much like her father. That explains why she writes for a magazine an awful lot like Maxim. The humor comes when her attitude and habits are challenged with the situations she encounters and meets Mr. Right as the subject of her latest article.

A lot of it is Judd’s direction but a lot of it is Amy’s humor. Amy is a comedian who is not afraid to play idiotic women. Here Amy shows a character that has been devastated by a divorce in her childhood and never picked herself up. Her father said at the divorce “Monogamy’s not possible.” Here she lives it for herself and feels all the guys in her life have the same attitude. Even before she meets Dr. Aaron Connors, she gets a wake-up call from an athlete she has a one-night-stand with. She tells him banging every girl in the world is every guy’s dream but the athlete tells her “It’s not mine.” That was the first sign she needed changing but she was afraid to do it. It’s the encounter of Aaron that changes her but with difficulty as she still hangs on to her bad habits like drinking, toking up and fooling around.

It’s not just about the main situations in Amy Townsend’s path to love that make the story. There’s some unexpected humor too. There’s the feisty father in a nursing home. Then there’s his funeral where Amy starts the eulogy with “My father was an asshole,” but ends with “My father was the best father ever.” I’ve never seen a eulogy like that. There’s the addition of the homeless man Amy occasionally sees on the streets daily. The crude humor from the man blends in with the story well. There’s Amy’s relationship with her sister Kim’s step-family whom she doesn’t take to well, especially her socially awkward step-nephew Allister. There’s even the inclusion of pro-athletes in the movie that helps make the story that more fun. Hey, Amare Stoudemire isn’t the only one in there.

Amy is not the comedic performance to make the film. Colin Quinn adds his bit in as the irresponsible father whom Amy seems to model her own life with. He’s a father feisty to the end. Bill Hader was a good choice for playing the doctor and the love interest of Amy. However it was odd to see Bill play a character that was low-key in terms of comedy. I’ve seen him do more outlandish stuff in the past. I think he wanted to play it conservative here. Brie Larson was also good as Kim, the sister who has it together. Tilda Swinton was also good at playing the cold boss of Amy’s, Dianna. Makes you wonder who the brains behind all these men’s magazines are. Additional humor was added from Dave Attell as Noam, the homeless guy who Amy’s generous to.

Trainwreck is a rarity. A comedy that pulls the right kind of punches, delivers the right kind of shock without becoming too clumsy and sticks to its situation and characters. It also propels Amy Schumer to be a rising comedic talent for the future. My fav comedy of the summer. besides I like awkward romances.

Me Earl DyingMe And Earl And The Dying Girl

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl sounds like an awkward title. Even shocking. But the story actually turns out to be good if you give it a chance. This film won a comedic film award this year’s Sundance Film Fest.

The story is centered around Greg Gaines, a high school senior in Pittsburgh on the verge of graduating and heading to college. However he’s frustrated about what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Adding to the frustration is a mother who comes across as a ‘nagging machine,’ teachers who put pressure on him and the various cliques of students from the jocks to the drama dweebs to the loner freaks to his long time crush. Already that is one humorous element of the film. Senior year, the pressures to graduate and go to college, and the difficulty of fitting in with the other students. Funny how those of us long graduated can identify and laugh at the difficulties Greg is going through. Because we’ve all been there!

It’s not just about fitting in. It also included his friendship with Earl: a childhood friend whom Greg makes films with together. Humorous short films often relying on goofy and even crude humor.

The film’s humor isn’t just in things we can identify with but also in unusual situations. There’s Rachel, who learns she has leukemia. I’m sure all of us knew a kid in our high school days who had to fight cancer. However Greg is compelled to befriend her just to stop his mother from nagging. Over time we see the friendship grow from something Greg is forced to do into something real.

The film shows the positive aspects in the friendship between Greg and Rachel, Greg and Earl, and Greg, Earl and Rachel. Nevertheless the friendships do face a challenge as Rachel’s’ condition worsens and she decides to take herself off the medicine. That leads to a boiling point between the two that also leads to the end (albeit temporary) to the friendship of Greg and Earl as well as Greg being confronted by the fact his college acceptance had been declined because he spent too much time with Rachel.

I guess that’s what the film’s best attribute is. The film’s best quality is Greg’s situations resembling situations most of us all went through when we were 17 where we’d try to fit into school, try to decide what to do with our lives and try to make the best of situations. Even situations many of us don’t normally go through like befriending a cancer patient didn’t appear to deviate too much from our own lives.

It’s not to say it was all humorous. The scene where Rachel blurts out the hard truth about Greg befriending Rachel reminds us of how at 17 we would inhesitantly say brutal truths to people we either loved or hated out of our moods. Even the friction between Greg and Earl brings back ugly memories of us.

This was a very good comedy based off the book from Jesse Andrews with Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directing. They do a good job of creating a dark comedy of a high school scenario most of us can relate to with a twist. Befriending the terminally-ill Rachel was intended to be more humorous than tragic and I feel it hit a lot of right spots even when it didn’t compromise some of the more difficult elements. The friendship of Earl was also given good attention instead of having Earl be the ‘token black guy’ like in so many indie movies. Earl had a significant part in this movie.

The acting itself also made the movie. Thomas Mann did a very good job of playing a frustrated teenager who had a lot of growing up to do and achieved a lot of it in the span of a school year. Olivia Cooke did well as Rachel by making her look like a person trying to stay positive despite her terminal illness but imperfectly being the teenager she is. Ronald Cyler II is also good as the no-nonsense Earl who is a good friend but isn’t afraid to be brutally honest with Greg.

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is a dark comedy full of ironies. It tries to make humor out of a tragedy in the middle of your typical teenage drama. It appears to have made the right moves.

VacationVacation

Even before Vacation hit theaters, even before I saw the trailer, I questioned whether this was a good idea. Seeing the trailer worsened my perception of the movie. However seeing it for myself convinced me this was the biggest waste of money I did this summer.

The film first seems like a good concept: Rusty Griswold, married with children now wants to take his own family to WalleyWorld. However it’s all downhill from here. The biggest faults come from writers/directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley. They take the Vacation movie formula and appear to have sabotage it with the lewdest, rudest, crudest humor you can come up with. There were many scenes I found hard to watch. Add to the mix unlikeable characters for Kevin Griswold as the foul-mouthed jerk of a younger son and James Griswold as the weenie of an older son and of course Rusty which I will get to later. Even Debbie Griswold was a turn-off with some of her stupidity.

Another big fault was the super-stocky character of Rusty Griswold delivered by Ed Helms. I’ve seen Ed do funnier stuff such as in the first Hangover when he did a more reserved character. I also saw him do a funny stock character as the idiotic kingpin in We’re The Millers. Here, his stocky character of Rusty Griswold was a complete miss. Just completely unfunny from the dialogue he’s given to the stocky delivery. He comes across looking idiotic. You’ll notice it at the beginning when he does his pilot job. You’ll get a bigger sense soon after when he talks to his sons about ‘boys having a vagina.’ Yes, sensing trouble that soon in the movie.

However the biggest thing that annoys me about Ed Helms’ performance is that he sabotages the role of Rusty. I’ve seen the other vacation movies and Rusty appeared to have a head on his shoulders. Even his stupidities in the other Vacation movies weren’t as different from the stupidities of other boys his age. Here, it gives the impression that Rusty went stupid overnight: even stupider than Clark ever was. There were even many times I left the theatre thinking this this may not have intended to be a movie of the Vacation series but an Ed Helms movie instead.

And since we’re on the topic of the Vacation series, the film gives the appearance near the end that it’s trying to have the ‘passing of the torch’ of the Vacation series from Clark to Rusty. Yes, that scene where Rusty is given Clark’s station wagon form the original 1983 National Lampoon’s Vacation while Russ and the fam stay at Clark and Ellen’s B&B in San Francisco with an appearance from Clark and Ellen themselves: Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo. The whole movie from start to finish and Ed Helms’ irritating acting shows it’s unworthy of such a passing of the torch.’ It has no feel of the other Vacation movies and often feels like it’s going for the shock laughs and fails miserably.

I will admit there was a scene or two I found with a decent amount of humor like the four cops from the four states at ‘Four States Corner.’ However most of the time it feels like the humor is there to disgust us or make us sick rather than play into the movie. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen mean-spirited, punch-below-the-belt humor done well but that’s something the likes of the South Park duo or Seth MacFarlane know how to ace and all those involved with Vacation fail consistently.

Vacation appears like it’s trying to do a lot of things. Try to be the latest in the vacation series, try to propel Ed Helms’ stardom or try to ‘entertain’ us with shock humor. Whatever it tries to do, it fails in every which way.

In conclusion, Trainwreck was the surprise comedic delight of the summer, Me and Earl And The Dying Girl was the offbeat comedy of the summer and Vacation was the comedy fail of the summer. There you go for summer comedies.