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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.

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Movie Review: 50/50

You’d think a story about a young person dealing with a potentially fatal form of cancer would least make for comedy material, right? 50/50 succeeds in making a comedy out of it, and a good one too.

Adam doesn’t sound like the type of person to get cancer: a 27 year-old who jogs, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t eat junk food and always plays it safe to the point where he doesn’t even own a driver’s license. But everything changes when he gets his back checked. The doctor gives him the sudden news: cancer. What’s he to do? He checks on the internet and learns his cancer has a 50/50 chance of survival. His mother is shocked, his artist girlfriend Rachael finds the news sudden but his crazy friend Kyle tries to keep his spirits high “50/50? That’s better than a Vegas game.”

Things change for Adam once he stars going for chemotherapy. On the plus side, his girlfriend decides to the one to look after him. She even buys him a dog.  During chemo treatments, he meets a pair of older men also receiving treatments and they share a lot together, including marijuana-laced macaroons. On the negative side, his mother is concerned to the point of being overbearing especially since she also has to deal with a husband with Alzheimer’s. He also sees a young therapist who’s very inexperienced. Adam is only her third client. On the in-between, his friend Kyle tries to keep his spirits high by doing and saying things that are off the wall, like hold a party for Adam on the day he leaves work and gives Adam his body shaver to shave his head.

Things change for Adam: some for the better, some for the worse and some for the weirder. Kyle catches Rachael cheating on Adam. The relationship is over. Kyle encourages Adam to use his dog walking and cancer ordeal to get laid. Adam stars becoming more open with Katharine the therapist. The bond between the two men he sees during treatment grows. And Rachael moves out. Adam and Kyle celebrate by egging, cutting and burning her picture for him.

Then comes some biting realities. One of the men Adam meets during treatments dies. The doctor delivers the news that Adam’s cancer is worsening and needs a risky back operation or else he’ll die. Adam is now at the end of his emotional rope. He starts distancing himself from Kyle. However he starts opening up more to Katharine to the point there’s more than just a therapist-patient relation happening. Just before the operation, he learns that Kyle bought a book on having a friend with cancer. He also learned his mother attended a support group of parents who have children with cancer. It makes for an ending that not your typical simple happy ending but an ending that’s genuine.

There’s no question that there are a lot of comedic elements with this movie and there are the times when the movie does try to push a few buttons. One thing about the movie that’s the best quality is that it tries to be funny but real at the same time. It may poke fun at the after-effects of eating a marijuana-laced macaroon and some of but it also focuses on human relations and the feelings one goes through during cancer at such a young age. It focuses on the relationships of the patient and those around them. Despite that, it doesn’t sugar-coat things. It also shows that nasty things like a girlfriend cheating on the Adam does sometimes happen. It also reminds you that some of your friends that are going through cancer like you could die the next day. It’s a mix of some of the nasty and some of the happier things too. That’s the strongest part of the comedy is that it’s able to balance it all out. Interestingly enough is that this comedy is based upon the cancer ordeal of the scriptwriter: Will Reiser. Who would’ve thought that a plot like this would be a winning formula?

No question that the script of Will Reiser was winning. It created a good mix of humor and real life. It could qualify as autobiographical but I don’t know Will’s personal life. The acting made it work. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the perfect fit for Adam. There couldn’t have been a better pick for Kyle than Seth Rogen. Anna Kendrick was also excellent as the inexperienced therapist who becomes the best thing for Adam. Jonathan Levine also did a good job of directing. Definitely a refreshing alternative from your usual box office fare. I will admit there was the occasional lewd and crude humor from Kyle but overall it made for an excellent movie.

50/50 was the surprise hit comedy of this fall. It has received a lot of acclaim as one of the best comedies of the year. Unfortunately it did not receive any Oscar nominations, not even for script. I’m not too worried because I’m sure with the help of DVD and Netflix this movie’s charm will last for a long time. It does seem odd to make a comedy about dealing with a life-threatening form of cancer, especially for someone so young, but it’s an example of how the younger generations are dealing with cancer. You can notice how cancer services and support groups and charities have changed over the past thirty years. Thirty years ago, the slogan was “Cancer can be beaten.” Now cancer funds and groups are using their own methods to encourage the younger generation to get involved. There are fundraising groups with the slogan “F*** cancer!” There are breast cancer funds with the slogan “I love boobies!” It may seem too in-your-face to some but it’s how the younger generation is now dealing with the fight. It’s all in the passing of the torch. Now to have a cancer survivor make a comedy about cancer that does sometimes rattle cages but is also very genuine in both the positive and negative aspects, it’s an accomplishment of its own.

They say laughter is the best medicine. 50/50 is definitely worth it. Until there’s a sure-fire cure for cancer, there’s 50/50 to laugh things off.

Jack Layton: 1950 – 2011

It’s extremely rare when a major politician dies in the middle of his term. It’s also unfortunate that Jack Layton dies soon after the biggest success for himself and his political party. Nevertheless his influence in Canadian politics will always be remembered.

John Gilbert Layton was born in Montreal on July 18, 1950 to a family with a huge political background. His mother Doris Steeves was a grand-niece to a Father of Confederation. His father Robert Layton was a Progressive Conservative MP who served as a Cabinet Minster during the Mulroney administration. His grandfather was a cabinet minister in Quebec parliament. His great-grandfather was an activist for the blind. Naturally he would follow in his family’s footsteps. He was elected student council of his high school and studied Political Science at McGill University. In 1969-1970 he was a member of the Quebec Youth Parliament. In 1970, the family moved to Toronto where he attended York University and received his PhD in Political Science. He became a professor at Ryerson University, was a prominent activist and wrote many books on political issues and his beliefs.

He first entered politics on a civic level. He was elected to Toronto City Council in 1982 and soon became one of the most outspoken members of the council and a leader of the left wing. He was one of the first advocates for rights for AIDS patients and spoke his opposition to the building of the Skydome and Toronto’s bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics. In 1985 he moved on to the Metropolitan Toronto council. In 1988 he became returned for the election to Toronto City Council. He not only won but his reformist coalition for which he headed gained control of City Council. In 1991, he made the move to run for mayor of Toronto. His opposition to the Olympic bid and the low popularity of the NDP party at the time caused him to lose the election. Layton would return to teaching and later founded an environmental consulting business, the Green Catalyst Group. He ran for the House of Commons twice in the 90’s and lost both times.

Then in January 2003 came the biggest breakthrough of his political career. He was elected leader of the federal NDP party. Before the 2004 election, Layton was already known for making some eyebrow-raising statements about the Liberal party led by Paul Martin shifting to being too right-wing. During the 2004 National Election, Layton accused the Liberal Party for the increase in homelessness and homeless deaths in Canada. Many people complained that it was negative campaigning. Layton caused another controversy during that election when he suggested the removal of the Clarity Act and allowing Quebec to declare independence upon a referendum vote. In that election the Layton-led NDP party had 15% of the popular vote, the highest in 15 years, and 19 seats in the House of Commons.

In the next federal election, in January 2006, Layton attempted to cast himself as the sole remaining champion of universal health care. Layton constantly repeated during the campaign to Canadian that they have a ‘third choice.’ Some conservative pundits mocked Layton and his stances. Some would paste Layton-styles moustaches on them and say things like ‘raise my taxes’ or ‘I’d like to pay higher gas prices.’ Layton also went all out in attacking the scandal-ridden Liberals at the time and pledged to use his minority clout to keep the Conservatives in check. The election resulted in 29 seats in the House of Commons for the NDP: 11 more than the previous election. Layton’s wife Olivia Chow was also elected to the House of Commons making them the first couple to be elected to the House.

During the 2008 Federal election, many were comparing Layton as trying to pass himself off as Canada’s Barack Obama. He shunned the comparisons and reminded people that he only simply shared the same views as him like the working class and the middle class. Layton also mentioned he told Obama and Hillary Clinton the North American Free Trade Agreement was hurting people on both sides of the border. Layton also spoke out about internet freedoms and his stance in favor of net neutrality, torrent sites, video-sharing sites and social networking sites. The NDP would go on to win a total of 37 seats in the House but would only be the fourth-most populous behind the Conservatives, Liberals and Bloc Quebecois. Shortly after the election in November 2008, Layton negotiated with Liberal leader Stephan Dion and Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe on forming a coalition to replace the Conservatives as the government. Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded by suspending parliament until January 2009. After Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff signed a budgetary agreement that would end the coalition, Layton declared: “If you oppose Mr. Harper and you want a new government, I urge you to support the NDP.”

In 2011, a new national election was called as the Conservative party was defeated in a Vote of Non-Confidence for contempt; the first time in the history of the Commonwealth for a government to receive a Vote on Non-Confidence. That resulted in Prime Minister Harper dissolving parliament for a new national election. During the election, appeal for the NDP started slow but Layton’s NDP party soon increased greatly in popularity after the leadership debates. The NDP moved past the Liberals into second place in the polls behind the Conservatives and first in Quebec. Soon after his popularity rose, a smear campaign came about as a retired police officer stated he saw Layton naked in a massage parlor back in 1996 but didn’t charge him. Layton responded that he was just simply getting a massage. In the end, no charges were laid against Layton. In the election, held May 2, 2011, the NDP won 103 Seats. That was the highest-ever total of seats for the NDP party and made the NDP the Official Opposition party to the Commons for the first time ever with Layton as the official opposition leader.

One thing known to few was of Jack Layton’s illness and the severity of it. In February 2010, he announced he had prostate cancer and vowed to beat it and continue to pursue his duties as the leader of the NDP. On July 25, almost three months since the national election, he announced he would take a temporary leave to fight an unspecified newly diagnosed cancer. He announced he planned to return as leader of the NDP once the House of Commons was to be resumed September 19, 2011 and recommended NDP caucus chair Nycole Turmel serve as interim leader. On the morning on August 22, 2011, Jack Layton died at his Toronto home. He was 61.

Jack Layton was a unique politician. He came from a family who had a lot of political experience. He rallied and campaigned for causes that were popular with the left and he strongly believed in as well. As a leader of a national party, he brought ideas and spoke of issues in ways unheard of before by leading Canadian politicians. He brought ideas unheard of before in Canadian parliament. Overall he was one p[politician who believed in a better Canada and wasn’t afraid to speak out about it. After his death, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said:  “On behalf of all Canadians, I salute Jack’s contribution to public life, a contribution that will be sorely missed. I know one thing: Jack gave his fight against cancer everything he had. Indeed, Jack never backed down from any fight.”

As a fitting final tribute, Jack wrote a letter two days before his death. His family released the letter the day of his death that ended with these final words:

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Jack Layton. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Layton&gt;