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.

London 2012: Fourteen To Watch

On the evening of Friday July 27, 2012, the cauldron of the London Olympics, the Games of the XXX Olympiad, will be lit and over ten thousand athletes from over 200 countries will compete for glory in their respective sport over these seventeen days. London will become the first city ever to host three Olympic Games: the first two being in 1908 and 1948. Here are ten athletes from around the world, two from the host country and two teams of these Games who are worth keeping a close eye on:

-Michael Phelps/USA – Swimming: Talk about a legendary career. Olympic debut in 2000 at the age of 15. Six golds and two bronzes in 2004. A record eight golds in 2008. Now London is the big finale. He’s just three medals away from breaking the record for most total Olympic medals. He also has four chances to become the first male swimmer to threepeat in an individual swimming event. Unstoppable? Maybe not. Teammate Ryan Lochte broke Phelps’ 400 IM record last year and even beat him in that event at Olympic trials. Plus there could be other younger swimmers from around the world chasing him down. It will all be decided in the London Aquatic Centre.

-Usain Bolt/Jamaica – Track and Field: Remember back in Beijing Usain was the sprinting star winning the 100, 200 and anchoring Jamaica’s 4*100 relay? All in world record time? Incredibly Usain has since broke them all. No kidding he’s been the most exciting thing in track and field since Carl Lewis. He could do it again in London. But he faces a formidable challenge from his own younger teammate Yohan Blake who currently has the year’s fastest 100 and 200 times. Plus don’t count Americans Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay out, nor sprinters from Trinidad or St. Kitts.

-Amantle Montsho/Botswana – Track and Field: One of my favorite Olympic moments is when an athlete wins their country’s first ever Olympic medal. There are eighty countries competing in London that have never won an Olympic medal. Botswana is one of them but that could change. This will be Montsho’s third Olympics and she has progressed from the 400m heats in 2004 to 8th in the 400 final in 2008 to being crowned World 400m Champion last year. She still appears strong in the 400 this year as she has run the 400 four times under 50 seconds and even set a personal best a month ago. Winning a medal will not come easy as three other runners–two Russians and American Sanya Richards–have run faster times this year. Nevertheless if she’s all there in London, she could just make Botswanian Olympic history.

-Elena Isinbaeva/Russia: Track And Field: She has established herself as possibly the greatest female pole vaulter ever. She has won two gold medals and has set 30 world records including two at the Olympics. Nevertheless her career since Beijing has had some noticeable chokes: no-heighting at the 2009 world Championships final, fourth at the 2010 World Indoor championships, sixth at last year’s Worlds. 2012 has seen a return to her winning ways as she won the World Indoor Championships in March and even set a new world indoor record of 5.01m. She has only competed in one outdoor competition this year but it was two weeks ago and she won with an impressive 4.75m. It’s clear that in London the only person that can defeat Elena is Elena. It will all be decided in Olympic Stadium whether she threepeats or if she defeats herself.

-Caster Semenya/South Africa – Track and Field: She burst on the scene in 2009 at 18 showing the world her athletic talent in the 800m including a World Championship win. However she received more attention that year over her gender being questioned to the point the IAAF, athletics’ governing body, had to conduct gender tests on her. Caster found them both humiliating and invasive. She was eventually cleared by the IAAF but wasn’t allowed to resume competition until July 2010. The controversy has since died and Caster has continued running and even finished 2nd at last year’s Worlds. Nevertheless her country of South Africa has always stood beside her even during the heaviest of controversy and she has even been designated as South Africa’s flagbearer for the opening ceremonies. Many track experts believe she has what it takes to win but the 800m has a tough field. Could she prevail? Only time will tell.

-Carmelita Jeter/USA – Track and Field: Usually 32 is seen as the age when it’s time for a sprinter to retire. For Carmelita, it’s the age in which her sprinting career is finally taking off and could just reach her peak. Already she qualified for her first ever Olympic team. She has had world-class talent for years even finishing third in the 100m at the 2007 Worlds but she had a disastrous Olympic trials the following year filing to make the team despite being one of the favorites. In the four years since she’s become a faster runner and a better competitor. She would win bronze again at the 2009 Worlds and the 2011 Worlds gave her 100m gold, 200m silver and 4*100 relay gold. This year’s Olympic trials were better as she won the 100 and finished second in the 200. She already has the second-fastest 100m time in the world this year with defending Olympic champion Shelly-Anne Fraser the only other runner with a faster time. Jeter not only faces rivalry from her in both events but Jamaican triple Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown who won the 200m at last year’s Worlds and her teammate Allyson Felix who has won 200m silver in 2004 and 2008. Whatever the situation, London will be now more than ever for her.

-Ashton Eaton/USA – Track and Field: The United States has consistently turned out decathlon champion after decathlon champion at the Olympics: eleven in total. At first it appeared Trey Hardee would become the next American to win Olympic gold in decathlon after winning the 2009 and 2011 world Championships. However teammate Ashton Eaton, who finished second to Hardee at the 2011 Worlds, had a surprise for him at the Olympic Trials. He won the Trials and broke the world record by 13 points. The Eaton/Hardee rivalry should prove to be exciting as two teammates being the two best in the world competing for gold. The winner will be decided two weeks from now.

 -Mariel Zagunis/USA – Fencing: When you think of fencing and the USA, you don’t think of any greats, do you? Well Mariel could be just that. She’s already only the second American fencer ever to win Olympic gold and she did it in the saber category twice in 2004 and 2008. Both times she was not the favorite. This time she is the favorite being ranked #1 in the world but she’s not invincible. Since Beijing she has won her first World Championship medals: saber gold in both 2009 and 2010. She however lost her title at the 2011 Worlds to Russian Sofiya Velikaya. She also faces challenges in London from other Russian fencers and Ukrainians like Olha Kharlan. If she does win in London, she will make history by becoming only the second fencer to achieve an Olympic threepeat in an individual event. History in the making? It’s all in Mariel’s hands.

-Marta/Brazil – Soccer: It’s interesting how women’s soccer has been growing only in the last ten years or so. Women didn’t get their own World Cup until 1991. women didn’t compete in the Olympics until 1996. Since then the improvements have been made not just in North America and Europe but South America too. Even Brazil has a star that has been called the ‘female Pele’ and her name is Marta. She showed huge promise in football at a young age but would come of age at 16 in 2002 when she was selected to be on Brazil’s national team. Since then she has received major accolades such as two Olympic silver medals, runner-up at the 2007 World Cup and crowned FIFA World Female Footballer of the year for five years straight. She and the Brazilian team want to win and London but they face stiff challenges from Japan, Sweden and the USA who want to win their third-straight Olympic title. nevertheless they want to improve from their quarterfinal ouster at last year’s World Cup. The game’s the thing in London.

-Daba Keita/Mali – Taekwondo: Another country that has never won an Olympic medal is Mali. Daba Kaita looked like the one to win Mali’s first ever medal after winning the heavyweight title at the 2007 World Championships. However he was eliminated in the quarterfinals in Beijing and the president of Mali went as far as calling it a ‘painful day for Mali.’ Since Beijing the 6’8″ Keita successfully defended his World title in 2009. He was dealing with a knee injury in 2011 and couldn’t compete at the Worlds that year. Nevertheless Keita believes he is ready. He considers himself a smarter fighter than he was at Beijing. He has been coached in the United States since 2006 through an Olympic Solidarity program and he hopes for it to pay off in London. Even though he hasn’t been too active on the taekwondo scene in the past year, Keita could surprise his opponents and make Olympic history for Mali in London.

 TWO FOR THE HOST COUNTRY:

-Tom Daley/Great Britain – Diving: For the record Great Britain has never won a diving gold medal at the Olympics. Six medals but never gold. Tom Daley burst on the world scene in 2008 by winning the tower event at the 2008 European Championships just before turning 14. He would be the ‘teddy bear’ of the British team of the Beijing Olympics and would go on to finish 7th in individual tower and 8th in synchro tower. Since then the precocious diving prodigy has had his ups and downs. He had a stellar 2009 that included a World Championship win in tower at the age of 15. An injurious 2010 ended on a good note as he won two golds at the Commonwealth Games. 2011 however was the hardest year. He had to deal with injury, learning new dives and the death of his father. The difficulties he faced showed at the World Championships that year as he lost his World tower title finishing 5th. 2012 has seen a new Tom Daley as he has been performing consistently even winning a World Cup meet and returning as European Champion. All eyes of Britain will be on him as he has beenone of the most iconic advertized images leading up to the London Games. He could lift the hearts of the nation like Cathy Freeman in 2000, Enrico Fabris in 2006 and the Canadian hockey teams of 2010. Or he could break their hearts like Konstandinos Kenteris in 2004 or Liu Xiang in 2008. It’s an awful big gamble for an 18 year-old. Nevertheless it will all be decided August 11th.

-Beth Tweddle/Great Britain – Gymnastics: Diving isn’t the only sport where Britain wants to win its first gold here. Gymnastics is another sport and Britain’s only women’s medal is a team bronze back in 1928 when women’s gymnastics was contested for the first time. Beth Tweddle looks like just the one to change that. She has been winning World Championship medals since 2003 but Olympic glory has always seemed elusive to her. 2004 was a disappointment. 2008 she finished fourth in the uneven bars but the two Chinese gymnasts who finished ahead of her have been under suspicion of being under the age limit and still remains unsolved. Since Beijing she has become a tougher competitor. She won the floor gold at the 2009 Worlds and won uneven bars gold at the 2010 Worlds. The 2011 Worlds were a tough event for her as she fell off the bars in qualifying and went out of bounds during the floor finals. Nevertheless she has proved she is ready for London as she won the uneven bars at a key international gymnastics meet and even increased the difficulty on her dismount with an extra full twist. Will she finally do it in London? It will all be decided in the Millennium Dome.

 AND TWO TEAMS TOO:

-Romanian Women’s Gymnastics Team: This could be the triumph of the underdogs. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Underdogs? Romania’s gymnasts?” Yes. The 2011 World Championships were the first since 1974 in which the Romanian women failed to win even a single medal. That’s awfully odd coming from a country that introduced Nadia to the world and has shelled out countless world and Olympic Champions. Since then Romania has worked to get their gymnasts into winning ways. They field a team that includes 2004 three-time Olympic Champion Catalina Ponor coming out of retirement, 2008 Olympic floor champion Sandra Izbasa and 2010 World beam champion Ana Porgras. The plan has worked well as the team won the European Championships over 2011 Worlds silver-medalists Russia by less than a point. They even won three of the four individual event. No doubt they’re doing everything right in their comeback but they still will face challenges from Russia, host country Great Britain with possibly their best team ever, and the 2011 World Champions the United States featuring top competitors like Jordyn Wieber, Ali Reisman and Gabby Douglas. Winning will come with a fight in London.

-Cuban Boxing Team: No kidding Cuba wants to rebound after not winning a single boxing gold in Beijing 2008. Yeah, you’re probably thinking what I thought: “Cuba? No boxing golds? How can that be?” Ever since amateur boxing has gone from three three-minute round to four two-minute rounds, the Europeans have excelled while the American countries have struggled. Since Beijing amateur boxing has made a return to three three-minute rounds and Cuba is on a comeback trail. Boxers Lazaro Alvarez and Julio Cesar la Cruz won at the 2011 World Championships. Cuba’s hoping to return back to their Olympic glory days of the 70’s and 90’s and London could lead them on the right path.

 And there you have it. Twelve athletes and two teams to keep a close eye on in London. My list of Canadians to watch will come tomorrow.In the meantime check this out below. This is my one and only souvenir of the London Games. I spent so much on souvenirs of the Vancouver 2010 Games I decided only one of London.

 

UPDATE: I did ten more to watch.