Tag Archives: Jonathan

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.

Advertisements

Oscars 2011 Best Picture Nominee: Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

“If things were easy to find, they wouldn’t be worth finding.”

I know many of you would be nervous at first of attending a movie like Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close. 9/11 films aren’t exactly crowd-winners. Ever since United 93 and even up to now, it still isn’t. It’s still a tense topic to this day and doesn’t make for good subject matter for people to see a movie about. Nevertheless Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close is a good film of its own, if imperfect.
 
Oskar Schell is a young boy who’s a smart but fearful and eccentric brainiac often mistaken for having Asperger’s. However he’s dealing with an inner pain. His father Thomas died in the Twin Towers on 9/11, a day Oskar refers to as ‘the worst day’. His father was a jeweller who spent a lot of time with Oskar nurturing his creative and eccentric quest for knowledge. He would create puzzles, help him develop his own business cards (which lists him as inventor, Francophile and pacifist), have oxymoron challenges while practising karate, and even have scavenger hunts. You could tell Oskar is still very much an intellectual now. He keeps his collection of butterflies. He has his collection of facts and figures. He’s even intellectual in his lewd talk: “Succotash my Balzac, dipshiitake!” Yeah, real charming.
 
However his father’s death still upsets him. He died in the first tower and his body was never found. His mother held a fake funeral with an empty coffin in hopes that it would help them both heal. But Oskar is still hurting and lonely to the point he has distanced himself from his mother and even hurts himself physically. He still has the answering machine of the last six messages his father left before he was killed and replays all but the sixth and last one often, something he has hidden from his mother and replaced with a new answering machine on ‘the worst day’. The only person he talks to regularly is his grandmother who lives in an apartment next door..He feels that the missing ‘puzzle piece’ from the last scavenger hunt he had with his father could keep him from losing the spirit of his father altogether. The quest is to find out what to search for and find it.
 
One year later while Oskar goes through his father’s clothes and olf belongings, he accidentally breaks a vase. In it is a key inside a small envelope with the name black. Oskar believes this key may be the clue to the last scavenger hunt. He looks in the phone book for all the people in New York named Black: over 400 in total. He vows to search every Saturday for the person with the last name Black who knew his father and refuses to quit until its done. He won’t take any public transit, has a camera to keep a scrapbook of all the Blacks he sees, and he walks shaking his tambourine to keep his sanity while dealing with the world.
 
The first Black he sees is Abby Black, a woman just recently divorced form her husband. She says he doesn’t know his father. He visits other people named Black who don’t know his father but reach out to him: one hugs, one offers her prayer group to pray over him, another is a cross dresser, another gives him a ride upon her horse. One day, Oskar goes to visit his grandmother but meets the man his grandmother refers to as ‘the renter’.’The renter’ doesn’t talk because of witnessing a bombing during his childhood. The two become friends in the search and he learns from the man when to intervene and how to face his fears. Oskar stars to sens that the man is in fact his grandfather. Oskar even plays the messages from ‘the worst day’ for the stranger but he cannot bear to hear and demands it to stop before hearing the sixth and last message. The renter than moves out and begs Oskar not to search anymore.
 
When all seemed lost, Oskar notes a phone number on the newspaper clipping his father left a hint. It returns him to Abby Black. It turns out her ex-husband, whom she was divorcing the first time she met Oskar, may know about the key. He does meet with Mr. Black and learns about the key only to learn it’s not for Oskar at all. Disappointed and disheartened, Oskar destroys everything from his search until he learns that his mother was secretly helping him all along and even contacted all the Blacks even before Oskar had visited. Oskar compiles a scrapbook of his search and is able to find the last link of the scavenger hunt in the most overlooked of places. His fears had been conquered.
 
One strength of the movie is that it uses a creative puzzle and the Oskar’s intellectual way of thinking to help Oskar through the healing process and conquering the simplest of his fears. The scavenger hunt becomes like the journey to healing and along the way the healing comes in the moment he least expects it. The scavenger hunt is also that connection where Oskar searches for that connection that keeps him from being completely lost form his father. He finds it and learns that his bond with his father is still alive and something that ‘the worst day’ can never take away. Another thing Oskar receives is the love and care from people he never met before. It was all the people with the surname Black he encountered that shares some amount of care for him from the start of his journey to the end. It was also where his relationship with his mother heals. It was her own help with Oskar’s mission that showed the bond between the two never died. It also helped her heal too.
 
One glitch with the movie is that it doesn’t make the best of efforts of being watchable. Yes, the movie has the theme of healing but many times it focuses on the pain Oskar and his mother are going through. Especially the scenes where Oskar is shown with self-inflicted scabs. There were many times I was sitting there feeling that there would be many movie audients turned off this movie. People who have lost loved ones in 9/11 may themselves find the movie uncomfortable to watch too. Another glitch is that many feel this is a flawed look at autism. There’s no mention of autism in the movie but it has been sensed by many critics.
 
Tom Hanks did a good job of character acting as Thomas Schell, the intellectual father who always taught in character. Sandra Bullock was also very good as the grieving wife and mother. Max von Sydow was the biggest standout amongst the supporting actors playing the mute renter. Interesting how silence can make a role more that dialogue in a lot of cases. Without a doubt, the movie belonged to young Thomas Horn. This is his first ever acting role and he shines as the boy who’s both brilliant, puzzled, grieving, driven and eccentric. He doesn’t play a sugar-coated child character but one who’s very three-dimensional. Stephen Daldry is one lucky director. Ever since his first feature Billy Elliot, each of his four feature films have earned him either a Best Director Oscar nomination and/or receive Best Picture nomination. This is his fourth feature but the first one where he wasn’t nominated for Best Director. Nevertheless he does another excellent job in directing. Eric Roth does and excellent, if not glitchy, scriptwriting effort that makes this story as much our puzzle as it is Oskar’s puzzle. The score from Alexandre Desplat also fit the movie well.
 
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close is a good adaptation of a 9/11 novel but it’s not the best at being a watchable 9/11 movie which has always been a difficult task. The effort to create a mostly watchable 9/11 movie continues.
 
And there you have it. I have now finished reviewing all the Best Picture nominees of 2011. My Oscar predictions are coming Friday.