Thursday, July 23, 2015

Movie: Trainwreck

Trainwreck:  Amy Schumer’s lifestyle comedy.  A very clever opening scene lays the foundation for the film’s storyline, which begins with two pre-teenage girls being told by their father (Colin Quinn) why he and their mother are separating.  The issue is marital fidelity and the explanation given for the lack thereof is worth the movie admission price.   Amy takes her father’s sermon to heart and is living her life accordingly.  Her sister, Kim (Brie Larson), is living a happily married life.  The interplay between the sisters is weak.  Amy works as a writer at a magazine that is an over the top male version of Cosmopolitan named S’Nuff, specializing in comical sex story headlines.  I did not like the magazine editor character played by Tilda Swinton.  Amy is assigned to write a story involving a celebrity sports surgeon named Aaron.  If you liked Bill Hader on “Saturday Night”, you will be good with his performance in Trainwreck.  Aaron’s clients include LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire.  The film’s energy level increased with every appearance by James - this man could have a second career.  Having James show concern about his money was a nice touch.  The interaction between Aaron and James was solid and, personally, I would have been happy with more scenes involving these two.  The short scene that included sports broadcaster Herb Albert was funny.   Both Schumer and Hader know how to deliver their comedic lines, and there are quite a few.  Unfortunately, I never felt any real chemistry between the would be lovers, Amy and Aaron.  This 124 minute film is definitely funny.  Amy Schumer’s script provides many laugh lines.  It is long on sex jokes, which is no surprise if you have seen any of Amy’s work.  A real weak spot were the handful of race jokes that sounded like 70’s comedy; Amy should stick with her sex jokes.  The movie was directed by Judd Apatow, who may be the best current director of comedic films.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Movie: Amy

Amy:  an excellent documentary on the short life of Amy Winehouse.  Tony Bennett ranks Amy’s abilities as a jazz singer with those of Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holliday.  I knew from her two albums, particularly the Grammy award winning “Black to Black”, that Amy’s voice was unique.  I also knew she drank and drugged herself to an early death at 27, a 21st century rendering of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.  What I didn’t know was how thoroughly her lyrics in songs such as “Rehab” were autobiographical.  Director Asif Kapadia shows the autobiographical alignment by way of film clips of her self-destruction interspersed among performance sequences as the lyrics appear on the screen.  The film follows Amy’s life from her singing “Happy Birthday” at age 14 to her death in 2011.  The callous destructiveness of the paparazzi is fully exposed.  Kapadia explores Amy’s relationship with her father and lays her ultimate downfall in his lap.  As it turns out, that portion of the “Rehab” lyrics about her father telling her she didn’t need to go into rehab was true.  Whether Amy’s not having entered rehab following her first album and prior to mega stardom was the critical factor in her early death - a serious charge that cannot at this point be proved - I have my doubts.  I think a Whitney Houston analogy would have been the probable outcome had she received treatment early on - live longer but still die from drugs.  Ultimately, Amy will be remembered for her astonishing musical contributions.  The 128 minute film explores why hers was destined to be a short but spectacular life.  One of the few touching moments are her recording scenes with Tony Bennett towards the end of the film.  The sadness that her life had become is a focus of the scenes from her final mega concert in Serbia.  Kapadia and editor Chris King present both the glory and the misery of stardom, and what can happen when one makes poor choices in selecting friends.  At the end, you’re left with the thought that perhaps, if Amy had remained connected to her two 14 year old “Happy Birthday” friends, she might still be with us. 


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

MOVIE: I'll See You in My Dreams

I’ll See You in My Dreams: an adult film about the importance of having a dog in your life.  Blythe Danner plays the lead character, Carol, who has been a widow for 20 years.  In the opening scenes, Carol’s dog of 14 years has to be put to sleep.  Shortly afterwards, she has her first date since her husband’s passing.  We learn more and more about Carol as the story unfolds.  Prior to getting married, she’d been a performer with a band in NYC.  After her marriage, her life was focused on being a spouse and a teacher.  Part of what we learn of Carol is through a relationship she develops with her pool cleaner, Lloyd, played by Martin Starr, who gives an excellent performance as a young male adrift seeking some intelligent conversation.  On screen for far too short a time is Carol’s daughter, Katherine (Malin Akerman).  Carol spends a lot of time with three female friends who reside at a senior assisted living facility.  They play bridge and sip chardonnay.  Carol is not an alcoholic and this film is not a story about drinking buddies.  She does, however, have a remarkable capacity for alcohol.  The three friends are played by Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place and June Squibb.  The four ladies play off each other with humor and intelligence.  All appear to be in good health and, it’s implied, their financial comfort stems from having significant life insurance proceeds.  In Carol’s case, insurance money as the funding source is expressly stated.   As to what gives this film its true charm is the interaction between Carol and Bill, played excellently by Sam Elliot.  Bill is a retiree with no family, who has moved from Texas to Southern California with the singular task of enjoying life and spending his retirement money.  The adult exchanges between Carol and Bill are too rarely seen in today’s film offerings.  Brett Haley co-wrote and directed this excellent 95 minute film.  Although the movie gets a bit wordy at times, it addresses an important question: what do you do with your life after you retire?  This is a movie worth seeing. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Movie: Inside Out

Inside Out:  another astonishingly complex, enjoyable hit from Pixar.  The basic story line is simple: Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), an 11 year old girl, has to move with her parents from Minnesota, where she has enjoyed her life and her friends and ice hockey, to San Francisco, which causes much stress.  The complexity of this animated film and the reason it works for both adults and children lies in its visual explanations about what is happening in Riley’s brain.  The emotions that are given physicality are fear, anger, disgust, sadness and joy, and each emotion has a different body and voice.  The good news is that Joy is the controlling emotion, however, when Joy (Amy Poehler) is not in control of the thought process, bad things start to happen.  Anger provides many of the laugh lines for adults.  Lewis Black, one of my favorite comedians, is the perfect voice for Anger.  Another key emotion is Sadness and Phyllis Smith’s monotone fits perfectly.  Fear is voiced by Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling is Disgust.  All are superb.  A principal underlying theme is that as we grow up, our memories fade.  Some memories are core to who we are while others are easy to discard.  Certain of the memories are also given physical shape and a voice.  These seemingly “simple” ideas are the key to the movie and work to keep adults involved in the film.  When Riley gets sad, she starts losing memories.  Although Joy tries to retain the memories, the process becomes complex and Riley’s sad memories continue to multiply.  The San Francisco ice hockey scenes are both touching and illuminating.  Pete Docter wrote and directed this 102 minute delight.  The film deals with very abstract concepts, but by giving physicality and dialogue to the emotions, the result is a marvelous movie experience.  A nice added touch is showing that the emotional chaos  happening in a child’s brain also occurs in adults.  Wall-E had been my Pixar favorite but I now have a new favorite.  Inside Out is truly a movie for all ages.