Trainwreck

July 17, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson
Directed by: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”)
Written by: Amy Schumer (debut)

After years of gaining respect in the stand-up comedy world, the recent seven Emmy nominations for her TV show “Inside Amy Schumer” solidified the titular comedian as a super successful TV star. In fact, there may not be a hotter name in the world of comedy right now. In a landscape where it almost isn’t enough for a comedian to just do stand up, Schumer looks to expand her career, which is already red-hot and become the latest to cross over from the stage to bonafide movie star in the Judd Apatow directed “Trainwreck.”

On an assignment to write a story about a surgeon who works with athletes, magazine writer Amy (Schumer), visits Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). Despite good chemistry, Amy is too driven by her no commitment lifestyle and is reluctant to get involved on a deeper level. But slowly and surely, she starts to fall for Conners and wonder if, despite what her father ingrained in her as a child, that monogamy really is realistic.

The smartest thing that Schumer and Apatow did in making “Trainwreck” was surrounding Schumer with a really talented comedic cast. Actors like Colin Quinn, John Cena, a totally incognito Tilda Swinton and a surprisingly game LeBron James pop in and out, consistently stealing scenes. In fact, a good chunk of the funniest moments of the film come from people who aren’t Schumer or Hader. As for Schumer herself, everyone knows her comedic skills, but she proves to be an impressive actress with dramatic chops when the film calls for it.

Script and story-wise, a lot of “Trainwreck” feels like well-treaded ground. Commitment issues and arrested development are the main themes, something that Apatow is familiar with, yet him and Schumer don’t do anything particularly new or interesting with it. On the other hand, the romantic storyline with Schumer and Hader does work, and leads to some pretty sweet moments throughout the film, mostly from Hader who proves himself to be an apt romantic lead. The script is also extremely inconsistent in laughs. Jokes only hit half of the time, and when they do, they are more of the amusing type than the belly laugh.

Unfortunately in “Trainwreck,” Apatow brought his worst tendencies and most frequent knock on him as a director. The comedy is completely bloated. Many times a movie can just “feel” too long, but rarely do you have a case like in “Trainwreck” where you can actually point to obvious scenes that just don’t have a purpose and the film could lose without sacrificing anything. Scenes like a way too long bathroom stall conversation about Johnny Depp with a camera only on the legs of the girls and a completely awful intervention scene with LeBron James, Matthew Broderick, Chris Evert and a woefully out of place Marv Albert are completely superfluous and belong on a deleted scenes reel.

It may seem like there is a lot to dislike about “Trainwreck,” but only because it’s flaws shine more brightly than the good parts of the film. Make no mistake, “Trainwreck” has enough charm and fun performances to scrape by. Scrape being the operative word. With some restraint in the editing bay (I’m talking at least 30 minutes that could go), a tighter, more consistently funny script, Schumer and Apatow could have had a pretty successful comedy. Instead, what we have is a nice, entertaining and ultimately forgettable comedy, which can’t help but feel like a little bit of a letdown given Apatow’s pedigree.

Inside Out

June 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black
Directed by: Pete Docter (“Up”) and Rolando Del Carmen (debut)
Written by: Pete Docter (“Up”), Meg LeFauve (debut) and Josh Cooley (debut)

In its most thematically rich film of the last few years, Pixar Animation Studios returns to form with “Inside Out,” a lively and heartfelt movie that proves the studio probably workshops much bigger ideas than casting Larry the Cable Guy as a rusty old pick up. While “Inside Out” might be a bit too complex narratively for the youngest of moviegoers (“Eternal Sunshine” for kindergarteners, perhaps?), there is still enough silliness mixed with the more serious issues to push this Pixar project ahead of schlock like “Cars” or overrated Oscar winners like “Brave.”

In “Inside Out,” Pixar veteran director/writer Pete Docter (“Up”) and newbie screenwriters Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley dive deep into the thoughts and emotions of a child by bringing each of these emotions to life through a cast of colorful characters. They may not be as memorable as those in the “Toy Story” franchise, but Pixar does a great job in “Inside Out” casting the voices of the five lead roles – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). By anthropomorphizing each emotion, “Inside Out” cleverly attempts to explain just how a child’s mind functions without getting too caught up in the psychological intricacies.

Here, we follow a young girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), who is uprooted by her parents and moved to San Francisco when her father gets new job. Depressed about having to leave all her friends behind, we watch from the inside of Riley’s head as she comes to terms with her new life and how her five main emotions (joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust) control her mood and personality in her new environment. When Joy and Sadness are accidentally lost inside Riley’s subconscious, the two emotions must find their way back to the “Control Room” where they can help Riley manage her feelings. Along the way, they must confront Riley’s memories, some of which are fading as she transforms from little girl to young lady.

Much like “Toy Story” and the idea that all childish things must be put away once we reach a certain age, “Inside Out” captures that same kind of emotion that will give older kids the chance to think about the way they react to certain things in their own lives.  There is a message here about how emotion isn’t monotone that is important for moviegoers of all ages. It’s nice to see Pixar finding that sweet spot between entertainment and inspiration again.

The To-Do List

July 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader
Directed by: Maggie Carey (debut)
Written by: Maggie Carey (debut)

In “The To-Do List,” Brandy (Aubrey Plaza, TV’s “Parks and Recreation,” “Safety Not Guaranteed”) is a high school valedictorian who is sexually repressed. In order to become more experienced for college, Brandy makes a list of sexual acts she must perform before she is finally ready to have sex. As she gets started, she finds herself in over her head as she does her best to keep up with the more sexually-skilled guys and girls around her.

Plaza, who is known for her extremely dry sense of humor, gets the chance to be a little more broad and physical with her comedy in this film. While her performance is good enough and shows her ability to carry a movie (she did it last year in “Safety Not Guaranteed”), it is the supporting cast that provides the most laughs and memorable moments in “The To-Do List.” Actors like Bill Hader, Clark Gregg and Donald Glover in particular make the most of their screen time with solid comedic timing.

First time screenwriter Maggie Carey sets her film in 1993, but sadly brings nothing to the table by doing so. Besides serving as a backbone for a nostalgic soundtrack and offering a few 90s references and some out-of-style hair and clothing choices, it’s a wasted opportunity. Carey’s script is in many ways the most problematic feature of the film. A lot of the laughs come from the sheer shock of hearing a buttoned up goody-goody talk about – and ultimately performing – various sex acts. Carey flexes her sexual vocabulary muscles quite well by using terms that will have audiences jump online to check UrbanDictionary.com. More uninhibited (and freaky-deaky) moviegoers, however, might already know what “bumping donuts” means.

Still, many of the jokes fall flat. For example, when a clueless Plaza is introduced to the term “motorboating,” she states that it should be easy because she knows someone with a boat. Easy and unfunny jokes like that, mixed in with stale gross-out humor, tend to drag the film down. While the film’s glorification of female promiscuity and mixed moral messages may be off putting to some, it’s hard to imagine “The To-Do List” (originally titled “The Hand Job”) not finding fans of the new wave of female-driven raunchy comedy spearheaded by the success of “Bridesmaids.” Unfortunately, despite Carey’s efforts and solid cast, the humor is too inconsistent to truly hit the sweet spot (if you know what we mean).

Paul

March 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen
Directed by: Greg Mottola (“Adventureland”)
Written by: Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead”) and Nick Frost (debut)

In the hands of anyone else but Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and “Paul” might’ve been a disaster on any intergalactic planet. As it is, the alien comedy written by the stars of the incredibly funny zombie rom-com “Shaun of the Dead,” has just enough originality to keep the nerdy movie references and obvious extraterrestrial gags from turning into a shameless sci-fi parody.

In the film, Pegg and Frost play Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings, best buddies on a road trip that starts at Comic Con in San Diego and sends them trekking through the heartland of America in their RV in search of the geekiest landmarks they can find. The boys hit the motherload when they come upon a living, breathing alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), who has escaped a military base after spending the last 30 years kicking back and working as a consultant to help create many of the science fiction classics the world has come to love. Sure, the story is a stretch, but at least a Steven Spielberg voice cameo makes up for some of the narrative’s weaker plot points.

On Paul’s trail is a crack team of the FBI’s finest, led by Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) who is looking to recapture the pot-smoking alien before he finds a way to get back home. Actors Bill Hader and Jo Lo Truglio round out the agents with little panache. Kristen Wiig also can’t seem to find her footing as the religious daughter of a trailer park owner who is forced to go along on the harmless misadventure.

Directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad,” “Adventureland”), raunchy humor takes a backseat to the jokes and scenarios fanboys will be glad to see pop up on screen, including references to “Star Wars,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “E.T.” It’s not nearly close to the laughfest the Pegg/Frost combo has been in the past, but it is passable entertainment for those moviegoers who would throw a fit if someone misidentified Jango Fett for Boba Fett. If that last sentence made any sense, “Paul” will probably play to perfection in your personal geekdom.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

September 18, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bill Hader, Anna Faris and James Caan
Directed by: Phil Lord (debut) and Chris Miller (debut)
Written by: Phil Lord (“Extreme Movie”) and Chris Miller (“Extreme Movie”)

We might not get as hungry as we would if we were watching “Julie & Julia” or any number of culinary shows on the Food Network, but the new film “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” is an amusing romp through the refrigerator that proves Pixar isn’t the only animation studio cooking up winners.

While it’s going to be hard to one-up Pixar’s “Up” as this year’s best animation, “Meatballs” gets as close to doing it than any other computer-generated family film has in the last nine months. Based on the children’s book of the same name by Judi and Ron Barrett, the story follows Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), small-town aspiring inventor whose weird contraptions aren’t what someone would consider ingenious (spray-on shoes sound nifty if there were a way to take them off your feet).

With his father (James Caan) gently encouraging him to give up on his childhood dream and help him work at their family-owed bait and tackle shop instead, Flint’s future as an inventor rides on whether or not he can get his newest gadget – a machine that morphs water into food – to work properly without creating a catastrophe.

But when his experiment is accidentally launched into sky and causes it to start raining cheeseburgers, cherry pie, and a whole bunch of other fatty foods (can’t a guy get some lettuce wraps around here?), the once-economically unfortunate town sees Flint’s mistake as an opportunity to make money on “food tourism.”

However, when the machine goes haywire and stars pouring down food in massive proportions, Flint and his pet monkey (he’s strapped into a translation device like the dogs in “Up” and blurts out random words) must figure a way to stop the “techno food” from falling before the weather gets out of control (spaghetti tornadoes whooshing by in 3-D are such a delight!).

After seeing “Meatballs,” parents may want to keep a closer eye at the dinner table for those children who want to reenact the food showers, but that shouldn’t stop them from spending an afternoon savoring this visually scrumptious CG feature from Sony Pictures Animation. Just remember that saying “clear your plate” might mean something completely different once out of the theater.

Filled with wackiness and witty jokes, “Meatballs” is a riot that doesn’t pander to kids or over-think its humor for adults in the audience. The characters – including Anna Faris as a perky weather girl and Mr. T as a burly lawman – are written with a sharpness that is difficult to capture in a film with essentially two demographics. But where other animations have tilted in favor of one over the other, “Meatballs” serves up a nice balanced meal everyone will enjoy – even if the chicken drumsticks are as big as Mack trucks.

Adventureland

March 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader
Directed by: Greg Mottola (“Superbad”)
Written by: Greg Mottola (“The Daytrippers”)

Thematically speaking, “Adventureland,” the new comedy by “Superbad” director Greg Mottola, is fairly familiar. It’s a coming-of-age story that doesn’t necessarily break new ground but is so conscious of its own sensitive nature, each character the script introduces is like seeing a good friend after a long break.

If you’re looking for another hilariously raunchy night out with the boys like you got with “Superbad,” you’re not going to find it here. In “Adventureland,” there are shades of Mottola’s witty and bawdy sense of humor, but most of it (aside from some of the few repetitious jokes) fades nicely into the entire story.

Set in Pittsburgh in 1987, “Adventureland” follows recent college graduate and self-admitting virgin James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg, AKA Michael Cera-lite, who was great in The Squid and the Whale) as he is forced to get a summer job when his father is demoted from his job. Instead of spending the summer traveling Europe with his friend and discovering himself, James must now save up as much money as possible if he still plans to move to New York and attend Colombia University to major in journalism.

With an undergraduate degree in comparative literature, which he says “doesn’t even qualify him for manual labor,” James settles for a lame position working game booths at the tacky local theme park. There he meets a cast of characters including love interest Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart), a NYU student who hates her stepmother and seems to be just passing the time. Martin Starr (“Freaks and Geeks”) plays nerdy friend Joel, one of the only intelligent beings working at the park, and a miscast Ryan Reynolds is Mike Connell, the grown-up maintenance guy whose claim to fame was jamming out with Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed a few years prior.

Less about the actual theme park and more about relationships and love triangles between new acquaintances, “Adventureland” is different because it spotlights the awkwardness everyone still find themselves battling even when they’re away from the cliché high school backdrop. Director Mottola is working with young adults here, not teenagers, who have come to the realization that life may never get better than what they are currently experiencing. It’s a darkly funny combination of charming romantic comedy plot points, modest 80s references, and an underlying depressing motif that makes the film feel all the more satisfying.