May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers

September 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Directed by: Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio
Starring: Scott Avett, Seth Avett

Early on in “May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers,” mega-producer Rick Rubin discusses how traditionally, when bands are comprised of siblings, they tend to hate each other. Obvious omission of Oasis aside, Rubin’s point remains that the closeness of working together and the struggle for creative control can break bonds as thick as blood. Throughout the film, however, we see what Rubin means firsthand, as the Avett Brothers are clearly the exception to the rule.

Directed by comedy producer/director extrodainnare, Judd Apatow as well as Michael Bonfiglio, “May It Last” chronicles the writing, production and release of the Avett Brothers’ 2016 album True Sadness.

As far as music documentaries go, there isn’t a lot of conflict. Band members aren’t screaming at each other or talking behind each others backs, nobody is getting kicked out, and there’s no debauchery to be found. Instead what we see is a peak behind the curtain of not only the Avett family, but the creation of a new album from the ground up. Some of the best studio footage shows the Avett’s working through new songs, suggesting lyrics to each other and organically creating. It’s a really interesting look at how songs are composed and evolve from an idea, to laying them down on the album, to performing them live.

From the get-go, it is clear that the Avett’s are the type who wear their hearts on their sleeves. For better or worse, what they are feeling is expressed through their music, and the band feeds off of catharsis. It is these moments, where the Avett’s open up, that are what makes the film truly special.

Seth, for example, explores the depths of heartache and despair following his divorce in a traditional sounding and extremely catchy song “Divorce Separation Blues.” The best sequence of the film, however, comes during the recording of the song “No Hard Feelings.” The entire take of the recording unfolds, with pure feeling oozing out of Seth and Scott. When the take ends, Seth in particular is emotionally drained as the brothers are complimented on how great the song is. What follows is a fascinating conversation between Seth, Scott, and the man behind the camera about the uncomfortable conflict with being congratulated for completing a song that was born of suffering. It’s an entirely new perspective on music in general that is worth the price of admission alone.

There are times that “May It Last” feels more like a behind-the-scenes companion piece that may be included with their new album. But as the film evolves, it is clear that audiences are getting a uniquer glimpse into the creative process of two immensely talented artists with a singular vision and a gift for expression. Existing fans of the Avett Brothers may get a bit more out of it, but “May It Last” stands on its own as a successful foray into why music, and especially deeply personal music, is so important.

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

March 19, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

 

Starring: Paul Reubens, Joe Manganiello, Alia Shawkat
Directed by: John Lee (debut)
Written by: Paul Reubens (“Pee-wee’s Big Adventure”) & Paul Rust (debut)

Children’s pop culture is built to be disposable, yet some things endure long past their expiration date, which is why guys like me still wear t-shirts with Optimus Prime on them, mall gift shops sell shot glasses with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles staring back at you, and Netflix has already green-lit a second season of “Fuller House.” The online streaming service picked up another archaeological artifact from the ’80s recently: Paul Reubens’ Pee-wee Herman. And, with the help of celebrated comedy producer and director Judd Apatow, the latest Netflix original film, “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” has finally been released into the world, premiering at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

Apart from all time and space constraints and unrelated to any previous movie or TV show, we once again find eternal man-child Pee-wee Herman living in a whimsical, Rube Goldberg-ian house in a small, Tim Burton-ish town–named Fairville–seemingly frozen in all the best parts of the 1960s. Like clockwork, an elaborate contraption propels Pee-wee out of bed and on his way to work at a local diner, whipping up omelets and French toast for a band of colorful locals. Pee-wee loves his life in Fairville, which he has never left and has no desire to leave. He follows the rules and never takes any chances–until a mysterious stranger (Joe Manganiello) shows up at the diner, inspiring Pee-wee to take his very first holiday.

Unashamedly shaped in the mold of the 1985 modern comedy classic “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” this latest cross-country trek hits quite a few more bumps than Pee-wee’s quest to find his stolen bicycle did. Even though this isn’t a sequel at all, “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” inevitably begs comparison to its obvious inspiration, and often pales in comparison. Similar beats are hit, and some of them strike gold, like Pee-wee’s encounter with a gag salesman (Patrick Egan), while things like Herman’s encounter with a trio of Russ Meyer-esque femme fatales fall flat.

In the end, the nostalgia center of your brain gets fired up enough by Reubens’ performance as Pee-wee Herman to power the film initially, and there are enough absurd laughs along the way to help the movie end its long, long journey as a success. Reubens may need an Oscar-winning makeup artist (Ve Neil) and costly digital de-aging (seriously!) to keep playing Pee-wee now that he’s in his mid-60s, and my guess is that Netflix–itching to become the go-to network for new programming featuring dusted-off relics kids from the ’80s and ’90s will greedily devour–won’t mind footing the bill again.

“Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” is streaming now on Netflix.

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.

This is 40

December 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks
Directed by: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” ‘Funny People”)
Written by: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “Funny People”)

Were you aware that director Judd Apatow’s last film, “Funny People,” has a runtime of 2 hours and 26 minutes? Yes, the crude-yet-thoughtful comedy clocks in at just 20 minutes shorter than the epic fantasy adventure “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” and that disparity drops to 13 minutes if you count the extended edition available on DVD. It’s the most glaring weakness built into the DNA of nearly every project Apatow’s name is attached to: an intelligent script and top-notch comedic performances stretched too thin by pacing that sometimes devolves from storytelling to simply hanging out with the characters. While Apatow has arguably earned such indulgences after re-shaping modern cinematic comedy as a hit-making producer and director, it’s tough to keep the laughs going for that long without testing the patience of the audience.

Though not as egregious an offender, “This is 40” still manages to stick around at least half an hour too long. As a quasi-sequel to 2007’s “Knocked Up,” the film features Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprising their roles as Pete and Debbie, first introduced as the extended family of Seth Rogen’s and Katherine Heigl’s lead characters. The lived-in feel of their relationship fleshed out the edges of that film in ways that often overshadowed the chief plot line. Five years later, Pete and Debbie are front and center and on the cusp of their 40th birthdays. Well Pete is, anyway. Debbie has been weaving an elaborate web of lies about her age culminating in her claim to be turning 38 instead. Pete and Debbie are also dealing with the trials that plague similar couples across the nation: financial problems, unpredictable children, and the boring familiarity that inevitably rears its head in long-term relationships.

“This is 40” has little to speak of in they way of plot, with the only real threads that stretch from beginning to end being the very loose planning and execution of the birthday party and the dire financial struggles of Pete’s boomer-skewing record label. Newly-minted Apatow players Lena Dunham and Chris O’Dowd turn up to deliver laughs as Pete’s co-workers, with O’Dowd rewarded later in the film by sharing an extended (though highly unnecessary) exchange with Apatow all-star Jason Segel. A couple of comedic heavyweights check in along the way: Albert Brooks drops in as Pete’s dad, an old man with a new young family, and Melissa McCarthy stops the show as a mother defending her son with an hilariously insane rant (curiously absent, though, are Rogen and Heigl). Despite all the talent on hand, though, the film belongs to Rudd and Mann. The honesty of their relationship is never in doubt, and the familiarity each have with Apatow’s voice help turn already funny lines into quotable and hilarious one-liners.

Yeah, the film overstays its welcome, but so what? Like the rest of Apatow’s characters, these people are fun to hang around with.

Funny People

July 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann
Directed by: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”)
Written by: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”)

It’s been satisfying to watch the evolution of Adam Sandler over the last 15 years. While he started off as a mostly juvenile comedian whose popular five-year stint on “Saturday Night Live” propelled him into films like “Billy Madison,” “Happy Gilmore,” and “The Waterboy,” Sandler has grown into this oddly mature actor who is slowly learning that there is a lot more he can offer moviegoers than the jibber-jabber most mainstream fans flock to the theaters to see.

In “Funny People,” Sandler take a step forward in his career by taking a step back to recognize the fresh comedy that director Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”) has brought to Hollywood in the last few years. While Sandler’s best years are still ahead of him, it’s a testament to him as an actor to be receptive to the younger generation of talented showmen who are hungry for the same things he was at twenty-something years old.

Sandler continues working on his dramatic acting chops (although he’s already done a noteworthy job so far with films like “Reign Over Me,” “Spanglish,” and especially “Punch-Drunk Love”) by returning to where it all started for him as a performer back in the 80’s: stand-up comedy.

In “Funny People,” Sandler plays George Simmons, a famous comedic actor who has taken full advantage of his wealth and celebrity, but is still searching for that special something (or someone) to make him truly happy. George has to come to terms with the idea that this will never happen when he is diagnosed with a rare terminal disease and given an eight percent chance to live if he begins to take experimental drugs.

Along with fighting his illness, George starts focusing more on his stand-up routine. He immerses himself in the improv club lifestyle where up-and-comers are hoping to be discovered. When he hears a set by aspiring comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), who shares an apartment with a pair of much more successful roommates (Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman), he hires him to write a few jokes for an upcoming corporate gig.

They’re business relationship soon turns more personal when George confides in Ira about his sickness and the regrets he has in life, the most specific being his breakup 11 years ago with Laura (Leslie Mann), the only woman who ever truly loved him.

Just as soon as George begins to accept the fact that his life will soon end, he is hit with an emotional blitz. The experimental drugs have cured him of his disease. “What the fuck do we do now?” George tells Ira as he tries to wrap his head around the miracle he is experiencing.

“Funny People” is a giant leap into something different for Apatow who knows how to combine vulgarities and compassion and have the outcome make sense. Here, he skirts the boundaries of inappropriateness with jokes about male genitalia (Apatow is probably one of the very few writers who can say 100 of these and make them all sound different) but never loses focus of the mature narrative he has crafted.

While the third act doesn’t really match the first part of the film thematically, Apatow attempts to make up for the lack of funny moments and muddled characterizations in the homestretch with an ambitious message about family, which doesn’t come across as totally realistic. Still, the imperfections in parts of the story are shadowed by the wittiness Apatow is known for. “Funny People” may not be his best film of the bunch, but it proves there’s plenty of reason to anticipate his next assertive move in the industry.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan

June 4, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chiriqui
Directed by: Dennis Dugan (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”)
Written by: Adam Sandler (“Little Nicky”), Robert Smigel (TV’s “Saturday Night Live”), Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”)

Adam Sandler is easy to love when he’s doing hilarious things like “The Wedding Singer,” easy to hate when he finds time to star in bombs like “Little Nicky,” and easy to respect when he recognizes once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to star in films like “Punch-Drunk Love.”

Unfortunately, with his most recent comedic attempt “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” Sandler somehow returns back to the types of movies he was making when he first left “Saturday Night Live” to pursue an acting career. Comedies like “Billy Madison” might have been enough for the most loyal of Sandler’s fans, but when one-joke movies turn into feature-length films, the extremely sporadic laughs can be tiresome after a while.

The same happens in “Zohan,” where Sandler plays an Israeli Mossad super agent who fakes his own death so he can move to New York City and pursue his dream to become a hairstylist. As harebrained of an idea as it sounds, “Zohan” could have worked if it wasn’t for the surprisingly lazy writing combination of Sandler, Robert Smigel (TV’s “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”), and Hollywood’s hottest comedy commodity Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”).

Like Sandler has done with his Happy Madison Production Company, Apatow seems to always have his friends in mind when making films under his Apatow Productions umbrella. The difference is, while Apatow has a handful of funny buddies like Michael Cera (“Superbad”), Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), and Paul Rudd (“The 40-Year Old Virgin”), Sandler has to settle for names like Rob Schneider (“The Animal”), David Spade (“Joe Dirt”), and “Zohan” director Dennis Dugan, who has helmed three other Sandler catastrophes prior to this one.

Sandler is a true comedic performer, not a screenwriter. That’s why it seemed so destined when Apatow stepped in to co-write “Zohan.” Somewhere in the writing process among friends, however, the trio felt making a comedy about Middle East culture simply needed a few repetitious jokes about hummus, sex with old ladies, and bare butts. Even the talented John Turturro (“The Big Lebowski”), who plays the Zohan’s arch-nemesis known as the Phantom, is wasted and tawdry.

“Zohan” wouldn’t be so bad if it had reared its ugly head to us 15 years ago when Sandler didn’t know any better. However, his and Apatow’s stock is much higher than this. They might be able to prove it when they reunite in 2009 for another comedy, which is currently an untitled work. The good thing with that one is that Apatow is the sole writer and director and has already begun casting his own regulars including wife Leslie Mann and Seth Rogen. As long as Sandler is able to stay in front of the camera and not sneak his way behind, the project is still something to anticipate.