Trainwreck

“I just got back from vacation in Chicago. Went to spend a couple days with a good friend of mine, mostly as an excuse to not be in Boston and working for a bit. Oh and also timed it around being able to see the Hough sibs in Move Live On Tour…again. The weekend before I went, while planning movies, I specifically saved Trainwreck to see in Chicago. It seemed like just the kind of comedy that would work well for us, especially since we were likely going to a theater that served beer.

This movie ended up being part of my welcoming festivities. Once I got to the city, we grabbed a few pieces of funky pizza (chicken tenders with 3 sauces pizza and chicken and waffles pizza for me) at this really hipster place. Don’t worry, classic deep dish happened the next day. Bellies full and excitement building, we got to the theater for a late show with mega sized beers. It was the absolute perfect start to a wonderful vacation!

I adore Amy Schumer so much. It’s only been recently that she’s been on my radar, but I can’t get enough. She’s funny because she’s unexpected and unrestricted. I really appreciate that she talks (and jokes) about things that no one else touches. She’s not afraid to just put everything out there and laugh about all the silly things that we get hung up on. I was beyond stoked to see her take on a starring role in a film she wrote. What could possibly be better?

It was a pretty strong step into the spotlight. Ms Schumer stars as Amy, a commitment phobic girl who lives like a player, rivaling most frat boys with her conquests and escapades. She meet cutes Aaron (Bill Hader), a genuinely nice guy who is really into her, and she struggles with this new concept while also juggling her career and drama with her family. Yes, it sounds like the stuff of romcoms, and if we’re being totally honest here (Amy would demand nothing less), it was a touch too romcom for me, but I mostly didn’t care. There was still a lot to love and thoroughly apopreciate.

First off, the humor. Yes! I feel like she maybe held back slightly, but the shots she took were biting and clever. Everything about her signature comedic style was on display and it was \m/ wonderful. I also like how she flipped the typical romcom gender roles. Her character embodied everything you typically see from a messed up male lead who we expect will get straightend out when he falls in love with his perfect ingenue. This time, it was Hader’s Aaron who was idealized, but in a very real way. He was just so sweet and genuine, not a male version of the manic pixie dream girl (a trope I tend to have mixed feelings about).

Hader and Schumer played off each other wonderfully. As I was watching, I realized that as much as I was excited to see Schumer’s talent on display, I was also jazzed about seeing Hader stretch his acting legs and playing a leading role that wasn’t showy or exaggerated. It looked good on him, and I hope he does continue to take on these types of films.

So basically, my buddy and I were laughing hystericall for two hours, and the film managed to set the tone for my whole trip. I could not have asked for a better jump start to my vacay.

Trainwreck – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Transamerica

“Delightful was the first word that came to mind when the credits rolled. I’d been wanting to see this for a while, but just never got around to it. Felicity Huffman gives an Oscar nominated and truly insightful performance as Bree, a transgender individual who is just days away from the surgery that will complete her transition to being a woman. Unexpectedly, she finds out about a son she has on the other side of the country. She goes to pick him up and drive him back with her, without disclosing her identity, hoping to set him up with a better life as she’s ready to move on with hers.

Now, when I say it was delightful, don’t misunderstand me. This isn’t your classic comedic road trip with hijinx at every curve. It’s some pretty heavy stuff we’re dealing with, and most of the trip is very difficult for our travelers. But there’s a hopeful and joyous optimism to all of it. You care about what happens to these characters and you believe so much that they deserve to be happy.

And Huffman’s performance is one of the best I’ve ever seen. She would eventually lose the Oscar win to Reese Witherspoon, but I blame the higher profile of Walk the Line to Transamerica. I don’t think this was very widely seen, so the nomination was sufficient. This was also nearly ten years ago, where this sort of subject matter wasn’t dealt with too often. If today it would be considered timely and on point, ten years ago it would be considered very progressive and ahead of its time. Bear in mind, this is the same year that Brokeback Mountain lost best picture to Crash. Don’t even get me started on that rant, but it should give you an idea of where Hollywood’s mindset was at the time. Open to exploring certain subject matter, but not ready to fully embrace it.

Now that we’re where we are and that transgender issues are becoming more prominent, I highly recommend this film. The story may be fictional, but I’m sure it echoes many real ones.”

Wendy and Lucy

“This movie was getting quite a bit of awards buzz for Michelle Williams when it was released. I was always hesitant to watch it though. It seemed like it would be slow and depressing. When Oscar nominees were announced and her name wasn’t on the list, I mostly forgot about it. Occassionally, I’d hear mention of the film and praise for our leading lady, but never got around to seeing it. When I saw it on the indie shelf at the video store after the prices had gone down, I snatched it up. As with some of the other selections I’ve been blogging, this was one that the video store guy called out while ringing me up. He asked me if I’d seen it, and I gave a shorter version of what I said earlier in this paragraph. He assured me it was really good.

Turns out, my initial instinct was correct. It was depressing and slow. Doesn’t mean it was bad or that I didn’t like it (at least not entirely). Williams has packed up what little she had in her life into her car and is on the way to Alaska for a fresh start. Somewhere in Oregon, things start to go wrong. Her car breaks down, she loses her beloved dog, she’s running out of money, and pretty much everything else you could imagine. Not exactly an uplifting film.

Williams does give a very good and very real performance. It doesn’t take long to start to care for her character. I’d say that I wish there were more that happened, but that would destroy the realism.”

Infinitely Polar Bear

“Did some rearranging and prioritizing of my movie schedule this weekend so I could get this indie in. Basically I just decided to hold off on Trainwreck until I’m in Chicago next weekend, so I can go with my buddy. But yeah, this one really held my attention, without even having seen a trailer for it.

Mark Ruffalo stars as a father of two girls who has been battling mental illness. Soon after he’s recovered from a breakdown, his wife (played by Zoe Saldana) decides to go to business school, leaving him to raise the girls by himself. We follow the family thru the ups and downs of that arrangement. Bonus points for the Boston area setting.

Ruffalo was incredible. This is easily some of his best work, and it’s a shame that this is likely to remain underseen. And those girls, newcomers Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide, were fantastic. They weren’t just there to be cute or to be glorified set pieces. They had personality and attitude and were able to not only hold their own against but at times overpower veteran actor Ruffalo.

This film just felt very real to me. It’s not really a subject matter I have much experience with, but I feel like someone who had lived thru their own similar battles would have appreciated this film. I certainly feel like I learned a lot, and gained some insight into otherwise foreign territory, while at the same time simply enjoying the film experience. So if you need a break from the big budget summer movies, know that this is there as an option.

Infinitely Polar Bear – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Ant-Man

“Oh hey look, it’s another Marvel movie. We must be about two months out from the last one. Oh, we are.

I actually had some pretty high hopes for this one. A lot of the MCU (Marvel Comics Universe, which you prolly knew) movies have gotten a bit stale and formulaic. But then last summer, when we were starting to fade into superhero fatigue, Guardians of the Galaxy came out and shook things up a bit. I was getting some of the same vibes from Ant Man in that he’s a more obscure hero with a non often seen ability, and he’s got some attitude to back it up. I knew if nothing else, this would at least feel different, if only for Paul Rudd’s sense of humor.

And it did feel different, in a positive way, proving that there are still interesting tales to astonish left to tell in the MCU. Okay, sure, it did succumb a little bit to the Macguffin plot structure that all these films feed off of, but everything surrounding that felt fresh. I’m sort of over origin stories in general (especially after, on the DC side, spending 10 years in Smallville learning Clark’s backstory only to have a movie reestablishing it yet again). So then how do you introduce a character that only the most hardcoe of fanboys knows? You make it the origin story of the successor to the throne, or ant hill.

Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym is the original Ant Man, who created the suit and the technology. (Sidebar: One thing I love about this branch of Marvel is how many of our supes are science nerds) He’s passing all that on to Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang. So we learn about the abilities and such along with our newbie Ant Man, but we can fastfoward all the research and development. Douglas complained on a talk show last week that he’d have all these long expositional monologues that Rudd would follow up with a quip, stealing all the thunder. Yeah that’s pretty much what happened, and it worked very well.

Okay so let’s talk about that cast, yeah? First off, I love Paul Rudd, ever since Clueless. He comes off as the nicest guy in the world (on screen and in person) but he’s also got this biting sense of humor. He’s one of those actors who you know exactly what to expect from them, but instead of a boring predictability it’s a comforting one because you know you’re going to love what you get. Did that sentence make any sense? Anyways, moving on to Michael Douglas. One thing I do love about the point we are at in this super saturation is that we’re getting a lot of A list interest. Specifically these older veteran phenomenal actors who want to join the MCU for their kids. We saw it last year with Robert Redford in Winter Soldier, and these guys are not the only examples. I absolutely think that Ant Man benefited greatly from having an actor of Douglas’ caliber. And being familiar with more of his heavy and dramatic work, it was nice to see him let loose a bit.

And it wasn’t just our main guys who were awesome. I’m becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Corey Stoll every time I see him. I personally think he was the best part of House of Cards (at least his character was most interesting) which is a big part of why I never got around to watching past the first season. Maybe he doesn’t shine as much here up against Rudd and Douglas, but he still brings some street cred to the role. Although I think my favorite cast member was Michael Peña. If you’re not sure who he is, pretty much any big movie you’ve seen, if there was a smooth talking Hispanic guy that you thought you might recognize, that was probably him. (I highly recommend checking him out in End of Watch if you wanna see him in a more substantial and serious role). Anyways, here he stole pretty much every scene he was in, mostly because he had more charm than smarts, which came off very endearing. One last mention to round out the cast, points for Bobby Cannavale. It’s been awesome how much he’s been unexpectedly popping up in movies lately.

Another strength that Ant Man had was the ability to play with sizes, creating some really great looking effects and some really hysterical sight gags. That too is something else that helps this stand out a bit from the rest of the MCU.

I had other notes written down for talking points, things about all the father/daughter relationships in the film and how there was a father/daughter duo sitting next to me, and things about the whole Edgar Wright drama, and some others that I typed out on a file and then forgot to save. But I think I’ve said enough. We’ve already gone longer than most of my posts go, so let’s just leave it at that. Oh PSA: there is a mid credit and an end credit scene, both of which set up some future stuff, so be sure to stick around if you’re curious to find out what direction the MCU is heading in next.

Ant Man – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Red Riding, 1983

“And now, we conclude our short journey into murderous Yorkshire with the final Red Riding film. We’re tying everything back to the original. Another little girl has gone missing in much the same manner as nine years before. This time, it’s a police officer investigating, as he retraces some of the steps from the 1974 reporter.

A few more obvious visitors from previous films, including the prolific Sean Bean. Some retraced steps and some new discoveries. I can’t help but wonder if this one tied back so well to the first, why the deviation in the middle film? And what was in the skipped book? Did that relate more to the second movie?

The other notable cast member would be Mark Addy. Still not as strong for me as Andrew Garfield in the first. Yeah we really did peak with that first film, huh? No point trying to rack my brain trying to come up with more to say. I’ve still got two giant paper bags full of new (to me) DVDs to watch”

Red Riding, 1980

“Okay forcing myself to write one post a day, which post every other day in the hopes that I’ll be covered thru my two upcoming vacations. I’m writing this on a Wed about a movie I saw last Sat that will post next Sat. Not that any of that matters.

Anyways, continuing on in the Red Riding trilogy, we fast forward to 1980. There’s a book in between this and the one before that didn’t get adapted. But that’s all I know about it, so I don’t know how it affects things. Sadly, out of the three movies, I think this is the one that held my attention least.

As far as I can tell, it was a bit more stand alone than the other two. The first dealt with finding a missing girl. The third (which we’ll get to) deals with more missing girls. Here, we’re chasing a serial killer, going after young women (as opposed to young girls). And this time, instead of following a journalist, we’re following a police investigator.

I’d mentioned with the first movie that the biggest strength for me as Andrew Garfield, since he was able to anchor the film and keep my focus. The closest actor to an anchor for me here was Paddy Considine (whose name I just learned). He was our lead investigator, and I recognize him from last year’s Pride (which is a phenomenal movie, and I recommend that you see it). But instead of seeing him and thinking “”ooh what’s he gonna do next”” (as was mostly the case with Garfield), I’d see him and think “”aww, Pride, I love that movie””.

Besides a couple of flashbacks, I only recognized one or two characters. Apparently there were more that appeared cross movies, but I suppose I’d need to have been paying full attention to both to catch them.

Oh I should also point out that all three had different directors. This one didn’t scream out True Detective as much as the first did (again, these came first, so if anything, technically True Detective screams out Red Riding), but it otherwise had a pretty similar dark and grusome vibe. Although, for my tastes, it could have gone a little further in that direction”

Red Riding, 1974

“Our next couple entries are more from the movie store fire sale, but they weren’t among the ones commented on by the video store guy (more of those will come later). Instead, I turned this past weekend into a triple feature of trilogy I was happy to find in its entirety. That would be the Red Riding trilogy. It’s a series of 3 movies (based on 3 of 4 books in a series) that were done as a British mini series, but also had concurrent limited releases here in the US. I thought they sounded pretty cool. It’s 3 movies set in 3 different years in the same area of England. For the most part, the stories can stand alone from each other, but there are some recurring characters and references back and forth. Nothing major that you’d likely miss if you just saw one.

I think this first installment was the best of the three. The biggest reason being that it was the one that held my attention the best. I was good about not really multitasking while I watched (other than my physical therapy exercises and some sewing, neither of which use any brain power), but I had trouble sticking with a lot of the films in general. I’ll admit that one of the main reasons I was able to stay present for this one best is that the cast was led by Andrew Garfield. It’s not difficult to stay interested in him when he’s on screen. Rebecca Hall was also a welcome addition (even if her blonde hair threw me off).

The main take away I got was how much this felt like True Blood (season 1, as I haven’t seen season 2 yet). Swap out the whole antler thing for swan wings, and the vibes pretty much line up. Seeing as how this was first, I can’t help but think that maybe this was an influence there. It’s a similar dark and dreary drawn out murder mystery. Even the screen colorization matches up.

Andrew Garfield is a journalist who is trying to find out what happened to a little girl who disappeared. He runs across quite the cadre of shady folk along the way as he goes deeper down the rabbit hole. Pretty standard stuff. There were attempts to up the ante with some gruesome visuals, but nothing too revelatory. I think this one’s story was the most straightfoward, which also helped strengthen it. Maybe not worth the hype I’d built up for it going in, but not bad either.”

Self/Less

“There were some warning bells going off in my head about this one. The premise really got me, and it looked like it could be the type of psychological thriller that I love, but something didn’t feel right. From the trailer and the lack of buzz, I was just left wanting, instead of getting the dark and subversive vibe I was hoping for. I prayed I was wrong, but knew if nothing else, I could at least enjoy Ryan Reynolds on screen.

Ben Kingsley is this rich old guy (Damien) who isn’t long for this world. He makes arrangements with a shady (but shiny) secret company (run by Matthew Goode) that for an obscene amount of money will transfer his consciousness into Ryan Reynolds’ body. Soon after the transfer or “”shedding”” happens, Damien starts getting flashes of memories that aren’t his. Turns out, the body wasn’t tissue grown in a lab as he was originally told, but it had a previous original owner. Bad things happen.

The premise was intriguing, and the aforementioned cast members (plus Natalie Martinez, huzzah for a Hispanic woman!) were fantastic. The rest of the movie, not so much. Things felt a little forced as they tried to work a suspenseful plot around those events, with Damien trying to find out what really happened to him and go after the company who was responsible. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably feeling bored or incredulous right now, and you’d be right.

Usually, I’m a total sucker for the freaky Friday body switch type of story. Somehow my brain really does believe it and perceives that the performance is coming from the actor inhabiting the body instead of the actor whose body it is. Except this time, instead of being able to believe that it was actually Ben Kingsley acting instead of Ryan Reynolds, I could only make the leap as far as someone else who wasn’t Reynolds was in charge. I think that’s likely more the writing than the acting, since I was able to believe Reynolds when he switched with Jason Bateman in The Change Up a few years ago. Um, yeah, let’s not talk about that movie.

I knew curiosity would get the best of me and send me to this film. Don’t make the same mistake. If you really wanna see this, wait until the DVD is in a bargain bin or on Netflix. And just wait until the next movie that Kingsley or Reynolds or Goode do. I’m sure they’ll come out unscathed and this will quickly be wiped from memory.

Self/less – \m/ \m/”

Minions

“Did you ever get something you specifically asked for, thinking it’d be the greatest thing ever, and then when you actually get exactly what you want, it’s not as great as you imaged and you realize you maybe shoulda never asked for it to begin with? That’s kinda how I felt about Minions.

My response to both Despicable Me movies was an enthusiastic eh. I loved the minions, and the little girls are adorable, but the A plots around Gru always left me yawning. I couldn’t bring myself to care enough about him, and was always waiting for the minions to come back and steal the show. I wished that there’d be a movie of just them. And now there is. And my response is a somewhat more enthusiastic eh.

There were a couple of flaws in the concept that had people questioning whether this would work from the beginning. Sure, the kids were gonna show up in droves, with their minion merch on, but would they really be as epic as we hoped? The first trouble spot that most brought up was the language barrier, the fact that the minions just speak gibberish. I actually was kind of intrigued as to how they’d handle that, and that was were part of my interest came from. The answer, it seems, is heavy narration and plenty of non-minion characters. That was a reasonable enough solution.

My problem though came from the fact that when you have that much minion speak, it makes it easier to pick out what they’re saying. Turns out, it’s not entirely gibberish. There’s a few English words (besides banana), and I definitely caught a bunch of appropriately used Spanish. “”Que paso”” in asking what happened, “”otro?”” when trying to find another volunteer, “”gracias”” in thanks. I only know a few words here and there in other languages, but I’m pretty sure I picked out some French, and IMDB tells me that they say thank you in several different ones. Why was that a problem for me? While I can appreciate the “”minions of the world”” concept, it made my brain focus too much on what they were saying. Instead of just dismissing it as gibberish and going on with things, I was actively listening for words I’d understand. Not an issue the kids in the audience were likely to have, but it was distracting for me.

Speaking of the partial language thing, can I just say how much the banana obsession annoys me? It started with the teaser trailer for Despicable Me 2, where they sang “”Barbara Ann”” in gibberish. Even though they are essentially saying “”Banana””, I always thought that their gibberish just happened to sound like a real word. And then it just became this big thing about how they really like bananas, which I don’t think was a thing in either Despicable movie, so it just bugs me that there’s this whole big deal made out of an incorrect assumption. Sorry, my OCD is showing.

The other concern going in was how these little creatures that are great at stealing small scenes would carry a whole movie. The solution there was to feature 3 minions carrying the bulk of the story, with occassional cuts to what the others were doing. In other words, replace Gru with newbie baddie Scarlett Overkill (voiced by a fabulous Sandra Bullock in what is apparently her first villain), and then the three girls with three minions (who I’m told were specifically based on the girls). So now, instead of being halfway bored into the three girls waiting to see minions, I got that feeling with the trio vs the whole group. Everytime we went back to the group, it was hilarious. The trio, hit or miss.

I know I’m being a total negative nancy here, and I don’t really mean to be. There were plenty of laugh out loud moments, and cuteness abounded as always. It’s just that I’m not so sure that this really worked as well as an independent vehicle as I would have thought. Ironically, it was a lot of the throwback moments to the originals that I enjoyed best. The ending was pretty right on, and made me very happy. Bullock was also a win, completely relishing the role in a film I’m sure she’s excited to share with her son. Still, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I’d prefer we go back to the old way of doing things next time. That way, the minions remain a special treat and don’t get old from being overdone.

Minions – \m/ \m/ \m/”