November 30, 2015

Trainwreck (2015)

Amy Schumer, Bill Hader

Remember when Margaret Cho was really popular, then she got her own TV show and it wasn't funny? This is kinda like that...

I really like Amy Schumer. I didn't watch her season of Last Comic Standing, but I've seen her HBO special and some of her skits from Inside Amy Schumer and think she's pretty funny. I love her take on feminism, dating, and her wry humor, though it may be a bit crass for me at times. (Note to Amy: even women don't like to listen to the word "vagina" that much.)

But this movie wasn't funny. I shouldn't be surprised. The combination of Judd Apatow at the helm and the studio likely steering Schumer's humor more mainstream resulted in cliched, boring jokes about sleeping around and bodily functions. I mean seriously, why is it ever necessary to see someone on a toilet? 

That being said, it wasn't terrible either. Sure, Schumer's character follows the typical "career-driven woman" story arc of being selfish and mean, but she also manages to show a glimmer of depth in the relationship with her dad. And of course, in her aspirations as a journalist. Sigh. Do women in movies ever work in regular office jobs? (Literally the only one I can think of off the top of my head is Sanaa Lathan as a CPA in Something New.)

I suppose I should commend Schumer on at least breaking Apatow's trend of good looking, uptight women with unattractive, slacker guys that have no business dating women do far out of their league. Yes, Schumer is unequivocally better looking than Bill Hader, but considering he's a doctor and seemingly pretty normal, it appears he's the catch in the relationship. I wish his character had a bit more dimension, but I guess they substituted all those scenes to accommodate appearances from LeBron instead. *eyeroll*

There were funny moments in the movie. John Cena in particular was surprisingly good and made me almost forget how much I hate that anyone let him into acting. And Tilda Swinton was the best unrecognized cameo in a movie since Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder. But the realistic moments of relationships stole the show, making the movie far more serious than I ever would have imagined. Humor is rooted in realism--I just wish it had been funnier.

Final word: I'm still not sure what to make of it.

November 20, 2015

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Ben Stiller, Kristin Wiig

This movie is kind of awesome. Not just because it's the only movie outside of a Bond franchise to even bother to make interesting opening credits. Not just because the cinematography is enough to make anyone quit job and travel the world.

This movie is kind of awesome because it is so different. Remember when Will Ferrell did Stranger Than Fiction? It was a quirky, off-beat movie that was so far from the types of comedies he was known for and everyone was too weirded out to watch it? Well, this movie is what that movie should have been. It has the same odd vibe with pockets of unexpected humor, except that the pairing of Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig in this movie are much more pleasing than Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

I think the reason this movie flew so under the radar is because no one knew what to expect from it. I remember when it came out, yet never felt compelled to see it because all I knew was that it wasn't a straight comedy that starred Ben Stiller. (Though don't get me wrong--I'd probably feel less compelled to watch if it had been.) In fact, I might have missed this movie all together if I hadn't been stuck on a plane that offered free movies in place of customer service or decent food.

But no one should miss this movie, least of all those people who list "travel" as an interest on their resume (because there are people who don't like to travel?). This movie toes a tricky line between reminding us of the depressing grind of daily obligations and restoring a sense of wonder and excitement about the world around us. And it does it with Ben Stiller.

Final word: Good enough to re-think your stance on Ben Stiller movies.

November 13, 2015

San Andreas (2015)

Dwayne Johnson, Paul Giamatti

Everyone likes the Rock. It's just a fact. It is impossible not to like him. Which really explains his continued success in the acting world, despite an actual ability to act.

This is not to say he's painful to watch. We're not talking about John Cena, after all. It's just that Johnson manages to act like, well, himself, in every movie. So viewers enjoy his movies just enough for him to stay employed. I'm guessing this is how Diane Keaton keeps getting roles, since the only thing she seems to do in movies these days is flail her arms wildly and act like an uptight nag.

This movie fits precisely in his wheelhouse. It's a lot of action, a paper thin plot, and people who are just attractive enough to help you gloss over the ridiculousness of the plot, but not so attractive that you don't take them seriously (you know how Hollywood does things). Oh, and Paul Giamatti thrown in there for good measure.

On one hand, this movie was great for showing strong, capable women lead in times of crisis. Both the mother and the daughter were not the usual meek woman, waiting to be saved, but proactive participants in their own fate. On the other hand, it showed people looting and gun violence in Bakersfield and well, Bakersfield just doesn't need that kind of piling on. People already don't want to go there.

In the end, this movie is almost exactly what you'd expect, right down to the ending. But hey, the only reason you're watching it is because The Rock anyway, right?

Final word: At least it'll make you go out and buy an earthquake kit.

November 4, 2015

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante [book]

This book had so much hype I should have known it was going to be split into four parts. Books are the new movies, apparently--they're not really successful until they spawn their own franchise.

Everything I heard about the book before reading it talked about this "amazing friendship" between the two main characters, girls who grow up together in a poor neighborhood in Naples, Italy. I went in expecting a girly lovefest. Instead, I got Mean Girls, but not funny.

These girls are not friends. At least, not in any way I would consider a friendship. Luckily, it's 2015 and we now have a word to describe such a relationship: frenemies. The main girl, Elena (aka Lenuccia, aka Lenu) is a whiny, self-esteem-deprived girl who can't see anything beyond wanting to be as cool as her "best friend" Rafaella (aka Lina, aka Lila because everyone in this f*cking needs a nickname or two, apparently). Lenu does nothing but compare herself to Lila and surprise! always finds herself coming up short. Wah wah.

Lila, on the other hand, is a snobby, self-absorbed, bitch. Even at the beginning of the book, in which the girls are 6 years old. Especially when she's 6. Granted, the book is written in the first person view of Lenu, so it's hard to say exactly what Lila's motives are, but her actions portray her to be the kind of person really no one would want to be friends with. So the book is sort of baffling that way.

The entire childhood of Lenu and Lila is quite the task to get through. Between their not-really-friendship and a list of characters befitting a Shakespeare play, I'm not sure I would have persevered through the first third of this book if I didn't feel so embarrassed about showing up to book club unprepared.

Luckily, things pick up quite a bit as the book skips ahead to their adolescence. Lila becomes slightly less annoying, though I can't say the same for Lenu. (I'll never be as good as Lila! I need to prove I'm better than her! Sigh.) And the action heats up with interest from boys and shadowy mob-type families with lots of money.

The story is that "Elena Ferrante" is a pseudonym because it is a true story and the woman who wrote it doesn't want the mob coming to kill her because of what she wrote about them. With the amount of detail in the book about the location, people, and family histories, it's certainly a believable story. But then again, we live in a cynical enough world where it's equally believable that her agent crafted this story to generate buzz for the book. Either way, the world Ferrante creates and describes is so rich in detail you can practically watch the story in your head as if it were a movie.

So just as I began to get interested in the story, it ended--on a cliffhanger, of course. It's the first in a series of four books, after all. I can't say I'm going to run out and read the remaining books, but I'm certainly not opposed to finding out how the story ends.

Final word: Surprisingly engaging, considering none of the characters are likeable. None.