Spoiler Alert: What Really Doesn’t Work in “Trainwreck” — and the Surprising Moments that Do

Posted on July 25, 2015 at 3:37 pm

Copyright 2015 Universal
Copyright 2015 Universal

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I had a few more thoughts about Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck” that didn’t fit into my review because they are too spoilery.

First, our concerns over Schumer’s party girl character, also called Amy, are supposed to be about her drinking, pot-smoking, and one-night-stands. But can we take a moment to talk about how completely irresponsible she is at her job? It is a massive violation of journalistic ethics and instant firing offense, even for a skanky rag like the magazine she works for in this film, to sleep with the subject of your story. We are supposed to respect Amy’s professional accomplishments, especially at the end when her story, rejected as “too boring” by her employer, then somehow appears in Vanity Fair.

This is just one element that makes it difficult to make the leap of faith necessary to believe that Mr. Wonderful — or, I should say, Dr. Wonderful — played by Bill Hader, would actually fall for her. Yes, she’s pretty and funny and she sleeps with him right away, but can he have any respect for her whatsoever? No gauzey montage, even with air quotes around it, even with the genuine chemistry between the actors, is enough to prevent us from wondering whether the doctor can’t do better.

There are too many distractions. That dog walker movie? We could have one without it entirely, and there was certainly no reason for a reprise. And what was that “intervention” all about?

What I did like a lot: Amy’s affecting eulogy for her father gives some emotional heft to her character. And the scene after she takes a phone call during his speech is really well done, as Amy learns for the first time that people in relationships resolve conflict; they don’t run away from it.

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Commentary Spoiler Alert

Summer Summer-y: The Summer Movies of 2014

Posted on August 31, 2014 at 3:46 pm

fault-in-our-stars-poster-largeA few concluding thoughts on the summer movies of 2014:

A good summer for food movies: “The Chef,” “The 100-Foot Journey,” and “The Trip to Italy” had some big-time actors but the real stars were the luscious meals. Special mention of the delicious French comedy “Le Chef,” starring Jean Reno, and “The Lunchbox” as well.

A bad summer for comedies: “22 Jump Street” was uneven, but at least it had some laughs. Can’t say the same for “Neighbors,” “Blended,” “Tammy,” “The Other Woman,” “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” or “Let’s Be Cops,” excruciating and un-funny wastes of time and talent.

A good summer for super-heroes: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” were all we hoped for in summer comic book blockbusters. “Spider-Man 2” was pretty good, primarily due to the sizzling chemistry between leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.

A good summer for Scarlett Johansson: She followed up last year’s prestige hit, “Her,” with brilliant work in an astonishing range of films, from the spooky “Under the Skin” to her witty performance in “Captain America.” She was even good in Luc Besson’s second-rate “Lucy.”Guardians of the Galaxy

A good summer for YA adaptations: “The Fault in Our Stars” was skillfully brought to screen, with “If I Stay” and “The Giver” solid runners-up.

A good summer for CGI: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” was a new leap forward in the realism of the motion capture and special effects, especially the expressiveness of the characters. “Guardians of the Galaxy” had terrific CGI, especially Groot.

A bad summer for CGI: “Godzilla” was a disappointment.

I loved: “Boyhood” and “Life Itself”

I wanted to but did not love: “Jersey Boys,” “Magic in the Moonlight,” “Wish I Was Here”

I cried: “The Fault in Our Stars” and — yes — “How to Train Your Dragon 2”

Deserved better box office: “Edge of Tomorrow”

Got better box office than they deserved: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Transformers”

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We’ve had quite a string of what I call Pogo bad guys. Remember when the comic strip character Pogo looked sadly at a polluted river and said, “We have met the enemy and he is us?” I’m not sure whether it is a lack of imagination in screenwriters or a reflection of the zeitgeist mistrust of institutions, but in films like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “The November Man,” and even “Let’s Be Cops,” the bad guys turned out to be inside the U.S. Government.

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Commentary Spoiler Alert Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Explaining “Edge of Tomorrow’s” End

Posted on June 17, 2014 at 3:59 pm

edgeoftomorrow posterA lot of people complained about the ending of “Edge of Tomorrow,” but I liked it.  And I really liked this explanation of what it all meant from my friend Hamilton Whitney at FilmHamster.    Here’s the highlight, but you should read the whole thing:

In the process of destroying the Omega, Cage was exposed to high concentrations of the creature’s blood.  This time it was different than when he essentially took the place of the Alpha.  He didn’t jump back either 24 hours or to the previous checkpoint.  Rather, he jumps back all the way to what I am assuming is the beginning of the “backup period.”  The earliest time in which the Omega was currently existing.  Having absorbed the Omega’s blood, he also absorbed the elements that were in temporal flux – we’ll call them tachyon particles. As the Omega ceased to exist, in all times, the tachyon particles snapped back to their last starting state – the earliest point at which they stopped existing, pulling the consciousness of their new host with them.  Cage wakes up with all the memories of the future timelines what will not happen intact, despite being at the earlier start time.  The Omega and the tachyon particles have all ceased to exist at this point, leaving him “normal” and ready to continue on with the rest of his life.

 

 

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Spoiler Alert Understanding Media and Pop Culture

The Real Story: Philomena

Posted on January 27, 2014 at 8:00 am

“Philomena,” star Dame Judi Dench, screenwriters Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, and composer Alexandre Desplat are all nominated for Oscars this year.  It is the real-life story of Philomena Lee, who joined Coogan at the Golden Globes as a presenter earlier this month and spoke with great dignity about the women, like her, who were mistreated by the Magdalene sisters and forced to give up their babies for adoption.

In the movie, Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith, a journalist who helped Philomena find out what happened to her son, who was adopted by Americans.    The Daily Mail has an interview and some photos of Philomena and Michael.

Philomena’s story is complex and harrowing, and yet the first thing that strikes you about Philomena herself is that she bears no rancour. She’s seen the film twice, she tells me, ‘and the first time was stressful, but the second time I enjoyed it, and I was so glad that they didn’t harp on about the Catholic church because I wouldn’t have wanted that’.

In Politico, writer Todd Purdum provides some additional information about the boy Philomena called Anthony Lee, and who was renamed Michael Anthony Hess when he was adopted at age 3.  As shown in the movie, an American couple intended to adopt a little girl named Mary, to whom Anthony was devoted.  Impulsively, they decided to take him, too.

Half a century later, Sixsmith brought Philomena to Washington, D.C., to find out what happened to him.  He had become a lawyer, served as chief legal counsel to the Republican National Committee, and died of AIDS in 1995.  His close friends knew he was gay, but he was not out in his professional life.  Before he died, he made two trips to Ireland to try to find his mother, and his last request was to be buried at the convent where he was born.

Steve Dahllof, Hess’s partner for the last 15 years of his life, said in a telephone interview that the book was “about a three out of 10, in terms of accuracy,” while the movie, “in accuracy of spirit, is 10 out of 10.”

While the abuses of the Magdalene sisters in the 1950’s are documented, the movie has been criticized for its portrayal of the contemporary nuns and heightening some of the scenes for dramatic effect.

 

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What is the Science Behind “Gravity?”

Posted on October 9, 2013 at 8:00 am

Alfonso Cuarón told Wired Magazine about the 4 1/2 years he spent making “Gravity.”  gravity

We had to do the whole film as an animation first. We edited that animation, even with sound, just to make sure the timing worked with the sound effects and music. And once we were happy with it, we had to do the lighting in the animation as well. Then all that animation translated to actual camera moves and positions for the lighting and actors. We did a whole exploration of the screenplay, every single moment; we made judgments about everything. Once we began shooting, we were constrained by the limitations of that programming….We shot space scenes in a sort of virtual-reality box that had the characters’ environments projected on the walls. The actors had very little room to change their timing or their positions. But we adapted. Sandra Bullock trained like crazy to be able to be a part of all these technological challenges. It was choreography for her. I think her background as a dancer helped a lot. It was so much by numbers. After all the training and all the rehearsals, she was able to just focus on the emotional aspect of her performance…..

The animators had a significant challenge.  “After all, you learn how to draw based on two main elements: horizons and weight…Exactly. They had neither of those things, poor guys. It was a nightmare for them. They would make stuff and I’d say, “Yeah, but that looks like they’re standing at a bar, not floating in space.” We had a physicist explain the laws of zero gravity and zero resistance.”  But he admits that “Apollo 13” may be more accurate than “Gravity.”

So, what does a physicist have to say?  Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted about some of what the movie got wrong, even if it did not relate to physics.  (He also said he liked it.)    George Clooney should not have to explain to a doctor the medical impact of oxygen deprivation, but that could be justified as a way of calming her down.  On the other hand, some of the science is wrong.  Why doesn’t Sandra Bullock’s hair float in zero gravity?   “Nearly all satellites orbit Earth west to east yet all satellite debris portrayed orbited east to west.”  “When Clooney releases Bullock’s tether, he drifts away. In zero-G a single tug brings them together.” “How Hubble (350mi up) ISS (230mi up) & a Chinese Space Station are all in sight lines of one another.” One thing they got right: “The film #Gravity depicts a scenario of catastrophic satellite destruction that can actually happen.”

One of the science advisors appeared on CBS to talk about the movie.

And Cuarón says he does not know what his next movie will be, but he is certain that the characters will all walk with their feet on the floor.

 

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