Thursday, July 30, 2015

Trainwreck (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 125 minutes
Director: Judd Apatow
Writer: Amy Schumer
Cast: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, LeBron James, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, Vanessa Bayer, Ezra Miller

Trainwreck opens in Australia on August 6 and is distributed by Universal Pictures. Now showing in the United States and opening in the United Kingdom August 14.

Trainwreck is unapologetically funny with it's witty and uncompromising screenplay brought to life by a superb cast driven by Amy Schumer, but it also surprises with it's depth of human relationships. Amy (Schumer) is living the life, or so she believes. She has a great job at S'nuff magazine where she is up for a promotion and has a different love of her life every night who she says goodbye to before they are able to wake up the next morning with her. When she meets Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) on a work assignment, she is perplexed to discover that she may have met her match...the thing that she was brought up to believe was only going to lead to unhappiness and being trapped for the rest of her life.

Trainwreck breathes new life into the romantic-comedy and breaks through the stereotype of this being a female audience dominated genre. The wonderfully witty script (also written by Amy Schumer) celebrates the world as a place where not everyone wants the same things out of life and love while at the same time seeing the comical value in the differences. Although the screenplay is not entirely airtight, it is forgiven due to it's comedic value as the laughs come at a rapid pace in every scene with no lapses in humour including in the more serious scenes. While there are many a sexual joke, there is also much well-timed general and situational humour that doesn't rely on tired and uncreative methods to get one laughing.

However, despite Trainwreck containing many a crude sex joke which may not be to everyone's taste, the film also has a great deal of heart and says a great deal about the dynamics of family. Amy and Kim (played by Brie Larson) are almost polar opposites as sisters which comes down to the fact that their parents were seemingly complete opposites and while Amy idolised her father (Colin Quinn), Kim idolised her mother. The two take after the parent they worshipped and in Amy's case this includes the worst parts of her father. From the first scene we see this where Amy listens to her father's views on marriage and we then see her living up to this view herself in her 30's. She is even aware of what these negatives are and hates these aspects of him, but without even realising it replicates his bluntness, negativity and addictive nature, particularly to vices such as alcohol and sex. It would seem that Gordon is the original trainwreck with his adoring daughter mimicking his behaviour, which can often happen in children.

Amy Schumer may well be the fastest rising star in comedy this year and Trainwreck gives one a valid understanding of why. Not only is her script hilarious, but she shines on the screen in a performance that is natural and heartfelt. When she is hilarious she is hysterical and when she is emotional she is heartbreaking. She is the perfect comedic leading lady for the present and regardless of the fact that the role was written by her for her, she is believable and has an effortless sense of comedic timing. While her Amy may not always be completely likable due to her self-destructive nature, she is still a character one loves to watch.

Schumer is surrounded by a superb supporting cast who raise plenty of laughs themselves. Bill Hader is completely endearing and immediately likable as Aaron. His dead pan sense of humour works so well in Trainwreck as it makes his delivery of humorous dialogue unexpected and catches one by surprise. His on-screen chemistry with LeBron James, who plays himself is superb and also hilarious. Brie Larson almost sneaks under the radar as Kim, but still gives a solid performance and Tilda Swinton is almost unrecognisable as Amy's difficult boss, Dianna, but shows that her wonderful acting ability also extends into comedy. Watch out also for a hilarious cameo by Leslie Jones and cinema veteran Norman Lloyd.

Trainwreck has a fantastic awareness of self and may well be the best comedy released in 2015 so far. Amy Schumer is the leading lady which cinema-goers have been yearning for and here she proves why she is fast becoming a household name.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ant-Man (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 117 minutes
Director: Peyton Reed
Writers: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby (comic), Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and Paul Rudd (screenplay)
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pena, Judy Greer

Ant-Man is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios.

For those who are not familiar with the wide world of Marvel comics, the concept of Ant-Man may seem like a reach of ridiculous measures to keep their successful superhero run of films flowing. However, with it's witty script and impressive special effects which give new life to a somewhat dated idea, Ant-Man is wildly entertaining and even comical while it breathes new life into a miniature hero on screen.

When Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is released from prison, the only thing he has on his mind is getting his life back on track and becoming a permanent figure in his daughter's life once again. The outside world is not so keen to have Scott back and his ex-wife, Maggie (Judy Greer) and her new fiancĂ©, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) are less than thrilled to see him back in the picture due to his history. Scott's friend and current roommate, Luis (Michael Pena) comes to him with a sure fire way to make some money, but it means retreating back to his old ways of cat-burgling and Scott reluctantly agrees as a last resort. Unexpectedly, this job results in coming into contact with Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and into a new profession for Scott as the superhero, Ant-Man, as well as giving Scott a whole new set of enemies to contest with.

The concept of the shrinking man is one that has been seen many times in film at certain intervals over the years with The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989) being two which immediately spring to mind. As a film, the idea of a man who can shrink on demand does seem to feel like the superhero genre is clutching at straws for new ideas. Yet Ant-Man made his first appearance in comics in 1962 and the film has been on Marvel's radar for over ten years so one cannot accuse Ant-Man of being a terrible excuse to make money by relying on a tried and tested concept. However, those who are familiar with the comics will find that there are many differences between the original Ant-Man and the film and there will inevitably be those who will scoff at the differences. The reasons for these changes are to create a more family orientated and friendly film and as a result Ant-Man has a point of difference in it's hilarious and well written dialogue and a wider audience which work in it's favour. Marvel fans will also rejoice in the references to other Marvel comics and productions, such as The Avengers.

Ant-Man is not without it's flaws as the severity of the conflict is lost while the screenplay concentrates on making an entertaining dialogue driven film. The film certainly is entertaining and fun, but doesn't have a real sense of suspense, emotion or unpredictability as it's story is quite weak. Even though Edgar Wright dropped out of production in 2014, a great deal of what he worked on in the script remained for the final film and this is evident in much of the comical dialogue, as is co-writer and star of the film, Paul Rudd's sense of humour. Making Ant-Man in 2015 also gives it an edge over the films which it may be likened to with it's shrinking human aspect and this is because it allows use of the incredible CGI that is available for action films these days. The fast paced action sequences are very well done and create the thrill that the screenplay is missing. Ant-Man is one film that benefits from being viewed on the big screen as it enhances the difference in ratio between Ant-Man at his smallest. These scenes are well done and are even better on a bigger screen.

Paul Rudd seems an unlikely superhero, but this perception works in his favour as his character of Scott Lang is much the same. His talent does not initially lie in defence and attack as much as it does his intuition and crafty abilities, but as the film progresses so does his reputation and believability as a superhero. Rudd also brings his likability which he is known for to the role and creates a character that people care about and want to see succeed. Michael Douglas gives hardly the performance of his career, but his charisma does indeed add something to his role of Dr. Hank Pym and to the film as a whole. His presence in the film is rather enjoyable and he plays his role well.

While the good guys are great and have an incredible amount of character, Ant-Man does lack a really menacing villain which is crucial for a successful superhero film. Corey Stoll, who plays Darren Cross who creates Ant-Man's nemesis Yellowjacket, cannot be faulted as he does all he can with the role which is not created to be particularly strong. His "evil" mainly lies in personal conflict with Pym and although he does have his evil moments, the way in which his actions will effect man-kind do not create a sense of suspense or thrill.

Despite Marvel's recent successful track record, Ant-Man still surprises in how much in it succeeds as an entertaining and enjoyable film. It's somewhat old-fashioned concept which is initially deemed worrisome is given a wonderful update with incredible special effects, it's witty and hilarious dialogue and a hero people enjoy to watch.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 119 minutes
Director: Alex Gibney
Writers: Lawrence Wright (book), Alex Gibney

Alex Gibney has never been one to shy away from tackling a controversial subject in his highly acclaimed documentaries. Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief  is another superb piece of filmmaking from the Academy Award winning filmmaker that educates, entertains and completely shocks with it's in depth and explosive look at one of the world's most controversial religions. Based on the bestselling Scientology expose of the same name by Lawrence Wright, Going Clear is an astonishing look behind the religion that was founded by L. Ron Hubbard and has been making headlines for years for it's strong presence in Hollywood and unique beliefs. Many interviews with former members of Scientology paint a picture of what life was like inside the world that celebrities such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta vocally prescribe to and expose what goes on behind the scenes.

Gibney's Going Clear is a shining example of brilliant documentary filmmaking as it gives one everything they need to make an informed decision about Scientology and provokes thought as well as a great deal of emotion. The knowledge that is transferred to the audience is edited in such a way that it builds and evolves the emotion throughout the film. The first third of the film walks through the origins of Scientology and the basics. Here one can understand how it seems so attractive to people to begin with and why people join, so the overall feeling is comfortable to the point that you can't understand what the negative fuss is about. Yet heading into the second part of the film and being informed more about the church's belief system, one starts to become disturbed by how strange their ideology is and that people can be so drawn in by this point that they believe anything. It is almost laughable the way the film describes it, until you head into the last third of the film. It is here that this disbelief turns into fear, as the information given is actually terrifying. It is brilliant filmmaking for a documentary to provide it's viewer with such a whirlwind of emotions and to end the film on such an explosive note.

The film truthfully is completely bias as it is tilted dramatically towards exposing the dirty secrets behind the religion, but the film does say towards the end that several members of the Scientology church including current Chairman, David Miscavige and celebrity members, Tom Cruise and John Travolta all declined requests to be interviewed for the film. So it would seem that Gibney gave members of the church a chance to have their say and put forward a good word about their religion that would maybe even things out, but they declined . Was this because they knew of the book written by Lawrence Wright and had no doubt that the film was going to be an expose and therefore a negative look at their beliefs no matter what they say? Or do they really have something to hide? We can all speculate, but will never truly know as there is no first hand footage defending Scientology, and only footage from their elaborate celebrations and archival footage to support themselves. In its place, Gibney uses a wide range of resources and footage to tell all he can about the church, without the assistance of the church itself.

Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief is incredible filmmaking. It truly is an excellent expose with it's ability to make the viewer feel so much by imparting knowledge with superb timing and editing.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Magic Mike XXL (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 115 minutes
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Writers: Reid Carolin
Cast: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodrguez, Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett Smith, Donald Glover, Andie MacDowell, Stephen Boss, Michael Strahan, Elizabeth Banks
Magic Mike XXL is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Roadshow Films.
Magic Mike XXL bears little more than sibling resemblance to it's 2012 older brother with it's goofy, comical demeanour, but within it's heart lies something that is rather rare in such a film which makes it a delight. Three years after Mike (Channing Tatum) left behind his career as a male entertainer for a simpler and more domestic livelihood, he makes the decision to reconnect with his old friends, the Kings of Tampa and the group travel together to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. The trip brings confrontations, laughs, accidents and of course, girls who distract the boys along the way. Mike finds that he is really searching for happiness and peace in his life, and when he meets up with Zoe (Amber Heard), he recognizes that he has the chance to make someone else as well as himself happy simultaneously.
On the surface, Magic Mike XXL is funny, light entertainment which can be hard to take seriously due to the glaring obvious fact that male entertainers such as the ones in the film are more than capable of provoking hysterical fits of female laughter and squeals during their routines. Some dialogue and actions even seem quite forced and the screenplay, although entertaining with some hilarious scenes (particularly the soon to become infamous service station scene), has no sense of strong conflict and a particularly weak finale.
However, the film possesses a very special quality. The second Magic Mike is a film that is entirely respectful to both men and women and sheds light on why male entertainers do what they do. It isn't just for the money, it is because they have the opportunity to make women happy and make them feel good about themselves, which is a beautiful thing. In the film, the characters enjoy what they do because they love seeing women smile and taking a girl who is down on herself and giving her confidence. Of course this isn't saying that every guy should perform a strip routine for their girl to make them feel good about themselves, but in a relationship each others happiness must be the priority and why they want to be with that person. The whole film is based on finding a place of happiness for the one you are with and within yourselves and although the ending may seem inconclusive, it is the perfect ending for a film with such a basis.
Magic Mike XXL is a fairly unique film in that the five-man dance squad can only be described as one big bromance. The five members of the team are all best friends and clearly adore each other, but also fight and make up like they are in a relationship themselves. If these men had different occupations besides being male strippers, the film would be categorized as a guy's film. Yet, the target audience for Magic Mike XXL is the female demographic as they flock to see good looking men take their clothes off on the screen. Men shouldn't be put off the film for this fact, as at it's heart it is a film about men who love women regardless of what they do for a living.
There is no denying that the second Magic Mike film attempts to replicate the first film in terms of cinematography, especially considering the director of photography is none other than Steven Soderbergh who directed the first film and was also the first film's director of photographer (under his pseudonym of Peter Andrews). There are some very interesting uses of lighting throughout the film and creative lingering camera angles, but one cannot decide whether they actually enhance the film or just feel out of place. The overall feeling of the film is that of a light hearted, but sentimental comedy and the inclusion of classy filming techniques can be confusing as it feels like a contradiction. Of course, the soundtrack is a lot of fun, and the dance routines are well choreographed, if not ridiculously cheesy at times. The film can be very loud during these routines as it is not just the music accompanying the dance moves, it is also more often than not loud female cheering and squealing as well. In such situations, it is practically a necessity to have this background noise..although this is very loud background noise.
Channing Tatum does well recreating his role of Mike and is still as charismatic and likable as ever. He has the most natural dancing talent out of the main characters and director, Gregory Jacobs rewards him with the most on-camera dancing time. Joe Manganiello also does well and shows he has terrific comedic timing. Andie MacDowell doesn't have much time on screen, but also shows her great comedic ability with the time she has.
Magic Mike XXL is in many ways what you would expect it to be with it's simplicity and entertaining dance numbers, which is ultimately a lot of fun. However, it also stuns with it's sentimentality and heart and is a film based on happiness, which is a truly unique thing in such a film.