Movie Review: “Trainwreck”

Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, LeBron James, Colin Quinn
Judd Apatow

Judd Apatow’s films often cover heavy, emotionally complicated territory, but they’re ice cold at the same time. The subject matter is relatable, but the manner in which it’s treated bears little resemblance to real life. (The most egregious offender: “This Is 40.” Now let us never speak of it again.) “Trainwreck,” by comparison, is the most honest, heartfelt film Apatow has made to date, and it’s hard not to notice that it’s also the first time he directed a script that he didn’t have a hand in writing.

Some back story, for the unfamiliar: Apatow has taken heat over the years for underwriting his female roles – and yes, that criticism came largely from Katherine Heigl, who cashed some monster paychecks after receiving a massive career boost by appearing in his 2007 film “Knocked Up,” therefore people accuse her of biting the hand that fed her, and while that may be the case, she’s not wrong – and perhaps this was Apatow’s attempt to make amends, by directing a script written by a woman (Amy Schumer). The crazy thing is, Schumer’s character in many ways embodies the very traits that Heigl protested (reckless, irresponsible, unaccountable), but with the female character in the lead role, you get something that previous Apatow films never provided, and that is perspective: we get both the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of her character’s behavior. Also, there are no shrews in this movie. Apatow’s other movies were loaded with shrews. Who likes shrews that much?

Amy Townsend (Schumer) writes for S’Nuff, a Gawker-esque magazine with roughly 75% less humanity. She also parties nonstop and sleeps around, even though she has a boyfriend (John Cena). A fellow writer pitches an article about Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a surgeon who’s come up with a revolutionary knee procedure that will greatly reduce recovery time for athletes. S’Nuff editor Dianna (Tilda Swinton, in full Anna Wintour mode) likes the story, but assigns it to Amy, because Amy has admitted that she hates sports, and Dianna likes the idea of the paradox. Amy surprisingly finds herself fascinated with both Aaron and his work, and when she unprofessionally consummates their professional arrangement, she does unthinkable things, like actually agreeing to spend the night at his place and generally being less afraid of commitment. Amy is confused by this new change to the game plan, and she responds to it the only way she knows how: self-destruction.

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Hidden Netflix Gems: Bottle Rocket

It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday. 

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: “Bottle Rocket” (1996)

Before Wes Anderson was a household name (at least among movie buffs), before receiving Oscar nominations for The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom, before The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore, and The Life Aquatic, yes, before all of that, he and Owen Wilson co-wrote the screenplay for Bottle Rocket. It was based on a short film of the same name they’d made in 1992 and released in 1994. Bottle Rocket was Anderson’s directorial debut and marked the first appearances of Luke and Owen Wilson, as well as their lesser known older brother, AndrewLeslie Mann, now famous for her many roles in husband Judd Apatow’s films, even had a small part, though it was eventually left on the cutting room floor.

Anderson’s first film is an interesting look back at the development of filmmaker’s now signature style: the methodical cinematography, with its bright coloring and compulsive need to center-frame the actors, along with humor so dry you’d better pack a canteen. Though a commercial failure, Bottle Rocket served as a launching pad for the careers of all those names above, so easily recognized here in 2013. But the film is worth a watch on its own merits, even for those who aren’t intrigued by the idea of taking a look at the early work of a couple of future A-listers. Thanks to Anderson’s burgeoning style and its innocent, humorous characters, Bottle Rocket has been certified fresh and holds an 80 percent rating on the TomatoMeter. If that’s not enough to sway you, Martin Scorsese named it his seventh favorite movie of the 1990’s. Yes, that Martin Scorsese.

Alright, enough blabber, onto the film itself. Bottle Rocket is a caper comedy about a couple of twenty-something Texans (just like Anderson and the Wilsons were when they made the film) determined to become master thieves. It begins when Dignan (Owen Wilson) aids his best friend Anthony (Luke Wilson) in “escaping” from a mental hospital. In truth, Anthony checked himself in voluntarily and it happens to be the last day of his stay, but he goes along with the charade to please his friend. Dignan, who is both endlessly optimistic and endlessly naive, then shares his “75-year plan” for a glamorous life of crime. Hopefully you’re beginning to see the style of humor the film employs.

Dignan’s scheme includes a few small-time heists before meeting with a Mr. Henry (played by James Caan, perhaps best known for his role as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather), whose landscaping business Dignan worked for (and was fired from). Dignan seems to believe Mr. Henry is some kind of criminal mastermind, though whether or not that’s the case remains in question for much of the film, and the truth of the matter is best left unspoiled. Anthony goes along with the idea for much the same reasons he allowed Dignan to “rescue” him from the mental hospital—he doesn’t want to disappoint his friend, who’s oh so excited, and hey, he’s got nothing better to do.

Along the way, the two recruit Bob Mapplethorp (Robert Musgrave) as a getaway driver, because he’s the only person they know who owns a car. Although in fact, the car belongs to Bob’s wealthy parents. The eccentric trio endures a great deal of mockery from Bob’s brother, John Mapplethorp, aka Futureman (Andrew Wilson), whenever he crosses their path.

After they rob a local bookstore (in hilarious fashion), the guys hide out in a cheap motel near the Mexican border. There begins another major plotline, as Anthony falls in love with a Paraguayan maid named Inez, though she speaks little English and he no Spanish. That alone is a fantastic indication of Anthony’s character, and it makes it all the funnier that he’s the voice of reason in the film’s merry little band of thieves.

Bottle Rocket is great entertainment whether you’ve heard of Wes Anderson or not. Dignan, Anthony, and Bob are lovable misfits, and their interactions make for a great deal of subtle, witty humor. If you’re familiar with Anderson’s work and aren’t a fan then this one may not be for you. However, I recommend you check it out nonetheless. He’s the type of director that can take some time and understanding to appreciate. If you’ve put that time in and still don’t like his work, well, there’s no accounting for taste. I mean, anyone who disagrees with Marty freakin’ Scorsese on the subject of film is probably missing the point. Anyway, watch the damn thing and see for yourself.

Check out the trailer below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.


The Light from the TV Shows: Failed Pilots with All-Star Casts

As the new TV season rolls out, let’s take a look back at a few series that never actually made it on the air. Not that there aren’t plenty such series every single year, but sometimes you look back and wonder, “How could a show with all of these talented people not get on the schedule?” Not that we have an answer to that question, you understand, but at least we can all be mystified and annoyed together.

Next! (2001)

Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Fred Armisen, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn, Nick Swardson
What you missed out on: After Bob Odenkirk and David Cross decided to put a bullet in their HBO sketch comedy series, “Mr. Show” (that’s right, it was their decision, not the network’s), the guys attempted to go their separate ways, with Odenkirk setting up shop at Fox with a pilot for a new sketch comedy series. If you think the above names are impressive, consider that several other “Mr. Show” alumni were in tow as well, including Jerry Minor, Jay Johnston, and Jill Talley, with Patton Oswalt also participating in some capacity or other. And, yes, if you’re wondering, Cross made an appearance in the pilot, too. So what happened? Apparently, Fox basically flipped a coin to decide which new sketch comedy series they’d add to their lineup, and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents” won the toss. Oh, what might’ve been…

North Hollywood (2001)

Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Poehler, Kevin Hart, and Judge Reinhold as himself
What you missed out on: Judd Apatow has never been ashamed to admit that the only reason that this pilot ever came into existence is that Fox refused to let him cast Jason Segel as his lead in the short-lived but highly-regarded “Undeclared,” but you can’t say he didn’t do his best to surround Segel with top-notch talent. Segel, Amy Poehler, and Kevin Hart played roommates, with Segel a struggling actor, Hart a struggling actor/comedian, and Poehler serving as Judge Reinhold’s personal assistant. There’s a more detailed look at the pilot here, but the long and the short of it is that, although Apatow admits that he really didn’t know if there was a decent series to be had in “North Hollywood,” he thinks the pilot’s pretty decent, but its tone didn’t match the sitcoms filling ABC’s lineup at the time, so they took a pass on it.

Saddle Rash (2002)

Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, Sarah Silverman, Todd Barry, Mitch Hedberg
What you missed out on: Created by Loren Bouchard, best known to animation fans as one of the creative forces behind “Home Movies,” “Saddle Rash” seemed to have all the elements necessary for a successful Adult Swim series, so why didn’t it make it beyond the pilot stage? Was it that westerns weren’t exactly in vogue at the time? Was there some sort of stigma attached to the project because they brought in country artists to continued voice work (including Waylon Jennings as a very special guest in the pilot)? Whatever the case, the pilot got aired – no doubt mostly because Adult Swim has a tendency to air just about every pilot it orders, whether it actually ends up going to series or not – but that was the end of the trail for the series.

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What are your grooming habits?

Grooming habits have been evolving for both men and women, and it’s definitely something we all keep in mind now when it comes to dating and relationships. Any guy whose been dating since the 80s or 90s knows that many women today will eliminate every hair from their bodies. While they don’t expect quite he same for guys, the idea of manscaping is something every guy at least needs to think about. You should at least start by considering that back hair if that’s an issue for you . . .

On a less private matter, facial hair is making a comeback in some circles, as it’s been mostly out of fashion for years. In this area opinions vary wildly as you might expect.

All of this is covered in a new film called “Mansome” from Morgan Spurlock, with appearances by Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Adam Carolla, Judd Apatow, Zach Galifianakis along with others. From metrosexuals to more extreme cases, Spurlock takes a humorous look at the subject.

If you’re looking to improve your game with women, you should definitely consider your appearance and grooming habits. You don’t have to do anything radical, but paying attention to it can help you with your confidence and improve your chances. Find a look that works for you, and subtle changes can go a long way.

For more ideas in this area, check out our men’s grooming channel and our dating tips page.


A chat with Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel and director Michael Dowse of “Goon”

Aptly enough for a sports comedy, our interviewees today are a ragtag collection of lovable underdogs. Unavoidably geeky, Jay Baruchel’s starring roles in “She’s Out of My League,” “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and “How to Train Your Dragon” have left him short of the A-list; he’s still perhaps best known as the lead alum of Judd Apatow’s beloved, quickly cancelled 2001 sitcom, “Undeclared.” Leading man Seann William Scott has worked in numerous films in a pretty wide variety of genres, yet to almost everyone he’s still obnoxious Steve Stifler of the “American Pie” series; he’ll be reprising the character for a fourth go-round in the upcoming “American Reunion.” Director Michael Dowse has some indie successes on his CV, but his last attempt to break into the mainstream, “Take Me Home Tonight,” was an unmitigated commercial disaster and, for the most part, a critical flop. (We, however, liked it a lot; so much for the Bullz-Eye bump.)

Already available on VOD, “Goon” is one underdog movie we’re definitely rooting for. Loosely inspired by minor league hockey star Doug Smith’s memoir and co-written by Canadian hockey fan Baruchel and veteran Apatow-scribe Evan Goldberg, the film focuses on Doug Glatt (Scott), a goodhearted bouncer of no great intellect who finds himself promoted to full-time hockey thug.

Featuring an outstanding supporting cast comprised of Baruchel, Liev Schreiber, Eugene Levy, Kim Coates (“Sons of Anarchy“) and Alison Pill as the dysfunctional love of Doug Glatt’s life, “Goon” doesn’t gloss over the ugliness of sports violence even as it humorously celebrates it. For that, it took some punches from the traditionally violence-averse British press on its earlier UK release. The Yankee press, however, has been kinder, and there may be some hope of a wide release if enough of you hit the initial U.S. screenings starting this Friday.

Low-key Minnesota native Seann William Scott, intense Montrealite Jay Baruchel, and matter-of-fact Canadian filmmaker Michael Dowse were still high on the afterglow of a successful industry screening the night before when a bunch of us journos met with the trio at the Beverly Hilton. Some amusing and informative highlights are below.

Jay Baruchel on creating Doug Glatt, the not-so-bright but incredibly decent hero of “Goon.”

My dad used to have this expression, which was “Don’t complicate a ham sandwich.” In my experience, a lot of the hardest guys I know are also the kindest and most mild-mannered and gentlest. This in no way means that [their kindness] should be mistaken for weakness. He’s a man who knows what he wants, or finds out what he wants and where he’s supposed to be. He’s fulfilled.

Seann William Scott on playing Doug Glatt.

He’s written to be such a lovable guy and so good to his core. It was written with that specificity and I consider myself to be a good guy, so it’s not hard for me to play that… I was always aware of wanting to make sure there were different colors. Anything that I could bring, but it was already written with that kind of code of honor that he has. He’s self aware of the kind of guy he is and where he is in the world, but it is kind of black and white.

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