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Josh Reviews Trainwreck

I’m a huge Judd Apatow fan.  Have been ever since I fell in love with Freaks and Geeks back in 1999.  I adore that show, and its equally criminally underrated follow-up Undeclared.  (Important note: Paul Feig was the co-creator of Freaks and Geeks.)  When Judd Apatow found big-screen success with the brilliant The 40 Year-Old Virgin, I was thrilled.  I love that movie and I watched it a lot in those first few years after it came out.  It seemed like a perfect distillation of everything I’d enjoyed about those two failed TV shows.  Knocked Up was just as much fun, but then came Funny People and This is 40.  There is a lot to enjoy about both of those films.  I think they’re far better than many reviewers gave them credit for being.  But even I must admit that both of those films are a little bit too long, and perhaps a little bit too indulgent.

And so I was excited when the news came that Mr. Apatow’s fifth film as a director would be the first one he wasn’t writing himself.  Trainwreck was written by and stars Amy Schumer.  I loved the idea of Mr. Apatow’s voiced being combined with that of another strong comedian.  That seemed like a good recipe for success and a nice change of pace for Mr. Apatow.

Trainwreck did not disappoint.  Amy Schumer hits a huge home-run with her work in the film, creating a wonderfully raunchy, extremely funny comedy.

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - July 16, 2014

Amy Schumer plays Amy, an attractive thirty-something woman who has a nice life working for a trashy mens magazine and partying in New York City.  She’s a serial dater who enjoys having a good time, and she looks down her nose a bit at her sister who is married with a stepson.  When Amy gets roped into doing an assignment for her magazine interviewing a sports doctor, Aaron (Bill Hader), she is shocked to find out she actually likes this relatively normal, together, professional guy.  Can she possibly hold down a stable, monogamous relationship?

The over-all story beats in Trainwreck are fairly predictable, with the film’s big idea being that it’s the woman who is the immature one who loves to go to parties and get drunk and/or stoned and date lots of different people.  This would have felt a tad more ground-breaking a few years ago before Bridesmaids, but I certainly don’t think that one female-centric film means that whole idea is over-done.  I hope we continue to see many great female-driven comedies in the future!!  So let’s be clear: while I like the idea of a raunchy Judd Apatow comedy focused on a female character, there’s far more to … [continued]

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The Top 20 Movies of 2014 — Part Three!

My journey through the Best Movies of 2014 continues!  Click here for Part One of my Top 20 Movies of 2014 list, numbers 20-16.  Click here for Part Two, numbers 15-11.

And now we enter my top ten.  Here we go:

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10.  Top Five Chris Rock has finally found a movie that equals his comedic potential.  Guess what, he wrote and directed it himself!  Rock stars as movie star Andre Allen, famous for acting in the hugely successful “Hammy” comedies in which he wears a big bear suit.  But Allen is sick of that, and is attempting to redirect his career by starring in a serious movie about a Haitian slave rebellion.  On the eve of that movie’s opening, Allen agrees to be interviewed by a New York Times reporter, Chelsea Brown, played by Rosario Dawson.  The film follows the two through that one tumultuous day, and both go through life upheavals before the day is done.  Top Five is a wonderfully loose, funny, heartfelt story.  It’s hugely funny, and a number of famous comedians pop in for cameos, each more gut-busting than the next.  Kevin Hart, J.B. Smoove, Tracy Morgan, Jay Pharaoh, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, and so many others fill out an extraordinarily rich ensemble.  Mr. Rock uses each performer to comedic perfection.  The film is led by Mr. Rock and Ms. Dawson, who have magnificent chemistry together.  They are both alive when on screen together, funny and compelling.  Top Five is a wonderful concoction, one I am eager to revisit.  I’ll have more to say about this film on the site soon.

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9. Bad Words Jason Bateman knocks it out of the park with his directorial debut.  He stars as Guy Trilby, a forty-year-old man who exploits a loophole in the rules of the National Quill Spelling Bee to enter the national children’s spelling bee.  If you don’t think you’re going to laugh at a grown man gleefully defeating little kids in a spelling bee, then this might not be the film for you.  For me, I found it to be absolutely hilarious and tremendous fun in its just-on-the-edge of bad taste transgressive comedy.  Most astonishingly, for all the fun to be had watching Guy torture innocent kids, Bad Words is surprisingly sweet in the end.  Jason Bateman is at the top of his game, Kathryn Hahn kills it, and Allison Janey & Philip Baker Hall are tremendous.  I love this movie.  (Click here for my original review.)

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8. The Drop This crime film, written by brilliant novelist Dennis Lehane, is a brutally intense slow burn.  It features James Gandolfini, who is phenomenal in his final role.  He plays Cousin … [continued]

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Josh Reviews They Came Together

They Came Together was released to select theaters on June 27, but it never opened anywhere around me.  However, I was pleased to discover that the film is available to watch on VOD through iTunes and amazon.  Right now, from the comfort of your own home!  Just click here and watch!

You really should, too, because this send-up of romantic comedies by director David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, Wanderlust) is fantastic and boasts an extraordinary ensemble of comedic performers.  The film stars Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler and also features Ed Helms, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Jason Mantzoukas, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Jack McBrayer, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Melanie Lynskey, and many other fantastic men and women who you’ll probably recognize.  I cannot believe this film is not getting a wide release!  (Is the I-can’t-believe-they-got-away-with-it dirty title holding the film back??)

They Came Together tells the story of the torturous path to romance followed by made-for-one-another couple Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler).  I really don’t want to tell you anything more than that, because the fun of the film is watching hapless Joel and Molly stumble through every single cliche romantic comedy plot-twist that you could possibly think of.

It’s really quite brilliant.  There are some very specific references (I myself was very taken by the film’s version of the trip to meet the wealthy Christian in-laws from Annie Hall) and also a lot of more generalized messing around with the types of scenes we have all seen a million times in romantic comedies.  (The way Joel and his brother each give a tender “thanks” to one another after a heart-felt moment had me in stitches.)  There’s some nerdy clever humor in the film and also some very low-brow, silly humor.  There are a few very literal scenes that would have felt at home in Airplane! (such as the moment in which Joel and his bartender go through a “you can say that again” routine about ten times).  There are also some extremely random digressions (such as a stunningly bizarre sequence in which Joel’s boss is unable to unzip his super-hero Halloween costume when he has to go to the bathroom).  Not every one of these jokes lands, but there are always about ten more jokes coming right on its heels, so I found myself laughing pretty consistently throughout.

The film has a playful, anything-for-a-laugh approach that at times can make the film’s narrative feel choppy, but which I found quite endearing.  There’s one moment when we suddenly discover that Molly has a young son, which provides a great opportunity to get this film’s silly version of the classic romantic comedy moment in which … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Larry David’s Clear History

September 20th, 2013
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I don’t know why I didn’t watch Larry David’s HBO film Clear History the second it first aired on HBO.  Maybe the generic ads, or the even more generic title, neither of which gave me any idea of what the film was actually about?  But I knew I couldn’t resist a new project from Larry David — and many of the key creative minds he partners with on Curb Your Enthusiasm, including Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer — for long!

In Clear History, Mr. David stars as Nathan Flomm, a happy, shaggy-haired marketing wiz who works for an up-and-coming electric car company run by Will Haney (Jon Hamm).  When Nathan objects to the name Will chooses for their new car — the Howard — they get in a fight and Will leaves the company, agreeing to sell back all his shares in the company.  When the Howard proves to be an enormous success, Nathan realizes that he has lost out on a fortune.  Humiliated, he changes his name to Rolly DaVore and creates a new, modest life for himself on Martha’s Vineyard, where he works as the aide to an old woman.  For ten years he is happy there, until Will and his new young wife Rhonda (Kate Hudson) buy a house on the Vineyard.  Nathan feels he has to leave his life on the Vineyard and move somewhere else, but when he realizes in a chance encounter with Will that his former boss and partner doesn’t recognize him (now shorn of his long hair and beard and looking like, well, like Larry David), Nathan decides to stay and plot revenge against his nemesis.

Mr. David has recruited a top-notch cast to work with him on this HBO movie.  Jon Hamm is a great straight-man, and there is something magical about the pairing of this handsome, very not-Jewish leading-man with Larry David’s crabby, irascible, very-Jewish persona.  I only wish the film’s plot didn’t necessitate the two men for being almost entirely separated from one another after the events of the prologue!  The biggest shock to me in the cast was an almost unrecognizable Michael Keaton, who plays the testy demolitions-expert who Nathan hires to blow up Will’s new house.  Under an elaborate make-up job and sporting a thick crusty seaman accent, Mr. Keaton is a revelation, absolutely hilarious in every scene he is in.  Danny McBride is great as Rolly’s jovial best-friend in his new life on the Vineyard, though I wish Mr. McBride had a larger role in the story.  After a few promising early scenes, he is pretty much sidelined.  Also featured in the film are Liev Schreiber, Philip Baker Hall (Seinfeld’s Library Investigator … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Men in Black 3

It’s been ten years since the last Men in Black film.  (Men in Black 2 came out in 2o02, and the first Men in Black came out back in 1997.)  That’s a long, long time for a movie series to lie fallow.  Is there an example of a sequel to a film franchise being released after such a long dry spell in which the new sequel was any good?  I’m hard-pressed to think of one, though I can think of many examples where the opposite was true, and the long-awaited sequel disappointed fans terribly.  The Godfather Part III.  Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen either of the first two Men in Black films.  I remember quite liking the first one, and being disappointed by the second.  I was excited by the prospect of a third film being made, because I definitely feel the concept still has plenty of juice, but I was dubious as to whether they could capture lighting in a bottle after so much time.  Well, to summarize, Men in Black 3 isn’t nearly as good as I had hoped, but it’s not as bad as I had feared (or as I’d heard it was).  It’s an entertaining film, though a frustrating one.  The concept of the film is solid, and with that story idea and these performers, there is a great film in there somewhere.  Men in Black 3 isn’t it, though.

As I just wrote, the central concept of the film is strong, and I can see why this story lured all the major players (stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld) back to the table.  A vicious bad-guy who Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) had put away forty years previously breaks out of prison and uses a time machine to go back in time and kill K in the past.  Agent J (Will Smith) must travel back to 1969 to save the life of the young Agent K, played in the past by Josh Brolin.

The problem (well, there are many problems with the film, but let’s start with this one) is that the first section of the film, set in the present day, is absolutely terrible.

Let’s start with the prologue, in which Boris the Animal breaks out of the MIB’s prison on the moon, and begins his plan for vengeance against Agent K.  Director Barry Sonnenfeld doesn’t seem to have any idea how to stage this sequence.  It has a weird, goofy tone.  In my opinion, if the filmmakers wanted to set up Boris as a real threat to our … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Paul!

It seems to me like Paul, the new film from Simon Pegg & Nick Frost, has been flying far under the radar.  That’s too bad, because the two men (who, along with Edward Wright, were responsible for Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz) just might be the finest comedy duo working today.  They’re each great individually, but there’s something magical that happens when the two get together.  Paul doesn’t reach the comedic heights of Shaun of the Dead, but it’s pretty great nonetheless.

Pegg plays Graeme and Frost plays Clive, two geeky Brits who have traveled to the US to attend the San Diego Comic-Con and then take a driving tour of the locations of famous UFO sightings.  The last thing they expect is to actually encounter a real-live extra-terrestrial: the fast-talking, good-times-loving alien named Paul who is on the run from mysterious government forces.  Will the nerds be able to help Paul escape the men in black and meet up with the space-ship sent to take him home?

The movie hits the geek jokes a bit hard in the early-going (making fun of the costume-wearing crazies who attend Comic-Con is a pretty easy joke) but the film quickly settles into a nice rhythm… and then builds towards a frenetic, hilarious finish.  I like comedies that are also able to get audiences to invest in the adventure story being told (I hold up Ghostbusters as a prime example of this), and I was quite pleased by how engaged I was by the film in the third act, when the chase was really on.

Although I missed Edgar Wright, it’s hard to complain with someone as talented as Greg Mottola at the helm.  Mr. Mottola directed Superbad and Adventureland (a vastly underrated film that I just re-watched last week and loved as much as the first time I saw it).  The man is a keen comedy director, giving his cast room to play but also keeping the film moving at a fast clip.

One could play a fun game connecting the dots from Mr. Mottola’s past work to see how he assembled such a terrific ensemble to surround Frost and Pegg.  From Superbad, he brought in Seth Rogen.  Mr. Rogen voices the alien Paul, and it’s brilliant, inspired casting.  Once you hear Mr. Rogen’s voice emanating from the short, big-headed alien, you know what type of a film you’re in for.  Rogen really sinks his teeth into the role, and his line delivery is impeccable.

By the way, I should also note that the visual effects work on Paul himself are incredible.  This isn’t a movie that I expected to dazzle me with state-of-the-art visual effects, but … [continued]

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The third film in my EZ Viewing movie marathon is Tropic Thunder! (Click here to read about film one: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), and here to read about film two: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.)

Tropic Thunder knocked my socks off when I first saw it!  (Click here for my original review.)  It’s so fearless and so, so funny, right from the first frame to the very last.

Ben Stiller (who also co-wrote and directed the film) stars as Tugg Speedman.  Though he was once a hugely successful action-movie star, Tugg’s recent effort at more serious fare (“Simple Jack”) was met with disdain, so he decides to appear in the war film Tropic Thunder.  The film (within the film) is an adaptation of the Vietnam experiences of the hook-handed veteran John “Four-Leaf” Tayback.  Along with Tugg, the film stars the method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), the comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), and the rapper Alpha Chino (Brandon T. Jackson).  This pampered assemblage of prima-donnas has trouble getting anything done, so the frustrated director (Steve Coogan) decides to drop his actors in the middle of the jungle, in an attempt to capture some “real” drama.  Chaos ensues.

The cast is stupendous.  The stand-out, of course, is Robert Downey Jr., portraying “a dude pretending to be a dude disguised as some other dude.”  He came in for some criticism when the film was released, not only for his performance as a white actor pretending to be a black man, but also for the “full retard” speech he gives to Ben Stiller’s character.  But I think that Downey Jr. is pure genius in the role – and that speech happens to be screamingly funny.  The point of his performance – and, indeed, the point of the entire film – is to skewer how seriously actors take themselves.  (It’s funny – not long after seeing this film for the first time, I found myself re-watching the amazing WWII mini-series Band of Brothers.  It’s an astonishing mini-series.  When I finished, I watched some of the special features – but after having seen Tropic Thunder, I could not take at all seriously any of the actors patting themselves on the back for how much the conditions of the shoot really rivaled the experience of really being in combat!!)

But the rest of the ensemble is also phenomenal.  Stiller is great in the lead role – he’s just likable enough that you sort of root for him, even though he’s a total loony-tune.  (LOVE that he likes to watch Classic Star Trek on his ipod, though!!)  Jack Black is perfectly cast as Portnoy, and … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Adventureland

Set in 1987, Adventureland takes place over the course of one summer in the life of James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), just out of college, whose dreams of traveling Europe with his friends have been dashed by his family’s financial problems.  Seeking a summer job instead, Jesse quickly discovers that his degree in literature doesn’t really qualify him for any sort of employment back home in Pittsburgh.  Thus, he winds up working at Adventureland, a somewhat tired old local amusement park.

Jesse befriends Joel (Martin Starr, who, as with most of the talented alumni of Freaks and Geeks, I would happily watch in anything), an intellectual loner, and quickly becomes smitten with the mysterious Em (the terrific, beguiling Kristen Stewart).  The self-contained universe of Adventureland is fleshed out by a variety of other interesting, quirky characters: park owners Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig), handsome park mechanic Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), Jesse’s not-as-funny-as-he-thinks-he-is childhood friend Frigo (Matt Bush), the flirty Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), and many others.

Taking place in the eighties, Adventureland is a “period piece,” but it never beats you over the head with obvious references.  Rather, the movie uses the setting to lend the story a sweetly nostalgic feel.  I love the care with which the movie explores the sub-culture of the summer staff experience at Adventureland, with all of its unique peculiarities.  I’ve never worked at an amusement park, but I certainly have spent many summers working at a summer camp.  And while the specifics of my summer camp jobs didn’t resemble in any way the specifics of working at Adventureland, I did really connect with the way the film captured the way in which these summer jobs can be transformative experiences for young people, and the way a short summer can be an epic of highs and lows and experiences of all kinds.  I have warm feelings for my summer camp experiences, and the film creates a similarly warm glow around Jesse’s experiences, even the painful ones.

Credit writer/director Greg Mottola (who also directed Superbad) with doing a terrific job in setting that tone.  The film is funny, but I wouldn’t call it a comedy.  However, the shifts from humor to drama never feel out-of-place.  Rather the film feels like a true-to-life picture of the ups and downs of a kid’s summer.  I never seem to get tired of a good coming-of-age story, and this is definitely a winner in that category.

The film only makes one teensy tiny misstep, in my mind.  I don’t want to spoil anything about the ending, but suffice it to say there’s a dramatic moment between two characters in the rain that is the only moment in … [continued]