Month: July 2015

Trainwreck (2015)

This opinion piece contains spoilers.

There’s something about the oil and water with Trainwreck; the latest from director Judd Apatow and comedian Amy Schumer. On the one hand we’ve got an enjoyable enough crude comedy which sees Schumer as Amy; a problematic journalist who tries not to aspire for too much in case it gets in the way of her social life. On the other hand, we can feel the saccharine handprints of Apatow’s inability to reign in the pathos. A rot that set in with the dramedy, Funny People, some would argue. The sum of these parts being a patchy affair which see several plots overlapping for precedence.

The character of Amy is an extension of the persona Schumer has a made a career out of. Which, in a world where Seth Rogan has basically played the same character, even in Green Hornet, is not a point of criticism. Far from it. When we first see Amy returning from a one night stand, we‘re introduced to a character who totters in high heels on the line between being offensive, but not enough that it’ll stop you rooting for her. Even when later in the film her boyfriend (John Cena) finds out Amy has been in an open relationship without him, she is still the underdog to be carried to victory.

Meanwhile, Amy is also juggling family issues: a sickly father, who was largely absent in her formative years, and a younger sister who, despite smiles, doesn’t see eye to eye with her elder sibling. This where a lot of the ‘heart’ of Trainwreck is to be found. Amy’s father is sat grumbling in a retirement waiting to die, and her sister would rather he did so in a cheaper home. It’s hinted that Daddy dearest wasn’t father of the year. However, nothing really comes of this as it’s played out rather quickly that Amy is always right in this situation and little sister needs to suck it up.

It’s refreshing to have a female lead, and one that’s calling the shots on screenwriting duties. However, something just didn’t settle right in Trainwreck’s second half.

When Amy is given an assignment to cover Dr Aaron Conners, a sports doctor played by Bill Hader, they naturally don’t get along. Aaron is somewhat taken aback by her uncouthness and Amy finds the whole idea of sports rather boring. It’s kind of the set-up that helps romantic comedies defecate money on a regular basis. A couple of drinks and a one night stand later and Aaron is all in for a proper relationship. A surprise to Amy who was just looking for a bit of fun, and yet finds herself willing to give it a go.

Once Amy and Aaron are 6 weeks into their relationship, the strain begins to show. Not just on Amy’s face as she realizes she’s going legit steady with someone for the first time ever, but in the narrative itself. Trainwreck loses its way as we’re subjected to numerous protracted scenes that were probably a lot of fun to film but add nothing. Not because they’re superfluous, but because they’re dead ends.

During their first fight, Aaron confesses he struggles with Amy’s promiscuousness. First thoughts are that the film is going to tackle the concept of slut-shaming and the territoriality sitting heavily in the belly of men that stops them from accepting that women have, will continue to have, lives outside of the bubble of their relationship. Yes, Amy has had many lovers, but it certainly should not be the concern of Aaron, nor a litmus test of whether they can stay together. However, instead, the scene simply becomes a reason to display Amy’s inability to handle grown-up situations. But we’ve already seen that. We’ve seen it several times through the course of the movie. It’s a scene that mines for laughs when it could be courting character growth.

Yes, the argument could be made that centring the conversation on Aaron’s feelings takes Amy’s agency away. Which is a valid point IF it weren’t for the fact that soon after the argument we’re treated to a scene of Aaron grumbling about how ‘psychotic’ Amy is when she’s angry. It just smacks false. As too does the glib couple of minutes that are given to Aaron later in the film to think long and hard about how mean he is. Meanwhile, Amy takes on a decathlon of self-improvement, which oddly for our heroine mostly happens off-screen, because after all, she needs to change who she is if she wants to make her way in life.

The main issue for Amy appears to be her drinking. We are routinely told that her drinking is out of hand, but we’re never shown any true evidence of this. Well, there’s the scene where Aaron gives her some serious side-eye for wanting a second glass of wine at a luncheon. Oh and occasionally she smokes a joint, which is never shown to impede on her work or relationships. In fact, again, it’s only through meeting the straight edged Aaron that her lifestyle comes into question. In the paper, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, author Laura Mulvey discusses how the reality of the female comes second the want of the male. So whilst Aaron likes Amy for who she is, he seems to really like when she changes who she is. No one is asking Aaron to be like the straight-laced Dean of an 80s college movie; lighting up a doobie in the final scene and partying with the kids. However, there should have be some give and take surely. No, instead Amy is made perform literal cartwheels in transformation whilst Adam nods sagely from the sidelines.

With all that hanging in the balance, the second half of Trainwreck and conclusion – which is actually very funny – are dampened. Trainwreck has an enjoyable premise and is a lot of fun. Perhaps if the film was less about people making Amy change and more about her making changes, this would have worked more.

Competition Time – Win Human Centipede 3 on iTunes

  
The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence is out to buy this week on Blu-Ray, DVD and *drum roll* iTunes!

To celebrate the lovely gals and ghouls at Monster Pictures have given us five digital download codes to give away!

All you have to do is like us on Twitter @earlybirdfilms and send us a direct message with your email address. This is a first come first served situation, so don’t be the crappy end of the centipede… Get tweeting!
Please note this is an Australia only competition. 

Ant-Man (2015)

In a world where we can (probably) download images of what Chris Evans ate for lunch during Captain America: Winter Soldier, it probably comes as no surprise that the pre-production problems of Ant-Man are well known. Kinetic director Edgar Wright (The World’s End) had been working on fleshing out the diminutive superhero since closing up shop on Spaced. Cut to 2011 and it’s announced that Wright will be working with Marvel to get Scott Lang out to the public. And then 2014 rocked by and the much-rumoured ‘creative differences’ between wright and Marvel comes to a head when Wright allegedly walks weeks before shooting, unhappy with certain changes. And just as suddenly, Peyton Reed was locked in to take the helm.

Taking into account the history, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the film turned out to be an omni-shambles of design by committee. Instead, Ant-Man manages to do something fresh with what is essentially the tired origin trope. Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, an electrical engineer and common thief. He roommates with three fellow ex-cons and has restricted access to his daughter. Scott wants to be straight, but is convinced to take one last job. Leading him to be taken under the wing of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who convinces Scott to work for him and steal a top-secret project from Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), Pym’s protégé who is wandering dangerously close to the dark side. To help Scott with his mission, Pym trains him to be Ant-Man; a diminutive superhero with all the force of a bullet.

Ant-Man is not your usual superhero movie, as the above shows. It’s more akin to a heist movie with Pym and Scott working together to develop and hone his skills as Ant-Man. Along the way, Pym struggles in his relationship with his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Hope, infinitely more skilled than Scott, wants to don the Ant-Man suit herself and most of the conflict comes from her trying to understand why her father is so adamant not to allow her. These scenes are surprisingly effective, with the success coming from both actors treating the material truthfully and honestly whilst Rudd bounces around in the background providing the comic relief.

Rumours persist that Wright was unhappy with the rewrite of his and Joe Cornish’s script, wanting to keep his film at arm’s length from the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How much of that is true is unknown. However, there are numerous cameos storylines that carry on from Marvel’s properties, including a cameo from Iron Man 2. Unless you’re an avid Marvel fan, none of these will particularly affect your understanding of the narrative and all will have a good time.

Ant-Man’s real issues come from racial profiling that sees all minorities either wise-crackers or safecrackers. It’s not overly offensive, but it is a little problematic. In addition, Judy Greer is entirely wasted as Scott’s ex-wife. Even when her daughter is in danger during a climatic moment of the film, its both her ex and her new husband that do the protecting. If you’re going to use an actor from Arrested Development and Archer, we want more from her than scolding Scott and being scared.

That aside, with excellent effects, witty wordplay and charismatic screen presence by all those involved, Ant-Man manages to punch above it’s own weight. It’s not quite Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s nowhere near as pedestrian as Thor 2. It’s another win for Marvel.

Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike was, let’s be honest, a surprise hit. Whilst the auteur has tackled many subjects, a dramedy about the lives of male strippers seemed odd when written down. However, all fears were mislaid and the film turned out to be a special, oiled-up, gyrating nugget. Sadly, if only the same could be said of Magic Mike XXL, a film that feels less like a continuation of Channing Tatum’s titular character and more like the next chapter in the Step-Up franchise.

Mike is now living his dream working for himself, but all is not right in magic’s kingdom and when the opportunity arises for him to re-join his old mates in the stripper game, he grabs it with both hands. With a number of stars from the first having been written unceremoniously out of the flick, XXL relies on us caring about everyone else. So to make amends Mike’s merry troupe have had to have their characters fleshed out. And by that we mean they’ve been squeezed into little parcels each labelled with a different stereotype. A fact the film at least acknowledges as Joe Manganiello’s Big Dick Richie runs through a roll call of his fellow dancer’s tropes.

XXL starts off well but quickly loses its way when we start introducing new characters into the mix. Frist there’s Amber Heard’s insufferable Zoe; a character so hip that you wonder if she ever gets lost having to look down her nose at everyone so much. Then there’s Jada Pinkett-Smith as Rome, a former employer of Mike, and her protégé Andre (Donald Glover). Neither seeming to have a particular character trait outside of being black and supporting our beefcake white knight. It’s as problematic as it sounds.

Magic Mike, whilst light on female characters, at least gave us Brooke (Cody Horn) who challenged Mike and his universe to some extent. Notable by her absence, XXL simply has all its women gagging for a slab of man meat. Yes, we should be applauding the fact that women own their sexuality, but in XXL, sexuality is all they have. One only needs to look at the resolution of Zoe’s sub-plot, for what it is, where it’s established she just needs to have a willy wagged in her face to make her happy. And of a fashion that’s how XXL treats its audience. Sit back and prepare to be waggled at.

Amy (2015)

Amy Winehouse’s obvious talents were tainted by a media that emphasised her big hair, her rocky relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil and her dependence of drugs and alcohol. The new documentary by Asif Kapadia (Senna) attempts to dissipate this fog of misinformation exposing a fact that can easily be forgiven: Amy was a person.

Through mixture of home videos, talking heads, paparazzi photos and new articles, Kapadia builds up a multimedia picture of Winehouse’s rise fame. Along the way, we see a little girl who never truly grew up when it came to her father, Mitch Winehouse. In the biopic of Amy’s life Mitch would be the bad guy. Faced with her daughter’s crippling addictions, Mitch seems to keep one eye on the ticket sales at all times. He was a man who perchance didn’t always know what his daughter needed.

Whilst there are to be expected moments of heartbreak, Amy throws light on the star who was as quick-witted as she was talented. Someone who didn’t take fools gladly. A particular choice clip sees Winehouse struggling to hide her displeasure as a rambling journo compares her to Dido.

Kapadia falls down though when he dips his toe in the ghoulishness he calls the media out on. Footage of Winehouse’s body being carried out of the house and footage of her funeral seem tasteless when stack against everything else.

Intimate and captivating, Amy is still however a wonderful portrait of someone who should have been given another go of life.

Trifecta of Horror: Wyrmwood (2015), VHS Viral (2014) and Drive Angry (2011)

Wyrmwood

Those looking for a Mad Max hit whilst they wait for Fury Road’s home release, could do themselves a massive favour by throwing their peepers in the direction of Wyrmwood. Directed by Kiah Roache-Turner, the film follows Barry and Brooke; siblings caught up in a zombie apocalypse. Brooke has been captured by a mysterious dancing doctor in a biohazard suit , whilst Barry hooks up with a bunch of blokes who have found a new use for zombie blood. Exhilarating, violent and with a decent splash of claret, action and horror fans will lap this up.

VHS Viral

After two solid entries in the franchise, Viral struggles to match the pace of its predecessors. Entries hardly engage, with one even giving up the the whole premise of being found footage. That’s never a good sign is it? Equally frustrating is the film’s desire to eat itself with a nonsensical segment wraparound that sees a man chasing after a haunted ice cream van. Pointless to the extreme, let’s hope things improve if there’s a fourth entry.

Drive Angry

Nicholas Cage stars in this 2011 supernatural road movie about a convict busting out Hell to rescue his granddaughter. Cage is that convict and along the way he’ll drink hard, enlist the help of Amber Heard, and kill seven men whilst having sex with a stripper. Yes, this overblown movie is transmitted directly from the brain of a teenage child, but by Christ, it’s a lot of fun.

The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence (2015)

After the euro-gloss of Human Centipede: First Sequence and the exploitation arthouse of Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence, director provocateur Tom Six returns with the much threatened Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence. And boy howdy, it’s hard to decide what to make of it.

The stars of Six’s last two films, Dieter Laser (First Sequence) and Laurence R Harvey, (Full Sequence), returning roles that are polar opposite to those they made famous. Laser’s calm and calculated Dr. Heiter is replaced by Bill Boss; a ranting, racist, raping prison governor looking for order by any means necessary. Harvey’s childlike Martin is swapped for Dwight Butler, Bill’s overly patient and brow beaten assistant who may just have the solution he needs

A squishy stew of castration, shouting, sexual violence and Eric Roberts, Human Centipede 3 is liable to offend pretty much everyone. Stacked up against the first two, it’s perhaps not as technically brilliant. Nor is the ‘centipede’ the main focus of this third entry. Bill’s experimentation in castration and arm-breaking to quench his prisoners’ wrath remains at the forefront for the majority of the film’s narrative. Accusations then that the film is boring seem to be a little misguided. Like Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered, Human Centipede 3 is deliberately polarising. There are long periods of nothing happening, which are punctuated with waves of deplorable behaviour. Laser screams at the camera for what seems like hours on end. There are some extremely uncomfortable scenes with Bree Olsen. And then, from seemingly nowhere, we’re in slapstick territory. You’re not leaving the film feeling bored. No no. You’re feeling polarised with yourself.

If it sounds like we’re like we’re sitting on the fence, then we are. Tom Six is definitely trying to get a reaction and he’s not bothered how you respond. We’re flummoxed but we think that’s the point.