Trainwreck (Movie) written by Amy Schumer; directed by Judd Apatow; starring Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Colin
Quinn, LeBron James, Tilda Swinton, Dave Attell, Jon Glaser, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Ezra
Miller, Evan Brinkman, Norman Lloyd, Daniel Radcliffe, Amar’e Stoudemire, Marv Albert, Chris Evert
Viewers like me approach this one with caution. We know it stars a comedian who has made her name with a shtick that might
have been labelled, back in the day, as more than a touch slutty. She makes jokes about sex in a very explicit way and she
flaunts the fact that her character is the type who sleeps around. So maybe some of us would find her movie a bit offensive?
On the other hand, we’re told that this is what life is like for a lot of young singles today. So maybe we should give
it a try?
As expected, there is a lot on offer that’s offensive, cringe-makingly so. Is it true that young women these days
indulge in locker room talk that we used to think was the exclusive preserve of horny young males? Or is it sexist of me to
think in those terms? Is the movie exaggerating a point as a way of getting its own back on the part of women? Well, I don’t
know whether or not it’s a true reflection of what’s happening now, but there’s no denying that it delivers
lots of shocks for a viewer like me.
If you can survive the shocks, though, it becomes quite interesting to see whether or not romance might eventually be possible
for someone like this flippant, potty-mouthed woman. Will she ever be able to stifle her contempt for the jerks she beds so
that she might fall in love with one of them? Will she be able to quell her criticism of their sexual performance? Will she
ever be able to succumb to the sweet domesticity that her married sister (Brie Larson) seems to enjoy? This being a rom-com,
in spite of its atypical context, you can guess how it’s going to turn out. The romance may not seem very plausible;
you might not be able to believe in the attraction between these two people in question. But never mind. It’s only a
movie. As such, it can be quite entertaining.
Take Amy’s work situation. (Is it another case of Ms. Schumer's brazening it out that she has given the character
her own name?) She’s a writer on the staff of a lifestyle magazine that’s trying to be very edgy, very in-your-face,
with articles on questions like: a) does a man’s ingestion of garlic change the taste of his semen? and b) do some men
like to masturbate to hockey fights? Amy has been given the job of profiling a surgeon (Bill Hader) who caters to star athletes.
Why did Amy get the gig? Because she hates sports! There’s definitely some satire going on here. Amy’s boss is
one of the worst gorgons to appear on screen since Cruella De Vil. You’ve never seen anyone who’s so vicious and
who yet appears to think she’s affirming and supportive. And the role is attacked, literally, by none other than Tilda
Swinton, an actor whom I’ve not often liked because most of her work seems to consist of an open-mouthed, wan gaping.
Here, though, she’s so rapacious that I didn’t recognize her.
Then there’s Amy’s father (Colin Quinn). After a flashback in which we see him telling his young daughters
why he and their mom are divorcing – a rant that mounts to an outrageous justification of adultery – we find him
in a seniors’ residence where, thanks to some brilliant scriptwriting, his bad temper and his incisive wit lead to some
great lines, not to mention plenty of mockery of the seniors' care scene.
Another intriguing aspect of the movie is the introduction of several well-known people playing themselves. Basketball
star LeBron James, for instance, is a patient of the doctor that Amy’s profiling. We see James, a would-be buddy of
the doctor’s, trying to direct the doctor’s budding romance. Amar’e Stoudemire, another famous jock,
plays himself, as a patient the doctor’s about to operate on. Then there are real-life sports commentators who are brought
in at one point, people like Marv Albert and Chris Evert. At certain points in the movie, some characters happen to be watching
a kooky black-and-white film, apparently a spoof of one of those deadpan arty films, in which none other than Daniel Radcliffe
plays a seedy-looking dogwalker. The appearance of these real celebrities within Trainwreck gives it a particular spin,
seeming to make some sly comment on the fictive business of movie-making. Maybe it’s something like the concept of breaking
down the fourth wall in the theatre.
Some aspects of the movie, however, don’t make much sense. One of the guys that Amy’s bedding early on is a
muscle-bound hunk whose main flaw is that he can’t talk dirty to her, as she wants him to when they’re having
sex. That makes for a funny scene. Ditto the one where the hunk gets into a verbal slinging match with another guy but can’t
help spouting insults that make himself sound gay. But why would an intelligent person like Amy try to have a relationship
with such a knucklehead? (Her defence when he finds out about her sleeping with other guys: "But I don’t go to movies
with them the way I do with you!") And why would Amy’s doctor boyfriend, who comes from educated parents, turn out to
be such a klutz when dining out? Just for the sake of a comic restaurant scene? And don’t even ask about the ridiculously
over-the-top ending. It’s an extravaganza that’s about nothing but bravura movie-making; it has about as much
meaningful connection to life as a fireworks display at Disney World.
The big saving feature of the movie is Ms. Schumer’s creation of the character of Amy. As necessarily must happen,
we do discover that, underneath all the sarcasm, the obscene patter, the flippancy, there is a genuine, kind person who has
the same hurt feelings and the longing to be accepted that we recognize in any other human being. Maybe, in some ways, she
has those qualities even more keenly than a lot of people. The eulogy that she delivers at her dad’s burial is probably
one of the most honest, heart-felt and original ones that you’re ever going to witness – onscreen or off.
St. Vincent (DVD) written and directed by Theodore Melfi; starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Jaeden Lieberher,
Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, Ann Dowd
We know it’s a successful formula: an unsuitable adult is stuck with a needy kid. It has worked well in many movies.
But it’s so familiar now. Is there any reason why we should watch this particular version of it?
Perhaps. The adult in this case is so unsuitable: a scuzzy older man who lives alone, who drinks too much,
who plays the horses, who owes money all over town, whose girlfriend is a pregnant stripper/prostitute. The kid in question
is the son, about eleven years old, of the lady who has just moved in next door to the older guy. One day, the kid can’t
get into the house after school because his wallet, his keys and his phone were stolen by some bullies. So he has to turn
to the curmudgeonly neighbour. The mom thinks maybe this babysitting could become a regular thing, seeing that her hospital
job often prevents her from picking up her son after school. Of course, we know perfectly well where this is heading, but, along
the way, there are some notable moments, like the ones when the kid is introduced to such facts of life as the race track,
bars, and the pregnant stripper.
All of this would be mildly entertaining if it weren’t for an accumulation of touches that shriek of sentimentality
and manipulation. The kid goes to a Catholic school and his teacher is a religious brother. In an era when there’s a
dearth of vocations to religious life in North America, it’s the rare school, I’m thinking, that could have a
full-fledged religious brother teaching eleven-year-olds. A brother with an Irish accent, moreover, and one who insists on
wearing a Roman collar (unlike any religious brothers I know these days). This school seems to exist mainly in the mind of
a writer who wants to wring as much juice as possible out of the situation, regardless of its disconnect from reality. (The
religiosity is offset a bit by the fact that Chris O’Dowd plays the brother with sarcastic swagger but still...!) And
why needs there be a vicious school bully who, right from the get-go, attacks our kid with unbridled venom? Because the writer
needs some such drama, that’s why, no matter how fake it seems.
Other hokey touches include the one where a kid has been putting on his own necktie every morning but his mom has to help
him with it on a special morning. Why? To create a tender moment. An elderly man, in a moment of rage, breaks a skateboard
over his knee. That could only be possible in a world where a writer/director needs an emphatic gesture that gives viewers
a jolt, even though it has nothing to do with real life.
Worst of all, the climax of the story is one of the most blatantly contrived movie endings that I’ve ever seen. We’re
all used to movies, plays and novels that are propelled by the build-up to the big concert, the big race, the big test of
whatever kind. We grudgingly accept that as an effective structuring device. But who can believe that a school – even
a rather retrograde Catholic one – would stage a huge public event where kids would get up and deliver a speech canonizing
some local person whom the kid believes to be a living saint? I can possibly imagine such a scenario as a classroom
project. But a gala event in a packed auditorium, that an unsuspecting "saint" has to be tricked into attending, and where
everybody from his life, even his business connections and friends from the bar, happen to be in attendance so that they can
glowingly applaud the new hero....??? It’s one thing to have an uplifting, wholesome message for a movie – that
ordinary, good people are the real saints among us – but it’s a bit on the obvious side to hammer that message
home with a canonization.
The main thing that makes all this watchable is Bill Murray. You’ve never seen any adult male who feels such antipathy
to a kid. As with a lot of top-notch acting, what makes the performance so interesting, of course, is the marvellous way the
actor can show you the character’s attempt not to show what he’s feeling. But you can smell his resentment at
the situation he finds himself in. And Bill Murray does make his character’s transformation, by tiny increments, believable.
It helps that Jaeden Lieberher, as the kid, is not especially winsome or cute. He’s a bit of a blank-faced nerd but
his intelligence is a match for Bill Murray. Naomi Watts throws herself into the role of the Russian stripper/hooker
with verve. And Melissa McCarthy turns in an understated, convincing performance in one of the few non-comic roles that I’ve
seen her in.
The special features on the DVD include about ten deleted scenes. Some of them are pure fluff, more layering on of the
sentimental content. Wisely deleted. Others include information that could have been helpful in clarifying plot points or
aspects of characters. The deletion of these scenes provides an interesting demonstration of how filmmakers feel that they
can cut a lot while retaining the essence of a story.
Inherent Vice (DVD) written by Paul Thomas Anderson; based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon; directed by Paul Thomas
Anderson; starring Joaquin Phoenix, Joanna Newsom, Katherine Waterson, Jordan Christian Hearn, Eric Roberts, Owen Wilson,
Martin Short, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon
My main reason for watching this one was Joaquin Phoenix, who’s usually worth seeing. In this case, he plays Doc
Sportello, a Private Investigator. The setting is 1970s Southern California. Doc lives in a shack by the water in some beach
town. He’s scruffy and unkempt and the Los Angeles cops have contempt for him as a kind of hippie. But he appears to
be incorruptible and, when he’s not toking up or blissing out on laughing gas, he pursues his leads in a bumbling style
that belies his determination. And, yes, Mr. Phoenix is very watchable in the role. There’s always something interesting
going on in those glowing eyes of his, under those formidable eyebrows. What his mug seems to express most of the time is
a kind of bewildered conflict between innocence and scepticism.
But the movie as a whole? Not so watchable. I honestly couldn’t follow all the twists and turns of the plot. That
may have had something to do with the fact that I could only catch about fifty percent of what Mr. Phoenix mumbled. Also,
I fast-forwarded through parts of the movie, which meant that I missed some of the narration, delivered in the whiney voice
of a young woman who is/was (?) an associate of Doc’s. Her talk may have helped to explain some plot points. But I don’t
like movies that rely as heavily on voice-over narration as this one does. When used so extensively, the device strikes me
as a lazy crutch on the part of scriptwriters. In this case, the tone of the narration keeps reminding you of the voice of
the writer whose book you’re getting on screen and you keep thinking that maybe you’d do better to go to the original.
The main thrust of the plot – in so far as I understood it – is that a former girlfriend of Doc’s has
taken up with a real estate mogul who has suddenly disappeared. Bodies keep piling up. Disappearances keep happening. Are
the disappeared dead or not? Maybe Doc will find out. There’s also something about a "looney bin" that people are
being consigned to against their will. Plus something about a mysterious organization known as the "Golden Fang." And a ship
that is possibly being used to smuggle heroin. Things get so tangled that, at times, I wondered if it’s supposed to
be a parody. For instance, there’s the scene where a cop stops a car carrying three white males, telling them that,
because of the Manson murders, males with shoulder-length hair can be questioned on the grounds that they might belong to
Perhaps the best thing you could say about the movie is that it’s very "filmic" in the way it creates the atmosphere
of a world that’s totally wacko, or, as the characters themselves would put it, "groovy." It’s all very noir-ish
in mood and yet very colourful in a 1970s way: fuzzy black-and-white tv pictures; long-tailed, slinky automobiles. In those
days before cell phones or the Internet, there’s a prominent role for telephones. The clunky machines look huge and
are more vividly coloured than any that I remember from that era.
If you think you have the patience to give this one a try, you'll find that Joaquin Phoenix isn't the only actor worth
watching. Josh Brolin, as Doc’s main opponent in the police force, gives us a detective who starts off very Alpha Male
but becomes more and more troubled and unhinged in a way that actually makes you feel for him. On the other hand, Martin Short
plays an egregiously sleazy dental surgeon, probably one of the most thankless and humourless roles he’s ever been offered.
Owen Wilson is completely straight-faced in a role that has nothing comic about it. A final encounter between him and
Doc points up the Wilson character’s domestic blessings as compared to the emptiness of Doc’s life. After
the two men have parted, you see Doc sitting silently in his car with a look on his face that says everything about his sense
of his place in the world.
Topsy-Turvy (DVD) written and directed by Mike Leigh; starring Jim Broadbent, Allan Corduner, Timothy Spall, Martin
Savage, Lesley Manville, Ron Cook, Charles Simon and many others.
When this movie came out (1999), Dilettante’s Diary didn’t yet exist. That means we have no written
record of my first impressions of the movie. But I remember clearly that it was a big deal for me. Having fallen in love with
Gilbert and Sullivan at an early age, I was eagerly looking forward to this movie about their work. As I recall, the film
intrigued me and yet, there was something about it that I found vaguely dissatisfying; it certainly wasn’t quite what
I’d hoped for. On seeing it again (thanks to the loan of the DVD from a friend), I’m fascinated, I have a better
appreciation of it as a work of art, but it still leaves me somewhat puzzled.
There’s so much to love, though, especially for a theatre buff. All that backstage stuff. The rehearsing, the bickering,
the rivalry, the vanity, the hurt feelings, the drugs, the threats of dismissal, the show-must-go-on spirit. Timothy Spall
gives a touching picture of a performer trying to maintain his dignity when his big number is cut. In the Victorian context,
the theatrical setting brings up some special issues. Like performers – including the tenor – balking at the fact
that they aren’t allowed to wear corsets under their costumes. Actresses having to learn to walk as true Japanese, not
as the cutesy puppets that they’d been aping. A performer being informed that the cockney accent he has adopted doesn’t
work for a character whose origins are in the Japanese working class.
Those kinds of specific notes to the actors come, here, from the character of W.S. Gilbert, played by Jim Broadbent. It
isn’t until you read the on-screen essay included with the special features that you discover the significance
of Gilbert’s interventions. This initiative of his was, in fact, the beginning of the role of the director in theatre.
Until then, I gather, stars simply informed the other actors of how things would be done, or the cast, as an ensemble, muddled
through to some sort of agreement about the proceedings. From this time on, it would be a director who would pull everything
together and whose authority would be final (at least in principle).
Mike Leigh plunges us into the Victorian atmosphere right up to our necks. Grand homes with lavish furnishings. Everybody
so polite. Everyone always referred to as "Mr." or "Miss," even in the most heated arguments. A man apologizes graciously
to a woman for having been so rude as to use the word ‘prostitute’ in her presence. In the women’s dressing
room, we see the complicated architectural structures that went under their voluminous everyday skirts. Among specific chronological
markers, we get the introduction of such a new-fangled thing as the "reservoir pen" – what we would call a "fountain
pen." And there’s a vivid demonstration of the clumsy and inexperienced handling of that confounded new invention known
as the telephone. These items seemed to me to be worked into the script a bit too obviously but, still, they serve their purpose.
The movie opens in the hot summer of 1884 in London, when Richard D’Oyly Carte’s opera company isn’t
doing so well with Gilbert and Sullivan’s latest offering, Princess Ida. Something better is required for D’Oyly
Carte’s Savoy theatre. The two men are under contract to him but Sir Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) is not pleased
with the book that Gilbert is presenting to be set to music: far too much of the silly, fantasy world that critics have dubbed
Gilbert’s "Topsy-Turvy" milieu. D’Oyly Carte (played with admirable stoicism by Ron Cook) calls the men together
and tries to broker some kind of compromise. To no avail. Sullivan, for relief, goes off for a fling in the brothels of Paris.
It isn’t until Gilbert visits a Japanese exhibition in Knightsbridge that things begin to take a turn for the better.
You can see how Victorian London would have been astonished at this encounter with real Japanese culture – beautifully
restrained women performing tea ceremonies, Kabuki theatre, dancing, sword fighting. Gilbert, having attended the event reluctantly,
on his wife’s insistence, finds himself charmed. The exhibit sparks a new jolt of cleverness and originality in him.
The book of The Mikado begins to take shape in his mind.
It’s wonderful to see the various bits of the famous and celebrated work come together. There’s Gilbert sitting
by the fire, reading from the notebook on his lap: If you’re wondering who we are, we are gentlemen of Japan, on
many a vase and jar, on many a screen and fan.... A true lover of Gilbert and Sullivan can’t help thinking: Imagine
hearing those words spoken aloud to the world for the first time! Maybe not quite up there with the most momentous moments
in culture – like, say, hearing "To be or not to be" issuing from a rehearsal room in 16th century London
– but a significant milestone in theatrical history all the same.
One thing that I remember from first seeing the movie is that I was taken aback by the downscale look of the first production
of The Mikado as it was represented in the movie. It didn’t seem to have the wit, the brilliance, the style of
Gilbert and Sullivan productions as I’d come to know them. It was almost as if the co-creators hadn’t yet become
Gilbert and Sullivan of glorious legend. Maybe I’d been spoiled by the Brian Macdonald productions of the operettas
at the Stratford Ontario Festival. Mr. Macdonald gave us streamlined shows that sparkled with contemporary wit and design;
in spite of their antique settings, they looked as up-to-the-date as any stage shows could. Maybe that’s why I found
the look of the movie’s version of the original production tacky, or rinky-dink – like something that your local
Gilbert and Sullivan society would stage in the church hall. Those awful wigs, for instance! On consideration, though, I have
to admit that the production, as shown in the movie, could have been a knock-out for Victorian audiences. It certainly was
extravagantly colourful and exotic. Granted, the stage looked awfully crowded but, the Savoy theatre appeared to be very small
compared to what we’re used to today, so the audience probably accepted the cramped look of the show as the norm.
In spite of all the pleasures the movie offers, there are moments that aren’t exactly dull but are somewhat lacking
in momentum. We have to sit through some rather plodding expository dialogue that sets up the situations and establishes the
era. For instance, the information that attendance at the performances even of the great Sarah Bernhardt is flagging because
of the heat. Some scenes simply fill out the movie in the sense of history or documentary. Those scenes, for instance,
where Gilbert is teaching the actors how to say his lines, how to move. Or the scenes where Sullivan is correcting the orchestra’s
playing. Yes, all that must have occurred; these scenes help us to see what it must have been like, but they don’t engage
us in any kind of dramatic pull.
It’s well known, of course, that Mike Leigh creates his movies by spending something like six months with his actors
in exploring the characters and situations before a word of script is written. What evolves in that process is something that
doesn’t fit into any of the typical filmic formulae. The finished work is more sprawling, more open ended. That could
be why this movie has something of a Robert Altman feeling about it (not just because of its length of two hours and
forty minutes). You end up with something that’s closer to real life than to a typical movie, something along the lines
of Mr. Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller. In that light, I can accept that Topsy-Turvy isn’t the usual
showbiz bio pic. But it includes elements which, although germane to the lives of the individuals pictured, don’t have
any relevance to the story of the production of The Mikado. For instance, there’s a scene with Gilbert’s
elderly and ailing father (Charles Simon). It has nothing to do with what’s happening in the rest of the movie and could,
like some other bits – a singing of Sullivan’s "The Lost Chord," for instance – easily have been cut, to
the movie’s advantage.
To give Mr. Leigh full credit, the film does end on an ambivalent note. Although we know that The Mikado went on
to tremendous success for a century and more, Mr. Leigh doesn’t want to leave us on opening night with a note of unmitigated
triumph. Rather, we get Gilbert in his bedroom, musing with his wife Kitty about the fact that success seems rather empty.
Try looking for that message in any Hollywood epic! And the final moments of the the movie show the woman who plays Yum-Yum
gazing into her dressing room mirror, trying to convince herself that she really is beautiful. Then we move to the stage where
she is standing alone singing her big aria, "The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze" The impression is not so much one of
elation or satisfaction but, rather, a plaintive wish that the glory of the stage not be so fleeting.
Which brings me to my final beef about the movie. As in the case of this aria, we get only brief snatches of the loveliest
songs. Such as the tenor’s "A Wand’ring Minstrel. Of course, one accepts that you can’t expect a complete
performance of every aria in a movie that isn’t meant to be an exact replica of a full performance. But the singing
in the film, what we get of it, is all of high calibre, bright and refreshing, if not necessarily perfect in every respect.
(I believe all the actors did their own singing.) The credits say the soundtrack is available on Sony. Would one dare to hope
that the CD would include the full renditions of these beloved songs?