Screening Room: ‘Trainwreck’

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in 'Trainwreck' (Universal).

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in ‘Trainwreck’ (Universal).

After midwifing Lena Dunham’s Girls onto HBO, Judd Apatow is directing the off-key work of another comic of the moment. In Trainwreck, Amy Schumer plays basically the girl of her standup: a self-obsessed disaster. But will she find true love?

Trainwreck opens wide tomorrow. My review is at PopMatters:

… the film focuses on Amy (played by Schumer), another variation on the stock character from her TV show. Narcissistic and cutting, she’s racked up several lifetimes’ worth of one-night stands, terrified of commitment, and inclined to over-share. While the character tends toward dirty humor, she’s not so much intentionally shocking, a la Sarah Silverman, but rather, so self-involved that she’s unconcerned with how anyone else might take her revelations, as when she compares sleeping with her pseudo-boyfriend Steven (John Cena) to “having sex with an ice sculpture”…

Screening Room: ‘Magic Mike XXL’

No need for shirts in 'Magic Mike XXL'  (Warner Bros.)

No need for shirts in ‘Magic Mike XXL’ (Warner Bros.)

For Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh took an effortlessly charming Channing Tatum, an impeccably entertaining Matthew McConaughey, threw them together with some classic rock hits, male stripper dance moves, and a backdrop of economic insecurity, and made it into one of the most unlikely successes of 2012. Now there’s a sequel, and quite incredibly it beats out the original in every way.

Magic Mike XXL is playing pretty much everywhere now. My review is at PopMatters:

It’s no criticism to say that Magic Mike XXL doesn’t have a lot at stake. Following Magic Mike‘s model, it’s got a low budget and simple concept, and will likely clean up on its July 4 opening weekend. But this just-tongue-in-cheek-enough sequel, unlike the frantic and insecure Jurassic World, carries a devil-may-care casual confidence that wins you over precisely because it’s not trying to go bigger and bolder. Instead, it brings the further adventures of a merry band of male entertainers who love what they do, know they can’t keep doing it forever, and want to go out on a high note…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Gueros’ – French New Wave in Mexico City

'Gueros' (Kino Lorber)

‘Gueros’ (Kino Lorber)

Style doesn’t go out of style. That’s why directors around the world are still aping the French New Wave, in good and bad ways.

Güeros is a grab-bag of the right and wrong ways to appropriate the Nouvelle Vague’s stream-of-conscious plotting and jazzy rhythms. It did the festival circuit last year and is now getting a limited release. My review from the Tribeca Film Festival is at PopMatters:

[Güeros] gets a lot of traction from its mainly directionless young protagonists. They wander through Mexico City through a couple formless days backgrounded by worries about the future and uncertainty about their place and purpose in the present. It’s a film riddled and with questions and switchbacks, circling in on itself time and again…

Here’s the trailer.

Department of Shameless Self-Promotion: Here Come the Robots

More artificial futures in 'Ex Machina' (A24)

More artificial futures in ‘Ex Machina’ (A24)

Last Friday’s Wall Street Journal featured in its arts and culture section an article by Don Steinberg about the prevalence of robots and artificial intelligence in movies coming soon to a multiplex near you. It’s a subject that filmmakers just don’t seem able to stay away from.

Don very nicely included a few quotes from myself on the subject in the story: “Invasion of the Friendly Movie Robots.” Check it out.

New on DVD: ‘Life Itself’

The writer at rest: 'Life Itself' (Magnolia Pictures)

The writer at rest: ‘Life Itself’ (Magnolia Pictures)

One of the better documentaries that ever-so-briefly graced screens in 2014 was Life Itself. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and based in part on Roger Ebert’s memoir, the film is a fascinating and curiously life-affirming story about ambition, creativity, and getting on with things.

lifeitself-posterLife Itself is available on DVD today; my review is at Film Racket:

James takes Ebert’s 2011 memoir as his source document. From there we get Ebert’s memories of growing up as a precociously verbal only child in downstate Illinois. (“My mother supported me like I was the local sports team.”) He describes himself as not just a born writer but a born journalist. This was not a kid who wanted to just write for high-brow publications. He wanted to be read and heard by as many people as possible. Thus the career that arced from working-class daily paper to syndicated TV show and appearances on Carson and Letterman. When called upon he could pen a learned piece for Film Comment (as he did in response to a Richard Corliss piece that called him out as an egregious “thumbs up/thumbs down” simplifier and bottom-racer). But as much as he admired the Pauline Kaels and Andrew Sarrises of the world, that was never going to be him…

Here’s the trailer:

Department of Shameless Self-Promotion: ‘Eyes Wide Open: 2014′

Eyes Wide Open coverFor the third year running, I’ve published an annual guide (sort of) to the year that was, cinematically speaking.

The 2014 Eyes Wide Open is collected like the last couple of editions, in that it starts off with pieces covering each of my 25 favorite movies of the year, then laying into the year’s 5 worst films, rounding it all off with some shorter honorable mention pieces, DVD reviews, and other ephemera.

It’s available as a paperback here and an ebook here.

Screening Room: Tom Hardy in ‘Locke’

Tom Hardy in 'Locke' (A24)

Tom Hardy in ‘Locke’ (A24)

In the summer of 2014, a little film named Locke came and went from a few cinemas in an eyeblink. It’s not hard on the surface to see why: The secretive trailer promises only a one-man show: Tom Hardy in a car for about an hour-and-a-half, grousing and pleading on the phone. Just as audiences failed to find it, the Golden Globes also ignored the film, as most likely the Oscars will too.

Do yourself a favor and check out Locke, which is available on DVD and VOD now. My review is at Short Ends and Leader:

The prospect of spending an hour and a half with an actor in a car while they sweet-talk and argue with people on the phone would normally be straight tedium … But when the actor is Tom Hardy, it’s a different story. In Steven Knight’s spellbinding Locke, Hardy darts through the tense screenplay with such graceful ease that his work feels more like something lived than performed. By the time this downbeat nail-biter is done, it feels justified to finally go ahead and say that Hardy is easily one of the greatest actors of his generation…

Here’s the trailer: