Unfamiliar Stars, Familiar Vehicles

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The blessing and the curse of being a successful comedian like Amy Schumer is that your personality eventually becomes inextricable from your brand. The mere mention of your name comes with a great deal of baggage, and when audiences line up to see something to which you have attached your name, they will expect to be presented with a certain, established point of view. For Schumer, much of this is due to the success of her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer, a program of singular hilarity and ferocity. Dozens of sketches have aired in that show’s time on the air, but they all unmistakably come from the same thematic place. By the time she got around to making Trainwreck, her first cinematic starring vehicle, Schumer’s reputation started to precede her. This project was viewed as a Schumer vehicle first and foremost; so much so that director Judd Apatow, one of the major cinematic comedy figures of the 21st century, wound up taking an authorial backseat in terms of public perception. Continue reading

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Robots, Strippers and the Best of 2015 (So Far)

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The idea that Hollywood is reliant on sequels and franchises is nothing new. If anything has changed, it’s that the films no longer have any real interest in working on their own terms. Call it the Marvel Effect if you wish, but the first priority of so many blockbusters these days seems to be the life of the franchise rather than the story they are attempting to tell in the moment. This is certainly the case with Terminator Genisys, which refurbishes the universe of James Cameron’s creation for the modern cinematic age. Of all the ways to make a new Terminator film, the method chosen by the filmmakers is truly one of the weirdest—it is at once a slave to the franchise’s past and a clear attempt at creating something new. It does neither job well, and ultimately betrays the best aspects of the franchise it is trying so hard to revitalize. Continue reading

Nothing More Than Feelings

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Pixar was in an interesting position entering 2015, and for the first time there was a real sense that audiences and critics were starting to lose interest. The company that once dominated the theatrical animation market no longer seemed to be at the top of the mountain. 2014 was the first year without a new Pixar film since 2005, and its three latest releases (Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University) failed to live up to the studio’s usually high standards. It may be unfair to expect a classic year in and year out from anybody, but for years Pixar made it seem possible. However, the best way to end the talk of a creative decline is to unleash a film like Inside Out on the world, which stands among the best things the studio has ever done. Continue reading