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

Vanity Fare

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More so than ever, we seem to live in a cultural world unable to let things die. Every time a television series is canceled, or ends its run voluntarily, there are immediate calls for it to be resurrected elsewhere in TV or movie form. The former makes a bit of sense, but the idea of making a feature film as a sequel to any series has never added up for me. For one, most television shows are television shows for a reason, making their formulas particularly ill fitting for feature length. This is especially true of Entourage, a 30-minute HBO show that has been blown up to 100 minutes and given a wide theatrical release. Its formula is so low-stakes, so predictable, and, frankly, so uninteresting that attempting to turn it into a worthy cinematic event seems inherently like a fool’s errand. Continue reading

Optimism, Destroyed by Earthquake

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 10.28.17 PMThis post vaguely discusses the end of Tomorrowland

There’s a scene toward the end of Tomorrowland, the latest blockbuster Disney adventure directed by Brad Bird, where we are presented with a long monologue about how humans have made no effort to avoid the apocalypse—in fact, we have embraced it, particularly in our media and entertainment. Not 24 hours after I sat through this sermon, I decided to take in San Andreas, the smash Dwayne Johnson vehicle that depicts the obliteration of California by earthquake. It was difficult not to constantly think back to the Disney film’s words about how we view the apocalypse while sitting through all the CGI mayhem, and it seems the more movies I watch the less patience I generally have for the use of mass disaster as a means of entertainment. Millions may die and cities may be leveled, but who cares as long as Johnson gets back to his family? Continue reading