TRAINWRECK (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content, Nudity, Language and some Drug Use

Trainwreck poster

Directed by: Judd Apatow

Written by: Amy Schumer

Starring: Amy Schumer, Tilda Swinton, Bill Hader, John Cena, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn & LeBron James

Romantic comedies aren’t exactly the kind of films that can majorly change over time. You have two people who fall in love with each other before encountering turbulence in their relationship that threatens to separate them before eventually reuniting and rekindling their affection for each other. It’s a well-known, often-used formula that’s associated with rom-coms and chick flicks. While TRAINWRECK doesn’t buck that decades-old trend, it happens to be directed by Judd Apatow (the man behind KNOCKED UP, one of my favorite rom-coms) and was penned and stars Amy Schumer. So with a hard R rating and crude sensibilities, TRAINWRECK should more than please couples who enjoy dirty-minded comedy with a soft side. It’s that sort of movie.

TRAINWRECK, Amy Schumer (left), 2015. ©Universal Pictures

Ever since she was a child, Amy was hammered with the idea that monogamy wasn’t realistic. As result, Amy has grown into a loose, heavy-drinking, drug-using writer working for a tabloid magazine. She’s never had a committed relationship, because she never thought that lifestyle was for her. This all changes when she’s assigned to write an article on sports doctor Aaron. Aaron is the polar opposite of Amy. He’s a conservative, nerdy guy and hopeless romantic. Somehow, Amy and Aaron hit it off well during an interview and go out for dinner. Dinner turns into drinks and drinks turns into sleeping together. Aaron has fallen head over heels for Amy and she’s trying to cope with the fact that she’s finally found someone she loves. That’s the set up and it’s not exactly hard to guess where the film goes from there, but it’s highly entertaining to watch.

TRAINWRECK, from left: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, 2015. ©Universal Pictures

TRAINWRECK isn’t exactly immune from clichés of the rom-com formula, but openly mocks them as it goes along. The screenplay is especially impressive seeing that it’s the first actual full-length narrative that Schumer has written as her past work consists of skits and stand-up comedy. It definitely helps if you like her material (and I do) as her crude sense of humor and talent both translate well onto the screen. The movie throws in a lot of fun plot details and manages to get a lot of mileage out of them. A ton of laughs come from Amy’s job at the Tabloid magazine (especially her mentoring an oddball intern) and frequent conversations with a homeless man on her street. As crude and lewd as TRAINWRECK can be, the film has a definite sweet side as well. A lot of the movie hinges on Schumer’s performance and she brings her character to the screen very well. In other hands, this character could have been downright despicable and unlikable on all fronts. However, we realize she’s a damaged woman with a lot of baggage. Watching her journey is an enjoyable experience, even when you don’t agree with her actions.

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As far as the rest of the cast goes, everyone else delivers in their parts. Bill Hader (who has been on a roll lately with THE SKELETON TWINS and INSIDE OUT) plays Aaron as someone we can sympathize with. While he’s not so much of the focus of the film as Amy is, the two have good chemistry together as a couple. Meanwhile, LeBron James is hilarious as an exaggerated version of himself. Brie Larson is great as Amy’s polar opposite sister and Mike Birbiglia is well-cast as said sister’s husband. I was surprised by John Cena’s performance. I haven’t seen him in much (besides the godawful MARINE), but Cena impressed as Amy’s ultra-sensitive beefcake fling. He’s not a huge character, but makes the most of every scene he’s given. The biggest problem in TRAINWRECK comes with pretty much every Apatow comedy of late. The running time is too long. It’s not enough to dissuade anybody from watching this movie, but there are scenes that definitely could have been removed entirely and nothing would be missed (e.g. one useless montage and an “intervention” scene that only serves as an excuse for a few cameos). It feels like TRAINWRECK definitely could have benefitted from more time in the cutting room.

TRAINWRECK, from bottom: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, 2015. ©Universal Pictures

TRAINWRECK is a dirty-minded, foul-mouthed rom-com with a heart of gold. Much like KNOCKED UP, the movie feels very honest in spite of its unavoidable clichés. Amy Schumer’s script is well-written and her performance is dramatically different from what you might expect from her. The film is definite date-night material for couples who happen to love Schumer’s comedy. You could do far, far worse in the chick flick department. Dare I call TRAINWRECK the best chick flick I’ve seen in a long time. I think I shall. If it sounds up your alley, give it watch!

Grade: B+

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Crude Sexual Content including Dialogue, Graphic Nudity and Pervasive Language

ZMPorno poster

Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Traci Lords, Jeff Anderson, Katie Morgan, Justin Long, Brandon Routh, Tyler Labine & Tom Savini

Kevin Smith is one of those filmmakers whose stories either work for you or they don’t. Some people love his dirty-minded movies with a heart of gold and others see him as a bit of a so-so storyteller. Personally, I’ll try everything this man does at least once. CLERKS II and RED STATE were his last two great films in my opinion as some of his output has been a tad lackluster in the last decade. ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO is a prime example of a movie that has spurts of comic brilliance, but ultimately falls victim to Smith sticking too close to a familiar formula playing out in predictable fashion.

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Zack and Miri have been friends since elementary school and live together strictly as roommates. The two have no interest in forming any kind of romantic relationship and sex is off the table. After circumstances get dire and they find unpaid bills stacking up to an insane degree, the two buy into a crazy idea of filming their own pornography and banking on it to save themselves from the impending possibility of being homeless. The process of making this no-budget adult film requires enlisting a crew of colorful characters (some of which are played by real-life porn stars). Zack and Miri’s friendship gets more complicated as they discover there might be unexpected feelings between them. The plot plays out in typical rom-com ways, even if the idea of making your own porn isn’t necessarily a staple in this genre.

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I’ll get the good qualities out first. Fortunately, there are a lot of positives in this flick. Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks have great chemistry together. I bought them as lifelong friends and could understand why they wouldn’t necessarily want to risk screwing their friendship up with sex. They seem feed off each other and the cast members around them. The other performers include Craig Robinson, Jeff Anderson (who does not play his usual Randall character from CLERKS or anything resembling him). Jason Mewes steals the show in the role of a low-IQ, but sweet-natured porn star enlisted for Zach and Miri’s little endeavor. One of the best scenes in the film is in the opening 20 minutes and involves a hilariously graphic conversation with a briefly glimpsed Justin Long. This is the nicest thing I can say about this movie: Everything works perfectly in setting up the scenario and Smith’s witty dialogue is in full form…for the first 25 minutes or so. The rest of the movie doesn’t live up to how strong this film opens.

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Two main things keep ZACK AND MIRI from reaching potential greatness or even stacking up with better comedies in the new millennium. The story falls victim to the rom-com formula and there are stretches of the film that didn’t even get a chuckle out of me. From the start, everyone watching the movie pretty much knows where Zack and Miri will be at the end of the film and Smith doesn’t necessarily do anything to derail those expectations. To be fair, CHASING AMY and CLERKS II didn’t hold any surprises in this way either, but they did provide awesome plot threads and keep the viewer rolling with laughter. ZACK AND MIRI doesn’t do this as well. The handful of long stretches not containing a single laugh also put a damper on the whole scenario. It should also be noted this is a really dirty movie, as if you couldn’t guess that from the title. Smith fully pushes the R rating to its limits in sexual content and graphic dialogue, more so than in something as gross as CLERKS II.

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ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO isn’t Kevin Smith’s finest hour and it was intended to be the film that pushed him into more mainstream success. Instead, the film starts off very strong, then drags for a bit, and ends with a satisfying climax (pun fully intended). I had fun watching this film and it’s a good date movie, if your date doesn’t mind a whole lot of crude humor. The biggest issue is that the rest of the film couldn’t live up to the level of its opening 25 minutes. ZACK AND MIRI ends up being a decent rom-com weighed down by the two major problems already mentioned.

Grade: B-

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