Monday, July 20, 2015

Trainwreck (**)

Directed by Judd Apatow


Since Judd Apatow's 2005 masterpiece The 40-Year-Old Virgin, his feature debut, the comic's films have been spinning closer and closer to the sun. His insistence on indulging his and his friends' egos has left his films bloated and ponderous. His films are still funny, he allows his performers - all of them - to play to their strengths, regardless of whether those strengths mix well into a fully-formed film. Once he made Funny People in 2009, his films began to feel like a lazy puree of solid comedy bits searching for a plot. Trainwreck is a little bit more of the same, but there is one new element here and that's Amy Schumer. The comedienne has evolved over the last decade from a poor man's Sarah Silverman to a truly astute, intelligent comedic performer, supported by a hilarious Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer. Schumer is credited with writing the script here, but I'd like to believe that she didn't pen this film as the cameo-riddled, NBA athlete showcase that it eventually became. Apatow's tastes for big names who might not exactly have any talent in front of the camera rears its ugly head in Trainwreck in the worst way. It's almost as if he didn't understand that the star of his film is enough.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Tangerine (****)

Directed by Sean Baker


The spirit of a film like Tangerine is contagious. It's lack of shame and sense of thrill is hard for even the biggest prude to resist. The film is the latest from Sean Baker, always a fan of the more depraved corners of American culture, and it burned through the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Though it left the festival without any awards, it definitely won the word-of-mouth battle, and luckily won distribution. The film is a marvelous comedy focusing on those parts of Los Angeles that most people do their best to avoid. It's three main characters are two transgender prostitutes and an Armenian cab driver - not exactly a recipe for commercial success - but Baker finds hilarious pockets in these outrageous lives, exposing the secrets of a lifestyle that a lot of people try to keep secret. Baker famously shot this entire film on an iPhone 5S; that detail has helped a lot in building this film's reputation as a breath of fresh air in the American independent film scene. But whatever "camera" Baker chose to use for this film is pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. There are movies that are shot on film that don't look as good as this film. That he's able to craft his opus with a smartphone and a pair of amateur performers as his stars shows the kind of artist he truly is.