REVIEW: Keanu

26 04 2016

SXSW Film Festival

The hype surrounding the film festival environment leads even seasoned veterans like myself into making questionable life decisions. On my second day at SXSW, I hustled to the Austin Convention Center at 8:30 A.M. to get a prime seat for a talk with comedy qweens Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. That very same evening, after a full day of interviews and screenings, I decided it would be a great idea to go see the work-in-progress screening of “Keanu,” starring the comedy team Key & Peele. Who cares that the show was at 12:30 A.M. and, because of the daylight savings time change, would not let out until 3:30 A.M.? Minor details.

Was I in the best state to watch a film? Gosh no. But if “Keanu” could keep me (mostly) awake and (mostly) entertained, then it ought to pack a real wallop for anyone viewing under normal conditions.

The film seems reverse engineered from all the things people love to share on my Facebook news feed: cat memes, irreverent ’90s action film-style violence and the sketch comedy of Key & Peele. “Keanu” could not tee up its stars for more success, plunging their thinking man’s wit into the absurd world of the Los Angeles criminal underground once their pet cat gets kidnapped. Yep, you read that correctly. (To be fair, the cat did escape from a drug lord.)

After pushing buttons and boundaries with their provocative Comedy Central show, Key & Peele’s first foray onto the silver screen resembles 2010’s “Date Night” more than anything else. Remember that movie? With Steve Carell and Tina Fey, who were still involved in their hit NBC sitcoms? You might not because it was sub-par material, but you might have some faint recollection because those two stars brought their A-game and elevated the script to decent effect.

“Keanu” does the same for Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. The script (co-written by Peele with Alex Rubens) has its fair share of great comedic set pieces and hilarious one-liners. It stops short, however, of the depth of satire Key & Peele normally utilize to probe questions of race, gender and class. That slight disappointment mostly comes afterward, though. In the moment, it is mostly just amusing and ridiculous to watch a cat meme come to life as a full-length feature. B2halfstars





REVIEW: Trainwreck

4 08 2015

Trainwreck PosterAt roughly the midpoint of “Trainwreck,” writer Amy Schumer sets up a remarkable parallel between two scenes at the same baby shower.  The character Amy, played by Schumer herself, has to endure a brutal game of “Skeletons in the Closet” where posh young mothers spill dark secrets … that actually reveal themselves as pathetically and predictably tame.

Meanwhile, Amy’s boyfriend, Bill Hader’s Aaron Conners, recounts details of the many athletes he has helped rehabilitate in his sports medicine practice.  He rattles of name after name to the same awe-struck reaction from a crowd of unfamiliar men … until he drops the name Alex Rodriguez.  Among this set of New Yorkers, this blasphemy inspires a sudden outburst of profanity.  But then, Aaron goes back to some more agreeable athletes, and the peanut gallery resumes the standard call-and-response.

These scenes, juxtaposed as they are, communicate a central tenet of “Trainwreck.”  Both genders, when taking cultural stereotypes of gender to the extreme ends of their performance, deserve mockery for their folly.  (This also includes John Cena, who briefly appears as Amy’s bodybuilding boyfriend who talks about the gym like many women talk about the nail salon.)  Schumer’s feminist intervention into the romantic comedy genre aims to level the playing field for men and women, not by putting the latter on any kind of pedestal but through suggesting the common humanity that unites them.

Her on-screen persona in “Trainwreck” arrives at the perfect moment, a time where many female characters are either monotonically strong or practically invisible and silent.  The “approachable” Amy, as her boss (played by a bronzed Tilda Swinton) condescendingly deems her, is a romantic comedy heroine cut from the cloth of contemporary society.  The hard-drinking, truth-telling, free-wheeling character benefits from the assertiveness in romance that women gained through the sexual revolution, yet she also pushes up against the lingering constraints left unconquered by that unfinished movement.  Amy also embodies the spirit of a generation scared to death of commitment, an era when the only thing scarier than the sea of possibilities is the choice to settle on one of them.

She meets her match in Aaron, an equally plain-spoken person who falls for Amy as she profiles him for the men’s magazine S’nuff.  The big difference, though, is that he possesses self-confidence where she shields her insecurities with self-deprecation.  Aaron, notably, never becomes a human incarnation of a “Mr. Wonderful” doll.  While exceedingly nice and admirable, Amy exposes a few of the buttons he might not like people pushing.

“Trainwreck” does not place Amy in the position of damsel in distress, nor does it make her some kind of prize for winning once tamed.  Amy’s impetus to change, although partially spurred by Aaron, seems to derive from an internal desire to stop numbing herself to the world.  And even in her triumphs (including the grand finale), Schumer always makes sure her Amy still shows some amusing, endearing flaws.  She is allowed to have flawed, circular logic, and it does not mean she is crazy; it just means we embrace her all the more.

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REVIEW: The Cobbler

20 07 2015

The CobblerTom McCarthy may soon bear an ignominious distinction in the history of my sight, going from making my #1 film in 2011, “Win Win,” to likely one of the worst in 2015 with “The Cobbler.”  This adult fairytale, co-written with Paul Sado, makes “Click” feel like it possesses the profundity of an Aesop’s Fable.  It’s all of the magic with none of the heart.

Adam Sandler stars as Max Simkin, a pickle-munching mensch on the Lower East Side, who reluctantly becomes the “guardian of souls.”  It’s a title not only better deployed within the context of a Marvel movie but also a pretty terrible pun since Max is a cobbler who works with soles.  In a strange turn of events, Max discovers that he can literally walk around as his clients if he walks arounds in their shoes … because magic.

Shockingly, Sandler’s character takes a whopping half-hour to discover the potential of the shoes for sex.  “The Cobbler” bops around from episode to episode, most stupid but a few touching, all the while squandering a great opportunity for an obvious message. The premise of the story effortlessly lends itself to discussing cultural differences and the understanding we can gain by learning through experience.

But sadly, this isn’t a Tom McCarthy movie, not really.  It’s an Adam Sandler movie.  In his movies, social commentary would never get in the way of entertaining genre fare.  Shame on us for assuming anything might be different here.  C2stars