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‘Ex Machina’ makes strong case for 2015’s best


Ex Machina (2015)

Directed by Alex Garland

8.5/10  R

Screenwriter Alex Garland (“28 Days Later…”) had always wanted the chance to direct. A producer told him that he would have to write something good, really good, good enough that someone else would be itching to direct it…and if he could do that, he might be able to direct it himself. So he wrote “Ex Machina,” a riveting and titillating AI thriller. And what would become his directorial debut also became the most incredible film to release so far this year.exmachina11

When Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is chosen in a lottery to visit the research facility/estate of his software company’s CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), he doesn’t know entirely what to expect. Nathan runs Bluebook, which is basically what a child born of Google and Apple might look like. Nathan is Bluebook’s Steve Jobs. But when Caleb arrives, Nathan is in the middle of an aerobic detox to cure his aching hangover from the night before. He’s just a seemingly normal thirtysomething. But soon, Nathan lets Caleb in on the real purpose of his visit—to test Nathan’s newest robotic creation. The series of tests will help Nathan discover whether he has created true AI—whether Ava (Alicia Vikander), as Nathan named her, can pass for human. But as the week goes on, Caleb begins to question Nathan’s motives. And even Ava’s motives, and whether she can even have motives. His isolation is felt by the audience, and we soon realize we’re not sure how this psychological experiment will conclude.

Nathan’s ego is his biggest weakness—he’s a classic(al) tragic hero. It’s an important role for rising star Oscar Isaac, exmachina7whose career thus far has been full of such big roles (in movies like “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “A Most Violent Year,” and the upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”). The Guatemalan actor is only 35 years old. He has decades to win the Oscar statuettes I’m certain he’ll retire with. As Nathan, Isaac is a bouncing ball of enigma wrapped in charisma. It’s a potent combination that Isaac delivers with precision. In the same boat is 32-year-old Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson, son of Golden Globe nominee Brendan Gleeson. His resume also shows incredible range, starring with success in a rom-com (“About Time”), an odd-com (“Frank”), a war drama (“Unbroken”), and soon he’ll be alongside Isaac again in the newest “Star Wars” installment. His long-term success is inevitable. Swedish model Alicia Vikander has been in over a dozen roles, most of them overseas. But as Ava, Vikander found her breakout opportunity. Now, she has six projects lined up, all of them noteworthy. Her test was to trick audiences into thinking she’s inhuman, the opposite goal of her character. She nails it. Her mannerisms and idiosyncrasies are idealex-machina for portraying the humanoid (but not altogether human) Ava.

On the surface, Gardner’s screenplay might seem like a familiar concept. I can assure you it’s not. His script is one of 2015’s most original concepts, even at a time when AI media abounds (AMC’s “Humans,” “Chappie,” the newest “Terminator” sequel). An intentional lack of context and characterization allows the audience to learn with Caleb. We live vicariously through him, as he grows increasingly more curious, skeptical, and paranoid. Gleeson personifies distress, and the audience feels that. You soon sense that Nathan isn’t to be trusted, that he’s hiding something from us. This allows Garland to keep you on your toes with unpredictable twists. The suspense is heavy throughout, and a lingering score certainly doesn’t help make you any calmer. Seeing it the first time, exmachina12you might be distracted by this elaborate mystery, with an ending unexpected even to the most focused viewer. But to watch it again is to notice the intricacies of the plot, to see that “Ex Machina” is far more than an intense thriller, though it is certainly also that. Knowing how it ends, you can appreciate how “Ex Machina” achieves that end. Even something as seemingly insignificant as the sound Ava’s robotic body makes, even during her slightest movements. Or the set design, with a post-modern underground lair feel to it. These things now register with you. The cool factor is off the charts.

“Ex Machina” is a calculating thriller led by a cast of three of Hollywood’s brightest stars. It hooks you early and doesn’t let go. It certainly passes my test.

Rebooted ‘Vacation’ will make your cheeks hurt


Vacation (2015)

Directed by John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein

7.5/10  R

One month ago, this blog published a review declaring “Ted 2” the “funniest movie of 2015.” In light of the recently released comedy “Vacation,” I would like to formally apologize to my readers for an unfortunate error in judgment.

Over thirty years ago, the dysfunctional Griswold family (led by Chevy Chase’s Clark) took an unforgettable cross-country trip to Walley World in their green station wagon. Now, little Rusty (Ed Helms) is all grown up, and his family is in a grut. His marriage to his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) is fizzling, and their two sons (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins) don’t get along. So Rusty does the only logical thing—he hits the road and takes his family on the same vacation his family took.

“Vacation” starts off slowly, leading me to fear that it wouldn’t live up to the hype created after decades of waiting for another Griswold movie. But when it picks up, it really starts rolling. Ed Helms proved himself as an undeniably effective second-string in the “Hangover” movies, getting huge laughs while Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis took bigger roles. In “Cedar Rapids,” Helms showed promise in the lead. But in “Vacation,” Helms proves himself as a solid leading man, one of today’s best comic actors. The “Anchorman” franchise showed us Christina Applegate’s ability to draw big laughs, even when you don’t expect it. She seems innocent enough…until she’s not. She’s an underrated asset. But it’s the kids who bring the biggest laughs this time. In last year’s “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” we were introduced to Skyler Gisondo, who blew me away with his dopey style of comedy. It’s not just what he says, but also how he says it, that holds the real humor. He’s reminiscent of the original “Vacation” lead, Chevy Chase, who also has a small role VAC-01430-700x467in this one. He brings that brand of physical humor to his minor part. It’s one of a few nice homages to the past.

“Vacation” tips its hat to the 1983 comedy sensation while very clearly setting itself apart. It’s a composite of that and every other great road trip comedy since then. It’s not wholly original, as many of these specific types of comedies aren’t. That said, you have never seen a road trip comedy quite like this. It’s a consistent funny—the kind that makes your cheeks hurt afterward. The laughs are frequent, but never raucous. “Vacation” doesn’t hit you with huge, knee-slap jokes, but tons of situation humor. I would call it the funniest movie of the year so far, though I’d need to see it again to make sure it really is better than “Ted 2.” Regardless, you owe it to yourself to hit the holiday road this weekend and watch the hilarious resurrection of a classic.


Original ‘Vacation’ no good without nostalgia


Vacation (1983)

Directed by Harold Ramis

6/10  R

If the original “Vacation” came out today, it would be met with a low Rotten Tomatoes rating and minimal box office earnings. 1980s humor simply hasn’t aged well, if you look at it objectively. But nobody that saw “Vacation” in 1983—when the film’s simple, physical humor was commonplace—can see it without the subjective bias of nostalgia. I get it. Nostalgia is the reason I still end up watching Lindsay Lohan’s “The Parent Trap” at least a couple times every year. But “Vacation” just isn’tNational-Lampoons-Vacation funny anymore.

The Griswold family—patriarch Clark (Chevy Chase), his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), and their kids Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron)—set off on a family vacation to Walley World (think Disney World) in California, a couple thousand miles from their Chicago home. Along the way, they’ll stop and see Ellen’s redneck family in Kansas, where they’ll pick up Ellen’s Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca). As the family makes their way across the country, they’ll get into some typical shenanigans.

Chevy Chase’s legendary deadpan brilliance is the only thing that keeps this clunker rolling. Not that D’Angelo’s spunky personality doesn’t help. Coca is an irritating and unnecessary addition, and minor characters along the way don’t impress. 1283071172_9And the boring story doesn’t hold my interest. 2010’s “Due Date,” which admittedly copies some of this film’s funniest moments, does a better job at the road trip comedy, in my opinion. Again, it’s all about personal preference. The comedy is the most difficult genre to recommend, in my experience. One man’s trash is another man’s “funniest movie of 2015.” But beyond that, even, we learn nothing about the Griswolds. There isn’t a lick of character development, or even context. We start the evening before they leave. We end on the last day of their trip. It’s a simple concept, without any thinking involved. A dumb comedy full of dumb gags that last too long. It’s more annoying than funny. But don’t tell that to anyone over the age of 40.

The Best Films of 2015, So Far

As Oscar bait slowly begins to flood theaters, I pause briefly to reflect on the first seven months of 2015. Hollywood has provided us its share of muck, especially in those first few months of the year, but underneath the bad are the inevitable cinematic gems. Here are the five films that I’ve loved more than any others, from January through July.


Mr Holmes

5. Mr. Holmes

Ian McKellen gives us what could be the best-acted Sherlock Holmes in film history in this mysterious drama about a 93-year-old Holmes trying to recount his final case. Newcomer Milo Parker has a bright future ahead of him as his lively co-star.



4. Mad Max: Fury Road

This non-stop thrill ride is much more than an action movie. It’s a nearly flawless sequel thirty years in the making. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are a winning duo, but it’s the weird-factor that drives this one above and beyond.



3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Coming of age stories have become full of cliches over the years, but “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” flips them on their back with its refreshing take on the teen comedy. No movie this year has had a bigger heart, and few have bigger laughs.



2. Kingsman

Unpredictability is the key to the success of this spy thriller. Rarely do you expect what’s coming. Colin Firth is in classic form as the ass-kicking Galahad.



1. Ex Machina

The best movie of the year is this smart, sexy AI thriller with two brilliant leads in Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson. This one stays with you.

‘Southpaw’ is a winner by unanimous decision


Southpaw (2015)

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

8/10  R

Jake Gyllenhaal gained 15 pounds in muscle mass to play rock bottom boxer Billy “The Great” Hope in this summer’s main event, “Southpaw.” He’s so incredible, he has a shot at picking up 8 1/2 more pounds in the form of a gold-plated Best Actor statuette. But the Academy Award nominee (“Brokeback Mountain”) isn’t alone. He also has the weight of three Oscar southpawwinners behind him—Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”), Eminem (“8 Mile”), and the late James Horner (“Titanic”), who recorded his last original score for the boxing film. Together, they make “Southpaw” an undisputed winner.

Once a scrappy boxer with a bright future ahead of him, Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) had his career, possessions, and family (Rachel McAdams and Oona Laurence) torn away from him in a matter of weeks. As he prepares for a match against the reigning champion (Miquel Gomez), Hope will face the greatest spar of his life—fighting for custody of his young daughter. Seeking help from old-fashioned trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), Hope begins to get his life on track in an attempt to make things right with his daughter.

A bulked up Gyllenhaal digs deep to give us Hope. His intense, high-energy method acting is the stuff Oscar loves. We’ve been numbed by the loud, shouting fits of inauthentic rage by lesser actors, but—as you’d know if you saw last year’s Film Review-SouthpawNightcrawler”—Gyllenhaal is above that. When he shouts, you know he means it. It’s like he’s releasing demons with every scream. It makes for scenes of true, raw emotion. In “Southpaw,” Gyllenhaal sets himself up for a long career of stardom, if that wasn’t in his future already. He gets tremendous help from Whitaker, a king in his own right. He’s as commanding a performer as anyone. Playing Hope’s shady manager, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson still hasn’t made the seamless, comfortable transition into acting that some of his rapper-turned-actor colleagues have.

Director Antoine Fuqua has been touting his work on the Oscar-winning “Training Day” for fourteen years, but has only managed to give us adequate thrillers like “Brooklyn’s Finest” and “The Equalizer.” Now, though, Fuqua can add another high-quality gem to his resume, giving him something else to flaunt on his next movie’s trailer. “Southpaw” offers realistic boxing action, but it’s so much more than a boxing movie. The real story is about the man himself. The crowd roots hard for Hope, as was evident by the audible cheering coming from the theater I southpawsaw “Southpaw” in. Not only after the movie, but several times during it as well. It boasts incredible performances, especially from Gyllenhaal, but it also has wide commercial appeal. It’s a knockout punch. And James Horner’s beautiful final score was the thread that kept this tightly woven story together. It’s exquisite work, a swan song to be proud of.

Jake Gyllenhaal has proven himself one of the great method actors of our time. “Southpaw” might be this latest stellar performance, but it’s far from his last. He has a few more rounds left in him.

‘Pixels’ never finds its purpose


Pixels (2015)

Directed by Chris Columbus

5.5/10  PG-13

It’s been a few months—April, to be exact—since I’ve seen a new release quite as bad as “Pixels.” So far, it’s an easy choice for the biggest summer blockbummer of 2015. Touting a cast of comedy misfits that haven’t had a hit in a decade (discounting Josh Gad’s voice-only role as Olaf in “Frozen,” of course), “Pixels” is the only one laughing at its own uninspired jokes and ‘80s references that its target audience won’t understand.

pixelsWhen a tape recording of the 1982 video game championship between Sam Brennan (Adam Sandler) and Eddie “Fireblaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage) is sent into space along with a chronicle of the year in news, nobody expected that it would be received so literally. But aliens interpreted the message of video game violence as an act of war, and sent pixelated video game protagonists to destroy Earth. After the military proved unsuccessful in their attempt to defeat Centipede, the nerds are called in to do what they do best. Following the lead of Brennan and Plant, a team including Brennan’s childhood friend and sitting President Will Cooper (Kevin James, as unconvincing as any President I’ve ever seen…but still better than Trump), Lt. Col. Violet van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), and video-game-prodigy-turned-conspiracy-theorist Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) strap on light blasters in an attempt to save the world. But as they defeat their foes, bigger and tougher (and more iconic) enemies follow.

A movie can’t get off the ground without at least one or two compelling characters. The ones in “Pixels,” however, pixels-kevin-james-adam-sandler(yes, all of them) are more one-dimensional than the arcade characters we see on screen. No time is spent giving them any depth. Instead, they’re all conveniently put together in absurd ways (for instance, Sandler is installing Monaghan’s TV when they’re both called to the White House to meet with James). But it’s more than that. If “Pixels” was intended as a comedy, it is the least funny I’ve seen in years. This is par for Sandler’s course, and—since he’s simply an extension of Sandler—Kevin James, too. So that’s not totally surprising. This isn’t the cast we expect to give us the comedy of the year. But “Pixels” was destined to fail. By using a concept only adults over 35 will understand—an attack on Earth by ‘80s arcade game characters…even the obscure ones that never got their own Nintendo Wii game—“Pixels” fails to give its intended audience—it’s rated PG-13—anything to relate to. Sure, Q*bert is cute. But not too many people are playing the newly rebooted Q*bert games on their phones, I’m sure. “Pixels” is too colorful and silly to be for adults, but too obscure for children. I honestly can’t see an audience who will love this movie (besides the childlike couple in their 50s who sat beside me, clapping at every weird ’80s reference). Not only is the focus all over the place—pac-man-pixels-moviemuch like this review, I know—but the story is, too. It hops around more than Frogger. “Pixels” is based on a five-year-old short of the same name, which is much better and only wastes two minutes of your time. The full-length dud is written by Sandler movie veteran Tim Herlihy, who wrote all of those terrible ‘90s Sandler movies you know and hate (“The Waterboy,” “Little Nicky”) and Timony Dowling, who has only written one other terrible Sandler movie so far (“Just Go With It”).  “Pixels” might be Adam Sandler’s Adam Sandleriest movie in years—and that’s not a good thing. This weekend, treat “Pixels” like an arcade game with an “out of order” sign on it and avoid at all costs.

Ian McKellen cements a legacy as ‘Mr. Holmes’


Mr. Holmes (2015)

Directed by Bill Condon

8/10  PG

In the long cinematic history of iconic Sherlock Holmes portrayals—from the Rathbone days all the way to Robert Downey, Jr.—Sir Ian McKellen’s towering performance in “Mr. Holmes” is perhaps the most extraordinary.

Based on the Mitch Cullin novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind,” “Mr. Holmes” finds a true-life Sherlock (McKellen) at 93 years of age, quietly tending to his bees as he lives with his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young, lively son Roger (Milo Mr HolmesParker). After years of suffering through inaccurate depictions of his life in literature and film, Holmes decides to set the record straight by writing his own definitive account of his final case. But time has made him weary, and his memory is failing. As we flashback to a time when Holmes was twenty years younger, we find him attempting to solve a case involving a man (Patrick Kennedy), his wife (Pattie Morahan), and a glass armonica.

McKellen had big shoes to fill stepping into a role that has been played by dozens of fine actors before him. In fact, Sherlock has been the subject of more movies than any other character in film history. But “Mr. Holmes” is unique in its approach by focusing more on man than mystery. It’s a moving portrait of a detective whose life isn’t what you thought it was. And McKellen plays it with legendary grace. Donning facial prosthetics, McKellen captures the time-worn, feeble, but still wise Sherlock Holmes. This performance is a treasure. Oscar should be knocking on his door—if he wins, he would be the second oldest actor to take mr-holmes05home Hollywood’s highest honor (just days younger than Henry Fonda’s record). Maybe I’m being presumptive in saying that…but I wouldn’t bet against him. Unfortunately, the exceptional talent of three-time Oscar nominee Laura Linney is largely under-utilized in a role that tries to make her an antagonist in a movie that survives without one. But our introduction to Milo Parker (a dead-ringer for a young Thomas Brodie-Sangster) makes up for that. His energy complements Holmes’s tiredness, and their blooming friendship is heartening.

“Mr. Holmes” offers a more predictable, but far less important, mystery for Holmes and the audience to solve, but it uses the case for a bigger purpose. Holmes’s failure 20 years ago proved to him that mysteries can’t always be solved neatly, cleanly, a conclusion delivered with a pretty bow on top. Human nature doesn’t allow for simple answers. The mystery presented in “Mr. Holmes” is solved slowly, like a dripping faucet, unlike theMRHOLMES high-pressure fire hose of the faster-paced action movies Robert Downey, Jr. starred in. “Mr. Holmes” is an all-around highly respectable period piece, full of stunning cinematography and a beautiful score from Carter Burwell (“Where the Wild Things Are,” “True Grit”).

The character of Sherlock Holmes will never die if he continues to be portrayed so unforgettably. McKellen gives the performance of his life, but the success of “Mr. Holmes” goes far beyond its lead. It’s a well-rounded masterpiece.

‘Ant-Man’ is another reliably good Marvel release


Ant-Man (2015)

Directed by Peyton Reed

7.5/10  PG-13

When I heard Paul Rudd was the leading man in a Marvel movie, I’ll admit I had my concerns about the tone. I knew “Ant-Man” would try to balance superhero action with comedy—they wouldn’t waste Rudd’s natural knack for humor—but I had my doubts that the jokes would land or that the focus would be in the right place. But, to my surprise, “Ant-Man” takes after ant_man_movie_02Marvel’s last tonal success, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” in its ability to make me laugh and fist pump at the same time. Win-win.

Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), now an old retiree, has hidden his Ant-Man suit—which shrinks its wearer to the size of an ant, but with the speed of a bullet—away in his safe for years. After handing over control of his company to Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), Pym thought the dangerous technology that helped create the suit was better left in his own hands. But Cross found a way to replicate the technology anyway, and decided to sell it to the highest bidder—Hydra, of Captain America infamy. So Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who has Cross’s naïve trust, hire burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to break into the company headquarters and burgle the suit that Cross has created. But of course, Cross has other plans. And when he puts on his own suit and becomes Yellowjacket, the action becomes the biggest little showdown in superhero history.

We haven’t seen much of Paul Rudd in the past couple of years. Now that he’s entered the Marvel universe, he’ll be hopeantman-ant-man-is-evangeline-lilly-wasp-or-red-queen-jpeg-222262employed for the next decade—Ant-Man already has a confirmed role in the next Captain America movie, “Civil War.” Like Chris Pratt before him, Rudd transcends his role as comedian and packs a mighty punch in his first super-role. But he’s far from light on the comedy. Along with his crew, played by Michael Pena, T.I., and David Dastmalchian, Rudd delivers deliciously funny lines at just the right moments. “Ant-Man” never lets you forget you’re watching comedians at work. With screenwriting credits from Rudd (“Role Models”), Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “Step Brothers”) and Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “The Adventures of Tintin”) “Ant-Man” is perhaps Marvel’s funniest release yet. But the emotional element attempted by Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly wasn’t there. Solemnity was ruined by flashbacks to “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” But their pedigree shines through anyway. They have a résumé for drama. And villain Corey Stoll is ideal. Although his character is flat and one-sided (most of the characters in “Ant-Man”…and let’s face it, most Marvel movies…are), his ability to be likably evil is unmatched.

“Ant-Man” does not lack in action, but this new ant-sized action is as miniscule as you might guess. It never ceases to be michael-douglas-ant-man-02-500x334unique, as we see ant-sized Paul Rudd run up the barrel of a gun before turning full size to punch a security guard, but it’s also not an easy type of fighting to play up. Sometimes we even see it played down. When a fight occurs on the tracks of a toy train, we see the small plastic engine fall off the track with no damage or even much noise to a full-size adult. It’s shown for comedic effect, but it instead just emphasizes the smallness of the action. I’m a traditionalist, I guess. I’d rather see the Hulk help destroy New York City than see Ant-Man knock over a little girl’s train set. But don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a little movie. It packs a big punch in the big picture. Plus, we get to see a minor Avenger practice for his bigger role in the upcoming sequel. It’s a nice reminder of the macrocosm universe that Marvel works in. “Ant-Man” isn’t just a filler between Avengers movies. It’s a contender in its own right.

‘Trainwreck’ : A comedy to fall in love with


Trainwreck (2015)

Directed by Judd Apatow

7.5/10  R

I’ve always felt like there was something about director Judd Apatow that I was missing. Whatever it is that critics love to hate, I don’t see it. Sure, he has a habit of going a half-hour too long. That’s a fair criticism. And maybe he likes to recycle themes and characters throughout his films (40% of the films he’s directed have the number “40” in the title, and Seth trainwreck-amy-schumer-bill-hader-judd-apatow-2015Rogen appears in 60% of them). But in his newest, “Trainwreck,” Apatow – for the first time – has no writing credit. He lets star Amy Schumer hold the reigns. And I think the movie is better for it.

Amy (Schumer, using her own first name as she tends to do) has been taught since she was a youngster that monogamy was unrealistic. That’s thanks to her father, who separated from his wife after numerous affairs. Now, Amy works for a men’s lifestyle magazine run by Dianna (Tilda Swinton, completely unrecognizable). She’s assigned an unwanted piece about a young sports doctor, Aaron (Bill Hader), who’s about to perform an industry-changing knee surgery on NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire (playing himself). When Amy meets Aaron, and drinks with him, and eventually sleeps with him…well, she catches the lovebug. But she doesn’t want to follow the husband-and-kid life of her suburban older sister, Kim (Brie Larson). So Amy tries to fight it, leading to a complicated months-long relationship…ish.trainwreck-mv-3

Apatow’s comedies are unlike any other director’s. He makes them real, and more than often with a tinge of heartbreak and tragedy. Yes, maybe that heartbreak is always caused by deteriorating relationships. And yes, maybe they always mend neatly within two hours. But still, Apatow comedies feel like relationship sagas. And this one is adorable. Bill Hader is the perfect everyman for the job. He makes Aaron a completely reasonable guy, a nice guy, without being overly comedic. In “The Skeleton Twins” he pulled off the drama, and here he uses the best of that performance to make Aaron a rounded, multi-dimensional character. And Amy, as much as I hate her permanent post-wisdom-teeth cheeks, is a spot-on trainwreck. Because she’s sort of playing herself. Hader and Schumer have surprisingly adorable chemistry, like a Woody Allen couple. They’re the glue that makes this relationship story (for the two hours that it trainwreck-mv-4is) actually work. And Apatow knows how to get big names in small roles, too. John Cena plays Amy’s boyfriend before Aaron, a hulking beefcake who isn’t the best at insults…or dirty talk…or communication in general. He’s a surprising bright spot. And LeBron James, playing himself, has a career after his eventual retirement from the NBA. He’ll make a perfect buddy flick sidekick. He doesn’t crack a smile even in the funniest of scenes, a true pro. The rest of the cameos, though, I’ll leave for you to discover.

In context with Apatow’s other films, I would say “Trainwreck” falls in the middle, not quite as good as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” or “Knocked Up” but better than “This is 40” and “Funny People.” But considering his last two were his worst, I think maybe we’re seeing an upward trend. For all of the motifs Apatow carries over from his other films (even though Schumer wrote it, it still very much trainwreck-mv-2feels Apatowian), “Trainwreck” is a heartwarming love story that draws more than a few big laughs. It’s like a warm bowl of soup on a winter day. Soup is nobody’s favorite food, but when it’s cold outside and you’re under the weather there is nothing more perfect. When you need it, a movie like “Trainwreck” can’t be topped. But maybe the soup metaphor was bad since it’s July. Well, you know what I mean.

‘Amy’ brings a genius back into focus


Amy (2015)

Directed by Asaf Kapadia

8/10  R

Amy Winehouse, one of this century’s most talented singer-songwriters, died four years ago this month. But in “Amy,” we see her tell her own story in exhaustive depth. Using video footage from the last ten years of her life, filmmakers let Amy do the talking. She is as we’ve never seen her before—silly, starstruck, but certainly not without flaws. The biographical Film_Review_Amy_Brow_t670documentary is the window to the soul, and never is that more true than in this intimate and revealing two-hour journey.

From her roots in small jazz houses around England, Amy always said she didn’t want to be famous. “I don’t think I’ll be at all famous…I don’t think I could handle it. I’d go mad.” Through the years, Amy’s life had obvious high points—close friendships, five Grammy awards in 2008—but also frequent lows, like her unsympathetic father, lost love, and addiction to alcohol and drugs. But “Amy” never lets you forget who Winehouse really was—a brilliant songwriter and affable twentysomething girl who just wanted to do what she loved.

Amy had spent her whole life trying to tell her unique story. Two albums—“Frank” in 2003 and “Back to Black” in 2006—were a start, but “Amy” wraps it up and puts a bow on it. Maybe that’s too cheery an analogy. “Amy” puts a spell on you amy-winehouse-back-to-black-video-filmearly on. It’s one of the shortest two-hour films I’ve ever seen, captivating despite its relative length. “Amy” is more than enough to make you miss the songs Winehouse never got to write or perform. It makes any so-so fan a devotee. But it’s not all whitewashed, subjective praise. The filmmakers show you even the most unflattering videos and photographs, too—the content is a mix of tabloid fodder and poignant elegy. It’s wonderful. “Amy” is one of the best films of the year, just behind new production company A24’s other successful 2015 releases, “Ex Machina” and “While We’re Young.” It’s a powerful picture of a tragic hero and misunderstood musical genius.