Judd Apatow’s new film Trainwreck  has fairly high (and some excellent) reviews, so I was expecting a good film when I bought a ticket. On top of good expectations, I was also pleasantly surprised with a far richer dramatic experience than trailers reveal.

The casting alone tells you that this will be a funny film, with two hours and five minutes to flex their character-building muscles, interspersed with cameos from many SNL actors. The characters are balanced without any one character stealing the spotlight. LeBron James steps into his role naturally, along with John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Tilda Swinton and many others.

Trainwreck is a romantic comedy that makes some intelligent points about the ways we punish ourselves and sabotage our own happiness. Amy (Amy Schumer) is trapped in a dead-end job at a sensationalist magazine. As the plot begins, Amy is sent to research a story in the world of athletics, where she meets Aaron (Bill Hader) and a romance develops.

The characters are developed around their quirks in complex and uncomfortable ways, yet we are happy know them. The tension between Amy and Aaron pushes the envelope to edges that only they could find.   Aaron is a solid, loyal and trustful guy, but Amy is introduced as a dysfunctional, sometimes ugly character. Her quirks are rendered as believable, without the comic exaggeration we are used to in Saturday Night Live scripts; but this is good news! Aaron continually pursues Amy as she negotiates the fine line between between her dysfunction and her desire to change. And this tension keeps us watching.

All said, I believe this film delivers more than I thought I would get and it shows off some convincing acting and a cycle of emotions, with a charming backdrop of  SNL-syle moments. Though this film is not for children, most people would enjoy it either as SNL at its best or just a good romance  narrative.

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Asif Kapadia’s documentary film, Amy, is a compelling film portrayal of the singer Amy Winehouse.  I was unfamiliar with her music before I saw this film, but I feel, now, that I know the musician and her music well.

Kapadia’s film is produced with video footage of Amy, herself. Home video and professional clips introduce  Amy as a young teen, with birthday parties and family ties, who is eventually thrust into the brutal world of paparazzi cameras. Her new, exhausting celebrity life with the limelight just outside her front door, leads her to a private world of drugs and alcohol, as if to become invisible.

From the beginning, we see that this is not just an eyewitness documentary camera recording “just the facts.” In fact, audience members will soon forget they are watching a documentary. Kapadia creates a space of brutal and intense drama. The film quickly jumps from close ups to longer shots that spin from scene to scene. Her powerful singing, her dysfunctional traits and her downward spiral is told in a cyclone of cinematic space.  Yet, from beginning to end, we never lose sight of the complicated musician redeeming herself with her voice — all without dime-store psychology and sentimental patronizing.

In the end, Amy sings with one of her idols, Tony Bennett, who eulogizes her as one among the ranks of Dinah Washington, Billie Holliday and Aretha Franklin. To understand Amy Winehouse is to see that her music was inextricable from her personality — as genuine as anyone can be.

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Terminator: Genisys — “I’ll be back [like it or not!]”

Alan Taylor’s Terminator: Genisys, is the next in a long string of Terminator films and critics deliver cool, to tepid reviews. I’ll admit I cannot speak for Terminiator fandom, for I have not kept up with every sequel of the Terminator franchise, but my response is still mixed. What originated in the 1980s as a narrative with Schwarzenegger as the unstoppable colossus of destruction and mechanical automation out of control, has evolved to a nicer robot who protects from other forces that threaten apocalypse.

Like the earlier Terminators, this film pits humans against automated technology. This time the film takes up after the cataclysmic destruction of San Francisco (which seems to be destroyed in many a film, lately). Humans battle not only an army robots, but also the threat of an evil, corporate-driven artificial intelligence system, Genisys. The system lives in the guise of a network that syncs everyone’s computers and mobile devices, (familiar? the “cloud”?). This system secretly wants to enslave and destroy humans — people controlled by and through their mobile devices. Worst fears come true? Maybe, but in my mind, it wasn’t that convincing, just cliche.

Despite these drawbacks, there is some crafty intrigue in the film. The collapse of the time-space continuum plays out in very unpredictable ways that can evoke the uncertainty of the plot: Who is human? And who is machine? The problem is that these time jumps could be very confusing when they don’t match up with B-movie devices — camera shots taken directly from earlier sequels, a CGI-generated young Schwarzenegger, and of course the old sage, himself, stating: “I’ll be back… .”

If you want to see some great technical effects in another dystopian film where corruption is saved by human wit and determination, then this is a good film. Myself, I think they could have tried harder. Better luck next time.

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