Trainwreck, Reviewed

22 Jul

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  • Trainwreck currently has a rating of 85 on Rotten Tomatoes and has gotten favorable reviews from most critics (the great Will Leitch, one of my favorite writers and movie critics, ranked it as the third greatest Judd Apatow movie ever, ahead of films like Superbad and Knocked Up). Amy Schumer is brilliant and funny, as is her co-star, Bill Hader, and Apatow needs no praising from me. Trainwreck is a movie I was expecting to enjoy.
  • The movie goes on for 122 minutes. After about 90 I started yawning and looking at my watch. My fiancé (god, I hate that word), who I saw the movie with, felt the same way.
  • I have many problems with the film. For one, it’s just not that funny. A few bits made me laugh — that most of them involved LeBron James doesn’t speak well for the movie. In fact, James and the exaggerated version of himself he plays — a sappy, cheap, Dowton Abby-watching LeBron James — provides the movie with its best scenes. The only other memorable ones involve Colin Quinn, who plays Schumer’s cranky and racist dad and is also the one responsible for teaching her that “monogamy isn’t realistic.” The scene where this line is delivered, along with an explanation why which involves comparing marriage to playing with just one doll for your entire life, is the film’s strongest.
  • Other than those, though, nothing hits. There are some decent penis and oral sex jokes and Schumer does a walk-of-shame bit that involves her having to take the ferry home from Staten Island one morning, but there’s nothing original about it. I found the one that Jonah Hill wrote for 22 Jump Street much funnier.

  • Oh yeah, Marv Albert is brought in at one point to help dole out relationship advice. Marv Albert once pleaded guilty to assault and battery for an incident where, among other things, he forced a woman to perform oral sex on him and also bit her in the back. This did not seem to bother Schumer and Apatow.
  • So here’s what Trainwreck is: A 122-minute not-quite-comedy about a woman dealing with the scars that a philandering father left her. Will she figure out that all her sleeping around is really just a defense mechanism and eventually give it a shot with Mr. Right? You know the answer is, Yes, but let’s spend two hours taking you on that journey anyway. It’s okay for movies to have predictable endings — Apatow’s best films, like 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up all do — but if you’re going to follow a common trope you better make that journey an interesting one. That means an interesting and complex and, perhaps most important of all, likable protagonist. Trainwreck does not have one.
  • At no point in the film do I find myself rooting for Schumer’s character. At no point did I find myself feeling sorry for her, either. Schumer, who wrote the film, and Apatow, who directed it, also fail to explain why exactly Bill Hader’s Mr. Perfect would fall for this woman. He tells us he loves her but we never see why. She makes him laugh and is different and had sex with him on their first date. That’s all we know. At no point do we see a deeper side to her. Trainwreck does that move where it has Hader and Schumer both apologize to each other and take responsibility for the relationship initially falling apart. But I don’t remember seeing Hader do anything wrong. The last time I felt this way about a popular character in a popular movie was with Kristiin Wiig in Bridesmaids, another film that makes me feel like Mugatu.

  • Maybe I’m kind of a sexist and don’t realize it and just have a problem with female comedy leads. I don’t know. But whether it’s Seth Rogan in Knocked Up or Steve Carrell in 40 Year old Virgin, Apatow’s best movies involve protagonist who I feel empathy for. His worst, like Funny People, usually feature narcissistic wimp who spends most of the film complaining and blaming everyone else. Trainwreck falls into that second category. I was expecting it to be something else.

Me, my Dad and the Dead

6 Jul

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White people were everywhere dancing without shame. There were dudes with dreadlocks and armpit hair showing. Some of the dudes with dreadlocks and armpit hair showing weren’t actually dudes. In front of me sat an older man in a white linen suit with fancy black leather shoes and a white hat. To his right sat a man who looked like the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Smoke was everywhere. Within an hour the open-aired stadium of Solider Field no longer felt open-aired.

My dad is a huge Grateful Dead fan. He’s now seen them around 30 times, he says. I am not a huge Grateful Dead fan. Call me crazy but I prefer my music have lyrics. Bruce Springsteen. John Fogerty. Backstreet Boys. This was my first ever Dead show. I saw Furthur play once, about two years ago. Walking out of Barclays Center that night I figured that would be my last time ever seeing a Grateful Dead-type band live.

Then the announcement came. This summer the Dead would be going on tour for the last time. Two shows in California, three over July 4 Weekend in Chicago. My brother and I decided a ticket would make a perfect 62nd birthday present for my dad. This was a man who had a ticket for Woodstock but had to stay home because he needed surgery on his rear end (story for another time). A couple of seats to the Grateful Dead’s final show seemed like the least we could do. When my brother realized that the concert was the day before his wife’s birthday and that we wouldn’t get back to New York until Monday night, possibly Tuesday, the second ticket became mine (talk about misguided priorities). I may not love the Dead, but I wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to witness history — and to see firsthand what the ’60s were like, you know, if you take away all the black people and racism and confederate flags.

We arrived in Chicago Sunday morning. By about 4 p.m. we were making our way towards the stadium. Someone offered me a ‘shrooms-for-weed trade. I told him no unless he was willing to throw in a future first round pick and cash considerations. He rejected my counter offer. We went our separate ways.

The scene was something to behold. There were men and women and some who could have been either. The ages ranged from 20-70. Fans asking for tickets were everywhere. The Geico caveman played a banjo. Some entrepreneurs had laid out dozens of pipes; the lawn was their store window. Dead posters and shirts were being sold on the grass along the walkway. I bought a tie-die one, took off my black V-neck and put it on. My assimilation had begun.

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All this I expected. I’ve seen the videos and pictures from Dead shows in the ’60s, and while I poke fun, I also admire and respect these fans. Tripping out on acid and going without a shower for a week might not be my thing, but if that’s how someone else wants to prepare for a concert, well, power to them. I wish I was one of those people who could sleep in a tent at festival like Bonnaroo and have the time of my life. Alas, I’m a bit OCD, hate being dirty, and the only drugs I take are prescription and come via my shrink. I don’t think Bonnaroo is the place for me.

Eventually my dad and I made it to our seats. To our left was an attractive 30-year-old woman with dark black hair and ocean-colored eyes. She told my dad that he’s her hero for seeing the Dead live so many times. I think he liked that.

“I just feel at home and comfortable here,” she said, gesturing at the fans slowly filling up the seats and floor at Solider Field. She said one of her life regrets was that she never got to see Jerry Garcia play. “My mom never let me go to [Dead] shows. ‘There’s drugs there,’ she’d say. I’d be like, ‘There are drugs in my room.'”

At about 7:30 the Dead came out. Everyone had a blunt in their hand. The music started. I’ve been hearing the Dead around the house since I was a child and so by now I recognize some of the band’s sonsg. Occasionally I’ll turn to the Dead channel on Sirius or play an album on Spotify. Good writing music. But this song I didn’t know.

China Cat Sunflower,” my dad said. During the elongated instrumental part he told me they often go right into I know you Rider next. He was right.

Little by little I felt my hips getting looser, my feet tapping more and more. The first set lasted about an hour; by the end of it I was dancing like everyone else — except the bare-chested guy down on the floor who was twirling in continuous circles like an airplane. The cool thing about the Dead, and something I had not previously considered: Because they’re a jam band you don’t need to know their music in order to enjoy a show. I love the guitar. The Dead use the guitar a lot. Works for me.

During intermission the women on my right began talking to me. She had tattoos on her chest and shoulders and wore some sort of star-type contraption on her head. She was there with her husband. He was donning a princess crown. They had met at the University of Kentucky 15 years ago and bonded over music. They were in Chicago for the weekend. She thought it was “awesome” that I was there with my dad for his birthday, though only after having it clarified for her that my dad was, actually, my dad. A similar thing had happened earlier in the evening. While waiting on line at the grilled cheese a tall genial man asked me why “my buddy wasn’t very talkative.” He was talking about my father, who’s about 132 years older than me. I guess at a Dead show you never assume how two people might be related.

“Sunday night is usually the mellow show so we decided not to do drugs tonight,” the woman on my right said. She then took a puff from her futuristic looking pipe. An hour into the second set she gave my right arm a tug and pulled me out of my chair. Apparently I wasn’t standing up frequently enough, though, in my defense, a 12-minute drum solo is a lot to get through. Guitars — good! Drums — good, too…as background.

At 11:30 the show began winding down. Guitarist Bob Weir took the lead on Not Fade Away. It was beautiful and moving. My dad and his friend later told me that Weir’s not always the best singer. But on this night his voice was angelic. In his flip-flops and cargo shorts and baggy solid T-shirt he also looked like a suburban dad manning the grill.

“You know my love not fade away,” goes the chorus. The message was clear. People everywhere were crying. My instinct was to poke fun, but I couldn’t. I understood. Spirituality can be found in many different places. For years millions of people have been finding theirs in the music of the Grateful Dead. I think my dad’s one of them. Laughing at that would be a silly thing to do. Who am I to judge something that makes so many people so happy? It certainly made my dad happy, and now I have a great picture (the one above) to remember the night. I think I’m going to frame it and hang it above my desk, maybe put the ticket stub in there too.

“The feeling we have here — remember it, take it home and do some good with it,” drummer Mickey Hart said to the crowd towards the end of the show. “I’ll leave you with this: Please, be kind.”

We filed out of the stadium around midnight and made the long trek out of Solider Field towards Michigan avenue. People everywhere were still singing “You know my love not fade away.” Balloons were being inflated and handed out. Helium hits for everyone. By this point most of the tears were gone.

I Need a New Father

25 Mar

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I’m 26 and so I’m pretty sure I’m too old to be adopted, but I don’t care. I need a new father. Even if it’s just a nominal title that someone assumes.

The reason is simple: I don’t think my father is a sane man. Sorry, Abba, but someone has to say it.

This epiphany came to me earlier this week. It was Sunday night and I had just gotten home from a wedding. I left early, meaning I got no dessert. I love dessert. Missing it is not something I enjoy, or do very often. Making this even more painful was the site of a table full of those clear plastic wraps that go around warm cookies right outside the wedding hall’s ballroom that you take on your way home. My problem, though, was that I left before the cookies were put into the bags, which is pretty much the equivalent of seeing a turkey in the oven on Thanksgiving day but then leaving before it’s brought out.

This, as you can imagine, led to a crazy craving. I told this to my dad when I got home that night.

“I don’t really like warm chocolate chip cookies,” he said.

After that he informed me that he also hated puppies, America, Rock and Roll, football, cold beer on a warm summer night, sunshine, Batman, the Fast and the Furious movies, Pat Sajak, ice cream, comfortable beds and Disney World.

OK, none of that really happened. But the part about warm chocolate chip cookies did. I had to know more. How could someone not love something so savory and delicious?

“They’re too rich for me,” he said. ” They make me nauseous sometimes.”

Upon realizing that additional questioning would only further shatter the positive image that I had of my father, I decided to cease with the follow-ups. Enough damage had been done. The man who taught me how to throw a baseball, and how to drive, and how to complain about New York sports team, was no longer a man I could look up to or respect, which is why I need a new father. Anyone up for the gig?

Seriously, though: what kind of man doesn’t like warm chocolate chip cookies?! How is that even possible?

Wraps are a Scam

4 Mar

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Was getting a sandwich the other day and couldn’t decide what kind of bread to get it on. If I was purely going by taste, I’d go club or hero every time. To me, the more bread in a sandwich, the more sandwichy the sandwich, the better the sandwich. But, alas, I no longer posses the metabolism of a 17-year-old. Also, if I make it to the gym more than once in a week I consider that a success.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that taste is no longer all I care about when selecting what to eat.

I approached the counter and told them I wanted tuna on a whole wheat wrap. Lots of veggies. Lettuce, cucumbers, onions, pickles and sweet peppers (try adding them next time. They’re fantastic and bring a different flavor to the whole thing). I then patted myself on the back — metaphorically, of course — for going with the healthy, lighter option and resisting the urge to get hero bread. For sandwich lovers like me, that’s a tough feat to pull off, and one that deserves praise.

And then I glanced up at the board that listed how many calories each type of bread had. A whole wheat hero, it said, had 310 calories. Damn, I thought, that’s a lot of calories. Aren’t I glad that I showed some self control and went with the healthier option.

Curious as to how many calories I had saved by being awesome and healthy and going with a wrap, I continued to look at the board.

A whole wheat wrap, it said, was…

280 calories.

30 calories less than a hero. I had sacrificed the taste of my sandwich for an amount of calories that I could burn in one trip to the bathroom.

How is this even possible? How can a something as thin and flimsy as a wrap be similar from a calorie perspective to something as big and fluffy as a hero? Science is not exactly my thing, but I don’t really get how that happens. What am I missing? And why have I been told that wraps are healthy? What a load of crap. I don’t know who’s at fault here — the Whole Foods Crowd? Hipsters? Dr. Oz? Big Wrap? All of the above? But someone is peddling some B.S.

Oh, and next time I’m getting the biggest sandwich I possibly can.

Super In Depth Analysis of the NBA Trade Deadline

20 Feb

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As sports fans everywhere know, yesterday was the NBA trade deadline. ‘Twas a fun time to be on Twitter. A lot happened. Below I Break. It. Down!

Trade: Goran and Zoran Dragic to the Heat; John Salmons, Justin Hamilton, Danny Granger, 2017 and 2019 first-round picks to the Suns; Norris Cole and Shawne Williams to the Pelicans.

Analysis: 

  • John Salmons is still in the NBA? I honestly have no idea which of these teams traded him to the the Heat.
  • Goran and Zoran sounds like the name of a Key and Peele sketch.
  • Only Pat Riley could figure out a way to get an All-Star caliber point guard for a package that includes one player (Justin Hamilton) I’ve never heard of and a 12 year old (the 2019 draft pick). What an ass.

Trade: Brandon Knight to the Suns; Michael Carter-Williams, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis to the Bucks; 2015 first-round pick via Lakers (top-5 protected) to the Sixers.

Analysis: I’m all for the “process,” but what’s the game-plan here with Philly? Who’s coming there? If they don’t hit big in the lottery no star player will ever sign with them. Also, they’re annoying.

Trade: Kevin Garnett to the Timberwolves; Thaddeus Young to the Nets.

Analysis: KG becomes the first person to ever move to Minnesota voluntarily.

Trade: Reggie Jackson to the Pistons; Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler, D.J. Augustin, Steve Novak to the Thunder; Kendrick Perkins, Grant Jerrett, future OKC first-round pick, future DET second-round pick to the Jazz.

Analysis: 

  • Reggie Jackson says he’s ecstatic about being traded to Detroit.
  • Any player who’s happy about being traded from a contender featuring Kevin Durant to a hapless team like the Pistons sounds like a real keeper.
  • Also, not sure the role player who thinks he’s a star is a guy you want to be bringing in. Jackson in the offseason   turned down a four-year, $48 contract extension in the offseason. If J.R. Smith did that we’d all laugh.
  • Wish Kendrick Perkins actually had to stay in Utah. Would love to see him walking the streets there.

Other Thoughts: 

  • Some dude named Alexey Shved was sent to the Knicks for Pablo Prigioni Was time actually spent negotiating this?
  • Five of the following six names are real and represent players who were traded on Thursday. Can you pick out the fake on? Jonas Jerekbo, Luigi Datone, Daniel Johnson, Cenk Akyol, Victor Claver, Grant Jerrett
  • The answer was Daniel Johnson. If you’ve heard of the other five guys, well, you’re a better basketball fan than me.

Strange News

19 Feb

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This story, via the Times of India, came across my Twitter feed today. The headline: “Groom unwell, bride weds guest in fit of rage.”

Yeah, that got a click from me. I love strange news stories, the types that catch your attention even though they have no business being in a newspaper in the first place. I’m not talking about Kardashian soapy gossip or mawkish tales meant to tug on your heartstrings. What I mean is, well, stories like this:

All was going well at the wedding ceremony of 25-year-old Jugal Kishore, a resident of Moradabad, and his 23-year-old bride Indira from Rampur. That’s until the “varmala” ceremony, where the groom garlands his would-be wife, began.

That sort of lede is going to get me every time. Give me an “all was going well…until” and I’m in. That’s pretty much how I feel about all storytellings clichés. In my head there’s a graph. The horizontal axis represents how banal the cliché is. The vertical axis represents my level of enjoyment. If you were to plot a movie like Fast and the Furious or Taken on it, there would be a dot placed all the way to the right and all the way up. I’m a sucker for that stuff. The other night I stayed up until 3 a.m. watching the latest Liam Neeson film, Non-Stop. It was between that and 12 Years a Slave. I don’t regret my choice.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that, by this point, I was hooked. And then things only got better.

Just as he extended his arms to do that, Kishore had an epileptic fit, falling to the ground in front of the whole gathering.

Go on…

The young bride, angry that her family had been kept in the dark about Kishore’s medical condition, promptly changed her mind and announced that she would happily marry at the same ceremony a guest at the wedding, a man called Harpal Singh. The latter, incidentally, turned out to be her sister’s brother-in-law.

Wait, what?

There’s just so much going on here. So many questions that need answering. First off, how could someone be such a… I’m not sure there’s even a word for it, or at least not one I want to use in this space. But forget that for the moment; if there’s anything mankind has taught us over the years it’s that one should never underestimate its capacity for cruelty. But there’s so much more to unpack here.

How can someone not know their fiancé suffers from epilepsy? And how could that be the deal-breaker? And, most puzzlingly, how could everyone else in attendance just stand around, seemingly nod in agreement with this woman, and allow the wedding with the second dude to take place. Oh, you want to marry someone else in this room because the man you were supposed to marry just have a seizure?. You know, that makes total sense! Who you going with? Did she have pre-prepared rankings on her in case something went wrong? Where there lots of choices for her, or did her callous dismissal of her previous groom dissuade most of eligible bachelors from volunteering to step in.

Maybe those answers are about to come.  Let’s continue.

Singh, caught unawares and dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, fumbled for a moment before declaring he would willingly take Indira as his wife. This time the “varmala” was exchanged between Singh and Indira, which went off without any hitch, with the pandit reciting the mantras and asking the new couple to take the seven “pheras”.

If not for those jeans and the leather jacket, though, he would have been totally prepared for this.

I think that’s my favorite line. My favorite part: that this shotgun wedding somehow “went off without any hitch.” Apparently the original groom having some epileptic episode and effectively getting sent down to the minors, while getting replaced within minutes, doesn’t count as a hitch.

Meanwhile, Kishore, who had been rushed to a doctor by his relatives, went back to the venue after he regained consciousness to see that his wife-to-be was now someone else’s.

Did his family not get the memo that his chance had been blown?

Kishore pleaded with Indira, telling her that he would not be able to face friends and neighbours if he returned without her. His relatives, too, tried to intervene on his behalf. 

So let’s get this straight. This dude collapses at his wedding, receives no empathy from his wife-to-be, gets dumped by her without knowing it and for doing nothing wrong, returns to the wedding hall and finds the woman he was supposed to marry getting set to marry someone else, and after all that he…pleads for her to take him back? And his family was with him on this?

This girl must be REALLY hot.

Where persuasion failed, violence was used — spoons, plates and dishes became weapons as wedding guests tried to force the bride to change her mind. But all in vain. The young woman stood firm.

I’m picturing something along the lines of the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones crossed with the wedding scene from The Graduate. Only this time the woman is fighting off the grim.

Kishore and his relatives later filed an FIR at the Milak police station in Rampur district, which they eventually withdrew after elders intervened. SHO, Milak police station, RP Solanki said on Monday that cops had detained a few people who were there at the wedding.

“Both families have amicably resolved the matter,” Solanki said. “The complaints have been withdrawn. Kishore and his family have now returned in peace to Moradabad.”

And everyone lived happily ever after.

Someone needs to do a follow up here.

House of Cards is Not a Very Good Show

28 Jan

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I think my main problem with House of Cards is that the show is in denial. If, for example, it presented itself as a cartoon rather than a Important Show Trying To Teach Us Important Things, well that would be a show I’d like more. Think of 24, which is insane — and awesome because of it. Jack Bauer is not a three-dimensional character; he’s a superhero. When he (spoiler alert!) takes out 12 machine gun-wielding Russian goons with a single pistol, that’s something I don’t have a problem with, the same way I don’t mind when Batman goes one-on-forty without breaking a sweat. Neither Batman nor Jack Bauer are living in reality. They’re both comic book characters living in comic book worlds. Everyone understands this and is on the same page. That’s why they work.

House of Cards is a whole different story. On the one hand you have this show about the inner working of Washington D.C and how and why decisions get made. The thesis is that everyone is a prick and solely looking out for themselves. Not exactly an original thought — from what I remember from college, the basic premise of the Political Science field is that a politicians’ primary goal is to get elected and that it’s this desire that informs all his or her decisions — but still an important one. And House of Cards does do a good job of showing us how exactly that might look. It’s one thing to say you’re aware of how politicians think. But seeing this thought process put into action — like when one of the congressmen in House of Cards succumbs to blackmail and allows about 5,000 people in his district to lose their jobs — can be jarring. That’s the stuff House of Cards does well.

That’s also not really what the show is about. It’s not like The Wire, which illustrated the problem with institutions and how they affect society. It’s not like The Sopranos, which took us deep into the psyche of a powerful sociopath in a way that no other show had before. It’s not even like Game of Thrones, which isn’t really illustrating anything other than that good things rarely happen to good people. What makes Game of Thrones great, though, is that everyone is on a level playing field. You never know what’s going to happen or who even is winning The Game. The second you think you do the Red Wedding happens and you wind up staring at your TV screen in shock.

There’s very little that shocks in House of Cards (the first murder was easy to see coming; the second one is the outlier here). It takes about four episodes to realize that Kevin Spacey is not only the smartest person in the show, but also the only one in the House of Cards universe with a brain. The President of the United States is a dolt with the personality of a box and the charisma of a brick wall. He makes Mitt Romney look like Kevin Hart. How he got elected is beyond me. He is, by far, the worst fictional president I have ever seen. I’m not sure there’s ever been a less impressive TV character. He’s a moron and the worst.

Thankfully, most of the other characters on the show have a bit more to offer. None of them, however, appear, as they say, to playing with a full deck. Kevin Spacey is allowed to do what he wants, whenever he wants. Not only that, but no one else seems to be aware of what kind of person Frank Underwood (Spacey’s character) is, which would be cool and fine if he wasn’t pulling off the same moves over and over and over and over. At a certain point it gets boring watching him outmaneuver everyone else. And none of this even touches on the ludicrous plot twists, like the thing he does to the person in the subway, and how he apparently knows how to find the subway system’s trap doors and secret passageways. Or that scene that he and his wife have with that guard, which I’m still clueless as to what the point of it was.

Don’t get me wrong — House of Cards is, for the most part, entertaining, and watching Spacey play Frank Underwood is a ton of fun. But lots of entertaining shows and characters have made it on to TV. The difference with House of Cards was that I felt like I was missing out by not watching it; at least that’s how those who watched it made me feel.

Now that I’ve completed the show’s two season, I can’t help but disagree. House of Cards is good but not great, occasionally fun but not memorable. If you have some time to kill there are certainly worse things you can do than start a binge. But there are also at least ten shows I’d recommend before it.

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