Monday, 21 September 2015

Off the Rails

Trainwreck


Subway smooches

Having been newly appointed as a journalist for the Entertainment section of Perdeby (the campus newspaper for the University of Pretoria), when I watched Judd Apatow's new film Trainwreck, I was delighted to have finally found a mainstream movie with a main character to whose career I could relate, in more than an entirely broad and admittedly minimal sense. “What?” you ask in amazement; “There aren’t hundreds of movies out there with Trotskyist dialectical humanist aesthetes and aspiring polymaths with a view to a career in the actuarial discipline, who also possess a distinct disdain for the chores and responsibilities of academic training?” It is difficult to believe, I grant you, but Selznick simply wasn’t making those movies then, and Spielberg isn’t making them now. And, though I have certainly seen movies before now that feature journalists - and loved some, such as All About Eve, which features a journalist doing pretty much the job I shall be doing (a little less sardonically than he, I hope) - I wasn’t a journalist when I watched them. Now, having started a blog and having been assigned the task of writing articles on certain topics by certain dates, I have a new appreciation for the work done by Amy Townsend (the protagonist of Trainwreck, played by Amy Schumer), and some sympathy for the difficulties she faces doing it.

I definitely must state, for the shorthand record, that my delight in Trainwreck is not mainly because of this coincidence in job titles, nor was it the main source of my excitement to see the film. That would be, firstly, that it is directed by Judd Apatow, one of my favourite and one of the finest filmmakers active in mainstream cinema today, and, secondly, because it stars - and was written by - Schumer, no doubt the funniest and most talented young lady currently working in American comedy. And the film delivers on the expectations of his and her breathlessly ardent fans: Trainwreck is crafted and polished throughout with Apatow’s remarkable good sense and flair for tone, placing the camera in an optimal position and keeping it there until the frame is filled with his ideas and his images; and the crisp, tremendously funny dialogue and one-liners is worthy of the best of Schumer’s routines and sketches on her Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Wise Guys

DVD Notes: “GoodFellas”


Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, and Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's gangster epic "GoodFellas"

On this day, the 19th of September, 1990, the first audiences were shown Martin Scorsese’s newest film, GoodFellas, based on a true story of a life in the mob, and rounding off a decade of a few commercial disappointments in the star director’s career, despite the continued support for him from most critics and his overwhelming beginning to the decade with – what I maintain is his greatest cinematic achievement – Raging Bull. But GoodFellas proved a success – commercially and especially critically – and began a new decade with rays of hope (for his career, that is – no one doubted the quality of his output) for the man whom it was now something of a cliché to call “America’s finest filmmaker”.

Scorsese really was America’s finest filmmaker, and, I affirm, retains that title today, though not on his own – he shares it with Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, To the Wonder) and Wes Anderson (whom, incidentally, Scorsese named as “the next Scorsese” a few years after the release of GoodFellas). And GoodFellas remains one of his most popular films. (Perhaps the most popular, but it’s difficult to compare public opinion of works released over a range of more than 40 years.) It’s the movie people kept talking about for a decade and a half – with many naming it as the best movie of the 90s – until Scorsese finally won his single Oscar for The Departed, when the conversation changed to something like, “I rather like The Departed… He should have won for GoodFellas, though.” It was quite right, I should think, for moviegoers to hold his earlier hit in a little higher esteem than his Bostonian remake, but since his Academy Award victory he’s surpassed even the achievement of GoodFellas with the triad of Shutter Island, Hugo, and The Wolf of Wall Street. These are the films of post-LaMotta Scorsese that stain the moviegoer’s imagination, and haunt his consciousness.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Big Dreams

DVD Notes: “Hairspray


John Travolta and Nikki Blonsky, in one of the less naturalistic moments of "Hairspray"

Movie musicals go as far back in cinema history as recorded sound does: the very first feature film with a synchronised soundtrack, The Jazz Singer, was a musical, and opened a floodgate to a torrent of musicals, with literally dozens being released in the mainstream cinema every year for the next few decades. This spate abated a little in the 60s, but has never died down, and today we're still being treated to more than a mere trickle in mainstream fare. Just last year, movie musicals released included AnnieThe Book of Life, Get On Up, Into the WoodsJersey BoysLegends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, Muppets Most Wanted, Rio 2, and Sunshine on Leith.

Obviously the genre warrants, indeed requires, a fair degree of stylisation; it would strain most audiences' credulity if actors, playing completely natural characters in a respectably natural environment, were to interrupt their colloquialisms and street-corner philosophies with a pop ballad or tap dance. The exception, obviously, is the entirely naturalistic musical in the mode of Once and Begin Again, where the characters perform songs as part of the story, and the modest songs are not composed as an escape from unadorned reality.