Monthly Archives: February 2015

Baz Luhrmann The Get Down

Baz Lurhmann Gives Shape to His Upcoming Hip Hop Netflix Series ‘The Get Down’

Director Baz Luhrmann has recently opened up with more information on his first television series The Get Down, which is set to come out on Netflix in 2016. Luhrmann has succeeded as a big budget auteur with films like Romeo + Juliet and most recently Gatsby that reinterpret literature and historical events with extravagant twists. Netflix’s first investment into original television content from a well-known director shows the company’s commitment to maintaining its market dominance in the field of streaming video on demand by competing with Amazon Studios’ partnerships with acclaimed directors Steven Soderbergh and Woody Allen.

The Get Down sounds well suited to the Luhrmann treatment as it focuses on the emergence of hip hop culture in the 80’s when New York City was perhaps at its lowest point with four times as many murders per year as there are now. Specifically the series centers around South Bronx teens with little hope for a conventional future who instead turn to break dancing, rapping and graffiti writing as refuge that serve as impetus for a hip hop culture that soon sweeps the nation. In an attempt to preserve integrity for the subject matter, Luhrmann has launched the website TheGetDownCasting.com for African American and Latino men and women ages 18-21 to submit online auditions without agents or previous acting experience. The demonstrated goal is for the show to not only feature established actors, but also young people with relevant talent to contribute to the show but without any showbiz connections.

Being a show about hip hop, music will be a central focus with classical hits as well as new compositions from as of yet unnamed musical partners in order to provide a range of quality music that made previous productions like Moulin Rouge a blockbuster hit. Plans are for the series’ first season to begin in the late 1970’s with the disco that formed the basis for hip-hop and end in the early 1980’s.

Luhrmann himself plans to direct the pilot and then the final two episodes of the season in addition to executive producing. His crew’s background is diverse from playwrights Radha Blank and Seth Zvi Rosenfeld as writers to producers from Australia and The Shield. Luhrmann also plans to work with frequent collaborator, and wife, Catharine Martin as production and costume designer. Those associated with The Get Down have not yet released any confirmed actors in the project, but shooting is planned to start in May.

F for Fake Orson Welles

Orson Welles’ “F for Fake” Is the Ultimate Gestalt Film

“Rose… bud.” I’m sure most people can recognize perhaps the most famous one word quote of all time from Citizen Kane, but Orson Welles also directed 12 other movies during his lifetime – many of which were criticized upon their release as self-indulgent and unduly windy. Welles’ last big film before his death, 1974’s F for Fake, certainly fits that description, yet within the past few decades or so Welles’ reputation has soared up from its 1970s’ nadir resulting in new critics reappraising the quality of his films. I’m simply appraising the film, as I was about -20 in the 1970’s, and from a contemporary perspective I can see the legacy of this experimental film. F for Fake addresses the blurred lines between truth and fakery ostensibly through a series of interweaving narratives on the topic, but true appreciation, or at least understanding, of the film comes from reading how the film’s purposefully disorienting form tells the story.

There are more or less three main narratives: one about the life of famous art forger Elmyr de Hory, another on author Clifford Irving’s biography about de Hory and then in an unforeseen development Irving’s previous biography on Howard Hughes turns out to be partially fabricated leading to a strange exploration of the wealthy recluse. Then Welles and his girlfriend Oja Kodar insert themselves in various shorter segments that are harder to pin down within a narrative. All of these stories, that often cut between each other with no transition, holistically introduce the topic of what can be considered “true” and “fake” both in the content and Welles’ presentation, in which he chooses to point out the lies sometimes and other times not. Already it is easy to see why viewers were not initially fond of the film and its multiple locations, directors and editors that also confound by jumping around temporally at the same time.

Orson Welles Invented MTV Editing

What is important to note is that all the normal components for a documentary are present within the film, e.g. real interviews, insertion of various media sources for background, etc., but Welles arranges the pieces in such a way that it’s next to impossible to interpret scenes in a conventional manner. In fact, the editing in this documentary feels extremely modern largely for its speed that aligns with the the roughly five second average shot length of today. Similarly interviews with de Hory and Irving often got stopped in the middle of a sentence with Welles giving commentary like Goodfellas or abruptly cutting to another scene. The editing was meant more to disrupt and provide a visual reminder of the intensely edited nature of film, which Welles apparently drew from French New Wave and Dadaist filmmakers, but still the legacy lives on in as almost the editing standard.

Truly the creators of documentaries live and die by their editing and narration because they have to make sense of unrelated footage, but Welles and his editors Marie-Sophie Dubus, Dominique Engerer and Gary Graver all accomplish an awesome feat by drawing attention to the biased position filmmakers play in the creation of a film. A more traditional documentary uses a linear storyline that makes it far simpler to allow viewers to draw their own conclusions about the truth, but Welles ensures that discerning truth from fiction in this film is next to impossible. In addition, Welles’ role as the distinctly unreliable narrator who will often give commentary on the action and then go off on a tangent with commentary on his commentary  illuminates how inherently biased filmmaking always is whether we are aware of it or not. Luckily Welle’s baritone makes his digressions in Kipling poetry and explorations into Howard Hughes’ whereabouts more pleasant to listen to, though no easier to comprehend.

Gestalt = More Than the Sum of Its Parts

All of this is not to say that this film is perfect. Since the significance of the film stems largely from what its form accomplishes over the course of an hour and half rather than within each scene, certain parts drag on in a way that is not only confusing but at times quite boring. Welles is more than willing to indulge not only his strange whims, but also those of his girlfriend Oja who came up with a scene at the beginning of the film where she walks through the streets of Rome and “secret” cinematographers film reaction shots of men ogling her. Whether those were really uncompensated horndogs or actors is hard to know, but it certainly does drag on with countless reaction shots.

The huckster author Clifford Irving commented on de Hory’s fakery by saying, “when an artist has no personal vision, what can he communicate onto the canvas?” The paintings done by Mogdiliani and Picasso are interesting, but far more compelling is de Hory’s virtuosity at switching between several artists with such skill that by some accounts he sold over a thousand of his copies to museums. Welles could have a told a straightforward story about Elmyr de Hory and Clifford Iriving, but like the auteur’s “War of the Worlds” stunt, sometimes the facts are not quite as interesting as fiction posing as fact.

The Entirety of Welles’ film is on Youtube.

If you don’t want to commit to the entire thing…

Old Fashioned Hollywood Bias

Anonymous Voter Confirms the Academy’s Old Fashioned Hollywood Bias

We can all agree that as the anonymous “longtime member of the Academy’s 378-member public relations branch” said, “Everything is Awesome” from the snubbed Lego Movie deserves best song of the year. Alright, now let’s move on to the many disagreements I have with this voter for the Academy that chooses the winners of the Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter presented a transcript of an anonymous voter weighing in on all the Best Picture nominees and likely winners for the remaining categories with answers that range from direct to downright insulting not only to the all the creatives who have contributed to filmmaking this year, but also to the integrity of the Academy.

Well, I suppose that depends on what the Academy Awards are actually supposed to stand for and celebrate. The Oscars purportedly reward “excellence in cinematic achievements” but that still sounds quite vague. How do they define achievement? Achievement at the box office or among the art house circuit? How we interpret this woman’s responses depends on whether the Academy rewards well-done, artistic works of film or narrowly defined Hollywood-approved, money making movies.

Much like the MPAA, the Academy is often seen as a somewhat Kafkaesque Hollywood establishment that plays such a huge role in our consumption of modern film given that the statues can lead to increased box office returns (depending on release date) and give viewers an idea of worthwhile films to watch. Despite the clout this ceremony carries with it, the rules that govern the academy are hard to discern. This specific voter has received some flack for certain contentious statements that I’ll get to in a minute, but the larger problem is present in all of her responses.

The voter noticeably remained anonymous, perpetuating the perception of a nontransparent Academy, but more importantly the woman’s responses suggest a complete lack of concern for true excellence in film and filmmaking. When discussing Birdman, a film with nine nominations from Best Picture to Sound Editing, she devotes her entire explanation to how it managed to rack up ticket sales despite its narrative and cinematic complexity. There are no doubts about whether the Oscars equate to respectable film festival awards from Cannes or Sundance, but some mention of creative skill when addressing the current favorite for Best Picture would lend credence to the theory that the Oscars mean anything at all.

The rest of the voter’s Best Picture nominee analyses similarly criticize critical favorites like Boyhood and Selma yet praise weaker showings like The Imitation Game. Somehow in this crazy world, she thinks The Imitation Game should win best picture because of it is what she considers “’prestige filmmaking’”. The Imitation Game certainly passes the Hollywood test with a silly platitude repeated too often (“Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine”), an all white cast, and contrived score all ensure the film adheres to tired Hollywood conventions. While struggling in artistic merit, much like the voter’s other beloved film American Sniper, The Imitation Game has done very well at the box office with more than double the box office returns of Birdman.

A skewed view of the definition of excellence is not all the voter brings to the table. She also makes an inflammatory statement decrying the Selma filmmakers wearing “I can’t breathe” shirts at their New York premiere, calling it “offensive” and placing her again on the side of white Hollywood privilege. She poses Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper as the counterpoint to Selma’s offscreen politics because Eastwood decided to leave the politics in the movie. Frankly the Selma filmmakers wearing politically charged shirts is one of the least offensive things a group of people intimately involved in telling an intense story about Civil Rights could do. For an Academy that the voter acknowledges is still mostly white males, the overt racism the voter denies is not as much of an issue in this day and age as much as a probably unintended bias that stems from homogeneity. The A.V. Club’s recent interview with a seat filler at the Oscars indicates how much the awards are concerned with appearance and façade over thoughtful substance.

The Academy’s lack of focus on substance comes through clearly with the voter’s superficial focus on Patricia Arquette’s appearance instead of her acting chops in Boyhood. For Best Supporting Actress the anonymous voter believes Arquette should receive “a bravery reward” for having “no work done during the 12 years [of filming].” While Arquette is the favorite in that category, and in my opinion deserving of the award, the voter’s lack of attention to the actual skill of acting in favor of a rehashing of toxic, media-fueled ideals of beauty is an indictment of the Academy.

Again the voter believes Michael Keaton should win Best Actor for Birdman not really because he’s a good actor, or at least she never mentions that fact, but because Keaton’s “grateful, not particularly needy” and he probably won’t get nominated again. While I’m glad to hear of Keaton’s upstanding moral code, neither humility nor a lack of future opportunities to win should be the basis for receiving an Oscar. Good acting and good acting alone should be. The list goes on with her dismissal of Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning cinematography in Birdman because it gave her a headache in favor of Robert Yeoman’s far more conventional work in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Cinematic merit for taking risks and honing the craft are not valued by at least this member of the Academy.

What is perhaps the most alarming in my opinion is that this voter was completely unwilling to broaden her horizons and get insight into the diverse and multifaceted nature of filmmaking outside of the main categories. More than her remarkably uninformed responses, is what the voter chose to leave out. She abstained from almost all of the categories that require some effort on the part of the viewer to understand and appreciate them outside of the conventions of Hollywood cinema such as Best Foreign Film and Best Documentary Short. Unlike the rest of us that have to hunt down these films to view them, this voter receives screeners precluding any reasonable excuse to not see them except their deviation from the more palatable feature-length Hollywood standard.

The examples I drew out are only the tip of the iceberg of close-minded, cinematic ignorance contained in her transcript so please read it to get a more complete picture. It is logical that the Academy places some sort of emphasis on making money as it is a strong indication of what the American populace is watching, but the national awards should have a more engaged voting public that also acknowledge challenging and less commercially viable filmmaking. The Oscars have the potential to present outstanding films that inspire the average American to investigate films they would not have heard about otherwise, but if this voter’s response is any indication the Academy has a long way to go before that becomes a possibility.

Girls S4E6 Close Up

‘Girls’ S4E6 “Close Up” Stretches Believability to Make Room for Jokes

Dramedies balance out the “drama” and “comedy” with different ratios with shows like Scrubs tending far more towards the comedy while hour long shows like Desperate Housewives I would say lean more towards the drama. Girls is the uncommon thirty minute show that will have an entire episode about Hannah’s throbbing break up, for example, with more drama than comedy. This week’s “Close Up” leaned into the comedic end of the spectrum, likely to get out of Hannah’s claustrophobic apartment of despair, but the steps Hannah and Shoshanna particularly take in the wake of persistent rejection and discontent seem almost implausible even within Girls’ often implausible world. During an interview for a marketing position Shoshanna says the object she is supposed to market smells like “bedussy” (combo of butt, dick and pussy)… and then she gets a date out of it? I don’t think so. Hannah’s therapist tells her she is a “helper” which makes Hannah want to become a teacher? Double no. There were some funny jokes to be had this episode, but the overall narrative felt more like a misstep than a calculated movement in a different direction.

A lot of the characters’ stories get fleshed out this episode despite it being shorter than usual at about 23 minutes, so much so that there had to be a Mad Men style montage round up at the end tying up all the loose ends. The story that got the plurality of time this week, and the one I found most compelling, was Adam’s discovery of Mimi-Rose’s abortion of his “ball of cells” as she calls it. Mimi-Rose casually drops the abortion bomb while explaining why she can’t go for a run with Adam, also known as one of the most insensitive ways to tell your partner you got an abortion. Adam kicks and screams all over the open plan apartment, and in a strong directorial choice by Richard Shepard, Mimi-Rose remains calmly seated on the couch and then walks in a straight line over to the sink not playing into Adam’s temper tantrum.

The same histrionics that I’m sure Hannah would have indulged and escalated were more or less negated, and that comparison between girlfriends is completely clear but the extent to which Gillian Jacobs plays up Mimi-Rose’s detached and I would even say aloofness feels too extreme. I could see Adam turning to someone less Hannah-like after their impassioned relationship, but someone on the complete opposite pole like Mimi-Rose seems unlikely. Then when Adam makes the choice to sneak out of Mimi-Rose’s apartment, presumably to end this surreptitiously, in an almost romantic-comedy coincidence Mimi-Rose reasons with Adam to stay using the line, “wanting you is better than needing you because it’s pure.” I’m sure no one in love, especially not the intensely passionate Adam, would hear that and feel comforted.

Through a motif of distinctly un-sexy tracking shots tracing various characters’ feet and then legs up the bed as they sleep, we then run into Hannah jarring as ever sitting straight up and thus breaking the visual sequence. A thinly veiled meltdown over missing Cinnamon Toast Crunch indicates Hannah’s not doing so hot, though she seems at least to have surpassed her purely emotional response last week for a more restrained existential crisis. In the wake of this, our good friend Bob Balaban as the plot device, excuse me, I mean Hannah’s therapist again defies believability by agreeing with Hannah that she was drawn to writing because of its ability to “affect change.” Not only that, he also goads her on by telling her she is a “helper”, which if he has been listening to Hannah over the past few years should not even be a possibility in his mind. It is understandable that in the wake of the fiasco that was Iowa followed by the fiasco that was Mimi-Rose, Hannah would become disillusioned with the current progression of her life and opt for something different. It is inconceivable to me, however, that Hannah’s something different be becoming a teacher. The unpredictable decision is clearly meant to be ludicrous given how little serious thought she appears to put into her new career, but it just doesn’t seem ludicrous in a way that meshes with Hannah’s heretofore established personality and sense of self.

I had a good, strong laugh at Shoshanna’s interview with a budding soup entrepreneur, but her outrageous outburst too felt noticeably incongruous with reality because how did she hear about such an obscure job that the soup entrepreneur also derides her for being unqualified for? He had her resume beforehand presumably and she knew he’s looking to market soup, right? Similarly Ray faces the ineptitude and inefficiency of city council and with an outburst he actually gets the board to acknowledge their shortcomings? Even though his scene felt like a burst of Coen Brothers’ oddity into our normal Millennial view of New York, I still don’t buy it all in the way the show wants me to.

The problem “Close Up” shares with Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk of Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story fame is a disproportionate focus on plot and outcome, over logical character motivation. Shoshanna gets a date with the soup entrepreneur which I’m sure will be a running plot line, but how she got there simply does not work. This show has shown the ability to weave stories together in a muddy shitstorm, completely oblivious of outcomes and steeped in Hannah, Jessa, Marnie, Shosh and Co.’s attempts to find their personalities a home in the city, but an attempt to work backwards and graft a concrete outcome onto their motivations just doesn’t sit right for a show that knows how to be intelligent.

Girls S4E5 Sit-In

‘Girls’ S4E6 “Sit-In” Shows Its Strength In Its Reintroduction To New York

The art historian Meyer Schapiro wrote that while certain artistic conventions are very culturally specific (the dragon as emblematic of good luck in China versus the English St. George slaying an evil dragon) others are universally understood due to a shared psychological predisposition.

Now what does an art historian have to do with this episode of Girls? Well “Sit-In” starts off with a wonderful shot by Tim Ives, a frequent Director of Photography for Girls, where Hannah stands off to the left, making a face that could be described as smelling rancid milk while trying to hold back tears, and looking down off screen engaging neither Adam nor the audience. An off center composition has been identified as a commonality for art made by emotionally disturbed children because it conveys a destabilized discomfort, which funnily enough is exactly how Hannah feels upon returning from Iowa to find Adam shacking up with Mimi-Rose .

The fanciful montage of Hannah in a taxi heading back to New York at the end of last week’s “Cubbies” feels so far away from her current reality. Nobody is in the wrong because it’s unrealistic for Adam to have waited the projected two years for Hannah to return, but it still stings that he moved on so quickly. I object to the title of “Sit-In” because I think it devalues the historical weight of Civil Rights sit-ins, especially in light of the show’s notable lack of diversity, but I’m sure Hannah would see the difference in magnitudes as negligible. My political grievances aside, I think writers Paul Simms and Max Brockman did a mostly convincing job of telling Hannah’s breakup by hitting some notes that are often missed in the breakup story. For example, this episode is almost entirely a bottle episode, or one that takes place in a confined location, and Adam is missing from the story except for the beginning and the end. This atypical plot structure allows the audience to get re-acclimated to the NYC crowd by a communal response during Hannah’s time of need.

The confined setting is enlivened by a parade of Hannah’s friends who show up to support her as if her mother just died. Shosh comes over and plays up the role of the ‘true friend’ greeting Mimi-Rose with, “I don’t know who you are and I don’t care to know and that’s all I have to say about it.” Later the now pregnant Caroline and Laird appear in Hannah’s apartment and subtly offer a threeway as emotional support. The move to lighten the tone works by shaking up the pacing and not by completely buying into Hannah’s overblown doom and gloom.

Every one of the main cast stops by to pay Hannah a visit, yet what truly relates the show’s cynical tone of voice is that that almost every character shifts the conversation to be about themselves. Ray relates Hannah’s unjust breakup to his frustrations with the city council board he joined as per Shoshanna’s advice, even rambling on after Hannah yelps from a bacon grease burn. The only one who doesn’t do this is Jessa , though it turns out she was the one who introduced Adam to Mimi-Rose. Jessa’s compassion for Adam marks a clear shift in the dynamics of this friend group and belies perhaps the first sincere relationship we’ve seen on her part so far in the show.

Tim Ives does a great job with shakier handheld camera work than we normally see on Girls that makes Hannah confinement to her apartment a more dynamic experience. In addition to the cinematography, the inclusion of so many other characters makes us forget we’re stuck in an apartment and deftly draws us out to their respective lives across the city. This more dispersed focus certainly makes the episode more enjoyable, but her friends’ support and Adam’s consistently considerate behavior made me lose some sympathy for Hannah’s stubborn behavior.

The final few minutes of the episode contain both the strongest and the weakest points of the episode. When Adam finally returns to find Hannah ready to move on after watching an inspirational talk online by Mimi-Rose, the two have an honest discussion that bring’s Hannah’s meltdown into perspective. As Adam re-wraps Hannah’s burnt hand, he finally echoes what Marnie  said earlier — that they probably weren’t meant to be a “forever couple.” Adam Driver’s few scenes this episode were all superbly acted, but he really tugs at the heart strings when telling Hannah he needs to see where this Mimi-Rose things goes. I felt the final scene, however, where Hannah settles on her couch in the claustrophobic storage room Adam bought for her to the tune of an overwrought indie ballad was overdone. Strong directing, acting and writing coalesce into a compelling and relatable episode, but I hope the break-up doesn’t mean Girls breaks up with Adam Driver.

Girls S4 E4 ‘Cubbies’ Brings Hannah Back

Girls has always been good at profiling so-called ‘First World problems’. In combining the television genres of drama and comedy, Girls has refused to err too far into schlocky melodrama or, conversely, into pratfalls and poop jokes. Breakups and growing pains are more Girls‘ speed and this week’s “Cubbies” features both, with Hannah (Lena Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) all navigating those ordinary problems that still feel extraordinary to anyone who goes through them.

This episode feels particularly disjointed with each character’s story arc seeming to exist in a parallel track from the others without intersecting in any fluid way. A scene early on where Marnie tries to solicit feedback on her new song from Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna highlights how much Hannah is the center of their friendship. Perhaps it’s the camera decisions that make the table all three sit around seem giant, or the surreal aspect of the bar being obscenely quiet, but none of them seem to be connecting. Even Marnie acknowledges her need for Hannah to come back in the mix so she can actually get real feedback. Or at least more constructive feedback than the earworm diagnosis Jessa and Shoshanna agree upon.

Luckily, Hannah seems to have come to the very same conclusion. Hannah stuffs her version of an apology for her tirade from last episode into her classmates’ cubbies, where she describes the class conditions as a minefield where she doesn’t feel comfortable enough to write. Hannah casts herself as the victim, issuing a celebrity apology where she uses the word “sorry” a lot without actually apologizing for anything. The move feels insincere until she meets with her professor and says point black, “for a second I thought I was getting kicked out and I was so happy.” She’s been sabotaging herself in an immature attempt at getting booted from Iowa. It’s moments like these that remind us why this show is called Girls not Women, because Hannah keeps seeking validation for quitting the program that apparently no one quits.

Peter Scolari stands out as Hannah’s dad this episode who gives her the parental go ahead to quit if she wants. He channels a dad who loves his daughter enough to allow himself to be used by Hannah for advice, even though it’s clear he wants a more sincere connection. Hannah’s whole progression is certainly important as it brings her back to New York, and back to her apartment where Adam (Adam Driver) has been shacking up with Mimi Rose (Gillian Jacobs), but here the dialogue in her scenes seem less well chosen and consequently don’t contain the dramatic heft they should.

While Hannah’s once-promising writing career hits another snag, Marnie is somehow succeeding with the singing career I for one never thought would come to fruition. Marnie’s ultimatum last episode for Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) to leave Clem or stop the sex sounded like she was clearly standing up for herself, but now it’s harder to tell. A well-chosen reaction shot stays on Marnie’s face as her uncertainty about Desi’s decision to break up with Clem shifts to an irrepressible smile at having Desi finally say “I love only you” and maybe actually mean it. Her momentary catharsis feels as though it’s the beginning of a slow burn, but Marnie hasn’t had too many wins in the past few episodes.

Shoshanna has suffered from two weeks of job rejection with a particularly bitter and personal one starting the episode off. As a result, she seeks out Ray (Alex Karpovsky) to regain the sense of self she seems to have lost since their break up. The writer of this episode, Bruce Eric Kaplan, who cut his teeth writing for Seinfeld, really inserts some of that New York-centric humor with Ray screaming at the drivers outside of his apartment for honking too much. Shoshanna accompanies Ray during his errands and these two have the most fulfilling arc of the episode in my opinion. In a fitful monologue full of Shosh-isms, well delivered by Zosia Mamet, Shoshanna relates to Ray that maybe she was the problem in the relationship. She shows a lot more maturity than any of the other ‘girls’ on this show and drops a hint of inspiration with Ray to grow up and stop yelling at drivers on the street and actually take the problem to city government like an adult.

I knew something would bring Hannah back to New York because as she said, “I thrive on the streets. I always have.” Just kidding, I knew she would be back because she is like the sun and the rest of the characters on Girls orbit her. The uneven tone this episode might be due to Hannah’s story line taking up so much time despite being paced slowly, but hopefully her return to New York will even out the pacing.

Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow Team Up for Upcoming Film ‘Trainwreck’

The Trainwreck is an upcoming film from Judd Apatow and comedian Amy Schumer. My very first review on Pop Insomniacs extolled the virtues of Schumer’s Comedy Central sketch show Inside Amy Schumer that showcases the breadth of Amy Schumer’s comedic talents. The basis for a lot of Schumer’s material on the show is her hard drinking and sexing lifestyle with a heavy dose of confident self-effacement. She now brings her writing talents to the big screen where she plays an exaggerated version of herself directly mining events from her life like John Cena spoofing her past boyfriend wrestler Dolph Ziggler.

Schumer plays a woman also named Amy whose life is, you guessed it, a trainwreck. She is the queen of drunk one night stands, but by her standards she is living the life without monogamy and with an awesome job at a men’s health magazine and a “sick” apartment. When she is forced to cover a doctor performing surgery, she meets Aaron Connors (Bill Hader) who must run the gauntlet in trying to pursue the commitment-averse Amy.

Being set in New York City, the film has a parade of stars from fellow comedian Mike Birbiglia to basketballer LeBron James to plain old famous actors Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei. As director of the immensely successful comedy Bridesmaids, I have confidence in Judd Apatow’s ability to direct Schumer’s material and if the trailer is any indication, the film should be just as funny as Schumer’s sketch show.

Trainwreck opens in theaters on July 17, 2015.

Also check out the NSFW trailer if interested.

The New Yorker Presents Alan Cumming

Amazon Pilot ‘The New Yorker Presents’ Preserves 90 Year Old Brand in New Online Format

Do you know what diaeresis marks are? Who would have a thought a publication that continues the archaic written tradition of adding dots over the second vowel in words with repeating vowels (e.g. preëminent) would partner with Amazon Studios to produce a pilot in the 21st century? The New Yorker is no stranger to the big screen with short stories originally published there having been adapted into acclaimed films from Meet Me in St. Louis to Adaptation, but The New Yorker Presents marks the magazine’s first foray into television. Still The New Yorker shines through every sleek transition, trademark jazz score and subtle allusion to the City. The unified branding indicates an adherence to what has made the publication America’s most award-winning magazine instead of an attempt to transform for a modern audience.

Despite the pilot’s throughline elements, the uneven pacing from four minute sketch to eight minute interview interspersed with 30 second long editorial cartoons registers as jarring even on the more flexible streaming video on demand (SVOD) service. Five disparate pieces ranging from poetry to interview individually hold their own during a digestible 30 minutes, but the more fractured magazine format feels mismatched overall on the traditionally linear mode of television. Amazon’s entrance into original content in 2013 is a testament to how the unexpected should be expected in the wave of SVOD where material as patiently cerebral as The New Yorker Presents gets produced in the same pilot cycle as a cop show.

Unlike the average network show, The New Yorker Presents offers us informative entertainment that still thinks the “informative” part of that phrase carries the most weight. The first sketch with Alan Cumming as an unflappable God who calmly coaches his prophet to warn against the end of days comes off as bland. It does well playing to the cartoonish with an exaggerated score highlighting the prophet’s misguided attempts at converting people followed by lazy jazz when Gods hand over his next ill-fated instructions, but the most it all elicits is a chortle.

The program really starts gaining traction during the conversation with seminal performance artist Marina Abromavić that relates the intensity of her recent work with consistently thoughtful camera work that finds the look or movement at the heart of the scene and lingers. Footage from Abramović’s recent exhibitions “The Artist is Present” and “Generator” is interspersed with material from the artist’s earlier work that shows among other things the artist cutting a star into her stomach as a discourse on engaging with pain. The interviewer, Ariel Levy, skillfully guides the conversation with Abramović who has been doing 30 years of interviews onto a previous quote by the artist relating sexual energy to artistic inspiration, obliquely addressing the artist’s motives on what could be considered by viewers overly sexualized performances. Levy elicits the artist’s views on feminism with the delicacy of any New Yorker print review. In fact similarities in tone, content and presentation to the magazine frequently draw comparisons to print articles centered around the traditional understanding of “culture” or long reads on American environmental concerns.

Jonathon Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Rachel Getting Married) directs that ‘long read’ as a doc on an American ecosystem damaged by pesticides. The interweaving of the lead scientist’s uncommon upbringing in South Carolina bolsters the narrative about frogs poisoned with pesticide runoff by adding another layer of power imbalance between a big corporation and the little guy. The piece ends with the scientist barefoot on a tranquil riverbank, albeit one filled with reproductively contaminated wildlife, reading a quote from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden about the music made by bullfrogs. That strong image ties together the pleasantly meandering human interest story, showcasing one thing a magazine can’t do – have some of America’s finest prose read aloud to fauna chirping and rustling by a river. That piece leads straight into a haunting poem read aloud by Andrew Garfield, which ends the show on a dark note. Personally I find this visual translation of the magazine intriguing with great prospects for future well-produced, insightful material dovetailed with the magazine. The New Yorker Presents isn’t really widening its target audience, but for a publication turning 90 this year and still flourishing, perhaps simply for SVOD is compelling enough.