Trainwreck (2015) & Precinct Seven Five (2015)
I think, after nine months of Werner Herzog I deserve a bit of a laugh don’t I? So as we timidly enter the studios graveyard season, the August and September of the movie calendar where hesitant production houses unceremoniously dump their products and wares that they haven’t quite worked out how to market or sell, like a shamefully discarded bastard Victorian child. Some of the alternative blockbuster programing is hanging on in there, and for a change of pace I thought I’d give a comedy a try, a genre that has always been woefully unrepresented here at the Menagerie. Judd Apatow’s latest springs from the pen of writer & actress Amy Schumer, a star in the ascendant whom seems to be America’s new favourite funny lady. She stars as twenty-something New Yorker Amy who is enjoying the single life, sleeping around, getting wasted while juggiling her stressful magazine journalism career, as it seems that every twenty-something woman in every rom-com always works in the media don’t they? When she hooks up with successful doctor Aaron Connors (Bill Hader) the usual contraptions of the rom-com spring into position, the standard complications and obstacles to the path of true love, with just a little character background of family drama to frame a life which needs to evolve and transform if transcendent happiness is to be achieved – in this case a pregnant younger sister (Brie Larson) and increasingly frail father (Colin Quinn) whom is wasting away in a care home.
Broadly speaking this works, there are enough laughs sprinkled throughout the airy romance to propel it through the rather clichéd dramatic longueurs, a path enjoyably endured mostly due to Schumer’s playful performance and intimate knowledge of the material given she is the sole screenwriter. There is a curious pastiche of a Sundance film within the film which oddly doesn’t resemble anything made since the era of Living In Oblivion or more recent mumblecore musings, and they even pay homage to Annie Hall toward the end of one city celebrating montage, a reverent moment given that movie is still widely considered as the apotheosis of the genre. So many of the scenes fall completely flat, without a single laugh being tickled out, but then a few big laughs can make you overlook some rather poor comedic dimensions – a homeless guy as recurrent comic-relief character? Really? The film relies on a number of American specific sports knowledge and cameos including an extended performance from Basketball legend LeBron James as Aaron ethnically diverse best friend, and that’s where I think some of the humour has been abandoned in the trip across the Atlantic. There is one scene where I’m guessing the American equivalent of John Motson is humorously commentating on the action between characters, which feels like an idea that would have surfaced around the Zucker movies of the 1980’s, not a bad gag on its own but the tone just doesn’t fit with the rest of this movies observational and character driven chuckles. But I don’t want to be relentlessly negative, there are about a dozen good laughs in here, mostly from the side characters which always seem to be the way with Apatow films. Amy Schmauer is a fine comedienne with a great sense of timing and a cherubic portfolio of serenely executed facial expressions, compared to the spectacularly unfunny The Interview which I also saw this weekend Train Wreck is like Life Of Brian or Duck Soup in comparison. Maybe also worth a look for an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton as some antipodean, bronze perma-tan magazine harpy who makes Anna Wintour look like Mother Teresa, and a final physical gag which although you can sense coming a mile away had me and my fellow patrons roaring with laughter.
So from modern promiscuous New York of the 2010’s to the sordid debauchery of New York of the 1980’s, a sadly lost time before the Disneyfication of the Big Apple, when an enterprising young gentleman could see a blaxpoliation triple bill in Times Square, score a sweet needle of Dominican black tar heroin and purloin a back-alley blow job from a toothless transsexual and still have enough pocket-money left to catch the last A-train home. So welcome to Mike Dowd, one of the cities most depraved and corrupt drug dealing thieves, a fella who takes to embezzlement, blackmail, deceit and deception like a duck to water. There is one mild complication to this life of crime, primarily being that Mike is a cop, stationed at the notorious 75th District just South East of Manhattan. As an early context setting section imprints this was an extraordinarily dangerous environment, which in the 1980’s was awash in thousands of homicides a year as hundreds of millions of dollars of crack cocaine laid waste to entire communities and districts. This is one of those deft documentaries which is cut like a kinetic thriller, with a thundering action packed score punctuated with delirious montages, as talking head footage of a machine gun voiced Mike and his quieter partner Ken Eurell is cut between fascinating period specific photos and archival footage of their notorious crimes and the IAD investigations into their spiralling transgressions. As a keen purveyor of this type of urban depravity, as a degenerate dime-store denizen who digs the digressions of desperate dogs and worships at the altar of James Ellroy this is of course right up my graffiti choked alley, so if you find such material fascinating then this is a documentary for you. This is the kind of story that demands a fictional translation as it was born for the big-screen, although sadly Sidney Lumet has left us maybe draft in James Gray or Spike Lee to craft this tense urban thriller, as some of the scenes and scams that these guys got into are straight out of a Hollywood handbook, including international drug cartels, secret surveillance in the back of white vans, wild car chases across the East river bridge as the coke and booze flowed like a tarnished tsunami. The film would write itself with the cops own internal sense of omertà a powerful dramatic foil, as even if you know a colleague is up to no good you, never, ever, ever turn rat regardless of the circumstances. This is a solid rap-sheet, and is rather disquieting in the background of this years police brutality and institutional illness seen in Ferguson and Cleveland and North Charleston and Cincinnati and on and on…….