Tag Archives: comedy

Film Review: Trainwreck

Trainwreck – A Comic Collision

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Trainwreck is the best and funniest rom-com since Bridesmaids, another hilarious quasi-feminist film by Judd Aptow, known also for bro-coms like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. And like previous Aptow productions Bridesmaids and Girls, Trainwreck is both funny and a little sad. The scenes that are the most memorable and vivid, however, are comic fireworks. Written by and starring Amy Schumer, the humor is raunchy, pushes the boundaries of conventional one-liners, and is as sexually explicit as Schumer’s Comedy Central TV series.

Amy Townshend (Schumer) is the daughter of a cantankerous, alcoholic dad (Colin Quinn) with infidelity and commitment issues. Amy naturally follows in his footsteps. Disagreements with her younger sister about Dad’s assisted living expenses become a key indicator of Amy’s attitude toward the deeply unsympathetic man who helped shape the mess she’s become. And it’s all too clear that Amy’s commitment-phobia, compulsive drinking, and pot smoking are masking deeper wounds. As a staff writer for a low brow men’s magazine, Amy gets assigned to interview Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a sports doctor to the elite like LeBron James (who surprises with impeccable comic timing). The reason for the assignment: she hates sports.

Schumer and Hader have unbelievable chemistry together. Hader’s goofy Mr. Nice Guy channels Tom Hanks early on in his career. And he plays perfectly to Schumer’s fear of intimacy and seeming invulnerability. That’s the basic theme here: rejecting those we desire before they have a chance to reject us. The why-try-if-we-know-how-it-will-end syndrome.

And what a comic team Schumer and Hader make! Funny or serious, they approach every scene without skipping a beat in timing. Open, fearless, undefended, masterful. The supporting cast (Tilda Swinton, Quinn, Vanessa Bayer, Brie Larson) also delivers hilarious and moving performances. What every great comedy requires!

Some of the comedy in this film may not appeal to all, but Schumer’s a juggernaut for women in comedy just as much as her predecessors: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, and Lena Dunahm, most of whom have been supported by Apatow. Beat for beat, Trainwreck is one of Aptow’s most consistently funny and charming films ever.

I want to see more of Amy Schumer!

Highly recommended.

Diana Y. Paul

This review was first posted on the Unhealed Wound blog:

http://unhealedwound.com/

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I Hear The Laughter

Stand Up Revolution

Is an entire season of TV comedy on one DVD too much or not enough?

DVD Review: Gabriel Iglesias Presents Stand-Up Revolution, Season 2

People pay up to $75 and $80 a seat to see Gabriel Iglesias (AKA Fluffy) perform his comedy in places like Lake Tahoe and Reno. So paying $19.99 for a video disc of his comedy seems, at first glance, like a bargain. However, here Iglesias and his very funny Master of Ceremonies, Martin Moreno, basically serve as the introducers of new comedy talent – some of it average, some of it excellent. There are twelve separate upcoming comedians who come on stage in south Florida, doing a quick – and sometimes not-so-quick – run-through of their nightly act. This disc presents the entire second season of Comedy Central’s show Stand-Up Revolution and some may wish that there was less here rather than more.

With two exceptions, the comedians featured in this compilation are either Hispanic or African or African-American. They might have placed an advisory sticker on the DVD reading, “This is intended for audiences that love ethnic humor. It may not be appropriate for all viewers.” The audiences present during the taping sessions were virtually all Hispanic, and they clearly enjoyed the jabs at their own cultural mores and those of other minority groups.

Trevor Noah, the first of the many comedians, is a mixed race comedian from Africa. He noted that his father was black and his white mother was from Switzerland, as “The Swiss love chocolate.” Noah seems like a nice guy, but not a terribly funny one. Dov Davidoff is the Anglo comedian who appears next and warns the audience to “lower your expectations.” He’s a comedian who tries to pretend that he’s not funny, but he is as he jokes about the economy being so bad that people now watch reality TV to see other people working.

Nick Guerra from south Texas does a pretty average routine about males being dumb and disgusting. It seems like this territory has been well-covered before. Gina Yashere, a black woman from England, is truly funny as when she alerts the audience to the fact that, “Black people are not indigenous to England.” Her set about her return visit to her native Nigeria is pretty much worth the price of admission.

Dillon Garcia is a chubby white-Mexican comedian who tells some good jokes about food and personal relationships. Garcia is followed by Will Sylvince from Haiti. Sylvince will have your sides aching from laughing. His act is almost indescribable – it needs to be seen to be appreciated.

The seventh comedian on stage, Dustin Ybarra, relies on drug and bathroom humor. We’ve heard all this before. Fast forward to Thai Rivera, a gay Mexican-American from Arizona. Yes, that’s right, he’s gay and from the state of Arizona – “I’m not racist. I’m just from Arizona.” Ybarra’s unique digs at his own culture are close to priceless. When told that he doesn’t look Mexican he responds, “Oh, I’m sorry, I left my leaf blower at home.”

Alfred Robles of East Los Angeles is interesting, if not much more, and African-American Tony Baker also revisits some old comic territory. Ian Bagg arrives to save the day with some truly outrageous and funny comedy, before the baton is passed to the final performer, Pablo Francisco. Francisco does nothing memorable.

Big fans of the big comedian Gabriel Iglesias may be disappointed because he only makes brief appearances between the dozen comedians that he and Moreno bring on stage. If you’re a huge fan of Fluffy, you might want to wait for an “all-Iglesias” DVD or save up for one of those costly tickets to see him live and in person.

Recommended, for select audiences.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy of the DVD was provided by a publicist. This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics Video (TV/Film) site: http://blogcritics.org/video/article/dvd-review-gabriel-iglesias-presents-stand/

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Coming Up Next…

Stand-Up Revolution (300)

A review of a comedy DVD, Gabriel Iglesias Presents Stand-Up Revolution, Season 2.

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Cucumber Castle

Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King’s Daughter (Blotto, Twinks #1) by Simon Brett (Felony & Mayhem, $14.95, 211 pages)

The treacherous footman Pottinger has been impaled by a dagger in the library!   “Who by?” asked Blotto.   Then remembering that he had been at Eaton, he amended his question to, “By whom?”

The back cover of this book might read, “Camp and spoofy, while altogether enjoyable!”   No serious effort is required to read the rather small volume that author, Simon Brett, hails as “the first Blotto and Twinks mystery.”   The publisher is Felony and Mayhem which is a clue to the tone of their books.

Blotto and his sister Twinks are the son and daughter of the Dowager Duchess of Tawcester (pronounced “taster”).   Being dim-witted and handsome is Blotto’s curse and blessing.   His sister Twinks is both beautiful and brainy which makes her the detective while he is merely there as window dressing.   The period piece is set in England between the first and second world wars.   The Dowager Duchess follows through on the obligation of her landed gentry’s class by entertaining house guests of lesser social standing.   The ex-king of Mitteleuropa and his entourage are beginning to outstay their welcome when the inevitable happens.   A murder victim is found quite by accident by Blotto is his ancestral home.

The mayhem and subsequent murders that occur serve to heighten the potential for puns, class snobbery and altogether good jokes.   Author Brett has been a fixture in British radio and television.   He has also written three detective novels prior to this, and his latest, Blotto, Twinks and the Dead Dowager Duchess (Blotto, Twinks #2).   Brett definitely qualifies for the designation “prolific.”

The volume size and excellent writing make this book ideal for summer reading.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Brett’s latest is a complete wow…  comic in an ebullient yet still sardonic, P. G. Wodehouse way…”   Booklist

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Beauty’s Only Skin Deep

One Day: A Novel by David Nicholls  (Vintage, $14.95, 448 pages; Random House Audio, $19.99, 13 compact discs)

If ever there was a clear-cut category for One Day, “dramedy” is where it belongs.   By now it’s likely that the book, audio book and movie have been enjoyed by countless tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people.   The story thread is not really new.   A similar example this reviewer recalls is Same Time Next Year.   In the play and movie of the same name, a couple’s thrown together by chance, has a romantic encounter and agrees to meet on the same weekend each year.   They do so for 24 years.

One Day revisits the main characters, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew each year on the 15th of July, St. Swithin’s Day, for 20 years following their graduation from Edinburgh University in Scotland.   Emma and Dexter spend graduation night together at the beginning of this saga.   Dexter is a beautiful young man from a well-to-do family who enjoys being admired and bedded by many women.   Emma, on the other hand, comes from a lower-class background and is significantly brighter academically than Dexter.   However, her life experience and confidence are seriously lacking which does not bode well for her success in life.

Post-graduation finds them in London.   Dexter exudes confidence and is highly photogenic which lands him a job as a TV show host while Emma toils away at menial jobs including as a waitress and eventually the manager of a Tex-Mex restaurant.   Their annual check-ins prove to be both funny and poignant.

The years roll by and it is clear that both Emma and Dexter are good friends, although Emma is clearly more devoted to Dexter than he to her.   Let’s face it, Dexter is devoted to Dexter.   On St. Swithin’s Day their lives don’t always intersect, although Nicholls provides the reader with ample evidence of how each is managing life.

This novel has been reviewed twice previously on this site.   The prior reviews were written based on the hard copy.   This review is based on the unabridged audio book.   The word “unabridged” is key here because, unlike the book, the movie version is highly abridged and offers little more than snapshots of some of the July 15th episodes.   This reviewer is grateful to have heard the audio version prior to viewing the movie because the film was no more than a shallow glimpse into the characters’ actions.   Sadly, the serious and deeply moving aspects of the book were lost in the movie version.

Author Nicholls is a genius at dialogue and fortunately for this reviewer, the audio version was captivating.   Anna Bentinck lends her talents to the character voices and manages to do a good job on both the men and women’s parts.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

The audio book was purchased by the reviewer’s husband.

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A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty

Joshilyn Jackson’s new book, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty: A Novel, was released on January 25, 2012.   Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, says of Pretty that it’s, “Enthralling!   A heart-thumping mystery, an edge-of-your-seat drama, and a fiercely sweet comedy all at once.”   Jennifer McMahon, the author of Promise Not to Tell labels it, “A clever, hilarious, wild adventure of a mystery that immediately pulls you in.”

Pretty is already a 4.5 star (out of 5) rated book at Barnes & Noble, and a 5 star rated book at Amazon.You can read the first chapter of A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty here:

http://www.joshilynjackson.com/A-Grown-Up-Kind-of-Pretty-Excerpt.pdf

Jackson is the author of the earlier bestselling novels Backseat Saints, Gods in Alabama and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.   You can read our review of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2009/10/23/arc-of-a-diver/

Joseph Arellano

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Shake Me, Wake Me

Pinch Me: A Novel by Adena Halpern (Touchstone, $14.99, 288 pages)

“And you thought your life was cursed!”

“Never marry a man unless he’s short, bald, fat, stupid, and treats you badly.”   Grandma Dolly, 82 and Mother Selma, 55

Imagine meeting the man (or woman) of your dreams:  successful, intelligent, loyal, charming, attractive, and who wants nothing more but to spend the rest of your life taking care of you.   Does this sound too good to be true?   Well, for the  main character in Adena Halpern’s novel, Pinch Me, it is.

Lily Burns has spent her twenty’s dating the wrong men…  on purpose.   Throughout her life she has been advised to date someone who she would never love so that the family curse, created generations before she was born, would  not do unthinkable things to the men she loved.   Witnessing what her mother, Selma, and grandmother, Dolly had gone through, Lily takes this advice seriously.   Then she meets Gogo, a handsome, successful pediatrician who adores her and asks for her hand in marriage.   For once ignoring her family’s advice, she marries Gogo and in desperation to prove she has beaten the curse, she asks her new husband to pinch her.   And the curse begins.   The story takes us on Lily’s hilarious and somewhat sad journey to get her husband back while undoing the family curse for good!

I have to admit that I initially thought the theme of this story was hokey and I was hard pressed to believe it would live up to the standards set by the novels I have recently reviewed.   However, I was quickly made optimistic by the author’s direct and flowing dialogue, and the enticing storyline that began on page one and continued throughout the novel.   This was a fun and lighthearted tale and I was entertained to the end.

Halpern kept my attention with Lily – her strong-willed main character – and her quirky but loving mother and grandmother.   I read the story in two short sittings, cheering for Lily and Gogo and I began to wonder if perhaps we all hold some family curse brought on by something we or our predecessors may have done in the past.

I found myself laughing out loud while reading Pinch Me, especially throughout the conversation that takes place between Lily’s mother Selma and grandmother Dolly as they try to convince Lilly that she should not get  married (that conversation alone is worth your time!).   It is a quick read and downright fun.   I will definitely be reading more from Adena Halpern.

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Pinch Me was released on July 19, 2011.

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New York Minute

An Object of Beauty: A Novel by Steve Martin (Hachette Audio,$34.98)

An Object of Beauty is the first novel I’ve read by Steve Martin.   I’ve enjoyed Martin’s comedy and movies for years, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from him as an author.   What I discovered was a very well written, intriguing novel about the art world in New York City in the 1990’s and 2000’s.   My husband loves to talk about how Steve Martin is one of the premier banjo players in the country.   With his music, comedy, acting, and writing, I think it is safe to say that Steve Martin is a true renaissance man.

An Object of Beauty has one of the most unusual heroines that I’ve had the pleasure to read about.   In the vein of Scarlett O’Hara or Catherine Earnshaw, Lacey Yeager is a strong-willed woman who cares mostly about herself and getting ahead at the cost of those who get in her way.   Yet, she is fascinating to read about.   I really enjoyed this book and couldn’t stop listening to Lacey’s story.

An Object of Beauty is narrated by Lacey’s friend Daniel.   Daniel once had a casual fling with Lacey, but now meets her occasionally as a friend and fellow art lover.   While Daniel writes for an art magazine, Lacey works her way up the chain of the art world to own her own gallery.   Lacey’s rise to the top is filled with scheming and intrigue, and involves at least one mystery that is finally resolved at the end of the story.   Lacey has learned to find art an “object of money” rather than an “object of beauty” and she lets this passion control all even if it costs her the love of her life.

Lacey’s journey was fascinating and I especially loved how the art world and Lacey’s place in it paralleled the major events of our time.   This included the rise of the markets in the 90’s and early 00’s and the crash at the end of the decade.   Lacey’s experience on 9/11 was quite intriguing and I couldn’t turn the CD off at that point!   I also didn’t know how this affected the art world.   I know next to nothing about art and I loved Martin’s detailed explanation of how the art world works.   It was interesting and never boring.

I listened to the audiobook as read by Campbell Scott.   He did a fair job as a narrator and stood in for me as Steve Martin narrating the novel.

Laura Arlt Gerold

Used by permission.   You can read more reviews by Laura Arlt Gerold at the brilliantly titled Laura’s Reviews, http://lauragerold.blogspot.com/ .

A review copy of the audiobook was provided by the publisher.

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These Dreams of You

Cleaning Nabokov’s House: A Novel by Leslie Daniels (Touchstone; $24.00; 336 pages)

Debut author and literary agent Leslie Daniels sets the reader up for a tough and jarring ride before she detours us onto a softer road.   This begins as the story of a woman, Barb Barnett, who has no domestic skills and little self-esteem.   She leaves her husband John and her two children before they discover that she doesn’t know how to run the dishwasher in their home.   It may be the beginning of a period of freedom and growth for her – instead, she finds that she’s powerless, a helpless and hopeless person who’s utterly lost in the world.

Barb finds a weathered rental home in her husband’s (“the experson”) Upstate New York community of Onkwedo, home of Waindell University; a not too thinly disguised version of Ithaca, home to Cornell.   This turns out to have once been the temporary home of the famed writer Vladimir Nabokov; it may have been the home in which he wrote the classic Lolita over a two-year period.   The very lonely Barb finds that she’s not free of her ex-husband’s demands since she must do what he says in order to see her young children – a  purse-collecting girl and a very serious boy.   Even when John Barnett takes his kids and new girlfriend and moves a two-hour drive away from Onkwedo, Barb is expected to act as his servant, even taking care of John’s new dog for periods of up to six days at a time.

Barb’s powerlessness may have come to an end when she happens to find a manuscript in the rental home, a not fully completed novel about Babe Ruth that may or may not have been written by Nabokov.   Ah, the reader sees, this is going to be her ticket out…  Well, maybe.   At the urging of a literary agent, Barb takes it upon herself to complete the novel and takes it with her to New York City for authentication by literary experts.   (No doubt it’s going to be a genuine Nabokov and she’ll be rich.)

“My mother didn’t like bad things to happen to anyone, particularly herself.   To be fair, she didn’t like bad things to happen to me either, so she pretended they didn’t.   Her warding off of bad things involved revisions of reality.   When I was a child, she told me two years in a row that ‘Grandma is in Florida and can’t come for Christmas.’   The third year, I pinned her down and discovered that Grandma was dead.”

Forty-five percent of the way through this tale, the reader is certain of what’s going to happen.   Everything seems to be all sewn up in a neat little bundle for resolution.   And then everything changes.

While in Manhattan, Barb discovers a successful brothel that’s visited by men.   It dawns on her that her path to power and riches may lie in establishing a brothel in sleepy Onkwedo, although one that will meet the needs of the women in the village rather than the men.   One of the university’s heralded sports teams has just the young bloods she needs for her own unique team of athletes.   This is exactly where the fun and the sense of personal empowerment comes into play, for Barb realizes that if she can make enough money for herself she can stand up and take on John Barnett in a fair custody fight.

“John used to be right all the time.   It was a cornerstone belief of our former relationship: we both knew that John was always right.   Only that was no longer true.”

The once weak and timid Barb is assisted in her efforts by finding a strong and understanding man, who seems (and this is part of the charm of the story) to have suddenly appeared from the pages of a romance novel.   He’s a working man who knows better than to come on too strong with her, so she’s the one who makes the moves, even when it comes to their first kiss.

And so the serious becomes the sublime, with a heavy trace of satire and comedy, in a very unique offering from Daniels.   What makes it all work – and work so well, from start to finish – is that the reader is always in Barb Barnett’s corner even through all the script, set and background changes.   It’s a dizzying and sometimes puzzling read; all in all, a fun and tremendously engaging read.

Leslie Daniels pulls out all of the stops in this well recommended debut.   Bravo!  

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Cleaning Nabokov’s House was released on March 1, 2011.

“An odd mix of silly, ridiculous, and inspiring…  a pleasure to read.”   Publishers Weekly.

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Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Book of Nathan: A Novel by Curt Weeden and Richard Marek (Oceanview Publishing; $25.95; 264 pages)

“Dan Brown meets Janet Evanovich…”   Roxanne Black

Co-authors Curt Weeden and Richard Marek have teamed up to create a fascinating novel that is part mystery and part life lesson.   Their main character is Rick Bullock, formerly a successful Madison Avenue advertising man who turned agnostic soul saver when his beloved wife, Anne, died from a brain tumor.   Rick has refocused his life and manages a shelter for men in the inner city.   He knows his clients and when one of them named Zeus is accused of a high-profile murder, Rick makes it his task to prove the accusers wrong.

The first person narrative is an excellent vehicle for combining the disparate elements of the tale.   Rick’s thoughts and actions are consistent with a man of high moral principles.   Fortunately, the authors have resisted portraying him as a saintly type.   He is capable of trickery and a little arm twisting to obtain the resources needed to travel to Florida where Zeus is incarcerated.   Lacking funds for the journey, Rick calls in a favor from a buddy in his advertising past, Doug Kool, who is a fundraiser par excellence for a big nonprofit.

The team Rick takes to Florida is a rag-tag group.   Some of them are helpful for the mission (Doc Waters and Maurice) and one is a genuine bundle of precocious trouble (Twyla Tharp – no, not that one).   This reviewer was reminded of The Wizard of Oz and the pilgrimage that Dorothy made with her band of seekers.   Amazingly, the story line manages to stay reasonably tight and manageable regardless of the wide variety of characters.   Oh, did I mention that an extremely wealthy man also plays a part?   Indeed, the reader will discover more than the identity of the killer by the story’s end.  

The values and moral judgements presented are all too real and not off the scale of everyday issues we all face.   Kudos to Weeden and Marek for delivering their message in such an entertaining way.   Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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