Movie Review: Trainwreck (2015)

August 17, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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Trainwreck is a dangerous title for a movie because there’s always the risk that it’ll turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fortunately for Judd Apatow and star comedian Amy Schumer, the film has turned out to be the opposite of its name, cruising past expectations for an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

And I can definitely understand the appeal. The film is a star vehicle for Schumer, who is following in the footsteps of comedianness like Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey in getting an opportunity to break into the mainstream. Schumer is self-deprecating, edgy, raunchy, overtly sexual and an expert at making people uncomfortable, and if you like her style of humour you’ll likely enjoy this film.

The other section of the market the film targets is Judd Apatow fans. He’s been associated with just about every “dramedy” over the last decade, but he’s only really directed a handful of movies — The 40-year-old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People, This is 40 and now Trainwreck. A lot of people love how he blends edgy comedy with serious dramatic themes, and now looking through this list I have to admit I am a bigger fan than I thought I was (it’s all those other crap movies which he produced that dragged him down in my mind).

For me, Trainwreck lies somewhere in the middle of Apatow’s movies, which is a little strange considering there are a lot of things I like about it. I like that Amy Schumer makes for a very unconventional protagonist — she’s crass, she’s promiscuous, she likes to drink, and she’s not as skinny or attractive as typical Hollywood female leads (even among the comedians) — which makes for a experience not a lot of us are used to. I’m a big fan of Bill Hader (especially after seeing him in The Skeleton Twins just a couple of months ago) and it’s also interesting to see him — also atypical in many ways — play the romantic lead in a film. On top of that, LeBron James makes his film debut as himself, and shocks because he has a sizable supporting role as opposed to just a cameo — and he’s actually a pretty good actor and quite funny.

The plot is as follows. Amy (Amy Schumer), works at a men’s magazine and gets forced to do a profile on sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) by her boss (Tilda Swinton). Having been raised by a father (Colin Quinn) who doesn’t believe in monogamy, she finds it difficult to have a relationship with a man that’s not purely sexual. Though she had just been dating a beefcake who is obviously homosexual (wrestler John Cena), she soon finds herself falling for Conners and becoming just like her more stable sister (Brie Larson), a cliche she has always avoided. But is she willing to change her ways and take a risk to find happiness?

The premise is nothing groundbreaking and feels quite familiar, though usually it’s from the male perspective. Still, I’m surprised by how many people there are calling Trainwreck an “anti-romcom”. Yes, the jokes are sharper, smarter and often very funny, but at the end of the day the film uncontrollably steers toward romcom tropes and typical Apatow character development arcs — you know, the break-up lull just before the grand realisation spurring the character growth needed for the lovers to live happily ever after.

In this sense, Trainwreck is somewhat overrated. It’s not the revolutionary romcom or Apatow dramedy some have made it out to be. And if you know Schumer’s comedy you’ll know she can come across as a little racist (I don’t think she crosses the line though), which can be fine in a standup routine but offend people in a movie scenario. Having said that, I easily cracked the six-laugh quota for a good comedy while watching the film and there were even a couple of times when I laughed as hard as I have for any Apatow movie, no mean feat considering the majority of laughs came from improvised lines and off-the-cuff remarks as opposed to elaborately planned jokes.

Then there’s the LeBron factor. He definitely didn’t choke this time and held his own against some of the most popular comedians in the world. I don’t want to raise expectations too high because it’s still an athlete playing a caricature of himself, though it’s safe to say he blows Shaq’s Kazaam out of the water. Clutch performance. He might not be “da real MVP”, but LeBron certainly deserves to be on the All-Rookie Team.

It was also good to see Amare Stoudemire play himself as one of Dr Conner’s parents, especially considering that he was willing to be in a storyline in which he needs, um, career-saving knee surgery (again). There are plenty of other eye-catching cameos, from Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei to Marv Albert, Chris Evert, Tony Romo and Matthew Broderick. The good thing is that none of these felt like they were forced into the film for the sake of there being a lot of celebrity cameos.

As with all Apatow movies, Trainwreck is about 15-20 minutes too long, and there are dramatic scenes that drag on. While it may not be the most well-rounded of films, when it comes to delivering laughs and comedy from a woman’s perspective, Trainwreck is anything but. It may not have been as good as it could have been, but it’s still better than the majority of comedies and romcoms that get released these days.

3.5 stars out of 5

Likes and dislikes from NBA All-Star Weekend 2014

February 17, 2014 in Basketball, NBA, Sport

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The NBA’s annual February showcase just concluded in New Orleans with the Eastern Conference All-Stars earning a record 163-155 come-from-behind victory over the Western Conference All-Stars, with Kyrie Irving winning the MVP after racking up 31 points and 14 assists. Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant each scored 38 in a losing effort.  It’s one of those events I look forward to every year that never lives up to the hype or the expectations, and this year of course was no different. We’re so accustomed to only remembering the highlight reels that we tend to forget all the embarrassing moments, the airballs and the missed dunks.

Having said that, this year’s All-Star Weekend is my favourite in years. Here’s what I liked and didn’t like about it.

LIKEDIndiana Pacers represent!

My Pacers had two All-Stars this year in starter (and third-leading vote getter) Paul George and Roy Hibbert, plus the East coach in Frank Vogel as the Pacers have, ahem, the best record in the [email protected]*$#f&^*ing conference. It would have been even better had Lance Stephenson and David West also made the team like they should have, but it’s hard to complain when your team already has three guys in it.

This is how I voted fir the All-Star Game

This is how I voted fir the All-Star Game

 

And it was a successful outing for the trio. Paul George led the East to a clean sweep over the West in the Dunk Comp and finished with a solid 18 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the All-Star Game itself, while Roy Hibbert had 8 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in just 12 minutes off the bench. Coach Vogel, of course, orchestrated the team’s brilliant come-from-behind win.

 Oh, and before I forget it’s actually four Pacers, because assistant coach Nate McMillan coached Team Hill to victory over Team Webber in the Rising Stars Challenge. Hang on, it’s actually FIVE Pacers if you include TNT analyst and the greatest Pacer of all-time,  Reggie Miller!

Overall, a great experience for the team. Even though it would have been good for George and Hibbert to get some rest because they had been playing like crap heading into the break, I think being around all these great players will really pump them up for the back end of the season.

LIKED: The Celebrity Game

This is one of those events I wish gets more coverage because it’s always fascinating to see which celebs can actually ball. I guess they throw in some retired NBA greats and WNBA stars to make it look a little less horrible aesthetically, but personally I would prefer it if they were all non-athletes, or at least people not known for basketball. I don’t usually know most of the celebs in the game, but most of the time you just need a couple of big names like Kevin Hart, Erin Heatherton and Michael B Jordan to keep it interesting.

really liked how they got Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose to coach the teams, but it would have been even better had they been in charge of drafting their own teams by reaching out to celebrities in their respective phone books.

This game itself was also surprisingly entertaining. I only recently watched Michael B Jordan light up the screen in Fruitvale Station, and he showed how he can really ball by pouring in 16 points despite being the focal point of the defense. But really, the star of the night was without a doubt US Secretary of Education (and former professional bball player in Australia!) Arne Duncan, who powered his team to a 60-56 win 20 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists, plus a handful of brilliant highlight-reel plays. He was so good that Kevin Hart, voted MVP by the fans for the third straight year, gave up the trophy.

DISLIKED: Nick Cannon

Mr Mariah Carey hosted the whole thing and he was just terrible. He tried but it was embarrassing seeing him try to liven up the mood and failing. He also posted a -14 plus-minus in 20 minutes of court time in the Celebrity Game along with this wonderful shot chart. To think he missed Valentine’s Day with his wife for this.

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DISLIKED: Joe Johnson

No one thought Joe Johnson was an All-Star this year, and yet here he was, taking up a spot that should have gone to Lance! Seriously, Johnson is averaging 15 points on 43.8% shooting with 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game for the 24-27 Brooklyn Nets, while Lance is putting up 14.1 on 50.2% shooting with 7.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists for the 40-12 Indiana Pacers. Come on!

And to prove my point, Johnson came last in the Three-Point Contest with just 11 out of a possible 34 points, then shot 2-7 in the All-Star Game for a team-low 5 points. I won’t torture you with a video of his performance.

LIKED: Damian Lillard

At the opposite end of the scale is Damian Lillard, who set a record by participating in five All-Star Weekend events — the Rising Stars Challenge (13, 5 and 5), the Skills Challenge (winner along with Trey Burke), Three-Point Contest (18, just missing out in final), Dunk Comp (lost to Eastern Conference) and the All-Star Game itself (9 points). His self alley-oop through-the-legs and 360 bounce pass lefty dunk were two of the better ones of the evening too. Sure, only one win from five events, but full marks for effort and participation. Great work, young man.

LIKED: The Three-Point Comp

Interesting strategic addition this year with the one rack containing all money balls (which are worth 2 points instead of the usual 1), which the contestant can choose where they want to put. This means together with the single money ball at the end of the other four racks there are 9 money balls all up, raising the maximum score from 30 to 34.

Unfortunately, despite having some of the best shooters in the league competing this year, only two guys, the winner Marco Belinelli and runner up Bradley Beal, had rounds of more than 20. Belinelli saved his best for last, scoring 24 in the tie-breaker round, while Beal had 21 in his first round. However, it was exciting to see the contest head into a tie-breaker and there were moments of real intensity, especially when the contestants got to the all-money-ball rack.

PS: Really disappointing that heavy favourite Steph Curry only had 16 and didn’t make the second round.

LIKED/DISLIKED: The Dunk Comp

I know a lot of people hated the new format, but I think it’s commendable that they at least tried something new because there hasn’t been a really good dunk comp in years with so many professional dunkers posting their ridiculous feats on YouTube and contestants favouring flair over substance and props over genuine creativity. Moreover, this year there were some real stars participating, unlike previous years, with Paul George, John Wall and Damian Lillard leading the way.

The new format pitted the three dunkers from each conference against each other, first in a “freestyle” round where they had 90 seconds to do as many dunks as they like (with at least one dunk from each team member), then a “battle” round where it’s one-on-one between the two conferences, with the first to rack up three victories emerging as the winner. This year the East dominated the freestyle round and all three of the battles, with John Wall being voted “Dunker of the Night” by fans with this killer jam.

With all the negative feedback, it seems more likely that the league will scrap the format altogether and return to the way it was before. Personally, I’d like to see them try it one more year but with a few tweaks.

First of all, the freestyle round thing has to go because watching three guys running around at the same time saps the excitement and anticipation as it makes each dunk less meaningful. It also makes it extremely hard to judge. That said, I do like the teamwork element of it, so maybe next year they can have a “team round” where each team gets to perform three team dunks (with a different finisher each time) and the total scores added to determine the winner of the round. They don’t have to use all three guys with each dunk, but they need at least two to make it a team dunk.

Secondly, the battle round is nice and all, but viewers were left unsatisfied because: 1. There was no actual scoring, just a “who was better” vote; and 2. It ended abruptly as soon as the East got the three required wins. What I also don’t understand is the link between the two rounds — what if the West won the freestyle round and the East won the battle round? Who is declared the victor then? Shouldn’t they still have a scoring system which will help determine the winning team overall?

What most people have suggested, which I agree with, is to have the three dunkers from the winning squad take on each other with at least one more dunk. That way you have an actual “Slam Dunk Champion” as opposed to a “Dunker of the Night”. As for the fan voting to decide the winner? I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. Maybe they need to make it 50/50 with the judges or something.

LIKED: The All-Star Game

Fugly jerseys, maybe, but personally I didn’t mind the sleeves all that much.

I don’t usually get overly impressed with the All-Star Game, but this year’s was damn entertaining. A record 318 points scored, 100 three-pointers attempted (30 made), 88 assists and only 28 turnovers (not too different to most normal NBA games). Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin scored 38 each, which is third-most all-time behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 42 and Michael Jordan’s 40. And Blake Griffin’s alley-oops were incredible, as were LeBron’s explosive coast-to-coasts, Carmelo Anthony’s record 8 three-pointers and Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry’s insane handles. Just a fun showcase.

My Greatest NBA Fantasy Team of All Time

August 13, 2013 in Basketball, Best Of, NBA, Sport

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I haven’t done any basketball-related posts on this blog for a while, and this is a topic I have wanted to tackle for some time. After recently reading Jack McCallum’s fabulous Dream Team (review here), a chronicle of the greatest group of talent ever assembled in team sport, I started thinking about which players I would pick for my personal fantasy dream team, comprising NBA players from any era at a certain point in their careers.

This is, of course, just a personal selection of players based on a subjective assessment of each player’s talent, ability and skill, as well as what I think they will bring to the table and how they might play off each other as a cohesive unit. So don’t get your knickers in a bunch if you don’t agree. I will, however, try to justify my selections with explanations, so feel free to comment and start up a healthy debate.

As this is MY dream team, I am going to only consider players I have actually watched play in full televised or archived games (ie late 80s), as opposed to basing selections purely on reputation or grainy highlights. I therefore offer my apologies upfront to the greatest winner of all-time, Bill Russell, the most dominant scorer (and womanizer) of all time, Wilt Chamberlain, and Mr Triple Double, Oscar Robertson.

Two of the greatest actors of their generation, Arnie and Wilt

Two of the greatest actors of their generation, Arnie and Wilt

Part of the decision to remove them from contention stems from my belief that players of the past, as good as they were, aren’t as good as the players of the modern era. I mean, Russell was only 6’9″ and 225 lbs, and Wilt was regarded as unmatched at 7’1″ and 275 lbs, and the level of competition they faced was not even close. It’s no question that players today are much bigger, stronger, more athletic and more skilled. Not to say Russell, Wilt and The Big O wouldn’t still be great players in today’s game (especially if they were given the same nutrition and training opportunities), but I just don’t know enough to make that assumption.

Starters

Selection philosophy

The majority of my starting five choices won’t be controversial. There’s at least one guy that will be on everyone’s list, and we all know who that is, and there’s two other guys that will be on most lists.

My philosophy was simple. The first factor was to consider the best all-round player in that position. The second consideration was whether that player addresses a need on a team, be it scoring, passing, rebounding, defense, shooting, shot blocking, and so forth. And the third consideration was whether those players would mesh well as a team. With that in mind, my greatest starting five of all time is…

PG Magic Johnson (1988-1989)

It wasn’t hard to choose whom many regard as the greatest point guard of all time, a 6’9″ maestro with possibly the best court vision the game has ever seen. With his incredible size at PG and ability to find the open man, especially on the break, Magic would be the perfect coordinator of this team. His supernatural passing ability has somewhat shadowed his scoring and rebounding, which were both fantastic, but the best thing about Magic is that he doesn’t need to score to control and dominate a game. And let’s not forget the intangibles — his leadership and will to win.

It’s hard to pick one version of Magic for this team. There’s 1981-1982, the year where he came closest to averaging a triple double with 18.6, 9.6 and 9.5. There’s 1983-1984, when he averaged a career high 13.1 assists to go with 17.6 points, or 1986-87, when he averaged a career high 23.9 points to go with 12.2 assists. Any of these would have been wonderful, but in the end I chose his 1988-1989 MVP season, during which he averaged 22.5 points, 12.8 assists (both second highest in his career) and still grabbed 7.9 rebounds (the highest since 1982-1983). He shot 51% from the field and came close to leading the league in free throws at 91.1%. He also posted his second-highest PER at 26.9 (just 0.1 below his best PER).

SG Michael Jordan (1988-1989)

The no brainer. Of course you would have the GOAT on your team. A perfect blend of size, strength, athleticism and skills matched with an unparalleled drive, determination, and desire to win at all costs. Unstoppable offensively and capable of stopping just about everyone defensively. Even on this team, the greatest of all time, MJ would be the unquestionable star.

The harder decision was choosing the best version of Jordan to fill my team. Do I go with the offensive prodigy who put up a staggering 37.1 points in 1986-1987, the highest single season scoring average of any player not named Wilt Chamberlain? Or do I go with the Jordan of the first three-peat, where he was better athletically, or the Jordan of the second three-peat, where he was smarter and developed that money turnaround jumper? Ultimately, I could not pass on the 1988-1989 Jordan who averaged 32.5, 8 and 8 (the latter two of which were career highs) and shot nearly 54% from the field and 85% from the line. It wasn’t his most efficient year (he posted a PER of 31.7 in 1987-88), but a PER of 31.1 and a career-high true shooting percentage of 61.4% is not too shabby.

SF Larry Bird (1984-85)

Larry Legend is my favourite non-Pacers player of all time, so he was bound to be on the team somewhere. But even as an objective assessor, I would have put him on the starting lineup anyway, especially if you see my selections below. Bird is the kind of player you just have to watch to understand just how legendary he truly is. Apart from being possibly the greatest shooter of all time, Bird was a fantastic rebounder and effortless passer. He may not be the greatest one-on-one defender, but he uses his high basketball IQ and tenacity to his advantage and gets plenty of deflections and steals, plus his 6’9″ height is an advantage against smaller wing players.

But it’s the intangibles that make Bird a can’t miss player on my greatest team of all time. The ice cool confidence, that special ability to make his teammates better, and the clutchness — I’d have no problem with either him or Jordan taking the final shot every time. Bird might even be better because of his long range capabilities. With the creativity of Magic and Bird on the same team the possibilities are endless.

It’s not easy picking the best Bird (he did have three MVPs and two 50-40-90 shooting seasons), but I’ve decided on the 1984-85 season when he won his second MVP, posting averages of 28.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists while shooting 52% from the field, 43% from three-point range and 88% from the line. He also posted the second highest PER of his career that year with 26.5.

PF LeBron James (2012-2013)

With LeBron playing the best basketball of his career after shifting predominantly to power forward in Miami, it made it easy for me to not have to decide between him and Larry Bird at SF. The best player in the game today — by far — LeBron is a unique player at 6’8″-6’9″ and 250 lbs (at least), freakishly athletic, strong as an ox and unstoppable on the break, with incredible court vision, an improving jumpshot and the ability to defend any position on the floor. So while there might be more conventional choices at PF, simply having LeBron anywhere on this starting lineup was a more important consideration for me.

The LeBron I chose for the team is the most recent version from the 2012-2013 season, when he led the Heat to their second straight title while winning his fourth MVP award. He posted his second highest PER at 31.6 and averaged a controlled 26.8 points, 8 rebounds and 7.3 assists while making it look easy. He also shot a ridiculous 56.5% from the field and 40.6% from three-point range. He may have had more eye-popping numbers in Cleveland, but there is no doubt that the LeBron of now is the much better player. To think he might not have reached his peak is a frightening thought.

C Hakeem Olajuwon (1992-1993)

Lots of great options at center, but in the end I went with the most complete player at both ends of the floor, the player with the unstoppable post moves (just ask David Robinson) and the NBA’s all-time top shot blocker. I chose Hakeem because he can do it all (he is only one of four players in NBA history to have recorded a quadruple double), but particularly because of his defensive prowess and longer shooting range compared to most centers. And he was a rare center who could actually hit his free throws, coming close to 80% in his prime. Hakeem didn’t overpower you, but he could score in an unlimited number of ways, whether it was faking you out down low, up and unders, hook shots or fadeaway jumpers. On the other end he was a menace with those long arms and exquisite footwork.

It was tempting to choose a Hakeem from the Rockets’ championship years in 1993-1994 and 1994-1995, but I think he was even better in 1992-1993, except he was overshadowed by Jordan, like everyone else. In that year, Hakeem recorded his best PER of 27.3 and averaged 26.1 points, 13 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 4.2 blocks. Just beastly.

Selection justification

I am confident my starting lineup of Magic, Jordan, Bird, LeBron and Hakeem can beat any starting five in history. You have tremendous size, with everyone except 6’6″ Jordan at 6’9″ or above. All are fantastic playmakers who make their teammates better, especially Magic, Bird and LeBron, and Jordan and Hakeem are both superior passers at their respective positions. All five are also excellent rebounders, and sound team rebounding is what makes a good team great. An interesting point to note is that all five are superb post players too, so they can take their man one-on-one to make the most of mismatch opportunities.

Defensively, Jordan and LeBron can shut down any wing player, and LeBron can take on most power forwards. Both of them, especially LeBron, are chase-down block specialists. Jordan, remember, was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1987-1988. Bird and Magic are not known for their D but are both clever players who can mask their deficiencies. And in the middle you have Hakeem challenging, blocking and changing shots.

If the game ever gets tight, as unlikely as that is, you have five of the greatest clutch players at their respective positions at your disposal. And if all else fails, just get the ball to Jordan and get the hell out of the way.

Whichever way you look at it, this is an unstoppable starting five! They have size and speed, they rebound and share the ball, can shoot and score and defend in a multitude of ways. With the way these guys play, you never have to worry about chemistry because they all just want to win.

See the rest of my selections and those who missed the cut after the jump!

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10 Things I Loved About the 2011 NBA Playoffs

June 14, 2011 in Basketball, Indiana Pacers, NBA, Sport

Ahh…it’s finally all over. The Dallas Mavericks just defeated the Miami Heat in 6 games to capture the 2011 NBA Championship in what has been the most enjoyable NBA Playoffs in recent memory. Dirk Nowitzki was named Finals MVP, elevating the big silky German to all-time great status and denying Miami’s much-maligned ‘Big Three’ of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh a chance at a title in their first year together. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Here are the 10 things that I thought made these Playoffs one of the best ever.

(to read on, click on ‘more…’)

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Game Review: NBA 2K11 (PS3)

October 21, 2010 in Basketball, Game Reviews, NBA

[Note: Almost two weeks after its release, I am finally reviewing NBA 2K11.  I wanted to make sure I played enough of the game to do the review justice.]

There is no competition this year.  Literally.  With NBA Elite 2011 back to the drawing board until further notice, NBA 2K11 has been automatically elevated to the title of the must-have basketball sim of the year.  Not to say that Elite would have been a challenge had it been released.  Anyone who has played the demo knows that.

In a nutshell, NBA 2K11 is the best basketball sim ever released.  It’s not perfect and there is still plenty of room for improvement, but 2K has kept the bar so high over the years that it doesn’t take much improvement to make a new game the ‘best ever’.

This year, the major improvements have been:

  • improved gameplay, in particular better off-the-ball movements, set plays and more fluid ISO-motion plays;
  • improved presentation, with slicker half-time reports, Player of the Game videos and highlights and easier to control menus;
  • upgraded My Player experience, to include the Draft Combine for free, trade requests, endorsements and post-game interviews; and of course
  • the Jordan Mode, which allows gamers to relive 10 of Jordan’s best moments and then the ability to play as him in My Player Mode.

Okay, time for me to review the game elements one by one and give it an overall rating.

(click on ‘more…’ to find out!)

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