The Way Way Back (2013)

The Way, Way BackReleased: July 5, 2013. Directed by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Starring: Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette. Runtime: 103 min.

As I’m sure you’ve been able to tell; I love coming-of-age movies. Well, I love movies in general – but I find myself really enjoying movies like these. I think there’s something important about finding one’s place in the world; or even if it just means gaining confidence and growing as a person. The latest movie to the coming-of-age summer movie cannon is “The Way Way Back” helmed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.

Now, it may seem like I’ve seen Faxon through an unfair eye, mostly because I’ve said “who is surprisingly an Oscar winner” time and time again. Is it unfair that I was surprised to hear he has won an Oscar? I don’t think so. If one only looked at his on-screen filmography prior to this, he’s been in such mediocre hits as “Slackers,” “Club Dread,” “Beerfest,” “Bad Teacher” and “The Slammin’ Salmon.” Now, I don’t think any of those scream, or even whisper, Oscar contenders. He just doesn’t seem like he’d be pinned as an Oscar winner. (By the way, both he and Rash have won their Oscars for co-writing “The Descendants.”)

Both have definitely made a splash in the writing department, and this is no different. They’ve grown from being That One Guy Who Shows Up in the Broken Lizard Movies and the Dean on “Community,” to real above-average filmmakers that I love (but it’s not as if I didn’t like them before). I guess you could say, in my eyes, they’ve come of age in terms of their careers.

The story concerns Duncan (Liam James), a fourteen year-old boy who is dragged to a summer vacation spot with his mother (Toni Collette) and her over-bearing boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Duncan has a rough time fitting in, but he finds a friend in the manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell) of the Water Wizz water park.

Faxon and Rash design the film like experts. As soon as we’re introduced to the characters, they’re either instantly likeable, or you’ll just as instantly get a bad feeling about them. The only character one will get a sudden bad feeling about is Trent, portrayed by Carell. That’s his purpose. He’s the sort-of character that will be a total dick just because he can. When crappy situations happen, his mindset is to simply forget about them the next day. Carell plays the character well. Take Carell’s Burt Wonderstone and subtract the obnoxious way about him; replace it with the everyday soon-to-be stepfather, and you have the biggest dick in the movie, Trent. He plays a major role in stalling Duncan’s confidence.

Toni Collette’s Pam (Duncan’s mom) is usually likeable. Like most of the adults in the film, they take their kids along with them to this vacation spot. As one character puts it, “it’s Spring Break for adults.” This expresses the selfishness of many adults in the film (save the workers at Water Wizz, but more on that later). They’ll party and have a good time, but they won’t bother to include the children. That is very much the case with Allison Janney’s eccentric performance of Betty, mother of Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), and Peter (River Alexander), where she constantly points out his horrible case of lazy eye. The actress is hard not to love, even when she’s criticizing a character. It’s the way some mothers do, and it’s downright hilarious for the audience.

Of course, there is Duncan. The hero of the film. He has a difficult time feeling he belongs. He’s awkward and shy, which it seems many can be at the age of fourteen. (Like I was.) But he grows as a person throughout the film and it’s a treat to watch. We get to see the good, the bad and the ugly of adolescence through his eyes, and just like the tagline states, “we’ve all been there.” The ugly is, of course, his stepfather. He’s also the bad. The good is Water Wizz water park and Susanna. (A potential love interest of Duncan’s, and she’s older, to boot!)

He meets Rockwell’s Owen, a person who teaches him that it’ll get better and makes him feel welcome. He offers him a job at Water Wizz, and he slowly gets Duncan out of his shell. Owen is the type of person that can make anyone feel welcome. He jokes about everything. He’s the type of person everybody knows. He could be your uncle (my Uncle Danny in my case), a father or a best friend. Sometimes his constant jokery gets in the way of personal interests (mainly Maya Rudolph’s character), but he’s the type of shoulder everybody needs at some point in their lives.

“The Way Way Back” might not pack the largest emotional punch. It didn’t make me cry, though I was close. Perhaps I wasn’t in the crying mood? Compared to the other coming-of-age movies so far this year, there’s more of a punch than “The Kings of Summer,” but less than “Mud.” More than a few scenes in the film pull at the heartstrings, and this is an uplifting and well-acted tale. It’s entertaining, hilarious and very enjoyable, if a little light-hearted at times.

Liam James may not be the strongest performer out of the bunch (who could be against Rockwell, Carell, Collette, Janney, Robb, Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet?!), but he has a timid charm about him. He shows promise, especially because his eyes are super expressive. I’ve always been attracted to Robb’s delicate kindness about her, and the characters she portrays. I want to see more of her.

Rash and Faxon show up in supporting turns as employees at the Water Wizz water park. Jim Rash plays a hilarious germaphobe named Lewis; Faxon is another employee named Roddy, master of the holding technique where he asks hot girls to wait to use the slide. These two truly understand what being a teen is like, because, like everyone else, they’ve been there. Faxon and Rash, and Stephen Chbosky (author, writer/director of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), may be their generation’s John Hughes. We’ll see in time.

One last thing. There is a concept of going your own way in this film. Characters are taught to not follow patterns and to choose their own path. There’s a point where characters (minor and major) are trying to pass each other in a water slide. Perhaps this is only boys will be boys tom-foolery. Maybe it’s about doing things differently, not following the norm, and making your own path. I’m not certain; it’s ambiguous and that’s the purpose. I am sure, though, that Faxon and Rash have penned a smart coming-of-age dramedy.

Score90/100

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The Kings of Summer (2013)

Kings of SummerRelease Date: June 7, 2013Director: Jordan Vogt-RobertsStars: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises AriasRuntime: 95 min.

Coming-of-age movies are such a commonplace in cinema, so it’s a good thing I enjoy them. These types of films are usually great, like most of John Hughes’ filmography, or “The Perks of Being A Wallflower“. These types of movies usually have an indie charm about them, and “The Kings of Summer” is more than charming.

Films like this only have so many things to rely on: acting, characters, story, how well the genre is executed; so that is one thing that sets this apart from something like a movie with a huge budget. “Kings” hits all of those aspects on the head, and then some.

The story follows Joe Toy (Nick Robinson), a fifteen year-old who is suffocated because his father (Nick Offerman) is a big ole jerk who isn’t easy to be around. His best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) feels so overwhelmed by his parents’ overbearing tendencies, that he is actually getting hives. The two of them, along with Biaggio (Moises Arias), decide to spend their summer in the woods building a house and living off the land, in the ultimate act of independence. Here, they are able to make their own rules and be free.

The messages in this film are strong. It shows that their lives are going to change soon whether they like it or not, as they take on more responsibility. It’s not a step, or rite of passage, that is easy to take. grow up. These kids are so willing to grow up, because they want to taste independence and be the so-called kings of their own lives; but little do they know, being a kid rocks and being an adult is going to suck.

It also expresses that family and friendship isn’t one thing someone should ignore. The family bond and loyalty lies deep, and even though one’s parents might either seem like miserable jerks (Offerman) or crazy overbearing kooks (Patrick’s parents, Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) they love you deep down and they’re only trying their best. They might not be doing the best job, but kids should go easier on parents. And since Offerman’s Frank is a widow, he has to try much harder – it would deem difficult.

The happiest of crew families.

The happiest of crew families.

The ways the writer, newcomer Chris Galletta, tests the bond of friendship between the three boys is smart and experienced. These pivotal moments aren’t forced and they feel natural in the way they happen. It is also the moment where Robinson and Basso show some real talent. The emotional punch might not be enough to make the audience cry, but it’s powerful.

Since the story is so unique, it makes the experience feel fresh. There’s enough heart warming moments, charm and hilarity to make this a worthwhile watch. An over-the-top fantasy sequence is one of the movie’s funniest moments, and there’s witty humour throughout. Offerman shines with his sarcastic comic delivery. Even in the most serious of situations, he isn’t afraid to make a joke. Alison Brie has a forgettable supporting role. Erin Moriarty (“The Watch“) has some fun with the guys.

This directorial debut from Jordan Vogt-Roberts is one for the record books, as he creates a fantastic tone and some visually compelling scenes, so kudos to cinematographer Ross Riege, as well. Some songs fit what’s going on in the film like a glove, in amusing ways.

Arias is hysterical as the film’s scene-stealing Biaggio. He is eccentric and so unpredictable that it makes for one of the funniest characters of the year. The loyalty of the character brings me to believe that he would be a great friend to have. He’s insane, but so amusing. Arias experiences one heck of a break-out role, much like Christopher Mintz-Plasse of “Superbad”. I never thought I’d see the day where Moises Arias, Rico from TV’s “Hannah Montana”, would be the best part of a great comedy. But he is, and it just shows that the right character can make an actor shine.

There is little wrong with the film, at least in a major way. Maybe it’s too short. Maybe Robinson’s beard looks weird. But there’s a lot of high-quality content going on-screen; from the witty humour (among many other things) to the set design. The house built out of stolen goods and material from the woods is the stuff of a fifteen year-old boy’s imagination. Many young teens think about making an awesome house like that, but these boys actually do it. No rent; no rules. Count me in.

Score83/100

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Release Date: September 28, 2012. Director: Stephen Chbosky. Stars: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller. Runtime: 1hr, 43 min. Tagline: We are infinite.

Not any writer has quite analyzed teen angst as well as John Hughes, but Chbosky comes pretty close.

* Alternate opening hook: And some people said Project X was a good teen film, anyone can take a Super 8 camera and film garbage, but not everyone can create something quite as beautiful as this.

Meet Charlie (Logan Lerman), a young freshman outsider who has to deal with his own inner demons of the past, depression, and loneliness, and the death of his best friend. Charlie is extremely nervous for his first day of high school, and doesn’t want any old nice teacher to be the only friend he makes. He encounters two fellow outcasts, Sam (Emma Watson) and her hysterical step brother Patrick (Ezra Miller). They take him under their wings, show him lessons of love, pain, friendship, belonging, and overcome being a complete wallflower.

Stephen Chbosky directs, and adapts his own novel for the big screen. And he does it quite well. The cast really fits each character, and their performances are awesome for such a young cast.

There are some really cool visuals, like when one of the main characters is on drugs. The writing is brilliant through and through. One can sense that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is set in the 1990s (according to the film’s IMDb trivia page, it’s set during the 1991-92 school year) because of all the vinyl records, wardrobe, mix tapes and not CDs, the typewriter (some of you may not have even heard of this stuff..)and the  older music. This film is a perfect example of a film that offers a great atmosphere, and it’s  one that the viewer can really fall head over heels in love with.

For the majority of people – and high schoolers especially – it’s a film that is very easy to relate to – everyone feels out of place at some point in their lives, don’t they? A lot of the characters are easily relatable; and they are all substantially, and utterly effectively, developed. They all have great depth, and each have some sort of inner demons. When Charlie finally shakes off his inner cloak [feeling] of invisibility (I don’t think it’s a spoiler, it’s obvious he would – and I just had to do the Harry Potter pun), it’s enough to fill you with happiness. Just remember though, these loner kids have dreams too, just like you or me. There is a great sense of poignancy, and can easily cause the viewer to get choked up in several areas because of sensitive subjects. The poignancy is large, and the comedy is also hysterical. The funniest character is definitely Patrick. There’s a lot of romance mixed in, Logan Lerman’s character was kissing people left, right and centre. The mix of genres is beautiful, and the film can definitely make the viewer feel extremely emotional at one point, and fall-off-their-chair-laughing at the next minute. That is always an aspect of films that I truly admire.

The depiction of the high school world feels a little off, because I know I’ve never seen a high school quite so brutal. Granted, the majority of high school films depict it in that fashion, so I can’t hold it against this film for following that cliché.

The three primary actors were extremely impressive, Logan Lerman proved he’s an incredible actor; Emma Watson proved she’s destined for greatness (like you couldn’t already tell, she has great star power); and Ezra Miller proved that he’s a diverse actor that can take on a great list of roles, from the terrifying Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin, to a flamboyant character like Patrick.

Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Johnny Simmons, Nina Dobrev, Mae Whitman, Erin Wilhelmi, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Rudd and Joan Cusack star in this film.

The profound, and unique, analysis of teenage angst is accurate, brilliantly touching, and heartbreakingly poignant. Thinking back, there isn’t a flaw visible in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The performances are great, the story is awesome, and the atmosphere it offers is perfect. It has a cool use of visuals and flashbacks when they are there. It also has a nice use of voice-over narration from Charlie in some scenes. This is a film that I didn’t want to end, and I can’t wait to watch it again (and I didn’t even mind being choked up half the freaking time!). That’s one heck of a definition for an enjoyable experience. It’s one of my favourite experiences and atmospheres of 2012 – it’s a must-see. It’s a fine classic of 2012 that can define a generation as well as John Hughes could.

It deserves to be seen; so get off the couch, grab a few friends – but if you don’t have any, it’s okay to be a wallflower* – and go see this movie!

*For those of you who do not know, a wallflower is just slang for a loner. I certainly didn’t know what it meant before I saw this, so hopefully this may be helpful information.

100/100

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – A film review by Daniel Prinn – A great John Hughes teen comedy

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Release Date: June 11, 1986

Director: John Hughes

Stars: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara

Runtime: 103 min

Tagline: While the rest of us were just thinking about it…Ferris borrowed a Ferrari and did it…all in a day.

 

 How many of you guys felt you really needed a day off from school, or work, this week? Ferris is just one of those people.

Ferris Bueller is a wise-talking high school senior, who the student body thinks is just this one “righteous dude.” Bueller’s a guy who really knows the value of a day off. After making his parents believe he was sick, Bueller gathers his constantly nervous friend, Cameron (Alan Ruck); and his younger girlfriend, Sloane (Mia Sara) for a day out on the downtown Chicago area, whilst ditching school. With the access to a ricked red Ferrari that belongs to Cameron’s father, they have the whole day ahead of them, despite the situations and comedic antics they get themselves into. All the while, both Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) and Ferris’ sister, Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) are both determined to catch Ferris for ditching class and to expose him for the not-so-sick boy everyone thinks he is.

John Hughes penned this great script in just six days; but it can’t get any better. The elements of comedy and some drama are blended very well, and it has many great scenes.

The characters are great here and there are some great scenes of characters finding their place in the world, having changes of heart and learning how to take a stand.

The characters are all easily relatable (and well-cast), despite some of them having some annoying aspects to them. Jeanie in specific, but she’s just having a hard time because she feels like an outcast and all of the attention is always on Ferris; so she’s easily excusable because everyone may feel overlooked from time to time. Ferris is relatable because everyone tends to have a rebellious side to them, and he just really knows how to have a good time. Cameron for me is quite relatable because I also tend to be constantly nervous and worrying, and Cam is one of the funniest characters in the flick, and is played very well by Alan Ruck. Sloane and Rooney are probably the least relatable, but they are quite funny and are good characters. I only wish Rooney’s secretary, Grace, was in the film more – she was absolutely hilarious.

The flaws of the film are limited because there’s an even share of laughs and some drama, and it is all quite well-paced. The only flaw I can think of is sometimes it gets really ridiculous, and the [Ferris’] parents are just so stupid. Also, the antagonists here are quite a few, but don’t make the film completely crowded – Rooney’s the obvious one, Jeanie’s cries for attention and need to bust her brother (that’s so Candice on Phineas and Ferb), and the danger of Ferris and co. running into his parents, but what’s a film without a little danger and risk? Cameron’s skepticism and nerves often can be annoying, but he’s good to provoke more conflict that way.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off stars Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey, Cindy Pickett, Lyman Ward, Edie McClurg, with Ben Stein (“Bueller… Bueller… Bueller…”) and Charlie Sheen.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off offers a memorable story and many memorable characters, scenes, musical numbers, and a great feel-good experience that you want to experience over and over. John Hughes is the only one who can create such great chemistry between this ensemble. There’s big laughs to be had and messages to be cherished, F.B.D.O. is Hughes entertainment at a fantastic peak. It’s really just a must-see for anyone, a great and entertaining [Hughes] teen comedy.

 90/100

The Breakfast Club – A film review by Daniel Prinn – For those of you who have nothing better to do on a Saturday.

The Breakfast Club

Release Date: February 15, 1985

Director: John Hughes

Stars: Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: Five strangers with nothing in common, except each other.

This is John Hughes at his absolute best.

Five high school students come together in a Saturday detention. They are all of different social statuses: there’s an athlete, a criminal, a princess, a brain, and a basket case. They all find out that they really do have more in common than they thought, especially for their hatred for their principal, Richard Vernon.

The characters are the most memorable aspect of the film. John Bender (Judd Nelson), the criminal, is just a wise-cracking bad boy who seems just to despise the world; Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez) is a nice guy with an overbearing father who just has a bit too much pressure on him; Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald), the princess, is the virginal (or maybe not?) female who’s in for skipping class; Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall), the brain, is the talkative smart guy who just needs to try in school so he can get into a good college; and Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) is the basket case who’s also a compulsive liar.

John Hughes just makes the best on-screen chemistry. It’s a film that has lots of laughs, lots of heart, and lots of cinema greatness.

The characters are really relatable, and the actors are well-casted to portray each stereotype. The film is both very emotional at some scenes and also quite feel-good in others, and Hughes knows very well how balance the two out, he really penned a defining teen film, here.

The only tainting factor that took away five points from my enjoyment is that one of the characters gave up their individuality by the end of it all, which sort of just really peeved me off.

You’ll just want to watch it again and again. It’s the best teen coming-of-age comedic drama of its time, and one of the greatest of all time.

95/100

Sixteen Candles – A short review by Daniel Prinn

Sixteen Candles

Release Date: May 4, 1984

Director: John Hughes

Stars: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Justin Henry

Runtime: 93 min

Tagline: 16 candles. And you’re invited to the party.

It isn’t a good John Hughes film. It’s a really good John Hughes film.

Samantha Baker is an average suburban girl, who just turned sixteen. With the whole chaos of her older sister’s wedding, no one in her family remembered her birthday. Samantha is also trying to get the attention of Jake Ryan, the alpha senior, who she doesn’t think she could ever get.

The character of Samantha shares the screen with other main characters, like Long Duk Dong, the prom queen, and The Geek (a.k.a. Farmer Ted) and his posse of nerds (played by Darren Harris and John Cusack).

Samantha Baker is a pretty good character, but not overly memorable, she is probably one of the least memorable of the ensemble. Long Duk Dong, the Chinese (or Japanese) foreign exchange student is the most memorable character, he’s just hilarious.

The film is greatly directed, and quite enjoyable. It’s another Hughes 80s comedy classic.

80/100