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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My most anticipated movies of July

Hi everyone, this is my post for the movies I’m most anticipating this month. I’m going to leave out the ones I’m not anticipating (but will be seeing), because who wants to write a paragraph about a movie they’re not particularly passionate about? (I’m talking about you, GROWN UPS 2.) I’ll be writing reviews about those said movies, but that’s for another day – and I love writing reviews. So, that’s good, then. I’ll start with a few thoughts on the movies I can wait for, but I am looking forward to watching.

Fruitvale Station (7/12)

Fruitvale Station (7/12)

Plot: The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.

I like a good bio pic and a good emotional drama, so I’m intrigued by this. It also has critics raving, so I’m hoping it’s good. I thought Michael B. Jordan is great in CHRONICLE, and I like Octavia Spencer in just about anything.

Red 2 (7/19)

Red 2 (7/19)

Plot: Retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device.

I can mostly wait for this one because I haven’t seen the first. I own it, so I’ll watch that this week or next or something, and then maybe I’ll be a bit more excited about this one. I love a good crime comedy, and the cast intrigues me.

R.I.P.D. (7/19)

R.I.P.D. (7/19)

Plot: A recently slain cop joins a team of undead police officers working for the Rest in Peace Department and tries to find the man who murdered him.

I don’t know if this will be a box office hit – but it does look very amusing. I love the first and third MIB movies, so I’m pretty intrigued by this. It looks fun, and Jeff Bridges has many great one-liners in the trailer.

The To Do List (J7/26)

The To Do List (7/26)

Plot: Feeling pressured to become more sexually experienced before she goes to college, Brandy Clark makes a list of things to accomplish before hitting campus in the fall.

This looks like a predictable comedy, but it does look very funny. I like EASY A a lot, and this seems to have similar awkward humour. I’m curious to see how Aubrey Plaza will do in her first leading lady role. (I’ve seen a few episodes of TV’s PARKS AND RECREATION and it’s just hilarious.) There are some real laugh-out loud moments in the trailer, especially Clark Gregg’s thoughts on taking the back door.

Turbo (7/17)

Turbo (7/17)

Plot: A freak accident might just help an everyday garden snail achieve his biggest dream: winning the Indy 500.

I like the voice cast and the simple thought of Ken Jeong voicing a little Asian grandma makes me giggle. This looks like DreamWorks Animation’s answer to CARS and FAST & FURIOUS, and maybe even RATATOUILLE (instead of rats and cooking, it’s snails and racing). I think the idea’s just as silly as Stuart Little playing soccer, I mean, this little snail is probably going to get run over. I think I’ll enjoy the movie a lot, regardless.

The Wolverine (7/26)

The Wolverine (7/26)

Plot: Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.

This looks pretty cool. I’m not huge on superhero movies, but I do enjoy the X-MEN movies. I’ll have to have a marathon soon to pump up for this one a bit more. It looks good, but it could be so much better if Darren Aronofsky really did end up directing it. I guess I’m really just hoping it’s better than X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE.

Now these are the ones I’m really excited for. 

5. Pacific Rim (7/12)

5. Pacific Rim (7/12)

Plot: When an alien attack threatens the Earth’s existence, giant robots piloted by humans are deployed to fight off the menace.

I think this looks awesome. I haven’t seen any GODZILLA movies, but I like a good monster movie. And, this is monsters AND robots. Whoa. It sounds like it could be everything BATTLESHIP and TRANSFORMERS aspired to be. Lots of fun, and well-made. And Del Toro is at the helm! I might have to re-watch CLOVERFIELD and find a GODZILLA movie online this week to get a bit more excited. It seems action-packed, and frankly, I want to see the movie right now, and not just the trailer. But I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing Idris Elba shout, “Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!”

3. Only God Forgives (7/19)

4. Only God Forgives (7/19)

Plot: Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok’s criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother’s recent death.

I love Ryan Gosling and the director, Nicholas Winding Refn, and DRIVE is one of my favourite movies of 2011. The story intrigues me, as well. While critics haven’t exactly been praising the movie, I think it could be pretty awesome. It might be wavering my expectations ever-so-slightly, but I’m still really looking forward to it.

3. The Conjuring (7/19)

3. The Conjuring (7/19)

Plot: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.

I think James Wan is a fantastic director. I’ll have to watch INSIDIOUS to get a vibe of his atmospheric haunting flicks, though. This looks absolutely terrifying, and while I’ll probably be watching the movie through the my fingers, I can hardly wait. Vera Farmiga is great, too. The trailer creeps the hell out of me, and I love it. The true story edge is even spookier – so, I just want it to be July 19 already. It would be great if this will birth a Warren files franchise.

2. The Way, Way Back (7/5)

2. The Way, Way Back (7/5)

Plot: 14-year-old Duncan’s summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and his daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park.

I love a good coming-of-age tale. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is my second-favourite movie of 2012. And THE DESCENDANTS is one of my favourite movies of 2011. Two of the Oscar-winning writers from that movie (Nat Faxon, supporting actor in most of the Broken Lizard movies, and Jim Rash, the Dean on TV’s COMMUNITY) co-write and direct this one. I love the cast so much. Steve Carrell as a major jerk, Sam Rockwell, Rash in a supporting role, AnnaSophia Robb, and Rob Corddry, Toni Colette and Allison Janney. Suffice to say, it sounds amazing – and I can hardly wait for this to come to my city.

1. Despicable Me 2 (7/3)

1. Despicable Me 2 (7/3)

Plot: Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help deal with a powerful new super criminal.

I love the original DESPICABLE ME 2. This sequel looks amazing and hilarious. I can hardly wait for it. I love Gru and the minions, and I think this will be a real winner with a lot of heart and some great action. And new villains, of course. This is not only my most anticipated movie of July – but it’s probably my most anticipated movie of the year. (But, I’ll have to make a list to see if that’s true. I might be a bit more excited for KICK-ASS 2.) I can’t wait to have a second helping of the minion madness, though. Anything under a score of 75 will be disappointing. I hope this is in the same league as the first.

Here’s all of the movies opening in July: http://www.imdb.com/movies-coming-soon/2013-07/

Pain & Gain (2013)

Pain & Gain

Pain & Gain

Release Date: April 26, 2013

Director: Michael Bay

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: Their American Dream is Bigger Than Yours

Michael Bay doesn’t have a good reputation. He’s that one director that is best fit to movies that have gigantic budgets and simple plots. Some may call him a director of stupid blockbuster movies, but he’s hardly the worst director in the business. That’s McG. A guy whose movies are stupider than his name. Anyway, back to Bay. While he is best known for huge, popcorn movies (Transformers, Pearl Harbor) he surprises with Pain & Gain, a movie made for $26 million.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is the charismatic manager of Sun Gym, a fitness centre where muscled guys lift weights and fatties might as well be the plague. Lugo has a very specific philosophy (taught by motivational speaker, Johnny Wu, a tiny role for Ken Jeong). He’s a do-er, and if he believes he deserves it, the universe will serve it. He just so happens to believe he deserves everything local rich guy, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), possesses. He enlists the help of Sun Gym buddies Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to do so. Together, these juice monkeys envelop themselves in a extortion ring and kidnapping scheme that goes terribly awry.

These guys are truly willing to go the extra mile to achieve the so-called American dream. The movie shows how far people might actually go to achieve what they desire, and these extreme lengths can be shocking. It’s also shocking to learn this film follows the true story upon which it is based (a three-part series entitled ‘Pain & Gain’ by Pete Collins) very closely. If you think you had a hard time believing Bernie (where Jack Black plays the titular Bernie who strikes up a relationship with a wealthy widow and when he kills her, he has to go to great lengths to creat the illusion she’s still alive) was based on a true story, you haven’t seen anything yet. This is so strange and bizarre that, during the movie, we’re reminded that “this is still a true story”.

A violent true story is written into a hilarious action comedy, so the audience could easily admire that, or be easily offended. The case is, Hollywood is once again exploiting something awful and making it into something entertaining that will make money. Though, this story about the Sun Gym Gang (that takes place between the latter end of 1994 through June 1995) really should be known. Still, the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely pen a great black comedy, even if it is lengthy. Everyone should see this just to see where they stand on the film, much like the other 2013 movie set in Miami, Spring Breakers. This is truly one of the most bizarre and strangest movies of all-time, but it’s also one of the most memorable and entertaining of 2013 thus far.

Michael Bay’s movie has some great production design and writing, and it’s nice to see that he’s directing a passion project; and it also helps that the closest thing to Optimus Prime are fancy cars and riding lawn mowers. Some of the characters, though, are only a little more emotional than robots, mostly because the three main protagonists are money-hungry sociopaths. The characters’ actions are so moronic that it’s hard to care what might happen to them. We don’t really feel compassion for charismatic sociopaths, like they wouldn’t for us. The sociopath that shows the most human emotions is Paul Doyle (mostly for Jesus or Kershaw) and Doorbal. The dark comedy really produces laughs, and the offbeat humour is right on the money. Wahlberg and Mackie are great in their roles and everyone has great comedic timing, but the real star here is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson has played badasses in the past (like Mathayus in The Scorpion King, Chris Vaugh in Walking Tall, Luke Hobbs in Fast Five), but this is one of his strongest performances as an egotistic moron who happens to think he’s a badass. He’s hilarious and very charming as the criminal who hits rock bottom, finds Jesus, and then becomes hooked on cocaine once again when they find wealth. He steals every scene, and right now, I can’t think of a time where Johnson delivers a more entertaining performance.

Ed Harris is great as the main investigator working for Tony Shalhoub’s Kershaw, even if he might not be extremely memorable. Rebel Wilson also shows some sultry emotions, mostly during her sex scene with Anthony Mackie, where she brings her own nun-chucks to spice things up. The versatile Shalhoub performs well, and he gets more than a few laughs as the victim. Everyone’s chemistry is ideal. It’s hilarious when his character is trying to manipulate the weak link, Paul Doyle. Their relationship is very funny, mostly because Doyle calls Kershaw, “Pepe”, and he nicknames himself “El Dad”.

This is sure to be one of the most outlandish and entertaining movies of 2013, and it’s an incredibly pleasant surprise. It is also hilariously twisted and its originality is deadly. The movie is stylish and colourful, but the movie is rather unbelievable and it is about ten minutes too long. Still, it’s bound to become a cult classic. The ensemble cast is great (Rob Corddry is also in the movie, among everyone else aforementioned). The majority of men will surely be entertained and laugh at this great black comedy of violence, inarguably moronic choices and chasing the American dream. If you’re a female, or a male who is really in touch with their feminine side, you might not enjoy it as much. Yes, that may sound sexist (forgive me), but it’s kind-of the truth with such a violent tale. One thing’s for sure, Popeye would approve of this movie.

83/100

Warm Bodies (2013)

Warm BodiesWarm Bodies

Release Date: February 1, 2013

Director: Jonathan Levine

Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: Cold body. Warm heart.

Finally, this gives both Zombieland and Twilight fans a chance to come together and watch a movie in peace!

Warm Bodies is told from the fresh point of view of a zombie, the highly unusual R (Nicholas Hoult), who goes around an airport, occasionally having almost conversations with his best zombie bud, M (Rob Corddry). Their zombie group runs into a human group ran by Perry (Dave Franco), boyfriend of the main girl, Julie (Teresa Palmer). After Perry gets killed, R is immediately attracted to Julie, and he brings her to his home in an abandoned airplane. They soon form a bond, R wants to become human again, Julie begins to change his heart for the better, and their relationship might just rattle the whole lifeless world as they know it.

One of the only similarities between this and Twilight is they are both Young Adult novels. The girl is also attracted to a supernatural sort-of being, even though zombies are the norm in the post-apocalyptic world they are living in. One thing that is hard to comprehend of this human-supernatural being relationships: Are these girls that desperate that they have to resort to the basically dead? As soon as one guy sparkles in the sunlight or puts on a little make-up, do they seriously immediately develop tendencies of a strange branch of necrophilia?

Anyway, the film is also romantic, and the similarities to Twilight basically stop there. This is a testament of human connection. Julie begins to teach R how to actually live, and because of this, he opens up to her and learns how not to be dead. He learns how to talk, and he learns how to feel and dream, something that is extremely unorthodox for a zombie. One thing that helps him be more human is this: In this specific world, when a zombie eats a victim’s brain (R keeps Perry’s as a snack food), they absorb their feelings and their memories; the little slide show of memories in their head is as close as they get to dreaming.

Speaking of those memory flashbacks, they give a chance to show visuals in the film. They aren’t very good, they come off as hypnotic and fairly headache-inducing. They’re a cool attempt, sure, but they’re hard to admire when one has to squint at the screen. One other thing that is irritating about the feature is that zombies only grunt, and cannot form words… So any huge fan of zombie flicks may be wanting to scream: “OH! THE HORROR! THIS ISN’T RIGHT! THE DEAD DON’T TALK!” The film may be altogether unrealistic, but it doesn’t stop it from being fun.

Other than Twilight, this film has similarities to over zombie flicks, like Zombieland. They are both quite funny, and this could be seen as the next best zombie date movie. One thing that is similar to TV’s The Walking Dead is the hiding the human scent trick, where zombie blood is smeared on humans. Also, this has many similarities to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, something that is evident in the characters’ names themselves. There is a balcony scene that mirrors that of the play, and that is the biggest similarity. The love is forbidden, even when R hopes it to be true. The two things getting in their way: Julie’s father, a military leader of the world named Grigio (John Malkovich); and Boneys, a skeleton being that all zombies eventually become. These are the two main conflicts, and, fortunately enough, they don’t make the film crowded or really distract from the story at hand. The Boneys actually add some real intensity to the feature, and they get one good scare, but they’re so CGI’d to a point of no scary return. If one of these guys came up to me in alley, I’d just look for a computer to unplug.

This isn’t a perfect feature because it doesn’t take full advantage of its fresh premise. It piles on a few predictable moments, but it still does an admirable job. If Jonathan Levine wasn’t behind this with directing and adapting the novel by Isaac Marion, it might not be the surprise hit turns out to be. I cannot compare the book to the film, but the laughs Jonathan Levine manages to generate are great. If you can find humour in R’s unique commentary of gaining human attributes and becoming a real boy, you’ll enjoy this a lot. If this zombie staring awkwardly at others is your type of comedy, you’ll be smiling like crazy. However, while Hoult generates a many yuks, and Palmer proves sexy enough to get this guy’s heart beating again, and Analeigh Tipton (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) generates a few laughs, Corddry gets the biggest laughs with hilarious one-liners.

In a nutshell: Warm Bodies proves to be 2013’s zombie date movie. It gives a fresh spin on the genre with it being narrated by the zombie (who comments things like, “Boy we move slow, this is going to take a while*”).Without a lot of solid competition, it also proves to be the one of the best films of the year. With a fine use of an ultra cool premise, this is a solid flick that could have been a little better. Maybe more Malkovich would make this astounding instead of just really good…

*They run when they attack, so I must ask… Why can’t they just fast-walk everywhere?

80/100