The Way Way Back Blu-ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

the-way-way-back-international-poster-02Starring: Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Alison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Jim Rash and Nat Faxon.

Written and Directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon

2013 has proven to be a strong year for coming of age dramas with The Spectacular Now, The Kings of Summer and what proves to be the best of the bunch, The Way Way Back. The film from comedy veterans Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, Academy Award winners for their writing on The Descendants, is a heart wrenching and heart-warming story of an incredibly shy and downtrodden young teen finding his voice with the help of a slacker water park worker that may be the only true father figure he’s ever had.

THE WAY, WAY BACKWhile 14-year-old Duncan (James) is being dragged on a family trip with his mom Pam (Collette) and her overbearing boyfriend Trent (Carell), he finds a gregarious friend (Rockwell) at a local water park. The two form a powerful bond as Duncan spends days away from the chaotic and drunken misadventures of his mom and Trent’s friends on ‘adult spring break’ (including Janney, Peet and Corddry). Through the blistering days of summer spent working in the park, Duncan emerges from his shell and even forms a bond with the girl of his dream (Robb).

The Way Way Back is almost pitch perfect and feels very organic in tone. Derived mainly from events and happenings from Rash and Faxon’s own childhoods, the film never feels out of sorts or unrealistic even during its most colorful flourishes and excursions thanks to the grounding the writer/directors set their characters up with. James is perfect as the put upon Duncan, from the opening sequence with the slyly devious Trent proclaiming him a ‘3 out of 10’ to his triumphant final moments, James embodies the petrified kid in all of us, just starting to dare step into the limelight. Aping Bill Murray from Meatballs and Walter Matthau’s classic Morris Buttermaker from the Bad News Bears, Rockwell shines as Owen, the man-child so desperate to move forward that he keeps himself stuck in a loop and the ones he loved seem doomed to orbit around him.

the-way-way-back-liam-james-annasophia-robbThe rest of the cast is set perfectly as well as there is not a performance that hits a sour note throughout. Particularly strong are Robb in a more adult role than what we are accustomed to see her play, Rudolph in a sparse yet hilarious turn as Owen’s girlfriend and Collette’s Pam shows an understated sense of desperation and strength that grows throughout the film. Carell nearly steals the entire film though, playing a slime bag of the upmost contempt, a role that he pulls of so well yet is nothing like anything he has ever played before.

The Blu-ray comes equipped with a full making of feature, deleted scenes and a handful of featurettes including a tour of the water park, a history of Jim and Nat and another on the ensemble on screen in the film.

 

the-way-way-back-film-film-reviews21The Way Way back is the type of film that is easy to revisit, and revisit often, and like the coming of age films of past decades like the Goonies, Clueless and even the recent Easy A, will likely stay that way for decades to come. The Way Way Back is very strong recommend.

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About Time Review (Kirk Haviland)

about-time1New in theaters this weekend from Universal Pictures is the latest film from writer/director Richard Curtis, “About Time”. Curtis’ third stab behind the camera after the wildly successful “Love Actually” and the disappointing  “Pirate Radio” (aka The Boast that Rocked) plays like the majority of his scripts about many relationships and how they intersect, but at its core is a genuinely moving and convincing tale of love between and father and son.

About Time

Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Tom Hollander and Will Merrick.

Written and Directed by Richard Curtis

At the age of 21, Tim Lake (Gleeson) discovers he can travel in time after Tim’s father (Nighy) tells his son that the men in his family have always had the ability to do so. Tim can’t change history, but he can change what happens and has happened in his own life so he decides to make his world a better place, by getting a girlfriend. Moving from the Cornwall coast to London to train as a lawyer, Tim finally meets the beautiful but insecure Mary (Rachel McAdams). Tim quickly learns though that time travel has rules and implications as an unfortunate time-travel incident means he’s never met her at all. So they meet for the first time, again and again, until finally he wins her heart. But through trials, triumph and heartbreak, Tim realizes that life is harder and much more satisfying all on its own without time manipulation.

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Kick-Ass 2 Review (Kirk Haviland)

kick_ass_2-wideStarting this weekend in theaters from Universal Studios is the eagerly awaited sequel to the 2010 cult film that hit large on home video, Kick-Ass 2. This time around the film is under the reigns of writer/director Jeff Wadlow and only produced by the original’s director Matthew Vaughn. The graphic novel sequel to Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass 2: Balls to the Wall, is a veritable blood bath, which beckons the question of how the film will translate to the theater screen.

Kick-Ass 2

Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Donald Faison, Lindy Booth, John Leguizamo, Morris Chestnut, Clark Duke, Augustus Prew, Olga Kurkulina and Jim Carrey.

Written and Directed by Jeff Wadlow

kick-ass-2-imageWhen we last saw junior assassin Hit Girl (Moretz) and young masked hero Kick-Ass (Taylor-Johnson), they were trying to live as normal teenagers Mindy and Dave.  With graduation looming and uncertain what to do with their shared calling, Dave decides to start the world’s first superhero team with Mindy.  Unfortunately, when Mindy is busted for sneaking out as Hit Girl, she’s forced to retire, leaving her to navigate the terrifying world of high-school mean girls on her own.  With no one left to turn to, Dave joins forces with Justice Forever, run by a born-again ex-mobster named Colonel Stars and Stripes (Carrey). Just as they start to make a real difference on the streets the rechristened Red Mist, now the self-proclaimed super-villain The Motherfucker (Mintz-Plasse) assembles his own evil league and puts a plan in motion to make Kick-Ass and Hit Girl pay for what they did to his dad.

kick_ass_2Kick-Ass 2 tries to recapture the magic of the first film but never quite gets there. Johnson is good back in Kick Ass mode, though the goofiness that his original performance carried due to his inability to fight and gangly awkwardness is gone with a buff and trained Dave this time around. Moretz does what she can but is wasted and handcuffed with a terrible subplot this time around. Jim Carrey has little more than a glorified cameo, but his Col Stars and Stripes is a great characterization, a born again Christian version of Rambo, and is sorely missed after his departure. But the best performance comes from Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the newly rechristened ‘Motherfucker’ who discovers after getting beaten up multiple times that his evil villain superpower is that he has tons of money. Motherfucker plays out as an unhinged yet scrawny and spoiled brat and Mintz-Plasse is enjoying the hell out of it.

kick-ass-2-aaron-johnson-christopher-mintz-plasseThe biggest issue that Kick Ass 2 runs into is that it doesn’t stick with a tone for the film which results in an uneven film that can’t decide whether it is a dark comic action picture or a light awkward teen comedy. Two years have passed between the first film and Dave is a high school senior while Mindy is now a 15 year old sophomore in the same school (up to a 4 year difference between her age from the first film as she is a 11 year old in the comic book but her age is not 100% clear in the first film). This level of creative scripting allows the film to bring a level of sexual tension between Dave and Mindy that never works and has an extremely lackluster payoff. In fact Moretz has been done a great disservice in this second film. Her Mindy is crammed into an unoriginal “Mean Girls” subplot that never fits the darker tone of the rest of the film and leads to one of the most moronic sequences involving a “weapon” on film this year. The sequence feels straight out of a “Jackass” film as Johnny Knoxville and crew would have a lot more fun with this tool. The final act is a blood bath with an all-out brawl at the center of it and the scene stealing Mother Russia (Kurkulina) and Hit Girl going blow for blow. Kick-Ass renews fisticuffs with Motherfucker in an anticlimactic fight that lacks all the charm that their final fight from the first film packs in.

new-kick-ass-2-featurette-teases-hit-girl-vs-mother-russia-watch-now-142530-a-1376375797-470-75Despite its faults, fans of the original Kick-Ass will find enough to latch onto here to enjoy the film. It’s nowhere near as inspired as the original film was and never finds the right balance between comedy and violence that Matthew Vaughn so adeptly straddled, but the characters are a welcome return and Hit Girl in whatever truncated version we may get is still better than no Hit Girl at all. Kick-Ass 2 is a mild recommend.

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Trance Blu-ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

trance-bluray-coverTrance

Starring: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson

Written by Joe Ahearne, John Hodge

Directed by Danny Boyle

 

New to Blu-ray is the latest film from Academy Award winning director Danny Boyle that marks his first step back into the realm of the psychological crime thriller since his debut film “Shallow Grave”, “Trance”. The film is the feature adaptation of writer Joe Ahearne’s television film from 2001 of the same name and features a stellar trio of actors leading the small ensemble set in the high stakes world of art thievery.

Simon (McAvoy) is a fine art auctioneer who gets mixed up with a gang led by Franck (Cassel) looking to steal a painting. After the painting goes missing, Simon and Franck, along with Franck’s crew, join forces with hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Dawson) to recover their lost spoils. As boundaries between desire, reality and hypnotic suggestion begin to blur the stakes rise faster than anyone could have anticipated.

trancecb3Trance features some excellent performances of an overcooked script that ultimately results in a decent yet flawed final product that plays out slightly better on a second home viewing but ultimately still falls flat.  The script starts off with elegantly simple and well explained art heist that is easy to follow with a great performance from McAvoy. After the heist goes wrong and Simon loses his memory, Simon goes for hypnotherapy from Dawson’s Elizabeth and the story slowly gets more erratic and out of control. The final act is a series of twists and turns that overlaps and contradicts each other that is set up in the premise of a spider’s web unraveling, yet plays out like the entire web collapsing on top of it. The actions of Dawson’s Elizabeth make the least sense of the 3, but she ultimately holds the fates of all of them in her hands.

McAvoy’s sly grin and charm lose impact and believability on second viewing, his Simon is a character that always seems to be hiding something yet is never convincing enough as a foil for Cassel’s Frank. Cassel is brilliant, as usual, as the Gang leader who despite his best efforts and often brutal methods attempting to extract information from Simon cannot help but be drawn into Elizabeth’s sensual web. Dawson’s performance is bold, uninhibited and seductive. She fearlessly gives everything to the role and is quite frankly the main reason the film actually works in the end. It’s Dawson’s performance that gains the most from the second viewing as the nuances and reactions she use fit into the story much better. The film has a slick visual style and sensibility that enhances the performances as well. With Boyle working with frequent collaborator, Academy Award winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, behind the camera and production manager Mark Tildesley setting the stage, even a regular apartment takes on a unique and effective look.

??????????????????The Blu-ray comes equipped with a fascinating retrospective of Danny Boyle’s films under the Fox Searchlight banner, with Boyle talking about his thoughts one each film from “A Life Less Ordinary” up to Trance. We get a handful of throwaway deleted scenes that explain/expound on nothing from the main film and short film and theatrical trailer. Finally there is a four part feature on the making of Trance itself.

 

The film’s performances and visual style aren’t enough to elevate the film above the overly convoluted script on a repeat viewing. But Dawson and Cassel have a strong chemistry that shines; it’s McAvoy who’s the real miss here. Despite the film’s merits it still manages to fall just short of a recommend.

trance-1Till Next Time

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RIPD Review (Kirk Haviland)

R.I.P.D.-Banner-01New in theaters this weekend from the director of “Red” Robert Schwentke is the latest multimillion dollar extravaganza vying for your money, R.I.P.D. Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds headline as two cops dispatched by the otherworldly ‘Rest In Peace Department’ to protect and serve the living from an increasingly destructive array of souls who refuse to move peacefully to the other side.

R.I.P.D

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong, Marisa Miller and Kevin Bacon

Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

Directed by Robert Schwentke 

Veteran sheriff Roy Pulsifer (Bridges) has spent his career with the legendary police force known as R.I.P.D. tracking monstrous spirits who are cleverly disguised as ordinary people. Once the wise-cracking Roy is assigned former rising-star detective Nick Walker (Reynolds) as his junior officer, the new partners have to turn grudging respect into top-notch teamwork.  When they uncover a plot that could end life as we know it, two of R.I.P.D.’s finest must miraculously restore the cosmic balance, or watch the tunnel to the afterlife begin sending angry souls the very wrong way.

ripd proctorThe biggest issue with RIPD is perhaps that nothing seems to happen in the film. All the actions play out without a morsel of interest and the impact of what the characters are supposed to be doing, saving the world, never registers for a second. The stakes and consequences in the script feel as flat and uninterested as some of the actors in the film. What Jeff Bridges is doing, other than cashing a paycheck, is baffling. His Roy comes off as a very sad mix of Col. Sanders from Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, the drunkest moments of the ‘Dude’ Lebowski and a poor impression of Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday from “Tombstone”. Ryan Reynolds delivers exactly the same performance we always get from Reynolds, but the poor script and dialogue means his affable charm becomes uninteresting and downright terrible in parts. The only actor that brings anything to the screen is Mary-Louise Parker as the gruff superior officer Proctor. Parker is mesmerizing, but sadly appears in less than a third of the 95 minute film, leaving the audience awaiting her return every time she leaves.

ripd-tv-spot-jeff-bridgesThe CGI effects work is actually pretty well done, the more comic based unrealistic look of most of the ‘popped deados’ certainly look good onscreen, but how they are used is what becomes the issue. The action apes the early “Men in Black” films, but the first of those was almost 20 years ago and looks dated upon re-watching, without the tongue in cheek winks and nods to the screen. The big action sequences seem so surreal and ineffective within the world that they occur in and the lack of impact in the world of the film translates to the audience. Kevin Bacon’s Hayes proves to be a very lackluster villain that leads to another action packed yet lame and uninteresting finale. Lastly, and perhaps even most egregious, the big mystery of the film that Roy and Nick have to unravel is evident from the very first moments of the film and never that much of a mystery.

 

ripd-jameshong-grandpachen-marisamiller-600R.I.P.D. misses the mark on many points. Any of the film’s funnier moments are packed into the marketing of the film and then stomped to death in the film, the use of the avatars that Roy and Nick have being the biggest example of this. In a summer that has been packed with many solid blockbusters and some surprising ones, “White House Down” and “World War Z” for example, that turned out to be more fun than what was expected, R.I.P.D. underperforms on the below average expectations the film entered with.

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