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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Despicable Me 2 Review (Kirk Haviland)

despicable_me_2_2013_movie-HD

 

The writing and directing teams behind 2010’s smash hit “Despicable Me” have returned, minions in tow, with a follow up that furthers the transformation of former super villain Gru into all around good guy in “Despicable Me 2”. Universal and Illumination studios definitely know what worked best the first time around and have spent the time in the sequel to advance those storylines instead of just rehashing the original’s premise.

Despicable Me 2

Starring the voices of: Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Coogan, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier and Kristin Schaal

Written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul

Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

In Despicable Me 2, Gru (Carrell) is recruited by the Anti-Villain League, rather forcibly by agent Lucy (Wiig), to help deal with a powerful new super criminal. The mission has Gru going undercover to find out who has taken a very deadly substance inside a shopping mall. Of course Gru’s minions and girls, Margo (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier) and Agnes (Fisher), are all back attempting to help him out, and help him find love in the process. Meanwhile, Margo’s first boyfriend has Gru seeing red.

despicable-me-2-gru-is-kidnappedThe filmmakers behind Despicable Me 2 know exactly what the audience wants and they deliver in spades. Fans of the first film will be delighted with the sequel though the film has a much less original story than the first and because of that is not a strong a film overall, but part 2 may actually be funnier than the first. Despicable Me 2 is also the perfect launch pad/lead off point for the spinoff “Minions” movie that is slated for late next year. Gru and his minion’s antics seem to be front and center in this film, which leaves less time for the girls in this adventure and I suspect they will barely show up in the minion spin-off as the filmmakers have clearly identified that the minions are what the fans seem to want most.

despicable-me-2-paradiseThe 3D in the main film has its moments but is hardly necessary, but as with the first film the credits sequence filled with minion antics is crucial for 3D, in fact it’s some of the best 3D gag work ever put on film as it really pushes the boundaries of what ‘jumping off the screen’ really means.  The animation style has not changed, and why would it, but still manages to remain sharp and crisp. The gadget aspect of the first film has also taken a back seat here a more simplified spy plot. The work from the voice cast is very good though, Carrell seems completely comfortable in Gru’s skin, Wiig is a flighty delight and Bratt is excellent as the restaurateur who may or may not be the long thought dead legendary super villain and professional wrestler from Mexico ‘El Macho’.

 

despicable el machoWhile the story may be weaker, Despicable Me 2 delivers the laughs throughout providing some of the biggest laughs of the year and delivering a musical sequence at the end that rivals the equally hilarious “This is the End’s” final sequence for best musical based number of the year.  If Despicable Me 2 is any indication of what will come with the “Minions” movie, then you can be sure to see this movie junkie in the front of the ticket line.

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Life’s Too Short Season 1 DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

Life's Too Short DVD Cover

Life’s Too Short Season 1 DVD Review

Starring Warwick Davis, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Rosamund Hanson, Steve Brody and Jo Enright

Series created by Warwick Davis, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

Written and Directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

The team behind The Office and Extras, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, are back with another HBO/BBC co-production: Life’s Too Short, now available on DVD from HBO Home Entertainment. Life’s Too Short stars Warwick Davis, star of Willow and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, as he plays an egotistical and self centered version of himself. Returning to the faux documentary style with great success in the Office, the question remains will that style work for them a second time in Life’s Too Short?

The seven episode series centres on Warwick Davis, or a fictional version of him, who is one of Britain’s preeminent dwarf actors, or at least he is desperately attempting to hold on to the title. Warwick also runs an agency dedicated to finding for other dwarves: Dwarves for Hire, along with his dimwitted secretary Cheryl (Hanson). Some feel Warwik abuses this position in order to keep the roles for himself. Warwick is also going through a divorce from his wife Sue (Enright). Davis is also frequently visiting the offices of Gervais and Merchant, playing versions of themselves, who quite frankly cannot be bothered dealing with Davis and frequently offer him terrible advice.  We follow Warwick through a series of embarrassing and uncomfortable sequences, but despite his brash and callous posturing, we still find a way to cheer him on in the long run.

Life's Too Short 1

Life’s Too Short is sort of a mixed bag of a series. The show is very hit and miss, but when it hits the results are hilarious. A lot of the series focuses on putting Davis into very awkward social experiences, which can still be funny, but do tend to become monotonous as a lot of them focus on Warwick’s height. Warwick is really good here in the role of a smarmy, creepy and outright despicable at times former ‘star’ desperately trying to hold on. His treatment of people, especially the women in his life, is callous and unforgivable for the most part, but comes from a deep seeded desire to succeed as fame and fortune continue to slip away. Gervais and Merchant are here in supporting roles, popping up for a couple of minutes each episode in their office. Warwick’s right hand is the loveable Cheryl played with aplomb by Hanson. Her Cheryl is responsible for some of the biggest laughs from the show regulars.

Life's Too Short 2

Much Like Extras, Life’s Too Short features a litany of guest stars from famous friends. This time around we get Liam Neeson, Johnny Depp, Sting, Steve Carrell, Helena Bonham Carter and Cat Deely. Neeson’s turn is almost worth buying the disc alone, as his appearance ranks as  one of the best things Merchant and Gervais have ever written and will have you doubled over in laughter. But the Depp and Bonham Carter turns are underwhelming, especially Depp’s turn which makes him look petty and creepy. Much like The Office, Life’s Too Short features very minimal locations and keeps the filming to a simple handheld style. The faux documentary style does not stay static though, as with the Office, there are the times that the camera is roaming and does not stick strictly to the documentary style to move the story along.

The set includes a half-hour making of special, half an hour of behind the scenes footage, deleted scenes and outtakes. The making of special is very funny, with a lot of Ricky Gervais busting out laughing on set and a hilarious take with Gervais refusing to call cut at the end of the featurette. The behind the scenes segments are fun, though most are repeated from the ‘making of ‘special. The outtakes are mainly busted takes as people on set laugh uncontrollably.

Life's Too Short 3

Life’s Too Short is not a perfect series, there are many areas that fall flat, are genuinely uncomfortable to watch or are just not funny. But the series when at its best is one of the most insightful and funny pieces of entertainment out there, shedding light on issues that dwarves deal with every day mixed into the ludicrous antics of Davis and his own issues with his height. These moments are when the series tend to work best. With a sale price under $25 on Amazon, Life’s Too Short is worth a buy for some of its best moments, the Neeson appearance alone, and is well worth a rental. Life’s Too Short is a recommend.

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Review (Kirk Haviland)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

Starring Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Adam Brody, Connie Britton, Rob Corddry, Derek Luke and Martin Sheen

Written and Directed by Lorene Scafaria

For the second week in a row, this time coming from Entertainment One (eone), we get another piece of summer blockbuster counter programming that is a quirky oddball romantic comedy with a sci-fi twist. After last week’s time travel comedy Safety Not Guaranteed we get a film about the end of the world as it literally states in the title, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Safety was a film that worked because it didn’t get buried under its own quirkiness, can Seeking do the same?

As the film opens we discover that the world will end in 21 days due to the last attempt at derailing an inbound meteor failing. We see Dodge (Carell) and his wife sitting in a parked car listening to the news on the radio trying to come to grips with the consequences of this announcement, when Dodge’s wife bursts out of the car and runs away, never to be seen again. Dodge tries to carry on with his normal daily routine, he goes to work and is offered a raise as most of the higher ups have left, trying to maintain a hold on his sanity. His friends Diane and Warrens’(Britton and Corddry) host a simple “last dinner”, which devolves into a free-for-all with drugs, underage drinking, and inappropriate sexual advances. Dodge heads home where his solitude is interrupted by the sobbing of Penny (Knightley) on his balcony. After inviting Penny in, the pair pass out in front of the television. Dodge walks Penny back to her place where she gives him the mail that she had mistakenly received over the last 3 years! Amongst the mail is a handwritten letter from Dodge’s long lost first love where she professes he’s always been her true love. The letter, combined with a riot, make Dodge and Penny road trip partners, at the expense of her ex-boyfriend Owen (a very funny Brody). Penny agrees to take Dodge to meet up with the lost love from the letter while Dodge agrees to get Penny back home to England as all flights have been cancelled but he knows a pilot who can do it. Much happens along the way as the road trip twists and turns and we meet other characters including another of Penny’s exes (Luke) and a slew of stand-up comedians in supporting roles.

The story behind Seeking a Friend for the End of the World may not be that original (romantic comedy road trip), but the script is smart and funny. Carell and Knightley both perform admirably here. Carell’s comedic timing and Knightley’s quirky adorableness are on full display, but the chemistry between the two is a little forced. You know where the story is heading for the most part between the two, but you never truly feel the two of them fully earn the payoff for their shared story. The surrounding cast really works well though, including very funny turns from comedians Britton, Corddry, Patton Oswalt, TJ Miller and others. Also, Martin Sheen lends some pathos to a role I will not spoil here. Writer/Director Lorene Scafaria’s script is smart enough to keep us interested and entertained throughout.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World may not fully succeed with the relationship of it two leads, but thankfully it has a lot more going for it. Seeking is a recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films and festivals in Toronto.

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