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The Way Way Back (Film Review)

There is no shortage of coming-of-age films that chronicle the difficult time in a boy or girl’s life when they have to face the realities of everything around them, and start to carve out their own path. Scrolling through Netflix, there are literally dozens of these types of films, and it can be difficult to sort through them, to separate the strong from the weak.

The Way Way Back tells the story of Duncan, an awkward teen who is forced to spend the summer up at a beach house with his mother and her new boyfriend, played very well by Toni Collette and Steve Carell (who has become increasingly good at playing a jerk as his career progresses). Duncan meets the quirky locals that make up the summer families and friends that the area has to offer. He meets the cute neighbor girl, played by Anna Sophia Robb, but can’t seem to get any traction with her. He is stuck in his place, forced to watch as his life unfolds before him.

way4Eventually, Duncan sneaks away to a water park, where he ends up secretly working for the summer. Here, he is able to make friends with a fun-loving group of characters, led by the eccentric manchild Owen, played to a T by Sam Rockwell, and reminding us why we used to love Sam Rockwell.

At the water park, Duncan feels like he belongs for the first time, and he goes through the process of growing up, and starting to turn into the person that he will truly become. The Way Way Back is a sweet story backed with a very strong secondary cast. They truly bring life to their characters, for all the quirks, failures, and foibles that they may have. Together, this group is able to push Duncan on his journey to self-discovery.

way3The Way Way Back isn’t terribly different from other films in this genre. In fact, the summer house or water park/pool idea seems to be used quite frequently. But it works. The summer is a time of loss and confusion for teens, stuck between school years, and forced to grow up and develop in order to take on the next challenges that will come by in their lives. And they need to do it while being supplanted from their friends, the only place where they may truly feel comfortable. The Way Way Back could be compared to The Lifeguard, or even parts of The To Do List or Grown Ups, primarily because of its location around water. And as the film poster will boldly declare, it is from the studio that created Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, providing a strong basis and idea of the style of wit used in the film. But despite the similar locations, The Way Way Back is able to stand on its own two feet as a strong coming-of-age film.

way2It is entertaining, and offers up just the right combination of sentimentality, love, heartbreak, joy, and pain to make it a worthwhile film.

cop

Copenhagen (Film Review)

The tag line to the independent film Copenhagen goes a long way in revealing all that we need to know about the central character, and protagonist of the film: “When the girl of your dreams is half your age, it’s time to grow up.”

Copenhagen, obviously set in the titular city, is about William, who goes to Denmark in hopes of finding his long lost grandfather, in order to deliver a letter to him from his own father. Originally a “guys” trip, William is quickly abandoned by his friend, and strikes up a friendship with a 14-year-old waitress, who decides to help him solve the mystery of who his grandfather was, and how to go about finding him.

cop3What follows is a beautiful film shot in one of the great cities in the world. Copenhagen does the same thing for that city as other travel coming of age stories do, such as Vienna in Before Sunrise, or Tokyo in Lost in Translation. The city comes to life, and strong directing helps the Danish capital become one of the characters in the film.

William must wrestle with the demons of his past, barely knowing his own father, and wanting to know why he was smiling in one of the photographs that he manages to track down. Effy, the young girl, leads him around the city, seeking out clues as to the whereabouts of the man that he is related to, essentially the last relative that he has, even if he has never met him before. William is faced with a reckoning of his own life, his own past, his friendships, and his future.

cop4Throw in a Lolita-esque story line, and Copenhagen becomes something quite special. The central focus of the film shifts from the seeking of his past, to the relationship that he develops with Effy. While there are some questionable decisions that he makes, he tries to grow up, and be the bigger person through his relationship with her. For William, a man approaching 30 years old, it is a kid that is able to teach him what he needs to know about his own life, which makes this a strong coming-of-age story.

Frederikke Dahl Hansen, who plays Effy, is the best part of the film. She plays a quiet and soft-spoken girl, who simply wants to help this stranger out. Her tenderness and maturity are what help William get to where he needs to be, all the while she wrestles with her own issues. Selflessly, she is able to put them aside for the majority of the time, in order to help somebody else out. Hansen is a strong actor with a bright future, and she really breathes life in to Copenhagen.

cop2Despite some less than stellar acting from the other members of the cast, the film is buoyed by a strong script and solid directing. And, at the end of the day, the story is there. Even a little bit of over-acting will not have the power to take down the strong backbone of the film, which is the story line itself.

Copenhagen is one of those pleasant Netflix finds that will not have you regretting the time spent watching it. The movie, while often bleak, other times quiet, is able to do exactly what this genre of film is supposed to do: bring forth a sense of hope in the characters, that they will be able to move on as regular, better people, after their experiences over the course of the story. Copenhagen does this, making it a very good film. Well worth a watch.

archer

Archer: Season 6 (TV Review)

For always burning through each season of Archer as it is released on Netflix Canada, I don’t think I’ve ever actually written anything about it.

Hands down, Archer is one of the funniest shows on television, always able to elicit some laughs with its perverted humour, or now classic and highly quotable running jokes. Who doesn’t a little bit of “Danger Zone,” or Archer himself reminding us of how you get ants.

ARCHER: Episode 7, Season 6 "Nellis" (Airing Thursday, February 19, 10:00 PM e/p) A rescue mission turns into an out-of-this-world visit to Area 51. Pictured: (L-R) Dr. Krieger (voice of Lucky Yates), Cyril Figgis (voice of Chris Parnell), Sterling Archer (voice of H. Jon Benjamin), Ray Gillette (voice of Adam Reed), Cheryl Tunt (voice of Judy Greer), Pam Poovey (voice of Amber Nash). CR: FX

The sixth season of the show, which follows in the footsteps of the less-than-stellar fifth season, Archer: Vice, does something that I never suspected the show would do: they move away from the running jokes. While there are several references to the use of the jokes, including Archer’s disdain that they aren’t using “Phrasing” any more, they are largely absent from the show for the entire season.

And it takes away from it all. Archer is so great because it creates something that provides the familiar for the die-hard viewer, as well as new jokes each episode. This is not to say that S6 is not funny anymore, but it definitely seems like something is missing. It still provides us with some very solid episodes, including the one where the gang is stuck in an elevator, and unable to escape.

archer2Much of the story line revolves around Lana, and her having had Archer’s baby. This has added a new wrinkle to the story that doesn’t always work, and the kid seems to be an inconvenience to the plot in the same way Ross and Rachel’s baby was on the final years of Friends. It is just sort of there, mentioned now and then, and rarely adds to the humour.

As usual, all of the characters in the show are awesome, and they all have their specific moments to shine. The beauty of Archer is that it is not one person who is able to always provide the punchlines, but all of them. Each character brings something to the table, and this is continued through S6. There are still plenty of laughs, and they are provided by different characters throughout. This diversity simply adds to the entertainment of the show, as it doesn’t always have to be focused on Archer and his (mis)adventures as a spy.

archer4Archer has often been a 1-2 sitting endeavor for me, and this season is no different. With a few 22-minute episodes to pour through, it takes very little time before you realize that another season has been completely eaten up, and that it will be about another year before the next one is released.

Well worth it, and despite the general end to the running jokes, Archer is still a damn funny show.

suits

Suits: Season 4 (TV Review)

Now this is more like it for Suits.

After an up-and-down second season, and a bit of a return to form in Season 3, the fourth installment of the show, recently added to Netflix Canada, brings us back to a time when the show is always fun to watch again.

The fourth season initially revolves around Mike leaving the firm at the end of S3, and his new job as an investment banker. Of course, he still has many associations with Harvey and the gang over at the law firm, including several occasions where the two friends are forced to butt heads, and play dirty, against one another.

NUP_163666_0598.jpgAs things move forward in the season, and things actually get quite ugly between Harvey and Mike as they focus on one massive merger, things get switched around, and they start to hit the fan. There are some pretty predictable events that come out of the year, such as some turmoil between Mike and Rachel, more issues at the firm, people always trying to get their names on the door, Louis Litt trying to be honourable, but really being a screwup, and the ever-present secret of Mike never having gone to law school coming about time and again.

Despite the plot not being the most interesting of the four years, they have returned to some of the things that made Suits so enjoyable to begin with. The sharp wit, specifically from Harvey, and now Mike fighting back, and a little bit of a return to the cruelty that Harvey was able to demonstrate at the beginning. This is why we liked him so much, and to be honest, he got a little soft in the following seasons. He takes it back a little bit in S4, which is great to see. He is no monster, by any stretch, but isn’t afraid to be Harvey-esque when he needs to be.

suits2The fourth season is definitely entertaining, and easily digestible with its short seasons. It is a strong continuation of where the show left off, and of course provides us with enough of a cliffhanger at the end of the year to leave us waiting for the release of Season 5.

tmnt

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Film Review)

Despite not really wanting to watch this film, I was sucked in by the nostalgia of my childhood love of TMNT. The toys, the cartoon series, and even the mediocre live-action movies. It was a pop cultural phenomenon, and I was in the middle of it, being the perfect age for the release of all of the things related to the Turtles. Hell, I even owned a tape of the movie soundtrack, when they were released in the four colours of each turtle (my copy was the purple Donatello version of the cassette).

So, with hesitation and trepidation, I went ahead and cued up the reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Netflix. Why not? How bad could it be? I’m sure it wouldn’t be able to retroactively ruin my childhood.

Well, it can be pretty damn bad.

There are a lot of terrible things about this film, and very few redeeming ones. Let me count the ways, starting with the negatives:

  • the acting is absolutely terrible. Megan Fox brings us to new levels of bad in this role. But even she is surpassed by William Fichtner in this movie. It is not good at all. Not that they were working with a good script, or anything. This was a paycheque movie for both of them, and they acted like it.
  • Shredder looks absolutely ridiculous. When he finally gets his Shredder armour, which isn’t until nearly the end (since when do we ever see Shredder’s face?) it looks like it was made up of all the spare parts of a Transformers movie. It looked terrible, and during his fight sequences, it was pretty ridiculous. tmnt3
  • How much stuff are the turtles going to carry around with them? Donatello constantly has a massive amount of crap on his back. And Raphael annoyingly has a pair of sunglasses on his forehead for the entire movie. Seems pretty impractical for ninja stuff, if you ask me. tmnt2
  • The fight sequences are definitely from the school of Michael Bay directing. A lot of action that is very hard to decipher what is actually going on. They just end up being messes of noise and colour, and lose any impact of the events that are actually transpiring.
  • The directing of Jonathan Liebesman is pretty poor. It is like he just discovered that you can tilt the camera for shots, and then decided that he should probably just go ahead and do that for every single scene. If you like low angled, tilted shots, then this is the film for you.
  • The story itself somewhat follows the original, but it is managed to be rendered pretty silly (well, even sillier given the source concept of this whole thing). The childhood connections of the turtles with April O’Neil is ridiculous and not needed. How would she not remember these things from her childhood, like saving a bunch of turtles from a fire? Not easily forgotten, one would assume.
  • There really is poor development of the turtles themselves. One part of the original series was that they were so unique from one another. That comes across a bit in the film, and they touch on it, but it isn’t enough to really make a difference. Not that anybody is watching this film for the characterization or anything, but a little bit would have helped.
  • The whole April O’Neil story line of wanting to be a serious reporter is pretty dull.

These are some pretty big hits against the quality of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It is not a good film, and perhaps worst of all, it is not very entertaining to watch. I honestly don’t care if a movie is bad, but at least make it fun. TMNT does neither.

However, there are a couple of decent things in this movie.

  • Megan Fox is still pretty damn good looking. And she can really fill in a pair of jeans, so that is a plus, I suppose. tmnt4
  • There are a couple of funny parts from Michaelangelo. Of course, he is the goofy one, but he actually gets to provide some humour to the film, and some levity from the general stupidity.
  • A funny scene when the turtles are in an elevator and start to make music as they ride up for their final fight. It was weird and out of place, but it was actually pretty fun.
  • I didn’t hate the way the turtles looked, as many people have. The CG is well done (until the clusterf*ck of the fight scenes).

Not exactly a stellar list of pros for this movie.

I get that some people quite liked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I feel that were a lot who were happy that it was “just ok,” and not complete childhood blasphemy. And we have a plethora of options of films that are just ok.

TMNT doesn’t even make it to that low standard, making it a film that I would recommend skipping.

girl2

Gone Girl (Film Review)

As much as I hate to do it, I am going to have to become one of those people that cannot discuss a film without mentioning that I have read the novel first. Such is going to have to be the case with Gone Girl, recently added to the list of shows on Netflix Canada.

I was late to the game with Gone Girl, and only recently read the novel, and absolutely loved it. So I was pretty excited to watch the film, especially since it has already come with such incredible and glowing reviews, widely considered to be among the best films of last year.

girlReading the book, I figured it would be difficult and interesting on how the narrative would shift, once the secret is revealed half way through the story. How would a screenwriter and director be able to create the amazing suspense, and then completely flip the narrative, basically starting the story over again, from the point of view of Amy? The task was difficult, and the film only mildly succeeded at doing so. It never felt as thought Nick’s world was crashing down on him, as the evidence against him killing his wife piled up against him. He just never really seemed that guilty in the film, whereas he was very much portrayed so in the book.

girl3As for the film itself, it is very well directed by David Fincher. The guy knows how to direct a dark film, and he pulls out all the stops in his guidance of Gone Girl. The film is quite morose, from the very beginning, taking away from the ideas that there really were some good times between Nick and Amy, instead focusing on the glumness of it all. The soundtrack plays along, creating ominous tones throughout the film, keeping us well aware that this was not a happy film. It definitely evoked a mood, but it took away what little levity there was in the story to begin with. Even the charms of Nick’s twin sister, Go, were muted down due to the dank atmosphere and deadpanned deliveries.

The actors here are very straightforward. At points, it was like they were trying to out-morose one another, to be as deadpanned as humanly possible. I found that there is very little life behind them, and well aware that this is part of the point of the performances, I found it difficult to take at times. I just wanted a little bit of inflection!

It is understandable that someone as cold and calculating as Amy speaks in such a cold and calculating voice all of the time, but during the first half of the film, it makes her difficult to like, which is the point of the first half of the novel. There could have been more here, to make for a more dramatic shift part way through.

girl4But I digress. Gone Girl is a very good film. It really is. It easily is a 4/5 star movie, and despite my random pickings at it, it is a very good thriller. For those who have not read the book, it will definitely keep you interested until the very end, to see how everything will turn out, including the wild ending that lacked a couple of key parts (as husband and wife write their respective stories, essentially racing against one another to get it done- I thought that was a great part of the resolution of the novel). For those who have read the book, it will be impossible to not compare it to the original text, and nitpick the details that you would have wished were included in the film, or omitted, or whatever.

I somehow feel that Gone Girl should have gone in reverse for me. I kind of wish that I had seen the film before reading the book. Then I could have the one, very strong version, and then use the novel to fill in all the gaps, and get even more of the story. Either way, Gone Girl is a strong adaptation, and should be seen as what it is: one of the better films, with some of the best twists and turns in recent memory.

vm

Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell (Book Review)

I can’t get enough Veronica Mars.

Following the wildly entertaining three season long television show, fans have been lucky enough to see the continuation of the life of the edgy, vindictive, sleuthing Veronica in the Veronica Mars movie, and the fun follow-up novel, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line.

Well, for fans, things keep on rolling with the latest novel about the exploits of our favorite heroine, in Mr. Kiss and Tell.

vm2This time around, Veronica is put on a case where a girl was the victim of a brutal sexual assault at the Neptune Grand Hotel, the centerpiece of wealth in the seaside town of Neptune. She is hired to try and find out what really happened, since the girl can be seen entering the hotel on video, but never leaving it. From here, the mystery unfolds, and we are swept into a seedy world of abuse and prostitution.

As with the first VM novel, this one brings back the familiar cast of characters from the show, that we all know and love. There is the perfect amount of exposition, explaining the role that each person played in Veronica’s life, which makes the novel accessible for those who are new to Neptune and looking for a casual book read. Also, it is not too much for the hard-core fan, who of course remember the youngest Manning girl, or the importance of Leo in Veronica’s teen life. It was a good balance, to appease the old fans, and the new.

vm3As for Mr. Kiss and Tell itself, it is a similar beach read to The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. The mystery itself doesn’t offer as many twists and turns as the show, film, or first book offered, but the majority of the time was spent with Veronica knowing who did it, and trying to figure out a way to catch him. It provides a suitable amount of intrigue, even if it is not as good as the first book, overall.

Part of the charm of the first book was that Veronica’s voice was captured perfectly, and it was tough to read without hearing her voice in your head. The sharp-edged sarcasm always came through in the dialogue. That is lost a little bit in Mr. Kiss and Tell, and some of the dialogue comes across as quite un-Veronica. Maybe she is mellowing as she approaches 30?

There are the secondary story lines, as well, which push forward the general narrative of the lives of the people of Neptune. There is the romance between Logan and Veronica that is continued on in this book, and the developing story of the partnership between Keith and his daughter as they continue to grow Mars Investigations as a team. There is of course continued battles with Sheriff Lamb, and an upcoming election to decide his future. Some of the extra stories were a little underdeveloped and almost thrown in, but it doesn’t really take away from the overall enjoyment of this read.

Mr. Kiss and Tell is another fine addition to the growing universe of Veronica Mars. Fans can only hope that they will continue with the novel series, as it really does offer nice, light reads, that provide interesting mysteries, some laughs, and a group of people that we have known for a decade now.

And the best part, for those who are fans of the show and get it…Veronica gets a puppy. And names it Pony.

vm4Perfect.