The Kings of Summer (Film Review)

The Kings of Summer (Film Review)

When you are a teenager, all you want to do is to grow up. To be an adult, to prove your worth to yourself, those closest to you, and to the world.

As a teenage boy, it is paramount that at some point, you are able to prove that you are a man, that you are able to stand on your own two feet and demonstrate to the world that you can take whatever it throws at you.

While growing tired of his bitter father, and abnormal family life, two friends decide that they are going to build a house in the woods, to escape the world that has been so disappointing for them to that point. They want to prove that they are men, that they can do the things in the world that they will soon be expected to do.

The Kings of Summer is very much a traditional coming-of-age story, and one that is fun and adventurous, as it should be. Our protagonists follow through with their wild dream, causing their families great turmoil over their disappearances. But they are out to prove that they can live on their own, without the need of their overbearing parents, or the regular trappings of city life. It is a simple desire, and the journey they undertake is interesting.

kings of summer(1)The film is beautifully shot, with great scenery throughout. I liked the script in that it never pushed things too far, and never veered into the unrealistic. They don’t build an incredible palace in the woods, they don’t fall into a Lord of the Flies type of battle for supremacy. They are just boys, enjoying their simple time away from the world. Sure, they have their issues, such as trying to hunt and feed themselves, and despite their desire to get away from it all, it is never truly possible. As with any, or most, teenage boys, girls are an issue, as are questions of popularity and the sens of needing to belong. All of these things are explored in The Kings of Summer, and it is enjoyable seeing it unfold.

We cheer for our protagonists, hoping that they will be able to make everything work, that they can prove their worth, that they can show themselves to be successful and important in their own minds. That they are albe to create something that they deem important, and that they don’t need the outside world that doesn’t really want them in the first place.

I think this film could be compared to a light version of Into the Wild, though not nearly as intense. It is meant to be light-hearted, and it is. And this was a strength of the story, in that we get the feeling that nothing truly bad could happen to our characters, and that they will somehow be able to work things out for themselves, and that in the end, they will be okay.

There is some really good acting throughout the film, from the major characters to the smaller ones. Standout performances come from Nick Offerman, as the bitter father, and Allison Brie, as the sister. Smaller roles, but integral ones to the development of the leads.

Overall, a very solid film here. Not going to change any lives, but it will show that there are types of characters out there who are willing to push the boundaries to ensure that they can change their own. Well worth a watch.

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That’s My Boy (Film Review)

That’s My Boy (Film Review)

Adam Sandler movies used to be funny. I swear. His older work, like Billy MadisonHappy Gilmore, and The Wedding Singer really did provide a lot of foolish, teenage laughs. He even proved for a while that he could be a serious actor as well, with a strong turn in Punch Drunk Love.

We, the audience, grew up. Adam Sandler did not.

A problem with comedians of this type, that go for childish laughs, definitely have their place in entertainment. But the problem arises when the built in crowd for them becomes more mature for the audience themselves, and the old type of humour that made us roar when we were 16 just isn’t the same as it is when we are working schlubs in our 30’s. The same can be said for an actor like Jim Carey (which makes me dread what will happen with the upcoming Dumb and Dumber sequel).

Thats-My-Boy-is-an-Adam-Sandler-stinker-0G1M00S3-x-largeThat’s My Boy is a story about a grade 7 student who sleeps with his smoking hot teacher, and gets her pregnant. The result of this affair is a boy named Han Solo, played by Andy Samberg, who has spent his life avoiding his father, and dealing with the consequences of being raised by him. The father, played by Sandler, is an over-the-top drunkard with a poor Boston accent who is constantly on the verge of yelling (as are so many Sandler characters). The issue with Donnie, is that at this point, it is a tired gag. Donnie is a burn out, still trying to live off the fame he got when he was 13 from sleeping with his teacher. He continues to wear old band t-shirts, and drive his Pontiac Fiero, and he successfully comes across as being quite pathetic. But not enough so that we actually sympathize with him as a character.

There are no real laughs in his movie. Maybe the slightest snicker, or under your breath “Huh,” but that is about it. Take this movie back to 1998, and it probably would have been a lot funnier, especially the brother who is in the military and wants to keep his secret “Tickle Time” a secret. There could be laughs there, but just not for the mature audience.

Maybe I shouldn’t dislike a movie just because I am too old to truly enjoy it. But it’s happening. Being older doesn’t mean that nothing is funny anymore, but it seems to mean that Adam Sandler isn’t funny anymore.

Not that you would turn on Netflix to watch this movie expecting a great plot, but it is pretty ridiculous, based around Donnie needing money by the end of the long weekend to keep himself out of jail and the IRS off his back. His son is now a successful businessman, about to get married to the attractive Leighton Meester. If Donnie can get his son to the prison to see his mother (the teacher), then he will be given $50,000 by a news company that will be there covering the story. Ridiculous? You bet. Worth watching, just to see what happens? Not really.

As with most Sandler movies, he cannot sustain comedy for the entire thing, so he tries to inject some heart into it. Will Donnie really come through and be the father that he never was to his son? The fact is, we don’t really care.

There really isn’t much here to be worth a recommendation to watch it. Instead of wasting your time with That’s My Boy, you would probably be better off re-watching Happy Gilmore, and enjoying Happy going to-to-toe with Bob Barker once again.

Runner Runner (Film Review)

Runner Runner (Film Review)

To be quick and basic about this film review, Runner Runner is a hot mess. The story of a gambling-savvy Princeton student who goes to Costa Rica when he feels like he has been cheated while playing online poker, is far too fast and very much underdeveloped.

The pace of this film is way off, and there are large gaps where we, as viewers, are left wondering what is happening, and how things have progressed so quickly. The protagonist, played by Justin Timberlake, goes to Costa Rica to complain about the discrepancies he found in the gambling website, and before we can blink, he has a job with the site, is able to bring his friends down, is making tons of money, and is basically the #2 man behind the leader of the site and central villain, played by Ben Affleck. Then with lightning speed, he is in trouble with the FBI, there are some foggy details about what the site is doing to cheat its players, and Affleck is turned from smart businessman to evil genius in the turn of a script page. Throw in a less-than-believable love story, and the film is complete.

runner2One of the biggest errors made by the producers of Runner Runner is that there was a lot of detail that would have been really interesting to know about. Tell us more about the way the site works, how the odds are made and defied, how one would launder money, etc. I felt left wanting for all of these things, because they would have made the movie a heck of a lot more detailed, and far more interesting. I am tired of having these details brushed over, and we are just supposed to believe that the things he is doing with money is bad. This comes across as treating the audience as an uneducated group.

The acting is poor through the majority of the film, as well. Timberlake, who has become one of the more likable celebrities out there, has shown that is able to act, but he needs to stick with roles based on humour, like in a romantic comedy. Consider how he has pretty much become the best Saturday Night Live host over the past few years, and then try and make him act serious. It doesn’t work. Gemma Arterton, the love interest, while attractive, came across as a completely flat character. Affleck, who is one of my secret favorites, is only okay with a thin script that he is given. When he yells, he is convincing, but let’s be honest: this role is not one that as much depth to it, and it is basically calling for him to be cool, then mean, then yell. Then be more mean, and yell some more.

Runner Runner tries to have a little bit of Rounders in it, and a little bit of 21. But it falls flat on both of these attempts. With the short running time (about an hour and a half), there simply isn’t enough time to develop anything: the plot, the characters, the background information. For this reason, you can probably skip this film and find something that is of a similar subject, but done much better.

On the Road (Film Review)

On the Road (Film Review)

It always seemed like it would be impossible to adapt Jack Kerouac’s sprawling, seminal, stream-of-consciousness novel about the freedom of the road and the adventures of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty without losing some of the basis of the novel. Some of the feel; some of the freedom.

Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to make On the Road, perhaps the most important work from the Beat Generation, into a movie. There were a bunch of different casting choices, some of them seeming pretty good and interesting, and a whole bunch of different directors who were poised to stand behind the camera to bring this important work of American literature to the silver screen. But it never panned out, for differing reasons. One being that it was always too hard to get a story on the screen that could encompass what Kerouac penned in the early 1950’s, finally getting published in 1957.

On the Road is a book about escape and freedom. About getting away from what the world expects, and getting out there into America, or all the things that America can be, and looking for something else. Something better, perhaps, but something different. It is the desire for adventure.

Sal and Dean in Mexico.
Sal and Dean in Mexico.

Newly added to the Netflix lineup, the film adaptation of On the Road is worth a watch. The reviews for it are not surprisingly mixed, but the writers, director, and actors manage to do their best to bring life to the words in the book.

For those who don’t know, the story is basically about the struggling writer Sal Paradise (a thinly veiled version of Kerouac himself), and his travel adventures with his friends across America. Namely, with the crazy, adventurous, love-to-hate him and hate-to-love him Dean Moriarty. Throughout the story, they travel the country, getting themselves in a number of wild situations, always fueled by cigarettes, booze, and benzedrine. Our characters were willing to push the limits of what their bodies were able to handle, the amount of fun and craziness they could endure, but at the same time, their goals were often simpler. To see what their country really was.

The main characters are played by relative unknowns, Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund, but the supporting cast is filled with bigger name actors, who play minimal roles in the film. Kristen Stewart has a larger role as one of Dean’s girls, Marylou, and there are appearances by Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Elizabeth Moss, Viggo Mortensen, and Steve Buschemi. A pretty good cast, but some of them are painfully underused. Our main actors do a good job, however. Riley, with his deep raspy, accented voice, brings a strong look to Paradise, allowing us to see him as an observer, a follower of Dean, never quite able to step into the foreground of his own life. Hedlund, as Moriarty, is able to bring the wild coolness that we could only expect of his character. He is charming and vicious, all at the same time, and it is difficult to watch him make poor choices that lead to his sad downfall towards the end of the film. He lives on the edge of his own crazed ideas, and he hooks those around him into his lifestyle. He is memorable to the point that all of those who know him will drop their lives, just because Dean is in town. He has created a legend for himself, and this comes across well with the casting of Hedlund.

Kristen Stewart, usually the sullen, mopey, teenager, excels in her role in this film. I would like to have seen more of Marylou, even though she was just a secondary character. A free spirit with simple values, Stewart bring life to her role, and it was nice to see her letting lose a little bit, away from her single expression used in the majority of her other films. To see Stewart laughing, smiling, and dancing during a great New Year’s Eve scene was something to behold, like we were truly seeing someone else on the screen instead of the famous Twilight actress we have become used to. She was good, and with the little screen time and dialogue she was offered, she was able to complete the character of Marylou. She seemed to embrace the character, the ex-wife of Dean, still drawn to him despite knowing that he would never stay with her. Stewart went all in for the role, doing her first nude scenes on film, which does help out who Marylou is.

Perhaps Kristen Stewart's most memorable scene.
Perhaps Kristen Stewart’s most memorable scene.

The supporting cast is all strong, again, despite their miniature roles.

Some of the strengths of this film include the musical soundtrack, which is incredible at bringing to life the music of the Beat Generation, the thumping bass and angst-riddled saxaphone of the jazz bands, the pulsating tunes that helped guide Paradise on his adventures in sex and drugs. This would definitely be a soundtrack worth owning, it is that good. A highlight is the New Year’s party. A sweaty, drunken gathering, with blaring music, dancing, and singing along to songs. It defined the film, and put a stamp on the idea that for the people of the time, this was a defining moment in their lives.

As a defining moment in the film, however, one feels that it should have been as the title suggests: On the Road. While there was plenty of great, and well-shot scenes of the group being actually out hitchhiking, or driving, it seems that too much of this film was based in the confines that our characters were trying to escape. Perhaps they could have elaborated more on Sal’s days out picking cotton, instead of having him in houses, or apartments. This type of freedom is the very defining theme of the book, after all. Eventually, there is a fair amount of time spent in the car, literally on the road, but it feels like it could have been more about their discovery of America. For me, it seemed that the characters were always on their way somewhere, when reading the novel, I always felt that they had no agenda, and would get home whenever they ended up getting home. Perhaps this is only my interpretation of it, but on the ultimate road trip and journey of self-discovery, they didn’t really discover much about themselves. This is the point of an epic road trip, is it not?

There is little doubt that this novel would be difficult to turn into a film. But here, we have what I would call a pretty good version of it. Paradise struggles to write the book that he so dearly wants to create, Carlos Marx struggles to find his voice in his poetry, Dean leads a life of wildness that leaves him broken and alone, and Marylou is seeking a simple life of love and family among the craziness of the people she knows best, and loves the most. On the Road is probably only a film for those who have read the book. It would seem almost nonsensical for those who haven’t, especially as minor characters are thrown at us, and we are pretty much expected to know who they are, as we had met them first in the novel.

Watching this, you are not going to get the feeling and the passion of Kerouac on the screen. But there is something there, a feeling of the era, that is able to take us away. Not a perfect film, not a perfect film adaptation, but something worth watching.

Midnight in Paris (Film Review)

Midnight in Paris (Film Review)

For me, Woody Allen has always been pretty hit or miss, but I find myself in the occasional mood where I want to watch one of his quirky movies.

For months now, Midnight in Paris has been on my Netflix list, just waiting for the day when I would feel like watching it. I knew there wasn’t much I wouldn’t like about it. Like our protagonist, I love the 1920’s era, believing that if I had my own Delorean and flux capacitor, this would be the era I would be traveling to, in hopes of hanging out with the literary giants of the century, enjoying the partying, music, and ideas.

paris-poster1The story is about a writer, played by Owen Wilson, who is in Paris with his fiancee (a pretty bitchy and unlikable Rachel McAdams, a definite departure for her, she does very well to be subtly detestable in the film) as they prepare for their upcoming wedding. A successful film script writer, Gil is trying to write a novel for the first time, and is getting there without getting there at the same time. One evening, at midnight, he is essentially transported back in time, to the Roaring 20’s, when Paris was inhabited by all of the great writers of the era: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein. The painters are there as well, such as Dali and Picasso.

Well, this is a dream come true for Gil, as he has never truly been satisfied in his own era, and was one of those people who believed that they were better off had they been born at a different time, whenever that may be. For Gil, it had always been the 20’s, and this was his chance to meet, and hang out with, all of his heroes.

The idea for the film seems pretty ridiculous, and I can’t say that it is too often that Woody Allen ventures into films about time travel, but it really isn’t about that. Midnight in Paris is a love story, and a story about being lost where you are. In some way, we all hope that we could have been born at a different time, for whatever reason. Maybe it is the 20’s for the art, or you wish you could have been a teenager in the 60’s and 70’s for the hippie movement, and the endless classic rock music that was all over the place. Perhaps you wanted to go back even further, the fin-de-siecle eras. Whatever it may be, many of us feel that another era would have suited us better.

The point of the film is that wherever you are, you probably always want to be somewhere else. People find their lives boring. And we always want to escape. While one era would look impressive from the outside, being pulled into it may be something completely different, and this is something that Gil is forced to deal with once he finds a romantic interest (Marion Cotillard) in the 20’s, who is as bored with her era as he is of his.

It is quite a clever way of doing things by Allen, and he doesn’t lose his quirkiness throughout, as he never does through the million movies he has made in his career so far.

Allen captures Paris very well, both in modern and 20’s times. He understands the beauty, and magic, of the city, able to look past the graffiti to see something incredible. That really is, in my opinion, what Paris is all about. The same goes for Gil. He quickly falls in love with the city and wants to live there, while McAdams barely tolerates it and wishes for her life back in the States.

A quirky story, and a chance to interact with legions of famous people from the 20’s is what makes this movie fun to watch. Seeing Hemingway and Picasso fight over a woman, seeing Fitzgerald dote over Zelda, Stein being the backbone of the group, Dali being eccentric as we would have expected him to be, it helps to bring us to that place that we will never truly get to see. Allen found good actors to play all of these parts, and they were done with a certain cheekiness that made all of the characters likable.

Midnight in Paris won an Oscar for the Best Screenplay (which shows how poorly I have followed the awards shows over the past few years) a couple of years ago. It is a highly regarded film, and I would agree with the reviews. It is fun, it has a great cast, and it does make us wonder about where we truly belong.

Is it in this era, or another? Or does it really matter anyway, since we do need to live in our current one.

Veronica Mars (Film Review)

Veronica Mars (Film Review)

The largest Kickstarter campaign ever comes to fruition in the film version of the TV show that quickly became a cult classic during its three-year run on the air, the Veronica Mars movie leaves no disappointment for fans of the series.

Ten years after leaving Neptune, Veronica has left her private detective life behind her, and is on the verge of becoming a high end lawyer in New York. Her life has been a success, as we all knew that it would be. She has a degree in psychology, and is weeks away from taking the bar exam. She is interviewing with top firms in NYC, on the cusp of a great career.

Until the call comes in.

“Veronica? I need your help.”

marsDrawn back to Neptune to help out Logan Eckles, her ex-love, who is again facing a murder rap when his former girlfriend and pop singer is found dead in her bathtub (Carrie Bishop, from the original show, although she is no longer played by Leighton Meester, one of the few disappointments in the movie). Of course, Veronica begrudgingly accepts to help him out with finding a lawyer, which turns into a much longer stay than she had intended.

Veronica Mars has everything one could want in a YV series-turned feature film. This was, after all, mostly funded by the fans, who raised millions of dollars to see this made. That is a dedicated fan base.

All of our favorite characters are back, and Kristen Bell, as Veronica, is in her finest form. She is as sharp and witty as ever, now able to say some of the things that she couldn’t on TV (I always enjoy hearing TV characters swear, it is partially unnatural, and partially awesome, because we know it’s what they would have really said, anyways). Even ten years after the first season began, we still love Veronica. She is still the underdog, despite the success in her life. And she continues to fight for what she believes to be right, which is the part of her character that we probably always admired most, even if we didn’t realize it.

There are great nods to the fans, even mentioning the cancelled fourth season where Veronica was to be an intern at the FBI. In the opening minutes, she even calls herself a Marshmallow, the name Veronica Mars fans have adopted for themselves. These subtle nods are fantastic, as they are not punch-you-in-the-face obvious, and it would not detract from a person watching the film as their first exposure to the character. In fact, this film does a good job of being a somewhat stand-alone production, in that you could watch it with someone who was not familiar with the series, and they would easily be able to follow along and enjoy it.

As for the story, and the mystery, it is as solid as always. There are some twists, and it is a good murder mystery, as was nearly every episode of the show. There is no let down here. At an hour and 45 minutes long, it is basically watching two back-to-back episodes, with an entire murder plot crammed in. But it doesn’t feel to rushed. And for fans of the show, watching back-to-back episodes is something that we have all done. Probably more than once. Ok, maybe some of us have managed to watch an entire season in one sitting (that’s a lot of sitting, but it got done!).

Not many actresses really own their character in the way that Bell owns Veronica. She is her. And even though she continues to act, and hasn’t been pigeon-holed due to the success of this show, there will always be a part of Kristen that truly is in a part of this character. We want to see them as the same person, because she is so good as her. Veronica Mars is the girl with the smart answer to everything, but who can also be fiercely loyal and loving at the same time. She uses her sarcasm as a mask, something too many of us are able to identify with. She is the outcast who never should have been the outcast in the first place, but wears her letter with pride, and always manages to hold her head up high, not ashamed of who she is. She is a true television hero.

One of my favorite things about the film is that they did not deviate from the formula of the show. This is exactly what people wanted to see. And they got it. They did not try to go crazy just because there was some more money and a built-in audience. They knew how Veronica Mars worked, and they stuck with it.

As usual, Veronica narrates the film, as the did on the series. She compares her need to help, to be near Logan, near Neptune, as an addiction, something that she dealt with in her life with her mother, and the various issues that floated around the elites of Neptune. It is a clever under-current to the story, the tale of a girl who wants nothing more than to get away, and stay away, but can do nothing of the sort. Another layer to the story, that is great entertainment.

For any fan of Veronica Mars, this movie is an absolute must-see. For those who never watched the show, you can count on a pretty solid murder mystery with some good comebacks and wit.

Just as the show always was.

Smashed (Film Review)

Smashed (Film Review)

Ah, Netflix. I love you because of your random suggestions. Since I watched Drinking Buddies, I might also like…

Smashed.

A quick film about a young married couple (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul), who have issues with drinking. Like, they enjoy it too much. Both of them are alcoholics, and the film centers around Winstead wanting to get clean, Paul’s refusal, and the way in which alcohol, or the lack of it, drives them apart.

smashed_headerAt the beginning, Smashed seems like it will be a harrowing journey into the lives of alcoholics, in the way that so many substance abuse movies are. We will watch them have fun, then things will turn bad, then they will go through the torturous withdrawal on their way to redemption. I will give this movie credit, in that it isn’t as cookie-cutter perfect as it could have been.

The movie opens with Winstead waking up hungover, getting ready for work, drinking in her car, then throwing up in front of her grade 1 students. Seems like our abuse film is right on track. This leads to a side story, where Winstead says she is pregnant, causing her to be ill. While the story line initially seems kind of pointless, it does lead to a redeeming part later on, so there is definite purpose. Later on, she smokes crack with a stranger. A quick escalation, and we see that she could easily become a complete train wreck.

The best part of the movie is Winstead’s performance. She is confused, and angry, with the choices she has made, and she comes across as genuine throughout the film. She is able to create the performance of someone who is broken, and ready for a change. She drank because it made her feel good. And then it made her feel bad. So she stopped.

And this is the problem with the film. It all seemed too easy for Kate. She went to a couple of meetings, with the guidance of a fellow teacher (played awesomely by Nick Offerman- he has the most memorable, and most awkward, scene in the movie when he is in the car with Kate and admits he has a crush on her), found a great sponsor, and got clean. Sure, there is the inevitable relapse, but Smashed keeps us away from the physical pain of detox. There is no real indication that Kate as any issues with being around others that drink, which I would imagine, is one of the most difficult things for a recovering alcoholic to do. She carries on with her life, does better at her teaching job, before the drift with her husband occurs.

It is nice to see the opposite side of the coin, however, in that alcohol was the thing that kept this couple together. We are more used to seeing how the presence of booze will drive a couple apart. For the most part, it becomes the absence of alcohol that creates their marital issues, as it was something that they could bond over for so many years. For that, Smashed offers a slightly different perspective on the issue.

For the most part of the movie, Aaron Paul is underused. He is a good actor, but the majority of his performance is basically a spinoff of the early Jesse Pinkman on the first couple of seasons of Breaking Bad. He could have been more. He gets to show his acting chops as the movie progresses, but for the most part, I feel he could have done more.

In all, Smashed is just ok. It could have been dark, and gritty, but it only gave us glimpses into that side of alcoholism. This film is carried by the actors that are in it, and for them, it is worth viewing. As a movie that focuses on the pain and desperation of addiction, it does fall a little flat.