The Way, Way Back- The Review

The Way, Way Back opens with 14 year old Duncan sitting in the back of the family car as it is riding towards a summer vacation which only promises awkwardness and misery. His back is turned to his family; he is an outsider to them, he is so far deep into his shell that he has lost any real connection with his mother and father, now split up, and instead spends most of his time hating on his mother’s new boyfriend Trent. Duncan has perfectly good reason to hate him, as Trent is a belittling, bullying and nasty character who hides his true nature under a sickly sweet and charming persona into which everyone accepts. In the opening scene, Duncan stares at the camera while turned away from his family in such a horribly sad way, as if pleading to the audience to look away. Although Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s new film is a comedy of sorts, Duncan’s empty gaze lingered with me all the way through the film, through the funny and the sad moments. There is a sort of beauty in how Faxon and Rash have managed to interweave such a powerful and in some ways, quite tragic story with such wonderful humour. Not only is The Way, Way Back a moving and extraordinary tale, but it is also incredibly funny.

After Duncan arrives at their summer house in a small little seaside town, he is constantly quiet and shy in the face of his often remarkably horrid neighbours, which include Betty (who makes her son wear an eyepatch because he is cross eyed) and Joan, who as the tale unfolds becomes a catalyst for fighting and confrontations inside Duncan’s family. After a while, Duncan finds a pink children’s bike, and rides away from his family in search of a sense of peace, or maybe just a break from social situations. What he doesn’t expect to find is the fast talking and extremely funny manager of the local water park (an inspired performance from Moon‘s Sam Rockwell), who takes Duncan under his wing and gives him a job at the park. Duncan finds a life here, he finds himself embraced by the senior staff members, and for once, he is happy. It isn’t a particularly original story by any stretch, a generic, coming of age story that ticks a good deal of stereotypical alienated teenager boxes. However, Faxon and Rash excel on their directorial debuts, and their execution makes this film stand out from the rest.

Steve Carell excels as the ghastly figure of Trent, a character the audience will love to hate.

One of these lovely directorial touches is the fact that the whole film is effectively from the perspective of Duncan, and it could only have been more so if it was filmed in the first person. We rarely, if at all, see an event of a scene which he is not present, and although this means we see some characters as two dimensional, we are assured at least that this is the way Duncan sees them. In particular, the ghastly figure of Trent could have a better side to him, if the film looked further. Instead we see the uttermost worst in him, and Steve Carell brings a jaw dropping performance and transforms him into one of the most horrid characters this year. He reminded me of Sy Ableman from the Coen Brothers much underrated classic A Serious Man, a man who will wreck your life in the nicest and most polite way possible (some similarities were also drawn to the character of Bill Lumbergh in the brilliant 1999 comedy Office Space). You love to hate Trent. In one particularly unbelievable scene he asks Duncan how much he would rate himself out of ten, and then proceeds to tell him he’d rate Duncan “a three”. I laughed out loud, but a part of my brain was utterly speechless, and there is pause as the director’s allow the audience to take in this most nasty and awful of characters. This is endlessly compared and contrasted to Sam Rockwell’s character Owen, who is so fun loving and warm that he meets Duncan by an arcade game in a restaurant, and gives him a job the next day. Although he is dangerously irresponsible, he provides much of the comic relief, and his exchange of words with Trent late on are an absolute joy to behold. One complaint of The Way, Way Back could be that the audience never really has any morality issues; the directors make it crystal clear who to root for and who to hate at every turn. Although this can make things seem quite linear, the characters felt so fresh and so alive, that I knew if they were real people I would feel the same way without a director holding my hand and telling me how to think. The actors are so good they almost become the characters on screen.

Best Bit

Seeing Steve Carell really take a break from such brazen comedy (Anchorman, Evan Almighty etc.) and portray such an inherently nasty and dislikable character is such a refreshing move for his career, and just like his performance in Little Miss Sunshine, he shows he really does have serious talent for serious acting.

Worst Bit

Due to the refreshing viewpoint of the film, which only really fully characterizes Duncan as we see the world from his point of view, this does lead to some characters being quite two dimensional and you have to wonder whether some of the people portrayed are being judged fairly by both the directors and Duncan himself.

Overall

The Way, Way Back is 2013’s most warm and charming film so far, and will delight anyone who goes to see it. It is fresh, moving and seriously funny, and juggles its overlapping themes so seamlessly that you get drawn into Duncan’s world. It technically isn’t one of the best films of the year, but it certainly is one of my favourites, and will be relatable to anyone who was/is an awkward teenager. Filmmaking is rarely as touching or as true as The Way, Way Back; and it has something truly special about it. A late summer treat.

5/5

Elysium- The Review

I have very high hopes for films that tackle the genre of science fiction, and subsequently I am often dissatisfied with the blockbuster nonsense that so often is churned out by Hollywood. The year 2013 has been very slow in terms of producing brilliant science fiction, with the best example being the enjoyable Star Trek: Into Darkness which I actually considered to be better than the original. However good this was, it wasn’t truly great science fiction, something which the horrendous and overhyped Oblivion failed to even grasp as a concept. It was stupid, boring and genuinely tiring to watch, and from there on I did wonder when the next science fiction masterpiece would come out. When would we get the new Moon? The next Looper? The successor to District 9? Ideally enough, the director and creator of the wonderful and compelling modern classic District 9, Neill Blomkamp, has returned with Elysium, a beautiful, gritty and incredibly smart and entertaining science fiction project, which cements Blomkamp’s title as the most promising and exciting science fiction filmmaker of today. Elysium is a triumph, and one of the best films of the year. With its intelligent plotting, cultural messages significant to today’s society, and some fantastic action, it feels and looks like a proper science fiction movie should: brutal, memorable and strangely beautiful.

In a world where Earth is in ruins, the rich and successful have moved into space by building an exclusive paradise called Elysium, where cancer can be cured and everyone is happy. Down on Earth, the poor rot and struggle to make ends meet, and Max De Costa (Matt Damon) has long since given up hope of buying a ticket to the much dreamed about paradise above his head. Thanks to a work related accident, Max finds himself in the position where he has to make it up to Elysium by any means possible, to save himself. The local crook, Spider (played with a wonderful maddening glare by Wagner Moura) sees an opportunity to infiltrate Elysium and bring equality to humanity. Upon Elysium, the Secretary of Defence Jessica Delacourt is planning to overthrow the President, and in her efforts to do this with her sleeper agent on Earth, Kruger (Sharlto Copley), she unwittingly gets drawn into Max and Spider’s schemes to infiltrate Elysium.

Sharlto Copley gives a disturbing and gripping performance as the psychotic and insane henchman Kruger.

Although the ‘poor vs rich’ basic outline may be a bit generic, Elysium has real heart and real brains in its execution of a bleak future, and Blomkamp’s greatest talent is to simultaneously bring a sense of realism and believability to a distant future setting, something which the majority of science fiction movies dramatically failed to do. While you are engrossed and captivated by Blomkamp’s world, it never seems too far-fetched, and you are never totally alienated by the strangeness of the setting or the technology. This is also helped from a very human and incredibly convincing performance from the always brilliant Matt Damon, who provides a gritty and desperate tone to a not wholly likeable lead character. Both Damon and Blomkamp never let the audience forget that this lead character is doing everything for himself, which in turn could save everyone in the process, and this feels startlingly original in a world where too many films are separated entirely into good guys and bad guys. Although Blomkamp doesn’t really consider Elysium a science fiction movie, as it has such strong themes which link with today’s world, he has wittingly or unwittingly created a fresh and original world, which looks absolutely stunning on a cinema screen. While the special effects are brilliant, it is through the small details that the film really succeeds in its presentation. The set feels real and exquisitely constructed, and the wonderful prosthetic guns look detailed and endlessly fascinating in their design. Nothing feels fake, and nothing feels out of the realm of realistic imagination. Elysium looks beautiful in everything in attempts, and provides a powerful and emotionally potent story to match its wonderful design and brutal violence.

While its heavy emphasis on action has deterred critics, with some even labelling it an action movie, for me Elysium drew a very clear line between a very smart and powerful story and also using the director’s talent to also entertain through some excellent action scenes. A lot of the film provides an emphasis on the shaky camera effect, but this is juggled between also very interesting directorial techniques, involving an almost video game viewpoint, and some great slow motion effects. Sometimes it feels like Blomkamp is experimenting with the limits of his ability, and yet remarkably it all gets mixed into a satisfying end product. It gives the action scenes a real sense of variety and intensity, and this perhaps saved the movie from becoming another generic and uninspiring blockbuster. It feels like exactly the opposite; a science fiction film with real meat behind it, coupled with excellent performances from both Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, plus a wonderful role from the District 9 star Sharlto Copley, who excels when asked to take on the role of the notorious henchman Kruger, who in turn ends up being the real villain of the piece. It is such gritty and refreshing filmmaking, and it is such a joy to behold.

Best Bit 

There will be no spoilers in this review, but the ending to Elysium truly summed up the bravery and tenacity of the director. Instead of the fake Hollywood ending, he opts for a more realistic and more powerful conclusion to his tale, and it pays dividends, and left me breathless. A superb way to end one of the best films of the year.

Worst Bit 

Many have criticised the action of Elysium, but I personally loved the meaty and gritty action scenes, with its great effects and superbly original directing from Blomkamp. The only foreseeable problem with Elysium is that perhaps Blomkamp is perhaps too keen to express his social message, with themes of class, healthcare and immigration being all too apparent for the audience. Many may find this too preachy, and a bit too real for their taste; lots come to the cinema for escapism, not to be reminded of the glaring problems of their own world.

Overall

One of the truly great films I have seen this year, Elysium is stunning filmmaking, with Neill Blomkamp providing a wonderful follow-up to his already classic 2009 film District 9. It feels extremely original and also lovingly created, with Blomkamp exercising all his talents to give us another wonderful example of science fiction, which stands out this year for being such a brave and wholly different film to everything else.  An incredible piece of work.

5/5

Kick Ass 2- The Review

The charm, the flair, the love: it’s gone. I left the cinema after seeing Kick Ass 2 feeling hugely deflated and bitterly disappointed, having penned such high hopes on the sequel to one of my favourite superhero movies ever. The original Kick Ass was an absolute breath of fresh air never before seen in the superhero genre; it spawned a wave of copycat films and a dedicated cult following, thanks to its wonderful direction from Michael Vaughn, its heart-pumping soundtrack, and the added shock value of seeing an 11 year old girl say the C-word and then cut a drug dealer’s leg off. It was superhero but with a taste of cold reality, plus many moments of genuine laugh out loud comedy, making it a masterclass in pure entertainment. Kick Ass 2 should have followed in the same vein. Kick Ass 2 should have lived up to its predecessors name.  It didn’t, it doesn’t, and it is easily the most disappointing film of the year.

We kick off the action not long after the events of Kick Ass, where Hit Girl, aka Mindy McCready is struggling to adapt to a normal life where high school is her biggest enemy. Meanwhile, Kick Ass’ legacy has spawned a wave of costumed warriors taking to the street to dish out justice, including Jim Carrey taking on a role as Colonel Stars and Stripes (a part which led to him tweeting later that he could not support the level of violence in the movie). Against them is the teenage gangster Chris D’Amico, aka Red Mist, now reborn as “the world’s first super villain”, aptly named ‘The Motherfucker’. The plot is very generic, and very predictable; much like the first movie; what is sorely missing is the novelty, the shock value, and the laughs. Kick Ass 2 offers nothing new, and only ends up recycling set pieces from the original. The style and flair from the original is nowhere to be found here, and this could be largely down to a director change, which sees the original genius Michael Vaughn stepping down from the chair. The project was clearly doomed from thereon, as his successor, Jeff Wadlow, tries in vain to replicate and even copy the style of the first film, but it comes across as trying far too hard, which is in contrast to the original, where the director’s quirks and flairs were seamless and effortless. It all feels very bland and very lazy.

Jim Carrey provides the best performance of the film, brilliantly but only briefly providing some much needed humour and fun.

One major problem is the shift of focus from Kick Ass to Hit Girl, in which we see Mindy McCready try to adapt to high school life rather than kicking ass on the streets. However interesting these scenes are, they ultimately fall short in laughs and emotional involvement, mainly down to the script and direction, not Chloe Grace Moretz. The genius of her character in the original was the fact she was so well used in moderation. Short and sweet scenes defined her influence on the movie, which gave her the opportunity to steal the show and also not outstay her welcome. Within 20 minutes of Kick Ass 2 the character of Mindy McCready begins to grate and bore on the audience, and this isn’t helped by the absence of Nicholas Cage as ‘Big Daddy’, which Cage declined to reprise.  Another reason the film falls down so badly is the fact that the early moments of the movie show Kick Ass get trained to be a more competent warrior, but where is the fun in that? The best moments of Kick Ass were seeing him approach two muggers in a wetsuit, get stabbed, and then run over by a car. Making him a good superhero feels like a massive backwards step in its progress in bringing superheroes into the modern age. Kick Ass was the ultimate losers role model. He masterbates often and is bad with girls, and yet he puts on a wetsuit and tries to make a difference to the world. Making him extremely strong and skilled in martial arts makes him a lot more unrelatable, and therefore a whole lot more unlikeable. There is one scene reasonably late on in the film where the spirit and wonder of the original returns, where Hit Girl takes out a whole van of bad guys from the roof of a moving vehicle. Such style, such excitement! If only the majority of the film could bring back this sense of fun to the proceedings. The honest truth is that much of Kick Ass 2 is boring, uninteresting and unfunny.

It isn’t all doom and gloom for Kick Ass and friends. Jim Carrey is brilliant as the unhinged and hilarious Colonel Stars and Stripes, a performance only blighted through his comments afterwards, in which he was backed into a corner after a picture of his character was released in relation to his anti-gun campaign. That said, his character never uses real guns, and it is odd that Carrey felt the need to publicly address the film’s violence and distance himself from it. He could well be the best part of the film, ironically, as he brings a sense of fun and eccentrics which the rest of the cast is lacking. Kick Ass 2 isn’t a disaster; some of the action and humour does really work, but sadly this is a tiny majority compared to the original Kick Ass, and there isn’t really many good excuses on why this has fallen so short of its predecessors standards. It is very choppy in its editing, and none of it really feels like a complete film. Jumbled and extremely flawed, Kick Ass 2 is a lazy mess, and my disappointment is astronomical in scope. It just isn’t Kick Ass anymore.

Best Bit

The bad guys have kidnapped Kick Ass, blown up a cemetery, but where is Hit-Girl? She’s on the roof of their van as it’s travelling down the road. She reloads her gun, looks down and exclaims “Game on, cocksuckers”. For that one fleeting moment, the original Kick Ass returned to the big screen, and I loved it.

Worst Bit

The feeling of deflation and incredible disappointment. The violence feels nasty and is played too straight, instead of balancing in the middle of shocking and hilarious. The novelty and shock of characters such as Hit-Girl have gone, which leads to uninteresting sub plots involving their alter egos. None of it really adds up, and we are left with a poor excuse for a sequel.

Overall

Kick Ass 2 is a major disappointment to me personally, and any big fans of the original film will leave the cinema feeling utterly downhearted. The stories and the characters have lost a lot of their charm and their capacity to shock in the time between films, plus switching from a comedy with gore to a gore fest with a few funny lines never works out. It never really blends and gels as a movie, and as a result never really had me invested or gripped, however much I longed to be. It isn’t that bad an excuse for a summer blockbuster, but as a sequel to one of my favourite superhero movies of all time, this standard is blatantly unacceptable. Crushingly average.

2/5

Pacific Rim- The Review

As I was waiting for Pacific Rim to begin, the new blockbuster from Guillermo Del Toro, an advert for the film appeared on the screen, with an interview by him. In it, he stated how he wanted to create an incredible looking film, and created it not only to introduce this Japanese monster mythology to a new audience, but to blindly entertain anyone who went to see it. This short interview helped me out immensely when watching Pacific Rim; it settled me in, it relaxed me, and it told me not to take it too seriously. Thanks to this, I had a wonderful time. Huge robots smacked alien invaders in the face, Idris Elba did rousing speeches, and the floor vibrated with the incredible sound design and speakers that surrounded me in the IMAX theatre. Heart pounding and exciting, Pacific Rim is one of the most entertaining films of the year, but thanks to massive problems with the script and certain actors, it certainly isn’t one of the best.

In 2013, massive aliens named ‘the Kaiju’ came out of the sea and started laying waste to humanity, and unlike most monster movies, humanity fights back by building huge robots to fight them one on one. This leads to a war which changes the world forever, all explained in about five minutes through an ingeniously short prologue. Guillermo Del Toro doesn’t mess about in this aspect; within five minutes we are in the action in 2025, a full twelve years into the war. Earth has practically united as one nationality, with complete cooperation and equality proposed throughout the nations in an attempt to defeat the Kaiju. The war is going well: the huge robots (named ‘Jaegers’) are winning more often, and the pilots are treated like celebrities. However, the Kaiju attacks are stepping up in numbers and size, and the Government disbands the program. Undeterred, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) reforms the program on his own, determined to finish the war. It is a linear, cliched, and utterly predictable story, never really surprising the audience. You guess most of the plot points on your own, and this is quite a disappointment from a director of Guillermo Del Toro’s standard, after such high standards with his masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth, a tale so hauntingly beautiful in its execution and writing that this seems like a huge step down for the director. Then again, Pan’s Labyrinth didn’t have a huge robot smacking an alien in the face with a cargo ship, did it?

The action in Pacific Rim is stunning. Their is a wonderful feeling of weight as the battles take place, thanks to an amazing sound design and a precisely clunky manner to the fighting. Every punch and every kick is felt by the audience, and it really does make you feel like you’re there in the moment. This is exactly what Michael Bay’s Transformers series should have been: the battles in that are fast and fluid, overly smooth and incomprehensible to the viewers, making it ultimately unbelievable. Pacific Rim has battles where every punch takes an age to land, and when it does it explodes into the opponent with unimaginable force. What a wonderful job Del Toro has done in the directors chair, as not only is the weight and feel of these battles fantastic, but the colour and visual design of these scenes are among the most beautiful of this year. It looks like nothing else; light dazzles and shines through the smoke and rubble these almighty battles leave, and the slow pacing of the story is almost saved with an amazing futuristic design of Tokyo. The film cost $190 million, and it looks like every penny was spent wisely. The culmination of all these factors make the battle scenes of Pacific Rim an incredible experience (especially in IMAX 3D), and it possesses the best action of 2013. It would take quite an effort not to make robots fighting aliens awesome, but Guillermo Del Toro has propelled it to new heights of insanity and entertainment. Del Toro wanted to entertain and excite the audience, and in Pacific Rim he has outdone himself.

Del Toro has a wonderful appreciation for size, and the overwhelmingly big and incredibly small are often compared and contrasted.

It is to the films credit then, that through this wonderful spectacle, you forget that in terms of the plot and writing, Pacific Rim is an absolute shambles. Plot points are signposted thirty minutes in advance, character developments are told and then ignored later, and the acting is really poor in some cases. Guillermo Del Toro is a masterful storyteller, so it is surprising that he could not have given it a fresh element, a nice twist somewhere down the line, but nothing presents itself. Idris Elba is the shining light from an actor’s standpoint, but even he has his awkward and wooden moments, thanks again to the awful script. It grates all too much that the script is poor when the rest of the film is so good and so exciting, the contrast between the two elements of the film are obvious and impossible not to notice. There is a very good film struggling to develop itself in Pacific Rim, and instead of experiencing the perfect summer blockbuster, we have to deal with a heavily flawed but unbelievably fun and entertaining summer romp. If only it wasn’t such a missed opportunity. 

Best Bit 

Every battle between the Jaegers and the Kaiju are an absolute joy to behold. Through the wonderfully coloured streets and buildings of Tokyo these two monsters fight for the Earth, and it is phenomenal entertainment from Del Toro. The sound, the visual design, it is all immaculate and beautiful in its execution. Among the best cinema of 2013 so far.

Worst Bit 

The script is constantly tripping over itself in an attempt to juggle the many characters and story arcs that have been crammed in, and it ultimately fails as both a story for the audience and an opportunity for the actors. Although it always looks beautiful, sometimes the film bores and grates in certain scenes where the plot is being developed, as you wait and wait for the next gigantic robot to punch that massive alien. Due to this, Pacific Rim is ultimately a huge missed opportunity.

Overall

Thanks to a poor script and dodgy acting, Pacific Rim isn’t all it could have been. However, the incredible talent of Guillermo Del Toro eventually shines through, wonderfully directing the epic action scenes between humanity and the alien race. It is jumbled, it is a bit messy, and it has its moments of sluggish plotting; but when Pacific Rim gets into gear, it is a unique cinema experience. Pure entertainment, and the start of a very promising new franchise.

3/5