The Way, Way Back (2013)


Directed by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Written by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring: Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph and Liam James.

The Oscar-winning duo that brought us The Descendants make their directorial debut with The Way, Way Back a coming-of-age story set in a summer beach town about a 14 year old boy’s quest to build confidence and find a sense of belonging and trust.  The movie is funny, sweet and brimming with nostalgia. As A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote: “Its situations and feelings seem drawn more from available, sentimental ideas about adolescence than from the perceptions of any particular adolescent,” which, while true, doesn’t account for the endearing performances that give the movie a sense of uniqueness.

What I liked:  Strong direction and heartfelt performances are what make this film work.  Each character, no matter their screen time, offers a sense of depth that carries the emotion of the film, starting with Liam James whose awkward and introverted performance is spot on and a testament to the 17 year old’s acting chops.  Seasoned vets, Alison Janney and Sam Rockwell provide all the rich humour of the film from their first seconds on screen.  In fact, Janney’s introduction is one of the funniest and most effective I’ve seen in a while, not to mention her off-colour relationship with her son; and Rockwell, flighty and flawed, provides the film’s best dialogue.  Maya Rudolf, Steve Carrell, Amanda Peet and Toni Collette round out a stellar cast that works in harmony, even when they are at odds with each other.

What I didn’t like:  This movie has been on my watch list since it was released this past summer.  Happily, the movie didn’t disappoint despite a routine premise and narrative that has been done many times before.  The good news is that the writing is strong enough to make an oft-told framework successful and entertaining despite a predictable finish.

My rating:  I want Allison Janney to be my neighbour and Sam Rockwell to be my boss.

My IMDb  Rating:  8/10     tomato: 85%


The Impossible (2012)


Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona
Written by: Sergio G. Sánchez (screenplay), María Belón (story)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewen McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress (Naomi Watts)

I have included this in my Oscar list because a) Naomi Watts is one of my favourite actresses and her performance in this movie puts her at the top of my list of hopeful winners and b) how this movie was overlooked for editing or cinematography for the tsunami scene alone is beyond me.  The story, based on the real events of a family ravaged by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (one of the worst on record) while on vacation in Thailand is horrifying in its gritty camerawork and devastating in its performances.

What I liked: Naomi Watts is sensational as the mother desperately trying to stay alive for her family. Though I tried, I couldn’t help but feel her pain both physically and emotionally.  The performances overall are convincing enough to hold the movie together as, aside from the exceptional and harrowing tsunami scene and the core emotion and sense of loss, there isn’t much in the way of plot to move it forward.

What I didn’t like:  Critiquing this movie almost feels like criticizing actual victims of this horror which is awkward but, no matter how true, I did feel that Bayona pushed a little too hard to deliver the blood and gore reality that goes along with a natural disaster, excessively so.  On the other hand, this could also be a testament to the movie’s realism.  I can see why critics didn’t gush over it but I’m also a little surprised by their reserve.  Granted the movie may rely on the fact that it is based on a true story but this family’s nightmare stays with you even after it’s over.

My rating:  Enjoy it for its triumphant truth.

IMDB: 7.6

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%

Something I try to avoid but couldn’t resist:  For those of you who have no interest in seeing a disaster drama, I highly recommend this incredible scene which is worth the price of admission alone.

Video courtesy of Pantherapardus2012

Shameless (2011- )

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Created by: Paul Abbott
Starring: William H. Macy, Emmy Rossum, Cameron Monaghan, Ethan Cutkosky, Justin Chatwin, Shanola Hampton, Steve Howey, Emma Kenney, Jeremy Allen White, Laura Wiggins and Joan Cusack

Only during my research for this post did I discover that this Showtime drama is based on a long-standing, award-winning drama of the same name created in Britain in 2004. While IMDB gives the American version a higher rating, I came across some disgruntled fans of the original that made note of the shortcomings of the American remake.  Thankfully, I have not seen the British version and can therefore only comment on the American one.

The show is, well, utterly ‘shameless’.  As we welcome the ne’er-do-well Gallaghers into our homes we are confronted with drug abuse, alcoholism, full nudity, feral sex and comic brutality as Fiona Gallagher, Frank’s eldest daughter, attempts to raise all five of Frank’s children and Frank himself.  There are a cast of characters including the six Gallagher children, sex-addicted neighbours, an agoraphobic adulterer, troubled teens, some closeted gay men, a few criminals, some very disturbed children and Frank Gallagher, the supposed patriarch and raging narcissist.  The camera abandons no one, even if they all abandon each other.

What I like: The show makes me cringe, laugh, cry, gasp and watch, eager for more.  Each character has a fully developed personality and contributes to the whole mess with force and impact in a short time.  I like and dislike everyone almost equally which is both a testament to the writing and to the acting.  The cast is top-notch, starting with William H. Macy who is brilliant as Frank Gallagher, soaked in alcohol and always ready to preach; Emmy Rossum, who plays the burdened Fiona with subtle charm and deep sadness but no elegance; and Joan Cusack, whose neurosis and sexual preferences will have you both wincing and howling; and that is only a few of the characters I have grown to love.

What I dislike: The fact that no one seems to notice the sociopath in their midst and what’s worse I still laugh.

My rating: Count how many times you exclaim to yourself: “My God. They’re shameless!”

IMDB: 8.5

Metacritic: 66%

Season Three Premiere: Sunday, January 13th at 9pm on Showtime

City Island (2009)

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Director: Raymond De Felitta
Writer: Raymond De Felitta
Starring: Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Emily Mortimer, Steven Strait, Ezra Miller & Dominik García-Lorido.

It’s always a pleasure to come across a movie I have never heard of, never read a review and can therefore approach it with zero expectations, other than a verbal recommendation.  That was the case with Raymond De Felitta’s gem, City Island, about a dysfunctional family whose patriach, a corrections officer and aspiring actor, who brings home a convicted criminal to atone for his past.

What I liked: De Felitta’s attention to character detail.  Even if, at times, those details seem to overreach there is something charming and realistic in the execution.  It is one of those stories that is so over the top it just might be true.  Andy Garcia’s performance is charming, sympathetic and authentic.  It is nice to see him carry an every-man with grace and humility.  It is also nice to see Julianna Margulies outside her comfort zone and she does well disguising herself in this role as a woman who feels she’s losing her husband.

What I didn’t like: Emily Mortimer’s Molly is, I imagine intentionally, kept at a distance in order to guide our sympathies but I often found her unlikeable.  The climax is formulaic to family dramas but, again, the execution made it cathartic and endearing.

My rating: Enjoy.

Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
IMDB: 7.4