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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 19, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 29
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Back story - The Way Way Back is a perceptive summertime treat
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE WAY WAY BACK
Now showing


The Way Way Back is proof not all great movies have to feature the most original of ideas, concepts, or narratives. Nothing here is new: 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) is forced by his mother Pam (Toni Collette) to spend the summer with her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) at his beach house alongside his 17-year-old daughter Steph (Zoe Levin). Not fitting in, developing a crush on Steph's best friend (and his new next-door neighbor) Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), the introverted teen retreats to the local waterpark, inadvertently making friends with the manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell), who takes a leap of faith and gives the boy a job. As the summer progresses, Duncan discovers a newfound inner confidence and resilience, looking forward to the future in ways he can hardly comprehend.

In other words, we've seen this before. Numerous times. Again and again and again. From the time Andy Hardy first met Betsy, to Rudy learning to live life to its fullest from motormouthed camp counselor Tripper, a teen coming into his own during the hottest months of the year is a cinematic chestnut bordering on timeless. Heck, just this year we've already had The Kings of Summer tromping into the woods building a home of their own, while the somewhat similarly themed The Spectacular Now (admittedly not set during the summer, but that's a relatively minor detail) hits theaters next month.

Yet, here's the thing: Even though it's hardly original, even though writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (Oscar winners for The Descendants, both making their directorial debuts) have a crafted a script with few shocks, surprises, or twists, the movie is a heartfelt, emotionally honest stunner nonetheless. These characters are real, fully formed, and undeniably authentic - the way they mix, react, and intermingle is a generational saga viewers of just about every age can in some way relate to. Duncan's journey is one I was thrilled to be on, and when it ended I was sorry for the fade to black, wishing I could see what he and his mother were going to do next.

NOT JUST ABOUT THE KIDS
I think the greatest thing Faxon and Rash do is they don't forget about the adults, realizing that what is happening to them and the choices they are making are having just as great an impact upon Duncan and the rest of the kids as anything the teens themselves are doing. One part of the equation feeds directly into the other, the fact Susanna's seemingly gregarious and outspoken mother, Betty (Allison Janney), is hiding her own regrets and tragedies in a cocktail glass every bit as important as anything her kid chooses to do (or not do) with Steph out on the beach. The complex intricacies of the relationship between Trent and Pam speaks volumes, the former's masculine insecurities slowly coming to light while the latter sheds her own trepidations and anxieties as the summer slowly progresses.

But the focus is on Duncan and his maturation, which is exactly where it should be. He's the one coming of age, the kid gaining confidence in himself and his abilities as his days working alongside Owen and the rest of the waterpark crew pass. Hiding what he's doing from his mother, coming to terms with the fact the life he wants for the two of them will never be exactly how he dreamt it would be, and that his biological father isn't interested in bearing any of his parental responsibilities, the kid learns what it means to take charge of one's own life, grabbing the innertube by the handholds to go down the waterslide headfirst and without fear.

The entire cast is outstanding. Rockwell could play this kind of role in his sleep (and to say Owen isn't inspired at least in some small way by Bill Murray's scene-stealing role in Meatballs would have to be an out-and-out lie) and yet he makes the most of every scene and every moment, spitting his lines out with rhapsodic, sarcasm-laced conviction that's continually thrilling. Janney is also terrific, as is Collette, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, and Amanda Peet, each finding subtle nuances in their respective characters making them worthy of keeping an eye on. As for the kids, it goes without saying that Robb has grown into her own as an actress, the Bridge to Terabithia youngster showcasing delicately dexterous intricacies inside her performance I rarely saw coming.

CARELL AT HIS BEST
On the adult side of the equation, however, no one does more than Carell, the actor digging into his fortysomething, self-centered Lothario in ways that kept me off balance and continually intrigued. He doesn't hold back, fearlessly showcasing Trent's darker sides in a way that's honestly brutal and poignantly tragic. You get the feeling he really is trying, does want to make his romance with Pam work out, an inability to hold his selfish needs in check and let his amorous longings subside an internal failing that could wreck any chance he has to be the type of father and/or husband his own daughter could potentially be proud of. He's outstanding, maybe a career-best performance (I loved him in both Little Miss Sunshine and Dan in Real Life, so I reserve the right to change my mind), and without a doubt this is a supporting turn Oscar might feel the need to remember when 2013 comes to a close.

Then there is James. Perhaps best known for playing Mireille Enos' emotionally crippled son Jack on the AMC show 'The Killing,' the young actor dominates in ways I could barely believe. This is a magnificently multifaceted performance, Duncan's dimensionality an ever-shifting quagmire of regrets, despair, joys, dreams, tragedies, enthusiasms, failures, and successes that I could relate to every step of the way. He disappears inside the role, vanishing entirely, and without a doubt seeing what he was going to do next was the chief facet that kept me watching even if I knew deep down in my heart of hearts exactly where all of this was undoubtedly going to end up.

That is something of a problem - I can't fudge things as far as that goes. Faxon and Rash have made a film that fits snugly inside the teenage coming-of-age paradigm and doesn't seem interested in bursting outside of that particular genre box very often. Yet that's OK. When the writing is this smart, the direction this solid, and the acting this outstanding, I don't really care that I've seen much of what this story has to offer a handful of times before. The Way Way Back proves that a familiar story, in the hands of great filmmakers confident in their abilities (as well as in the talented team they've assembled to assist them), can still be worthwhile. This movie is wonderful, and while the truths it revels in may not be new, that doesn't make them any less compelling or, for that matter, universal.


A snail of a tale - Warmhearted Turbo runs an imaginative race
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer
Turbo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), otherwise known as Theo to his well-meaning, mild-mannered brother Chet (Paul Giamatti), is a run-of-the-mill garden snail who dreams of living life in the fast lane. Literally. He's obsessed with NASCAR and Indy racing. He idolizes Indy 500 champion Guy Gagné (Bill Hader) and has his own 36-inch-long custom 'track' he trains on nightly (personal best: 17 minutes). In other words, his ambitions are lofty, and not exactly typical for a minuscule mollusk.
Through a series of events too crazy to recount, Turbo finds himself bathed in a sea of nitrous oxide, granting him unbelievable super powers the likes of which no one would ever believe. No one, that is, save kindhearted Tito (Michael Peña). Working in a rundown Los Angeles strip mall, the outgoing taco-truck driver comes up with an incredible plan to save the dilapidated businesses of his friends - and make his wunderkind Mexican chef older brother, Angelo (Luis Guzmán), a star in the process. He's going to enter Turbo in the Indy 500, the incredibly fast supersnail sure to be a sensation that will make his dreams come instantly true.
So, yeah, it kind of goes without saying that the new DreamWorks animated adventure Turbo, written by Darren Lemke (Jack the Giant Slayer), Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler), and David Soren (who also directs), isn't exactly plausible. It's a fantastical tale that stretches plausibility past its breaking point, requiring such a gigantic leap of faith it's safe to say there will be plenty of audience members unwilling or unable to accept anything that happens within the confines of the story being told. Even for CG-animated kids' fare this has a premise that had me rolling my eyes long before I entered the theater, the obnoxious and overbearing trailers certainly not going far to convince me I had anything of merit to be looking forward to seeing.
A HAPPY SURPRISE
I love it when I'm wrong - when a film such as this doesn't just surprise me, but at times even goes so far as to wow. Truth is, while Turbo has its problems, while it's far from perfect, while the sight of a snail racing against actual Indy motor cars is as farfetched as anything I've laid eyes on this summer (and that includes the Kaijus and Jaegers battling it out in Hong Kong, Johnny Depp with a crow on his head, and Zachary Quinto doing his best William Shatner impersonation), the movie is nonetheless a good one, at times even very good. By keeping things simple while staying true to its central cadre of characters (namely Turbo, Chet, and Tito), and by allowing things to go quiet, be subtle, and let the inherent emotional potency of the story speak for itself, Turbo gave me much to enjoy, and I walked out of the theater far happier and in much better spirits than I anticipated before walking in.
It helps that the two dueling-brothers subplots are handled with restrained authenticity, Tito and Angelo's interactions and conversations almost every bit as important as the ones taking place between Turbo and Chet. There are wise words spoken, brave ideas broached, and wondrous dreams of friendship, camaraderie, and familial bonding aspired to. While there are some acts of brazen selfishness, even those are framed from a place of love and understanding - the ones taking the leap do so not just for themselves but for those they care about. Great life lessons can be drawn from all that transpires, in particular the idea that being the biggest, the strongest, the prettiest, or the fastest isn't what matters or is necessary to come out on top. In other words, hard work pays off, an always-great axiom no matter how you slice it.
SOME QUIBBLES
The movie can get a little obnoxious - that probably goes without saying - and while there's some interesting vocal work by the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Richard Jenkins, Maya Rudolph, Michelle Rodriguez, Ben Schwartz, and Michael Patrick Bell, I can't say any of them have been given enough to do in order to stand out. Additionally, the byplay between Turbo and Gagné is far too predictable, and part of me would have loved it had the film not turned the veteran Indy driver into a self-centered villain and just kept him the elite-level athlete he's depicted as early on.
The weird thing is that none of these are big problems. The movie is so light on its feet, so narratively nimble, a lot of these missteps don't feel as egregious or as upsetting as they otherwise might. Additionally, there are some great sight gags sprinkled throughout, not the least of which are running jokes regarding crows, while Ken Jeong of all people, an actor I usually loathe, pops up in a supporting role so endearingly funny I almost (emphasis on almost) yearned for more screen time for his character. Turbo works, surprisingly so, its contest of brotherly love and understanding a warmhearted race where those watching the spectacle end up the biggest winners of all.






Rhythm and Rimes: Country megastar is no stranger to Seattle - or to Gay culture
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Go red! - Gaysha Starr returns to Seattle for Red Dress Party
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Requiem for an ally - Glee's Cory Monteith dies of overdose at 31
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Macklemore & Lewis add third show
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Jimmy Eat World devours Seattle
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Barenboim's brilliant Bruckner - A new challenge and a dream come true
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Shakespeare light - Taproot's musical Illyria is a perfect summer concoction
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Manic recession - Intiman's play about economic injustice is long on laughs but short on politics
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Frankly, my dear ... Vegas drag star Frank Marino gets engaged onstage
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Back story - The Way Way Back is a perceptive summertime treat
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A snail of a tale - Warmhearted Turbo runs an imaginative race
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Northwest News
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Letters
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The thrill of the haunt - Innervating Conjuring is an unsettling supernatural thriller
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Beyond Boys - The evolution of LGBT imagery in pop culture reflects our success
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Parsons, Quinto, Lynch, Liberace movie lead LGBT contingent of Emmy nominees
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