THE WAY WAY BACK

The “coming of age” movie has been done to death. This summer there have been at least two of note.. “The Spectacular Now” and “The Way Way Back.” In an effort to find a new way to tell the story filmmakers have gone to extremes of outrageousness of sex or violence or sexy violence or violent sexiness. Sometimes, it is best to just find a good story, a great cast and just let them do what they do best. That is the category where you will find “The Way Way Back”.
Liam James (“The Killing”) is Duncan. He’s about 14 and his Mom, Toni Collette is dating Steve Carell. They travel to Carell’s beach house for the summer with his self-involved daughter, trying to make the family dynamic work. One problem. Carell is just a jerk. He is demeaning to Duncan telling him he’s a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. He bosses Duncan around and talks to him like he’s about 5-years old. Duncan is introverted and simply takes it or just runs away and hides. Carell, who usually plays the “nice guy”, really sells it. You find yourself really hating him as the movie goes along.
This is looking like a pretty awful summer until Duncan finds a bike and pedals to the local water park which is managed by Owen (Sam Rockwell). Rockwell’s Owen is a modern version of Bill Murray’s Tripper from “Meatballs”. He’s an adult in age only, is quick with a wisecrack or a joke and seems to just want to exist as the manager of a water park. Duncan gets a job at Water Whizz (yeah, they actually named it that), and seems to be finding himself, breaking out of his shell and learning how to check out girls butts on the water slide (not an unimportant skill to a 14-year old or someone with the emotional maturity of a 14-year old). Rockwell is absolutely great. He is all smirks, one liners. But his character, unlike Murray’s, actually exhibits a modicum of growth. He truly becomes Duncan’s role model.
Back at Carell’s house, he is introducing Collette to his circle of summer friends. The outrageously funny Allison Janney, the jealous party girl Amanda Peet and her husband Rob Corddry who doesn’t seem to have a clue that she’ll screw anything that moves. Janney is hysterical. Her character, Betty is the mother of two, but she seems to be the ultimate party girl. The adult behavior in this movie is best described by her daughter (AnnaSophia Robb): The grown up version of spring break.
There are the predictable reveals about Carell’s lecherousness and a cute summer romance. But James wonderful performance makes you care about Duncan. You don’t feel like he’s a loser. You feel like he’s the only adult in this whole mess of immaturity. He just needs to find someone to bring him out of his shell. The movie is touching and funny. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash wrote and directed the film and hit all the notes perfectly. It could have been sentimental drivel, but the smart dialogue and the wonderful performances by everyone make “The Way Way Back” a summer movie not to be missed. — Alan Yudman

ELYSIUM

You want to know the danger of expectations? The danger of expectations is they can really mess with your head and your love. Here’s what I mean. In 2009 Neil Blomkamp made a low-ish budget sci-fi movie called DISTRICT 9. It was fantastic. It was nominated for Best Picture. It was one of my favorite movies of 2009. So, it took him four years (and one presumes a lot more money) to make another. That movie is ELYSIUM. I wanted to love ELYSIUM as much as I loved DISTRICT 9. I wanted it to be better. Well, you don’t always get what you want (sorry Mick and Keith). It’s not that ELYSIUM is bad. It’s actually quite good. It has a lot going for it. Blomkamp put the extra bucks into his cast and effects. There are some really cool toys. It’s only 97 minutes and maybe it could have been longer. Give the audience a chance to catch up or explain things a little better. The story is about (and yes here we go again) a dystopian earth of the future where the healthy and fortunate (and French speaking) live on an orbiting space station called ELYSIUM (in mythology it’s a vision of the afterlife) where people are cured just by lying in a special bed. The dirty, criminal and sick (and Spanish speakers) live on Earth. Everyone wants to get to ELYSIUM, and not everyone can. Matt Damon is a reforming thief who get irradiated at work and only has 5 days to live. He enlists his former crime buddies to help him get there and they fit him with an exo-suit and a mission. Steal what’s in billionaire whiz William Fichtner head so everyone can get to paradise. It all goes wrong, Fichtner dies (as he does in almost every movie) and Damon is forced to improvise to save himself, his childhood girlfriend and her daughter. Damon is solid. Sharlto Copley is pretty good as a psychotic villain. The major problem here is Jodie Foster. She is absolutely horrible. Her French accent appears and disappears in a Costner-esque fashion. She overacts everything. Yeah, I get it she’s playing a Dick Cheney/Donald Rumsfeld character so that needs to be a little over the top. But this is a masterclass in one performance ruining a decent movie. Paradise for me would be a remake without Jodie Foster. But that won’t happen, so we’ll all have to just suffer her performance while trying to enjoy a good story. My expectations were high, and sadly they were not realized. — Alan Yudman

Good science fiction can create a world that is both entertaining and thought provoking. “District 9” did it on the big screen. “Battlestar Galactica” nailed it on the small screen. “Elysium” belongs on the Sci Fi Channel, right after “Sharknado”. This is an absolute train wreck. Matt Damon does what he can with a horrible script, the story is sledgehammer subtle with it’s views on immigration (99% of the world lives on Earth, speak Spanish, and are sick while Elysium is inhabited by mostly white folks drinking champagne and getting groundbreaking health care.) They suit Damon up in a RoboCop type of suit and then have him shoot guns and run around for an hour and a half…but no fighting till the final few minutes. Oh yeah, there’s also a love story. Action scenes are boring, dramatic scenes are obvious, a simple story is made more complicated just because, did I mention I hated this movie?

Stormy Curry