Commentary

August 2, 2013

Fly Over: ‘The Way Way Back’, and ‘The Wolverine’

The-Way-Way-back

‘The Way Way Back’

I didn’t like “The Way Way Back,” but in all fairness, I’m not the intended audience for this film. I like serious movies for adults, usually of the R-rated variety, and I often prefer those that explore the dark, violent side of human nature. This is not one of those movies by a long shot. So in all honesty, I may not be the best critic to judge “The Way Way Back.”
But just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean you won’t. With an 83 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s doing well with the critics, and it’s doing OK at the box office for being a low-budget film. In its fourth week in theaters, it finished at number 11, grossing just $3.3 million (compared to “The Wolverine” at the top of the charts with $55 million), but it also played in far fewer theaters (886, compared to 3,924). It’s slightly outperforming “Grown Ups 2,” Adam Sandler’s latest cat turd on a hot hibachi, in earnings per theater, but not quite as strong as “Despicable Me 2,” another movie I have no desire to see (but again, not in my wheelhouse).
“The Way Way Back,” written and directed by Fat Nixon and Jim Rash, stars Liam James as the 14-year-old protagonist, Duncan. Some readers may recognize James as Bobber Burton from the TV movie “Christmas Comes Home to Canaan.” (Actually, strike that, nobody saw that movie … or watches The Hallmark Channel.)
Duncan is the painfully awkward teenager who accompanies his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), his mother’s boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell of “The Office” television series and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”), and Trent’s daughter, Steph, to Trent’s New England beach house for the summer.
In a telling scene in the car ride there, Trent asks Duncan what he considers himself on a scale of 1 to 10. After prying an answer out of him (a “6”), Trent tells the shy, sensitive teen he thinks he’s more of a 3. The exchange sets the tone for their relationship for the summer.
When they arrive at the beach house, they meet the neighbors, alcoholic but outgoing Betty and her children, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) and Peter. That night, Trent’s friends Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet), come over for dinner, boozing, and storytelling, while Duncan slinks off to avoid the adult antics.
After a fitful start to the summer, Duncan hits it off with the neighbor girl, Susanna, and trouble brews between Trent and Pam. Duncan finds a job at the local water park, Water Wizz, and befriends the owner, Owen (Sam Rockwell, who used to be one of my favorite actors until a series of disappointing performances after 2002’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”). The extent of the 35-year old man’s interest in the 14-year-old Duncan apparently didn’t seem to trouble anyone other than this viewer.
The writing, while sometimes cliqued, is for the most part decent. The writers, Nixon and Rash, are not hacks – along with Alexander Payne, they co-wrote the screenplay for “The Descendants,” an outstanding film which won an Oscar in 2012 for best adapted screenplay.
Ultimately, despite a nice out-of-character turn by Steve Carell, I found this coming-of-age story utterly predictable and trite. Anthony Lane of The New Yorker observes that “once again, the oppressed American teenager lopes and shuffles to center stage, there to display his woes.” And as Tom Long of the Detroit News quips, “Waterslides and infidelity just don’t go together.”
But then again, maybe you’ll see it more like Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who says the film is “a nifty blend of humor, heart and drama.”
At any rate, now you’ll know what you’re getting into.
“The Way Way Back” is rated PG-13.

 

The-Wolverine-Poster

‘The Wolverine’

As shocking as it may sound, superhero movies have become a big hit in recent years thanks in part to the beginning of the shared Marvel universe. It’s an awesome concept and has been well executed so far, but not every Marvel property is in on the fun thanks to some corporate issues that make comic fans angry just thinking about it. Thus, the “X-Men” franchise is kind of left to create its own shared universe. It hasn’t been working out for them. This latest attempt, dubbed “The Wolverine,” is a step in the right direction; however, even it could have been executed better.
Logan, a.k.a Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), has returned to his drifter ways after the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand” when he is approached by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), the apprentice to a successful, yet dying businessman whom Logan saved during World War II. The man, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) invites Logan to Japan so that he can say goodbye but also offer him a chance to trade away his immortal mutation so that he can finally have a real life. Logan finds that there is more at stake, however, than his own life.
I know a few comic book fans who absolutely do not like where the films have been taking “The X-Men,” and those that had a problem with some of the artistic licenses surrounding the character of Wolverine will probably not change their minds here. Just going off of the movies, however, “The Wolverine” actually serves as a pretty good sequel/spin-off. I didn’t notice any inconsistencies with previous installments, unlike “X-Men: Origins” and “First Class,” and the fact that it follows only one major character helps the film be more focused and personal. The film definitely could have used a more intimidating main antagonist, however, as the climactic battle lacked urgency.
One major complaint I’ve always heard about “Wolverine” in these movies is that they made him too soft. While Hugh Jackman still keeps some of that going, he is much more vicious and aggressive in “The Wolverine” than before, and I would not have a problem with him continuing with the role in future films.
Rila Fukushima does a good job as well, and Tao Okamoto as Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko served as a nice contrast to Hugh Jackman. The rest of the important cast members were either uninteresting or simply bad. Svetlana Khodchenkova was among the latter as the mutant Viper, though I’m fairly sure they had all her lines redubbed in post-production.
Some of the special effects were a little behind some of today’s blockbusters, but for the most part they were fine. Frankly, I’m just happy they made Wolverine’s claws look real; I still cringe when I think of the bathroom scene in “X-Men: Origins.”
I applaud the script’s good sense in avoiding an over-abundance of cameos that some of the other film’s suffered from, and despite my dislike of the climax the film was well-paced. But even though it won’t be as traumatic to comic fans as the infamous Mandarin reveal in “Iron Man 3,” some might be upset with the change regarding the character Silver Samurai. This change also shows how unnecessarily complicated the villain’s plan was.
While some comic fans will most likely be disappointed, “The Wolverine” shows there is still an attempt to improve and keep “X-Men” up on its own … even though many just want Hollywood to get along and make Marvel whole.
“Although its final act succumbs to the usual cartoonish antics, ‘The Wolverine’ is one superhero movie that manages to stay true to the comics while keeping casual viewers entertained.”
Rotten Tomatoes




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