Friday, July 04, 2014

Seen in June, 2014 

scene from Her, image via Wired

The summer is in full force here in Toronto (unequivocally, a full frontal assault, you might say) so where are all the summer movies? I feel like I've been watching a lot of television. Oh wait. The World Cup. Okay that makes sense. TV always on - but watching grown men chase a ball around a field. Here's what I did see.

I’m So Excited
Usually I'd be so excited to see a Pedro Almodóvar comedy about a disparate group of passengers aboard a plane that may crash land due to a stuck landing gear, but I have to say, I wasn't that excited and wouldn't recommend a film named for a disco song used as a musical number during the film that otherwise has nothing more to do with the story.

Our Idiot Brother
How or why do I keep watching Paul Rudd films? You can never be sure if Rudd is being sincere or satirizing the very character he is playing. In this film, Rudd plays Ned, a stoner idealist who is simply out of place in the modern world. Ned is surrounded by three more successful and ambitious sisters who while trying to help their brother never really realize he doesn't need changing but just needs to find a place where his naive kindness isn't a liability. So basically nowhere – there is nowhere left in the world where being nice and honest is an asset. Also, don't bother with this very uneven film (uneven because it has laugh-out-loud moments with Steve Coogan and Rudd together followed by scenes that are akwardly bad and flat).

The winner of the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Rightfully so. This is a near future piece of science fiction. There's no unexplainable time travel or space flights or hover cars or even hovering skateboards, just a lonely guy who falls in love with his operating system. I wouldn't be surprised if this film was inspired by simply watching how many of us appear to be in love with our phones. Our protagonist, Theodore, writes correspondence for other people. Not e-mails but "real" letters. His mastery of this form has not helped him overcome his own lonely existence. Recently separated and delaying signing his divorce papers, his ex-wife accuses him of not being able to “connect emotionally”, which I’m guessing, many men are accused of. Speaking from experience, I think it would be easy to just coast through your days with electronic correspondence as your only contact with other people and who wouldn't fall in love with a computer who sounded like Scarlett Johansson? There's so much to this movie that goes beyond its premise and plot, it can’t be easily explained. On a side note, much has been written about the interaction design in this film, which is to say, the lack of interaction design. As someone who works in this field, I can say a lot, and I mean a lot of concepts start out this simple but it’s very hard to see ideas like that through. To anyone who uses a smartphone knows, applications are getting simpler and sparser all the time so the technology of this film seems realistic and reminds me of an episode of the BBC series Black Mirror I can't predict the future but I'm pretty sure this film will be studied by students of tomorrow wishing to learn the zeitgeist of our times. They will find it in our devices and how we bonded with them instead of each other.

The Impostors
A 1930s style madcap comedy romp of two actors who are on the lam and end up as stowaways on a luxury cruise ship that harbours grifters, heiresses, suicidal entertainers and communist (?) saboteurs. Fun for the whole family. In other words you can watch it with your folks though the kids will be fast asleep. The problem is that this film wants to be much more madcap than it is. It never really has the pace or verve of one of those period comedies. Though it is fascinating how many recognizable faces Stanely Tucci convinced to be in this including: Oliver Platt, Alfred Molina, Lilli Taylor, Tony Shalhoub, Steve Buscemi, Allison Janey, Richard Jenkins, Isabella Rossellini, Campbell Scott, Billy Connolly and Woody Allen.

Wet Hot American Summer
Yet another Paul Rudd film - okay, he's only one of a cast that includes Janeane Garofolo, David Hyde Pierce, Christopher Meloni, Molly Shannon, Elizabeth Banks, Amy Poehler and Bradley Cooper. With a cast like that how can you go wrong? Well, the whole thing is wrong actually. It's a set-up, a send-up and a joke. This film is a satire and parody of every crazy summer camp movie ever made from Porky's to Meatballs and every stop inbetween. While it accurately tromps over all the summer camp tropes, there's only so far the idea goes before you weary of the concept. It almost dosen't go far enough to be seen as absurd satire rather than simple satire.

Kings of Summer produced better posters than moments unfortunately, image via Sugar Bush Design

The Kings of Summer
This is another typical summer adolescent movie theme – teens alienated from their parents strike out on their own with an exceptionally eccentric friend but a beautiful girl heaves the friendship apart. Two friends, Joe and Patrick, both 15, are hanging out in the nexus of being too young to really have summer jobs but too old to even like their parents, never mind want to spend time with them. Joe concocts a plan to build a house in the woods and live there until either their meagre money runs out or they learn to provide for themselves. After carrying out their plan, their parents go to the authourities to help search for the boys. All is well in an utopic “Lord of the Flies” kind of way for a couple of weeks, until Joe can't help himself and tells his crush, the lovely Kelly, just where he and Patrick have disappeared to. Kelly, all blond and summer wonderful, unfortunately is drawn to Patrick. The betrayal and heartbreak tear apart the friendships in a predictable way. In the end, a tragic turn of events bring things to a conclusion where we surmise all the strains on the ropes have made the knotty relationships grow tighter. It's a well made film of a recognizable pattern but with more interesting, respectful and realistic characters than often seen in these kind of stories.

Edge of Tomorrow
The worst case of Groundhog's Day you'll ever have. Tom Cruise plays Major/Private Cage in a futuristic war except, through a turn of unexplainable plot events, he dies during an unwinnable beach invasion, only to begin his day all over again so that he's fighting the same losing battle over and over. Luckily, the beautiful and badass Emily Blunt will be his guide through one of the strangest and surreal "Tom Cruise fights aliens to save the planet" vehicles you'll ever see. Lucky for us, the talented director Doug Liman is our guide. Seeing the ads for this movie, I rolled my eyes thinking, "Not another Tom Cruise saves the world movie." but in the heat of a summer day, you long for A/C more than anything else... but this is actually a really good movie. A little like 12 Monkeys or a grueling version of Groundhog Day but played out with all the weirdness of a Japanese monster movie. While the ending sort of/definitely seems to have messed up the time loop idea they were playing with, the film satisfies. Cruise is so comfortable in this kind of role it feels like well worn ground, but Blunt surprises as the taciturn, determined and unromantic soldier. There's not a lot of chemsitry between the two leads but that seems intentional, after all, it's Cruise's character that is repeating every day with Blunt, but her character has only known him for a few hours (it's just how this time resetting thing works okay). Trust me, it's worth seeing but the aliens are scary as hell so definitely not for kids.

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