By Robin E. Simmons



Way Back


Fourteen year-old Duncan (Liam James) is trapped. His absent dad doesn’t want him around and he’s forced to spend his summer vacation with his divorced mom (Toni Colette) and Trent (Steve Carell), her arrogant, overbearing new boy friend and his daughter snotty teen daughter. In the car, on the way to Trent’s summer family gathering place, the first thing Trent says to Duncan is: “Tell me Duncan, on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate yourself? Duncan, in the back seat, considers this for a moment, finally squeaks out, “Six.” Trent says, “Six? I’d say you’re a three.” Pretty painful stuff. And when they reach their destination, the family humiliation just piles up, until Duncan sneaks a job at Water Wizz Park and finds an unexpected friendship with Owen (Sam Rockwell), one of the managers. This wonderful coming of age fable is devoid of sex but rich with the human foibles of discovering yourself and finding a place in the wider world. In finding himself, Duncan gets his first kiss and rescues his mom from Trent.

In a terrific conversation last Saturday after a screening of THE WAY, WAY BACK at Cinemas Palme d’Or, our favorite local theater, Steve Mason, one of the owners, held a lively, extended discussion with co-writer and co-director Jim Rash. (It’s a shame these terrific open discussions are not recorded and preserved for all to access and enjoy on Palme d’Or’s website). Rash recounted that the actual conversation that opens the movie was what his stepfather said to him on a family vacation to Michigan. Rash didn’t offer if his stepfather is still alive or if he’s seen the film or knows of Rash’s success. Talk about having the last laugh. (He’s an Academy Award winning screenwriter for THE DESECENDANTS and of course is known for his character on TV’s “Community.” The film has received terrific reviews and great word of mouth. It was shot in 20 days for under $5 million. It’s nice to see Carell playing a decidedly darker character than his sometimes-tiresome comic personae and of course Sam Rockwell is always a delight to watch in any of his chameleon roles. Clearly, for all concerned in front of and behind the camera, above and below the line, thus was a labor of love where the material and not the budget was the attraction for the talent. And the proof, as if we need it, is on the screen. It doesn’t take $250 million and tons of computer effects to entertain. All that’s required is a solid, well-told story that everyone, young or old, can relate to.
Now playing at Cinemas Palme d’Or. Recommended.

Way Back2

For those interested, here are more filmmaker or actor conversations coming up at Palme d’Or.

Saturday, August 24
Meet the Filmmaker: Dan Mirvish
Following the 7:00pm screening of BETWEEN US.

Friday, August 30
Meet the Filmmaker: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Following the 6:30pm screening of BLACKFISH.

Saturday, August 31
Meet the Star: Richmond Arquette
Following the 6:45pm screening of THIS IS MARTIN BONNER.

Sunday, September 1
Meet the Filmmaker: Ron Frank
Following the 4:30pm screening of WHEN COMEDY WENT TO SCHOOL.


Poster-Kick Ass 2
Three years ago, I loved the first KICK ASS. Matthew Vaughn’s movie was over the top, shocking and violent, but true to its sardonic comic source and sensibility. And of course it was fascinating to see the precocious Chloë Grace Moretz, a big star in the making, do her exuberant, unfiltered thing. She totally got her character. The Jeff Wadlow follow-up film is not necessary.

KA2 is an unpleasant mix of silly and brutality. It wishes to be both a condemnation and celebration of bloody violence and fails on both counts. Kick Ass himself is again played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, a young actor totally devoid of charisma. It worked in the first movie, but not so much in this painful sequel that mainly gives Jim Carrey an opportunity to put on yet another face. Now playing.

Carrey-Kick Ass2



Devils Backbone
Guillermo del Toro’s creepy and politicized 2001 ghost story gets a hi-def 2K digital restoration. Set during the last week of the Spanish Civil War, the emotionally layered story is about a twelve year-old boy who, when his freedom-fighter father is killed, is sent to a haunted rural orphanage full of shocking and horrendous secrets. Del Toro always reminds us that the most terrifying monsters are always human. This masterpiece that blends a murder mystery, gothic horror and historical drama is loaded with generous extras and deleted scenes. The audio commentary featuring Del Toro is astute and fascinating. Recommended. In Spanish with English subtitles. Criterion. Blu-ray.


The name is synonymous with epic, costly failure. And that is unfortunate because Elaine May’s mostly unseen film is a brilliant comic gem about the blinding madness of two misbegotten souls Chuck Rogers and Lyle Rogers (Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty) who are riding a crazed creative wave of song-writing ineptitude. The story of Rogers and Clark is as much about the innate need to share a creative vision as it is about the lengths we go to find some kind of validation to dispel the loneliness and angst of existence. I am surprised that considering all the previous false announcements of a home theater digital release, and after this very long delay, there is till no commentary from May, Hoffman and Beatty. Oh what a treasure that would be. Even so, this notorious film that was originally and unfairly dissed in the press before its release (because of indulgent spending), is not to be missed. The not so sly references to militarism and our presence in the mid-East are weirdly relevant in unintentional ways. But by any standard, Folie à deux has never been funnier. Recommended. Sony. Blu-ray.


Kon Tiki
Based on the incredible adventure of Thor Heyerdahl portrayed by Pal Hagen), KON TIKI is the tale of a Norwegian explorer in 1947 who embarks on the voyage of a lifetime to prove a point. When the scientific community rejects his theory (was it Mormon based pseudo history?) that South Americans were the first to settle in the Polynesian Islands, Heyerdahl is more determined than ever to prove its validity – and save his reputation – by embarking on the voyage himself. Recruiting a group of five men who are just as bold – or crazy – to tackle the seemingly impossible trip, he builds a simple raft to original pre-Columbian specifications (balsa wood!) and sets off on a truly epic 101 day-long journey across the treacherous open sea to meet his fate while the world watches and holds it collective baited breath. This beautiful film captures the magnificence and danger of Heyerdahl’s journey and the poignant, personal price he paid. Recommended. The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay. Blu-ray.


Marketa Lazarova
Director Vlacil does not try to romanticize medieval knighthood but creates an atmosphere of mysticism and superstition from Vladislav Vancura’s epic novel of pillaging, raping, feudal lords who prefer to think of themselves as noble knight, but are in fact slaves to superstitions. This dazzling, stark, bold and long (165 minutes) historic tapestry is a feast for the eye. Newly restored (4K) with lavish extras, this mostly unseen in the U.S. 1967 film has been hailed as the “greatest Czech film of all time.” I see it as an experimental art film disguised as an action epic. Recommended. Widescreen (2.35:1). In Czech with English and German subtitles. Criterion. Blu-ray.

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