"The Way Way Back"

A movie like "The Way, Way Back' is the kind of movie that gets forgotten come awards time, when all the prestigious, "awards-wrapped" releases come pilling up one after the next. It happens every summer. A solidly crafted film with solid performances coming in under the radar. This one stars newcomer Liam James, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell and Toni Collette. A great cast that has a ball delivering their performances.

Under the direction of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash -They wrote "The Descendants"- Liam James does an excellent job as Duncan, an introverted kid that goes on vacation with his mom (Collette) and her douchebag of a boyfriend Trent (Carell, in an unexpectedly devilish performance). Trent has his friends come over to the vacation home for a 24/7 adult drinking party, that leaves Duncan feeling isolated and wanting to escape. Enter sam Rockwell, as Owen, owner of a local water park who takes Duncan under his wings.

The bond between Owen and Duncan is what drives the film. Owen is a middle aged schlub that doesn't really care much for responsibilities. Yet, there's an enduring likeability to Owen that you cannot deny. Much kudos must be given to Rockwell (watch him in last year's "Seven Psychopaths") who's truly one of the best actors around. His performance is the best in the film and deserves much more recognition than it is getting at the moment. Rockwell might just be the most underrated actor currently working in Hollywood and it is only a matter of time before he gets the recognition he deserves. Carrell, a comic actor that has proven he does possess solid dramatic acting chops, plays the unlikeable douchebag of a boyfriend so well that you wouldn't believe he once was the 40 year old virgin.

A film that is this smartly written and filled with this many great performances deserves an audience. It might not be an artistic achievement or even an awards contender but it is a breath of fresh air and its performances deserve to be talked about. Here is a summer movie without robots, superheroes or magic tricks. Without the usual formula that is contaminating Hollywood movies these days. It deals with real human emotions, real people and never gives us any easy answers. If Faxon and Rash's film is playing in your area, seek it out.

"Before Midnight"

It started with Before Sunrise and then continued with the eloquently beautiful Before Sunset. Richard Linklater's trilogy of romance in european cities has built a solid cult following since its inception in 1995. Here's the deal with the third -and presumably final- chapter of the trilogy; If you haven't seen the first two movies, you might still enjoy this one BUT not as much as if you already know these smart, articulately conversational characters. It all started in Vienna when Celine and Jesse met on a train and fell in love then parted ways. It wasn't until 2004 they met up again for another day but this time, in Paris, they had both matured and were -shall I say- far less annoying than the first time around. Jesse was unhappily married with a kid and Celine struggled to find much in the way of love. That bid well for the film itself -Before Sunset- which was a masterful examination of love, family life and conversation.  That film ended ambiguously with Jesse at Celine's apartment about to miss a flight but laughing it off, making the audience wonder if he actually misses that flight and decided to ditch his wife and hook up for the long term with Celine. Never has an audience wanted an on-screen character to cheat on his wife so bad.

In Before Midnight we get our answer. Jesse stayed. In fact he and Celine ended up making love for days and having 2 beautiful girls in Paris. The film starts off as Jesse accompanies his son at the airport after having both spent a whole summer with Celine and the girls at a fellow author's Greek country house. Jesse is left agonized by the dreaded feeling of his son leaving and not knowing when he'll see him next. He has a fear that his son will not grow up before his very eyes. The film's first conversation has our two protagonists driving with their two children, we are back at the beginning; smart talk about life, love and family. We have a smile on our faces, it's as if nothing has changed and these two lovebirds have a happy marriage going for them. However, hints begin to appear. Feelings of un-satisfaction infuse both these characters. The second big conversation of the film takes place at a dinner table as most of the visitors at the greek country house gather to talk about their own experiences with love, marriage and death. The conversation is effortless. The things we learn endless and the lessons hardening. Love is not an easy thing and the scars it leaves very apparent.

On their way to a romantic night at a hotel room -setup by their friends- Jesse and Celine are talking and walking like we were always used to seeing them in the other movies but this time they have more life experiences and are more familiar with one another. The sparks seems to still be there, their intellects intact yet there's a bitterness to some of their words that ultimately leads to a night of verbal stings. The hotel room fight has been talked about very much by cinematic enthusiasts, many siding with Jesse but others understanding Celine's points and arguments. There really isn't anyone that's wrong or right here. The aggressiveness Celine shows is all the bottled up anger any 21st century female would have in a relationship with children of her own ; taking care of the kids, handling most of the responsibilities and not having time for any self independence, Celine is muddled in the daily grind of motherhood. It's not that she doesn't love Jesse anymore -although she does memorably say it- it's just that Celine didn't envision a life such as this one. She was always a free spirit with her feminine independence firmly intact. Jesse being the male of the relationship ends up handling much less and enjoying life a bit more. Celine is bitter about that and wishes Jesse would help out a little more and be less concerned with his Son that resides in the states.

Celine is indelibly played by Julie Delpy who deserves all the awards attention  that will be coming her way in the months to come and Jesse is superbly played by Ethan Hawke in what is the best role he's ever had. They both wrote the screenplay with director Linkater (School Of Rock, Dazed And Confused, Waking Life) much of it clearly improvised, from the artists' own experiences/points of views and countless storyboards. This brings a real sense of authenticity to the films. Before Midnight is a great movie because it asks questions about love that many Hollywood movies refuse to ask. Is our view of love as a society conflicted, disjointed? Or can we really love someone eternally, in a "forever" sense of the term? How many compromises can we actually make before we end up losing sense of ourselves and our own independence? All this for the sake of love? There is not one answer to any of these questions. Linklater is a curiosity seeker that asks more than he answers and the way Before Midnight ends makes you wonder exactly what might happen next. The ending is frustrating and much less satisfyingly ambiguous than Before Sunset but I'll be damned if he doesn't succeed in trying to explain what long term love is in a 90 minute time frame. If there's a better date movie out there, I haven't seen it. I hope we get to meet Celine and Jesse every 9 years.

Franco et company in "This Is The End"

Comedy is well known for being a really hard medium. Especially in the cinema, where having a laugh or two these days is almost an impossible task. Case in point; The internship - a sad sack excuse of a comedy that reunited Owen Wilson and Vince vaughn to try and recreate the sparks they attained in Wedding Crashers. Those sparks never happen and we are left with an empty comedy looking for oxygen to make it through its running time.

A more successful -albeit minor- film is Paul Feig's The Heat which pits Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock in a buddy cop comedy with the added freshness of the two cops being played by female actresses. It works, for the most part. Feig, who directed the landmark comedy Bridesmaids back in 2011, loves women behaving badly or aka behaving like men. I don't blame him. If this were a typical male comedy I wouldn't have as many nice words for The Heat. It really helps that the film is aided by the always reliably funny McCarthy and Bullock -who's actually quite convincing here- actresses that have a charisma that really drives the film's sad sack screenplay. This isn't high art but The Heat made me chuckle more than a few times and -unlike many summer movies- didn't make me regret spending two hours in the dark.

However,  this summer nothing will beat This Is The End in terms of laughs and ballsy attitude. Fearlessly directed by Seth Rogen and his pal Evan Goldberg, This Is The End mostly takes place at a party in James Franco's posh L.A mansion. The twist is that as Franco's celebrity friends -including a coked out, Rihanna ass-slapping Michael Cera- are partying it up, the apocalypse has arrived and we are left with Franco and company -including Rogen, Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride- trying to find a way to survive in an L.A overrun by egos , stoners and a well endowed biblical demon (Don't ask). It's a satirical end of the world premise that is wholly original and features one surprise after the next. No, seriously. I don't think i saw anything coming. The unpredictability of This Is The End is what makes it so damn good.

These celebrity comedians relentlessly make fun of their celebrity personas and make comedy out of the apocalypse. No small feat there. Rogen and Goldenberg's originality is contagious, they have created an apocalyptic, satiric stoner comedy that doesn't let anyone off the hook. Hollywood is the target and the satiric aspect stings. Rogen and company bite the hand that feeds them. The plot and its twists and turns might be outrageous but they never feel strained or overcooked. Much kudos must be given to a who's who of comedians showing up as themselves and mocking themselves in the most insane ways possible. The film isn't afraid to kill them off either. I look forward to more movies from these guys. This is a stoner comedy reaching the heights of artistic integrity, no small feat. I couldn't have like This Is The End any more than I actually did.

Oscar Watch: Matthew McConaughey in "Mud"

In Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” Matthew McConaughey holds your attention every time he’s on screen. As an island outlaw hiding from the police, McConaughey’s Mud is a mysterious drifter with more than a few secrets to hide. Not fair revealing anything else about the plot but Nichols’ film is a dark coming of age movie seen through the eyes of two 14 year old Arkansas boys. Their fascination for Mud is just as strong as ours and we see the film through the eyes of teenage boys just beginning to learn about life’s harsh truths. Nichols tells the story in a more straightforward fashion than he did in his highly acclaimed 2011 film “Take Shelter”. All the better for it,. The screenplay makes Nichols not need as much stylistic ambition, instead the director opts to just tell the story. Good call. McConaughey, 44, only recently hit his stride as an actor. If you saw him in last year’s triumphant trifecta “Bernie”, “Magic Mike” and “Killer Joe” or 2011′s underseen, underrated “The Lincoln Lawyer” you know exactly how good of an actor he can be. Over the years his pretty boy looks have prevented him from ever being taken seriously as an actor. That’s too bad because here is an actor that is currently at his prime and should be taken very seriously. He plays with the audience’s heads in “Mud” and demands us to pay attention to his every move. It’s a performance that brilliantly captures a man lost in an ocean of thought and not letting anyone into his dark world filled with murderous tendencies and undying love. It’s a great performance that will be remembered come awards time and might only be overshadowed by an upcoming performance of his later on this year in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf Of Wall Street”.

Frances Ha

In Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha Greta Gerwig gives a performance that will not be forgotten any time soon. She's so damn good as Frances, a 27 year old yuppie New York girl still trying to find herself in the big city and refusing to let go of her dream as a professional dancer. This is a far cry from the Sex And The City females and more like the ones portrayed in Lena Dunham's brilliant HBO series Girls. In fact, comparisons will be made just by the casting of Girls regular Adam Driver. It's more than just that. Just like Dunham's show, Frances Ha is the about the coming of age of women that have a hard time embarking in adulthood and just like that series' best episodes there is an episodic uncomfortableness to Frances' every day situations. Going from apartment to apartment and never really finding her place. At times you just cringe at the situations she puts herself

Baumbach's real life girlfriend is Gerwig. She has become a sort of muse for director as he had previously used her in his previous film 2011's Greenberg. If that film -starring an excellent Ben Stiller- failed to deliver in its study of a middle aged loser going through the motions and an angst driven crisis, this new film by Baumbach succeeds admirably in its titular character's isolation of everyday society. Stiller's Greenberg was cold, detached and ultimately not very likable. Gerwig's Frances is the opposite. No matter how many stupid decisions she does we still root for her to end up okay. The same couldn't be said of Stiller's Greenberg, a mean spirited and not very genuine complainer.

Gerwig -with her long wavy blonde hair and clumsy posture- is spectacular in more ways than one. She brings realness to a character that could have easily delved deep into caricature. It doesn't happen here. Instead Baumbach, in his best film since The Squid And The Whale, launches the career of a new star. Gerwig's gestures, movements, facial expressions are spot on and make you fall for Frances - flaws and all. Her life is a confusing mess, while her best friend/roommate finds love and moves out. She is down on cash, single, awkward and in search of herself. She acts younger than her age, takes things one day at a time and doesn't think much about the future. At some point living this way catches up to you. It caught up to me in my life and it caught up to many other late twenty somethings that I knew of. Baumbach's character study doesn't cozy up to any conventions. The director speaks the truth for my generation and creates a sort of wake up call. Shot in beautiful black and white he proves that The Squid And The Whale was no fluke. With all that being said Frances Ha is the Greta Gerwig show, Oscar pay attention.