Monthly Archives: June 2013

Movie Review: The Kings of Summer

Stay out of my territory.
In the opening of “The Kings of Summer,” Joe (Nick Robinson) stand in the shower with a hairdo reminiscent of Ferris Bueller. Yet, while he is at a similar age, Joe is nothing like Bueller, he can’t fit in with anybody.

“The Kings of Summer” is a lovable film that some annoying critic will probably call “The king of summer movies!” it’s a childhood fantasy rooted in reality. It’s like “Moonrise Kingdom” except here you don’t have to pay as much attention to what color clothing everyone is wearing.

“The Kings of Summer” takes place in a small Ohio town that’s a little too picturesque to be a small Ohio town. Most high school movies take place over the course of one day, usually on either the very first or the very last day of school. “The Kings of Summer” instead takes place during the entire summer between freshman and sophomore year. Here, the humiliation of high school you try to forget about lasts more than one day. And there’s no getting out of it anytime soon.

Joe can’t take it anymore, and he is especially affected by his sad, lonely father Frank (Nick Offerman, who brings three dimensional misery to the role), He takes his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and mysterious weirdo Biaggio (Moises Arias) to build a house and start a new life in the middle of the woods. Their new isolated home could best be described as an Island of Misfit Toys. All three kids deserve much praise. Robinson carries the entire movie. But the biggest standout is Arias, who I believe will become a big star after this. As the characters preconceived notions about Biaggio start to dissipate, so do the audience’s. Perhaps part of what is cool about Biaggio is how little is explained about him. For example, he is shown speaking Spanish to his father, who speaks back to him in English. That could mean any number of things.

For a film with such a small budget, “The Kings of Summer” sure does make good use of it. It portrays the forest with the kind of pristine beauty you’d usually only find from Terrence Malick. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is as obsessed with the forest as he is with telling this story the whole way through. The small character-driven moments are of equal importance. Perhaps one of the most important moments in the film is when Frank argues with a Chinese food delivery man about the size of the Wontons that he’s given him. It takes a lot to say so much about a person by what they think about a bowl of soup. Not to mention when he finally eats that giant wonton, the sadness and desperation just creepily make it seem like the infamous octopus scene from “Oldboy.”

“The Kings of Summer” is certainly one of the most consistently surprising films I have seen in theaters in a long time. For instance, there’s a predator in the woods that’s hinted at throughout, but it doesn’t end up doing what you thought it would do.

Besides “Ferris Bueller,” “The Kings of Summer” had me thinking of another great coming-of-age film from the 80s: “Stand By Me,” in that there is so much one can learn about themselves when separated from the rest of civilization. “The Kings of Summer” is a fairly real look at the teenage years of one’s life. It doesn’t rap everything up in a pretty bow. In the end, everyone seems happy, but not everyone gets what they want.

Movie Review: This is the End

Movies can teach us a lot about ourselves. For example, “This is the End” taught me that I will actually enjoy the site of Michael Cera being impaled. As long as it is preceded by him slapping Rihanna’s ass and trying to give drugs to McLovin. Maybe what I’m trying to say here is that I am a terrible person. Or maybe it is that celebrity is whatever you make of it. I don’t know, I’m not a celebrity.

Much has been said in the press about “This is the End,” but nothing could prepare for this one shocking twist: the star of the movie is actually Jay Baruchel. While his leading role in “Undeclared” might not have helped, perhaps this will finally give him the recognition he deserves as an actor. 

“This is the End” is a Hollywood satire where all of the actors play themselves. That would seem incredibly self-congratulatory, if it wasn’t for the fact that the actors don’t try and make themselves look like saints. The film begins as Seth Rogen walks through an airport to meet his best friend Jay Baruchel. Seth is accosted by a man with a camera (who I assume is from TMZ). The man asks Seth why he plays himself in every movie he’s in. Rogen co-wrote the film, and is clearly aware of what people think of him, as does everyone else involved.
In the film, Seth and Jay’s relationship is based off of them drifting apart. Seth has new friends now, and Jay wonders whether or not he is still in the picture. This is the same separation anxiety that made up “Superbad,” another film that was co-written by Rogen and his best friend Evan Goldberg. Every film they write together also serves to show how their friendship grows and changes. In a film that contains a lot of false perceptions, the truest part of it is this friendship.

Seth and Jay’s first stop is James Franco’s house. Here, Franco is as weird and artsy as everyone thinks he is. However, he’s more obsessed with Seth Rogen than he is with himself. It’s equal parts creepy and hilarious. Franco is both earnest and funny all while being a huge dicknose. Who knew someone could show such range while playing themselves?

While Rogen and Goldberg are pro writers, “This is the End” is their first stab at directing. The two blend together as directors as well as they do as writers, which is why it always seems like a singular vision. The two of them strongly embrace buildup. The apocalypse doesn’t happen for a little while, which provides plenty of time to understand Jay and Seth’s friendship as well as both of their relationships to everyone else around them. It is in this time period where the film truly gets its heart. Action films, comedies, and well, most films in general could learn a lot Rogen and Goldberg: it’s good to know the characters before you let the bodies hit the floor.

“This is the End” is a great Inside Hollywood comedy because it never goes meta. It’s less about the wink and more about the inviting nod. For every joke about “Flyboys,” there is also an extended riff about Danny McBride’s use of James Franco’s bathtub. In fact, by making a bunch of celebrities face the apocalypse, the film shows that they aren’t that special after all. What also keeps “This is the End” from becoming too much of an in-joke is how carefully crafted all of these fictitious personas are. Clearly Michael Cera doesn’t treat Rihanna like that. I’ll have to get back to you on James Franco’s weird taste in art.

At a time when Hollywood is creepily obsessed with the end of the world (see: “Oblivion,” “After Earth”*), it is refreshing to see a film that doesn’t take ridiculous apocalyptic scenarios so seriously. Yet, Rogen and Goldberg still manage to lay out all of the rules of this new world with so much detail. And the vision is so inspired. Just take the demons: they look exactly like the beasts from “Ghostbusters,” but with one major exception (you’ll understand when you see it).

“This is the End” clocks in at just under two hours and the length feels neither too long nor too short. In terms of its characters, it gets nearly as much done in that running time as any season of any TV show. Plain and simple: this is high concept comedy at its absolute best.

*Actually, don’t see “Oblivion” or “After Earth”

Fun With Trailers: If Taken Was Made In the 80s

In 2008, “Taken” came out and suddenly turned Liam Nesson into one of Hollywood’s biggest badasses. He became something of an Irish Chuck Norris with less annoying politics.

Anyway, I normally try and avoid most trailers, as nowadays they seem to spoil everything, from the best jokes to the best explosions. But I am always a sucker for a good trailer mashup. And that is exactly what we have here. Below is “The Taking,” a trailer for “Taken” that re-imagines it as a 1980s action film. I did not grow up in the 80s (just to be clear), yet it imitates everything I know of that decade to a T. It feels like it could have been placed amongst the fake trailers in “Grindhouse.” It even looks like it was shot on film.

Analog This: Season Four of Arrested Development (So Far)

SPOILER ALERT: I have not finished the fourth season yet, but there may be some light spoilers ahead. Read with caution.

Seven years ago.

That’s when the original series finale of “Arrested Development” aired. That’s also how long I waited for TV’s greatest comedy to come back on the air.

“Arrested Development” holds a special place in my heart. The first three seasons have been like a Comedy Bible to me. It taught me to embrace details as well as the slow buildup to a laugh. I’ve rewatched and deconstructed every episode so many times, yet I always find something new to marvel at. In the universe of “Arrested Development,” no comedy stone is left unturned.

For years, I was constantly teased with the idea that there could be an “Arrested Development” movie. Any mention of the movie itself (without any promise of it actually happening) became something of a recurring joke worthy of the “Arrested Development” universe. That is, until the day that it was announced that a fourth season that would lead up to an eventual movie would be released.

Suddenly, “Arrested Development” was on the level of hype and public scrutiny that no cancelled cult TV series would normally face.  Essentially, season four would have to be the greatest event in television history, because that’s what every hyperbolic blogger labeled it as. However, it is rare that anything that is labeled as “the greatest ever” before it is actually released will actually be the greatest ever. Narrowing it down to film and television, most of the greatest works came out of nowhere with very little hype behind it. Or, as was the case with the first three seasons of “Arrested Development,” it could take years for the public to ever come around to it (despite multiple Emmy wins).

Continued After the Jump

There is no denying that season four of “Arrested Development” is among the greatest events in television history. First off, in an age where everyone is creating a Kickstarter to bring back their favorite cancelled shows, “Arrested Development” was able to return on strong word of mouth alone. The fact that the new season premiered on Netflix is something of a middle finger to all of the networks that wouldn’t give it a chance.* My theory for the original cancellation of “Arrested Development” was that it was too ahead of its time. The circumstances that it premiered in did not support the needs necessary for watching it. It is a show that is meant to be paused, rewound, and fast forwarded. Unfortunately, it hit the air before the proliferation of the DVR. While I have my problems with the binge watching that is caused by releasing an entire season of a show at once, “Arrested Development” was meant for Netflix. It set the stage for the existence of other shows that are jam-packed with jokes, such as “30 Rock,” “Community,” and “Archer”.

During the buildup to season four, I tried my best to resist calling this “the greatest television event of all time.” After all, that is a big label to give something that the world hasn’t yet seen. While this new season is far from perfect, to call it’s existence important would be an understatement.

Before I delve into the details of the new season, I must clarify that I am not yet finished with it. I mean that in two senses. I say that both because I have not watched every episode yet, and that I will not be finished with this season until I have rewatched it and picked up on every hidden detail that I can possibly find. With “Arrested Development,” that is a job that never really ends. I begin here not because this seems like a perfect place to start, but because I couldn’t wait much longer.  It’s been seven years, and while there are always new things to say about “Arrested Development,” finally there are new episodes to write about.

The fourth season is even more confusing and convoluted than any season before it, which is both a good and bad thing. This makes sense, as the Bluths are currently worse off than they’ve ever been. This season brings us to the present day, after a mysterious “Dark Period” has left the family in shambles. Even Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), who was always the most sane one in the family, can’t quite keep it together.

Perhaps because of a bigger production budget, the Bluths are able to leave their beloved Newport Beach. George Michael (Michael Cera) heads off to college, as his father follows a little too closely behind (leading to one of the most overt incest moments in the show’s history). Meanwhile, Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) tries to find herself in India, George Senior (Jeffrey Tambor) and Oscar (Jeffrey Tambor) become unlikely business partners on the Mexican border, and Gob (Will Arnett) still just wants everyone to be his friend.

While structure is crucial to any story, only in “Arrested Development” is it such an integral part to the show’s uniqueness. The first three seasons of the show were described by Jason Bateman as “‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ shot like ‘COPS’.” It was a great spin to the dysfunctional family comedy, and a response to the rising popularity in reality television. Ten years have passed since the pilot premiered, and since then, reality shows make up a majority of the TV landscape. Since then, the Internet has changed how content is viewed. It is a bold move for a show to tinker with its format, but this is a show that defines bold creativity. While Ron Howard’s flawless narration remains intact, each episode now focuses on one character and then ties them back into everyone else’s lives. The concept of past and present is now all over the place. This season feels like somebody with very short attention span jumping back and forth between several YouTube videos.

This new experiment is not necessarily a bad thing, but it was something I had difficulty coping with for a while. While one could make an argument that any one of the Bluths are the best character of the show, the Bluths work best when they are all together. Tobias’ (David Cross) innuendos are nothing without Michael’s deadpan reactions to them (“There has got to be a better way to say that”). Nobody should be safe from Lucille’s (Jessica Walter) insults (“well joke’s on her because she doesn’t know how little I care for Gob”). This show is powered by human dysfunction.

While dysfunction makes the show funny, some sense of order is needed. In an interview, Hurwitz said that he only likes to watch something where he understands the direction it is headed in. In a way, he is praising formula. While formula often goes hand-in-hand with unoriginality, “Arrested Development” created a winning one that never got old. It has veered away from that original formula in many ways. The show is no longer constrained to 30 minutes broken up by commercials. Some of the new episodes run over 30 minutes, and some run under 30 minutes. Some feel a bit too long, and some feel like they could have used more. Hurwitz and crew could have tightened things up a bit and hurt nothing.

I hope that none of this gives the impression that I dislike the new season. Perhaps I’m just lamenting something that I will never get back. Somewhere around episode three (“Indian Takers”), the season began to turn. The farcical, heightened reality of “Arrested Development” had returned. The show had settled back into itself and eased up on the exposition. Then, when it felt comfortable, it took an even more meta turn than it did in season two with the “Scandalmakers” plot line. Ron Howard, the show’s offscreen narrator, became a character onscreen, and Michael finds himself the producer of a movie about his own family. Before it can be made, he must get the life rights from each of his family members. This is a little wink to the supposed purpose of the fourth season: once we’re completely caught up on the Bluths, perhaps “Arrested” fans will finally get the movie they were waiting for.

Some shows can’t recover when they go meta (many believe that the downfall of “The Simpsons” began after it went meta). However, “Arrested Development” has proven over and over again that it can constantly go over the edge and then climb back up. The behind-the-scenes stuff ultimately feels more fun than exclusive and it just makes absolute sense for this story. During its early run, “Arrested” provided some of the best satire on the Iraq War and the Bush Administration. While this season has offered some sharp commentary on the financial crisis and immigration, “The Daily Show” is always there to cover that front. Nobody else has made a portrait of the modern movie industry as funny as “Arrested Development” has.

One of the main things that threw me off most when starting the new season of “Arrested Development” was that the return felt surreal to me. This would be the first time in seven years that I would see a new episode of “Arrested Development.” Seven years. The last time I saw a new episode, it was the last four that ever aired, and they were crammed together on one Friday night in a time slot that nobody watched. As ridiculous as it sounds, I would now get to watch the Bluths say words that I had never heard them say before.

When laughs seemed scarce, I tried hard to remember what it was like seeing an episode of “Arrested Development” for the first time. I remembered that one viewing barely scratched the surface. In that regard, “Arrested Development” is like Freud’s Iceberg of comedy. Watching “Arrested Development” is an art form all its own. Viewing it requires one to multitask. What is happening in the background is just as important as what is happening in the foreground. A billboard can be just as funny or important as a line of dialogue.

Overall, “Arrested Development” requires patience. Things might not make sense the first or even the second time around, but the reward for sticking around is worth it. Just as there is always money in the banana stand, there is always something new lying beneath the surface of any given episode. I look forward to honing my ability to observe the Bluths, and seeing what else season four has to offer.

*While it is fun to blame Fox for the show’s cancellation, they deserve some credit here. They really did try with the show. They could have cancelled it after one season but they knew how good it was and tried for three seasons to find it the audience that it deserved.

The Purge Giveaway. Can you #SurviveTheNight?

Have you ever been sitting here, reading this blog, and wondered to yourself, “Ian is a genius and all, but what am I getting out of this?” Well, now you can finally get something for you loyalty.

The friendly people at Universal Pictures have provided me with “The Purge” App, for their upcoming feature “The Purge” (which, in my honest opinion, looks awesome), coming out on Friday, June 7. You can play this app, or not, but I have also been bestowed the power of giving one reader a “Purge” prize pack. This prize pack includes free t-shirts. You heard me right. Free t-shirts. How often in your life do you get the chance for free t-shirts? From a real movie studio?

Here’s a link for the App:

Let me know if you’re interested. Keep on Reel Dealin’ on.