Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Captain America: The First Avenger

Lowdown: A superhero with a conscious saves the world from an enemy worse than the Nazis.
The oversupply of Marvel material nowadays meant that we were late to jump on the Captain America bandwagon. This one, Captain America:  The First Avenger dates from 2011 and by now has found itself sequeled by Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If you’re really into Marvel lore then you could also argue that The First Avenger was there to set up 2012’s Avengers puzzle of superheroes up. Me, I don’t care much as long as I get myself a good movie to watch.
As per typical first of a series superhero movies, proceedings start with the tale of the superhero’s creation and progress with the story of this brand new superhero fight against evil while coming to terms with said new superpowers. This time around our hero, Captain America, aka Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) starts off as a flimsy New York teen who is so small and fragile the US Army won’t recruit him at the height of World War 2. By far the best achievement from our filmmakers was digitally gluing Evans' head to the body of a far smaller person during that part of the film.
Salvation [from the digital] comes in the shape of a doctor running an experimental program to develop super soldiers. That doctor identifies Rogers to be the meek person that he is, which renders him more suitable than your average brute of a Joe for the superhero role.
In parallel, we have the same doctor’s previous experiment, Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). He’s on the Nazi side, he’s already a super person, but he has also been corrupted as his extra powers took what was a bad person to begin with and made him worse. Schmidt now heads an organisation worse than the Nazis, Hydra, that aims to use some recently acquired godly powers to wreak havoc on the world. Would our hero in the making step up to the plate in time to save us? Would the sun rise tomorrow morning?
Generally speaking, Captain America offers promising material. The execution, however, is lacking in multiple departments. First there are the pace and the length: The First Avenger is simply too slow and too long for its own good. Let’s be honest, one doesn’t watch Captain America in order to embark upon thought experimentation; it’s is all about action, thank you very much, but the action is too rare and too ordinary when it does happen. The whole film is shrouded with a rather grim atmosphere that may coincide well with the Captain’s origins but ruins the movie’s fun department.
Then there is the cliché element. The baddie is just too uninspiring, effectively ordinary, a waste of a Hugo Weaving. Into that you need to throw in the usual cliche of the loss of a best friend at the right time for the film + the "love me/love me not" love interest for our Captain (a love interest who, by the way, is always equipped with extra glossy red lipstick – never leave home without it!). You catch the drift. Captain America is just more of plenty we’ve seen before.
Overall: Where is the humour? Where is the fun? Not with Captain America, it seems, shielded as he is at 2 crabs out of 5.

P.S. This is this blog's 1000th post. That's a lot of reviews!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Django Unchained

Lowdown: On the brink of the American Civil War, a slave freed by a German bounty hunter takes his vengeance.
Having rewritten World War 2 + The Holocaust’s history in Inglorious Bastards, Quentin Tarantino sets out to right the next historical wrong on his list: that of America’s history of slavery. Curiously, he uses a German agent to achieve that goal.
Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is a German expat making his money bounty hunting across the USA. His ventures put black slave Django (Jamie Foxx) in his path: Schultz needs Django's help to identify his next bounty kill. But Schultz, being the bloody-progressive-UnAmerican-European that he is, cannot stand slavery. Thus when he recruits Django, he makes a free man out of him despite what the white populace around the two thinks.
Django proves himself more than just a source of intelligence; he is a worthy bounty hunter by his own rights, even if he’s a bit too trigger happy when it comes to eliminating white bounty. Schultz and Django become friends, and together they set out on Django’s ultimate mission: freeing up his wife, a slave at your stereotypical Southern plantation run by the evil (by today's standards and even then's) Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
All the regular call signs of a Tarantino movie are on display at Django Unchained. There’s plenty of violence, plenty of blood, clearly artificially inflated violence and blood, lengthy dialog, Tarantino class black humour, the works. Throw in a wonderful performance by Waltz, a true world class of an actor, and the result is good throughout. Despite the two and a half hour long experience, there is never a boring moment; if anything, I would say Tarantino cut down on his trademark overlong dialog to produce much more sensible levels.
I actually learnt a thing or two from Django Unchained, such as the fact that French author Alexander Dumas was black. If I could hazard a guess while pointing that Django's salvation comes with an atypical German face, I'd say Tarantino is not necessarily trying to make a statement on black/white relationships here. It’s more about telling America off for not lifting its head up today in order to learn a thing or two from Europe on the virtues of being nice to one’s fellow human beings.
Best scene: A KKK gang is struggling to run its operations while wearing sacks over their heads. Hilarious!
Overall: Between Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained, it definitely feels as if Tarantino has matured to the point of providing quality without the excess varnish he was infatuated with in his earlier films. 4 out of 5 crabs for Django.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Lock In by John Scalzi

Overall: A murder mystery set in a world where humanity is coming to grips with a disease locking conscious people inside their bodies.
At the risk of stating the obvious, or at least that which has been mentioned here before on numerous occasions, I will repeat that:
1. I consider John Scalzi to be my favourite author of fiction, and
2. As a big fan I do his bidding by purchasing his books on the day of their release, and
3. A major part of that is to do with Scalzi’s ebooks being released without DRM, which merits further support, and
4. Since Scalzi releases about one book per year, yes, I have been looking forward to this – his latest – Lock In.
Intros aside, it is fair to say that the biggest thing about Lock In is the world it is set in. In order to help readers with the introduction part, Scalzi wrote a short story called Unlocked that acts as an exposition to the real thing (i.e., the book Lock In). You can read/download that short story for free here, but a word of warning: other than setting the scene, do not consider that short story to represent what Lock In is like. The two may share some DNA, but they’re certainly different species.
Technical introductions aside, it is now time for me to give you my brief intro into Lock In’s world. In the near future, humanity is afflicted with a highly contagious flu like disease. That disease has a high probability of leaving its patients locked in: that is, they are fully conscious, but they lack the ability for any motor movement. In other words, they are prisoners inside their own bodies. The world, led by the USA (Lock In is a very USA centric affair; I suspect Scalzi did the arithmetics to figure out where his core readership lies), invested billions if not trillions of dollars looking for a cure. It couldn’t find any, but it did come up with workarounds. Through advances in neural nets and robotics, locked patients can represent themselves in the physical world and conduct their affairs almost normal human like by mentally controlling robots that act as their avatar in the real world.
Which brings me to Lock In itself. Lock In is simply a first person murder investigation detective story set in this unique world created by Scalzi and told by a newly crowned FBI detective who also happens to be a celebrity. Oh, she also happens to be a she, a black she, and a locked in black she at that. What I am trying to say here is that Scalzi’s own liberal views on the world are quite evident throughout his book, not that there’s anything wrong with it. It’s about time we started having quality reading sporting females and minorities in leading roles!
The element distinguishing Lock In from any other detective story we’ve read so far is, of course, that it is set in this unique universe established by Scalzi. The setup, disease and robots included, is at the core of the story; there wouldn’t be a detective story here if it wasn’t for the complexities introduced by the setup. It is these complexities that render Lock In to be the quality science fiction material that it is: through this convoluted setup Scalzi gets to discuss plenty of matters that are at the core of our real contemporary world. He discusses social matters around disabilities; he discusses minority rights; computer hacking with its post Snowden era implications; human integration with computers as a door opener for discussions on how technology is going to change the way we are; and plenty more. Most interestingly, Scalzi drops in a gem of a philosophical discussion, comparing a computer programmer putting code inside a human’s head to a writer putting their “code” in the mind of her readers.
Yes, these discussions are cool and interesting. However, at the more basic level, Lock In is not your greatest detective story ever. For a start, I have found it rather predictable, at least once I learnt to accept its unique setup. More importantly, I was left feeling as if Scalzi had created this interesting universe to quite a detailed level only to use it in order to tell us of a minor affair taking place at its fringes. I can easily think of vastly more interesting stories to come up with given the setup, yet Scalzi chose to focus on what is, at the end, a murder mystery. I will put it another way: Lock In feels more like the pilot of a long running TV series than a standalone book. There is so much unexploited material to exploit in Scalzi’s made up universe that it’s not funny to see it left so unexploited.
Mentioning the word “funny” brings me to my final argument with Lock In. There is certainly plenty of humour packed into Lock In through Scalzi’s typical type of dry humour. But is Lock In good enough? Sure, it is a good book. I, however, could not avoid feeling Lock In misses out on the opportunities for great humour that Scalzi had been able to repeatedly deliver his readers during past performances. I guess what I’m trying to say is, what I really wanted from Scalzi is another Agent to the Stars. Instead, Scalzi chose to deliver me his unique take on the zombie apocalypse.
Overall: Lock in is not the Scalzi I was looking for. Not that it’s not good, though; it’s certainly worth 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Cuban Fury

Lowdown: A fat man dances the salsa to win the day.
Not all movies are based on grand ideas. Actually, most movie aren’t; it’s just that in the case of Cuban Fury the superficiality of its core idea is so extremely blatant. Take one fat guy, Nick Frost, and make him do the exact opposite of expectations - make him dance the salsa in order to fulfil his life's ambitions. Does this British production manage to pull a worthy film out of this idea? With Nick Frost at the helm, aided by Chris O’Dowd? Of course it does!
The exposition tells us of Bruce’s (Frost) backstory. A young prodigy in the field of salsa, a would be champ, that – on the eve of his career’s peak – threw it all away following a particularly nasty bullying incident. Fast forward a couple of decades and we see Bruce in his current form: no longer the athletic dancer, but rather a seemingly boring engineer leading a seemingly boring life. And oh, he’s rather fat now. Plus he’s got an asshole of a boss in the shape of Drew (O’Dowd). Clearly, Bruce’s life is meant to seem wasted in the eyes of the viewer, even if it is vastly superior to that of at least 99% of all humans in the history of our universe.
Along comes a catalyst in the shape of a new boss. An attractive, female boss (Julia, played by Rashida Jones). She’s even an American (which seems to be perceived as some sort of an exotic spice by the British men around her; or is this meant to help market the film over the Atlantic?). Drew wants a piece of her; Bruce has a crash on her. Who will be the one to put their hand on the prize? Would it be the sleazy good looking guy or the fat one with a heart? Hint: Julia likes to Salsa.
The stage is thus set for Cuban Fury, your ordinary love triangle tale of “who gets the girl”. Would it be the likely but evil candidate or the unlikely but easy to sympathise with nice guy? A multitude of scenes relying on viewers' memories off Dirty Dancing and a bit of Rocky will set things right.
There are two things one takes for granted with Cuban Fury, both to do with the very essence of Nick Frost around whom this movie was erected. First, there will be the obligatory Simon Pegg cameo. And second, you will get Frost to dance the salsa. Not as much as one would expect given the title and the premises, but it will happen.
And that is really all that there is to it. An hour forty of easy fun in the company of actors who know how to make people laugh.
Best scene: The evil Drew and the good Bruce have themselves a dance-off at the roof of a parking lot. The winner takes the girl in this all or nothing event.
Overall: Plenty of good, if unassuming, fun to be had here. 3 out of 5 crabs.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014


Lowdown: A renowned chef goes back to basics after a failure at standing by his principles costs him his status.
Yes, I have a problem with celebrity chefs. Sure, they can cook. As reality TV shows us again and again, they can also put on a show. So what? I know plenty of people who can cook a mean meal, not to mention the fact that it doesn’t take much more than a bowl of hummus to please me. However, in the process of raising chefs to stardom we tend to forget some of society's bigger heroes. The likes of teachers, nurses and scientists, people with true impact on our lives.
I am willing to forget that for take sake of an hour and a half plus of easy entertainment following a long week, which is exactly why I found myself watching Chef. Written and directed by Jon Favreau, Chef follows Carl (Favreau yet again), a celebrity chef working at a celebrated LA restaurant owned by a Dustin Hoffman character keen on nothing more than preserving the status quo of his joint.  The conflict between the two poses a problem when a famous blogger food critic (Oliver Platt) is due to visit the restaurant: Should the restaurant go bold, as Carl would like, or should it go conservative, as per the boss?
Following plenty of food porn scenes Carl finds himself on the losing side. Worse, his career takes further hits through Carl's own ignorance in the ways of social media. Worst, he is at risk of losing the love and admiration of his young son in the process.
Salvation comes through Carl’s ex-wife (Modern Family’s Sofía Vergara), who puts a revolutionary idea in our chef’s head: go back to basics. Which is exactly what we get, both in the form of going back to basic foods (the equivalent of that bowl of hummus I had previously mentioned) as well as the good old fashioned road trip across the USA that had served so many a film’s progression.
Easy going is the key word with chef. That ease is aptly supported by a wonderful soundtrack featuring plenty of Cuban jazz (listen to it here), coupled with plenty of food porn, and an under utilised cast that doesn’t mind the fact and goes with the flow. The latter includes Scarlett Johansson and Favreau’s long time friend and colleague Robert Downey Jr.
The result is relaxing, feel good fun. That is, if you can withstand the barrage of Twitter product placement thrown at you poor viewer: it’s constant, it’s relentless, and it comes in carpet bombing amplitudes. Not that this bombardment seems to have done much to help Twitter’s ailing business model. I hope nearly destroying this movie cost the company an arm and a leg.
Worst scene:
Perhaps the best conveyor for what Chef feels like is a scene depicting Carl shortly after his downfall. Getting ready for round two, we spend a few minutes witnessing him preparing – in great detail – a meal worthy of kings. Yet after all is said and done, he does nothing with this meal. Worse, us viewers are never told what happened to all that food (was the scene where Carl donates it all at the nearest shelter for the homeless cut?).
My point is simple. In the process of making Chef, Favreau shot some lovely scenes of him preparing stylish food with much bravado. These scenes were nice. Too nice, Favreau must have reckoned, to leave behind on the floor of the cutting room. His solution? Stick it somewhere inside the film, no one would notice.
Overall: I liked the food porn and I liked the counter master chef message even better. I also liked the prevailing feel good notions. 3 out of 5 tasty crabs.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Machine

Lowdown: The totalitarian makers of a humanoid robot fighter discover the adverse effects of giving their creation consciousness.
There is a problem with science fiction movies, you know. Because the genre holds such promise, one almost feels obliged to watch every science fiction movie that passes under one’s radar for fear of missing out on the next best thing. The obvious side effect of such habits is occasionally – frequently? – stumbling upon bad apples. Which brings me to The Machine, a science fiction movie that passed through my radar yet about which I knew nothing prior to watching it.
Proceedings take place at a miserable, 1984 like dystopian near future, where the West is in eternal war with China. This is total war, which means the everything has to be dedicated to the cause, with the obvious implications this spells for society (as well as some not so obvious ones, like the world depicted as eternally very dark). We find ourselves at a struggling Britain with a scientist, Vincent (Toby Stephens), working on creating the ultimate soldier, an artificial intelligence with an edge – an artificial intelligence with consciousness. Because that will show the Chinese!
Toby’s research is stuck, which is where a prodgie female scientist (Caity Lotz) is brought to assist him. Not only is she American, but she also brings with her the missing link for the creation of the consciousness and thus for the pleasure of the ruthless arms manufacturing boss (Denis Lawson, aka Star Wars’ Wedge). Several things go wrong in the process, owing to the 1984 like society our affair is set at. When, eventually, the conscious robot figures things out, the unexpected happens.
As science fiction flicks go, The Machine can be easily dismissed as one of those that tries too hard with too little. Its aspirations are obvious: there’s plenty of that’s meant to remind us of Blade Runner, even down to the too Vangelis like soundtrack. Then there are the obvious Terminator themes to do with the rise of the machines. Our AI robot looks, sounds and behaves a lot like Mass Effect’s EDI, too (not that there is anything wrong with that). The whole package feels rather eccentric, too eccentric; however, it never crosses the border into the realm of the dismissible.
The Machine may not be the best science fiction ever, but it is still interesting enough and sort of original enough to justify its existence.
Overall: Not unmissable; if science fiction tickles your fancy, feel free to give The Machine a try. I will be generous and give it 3 out of 5 crabs, for EDI’s sake.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

A Long Way Down

Lowdown: Four not entirely suicidal people find comfort in one another.
There was a time when I considered fellow Arsenal supporter Nick Hornby to be my favourite author. A lot of sewage was pumped into the sea since, with Hornby losing his status and morphing into an author I consider flawed but still enjoyable. He seems an author who builds his books around raising interesting social questions while ultimately failing to provide adequate answers. Perhaps I’m too naïve to think there can be a solution to every question, but I do admit to preferring the books that aspire for more.
One such ultimately disappointing book from Hornby came in the shape of A Long Way Down, now turned from an easily digestible book into an easily digestible film. The premises are ingeniously simple: while most of us regard New Year’s Eve as a time of peak happiness, it is also – and for obvious reasons – a time of peak sadness to the many amongst us who have a hard time feeling happy. That explains why suicides peak on such dates, at least according to Hornby; I haven’t researched the matter myself. It makes sense, though.
Thus on the eve of peak suicide we meet our four core protagonists at the roof of London’s most popular building for jumping off to one’s death from, a building that – for elusive reasons – is not particularly well guarded given its dubious popularity. We have ourselves Martin (Pierce Brosnan), a slick ex TV host whose career was ruined when he was caught making out with a too young to be legal girl; Maureen (Toni Collette), the single mother of a very disabled child whose maintenance consumes her entire existence; Jess (Imogen Poots), the teenage daughter of a famous politician (Sam Neill) whose older sister disappeared several years ago and left the family shattered;  and the young American JJ (Aaron Paul), an aspiring musician who doesn’t like the pizza delivery boy he ended up as.
Through the discovery that they are not alone, that there are more people like themselves around, our Fantastic Four not only cancel their suicidal aspirations for the night, they make a pact not do embark upon them till at least Valentine’s Day (apparently, the next most popular suicide date). What follows in the rest of the film is the story of how these four turn into a made up family of self support. Between various rifts and tendencies, we get some nice comedy made better by the great acting talent at hand.
A Long Way Down really is made great by its superbly cast actors. Brosnan, probably at the pilot seat, is obviously superb as the slick & sly guy you wouldn’t buy a toothbrush from but who can turn up as a goodie when you least expect. Collette established her entire career on playing the miserable woman. Aaron Paul proved his worth in Breaking Bad, and despite the slipup that was Need for Speed he reassuringly returns in fine form here. Paul’s partner from Need for Speed, Poots, confirms why I easily mistake her for Emily Blunt: because she’s pretty good. Even the minor roles, such as Neill’s or Rosamund Pike’s, are brilliantly executed to a level that renders the whole so much better.
Ultimately, A Long Way Down is a lite story about people’s basic need in life: the need for friendship, the need to be acknowledged by the people in our lives. It does a fine job even if it fails to provide the ultimate recipe for the prevention of suicides or depression.
Overall: It was the actors that made me enjoy A Long Way Down way more than its 3.5 out of 5 crabs’ rating would suggest.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Blueprint for Armageddon by Dan Carlin

Lowdown: A history podcast covering World War 1.
My colleague Sam Harris and I may not see eye to eye on everything, but after he recommended Dan Carlin’s history podcasts and his World War 1 series in particular I had to give it a look. And once I did, I had to stay for the ride. Yes, it was so good, it even made me change my attitudes towards audio books; it was so good my young son wanted to listen to it; it was so good the whole family listened to it in the car.
Currently, Blueprint for Armageddon numbers four episodes, each between 3 to 4 hours long. You can reach out and grab them for free here. Each of those is narrated in a very professional manner by one voice (I assume it’s Carlin’s) with no hiccups of errors whatsoever – as production values go, this is as professional as it gets.
The first episode deals with probably the most interesting thing about World War 1, the world setup that got it to start in the first place. We hear of the politics and we hear Carlin’s views, that a lot of the politics that led to war could have been circumvented if it were for a luckier roll of the dictatorship dice dictating who the rulers of Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary were as well as the issues with the democracies of the time. We also see things from the refreshing point of view of the Germans, a rather refreshing approach given how easily dismissed as evil they are. So easily dismissed we forget they had their reasons to be involved in what was hell for them, too. Carlin even dares to ask a question that although raised by others is still rather brave: wouldn't the world been a better place had the Germans won?
Episode 2 takes off very early during the war, where the first episode left off, and covers the crucial first few weeks/months of the war. The months that led to the following years of stalemate. Carlin goes into a lot of detail in order to explain the technological background leading to this rather unique stalemate that also churned through human bodies at an unprecedented rate.
Episode 3 covers 1915, including Gallipoli and the Armenian genocide, while episode 4 covers 1916 including the battles of Verdun and the Somme. The rest of the war is not covered, although I assume it may be just a question of time till Carlin follows up with additional episodes. Given the depth of preparations on display, these are clearly intensively time consuming affairs.
Although each episode is long, there is that much that Carlin can cover. Thus he did leave me rather annoyed at not being told why, exactly, the Germans chose to turn their army away just as they were on the verge of conquering Paris.
On the positive/constructive side, Carlin directs most of his energies towards the human side of things and trying to figure out what the human experience of the war was like. This manifests itself in trying to look at the war through our modern eyes and answering the question of whether the current generation would fight this war. Or whether we would choose the practical approach, and when the officer with the revolver orders us to go over the top us soldiers would go over him instead – in a cynical 6 bullets vs. troves of machine guns calculation.
The ultimate question is why did people fight the fruitless fight and continue to do so over the years, coupled with why did their societies support them in doing so? There are no definitive answers there, but Carlin seems to think it was product of the culture of the time. The world is a very different place today, and while it does seem easy to send our poorer members to fight and die on our behalf in places such as Iraq or Afghanistan, society will not tolerate punishment laid to higher classes. At the time, however, the gulf between the upper classes and the majority was so large that the rulers of the time were able to put their hands on the meat fodder their armies needed. Given that logic, it can be argued that perhaps the biggest danger to contemporary society is the rising inequality between classes and the reduction in interclass mobility?
This point aside, I agree with Carlin that World War 1 is fascinating due to the fact we are still fighting this war. Essentially all the troubles of today’s world, from the Middle East through terrorism, are a direct result of the world that World War 1 had created. If we seek to be able to solve these problems, then studying World War 1 would be a great start. Thankfully, Carlin is there to make our job easier there.
I thoroughly enjoyed Carlin’s learning experience. The facts may be similar to those in Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, but the modern eye perspective and the learnings are much more significant. 4.5 out of 5 crabs.
It is also important to note that in this year where many countries celebrate the war's 100th birthday by glorifying the sacrifices of the soldiers in not so thinly disguised attempts to get us to endorse their modern day war mongering, Dan Carlin stands and boldly points a finger at the leaders responsible for that great war. Important because we, too, seem to have scored poorly in the current generation's roll of the leadership dice.

11/2/2015 update:
Having now listened to the recently released 5th episode of Carlin's World War 1 series, I am now raising my rating to 5 out of 5 very well informed crabs. There are two reasons for this change:
  1. The 5th episode deviates from the battles themselves to discuss the setting for America to enter the war and for Russia to go through its revolution. It proves Carlin is just as good with politics as he is with war. As per the previous material, the relevancy of the subject matters to today's world is nothing short of amazing.
  2. Having now listened to many other audiobooks, it is clear Carlin's narration is far superior to the vast majority of them (if not all of them). What can I say, the guy is incredibly talented. Perhaps this is due to the fact he prepares his own material for a podcast rather than read a book that was never truly intended to be read aloud, but who cares?

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Way Way Back

Lowdown: A kid devastated from his parents’ breakdown finds himself with the help of a summer and a trusting guy.
Given the line-up of A level talent on deployment at The Way Way Back, I will forgive you if it takes you a while to realise it’s actually Duncan the teenage weirdo (Liam James) who is the star of the show here.
It's also got to do with the way we are introduced to Duncan, sitting as he is at the wagon end of a station wagon headed towards a family summer holiday. The family is made up of father Trent (Steve Carell), mother Pam (Toni Collette), teenage sister and Duncan. And in a conversation that reveals we have ourselves two families here instead of one, Trent asks Duncan to rate himself on a scale of 1 to 10. Trent’s own rating for Duncan is revealed: 3.
The family arrives at is American summer holidays destination to quickly settle at its summer house right next to all its summer neighbours and the summer mates that Trent and his daughter have known for all these years. While Pam quickly mingles, Duncan sticks out like a sore thumb; he clearly doesn’t want to be where he’s at.
Salvation/redemption comes in the form of Owen (Sam Rockwell), a stranger that happens to bump into Duncan on several occasions. Through his easy going nature, Owen and Duncan get closer. Owen proves the only one willing to give Duncan a break, and thus Duncan starts working at Owen’s water park, the place where he finally feels in place. Thus when the seemingly perfect starts breaking apart (courtesy of neighbour Amanda Peet, an actress specialising in the role of sexually induced family breaking), it is actually only Duncan that finds his feet.
The true beauty of The Way Way Back is in the relationship between Duncan and Owen. It is strange to see such a relationship develop on film between teenager and adult during these days when airlines have official policies dealing with the separation of adult males from younger passengers. Yet even though The Way Way Back fails to provide a satisfying answer to the question of why Owen takes interest in Duncan in the first place, it does prove why trusting in the basic goodness of thy fellow neighbour pays off. I can personally attest to that, as I had an Owen like character to support me during my childhood and it made all the difference. I could also see a lot of myself in both Duncan, with his obvious lack of social skills, as well as Owen with his trademark reluctance to take anything – even crises – without a smile. Because Owen and I both know what things truly matter in life, and frankly office meltdowns aren't in that list.
The combination of an hour and a half in the company of fine actors revealing to us an interesting tapestry of comedy and drama works very well. I thoroughly enjoyed The Way Way Back.
Best scene: When a child get stuck in the water slides, Owen looks for helping volunteers by quoting that great sage, Bonnie Tyler – “I need a hero,  I'm holding out for a hero, he's gotta be strong,  he's gotta be fast, and he's gotta be fresh from the fight”.
Overall: I thoroughly enjoyed what The Way Way Back had to tell me. This is a 3.5 crabs out of 5 movie that I have enjoyed at least 4 much.