The Way Way Back

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A not-bad movie that held my attention and kept me chuckling. Even as it was completely formulaic; that's OK if things move along competently, supported by interesting detail.

14-year-old Duncan is a mopy kid. His mom and dad have split up, with dad departed for California. Pam, his mom (Toni Collette) has taken up with Trent, played by Steve Carell. Think: a slightly-smarter Michael Scott, with few, if any, of Michael's redeeming qualities. Trent treats Duncan as a rival for Pam's attentions, and since Pam is desperately lonely, Duncan is left to mope.

But they are off to spend summer at Trent's beach house (the movie was filmed in Marshfield, MA: where you go when you can't afford Cape Cod). There they encounter colorful neighbors, most notably Betty. (Allison Janney, practicing for her bawdy-alcoholic role in the current TV sitcom Mom)

But Duncan wallows in his lonely misery until he happens upon more colorful characters at the Water Wizz water park (an actual place on the Cape). Prime character is the daffy Owen (Sam Rockwell), who gives him a job. Which Duncan keeps secret from Mom. The water park proves to be a nurturing environment for Duncan, who gains a measure of self-respect and independence. Until the crisis, which is inevitable by the rules of Movie Comedy Writing 101.

I'm watching Toni Collette in the TV series Hostages; this movie reminded me that she's a much better actress than she displays in that show.

But this movie would be nowhere without Sam Rockwell, who pretty much just takes over with his charismatic offbeat humor when he's onscreen.

The East

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Unlikely as it sounds, this is the second movie we've watched directed by Zal Batmanglij, written by and starring the lovely Brit Marling. (The other was Sound of My Voice.)

And I didn't care for this one much either.

Here Brit plays Sarah, who's an ambitious ladder-climber at a private security firm, which is ruled by no-nonsense Sharon (Patricia Clarkson). She is picked to go undercover, infiltrating an anarchist eco-vigilante group, "The East". This is tricky, because the group is understandably paranoid about this sort of thing. But of course, she gets in.

What happens is, well, utterly predictable: the group's leader is charismatic, they (kind of) have a legitimate beef with corporate malfeasance. Their views on environmental justice have an Old-Testament flavor: do unto the businesses as they are doing unto a largely unwitting populace. A dose of their own medicine; in one case, very literally.

Of course, it's all fun and games until someone gets shot.

It's too long, nearly two hours, and feels clichéd. One saving grace (and the one bit that is not clichéd) is that Sarah is unambiguously Christian, and this turns out to be a key driver of subsequent events. Extra half-star for that.