Peter Saraf

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The Kings of Summer Review


Excellent

This is the kind of American independent comedy-drama that restores our faith in the cinema, combining a talented cast, witty direction and a razor-sharp script to reboot the coming-of-age genre. It's an original approach that completely wins us over; even the film's slightly too-wacky touches are genuinely hilarious. And it's all grounded in realistic characters we can identify with, especially when they're in amusingly awkward situations.

The story centres on Joe (Robinson), a teen who is fed up with the way his widowed father Frank (Offerman) takes out his grief on anyone at hand. Joe's sister (Brie) has already escaped, moving in with her goofy boyfriend (Cordero), and now that school has let out for the summer, Joe decides to build a bolt-hole in the woods. He finds a collaborator in his best pal Patrick (Basso), whose inane parents (Mullally and Jackson) are so annoying that he has broken out in hives. Then Biaggio (Arias), a strange kid no one really knows, joins them to build a secret cabin where no one can find them. And they love this independent lifestyle so much that they never want summer to end.

Along the way, the film takes a wonderfully honest look at the horrors of adolescence. Joe's and Patrick's parents always say the most embarrassing things imaginable, so getting away from them is like a blast of freedom. And there's a very strong female lead in Kelly (Moriarty), the girl Joe fantasises about even though she has eyes for other boys. Robinson and Basso are excellent in the lead roles, playing characters we can easily identify with and root for. Arias is hilarious as the rather ridiculous Biaggio, making the most of a role that's perhaps the film's only false note: he's just too nutty to be believable.

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Safety Not Guaranteed Review


Essential

With a low budget but a lot of imagination and talent, director Trevorrow and writer Connolly create a deceptively simple comedy that's one of the most entertaining films of the year. It's so cleverly written that every moment of the film is hugely engaging, and it's so perfectly played by its cast that we can't help but fall for the likeable, flawed characters.

Set in Washington state, the story centres on Darius (Plaza), a sardonic Seattle magazine intern whose life derailed when she was 14, after her mother's death. So her interest is piqued when she hears about a classified ad asking for an assistant on a time travel mission ("Bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed"). She accompanies arrogant journalist Jeff (Johnson) and fellow intern Arnau (Soni) to a seaside town to write up the story for the magazine, but once they track down the ad's author Kenneth (Duplass), nothing goes as expected.

Each of these three magazine reporters has a full-bodied story, expertly set within the larger investigation of whether Kenneth is nuts or not. All of these characters are caught between their past and the present, exploring who they once were, who they are and who they want to be, which makes them easy to identify with even as they do some amusingly silly things. And the filmmakers cleverly refuse to play into our expectations, keeping us guessing about where the movie is heading. So each scene bristles with possibility, and each twist and turn of the plot and side-plots is both thrilling and hilarious. 

Continue reading: Safety Not Guaranteed Review

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