“The Kings of Summer” movie review

KOS-PosterA unique coming-of-age story in the vein of Stand By Me. However, unlike the more conventional coming of age stories, the subtext and themes of then first-time feature director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ film, written by Chris Valletta, are merely touched upon but seldom followed through in any meaningful way. The deadpan comedy and one-liners are simply tossed around instead of providing deeper meaning or introspect that may have increased the emotions felt throughout the movie. It’s a very surface level movie that fails to substantially deliver the dynamic quality narrative that is typically expected of these films. That isn’t to say that it is without merit; quite the contrary, it is enjoyable and is successful in taking you back to that time when you felt that no one understood you and you wanted to be treated like an adult, but still clung to the reckless freedom of hormonal youth. Understanding the consequences of one’s behavior is a regularly visited theme in the movie. With gorgeous outdoor cinematography and relatable characters, The Kings of Summer contains a little something for everyone who has ever thought of running away and building a cabin in the woods for you and your buds.

The Kings of Summer is about three teenagers Joe (Nick Robinson), Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and Biaggio (Moises Arias) who run away from their respective dysfunctional families and make a life for themselves out in the woods by building a house and living off the land. Ever since Joe’s mother died, he just does not get along with his father Frank (Parks and Rec‘s Nick Offerman). In turn, his father has anger and resentment issues he too is working through with the untimely passing of his wife. Unfortunately, Frank takes out his anger on Joe and both have nearly become alienated from one another. Making valid points about Joe’s behavior but not delivering those points with understanding, Frank and Joe just do not get along. With Patrick also not getting along with his helicopter parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Even Jackson), Joe convinces him to join with their new friend Biaggio and rule their own lives and answer to no one except each other. Forming a friendship pact, the three seem inseparable. However, even this three-fold cord has struggles and disagreements, jealously and rage. The young men are forced to work through life’s problems while dealing with the chemical and psychological changes of growing up.

Have you ever just wanted to escape life? Just quit and run away to a tropical island or mountain valley? That is just what you will encounter in The Kings of Summer. Coming-of-age stories are usually some of the films that find their way onto favorite lists or those to which so many people can relate because they deal with issues many of us face while in that transitional time from teenager to adult. From lakeside high school parties to hormones and independence, this film includes some of the various turning points and learning opportunities one likely encounters while discovering who he or she is. Ordinarily, films such as this, deliver the content in such a way that it offers deeper meaning or emotional connections in the narrative. And although there are some themes and moderate introspect, the film does not go far enough in connecting the audience with the teenagers or adults in the movie. There were several lines of dialog that alluded to potential conflicts and personal struggles that could have been revisited to offer more substance in the film. That being said, the writer and director do provide relatable characters who are each very different from the other in an effort to provide audiences with a character to whom they can identify. It is important for coming-of-age movies to not only contain relatable characters but relatable situations as well. And this movie does that, just not to the extent it had the capacity to do.

One of the interesting themes that can be read in The Kings of Summer is questioning one’s sexual orientation. Much like in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, in which the protagonist’s sexual orientation is questionable, you can find similar themes in this film. Throughout the movie, Joe is regularly making speeches on and offering up pithy comments about masculinity. Quite regularly, Joe lectures Patrick and Biaggio about what it means to me a man. At times, Joe even becomes defensive when his masculine ways are questioned. As Shakespeare penned, “…thou doth protest too loudly…” It is entirely possible that Joe is struggling to come to terms with his sexual preferences. This could explain why he would go to such drastic measures to escape his rigid father in order to discover who he is when he has to provide for himself. Other supporting evidence of this theme is simply the fact that he doesn’t get the girl even though he tried much more than Patrick. When Patrick winds up with the girl, Joe is outraged and never quite gets over it. There are also the frequent trips to Boston Market instead of truly “being a man” and hunting for food. Maybe he’s simply trying too hard to deny who he is developing to be? Perhaps. But, there are additionally also other themes that can be read in this unique coming-of-age story.

Although this film did not receive the national attention in 2013 that it really should have, it is definitely one that is worth a watch if you enjoy this sub-genre of Drama. Ordinarily, ensemble casts can hinder effective character development and excellent storytelling, but the cast in this film is handled moderately well. If there had been more focus on the personal struggles or if the film included an external goal, then it would have definitely been better and perhaps more popular. Stories in general–especially visual stories–require the principle characters to not only have internal goals, but a clearly defined external goal as well. Often the external goal can echo the internal one, but it is important to show a tangible goal. Unfortunately, the latter is lacking in the diegesis of The Kings of Summer. This movie won’t likely ever have the nostalgia or cache of Stand By Me, but it does offer up a fun story with an excellent cast and some personal growth that will keep you entertained for the hour and a half runtime.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“The 5th Wave” movie review

FifthWaveAnother cliche wave of ‘only attractive young people can save the world because they are special’ movies. Really??? Do we really need another one of these films with an overly used and tired plot? I suppose so–or at least that is what Sony Pictures is hoping for. Once again, the world is at the brink of destruction by an alien race that has taken over most adults. It is up to a small band of rebel young people to save the world by overcoming the impossible. Only this time, the dialog and plot are so incredibly blasé that you may likely find yourself often glancing at your watch to see when this painful movie will be over. Can we survive the fifth wave??? That question is all too apropos. From the unimpressive digital effects to the crazy quilt consisting of pieces and patches from every other  YA fantasy action thriller, hopefully this movie signifies the last wave of boring and predictable franchises that try to compete with The Hunger Games but fail miserably.

I normally summarize the plot here, but I am pretty well sure that you already know all that you need to know, given the repetition of such films in this sub-genre of young adult movies.

If you simply enjoy mild, mindless, cliche young adult (trying so hard to appeal to teens and adults) entertainment, then this film is for you. On the other hand, if you are tired of this same vapid plot that we have been accosted with for the last several years, then this is not the way to spend the weekend. Haha. I wanted to see The Boy instead last night; but unfortunately, it was not getting a Thursday night release. I think distribution companies and theatre chains should have released it instead last night, and saved this travesty for today.

Review of “Jurassic World”

JurassicWorldBack with a roar! The Jurassic Park franchise returns from the dead with a vengeance in the newest and highly anticipated installment since the original back in 1993, and certainly since The Lost World in 1997 and Jurassic Park 3 in 2001. Jurassic World will take you back to the island that started it all and deliver the same WOW factor as the original beloved favorite. Return to Isla Nublar to experience the park John Hammond envisioned but could never have dreamed would become a reality. “The park is open!” Enjoy the adventure, pseudo-science, character development, plot, the acting, and the music that you loved about Jurassic Park (1993) in a film that holds true to the very essence of what made the original such a great film but adds in the visual storytelling technology we enjoy today. For lovers of the ride at Universal Studios (FL/CA), you will enjoy experiencing the park in ways you may have only dreamed of, and for lovers of the franchise, despite the poorly produced past sequels (even though they are still fun to watch), prepare for your expectations to be greatly surpassed as you return to your childhood and experience Jurassic World.

Jurassic World takes us back to Isla Nublar off the coast of Costa Rica. Just south of the original park, a new theme park has been opened and is bustling with park guests and dinosaurs alike. The luxury theme park and resort is jointly ran by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and of course the once chapter 11 InGen BioEngineering company founded by John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough). For the last few years, the guest satisfaction ratings have plateaued at Jurassic World and Claire has worked with InGen’s Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) to develop a genetically modified hybrid to wow the guests and increase profits. But as Ian Malcolm once so eloquently put it “life will find a way,” the attempts to control the park’s “assets,” will not go as planned. After the newly minted genetically modified hybrid Indominous Rex cleverly escapes the paddock, it is up to Claire and her unconventional Navy veteran turned dinosaur control/safety expert Owen (Chris Pratt) to save Claire’s nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) as well as the over 20K park guests from the jaws of history’s top notch predators.

Where to begin? It seems so much easier to write a critique for movies that are just okay or even terrible. When working with such an incredible movie, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to begin and even harder to know when to stop. Going into the movie, I had my reservations-especially after seeing what I thought was a ridiculous scene from the trailer of Owen facing off and talking with the raptors–but I can honestly say that is this movie that I, as well as millions of others in their mid-to-late 20s and early 30s, have been waiting for since we saw the original as kids in theaters. It truly embodies everything that made the original great and capitalizes on it by adding in the digital effects and visual storytelling techniques we enjoy as part of modern cinema. The best movies are those that simultaneously embrace current technologies whilst remaining grounded in the very essence of what a movie should be: exceptional visual storytelling in terms of the art and science of filmmaking. This truly is the sequel we have been waiting for since the helicopter left Nublar 22 years ago.

I was watching Jurassic Park 3 with a friend in order to finish the first three movies prior to seeing Jurassic World last night, and I asked him and myself  “what was it about the first one that makes it such a great film and in the top 20 grossing movies of all time (and that’s even when adjusted for inflation)? We talked a little, and both decided that is was the dynamic plot, clever writing, memorable characters, and that wow factor of seeing dinosaurs like never before on the big screen that made the first movie not just a successful movie but a GREAT movie. That same dynamic plot filled with subplots and subtext, memorable characters, and more is captured by the current installment. Yes, this movie is high concept as summer blockbusters usually are; but just because it’s high concept doesn’t mean that we cannot experience character development, subtext, exceptional writing, and great visual storytelling. From the moment that I heard the all-too-familiar music and returned to Isla Nublar, I knew then that this was going to be one of the most exciting and phenomenal movie-going experiences of my life. And you know what? It was as exciting as seeing the original for the first time. Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, and Legendary Pictures harnessed the power of what made the first movie great and brought a nearly extinct franchise back from the dead.

Just like the characters from Jurassic Park (1993) helped to make the movie what it was, so do the characters of Jurassic World. You have Claire who, much like Hammond, is a dreamer. Although, she is definitely more concerned with money than Hammond ever was. Witness as she goes from a cold shrew business woman to a courageous and loving aunt to her two nephews. Speaking of whom, witness the transition of Zach as the older mean brother who couldn’t be bothered with his sibling to risking his life to save his brother Gray’s. Dr. Henry Wu reprises his role as the genius behind the science that made Jurassic Park and now Jurassic World work. Every movie needs that hero who is unconventional and has subtle sexual tension with the strong female lead, and we get that, in spades, with Owen. There is the chief financier Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) who is concurrently overly concerned with making a profit but still genuinely concerned that his park guests are having fun. And finally, we have Lowery (Jake M. Johnson) who sports an original Jurassic Park t-shirt and has rubber dinosaurs on his desk because he loves the original park and is thrilled to work at the new one. Each of the characters has very unique personalities and traits that are meticulously woven into the plot in order to continually advance the story.

I also wanted to touch on the references to the previous films in the franchise. Early on, it was made known that the old Visitors Center would make a cameo appearance, but I did not expect the extent to which the old compound plays an intricate part in Jurassic World‘s diegesis (narrative). Claire is even dressed in all white like Hammond. Not only is the music powerful–almost to the point of tears–and harkens back to the first time you heard it, but the movie helps to make Jurassic Park feel like a real place because of Lowery’s t-shirt he bought off eBay and the banner of “when dinosaurs ruled the earth” now covered in dirt and mold that fell from the ceiling at the close of the first movie. Although not formerly acknowledged, there are many references to not only the first movie but also 2 and 3, and even the Jurassic Park Ride. From lines of dialog to easter egg camera shots and even to the Jurassic Park 1992 Jeep Wrangler, Jurassic World uses material from its storied past to support the current narrative and evoke fond memories. Interestingly, the movie also deals with the element of third party companies grossly sponsoring attractions and exhibits in theme parks. Just like even Disney’s Magic Kingdom is now sporting a Starbucks on Main Street, the same can be seen in many theme parks. Sometimes it seems like theme parks are sacrificing storytelling and creative theming for the almighty dollar. Perhaps this movie shows us what happens when greed overpowers creativity.

I feel that Universal Pictures (a Comcast Company) has been searching for its cash cow franchise like Disney’s Pirates, Avengers, and now Star Wars or like Warner Bros. Harry Potter (even though Universal rakes in the dough from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at it’s Florida and soon California parks), like MGM’s James Bond, or 20th Century Fox’s Avatar or X-Men, but after the two failed sequels to Jurassic Park, all seemed lost. Until now. This installment in the 22 year-old franchise has been successfully resurrected and could quite possibly be a contender and a worthy opponent in the franchise competition. The way the final shots of the island were in the movie, I have a feeling that this was the official goodbye to this chapter in the Jurassic Park novel and the opening of the floodgates for followups to this movie that will hopefully continue the embrace of the essence of the original whilst continuing to advance the story of what happens when man creates and manipulates dinosaurs.

I don’t know what you have planned this weekend, but you NEED to get to the theatre to see this movie. I am even planning to see it again this weekend myself. But, I need to find an IMAX that is showing it in 2D (yes, that is correct 2D). Prepare to be taken back to your childhood and relive the experience all over again in the newest chapter of Jurassic Park.

As always, if you liked this review, please follow or subscribe or at least share the link on social media.

For my review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom click here.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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