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Movie Review Special: Films To Brighten The Dog Days Of Summer

 

August 1, 2012



MOVIE REVIEW SPECIAL: FILMS TO BRIGHTEN THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER

Last week I brought you some “killer” movies for the adults in the crowd, so it’s only fair that this week I turn my attention to perhaps my favorite audience, the kids.

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS

For devotees young and old alike of Jeff Kinney’s best-selling WIMPY KID book series and subsequent film franchise, the wait for this summer’s next installment is finally over and I know one kid in particular who will be overjoyed this weekend when DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS hits theatres nationwide. So excited with the WIMPY KID books and the first two film adaptations, my nephew Tommy began excitedly chomping at the bit for WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS back in April. There’s just something about our hero, Greg Heffley, that touches a chord within each of us, especially kids. Based on the third and fourth books in the series, THE LAST STRAW and DOG DAYS, director David Bowers, together with screenwriters Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky, and all under the ever guiding light of Jeff Kinney, bring us what, I believe, is one of the best adaptations in the franchise. Filled with fun, laughter and non-stop hijinks involving Greg, his older brother Rodrick, and Greg’s best friend Rowley, sibling love and rivalry abound as do the usual summer vacation antics of best friends in a small suburban town.

It’s the end of eighth grade and time for summer vacation. Looking forward to kicking back and doing nothing but eat, sleep, play video games, hang out with his best friend Rowley and dream of meeting up with his puppy dog love, Holly, life is looking pretty good to Greg Heffley; that is, until his parents, Frank and Susan, decide it’s time for him to learn about responsibility and productivity. In other words, it’s time to go to work with dad and perform slave labor for free. Yuck! But luckily for Greg, before his days of toil and sweat can start, Rowley invites him to the members only country club. And who should he see at the club? None other than Holly who is spending her time giving tennis instruction to little kids. Is this summer gonna be great, or what! Knowing that he just “has to” hang at the club with Rowley in order to be near Holly, Greg puts a not-too-well-thought-out plan into action. He tells his parents he can’t work with dad because he got a job at the country club. Way to go, Greg! Er, or not. Oops! Now Greg not only has to keep his parents from finding out the truth, he has to keep it from Rodrick.

As we all know, it’s pretty hard to keep secrets from older siblings and it’s not long before Rodrick discovers what Greg is up to. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Greg has no choice but to succumb to Rodrick’s wishes in exchange for Rodrick’s silence (a.k.a., blackmail) if he’s to have a summer of fun and be with Holly. But what happens when Greg not only has to sneak himself into the country club every day, but Rodrick as well, then charges a fortune in smoothies and snacks on Rowley’s family tab and thanks to his lies, risks losing his best friend?

Reprising their well familiar roles from the prior WIMPY KID films are Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Steve Zahn and Rachel Harris as the Heffley family - Greg, Rodrick, Frank and Susan. Joining in the fun again are also Robert Capron as the lovable and loyal Rowley, and Peyton List as Holly Hills.

Zahn is pure magic as the often hapless Frank, striking a comfortable balance between slapstick and parental responsibility. Similarly, Harris has the perfect vocal inflections and intonations for a very very upset mother, something that will have kids shaking their heads in knowing understanding.

The real fun, adventure and excitement, however, comes from Gordon, Capron and Bostick. Each of their performances is so real, so authentic and so genuine, there is never any doubt that Greg and Rowley are best buds or that Greg and Rodrick are brothers. Every scene, schtick, piece of dialogue is so organic, natural and free-flowing it’s as if you are actually stepping into their shoes experiencing everything first hand.

“Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” director David Bowers returns to helm WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS. Ensconced in the franchise, Bowers knows these characters like the back of his hand and stays true to not only the books, but the screenplay adaptation. The characters and situations are never compromised or “out of character”, something directly attributable to writers Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky. Celebrating and embracing the joys of youth and the vivid emotional touchstones of summer vacation, humor rises to the forefront as it cleverly conceals some powerful messages about honesty, friends and family.

Rather than stagnate, the story and the characters are allowed to grow, just like real life. Moving into the “coming-of-age” period of growing up, relationships progress and the emotional dynamics gradually shift with tone as we delve deeper into father-son and first love elements of life. Zahn and Gordon beautifully capture the peaks and valleys of this dynamic with thoughtfulness and humor, and never dumbing down to the audience. In many ways, the life lessons of WIMPY KID as a whole are very Brady-esque and very welcome in today’s world.

Don’t let the dog days of summer get you down! DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS is filled with laughter, love and fun for the whole family.

CRAIGSLIST JOE

Not quite for the kid set, but definitely a documentary to be appreciated by internet-savvy teens and adults is CRAIGSLIST JOE. Who hasn’t heard of Craigslist? Who hasn’t at least perused Craigslist from time to time to see what the buzz is about? Hmmm. No hands in the air. Just as I suspected. Everyone’s heard of Craigslist, including filmmaker Joe Gardner.

Having met and interviewed Joe Gardner, he is in person exactly who he is on screen. Kind, polite, nice, decent and with an unshakeable faith in the altruistic nature of people. He is also a 20-something young man who believes in the power of technology. So what happens when technology meets human nature on the internet? You get, among other things, Craigslist. But Craigslist is different from social media, email and other digital age online machinations. It is essentially a service directory for every service known to mankind. And for Joe Garnder this posed a very interesting proposition. Harkening to shades of Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me”, could Joe survive for one month, 31 days, with nothing at his disposal but for Craigslist; no money, no credit cards, no relatives, no phone, no food. Just a laptop, a new cell phone with no contact info and an unknown number, the clothes on his back and a toothbrush. Could he survive on the kindness of Craigslist?

Hiring Kevin Flint, a cameraman Joe found on Craiglist (of course), to embark on this journey and document Joe’s experiences, Joe said goodbye to family and friends and hit the road in the dead of winter. Staying true to his mission, the camera follows him at every turn as he posts on Craigslist looking for food, shelter, transportation, and captures the moments when connections - and surprisingly, friendships - occur.

As the story unfolds, one is surprised at the ease with which Joe seems to pull off this cross-country Craigslist criss-cross which, in all honesty, gave me a sense of feeling somewhat manipulated. With 80 hours of footage shot over a 31 day period, we see what we know are only snippets of the adventure, and all of which but for one “no show” for a ride, are successful connections. But the mind starts questioning the screen and you find yourself asking how many "no's" did he get and how much did the fact the camera was present come into play? Nothing is revealed within the documentary to let the audience know that people were made aware of a camera being present and that the situation would be filmed. (Noteworthy is that this is something I addressed with Joe at length during our exclusive interview.) Suffice to say, however, that these charitable individuals were ultimately told about the camera before meeting Joe, but this then calls into question how much was the "15 minutes of fame" a factor in altruism - especially with the charity groups who need publicity?

Key to CRAIGSLIST JOE is Drew Kilcoin’s editing. Never losing the interest of the audience, Kilcoin masterfully weaves together footage culled down from the 80 odd hours shot. What could have been an extremely rote and mundane project, is not. At first I feared we were going to get parts of all 31 days in the film, but thanks to selective editing, we did not and the film moves along at an easy, relaxed pace. Interestingly, there is never any sense of urgency about finding food or shelter, not even when Joe bemoans at 4:30AM that he has nowhere to sleep for the night.

Selecting what Gardner and his team believe to be the most interesting encounters, we are treated to both the heartwarming and the humorous (not to be missed is Daisy the Dominatrix who gives Joe and his then ride, dinner and a couch to crash on) as we meet children of prison inmates celebrating Christmas alone, wonderful mom and pop business owners, an artist using his talents to help rebuild New Orleans, organizations like NYC Christmas Elves and Structures of Success, and through it all, one of the sweetest touchstones of all, Joe remembering to brush his teeth everyday. As he explained to me, who would want to give you a ride or take you into their home if you had really bad dental hygiene; besides, it shows good teachings from mom. Particularly sad for film and theater fans will be a segment where Joe comes to the aid of a NYC woman suffering from cancer and who lives in an apartment that is so overrun with floor to ceiling

 

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