The original title of the new movie Date and Switch, a teenage sex comedy featuring a freshly out of the closet gay teen and his straight best friend both trying to lose their virginity, was Gay Dude. That's right; a film that refreshingly features a gay protagonist in a familiar teenage role started out with a title that sounds like it belongs on a porn magazine.
Thankfully, the producers and Lionsgate, which is distributing the film, made the change to the current — albeit still unoriginal — title. It just goes to show that even when Hollywood's heart is in the right place, trying to overcome stigmas and stereotypes doesn't come easily.
The movie stars Hunter Cope as Matty, who comes out to his best friend Michael (Nicholas Braun), as the duo gears up for their senior prom. Not only is Michael okay with the news, he goes out of his way to try to find Matty a boyfriend, while still trying to juggle his devotion to his girlfriend (Sarah Hyland) with the fact that Matty's ex-girlfriend (Dakota Johnson) is now falling for him. The story is roughly the same as every teenage sex comedy ever made from Risky Business to Superbad, and that's what makes it important.
By putting a gay teen character in a situation that is extremely familiar to the audience at large, it provides an inroad for empathy and understanding. Someone that's straight doesn't understand what it's like to come out to friends and family, but everyone knows what it's like to be a teenager dealing with raging hormones.
Television — in particular Glee with its power couple of Kurt and Blaine — has long been more comfortable with handling this kind of material. After all, it's been almost 20 years since My So Called Life broke ground with an openly gay teen character. The feature films that have tackled the subject have largely been independent fare or bigger budget movies that relegate the gay character to a best friend role.
It might seem odd that a step forward is created by featuring a gay character in what amounts to a formulaic comedy, but that’s exactly what it is. It took decades for Hollywood studios to make movies where the entire focus of ethnic characters wasn't their ethnicity. Matty's sexuality in Date and Switch is still the major plot point, but the overall story is universal. Progress is made in the entertainment industry in baby steps.
With the number of suicides amongst gay teens still a concern, any sort of effort that provides mainstream characterizations is worthwhile… even if it's in the guise of a sex comedy.
Just as long as it's not called Gay Dude.
There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
Troubled by unfortunate event after unfortunate event The Watch sidesteps faux pas to come out on top as a consistently funny sci-fi comedy that doesn't let its high concept tangle up a bevy of one-liners. The script penned by Jared Stern Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg assumes you've seen a few movies before entering the theater (mainly any sci-fi movie made in the 1980s). "Summer movie logic" is the foundation for The Watch's ridiculous plot which finds four adult nincompoops teaming up to form a Neighborhood Watch trying to solve the murder of a local Costco employee and eventually pursuing a killer extraterrestrial. Instead of making sense of it all The Watch wisely focuses on its four leads: Ben Stiller Vince Vaughn Jonah Hill and The IT Crowd's Richard Ayoade — a quartet whose bro banter goes a long way in spicing up the dust-covered material. There's nothing revelatory to be found in The Watch but the cast's knack for improv a poetry of the profane makes the adventure worth…viewing.
Director Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) establishes his two-dimensional characters quickly and bluntly smashing together broad personality types like a Hadron Collider of cinematic comedy. Stiller's Evan is a micromanaging do-gooder who can't find time for his wife; Hill's Franklin is a mildly disturbed weapons enthusiast yearning to join the police; Ayoade is the quaint weirdo who joins the Watch to fill the void left by his divorce; Vince Vaughn is Vince Vaughn: a loud crass gent looking for a bit of male bonding. The ragtag team assembles to fight crime but they spend most of their time drinking beers in a minivan — an affair they dub "stakeouts." A perfect opportunity for banter.
For a movie about enforcing the law and alien invasions there's a surprising lack of action in The Watch. Long stretches of the film see the central players yapping back and forth about everything: Russian nesting dolls peeing in cans or the similar viscosities of alien goo and human excrement. Charisma goes a long way and Vaughn does much of the heavy lifting making up for lost time out of the spotlight (he's been virtually nonexistent since 2005's Wedding Crashers). The man spits out jokes like no other — the rest of the cast barely keeps up. Ayoade balances out Vaughn's bombardment with a tempered timed delivery that's uniquely British and rarely found on the American big screen. Even when nothing's happening in The Watch it's rarely boring.
The Watch is at its best when it goes a step further mixing the group in with outsiders and throwing them off their rhythm. Billy Crudup cuts loose as a creepy neighbor and its delightfully weird while the always-impressive Rosemarie DeWitt as Evan's wife Abby brings unexpected warmth to the couple's relationship. Sadly The Watch mishandles its greatest asset: the aliens. The film never finds a pitch perfect blend of comedy and science fiction (Ghostbusters or Galaxy Quest this is not); a few scenes where the two come together hint at the best possible scenario but more often than not The Watch avoids its sci-fi roots. A moment in which the guys haul a dead alien back to their man cave plays like an E.T.-inspired version of The Hangover credits. It's lewd and ridiculous but the rest of the film struggles to maintain that energy.
Stiller Vaughn Hill and Ayoade have all proved themselves able funnymen capable of taking weak and tired material up a notch which they're forced to do in every moment of The Watch. Schaffer can handle his talent but his direction isn't adding anything to the mix. By the third slow-motion-set-to-gangster-rap scene The Lonely Island member's obsession with non-cool-coolness is officially just an attempt at being cool (which is not all that funny). The Watch has a greater opportunity than most comedy blockbusters to go absolutely bonkers: it's rated R. But instead of taking its twist and running with it the movie plays it safe. In this case safe is non-stop jokes about the many facets of human reproduction.
At his first day of Sky High Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) the son of two of the greatest superheroes ever Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston) shocks everyone by exhibiting absolutely no superpowers. To make matters worse Will inherits an archenemy and family foe in Warren Peace (Stevens Strait) who can shoot fire from his hands. But Will's "Sidekick" status is quickly upgraded to "Hero" when he realizes he possesses superhuman strength. Newfound status in tow Will deserts his geeky pals and falls for Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a technopath who can control technology with her mind). But when Commander and Jetstream's biggest bounty the villainous Royal Pain comes back to threaten his family Will and his sidekick friends reunite to save them their friends and the destiny of Sky High. It's a tough first homework assignment but hey that's high school.
Veteran stars Kurt Russell (Miracle) and Kelly Preston (Eulogy) give comical performances as real estate agents by day superheroes by night but it's the younger cast that steals the show. Lords of Dogtown's Michael Angarano probably better known for his role as Jack's biological son Elliot on NBC's Will & Grace flawlessly depicts an angst ridden high schooler dealing with teen pressures. Meanwhile Mary Elizabeth Winstead (The Ring Two) who plays Will's love interest Gwen gives a first-class performance as the most popular--and most hated--girl in school. But the heart and soul of the movie resides in the sidekicks: Layla (Danielle Panabaker) Ethan (Dee-Jay Daniels) Zach (Nicholas Braun) and Magenta (Kelly Vitz) who round out a young cast of lovable outcasts. Also look for some surprisingly delightful performances from Lynda Carter (the original Wonder Woman) as the school principal cult favorite Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead's Ash) as Coach Boomer and Kids in the Hall trooper Kevin McDonald as Mr. Medulla.
Director Mike Mitchell the man responsible for hilarious Rob Schneider comedy Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and Ben Affleck's fiasco Surviving Christmas strips this family comedy of the violence normally associated with characters that go "ker-pow" in the in dark alleys and infuses it instead with a old-fashioned comic book feel. As a scene changer for example he flashes the Sky High logo across the screen. And the special effects were surprisingly dazzling: Super strength is demonstrated by smashing the entire gym floor and the flying bus that took them to and from school all add to the film's appeal. Everyone's power--whether it be flying freezing flaming stretching or speed--is shown seamlessly which makes the film so pleasantly watchable. While the students may be "saving the world one homework assignment at a time " Mitchell's comic-y touch is the key to the film's success.