SUNDANCE: ‘The Way Way Back’, ‘S-VHS’, ‘Sightseers’, and ‘A.C.O.D.’

way-way-back-liam-james-sam-rockwellAs we close the book on our coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, I’m speeding up the pace a bit by grouping together some of my remaining reviews. I’ll be doing short looks at a quartet of movies that I enjoyed when I was in Park City, though none of them blew me away. They each got a three star rating from me. I’ll be talking about ‘The Way, Way Back’, ‘S-VHS’, ‘Sightseers’, and ‘A.C.O.D.’ briefly here, but look for full length reviews later on this year when they hit theaters. ‘The Way, Way Back’ is the highest profile of the lot, so I’ll give that one a few more words that the others. 

The Way, Way Back (***)

Fox Searchlight backed up the Brinks truck for this coming of age comedy, and while I can see why, I think they overpaid somewhat. There are charms to be had here with ‘The Way, Way Back’, and Sam Rockwell absolutely steals the show, but ‘Adventureland’ did almost the same thing a few years ago, except better and with a more realistic edge. The co-writers of ‘The Descendants’ Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have made a solid directorial effort here, but they didn’t exactly blow me away. Honestly, I actually was mildly disappointed, but I still had a nice enough time to recommend the flick to you.

The story centers around a teen (Liam James) who comes into his own while staying at the summer home of his mom’s new boyfriend (Toni Collette and Steve Carrell). While wandering around, he comes across a water park run by a man child of an owner (Rockwell). Seeing that the boy needs something in his life like this, he gives the kid a job, and it’s not long before he’s finally making friends and enjoying life. Of course, as the summer goes on, storm clouds begin to form, leading to moments of truth for each and every character. The plot isn’t a bastion of originality, but it does generate a lot of goodwill.

Maybe I’d have been more over the moon for this one if I hadn’t already loved ‘Adventureland’, but this is a movie I only liked instead of loved. Allison Janney happens to play a very unusual supporting part that got my attention early on, and Carrell plays a more serious role than usual, but it was Rockwell that really sold it for me. He’s terrific, and if/when you see this movie, he should be the reason why!

S-VHS (***)

svhs-firstlook-bloodyguy-fullBigger and more extreme in just about every way, ‘S-VHS’ is the really entertaining follow up to the already fun horror anthology that was ‘V/H/S’. Not that the last one was full of realism to begin with, this time around the scares are substituted for craziness and an odd sense of fun. One segment this time focuses on a bionic eye that lets its owner see the dead. One involves an alien invasion. Another one shows you a zombie’s point of view, while the best one is so out there and hard to describe that I won’t even bother, except to tell you that it’s absolutely satanic and really quite awesome. The directors are better this time around, and if I wasn’t frightened, I found myself laughing a lot. I’ll have more to say on this one later on in the year, but if you liked the first movie, you’ll dig this one too.

Sightseers (***)

imagesA pitch black comedy with more than a hint of horror in it, ‘Sightseers’ is a pretty messed up film, though one with more than its fair share of laughs. Light on plot, it’s basically just a chronicle of a road trip that turns deadly in a number of strange and silly ways. At times like an extended ‘Monty Python’ sketch, filmmaker Ben Wheatley shows that he can still be a dark genre filmmaker while having fun, and I certainly appreciated that. Had the movie run about ten minutes shorter, I’d have had an absolute blast with it. The pleasure is in seeing how ludicrous it all gets, so I won’t spoil that for you here. Audiences abroad have already seen this flick, so those of you here in America will soon get to see what we all have already…

A.C.O.D. (***)

movies_acod_stillAlthough it loses its comedic steam during the second half, there are some real solid laughs to be found with ‘A.C.O.D.’. The title stands for Adult Children of Divorce, a book being written about the title character, played by Adam Scott. His parents have bickered for years, and now that his brother is getting married, he wants them to put aside their difference for a day. Comedy ultimately ensues. Richard Jenkins stole the movie for me as the foul mouthed father. He’s a laugh riot, so whenever he’s on the screen, I was in heaven. Suffice to say, he’s not there enough. I still liked this movie, in spite of its sitcom-ish dealings towards the end. It might wind up being a sleeper hit at some point in 2013. It’s certainly mainstream enough to do it…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!