Niagara Gazette

August 20, 2013

CALLERI: 'The Spectacular Now' is a small picture with large potential

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The summer movie season, which is limping into the sunset, is notable more for its failures than for its successes. Audiences have mostly rejected the mega-budget blockbusters that seem dropped from the same mold.

The unexpected winner will be the fright film “The Conjuring,” which was made for $20-million and has collected $127-million at the box office in North America alone and is still playing worldwide and has a global take of $193-million. The biggest blockbuster is “Iron Man 3,” which tops the North American list with $408-million and has snared $1.2-billion when you include its foreign results.

Combining North American and worldwide interest, there was also positive reaction in terms of ticket sales to “Despicable Me 2,“ “Man Of Steel,” “Monsters University,” “Fast & Furious 6,” “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “World War Z,” “The Heat,” and “The Great Gatsby.”

The biggest disaster was “The Long Ranger,” a flop that affected The Disney Company’s bottom line. With production and marketing costs, its budget was around $375-million. That money is not seen on the screen. Where it went is anyone’s guess. The movie eked out $87-million in the U.S. and Canada. When adding its foreign take, it scraped up a weak $217-million.

Other epic duds include, ironically, an animated feature called “Epic.” Also failing were “White House Down” and “Olympus Has Fallen” (they are essentially the same movie), “Pacific Rim,” “R.I.P.D.,” “After Earth,” “The Hangover Part III,” “Turbo,” “Red 2,” and “Elysium,” which was supposed to rescue Sony Pictures from its dismal box office showing of late. However, “Elysium” is so similar to every other Earth-in-crisis movie, that it could run as a preview for recent science-fiction, robots-among-us, clash and clang action efforts.

As happens every summer, small distributors and major studios hoping to catch a wave fill the end of the season with a slew of entries.

Woody Allen’s outstanding “Blue Jasmine,” has quickly become a hit. Moviegoers are eager to see Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-worthy performance as a wealthy woman who has re-written her life history and finds herself, because of financial circumstances, compelled to invent yet another new persona.

Extremely popular is “We’re The Millers,” a crass and weak comedy about a fake family that has to smuggle marijuana, the appeal of which will depend on your tolerance for raunchy humor and very familiar pot jokes. It’s Cheech and Chong meets a stripper pole.

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is a well-made history lesson about an African-American White House butler who served Presidents of the United States for decades. The film is beautifully acted by Forest Whitaker as the servant, but the stunt casting of so many notable actors playing different presidents slows down the movie. “The Butler,” based on the life of an actual person, fictionalizes everything, and therefore rings false when it makes it seem as if each president was only concerned with Civil Rights. It becomes less about the butler and more about audience manipulation.

“Jobs” is a dull and shallow exploration of the life of Apple computer genius Steve Jobs. You sit and watch the air go out of what should have been an engaging picture about the inventor who changed the way we communicate. The film lacks passion. Jobs comes across as a smirking guru thanks to a listless performance by Ashton Kutcher, who mumbles and whispers and never lets us feel Jobs’s emotional intensity.

“The Spectacular Now” is a movie about teenagers but with a major difference. It’s good. This is not your typical, silly, party animal picture.

Sutter, well acted by relative newcomer Miles Teller, is a high school senior drifting along with a hail-fellow-well-met attitude. He’s absent a father and his mother won’t tell him where he is. His girlfriend dumps him because she doesn’t see a future together. Smart girl. Depending on how you feel about such things, Sutter is already an alcoholic or is on the cusp of becoming one. His ever-present flask of whiskey holds the glue that keeps him on an even keel.

Sutter drifts to Aimee, an average girl also with parental issues, who is well-played by Shailene Woodley from “The Descendants.” Together the two explore their mutual attraction and some realistic problems associated with older teens today. You develop genuine care and concern about them. Director James Ponsoldt, who calmly and coolly builds his story, is willing to jolt the audience.

“The Spectacular Now” is nicely written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and is drawn from Tim Tharp’s popular teen novel.

The movie starts off a bit wobbly, as it lays on the irresponsible teen material too thickly, but once it concentrates on Aimee and Sutter and their believable relationship, it develops into something utterly unafraid of showing the results of choices made and chances taken.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.