The joys of parenting and the reality that comes with it

As the old adage goes: under no circumstances should you ever begin with an apology. It simply looks bad and puts the reader (or the audience if you’re brave enough to speak in public) in a very uncomfortable frame of mind. Therefore, I should probably refer to what I’m about to say as more of an announcement. I feel I owe you at least this much. It might seem odd to be doing things like that; after all this blog doesn’t have much of a wide following, but I’m not most people and if there’s at least a handful of people who enjoy my writing, it feels perfectly valid to make them aware of anything that might influence the content they read. Continue reading

Some films take you “The way, way back”

I believe that whenever we hit certain age and the length of time between our adolescence and where we currently are reaches a particular value, we develop this stunning ability to look back at our awkward selves and actually miss everything that we used to hate. If only for a moment, we can suppress everything that would go wrong in our poorly developed lives with all the failures and disappointments, and we wish we could be young again only for a day, so that we could forget the painful struggles of adulthood.

If I try really hard, I can maybe vaguely remember the times, when I wished I was a grown-up, so that my life would finally be about me. Well, whoever told me that in the first place, played a cruel trick on me, because it is by far the first and most important lesson of adult life – it is never about you. Being a grown-up is always about the other person: your wife, your husband, boyfriend, child, grandchild, your boss, your employees… Everyone, but you… Therefore, I had to come to terms with the fact that I would never get the chance to make up for everything I never had. Now, the years of my own adolescence weren’t particularly troubling, if you consider the fact that I had both parents and grew up physically intact. However, I find it ludicrous to assume that unless you were homeless, or beaten, you have nothing to be complaining about. I really believe that if way, way back (see what I did there?), when you were young, naive and vulnerable, you didn’t get to decide who you want to be (for any reason), then you have every right to do so, because we all deserve to be in control of our lives.

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“The way, way back” made me think about just that time in my life, when I was supposed to lay the foundations for everything the future would bring, but couldn’t for a variety of reasons. One might call that film a ‘coming of age’ story, or a feel-good indie comedy, but for somebody like me, it is so much more than that. It’s not exactly a peek into the past, because I can’t say I can relate exactly to what the characters in this film had to go through, but the state of helplessness I can definitely understand.

Because that’s what “The way, way back” is all about. Directed by a duo of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, It’s a story about a teenage boy, Duncan (Liam James), who finds it near impossible to understand his place in the world. His parents are divorced, his dad is nowhere to be seen, and his mom (Toni Collette) is busy working on her own issues by trying to build a relationship with her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). So there he is, all alone in the world, stuck on holiday with his mom, Trent and his douchebaggy daughter. In the midst of all the loneliness, longing for a father figure and his ineptitude to establish a bond with Trent (who is also kind of an asshole), Duncan serendipitously comes across Owen (Sam Rockwell) – a sardonic and loud-mouthed manager of the local water park, who is not only willing to befriend him, but will also help him get a grip on his own life.

Some films will make you cry (and if you’re my wife, there’s a lot of them), some will make you laugh, and some will make you do both at the same time. In all honesty, “The way, way back” fits perfectly into the latter category with its feel-good pick-me-up message founded in harsh reality of becoming a grown-up. I realize my perception of this film was heavily biased by my own experiences, but nevertheless I think it’s easily one of the best films of this year so far. Rarely do I get a chance to see a story that well-written, acted and directed. With the added bonus of speaking to me on a personal level, “The way, way back” provided me with an experience I won’t be able to forget for a long time.

 

I could go on for hours about Sam Rockwell’s magical performance as a complex, layered character, that you can’t not fall in love with, but it is not what’s responsible for this film’s powerful message. Sure, he gets a lot of stage time, all filled with witty banter and bittersweet comedy, but his character serves a purpose, that is to shine light on Duncan’s journey from the dark recesses of abandonment towards becoming a responsible and self-aware fourteen-year-old adult human being. And watching that process of morphing an awkward teenager failing to recognize his own potential into a man with a handle on his life is what makes “The way, way back” so damn beautiful.

Maybe because I too would like to have had the courage to stand up for myself once, this film got to me so well. Well, I didn’t, so I had to walk for a bit longer to get where I am today (and even at that, I’m still working through my emotional baggage), but it sure was nice to be told a story about someone who might have been you to some extent. Duncan could have just as easily be any teenager with problems (regardless of their gravity) and personal issues and even though the story does not have a definitive fairy-tale ending, it surely made me feel a bit better. After all, it’s not about getting everything right and making all the right decisions, but mainly about growing a pair of proverbial balls. Sooner or later we all have to do it and “The way, way back” got me to think about all the times I could have, but didn’t, and the time I finally did. And come to think of it, I’m glad my life turned out the way it did.

And that’s what all indie comedies should do to you…

The Summer Blockbuster Challenge – Recap!

As of today, the summer season (at least in the US) has officially drawn to a close. The tickets have been sold, the films have been watched, the reviews have been written, the popcorn has been eaten and unceremoniously distributed on the floors by moronic teenagers… and so on. Therefore, I think it’s high time I saw how I’ve done with my predictions as to which films would dominate the box offices over these last few months.

Let me reiterate the rules of the challenge, as described by the good folks over at Slashfilm. By the way, whenever they come out (hopefully in the following days) with their results and the details of the scoring system, I shall make a note of it to see how I stand in comparison to the ‘big guys’.

First of all, the challenger gets to choose 10 films released in the period between the first weekend of May and the first weekend of September (inclusive) and arrange them according to the predicted domestic box office revenue from highest to lowest. Additionally, the challenger gets to name 3 Dark Horse entries that will gain extra points in case they make it to the top 10. The challenger will then be scored based on the accuracy of his/her predictions.

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Because I didn’t quite know the exact scoring rules, which I hope to learn in the foreseeable future, for a time being I decided to come up with a scoring system of my own that would reflect the accuracy of predictions, so let me walk you through it.

Quite logically, I assume that the perfect score would be to predict the ten films in exact order, for which the challenger would be awarded a score of 100%. From there, it’s quite easy to notice that in this system, predicting each entrant awards the challenger a maximum of 10%, which can be broken down further with regard to the accuracy in predicting its spot in the top 10. I think that in order to best reflect the real accuracy, a given film should be awarded 10% score if its predicted place on the list matches perfectly. A penalty of subtracting 1% from an individual score would be enforced on a film, if its predicted spot in the top ten differs by one from the actual result. For example, if the challenger predicted “Iron Man 3” to come up on top, which it did in reality, then no penalty would be awarded. But if he predicted this film to come up fifth, then 5% would be subtracted from the individual score. The Dark Horse entrant showing up in the top ten grants 5% score regardless of its positioning in the bracket. The sum of individual scores then gives the total score as a percentage.

Regardless of the actual rules of the Slashfilm challenge, I believe that this particular system doesn’t have any major flaws, as it awards accuracy and punishes its lack the most in its extremes. I think naming the top contenders is the easiest; therefore mistakes in that region should be punished most severely. The same goes for the bottom of the bracket.

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Above you can see what I came up with based on a quick analysis of the past top grossing summer films based on the release date, direct competition during release weekends and current trends in movie-going (left-hand column) against the harsh reality of the US summer box office results. Right of the bat, you can spot that I did a particularly terrible job at actually predicting the top 10, because as many as four films that I predicted never made it near the top. Plus, my personal Dark Horses (“White House Down”, “After Earth”, and “The Lone Ranger”) turned out to be the biggest bombs of the entire summer. How unlucky is that?

I also failed to listen to reason when I hoped “Man of Steel” would win the whole summer and show “Iron Man 3” where to go, which it didn’t. As predicted, though, I managed to pick the two animations that got to the top 10, but messed it up when it comes to the order and seriously underestimated the hype machine of the minions from “Despicable Me 2”. In other news, I failed to recognize the potentials of “World War Z” (which I thought would tank like the Titanic) and “The Great Gatsby”. “The Heat” and “The Conjuring” got me by complete surprise, because never in my life would I have thought that Sandra Bullock would stand a chance against a franchise like “The Hangover” (which under-performed severely). Plus, a horror film in the bracket? Nobody knew…

As a result, the collective penalties amounted to 53% which gave me a shameful score of 47%. Seriously, I need to work on my foretelling skills, because this is a joke. I know I might have included some titles in my list that were more like good wishes than actual cold calculations, but I didn’t think a film like “Pacific Rim” would bomb in the US. Well, I can only give myself a pat on the back for good effort and better luck next year.

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But wait, there’s more… Since I have already begun writing up the summer season for a proper analysis (and I will roll it out some time this week) I could put my predictions against the worldwide box office results to see how I did on the global market. Granted, I might not know the American trends all that well, because I don’t live there, so what the hell…

Well, it’s not that bad! I was actually pleasantly surprised to note that I managed to get 9 out of 10 films, which is already an achievement. Plus, I got one film – “Wolverine” that I ironically refused to see – perfectly on the nose. Still, I vastly overestimated “Man of Steel”, and apart from a slight miscalculation on “Despicable Me 2” and “Fast and Furious 6” (I’m baffled as to why this film was so popular), I did quite respectably. And one more thing – taking into account the foreign markets, my personal favorite “Pacific Rim” landed finally in the top 10, as if to please me in some way.

In the end, I scored 64% against the global top 10 this summer, a score that might not look impressive, but it’s nothing to sniff at. Still, I think I should re-evaluate my methods for the next year, but then again, if I take into account all the harsh assumptions I made, I should be rather glad the moviegoers proved me wrong. How can I be mad at the fact that a phenomenal horror made a lot of money? And the less money sequels make, the better for everyone…