Tag Archives: B

THE KINGS OF SUMMER

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If you want to feel better about the current movie season, take a break from the studio blockbusters and check out “The Kings of Summer,” a quirky, genial crowd-pleaser that probably cost less than the catering bill for one of the franchise mega-productions but delivers a lot more fun than most of them. Like Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” but with greater emotional warmth and less stylistic affectation, it offers a tale of youngsters leaving home that’s touched by magic and good spirits.

The teens are a trio of high-schoolers in a small Ohio town. One is Joe Toy (Nick Robinson), a gangly dreamer in constant friction with his widower dad Frank (Nick Offerman) and infatuated with pretty classmate Kelly (Erin Moriarity). The other is Patrick (Gabriel Brasso), a sturdy, good-natured jock whose parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) are sitcom silly types who rub even as sweet a kid as their son the wrong way. After a particularly nasty row with his dad, Joe persuades Patrick that they should build a house for themselves in the woods and live there off the land. They’re joined in the endeavor by Biaggio (Moises Arias), an impish oddball with an unnerving habit of talking in gnomic utterances that have little to do with the conversations around him. And so collecting scraps from wherever they find them, the three construct a ramshackle abode, abandon their home and settle into their new digs.

This is not, it must be said, a remotely realistic scenario any more than “Kingdom” was. But though the finished house has a fairy-tale appearance and Ross Riege’s cinematography gives a glow to the images, the approach taken by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts doesn’t rely on calculated artifice to anywhere near the extent that Anderson did. The result is hardly naturalistic, and the way the narrative progresses isn’t remotely believable—the notion that the boys’ presence in the nearby woods wouldn’t be quickly discovered even by such obtuse cops as those played by Mary Lynn Rajskub and Thomas Middleditch, who instead jump to the conclusion that they’ve been abducted, is patently absurd. But the cheekiness with which the script portrays the youngsters’ attempts to forage for food—via secret trips to a nearby Boston Market, as it turns out—is amusing enough, and Vogt-Roberts gets a lot of mileage out of their fooling around in their personal paradise.

Of course unalloyed joy can’t last, and though there’s literally a snake that eventually shows up to wreck this new Eden, the real damage is done—unintentionally—by Kelly, who Joe hopes will be so impressed by his place that she’ll finally link up with him, but is attracted to Patrick instead. That occasions the rupture between the two fast friends that ends their experiment and—for a time—their amity.

But although the youngsters’ adventures are enjoyable, and Basso, Arias and especially Robinson are ingratiating performers who genuinely seem to be having a good time, “The Kings of Summer” would generate far fewer laughs if it weren’t for Offerman. He makes Frank a delightfully grumpy guy whom Chris Galletta has supplied with a stream of funny lines, including a riff with a deliveryman about oversized wonton that could become a staple stand-up routine. Offerman isn’t needed to save the picture, but he improves it enormously. By contrast the other adults in the cast—including Alison Brie as Joe’s sister Heather and Eugene Cordero as her inept boyfriend Colin—have their moments without hijacking their scenes the way he does.

“The Kings of Summer” is an unimaginative title for a movie that breaks no new ground but travels familiar territory in a way that will give you a warm smile.

WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS

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It’s more than a little ironic that the title of Alex Gibney’s documentary on WikiLeaks and its driven founder Julian Assange comes from an interviewee who’s a complete outsider to the movement he represents—none other than Michael Hayden, ex-military intelligence specialist and CIA head. And in his words, “We Steal Secrets” refers not to the troublesome website Assange created to out official documents but to the US government and its various clandestine operations.

What Gibney’s film is concerned with, of course, is that same government’s anger over what Assange managed to accomplish during his brief heyday—the revelation of materials concerning the Iraq war and a huge cache of State Department documents that were seriously embarrassing to Washington. The discomfort—some would say damage—he and his confederates caused led to blowback, much rhetorical but, defenders would allege, at least some of it conspiratorial. What’s clear is that apart from any personal failings that were involved, Assange’s reaction to the criticism ruined not only his own reputation but the organization for which he spoke.

Gibney’s film covers all of this in a methodical, clear fashion that only occasionally descends into an unbecoming cutesiness (one could certainly have done without the reference to the “Star Trek” Koboyashi Maru scenario, for example). One could hardly call it concise, however; the documentary runs over two hours, which many viewers will consider a bit much, however intriguing they find the subject. But if nothing else, “We Steal Secrets” certainly works—as Gibney’s previous films on the Enron executives and Eliot Spitzer did—as a saga of self-destructive behavior by capable people whose judgment was perverted by smugness about their own principles.

What Gibney offers here falls into three fundamental parts. The first is basically a biography of Assange, from his efforts as youthful hacker in Australia (he’s suspected of involvement in the planting of a worm in NASA computers that was one of the earliest examples of “hacksterism”) through his flight from the law to evade charges of sexual harassment in Sweden. The problem here is that Assange is a pretty opaque character, very difficult to portray in much depth. What’s evident is that while putting forth the most extreme arguments in favor of governmental transparency—and developing clever means of circumventing officialdom’s efforts to keep a lid on important information—when confronted about his own actions, he resorted to extraordinary methods to suppress the truth, demanding non-disclosure agreements from his colleagues suspiciously like those that he condemns when others use them. That contradiction has decimated the ranks of volunteers who helped the whole WikiLeaks operation function, leaving it crippled and Assange under self-imposed house arrest in the embassy of a nation that has been accused of numerous human rights violations itself.

Intimately connected with that biography is the second major element of the film, an institutional biography of WikiLeaks itself, complete with graphics about how it operated, news footage, and excerpts from interviews with both Assange (often very guarded) and those who worked with him on it. It’s a sad tale of a movement that represented high motives—even if you consider them wrongheaded—brought down by one man’s inflated notion of self-importance.

And there’s a third major portion of the picture, dedicated to Bradley Manning, the troubled US army intelligence analyst who singlehandedly released all the data—on video as well as in print form—on the Iraq war to WikiLeaks. His story, handled with surprising delicacy, is intertwined with that of Adrian Lamo, the hacker whom he turned to for advice and sympathy but who ultimately turned him in to the authorities. Gibney offers a perceptive portrait of Lamo, whom he sketches in interview excerpts and found footage, showing him as conflicted and pained but also self-justifying.

Working with editor Andy Grieve, Gibney stitches all these aspects of the WikiLeaks sage together with his customary skill, in yet another of his documentary essays about how right the Greeks were in identifying the fatal flaw of hubris as the key to understanding the downfall of those who are—or at least believe themselves to be—exceptional.