The Way, Way Back, The Wolverine, and Wrasslin'

The directing debut of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who won Oscars for co-writing "The Descendants" with Alexander Payne just two years ago), "The Way, Way Back" is a charming coming-of-age film that overcomes a lot of pitfalls of its well-worn genre, mainly because of its protagonist.

14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) is so beautifully inexpressive and uncomfortable to begin with that when he finally does make the small strides needed to come out of his shell, it feels like a huge triumph. He's virtually silent for the first half of the movie, as his mother (Toni Collette) lets her overbearing boyfriend (Steve Carell) worm his way into the family during what will certainly be a long, awful summer at his vacation house.

Yes, it's another "summer that changed everything," but "The Way, Way Back," opening today at Liberty Hall, features a very funny script with more than its share of truthful moments, and a fantastic cast that really lifts the material up.

Collette shows many shades of pathetic as she tries to be strong for her future and her kids, Carell is in dialed-down mode and injects a big amount of sad humanity into what could have been a one-note character, and Sam Rockwell is his usual motor-mouthed self, but also shows a deeper understanding of his own limitations as a human being.

If Carell is the alpha male; the go-getter who takes what he thinks he deserves (he’s a car salesman to boot), then Rockwell is the guy who realizes his limitations and spends his time making the best of them with a wry sense of humor.

Rash and Faxon, who also star in supporting roles, stage the movie quite naturally and get great performances, which makes it all the more disappointing that they rely on a montage for one pivotal scene that illustrates Duncan’s growth. The co-writer/directors keep most of the movie in line with the toned-down inwardness of their main character, although it does veer into broader comedy and some overly convenient plotting every now and then.

For all of the familiar elements, though, it has an easy underdog charm that’s undeniable. Almost all of the characters in the large and talented ensemble cast experience their own life-changing moments of self-realization, and some of them are quite small and subtle. Rockwell and Allison Janney (who plays a scene-stealing, gossipy lush) stand out as bigger performances, but that’s also because they get most of the really funny material. They too are part of a bigger picture — a portrait of a teenager trying to find himself and lonely adults trying to relive their youth.

But Liam James is the introverted heart of the film, and is somewhat of a revelation. His perfect portrayal of a skittish boy who is forced to become assertive anchors the whole movie and makes it a coming-of-age story worth revisiting.

After 2009's bland "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," it's refreshing to see Hugh Jackman inhabit the man with the retractable claws and adamantium skeleton in a movie that understands his inner conflict.

"The Wolverine" is a crime drama, albeit with attendant supernatural trappings, set in modern-day Japan. The stakes are much smaller than the typical end-of-the-world superhero threat, and the film is all the better for it. The smaller canvas allows the movie to focus its entire plot around its near-invincible anti-hero's internal crisis. With his instant healing powers, Logan (Jackman) is nearly impossible to kill, so everyone he has ever loved or cared about will die as he lives on. But for what purpose?

From a plotting standpoint, "The Wolverine" follows the traditional Western storyline of a stranger that comes to town and gets caught up in the local intrigue. There's a rich old man from Logan's past, his nefarious nurse, his beautiful daughter, a band of ninjas, and of course, Yakuza. But the core of the film revolves around Wolverine.

Like "Iron Man 3" earlier this summer, "The Wolverine" gets a lot of mileage by stripping away its main characters' powers to reveal more about the person that surrounds the adamantium skeleton. Jackman turns in a soulful performance, and it's refreshing to see a "superhero" film that isn't merely racing to get to the next explosion.

Director James Mangold ("Walk the Line," "3:10 to Yuma") has put together a sturdy film with a couple of atmospheric sequences and at least one truly exciting action scene, even if it descends a bit too far into typical superhero territory toward the end. It is also handsomely mounted, but I can't help but wonder what the movie could have looked like if the visually dynamic Darren Aronofsky (who was originally hired to direct) would have stuck with the project.

Lawrence resident Adam Jeffers is showing an encore presentation of his newest three-movie remix called "Wrasslin'" at 9 p.m. Tuesday at The Bottleneck. It's part of the Trash Nite series, which uses the tagline, "Some films are great but the best ones are trash."

Three mid-'80s low-budget wrestling-themed trainwrecks have been carefully edited together as one feature-length film to maximize the piledriving ridiculousness and minimize shots of people getting in and out of cars.

There are two very important factors at play here that also contribute greatly to this one-of-a-kind entertainment. As always, it's free — and alcohol will be served. What better way to experience Hulk Hogan's "No Holds Barred" (1989), the female-led "The American Angels: Baptism Of Blood" (1989), and the faux-documentary "Grunt! The Wrestling Movie" (1985), all with hilarious, wrestling-themed commercial breaks?


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