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‘The Purge: Anarchy’: So exciting, it’s criminal

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The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

Directed by James DeMonaco

7/10  R

Whoever wrote that “The Purge: Anarchy” finally capitalizes on the promise of the original definitely had it right. As far as thrillers go, not many can match the uniquely original and exciting potential of 2013′s “The Purge.” But it failed to deliver. Now, we get all that excitement in the sequel with thrills to spare.

An unhappy couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) on the way home has car trouble just minutes before the commencement of the annual purge. A mother struggling to make ends meet (Carmen Ejogo), and her stubborn teen daughter (Zoe Soul) are kidnapped by purgers. A man (Frank Grillo) is just trying to safely make it across town to avenge the death of his son. All five stories intersect in the dangerous world of the purge, while purgers roam the streets looking for fearful victims to kill.The-Purge-Anarchy-Image

From beginning to end, “Anarchy” is filled to the brim with explosive excitement. As these five innocent members of a flawed society try to survive the night, a whole mess of killers will stand in their way. “Anarchy” takes the purge outside, in stark contrast to the interior thrills of the original. This means you get to imagine what you would do to survive the night when your home isn’t a safe option. You can’t just pull down your metal barriers and take a sleeping pill. But even better, “Anarchy” makes a social statement. Maybe it’s a little predictable, but it adds a twist to the idea of good vs. evil that the purge naturally makes you think of. Maybe the murderous thugs on the streets aren’t the only villains.

Without the star power of a lead like Ethan Hawke, “Anarchy” relies on the solid acting of a few lesser-known actors. Grillo is pigeonholed as a character known only as “Sergeant,” but you don’t care. He fits the role perfectly. Gilford (“Friday Night Lights,” “Post Grad”) is also great. But it’s Zoe Soul that keeps us on our toes. She seems like the feisty type that either makes it through the night after shooting herself out of some situations or dies early on after irritating the wrong people. You’ll have to find out.

Finally, something billed as “horror” that’s actually exciting and unpredictable. “Anarchy” is pure adrenaline.

“The Purge: Anarchy” is in theaters.

‘RED 2′ starts and ends with a fizzle

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RED 2 (2013)

Directed by Dean Parisot

6/10  PG-13

Unlike most action sequels (think “A Good Day to Die Hard” or “The Expendables 2”) that start with a bang and only get louder from there, “RED 2” takes a while to start up. But it’s not that it wants to draw you into the story…it just lacks firepower.

The gang of dangerous ex-CIA rogues is back together (except there’s no Morgan Freeman and very little Helen Mirren…just a lot of Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, and Mary-Louise Parker), this time in a race to find a revolutionary nuclear weapon that has been Bruce-Willis-Red-2hidden for decades. When the gang finds the man who invented the game-changing explosive (Anthony Hopkins), they think they get the leg up on the competition (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Byung-hun Lee, mostly). No surprise…they’re wrong.

Where “RED” gave audiences a lot of action with some well-timed comedy, “RED 2” tries too hard to provide more comedy than action…but their comedy usually isn’t very funny. Sure, Malkovich provides a few witty lines that’ll give you a good laugh—but he’s mostly just silly, nothing to crack up over. Willis is disappointing…worse than he is in even the newest “Die Hard” movies. Anthony Hopkins is surprisingly hysterical as the eccentric, psychotic inmate of a high-security prison. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, his character’s development gives him some more sanity but takes the humor out of it; good for him, but bad for us.

Okay, so bad acting in an action movie isn’t breaking news. Neither is lousy dialogue, which “RED 2” also has. The script, from Jon and Erich Hoeber, is not the worst I’ve heard…but it’s not good. For the amount of times we hear talking instead of gunshots, I would expect something better than what we get. The story is typical, too. Enemies become allies when they join for a common RED-2-actors-2cause—saving the world. Really? How original, guys. A Wikileaks-driven plot was relevant…3 years ago. And when it begins to get sort of exciting, you realize you only have thirty minutes left. And it sets itself up for a trilogy, which was just recently confirmed. How exciting…

Action movies are called that for a reason. “RED 2” fails to provide a lot of action (and a lot of what we do see is CGI-driven and/or not all that exciting) and fails to provide a lot of laughs. But a couple of Oscar winners and nominees save this from failing completely. It’s always interesting to see what these geriatrics are up to.

“RED 2” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

J.J. Abrams book ‘S.’ is entrenched in mystery

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S. (2013 book)

Written by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams

8/10

When is a book not a book? When it’s a full-fledged reading experience. That’s “S.,” a handwritten love letter to literature conceived by director J.J. Abrams (you knew there was a film connection somewhere!) and written by Doug Dorst. You can’t find this one on your Kindle or Nook, and that’s precisely why it’s so incredible.

“S.” is, put as simply as possible, a story within a story. Eric, a recent grad school lit major, leaves his copy of “The Ship of Theseus,” a novel written by (fictional) author V.M. Straka, on a table in the library. A current grad student named Jen finds it, sreads it in one sitting, and leaves it where she found it…with a marginal note to the owner explaining who she was and how fascinated she was by the book. Eric responds to Jen, and so begins an exciting marginal journey of discovery and intrigue. The authorship of “The Ship of Theseus” has been debated for decades by scholars and interested readers, and Eric and Jen want to get to the bottom of it. So as they read the book (and as you, the reader, do as well), they write handwritten comments in the margins about their research. Soon, it begins to turn into a story of a guy and a girl slowly falling for one another. But when a group of radical Straka scholars begin threatening not only the pair’s work but also their lives, “The Ship of Theseus” might contain the answers that will save their lives. As you follow Eric and Jen’s comments, you read the fascinating story of “The Ship of Theseus,” which revolves around a man who wakes up in a strange town to realize that he has absolutely no recollection of who he is. It’s “The Bourne Identity,” set in pre-WWI Europe. Just because he doesn’t know who he is (he goes by S…hence the book title) doesn’t mean nobody else does. Soon, he finds old “friends,” friends that he can only hope he knew and trusted in his old life. They’ll tell him about his purpose, to overthrow a dangerous businessman, Vevoda. But something tells him he used to work for BOOK_ABRAMS_3this man. Does S fall back into the life he thinks he’s supposed to live, or the new life he’s being told to live? Will the presence of a potential love interest (one he thinks he remembers from his old life) play a role in which path he chooses? The quickly-imploding political landscape around him gives him little time to think. So he acts.

It’s certainly a lot to process. “S.” is essentially two books for the price of one. Members of academia will love “The Ship of Theseus” for its complex literary themes and lofty vocabulary. It’s enough to make anyone a fan of the fictional Straka (in reality, Dorst), whose prose reads like any number of oft-taught literary classics. Fans of YA lit will love Eric and Jen’s colloquial (sometimes off-color) marginal annotations. As curious young adults themselves, Eric and Jen are also extensions of the reader. And everyone will love the page-turning excitement and mystery of both plots. “S.” has all the thrills of an Abrams masterpiece like “Super 8” without a need for the explosive special effects of film. And the stories complement each other perfectly. The sometimes fantastical nature of “Theseus” is balanced by the down-to-earth, entirely believable dialogue between Eric and Jen. If you find “Theseus” to be dragging, the marginal side-plot will keep you invested in the mystery. And if Jen and Eric are spouting angsty clichés (it happens once or twice), you can count on S and “Theseus” to be in the middle of an especially exhilarating scene.photo

Like anybody that has ever written on the pages of a book, Jen and Eric don’t have it entirely perfect. Words are scratched out and squeezed into tight spaces as the writers run out of room on a page. Sometimes, you have to turn the book sideways to read what is written. It makes for a very unique reading experience. And the book comes with additional materials, too—notes written on legal pads, ripped out, and stuffed into the pages; a napkin with a map drawn on it; a postcard from Brazil. Whatever the pair had to write on at the time whenever the margins just weren’t big enough. “S.” is 480 pages, but you get about 500 when all is said and done. It’s literally stuffed with material. This isn’t a Nicholas Sparks romance waiting on your nightstand to be read passively before bed. Reading “S.” can be downright exhausting. Sometimes it takes a learned scholar to follow the ever-thickening plots. And sometimes the marginal technique to Eric and Jen’s dialogue can be restricting, leaving the reader wondering what their short, vague, cryptic comments might mean. Your brain gets a workout whenever you read “S.” But it’s definitely worth the effort you’ll put into it.

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is not your average blockbuster

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Directed by Matt Reeves

8/10  PG-13

Hail Caesar! The king of this summer’s blockbuster season is “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” which combines low-brow action with high-brow Greek tragic themes. The screenwriting duo that brought us “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” the predecessor that’s truly terrible in comparison, resurrected the “Apes” franchise into something worth cheering.

Caesar (created using a motion-capture Andy Serkis) now leads an ever-growing army of genetically modified apes (including his adult son), who are able to stand, talk, and fight like well-trained soldiers. Just miles away in what used to be San Francisco, one of DAWN PLANET APES MOVthe last remaining human refuges (led by human bullhorn Gary Oldman) is in desperate need of electricity, which ran out years ago. Malcolm (Jason Clarke), Ellie (Keri Russell), and Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) will try to reason with the apes to let them use a nearby damn for power, but trust is hard to come by and hotheads on both sides will ruin negotiations and lead to all-out war. Can trust and cooperation prevail, or will one side have to die for peace to exist on a planet at the dawn of total annihilation?

What’s the recipe for a delicious summer blockbuster? Well, I’d start with a big budget. Check. Add some incredible special effects. Check. A few recognizable names. Check. A booming musical accompaniment. Check. Action. Check. Emotion. Check. And…reflections of a classic Shakespearean tragedy? Well, check. You can’t watch “Dawn” without seeing the story of the original Caesar, Roman dictator Julius Caesar, paralleling with our own ape protagonist. Like every great tragedy, “Dawn” has themes of betrayal, duty to family and country, desperation…even regicide. It reflects the stories of so many oft-taught tragedies. The English major in me applauds “Dawn” for reaching even the most educated in the audience by mirroring a DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APESclassic morality play while never losing the big-budget excitement of any great blockbuster. This script is good enough for me to forgive that dreadful James Franco “Apes” flop that came out three years ago, and enough to get me excited for the next sequels this duo’s gearing up for: aside from another, yet-untitled, “Apes” sequel, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver are already writing “Jurassic World” and the second and third “Avatar” sequels. Let’s hope they can incorporate intelligent story and head-spinning action into those anticipated scripts, too.

I’ve never liked motion-capture animation. I still don’t. As much as I’d like to see past it, I still just see a very humanlike Andy Serkis behind the thick fur and computer animation of Caesar. I respect Serkis for doing his research and mimicking the actual movements of an ape to the best of his abilities, but at the end of the day he’s still a human with human movements. But in “Dawn,” I get over it fast. Despite coming in with a distaste for the style, I couldn’t help but get drawn into the story and buy into the real emotions being conveyed by Caesar. In every way, he’s a real character with near-human emotions. You don’t watch a bunch of XXX DAWN-PLANET-APES-MOV-JY-3806-.JPG A ENTapes when you watch “Dawn”—you watch the closest things to human beings.

And the humans are just as good. Gary Oldman’s sole purpose is to rally the troops, but his charismatic dialogue and emotional displays are worthy of commendation. Clarke and Russell are cast perfectly—neither are huge names, so they have all the acting talent of an A-lister without the distracting face that takes us out of the story.

For its perfect balance of engrossing action and sophisticated story, “Dawn” is by far the best blockbuster of this young summer. And the big screen is the only place to capture the intensity of something this epic.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is in theaters.

Two more quick DVD reviews of 2013 movies!

The Way, Way Back

With the same dramedy appeal of films like “Juno” and “Little Miss Sunshine” (and with a few shared faces), 2013′s “The Way, Way Back” struck me as one of the most emotionally real comedies I’ve seen in a while. The script, written by co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who also star as two of the film’s funniest characters), smartly balances witty lines with a visceral emotional THE WAY, WAY BACKpunch. At the heart of the story is Duncan, a socially awkward teenager (Liam James) who is dragged by his mom’s (Toni Collette) new boyfriend (Steve Carell) to a beach house for summer vacation. He’s told to have fun, but it’s not that easy. Not with his fascist potential new stepdad telling him to be more social. That is, until he finds Water Whizz, a shabby waterpark run by a crew of hilarious characters (Faxon and Rash, plus Sam Rockwell and Maya Rudolph). But he can’t avoid his home life forever.  James is so awkward it hurts. But you buy it the whole time. Carell and Collette give incredible performances, and Sam Rockwell is as hysterical as ever (see “Seven Psychopaths“). Allison Janney is at the top of her game, Rob Cordry is just as funny, plus Amanda Peet and AnnaSophia Robb give worthy performances. This is the type of movie you want to add to your collection to watch again and again. Mostly because it knows that life never goes exactly as you’d like it to, but it’s always up to you to make it the best it can be. 8/10.

The Place Beyond the Pines

Somewhere in the middle of the 140-minute saga “The Place Beyond the Pines,” you realize that the time you’ve spent getting invested hasn’t been a waste. A meandering plot intermingles the stories of a bank thief (Ryan Gosling) and an ambitious young the-place-beyond-the-pinescop (Bradley Cooper), the mothers of their kids (Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne), and their young sons (Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen) in a way that would seem impossible if I tried to explain it. Somehow, director/screenwriter Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”) makes it all work. That’s despite the fact that the acting never gets where it needs to be. Oscar nominees Cooper and Gosling have both been much better in dramatic roles, despite the obvious emotions they could have inserted into their characters here. Still, though, they were able to push viewers into believing the personal trials their characters are put through. I love full and exhaustive stories, ones that cover a lot of ground really well. Usually it takes a narrator or a few montages to cover so much ground, but “The Place Beyond the Pines” never takes you out of the thick of the story to tell you what you need to know. 7.5/10.

‘Escape Plan’ is a real surprise

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Escape Plan (2013)

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom

5/10  R

“Escape Plan” is the first movie in which Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger both have starring roles…though you can hardly tell that these guys are leading men. Despite their piss-poor acting, “Escape Plan” actually works on some levels. Here’s what didn’t work and what did in this action mash-up.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK

  1. The story is merely a compilation of every prison break movie (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “Escape from Alcatraz”) we’ve ever seen. Not only is it bad, but it’s nearly two hours of bad. It’s snore-worthy — but the big plot twist in the middle will catch you sleeping.
  2. The only thing worse than the story is the script, written by Miles Chapman (who hadn’t written a feature film before this) and Jason Keller (who wrote “Mirror Mirror”…ouch). It’s so bad it’s criminal. In action movies like “The Expendables 2,” the writers know what audiences like – lots of action with minimal dialogue. These guys don’t get that.

escape-plan093. Even worse? The acting. Stallone’s performance is a stinking pile of dog crap. He acts like a man with no professional training, doing the bare minimum to express any emotion — simple or complex. He’s lucky he has name recognition and big muscles, because this garbage should have had the Italian Stallion black-balled from Hollywood forever. But his performance is award-worthy compared to the emotionless one-liners spewing from Schwarzenegger’s mouth. And who wrote all those awful one-liners and told Stallone to talk for long stretches of time? The two terrible screenwriters.

4. “Lots of action with minimal dialogue”…well, they failed on both parts. Not only do these writers torture us with lots of Stallone/Schwarzenegger dialogue, but they keep these two talking and don’t give us the action fix we desperately need. For the first hour-and-a-half, all we get are a few poorly choreographed prison riot scenes. We’re going through withdrawal by the time they give us any real action.

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WHAT DID WORK

  1. But don’t worry, adrenaline junkies, you eventually get your fix. The final prison break scene gives you its fair share of Stallone punching guards and Schwarzenegger mowing down everyone in sight with a giant machine gun. Despite Schwarzenegger’s awful acting, this display makes you want to stand up and cheer. And at some point, you have a suspicion he knows how awful this is. But he’s having a blast anyway.
  2. The big plot twist! It’s not the best I’ve seen, but it builds at least minimal interest in a movie you were just about to give up on. Maybe “Escape Plan” is like a campy 1970s action flick, but it doesn’t seem to mind.

In the end, you’ll have to decide if “Escape Plan” (at almost two hours long) is worth the minimal thrills it provides. It’s by no means good, but in the surprise of 2013, “Escape Plan” isn’t 100% awful. Sorry, haters.

“Escape Plan” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

‘The Matrix Revolutions’ fails to make third time a charm

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The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Directed by The Wachowski Brothers

6.5/10  R

In a world of shitty sequels…well, “The Matrix Revolutions” kind of fits right in. It’s far from the worst third installment I’ve ever seen, but it fails significantly to live up to the standards set by its predecessors.

250,000 sentinels, flying squid-like robots, are nearing the human city of Zion. An army has been assembled to fend them off while matrix3-gunsNeo and Trinity head off to the machine city to stop the source and put an end to the Matrix. But no one has ever gotten close to the machine city. And 250,000 sentinels far outnumber the capable men and women willing to fight them off.

Released mere months after “Reloaded” and filmed immediately after, “Revolutions” promised to be a continuation of the awesomeness that occurred in the first sequel. Instead, we get a lousy attempt to show off some special effects, as most of the fighting occurs between robots and human-controlled robots. The epic fist fights that pervade the first two are hardly present in the third. And even when they are, they lack the same well-choreographed grace we got used to. But instead of fighting, the final chapter felt the need to wrap up the story with a lot of talking. Was it necessary for the audience to understand? Maybe. Was it bothersome to be without the action? Definitely. The worst part? For much of the movie, Neo and Trinity take a back seat. Fighting off the sentinels is a team effort that brings some new major the-matrix-revolutions-wallpaper-11-1400x900players to the forefront. They don’t bring the same excitement as our loving leads.

Still, though, Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Lawrence Fishburne bring the same level of commitment to their roles as they have in the past. Moss (in her few fighting scenes) brings an incomparable level of precise grace to her fighting. And dramatic acting from Jada Pinckett Smith (who also had a role in “Reloaded”) makes you believe in the immediacy of the danger.

“The Matrix Revolutions” doesn’t give you everything you were hoping for in a Matrix sequel, but something so good is hard to completely mess up.

“The Matrix Revolutions” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

‘The Matrix Reloaded’ is a brilliant second effort

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The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Directed by The Wachowski Brothers

7.5/10  R

In a world of shitty sequels, “The Matrix Reloaded” says “not so fast.” With a budget nearly two and a half times more endowed than its predecessor’s four years prior, this action sequel decided that bigger would be better. It wasn’t far off.

Neo and the rest of the humans in Zion (the last remaining human city, located near the Earth’s core) discover they have just a few Quality: Original. Film Title: The Matrix Reloaded.days before machines come to destroy the rest of their race. In order to stop them, Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity will have to return to the Matrix to find The Architect, the one who programmed the entire thing. At the same time, Neo will try to protect Trinity (his new steamy love interest, if you’ll remember) from the tragic fate he sees for her in a recurring dream.

Like most action sequels, the Wachowski Siblings’ script is a little more careless and a little less concise than the first. At times, these inconsistencies lead to lengthy, dizzying fight scenes followed by stretches of boring, uninspired dialogue. But fortunately, the action wins out in the end. Neo now must fight dozens of foes at a time, in ways that progressively continue to astound us. Choreographed fight scenes are more and more impressive, and special effects (now significantly improved with four additional years of technology and nearly $100 million extra dollars to spend) become a great ally.

After four years, Neo becomes a much more solidified and perfected character. Now he consistently wears the trench coat and The-Matrix-Reloadedsunglasses we know him for, and Keanu Reeves looks more comfortable (happily cocky, almost) as The One. I like it. Fishburne again possesses his brilliant dramatic timing, and his lines come out with the same gravity as before. Carrie-Anne Moss shows some genuine emotion this time around. She, too, has made the character of Trinity her own. Sometimes the steamy love angle seems unnecessary, as it often is in action sequels. I assure you, this time it plays a very important role. Gloria Foster (who unfortunately passed away shortly after filming her scenes) reprises her popular minor role as The Oracle with the same thoughtful, lovable, and witty performance she gave in “The Matrix.” It seems the script got a little boost whenever she was talking.

This isn’t your average sequel. In some ways, “The Matrix Reloaded” is able to better the efforts of its lower-budget predecessor. But even when it can’t, it keeps you engaged the whole time.

“The Matrix Reloaded” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

‘The Matrix’ begins a trilogy of epic proportions

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The Matrix (1999)

Directed by The Wachowski Brothers

8/10  R

Sometimes a sci-fi movie comes along that says more about reality than about the fiction it is presenting on-screen. In 1999, “The Matrix” proved that it was definitely one of those sci-fi movies.

Computer software programmer Neo (Keanu Reeves) thinks he’s living the normal life he was meant to lead. But he’s actually living in the Matrix, a simulated “real life” where everything is a figment of one’s perception. Soon, a team of humans, led by Morpheus matrix morpheus(Lawrence Fishburne), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), and Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), who have already found their way out of the Matrix, will reach out to Neo. They’ll rescue him from the regular world he thinks is reality and bring him into the messed up, dystopian world that actually is. They tell him he’s The One, the one who will finally bring an end to the evil sentinels (all Hugo Weaving, incredibly sinister as Mr. Smith) who run the Matrix and seek to destroy the last remaining real world humans. But he’s not so sure.

“The Matrix” has a point. Maybe we’re not living in a computer-generated fiction world, but are we not living in a world run by the perceptions of what we want to be true? Do we not often enough question the authorities that tell us right from wrong? In a way, isn’t that a Matrix in itself? Whatever you believe, “The Matrix” will make you think long and hard. The script, written by Andy and Larry (now Lana) Wachowski, is smartly written and full of thought-provoking and intelligent lines. Lines as simple as “There is no spoon” can make you question whether or not Neo-in-The-Matrix-the-matrix-22575352-560-240you’re taking control of your life or simply believing what has been believed for ages. The depth of the script helps create the DUN DUN DUN drama that the action only perpetuates.

After 15 years, “The Matrix” doesn’t remains a cult classic just for its script. No, it’s also for its high-octane action, incredibly choreographed fight scenes, and thrilling story. It covers a whole range of fighting, from kung fu to epic shoot-outs. It’s where complicated science fiction meets easily understandable and accessible awesomeness.

“The Matrix” is an action movie with a message. It’s a morality play with guns. It’s lasted this long not for its 1999 special effects (which have, in fact, stood the test of time), but for its relevant and universal themes. Watch and learn.

“The Matrix” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

‘Little Miss Sunshine’ keeps shining

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Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

9/10  R

Some movies just beam like a right ray of sunshine. “Little Miss Sunshine” doesn’t start off like one of those movies. The Hoovers aren’t your average American family. Dad Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a motivational speaker who lives and breathes his work, much to his family’s disgust. His wife, Sheryl (Toni Collette), has to take care of her brother, Frank (Steve Carell), who recently attempted suicide. Dwayne (Paul Dano), their teenage son, has taken a vow of silence until he reaches his goal of becoming an Air little-miss-sunshineForce pilot. And their young daughter, Olive (an Oscar-nominated role for Abigail Breslin), is being trained for a beauty pageant by her eccentric Grandpa Edwin (an Oscar-winning role for Alan Arkin), who has been living with the family since he was kicked out of a nursing home for improper behavior. When Olive finds out she’s made the finals of the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, the whole family has to make the trip across three states in their VW Van. Together. With their various personalities clashing in heartbreaking and hilarious ways.

“Little Miss Sunshine” is a simple movie on the surface. But it doesn’t take a ton of plot to make a stellar movie. Its Oscar-winning original screenplay, from Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3,” “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”), relies more on its second layer than its first. The Hoovers put the “dis” in “dysfunctional,” and the dark and sardonic humor sometimes means the laughs come with feelings of guilt. You’ll laugh anyway. It’s also heartbreakingly dramatic, as the family begins to loosen at the seams when trying truths are discovered. You might find yourself on the verge of tears, like I did. Let it happen. “Little Miss Sunshine” sometimes seems like a cruel puppeteer playing with your emotions. You’ll find the ending all the Little-Miss-Sunshine-little-miss-sunshine-462375_1400_933more uplifting – life-affirming, even – if you lose yourself in the emotional ebb and flow. If your family is stressing you out (and, let’s be honest, it happens to the best of families), watch “Little Miss Sunshine.” It’ll show you that 1) You’re family isn’t so crazy after all, and 2) Even if they are, they’re still family. “Little Miss Sunshine” is the embodiment of ohana. Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten (thanks, “Lilo & Stitch”).

An incredible ensemble cast (with 1 Oscar win and 6 additional nominations between them) gives a slew of top-notch performances. No wonder it won the Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Cast (beating movies like “The Departed” and “Dreamgirls”…sorry, ‘Yonce). “Little Miss Sunshine” nearly perfects the dramedy. And I f*cking love a good dramedy.

“Little Miss Sunshine” is on Blu-ray and DVD.