Monthly Archives: August 2009

Review: (500) Days of Summer

Tired of the same old love story? That clichéd boy meets girl, they hate each other then learn to love each other, garbage that, while sometimes can be saved by smart filmmakers (Nora Ephron is one of the genre’s saving graces), is just too often filled with “we’ve seen it a million times” junk? Filmmakers like John Hughes, Mike Nichols, Jean-Luc Godard, Woody Allen and most recently Michel Gondry are the few who took the romantic film and created the anti-love story. Instead of overly romanticizing, they showed love for what it really is – painful, happy and everything in between and most importantly were able to present love as something real and not in that perfect little box that we wish it could be.

The debut independent feature by music video director Marc Webb, “(500) Days of Summer,” is both an homage to these great directors, but also a refreshing new film that presents, as its narrator explains, “a story of boy meets girl … not a love story.” An honest film, with an incredible script – this is one of the best films of the year.

“(500) Days of Summer” tells the story of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a twentysomething who works for a greeting card company, is obsessed with the music of The Smiths and is hopelessly in love with romantic love. Over the course of, well 500 days, Tom falls for his adorable coworker Summer (Zooey Deschanel), a nihilist pixie with a love for Ringo Starr and a knack for origami. As their romance begins to bloom (over a connection to a Smiths song), the infatuated yet terribly naïve Tom must give in to Summer’s attitude toward love (she doesn’t believe in it) and, of course as their relationship ends – it takes an incredible toll on Tom and not on Summer.

The story sounds somewhat played, but through the pens of scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and through Webb’s lens, Tom and Summer’s story is removed from cliché. The film is very much a modern take on Allen’s “Annie Hall,” in that it doesn’t present love as something tangible and that it shows how the screenplay doesn’t have to be concrete. Like “Annie Hall,” “(500) Days of Summer” is a story about love, yet since the plot is non-linear – we are able to see how the relationship works or worked and what caused the inevitable decline.

Instead of using worn-out flashbacks, the film uses repeated shots – such as a shopping trip to a record shop where Tom tries to show Summer a Ringo record for both his and her approval. As the film progresses, we see the shot repeated and extended to see the reaction shots of both Tom and Summer. It shows the pains of wanting the one you love to share something, and how you know sometimes that it just won’t connect.

It’s not only the honesty of the film or its refreshing storytelling style that makes it so strong – it also features strong performances by its leading up-and-coming stars. Deschanel is already a fairly big star, having proven her range in comedies like “Elf” and the underrated “Eulogy.” She’s perfectly cast, not just for her looks but proves a talent she’s never offered before. Deschanel is quickly becoming America’s new sweetheart. She uses microgestures, small yet endearing smiles that invoke the same lump in one’s throat as would some of Chaplin’s greatest women. If this doesn’t make Deschanel A-list, then there’s something seriously wrong with American audiences.

Gordon-Levitt is superb in the role as Tom. Like Nichols’ Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate,” Gordon-Levitt is not your average leading man – he’s skinny, has tousled hair and doesn’t have traditionally good looks … but it all works. Tom is something of a classic loser, a late bloomer who seems to always fall for the wrong girl. When he finds happiness, however, the audience can’t help but root for him. It’s exciting to see the kid from “Angels in the Outfield” has grown up to achieve something more than expected.

Following the recent, unexpected death of John Hughes, the film is quite similar to his style in its presentation of love in it’s sometimes more painful ways. In one scene, Tom tries to get Summer’s attention by playing The Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” to no avail. The scene is very Hughes-ian, using both a song used in Hughes’ “Pretty in Pink,” and in its depiction of the Tom’s painful search for attention.

Luckily, these homages and references never steer toward the realm of knock-off, but show how a filmmaker can be influenced by another or others, and create their own visual representation of the anti-love story. The script is possibly one of the strongest and most inspiring written in the past few years as it is both commercial and independent at the same time.

A very exciting film, “(500) Days of Summer” seems as though it could pull off the impossible. It features an intellectual script, fantastical animated sequences and an honest depiction of the struggle between love vs. the relationship. “(500) Days of Summer” is basically a Woody Allen film for those who hate Woody Allen. A standout film, possibly the best of the summer, you’ll be wishing you could fall in love with “Summer” over and over again.

Grade: A




Filed under (500) Days of Summer, Review

Summer Catch-up

Sorry I haven’t been writing a lot this summer, I’ve been preoccupied. Its weird coming out of college and finding that I don’t have the time I thought I’d have because of all the other work I’d be doing. But I need to write about film, it’s my aphrodisiac. It helps me. So I’m getting back on track and will be writing even more now. For now, I have three quick reviews of films I saw earlier this summer. Enjoy!



Pixar’s tenth feature, another major animated achievement, proves that the little production company that could is now the best thing to happen to the first decade of this century. “Up” features Ed Asner as the voice of the curmudgeonly widower/balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen who, after losing his zest-for-life wife Ellie faces the threat to lose his home. Carl attaches a gigantic bouquet of balloons to his little house and flies away to he and Ellie’s dream home in the wilds of South America. Little does h know, the enthusiastic young wilderness explorer Russell, who has been bugging him about needed to assist the elderly for his final merit badge, has stowed away accidentally on Carl’s front porch. The fated duo are stuck together and along with a group of talking dogs, a grizzled old explorer, a gigantic endangered bird and Michael Giacchino’s fantastic score, they have the adventure of a lifetime.

Carl, who lost everything when he lost Ellie, finds the love of adventure in being a father figure to Russell. They inspire each other, and have the capacity to inspire audiences of all ages to not let this magnificent world around us go to waste. “Up” is unquestionably moving, and at many times gloriously funny. While the characters of Carl and Russell are inspiring and funny, it is screenwriter/director’s Pete Docter and Bob Peterson’s creation of the character of Ellie who steals the show. While Ellie dies in the first ten minutes of the film, she is present throughout the entire picture – transformed metaphorically into the floating, omnipresent house. Carl speaks to the house as he would Ellie, a reminder to those who’ve lost loved ones that they never leave us, no matter how hard it may feel.

On a personal level, I lost my grandfather this year which made watching this film a little bittersweet yet reminded me of the grand adventure he had with life.

The only problem “Up” faces is a bit of screenwriter’s fatigue. The story is unnecessarily clichéd. We’ve seen this adventure flick before, and while Docter and Peterson obviously were interested in making an homage to some of their favorites – it misses the mark of originality that has made Pixar the leader in screenwriting for more than a decade.

Otherwise, “Up” is most certainly one of the best films of the year – one that, like every other Pixar film, will be watched over and over for years to come. An inspiration to any kid from age 5 to 95, “Up” greatest advise comes from its greatest character. Ellie’s last message to Carl is one of the best – “Thanks for the adventure. Now go have your own.”

Grade: A-

Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian


The first “Night at the Museum” film was just pure fun fantasy, a B-level movie that took theme park adventure and made it into a nice little hour-and-a-half family package. Ben Stiller proved he had mettle for kids’ fare, and the movie made the money it deserved. It was exceptionally good, but retained a “watch-ability” and was good for even younger kids.

Three years later, Stiller has returned to his night watchman uniform and, with flashlight in hand he is back on duty. This time, actually, Stiller’s Larry Daley has become something of a Ron Popeil knock-off – creating household gadgets like the Glow-in-the-Dark Flashlight, the Unloseable Keyring, and the Oversized Dogbone (all inspired by his work at the museum). He has turned his back on the museum and has become an overnight success. However, during a quick stroll through memory lane Larry finds out that the museum is being renovated and that digital projections will be replacing the models and statues that had once inhabited the magical halls of his former employer. Larry’s “friends,” some of history’s most famous figures are shipped to the Washington to live forever in the archives of the Smithsonian.

The sequel basically takes the spectacle of the first movie, the fact that an ancient stone tablet enables the museum to come to life at night, and multiplies it by transporting the stone to an even larger venue. Rejoining Larry in this film are some of history’s favorites such as Sacagawea (Mizuo Peck), Teddy Roosevelt (again played by Robin Williams) and Dexter the Capuchin Monkey and along for the adventure this time are famed figures like Custer (Bill Hader), Albert Einstein (voiced by Eugene Levy, as a bunch of bobble-heads) and Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams). The second film does provide much more in terms of laughs and exciting adventure, yet doesn’t really have a strong message to boot. The first film had a great message, to believe the unbelievable and to believe in oneself. The second film has more of a, “don’t be a jerk who only sees dollar signs,” kind of a message. It’s a good message, but it doesn’t really fit well with the fantastical nature of the movie itself.

The one aspect this movie has that the first film doesn’t is the unmatched talent of Adams as the spunky, high-spirited Earhart. Every moment Adams is on screen is better than the last. Adams is taking her time right now as an actress to prove her incredible range. She’s proven she’s funny (“Junebug”) and she’s proven she can do extraordinary dramatic work (“Doubt”), but now she’s testing out new genres and succeeding at every step.

“Night at the Museum 2: Battle at the Smithsonian” is proof that summer blockbusters don’t have to have huge explosions or a glistening, sweaty Megan Fox to make a good fantastical and fun film. While it doesn’t hold the ranks with the best family films of all time, it is still a lot of fun and something you can share happily with children of any age. And hey, you might learn something, too!

Grade: B+

The Hangover


Every year, we are “sprung” with comedy “sleeper hits” that make big bags of cash and are hailed as the greatest comedies of our time. In 2007, we had “Superbad.” The next year it was, “Tropic Thunder.” It’s not that those films weren’t funny, it’s that this so-called “sleeper hit” theory is getting a little tiresome. Those films, along with this year’s sleeper hit “The Hangover,” were highly advertised and were planned hit films.

However, “The Hangover” is without a doubt the funniest (although not the most original) movies of the three previously mentioned comedies. The film tells the story of four morons who, over the course of one night in Vegas to celebrate the upcoming marriage of their friend Doug (Justin Bartha), lose complete control and … well, things get a little crazy. Three of the friends, sans Doug, wake up the next morning and find that, among the Tiger snoozing in their hotel bathroom – they might have gone a little far into the deep end of Sin City the night before. The extremely hung over guys, including the overconfident Phil (Bradley Cooper), the tightly wound Stu (Ed Helms) and the dimwitted Alan (Zach Galifianakis), find themselves in a pickle when they can’t find their buddy. In a bid to find their friend and to find out what happened during their night of debauchery, the three dudes make their way through the strip and learn that what happens in Vegas … shouldn’t happen in Vegas.

The film is, without a doubt, one of the funnier films in the past few years – an admirable film, especially since the name Apatow is not affiliated with it at all. Directed by Todd Phillips (“Old School”), the script is consistent is its jokes as it is in its lack of original story or plot. The movie is really just a vehicle for its incredibly talented stars, most of which the incredibly riotous Galifianakis. After making his way up through the ranks by touring with other comedians like Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn, Galifianakis has finally gotten his big break with the character of Alan and “The Hangover.” It’d be incredibly exciting, as I’ve been a big fan of Galifianakis for years, to see this film result in both a possible Golden Globe nom and in many future endeavors. It would be unfortunate, however, to see this role become his typecast.

One of the major problems with the film is the unfortunate performance of Ed Helms. The character is painfully cliched and Helms’ over the top efforts are often embarrassing. While he does have his moments (an intermission-esque song is actually one of the more memorable scenes), Helms could have done better.

The film is quite funny, although isn’t one of the “greatest comedies of all time.” It’s good to see Galifiankis getting some credit, and equally exciting to see Cooper finding his way to leading man status – but “The Hangover” isn’t much more than the result of a screenwriter’s idea to bank on Vegas’ popular tourist slogan. While a second film is already in the works, at least one can say that it won’t be a sleeper hit.

Grade: B

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R.I.P. John Hughes

John Hughes has always been a huge influence on me. His work in film from the genius of “Sixteen Candles” and “Uncle Buck” to the perfection of “Ferris Bueller” and “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”, inspired an entire generation of filmmakers and filmgoers. I had always wished he would come back, but that will never be I guess. John Hughes, you will be very missed.

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Filed under Obituary