Archive for November, 2009

h1

REVIEW: (500) Days of Summer (2009)

November 11, 2009

Despite what it may look like from the trailer and everything else surrounding it, (500) Days of Summer is not a love story, as the narrator of the film comes right out and announces at the beginning of the movie. Even those who typically can’t stand the genre of romantic comedies (such as myself) will likely find themselves pleasantly surprised (as I was) by this underrated semi-Indie project that seemed to slip by under the radars of the general population during its time in theaters. Overall, the film is a charming one that seems fantasy-like at times, but still holds onto its unique qualities and unpredictability. While it may seem like cliches do still appear too often, most of the time- the film intentionally takes them and turns them around to present them in a comedic and almost parodic way. Quite the opposite of the unoriginal, cliche-ridden romantic comedies (if I dare bring up the comparison) that pollute the cinema world today, this summer project is fresh, original, and honest.

The film centers around the relationship of Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an artistic and slightly dorky architect-wannabe who instead got stuck designing greeting cards for a living, and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), the new assistant to Hansen’s boss. It employs a nonlinear narrative technique in the sense that each scene is preceded by a title card indicating which of the 500 days in the pair’s “relationship” the scene depicts. However, the days are scattered throughout the movie and one scene could be followed by another that takes place 200 days before it chronologically (ex. the movie begins with a clip of the 500th day). So instead of following the traditional sequence of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy wins girl back, 500 Days of Summer introduces the troubles of the relationship almost from the very beginning and builds off of the entrance all the way to the resolution, all the while showing the earlier days that reveal the relationship’s development in between. It quickly becomes clear that the purpose is not to present an understandable, linear timeline that shows where the relationship winds up from beginning to end, but rather to show the unfolding of the events that shaped the relationship and how those sequences influenced what the two experience as the 500 days of the story come to a close.

The audience is immediately thrust into the story, getting a glimpse of how the two meet and their laughably awkward first couple interactions at the same time as receiving bits and pieces of the conflicts they encounter later on in the relationship. Much of the first half of the film illustrates the way Hansen deals with both the start of the relationship and the start of their problems together, consulting his two juvenile and dorky best friends who are of no help to him. But perhaps the best moments of the entire film come from the interactions between Hansen and his preteen sister, who asserts herself with the confidence and authority of an adult, giving him intelligent and insightful advice as if she were the mother of a shy and confused junior high boy. And in a comical way, when compared to his two immature and unhelpful best friends, she becomes his go-to relationship expert with the seeming experience of Dr. Phil.

It may only last 95 minutes, but this comedy proves it’s exactly that– filled with laugh-out-loud moments all around including a Harrison Ford “cameo” of sorts and a hilariously spontaneous dance sequence that takes place right in the middle of town. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel exhibit near-perfect chemistry with realistical dialogue and, together, they create a quirky and odd couple out of the two characters that fits the attitude of the picture precisely. Combined with a great soundtrack, an impressive performance from Gordon-Levitt, and exceptional editing that maintains an appropriate pace to compliment the nonlinear timeline, 500 Days of Summer is certainly one of the best comedies of the summer and perhaps even of the year. Consider it a leader in the “Best Movies Virtually No One Saw” category and be sure to check out this underrated accomplishment whenever you get the chance.

three and a half stars

h1

Best Movies of 2009 (…So Far)

November 11, 2009

Admittedly, I’ve slacked a little bit on seeing movies released this year and I’ve been spending much more time catching up on movies in my queue from many years ago. However, I’ve seen enough to have some favorites already and some I didn’t like too much. So I thought I’d share my insight on everything so far. And many more 2009 movies are in my To Watch list for the near future! But for now, here’s a few reccomendations if you’re looking for something to see in theaters or on DVD from this year…

1. Inglourious Basterds

6. Star Trek

2. District 9

7. Adventureland
3. Zombieland 8. The Hangover
4. (500) Days of Summer
9. State of Play
5. Paranormal Activity

10. Taken

Honorable Mentions: I Love You Man, Sunshine Cleaning, The Education of Charlie Banks, Funny People, Fanboys, My Sister’s Keeper, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Soloist, Public Enemies

So far, it’s been a good year for movies with a good variety to look out for. Although not many projects have yet wowed me (see my top 4 for that department), there’s been a good balance of different but decent and entertaining movies to make it a satisfying year. And there are many more I still have yet to see!

What have your favorites been so far?

h1

REVIEW: Election (1999)

November 9, 2009

Matthew Broderick, now on the other end of the high-school society, stars alongside Reese Witherspoon in Election, a witty and occasionally dark comedy about the troubles that can emerge during high school student council elections. Director Alexander Payne (Sideways and About Schmidt) manages to find a beautiful balance between intelligent satire and compelling drama in a way that never stops being comically enjoyable. It’s as peculiarly captivating as Little Miss Sunshine and as innocently entertaining as Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.

Election time for Washington Carver High School is right around the corner and Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) already has her eye on the glorious prize– the position of student body president. Tracy hasn’t even the slightest reason to worry. She’s a confident and hardworking overachiever who has become a part of every major organization the school offers; she’ll happily raise her hand to answer any question in any class; she evens arrives to school extra early to prepare to campaign for the student signatures she needs to enter the election- a campaign complete with a corny slogan and a manipulative bowl of gum for enticement. And most important of all, Tracy has no competition in the election (not that that stops her from taking the whole matter as seriously as if it were our nation’s presidential election itself). In fact, there’s really only one tiny tidbit that could potentially harm her chances… She recently got out of a secret, but very intimate affair with a teacher who was subsequently fired after the administration found out.

Enter Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick)- a young teacher whose life has played out just as he had hoped. He’s everyone’s favorite teacher, he’s involved in the social scene of the school, and he’s one of the most highly valued supporters for the athletics department. Tracy Flick just might be the one thing that dampens his days, with her boring and rigid personality that frames her goody two shoes attitude. Even if he can’t explain it, there’s just something about her that rubs him the wrong way.

So naturally, when Tracy becomes the leading (and only) candidate in the election, Mr. McAllister, the student council administrator, can’t help but be disgruntled by her overwhelming involvement in everything. In the hopes of adding a more democratic element to the election, the three-time Teacher of the Year winner convinces injured football star Paul Metzler to enter the race, assuming that his popularity will give Tracy a challenge. And as if by domino effect, a third candidate joins the two opponents. Paul’s sister, Tammy, sees her participation as a perfect opportunity to get revenge on her brother for stealing her beloved girlfriend. Ironically, the student body responds most emphatically to Tammy’s anarchic tendencies and apathy towards school issues.

Tracy’s stress level reaches a whole new level as her desire to win nearly drives her over the edge, Tammy displays her passion for vengeance, Paul shows his embarrassingly pitiful political skills, and Mr. McAllister gets tied up in a complicated affair; all the basics of your typical high school election are carefully mixed for a remarkable end product.

The quirky atmosphere of the small town and its dysfunctional inhabitants never relents and the story utilizes such simple stereotypes in an unconventional way that makes the characters’ interactions a joy to watch. Comedic dialogue and entertaining twists around every corner, this caricature-driven work is wholeheartedly a fun film that will be especially enjoyed by those who prefer intelligent comedies with just a dab of drama. And perhaps most admirable of all, Election introduces a new type of high school comedy that drops the sleaziness and instead develops an experience that engages audiences with a story that creates plenty of laughs for those with the required number of brain cells. Not to mention, if the comedy ever falls short, it’s amusing enough just to draw parallels to the juvenile affairs of the politics of our own government and certain recent presidential elections in the U.S.

three stars

h1

REVIEW: Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

November 8, 2009

After Magnolia and before There Will Be Blood, came Punch-Drunk Love in Paul Thomas Anderson’s arsenal of movies. In this dark and odd romantic dramedy, Adam Sandler plays Barry Egan, a childish adult man who is still shy around women and whose seven manipulative sisters criticize and torment him into uncontrolled bursts of anger. His wholesale plunger business keeps him busy, despite the fact that he never seems to do anything productive at his office. Rather, he spends his time exploiting a loophole in a special Healthy Choice promotion by buying large amounts of pudding in order to rack up millions of free frequent flyer miles that he has no specific use for (a story that is based off of that of “Pudding Guy” David Phillips). Boring and aimless as his life may be, Egan endures with only minimal broken glass windows and few crying episodes. However, all of that changes when an interested woman becomes intent on meeting him and a phone sex hotline operator becomes violently vengeful.

Adam Sandler performs like you’ve never seen him before, and at the same time- just like you’ve always seen him. His natural childish persona is preserved, but instead of being channeled into awkwardly unfunny jokes that would more likely be heard in a middle school cafeteria, Paul Thomas Anderson finds a way to use Sandler’s juvenile behavior powers for good. Together, the two create an air of loneliness and constant distress that manages to engage the audience and evoke a sense of sympathy for the protagonist. And with added exceptional performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Mary Lynn Rajskub, Punch Drunk Love is something that prevails in its own way.

Admittedly, the movie’s dream-like nature and unconvential quirkiness isn’t quite for everyone and some might come away feeling as if they simply didn’t get it. However, those who appreciate Paul Thomas Anderson’s general quality of work and are curious to see a different side of Sandler’s abilities will certainly be charmingly pleased. To give a fair evaluation, it’s not particularly a film that most will love or hate. Moreover, it’s simply a respectable piece of work that’s well worth a viewing, at least for the experience that Anderson creates.

three stars