Monday, April 30, 2012

#144: The Cabin in the Woods

It was a definite dilemma. My wife and I would have the afternoon to ourselves, with her mother watching over our infant son for a few precious hours. Three hours potential of silence, of not having to hold this sixteen pound bowling ball of tears, puke and drool. Part of me wanted to just lay in bed with Jennifer and take a much needed nap.

It had been so long since we'd seen a movie, though. While there wasn't much out, I missed the feeling of being in the theater... the abusively loud sound system, the gigantic seats, the gigantic sodas! Darkness! Sitting in a room with a screen so big that -- for two hours -- nothing else exists.

What, then, should we see? This may be the last movie we see in a theater for months. The planets have aligned just right to allow us this digression from the exhaustion of parenting. Shouldn't we make it count?

The intellectual in me knew that the local art house theater was showing Sweet Smell of Success, the 1957 noir classic starring Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. The Movie Gods would want me to go. A different part of me just wanted to have fun, and I'd heard some good and intriguing things about The Cabin in the Woods, a movie that seemed at first glance such a typical horror retread that it even had the beige title of The Cabin in the Woods.

Honestly, what sold me more than anything was the environment. Our local art house theater could stand to be a little less stuffy and austere. I mean, just because I'm going to a classic movie doesn't mean I don't want a 40 ounce soda bomb and a game of pinball.

So, the wife and I went to the genre movie, and were pleasantly rewarded for the risk we took. After the opening scene -- a Sorkin-esque back and forth between Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford (who steal scenes throughout the movie) -- ends with a jarring title screen a la Funny Games, I was hooked. Cabin was co-written by Lost writer Drew Goddard (who directs here) and geek fanboy god Joss Whedon. While I am by no means a Whedon nut, I respect his writing and ability to be clever and arch without being glib.

What we've got with Cabin is the kind of movie that almost never gets made. You can sense these two guys starting with the most basic and overused of horror movie tropes, and then spilling out ideas right and left without a though of what the studio might think. And then, a miracle happens: the studio doesn't interfere and they make the movie that no one would dream could get made. Goddard makes a whole lot out of a small budget, which is especially impressive when you think about the amount of special effects needed to pull off his finale.

And when you see where the third act of Cabin takes things, you'll know what I mean. In a (kind of made up) word: APESHIT. I like to think I have a knack of being able to see where a movie plot or a character might be heading, but if you can predict what goes down in the last 20 minutes here, my hat is off to you, liar.

I don't want to say much more. I'd read a few reviews that talked about the fact that there were a number of twists in the plot, but I honestly wanted to go in knowing as little as possible. I advise you to do the same. I decided to save Sweet Smell of Success for a home viewing, where I can really relax and savor the thing. I was right in making The Cabin in the Woods my movie theater movie; it demands to be seen with a giant sound system, a massive nacho bucket and a few dozen people laughing and lunging along with you.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

#143: True Grit (2010)


True Grit
Directed and written by Joel & Ethan Coen, based on the novel by Charles Portis
Released December 22, 2010

The brothers Coen have made their masterpiece of the "Western" film genre.

That masterpiece was No Country for Old Men.

Not to say that the Coen's "remake" of True Grit (their interpretation is supposedly based far more on the novel than on the film that earned John Wayne his first Oscar) isn't a good film; on the contrary, it is quite good. It's full of great performances and beautifully shot by director of photography Roger Deakins, whom I've lauded in these "pages" before as the shooter of such gorgeous and varied films as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Big Lebowski, Jarhead, Sid and Nancy and more.

I am absolutely NOT panning True Grit. For lovers of Westerns, I definitely recommend it as a unique and nuanced take on the genre. I have no loyalty to the John Wayne version since I've never seen it, but the Coen's take is darkly humorous and even touching, especially in its final 15 minutes.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon are great. The real scene stealing comes from newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who shows confidence beyond her years as Mattie Ross, a young girl seeking justice for the murder of her father at the hands of Tom Chaney, played by an underused Josh Brolin. One of my biggest problems with the film is that once Brolin's character finally appears, he's too buffoonish and cartoonish to create any sort of dangerous or ominous vibe. He's basically Wile E. Coyote with a funny voice.

(Speaking of funny voices, this entire film plays out like the Affected Voice Olympics.)

Chaney is part of a larger gang, lead by the underrated -- and almost unrecognizable -- Barry Pepper. I hate to say it, especially as a big Brolin fan, but the movie would have been served better by making Pepper the sole heavy. Brolin's Chaney is so comical and inept that he deflates the proceedings when he finally does appear.

I guess it's just far too easy for me these days to feel conflicted about a Coen Brothers movie. I put the men who have made some of my favorite films (Fargo, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski) on a pedestal and I think it's a bit unfair of me to keep expecting a new all-time favorite every time they come out of the gates.

But, then again, isn't it okay to not always be wowed by the people you consider your favorites? I have no love lost for Wilco, but I have to be honest when I say their last couple of albums have been patchy. Sometimes your kid draws something that you don't feel like putting up on your refrigerator. It's okay.

For more on True Grit:
- Movie information at IMDB
and Wikipedia.
- The high-def trailer at YouTube.

Friday, June 17, 2011

#142: Super 8

Super 8
Written and Directed by J.J. Abrams
Released June 10, 2011

(Maybe I'm back. Maybe this is an anomaly. I don't know yet. Let's just pretend I haven't been gone for 2 years, shall we?)

Despite the flaws, despite the plot holes and occasional leaps in logic, despite ALL THE GODDAMN LENS FLARES, J.J. Abrams has made one hell of an entertaining, fun summer blockbuster with Super 8.

Believe me when I say I'm not an Abrams fanboy in the least. As a storyteller, he is constantly coming up short and leaving far more questions than answers. Some people find that charming; I do not. Let's just say I'm thrilled I didn't invest 6 years of my life watching Lost only to be given that odd, sometimes awful final season. Don't even get me started on some of the ridiculous leaps he gets away with in Star Trek (really, Kirk gets stranded on a random planet and runs into Future Spock literally within the first minute he arrives, and then Scotty a few minutes after that?), a film I really enjoyed. DESPITE ALL THE FUCKING LENS FLARES.

As a writer, all I have to say is: dude wrote Armageddon. Good god. And Regarding Henry. And Gone Fishin'!

Quite frankly, I'm not sure where the guy would be if he hadn't made one incredibly important friend early on in his career. Super 8 is a fairly obvious love letter to that friend, Steven Spielberg, who just so happened to be the film's producer.

Super 8 is Abrams' first fully original film (he previously directed the aforementioned Star Trek reboot and one of the Mission Impossible sequels), but he gets a lot -- and I mean a LOT -- of help by throwing together elements of The Thing, Alien and Spielberg's own Jaws, E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Hey, if you're gonna make a summer action/sci-fi blockbuster, these are all classic and successful predecessors.

Abrams exhibits one incredibly important trait to make a movie of this type to work: knowing how to pace your movie. He does a fantastic job here balancing action and exposition. Going too far in either direction can easily make your movie boring, and it's an art knowing how to keep your audience on the edge of their collective seat while keeping them from checking their watch or their iPhone. In the theater I was in, people were absolutely invested in the movie. When one of the movies many jarring scares happened, people were shooting back in their seats or kicking their legs in the air and laughing afterwards, embarrassed to finally be in a theater experiencing what a movie is supposed to make you experience.

Part of that audience investment comes in the nostalgia inherent in the setting. By bringing the story back to 1979 (a news broadcast mentions the nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island), he takes the majority of his audience back their childhood. Remember not having a cell phone? Remember riding a bicycle, or being able to sneak around at night with your friends? The other part of the investment comes with having a great cast, and Super 8 has a handful of fairly extraordinary child actors without whom the film just would not work.

Look, I know I'm rusty at this blogging thing and it has literally been years since I've "reviewed" a movie. The only thing I really want to articulate is that Super 8 is a blast. I know there are plot holes and inconsistencies. I know that in many ways it's derivative (it's an homage, people, how can it not be derivative in some ways?).

I also know that if I were 12 years old and my parents took me to see this movie, it would have sparked my imagination in the same way that E.T. or Raiders of the Lost Ark did so many years ago. It's not going to win Best Picture, but Super 8 might be the best Summer movie we've had in a long time. Stop being cynical and old, suspend a little disbelief, and try to have a good time.

Just try to pay no mind to ALL THOSE STUPID LENS FLARES.

For more on Super 8:
- Movie information at IMDB.
- The trailer can be found here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Eleven Favorites From 2009

In no particular order, here is a listing of the best movies, released in 2009, that I saw in the theater. As is typical with most years, I missed a lot of potentially great movies in the theater that I intend to catch at home . This list is in no way comprehensive and has not been pared down from dozens/hundreds of movies. I'd love to make another list of the great movies I'd watched at home or in re-release at a few of my favorite arthouse theaters (like Rashomon at Chicago's Music Box Theater), but there just isn't time right now.

For my own edification, and in no particular order:

The Hurt Locker: Expect director Kathryn Bigelow to win Best Director at the Oscars this year. I wouldn't be surprised if Jeremy Renner gets nominated or even wins Best Actor, as well. Taut, suspenseful and powerful. If this film had been in 3-D, it would have given you a stroke.

Fantastic Mr. Fox: Finally, a Wes Anderson movie that benefits from his overly fussy attention to details. Thoroughly enjoyable, with incredible animation, plus some career-best work from George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman... hell, every single person brought their "A" game to this. I haven't cackled louder in a theater this year -- and I literally cackled -- then when I was caught off guard by, "You wrote a bad song, Petey!" scene.

Coraline: Just a total head trip (in 3-D, no less). Granted, I was a bit inebriated and couldn't recall for you the plot if you put a gun to my head, but between this and Mr. Fox, a massive case was made this year for the return to stop motion or non-computerized animation. Plus, how can you go wrong with Ian McShane and John Hodgman?

I Love You, Man: They can't all be the Sistine Chapel, and I'm not the kind of dude who is going to pretend that I only admire films as art. I mean, I've watched The North Shore over 15 times, man! I Love You, Man was a sweet, funny and dare I say touching homage to the bromance. This wouldn't have worked without the genius cast, down to even Lou Ferrigno as himself. Ladies, please take note that all you really need to keep a man happy is allow him his own man cave.

Adventureland: I had mixed emotions about this film, and still think it only works on about a 70% success level. For example, I don't buy for a minute Kristen Stewart falling for Jesse "the poor man's Michael Cera" Eisenberg (nor do I buy for a minute the Lisa P. character wanting to go out with him). Part of the roadblock for me was my own hope that the comedy would be a little more zany, a little more funny, and less of a relationship movie. Still, it's a tender, surprising little movie that is much better than its advertising let on. Great soundtrack too, and not the kind of movie that seems like it's trying too hard to be cool (AHEM (500) Days of Summer).

Star Trek: Other than maybe enjoying the camp of the original TV series and the first two movies with the original cast, I have no real love for "Star Trek." I was actually prepared to hate this thing, but instead, the 2009 Trek flick kicked my ass. I have a newfound respect for Zachary Quinto, whom I find annoying on "Heroes," and I have a newfound crush on Zoe Saldana.

The Hangover: Overrated, for sure, it's still probably the one of the funniest movies of the year. Some of it just doesn't work, but the parts that do (like almost anything Ed Helms or Zach Galifinakis says) are insanely funny. Worth the price of admission just for the song Helms sings at the piano as the gang waits for the tiger to pass out.

Inglourious Basterds: Too talky and a bit long (is EVERY scene in this movie an interrogation?), it's still a hell of an engrossing film once you get past the fact that it's actually barely about the titular Basterds and their exploits. The ultimate Jewish revenge fantasy, with an ending that rewrites history with a massive twisted grin on its face. I do have to ask, how big of a pile of cocaine did Tarantino snort to think that the inclusion of David Bowie's "Cat People" made any goddamned sense at all?

BrĂ¼no: Watch it with your mom.

Lovely, Still: This tiny little flick may not actually see a wider release until next year, but I caught a sneak preview in Omaha, where it was made by a young filmmaker named Nik Fackler. There is a somewhat gimmicky twist that I won't spoil here, and the film walks a fine line of good and bad taste because of this twist, but its heart is so obviously in the right place that you can trust Fackler's intentions were not to exploit this character's weakness in making this bittersweet love story. Without the delicate, touching work from Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn (who has a wordless scene in a hospital that is especially powerful and clinches the entire picture), I'm not sure how well things would have worked. Fackler's direction is staggeringly confident, especially for someone not only his age but also making his directorial debut. The most interesting and somewhat daring element of Lovely, Still is the fact that, until you learn the twist, it seems like it's sloppily constructed and amateurish as far as plot is concerned. Once the pieces fit into place, you realize that Fackler was brave enough to make the movie seem this way to help pull off this bit of storytelling. Whether you wind up feeling manipulated or surprised, you really have to ask yourself, "Is this better than MY first movie?" What's that? You didn't make a first movie? Thought so.

Soul Power: I suppose this is listed as a 2008 release in many places, but I saw it in '09 and that's good enough for me. A loose documentary about the Zaire 74 music festival, which was to coincide with the legendary Ali/Foreman fight documented in the incredible film When We Were Kings, Soul Power is a fun, infectious collection of performances from James Brown, B.B. King, The Spinners, Bill Withers, Celia Cruz and more. Featuring an absolutely chilling performance by Withers (that still gives me goosebumps when I think about it), a surprisingly super-funky runthrough of "The Thrill is Gone" by King, and an electric showing of James Brown and one of the all-time best outfits ever worn by the Godfather of Soul, it's like The Last Waltz with afros.

Friday, October 23, 2009

#141: Black Sheep


Black Sheep
Written and Directed by Jonathan King
Released March 29, 2007 (New Zealand)

Want to hear four words that can get me to automatically rent a movie, sight unseen? How about "Genetically engineered killer sheep?"

Still, as slapped my money down at the rental counter for the New Zealand-made Killer Sheep, I tried my best to keep my expectations at bay. I remembered seeing a feverish preview of this film floating around online a few years back that made Black Sheep look like an insane bit of Sam Raimi-esque, Evil Dead meets Peter Jackson's Dead Alive craziness.

And for a brief moment, that's what you get. After an extended prologue that sets up the relationship between the young versions of our protagonist Henry and his evil brother Angus, along with the establishing the roots of Henry's fear of sheep, we meet the adult Henry upon his return to the family farm. Returning to wrap up some unfinished business with his brother, Henry cannot wait to leave his past behind.

Meanwhile, his brother is up to no good, having turned the family farm into an experimental genetics lab that has -- for reasons I can't seem to remember -- begun working on a mutated form of the seemingly harmless woolen animal.

This is a horror film... what do you think happens? If you guessed, "The sheep hits the fan," you're right.

Problem is, as batshit crazy as the premise sounds, the potential for insanity here is touched upon but never capitalized on the way you might want from a movie like this one. It's not that the film takes itself too seriously, though there is a danger of that, especially early on in the film where everything is played straight (save for the arrival of two completely annoying environmentalist hippies).

There's a scene right after the "outbreak" begins where a sheep pretty much goes all Toonces the Driving Cat, hilariously taking the wheel of a truck and plummeting to its death. I cheered inside, thinking that this was finally turning into the movie I wanted to see. Bring on the camp! Bring on the gore! Bring on the insanity!

Don't get me wrong, there's plenty here to crack up about. I just wanted more. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it felt like the comic timing was just a little... off. Perhaps there was too much exposition, or maybe there were too many long (and not all that funny) exchanges between Henry and Experience, the female environmentalist. Once that Toonces moment hit, Black Sheep should have just gone off the rails and never let up. As it stands now, there are just too many breaks in the action.

There's still plenty to be impressed about here, especially in the cinematography and special effects work. The movie looks and plays better than any movie with a plot like this probably should. One of writer/director Jonathan King's most impressive feats is how he manages to make something like a sheep slowly chewing grass, or a herd of sheep advancing over a hill, seem completely terrifying by not doing much more than letting his camera roll. The special effects (done through Peter Jackson's WETA Workshop) were equally impressive, and again almost done too well for a horror comedy.

Good but not great, Black Sheep does master one particular idea of successful entertainment: always leave your audience wanting more.

For more on Black Sheep:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Some pretty decent reviews at Rotten Tomatoes.

The aforementioned Toonces scene:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

#138 - #140: October Horror Begins!

Anyone who may have been following this blog last year might remember that October marked the most fruitful, challenging task I set for myself: reviewing one horror movie per day for the entire month.

Fortunately, this time around finds me in a loving relationship with a few better ways to spend that time every night than punishing my psyche sitting through soul crushing filth like Cannibal Holocaust. I am, however, also fortunate enough to have found a woman who appreciates a good horror movie... or at least appreciates my enthusiasm about horror movies enough to allow me to force her to sit through them.

So, tonight I'm posing a handful of brief reviews of movies recently viewed. While I obviously won't be putting myself through the ringer this month, I'll try to post reviews of as many movies as possible before the Trick or Treaters hit the pavement.

(Oh, and if you live in Chicago, please do me a favor and allow me to live vicariously through you if you happen to check out the 24 hour horror marathon going down at the Music Box Theater's "Music Box Massacre 5." Looks to be an amazing festival, and it all winds up with tonight's lead off movie...

#138: Carrie
Written by Lawrence D. Cohen (based on the novel by Stephen King)
Directed by Brian De Palma
Released November 3, 1976

Do I even need to give a plot synopsis here? I mean, if you're reading this column you had to have seen Carrie by now, right? If I had to sum it up in a single sentence, I guess I'd just say: "Don't fuck with the weird kid in school, because you never know when they might have psychotically triggered telekinetic powers."

While this wasn't the first time I'd seen Carrie, it was definitely the first time in at least a half dozen years. I'm happy to report that this classic Horror flick (mostly) stands the test of time. Sure, there are moments when the score sounds ridiculously dated, and sure, William Katt's hair is a singular monument to the indescribable excesses of 1970s awesomeness.

But man, once you get to that third act Prom Night scene? The build up of tension starting at the moment the titular Carrie (played by Sissy Spacek, who was rightfully nominated for an Oscar that she rightly lost to Faye Dunaway for her performance in Network that year) begins preparing for her date all the way through to her return home is almost unbearable. By the time Carrie steps out of those heavy gymnasium doors, I honestly felt relief. It helps, I must add, to have your television turned up loud for this sequence.

Carrie was the first Stephen King novel ever adapted to the screen, and it was also one of the most successful and well made. Director De Palma, who made a career out of aping Alfred Hitchcock, puts his own stamp on things here (or at least apes a director with less identifiable hallmarks).

I can't stress enough how much this entire movie falls on the shoulders of Spacek and, even more so, Piper Laurie (also nominated for an Oscar here) as her religious, overbearing and abusive mother. Had the relationship between these two stunk for a moment of inauthenticity or comedy, the entire film would come crumbling down. Picture a lesser actress doing those reaction shots where Carrie taps into her telekinetic powers; you'd be howling with laughter.

One caveat if you intend on watching this movie through Netflix's streaming service: they use the (inexcusable) fullscreen version of the movie, making the entire flick look like it was shot for TV. This effect is especially frustrating during the moments of split-screen violence in the Prom sequence, or the dance scene where the camera spins dizzyingly around Katt and Spacek.

Remember kids, unless you're watching on a 10" TV, ALWAYS GO WIDESCREEN.

#139: Zombieland
Written by Rhett Reese Paul Wernick
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Released October 2, 2009

Getting a little too hyped for its own good lately, the Woody Harrelson action/comedy Zombieland is merely an okay horror movie, a better-than-average entry into the Zombie Horror subdivision with a few decent scares and a handful of laughs. Though inspired by Shaun of the Dead it reaches but can't hope to match the heights of that film's perfect balance of satire and unflinching violence.

Harrelson does an okay job as basically a redneck Natural Born (Zombie) Killer, though he is given some hard to stomach lines ("Nut up or shut up," comes to mind) and a somewhat annoying character motivation (finding the last Twinkie on Earth, though his explanation for this fixation at one point is actually acceptable). Jesse Eisenberg fares okay with his mannered Micheal Cera impersonation, and the first scene where his character lays out his Rules for Survival is amusing and fresh.

Zombieland is definitely entertaining, and those of you out there who may be less jaded or inundated with zombie lore might enjoy it even more than I. Director Ruben Fleischer comes up with some cool, memorable moments, especially in the hilarious opening credit sequence. Perhaps a little too stylized (we are reminded via onscreen text of Eisenberg's "rules" about two or three too many times), the film falters when trying to be poignant by finding the humanity among all the onscreen destruction. Problem is that the film establishes itself so early on as an anarchy-fueled amusement park ride that you just don't trust it when it tries to get your waterworks going.

HOWEVER, and this is a massive HOWEVER, there is a 10 minute segment of Zombieland featuring a brilliant cameo from one of my all time favorite comic actors, that elevates this flick from "okay, not bad" to "you have to check this shit out." Some sites out there have taken to spoiling the surprise, but trust me, even if you know the identity of the person, you won't be prepared for how batshit crazy this segment of the movie gets. Take what you want from the rest of Zombieland, but I defy you to keep your jaw from hitting the floor when you see what happens to this "character."

#140: Deadgirl
Written by Trent Haaga
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel
Released 2008

Gee, what a surprise that a movie directed by the same hands that made films like Operation Midnight Climax, in collaboration with a writer who normally acts in dreck like Tales From the Crapper, turns out to be absolute shit.

What's really surprising is just how abhorrent a film Deadgirl is, starting with the basic premise: two high school losers explore an abandoned mental hospital and find in its basement a naked female strapped down to a gurney. The two quickly realize after a few violent encounters that this woman cannot be killed. So, what do they do? Do they call the cops? Do they let her go?

Nope. No, in today's world of torture porn like Saw, they do what pretty much no human being on the face of this Earth would do (especially after discovering that this "woman" has a deadly bite): they decide to keep her as a sex slave. Imagine, if you will, that shudder-inducing scene in Kill Bill where we discover the disgusting abuse Uma Thurman's character suffers in her coma... then multiply that by at least a thousand.

I'm not trying to take moral high ground here (with a movie like this, it's really not hard to do). I love plenty of movies that, on the surface, are hard to explain from a morality standpoint. Hell, I'm a big fan of shows (and music) like "Metalocalypse," where sometimes millions of people are murdered as a punchline or a slapstick gag.

It's just that I don't understand why this movie was made at all. I mean, I get why something like George Romero's Dawn of the Dead exists as both a horror movie and an allegory for consumerism. People are constantly trying to re-adapt the symbolic or allegorical meaning behind zombies (though thankfully, the aforementioned Zombieland seems to not give a shit about double meanings).

But what's the allegory here? What's the greater meaning, and is it really a lesson that anyone with more than a lizard brain needs to learn? The even better question to be asking: what kind of person invests their money in something like this? I understand there's always that need in a Horror film to shock... to go to that place no one in the audience thought you'd go. This, though, this is something else. The level of misogyny on display here is utterly disgusting, especially since the "redeeming" character, who spends the whole movie fretting about going to jail, exhibits just a modicum less disdain for women than everyone else in the movie. I mean, at least he never stabs her, right?

Even despite these protestations, the movie still fails on the most basic levels. Lame dialogue, idiotic characters making unbelievable decisions and a pacing that is just too slow to even maintain suspense are all weaknesses. It could have been a provocative film with a better, smarter script. Instead, we get this irredeemable shit.

For more on tonight's films:
- Deadgirl at IMDB.
- Zombieland at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Carrie at IMDB and Wikipedia.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

#137: (500) Days of Summer


(500) Days of Summer
Written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Directed by Mark Webb
Released September 7, 2009 (UK)

I'm sad to say that, considering my near love for lead actors Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer (I will be dispensing of the parenthetical after this mention) has turned out to be just a little less than the sum of its parts.

It's not that I don't appreciate the fact that director Mark Webb and writers Scott Neustadter and Mike Weber at least tried to bring us a love story (or, a story about love) in a fresh way. There are some really fantastic moments of whimsy, like an out-of-the-blue dance number set to a Hall & Oates song or a brief black & white homage to European cinema.

Unfortunately, these little scenes serve to highlight the fact that the filmmakers were capable of doing so much more, of having much more fun, of being so much more creative, than what we're left with for the rest of the movie. For every truly moving and interesting segment (like the split screen presentation of how Gordon-Levitt's Tom hopes a dinner party will turn out, juxtaposed against the images of how it actually turns out), there are pat, conventional ideas like the karaoke scenes or the not-so-clever observations about the sentiments behind greeting cards.

I read a review of this over at IMDB which said Days was "one hundred times more authentic than the usual romantic comedy fare churned out by Hollywood." Problem is, this isn't true. I just don't understand where this idea of authenticity is coming from. Is it because the soundtrack features The Smiths instead of Carrie Underwood? If you've seen the movie, think about that awful ending and try to tell yourself that it would seem out of place if Jennifer Aniston or Kate Hudson were the woman sitting on that couch.

Sometimes I worry the indie crowd is too easily swayed by something that, metaphorically, is wearing the same t-shirt that they wear. I have been in far too many heated arguments about why I think movies like Juno or Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist suck despite the fact that their characters may like what I like. (To put it more succinctly, if Juno was a kitten, I'd put it in a burlap sack and drown it in a fucking river.)

There's a line in the movie that, while directed at Gordon-Levitt's character and his seemingly instant affection for the titular Summer, perfectly sums up my feelings about these kinds of movies:

"Just because she's likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn't mean she's your soul mate."

While I might appreciate the fact that I get to hear a montage set to the sounds of a Band of Horses song instead of a Nickelback fart, I'm still not going to be an easy lay. These things -- songs, images, pop culture references -- are supposed to accentuate a film, not define its personality.

These kinds of cues are really just a product of lazy writing. Why explain a certain character's background or worldview when all you have to say is, "He loves Joy Division" and your hip little audience will know exactly what you mean? And if they don't know about a certain band and therefore don't understand your shorthand, well, fuck them for not being cool. As a huge fan of The Shins, I can't tell you how embarrassed I was by the "The Shins will save your life" scene in the awful Garden State. Say what you will about typical populist Hollywood romantic comedies, but at least you can't accuse them of being elitist.

Another unique but not necessarily enjoyable quirk about 500 Days of Summer is the fact that the relationship presented in the movie is a story told in an episodic, out of order fashion. We learn from the beginning that this relationship is doomed to fail, and then explore the chronology to find the good and the bad. I found myself wondering if, without the gimmick of telling this story out of order, this movie would be a crushing bore. By cutting it into bite-sized pieces, Webb adds a little chaos into what would be a somewhat predictable bummer of a story. There are a few moments that are served well by this kind of editing, most explicitly the opening scene from Day 488 of their relationship which shows Tom holding Summer's hand as she wears a wedding ring.

Beyond those few scenes and the likable aforementioned moments of whimsy, the most enjoyable thing about Summer is the undeniable chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel. Levitt's performance is especially affecting, as he is asked to cover the gamut of human emotions throughout the movie. He and Deschanel could have been just as satisfying reading the phone book to each other, as proven in this video for "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here," a song from Deschanel's collaboration with musician M. Ward. The three minutes in this video are more intoxicating than any moment in the movie:

For more on (500) Days of Summer:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Check out movie clips, bloggage and more at the official movie site.

The trailer: