Monday, February 1, 2010


Jessi has moved on and decided to continue her creative pursuits outside of this blogosphere. I continue to look for work and have taken my end of this blog to a new site, a former local Seattle newspaper:


This blog taught me that I like not just watching films but sharing opinions on the good ones. Thanks and happy continued viewing people!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Summer Lovin

Like most guys I don’t live in the romcom genre much. There have been great ones because of their innovative scripts and performances:
Moonstruck”, “The Philadelphia Story”, “When Harry Met Sally”, “Some Like it Hot”, “Groundhog Day”, “It Happened One Night” and of course the wonderfully contrived “Sleepless in Seattle”. “City Lights” may have been the genres’ great silent classic and proof that these films have been a staple of the film industry since its inception. After all movies are the perfect dates right? Yet the way Hollywood mass produces things, quality always wears thin and we have all been subjected to some outrageously bad romcoms. I don’t know why but “What Happens in Vegas” sticks in my mind but there are hundreds maybe thousands. (You hear that “Pretty Woman”?) Date movies or chick flicks have become the scourge of man’s existence.

Yet I still have a soft spot for “Annie Hall”. The fun way it dissected the relationship, its bits of absurdity and its unexpected conclusion. This was Woody Allens’ greatest moment, and as I’ve said on this blog before, it’s been a sad thing watching his films decline with each passing year. That classic came to my mind again as I watched “(500) Days of Summer”, the “Annie Hall” of Gen Y.

This generation so easily falls into a hipster pose but with this film we have none of the forced irony or ‘too cool for school” posing that makes older folks cranky. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom who wears old timey suits and ties rather than skinny jeans and a souvenir T-shirt. His love interest is Summer (Zooey Deschane) who also leans towards the classic, wearing vintage dresses. This is just one clever way that director Marc Webb (who also co wrote the script with Scott Neustadter) frames this story as timeless rather than as a bland modern romance. He also has filmed the story in older buildings, so although it’s set in LA which is so often cold and soulless on film, here it shows the character of a New York or Chicago backdrop.

Tom was an architecture student who now works as a greeting card writer. So, sure the movie doesn’t completely avoid being hokey. In fact his work attitude and rant at a meeting when he’s having love life troubles is a little overdone, but the movie is charming enough to forgive this. When Summer enters the workplace he is smitten and the countdown of the 500 days begins. The fun part is that since this is told from Tom’s point of view, the days are not in any order. Good days and bad days intermingle as we see their relationship without clear linearity. Opening narration even announces that “this is not a love story” so we watch the relationship knowing that it is short-term just like “Annie Hall”. I think in this day and age this makes the film more realistic and meaningful despite its flights of fancy. Zooey Deschanel is a bit cold but she does well in the role where she has to be a bit of a heavy. (Although I think Ellen Page would have rocked it) Her character is one who remains mysterious and is only revealed through Tom’s eyes, so she is always elusive and distant as crushes often are. Along the way we see two versions of a night (imagined versus actual) that I thought was brilliant. Tom even breaks out into song showing how we all live our lives and especially our romances through the filter of Hollywood expectations. In short this film is clever, well-performed, fun and defies hipster detachment with its sincerity. Isn’t that what romcoms are supposed to be? I also think the last line put a great bow on it. It’s like a brief romance itself, don’t over think it and you’ll have a lot of fun.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Stars Trapped in their Vehicles

Robin Williams, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton and Nicholas Cage are no slouches but these releases fall short despite their best efforts, usually due to over-indulgent writers/directors. I’m giving all of these two shakers each.

A pre-heart attack Robin Williams shot “The Worlds’ Greatest Dad” in Seattle and although that’s good for our local economy I wish this black comedy worked for me. Written and directed by fellow frantic comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, both the comedy and Williams are surprisingly understated. In fact Williams is so quiet that he almost disappears performance-wise and that doesn’t help. As a high school teacher, aspiring novelist and single parent, his character Lance Clayton seems to do all badly. Lance’s teenage son is a pervy arrogant fool (well-played by Daryl Sabara) who meets an early death which earns both he and his father the fame that eluded them both while he lived. The reverence and whitewashing we give to the dead is a great topic for satire and this film almost works; however, even a black comedy must have laughs. Caught up in its own dour plot machinations it wastes not only Williams but the great supporting cast. Too many music montages, an over-reliance on cutting to the goth girl and what feels like a tacked on Hollywood ending eventually bring it down. It’s a shame because I think if Bobcat played it less safe we might have a comedy in the “Heathers” vein instead of a film as repressed as Lance is.

I’m not going to lie; I am not a fan of Quentin Tarantino. I find his movies over-hyped and ridiculous. Long b-movie speeches interrupted by sensationalized hyper-violence and not a touch of reality. His fan base eats them up though and I was curious how he’d take on a period drama in his latest: “Inglorious Basterds”. Weighing in at two and a half hours it’s a long haul but for a war film it had surprisingly less torture than I suspected, unless you count the twenty minute scene set in a basement pub to be audience torture. I feel if someone had been allowed to edit Tarantino the film would have worked better but perhaps not. When all the top brass for the Third Reich are attending an event it’s a bit surprising to see that only two guards are posted. We also are supposed to believe that the “Basterds” are a super squad of Nazi hunters but we see very little of their tracking and hunting, only Eli Roth (the fellow torture-porn director of “Hostel”) happily beating a Nazi to death with a baseball bat. Pitt’s portrayal is complete caricature, kind of like Foghorn Leghorn in a uniform. However the two female stars, (Diane Kruger as a German film actress/spy and Mélanie Laurent as a Jewish survivor who is living covertly as a local theater owner) outshine their material. But the breakout performance here and probable Oscar nom is Christoph Waltz portraying a nefarious “Jew hunter” SS Officer. Acting well and in four languages he represents the quiet evil of the Nazis better than most war movie heavies outshining even the Hitler in this one. If only the film lived up to his performance with a little less conversation a little more action. (Thanks Elvis!)

Another Oscar worthy performance trapped in a bad film is Tilda Swinton as the title character in “Julia”. It begins as a naturalistic character-driven story where Julia is shown as a hopeless alcoholic who sleeps around and finds it hard to hold down a job or to attend her AA meetings. However soon she meets her neurotic Mexican neighbor who wants to kidnap her son from his wealthy grandfather and the film begins to turn into a marathon of the improbable. This time director Erick Zonca steers the two and half hour ship as Julia makes one bad decision after another, abusing the ten year old in question endlessly before the film literally transforms into a Mexican soap opera where evil-looking gangsters scream “Puta!” a lot with drawn weapons. One twist too many for me and an unbelievable ending to boot, which is a shame since Swinton really shined through this overlong story.

Finally we have the newest trend in action films- full-out apocalypse! We know Nicholas Cage can act from “Leaving Las Vegas” but since then he has chosen films more for their paychecks which is a shame. In “Knowing” we have numerology, crazy psychic kids, Matrix-like aliens with shiny mouths and a shitload of CGI! Cage is a single parent whose son loses out when a fifty-year old time capsule is opened at his school; while the other kids in his class get drawings from the past students (kind of an expensive and wasteful school project no?) he gets a page filled with numbers written by a creepy girl in the film’s prologue. Cage cracks the code which turns out to be a listing of the time, locations and casualties of all the major disasters in the world. Frantically he races off to witness elaborately staged plane and subway crashes but seems only slightly perturbed. The biggest disaster is this film itself. You’ve been warned! Here’s to better DVDs in 10!!