Film Review: The Road (2009)

The Road (2009)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by: Joe Penhall, from the novel by Cormac McCarthy
Rated: R
Rating: 3 (out of five)

The Road

The vision of the world after apocalypse is nothing new to cinema.  Nor was it to books when McCarthy’s original book was published.  A gray world that is desolate and foreboding, ashy and violent.  Gangs run amuck, taking hostages; few good men still exist, the hardships of their new life taking obvious tolls.  The difference with The Road is that it’s personal and up-close.

Through flashbacks we are told the history of our two protagonists.  The Man (Mortensen) immediately begins hoarding goods and becoming a guardian to the Woman (Charlize Theron), his wife, who is carrying their child.  The Boy (Smit-McPhee)  is born into the apocalypse and raised in the danger.  After the death of the Woman, the Man and the Boy begin working their way south towards the coast.

The days are cold, the nights even colder.  The world has been dead for so long that food and clean water are had to come by.  Plant and animal life has been obliterated, existing cities crumbled.  The only true infrastructure left in the world is the long, flat pavement of the interstate highways – the roads.

We see the world and the action through the eyes of the Man.  He view the Boy as the last hope for the world, the Boy is God.  He does not mean this literally; the Boy, good natured and decent and kind, has the power of God in the empty world.  The power to restore hope, even if it’s only restoring the Man’s hope and not humanity’s.

During their journey they encounter various people on the road.  From violent gangs to cannibals, they work to avoid these Bad Guys as well as they can and still survive.  The need for food leads them into dark houses and places they probably otherwise shouldn’t be going.  Threats are constant, and the single pistol the Man carries two bullets for a reason.  Part of the Boy’s education is the proper way to commit suicide.

There is something horribly disturbing in that image – the father pushing a pistol into his son’s mouth, then moving it to his own so he can demonstrate the proper aim.  You can’t aim too low or you’ll fail.  There is also something horribly familiar, and a terrible, terrible sense that this could be you.

The Road is that real, thanks largely to it’s source material.  I feel almost like I’m writing a review of the book rather than the movie, because the two are so close together.  The images are there and the characters are played to perfection (and I do mean perfection) by Mortensen and the supporting cast.  Smit-McPhee is amazing as the Boy, evoking for me exactly what McCarthy’s written representation of the Boy was.

Something is lacking in the movie, though, something the book has.  Roger Ebert’s review delves into McCarthy’s work and boils down the difference to the prose.  I would have to agree.  The book is like poetry.  Take away those words and you’re left with just imagery; without the words, you’re left with tying virtually unfathomable thoughts into a few seconds of screen real estate.

Penhall and Hillcoat have done, I think, as good a job as could be.  The movie stands on it’s own quite well.  It’s just missing the depth and introspection that the novel had.  If there was a way to accurately communicate those details in a film we’d probably never see another critic complain about unfaithful adaptations.

What The Road managed to do was take the essence of the book and present it to us successfully on the screen.  Much was lost in translation but what was presented was true and powerful and extremely well done.  No other movie about the apocalypse is quite as moving, truthful, or hard to watch as this.


Interesting review of the book:

Film Review: Bakjwi (Thirst) (2009)

Bakjwi (Thirst) (2009)
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ok-bin Kim
Directed by: Chan-wook Park
Written by: Seo-Gyeong Jeong and Chan-wook Park, inspired by “Thérèse Raquin” by Émile Zola
Rated: R
Rating: 4 (out of five)

Bakjwi (Thirst)

With the teenage vampire craze under way it’s hard to find a good vampire movie any more.  (Although I’m not really certain I can blame Stephanie Meyer for it, good vampire movies were hard to come by before.)  This is one that makes a valiant, original attempt at reclaiming the genre.

Chan-wook Park is best known for Old Boy, the violent revenge yarn about a man who has been help captive for years for no good reason.  His horror movies are unique, just as Old Boy was unique for a revenge story.  There is an interesting perspective brought to them, and an interesting exploration of raw human nature.  Few other horror films are as deep.

Thirst is about a Roman Catholic priest.  He works at a hospital performing last rites to it’s dying tenants.  He’s a good, humble, pious man, seeking to do good for his fellow man in any way he can.  Blessed with a healthy body and not able to help beyond praying, he volunteers for a radical medical experiment that is attempting to cure a deadly virus.  It fails, and the priest dies.

During the resuscitation attempt the dying priest is given a blood transfusion, and it’s blood from a vampire.  The priest is resurrected in the morgue, becoming the first human to successfully fight off the deadly disease.  A cult following forms around him, people begging him to heal them without realizing what he’s become.

The priest begins to struggle with his new affliction – his new self – and still retain his previous moral code.  He leaves the seminary and the hospital to find a new place in the world and begins spending time with a childhood friend of his, Kang-woo, and his young wife, Tae-ju.  The priest can’t hold back his carnal needs, amplified after his transformation, for Tae-ju.  He struggles with these new actions and his previous vow of chastity; she, on the other hand, yearns to escape her boring marriage and willing accepts the priest, vampirism and all, into her arms.  The urges become too much and both are soon entangled in a mess of blood, murder, revenge, and self-loathing.

An interesting idea of the vampire is that they do things out of need, not out of want.  The first half of the movie is a fascinating look at how someone as pure as good priest would cope with becoming vampire.  The budding love (or lust) between the priest and Tae-ju is equally fascinating.  The film makes a point of placing the vampire into a moral conflict rather than a physical one, framing it within the real world.

Unfortunately, the film turns a little too grotesquely comedic in the middle of the second half for it to have been a brilliant picture.  Any philosophical exploration was tossed aside for a bloody and graphic interlude.  It fits within the construct of the story, but losing that depth of character momentarily is enough to drag the movie down.

It’s taken a while for this movie to grow on me.  Had I written this review immediately after viewing it, it would have been much more negative and lower rated.  The movie has stuck with me and has planted some lingering thoughts in my about the classic vampire mythos.  To anyone I said “Don’t bother” to – I take it back!


Film Review: The Hangover (2009)

The Hangover (2009)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Rated: R
Rating: 3 (out of five)

The Hangover

I had little to no interest (closer to no interest) in seeing this movie until I watched the Golden Globes.  People had recommended it, but they also recommended other comedies that turned out to be only mildly amusing.  Then the Golden Globes played a clip during their broadcast …

Stu: She’s got my Grandmother’s Holocaust ring!
Alan: They gave out rings at the Holocaust?

I still can’t really explain why, but that moment is extremely funny to me.  So I rented it.  And very much enjoyed it.

Doug is getting married.  So Stu and Phil throw him a bachelor party in Vegas.  Doug’s fiancée’s brother, Alan, tags along.  When they wake up, severely hung over, Doug is missing and no one can recall what happened during the night.  The story really is that simple.  There is nothing more to it.  The best situational comedies are simple.  Look at “Seinfeld,” for instance.

We start with a terrible phone call from the best man to the bride – a bloody, dirty, tired, and worn out looking best man, calling the pampered, immaculate looking bride.  Phil tells her there’s no way the wedding is going to happen in five hours.

Flashback 48 hours earlier to beginning of the escapade.  We meet Phil (Cooper), a teacher, ready to get out and let loose.  We meet Stu (Helms), a dentist, tied down by an over-controlling girlfriend who is thoroughly very pleased that the bachelor party isn’t happening in Vegas (he tells her their going to wine country).  And Alan (Galifianakis), Doug’s soon to be brother-in-law, who is his own kind of loner (“a one-man wolf pack” who definitely provides the most awkward moments of the flick).

They toast on the rooftop of their hotel, then head down to the streets.  When they wake up the next morning, Doug is gone, the hotel room is trashed, chickens peck around through the mess, a tiger is trapped in the bathroom, and a baby is found in a closet.  Oh, and Stu is missing a tooth.  That’s only the start.

The trio begins a long hunt for their friend by working backward through the night’s events, trying to find out where Doug went by discovering where the tiger came from and why Doug’s tooth is missing and who’s baby that is.

I can’t say that this movie is great character study, or extremely well written.  But it is hilarious throughout.  What makes it rise above other generic comedies of late are the characters.  They actually have personalities and problems, and the night’s events provide a form of therapeutic treatment for them.  The characters feel real, not created simply because a comedic moment was needed.  The comedy comes from this sense of sincerity.

You care a bit about each.  Will Phil grow up and quit stealing kids money?  Will Stu shed his girlfriend and spread his wings?  Will Alan’s wolf pack ever grow?  You even care a little bit if they find Doug or not.

From these characters comes dialog that is witty and genuine.  It doesn’t feel like it’s pieced together from comedy cliché’s and predictable reactions.  Of course it’s there to get a laugh, but the character isn’t saying this line simply for the laugh.  The line comes from the character, from the story, driving the plot forward.  It’s a strongly written film.  Because of this, it easily rises above.

It’s hard to call a movie about a killer hangover smart, but this one actually is.  It’s getting rare to see a mainstream comedy that is these days.


Film Review: Coraline (2009)

Coraline (2009)
With the voices of: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Keith David
Directed by: Henry Selick
Written by: Henry Selick, based on Neil Gaiman’s novel
Rated: PG
Rating: 5 (out of five)

CoralineCoraline is the third stop-motion film from Henry Selick, the mastermind behind The Nightmare Before Christmas.  (I will admit that I thought Corpse Bride was his handy-work too, but it turns out I was very wrong there.)  It is nothing short of brilliant.  When an animated film is so good that you forget you are watching animation, the creators have really accomplished something.  When they manage to do that against what seems like all odds, they’ve created something truly amazing.

Coraline Jones (that’s “CORE-a-line” not “CARE-o-line”) has just moved to a new apartment with her parents.  They are horticulturalists of a sort, but lately they’ve been putting aside actually cultivating a garden in favor of writing.  Her father is authoring a catalog that he hopes to be his magnum opus that will feed the family.  Coraline doesn’t care in the least and is more interested in having adventures.  Their new neighbors, Mr. Bobinsky, Miss Spink, and Miss Forcible, though colorful, aren’t enough.

On her first foray into her new surroundings she meets the son of her apartment’s proprietor, Wybie.  And a sly black cat.  Bored with their lack of creativity, she retreats back into her house and begins cataloging everything she finds.  Which includes an curiously small door that has been wall-papered over.  After sufficiently pestering her mother enough that she gives in, the door is opened, only to reveal a brick wall.

That night Coraline is awoken by a jumping mouse whom she follows through the house.  To the curiously small door.  Through the curiously small door.  And into the Other World, where she meets her Other Mother, and her Other Father, and the Other Wybie, and that strange cat.  Everything is perfect at first glance.  Her mother is baking tasty meals and her father is full of life and energy and all they want to do is please Coraline.  It takes her a few minutes to notice that their eyes are mere black buttons sewn onto their faces.

Retreating back to into the Real World, Coraline is once again faced with the sheer monotony that she feels makes up her life, and she quickly finds herself venturin g back into the Other World and becoming more and more at home there.  As is the case with these stories, it’s not long before she discovers that the black buttons are there for a reason, and that hiding under all the shiny facades of fun is something evil.

Coraline is a story about youth.  It’s about youth itself learning to embrace life and finding adventure.  It’s about youth’s influence on adults.  It’s about the adults lusting after youth in dangerous ways.  It’s about adults finding their youth again and their lives brightening and adults not leaving their youth behind.

Gaiman’s writing is always rooted in myths and folk tales.  What Gaiman always does well is to make these common tales uniquely his own.  Coraline is no exception to this.  And I hate the fact that I haven’t read the book!  (Though the movie, I hear, is sufficiently close to the book, there are some variances.  Notably Wybie, who isn’t in the book at all.)

More than being a great modern folk tale, Coraline is an amazing visual feast and an incredible technical achievement to boot.  I’ve linked an article at the bottom that was eye-opening.  Who knew that the Other Mother morphing into her real self was such a painstaking shot to produce!

All in all, this film deserves a spot on anyone’s shelf and is a great movie to get the whole family together.  Perhaps I have a dark vision of what family movies should be, but I still think it’s a great film.  Technically, creatively, visually – all of it comes together perfectly.


Great article on the making of:

Film Review: Surrogates (2009)

Surrogates (2009)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Ving Rhames
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Written by: Michael Ferris and John D Brancato, based on the graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele
Rated: PG-13
Rating: 2 (out of five)Surrogates (2009)

A few years ago, Alex Proyas’s I, Robot (2004) came out.  It deconstructed Isaac Asimov’s phenomenal “I, Robot” stories and turned into an action vehicle for Will Smith.  I enjoyed the  movie but it definitely wasn’t good science fiction.  It was just good action.  That’s about the best thing I can say for Surrogates.

I have not read the graphic novel so I cannot make any comparisons in that regard.  There are some moments in the movie that are obviously painstakingly recreated from the frames of the novel.  Those are unfortunately few and far between.

14  years from now we have the technology to create and control “surrogates.”  These are lifelike androids that experience life for us while we remain back at home, lying in a pod that allows our minds to control the surrogates.  The great part of surrogates is that you get to feel everything they feel and have none of the side effects.  Sex has gone up, but STI’s have gone down.  The aging process is almost non-existent in the real world.  Surrogates don’t age, just their controllers do.  But also virtually non-existent in the real world is human connection.  There are reservations of humans — “meat bags” – where no surrogates are allowed to enter.  These havens of humanity are run by The Prophet (Rhames) who aims to restore life to it’s natural roots.

We open with a murder.  Someone on a motorcycle fires a pretty powerful weapon at two surrogates.  It causes their surrogates to fry – which isn’t new, as bullets through electronic components can cause some serious damage – but it also causes their controllers to fry as well.  The surrogate/controller who is killed is none other than the son of Dr. Cantor, the man who invented surrogates.

This sparks the first real homicide in years (surrogates kill other surrogates, people don’t kill people anymore).  Lt. Greer (Willis) and his partner (Mitchell) are brought on to solve the case.  Much is unique about it:  why did the safety mechanisms fail and cause the controller to die when the surrogate was fried?  What weapon is powerful enough to do that?  Why would someone do such a thing?  Is The Prophet involved?  They then get wrapped up in a conspiracy that takes us through to the movie’s inevitable ending.

Mostow also directed Terminator 3.  He hasn’t grown much as a director since then.  (On a funny note, I see that his next project is a re-tell of the Swiss Family Robinson – interesting change of scenery from sci-fi).  The movie is rather derivative as far as it’s production goes.  The action isn’t bold, the explosions are only “big,” the suspense is barely there.  This is true of a lot of movies that Hollywood churns out these days, and I can openly confess to liking a lot of them.  I even liked Terminator 3!  The real issue with this movie isn’t the production.  It’s the story.

Again, I haven’t read the graphic novel, and don’t intend to at this point, but the story here is what is wrong with this movie.  Re-read the paragraph above explaining the future society presented in this movie.  The one thing this story does is a great job of tantalizing us with these little, realistic details of how surrogacy has affected future society and humanity as a whole.  It only hints at it though, and only for the first few minutes as the credits roll.  It blatantly ignores, and even sometimes purposely avoids, parallels to our current society’s addiction to gadgetry and the “zoning out” it causes.  This movie is completely devoid of any social context whatsoever.  And that is it’s problem.

I’m not looking for this to be a social critique of technological advances and their effects on humanity.  I think it would have been a wrong choice to have done that.  What I’m asking for is a sense of what’s happened and the realization that this has a profound effect on how the characters would have gone about daily life.  Instead we get one single moment where Greer walks through the streets as a meat bag instead of a surrogate for the first time.

Look at District 9.  It’s not meant to be a social commentary on Apartheid, it’s not meant delve into social injustices, but because the story was borne of those conditions, it’s effects are directly presented on-screen.  I again think that it would have been the wrong choice for that film to have been a true social commentary, but at least it wasn’t afraid of the idea it projected.  Another brilliant example is Blade Runner.  The film doesn’t truly attempt to be a critique, but instead delivers us into a fully realized world that serves as it’s own critique, completely apart from what the filmmakers were filming.

A brief hint of what this movie could have been was provided by some early teaser posters.  Take a look here and here to see what I mean.

Action.  Check.  Some pretty explosions and car crashes.  Check.  A real world to set the story in?  Nope!


Prof. Ishiguro and his “Geminoid” twin:

Film Review: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans (2009)

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans (2009)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer, Eva Mendes, Xzibit
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Written by: William M. Finklestein
Rated: R
Rating: 4.5 (out of five)

This review contains possible spoilers!  The final paragraphs contain what may be considered spoilers.  While I do not consider them spoilers, as I don’t think they actually spoil anything, some may take offense.  Consider this fair warning.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans It’s now been over 72 hours since I watched Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans.  There’s a reason this review is going up significantly later than my viewing.  I didn’t know what to say.  I’ve decided that is actually a good thing.  Maybe even a great thing.

When I first saw the listings for a movie called “Bad Lieutenant 2” I couldn’t help but laugh.  I’ve not seen the original Bad Lieutenant (1992) starring Harvey Keitel.  Then I saw Herzog was directing and I was flabbergasted.  Why would he remake something like that?

Turns out it’s not a remake nor is it a sequel.  Herzog claims to have never seen the original, and the only reason the phrase “Bad Lieutenant” is in the title is that the producers felt it would boost the film’s profile.

Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant follows Terrence McDonagh (Cage), a veteran cop in New Orleans.  The film is set in the aftermath of Katrina.  In the opening scene, Terrence takes a leap into a flooded landing to save a criminal.  For his heroism, he is promoted to Lieutenant and left with an irreparable back injury that causes him severe pain.

As Terrence’s pain worsens the Vicodin his doctor prescribed just isn’t enough.  As a cop, he has access to the store rooms where the confiscated drugs are.  Guess what happens?

Terrence begins a terrible slide into hardcore drug usage.  His girlfriend, Frankie (Mendes), is a prostitute, and assists Terrence get his fix when he needs it.  His father and step-mother are alcoholics, though his father is trying to go through AA again.

In one of the more uncomfortable scenes I’ve ever watched, Terrence follows a young man and his “date” out of a nightclub into a vacant parking lot.  Flashing his red and blue lights, he explains to them that they “match a description” and to give him all their drugs.  They do, and as the young man pleads with him to not report anything, Terrence begins to rape the woman.  And he forces the young man to watch.  And Herzog forces us to watch.

Then the hallucinations begin.  Iguanas and alligators and breakdancing souls begin distracting Terrence as he tries to do his day job.  Although it’s not clear if it’s really a “job” to Terrence any longer.

Throughout all this, tying all of it together, is a high profile murder case, taking Terrence deep into the underground drug scene in New Orleans.  The murder story is a MacGuffin, something to keep the viewer interested in something that seems normal.  This is the great irony of Bad Lieutenant: a horrible murder seems acceptable and commonplace next to Terrence.

In some ways this film seems almost like a retelling of Shakespeare’s Richard III.  Terrence develops a hump and almost limps.  He plows through obstacles with ruthless efficiency, setting up the pieces well ahead of time.  His insanity and instability grows the further he digs himself.

Cage is absolutely phenomenal as the drug addled Terrence.  His portrayal of addiction and violence (both against others and against one’s self) is frightening.  There is not a single moment where you look at this sad figure of a cop and think “Hey, that’s Nicolas Cage!”  One of the best performances of the year without a doubt.

This is not an easy movie to watch.  It is hard, in your face, unrelenting, and uncompromising.  Herzog has found a great partner with Cage.  They have no qualms about getting dirty and taking you right down with them.

The first shot is of a water snake swimming along and a convict near drowning.  It ends with Terrence slumped in front of a giant glass aquarium of swimming creatures with the convict he saved sitting beside him, the fish circling endlessly in their tanks.  Did we just go through two-hours of personal hell only to begin again?  Is this the beginning of the end?  The beginning of another downfall after what was almost a successful return to normalcy?  At one point Terrence asks “Do fish have dreams?”

Herzog isn’t afraid to leave us wondering.  Are you?


Herzog on Bad Lieutenant, Singing Iguanas, and Prop Cocaine:

Film Review: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Voice talents of: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David
Directed by: Ron Clements and John Musker
Written by:Ron Clements, John Musker, and Rob Edwards
Rated: G
Rating: 3 (out of five)

princess-and-the-frog-poster I haven’t thought much of Disney Animation for a long while.  I really had to think coming out of the theater about what movies they had released in the last decade.  Disney’s partnership with Pixar has far outweighed Disney’s solo releases.  Those that I could think of I didn’t particularly enjoy.  Whether it’s just my imagination or not, but Disney Animation Studios has had a losing streak for while.

Pixar has proved recently that family-friendly entertainment need not be without a touch of darkness to it.  Some of the best children’s story are themselves a little dark.  I think that it was this element that Disney’s most recent animated adventures have lacked.  (Granted, Lilo & Stitch had some darkness to it.)

The Princess and the Frog is a strong return to animation for Disney.  And it brings with it a very effective and dark new villain.

We all know the original story of the “The Frog Princess.”  Disney has changed things up by moving the familiar story to Prohibition-era New Orleans, and thereby introducing their first black Princess.  Wait, a Princess in 1920’s New Orleans?

Tiana is our hard-working heroine.  Her mother has worked as a talented seamstress to the rich upper crust of New Orleans for years, and her father worked incredibly long days to keep his family financially stable.  He passed along his dream of owning a beautiful restaurant to his daughter, who has carried on his dream after his passing.

The upper crust childhood friend of Tiana’s, Charlotte, has been pining after a Prince since she could say the word.  One day her dream seems like it’s about to come true.  A Prince from Maldonia, Prince Naveen, is visiting New Orleans and will be staying with Charlotte and her family.

Enter the scheming voodoo Shadow Man, Dr. Facilier.  Seeing an opportunity to swindle Charlotte’s family of their riches and take over the bustling port city, he begins working his magic by turning Naveen and, accidentally but also fortuitously, Tiana, into frogs.

Naveen and Tiana must then race to get themselves restored with the assistance of a great collection of supporting characters (Louis the trumpet playing Alligator, Ray the romantic firefly with his eye on the most beautiful firefly in the sky, and Mama Odie the ancient bayou-dwelling voodoo lady).

There isn’t an amazing new animation technique.  There aren’t immense visual landscapes.  There aren’t “ooh-aah” 3D effects.  This is classic animation, reminding us of Disney’s legacy as the king of animation.  This movie shows that someone at Disney still understands the art of hand-drawn animation, which most people in Hollywood dismissed years ago, and shows that it’s still as lovely as ever.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite as magical as those previous films.  There’s something missing … it’s so close!  The soundtrack was sadly a little lacking (especially considering who wrote it!).  But I don’t think that’s the reason.  I don’t think Disney has lost their magic, but perhaps they should focus on something like The Princess and the Frog instead of making temporary teen sensations.  And yes, I’ll say it: maybe they were being overly cautious with the African-American characters, seeing as their last animated attempt is still notorious, 63-years later!

While this film proves that Disney hasn’t lost it, and that hand-drawn animation is still alive and kicking, it does fall short of being a true animated classic.


Film Review: (500) Days of Summer (2009)

(500) Days of Summer
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel
Directed by: Marc Webb
Written by: Scott Newstadter and Michael H. Weber
Rated: PG-13
Rating: 5 (five out of five)500_days

I don’t like chick flicks.  Well, I usually don’t.  I will admit to liking one or two, here or there.  When Harry Met Sally comes to mind.  I’ve always found it annoying when a movie navigates it’s plot points with predictable ennui.  I understand why so many people find them appealing – the fairy-tale essence and the good, happy, romantic ending – and I appreciate that.  I just don’t like it myself.  My collection of movies is decidedly darker, and I don’t think that’s just because of my personality.  I’ve always looked towards art to reflect back to me what I see every day, and the art that does that I find attractive.

So I liked 500 Days of Summer (which is to be referred to without the e.e. cummings-like punctuation for the rest of this review).  It was different, and more a reflection of reality than most love stories these days.

The film is told in a series non-sequential flashbacks, going backwards and forwards through the character’s relationship.  Non-linear story telling is nothing new, but I think it’s the first time I’ve seen it applied to a love story – except, as the Narrator tells us, “This isn’t a love story.  It’s a story about love.”

Levitt plays Tom Hansen, someone who has almost been an observer to his own life.  He went to school to become an architect, but spends his days writing the insides of greeting cards.  Enter Summer (Deschanel), who has just moved to L.A. from Michigan and has landed herself a job as Tom’s boss’s assistant.  Tom is instantly in love.

He truly believes that Summer is The One, The Only One, from the very beginning.  After a few days and some helpful prodding from his friends, Summer and Tom end up together.  From the very start, Summer is very plain and disarmingly honest about what she wants – in her first real conversation with Tom, she tells him she doesn’t want a relationship.  Shortly afterward, she makes sure Tom understands that all she wants is to be friends.  Tom hears what he wants.  He hears “take it slow” and “see where it goes.”

Tom has long believed in fairy tales and he doesn’t see what’s in front of him.  He sees what the fairy tales have led him to believe and he thinks that Summer shares this.  But as the Narrator told us at the very beginning, “This isn’t a love story.  It’s a story about love.”

Deschanel is just perfect as Tom’s tantalizing object of obsession.  She sees Tom for exactly who he is and likes him for exactly that.  She’s smart, funny, beautiful, playful, and it’s Tom’s bad luck that he can’t help but fall in love with her.

Summer is a bit mysterious in this movie.  We’ve all been so trained by Hollywood’s clichéd romance movies that we expect she’ll change and see that Tom is It.  When she doesn’t, she becomes mysterious.  The film almost instantly leaves the love story arc and heads into unexplored waters.  We only see her through Tom’s eyes, and what he doesn’t understand, we don’t either.

The director borrows from other pieces of art to help display Tom’s feelings.  Glimpses of Fellini, Disney, and French post-modernism explain what’s going on inside without being literal about it.  There’s even a nod to When Harry Met Sally.

When you look back on a years worth of related events, especially that of a relationship, you tend not to see it exactly as it happened.  You see it in glimpses that aren’t chronological; you see references from movies, books, and TV; you see things not quite as they were, but as a heightened experience of what happened.  In other words, it plays out like 500 Days of Summer.

Which is why it’s a great film.

(As a side note, a few of my friends complained about the ending.  While I can understand their complaint with the very last scene, I completely disagree and thing that there was no more apropos an ending for this film than what was presented.  Even the name of the girl applied.)


Who is Jennifer Beckman?

Film Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Starring: Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro
Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Rated: PG-13
Rating: ** (two stars out of five)

I’ve waffled for some time about whether I should give this two or three stars.  I’ve decided on two.  It just wasn’t that good, but all the spiffy, reflective robots had me thinking it was better.

I was not a terribly big fan of the first film.  In the transition from one website to another, my original review has been lost.  I gave that film two stars as well.

Revenge of the Fallen begins with a cheesy voice-over from Optimus Prime, providing some of the most unneeded narration I’ve heard.  The opening starts with some strong action, as the Auto-Bots find and eliminate another Decepticon.  The move doesn’t get much better than that.

The general plot revolves around Transformers lore and the history of the Prime’s – the strongest, truest Auto-Bots.  The last of the Prime’s is Optimus.  Well, that’s not exactly correct – there are two Prime’s left.  The other is The Fallen, Megatron’s mean mentor, who fell from grace after attempting to destroy Earth.

One of my biggest complaints in the first film was the lack of clear visuals on what should have been a major achievement in CG animation.  Even the scene immortalized in the previews of Optimus fighting with another bot on a freeway was blurry at best.  The amount of work, the sheer count of polygons and moving parts – that should have been crystal clear on screen.  It wasn’t.  And it’s not here either. 

Another major complaint was the lack of Michael Bay’s typical gorgeous use of color and dust.  Bay is nothing if not a master of action, and, while some may successfully argue that his films are weak, they are incredibly colorful with very beautiful violence.  The first film was obviously lacking in Bay’s usual flair.

Luckily, this film does add some of that flair.  But it’s not enough to make it a better film.  The characters are weak.  The story is overly complicated.  The animation is blurry.  The action isn’t noteworthy until the end.

And the end … the brief, anti-climactic ending … the voice-over narration again.  Oh, the agony.

Two stars is plenty for this film, and that’s simply because the action at the end of the film is quite good.  Anticlimactic for it’s finale, but quite good until then.