Saturday, July 28, 2012

Movie Reviews-(500) Days of Summer, The Woman in Black, Breaking Bad(Season One)

(500) Days of Summer
directed by Marc Webb
He came from somewhere back in her long ago The sentimental fool don't see, tryin' hard to recreateWhat had yet to be created once in her lifeShe musters a smile for his nostalgic taleNever coming near what he wanted to sayOnly to realize it never really wasShe had a place in his lifeHe never made her think twiceAs he rises to her apologyAnybody else would surely knowHe's watching her go"What a Fool Believes"-The Doobie Brothers
In romantic comedies and fiction it's often the woman who wants a long term exclusive relationship leading to marriage while it's the man who is intent on keeping his options open as long as humanly possible. This stereotype is enjoyed and promulgated by men and women for different reasons at different times. Both genders can seek out long-term and short-term relationships. In real life there are women who want to play the field for a while and men who walk around with their heart on their sleeve and fall in love quickly and permanently. We are all equally capable of such feelings. Much blues music is after all, a man singing about all the wonderful things he did for the love of his life and how she did him wrong. What happens when it's the man who's the incurable romantic and the woman who's the cynical realist who wants to keep her relationships casual? What if it's the man who overlooks red flags and thinks that he can change a woman? (500) Days of Summer is perhaps a romantic comedy but more of a coming of age story about love. Love is something which can't be bought, sold, required or demanded. It's a choice, not an obligation. You can't guilt trip someone into loving you. No matter how much you might love someone, you can't have a relationship with them if they don't feel the same way about you. 

Unusually the story is told from the man's pov. This is not Judd Apatow lowbrow material though. (500) Days of Summer is influenced by a true story. The film features the standard disclaimer that nothing is based on actual persons living or dead and that any resemblance is purely coincidental. However at the end of the boilerplate there is a line that reads 
"Especially you, Jenny Beckman. B****!."

Despite that bile the film is fair to both leads. It's an updated Annie Hall, The Graduate, Chasing Amy or When Harry Met Sally that is original, realistic, bittersweet and at turns both laugh out loud funny and somewhat pensive. If you have ever loved someone who didn't love you or been the object of someone's deep affection but found yourself simply unable or unwilling to return the intensity, I think you might enjoy this film. It is told in a non-linear manner. The movie's beginning shows the breakup's impact on Tom.  We see his desperate plans to get Summer back. The movie jumps back and forth in time over the roughly 500 days that Tom knew Summer.

The two leads, Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have great chemistry together. Deschanel's comic timing is perfect; her large eyed deadpan stare and staccato delivery is used to great impact.
Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a man who trained as an architect but upon entry into the workplace couldn't find employment in his field. So he has been working as a greeting card writer in a Los Angeles firm for longer than he likes. It's not a job he enjoys very much but it pays the bills.

When Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) joins Tom's workplace as an administrative assistant, despite the fact that she is described by the film's narrator as average looking, Tom is immediately smitten and ineptly but persistently seeks her attention. When she finally notices him, completely by accident, Tom and Summer discover that they have similar tastes in music, movies, and humor. They start a relationship. Or at least Tom does. As Summer calmly explains to him she doesn't really believe in relationships. She doesn't want a boyfriend. She doesn't want to get married. She just wants Tom as a friend, albeit one with certain benefits. Tom thinks he can live with that and even if he can't he's certainly not going to kick a naked and willing Summer out of his bed. The film's funniest scene is the morning after they have made love for the first time. A giddy dancing Tom gives fist bumps, daps, high fives and hugs to strangers as he leads a downtown marching band parade choreographed to Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True".  

Fountains jet as he walks by. Animated birds sing to him and sit on his hand. At work he is a sudden source of happiness and inspiration to those around him.
However, as Tom's relationship adviser, his 13 year-old preternaturally intelligent sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz) gently points out, he might not be remembering the bad things about Summer. Of course the fact that he's taking relationship advice from baby sis is both funny and somewhat pathetic. The lack of different perspectives is the film's strength and weakness. We see everything through Tom's eyes but he's not necessarily a reliable narrator. 

Although he sees himself as a "nice guy" that may be why he's having an issue. He's just showing up for life and not taking control of things either professionally or romantically-not that the second would be even be possible with Summer. Summer sees herself as the more energetic partner in their "not-relationship" and strongly resists Tom's underhanded or open attempts to alter that dynamic or obtain a more formal commitment. Summer hurts Tom very badly and even outright cruelly humiliates him but as another woman points out, Summer never exactly lied to him. She just didn't share every little thing but then again who does? It is just possible, that working at a greeting card company that sells illusions of love and happily forever after, Tom may have gotten high on his own supply. Idealizing anyone is usually a pretty bad idea because you can get blinded to reality pretty easily. It happens sometimes. What are you gonna do? If someone assists you in lying to yourself are they the only bad guy? Sometimes you need to get hurt in order to change.
Both Tom and Summer mature. Tom works to bring his expectations more in line with reality while Summer learns it's okay to dream and believe in fate. Summer may do some bad things but she's not necessarily a bad person. Nonetheless as Sam Kinison joked in a similar situation, there are points at which, were you Tom, you might be hoping for her to get hit by a truck!!! Tom's desire to win Summer back is both understandable and perplexing. You may root for him. Or you may curse him for being a simp and Summer for being something worse. Again, Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt really shine together and were quite well cast.

(500) Days of Summer is easily one of the best films I've seen in a long time. The film makes judicious use of animation to express feelings. The music (mostly indie and some pop) fits the movie like a glove. The film's a new favorite. It shows you a vision of Los Angeles you may not have known existed. I ran across this film while looking for something else and I'm very happy I watched it. If you haven't seen this one please do yourself a favor and check it out. Whether you are a gooey romantic sap or a hardboiled cynic this film has something to say to you.
The girl don't love you boy and there's nothing you can do -"Things Don't Work Out Right"-Hound Dog Taylor

The Woman in Black
directed by James Watkins
I watched this in part for a friend of mine who was curious if it was as creepy as the trailer made it look. I also wanted to see what sort of movies the revamped Hammer Films was producing these days. Well, The Woman in Black was on the creepy side but all in all I'd have to say this wasn't quite my cup of tea. It was hugely financially successful and critically well received. I wanted to like it more than I did but it didn't really do it for me. Maybe it will for you. It's by no means a bad movie. It's well made and well acted but not gory. If you are a Daniel Radcliffe fan, you might like it. He is the lead actor and is rarely, if ever off screen.
This film opens up with a seriously weird image of three young girls who see something in the window of their second story bedroom. They get up from their play, open the window and plunge to their deaths. You hear the screams of their parents but do not see them. The whole thing is spooky. A parent should never have to bury their child.

Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is a young British lawyer in turn of century London. He is a widower with a young son. He's still grieving for his wife's death and as a result his work is suffering. His boss is not running a charity ward and lets Kipps know, dead wife or not, either he gets with the program or he finds another place to work. To this end he gives Kipps what he thinks of as an easy assignment-close out the estate of one Alice Drablow, who owned a country manor known as Eel March house. Kipps is to go there, get the work done on time and under budget and return.

Kipps goes there and like any good horror film nobody wants to talk about the house. The local business contact, Mr. Jerome (Tim McMullen) tries to send Kipps back to London but Kipps isn't having it. He's been told that the bulk of the estate paperwork is in Eel Marsh house and that's where he intends to go. He's intent on this. You would be too if your boss told you to get something done by Friday or don't bother coming in on Monday. Despite unfriendliness from most of the locals, one man Samuel Daily (Ciarin Hinds) and his wife Elizabeth (Janet McTeer) let Kipps stay at their house for a while. Kipps learns that they had a son who died mysteriously and Elizabeth has gone over the deep end-claiming to channel their dead son. 

The next morning Kipps gets a reluctant but mercenary coachman to take him out to Eel Marsh house where he will stay the night. The creep factor is turned up dramatically as he starts hearing voices and noises. He sees strange things out of the corner of his eye. Objects are not where he left them. Finally he sees a ghostly woman in a black dress. Or maybe he doesn't. Supposedly seeing the Woman in Black means that a child will die soon.
From there it is a pretty conventional ghost story. Someone died in pain and agony and is intent upon wreaking pain and agony upon children until its spirit is laid to rest. Kipps wants to solve the mystery. He has an uncertain ally in Samuel and either indifference or hostility from the rest of the townspeople. A fair number of children die in rather brutal circumstances while Kipps tries to get to the bottom of what's going on. 

There are a bit more than usual number of jump cuts and sudden pauses that intensify the weirdness factor. The death of the children makes this a bit more somber of a film than I had thought it would be. There are more than a few scary moments. So why didn't I love this film? Hard to say. Maybe it's because when I think of Hammer Films I think of cleavage and technicolor and this film had neither. Even putting those aside the film could have done with a female lead. As I am not really a Radcliffe fan I found it hard to maintain interest. I wasn't too crazy about the ending either. 

All in all it sort of reminded me of a Supernatural episode, but not in a good way. This film definitely could have been improved by the Winchester Brothers showing up, kicking ghost a$$, dropping a few clever one liners and driving off into the night. Again, though that's just my opinion. YMMV. As it turns out James Watkins was also the director of the much superior modern horror/thriller film Eden Lake, which is definitely worth checking out, though it's quite different from his work here.

Breaking Bad (Season One)
I don't actually watch a lot of television but my brother had been bugging me to check this out for a while. But since I am the oldest I don't always listen to him =) and hadn't bothered to watch this. Undeterred he sent me the first season. Grudgingly I must admit that he was right and I was wrong. That doesn't happen a whole lot as far as I'm concerned (just kidding!!!) but it's a pretty good show, at least going by the first season.

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is an Albuquerque, New Mexico high school chemistry teacher with problems. Walter's a real nebbish. He has terminal lung cancer. Even before he discovered he's not long for the world he was going through a mid life (now end of life) crisis. He turns to cooking meth not only to prove to himself that he can be more successful than he's been but also to make money for his chemotherapy and leave wealth for his family after he's gone. It is odd to see someone I mostly remember from Malcolm in the Middle in this role but that's why they call it "acting", right? And Cranston is a good actor.
Breaking Bad has a surface similarity to Weeds in that it examines how would a white suburban middle-class individual who knows nothing else about drugs other than what he sees on TV get into drug dealing. It’s less self-consciously ironic than Weeds. I think I am on Weeds season 4. Unlike Weeds where hardly anyone gets killed and you always know that Nancy Botwin can probably get out of anything with a pleading glance of her big brown bedroom eyes, a show of leg and a slow sip on the long phallic Starbucks coffee straw she's always carrying around, Walter White has limited options. He has to do what he has to do. Some of his former college buddies run multi-million dollar corporations. It's time for Walter to start catching up. Death and drug dealing is not shown as hip, ironic or funny. It's messy, ugly and nasty. 

There are some comic moments but there's always a gritty realism to counterbalance them. 
Walter is interested in/bullied into going along on a drug raid by his alpha-male, not well read but smarter than he looks brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris) who is a DEA agent. While in the car he sees one of his former high school students, Jesse (Aaron Paul), escape detection and arrest. As Jesse's chemist is arrested and later killed he's in need of a new meth cook. And Walter is ready to walk on the wild side.

This show is not just about Walter's descent into moral depravity but it's also about the ugly physical effects of terminal cancer. If you have been unlucky enough to lose someone to this horror, some of the strongest scenes in the show may resonate with you a bit. We are never allowed to forget that Walter is dying. Whether it's the constant coughing and vomiting, sudden collapses or fainting spells, excretion of blood or other fluids, cancer is as big of a theme on this show as drugs. The story is made made more poignant because Walter's going to leave behind his blonde pushily optimistic pregnant wife Skyler(Anna Gunn) and their new daughter to be, as well as his palsy afflicted teen son, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte). He tries and fails to hide the cancer from his family but does manage to keep other things secret. Raymond Cruz, who had a scary role as a Mexican gangster in Training Day, undertakes a much more unpredictably dangerous incarnation of that role here. Betsy Brandt is seen here as Walter's stylish sister-in-law, Marie. The first season was shortened by the writer's strike but I liked what I saw. Good stuff. I'm starting season 2 shortly.
Season 1 Trailer
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