About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, July 20, 2009

(3) Movies of Summer

(500) Days of Summer.  Seen Sunday morning/afternoon at the AMC Empire 25, Auditorium #6.  3 slithy toads.

Public Enemies.  Seen Sunday afternoon at the AMC Loews 34th St. 14, Auditorium #14.  2 slithy toads.

Humpday.  Seen Sunday afternoon/evening at the City Cinemas Angelika Film Center, Auditorium #2.  2 slithy toads.

(500) Days of Summer is a wonderful romantic comedy.  It made it to #13 at the box office while playing on only 27 screens, and if there's any justice it will prove one of the sleeper hits of the summer.

It's good on so many levels, smartly scripted, well-acted, well-directed, referential and reverential, fun both to look at and listen to.

Smart.  At the most basic level, there's credit to be given because (as with the Ryan Reynolds vehicle Definitely, Maybe) it's a romantic comedy without all of the cliches of same, but still entirely satisfying.  Rather than having some last minute race to the airport, the movie takes time out to reference Bergman's The Seventh Seal with some Truffaut on the side, but in a way that's funny and clever and accessible instead of show-off-y.  I knew at the scene in question what the film was trying to do, and even though I didn't get all of the specifics on which foreign films it was referencing, I could appreciate it for the freshness, for the audacity.  But don't get the idea that the film is some film lover snob fest.  The references to Dirty Dancing are just as pleasurable.  Is it a coincidence that the office boss seems to be channeling a years-older version of the hotel owner's son?  And if that is a coincidence, the twice-heard strains of the Patrick Swayze song "She's Like the Wind" are definitely no accident.  This is a movie that turns the aisles of Ikea into the kind of halcyon romantic destination that Woody Allen gives "Manhattan."  And maybe I'm biased because of the pleasure I got from walking around the real downtown LA last summer, but I loved as well the way that this film finds romance in a park overlooking downtown LA, in looking up from the tawdy present-day street level of LA streets to the architecture rising above, how its final scene is set in the gorgeous Bradbury Building looking way different here than in Blade Runner.   There's a wonderful dance number that treats LA the way Enchanted treated Central Park.

We're supposed to know Joseph Gordon-Levitt from Third Rock from the Sun, which I never watched.  I know him more from movies like The Lookout and Stop Loss.  He's very tweedy in this movie, a greeting card writer who wears tweedy ties and jackets that suggest he's a little too professorial for his job or for passion.  In some movies, this tweediness would be a quick easy gesture to make a quick easy point.  Here, it's one part of a fully realized character.

This is very very good.  It should be opening in more cities in the weeks to come, and go by yourself, with a date, with a spouse, but go!

I'd been kind of ambivalent about Public Enemies from the coming attraction, which made it look like an unnecessary remake of Brian DePalma's masterful Untouchables.  And the reviews I read were respectful but not necessarily very good.  But it is Michael Mann, who is a director worth watching.  And Johnny Depp, who is an actor worth watching.  With Christian Bale, also worth watching.  And all around enough different points for different things that I had to see it.  But I kind of wish I hadn't.

Neither the script nor Depp's performance made me love John Dillinger.  There's the occasional feeble attempt, as when in a robbery there's a customer making a deposit with his money on the counter, and Dillinger doesn't take.  He's not here for his money, he's here for the bank's!  But is there a difference?  If I put money into a bank, I still think of it as mine.  There's another scene when Dillinger reminds people he has to take good care of people if he's to hide among them.  But I just didn't care.

The movie is too long.  The last fifteen minutes include a scene where Dillinger goes to a police station, walks into the Dillinger Detective Squad room, and looks around. I'm sure this didn't happen in real life, and it adds nothing to the movie other than to be cute for the sake of being cute.  Next scene is outside the Biograph getting ready to get Dillinger, and showing Depp enjoying the movie inside.  We get more of the movie he's watching than we need, more of the cops setting up than we need, just more.  An epilogue with his girlfriend, the last shot should be of the girlfriend, but instead we get a cut to the FBI agent leaving the room.  That's just a few extra seconds, but you keep doing that and you end up with a movie that's a half hour longer than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for no reason at all.

The best thing in the movie is Billy Crudup's performance as J. Edgar Hoover.  Crudup's kind of pretty boy, and I was astonished to read reviews talking about this performance because I just couldn't see him in the role.  But where most of the actors get so straitjacketed by the period costumes that they disappear inside of them, Crudup makes his own starch and makes the suit his.  

Humpday is an amerindie version of a Judd Apatow movie.  Public Enemies was long and boring enough that it was a struggle to stay awake.  Humpday, I stayed awake but spent too much of the movie thinking about other things.

Married guy.  Wild-eyed college friend stops in unexpectedly.  Married guy is so eager to spend time with this weirdo friend that he blows off wife, lies to wife, is just totally awful.  Two guys end up deciding to make a gay porno movie which ends up becoming some kind of great middle-aged guy version of The Breakfast Club.  

The best parts of the movie are the scenes where married guy is talking to wife and puts his foot in his mouth repeatedly and realistically with spot-on dialogue, rationalizations, justifications for why he's being a shit.  But the problem is that he's being a shit.  I didn't buy it.  Didn't care for it or for him.  

And this is the polar opposite of (500) Days of Summer in pretty much every way.  The actors in this are not in any way, shape or form destined to rise above amerindie movies.  There's not much of a budget, and because there's nothing about the movie to keep you from noticing, you kind of notice in every single shot how little there is to notice.  The movie's set in Seattle, which is a wonderful city filled with wonderful places, but it does nothing at all to take advantage of this.

I needed to go to the movies badly this weekend.  Hadn't been in three weeks.  But I ended the day wishing I'd stopped at (500) Days of Summer.  Which is just so very good.  Very very good.  See this one, folks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't always agree with your movie reviews, but I thought your Public Enemies review was spot on, especially the stupid, unrealistic scene at the end of the film where he walked into the Dillinger Unit room at the Chicago PD.