Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

From it's very start, "(500) Days of Summer" wants to be honest with us. Those of us expecting a traditional romantic comedy are in for something else. "This is not a love story," a nameless narrator tells us. "This is a story about love." I for one, could not have loved the resulting film more.
Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "Brick") is a man in his late twenties who firmly believes in love though he's never experienced it for himself. His notions of it we are told, came from a childhood of, "listening to sad British pop bands from the eighties and a total misreading of the movie 'The Graduate.'" Tom first meets Summer (Zooey Deschanel) on the elevator at work while listening to one of said "British pop bands." "I love the Smiths," Summer remarks to him. And just like that Tom's infatuation with the new girl in the office has begun.
Tom does not have an easy time getting to know Summer, a woman who does not believe in love and finds it cute and somewhat pathetic that Tom does. "It's love, it's not Santa Claus," he insists. Even as things slowly develop between the two Summer tells him, "I'm not really looking for anything serious right now," and though Tom hears her words they are no match for his feelings.
"(500) Days" is told in a non-linear order and for once that does not feel like a gimmick. As the film unfolds it's very clear that it was told this way for a reason. It reflects on the ups and downs of their time together and apart in the way our own minds work. We remember things in pieces, sorted in a disparate way. Some moment early on in getting to know someone can end up illuminating a moment or event much later on in ways we could have never imagined, which is why we may not really give that early moment any thought for a very long time. This also manages to help the film maintain a consistency of tone. Even as we're going from a heartbreaking moment on day 290 back to the joys of day 28 the movie maintains a steady feel. This is a very funny film, even in many of its moments of sadness, and it is always real. Even an impromptu dance sequence that includes a moment so hilarious I dare not spoil it for you is completely genuine. "(500) Days of Summer" doesn't have a false moment in it because it's honest not just about how life is but how life feels.
Written by relative newcomers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and directed by first time feature director Marc Webb, "(500) Days of Summer" is simply outstanding storytelling. It manages to be an original and refreshing independent film without ever falling into the trap of being "quirky" or full of dialogue that sounds like a poor imitation of Wes Anderson or Charlie Kaufmann. The performances of Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel are completely spot on. These are two very talented actors who have had some opportunities to shine in the past but here they excel in ways that never cease to impress. Gordon-Levitt's Tom is endlessly relatable while Deschanel's Summer is always difficult to read and impossible to predict. So much is communicated with glances and facial expressions and their finest moments each come in a scene in which we see Tom's expectations of an evening shown against the reality. It's a scene that rings painfully true and seeing the way each plays the scenes shown in split-screen (also not gimmicky in this film) is a testament to their enormous talents, as well as the script by Neustadter and Weber.
In a year that has already seen some wonderful films ("Up," "Away We Go," "The Brothers Bloom," "Adventureland"), "(500) Days of Summer" is easily my favorite movie of 2009. It is a pretty much perfect movie that does not ask that you be a fan of the romantic comedy genre, but if you are get ready for something special.
"(500) Days of Summer" is currently in limited release. In the Seattle area it's playing at the Guild 45th, Pacific Place, and at Bellevue's Lincoln Square. As always, I recommend the Guild. 10/10.

Now here's a little taste.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Since it's already shattering box-office records that may actually last until next summer, chances are pretty good you have already seen "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth film to chronicle the adventures of a boy wizard who I maintain looks nothing like me.
This time around, Harry's objective is to extract a memory from Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), an old friend of Dumbledore's (Michael Gambon). The memory regards a key moment in the life of Voldemort when he was a young student at Hogwart's, still going by the name Tom Riddle. Slughorn is a jovial and likable fellow, but getting the truth about this memory will not be an easy task for Harry. But when has anything ever been easy for Mr. Potter?
In other goings on, Harry's two best friends are still Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), who finally are very slowly getting to the point where they're realizing they have feelings for each other. Well at least Hermione's realized it. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) meanwhile, still has a crush on Ron's sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright). These storylines, along with some moments of comedy and quidditch keep things light in between flashbacks of Voldemort's childhood and the sneaky dealings of Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton).
As someone who has not read any of the novels, "Half-Blood Prince" is most likely my favorite film of the series (it's between this one and "Goblet of Fire"). David Yates (who directed "Order of the Phoenix") continues to add depth to the already atmospheric universe of the "Potter" series. He gets terrific performances from his actors, all of whom are old hands by now. As always, Alan Rickman's Snape is a standout. Playing a character that keeps the audience guessing across six films is no easy task and he's been pulling it off beautifully.
It's hard to try to sell someone on seeing the sixth film in a series. Either you've seen the first five and are definitely in for this one or you just have no interest in "Harry Potter." I will say if you are a fan of these films you will not be disappointed. If you're a fan of the novels you will probably have some complaints, but overall you're going to like it. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Moon" and "Bruno"

I tried to do three reviews last night but problems with the intertubes meant I could only complete "Public Enemies." So I'm back with looks at Sam Rockwell in "Moon" and Sacha Baron Cohen's latest assault on good taste and human decency (but hey, it's funny).

Moon - "Bowie's is in space." - Flight of the Conchords
Well Bowie's not, but his son is. First time director Duncan Jones does something wonderful with "Moon." This isn't to say it's a spectacular film. It's good but what's truly wonderful about it is that it is a showcase for one of the most talented actors working today, Sam Rockwell. You've seen him in an array of films. In movies as different as "Galaxy Quest" and "The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford," Rockwell has shined brightly.
Here, Rockwell is Sam Bell, a man in the final few weeks of his three year mission on an isolated moon base (is there any other kind?). Amazingly with no one to talk to but a robotic smiley face named GERTY (who sounds an awful lot like Kevin Spacey), Bell hasn't completely lost his mind. He is getting there though. The thought of seeing his wife and daughter again is keeping him going, but when he goes out for a routine drive around the surface, he ends up buried in a pile of rubble. Not knowing how much time has passed, Sam awakes back on the base with GERTY watching over him. "How long have I been out?" Sam asks. "Not long," replies GERTY, but what does that mean?
To say what happens next would be to enter Spoilertown so I'll just say that we get to see a whole lot of Sam Rockwell talking to himself the rest of the way. As a fan of great acting I had absolutely no problem with this. Rockwell is, as always, not just brilliant, he's surprising. The way Bell reacts to the situation didn't strike me as how I might expect a person to handle it. He seems strangely unfazed by it as though he were almost expecting it. Rockwell makes us believe it though and Jones trusts him enough to let him go.
The story and screenplay by Jones and first timer Nathan Parker is definitely derivative at times but as a character study of Bell it's well thought and the character of GERTY is an inventive twist on the HAL 9000.
"Moon" is a movie that will definitely require a second viewing to solidify some things but Rockwell's performance is so outstanding (and it goes by very quickly) that I look forward to giving it another look. It's in limited release but check this one out if you get the chance. 8/10.

Bruno - In 2006, Sacha Baron Cohen gave us "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" (I love saying the full title). It was a film that not only pushed the envelope, it tore the envelope into tiny pieces. With "Bruno" he's given us a film that pours gasoline on those pieces and sets them on fire before urinating on them. If the end of that sentence grossed you out then stay far away from this one.
Bruno (Cohen) is an Austrian fashion reporter with dreams of becoming "uber-famous." Like "Borat," "Bruno" is a combination of staged bits and real world interactions between Cohen's character and his unsuspecting victims. The first of his treks into reality (if you can call a European fashion show reality) comes when he disrupts a star studded fashion event with an all Velcro suit that comes close to truly bringing down the house. Banned from the major European shows, Bruno must come to America. With his loyal assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) by his side, Bruno goes to Hollywood, believing the best way to become "uber-famous" is to become an actor. When that fails he doesn't become discouraged. He decides that interviewing the beautiful people in Hollywood will be the key to success. Unfortunately they're saying no. "Wilhelm Schmidt? Bradolf Pittler?" No.
When "Borat" came along we'd never really seen anything like it. It was the most inspired kind of comic lunacy imaginable. Cohen gave himself a lot to live up to and it would be impossible to replicate the freshness of "Borat." What "Bruno" lacks in its ability to surprise, it tries to make up for by going to greater lengths of insanity. It's not always successful comically, but it is more often than not, and no one can question Cohen's fearlessness. No one, and I mean NO one else would travel to the Middle East (or "ze Middle Earth" as Bruno calls it) to prank Israeli and Palestian officials or tell a terrorist (suspected anyway), "Your king Osama looks like a kind of dirty wizard or homeless Santa Claus." With "Borat" I often thought, "He's lucky he didn't get his ass kicked." With "Bruno" I thought, "He's lucky he didn't get murdered."
The real difference in feel between this film and "Borat" is that in "Bruno" there are times when Cohen doesn't seem to want the laugh, even the shocked laugh. He just wants us to be shocked and horrified by people at their absolute worst. It's difficult to laugh when a woman is seriously agreeing to having her baby undergo liposuction to get chosen for a photo shoot.
Once again, Sacha Baron Cohen has turned the mirror on society and the results are often less than flattering. "Borat" was a funnier movie but "Bruno" (which is still very funny) is the more shocking. That may not be what we wanted as an audience but I think that's what Cohen was going for. On those terms it's most definitely a success. 7.5/10.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Public Enemies

I was trying to write reviews of "Moon" and "Bruno" tonight as well but my interwubbzy was having some issues. At least I got my review for "Public Enemies" finished. Let the complaining begin!

Public Enemies - Michael Mann is responsible for one of the finest crime films (or any kind of film) ever made, 1995's "Heat." He also churned out one of this decades biggest misfires, 2006's "Miami Vice." Going into "Public Enemies" it was anyone's guess as to which Mann would show up. The answer is a director somewhere in the middle.
"Public Enemies" follows John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) through the final year of his life. Just out of prison, Dillinger is infamous, but loved by the public. And he can't wait to get back to doing what he does best: robbing banks.
No one seems able to stop Dillinger and having the Chicago police force in his pocket only makes things that much easier. Only J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup, sounding like Rex Banner) has any real aspirations of catching Dillinger. For Hoover, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) is the man for the job.
As a portrait of the battle of wills and wits between Dillinger and Purvis, "Public Enemies" misses the mark. This is due mainly to leaving Purvis largely undeveloped as a character. We never really understand just what it is that's driving him. Imagine if "The Fugitive" had left Tommy Lee Jones as a virtually blank slate. Perhaps this was intentional on Mann's part, as he seems to want us to sympathize with Dillinger as though he was some sort of misguided folk hero. Mann wants us to let him off the hook. It's possible to have a three-dimensional portrayal of an infamous historical figure without trying to make the audience like them (see "The Assassination of Jesse James").
As Dillinger, Depp does a fine job but it is nothing earth shattering. It's not going to make me forget "Ed Wood" anytime soon. The underdevelopment of Purvis makes Bale's performance unmemorable, but Marion Cotillard does a wonderful job as Dillinger's girl, Billie Frechette. There are some really terrific supporting performances along the way, namely Stephen Graham as "Baby-Face" Nelson and Stephen Lang as experienced G-Man Charles Winstead.
Finally, there is the look of the movie. Shot on digital, "Public Enemies" is an affront to anyone with eyes. It's often so murky that it feels like trying to watch a movie caked in mud. After the visual disaster that was "Miami Vice" Mann should have learned his lesson. He either needs to go back to shooting on film or he should give David Fincher a call and ask him what he did to make "Zodiac" look so incredible (another film shot on digital). It's just unacceptable from a director of Mann's stature working with big budget. 5.5/10.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Away We Go

It can be easy to forget that life is an adventure. This seems especially true for people who are about to have a child as they feel their sense of freedom will be gone forever. But Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) see an adventure that is just beginning and like two people about to embark on any true adventure they have no idea where they're going.
The ever optimistic Burt is excited for the arrival of their daughter as he "cobbles" (whittling, really) in the mornings, hoping to impart a love of making things to the child. Still, the couple has no sense of home and with Verona's parents dead and Burt's moving to Europe (played by Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara in a very funny scene), the young couple decides to seek out their own home and their own future. They travel from city to city, meeting friends all the way from Phoenix to Montreal hoping to find the perfect place to raise their little girl. The friends in these cities are couples at various stages and decidedly different levels of happiness. In them Burt and Verona see what their futures could possibly bring.
"Away We Go" is the fifth film from Sam Mendes and the first one that doesn't feel bred to be an awards contender. Having said that, it's probably his best since his debut (a little movie called "American Beauty") and more deserving of Oscar consideration than the bleak "Revolutionary Road." Burt and Verona are the couple that "Road's" Frank and April didn't have the courage to be. As the couple, Krasinski and Rudolph are absolutely terrific. Krasinski has been great on "The Office" but the films he's appeared in thus far (the abysmal "License to Wed" and the disappointing "Leatherheads") haven't given him the opportunity to show what he can really do. Rudolph is a long way from struggling through a poor "SNL" sketch as the weary Verona. The screenplay by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida gives the pair plenty to work with. From the couple's stops along the way we are shown more and more how uncertain the future really is, but there is an overwhelming sense that Burt and Verona are going to be okay, and what's more we are genuinely happy to believe that.
"Away We Go" is a film full of colorful characters, many of whom could have come off as caricatures or as cartoonish in the wrong hands. Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Paul Schneider (among others) make their brief appearances memorable, but Mendes, Eggers, and Vida wisely keep the film's focus on Burt and Verona. This is a wonderful movie that should not be missed. There will be plenty of time to go to "Transformers" and "Public Enemies." Go see "Away We Go" while you have the chance. You will be glad you did. 10/10.

Now a couple of trailers for some films I'm really excited about. First up, getting its Seattle release tomorrow, "Moon," starring one of my absolute favorite actors, Sam Rockwell.

And the new comedy from Steven Soderbergh, "The Informant," starring Matt Damon. Thanks to blogger buddy (and fellow Oriole fan) Keith at Reel Fanatic for making me aware of this one.