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Monday, August 31, 2009

Review: Waltz With Bashir (2008)

* * * *

Director: Ari Folman

Waltz With Bashir is a film that succeeds at doing so many different things that you almost don’t know what to do with it. It’s a documentary about the Sabra and Shatila massacre, but also a narrative about the unreliability of memory that uses fantasy sequences. Events unfold almost entirely in animated form and yet its images seem more real than if the events had been recreated in live-action. It’s a provocative, challenging and ultimately breathtaking film.

The film opens with a nightmare being recounted to Bashir’s director, Ari Folman by his friend, Boaz (Miki Leon). The nightmare is connected to Boaz’s experiences in the Lebanon War, a war in which Folman also participated, though he can’t quite remember it. His inability to recall the details of life-altering events, particularly the genocide of civilians in Lebanon, disturbs him and the film traces his attempts to piece his memory back together.

He visits old friends who tell him about their own experiences in the war, experiences that may not have happened exactly as they remember, that may be exaggerated, that may have been reshaped according to later experiences. The impression one gets from these stories is that these men, many still teenagers at the time of the war, were ill-equipped for the reality of their undertaking. Going into Lebanon is treated as an adventure and scenes are often underscored by rock music to convey the attitude of frivolity with which the soldiers embarked on their mission. Time and again they describe themselves as simply shooting in all directions, not necessarily at anything, but because soldiers are supposed to shoot. More often than not, they don’t know what to do or what they’re supposed to be doing, and when they come under fire they panic.

In contrast to the young soldiers is the reporter Ron Ben-Yishai, who is described in almost superhuman terms, striding through the battlefield dodging bullets as if they’re nothing. Ben-Yishai would be the first reporter to examine the aftermath of the genocide and describes not only what he saw, but also conversations he had with military officials as word of what was happening started to spread. Again we come away with the impression that members of the IDF simply did not know how to react when the Labanese Forces started to avenge the murder of Bashir Gemayal on innocent people.

Of all the conversations Folman has throughout the film, the most interesting to me are his discussions with a psychologist who describes the ways that memory can play tricks on us and has an interesting theory as to why Folman can’t recall the massacre. His theory is that Folman, whose parents are Auschwitz survivors, can’t recall Sabra and Shatila because to do so would put him in the position of Nazi. I don’t know that that’s necessarily an apt comparison and I don’t think that Folman thinks so either given that the film’s focus on the disorganization of the IDF forces works in part to absolve them. The Labanese Forces are depicted as being ruthlessly organized while the IDF is plagued by uncertainty in the face of their ally’s brutality, which effectively shifts the blame (or, at least, the lion’s share of it) away from them. Whether that’s historically accurate or a trick of memory to help former IDF members cope with the legacy of the event, I don’t know.

The film’s animation, created by the Bridgit Folman Film Gang, is beautifully rendered and, as I said at the beginning, gives the story a sense of realism that perhaps couldn’t be captured by live-action. At the same time, the animation makes it easier to incorporate the dream-like quality of many of the memories related through the course of the film. It’s a very effective way to tell this particular story, which depends on the idea that while a memory might be very real to the person relating it, it isn’t necessarily 100% true to the way that things happened.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Canadian Film Review: I've Heard The Mermaids Singing (1987)

* * *

Director: Patricia Rozema
Starring: Sheila McCarthy, Paule Baillargeon, Ann-Marie MacDonald

I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing is a gracefully directed film about the frustrated ambitions of an artist. Made in 1987, the film is not ageing particularly well, though at its core there is still something about it that resonates. Alternately whimsical and heartbreaking, with a generous dose of fantasy, it’s a nicely balanced film about the agony of making art.

The film centres on Polly (Sheila McCarthy), a temporary secretary who spends her free time taking photographs. She has an active imagination, which is likely her saving grace. Her fantasies are exciting and make her feel alive – feelings that she tries to translate into her photos. Her life outside of her fantasy world is dull and unfulfilling; she’s a second rate temp constantly being berated for her lack of organization. Her feelings about her job begin to take a turn, however, when she begins working at an art gallery run by Gabrielle (Paule Baillargeon), whom Polly refers to reverentially as “the Curator.”

Polly sees Gabrielle through a lens of hero worship that begins to manifest itself as a crush, feelings that are exacerbated by the sudden arrival of Gabrielle’s ex (and future) lover, Mary (Ann-Marie MacDonald). Polly discovers that Gabrielle has a series of paintings in her apartment that she’s never shown to anyone. Hoping perhaps to secure a more permanent place in Gabrielle’s life by giving her the confidence to be an artist, Polly takes one of the paintings and shows it to a critic, who thinks it’s marvellous and spreads the word about Gabrielle’s unique and amazing talent. Watching as Gabrielle is celebrated by the art world, Polly gets an idea to send her photos to the gallery anonymously. Gabrielle looks at them briefly and declares that they show no promise. Polly is crushed, but not as crushed as she’ll be when she discovers a secret about Gabrielle’s paintings.

The story is related to us after the fact in the form of a video confession by Polly. The flashback scenes are intercut with Polly’s fantasies, which keeps the overall tone of the film relatively light. The story is serious but at the same time the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is a distinct mocking of “art speak” in the way that Gabrielle and the critic discuss various pieces, and the film offers a gently defiant view of the role of artistic criticism. When Mary sees one of Polly’s photos and Polly repeats Gabrielle’s view that it’s no good, Mary asks why she has to look at it in terms of “good” or “bad” when what she should be asking herself is whether or not she likes it. Whether Polly’s photos are good or bad isn’t really the point; the point is that taking them makes her happy and that they express something about her. Just because someone else doesn’t like them, doesn’t mean they weren’t worth taking in the first place.

As Polly, McCarthy renders an effective and engaging performance. She allows Polly to be without pretence and to wear her heart on her sleeve, and the contrast between her and the more reserved Gabrielle makes her vulnerability seem all the more intense and striking. The way she just seems to deflate when Gabrielle renders her verdict on her photos is really heartbreaking because McCarthy makes it clear that Polly wouldn’t mind if other people didn’t like it, but she wants validation from Gabrielle so badly.

The intensity of relationships between women is a consistent theme in writer/director Patricia Rozema’s work, as is the theme of artistry. White Room is about a singer who provides the voice but has another woman act as the persona (whether literally or figuratively is open to some interpretation); When Night Is Falling is about a relationship between two women, one of whom is a performance artist; Mansfield Park is less an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel than a film about Austen herself, and the relationship between Fanny and Mary Crawford is given an ambiguous treatment. The aesthetic Rozema works with in Mermaids and the issues that she explores flow through her body of work, though her films differ radically from each other. This film, her feature length debut, shows an artist very much in tune with her voice and the end product is a film that is very strong.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Review: District 9 (2009)

* * * 1/2

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley

Whether you like District 9 or think it's overrated, you have to give credit where credit is due. This little movie, with its little budget, and only one recognizable name to its credit (okay, that name is Peter Jackson, but still) came out of nowhere and became the movie to see as the summer sputters to a close. It's an impressive feat and District 9 is worthy of the honour. It isn't without its problems, but it is nevertheless a very good film.

The film takes place in Johannesburg where, 20 years ago, an alien craft came to a sudden stop over the city and has been hovering there ever since. After months of waiting for contact, a team is sent up to get into the craft, where they discover a large group of malnourished aliens. The creatures – referred to derogatorily as “prawns” – are brought to earth, afforded refugee status, and housed in a special area known as District 9. Over the course of two decades, the district becomes a slum, rife with crime of all sorts, and the government decides that it must take action by relocating the district’s nearly 2 million residents to another area.

The project is overseen by a government agency called MNU and the field work is headed by Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), who is kind of a doofus and has perhaps been set-up to fail (or die) by his father-in-law, who also works for MNU. Backed up by the army, Wikus and his crew go into the slum, inform residents that they’re being evicted, shoot some of them, and laughingly set fire to a nest of their eggs before Wikus accidentally ingests a mysterious fluid from a canister. This fluid is desperately sought by an alien named Christopher Johnson who, with the help of his young son, has been collecting it in the hope of being able to get back up to the mothership. The accident causes a mutation in Wikus that makes him very valuable to the government as it allows him to use the aliens' weapons. The problem is that Wikus’ greatest value comes from his availability to be dissected and experimented on and so he escapes and flees back into District 9, where he and Christopher form a reluctant and tenuous partnership in the hope that Wikus can reverse the mutation and Christopher can get to the mothership and then home.

The film begins as an allegory about apartheid, directly evoking the events in Cape Town’s District 6 during the 1970s. Though the film does an excellent job of establishing human-alien relations along the lines of race relations, calling to mind attitudes that are in some cases a thing of the past (albeit the near past) and in others still shockingly common, the story is ultimately a shallow allegory and not a particularly apt one. For the metaphor to work, shouldn’t the aliens be representative of white South Africans instead of black South Africans? Apartheid didn't have its roots in black refugees wandering into the borders of what would become South Africa, but in white Europeans coming in to carve up a piece of territory for themselves and colonize the native peoples. By aligning the humans with white South Africans and the aliens with black South Africans, isn't the film implicitly endorsing a mythology of white right of place? Further, when you factor in the way that the film depicts its human characters, it becomes even more problematic.

Now, granted, the most “human” character in the whole movie turns out to be Christopher, but look at the way that the actual human characters, both black and white, are portrayed. You have two peripheral characters that are “good” in an unqualified way, one black (Wikus’ friend and co-worker), one white (Wikus’ wife). You have Wikus who, although he turns out to be a strong finisher, starts the film an ignorant racist (speciesest?) and even in the middle shows that he’s only a reliable partner when he needs Christopher as much as Christopher needs him. You have two groups of bonafide bad guys, one a group of Nigerian gangsters, the other members of the MNU who are predominantly white, particularly at the top. The Nigerians live in shacks in District 9, do business with the aliens (in the form of everything from arms dealing to prostitution), and eat parts of the aliens that have been blessed by a witch doctor. They are depicted, for lack of a better term, as “savage” while the MNU agents – who are just as savage in any objective sense – are presented as a modern, organized and sanctioned force. They harvest aliens, too, but it’s for a “science” and therefore has the spectre of legitimacy denied to the Nigerians’ ceremonial feasting. My point is, while all the humans (save for a few exceptions) are bad, by portraying the black villains as being less “advanced” than their white counterparts, the film is actually endorsing some of the attitudes its allegory wants to repudiate. What I see in District 9 is a film very much at odds with its own racial/social politics.

But… maybe none of that even matters when you get down to brass tacks. Even if the film is ideologically problematic, is it well made? Indisputably. Even at the end, when it gets a little generically actiony, it is still solidly constructed and well-paced, and the lead is played marvellously by Copley. Wikus isn’t a “white hat” good guy and the film allows him to be shown in some less than flattering light, giving Copley room to move within the character so that he becomes more than just “the guy stuff happens to so that things can blow up.” It is a multi-facetted and intelligent performance and I look forward to seeing more from Copley in the future, possibly in the form of a District 9 sequel, which is of course in the works. Writer/director Neill Blomkamp is also one to watch, a filmmaker who can make room for action in the story without doing so at the expense of the narrative. His work in District 9 is worthy of praise and the film itself is worth its recent acclaim.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

10 Most Anticipated Movies of the Fall

The best time of the movie-going year is upon us and I've compiled my list of the 10 movies I'm most looking forward to. Of course, Friday's announcement that Shutter Island has been pushed back to 2010 necessitated a bit of rethinking, given that it originally occupied the #1 spot on my list, but luckily there are still plenty of films to choose from:

#10: Whip It (October 9)

#9: The Invention of Lying (September 25)

#8: Coco Before Chanel (September 25)

#7: Creation (TBA)

#6: The Informant! (September 18)

#5: Broken Embraces (November 20)

#4: Sherlock Holmes (December 25)

#3: Where The Wild Things Are (October 16)

#2: The Road (October 16)

#1: Nine (November 25)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: Inglorious Basterds (2009)

* * * 1/2

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Laurent

Tarantino’s latest is a glorious mess of a movie that plays entirely by its own rules. It isn’t a film of any great depth, but as glossy summer entertainment goes, I don’t know that you can do much better than this one. It’s a violent, darkly comic, beautiful looking film that occasionally goes off the rails but ultimately makes for a great time at the movies.

The film begins like a western, immediately evoking early scenes from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West (it begins, in fact, with the words “Once upon a time... in Nazi occupied France”). In the distance a dairy farmer sees the SS coming down the long dirt road. He sends one of his daughters to get water so that he can wash up. They wait anxiously as the Germans take their time and eventually the farmer finds himself sitting at his table with Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz in a disarmingly and sinisterly joyful performance), who coaxes him into revealing the whereabouts of the Drefyus family, whom he has been hiding. The family is slaughtered save for Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), whom Landa allows to escape and who lives for years by hiding in plain sight in Paris.

Elsewhere a group of Jewish soldiers, mostly American, have been assembled under the command of Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) for the purpose of killing Nazis. Dropped into occupied France in 1941, the group quickly gains a reputation for brutality and the Nazi high command becomes increasingly desperate to catch them. By 1944 the group is in league with British film critic turned soldier Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) and German film star/spy Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) in a plot to take out some of the major Nazis at a Paris film premiere. The premiere, as it happens, will take place at a theatre which Shosanna has inherited and she has a plan of her own to kill some Nazis.

The film boasts a wealth of characters with the typical Tarantino flair. One of the things I love about Tarantino’s films in general is that you never walk away from one thinking about that one really memorable character because there are always about a dozen really memorable characters and the casting is always perfect. I went into the film with a bit of trepidation regarding Pitt because the trailers made it look like he was really hamming it up. As it turns out he is hamming it up, but it works well with the overall, over the top feel of the film and I really can’t imagine the character being played any other way or by any other actor. However, as good as Pitt is and as extraordinary as Waltz – whose performance has been garnering the most attention – is, the real standout for me was Laurent, whose Shosanna is the heart of the story. Her performance, which is very understated and grounded, is on the other end of the spectrum from Pitt’s, giving the film a nice feeling of balance.

The film has been accused by some of trivializing World War II in general and the Holocaust specifically because there is nary a mention of The Final Solution. I don’t really think this accusation is fair because, as anyone who has seen the movie can tell you, the war as we know it isn’t really the war being dealt with in this film. Inglorious Basterds exists outside of history and in an alternate reality. Besides which, any direct dealing with the Holocaust wouldn’t fit with the film’s overall tone, which is darkly comedic. One of my favourite shots occurs during a scene when Hitler (Martin Wuttke) rails at his officers to find the Basterds. In the background there's painter creating a giant Hitler painting who keeps turning to study him and capture some nuance of his person. As with all Tarantino’s films, the beauty is in the smaller details.

If there is an underlying socio-political meaning to the film, I would argue that it doesn’t have to do with the darkness of the human soul but rather with the power of film itself. Film was an invaluable medium for Hitler and the Nazis, particularly the propaganda films directed by Leni Riefenstahl, who gets a few mentions here. The plot conceived by Shosanna involves locking the top Nazi brass in the theatre and then setting her stock of nitrate film prints on fire. Film, which helped give birth to the Nazi movement, is now tasked with being an agent of its destruction and thus Inglorious Basterds might be read as working to reclaim the medium from some of its worst abusers.

By and large, the film really worked for me, although there are two things that didn’t. First is the film’s use of David Bowie’s song “Cat People,” which I found jarring and really took me out of the movie, although this anachronism perhaps eases the way for the grand inaccuracy of the film’s finale. The second thing has to do with the film within the film. Much of Basterds is subtitled because the German characters speak German and the French characters speak French rather than falling back on the old movie standard of having characters speak accented English. Yet, in spite of this, the German propaganda film within the film is in English. That really bugged me. That being said, however, these are very small quibbles with a film that is overall incredibly entertaining.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Canadian Film Review: Nurse.Fighter.Boy (2008)

* * 1/2

Director: Charles Officer
Starring: Karen LeBlanc, Daniel J. Gordon, Clark Johnson

I’m tempted to review Nurse.Fighter.Boy. on an act-by-act basis because while the first act is great, setting up interesting characters in interesting situations; the second act is a little underdeveloped and the third act is so rushed it barely exists. The film ends right when the story gets the most interesting. It’s only 90 minutes – why not give it an extra half hour and make the most of what you've got?

As you may have surmised, the film is about a nurse, a fighter, and a boy. The nurse is Jude (Karen LeBlanc), a single mother trying desperately to keep her fight with cancer from disrupting the life of her son, Ciel (Daniel J. Gordon). This is of course impossible and Ciel spends all his waking hours worrying about his mother’s health and trying to make things better for her. The relationship between these two characters, who have no one but each other, rings very true and LeBlanc and Gordon relate to each other with ease. Both characters suffer the strain of having to play two roles – Jude as both mother and father; Ciel as child and nurse – but together they keep each other, and the life that they have created together, afloat.

The fighter in question is Silence (Clark Johnson), who inches into their lives and soon (too soon, perhaps) becomes a full participant in it. Once a boxer, Silence is now reduced to back alley street fights to make ends meet. It’s a lousy way to live and he knows it and wants more. He meets Jude in the hospital where she works and then again later, when she’s riding her bicycle outside his building. They’re attracted to each other, but she’s not sure about getting involved, reluctant to introduce a new complication into Ciel’s life. Soon, however, her illness makes her romantic life the least of her worries.

That Jude and Silence would be drawn to each other is believable enough – they’re both characters who have been beaten down a little by life but keep getting up and remain hopeful that there will be good things in the future – but the film rushes their relationship into overdrive. They spend one night together and then she’s hospitalized and decides that, rather than send Ciel to be cared for by her friend and doctor Eva (Elizabeth Saunders), she’ll allow Silence – a man she barely knows and whom she met for the first time in the emergency room being treated for a wound he’d rather not explain – to look after him. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense and the film would have done well to spend more time developing the relationship between Jude and Silence so that, as viewers, we might have something to hang on to.

LeBlanc, Johnson and Gordon all render nice, understated performances that go a long way towards making up for what the screenplay is lacking, but the gaps can't be totally filled by their efforts. These are characters that we could easily care about, but it feels at times like the film doesn't really care about telling us their story. It's a shame because it starts so strong and then by about the half-way point it seems to lose the thread and forget what it set out to do. As I said before, an extra half hour to really explore the situations it sets up would have helped this film immeasurably.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review: Che Part Two: Guerilla (2008)

* * * 1/2

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Benicio Del Torro

After seeing The Argentine and being… not disappointed, exactly, but certainly underwhelmed, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Guerilla, the second part of the Che Guevara saga. Objectively I can see how Guerilla’s flaws are probably about equal to those of The Argentine, but subjectively I enjoyed the former much more than the latter. Guerilla perhaps benefits from the fact that the fall is infinitely more fascinating than the rise, but I also think that it’s the stronger half of the story and able to stand on its own.

Guerilla picks up several years after The Argentine leaves off. In the interim Che (Benicio Del Torro) has divorced his first wife, married Aleida (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and had three children with her, participated in guerrilla activities in the Congo, and disappeared from Cuba, leaving behind a letter of farewell to Fidel Castro. Officially, his whereabouts are unknown, though in reality he has disguised himself in order to sneak into Bolivia where he intends to duplicate his success in Cuba. With a small force behind him he once again heads into the mountains, training peasants, strategizing, and attempting to elude capture by the Bolivian army, which is being backed by the U.S. Although there are several setbacks, Che remains defiantly true to his belief that he will be able to overthrow the current regime and install a government that will tend to the welfare of the poorest citizens.

There are problems, however, and at the root of them are those very citizens. They distrust Che and his men, many of whom are Cuban, and don’t consider his fight to be theirs. They don’t wish to take up arms and join his ranks and they are reluctant to help him, although sometimes powerless to stop him. One of the reasons I feel that this film is stronger than its predecessor is that The Argentine tends to whitewash Che, while this film presents him in a darker light. In one scene he and his men come to a farm in order to get food, taking away some livestock but giving the farmers money. The farmers would rather keep their livestock because they and their children are hungry and there’s no market nearby which basically renders the money useless. The revolutionaries insist on taking what they’ve come for and being unarmed and outnumbered, the farmers have no choice. Bullied on one side by the army and on the other by the revolutionaries, who feel no need to try to “win” the people over and instead waltz in with a heavy sense of entitlement, it’s easy to understand why the peasants would rather stay out of it than rally to the side of the revolution. When you factor in that Bolivia had already had a revolution and that the peasants were still poor, overworked, and unable to get medical treatment, it’s easy to understand why they think the fight is pointless.

Still, Che persists, determined to see revolution in Bolivia so that he can move on to the next country and then the next until all of Latin America is free. The film watches as he slowly unravels, as illness leaves him almost incapacitated, as his forces are separated, as the numbers dwindle due to death and abandonment of the cause, as the people who will ostensibly benefit from the revolution refuse it. In one particularly brutal scene he takes his frustrations out on a horse. By the end, death seems almost merciful.

Once again, Del Torro’s performance is what wins the day. The Che of The Argentine was a man who slowly gained confidence in himself as a leader; the Che of Guerilla is a man who has perhaps bought too much stock in his own hype and can only grit his teeth as the market takes a tumble. He enters the Bolivian stage as if simply being Che is enough to ensure victory and realizes too late that having proved himself to the people of Cuba means nothing to the people of Bolivia, whose help and support are just as necessary to victory as the cash and armaments he gets from Castro and other allies.

Stylistically, Guerilla differs only slightly from The Argentine. Gone are the black-and-white interview/U.N. segments and instead there is just a single, linear storyline marking the hundreds of days that Che spends in Bolivia. The photography is slightly darker, reflecting the less favourable outcome of this adventure, and the pacing is somewhat slower, although perhaps it simply seems that way because the main narrative isn’t broken up as it is in The Argentine. Guerilla also has some distracting casting (Lou Diamond Phillips, Franke Potente, and most bizarrely Matt Damon), but by and large I feel that it carries its flaws much more easily than The Argentine.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review: Che Part One: The Argentine (2008)

* * *

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Benicio Del Torro

My original intention was to review both parts of Steven Soderbergh's epic in one review but since that would have made for a post that was way too long, and since I feel that there are enough differences in style and quality between the two to consider them as seperate films, I'll be reviewing The Argentine today and Guerilla tomorrow.

The Argentine opens in Mexico in 1955 when Che (Benicio Del Torro) meets Fidel Castro (Demien Bichir) and gets involved in his plans for revolution in Cuba. Suffering from debilitating bouts of asthma, Che ventures into the mountains to join the revolutionaries already gathered there and take a commanding role. His status as a foreigner makes the others distrust him and some refuse to take orders from him. Not quite comfortable yet with his role in the revolution, Che refuses to push the issue and quietly accepts this insubordination, which earns him a reprimand from Castro when he finally joins them. Slowly, as their forces grow thanks to various peasant volunteers, Che becomes more at ease in his role as a leader and a more commanding presence.

Intercut with the progress of the revolution is faux-documentary footage detailing an interview between Che and American journalist Lisa Howard (Julia Ormond), and his 1964 address before the United Nations General Assembly. These scenes, shot in black-and-white as a contrast to the lush photography of the guerrilla narrative, explore Che the celebrity, invited to parties, revered by some and reviled by others. His speech at the United Nations is passionate and accusatory, making it clear that as far as he’s concerned his work is not done yet and won’t be until revolution spreads all the way through Latin America. Still wearing his green uniform, he could not be more of a contrast with the other U.N. representatives, and it is apparent that he sees his place as being out in the field and Guerilla will see him return to that life.

If you go into this film hoping to gain a clear understanding of Che the man, you’ll probably come out disappointed. Soderbergh keeps us at a distance from him both literally and figuratively, often filming him in long shots and focusing almost exclusively on Che as a soldier, strategist and political figure. His personal life figures into the story only in a brief mention of a wife back in Mexico and in the suggestion of a relationship developing between him and fellow soldier Aleida (Catalina Sandino Moreno). I think this is a smart way to go about telling story because so often biographical films get so focused on the sex lives of their subjects that they lose sight of what really makes those subjects interesting in the first place. With Che, it’s his politics and his role as a revolutionary and the way that his public image has taken on a life of its own. Since Che is so heavily steeped in symbolism in popular culture, it makes sense to me to maintain that distance in the film.

As Che, Del Torro is able to hit several different notes to render a full and rich performance. As a soldier he’s measured and calm, as a doctor he’s gentle and caring, and as a politician he’s ferocious as he expounds on the injustices of the world. Though the film keeps him at arm’s length, Del Torro is nevertheless able to connect with the audience in a very real way, conveying Che’s early insecurities and his difficulties in terms of his health. He doesn’t necessarily make Che a sympathetic character, but he’s able to go beyond the iconic image to make him human.

The Argentine is a solid effort, though it doesn’t completely succeed. There is an unfinished feeling to it and as it reaches the end, it feels less like a conclusion than a deep intake of breath as it prepares to start telling you the story of Guerilla. Unlike Guerilla, it doesn’t really stand up as a film on its own, which may be due to the fact that the Che biopic was originally conceived as being only the story told in Guerilla with everything that takes place in The Argentine being added after Terrence Malick dropped out and was replaced by Soderbergh. Since one half had considerably more time to develop than the other, it makes sense that that half should also be just a little bit stronger.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Top 20 Actresses Under 30

So a couple of weeks ago Love Film came out with its list of the top 20 actresses under the age of 30 and got me thinking. Now, generally speaking, lists like this are kind of ridiculous anyway, but when you put Megan Fox at #13, you abandon all claims to credibility. Certain that things weren't quite so dire for the upcoming generation of actresses as Love Film's list would suggest, I decided to make a list of my own, which should of course be taken with as big a grain of salt as any other list:

#20: Keisha Castle-Hughes
Age: 19
Best Performance: Whale Rider

#19: Zooey Deschanel
Age: 29
Best Performance: All The Real Girls

#18: Shareeka Epps
Age: 20
Best Performance: Half Nelson

#17: Amanda Seyfried
Age: 23
Best Performance: Big Love

#16: Saoirse Ronan
Age: 15
Best Performance: Atonement

#15: Anna Paquin
Age: 27
Best Performance: Fly Away Home

#14: Romola Garai
Age: 27
Best Performance: I Capture The Castle

#13: Evan Rachel Wood
Age: 21
Best Performance: Thirteen

#12: America Ferrera
Age: 24
Best Performance: Real Women Have Curves

#11: Natalie Portman
Age: 28
Best Performance: Garden State

#10: Eva Green
Age: 29
Best Performance: The Dreamers

#09: Elizabeth Moss
Age: 27
Best Performance: Mad Men

#08: Thora Birch
Age: 27
Best Performance: Ghost World

#07: Anne Hathaway
Age: 26
Best Performance: Rachel Getting Married

#06: Ellen Page
Age: 22
Best Performance: Hard Candy

#05: Keira Knightley
Age: 24
Best Performance: Pride & Prejudice

#04: Emily Blunt
Age: 26
Best Performance: My Summer of Love

#03: Sonja Bennett
Age: 29
Best Performance: Punch

#02: Catalina Sandino Moreno
Age: 28
Best Performance: Maria Full of Grace

#01: Michelle Williams
Age: 28
Best Performance: Wendy and Lucy

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Canadian Film Review: Lost Song (2008)

* * *

Director: Rodrigue Jean
Starring: Suzie LeBlanc, Patrick Goyette, Ginette Morin

Lost Song begins with a young family driving into the wilderness, listening to classical music. Movies that start this way so rarely end happily. Although in their youth and supposed happiness they look perfect, they are of course not and the film traces their slow unravelling. Rodrigue Jean’s film is not, however, about a family drawn asunder as much as it is about the wilderness of motherhood and the isolation of postpartum depression. It is at times intriguing, at times terrifying, and (unfortunately) often rather frustrating.

The couple in question are Elizabeth (Suzie LeBlanc) and Pierre (Patrick Goyette), who have decided to move with their newborn son (so new that he hasn’t even been named yet) to a cabin in the woods, a place where Pierre spent time as a child and where his mother, Louise (Ginette Morin) lives in the cabin next door. For Pierre, who leaves every morning to go to work and returns in the evening, the quiet, rustic area is ideal but it is less so for Elizabeth. Cut off from the outside world, she quickly becomes lonely and those feelings are exacerbated by her sense of inadequacy as a mother. The baby won’t breastfeed, he won’t stop crying, and in a moment of carelessness she lets him fall during a changing. Louise helps out but that only makes things worse for Elizabeth, who begins to feel that she can never live up to her mother-in-law’s skill as a parent.

Elizabeth hears noises in the cabin’s attic. For a moment it seems that the film will go the gothic, madwoman in the attic route, but it's in fact woodland creatures that are up there and when she goes to investigate, she finds one of them dead. She wraps the animal in a baby blanket and takes it deep into the woods to bury it and, having thought about this film considerably since seeing it, I have a theory about this: though we literally see her burying an animal with the baby by her side, she’s actually burying the baby and everything that happens in the film after this takes place in her mind as she rewrites things in order to justify what she’s done. The reason that I think this is because the film seems to break at this point, becoming much darker, particularly in the portrayal of Pierre who, though always characterized as a control freak, becomes sexually abusive and controlling to the point of not even wanting Elizabeth to be alone with the baby.

Increasingly at odds with her husband, Elizabeth becomes determined to escape from him with the baby – which she does, towards an end that seems inevitable. Much of this film depends of LeBlanc, who conveys Elizabeth’s desperation and loneliness with a kind of quiet solidity. She doesn’t scream and gnash her way through the movie, but gently shifts through emotions, holding herself back almost as if she feels she has no right to be present in her own body. It’s a very effective and affecting performance that never for a moment seems anything but utterly natural. There is not an ounce of falseness or pretence or vanity in the way that LeBlanc plays this and she draws you so completely into Elizabeth’s mind that you can’t imagine not wanting Elizabeth, somehow, to succeed.

The problem with the film is that it is ultimately somewhat shapeless and far, far too slow moving. The measured pace is effective during the set-up but by the end it just feels ponderous and I found myself becoming very impatient with it. However, in spite of this, I do ultimately think that this is a film worth seeing. It may not be an entirely successful, but it is certainly interesting and LeBlanc’s performance deserves to be seen.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Note: This post was originally part of the "Counting Down The Zeroes" series over at Film For The Soul
* * *

Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci

The Passion of the Christ is a difficult movie to approach, seeing as it comes with so much baggage. Hailed in some circles as a masterpiece, reviled in others as being anti-Semitic and excessively violent, it is a film that can never be fully divorced from the controversy that it engendered. If it is anti-Semitic, does that necessarily make it a bad film? Should art be judged on its message or the skill of its construction? On the flip side, just because it’s a film about Jesus Christ and purports to be faithful to the Scriptures, does that in and of itself make it a good film? The Passion of the Christ is almost impossible to consider solely on its own merits.

The film chronicles the last 12 hours in the life of Christ (James Caviezel), including his arrest, trial, torture and finally crucifixion. At certain points the film flashes back, showing key moments in the life of Christ that parallel or otherwise inform his current state. There isn’t a lot to the film plotwise, much of the running time is devoted to scenes of Christ’s torture and death. It is a brutal, blood-soaked film, but that is of course its intention. Writer/director Mel Gibson has said on many occasions that one of his objectives was emphasize Christ’s suffering and it is, indeed, inescapable here. However, it isn’t the blood that makes these scenes so disturbing, but the sadism of the Roman soldiers and the indifference on the part of the crowd. His wounds neither satisfy them nor give them pause.

Christ’s travails are witnessed by those who want him punished as well as those who want him saved, including Mary (Maia Morgenstern), Mary Magdalene (Monica Bellucci), and John (Christo Jivkov). Of the supporting performances Morgenstern’s is the most moving. I would even venture to say that hers is the best performance of the film period, trumping even Caviezel. As Christ suffers, so does Mary, who watches her son condemned to death, mops up his blood and at last watches him die. In one scene she watches him fall to the ground in pain and recalls a moment when he fell as a child and she was able to make it better simply by holding him in her arms. There can be no more of that; his problems are beyond the scope of maternal comfort and assistance and her pain comes not simply from his suffering but from her complete helplessness in the face of it. The mother-child connection really grounds the film and gives it a human element that is absolutely crucial.

So, the big question: is the film anti-Semitic? I’m inclined to say no. I think that if you walk away from this with anti-Semitic feelings, you went into it predisposed to that particular brand of lunacy and I doubt that any person of even moderate intelligence could be inspired to hate anyone based on this film. It is true that the Jewish priests led by Caiaphas (Mattia Sbragia) are shown in a negative light, but so are the Roman soldiers. I would argue that the Roman soldiers are portrayed worse, since they seem to revel in inflicting pain for the sake of inflicting pain, whereas the priests have motives that go beyond simply wanting Christ to suffer. Their actions are characterized in political terms as Christ’s teachings threaten the status quo and their power. In the same way, the actions of Pontius Pilate (Hristo Shopov) are informed by politics and his shaky relationship with the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Unlike the Jewish priests, however, Pilate is allowed to have more than one dimension and he is allowed to express his conflicting feelings about the situation. It’s a failing of the film that the villains (Jewish priests and Roman soldiers alike) are portrayed in such a thin way, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it hateful.

As a director Gibson strives for realism – that’s the justification for the graphic nature of the film – but makes stylistic choices that undermine that sense of realism. I’m surprised that there’s any slow motion in movies anymore, seeing as this one tried so hard to use it all up. I’m of the belief that, like most things, slow motion is most effective when used sparingly. Mel Gibson obviously disagrees. The effect becomes less meaningful each time it’s used and it gets used so much that by the end you’re completely desensitized to it when it should be making its greatest impact. The film undercuts itself through this repetition and puts a greater burden on the actors to forge an emotional connection between the audience and the action on screen.

In the final analysis, The Passion of the Christ is a decent film but its craftsmanship is ultimately not equal to its notoriety. Because it focuses so wholly on the negative – the agony of Christ’s death – and pays only cursory attention to his ideas and teachings, the film fails to be as thought provoking as films like The Last Temptation of Christ or The Gospel According to Matthew. As it stands, the conversation very nearly begins and ends on the controversy rather than the content of the film. As the controversy fades, so does the film’s significance as a work of art.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Words To Live By: Inherit The Wind

Great movie speeches speak for themselves:

Monday, August 10, 2009

Review: Summer Hours (2009)

* * *

Director: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jérémie Renier

Memories are precious, elusive things, often more tenuous than we’d like to admit. Summer Hours explores the death, of sorts, of certain memories and the impact that that has on members of a family. It is a languid, beautifully crafted film that doesn’t really hit you until well after you’ve seen it. I saw it about a week ago and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, haunted by certain images. This is a solid, graceful film that's definitely worth a look.

It opens with the birthday of Hélène (Edith Scob) and the gathering of her family at the old family home to celebrate. It is a great occasion for her because it is one of the rare instances on which she is with all of her children – daughter Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) lives in New York, younger son Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) lives in China, and elder son Frédéric (Charles Berling), though he lives in France, is always working – and their children, but also sad because she knows that realistically she doesn’t have much longer and that once she’s gone, part of the family history will fade away with her. The home once belonged to Hélène’s uncle, an artist whose memory and reputation she has spent most of her life trying to preserve, though she doesn’t expect her children to do the same once she’s gone. She tries to talk to her children about what she does want, but they insist that there’s time and no need to make a happy occasion morbid and so the subject is more or less dropped.

Within a year Hélène has died and the siblings are together in France once again to sort out the estate. Frédéric assumes that they will keep the house and certain pieces of art to pass on to their children, but Adrienne and Jérémie have other ideas. Neither plans to be in France much over the next few years and the house is a luxury they can’t afford. Reluctantly, Frédéric agrees to sell, though he doesn’t really want to let go. Much of the film centres on him and his attempts to hang on to memories that aren’t really his at all, but memories of his mother’s memories of a time long since passed when her uncle was still alive; and the slow realization that he has to let it slip away. Frédéric wants to have things for the sake of keeping them, rather than because they necessarily mean something to him. By the end of the film he’ll visit some of his mother’s furniture in a museum. It’s strange, he admits, but life must go on.

Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, the film unfolds in a simple, unintrusive way. It doesn’t ask us to judge Adrienne and Jérémie, for example, for wanting to sell the house and most of its contents – it’s a sensible, reasonable thing to do under the circumstances. It does, however, focus quite directly on Hélène’s loneliness and the fact that she has things to say and no one to listen. After the birthday party, when the children and grandchildren have all gone on their way, Hélène’s housekeeper Eloise (Isabelle Sadoyan) remarks that the grandchildren forgot to take the cherries they’d picked. Hélène responds that their parents were too busy thinking of other things such as their journeys home. It’s a very sad scene and the image of Hélène sitting alone in her dark living room is striking. Part of the reason why her children, particularly Frédéric, focus so much on her things is because they know they should have been focused more on her - objects don't have meaning in and of themselves, but derive meaning through the way that we associate them with other people. Given the opportunity to have something of Hélène's as a keepsake, Eloise chooses a vase. The vase is incredibly valuable, but she doesn't know that; she chooses it because Hélène loved to have fresh flowers in vases and now whenever she puts flowers into it, she'll be able to remember her friend.

The film was conceived as part of a series produced by Musée d’Orsay that also includes Flight of the Red Balloon. This film strikes a similar tone as Red Balloon, though it does a better job of incorporating the museum itself into the story. Stylistically and in terms of subject matter, I know that this is the kind of movie that can an acquired taste because it just sort of drifts towards its conclusion rather than being driven there by the force of the narrative, but I found it to be very moving and thoughtful.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Canadian Film Review: Pontypool (2009)

* * * 1/2

Director: Bruce McDonald
Starring: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak

Pontypool takes a page out of the Jaws handbook, providing a vague, mostly unseen danger to our heroes that looms all the larger for its near total absence from the screen. If you’ve seen Jaws, you know how awesomely effective that method of storytelling is. What we see might be scary but it will never be as scary as what we can’t see and so it is with Pontypool which finds a radio show host and his two producers being bombarded with stories of strange and violent behaviour on the other side of town and knowing that this undefined threat is moving closer and closer to them.

The film takes place over the course of a few hours on a snowy, dreary day in Pontypool, Ontario. Radio show host Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) has a strange encounter on the road, which leaves him shaken up and which he decides to discuss with his listeners. The discussion is cut short, however, when word starts to come in about a demonstration of some kind outside the office of a Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak). While Grant editorializes regarding the scant amount of information they have about the unfolding event, his producers Sydney (Lisa Houle) and Laurel Ann (Georgina Reilly) try to find some kind of official corroboration for the eye witness accounts. Though there is no official confirmation from the police about what is happening, people continue to call in to discuss the increasingly violent and disturbing events outside of Dr. Mendez’s office.

As the day progresses, the death toll mounts, and words like "cannibals" start getting tossed around, Grant starts to lose it, believing that this is all part of some big hoax being perpetrated on him. It isn't until the appearance of Dr. Mendez himself at the radio station (which is actually just a church basement), that the reality of the situation starts to sink in. There is a virus of sorts going around, he explains, one that isn't passed through the blood but through the English language itself. This presents something of a dilema for the radio team, who wonder how they can explain the situation and warn people if the language is infected and are also forced to question their own culpability in spreading the virus through their medium.

Save for a few moments, the film takes place entirely in the church basement and much of it takes place in the sound booth itself after Dr. Mendez reveals that the afflicted hunt with their ears not their eyes. Safely (for the time being) locked up in the soundproof booth, Grant and his crew have to figure out what they're going to do to save themselves and how they might cure those who have the virus, but haven't reached the fatal stage yet (those who have the virus and don't find a victim to pass it on to kind of... explode). This minimalist approach makes the film all the more effective because the tension rises as the safe space becomes smaller and smaller. The fact that we don't actually start to see the effects of the virus until about 2/3rds of the way into the film is also quite effective and credit for that goes to the actors, who so successfully convey and transfer their growing sense of terror to the audience. There isn't a lot of gore in this movie (a little but not much) but it's about a hundred times scarrier than most movies that dispense with buckets of blood from openning to end credits. The terror is psychological and that can be pretty hard to shake off.

It's difficult not to read a political meaning into this film when its protagonist is a radio show host who prides himself on "telling it like it is," language is the enemy, and one of the characters is a soldier recently returned from Afghanistan. One of the symptoms of the virus is repeating a word ad nauseum which, if you've ever watched certain news shows, you know that simply repeating "talking points" in an increasingly loud voice is what passes for political analysis these days. Pontypool isn't aggressively political but this criticism of the way that language is being abused is definitely there.

Bruce McDonald, who directed last year's "love it or hate it" The Tracey Fragments, keeps the film really lean stylistically speaking. The simplicity of his style here adds immensely to the growing feeling of claustrophobia that the screenplay and the actors work so hard at creating. Pontypool is apparently the first film in a planned trilogy from McDonald - I'm not really sure how that will work given how this one ends, but I'll definitely be looking out for the next installment.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Review: Sweet and Lowdown (1999)

* * * *

Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Sean Penn, Samantha Morton, Uma Thurman

I’ve been a Woody Allen fan for a while and I’ve seen some of his best films and some of his more dreadful pieces, but somehow I’d missed out on Sweet and Lowdown until recently. My loss because while I was giving movies like Anything Else a chance, I missed out on this delightful film and the extraordinary performances contained within courtesy of Sean Penn and Samantha Morton. This isn’t just good Woody Allen, this is Woody Allen at the very top of his game.

The film is constructed by incorporating documentary conventions into its story, ostensibly the true (well, truish) story of Emmet Ray (Sean Penn), who was once the second best guitar player in the world. Woody Allen appears alongside other experts and historians in interview segments disbursed throughout the film in an attempt to get at the man behind the legend, telling anecdotes of varying believability, including one story involving a hold-up at a gas station that is told three different ways. The only thing that isn’t really in dispute is that Ray was a genius and underappreciated in his own time.

A few facts, just to get them out of the way: Ray idolized Django Reinhardt – the best jazz guitarist in the world – and couldn’t be near him without fainting; if he showed up for a gig at all, he usually showed up drunk; he was briefly married to a dilettante novelist named Blanche (Uma Thurman, who makes her entrance into the film as if she’s auditioning for a Marlene Dietrich biopic); and he had an obsession with watching trains and shooting rats down at the dump. All of this, while supplying amusing moments in the story, are secondary to Ray’s relationship with a mute laundress named Hattie (Samantha Morton). Although he treats her badly, repaying her unconditional affection with meanness, infidelity and mocking of her muteness, not to mention simply disappearing on her one night, she is ultimately the glue that holds him together.

The relationship between Ray and Hattie is inspired by the relationship in Fellini’s La Strada, though it leans more to the comedic than the tragic, at least up until the very end. Despite the great difference in tone between the two films, Ray’s final moments on screen – which find him sad and broken with the too-late realization of what he had and lost – are as moving as the final moments of Fellini’s Zampano. Although Ray is indisputably selfish and occasionally even cruel, Penn provides him with enough humanity that you can still feel for him even while knowing that he’s gotten exactly what he deserves. Penn is also able to blend Ray’s brilliance in one respect (as a musician) with his buffoonery in nearly every other respect without making the character seem inconsistent. Ray is a man who knows that he’s great at this one thing but never really feels secure about it because he’s not certain that everyone else knows he’s great, too. He is, in his way, more vulnerable than Hattie, which is perhaps what draws her to him and then keeps her there long after most women would have left. As with Penn, Morton is terrific in the role, suggesting the inspiration of Fellini’s story without allowing Hattie to become simply an imitation of Gelsomina. Her performance is a thing of absolute beauty and the impression she leaves is remarkable given that she never utters a single word.

Allen’s mix of fact (Django Reinhardt) and fiction (Ray) and his joining of “talking head” segments with traditional narrative segments works really well in this film. Allen’s obvious enthusiasm for the subject matter, being a well-known jazz fan and musician himself, also helps immeasurably. Though he is inarguably a great writer and director, it is also difficult to argue that every once in a while he puts out a film that seems to simply go through the motions and in the last 15 years, or so, those less than great films have outnumbered those worth remembering. Sweet and Lowdown is one of Allen’s great films, totally deserving of being ranked alongside such films as Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and Her Sisters.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Great Last Scenes: All About Eve

Year: 1950
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Great Because...: Comeupance is oh so sweet. Sure, Eve succeeds in becoming a bona fide star, lauded and awarded and hated by those she climbed over to get there, but she's about to get a taste of her own medicine in the form of her own "biggest fan." Any ending other than this one would ring patently false.

Eve Harrington has scratched and clawed her way from nothing to stardom by latching herself on to Margo Channing and systematically usurping her in all areas. Starting out as Margo's assistant, she finagles her way into being her understudy and as luck, or something more nefarious, would have it, gets to take the stage when Margo uncharictaristicly misses a show. Eve is a hit and, as everyone quietly agrees, more suited for the ingenue roles than Margo.

Not content to just take Margo's place professionally, Eve also makes an attempt to steal Margo's boyfriend, Bill, although in this she is less than successful. Her manipulations have caused her to make many enemies, but that doesn't matter to her. All that really matters is that she's a star and once a star, always a star... right?

Following her big win at the awards ceremony, Eve has a close encounter with Phoebe who claims, much like Eve once claimed to Margo, to be a fan. Flattered by Phoebe's attention, Eve decides to take her on as an assistant, having apparently never heard the adage that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. As Phoebe tries on Eve's clothes, picks up Eve's award, and gazes at herself in the mirror, we can guess where this is headed.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Review: (500) Days of Summer (2009)

* * * *

Director: Marc Webb
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel

There aren’t a lot of movies that deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as Annie Hall, but (500) Days of Summer is one of them. While most romantic comedies centre on the romance of possibility and end at the real beginning, this one focuses instead on an actual relationship, with all its inherent ups and downs, and knows that just because something is good, doesn’t mean it’s meant to be permanent. I can think of no better way to introduce this movie than to quote another great comedy: “Love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and break out hearts and love the wrong people and die. The storybooks are bullshit.”

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a hopeless romantic. How hopeless? He thinks The Graduate has a happy ending. The first time he sees Summer (Zooey Deschanel), he’s smitten, as many men are. Alas, she does not want a boyfriend, as she prefers to be independent and not “belong” to anyone. Because he wants her so badly, he allows himself to believe that he can change her mind, that he can convince her as he’s convinced himself that they’re fated to be together. Their relationship begins casually (for her, anyway), gets serious, and then abruptly ends, leaving him heartbroken and confused. As he looks back on the relationship, he just can’t understand where it all went wrong. They were so right for each other so how can it just be over?

The problem is that despite Tom’s proclamations that Summer is the love of his life, he doesn’t really know her. He’s so fixated on his idea of a perfect, permanent love and so determined to make her fit into the mould that he’s always had in his mind that it prevents him from really seeing her as a human being in her own right. This disconnect is exacerbated by the unconscious knowledge that as much as he wants to he can’t actually make her fit into his vision, and all the anxieties that that knowledge entails. One of the most telling scenes for me is when Tom and Summer go to a bar and she’s relentlessly hit on by some idiot. The guy expresses disbelief that Tom is Summer’s boyfriend and Tom punches him, which upsets Summer. “I did it for you!” he laments, which is absolutely not true. He may have done it because of her, but he certainly didn’t do it for her. He did it for himself because the guy in the bar wounded his pride and expressed Tom’s own fear that Summer is out of his league, that she’s going to realize it and that she’s going to leave him.

As a character, Summer is thinly conceived. Since we only see her through Tom’s eyes this makes sense because he either can’t read her or doesn’t really want to. Late in the film, one of Tom’s friends compares his girlfriend to his dream girl and declares that his girlfriend is better because she’s real. Tom thinks he can have both the reality and the dream and so he ignores those things about Summer that don’t conform to his ideal. To emphasize this the film incorporates many elements of fantasy, including a dance number and a sequence done in split screen, dividing Tom’s dream version of an event from the reality of it. These elements are folded easily into the larger narrative and provide a lot of insight into Tom’s character and state of mind.

I went into (500) Days of Summer somewhat guarded. Having been bombarded with the trailer for the last couple of weeks, I felt a bit over the movie before even seeing it, but my enthusiasm for it was renewed once I was watching it. It isn’t a perfect movie – I could have lived without the “wise child” character and I think that the ending is perhaps too clever by half – but it is pretty great and features wonderful performances from both Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel.