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[500] Days of Summer (2009) Dir. Marc Webb 3 September 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Cinema Review.
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Romantic comedies can be the bane of a young man’s cinema going existence. For every Star Trek the Mrs politely watches by your side there’s a debt that can only be re-paid with soul-crushing fare such as The Proposal or The Ugly Truth. It’s been a heck of a long time since When Harry Met Sally and even longer since the 50s “rom-com” hey day but the current yoof generation has finally got its own love story that doesn’t stick to the formula; doesn’t simplify relationships into good times, bad times and last minute dashes to the airport; and leaves you with a tangible sense of love ripped open and dissected onscreen.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel (last seen together in the underrated Manic) are Tom and Summer, the couple at the heart of [500] Days of Summer, but completely unlike any other onscreen couple. Summer doesn’t believe love exists and, despite her looks and good nature, doesn’t even want a boyfriend. Rather predictably perhaps Tom falls in love with her, but what makes [500] Days of Summer different is it’s smart fractured timeline (which contrasts moments of soaring emotion and heartache to great effect) and it’s realistic portrayal of a couple that was never meant to be.

The film’s unique structure is never confusing due to a clear and simple framing device telling viewers exactly which of the 500 days we are on at the beginning of each new scene. Starting with the break-up immediately lets viewers know that they’re in for something different and [500] Days of Summer is like nothing you have ever experienced before. There’s a genuine sense that everything these characters are going through feels true to life, from awkward first encounters to transcendental highs, soured by looking back at them when the relationship is little more than a bitter memory. The film is also devilishly funny with Gordon-Levitt proving a fine comedic presence, more often than not the laughs stemming from his embarrassing attempts to impress the girl in ways we’ve all tried in the past.

The film also brilliantly plays with Tom’s perception of his relationship with Summer in contrast with the bleak reality. Most overtly in one split-screen party scene we watch Tom’s expectations of the night down one side and the devastating reality on the other as Tom’s life comes crashing down around him. There are also some wonderfully staged fantasy sequences that perfectly capture the unique top-of-the-world feeling only love can achieve.

Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel prove to be a perfect fit for the odd-ball couple with the kind of spark between them most rom-coms only dream of, and they’re well supported by a suitably quirky supporting cast, in particular the brash, if somewhat clichéd best friend McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend).

My problems with [500] Days of Summer are few but important. Firstly a Pushing Daisies-esque narrator is introduced at the start of the film and largely abandoned until the final scene, annoyingly inconsistent which is strange considering the rest of the film is so perfectly balanced. Secondly in making this Tom’s story writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber fall into the “female enigma” trap that too many other romantic comedies have fallen into over the years, never satisfactorily explaining Summer’s motivations or feelings. And finally some of the film’s more whimsical elements fall flat – not least of which is the world wise younger sister of Tom who manages to be a step too far for believability, even in a film with spontaneous choreographed dance numbers.

But these minor criticisms should in no way deter you from seeing easily the best romantic comedy of this generation and probably the first since When Harry Met Sally that the blokes will enjoy just as much as the ladies. At once devastating and achingly beautiful [500] Days of Summer proves there’s still life in a tired genre.

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Ripe for Reappraisal: The Mist 1 September 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Cinema Review.
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Lauded by critics but generally ignored by audiences upon its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it theatrical flash last year (or two years ago if you’re in the States), Frank Darabont’s The Mist has found a new lease of life on DVD and Blu-ray, complete with the director preferred black and white version which demands to be seen by even casual horror fans.

Based on a novel by Stephen King (who Darabont also adapted for The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile), the set-up for The Mist is deceptively simple horror fare that belies hidden depths and makes it clear even with otherworldly killing machines running loose humanity’s greatest enemy is, and always has been, ourselves. Thomas Jane (who really should be in more movies) plays David Drayton who, along with a large number of the inhabitants of a small town in Maine, becomes trapped in a supermarket when a bizarre mist descends upon the whole town in an instant. It soon becomes clear that there’s something nasty lurking in the mist and to venture out means certain death. Initially David intends to wait out the storm in the supermarket, stocked with enough supplies to keep them going for years, but as tempers fray, minds snap and factions form (the most dangerous of which is a religious cult led by Marcia Gay Harden’s wicked Mrs Carmody) it soon becomes clear David’s best chance for survival lies outside.

A crucial element to horror movies that many people overlook is the environment you first watch them in. See a film like The Shining on a sunny day, in a room full of friends and you’re more likely to laugh than get goosebumps at Kubrick’s classic chiller, and the same could be said for The Mist. Taken out of context viewers not paying enough attention could see it as little more than a slow creature feature with a needlessly bleak ending and some hammy character acting, however The Mist is so much more. I first saw the film while stuck in Manchester one evening on my own, a city far from home and in a late night screening with just four young lads, no doubt set to annoy me. To say it left me devastated is an understatement, even the young men in the cinema with me who started out making a ruckus were deafly silent by the end. We even let out a little cheer in unison at the fate of Mrs Carmody, the first time I’ve ever shouted at the screen, totally incapable of controlling the emotional outburst. The walk to the hotel that night was not a pleasant one.

But it seems to be an experience very few people I know have had with The Mist. Inevitable talk always revolves around the creatures and the ending, most dismissing both as silly and unrealistic. The Mist however makes the most of its minimalist setting to craft a believable group of characters and a completely believable series of events as the master plan comes cascading down around them. Sure people act very stupidly at times (this is a horror movie after all) but for the most part this is the best acted, best written and best realised ensemble cast for a horror film in a long time.

The creatures themselves are also a vision of genuine horror. The story hints that they are creatures from another dimension, but they’re so efficient at killing humans in the most disturbing ways imaginable it makes you wonder if they’ve been genetically engineered for that purpose. The special effects are for the most part excellent. It’s clear some of the actors have had little experience working with special effects with some dodgy physical performances but the various grotesque bugs, tentacles, spiders, and giant predators are truly terrifying, their skull faces making them the very personification of death.

I’d also put it up there as one of the bleakest films ever made. Frank Darabont allegedly forefeit a huge amount of his budget (and no doubt the marketing clout of the studio based on its theatrical bow) to keep the devastating ending intact, but it’s so perfect it would be a travesty to see it end any other way. It seems a little out of character that David would give up so quickly, but after living through what he did I doubt many others would act differently. A special mention also has to go to Darabont’s choice of song for the concluding moments of, for my money, his third truly great King adaptation which will henceforth always be associated with that feeling of wanting to make me kill myself.

It’s rare that I see a film and can’t stop thinking about it for days after. After seeing The Mist I had the uncontrollable urge to tell everyone I know that they should drop everything and see it at the cinema while they can. Few did but now DVD and Blu-ray have given us the chance to revel in The Mist’s depressing glory time and time again, just make sure you check out the black and white version first.