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500 Days of Summer
34 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Too pretentious. Just by watching the trailers for upcoming movies on the DVD while I made popcorn in the background, I knew the following film was going to be hit-or-miss for me.

Sure enough, I find a brutal and honest portrayal of the lessons of love and heartbreak-- completely demolished by schizophrenic editing, smug "wink-wink" self-awareness, and a nonsensical narrative from a production team that doesn't trust its concept enough to let it play out naturally and chronologically. Instead, all of the good moments are lead into and interspersed with obnoxious art-house flourishes, like voice-overs, on-screen clocks and gayish musical cues. Some of the soundtrack choices are interesting, but who cares? I came to see a movie, not a music-video. It reminds me of that scene at the beginning of Airplane II where Ted Striker is breaking out of a mental hospital and one of the searchlights stops on Jack Jones singing lounge music in the courtyard. Does there really need to be musical commentary in the background? As much as I admire Regina Spektor's vocal creativity, most of the soundtrack sounded like a 9-11 dispatch of her being assaulted in her home.

Joseph Gorden-Levitt and Zoey Deschanel are clever and subtle, as usual, but their thespian spirits are wasted on characters with no real motivation or appeal, unless you consider every date-movie cliche of the last twenty years in one package to be a reasonable form of art. There is an intelligent message here, but it barely survives crammed between the drudgery of the time-jumping numbers-screen that throws us jarringly back and forth with little warning, and stock "buddy" characters that punctuate moments of perfect subtlety with, essentially, burp and fart jokes, ruining any sort of serious cinematic immersion. Are we really expected to know where we are in the story based on a non-linear and arbitrary selection of days, or even care?

Most of the scenes are too short to allow the dialogue to build in any meaningful way, or express the character's personalities, leaving both factors unremarkable. I didn't buy a 12 year old giving Tom complicated, experience-driven relationship advice. I also didn't buy the intrusive, "meanwhile, in the lair of the super-villain" voice-over narrations, squirting exposition in my ear at inappropriate times. And what's with these two? The narrator tells us that Tom's skewed view of love comes from "a fatal misunderstanding of the movie 'The Graduate' as a child". First, as a rule, never mention better movies than your movie in your movie. Secondly, what if I've never seen 'The Graduate'? I'm shit out of luck? Tom writes greeting cards for a living and can't figure out how to ask Summer on a date. Greeting cards exist for the soul purpose of getting people laid. See the dissonance here? For that matter, why does he even bother with Summer? She's a brat, and a nympho, and the moment Tom learns about her past "experience", he should have been prepared for disappointment.

This movie doesn't earn the right to tell its story out of order. To do so, the story needs to be something profound and original and benefiting. As it stands it's just a distraction from the lack of a concrete topic, and the shuffling of time is used here as a cheap mechanic for the film to set up a series of contrived "reveals" to flatter us with flashy cleverness. "Look over here!" "Now look over here!" The very first one of these oh YOU moments involves shocking us with the fact that the girl of Tom's dreams is named-- get this-- Summer. Get it? It's the name of the movie! Now the word "summer" means TWO things!

What a rug-puller!

So a few diamonds form as this brownie bakes in the oven. A scene involving Tom and Summer skipping through an IKEA store complaining that "all the sinks are broken" is particularly hilarious. When Tom finally makes headway with Summer, he struts out into the street in front of her building like Fred Astaire as various passerby break into spontaneous song and dance. Tom's meltdown in the boardroom is poignant and powerful. The film delicately handles the horrible "catch-22" of relationships: it's not easy being honest with someone you really care about, for fear of losing the tenuous bond you share. The final sequence between the two lovers, set in an important park with an important view, is profound and bitter in its pitiless clarification of broken love, even if it is the love between retards. Summer's explanation for her betrayal doesn't really clarify anything (maybe that we gave women the vote so that they could "date for dinner") but it does showcases the profound effect the two had on each other. Fate, as it adheres to cause and effect, has a brutal way of wearing down the romantic soul with cruel reality.

Every other moment in the movie does everything it can to sabotage our connection to the mise-en-scene. The lessons learned by the two leads and the way they learn them is the only strong point of the film. It's buried in a package that does an honest message no service. Instead, in its desperate plea to be relatable, it alienates us with its new-aged hipster bullshit, then forces us to re-break our own mended hearts and look inside for a fortune cookie. Thanks, dicks. All of this sentimental gunk is muddled in the drudgery of the film's stupid way of storytelling, so if you have any life experience of your own good luck getting anything out of 500 Days of Summer except maybe a spontaneous hangover.

You know that episode of Family Guy where Peter tapes over Citizen Kane with "It's his sled. From when he was a child. There, I just saved you three hours." That's what I would do to this film, if I cared enough to look back.

Drag Me to Hell
24 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

An hour and thirty-nine minutes I'll never get back.