It's no accident that the love-sick Tom Hanson (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) of "(500) Days of Summer" ends up watching faux foreign films to comfort himself while crying. The scene is a wink to some great filmmakers that may have influenced music video director Marc Webb in his feature debut.
While "Summer" may not measure up to classics by Francois Truffaut or Ingmar Bergman, it is a smart and refreshing story about love - and not a love story. The Summer (Zooey Deschanel) in the tale is the name of the young, mysterious woman who has begun working at the greeting-card company where Tom has toiled for three years creating those pithy wishes that people rely on when they can't figure out what to say. Plans to be an architect hadn't worked out.
Summer and Tom seem reasonably matched - with offbeat senses of humor and tastes - but she warns him early on that a long-term relationship isn't in the cards. (The ending of "The Graduate" has put her off on the idea of marriage.) Webb and his screenwriters have cleverly scrambled the chronology; so the audience knows early on about the troubles the couple run into.
But watching them alternately falling together and falling apart is very amusing. Both principals have low-key charm - Gordon-Levitt has an easy-going intelligence, while Deschanel has an attractive otherworldliness about her.
Set in Los Angeles, you also have to give Webb credit for photographing the thriving downtown, with its mixture of remodeled older buildings and new structures and urban settings, in a way that reminds you that the city isn't all freeways and palm trees. (It wasn't until I recognized a local landmark during a fun fantasy music video to a Hall and Oates song that I realized it was L.A.)
"(500) Days of Summer" is both clever - though not particularly deep - and a little too cute at times, both in its visual and script references. But Webb shows plenty of style and promise, and the film does offer a welcome alternative to so many sappy rom-coms that play to greeting-card sentiments.
A B movie in disguise
"District 9" posits the question: What would you do with a bunch of ETs if they were dropped on our doorstep. From South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, the film begins with a mock documentary news style. As we come to find out, some 20 year before a spaceship filled with alien workers, apparently slave labor, appeared in the skies over Johannesburg. In the time between, the aliens, known as prawns because of their looks, were taken off the ship and put in shoddy camps, which have deteriorated.
Given the country's history of Apartheid, the parallels are obvious.
A greedy corporation called M.N.U. (Multi-National United) with its own army has taken over running the population that has taken over administration of the prawn population, but their prime interest is in figuring out how to run the technology on the ship and they want the Prawns to move to even shoddier quarters.
The MNU executive in charge of carrying out this program is Wikus van der Merwe (well played by Sharlto Copley), the son-in-law of the owner and clearly over his head.
The documentary style - with academics and politicians weighing in on the conditions of the Prawns - allows Blomkamp plenty of ways to throw in some satirical barbs, but "District 9," which refers to the name of the camp, is basically a well-done B movie at heart. As the circumstances spin out of control for Wilkus and MNU, the film grows more grotesque, morphing into the action staples of explosions and chase scenes. But along the way, Blomkamp creates an interesting world - a combination of imaginative special effects and story - and makes some sharp observations.
Music lovers, take note
"It Might Get Loud," a documentary by Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth"), is for guitar lovers - and even for anyone who loves music. In it, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, the Edge of U2 and Jack White, most of the White Stripes and other side projects are brought together for a prolonged studio jam session.
Interviews and archival footage are used as the three ax-men - representing different generations - prepare for the meeting. Page comes off a proper English gentleman, which also seems at odds the fact that his guitar style - along with the others like Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck - transformed rock. The Irish Edge began his career in the 1970s ragged punk scene, but eventually created his own power.
White, the youngest, is also the most restless and talkative. Coming out of Detroit, he demonstrates an eclectic style.
There is plenty of terrific music in "It Might Be Loud," and even some smiles as the guitarists stumble through a ragged acoustic rendition of the Band's "The Weight," proving even the best need rehearsal.
Between her massive hits "The Proposal" and "The Blind Side," Sandra Bullock's other film of 2009 quietly came and went.
"All About Steve" is likely to get more attention now, but the comedy is uneven at best. Bullock plays Mary Horowitz, a late-30ish woman who makes crossword puzzles. As you might guess, she's good with words but not love. When she has a blind date with Steve (Bradley Cooper of "The Hangover"), a television cameraman for a cable news network, she goes a little bit crazy and essentially begins stalking him. The situation becomes more disturbing than funny, and Bullock doesn't fit the role - though I'm not sure who would.
Mike Judge has made some pretty decent satires with "Office Space" and "Idiocracy." "Extract" doesn't measure up, but Judge continues to squarely aim at our country's growing stupidity and the inanity of modern life. Starring Jason Bateman, "Extract" is partly a sex comedy and broadside on corporate America. The problem is a lack of really funny moments.
"Family Guy Presents: Something Something Something Dark Side" is the sequel episode to the Fox series "Star Wars" parody "Blue Harvest."
Though I haven't seen "Something" yet (Fox wasn't sending out screeners, although they screened it), "Blue Harvest" was pretty funny; so I wouldn't bet against Seth MacFarlane and his crew doing it again.