#89 - 'Tis

Dedicated To
Frank McCourt
1930 - 2009

Added 8/4/9

Howdy do, everybody, and welcome back to the Electric Theatre! I’ve mostly recovered from this year’s trip down to Comic-Con. I had a blast but the funny thing about Comic-Con is that it simultaneously reignites my passion for all things geek and makes me never want to think about them again. But now that I’ve had some time to readjust to boring old reality, I’m ready to get back to the movies.


(500) Days Of Summer

Quite honestly, this movie was not on my radar at all before I bought a ticket for it. I was aware of its existence but nothing about it suggested I should make it a priority. Thanks to LA traffic, I was late for the movie I’d planned on seeing and ended up at this instead. This is the first time traffic has done me a favor. (500) Days Of Summer is a fresh, funny and original movie that deserves to be seen with a big, appreciative audience.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Tom Hansen, a greeting card writer with a romantic streak a mile wide. He falls for his boss’ new assistant, Summer (Zooey Deschanel). The two of them start to date, although Tom struggles with Summer’s insistence on keeping things “casual”. The movie hops around in time, showing their relationship at different stages from courtship to break-up.

Director Marc Webb keeps things lively by mixing in a wide variety of styles including animation, split-screen, and fantasy sequences. The movie has earned comparisons to Annie Hall and that’s not far off the mark. The screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber is nowhere near as incisive as Woody Allen’s movie but it is consistently clever and often laugh-out-loud hilarious. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been on the rise the last few years, giving impressive performances in movies like Brick and The Lookout. Here, he becomes a full-fledged leading man. He’s absolutely charming in the kind of role Tom Hanks might have played back in the 80s, filling the part with his own unique personality. Zooey Deschanel is just as good in a part that could have easily been two-dimensional. And as a Los Angeleno, I have nothing but admiration for Webb’s use of the city. It’s so refreshing to see a movie set in LA that makes use of our spectacular downtown instead of Hollywood or the beaches.

The romantic comedy is an unfairly maligned genre, too often dismissed out of hand by jaded filmgoers. Part of the reason for this is that so many are built on premises even less believable than your typical Roland Emmerich disaster flick. But done properly, romantic comedies can put a smile on your face and lift your spirits like no other movie. (500) Days Of Summer is romantic comedy done right. It’s an absolute delight and one of the most purely enjoyable movies this summer. (* * * ½)


Gas, Food Lodging

In the early 90s, Allison Anders was often lumped in with filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Not so much for any similarity in style or subject matter but for their independent, low-budget ethos. She broke through with her 1992 movie Gas, Food Lodging and while she’s made a handful of movies since the 90s, she works primarily in television now, directing episodes of such shows as The L Word and Sex And The City. While Gas, Food Lodging isn’t as compelling as some of Anders’ other work (I prefer her 1993 movie Mi Vida Loca), it does demonstrate that hers is a unique voice that has been missing from movies for too long.

Brooke Adams stars as Nora, a waitress in Laramie, New Mexico, raising her two daughters alone. Oldest daughter Trudie (Ione Skye) angrily lashes out at her mom and can’t wait to get out of the trailer park. Fairuza Balk plays younger daughter Shade, a more introverted girl who loses herself in old Spanish-language melodramas. We follow the three of them and their complicated relationships with the men in their lives over the course of a year or so. Nora ends an affair with a married man (Chris Mulkey) and takes up with a satellite dish installer (David Lansbury). Trudie becomes pregnant after a desert tryst with a British geologist (Robert Knepper). And Shade is reunited with her long-absent father (James Brolin).

The movie is more of a series of incidents than a story but Anders captures both the tedium and the beauty of desert life expertly. The cast is excellent across the board. There isn’t a bad performance to be found in the entire film. But even with all these fine actors, the movie lacks an emotional core that would make it truly special. We remain observers rather than participants and while everything rings true, I found it difficult to be invested in these characters. Even so, the movie is compelling and filled with moments that linger in the memory. It’s definitely worth a look and I hope it won’t be long before Allison Anders returns with a new movie featuring strong, independent women. (* * *)

Thanks to Andrew Hansen for this week’s Tales From The Queue recommendation! Actually, Andy’s been pushing this movie on me for about 15 years now and it was to my shame that I realized I hadn’t watched it yet. If you’ve got a suggestion for the queue, be sure to send it my way! The average turnaround is considerably less than 15 years now, I swear.

Your pal,