filM noIrSERY LOVES COMPANY: Reviews of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans, The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day and The Missing Person

The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day is the ultimate revenge fantasy. No, not the story in the movie, but the movie itself. After having been used badly by Harvey Weinstein (to put it mildly and so the rumors go), Troy Duffy (the writer/ director of both Boondock Saints films) basically told Harvey to go fuck himself. Out of the ashes that he found himself in, Troy, the phoenix, managed to make a film (the first Saints) that became a cult favorite and has now managed to write the sequel. Which means that he has basically told Harvey to go fuck himself twice and gotten away with it (or so the rumors go). I can’t say that The Boondock Saints I or II is my cup of tea, but I found a certain fascination in watching both of them. The writing is clever in both, but perhaps even more so in the sequel. There are some wonderful set pieces where Julie Benz, playing an FBI agent, reconstructs events leading up to the crime scene. And overall, there is something exciting about Duffy’s approach to storytelling structure. But for me, from a directing standpoint, everything was a bit too much, from the accents to the acting to the way everything was directed in a very frenetic, in your face manner. It’s as if Duffy was trying to out Tarrentino Tarrentino, which he might have a chance in doing as a writer, but so far, doesn’t show any real signs of being able to do it as a director. There is also something intriguuing about Duffy’s moral theology by way of the Catholic church (it’s certainly brave of him; very few writers, at least in the U.S., would be so open about it). At the same time, there’s something deeply disturbing about the dénouement where the Catholic Church is set up as the ultimate arbiter of good and evil, a sort of modern day Inquisition (and we all know how well that went over the last time that happened). What might be really interesting is getting get Duffy and Dan Brown in the same room and letting them duke it out; what a match that might be.

As surrealistic as Boondocks II, but much more level headed in approach to directing (if such a thing can be believed), is Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans. I call it whack. Whatever else it may be, this film by director Werner Herzog and the screenwriter William Finkelstein is definitely whack. Nicholas Cage plays a New Orleans police detective who rescues a criminal during Katrina and injures his back, causing him to become a drug addict. And whatever else you can say about Cage, he goes there, he really goes there. Wearing one shoulder higher than the other as if he were playing Richard III, eyes growing increasingly darker and skin constantly paler, he eventually begins to resemble Klaus Kinski in Herzog’s version of Nosferatu. Cage doesn’t just stop at nothing to play this character, his character also stops at nothing to solve a homicide of a family that got caught up in a drug war. There are three basic plots going on here: the homicide; Cage’s problems with drug addiction and a gambling debt; and his relationships with his recovering alcoholic father, his step-mother (who only drinks beer, so isn’t an alcoholic) and his drug addicted prostitute girlfriend. Though I lost some of the plot strands here and there on the homicide investigation, all the stories had me on the edge of my seat. And while Finkelstein’s film noir plot, full of fun and clever twists and turns, goes on its gleeful way, Herzog throws it all into a somewhat surrealistic pot and stirs frantically; somehow the two styles not just work together, they complement each other. It has been well cast, not just in the leads, but in the smaller roles where such people as Val Kilmer, Brad Dourif, Michael Shannon, Shawn Hatosy (what a great face), and Jennifer Coolidge (in probably her greatest performance, playing against type as Cage’s step mother) show up (an excellent primer on how to cast supporting roles, in fact). The city is overcast and depressing, even when it’s sunny, and it’s filled with alligators and iguanas even when they aren’t really there (you have to see the movie). There is no real moral to the story, except perhaps that life does not come equipped with morals. In fact, every time you think Finkelstein is going to wrap things up in a typical Hollywood character arc way, he sabotages it and takes you down a different path. Is the movie any good? I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t care, that I had a great time and that it is definitely whack.

The Missing Person is more a throwback to the olden days of film noir, with a boozing, alcoholic PI caught up in a web of intrigue with lots of twist and turns. The mood is the strongest aspect of this film and it alone almost holds your interest in and of itself (most of the scenes take place at night or in dark, shadowy rooms—the cinematography is from the Gordon Willis school of The Godfather—and even the daylight scenes seem a bit dark even when it isn’t). But the story never quite holds together. Michael Shannon plays the PI, a self-destructive wino with a tragic past (and it is tragic, the revelation revolving around 9/11 is very moving). He is hired through a friend to trail someone on a train from New York to L.A., but is not told the whole story (are private eyes ever told the whole story). He ends up being used as all self-destructive, boozing PI’s with a tragic past are. Shannon’s character is a puzzlement. At times he’s rather brilliant at what he does. At other times, he seems like the biggest idiot in the business, but more at the convenience of the writer (Noah Buschel, who also directed) than because this dichotomy is an organic part of his personality. Much of the story doesn’t make a lot of sense; people don’t always act as logically as they should; and the ending is more head scratching than satisfying. But there is something oddly intriguing about it at the same time.

A SERIOUS MAN AND AN EVEN MORE SERIOUS MAN: Reviews of A Serious Man and Collapse

In the Old Testament he was called Job. In Joel and Ethan Coen’s new movie, he’s called Larry Gopnik (played with an expertly sad hilarity by Michael Stuhlbarg). Gopnik’s travails are not quite as travailic as Job’s (Job’s kids die, as do his servants; he loses his land; he loses his wife; he ends up covered in boils; and his friends torment him when they try to help him). Gopnik’s problems are more common to the common Joe (or common Job): his wife wants a divorce; his kids pay more attention to the TV than to him (except when they want the TV antenna fiddled with); his brother won’t move out; he might not get tenure. And if not a righteous man like Job, Gopnik is a good enough one, a serious one. So when these bad things pile up, it doesn’t seem any more right on God’s part than what happened to Job. The screenplay is funny and biting with a wonderful prologue about a possible dybbuk visiting a Russian shtetl in the old country. It’s the sort of existential scream type of screenplay that I love: what is the meaning to life if God acts in a meaningless way? And in the same way that Job is visited by three friends, Gopnik seeks out the help of three rabbis, none of whom can give him the answer he needs (keep a look out for Simon Helbert who plays Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory). The main issue I have is the ending, which I found a bit puzzling. In the Bible, God visits Job in a whirlwind and reads him the riot act, telling him that since God created the heavens, earth and even Job himself, Job has no right to challenge God about anything. Job accepts this and afterwards is rewarded with health; his wife back; twice as many kids; twice as many servants; and twice as much wealth. But the Coen brothers end their film just as the whirlwind approaches and just as Gopnik gets his boils (here, it’s lung cancer). Because of this, the Coen brother’s film has an even darker message than Job. In the Bible life is sort of a meaningless back and forth between good and bad fortune; for the Coen brothers, it’s just one plain sick joke with a punchline that’s suppose to be funny because it isn’t. For the Coen brothers, unlike the writer of Job, when life gets bad, it just gets worse.

The movie Collapse is one long interview with Michael Ruppert, who is described as a conspiracy nut, though in this film he talks about very few conspiracies. That’s actually what makes Ruppert so scary; he doesn’t blame the state of the world on a secret cabal of people who are driving our world into the ground—that would be too easy. He blames it on a whole host of issues that have gotten away from mankind as a whole. It’s one thing to solve our problems by getting rid of a group of people; it’s another thing to change the whole paradigm of mankind. Ruppert is more a doomsday prophet than a conspiracy theorist and it’s hard to argue with any of his theories; one can certainly disagree with bits of them here and there, but all in all, the future doesn’t bode well for mankind. His main theory revolves around the idea of peek oil—that we’ve reached the most oil possible and that now it’s only a matter of less and less until we run out of it, and since everything (plastics, agriculture, energy) depends on it, what is going to happen when we have no more? It’s a fascinating movie. One can’t look away, sort of like watching a slow train wreck, which is a somewhat apt metaphor here. It’s by Chris Smith, the same person who did American Movie, about another obsessed person, though that someone was intent on finishing a B horror movie. Perhaps Roland Emmerich should take note; no matter how scary 2012 is with all its special effects; it’s hard to believe it could possibly be any scarier than this one person.

GOOD HELP IS HARD TO FIND: Reviews of The Maid and The House of the Devil

I love dark comedies, which means I loved two-thirds of the Maid. It’s actually two movies in one. The first half (the dark part, the part I luuuuved) is about a middle aged maid, played in delightfully mean spirited fashion by Catalina Saavedra, who after twenty years on the job starts having dizzy spells and finds the work not as easy as it once was. The family decides to hire a helper. They have no ulterior motives here; the new maid it not there to replace Raquel, but to make things easier for this good and faithful servant. But Raquel, with her large dark eyes and that constant look of a deer caught in headlights, doesn’t see it that way. To her, a new worker in the house is not just merely a prelude to being replaced (though that would be bad enough), but a helper would take way Raquel’s existential purpose in life. So she fights back. She treats any new addition with contempt (scrubbing a bathroom clean after they use it and, most amusingly, locking them out of the house). She also does something that is all too typically human in her effort to retain her position: she starts alienating all her supporters (including complaining to the mother that her son is masturbating into the bed sheets). This is all wicked fun and wickedly funny. But then something happened. The writer and director (Sebastian Silva) changes horses in midstream, goes all gooey on us, and replaces this delightful darkness with a self help primer as Raquel meets her match in a maid who actually helps Reqauel realize herself as a human being. This part is all done in very realistic fashion as opposed to the off kilter approach of the earlier scenes and would make any book store self help guru proud. But it’s a disconcerting change. I was never quite certain whether to take it all seriously. It kept reminding me of Alfred Hitchcock who said that if he did Cinderella, people would expect to find a corpse in the carriage. Here, based on the first part of the movie, I kept expecting one more turn of the screw, like the ending to Claude Chabrol’s La Ceremone where the maid kills her employers with the help of a friend. But here everyone stayed life affirmingly and somewhat dully alive.

For me, House of the Devil was everything Drag Me to Hell should have been, but wasn’t (you remember Drag Me to Hell; it’s that movie in which a witch is omnipotent in all areas except the one most convenient for the author—she can’t make her mortgage payments). Whereas Drag Me to Hell is all jump and go boo, The House of the Devil is based more on mood and suspense and a slow build up to a terrifying ending. It’s like Val Lewton, but in color. It takes place in the 1990’s, before cell phones (it’s so odd seeing someone using a pay phone and having trouble making contact with someone) and concerns a college student, played very well by Jocelin Donahue, who needs money for a first month’s rent so she can get an apartment and move out of the dorm room she shares with her messy and promiscuous roommate. What she needs is under the table money and so she answers an ad for a baby sitter. It takes some doing to make contact with the man who put up the ad, but she does and after her BFF drives her out to the middle of nowhere (past a cemetery no less) and they meet the somewhat creepy, yet not quite creepy enough to send up enough red flags, couple played almost but not quite creepily by Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov. Jocelin takes the job when the money becomes too high to refuse. Alone in the house, things start getting scary in the way that a house starts getting scary whenever we’re alone there. And then she finds out what she was really hired for. The scenes in the house where she starts out scaring herself pretty much rank with such classic scenes as Jane Randolph walking to a bus stop or going swimming in a dark pool area in Cat People or Dana Andrews walking down a hotel hallway and hearing odd noises in Curse of the Demon. The script, by director Ti West, does have one problem: it jumps suddenly from the second part to the final third and almost seems to leave out a few scenes. This jump is so abrupt, we don’t fully find out exactly what the eclipse of the moon had to do with anything and the surprise ending’s a little off (and just when did our heroine have sex). But it’s still a fun, scary good time in the theater.

THERE’LL ALWAYS BE AN ENGLAND: Reviews of Endgame, The Damned United and Pirate Radio

I first saw Endgame on Masterpiece Theatre Contemporary and was then surprised to see it turn up at a movie theater near you, though it’s certainly good enough to play there. The basic set up is quite fascinating: it’s the 1980’s and apartheid is still in full swing in South Africa. This means that businesses, especially those run by other countries, aren’t doing well due to the country being unsettled (you know, riots, strikes, unrest, those sorts of annoying things). Into the midst of this steps one of those mid-level bureaucrats that England seems to be fascinated with as of late (see Children of Earth, District 9, In the Loop), this time played by Johnny Lee Miller, who works for a major mining company. He has a possible, though decidedly out of the box, solution for his company’s troubles: end apartheid. Who’d a thunk it? The company goes along with him and he sets up secret (or so he thinks) meetings in England between leaders of anti-apartheid groups (most notably one played by Chiwetel Ejiofer) and sympathetic white minority liberals (most notably one played by William Hurt). Meanwhile, President Botha tries to sabotage everything by manipulating imprisoned Nelson Mandella, who won’t be manipulated. It’s a crackerjack piece of historical entertainment excellently written, as only the English often can, by Paula Milne. Though the acting is first rate across the board, perhaps Johnny Lee Miller is the most impressive. Normally this actor radiates an incredible tension and intensity that can make one uncomfortable; here he plays a character that is suppose to blend into the background and he does it by…blending into the background.

The Damned United is a sports movie about a person who has to lose before he can win. The moral of the story is painfully formulaic and insultingly obvious—the execution is anything but. Michael Sheen is again the lead in a movie written by Peter Morgan (they also worked together on The Queen, Frost/Nixon and the Deal—why don’t they get married already). He plays Brian Clough, a soccer (excuse me, football) coach who eventually lead England to two world victories. One would think that would be what the film was about. It’s not. It’s about how Clough had to humiliate himself and lose again and again in order to become a better person so that he could eventually lead England to two world victories. Clough’s downfall before victory begins years earlier with a slight by fellow coach Don Revie, played by Colm Meany, who refuses to have a post game drink with him and cuts him upon entering a stadium. Of such slights are great dramas built. Clough eventually becomes such a great coach he is offered to take over Revie’s first ranked team—and then Clough proceeds to alienate everyone he knows and lose game after game after game. When he comes to accept what a mess he’s made of his life and agrees to get down on his knees and beg forgiveness from Timothy Spall, who plays his assistant, he is forgiven by one and all and eventually works his way back up the ladder (but only in an epilogue printed on the screen at the end). The acting is first rate (keep a look out for Stephen Graham who played Baby Face Nelson in Public Enemies), the story fascinating, the script tight and to the point. Those who aren’t into sports movies, you will be relieved to know you actually see very little football played.

Pirate Radio is a great idea that never really comes together. It’s also based on a true incident (can’t English filmmakers come up with fictional stories anymore). It’s the 1960’s and rock and roll is banned from English radio. So a group of D.J.’s take up residence on a ship in the Atlantic and broadcast from there. Though the script was written by the normally enjoyable Richard Curtis (who also directed and previously wrote and directed Love, Actually), this one only works in fits and starts. It’s not always easy to say why. It might have helped if the story had more cleanly focused on the central character, James (played by Charlie Rowe, who also played Annette Bening’s son in Being Julia where he, well, his character, also lost his virginity as he does here), a teenager sent to live on the ship with his godfather (whom he’s never met) played by Bill Nighy. It’s through James’s eyes that the audience is suppose to experience the story, but this through line is a bit wobbly, made more so every time the story cuts to the government trying to put a stop to these off shore shenanigans. While Charlie’s story is done in a more realistic, though still somewhat stylized style, this second part of the movie has characters played (rather well) by Kenneth Branagh and Jack Davenport (this movie’s mid-level bureaucrat) in a contrasting upper class twit as seen on Monty Python style and feels more distracting than central to the story. In addition, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, one of our finest actors, seems out of place amongst all these Englishmen; again his acting style seems so different than the slightly caricatured actors around him, that the whole thing just gets more wobbly (it might also be that he really doesn’t have that much to do or a real reason for being in the story). Only Bill Nighy, who has the most imaginative line readings of almost anyone working today, rises above the material. The story ends with both a parody of Titanic and Dunkirk; possibly good ideas, though they don’t quite work either. I’m sure the whole thing seemed like a good idea at the time, but it just doesn’t really make it.

MR. WRITE AND MR. RIGHT—Reviews of Blue Tooth Virgin and Mr. Right

Blue Tooth Virgin is one of those films that celebrates dialogue and talking heads in movies. Many people would consider this a reason not to see it. They would be wrong. I first saw Blue Tooth Virgin at the Hollywood Film Festival in 2008 and it’s a delightful gem. The topic may seem too esoteric; it’s about an L.A. screenwriter who gives his latest opus to a friend for feedback and the friend doesn’t like it—hilarity and dramatic conflict ensue. I have a friend who sent me a review that basically stated that if you weren’t in the industry, you probably wouldn’t enjoy it. I said that is like saying you couldn’t enjoy the Three Sisters unless you were Russian. The director (Russell Brown who also wrote) does impressive work in such small locations and the script’s a pip. But it does have one flaw: the author is never clear enough as to whether the writer has actually written something good or not. The screenwriter bristles at his friend’s inability to understand key turning points in his script. The screenwriter then goes to a script consultant who basically gives him the same feedback. So is the writer misunderstood, but more talented than his friend who writes formulaic crap, or is he just a screenwriter who can’t take criticism? The author of the movie seems to want it both ways, which throws everything off balance. But it’s still well worth seeing.

The reviews to Mr. Right suggest it’s about a woman who only dates men who turn out to be gay. It’s not. Not even close. Not even in the same universe. It’s a character study of a group of gay friends and their changing romantic relationships with an occasional scene about the woman friend thrown in at random moments for some unclear reason. The real movie, the gay relationship ensemble dramedy, is perfectly all right (no pun intended), though it takes no chances, has no real edge, and pretty much resembles every other gay (or straight) relationship ensemble dramedy you’ve ever seen before, i.e., you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll kiss ten bucks goodbye. Written by David Morris (who also directed along with Jacqui Morris), the author’s big targets are modern art, DIY shows and small theater (the last most amusingly and convincingly). The most interesting through line revolves around a rugby player whose little girl keeps sabotaging his attempts to start a new relationship. The least convincing is a DIY producer who finds his own relationship in trouble when the kept boyfriend of a friend comes after him; he actually decides to give up his dream of traveling to be with this shallow, fallow creature.


Continuing with the films I saw at AFI:

SITA SINGS THE BLUES: One of the most delightful, cleverest and original animated features I’ve ever seen. It’s the Hindu legend of Sita, who was the bride of Rama until he did her wrong. The story is paralleled with the more modern story of the writer/director Nina Paley’s relationship with her own boyfriend who also did her wrong after he moved to India and didn’t break up with her until she moved to be with him. The animators use all sorts of styles, including, perhaps most delightfully, three shadow puppets of three people who tell the story of Sita, often arguing over the details and the meaning. It’s the universal tale of women who are treated badly (though what Rama did to Sita was far worse than what Nina’s boyfriend did to her). The theme is supported by Annette Hanshaw who sings, through Sita, a number of torch and blues songs (though perhaps one or two too many). A must see, though one wonders what Nina’s ex now thinks since no matter what he did to her, Nina got the final word.

FISH TANK: One of those coming of age stories of kids rebelling against their parental figures and losing their virginity. But don’t let they stop you from seeing this sharp and moving tale of teenage angst by the writer/director Andrea Arnold who also made one of my favorite films of 2006, Red Road. The lead character is 15 year old Mia played with ferocious non-stop fury by newcomer Katie Jarvis. Katie is angry, but it’s unclear why; she’s just angry, almost existentially so. She doesn’t get along with her mother or her sister or her friends (actually, she has no friends). She finds herself physically attracted to her mother’s most recent lover Connor, played by a sexually charged Michael Fassbender whose first entrance is in jeans with such a low rise one keeps expecting them to fall to the floor (or does one hope they will fall to the floor). Her only dream is dancing and an appointment she has made to audition for a dance troupe. Her hopes are constantly dashed. She has hot sex with Fassbender, who then tells her they can’t do it again. He turns out to be married and has a child and breaks Mia’s mother’s heart when he ups and leaves with no reason given. And the dance audition turns out to be for a strip club. But that doesn’t stop her from taking control of her life and going off with a boy a bit closer to her own age; it may seem like a downer ending, but it’s really not. The story itself gets a little off center when Mia discovers Connor is married; the author doesn’t seem to know exactly what to do next and fills the plotline with one red herring after another. But other than that, a coming of age film that rises above the others.

AJAMI: The Israeli entry in the best foreign language film category at the Oscars and a first rate film noir. The subject matter may make one a little queasy: it’s an Israeli film about Palestinians living in Israel in which the characters do nothing but engage in illegal activities and treat each other like dirt for much of the proceedings. At the same time, the story is not inherent to its ethnic background and could easily take place in New York, Paris, Los Angeles—and often has. It’s a thriller with one of those non-linear plots (script and directing by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani) that became really popular after Tarrentino’s Pulp Fiction. It’s divided into chapters and though it might be a little difficult to fully understand how the first chapter affects the others (perhaps something got lost in the transition), it’s a suspenseful puzzle film that is very satisfying.

I KILLED MY MOTHER: I don’t want to talk about it. I Killed My Mother is the Canadian entry in the Oscar foreign film category (it takes place in Quebec and everybody speaks French), but it’s written, directed and stars a 19 year old in his film debut. That would be all right if the movie wasn’t any good. But it is and it’s just not fair and I don’t want to talk about it. It’s all about a high school kid’s troubling relationship with his mother, which often makes no sense, but is none the less fascinating and convincing. She’s often a monster, but he’s often an annoying little prick; but since she has all the power, she wins. It’s obviously a first film. Xavier Dolan, the writer/director (who couldn’t attend the screening at the AFI fest because he’s already working on his next feature, the asshole), sometimes loses track of what he’s saying or why there’s trouble in this non-paradise. At times it seems like it’s fury for fury’s sake, which at the age of 19, fury often is. But it’s an astonishing debut. I wish him well. I really do. No, really, I do. The bastard.


I attended the AFI film festival this year and it was fantastic. Audi bought out all the tickets and all the films were free. Seats were sold out on-line within minutes. But because there was a glitch in the system and the website kept saying everything was sold out (when in reality there were seats available at the time of the film), this worked out great for me since I only live a few blocks away from the venue at Grauman’s. I would stroll over and had no problem getting in. People soon caught on and all the shows tended to fill up, but it worked out perfectly for someone like me who basically has no life and fills his empty hours going to the movies.

Now as to what I saw. I generally avoided any movies I knew had distributors or I thought were bound to open and kept to the lesser known films. These will be snapshot reviews.

CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH: Devastating. A fictional dramatization of the Rape of Nanking by the Japanese after they invaded China in 1937. Words cannot describe the horrors that were visited upon the citizens of this capitol city. The director and writer (Chuan Lu) tells an epic story clearly and succinctly. The beautiful (if such a word should be used) black and white cinematography is by Yu Cao. The acting is strong with perhaps the most memorable scene being the execution of a Chinese national who was the assistant to the German owner of a local corporation; after managing to get his wife safely out of the country, he tells his captors that his wife was pregnant; no matter what they did to him, he had a son they could do nothing to. Apparently the film was first supported by the Chinese government (and was the mainland Chinese entry in the Oscar race) until it was deemed that the Japanese soldiers were treated with too much humanity and all support was withdrawn.

POLICE AJECTIVE: From the new wave of Romanian films comes this dark comedy about a policeman trying not to arrest a teenager for using drugs because he doesn’t see the point, moral or practical, of it. When the characters talk (screenplay and direction by Corneliu, 12:08 East of Bucharest, Porumboiu), they have these wonderfully bizarre comic conversations that sound like they’re out of Pinter of Karka. But almost half the film is devoted to the central character tailing and watching other characters. For this part, the tedium finally gets a bit too tedious and the film falls a bit flat. It’s half a good movie and also introduces the audience to a new sport: foot tennis, played on a tennis court with a tennis net in which the two sides kick a soccer ball to each other using only their feet. If the movie doesn’t come to a theater near you, the sport may come to a park just around the corner.

VINCERE: Marco (Fists in the Pocket) Bellochio’s new film about Mussolini’s first wife, Ida Dalser, with whom he had an illegitimate son and whom he later denied. I call it the Italian version of “he’s just not that into you”. Both Dalser and her son ended up in an insane asylum and it’s not hard to see why. Though there’s some implication that you are supposed to empathize with Ida, she comes across as such a whack job, one actually feels sorry for Mussolini. This is the love affair from hell, the one night stand who just won’t take no for an answer. In this movie, though Bellochio may not intend it, Ida seems first cousin to Jessica (Play Misty For Me) Walter and Glenn (Fatal Attraction) Close. It’s often a beautiful film to look at, but it doesn’t really work.

SOMETHING’S GONNA LIVE: A documentary about a few of the art directors and story board artists still alive (at least at the time this documentary was made, most have died since) who worked under the studio system. The audience loved it. I found it a bit dull, possibly because I thought it was going to be about these characters’ work, when it wasn’t. Instead it’s about growing old. That sounds cold of me, I know. And there are some moving moments as one has to focus on the mortality of life. But at the same time, one kept expecting something more, which never seemed to arrive. The most interesting parts are when Robert Boyle (who at the ripe young age of 100 received an honorary Oscar for his body of work) and Harold Michelson return to Bodega Bay where much of The Birds was filmed to see what it was now like (Boyle did the production design and Michelson did the storyboards for the Hitchcock film) and they get all old man curmudgeonly about the changes in the area. All in all, it’s an okay film, but didn’t really do much for me.

CAN’T BUY ME LOVE: Reviews of Capitalism: A Love Story and (500) Days of Summer

Michael Moore, of course, doesn’t make documentaries. Not really. He makes visual editorials and op-ed pieces and because of that, many people aren’t quite sure how to feel about his films. I love them and I think Capitalism: A Love Story is one of his finest so far. What never ceases to surprise me is how emotional I get whenever I watch one of his movies and there were times when …Love Story nearly brought me to tears (and I don’t mean the one with Ali McGraw which didn’t get the old ducts working at all). Who would have thought it: Michael Moore, the new director of weepies. No matter what one might say about Moore’s one sided approach to filmmaking, you can’t say he doesn’t care. It’s very rare that an artist can combine didacticism with art. Shaw and Brecht were masters at it, while Stanley Kramer, and for me, Oliver Stone, always fell short. But Moore knows how to make both a point and a movie.

There are scenes here that can stand with the best of the outrageousness found in a Dickens’ novel. A juvenile facility run for profit in which a judge gets a cut for every teenager he sends there sounds like something out of Oliver Twist. Even worse, the life insurance policies that companies take out on their workers (sometime without the workers even knowing it) not just sounds incredibly outrageous, it sounds like something out of a remake of Double Indemnity.

The movie ends on a note of hope. At the same time, one quickly realizes that the victories Moore records, though he makes them seem commonplace and happening on a daily basis, are actually a few and far between lot. Moore may want to give us hope, but in the end, there’s actually less of it than he suggests, which makes the movie all the more moving.

(500) Days of Summer is wonderful, absolutely wonderful. Did I mention how wonderful it is? Well, if I didn’t, let me tell you, it’s wonderful. It’s everything you wish American films, especially romantic comedies, were all the time, but are usually only in European ones (instead we get films like The Proposal and He’s Just Not That Into You). The biggest mystery here is not why the romance died in this film, it’s how the movie got financed in the first place.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who has somehow snuck up on us to become one of our finest actors after leaving 3rd Rock From the Son) plays a writer of greeting cards who is that rare male in movies—someone unashamed of his emotions. He wants to fall in love. And he does. Hard. But his romance ends in one of the most devastating ways possible: the person he’s in love with says she doesn’t want to fall in love and doesn’t want to be in a relationship, but about a month after breaking up, she gets married (the old “it’s not me, it’s you” routine). The story telling is very reminiscent of Annie Hall in which the writers (Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) and director (Mark Webb) use all sorts of quirky and fun breaks in reality to tell the story, including a musical number in a park that not just parodies Enchanted, but outdoes it. And how often will you see a movie about people in L.A. in which no one drives, but everyone takes public transportation or a cab? That alone makes this movie worthwhile.

In the end, this is a feel good movie with a downer ending. It then tacks on an extra bit of whimsy and becomes an end cute love story. I do have one quibble: what’s so bad about making a living writing greeting cards? Mr. Deeds would turn over in his grave.