DON JON and CONCUSSION



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John L. Sullivan: I want this picture to be a commentary on modern conditions. Stark realism. The problems that confront the average man!
LeBrand: But with a little sex in it.
John L. Sullivan: A little, but I don’t want to stress it.
                                                                                Preston Sturges: Sullivan’s Travels
I recently saw two films written and directed by people who took some interesting and unique looks at sex and relationships in the new millennium.  But though one welcomes the filmmakers’ attempts at exploring such “taboo” topics (as much as anything can really be considered “taboo” anymore), and though both at times offered bold and challenging takes on their subject matter, neither one really came together in a totally satisfying way.  In fact, I suppose one could say that each ended on something of a limp note, which I suppose is appropriate for stories about pornography and prostitution.
The first, Don Jon, stars (in the title role), is written by, and is directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which seems to fit perfectly with a movie about someone who masturbates a lot.  It’s obviously a labor of love (and self love) on Gordon-Levitt’s part and it’s not without its pleasures, not all of which are onanistic. 
It begins by making some incredibly forceful and insightful observations about sex.  It certainly offers one of the best defenses of indulging in the viewing of adult filmmaking that I’ve ever heard.  It even goes so far as to suggest that Nicholas Myer type movies are no more than porn for women (and again, makes a very, even scarily so, convincing argument for it—neither are remotely realistic looks at sex and relationships, and both are pure fantasy).
It then really goes for the jugular in what it has to say about male/female relationship (perhaps the most honest, if not depressing, view I’ve heard in some time, whether you agree with it or not).  Men only want women for sex (even more alarming, in this metrosexual world, men don’t even need women to cook and clean for them—a revelation that causes Don’s girlfriend, played by a dynamic and dynamically sexy Scarlett Johansson, to freak out when she finds out that Don does his own housework; she knows a threat when she hears it).  Meanwhile, women, knowing this, use sex to manipulate men into doing whatever they want.  And the winner is whoever is most skilled at manipulating the opposite sex (sort of a bastardization of Shaw’s theory of the life force).
There are actually very exciting ideas, worthy of debate.  Worthy of being asked.  And Gordon-Levitt definitely asks them, and with a certain viciousness beneath the humor.   But his ultimate answer is…well, rather conventional, even unoriginal, as it all kinda goes soft as the blood flows out of the organ in the second half.
This is because of Julianne Moore, playing Esther, a character who is, well, not really a real person, but more a construct needed to resolve all the issues brought up in the first half.  Now, it’s easy to overlook the fact that she is no more than a construct because Moore is so good in the role, acting in a totally different, down to earth style from everyone else (if truth be told, Gordon-Levitt, Johansson, Tony Danza-as the steroid looking dad-and the others are fun, but they do tend to push things dangerously close to becoming caricatures).  Moore plays a woman who has lost both her husband and child.  Fair enough.  But what makes her a construct is that she also plays someone who has more insight into sex and relationships than a Ph.D. in psychology would have, speaking in calm, motherly homilies while getting Don to change his hair style (she’s just as manipulative as Johansson’s character, but is less confrontational about it).
And at this point, Gordon-Levitt as a writer starts to cheat.  When Esther asks Don why he likes porn, he doesn’t give her all the cogent arguments he gave at the beginning of the film.  He gives her only one.  And with that, a movie that started out giving us a very convincing case as to why the missionary position is the most unfulfilling one for men, becomes a movie that embraces that position as the only one than can deliver true sexual ecstasy (there’s one scene that suggests that Don is starting to question his church’s teachings; maybe so, but he still ends up embracing its positions on, uh, well, positions?). 
But I have to applaud Gordon-Levitt.  He went for the trifecta in making his film and even if he didn’t get a home run, he still ended up with a movie that is handsomely produced with some fine performances and some very funny scenes, as well as a film that makes some astute observations about sex.
Even if it does peter out in the end.
Concussion, written and directed by Stacie Passon, has a different set of issues.  The story is about Abby, a typical stay at home mom type with the added twist that her significant other is also a woman.  Abby gets hit in the head with a ball and is rushed to the E.R.  As a result, she begins questioning the rather Stepford like existence she’s been leading and finds herself drifting into the life of a prostitute. 
Well, actually, that’s part of the rub. You see, the only way I would have known most of this is because I was told this before the movie began.
Concussion is one of those movies that begins in the middle of act one.  We know nothing about Abby or what she’s like before the accident, so we have no context to judge what happens to her afterward (we don’t even see the accident itself).  So is she a nice, lovable Donna Reed type who turns into the Wicked Witch of the West, or was she always the Wicked Witch (as she seems from the first scene) and after being beaned, she slowly begins to mellow and become nicer and more open to life as she drifts into the world’s oldest profession?  I don’t know.  I mean, even after half the movie had gone by and Passon seems to imply it’s what is behind Curtain No. 2, I still wasn’t sure.
And none of the other characters are any help, damn them.  No one remarks that Abby is acting different in any way, which suggests, ipso facto, that there is no change.  And if there isn’t, then what was the point of the accident, as well as the title?
The whole thing seems highly influenced by Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour, also about a middle-class housewife (played by the great Catherine Deneuve) who is unfulfilled and becomes a lady of the afternoon.  Concussion doesn’t reach the level of Bunuel’s film (what movie could).  But Passon is also not that strong with pacing and the movie is a bit slow in parts.   One of the ironies is that Bunuel never really shows the sex (it’s all suggested and kept off screen), while Passon fills the screen with a series of encounters that are dwelt on in a protracted manner.  But Bunuel’s film seems so wicked and erotic, while Passon’s seems listless and emotionally uninvolving.
Concussion also goes soft in the same way Don Jon does.   Abby seems to find a new freedom, a new way of looking at life.  She becomes her own person and finds new ways of relating to people, all of which start to look good on her (Robin Wiegert as Abby is often very appealing in the way she struggles to come to terms with how she is changing).  But when the secrets seep out, suburban morality once again rears its head and Abby opts for the comfort of Cheever/Updyke normality (at least I think that’s how Concussion ends—there’s a quick flash of Abby with some of the other characters that may indicate a different ending, but it went by so fast, I couldn’t tell if it was a flashback or a flashforward).  
In Concussion this return to normality is symbolized by a wrap around porch.  In Don Jon, it’s symbolized by the missionary position.   But a rose by any other name, I guess.

LINCOLN


The first thing I asked my friends when we left Lincoln, the new bio-pic of our Civil War president, written by Tony Kushner and directed by Steven Spielberg (together again after Munich, like Astaire and Rogers and Bogart and Bacall) is, “Why wasn’t Matthew McConaughey in the film; he’s been in every other movie this year, and every other actor in the world is in up there on the screen, so, what, he’s too good for Spielberg?”  One friend suggested he was actually cast as John Wilkes Booth, but his part got cut.  Another suggested they just couldn’t find a place for him to take off his shirt and bare his rear end.  I don’t know, but I think TMZ should look into it.

In the 1930’s through 1950’s, during the height of the studio system, Lincoln is what would have been called a prestige picture, something that places like Warner Bros. and Paramount would produce not to make money, but to convince the public they didn’t just make escapist fare and trash that only appealed to the lowest common denominator (while winning Academy Awards).   A prestige picture was made to earn the respect of the public and the critics (while winning Academy Awards).   They were made so that Darryl F. Zanuck could point to it and say, “See, I do know art when I see it” (while winning Academy Awards).  And if you’ve ever seen The Life of Emile Zola, Wilson, Gentlemen’s Agreement, Judgment at Nuremburg, you know what I’m talking about.  You don’t see this as much from studios anymore, quite possibly because they no longer want your respect, they just want your money.

I’m sorry.  I can’t say Lincoln is that good a movie.   It’s often entertaining.  The basic story is quite fascinating and an important piece of history.  The acting is first rate.  But it also has all the faults of a prestige picture, or the three S’s as I call them:  solemn, self important and self aware that it’s good for you, like, you know, castor oil.

Tony Kushner’s screenplay is, if truth be told, a disappointment for me and possibly even the chief culprit here.  Kushner is perhaps the greatest U.S. playwright today.  He provided a dark and exciting screenplay for Munich, but this time round the dialog often felt flat, expository and on the nose (and stagy—at one point, Abe and Mary have an over the top argument that is acted and shot in such a way that I expected the act one curtain to descend at any moment).  During the opening scene where Lincoln talks to two black soldiers and then two white soldiers, my heart sank.  And I wasn’t heartened when Mary Todd Lincoln describes a dream that Lincoln had, that of his on a boat heading to a shore, and attributes it, in a manner I would call stretching to say the least, as being about the 13th Amendment (most people would describe is a dream about death and made me think that someone needs to get a more up to date book on dream interpretation).  Was it all going to be as clunky as this?

Well, no, not quite.  At the same time, there is also some marvelous stuff here, some true wit and fun scenes (especially when Kushner pushes for contemporary parallels like lobbyists or an hysterical scene when Tommy Lee Jones as  Thaddeus Stevens interacts with a Representative who is willing to change parties if it will save his job—sound familiar?).  And there’s a powerful scene when Lincoln, fed up with everyone telling him why they can’t get enough votes to pass Obamacare (oops, sorry, I mean the 13th Amendment), he pounds his desk in fury and tells them to stop excusing themselves, but just get the damn thing passed.  But at the same time, as the story focused more and more on finding the votes for the 13th Amendment, it also became more and more like Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone’s 1776, but without the songs (and ponytails, as my friend said, to which I said, but with the same bad wigs).   

It must also be admitted that Steven Spielberg’s direction rarely helps, but only seems to emphasize the artificiality of the proceedings, especially when he does things like have Lincoln roam a battlefield choked with dead bodies and all you think is, “how beautifully it’s all laid out”.   The story also goes a scene too long and undercuts what could have been a more haunting ending.  And the ending that is chosen doesn’t really work.  It’s understandable that Kushner and Spielberg didn’t want to go for the same old, same old, but their choice here probably wasn’t any better.

And, yes, in spite of everything that may be wrong here, it’s almost impossible not to get teary eyed when the amendment passes.     And it does make its goal: it has prestige coming out its whazoo.

And then there’s the acting.  Daniel Day-Lewis plays Honest Abe and he is quite remarkable, there can be little dispute here.  Tall, gangly and wearing the weight of the world on his shoulders (when he’s not wearing a shawl), he shuffles through the role as if he was to the White House born.  But it must be said that it’s Jones who steals the movie with some of the cleverest line readings of his career (not always easy with the somewhat stilted dialog often provided the actors here).   And other thespians like Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt more than earn their paycheck.

The remainder of the cast tends to hearken back to epics like The Greatest Story Ever Told, where you would go, “That’s Claude Raines, that’s Jose Ferrer, that’s Charlton Heston, that’s Shelly Winters” (well, if you’re my age, you would).  At the same time, it’s a little different here because you’re more likely going, “Hey, it’s that geek from Breaking Bad, it’s that lieutenant from Law & Order, it’s that mobster from Boardwalk Empire, it’s that British guy who hung himself in Mad Men, and who is that soldier in the opening, I know who that is, just give me a sec, OMG, that’s Lukas Haas”.    It’s easy to understand why so many known faces are in this epic.  Like the actors in The Greatest Story Ever Told, they probably thought that if they were in a movie of such religious fervor, it would insure them a place in the afterlife.   Of course, I don’t know what that portends for McConaughey, but not everybody can be one of the chosen, I suppose.

LOOPER


The dystopian future in Looper, the new time travel movie written and directed by Rian Johnson, is every Democrat’s nightmare of what would happen if the Republicans regained control of the government: no middle class; no social safety net; everyone has guns; and China rules the world economy.

Everyone seems loopy over Looper (sorry, couldn’t resist), but I have to admit it left me more than a bit under whelmed.  The basic idea, the conceit, it absolutely brilliant in its high conceptiveness (I love making up words): as anyone who has seen the previews knows, time travel has been invented in the future, but has been outlawed, and only bad guys use it to send people back it time to be assassinated by hired killers, called Loopers (the main one here played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  But then things didn’t quite go as I expected.  In fact, once this conceit was established, I found the plot just one arbitrary decision after another until I felt the writer was driving the story rather than the concept and the characters changing the gears.

First, I find it almost impossible to believe that all the future governments would have gotten together in order to ban time travel (this is perhaps the Republicans’ nightmare view of what would happen if the Democrats regained power—world peace and cooperation).  But let’s let that go; I’m more than willing to at least give that much on the basic set up (hey, I can be a good sport at times).  

But things started falling apart for me when it was revealed that at some point, the looper’s future self is sent back for assassination.  Why?  Well, the only reason really given is that time travel is so illegal (you know, as opposed to only so-so illegal–like marijuana, maybe), they have to be disposed of.  Okay, fine.  But a week later and I still haven’t figured out the cause and effect here. 

When this future looper is sent back, his present day counterpart kills him (himself); realizes that the time has come for him to retire; and he’s given a big payoff so that he can live out the rest of his life the way he would like.  Thirty years to be exact.  Why thirty?  Why not thirty-one?  Why not twenty-eight?  Why not thirty-three and a third? Do I hear forty two years, one hundred and twenty two days?  Again, a week later and I still haven’t figured out the cause and effect here.

But the arbitrariness doesn’t stop there.  There are actually two, count them two for the price of one, conceits to the story.  It’s not just a high concept movie, it’s a HIGH high concept movie.  Some people in this future have suddenly obtained a genetic mutation that gives them a telekinetic ability.  I’m not sure why Johnson fell he needed this to be part of the plot.  To be ruthlessly honest, it feels like the sort of thing that is added when a writer doesn’t trust his basic concept (which, if so, is too bad, because again, the concept is brilliant) or it’s the only way he can force an ending based on the premise first given.  It’s not that it doesn’t play a part in the story, but it just seems so…arbitrary, and not nearly as interesting as the original idea of loopers.  But a writer’s got to do what a writer’s got to do, I guess.  

It all leads to a showdown on a remote farm run by the only empathetic character in the story played by Emily Blunt (though for me, I just didn’t find her interesting enough to empathize with).  You see (and stay with me here), in the future some ruthless gangster has gained control of all gangs and is systematically getting rid of all loopers (how anyone could know what is going on in the future is never explained).  This leads to a child being raised by Blunt, a cute as a buttons, barely out of his nappies boy who has such an advanced stage of the telekinesis gene, that in the future it will give him the power to take over everything.  (Exactly why he only takes over the gangs when with power like this he could take over the world, well…whatever). 

So this new boss must be eliminated, because the men he sends out after Gordon-Levitt’s future looper (played by Bruce Willis) accidentally kill his future wife and Willis must stop this from happening.  So, the goal is kill this kid so he won’t grow up to be a ruthless, sociopathic gangster that will do anything to gain power as opposed to the way everybody else grows up if the new boss never came along—ruthless, sociopathic gangsters that will do anything to gain power.  But at least the future wife will still be alive (well, I guess—I mean, she died unintentionally so it could have happened no matter who ran the gangs, but a reason was needed for the future looper to come back, no matter how….arbitrary, I guess). 

Wow, that was kind of exhausting. 

At the same time, the movie is technically arresting, creating a very convincing nightmarish future, though perhaps the most impressive and moving shots are not the crumbling cities, but a lonely diner and farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.  There are also some beautiful shots of an Asian city in the future that would be perfect for one of those 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles.  And there are also some moments of wit, not just in the dialog, but in the way Gordon-Levitt mimics Willis’s facial expressions.  But perhaps the emotional high point is the rather stunning and deeply emotional moving way Johnson ends the story; no matter what had come before, the ending does get to you.

This is the second time that Gordon-Levitt has joined forced with Johnson.  They first worked together on the high school, hard boiled film noir Brick, a cult favorite (something I have little doubt that Looper will also become).  I actually sorta have the same issues with Brick as I do here.  The concept of teenagers acting like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and talking like Sam Spade was arresting at first (though my immediate reaction was actually, I’ve seen Bugsy Malone, I don’t quite get the originality here), but in the end, I started losing interest because I felt the concept was driving the story and little else.  It was the same here. 

But also like Brick, I realize I’m going to be on the outside of the zeitgeist here.  Johnson is brilliant at concepts and is every studio’s dream.  The fact that he and I don’t see eye to eye will probably in the end say more about me than him.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES


The oddest people pop up here and there in the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, from Aidan Gillen (of Queer as Folk, The Wire) to Ben Mendelsohn (of Animal Kingdom) to Burn Gorman (of Torchwood, The Hour).  In fact, playing “who is that actor, I know I’ve seen him someplace before” actually became one of the greatest pleasures in watching the movie.  For the record, The Dark Knight Rises is better than The Amazing Spider-Man, but not as good as The Avengers, and kind of, sort of feels like a franchise running out of steam.  The first half is filled with a lot of talk.  A  lot of talk.  I mean, a whole lot of it. And all of the philosophical sort.  While this sort of tete a tetes between characters gave The Dark Knight a certain excitement (I can still remember the conflicts over whether the existence of a Batman was a good or bad idea and what the existence of the Joker meant in all it), here the arguments tended to fall flat, leaden down by a certain banality.  I quickly discovered that during most of it, if I looked around at the audience and studied the lighting fixtures on the ceiling, the time passed more quickly and I didn’t miss a thing when it came to plot.  As you can tell, The Dark Knight Rises didn’t really work for me.  It wasn’t a totally loss.  There were some excellent performances, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake, an ambitious police officer who was an orphan like Bruce Wayne.  Anne Hathaway was tres, tres amusement as Catwoman and enlivened every scene she was in (delivering her lines with a claw like emphasis—though I do wish she would gain a few pounds).  Marion Cotillard also acquitted herself well in a role that didn’t allow her to do much for most of the movie.  But the big problem came down to the performances of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Tom Hardy as the bad guy du jour Bane—neither of which were the actors’ fault.  The authors here (director Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer) have never been able to make Bruce Wayne nor his alter ego remotely interesting.  What the character had in money, he always seemed to severely lack in personality.  Hardy had a different problem.  He wasn’t just hampered by a mask that hid his mouth (his most endearing feature), as well as prevented him from visually sharing his emotions (and also made it difficult to understand what he was saying—well, that wasn’t the mask, that was the sound engineers, I suppose).  He also played a character whose motivation for his actions were never very convincing and never made a lot of sense for most of the movie, and, to speak the truth and shame the devil, his bad guy just didn’t come near the complexity, power and evilness of the Joker.  There are a couple of big surprises at the end, both of which are fairly obvious about half way through the film, if not sooner.  And for me, the scenes that would have interested me the most, that would have given the movie that something more, were never fully dramatized—what Manhattan would look like under a fascist dictatorship run by a group of criminals.  In fact, this whole section never really made a great deal of sense to me.  Bane has said he is going to set off a nuclear weapon on an exact day, but no one seems to act like it.  It feels like one of these brilliant ideas that was never used to its utmost advantage.  In fact, the whole movie seemed rather tame in comparison to The Dark Knight.  The violence seemed less cruel and capricious; whether it did or not, it felt as if so much of it happened off screen.  It’s supposed to feel like anarchy has taken over, but it never felt particularly anarchic.  This time round Nolan, as director, only seems to come into his own when directing the action scenes where once again, New York becomes the new Tokyo (has any plot turn become a cliché so fast).  But when it came to the rest of the movie, it all sort of fell flat. 

DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME: Review of Inception


I write this review with fear and trepidation, and a little bit of sickness unto death, for worry of getting threats on my life; but I’m afraid Inception didn’t really work for me. I went with my friend Jim and we pretty much agreed that we were disappointed (though we whispered it to each other as we left the theater for fear of starting a riot); at the same time, my friend Donald was shocked that I didn’t care for it (he had already seen it a second time and thought it grand, simply grand). It’s not that I didn’t like any of it. It has some of the most impressive art and scenic decoration in recent memory, from the realistically detailed city scenes to the topsy-turvy, gyrating settings of the dream sequences, including a beautifully august fortress engulfed in snow that is the location for the final action scene. It also has what I call a brilliant Fred Astaire Dancing on the Ceiling Royal Wedding fight scene in a hotel hallway that is dazzling, simply dazzling. And I admired the effective performances of Michael Caine and especially Tom Hardy as a smart alecky team member who is annoying to everyone else but always cracks himself up. But beyond that, there was little here to impress me. Everyone is saying that the movie is so original. In reality, it’s actually more of a movie that adds to already existing mythology that began at least with Dreamscape (an underrated sci-fi film from 1984 starring Dennis Quaid) and continued on with The Cell, eXistenZ and Paprika, among others. And Inception does add a couple of fun new ideas, especially in that the subconscious creates anti-bodies to protect against intruders like Leonardo di Caprio’s Cobb character when he enters someone else’s dreams to retrieve information (though it is odd that the antibodies the subconscious creates here all seem to come from Hollywood action films since they can never seem to shoot anybody except when it’s convenient for the author). Also, the idea that time in a dream is longer than time in real life is pretty neat and reflects my own personal experience. But for me, the film fails due to a lackluster screenplay (by the director Christopher Nolan, but writing was never his strong suit) with bland dialog and characters (it’s sort of like Avatar in this respect) and, for a movie that probes the subconscious, a shallow view of psychology with the main problem of Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy) being that “daddy” didn’t love him enough. The plot never made a lot of sense to me either. Cobb’s whole motivation is to see his children again, which he can’t do now because he is wanted for murder in the U.S. It’s never explained why he just doesn’t fly his kids to a country without an extradition treaty if he wants to see them that much. And it’s pretty reprehensible from a moral standpoint to put all the other characters in danger for such a selfish reason. But the real plot problem for me is that I didn’t care whether Cobb succeeded or not; I never understood why I should be on the side of Saito (played by Ken Watanabe), the CEO of the company that is the main rival to the character’s dreams they are entering. In fact, because I didn’t trust Saito any more than Fischer, I actually hoped Cobb would fail, which kind of removes all tension from the plot. The actors try their damnedest to make the characters come alive, but as was said, only Caine and Hardy really break through. Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn’t seem to have much to work with and Ellen Page, like Gordon-Levitt, a very talented actor, seems a bit miscast, though she comes close. I could also go into the idea that my dreams aren’t remotely like the dreams in this film and that, no matter what di Caprio says, I always know when I’m dreaming and when I’m not; I’m one of those people who are very aware when he’s dreaming to the extent that I can sometimes control what is going on in them and have at times woken myself up when I don’t like the way things are going. But the one thing that really separates the dreams in Inception from mine is that I never feel physical pain when I’m dreaming; in fact, I never feel physical anything. It’s all pictures like in a movie. But not quite like the pictures in this movie. In fact, the only dream sequence in a movie that resembles what I see when I’m under is the Salvadore Dali set piece from Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, a whirligig of images and nonsensical events that lack any sort of outward logic. But I won’t do that.

WHICH WAY DO I GO, WHICH WAY DO I GO: Review of Uncertainty


Uncertainty is one of those low budget independent films starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the former star of Third Rock From the Sun who didn’t take the money and run, but took the money and decided to dedicate himself to making interesting and challenging movies since he probably doesn’t even have to work for the rest of his life if he doesn’t want to (or so everyone says, I wouldn’t know myself). This basically means Uncertainty is one of those films that, though it doesn’t really work, is worth seeing (even if only on cable or DVD) for no other reason than it stars Gordon-Levitt, who does his usual excellent work here. Gordon-Levitt, along with Lynn Collins, play a couple who one day, on a whim, decide to take off in different directions on a bridge. The conceit is that one thing happens if we follow Gordon-Levitt and another happens if we follow Collins. That’s about it to the conceit, though; it doesn’t seem to be like the movie Run, Lola, Run, which tries to say something about chance and free will. It’s just two stories for the price of one. One story tells what happens when the couple finds a phone in a cab and tries to return it by calling numbers listed. It turns out this phone is involved in a scandal of such epic proportions that people are willing to kill someone in broad daylight in front of hundred of witnesses to get it back. This is a great premise and it starts out so well; but it then makes one of those no turning back mistakes. Once the couple don’t report it to the police, the story stops working and there’s no place believable for it to go (it comes with a very hard to buy scene in a police station that seems to have only one police detective on duty, out to lunch very conveniently for the story, and in which a desk sergeant could care less when two people come in to report a murder—and I have the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge in my pocket). When the couple become stupid and try to negotiate selling the phone (to people, remember, who will kill someone in broad daylight in order to get the phone back, which means that even if these two get the money, the phone’s owners will still hunt them down and kill them), the couple loses sympathy and it’s hard to care what happens to them. The ending is ridiculous; they still don’t go to the police, but throw the phone away—I give them two days to live. The second story is a relationship study of the couple when they go to a barbeque at Collins’ family. Her mother disapproves of almost everything that Collins does and though polite, obviously doesn’t approve of Gordon-Levitt. This is a perfectly fine little chamber piece, but it doesn’t rise above what it is and never really grabs one. The script and direction are by Scott McGehee and David Siegel. The direction is excellent backed by the grainy look very popular in indie films (they also did the wonderful film The Deep End with Tilda Swinton a few years back). The directors know how to keep the story going and work well with the actors. If only the script were as strong.

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.