Wednesday, July 29, 2009



Director: MARC WEBB




Run Time: 95 min.


“You should know up front this is not a love story.”

- Narrator (beginning scene)

Nonetheless, this is still a story about love, falling in and out. This remarkably funny and delightful movie serves almost as a video journal of one young man’s love affair with what he perceives to be “the one”. Wonderfully acted, beautifully filmed and very smartly written, this is certainly one of the more rewarding features this summer.

Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a would-be architect turned sappy greeting card writer who still believes in once-in-a-lifetime kind of magical, destined love. Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), the fresh off the plane from Michigan new secretary of Tom’s boss, does not share this belief but they have plenty in common to hit it off right away. After all, they both love The Smiths. That is Day 1. Since the movie does not unfold in sequence, you have already seen Day 488 (or such) before you visit Day 1. The movie winds backward and forward in between the 500 days observing the events mostly from Tom’s perspective. Some may find this slightly distracting but consider this, who can remember the past (especially relationships) in sequence? I tend to hop in between the good moments and the painful ones, starting from what I remember most.

The story covers the entire span of emotions for Tom from the gentle tugs of the first meeting to the swelling tides of initial reciprocations of affection, to riding the wave of everlasting endearment, to toppling from that wave at the first crack in the relationship, to the rip-tide that pulls him under as the relationship appears to be beyond salvage. While we see the events unfold from Tom’s perspective, the movie remains honest in portraying the characters in a balanced view. Tom, while sappy, is a bright young man who can be charming and witty. Summer is a beautiful, confident, smart and independent woman of today who is always scrupulously honest with him. She is sincere in her affections and does not want to see anyone else but does not want to ever marry.

Zooey plays her part perfectly and makes us wish there are more like Summer around. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has earned a lot of credibility since Brick, succeeds in presenting Tom as a very likeable, hopeful romantic that we want to root for. Tom is in love with Summer from the moment he lays eyes on her; in fact, he is in love with the idea of Summer. Since we see Summer from Tom’s eyes, she remains a bit of an enigma for a good portion of the film. But being in love, I suppose Tom remembers her as he wants to remember her. It takes an insightful nudge from his pre-teen sister for Tom to really start seeing Summer as she is. It is interesting to see Tom observe the very same things that he found terribly endearing at one point and find them annoying. I suppose we have all been there.

Director Marc Webber, making his feature debut, references several sources: a little Bergman, a little Fellini, some black and white, some animation, The Graduate as well as his previous expertise in music videos. But this is not a criticism: it takes a special art form to combine all these different influences and concoct a marvelous, pleasing mix. An added feather in his cap is the fact that he has presented the city of Los Angeles in such a different and endearing manner that it will serve as a reference for future films set in L.A. The architectural tour that Tom gives Summer gives us a whole new perspective on downtown L.A.

The biggest thing going for this film is its script, written in a semi-autobiographical tone by Neustadter and Weber. Neustadter is from Margate, NJ and now resides in L.A. According to the website’s biography, he loves sad British pop and the movie, The Graduate. Not surprising, after seeing the movie. The duo is rightly named on Variety’s list of “10 Writers to Watch”.

Download this: Us by Regina Spektor, There is a light that never goes out by The Smiths, She’s got you high by Mumm-Ra, Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap… oh heck! just download the entire soundtrack.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009







Run Time: 97 min.


Why do I like this sci-fi movie so much? It does not have a particularly mind-boggling story or have over-the-top visual effects or a totally fantastic view of a future time. Perhaps that is the precise reason why I like this little indie flick (shot in 33 days with a budget of $5M). It remains faithful to the classic science fiction genre, where the focus is on thought-provoking fiction usually set in a future environment rather than mind-numbing explosions and ray-guns. Not that there aren’t any special effects; in fact, the visual rendition of the moon station and lunar rover trips are truly impressive.

The movie begins with astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) nearing the completion of his 3-year contract with Lunar Industries to mine on the far side of the moon for Helium-3. Set in the near future, Earth has solved its energy and climate crisis by using Helium-3 as their primary source of clean energy. Sam is on a base set up on the moon and is the sole employee responsible for mining. He is further isolated by a broken satellite which has restricted live communications with Earth. Taped messages are all that can be exchanged at present and Sam is eager to reunite with his wife Tess and 3-year old daughter, Eve. His only companion on the desolate station is a super-computer “GERTY” (perfectly voiced by a dead-pan Kevin Spacey).

Suddenly his health starts to deteriorate and leads to a near-fatal accident on a routine drive in a lunar rover. Sam wakes up back at the base in the infirmary with no recollection of how he got there. He senses a presence on the station which looks eerily similar. With Gerty providing evasive answers, Sam is fighting the clock to find out the truth before the company “support crew” arrives.

The director is obviously influenced by several gems of the Sci-fi genre and pays homage to “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Solaris” and “Blade Runner”. Gerty certainly, and almost immediately, brings to mind another super-computer HAL (from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and sets an ominous tone for things to come. Kevin Spacey’s intentionally flat unemotional tone is clearly based on voice of HAL and serves beautifully in setting up the tone for events to come.

This movie could not hold its own without the solid portrayal of Sam Bell by Sam Rockwell. It is an enormously difficult task to play a solitary character on the screen (Rockwell hardly has anyone else on the screen to play off of) and yet engage the audience enough to gain credibility, sympathy and ultimately, getting them to root for you. Sam Rockwell does a remarkable job in achieving this. The special effects are not overshadowing but very effective. I like how the space-suits and vehicles are not brand spanking new but carry the blemishes of regular wear and tear. The station where Sam lives is futuristic but purely functional, with no super-sleek designs or excessive gadgetry around. After all, Sam is just a blue-collar worker who happens to be on the other side of the moon.

A little side note: while he has earned his due credit entirely on his own, trivia fans might enjoy knowing that director Duncan Jones is the son of a rather famous father, David, who goes by the last name Bowie. I might point out that nowhere in the press kit will you find this reference. Duncan Jones’ debut is promising enough to suggest that he can leave his mark on film-making with similar efforts down the road.

Sunday, July 5, 2009



Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph,Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan

Screenplay: Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida

Music: Alexi Murdoch

Run Time: 97 min.


A strange but wonderful trip in search of a place to call home. A perfectly enjoyable ride with a feel-good touch.

Burt and Verona are the kind of couple that we would like to know. They are both in their 30s, interesting, quirky and are gainfully employed; he sells insurance to insurance companies while she is an illustrator for medical publications. They are expecting their first child in 3 months and have just discovered that Burt’s self-absorbed parents have decided to move to Antwerp for 3 years. The only reason they have been living in Colorado is to be close to the grandparents-to-be when the baby arrives. And thus begins an unchartered trip in the search of a place (and a lifestyle) to call home.

Their journey takes them from Colorado to Phoenix, AZ to Madison, WI to Montreal (Canada) to Miami, FL. Along the way we meet some colorful characters as we observe Burt and Verona’s perceptions about their friends and happiness. It begins with Verona’s friend Lily (Allison Janney in a deliciously shocking performance) whose politically incorrect language is an embarrassment to her children but has no effect on her alcoholic husband. We spend a brief tender moment with Verona’s sister before they jet off to Wisconsin to meet Burt’s “cousin” Ellen (Maggie Gyllenhall in a terrific supporting role) who now goes by “LN” and has taken up a free-spirit, post-feminist lifestyle with her husband. Things are not looking too good so far…

The next stop is Montreal which seems more promising as they meet their friends whose seemingly perfect life offers hope till they bare their wounds. A family tragedy then summons the couple to Miami where Burt’s brother needs their help. Amidst this crisis, Burt and Verona see the simple but elegant solution to their dilemma and head on to what will be their home.

Both Krasinski and Rudolph have achieved a remarkable breakthrough as they make Burt and Verona not only believable but very likeable and individuals that most people can relate to. They both have their TV images that precede them, him as Jim from The Office and her as the comedienne from Saturday Night Live. In Burt and Verona, director Sam Mendes has found an almost perfect spousal relationship in an unmarried couple after introducing us to various dysfunctional, misanthropic marriages in his previous works (American Beauty and Revolutionary Road). Mendes continues to prove himself extremely capable with scripts dealing with the human condition. The soundtrack is excellent showcasing Alexi Murdoch along with some gems from The Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan.

The script is written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, who are novelists and essayists and a real-life couple with kids. I enjoyed Eggers’ “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” (recommended reading) and can see his touch in this script. All in all, this is definitely a ride worth taking, especially for the company you will keep during the two hours.

Download this: Wait by Alexi Murdoch

Worth noting: This movie is one of the first films to adopt green film-making initiatives during production. Efforts to decrease CO2 emissions include recycling bins on locations, use of washable cutlery and crockery instead of disposables as well as vehicles with biodiesel fuel. Even the credits in the movie use the environment-friendly format popularized by and adopted by this blog (white letters on black).