Monday, August 10, 2009

recently, i've seen some movies.

Two of them were older and two of them were new. First, let me just say a few words about the older ones that I saw, because I made myself a promise that I wouldn't post full reviews of old movies on here anymore. But they were so good that I feel like I need to talk about them, at least briefly.

Margot at the Wedding was done by Noah Baumbach, whom my brother and I had the pleasure of experiencing once before in the form of The Squid and the Whale. And by pleasure, I mean that was one of the wackiest movies I've ever seen, full of familial strife and unlikeable characters. Margot continues that tradition. Now, don't get me wrong; both of these movies are seriously quality flicks, but no one would mistake them for a fun Friday night for the family.

Margot is played by Nicole Kidman in one of the great performances I've seen this year (not that it came out this year, but...) and also one of my most hated characters ever. She's abusive to every single person around her in the worst ways possible, and I seriously questioned about half way through the movie whether there was a single character to admire in the whole thing! Thankfully, Jack Black shines in exactly the way the movie needs him to. He's introduced as a character who wears a mustache in quotation marks, which is a perfect description of his character. He's not actually funny, and a lot of the things he does are severely detestable, but he illuminates the darkness of the script in just the right places.

Margot is a great flick, but prepare yourself if you watch it: it'll take its toll on your patience.

The Namesake - Simply put, one of the best movies that I've seen this year. (I'm totally sad that I didn't catch it when it came out so as to put it on my Best Of list...) It reminded me a lot of White Teeth which, I think, is about as high a compliment as I can muster these days.

The Namesake was not, however, what I was expecting. There was a lot more back story to the whole affair than I was expecting - which is a great thing! Kal Penn totally kills in the way that everyone raved about, and Zuleikha Robinson was pitch perfect in her supporting role. The basic gist has been described, though, so I don't feel bad in saying that it's a search for identity in a very complex way. We're not simply looking through the lens of immigration here, nor just the experience of foreign religions, but rather, through the complicated amalgam of both of those combined with intelligence and the oh-so-familiar generation gap. This is definitely one of the best recent films: go see it!

Funny People - Judd Apatow's recent foray into semi-serious territory has been garnering a lot of press, and it's all justified. Adam Sandler hits a tour de force performance, the bit comedians do their things perfectly, and Seth Rogen finally seems like a believable leading man, even though it's arguable that he's doing a supporting role here.

However, the thing is...this movie was simply too long. They could have gotten way more effort out of the whole thing if they'd trimmed some of the details in more than a handful of places. This is a case of the sum being weaker than the parts. While Sandler is busy makings us all believers, it's not just Rogen (but rather the entire audience!) who can see Leslie Mann's ultimate decision about ten yards out of the gate. The time spent there could have been trimmed and the cumulative effect might have been even stronger.

Great notes to add here are that Apatow's nepotism is paying insane dividends! His kids are button cute (and they sing?), his wife is perfectly hot, and Eric Bana is a welcome addition to the troupe - I hope he stays with them.

Lastly, (500) Days of Summer - I was really worried when this movie began that it was going to be another Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist - a movie made for kids much younger than I that I'd appreciate but not fully even like. And then it started, and my worries shifted - does this movie want too hard to be the next Juno? I mean, really, what's up with all the indie kids wanting their movies to be soundtrack vehicles? Especially for themselves singing. But then, again, I shifted. It's Zooey Deschanel. She can do hardly no wrong.

The thing is...this movie was almost perfect. Seriously. Joseph Gordon-Levitt hasn't really gotten enough credit to this point, but with this semi-indie movie and GI Joe both coming out this summer, here's to hoping that he'll start to get some good press.

The movie itself is fairly straight up when it begins by saying, "This is not a love story." The thing that I loved the most about this movie is that it dealt with one of the inherent contradictions in some people: always willing to believe in fate until something bad happens to them. (Obviously, the reverse is just as bad.) As though the fates smiling on you is the only thing that's ever meant to happen. But when it suddenly goes wrong, well, fate must not exist. Simply maddening that people (of all stripes, but notably those of the religious persuasion) can will themselves to believe this sort of thing.

Sorry. That was clearly an aside. Regardless, the movie plays out in a fantastic manner. JGL and Deschanel make a believable couple, pairing off via their happenstance meeting through the office they both work in. JGL has great friends who do good things in their supporting roles and the movie never lets itself get too sappy (always remembering its promise that it is not, in fact, a love story) while refusing to run away into the land of comedy as well.

(500) Days of Summer is the best movie that I've seen this summer, while The Namesake is one of the tops of the year. Check them both out.

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