Knight at the Movies Archives
Two very distinct movies both inspire glee - for decidedly different reasons
Hot weather has only arrived in fits and starts this summer and it’s been the same at the Cineplex. Though dismal to routine to
over-hyped blockbusters like Terminator Salvation, Wolverine and Star Trek have done well at the box office, none of them has made
me want to line up and see them again (I haven’t even bothered with Transformers 2 – not having had much use for the first one).
And there haven’t been many comedies to laugh about either. Though I certainly took a shine to Bradley Cooper in The Hangover,
the frat boy mentality of the picture left me cold and I’d rather get lost myself than see the limpid Land of the Lost ever again. The
Proposal did offer hunky Ryan Reynolds in a gay in all but name role and Sandra Bullock playing her klutzy nice girl image to the hilt
but the movie itself was as stale as Nia Vardalos’ career after not one but two dead on arrival comedies.
So, what’s out there for a movie lover this summer?
Well – Bruno for one. Sacha Baron Cohen’s in your face comedy is raw and hilarious and a great time for an open minded audience,
Public Enemies is an old fashioned gangster picture complete with an irresistible anti-hero in its leading man Johnny Depp and
gorgeous eye candy in its leading lady Marion Cotillard and The Hurt Locker is finally the great Iraq war picture precisely because it’s
not a typical war picture. And for romantic fools (like myself) the sweetly delicate 500 Days of Summer, opening this Friday, is not just
the best film of the season, it’s one of the best of the year while Dead Snow, a Norse zombie picture also opening this weekend at
the Music Box, is the chiller thriller guilty pleasure that gore fanatics have been waiting for.
In 500 Days of Summer cutie pie indie star Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Stop-Loss, The Lookout, Brick, Havoc), familiar to gay
audiences from his fearless lead performance in Mysterious Skin plays Tom a greeting card writer who falls hopelessly, madly in love
with Summer (Zoey Deschanel, another indie star), the new assistant to the boss who takes his breath away. Yet, “This is not a love
story” we are told by the narrator up front as we watch the love struck Tom making goo goo eyes at Summer. At once the sardonic
tone is set in place and what follows in this “anti-love story” is one of the most delicious film versions of boy meets girl boy loses girl
that I can recall.
Tom, we quickly learn, has been looking for “the one” but just as quickly we discover that Summer, though ready and willing for
some romance, has not. The two find a shared affection for The Smiths and Bruce Springsteen after a night of karaoke out with
their co-workers and start dating. Tom, one of those straight up guys who plays things close to the vest, knows that he’s found
something very special in Summer. She’s an individual with a mind of her own (she easily confesses that her past lovers included a
woman and a guy with a big penis nicknamed “the puma”) but she’s also relationship phobic and wants things to stop at “I like you.”
The familiarity of the romance between the two is turned inside out by a wonderful gimmick worked into the script by Scott Neustadter
and Michael H. Weber. The 500 days of Summer – from the initial attraction to the breakup and the aftermath – are shown a day at
a time with the time frame thrown in the air like a deck of cards. The ups and downs of Tom’s infatuation with Summer alter
depending on his mood and whether we’re seeing something before or after Day 290 (when Summer tells Tom over coffee that he’s
Nancy and she’s Sid and it’s time to go back to just being friends).
We see everything through the eyes of Tom who one day is besotted by the nape of Summer’s neck as she sleeps and enchanted
by her tattoo and then on another day, disgusted by both. This charming, canny device takes the mundane, overly common details
of courtship and brings them added joy and poignancy. When I realized where first time feature director Marc Webb was going with
this device I thought to myself with hope, “Can he sustain the mood? Can he maintain this emotional balancing act?”
Delightfully, he does, he does. Webb’s facility with the numerous emotional tones and look of the picture (which changes on a
dime) isn’t surprising (having come from the world of music videos) and both visually and emotionally the movie’s just endlessly
delightful with one perfect little sequence after another – a French film parody, a blissful dance that spontaneously happens the
night after Tom gets laid for the first time (it’s the hilarious high point of the movie), etc. The result is a film that has the same
light yet bittersweet tone of Jacque Demy’s 60s French musical romances – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort
– but it feels very contemporary. And Gordon-Levitt, who has played a series of emotionally dark, complicated characters shows a
new fleet of foot that is very winning while Deschanel’s role fits her sardonic but winning talents like one of the vintage party dresses
she wears throughout the movie.
One hates to over praise a miraculous little film like The 500 Days of Summer so as not to set expectations too high and there is one
groaner which comes briefly at the end of the movie – the film’s only cutsie poo misstep. But it’s easy to overlook one teeny, tiny
flaw after having experienced such a stylish treat and throw caution to the wind to get the word out: this is one not to miss.
In brief: Who knew there were so many uses for human intestines? This, my gore loving fans, is just one of the things I learned
while watching the terrifically fun Dead Snow in which a group of comely Norse medical students on a skiing holiday encounter a
pack of blood thirsty Nazi zombies. The snowy scenery makes for a gorgeous and refreshing backdrop to the usual mayhem and
carnage that ensues when the students are – of course – stranded in a remote, mountainous cabin. The splatter is plentiful, the
deaths are creatively, hilariously staged and there’s even a modicum of plot (something to do with stolen treasure – a sort of mix
between The Fog and Leprechaun) to liven things up. The movie, which falls neatly into a category that I’m dubbing “gleeful gore,” is
a horribly satisfying guilty pleasure – quite literally.
500 Days of Summer-Dead Snow
Expanded Edition of 7-15-09 Windy City Times KATM Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.
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