13 September 2009

Reviews: 500 Days of Summer, Julie & Julia, G. I. Joe, and 9

Since I have been so backed up here, at A Year in Film, in providing the blog its original content (i. e., my reviews), I've decided to combine posting the reviews for the four outstanding films that I have seen within the last two months into one concise entry and so sweep the desk clean of its pile at once. So, without further ado, here we go:

500 Days of Summer - Genre: Comedy (Romantic)

This film is a mixed bag of faults and redeeming qualities. While Joseph Gordon-Levitt knows not how to be other than pleasing, Zooey Deschanel oddly protrudes herself throughout the piece as though determined to become more than just the female lead in another romantic comedy. Such bravura, if one has caught my tone, counteracts whatever charm she may otherwise have had in the rôle and - frankly - made me more tired of her, the more she appeared. Still, the rôle she played was on paper a droll one: flirtatiously light and counterbalanced nicely by the darker, amber tones of her opposite, Mr. Gordon-Levitt's wistfully indie anti-hero--protagonist. Indeed, the film has that independent appeal for all its cast, its soundtrack, and even its left-of-center glamour but it also has something of a wish too strongly to be so: In the wake of burgeoning indie-to-mainstream-pop sensibility, roused most passionately in recent memory by the popular acclaim to the film Juno (2007), 500 Days like many other films has flocked toward that whistling demographic of young outsider-wannabes, who in the tropes of previous petites coquettes, like those who followed Cher in Clueless (1995), may shell out the major bucks to claim as distinctly their own a part of a film marketed, like they themselves, as particularly "artificially original." Yet, what is a good independent soundtrack without the insertion of the rightfully upheld songs of an '80s' artist like The Smiths anyway? O, the tennis-like effect of a film so equivocally designed. In the end, however, despite whatever uncertainties one may have about how best to diagnose its hemmings and musical scenes, one must remember that this film is a member of the genre Comedy (Romantic) and, as such, can hardly be expected to have much loftier aspirations as a film than imbuing good feelings into its viewers - and at that feat it largely as a work succeeds - no deeper investigation warranted.

For that reason, I feel compelled to give it Grade: B-, fair but unextraordinary; good for a good time.

Julie & Julia - Genre: Comedy / Biopic

Though this film isn't a member of the genre Comedy (Romantic) as its predecessor in this posting, it is certainly kin to that genre's essence, as it excels at producing that jubilant, life-is-good feeling for its spectators' easy consumption. Of course, this production is vastly helped by the talents of its leading ladies, Ms. Meryl Streep and Ms. Amy Adams, who despite never truly sharing a scene together click their two halves of the movie together in a tone quite natural to their preexisting partnerships: harmonious and fine. Ms. Streep is of course a regular wonder as the late Julia Child and gives a performance for which she, no doubt, will receive no few of accolades, come the accolade-giving end-of-year time; and Ms. Adams ventures back to her poppy Junebug (2005) roots, to deftly deepen her character beyond the two-dimensional neurotic that she no doubt had been on paper. This slight is not to say that Ms. Ephron's screenplay was in any serious way lacking; it was actually quite well put together and - even more interesting - quite well realized in cadence and progression that, while perhaps optimistic, never become sillily so. A true feel-good movie, there is not much more to say than

Grade: B, appropriately sweet fare for even the discerning palate.

G. I. Joe - Genre: Action / Fantasy

I saw this film at a drive-in where - believe me or not - it was the best-sounding option on the marquee. Quite simply a loose frenzy most analogous to filmic diarrhea, G. I. Joe tried to be filled with the nonchalant cool factor that sells so well to the male set, aged 8-18, and perhaps would have succeeded except for just about everything technical to do with it: Ghastlily poor visual effects underwhelmed an effects-hungry spectatorship and harried cinematography was enough for the film to warrant a motion-sickness disclaimer. Editing was equally sporadic and costumes and make-up, merely enough to make their dressed parties look believable. I refuse to even consider the screenplay. All in all, a heterogeneous, separated colloid of mud fat, lubed up and ready for action: more pointedly, a

Grade: D, for dull and for dippy.

9 - Genre: Animated / Drama

Of all these four films, I think, it was this one for which I had the highest hopes when entering the theatrical venue. Then I was recalling the triumph that was the original material for this feature: the short film that co-writer--director Shane Acker made some few years ago, without considering the future possibility that it could take on a larger stature and larger reception.That short film, also titled 9 (2005), more deftly told the story of the protagonist character 9 whom the action of the feature's storyline follows like a needy puppy. Though that comment is not to say that 9 as a character is himself boring, it is to say that 9 as a character isn't very complex. All the characters involved in fact are quite 2-dimensional, interested in pursuing only one goal to the exclusion of all others and interested in pursuing that goal only in the way(s) in which he himself or she herself has solely established. The conflict then, if one can call the obvious plot device for tension a true conflict, is hopelessly simple as a result; and the artificial lengths to which the writers attempted to draw it out felt more and more obviously contrived as they were progressing. While there is no denying that the actual animation of 9, the film, is beautiful, one must remember that, as a filmmaker, one must provide a compelling narrative to be portrayed by one's compelling images; pretty faces without pretty minds are pretty dumb and I'd hate to use such a word as "dumb" in conjunction with a review of your work, Mr. Acker, who I am confident has more and better things still to offer, in the fture. For now though, let us call the spade the spade and call 9 a

Grade: C, a tragic disappointment, confused by the laws that for its fictional reality it was free to create and vexed by the feature-length timeframe that it was optioned to occupy.

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