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Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

FAN(NY) OF ZOOEY

In Uncategorized on July 18, 2009 at 5:06 pm

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Eyes and hair. Those are the two salient features which Zooey Deschanel possesses in almost embarassing abundance. For years she has been one of the most watchable actresses in film, if only because her dark singularity sets her apart from the ranks of indistinguishable bland blondes – Kate Hudson, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Bynes, Hayden Pannetiere, Kristin Bell, etc. etc. – continually media-foisted on us.

First, the eyes, which are of an uncannily intense blue and set rather close together which, along with her indifferent chin and less-than-chiseled nose, mercifully saves her face from conventional, proportional, ordinary prettiness. Then there’s that impossibly luxuriant helmet of raven locks – has any former star – Tallulah Bankhead, Hedy Lamarr, Gene Tierney, Rita Hayworth – ever possessed such a hirsute headful? The actress’ father is the great cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel, and it seems the Cinema Gods must have all been smiling down on the birth of this great camera subject.

Deschanel has that capacity, like great screen comediennes of the past – Ginger Rogers, Jean Arthur, Rosalind Russell – to appear creamily attractive one minute and then ingratiatingly goofy the next.(Claudette Colbert, with her obsessive insistence on flattering left profile/3/4 camera angles never allowed herself this latitude.) She provides the entire interest as the titular character of (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, which seems largely intended as a total paean to her and will doubtlessly elevate her to total It-Girl status, but some day, someone will create a vehicle really worthy of her. This new release starts off sprightly but becomes bogged down in its own cleverness and mash-up of gimmicks – from the archly omniscient narration and recurring imagery of those 500 days being (very slowly) ticked off to its fantasy musical and art film sequences, with an homage to THE GRADUATE on the side, to its often straining attempts at humor (two sequences involving “funny Asians” in an otherwise whitebread opus). In one scene, Summer and her guy shriek the word “Penis!” to shock innocent passersby in a park (we’ve come a long way from the romantic comedy dialogue of Samson Raphaelson and Preston Sturges) and, in another, they fantasize married life together in a department store furniture showroom, a gambit far more effective back in 1935, when Gregory LaCava used it in his delightful SHE MARRIED HER BOSS. The only real freshness in the film, apart from Deschanel, is its music score, which incorporates a lot of The Smiths, the love for whom brings the protagonists together here, as well as a wild card Hall and Oates entry. I suppose Director Marc Webb’s decision to set the film in a Los Angeles devoid of sunshine and so urban-gray as to resemble mid-winter Pittsburgh could be deemed fresh, as well, but it just seems an auteur’s perversity. Sure, there are lots of nonconformist Angelenos who shun the beach and are as pale as mushrooms, but wouldn’t it have been more contrastingly interesting to see them living their alterna-lives in that dread, inevitable sunlit glare?

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Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) pulls this dream dating move that will probably be this generation’s version of Paul Henreid’s two-cigarette lighting routine in NOW, VOYAGER (By the way, they’re in L.A., not Pittsburgh)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acting as Tom, the boy besotted by Summer, has a TV sitcom thinness which keeps empathy at bay, which is a pretty serious matter, as he portrays one of those hesitant Everymen, forever searching for love but too timid to really step up to the plate when it’s right in his face. The screenwriters have lazily supplied him with the obligatory two commiserating/bullying buddies with no discernible lives of their own, who serve primarily as whine-receptacles for the hero. Even Tom’s profession -greeting card writer (but he really wants to be an Architect) – seems too precious, a mere outlet for easy jokes.

But there’s always Deschanel to bask in, in her sagely chosen vintage wardrobe by Costume Designer Hope Hannafin, with its telling azure accents. She has a fetchingly dippy comic timing, making the most of her best line (“They used to call me anal girl”) and there’s always something interesting going on behind those blinding baby blues, which she uses to devastating effect, widening them ever so slightly but oh so effectively when confronted by particular examples of Tom’s hapless courting moves. The film’s entire conflict hinges on Summer’s “just wanting to be friends” (albeit with benefits), a fact which should seem patently reasonable to everyone, even Tom, given the world of difference in their levels of maturity and perception.

And oh, that ending! Many will probably see it as daring in its subversion of audience expectations. and even outrageously clever. I just groaned.

You can hear Deschanel’s equally sweet music here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ThRVUcmSa0
COPYRIGHT: DAVIDNOH2009

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GLORIA UPSON: STILL UNDER ATTACK

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2009 at 5:05 pm

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Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski in AWAY WE GO

Don’t believe any positive hype for the noxiously smug AWAY WE GO. Throughout the film, I kept thinking of AUNTIE MAME, of all things. As “classically entertaining” as that movie is, there’s no escaping a certain sometimes irritating complacency about the title character’s oh-so admirable liberal beliefs and actions, especially in the scenes dealing with the rich, bigoted Upson family into which her nephew, Patrick, dreams of marrying. I always found the Upsons a movie-saving riot, played with delicious vulgarity by Willard Waterman, Lee Patrick doing Billie Burke as a racist, and, especially, Joanne Barnes with her priceless caricature of a frozen debutante afflicted with a voice and accent once described as Locust Valley lockjaw. As horrible as the Upsons were, they brought definite, varied merriment into the sometimes indefatigable, exhausting one-woman party represented by Rosalind Russell, forever drawing herself up into Greer Garson-ish grande dame poses, stagily spotlit by fawning Director Morton DaCosta, and dispensing loftily liberal pronouncements. The party scene in which she humiliates them and gives them their all-too deserving comeuppance seems too easy, a massacre of ducks in a barrel, and the slightly noxious whiff of self-righteousness is inescapable.

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Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame, all-too-handily demolishing the Upsons (Willard Waterman and Lee Patrick)

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All of AWAY WE GO plays like that one party scene,
with a hugely pregnant Maya Rudolph as Verona De Tessant (if you will!) and her scruffily lovable doofus of a husband (John Krasinski) traveling cross-country and encountering various acquaintances who are so misguided, wrongheadedly obsessed or just plain wack-o, that it just reaffirms how superior the two of them are, despite their worries about their precarious underachiever position in life. As with his hate letters to the American bourgeoisie AMERICAN BEAUTY and REVOLUTION ROAD, Sam Mendes over-eggs the pudding once more with his depiction of the majority of U.S. inhabitants as hapless, woefully befuddled losers or screechingly obnoxious assholes. Although he has lived in this country for years, and with great commercial/artistic success, he still can’t resist seeing Americans as either quaint or appalling, eccentricity-filled cartoons. (It‘s the kind of condescending, peculiarly Brit thing John Schlesinger and Richard Lester and Tony Richardson did in the 1960s to such heavy-handed effect in MIDNIGHT COWBOY, PETULIA, and THE LOVED ONE, voraciously biting the hand that once fed their illustrious New Wave Brit film careers.) Mendes also layers on one more tired, patronizing dramatic convention: the warm, infuriatingly all-knowing woman – here with the actual, somewhat tiresome gift of life growing within her – complacently resigned to dealing with her bumbling oaf of a man, dating back to the James M. Barrie of THE LITTLE MINISTER and WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS. As is often the case with Mendes, there’s not one believably human character in the entire film.

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Maggie Gyllenhaal, best thing about AWAY WE GO

The most Upson-ish characters here are played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Josh Hamilton, as an insufferable New Age couple, filled with precious and bizarre ideas about child rearing. (We’ve all endured people like this, me, especially, as I’ve just returned to NYC from Santa Fe/Taos, heartland of p.c. tyranny.) “Why should I want to PUSH my child AWAY from me?” she says at one point, railing against that Vehicle of Satan, the stroller. She and Hamilton (always best when cast obnoxiously) are very funny, much more so than Rudolph and Krasinski, and this sequence plays the best in a movie that is really just a series of sketches strung together in which other actors like Allison Janney and Jeff Daniels are forced to push and overdo schtick we’ve seen them perform many times before.

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Joanna Barnes: Her Gloria Upson deserved an Oscar nomination