Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In Case You Missed Them...

It's the time of year when Ten Best Lists start appearing everywhere. Such lists are essentially inconsequential, given the subjective nature of it all, but every once in a while a peek at a Ten Best List will prompt me to check out a movie or a book that I normally would bypass. Such was the case this past week when I came upon a couple of Ten Best Lists in Entertainment Weekly.

(What, you thought I kept The Economist on the magazine rack in my bathroom?)

((Before I continue, however, I want to report that a play of mine appeared on a Ten Worst List in a local newspaper a couple of years ago. I subsequently discovered that the "critic" who compiled the list had not reviewed the play for publication. In other words, he told the world my play sucked [It did not, incidentally. It's called THE BIG APPLE and it's kind of funny in a frightening sort of way.] but did not have the guts to explain why. He just stuck it on his friggin' Ten Worst List. Boom. Like that. When word got back to the "critic" that I was upset because of his cowardice, he became all huffy and harumphy and continued to refuse to write a review. Therefore, I determined that, in any future reference to this "critic," I will always identify him as a "critic" in quotation marks. It's my little rebuttal.))


My scan of the Entertainment Weekly lists sent me to two films: ADVENTURELAND and (500) DAYS OF SUMMER.

ADVENTURELAND is written and directed by Greg Mottola, and features Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Kristen's face is splashed over the entire checkout line universe as one of those TWILIGHT people. Eisenberg's claims to fame include something called ZOMBIELAND which must have generated some kind of interest because he's "in development" with ZOMBIELAND 2. He was also in M. Night Shyamalan's THE VILLAGE, which pretty much explains why he's not a household name. In any case, ADVENTURELAND is a relatively predictable coming-of-age movie, with "relatively' being the operative phrase here. What I mean is, that while what you expect to happen pretty much happens, the honesty and humor with which Mottola and his actors find their way to their conclusion is refreshing. And Stewart, who has the smoldering good looks one would expect from the female star of a vampire movie, turns in a nicely nuanced performance in a prickly, challenging role. "Coming of age" is not really applicable here, I think, because these characters are post-college, and any "of age" has pretty much come and gone. But their little story here is genuinely compelling, and the two stars stay with Mottola's through-line stride-by-stride.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER is an even later coming of age story, directed by Marc Webb, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Webb, and featuring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I had seen him recently hosting SNL, and, of course, I had no idea who he was or what he had done to earn that job. Turns out he was on the TV series THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN and got the SNL gig because of the success of (500) DAYS. She has been around playing annoying cuties here and there, and I think I saw her for the first time on WEEDS a few seasons ago, being cute and annoying Justin Kirk's "Andy," among others. The storyline here, we've also seen before, because it would be very difficult to tell a love story, or write a romantic comedy, which breaks new ground in terms of the basic story. What's nice here, as in ADVENTURELAND, is that the writing is truthful and really funny, as opposed to being dishonest and faux funny. Plus, where we end up is in a little different place from where we usually end up in such films (although not really--there's a tag ending that we really could have done without--although not really). Both lead actors are terrific, and even if you've been annoyed by Zooey in the past, check this out. She will probably annoy you again, but that's kind of the point, unless you put yourself into the mindset of Gordon-Levitt's character, which you will, if you're a guy. And I am. And I did. Even though my age is going, rather than coming.

While neither of these films reaches the heights of the iconic SAY ANYTHING, each has its own charm, and each would be an especially fine New Year's Eve rental for those of you not braving the lunacy outside the house.

Me, I'll be watching Woody Allen's RADIO DAYS, as always. The best New Year's Even movie ever. Well, let's call it the "sweetest, most nostalgic" New Year's Eve movie ever.

Because there is, of course, THE APARTMENT, which is KING of them all.

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