Sunday, August 23, 2009

"That's a bingo!"

I have never been a huge fan of war pictures. I find them very difficult to follow and nigh impossible to keep track of the countless characters, their ranks, their motives, what side they're on, etc. Inglourious Basterds, the latest from love-him-or-hate-him auteur Quentin Tarantino, is a glaring exception. Perhaps because it is not built like a war movie, but instead is modeled like a spaghetti western. Two well-known films by Sergio Leone, in particular - Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly - are clear inspirations for this film. Tarantino has long had a cinematic love affair with Leone - many of his characters, perhaps most notably in Kill Bill, are styled after Leone's larger-than-life, almost godlike characters.

But this is the film of Tarantino's that really tries to be that kind of film. He has said himself that he intended it to be his spaghetti western, but with World War 2 iconography instead of the trappings of the western. The locations are relevant to WW2 but also look very like the decidedly non-western locations that subbed for the traditional western settings.

The ads do this movie a bit of disservice, as there is far more to the story than the eponymous Basterds. Three intertwining stories unfold over five chapters and culminate in a rather gorgeous climax and an ending to World War 2 that you will not recognize. I have no problem with a film rewriting history. This is not a history lesson. We know what really happened. This is a piece of art. You wouldn't look at a painting of something that happened in this film and say "That didn't happen!" In this reality, if these characters existed, the events of the movie are quite plausible.

Kill Bill is probably still my favorite Tarantino film, but I do think Inglourious Basterds is his most layered, sensitive, and accessible film to date. It has all the characteristic violence, but people who tend to be put off by that kind of thing always seem to make exceptions for war films. Of course, this isn't battle violence. The scalpings and what is done to Landa in the end are cringe-in-your-seat gross. It also seems to have much less profanity than Quentin's other films - perhaps because about 2/3 of the dialogue (at the very least, half) is not in English. The period setting might have something to do with this as well.

There are three main characters in this film. Lt. Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt, is probably the most characteristically "Tarantino" character. He reminds me quite a bit of Samuel L. Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction. He talks much the same way (though with obvious dialectic differences) and has a similar kind of toughness. The French-Jewish cinema owner Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent, pictured above) might be compared to The Bride in Kill Bill. She's a survivor and she's tough, but she's also quite vulnerable.

Which brings me to the third main character, a person the likes of which I've never seen in any of Quentin's movies. Actor Christoph Waltz, who plays him, calls Colonel Hans Landa one of the best written characters he's ever seen, not just in movies, but in all of the drama over the centuries - we're talking Shakespeare, Chekhov, Ibsen ... that seems like a bit of a step-out (and I don't mean "bit" sarcastically) even to me. But it's a marvel of a character. People have compared Landa to Hannibal Lecter (the one in Silence of the Lambs, not the hammy later versions - sorry, Sir Hopkins, but you know it's true), and I find that an incredibly good fit. He's a character that you really, really ought not to like, but you just can't HELP it. I also have to observe that, in this movie full of people pretending to be someone they're not, Landa - who doesn't need to lie about who he is - is the biggest, most unknowable enigma of all. Waltz won Best Actor at Cannes for this performance, and if there's a more compelling performance yet to come in a film this year, I haven't heard a peep of buzz about it.

I will say this, though I've recently ranted about critics who start making their [O-word] picks this early. I will be very disappointed if both Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Laurent don't get some award show love this winter. Both of them preferably as leads, because they are support to absolutely no one in this film. Pitt does an excellent job as well, and perhaps people who vote on such things will recognize how much his performance makes the movie work. But I will be personally hurt if both Waltz and Laurent don't get the love they richly deserve for their work in this movie. Hear that, award voters? PERSONALLY HURT! *glares menacingly*

One thing did manage to bug me, though. One of Tarantino's best strengths, along with dialogue and memorable characters, is his choice of music cues, some of which have all kinds of layers and references and almost all of which are plucked from other movies. Two music cues in this film really bugged me, because they were both taken from Kill Bill. It wasn't a huge thing, and I suspect that if Tarantino hadn't put the time limit on himself to get the film finished for Cannes this year, perhaps different choices would have been made. But those two moments took me out of the film for a sec.

Having said that, most of the rest of the music is glorious, and once again I find myself listening to one of Tarantino's soundtracks on a loop. There is a good deal of Ennio Morricone music, which gives the film its spaghetti western vibe, but there are also some (relatively) obscure pieces of period music, including some delightful German and French songs (I particularly love "The Man With the Big Sombrero"). The pièce de résistance, however, is a bit of anachronism from David Bowie - the title song from a 1982 remake of Cat People, "Cat People (Putting Out Fire"). Used much more effectively than in its original context, this music accompanies a scene where Shosanna gets ready for the Nazi premiere taking place at her theater. There are a lot of great music moments in Tarantino's films, but this may be my absolute favorite. ("And I've been putting out fire ... with gasoliiiiiiiiiiine!")

A word (okay, way more than one) about the title, Inglourious Basterds. It might seem upon first viewing that the title "Inglourious Basterds," spelling aside, is a little limiting, as there is far more to the film than the story of Lt. Aldo Raine and his Nazi-killing posse that call themselves "The Basterds." But the more I think about it, I think the title refers not just to the actual Basterds, but to the other major characters in the film. "Basterds" here would not be a derogatory term, at least, not exactly; but war does turn even good people into hardened, cruel, calculating ... well, bastards, you know?

As for the spelling, I think it very fitting for the title of a film that rather audaciously rewrites the entire end of the Second World War to have such a stubbornly inventive misspelling.

Such a wonderful movie, and one that gets even better with each successive viewing and each uncovered layer. C'est magnifique. Ist wunderbar. È eccellente.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I love you, but I wish we'd never met.

Mick LaSalle wrote recently about great movies you wish you'd never seen. An interesting concept, as many moviegoers tend to rate films by how much they enjoy them and want to see them again. La Salle's pick was a documentary entitled The English Surgeon, in which doctors, speaking a different language from their patient, decide right in front of her that they're not going to tell her she has a brain tumor and will only live five more years, at most. An effective scene in a good movie, to be sure, but one that maybe doesn't have the best effect on the viewer.

Commenters to his post have listed their own "love it, but wish I'd never seen it" picks, which include:
* Running Scared - Not what I'd classify as a great (or even terribly good) but yeah, the pedophile scene does me in, too.
* Titus - I've never seen this, possibly because the play on which it's based, in addition to not being Shakespeare's crowning achievement by a long shot, is on my Probably Never List.
* Don't Look Now - Essentially a thriller, but with one of the most heart-breaking climaxes you will ever see.
* A Nightmare on Elm Street - Oh yes. Ruining the simple act of sleep for at least a generation. Say what you want about how good a movie it is, but if you've seen it recently (I mean the original, and maybe throw Dream Warriors in there as well), you're not going to be too eager to go to sleep for at least a few days.
* Spoorloos (a.k.a. The Vanishing) - Another one that might ruin your sleep. Or your willingness to go into a convenience store alone. I won't dare ruin the ending if you haven't seen this amazing film, but ... yeah.

All excellent choices, but I confess I find it difficult to regret seeing any film, even one I don't think is that good. I'm tempted to put Addio Zio Tom in that category, but the jury's still out with me on whether that is a great film or atrocious slavery porn. And even so, I still can't really say I regret seeing it. But I do have a pick that I feel fits the original question:

In the Company of Men

Quite possibly the best film of 1997, but it went virtually unnoticed in a year that gave us L.A. Confidential, Good Will Hunting, and oh yeah, some movie about a boat. Being written by Neil LaBute, and based on his own play, it eschews showy effects and action - not to mention the merest hint of sentimentality or heart - for good old fashioned dialogue and character development.

Two guys, Chad (the Alpha male asshole extraordinaire on the right) and Howard (the Alpha-wannabe Beta male on the left), are stuck in an out-of-town assignment for several weeks. Consoling each other over being treated cruelly by the women in their lives, they agree upon a scheme concocted by Chad. They will select a random, insecure woman, simultaneously woo the pants off her, and then pull the rug out from under her and break her heart just before they leave town. Their choice is a deaf woman who works in the office with them. They set about getting her to fall for them, but there's a twist. Howard actually falls for her and starts regretting the scheme, but she's fallen hard for Chad.

The last few minutes of this film are deeply upsetting to me, as a woman and as a human being. You can't really take either man's side, but Chad in particular plays on all our worst fears about men. His GOTCHA to Howard is more jaw-dropping than just about any throw-away dialogue line of that ilk ought to be. I don't think I could watch In the Company of Men in, you know, the company of men. Because I fear that someone might get hurt in the blind rage this movie engenders in my very soul. I feel for all the decent men named Chad out there. Props to Aaron Eckhart for a flesh-scrapingly real and bitter performance, but this is one film I wish had never been imprinted on my brain. Sometimes, you're just better off not knowing, man.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Have you seen District 9?

If you haven't yet, you'll want to. Forget Star Trek. THIS is the summer movie that everyone will remember and be talking about long after the warm weather leaves us. Breathtakingly original and thought-provoking, this is why God invented science fiction.

I don't dare say much about the film's premise, because the less you know about it the more it will have the power to gobsmack you as it rightly should, but I'll set it up for you a bit. A spaceship appears, not over New York or Los Angeles or London or Tokyo, but over Johannesburg, South Africa. The ship hovers over the city for three months before someone decides to cut their way in. What lies in wait is about a million emaciated, disgusting-looking creatures. The city attempts to make a place for them, albeit not a comfortable one, and if you know even a little about South Africa's recent history, you'll be drawing some rather striking parallels early on.

The film cuts between faux documentary-style footage and video testimonials and a more personal, intimate story. The doc-style segments are heaviest at the beginning and end and much lighter in the middle. Some critics might call this uneven, but what I think this does is set up how you see the main character in the beginning, before you follow him on this journey, and contrast it with how you see the character when the film goes back to the more news-like footage.

There are a heck of a lot of elements to this story, and every twenty minutes or so it confounds your expectations about where it was going to go. It's exciting to see a film that keeps you guessing and doesn't give itself away on the posters and trailers.

Special mention must be made to the heroes of this movie. Yes, the only name people will recognize on this movie's list of credits is Peter Jackson, who produced it, but two names are about to skyrocket into the cultural consciousness, if this film gets the attention it deserves from audiences.

First is Sharlto Copley, for whom this is a first feature film. This is literally his only acting credit on (which, admittedly, is not the most accurate source in the world, but other sources seem to bear this out). He also apparently ad-libbed most of his lines in the "documentary" footage. This man is proof positive that you don't need a long list of film credits and a $25 million paycheck to carry a film. And he's a far more compelling "action" star than most of the bloated, overexposed action heroes Hollywood has at its disposal.

The other hero of this film is its director, Neill Blomkamp, who did with $30 million what other filmmakers could only dream of doing with 6 or 7 times that kind of budget. He does for sci-fi - specifically stories about contact with aliens - what Romero did for zombie movies. Good genre fare with a little (or even a lot) more to it. Blomkamp and Copley are sure to have a lot of opportunities come their way in the wake of this film, and they deserve every bit of it. It's incredibly satisfying to see talented people who aren't seated in the golden hand of Hollywood make an impression.

At least as satisfying as seeing this film hit the top of the box office totals for its opening weekend, bringing in more money in one weekend than was spent to make it. And this is surely not the end of its success. Tarantino may rule the roost this coming weekend, but District 9 is a movie that's going to grow as people hear about it and talk about it. This could turn out to be the most exciting film of the summer.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Scenes Made of Awesome - The Magnificent Seven

New York City is a great city to be in if you're a film lover, especially in the summer with all the outdoor venues that hold free movie screenings. Bryant Park has shown some pretty great stuff over the last several weeks, and last night was another great - The Magnificent Seven. I have an abnormal fondness for westerns, abnormal in the sense that I'm a little too young to have grown up in the golden age of westerns and don't come from an area of the country that's particularly steeped in cowboy culture. But I think my love affair with westerns began when I was a freshman in high school and our marching band did an "American West" show, using music from, among other things, the classic The Magnificent Seven and the new classic (well, it was fairly new when I was a freshman in 1989) Silverado. And I have long thought that The Magnificent Seven had the greatest film score ever written for a western. Elmer Bernstein, you are the Man.

And The Magnificent Seven is one of the great westerns. Of course, it doesn't hurt when you start with The Seven Samurai as your source material. But the Old West was an uncanny fit for the story, and kudos goes to John Sturges for recognizing the potential of the resetting.

This film does a lot of things exceptionally well, but one thing in particular that stands out is the introduction of the two main stars of the film, Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, who play the two members of the Seven that we're going to be the most closely concerned with. This could not be a more perfect setup for these characters. They see an injustice (a funeral cannot take place because the body once belonged to an Indian, and anyone who tries to bury him is going to meet the business end of a gun), and they man up and make it right, which sets up their stake in the conflict with Calvera on behalf of the village that hires them.

This is a great, great scene, and though the whole taking-the-body-to-Boot-Hill is awesomesauce, I think my favorite part is the first section with Whit Bissell, who plays the undertaker. Unwilling to take the body - and his expensive hearse - into potential gunfire, he explains that his driver quit. When it's suggested that the driver is prejudiced, he replies "Well, when it comes to a chance of getting his head blown off, he's downright bigoted." Best line in the whole dang film.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Critics, I am putting you On Notice

That goes for you too, compiler of Entertainment Weekly's "Must List." Please, please do not use the word "Oscar" about any film or performance before the month of December. You guys are supposed to be the ones who understand how it works better than we plebes, and you're showing a SHOCKING amount of gullibility, which many of you do HABITUALLY at this time of year and into September, when the first wave of award-bait pictures washes over us all.

Let me tell you a story. I have a worn out VHS tape of Bravo network's "100 Scariest Movie Moments." I watch it way too much, and I've grown weary of the old commercials that I have to fast-forward through. Celebrity Poker Showdown ... Bravo's own "Why We Love TV" Reunion Week ... that horrible Hummer commercial where a clay-Godzilla-type monster mates with a robot and has a Hummer carbaby. But perhaps the most annoying commercial is for a film called Shopgirl that was coming out at the time. Claire Danes, Steve Martin (who'd written the novella on which the movie was based), Jason Schwartzman. I've never seen this film, possibly because of this commercial. There were all kinds of accolades listed for the movie, but the big one was about Danes, saying "She'll be hard to beat at Oscar time."

"Dude, where's my Oscar?"

Know what's wrong with that? October, when this movie was coming out and this comment being made (and for all I know, and I can't be arsed to look up when exactly this comment was published, the critic was seeing the movie weeks, perhaps months, ahead of time) is not Oscar time. It's not even when the studios trot out the films they really intend to push at the real Oscar time. I hardly need add that Claire Danes' performance, while I'm sure it was quite good, not only did not go on to win an Oscar, it was not even distinguished with a nomination. (I hope no one thinks, by the way, that I believe Oscar wins and nominations are actual indicators of a film's or an actor's/performance's worth. They absolutely are not. I'm just saying "she'll be hard to beat" is kind of an embarrassing comment to have made about a performance that turned out to be apparently quite easy to beat.)

The "100 scariest" tape goes into heavy rotation every year during the month of October, which happens to be when a lot of TV spots for award-bait movies air, most of them with at least one quote from a serious, respected critic who proclaims it or some actor's performance to be "the one to beat." I don't expect to hear such piffle this early in the year, but I've already heard it about one performance this year (funnily enough, regarding Claire Danes' fiance Hugh Dancy). And as I picked up my copy of this week's Entertainment Weekly, I turned to the "Must List" to find Meryl Streep in the number one spot for her charming turn as Julia Child in Julie & Julia. I smiled, having just seen the film myself, until I read the blurb and these famous last words - "It's her Oscar to lose." I rolled my eyes, even though, being Meryl Streep, she tends to be the exception to the rule, and even though she's on my own shortlist of Oscar contenders. But my list has only just begun; there are tons - TONS - of movies coming out in the next five months with doubtless hundreds of excellent performances in them. And while attaching the word "Oscar" to a review or a comment no doubt sells tickets, it also contributes to getting people - those who care about such things anyway - invested in them coming true.

This is something that I feel seasoned critics and industry insiders should already know, without a newb like me having to tell them, but apparently this is a lesson that needs learnin', and if no one else will step up, I will. Calm the heck down, people! There's plenty of time to make boneheaded and sure-to-be-shafted predictions after we've seen all the movies 2009 has to offer.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The stuff that dreams are made of.

I've been reading some rather cold reviews of Nora Ephron's latest movie, Julie & Julia, and they're annoying me for some reason. Granted, the movie has its flaws, and I don't think it can help the fact that 1950s Paris is just way more enchanting and fascinating than turn-of-the-millennium Queens (or that Julia Child, who spent several years learning how to cook and working her typing and cooking fingers to the bone on that marvelous cookbook is a more compelling subject than Julie Powell, who spent one year cooking someone else's recipes and getting the kind of online attention that most bloggers of any subject can only dream of after so relatively short a time). <-- Was that the most long-winded parenthetical afterthought or WHAT?!

But I'm a hopeless sucker for "living your dream" stories, especially when they're apparently true stories, and MOST especially when they're about budding writers - a company I fancy myself a part of. And, even if she isn't that likable, I couldn't help pulling for Powell, living the life of a nobody in New York City and feeling the thrill of getting comments and people interested in her project. There was more than one occasion during the movie where I found myself saying "Hey, that's me!" I'm rather thankful, though, that I don't yet have a set of "ritual cobb salad lunch" friends.

And I loved the fact that they included the very real circumstance of Julia Child finding out about Powell's blog and not being flattered or impressed in the slightest, and even being a little put out by it. And that, ultimately, that didn't matter and didn't diminish Powell's affection for her hero one iota.

I like movies like this, the ones that remind you how frickin' GREAT it feels to know what you want and to go for it, even without knowing if you'll succeed or not. To do something because you enjoy it, not because it's someone else's idea of what your "real life" is supposed to be. Movies that make you literally want to go out and buy a cookbook and see if you can cook beef bourguignon. Cheesy or not, I love it when I go to a movie and leave the theater walking a little differently, taking deeper breaths, and holding my head a little higher. Movies SHOULD do that. Not all of them have to lift you up, of course, but any movie that makes you a different person leaving the theater than you were when you walked in is a success in my book.

I suppose at this point, critics of Julie & Julia would say they have nothing against any of this either, and that the problems in the film lie elsewhere. I won't argue that (though I do disagree with some points I've seen made, which rather enthusiastically miss what I see as the point). But, if nothing else, Meryl Streep's ebullient portrayal of Julia is well worth sitting through whatever other problems you might have with the storytelling or characters. I don't think joie de vivre has ever been so perfectly captured.

Enchanté, Mrs. Child.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

They are immune to your consultations, they're quite aware of what they're going through.

I humbly submit that we wouldn't have been quite so aware of what we were going through without the genius of John Hughes, who died in New York this morning at the age of 59. He provided a voice for the generation just before mine and every generation that came after it. While MTV and Disney pander to passing fads, movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off still have resonance for the youth of today.

We salute you, sir.

(On a lighter note, I have no idea why clips from Uncle Buck and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles are in a montage to "Teenage Wasteland," but it's still a cool video nonetheless.)

ETA: Incredible blog post from a woman who was pen pals with Hughes in the late 80s.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Who needs sparkle when you can have good old fashioned horror show?

I realize that part of the point of the Twilight books is that the existence of vampires and werewolves in the story is, well, not the point of Twilight. Which is why it amuses me greatly to see studios bending over backwards to lure fans of that series to other stories - real (or at least more traditional) vampire stories and wolf stories - that they almost certainly will not enjoy. (Case in point - for shame, Lions Gate.)

One good thing that has come out of the "sparkly vampire" renaissance, however - for me, at least - is that it has refueled my affection for those "real" vampire stories. Stuff like Near Dark and The Lost Boys and Let the Right One In and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Movies that are on dozens of blogs right now as part of dozens of lists of vampire stories to get into besides Stephanie Meyers' series.

And the latest comes from South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-Wook, who brought us the exceedingly painful and thought-provoking trilogy of revenge films - Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance. His most recent celluloid venture is Thirst, a fairly unique and engrossing (emphasis on the "gross") take on the genre. This film is not as cerebral as his revenge flicks - in some parts it's even downright silly - but that's okay, because vampires are supposed to be kind of fun, in my opinion.

Sang-hyeon is a priest. Virtuous without being off-puttingly pious, serving as a chaplain at a local hospital, and so self-sacrificing in his concern for other people that he volunteers to be a test subject to help develop a vaccination for an infection, knowing that all of the previous test subjects have died. Unsurprisingly, he dies as well, but the twist is that the blood transfusion that brings him back to life infects him in a different way, though we don't know what that is right away.

He returns to his village and is revered as a saint, but there are some complications. His skin starts to burn from the sunlight coming through his window one morning, and he finds himself unable to resist the urge to drink blood. Yep, he's a vampire. He desperately doesn't want to kill anyone, so he takes to stealing transfusion bags. And blood isn't the only thing he turns out to be thirsty for. He reunites with an old childhood friend and joins his family for a weekly Mah Jong game, but he is soon drawn into a torrid affair with the friend's wife, Tae-Ju, who is stuck in an unhappy marriage with her manchild of a husband.

Much as Park's revenge trilogy was a philosophical meditation on, well, revenge, I see Thirst as a meditation on the traditional lore of vampirism and what it might mean to a real person who finds himself in such a situation. A much less cerebral and serious subject, but one that really lends itself well to metaphor. The whole idea of a vampire's bloodlust being a "thirst" makes me think of an alcoholic, and that's a rather apt comparison for Sang-hyeon's condition. His addiction leads him to increasingly risky and, oh yeah, sinful as hell (literally) behavior. He still, however, very much has his soul, and though he's thrown his vows as a priest pretty much out the window to give in to his desires, he at least still feels guilt. There's at least that much of a human being left in him.

This is a really gorgeous looking film, as well as quite bloody and gross, and no one who has seen Park's other films should expect anything less on either count. There are a few rather intense sex scenes, one of them uncomfortably lengthy (though discomfort is perhaps the point). And one of many high points in the film is an absurd sequence where Sang-hyeon and Tae-Ju are haunted by the apparition of a character who has recently been killed. I don't know that I've ever seen a more clear (or more hilarious) picture of the effects of deep guilt.

There's a definite inevitability about the ending, but Park and his actors make it memorable and original (and even, I dare say, romantic). This may not be as "think-y" as his previous work, but it's still a very thoughtful exploration on the concept of vampirism. I still prefer Let the Right One In, but this is an interesting and entertaining addition to the vampire canon.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Romantic Comedy is Dead! Long Live the Romantic Comedy!

Let me just start by saying what most everyone else has said about this movie - that it is a much-needed injection of originality in a genre that has turned into the red-and-white-checkered Betty Crocker cookbook, an assortment of recipe staples.

It starts with a note that all characters and situations in this story are completely fiction and not AT ALL related to anything that might have had an impact on the filmmaker who seems desperate to prove this point to [insert girl's name here], the "bitch" who broke his heart umpteen years ago. So right off the bat, you know that this movie is somewhat on your side and has no intention of pretending that love doesn't occasionally (often?) hurt very, very much.

The 500 days encompass every day that Tom (a smashingly grown-up Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is in love with Summer (Zooey Deschanel). From the first day he meets her to the day he finally lets go. She's painted as a wrong fit for Tom right from the start, and even someone we may not be expected to like very much. But you'll probably find yourself falling for her much in the same way that Tom falls for her, by seeing (through Tom's own filter) all the positive and none of the stuff that's wrong with her. Or, I should say, what makes her wrong for him. The most crystalline example of this is Summer's declaration that she doesn't believe in love and thinks it's a fantasy. Tom, thanks to overexposure to sad British pop music and a, shall we say, youthful interpretaion of the ending of The Graduate, could not feel more differently. Yet instead of seeing this as a red flag, he does what most of us would probably do in a similar situation. He interprets this as a personal challenge. He's going to prove her wrong. She's going to fall in love with him, because -- because -- because he's in love with her. And that's just how it's supposed to work, and stuff.

This could very easily have slipped into romantic "dramedy" (I hate that word and wish there was some other word that means the same thing), but the ending (which reminds me, at least style-wise, of Kissing Jessica Stein) places it firmly in the comedy category, and I don't just mean in that it's humorous. By the end of the film, Tom has learned his lesson, but it's not what he thought at first. This story has a very high regard for love, and as such it's not about to leave Tom with the sinking feeling that his whole outlook on life and romance has been a sham.

There's a good deal of jumping around in and among the 500 days, but the relationship still unfolds in a linear way, showing us the clear stages of the relationship, but out of sequence so that we can understand it better. There are quite a few "rom-com" trappings in the mix - an abnormally worldly-wise child, a dance number, quirky best friends who make the main character look stable, and an upbeat ending - but they don't feel as if you've seen them a hundred times before.

This is also, it must be said, something of a film geek's film. There's a sequence in which Tom is at a movie theater alone and imagines himself into various scenes from various genres of art house films. In fact, several of the more surreal elements seem inspired by Woody Allen's films, most notably Annie Hall.

I'm sure this film will have no effect on the number of cookie cutter love stories that Hollywood continues to churn out, but I'm glad to know there are filmmakers who have the originality, and just as importantly the guts and persistence, to give us movies like this.