F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 20, 2010)

20 08 2010

It’s the one-year anniversary of the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” column!  I thought the best way to celebrate that milestone would be by featuring one of my-all time favorites, “Almost Famous.”  It’s not exactly little known given its pretty devoted following and its awards season haul, which included an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and a Golden Globe for Best Picture.  Although it was criminally snubbed by the Academy for a shot at the top prize, it is still more than worth your time.

The movie, written by director Cameron Crowe, is semi-autobiographical.  As a teenager, he wrote for Rolling Stone and had the pleasure of touring with bands like Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Jealous, anyone?

Young William Miller (Patrick Fugit) discovers music after his rebellious sister (Zooey Deschanel) flees the tyrannical reign of their mother, the strict fundamentalist Elaine, played with brilliant propriety by Frances McDormand.  As a young boy, Elaine thought her son to be so smart that she moved him up two grades in school, thus socially crippling him.  His sister leaves behind a giant record collection, and William’s obsession with music begins.

Not unlike myself, he begins writing about his passion.  We differentiate, however, in the fact that William’s work gets picked up by Rolling Stone.  The industry-leading magazine asks him to follow Stillwater, an up-and-coming rock band, on their tour and write an article on them.  He meets an interesting crowd aside from the band, who are always skeptical of his intentions, particularly lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee).

The most intriguing figure by far and away is the so-called Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), whose name, age, and intentions are always clouded in mystery.  Penny is a different kind of groupie, offering herself to help the band more as a muse to inspire artistic inspiration than to satisfy lustful desires.  She and William, both in their teen years, form a very interesting relationship while on the road.  Hudson, only 21 at the time of the movie’s release, gives an absolutely masterful performance, and her virtuoso turn is only made more astonishing by her age.

But the movie’s real heart and soul comes from William’s friendship with guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup).  It is he who teaches the young journalist to enjoy the ride and love every minute of being able to do what you love.  Indeed, we watch “Almost Famous” with the same sense of wide-eyed wonder of William on the road, and the movie is an exciting experience that inspires our own fantasies of living out a childhood dream.  Even if that doesn’t involve music, Crowe’s true masterstroke will still be able to delight your latent aspirations.





REVIEW: (500) Days of Summer

29 07 2009

Summer always serves up a few indie gems, and “(500) Days of Summer” is the brightest shining of 2009’s offerings. It is hilarious, fun, thought-provoking, and refreshingly inventive, featuring brilliant performances by its two leads and a sensational original screenplay. It perfectly advertises itself as not a love story, but a story about love.

The film shows the 500 day ordeal of a rocky relationship between Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Tom believes in the kind of true love that we have all been brought up to think is out there waiting for us to find happiness; Summer believes that love is not necessary to have true bliss. She has learned to be self-sufficient and has become somewhat introverted, seemingly oblivious to the guys that fawn over her good looks. Summer also has a deep need to be love, but she makes this yearning ever so subtle. Deschanel is able to play this crucial undertone quite skillfully.

One of the things that sets the movie apart is its depiction of events: they are presented in a non-linear fashion. This allows the audience to really feel the up and down nature of their relationship and to know that anything can happen next, a luxury that romantic comedies can rarely provide its viewers. Deschanel, who most audiences will remember as Will Ferrell’s love interest in “Elf,” plays Summer with the right balance of warmth and bitterness. She plays hard-to-get but also projects Summer’s need to be loved at the same time. Gordon-Levitt, who is perhaps best known for his work on the TV show “Third Rock from the Sun,” has puzzled moviegoers with his selection of films over the years, choosing some off-kilter dramas (I do recommend you check out “The Lookout,” one of his finest during this spell). This seems to be more familiar and comfortable territory for him, though, and I hope that he chooses more movies like this. He plays Tom with such irresistible charm that you yearn over his heartbreak and you cheer with his successes, especially when they break out into music and dance numbers to Hall and Oates (Gordon-Levitt is a surprisingly good dancer). Read the rest of this entry »