Saturday, August 15, 2009

Summer Heats Up: a (500) DAYS OF SUMMER Review and MORE!

Yikes, what a week it's been. Things got really crazy towards the end of the week, but hey, I can't really complain as I had some fun experiences and a couple of cool "only in Hollywood" moments. Thursday in particular was sort of nuts. I spent most of the day at Universal Studios, as for most of the morning I sat in on an event that my manager at work helped to organize. It was basically a series of panels and discussion for a group of high-schoolers in a special business-leadership program. The students - a very diverse group - sat in a meeting room on the Universal lot and listed to two separate panel discussions - one consisting of a couple of PR / marketing folks, and the other made up of programming and development execs. It was pretty interesting to hear the panelists speak, especially given that the latter panel included two of my former colleagues from back when I was an NBC Page on assignment in NBC Primetime Development. Anyways, after the panels concluded I went with the kids as they took a quick tour of Conan O'Brien's new Tonight Show studio. For me, it was the first time I had actually gotten a chance to see the studio in person, and it looked great. It was odd walking around though, as I immediately flashed back to my days as a Late Night intern in NYC. It's funny how for me, all of the people I worked with as an intern are etched into my memory - like, when you see a familiar face at Conan the instinct is to run up and say "hey, remember me!" But, the reality is that I was one of many hundreds of interns that passed through the halls of Late Night. As much as I like to think I made a good impression, I doubt most of the old Late Night staff would remember me at this point. But who knows, our paths could cross again (when they are all working for me -- on The Danny Baram Show! Bwahahahaha!).

So yeah, following the student event, which overall was really cool, we had a long meeting in the NBC Universal tower, and after that, a somewhat hastily-scheduled department activity. We were set to all go bowling at the Lucky Strike lanes in Hollywood, although due to the last-minute nature of the event, it turned out that it conflicted with many meetings and whatnot. That said, I drove over to Lucky Strike following our afternoon meeting, and got in a couple of rounds of bowling. For some reason, bowling has been the group activity of choice whenever we do a social event at work, so oddly enough most of my bowling experience over the last four years has been via work-related events. In any case, I am a still a pretty mediocre bowler. I actually got the same score two games in a row at Lucky Strike - a 98. Not completely awful, I guess, but it would have been nice to break 100.

Our bowling event wrapped up at around 5 pm, at which point I went back to the office for a bit to take care of a few pressing issues. I then went home, had a hasty dinner, showered, and eventually headed back out past Hollywood for an event that our partners at Microsoft had invited us to - a swanky premiere party to celebrate the launch of MS's Cinemash web videos. Basically, a series of short web films that take well-known actor combinations and place them in very random movie parodies. One has Cheech & Chong battle it out in Tron. One has Channing Tatum and Charlene Yi give us their hilarious take on Dirty Dancing. And one has a couple of the Reno 9-11 guys doing a very funny parody of Point Break. Good stuff. So, yeah, despite being exhausted fro ma long day, I managed to get a brief second wind at the party, held in Microsoft's uber-cool Zune LA headquarters. Finally, I got to enjoy the more glamorous side of working in new media! I mean, hey, Milo Ventimiligia of Heroes fame was there - not too shabby. I'm movin' on up! Cool party - a nice reminder that the digital media world in which I work is, in theory, at least sometimes actually kind of cool and happenin'.

As you can imagine, I was a bit out of it today after a crazy Thursday. A couple of things that were on my mind today:

- Aaaah! The rest of AEROSMITH's summer tour has been cancelled! This sucks, as I had tickets to their late-August show here in SoCal. I guess the important thing here is that the great Steven Tyler makes a quick recovery from his injuries, and that Aerosmith is back on their feet and kicking ass again as soon as possible. I mean, it's crazy - this is actually the second Aerosmith concert I've missed out on due to problems with the band. Back when I was at BU, my friends and I were set to go see 'em play in Boston, which would have been amazing. Unfortunately, the band cancelled the show due to throat problems that Tyler was having at the time. I still regret that I didn't get to see the Bad Boys of Boston play in their hometown. But, I have seen the 'Smith play three times. Once in Connecticut in a double-bill with KISS, and twice here in LA - once at the Staples Center with Lenny Kravitz, and once at the Hollywood Bowl with Motley Crue. Their current tour has the band paired with ZZ Top, who would have been a lot of fun to see live. Oh well - even though they are getting up there in age, I have little doubt that my favorite rock n' rollers will be back in the saddle again soon.

- So over the last couple of weeks I've written a bit about my ongoing problems with my right ankle. And through this whole process, I've been thankful that the doctors I've been seeing - both my new primary care physician, as well as the foot specialist I saw in the same medical group, have been both helpful and knowledgable. However, as much as I like these doctors ... I am quickly growing to hate the office that they're a part of. I mean, holy lord, every call to this doctor's office connects you with a cranky assistant who seems to be juggling more calls than a QVC hotline. Scheduling appointments has been consistently crazy - I made an appointment the other day for this coming Wednesday, for example, but realized today that I had to change it due to a work conflict. I called to reschedule, and got booted back to September 1st! WTF! Even worse, I'm not even sure what this appointment *is*. After getting an MRI on my ankle last week, the foot doctor left me a message that, luckily, I do not have a torn ligament. However, I do appear to have tissue damage that requires treatment. All I was told was to call and follow up. However, here's where dealing with a monster-sized conglomerate of a doctor's office kind of sucks. It's virtually impossible to actually talk to the doctor. Instead, staying on hold for ten minutes just gets you a clueless receptionist who can't do much except make you an appointment for three weeks from now. I asked the receptionist if she could leave a note for the doctor that I was trying to figure out what my next steps should be following his ankle diagnosis. Her response was to transfer me not to the doctor's line, but to his assistant's direct line. I got the assistant's voicemail. Arrggggh ... I don't know, man, is this lack of a personal touch an LA thing or what? Or are all larger-sized doctor's offices this annoying to deal with?

- Anyways, tonight was definitely going to be a somewhat laid-back evening, and so I thought I'd try to take in a showing of a movie that's been gettign a lot of critical buzz of late ...

500 DAYS OF SUMMER Review:

- It can get pretty annoying reading reviews of a movie like 500 Days of Summer. Certain things about it are so prone to inspire love or hate that critics and commentators tend to assess it not based on the content or quality of the film, but on their own personal little hangups. As I browsed through reviews of the movie online, I often saw one of two things. On one hand, there were the more mainstream reviews that cited this movie as the perfect antidote for formulaic romantic comedies. To them, 500 Days of Summer is so refreshing, so uncharacteristically original and authentic-seeming, that it instantly ranks amongst the best movies of the year to date. On the other hand, there is the contingent of been-there, done-that hipsters who claim to see through the movie's forced quirkiness. To them, the movie falls in the same category as overhyped, self-conciously hip emo films like Garden State. Personally, it's frustrating when people rate a movie solely based on how it conforms to their various predispositions. Fed up with cookie-cutter rom-coms? Then 500 Days of Summer is the movie for you! But wait - are you one of those haters who takes offense at Zooey Daschenal's pre-packaged manic pixie dream girl schtick? Does the very idea of a zeitgeisty comedy with an alt-rock soundtrack make you cringe? Then gee whiz, dude, 500 Days of Summer is a piece of pop culture best left for scenester teens too naive to realize that this movie is, in fact, just as cliched in its own way as the romantic comedies it tries not to associate with.

Honestly, I think both sides of the love-it or hate-it argument are probably overreacting. For one thing, I hate most romantic comedy movies with a passion, and am happy to report that 500 Days of Summer, is definitely a smart, funny, authentic-feeling movie that defies many of the typically-lame trappings of its genre. I mean, it's a movie that's told from a guy's perspective. It's a movie that's not especially sappy. It's a movie that has real-feeling characters. And it's a movie that doesn't tie up everything in a nice, neat little bow. For another thing, I am not at all a fan of Garden State. To me it is the very definition of annoying emo lameness. And, I am again happy to report that 500 Days of Summer is nothing like Garden State. It has a great, believable lead actor in Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It doesn't at all feel whiny - it feels like a movie that actually has something legitimate to say. It has a strong voice as a film. It's genuinely very funny at times. Visually, it looks great, and there are a number of very inventive sequences that are a lot of fun (the joyful musical number that follows Levitt's first night spent with Zooey is guaranteed grin-inducing). To that end, the movie really does present the ebb and flow inherent in a complicated relationship. There are light moments, funny moments, sad moments, and joyful ones. It's a tapestry, and the film does a great job of taking all these various snapshots and letting the individual moments combine to tell the larger story.

As you may have heard, 500 Days of Summer follows a unique storytelling structure in which we jump around to various points within the 500 days that comprise the different stages of the relationship. We see the first meeting, the first fight, the "just friends" speech, and the post-breakup encounter. And we see a lot of moments in-between. It works, and it's a thematically relevant device to boot. Because part of the movie's theme is how you can't just romanticize the great moments or dwell on the bad ones - real life and real relationships are inevitably a messy combination of both.

The acting in the movie is very good. Gordon-Levitt has quickly become one of the top young actors out there today. It's amazing and kind of funny that in one month he's starring as an everyman in an indie romantic comedy and as an evil mad scientist in GI Joe. Now that, my friends, is range. Now, personally, I like Zooey Daschenal as an actress. I get that her oh-so-quirky-act has worn a bit thin at this point, but the cool thing with this movie is that it kind of deconstructs the whole quirky-yet-amazing, manic pixie dream girl cliche. A big point of the movie is basically that the proverbial manic pixie may not always turn out to be the girl of one's dreams. 500 Days of Summer almost wants you to become increasingly annoyed with Zooey's flighty weirdness. As one character points out in the beginning of the movie (and I paraphrase): "just because a girl likes all the same weird crap that you do doesn't make her your soulmate."

Now, are there times where this movie gets off-track? Sure. For one thing there's Levitt's wise-beyond-her-years little sister, a perky 12 year old who dispenses romantic wisdom as if she were the ABC Family version of Yoda. The character could work, in theory, but in practice she feels way too cliche for a movie that is supposed to be anti-formulaic. For another thing, there are Levitt's two best friends, who come off as somewhat one-dimensional and ultimately prove kind of usless to the overall plot. They have a couple of funny moments, but like the little sister, they seem a bit cookie-cutter - generic slacker/stoner friend and generic nerdy/goofy friend.

What I did like though was that the movie had some nice bigger-picture moments that made it, to me, more than just a romantic comedy, but a movie about being a young adult and trying to balance idealism with reality. Do you give up dreams and personal fantasies in the name of practicality and stability? I like that the movie left me with a lot to think about. Not something that can be said for most rom-com's. At the same time, I will admit that there were moments that were just too obvious and fit too neatly into the whole quirky-hipster aesthetic. Like the two leads bonding over The Smiths. Or how Zooey's character thinks that Ringo is the best Beatle. Or the too-cute record-shop where the leads talk whilst browsing vintage LP's. But then again, like I said, the point of the movie is that all these almost obnoxiously cute and quirky moments don't always translate into true love. In that way, this is certainly a romantic comedy that, even when it has those almost-cliches, doesn't feel paint-by-numbers. Because beneath the surface, it actually does have something to say. That alone gives it high marks in my book.

My Grade: B+

- And with that, let the weekend begin!

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