Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Sept. 2 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte
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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Sept. 2 

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(500) DAYS OF SUMMER The beauty of this utterly winning picture is that it doesn't live in a generational vacuum: Like the best films of its kind, its tale of young love (and all the accompanying trials and tribulations) will speak to all ages. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Tom Hansen, a sweet kid who works for a greeting card company. Into the workplace walks new employee Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), and Tom is immediately smitten. Summer, however, isn't on the same page: More cynical in nature, she doesn't particularly subscribe to the notion of true love and sees Tom as a "friend with benefits." Tom does his best to keep their union afloat, but he obviously has his work cut out for him. Rather than spill the story in chronological order, this jumps back and forth to various points in the relationship, showing the pair happy one minute and gloomy the next. In the wrong hands, such a decision might have turned out unwieldly or awkward, but here the scenes flow smoothly, making sense not only narratively (on-screen markers always alert us to the day being shown) but also emotionally, allowing us to fully understand and appreciate how earlier incidents might affect the characters' mindsets during later ones. Ultimately, none of this would work without the proper actors, and Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel are adorable talents whose open faces and inviting eyes seem to allow audiences access to their very psyches. Because of them, we find ourselves completely invested in Tom and Summer, and their love story becomes our love story, warts and all. Don't miss the brilliant cameo of sorts by a Star Wars character, the result being the funniest moment in any film released thus far in 2009. ***1/2

FUNNY PEOPLE What distinguished writer-director Judd Apatow's previous films (Knocked Up and especially The 40-Year-Old Virgin) from most of the doltish fanboy comedies hitting theaters these days (The Hangover, for instance) is that he made sure to include genuine characters rather than stock types in his stories and made us care enough about them to allow the movies to resonate beyond their nyuk content. Funny People is even more ambitious – it wants to make us laugh and cry and ruminate and perhaps even start Oscar buzz – but it never properly merges all of its disparate elements into an organic whole, resulting in viewer whiplash as it repeatedly starts and sputters. Adam Sandler is cast as George Simmons, a Hollywood star who's just been diagnosed with a potentially fatal strain of leukemia. After the obligatory bouts of self-pity, he tries to move ahead, first by hiring rising comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) to write material for him and then by trying to rekindle a romance with Laura (Leslie Mann, Apatow's real-life wife), an ex-fiancee now married to an Australian businessman (Eric Bana, stealing the show). Criminally overlong, this is so overstuffed with incidental material – Ira's thorny relationship with his two more successful roommates (Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman), his tentative wooing of a deadpan neighbor (Aubrey Plaza), George's schmoozing with countless celebrities playing themselves (Sarah Silverman, Paul Reiser, Eminem, etc.), an endless stream of dick jokes – that the George-Laura storyline doesn't even materialize until the film's second hour. Apatow clearly meant to further his reputation with this ambitious effort, but the end result, sad to say, is no laughing matter. **

G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA This is the second film this summer to be based on a line of Hasbro toys, and the good news is that it's better than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Of course, then comes the sobering afterthought: Pretty much every movie this summer has been better than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. At any rate, this isn't G.I. Joe so much as it's C.G.I. Joe, a nonstop orgy of computer imagery and pretty much what we'd expect from the director of the execrable Van Helsing and two dopey Mummy movies. Tatum Channing, certainly more plastic than any of the G.I. Joe action figures I owned as a child, plays Duke, a dedicated soldier who, along with best bud Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), joins the elite commando squad in order to help take down a megalomaniac (Christopher Eccleston) bent on ruling the world. Duke's particularly perturbed because his former girlfriend Ana (Sienna Miller) is now an enemy agent, but both actors are so dull that they seem to have wandered in straight from the set of a soap opera. Wayans tries to provide some pep, but because his contract specifically states that the actor receive the lion's share of the script's truly atrocious lines, he's rendered ineffectual every time he opens his mouth. Those who claim that action yarns don't even need sound actors or competent direction or compelling storylines are either not thinking the argument through or have become too shell-shocked to note the obvious differences between, say, Van Helsing and The Dark Knight, between Transformers: ROTF and District 9. Yes, there are a few rousing set-pieces in G.I. Joe, but for the most part, the action is unfocused, the effects are iffy, and the thrills are fleeting. Young boys will probably get a kick out of the movie, but everyone else will notice that the entertainment value is clearly MIA. *1/2

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