Elf (12/17/12)

ElfMovie Two Hundred Eighty Six

Elf is the story of a child being adopted by elves in the North Pole and returning to New York City as an adult to find his real father.

After a baby crawls into Santa Claus’s (Ed Asner) bag and brought back to the North Pole, Santa and his elves have no choice but to raise him. Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) raises Buddy (Will Ferrell) as his own, but when Buddy towers over all the other elves and isn’t quite the toy-making genius they all are, he starts to suspect something isn’t right. Papa Elf tells buddy that his real father is Walter Hobbs (James Caan) and lives in New York City, so Buddy decides to go and live with his biological father  and spreads holiday cheer to everyone around him.

Yeah, I’m going to be that guy that is still reviewing Christmas movies after Christmas is over, sorry.

Elf is one of the handful of films in my regular holiday rotation but unlike Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story, it’s a film that I generally only watch once a year. I love  Elf almost as much as those movies but I think the lack of nostalgia for me makes Elf a great movie to watch but once a year is enough to satiate me.

I don’t care what anyone says, I will always consider Buddy the Elf to be Will Ferrell’s greatest role. The naive but pure-hearted Buddy is a great character and Ferrell is perfect for it. Elf is a movie that could have easily been crude and loud, but Ferrell keeps it in check and knocks it out of the park. The supporting cast is great too with Zooey Deschanel, Peter Dinklage, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Richter, Kyle Gass, Amy Sedaris, Artie Lange, Jon Favreau (also the director of Elf), etc. While I’m on the subject, why doesn’t James Caan get better work now? He’s great.

Where my two aforementioned favorite Christmas movies both have a sometimes cynical take of the holidays and focus on the follies, Elf focuses on Christmas spirit and believing in miracles. The childlike sense of wonder the film exudes makes you really want to believe in Santa and this really sets it apart. It’s not quite a movie for kids, but it’s definitely a movie for the whole family. There’s the perfect balance of humor for all ages here and throw in all the holiday stuff and Elf is just an absolute joy to watch.

I give it 4 “my finger has a heartbeat”s out of 5.

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(500) Days of Summer (7/31/12)

(500) Days of SummerMovie One Hundred Seventy Eight

A man and woman’s entire meeting, friendship, relationship, and breakup are detailed during the (500) Days of Summer.

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works at a greeting card company when one day, he sees the girl of his dreams, Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Instantly in love, Tom makes it his mission to be with Summer and over time, the two become friends. Summer is reluctant to be in a relationship, but her and Tom become more than friends. After their breakup, Tom seeks advice from his best friends and younger sister, Rachel (Chloe Grace Moretz) on what to do. The story is told in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth between the stages of Tom and Summer’s entire relationship.

According to the omniscient narrator, (500) Days of Summer is not a love story, simply the story of “boy meets girl” and since we know from the start that Summer and Tom break up, I suppose that is true. I strongly hesitate to call this a romantic comedy and while it does have the necessary elements of a rom-com, it is decidedly not a “chick flick”.

Had this film been made in the 80s, Tom would have almost certainly been played by John Cusack but Joseph Gordon-Levitt does an admirable job. Zooey Deschanel plays her usual cute, quirky self here but since this was the movie that kind of put her on the map, she is a bit more subdued than she is in that annoying Apple commercial. I think all of us have known girls like Summer, perhaps even dated one and I certainly can relate to Tom (though I wish I had his sense of dress). Having such a funny, realistic story really makes (500) Days of Summer a really enjoyable film.

Marc Webb, who recently directed the Amazing Spider-Man, is at the helm for (500) Days of Summer and his style works brilliantly with the characters and the drawings done on screen. The way the story plays out and the title card animations indicating the number of day reminded me a bit of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a connection I hadn’t made before but Eternal Sunshine is fresh in my mind now. Since relationship movies are practically a dime a dozen, when one stands out, it’s usually a good thing. (500) Days of Summer has the right amount of kitsch, humor, and sadness to make it memorable even if you don’t care for Zooey Deschanel.

I give it 4 life becoming arts out of 5.

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