"500 Days Of Summer" Movie + Soundtrack Review

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True life: We’re in a recession. Talk about the worst possible time to graduate. Nobody is hiring and all those years of unpaid internships that made you feel like Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada mean nothing. Impressive resume … too bad it’s worthless. At this rate, it feels like you need to be a Rhodes Scholar to be one of those dog walkers with eighteen leashes wrapped around your wrists and pooper scoopers in hand in Central Park.

Yes, times are tough. Which is why when I recommend that you spend another $25, you’ll probably just laugh at me. After all, $25 is enough to buy nearly a month’s worth of Ramen noodle dinners. With meals so scarce ever since you moved to the outer boroughs to escape Manhattan’s crazy housing costs (even though you’re still paying over $700 a month and setting your quarters aside for laundry) and every swipe of your debit card triggers anxiety that you might be hit by one more of those god-awful $35 overdraw fees, penny-saving has become your only means of survival in this big bad economy.

However, if you spend $25 on anything this month, spend it on these two items: a ticket to go see Fox Searchlight’s new film 500 Days Of Summer, and its accompanying soundtrack. Reuniting indie darlings Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel (the duo previously appeared together in 2001’s Manic) and directed by newcomer Marc Webb, this unconventional love story is possibly the most honest depiction of a romantic relationship to come out of Hollywood ever. While movies such as The Notebook act as fantasy representations of the love that people long for but seldom truly experience, 500 Days Of Summer serves as a reminder of what love really is, allowing anyone who has ever had his or her heart broken to relate to it.

The film tells the story of Tom (Gordon-Levitt), an aspiring architect who put his dreams on hold to make money as a greeting cards writer. Enter Summer (Deschanel), the woman of his dreams … or so he believes. At the very start of the film, an anonymous narrator brilliantly explains the contrasting characters:

“The boy, Tom, grew up believing that he’d never truly be happy until the day he met ‘the one.’ This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music and a total misreading of the movie The Graduate. The girl, Summer, did not share this belief. Since the disintegration of her parents’ marriage, she’d only loved two things: the first was her long, dark hair. The second was how easily she could cut it off and feel nothing.”

A bit of foreshadowing about Summer’s ability to detach from loved things and loved ones easily? I think so!

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the love between Tom and Summer is one- sided. Summer clearly has strong feelings for Tom as well, no matter how much she tries to use her emotional walls to shield herself from them. This is made most apparent when, after a fight, she comes over to Tom’s apartment to apologize, although she insists they’re “just friends.” Her definition of what a relationship is does not correspond to Tom’s, creating a major dilemma in whatever pending label-less relationship transaction is occurring between the two of them.

What strikes me the most about this film is that it constantly plays off huge differences. Since the characters are polar opposites of one another, they offer a fascinating contrast. The movie jumps forward and backward in time, with the scenes opening up like chapters, each one labeled according to which of the 500 days of Tom’s infatuation for Summer it was. Going back and forth from when the two are a couple to when they have broken up allows the audience to view their “happy” days through a critical lens not often put to use during a romantic film. Knowing that they break up from the very beginning, the viewer can look for signs pointing to their looming downfall that Tom was too blinded by love to see.

The aftermath of a year and a half of a love gone awry is captured beautifully and accurately as the film pans from shots contrasting when Tom was content to when he was miserable and trying to win Summer back. Each scene of pleasure is immediately followed by a scene of pain, providing us with a harshly realistic “before” and “after” portrait of a bruised man. The morning after they have sex for the first time, for example, Tom is on top of the world and even breaks out into a dance sequence to Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams.” This campy and overly ecstatic scene sharply comes to an end when we see Tom walking out of an elevator in clothes that are clearly tattered and unwashed, with a sullen “I-haven’t-slept-in-two-weeks” look on his face.

Webb also does a fabulous job of making the viewers see Summer through Tom’s eyes. When Tom is describing her to his friends, for instance, it is not him that we see on screen, but rather the specific close-ups of Summer that display the fine details about her that his voiceover describes. A particularly memorable moment is when Tom and Summer first meet and a montage of Summer close-ups occur while Tom daydreams about her “heart shaped birthmark” and “cute laugh.” Later in the film, the same montage is shown except this time we hear Tom’s voice complaining how he hates her “cockroach shaped birthmark” and “annoying laugh.” This shows how neurologically he began to rip apart everything he loved about her in the first place. Even so, the film paints Summer in such a light that it is nearly impossible for audience members not to be in the same boat as Tom and fall in love with her too, making him an even more relatable character – because in some way, we too know what it feels like to long after this woman.

The film received a standing ovation and its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, making clear that it will not soon be forgotten. Similarly, its soundtrack sounds like someone sent in a request to TinyMixTapes.com to create a playlist of music with the ability to change your life. Webb carefully hand selected all the music for the film by what he calls “narrating through lyrics,” which results in a 16-track compilation that when listened to sequence, unfolds the entire film before your eyes.

The heaviest influence on this soundtrack is clearly The Smiths, one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Although they were a band for only a very brief stint (1982 – 1987 to be exact), their influence is undeniable. My personal favorite track of theirs, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” is actually the song that makes Tom’s character really fall for Summer in the first place. The song is playing loudly from Tom’s headphones while he and Summer are riding in an elevator together, which prompts Summer to comment that Tom has “good taste in music” before she starts singing along. It’s that moment where if it were a cartoon, Tom’s jaw would literally drop to the floor and he’d have to force himself to physically pick it back up.

The soundtrack also features another classic from The Smiths, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.” The song’s longing lyrics and melancholy instrumentals are sprinkled throughout the film, emphasizing this haunting tale, which is essentially the story of wanting something out of one’s reach. While the soundtrack does include the original, it also closes with a cover of this song by none other than the lead herself, Zooey Deschanel. Her band, She & Him, a two-man group with monster of folk M.Ward, released one of the most exquisite albums of 2008, so having them cover The Smiths for the film made perfect sense. What makes this new version work is that it is not a carbon copy of the original, but is instead a reworked version of the track. The instrumentals are far simpler, giving the song a raw, stripped down, organic sound to it. Zooey’s vocals have also never seemed so vulnerable, as at one point it truly sounds like she may be crying while singing. It’s an incredibly dark yet beautiful reinterpretation of a song that could easily in itself be the soundtrack to a broken heart.

The Smiths are not the only music legends featured on the album. An often overlooked Simon & Garfunkel track entitled “Bookends” sneaks into the tracklisting between stellar tracks by Regina Spektor (“Hero”) and Wolfmother (“Vagabond”). Clocking in at under one minute and twenty seconds, the song serves as a testament to the genius of this iconic duo. It manages to be both soft and incredibly powerful—and, at the same time, incredibly heart wrenching. The song is also perfectly placed in the film during a pivotal moment of the plot, and it is here that Webb’s “narrating through lyrics” belief truly comes into focus.

Australian newcomers The Temper Trap deliver the catchiest song on the record with “Sweet Disposition,” an uptempo rock track that would have fit perfectly on the soundtrack to the 90’s film Cruel Intentions alongside “Every Me, Every You” by Placebo and “Praise You” by Fatboy Slim. Carla Bruni, the model-turned-singer-turned-wife-of-the-French-president, contributes “Quelqu’un M’a Dit,” an eerie and gloomy song of despair. Although the lyrics are in French, Bruni’s emotions speak louder than words, making the song sound like you’re listening to an aural guidebook to shattered hope. Webb chose this song because since there was such a communication barrier between Tom and Summer, he believed it was only appropriate to select a song that conveyed feelings rather than understandable words. Kudos for the symbolism, my friend.

The album also contains the undoubtedly best song Regina Spektor has recorded thus far, “Us,” from her Soviet Kitsch album. In fact, the piano part in that song inspired the score for the actual film. Also featured is an acoustic cover of The Pixies’ classic “Here Comes Your Man,” performed by Canadian singer/songwriter Meaghan Smith. Her take on the song, like She & Him’s take on The Smiths, is a soothingly fresh homage to the original, again taking something old to make it new again. “Here Comes Your Man” is actually featured twice, as the first time is during a drunken karaoke scene in which Tom gets up on stage to sing in order to impress Summer. Ah, the things we do for attention sometimes.

So, what do you get when you combine a sharply witty and honest screenplay with two of Hollywood’s most gifted young actors and add a soundtrack full of musical gems that will surely land it on numerous “best of 2009” lists at the end of the year? The answer: 500 Days Of Summer. It is hands down the best film of the year – yes, I’m saying “year” because I really doubt anything else will come out in the next five months even half as intelligent and entertaining as this movie. It’s brilliantly acted, phenomenally written and stealthily directed. Once it comes out, it will definitely become a worn-out DVD in my collection from watching it far more than I probably should. The soundtrack completes the unbeatable indie movie-soundtrack trilogy, placing it alongside the Garden State and Juno soundtracks. A great film, out-of this-world music—that’s 500 Days Of Summer. You can’t ask for more bang for your $25.

Like it? Buy the soundtrack here
500 Days Of Summer is currently in theaters

Press Release: Spiral Beach

Spiral Beach
The Only Really Thing
(Sparks Music/Tommy Boy, September 22)

Spiral Beach are sonic rebels unafraid of breaking all the rules and throwing a party in the process! The band’s love of exploring different sounds and song structures is offset by their sophisticated sense of melody and elaborate vocal harmonies. They have also re-imagined the format of a concert, making their shows epic blowouts that last until dawn and the band dances and even cooks with the audience! Playing in uncommon venues such as art galleries, community halls, and circus spaces, the group has created a rare interactive live show that has fans and critics itching for more.

Following the enormous success of their album Ball in their home country Canada, Spiral Beach will be releasing their sophomore effort The Only Really Thing this fall. The energetic new album kicks off with the dynamic “Battery,” a postmodern pop/rock anthem that fuses the raw alternative flair of Blondie with a psychedelic beach party. Other standout tracks such as “Domino,” a kaleidoscopic duet of percussion and piano, ensure that you keep your dancing shoes on until the early hours of the morning, while “Shake The Chain” uses a metal chain as its primary instrument to create a gorgeous and richly layered ballad.

Spiral Beach is constantly pushing the boundaries of contemporary music. From their vintage inspired new-wave sound to their unforgettable live shows, they have already conquered their native Canada by playing numerous festivals (including Toronto’s Virgin Festival) and have been praised by outlets such as Much Music and Toronto’s The Edge. With The Only Really Thing, this daring and exhilarating band’s appeal is ready to take over new territory.

For more info on Spiral Beach, please contact:
Aleix Martinez, aleix@girlie.com, 212-989-2222 x136
Debbie Pressman, debbie@girlie.com, 212-989-2222 x120

** written for Girlie Action Marketing & Media by Alex Nagorski**

Interview with Tall Pines

When singer Connie Lynn Petruk left Edmonton Alberta to go to New York City so she could follow her dreams of becoming a musician, little did she know that it would be performing in Brooklyn coffeehouses and Manhattan nightclubs that would be the ticket to the success she was always searching for. It was while singing at these venues that she met Christmas Davis, a songwriter/composer with similar musical ambitions. Together, they formed Tall Pines, a new-wave country band that blurs the lines that define the genre by incorporating various sounds and influences not often associated with country music. Their debut album, released in 2007, received critical praise and ended up on National Public Radio’s Top Ten Best Records of the year list. Connie Petruk’s “honeyed alto will melt the frost off your windshield, and the band’s confident backing matches her attitude flawlessly,” they said of the record. In June, the band released their much-awaited sophomore album, “Campfire Songs,” a 12-track compilation that takes their sophisticated June Carter-meets-Janis Joplin sound to the next level. I caught up with the band about their new record, how their childhoods inspire their music, and their opinions on the state of the country music industry.

Where does the album title Campfire Songs come from? Were the songs written by an actual campfire or just with one in mind as a setting for inspiration?

Ha ha, yes some of the songs could have definitely been written by an actual campfire. All of them were tried out that way on our friends and families before we decided to include them on the record. There’s a cabin we go to in West Virginia that we like to visit with our family and some of the songs were written there, some were written at a beach shack in north Florida, and sometimes there was a campfire near by. The name comes from the loose feeling that people have hanging out around a campfire, telling stories, singing songs, having a few drinks, and just feeling both free and connected to each other. There’s something about a campfire that does that, and we wanted to capture those feelings on this record. That’s where the name comes from.

What makes your music stand out is that it doesn’t fit underneath one label. You manage to blend elements of classic country with Motown-esque soul and a twang of Debbie Harry like rock ‘n roll. NPR, while reviewing your first record, stated that you sing like the “lost sister of Dusty Springfield.” Who would you say are your biggest musical influences and what words would you use to describe your distinctive sound?

Although there are a lot of great singers, songwriters and producers that we look up to, our biggest musical influence isn’t any one specific person. It’s more of a time period, and a genre that came from that period. In the late ‘60s and early ’70s there was a lot of cross-pollination between Nashville Country and Memphis Soul. It was common during this time to hear Country musicians laying down soul-style rhythm sections. Think of Tony Joe White, or Joe South, or even some of Elvis live Vegas shows from that period with The Sweet Inspirations singing back up. At the same time you had soul singers doing more country and Americana themed stuff. Listen to Bobby Womack’s BW Goes CW or Aretha Franklins version of “The Weight” and you’ll get an idea of what we’re talking about. There was a whole genre of “Country-Soul” that was just getting off the ground when it suddenly disappeared. We wanted to create something new out of this style. To be a rock band that takes “Country-Soul” as a starting point and sees where it could have gone, and where it still can go if it hadn’t ended so quickly. Some folks blame disco, but we’re not looking to blame anything. We just want to figure out how we can take a great idea from the past, make it our own, and build on it to make something new.

Christmas, as a man writing lyrics that will ultimately be performed by a woman, do you find yourself trying to write from a woman’s perspective? Or do you feel that the message of your music transcends gender boundaries and it doesn’t matter whether a male or female is singing it?

I really don’t think about that too much. Usually I write a song from my own perspective and then we change the gender to a female perspective for Connie Lynn to sing it. There are exceptions, like “Good Woman” which I actually did try to write from a male perspective about a strong and good-hearted woman making a bad guy into a better guy, but it just wasn’t working out. Then it hit me that since Connie Lynn would be singing it anyway it just made sense to re-approach it as a song from a female perspective. “Love You Better” is also written from a woman’s perspective, because over the course of one week I had had two different female friends telling me sad stories about how they were in relationships with guys who couldn’t seem to let go of their feelings for their former girlfriends. I did try to write that from a woman’s perspective, to tell their side of things in the song, but Connie Lynn originally hated the lyrics because she thought that they were too sexiest. So much for writing songs from a woman’s point of view.

You had a very traditional Southern upbringing, which you often cite as the inspiration for many of your songs. What exactly is it about that classic American growing up that motivates you to create music about it?

There’s something about those first impressions that you have as a young person which really last, and this is what effects the perspective of a lot of songwriters. My earliest experiences are the ones that I go back to when I try to make sense of my feelings from their roots. Many of these experiences come from a specific time and from a specific group of people that I knew who all happened to be in the American South in the 1970s. Many of them were my relatives who have now passed on. So, this is where I go in my mind to try to turn my feelings and memories into songs. I don’t know that being American is requisite. That’s just a part of it for me because this is where I grew up, and being American incorporates a certain kind of experience and a certain mythology that I try to live up to. Connie Lynn is from Canada and her childhood experience is similar in a lot of ways. But if we were from another culture our childhood experiences would still have a strong bearing on how we create music, and where our ideas come from. I think that to some extent people are just wired that way.

There are many themes strung throughout the record, with religion being a major one. Would you classify your music as spiritual?

All music is spiritual, and I sincerely hope that ours is included in that. Actually, just to be clear, all music is spiritual except for American Idol. That’s a game show. I’m not knockin’ it. I appreciate the hard work that those performers put into what they do, and I’m glad that it makes folks happy. I also hope that it turns people on to music who might not otherwise give it any thought. I guess that that makes it kind of a “gate-way drug” for music. But, I just wanted to explain myself because there is a difference between music – which is spiritual – and game shows. People seem to get confused about this all the time.

You were raised in an incredibly religious family. Your great-grandmother ran a Bible Camp and had her own gospel radio show, while you attended a fundamentalist Christian junior high. Exactly how much of an impact did religion have when it came to writing and recording this album and is there any specific message about religion that your music is trying to convey? Are there any other particular messages found in your music that you want your listeners to come away with after listening to this record?

Wow, you’ve done your research. Yes religion has had a very strong influence in my life. As a kid my mom would drag me to tent revivals, Bible schools, churches and a lot of events that shaped my way of looking at things. What we are trying to do with The Tall Pines is to create music, ideas and feelings that will help people to step out of their day to day world and into some place that they can enjoy and feel free. Whether it’s for the length of one of our songs, or for a whole night at one of our shows, we want to give people an interesting and unusual place to escape to. The thing about both music and religion that is so important to people is that it does just that. It takes them out of their day to day life and makes them feel like they are having a different experience, even if it only lasts for a short while. We didn’t get into music to preach a particular polarizing message, but we do want to create something special that people can enjoy and use to step out of their everyday lives. That’s what would mean the most to us if people could enjoy our music and be uplifted by it. We’d love it if people could take that away with them, and return to it whenever they’d like.

Connie, you’ve recorded and performed with such musical juggernauts as David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Perry Farrell, Moby, Joan Jett, Ian Hunter, and Ronnie Spector. If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

There are so many people that I would love to work with, but the two who really stand out are Arif Mardin, rest his soul, because he worked with so many great artists and he really knew how to bring out the best performances in everyone he worked with. He made The Bee Gees sing in falsetto for heaven sake. They didn’t want to do it, but he made them, and whoa, he was right. Who would have thought of that? The other person that I would like to work with is fortunately still alive and that’s Jack White, because he has such a great melodic sensibility, but he’s so rough around the edges and can create such skewed and unexpected sounds and stylistic combinations. Christmas and I always enjoy checking out whatever Jack White is up to. We also like the way he records everything quickly. We do that too. Nothing should take more than a week. After that, you get too comfortable.

Country music sells more than most genres in the United States, but it is seldom that a country musician has a Top 40 single. With the exception of certain artists such as Taylor Swift or Carrie Underwood, why do you feel that mainstream audiences haven’t really embraced the genre enough to give it national radio credibility?

It’s true that we have a lot of Country music influences, and we do play shows with a lot of country artists. We played CMJ last year with Charlie Louvin. But The Tall Pines are just as much of a Country band as we are a rock band, or a classic-soul band. Our live shows are much more of a soul dance party than a country tear-in-my-beer line-dance. We don’t really pay attention to the politics of contemporary Country music, so we may not be the best qualified folks to answer this question. If you want us to hazard a guess, maybe it has more to do with the overly-tight formats at radio, rather than the demand that’s out there.

Since the release of your first album in 2007, how do you feel your music has evolved and what do you believe is the biggest change between this new record and your previous one?

When we recorded our first record “The Tall Pines,” it was like having a wild party in the studio. We had the songs together, but it was definitely controlled mayhem and a bit of a free-for-all. That makes it special to us because it’s the sound of our friends and us slapping down sounds off the cuff. When it was time to record “Campfire Songs” we had a better idea of which of our friends were going to be in the band, and we had had the opportunity to play the songs live for quite a while before we went in to record them. We still had a great time making “Campfire Songs.” Working with Joel Hamilton will make any recording session feel like a party, but the difference for us between the two records is the difference between methodically building a campfire to celebrate something special with your friends, and accidentally starting a forest fire.

*** Campfire Songs is currently digitally available on iTunes


Exclusive: Q&A with Anne Hathaway

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(Anne Hathaway, Me)

When Disney’s The Princess Diaries was released in 2001, audiences all over the world fell completely head over heels in love with its hysterical and enchanting young star, Anne Hathaway. Now, nearly a decade later, our beloved princess has matured into one of the most sought after and recognizable women in all of Hollywood. The actress grew up before our very eyes by playing roles such as a betrayed wife in Brokeback Mountain, the underappreciated assistant to Meryl Streep’s ferocious fashion magazine editor in The Devil Wears Prada, the classic novelist Jane Austen in Becoming Jane, and the hilarious female field agent in Get Smart. In 2008, Hathaway received critical acclaim for her daring portrayal of a former drug addict who leaves rehab to attend her sister’s wedding in the indie-drama Rachel Getting Married. This unforgettable performance garnered a nomination for a “Best Actress” Academy Award, the highest possible honor for a film actress.

While this may seem like a resume with a lifetime full of achievements, Hathaway has only just begun. Up next for the talented leading lady is the live action Tim Burton directed re-make of Alice In Wonderland, in which she will be joining the Disney family once again by playing the classic character of the White Queen. In 2010, she will be starring in a remarkable new project (which could easily become the role of her lifetime) called Get Happy, a musical biopic of legendary actress Judy Garland. Simultaneously with the movie’s release, Hathaway will also be playing Garland live on stage in a Broadway version of the film. The co-release of the motion picture and the stage musical will not only shed light on one of the biggest icons in both music and film history, but will give Hathaway a chance to combine her two biggest passions at once – theater and film.

Getting reacquainted with performing for a live audience, Hathaway is currently starring as Viola in “Twelfth Night” in this summer’s annual free New York outdoor theater festival, Shakespeare In The Park. At the opening night gala of this show, my boyfriend Jonathan Bender and I toasted drinks with and spoke to Anne for a little bit. With her incredible modesty, intelligence, poise, and charm, she chatted with us about her transition to the stage, fashion, why she feels Judy Garland is a relevant figure worth creating such an extraordinary piece of art about, and how she tackles all of her diverse and ever-changing roles.

Since you’ve become a screen actress, this is your first time doing theater, correct?

Well I started my career by starting out in theater and then found myself happily working in television and films and now am happy to find myself back in theater … I’m very happily employed (laughs).

Is the transition into doing theater difficult after having gotten used to doing so much film work? How different is it for you to act on stage than it is in front of a camera?

It’s been a good solid ten years since the last time I did theater. I was sixteen then and I’m twenty-six now, and my life has obviously changed. It is different but I couldn’t tell you specifically how just because I myself am so different too.

So on a big night like tonight, what are you drinking and who are you wearing?

I am drinking a vodka and tonic and I’m wearing a Marchesa and some lovely sandals that I got in Saint-Tropez. I actually was wearing heels for the pictures on the red carpet, but then I found out the (after) party was going to be on grass and so I switched over.

Yeah, otherwise your feet would be sinking down.

It’s practical glamour.

Are you nervous for your upcoming Judy Garland project? That’s such an amazing role to play!

Of course! I mean even last night I was watching YouTube footage of her late into the evening. It is such an honor but clearly it’s an incredibly daunting opportunity. I’m going to tackle it and I accept the responsibility but I also appreciate how big it is and what an icon and what a talent she was.

What specifically is it about her career and life that inspired you to want to take on such a huge responsibility by portraying her?

It begins and ends with her talent. She had a gift from God. She could express more in a song than novelists can in a lifetime of writing. It’s really an honor to be asked to portray an artist of that caliber.

Throughout your career, you’ve shown an incredibly wide range by appearing in multiples genres – I mean, you’ve done romantic comedies, teen comedies, independent films, dramas …

What was my teen comedy?

The Princess Diaries?

I don’t know – was that a teen comedy?

Well you played a high school-er, and it came out when I was a teenager so …

(Laughs) I was too.

So since you’ve already accomplished so much, what career goals do you still have? In other words, what specific fields or areas of acting do you feel you still want to conquer?

Oh my goodness. You know it’s very difficult to break it down in terms of what there is to accomplish. Everything has its demands, everything is different and difficult. I mean how can you compare doing something like The Princess Diaries to doing something like Shakespeare In The Park? Each time has its own challenges, but I guess the challenge is always to manage to tell a story honestly while maintaining your integrity as a human being. That’s kind of the challenge with every project … and what a glorious challenge to have! I love my life so much (laughs)!