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Hidden Gems: STARZ

(500) Days of Summer (5 Stars)

Released in 2009, (500) Days of Summer offers up a creative take on the age-old genre of romantic comedies. The film chronicles the relationship between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) over the course of 500 days. This is certainly not the first story of “boy meets girl”, but it is without a doubt the first of its kind to be so unique with its blend of storytelling devices. The expertly-devised screenplay utilizes nonlinear storytelling, split screen, strong dialogue, and musical numbers to create a heartfelt tale that will make the viewer laugh just as hard as it will strike an emotional chord. Joseph Gordon-Levitt provides solid work as the central figure of the story, solidifying himself as one of the best everymen of this generation. He is great at portraying the normal and likeable guy that the viewer can relate to. Zooey Deschanel is good enough playing her usual character, as her performance as the flighty object of Tom’s affection serves its purpose for the overall narrative of the film. The rest of the cast is adequate as well and succeed in contributing humor to the story, notably Chloe Grace Moretz who steals every scene she’s in. Although not necessarily showy, all of these performances serve as pieces on a gameboard, being orchestrated to maximize their potential by the wonderful screenplay. In addition, an incredible soundtrack composed of underrated gems elevates every scene. Overall, (500) Days of Summer is an entertaining film that provides an earnest glimpse at a realistic relationship, as well as one of the best final scenes in recent memory. It’s mixture of creativity, humor, and heartfelt romance results in arguably the greatest romantic comedy ever made.

American Gangster (4 Stars)

Released in 2007, American Gangster is a criminally under-seen highlight of the gangster genre. This two-pronged story follows Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) a real-life crime boss in 1968 who took over the Harlem district of New York City, and Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), the honest detective tasked with bringing him down. The conversation around this film begins and ends with its acting, as the talented leads provide an entertainingly wild ride. Magnetic performances from Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe maneuver the film through the seedy underbelly of the Harlem crime world, all while keeping the viewer's attention fixated on how things will turn out for these opposing protagonists. Director Ridley Scott succeeds in recreating late 60s New York City with great production designs and by simply pointing the camera at his two stars and letting them do the heavy lifting. The film runs a little on the long side, and while Josh Brolin and Chiwetel Ejiofor are fun to see, the supporting work isn't as strong as the headliners. Overall, these minor criticisms in no way detract from the consistent entertainment of the storyline. American Gangster is a classic example of showcase acting in the purest sense of the term, elevating the final product to a gangster flick that rivals the goliaths of the genre.

Snatch (3.5 Stars)

Released in 2000, Snatch is an enjoyable crime drama filled with colorful characters and snappy dialogue. Set in the London criminal underworld, the film follows Turkish (Jason Statham), a small-time boxing promoter who is struggling to square a debt with a gangster (Alan Ford) which involves convincing a Gypsy bare knuckle boxer (Brad Pitt) to fight for him. Meanwhile an 86-carat diamond has been stolen and the entire criminal underworld is looking for it. The story isn’t anything worthwhile, but the conversations between characters are fun and Brad Pitt is superb. He is the clear winner of the movie, going all out with a wholly original character never before seen from his repertoire. Adopting a raggedy look and near incoherent accent, he is a joy to behold every time he appears. Pitt isn’t the only one who gets to let loose though, as Benicio Del Toro and Vinnie Jones are also able to entertain as criminals that go by Franky Four Fingers and Bullet-Tooth Tony. Director Guy Ritchie succeeds in utilizing these memorable characters, along with zippy conversations and violent action to up the overall zaniness level (a recipe that he has since replicated in just about every film he makes). As long as the viewer can accept the film’s style over substance nature, they’ll have a jolly good time.

-Matt Chouinard


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