Saturday, April 24, 2010

"All right, you cunts," Nog Has Assembled a Few Thoughts on Kick-Ass / Plus, Nog and Greenberg!

No, the title of the post is not just me being more vulgar than usual, but a reference to the already-notorious line by 11-year old Hit Girl in Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass. The film has generated a surprising amount of controversy in its first week of release, from the righteous indignation of Ebert ("morally reprehensible") to the even more righteous indignation of the New Yorker's Anthony Lane ("violence's answer to kiddie porn") to the overheated praise of Time's Richard Corliss, who believes it will redefine the superhero movie ("Smart, important and deadly").

The true verdict, I think, is somewhere in between. Is having an 11-year old girl say "cunt" and dish out ultra-bloody vigilante justice a relatively cheap trick to illicit a visceral shock? Sure. Is it "morally reprehensible?" Not really. The film has points to make beyond its surface shocks and, when the tone of the film truly clicks, it feels honestly subversive in a way that rarely occurs in mainstream, multiplex cinema. There is something about the way the everyday mundane teenage world rubs up against a world of over-the-top comic book violence here that's a little unsettling: the film asks us to revel in its vigilante justice (go ahead, it says, enjoy the expertly staged and wildly graphic bloodshed of Hit Girl et al) while never explicitly condemning these actions. The cast throws themselves into the mayhem full tilt, but what you'll remember is Hit Girl (and maybe Nic Cage, as Big Daddy, encouraging his daughter's every kill while mimicking--presumably?--the strange stilted speech pattern of Adam West's Batman). Recommended? Sure, you might as well have an opinion in the Kick-Ass debates, don't you think?


God bless Noah Baumberg, who keeps giving us quiet, insightful character studies in an era when no one wants them (Greenberg, his newest, managed one week at Olathe's 30 screen multliplex before being replaced with a few screens of the new Jennifer Lopez rom-com).

As good as the film is as a whole, perhaps it will be best remembered for giving us Greta Gerwig, very impressive as the love interest of Ben Stiller's titular Greenberg. The opening scenes follow Gerwig's Florence as she drives through LA, the camera almost uncomfortably close to her face. She isn't doing much, just occasionally brushing the hair out of her face, but there's a vulnerability in her eyes that really gets at what the film is about at its heart. Florence is young, 25 ("I still get carded"), with a tendency to wear her heart on her sleeve. Greenberg is 40, recovering from an undefined "breakdown." He's neurotic and angry and irresponsible, with a tendency to lash out at whoever gets close to him. In the hands of your average shitty Hollywood screenwriter, this would turn into a film about Greenberg "growing up" and learning to let his guard down. And, I suppose, that element exists. But the characters are treated sensitively and the writing is so wonderfully nuanced that there is virtually no resemblance to a traditional romantic comedy. Watch the long mid-film conversation where Greenberg tells Florence about how he and his long-time friend call each other "man" as a way of mocking the way average guys talk and thereby distancing themselves from a world they find distasteful, to which Charlotte tries to respond with a similar story as a way of bonding, only to have Greenberg violently reject the story as incomprensible and use it to further the proof he's seeking that the divide between them can't be bridged. These are real people, with complex emotions and motivations, and Gerwig and Stiller nail them. Baumbach wisely uses certain qualities that define the Stiller "persona" (the neuroses that quickly escalates into manic behavior) but he employ these qualities subtly and, always, in service of character. With films like The Squid and the Whale (which I love) and Margot at the Wedding (which I wanted to love but didn't), Baumbach's critics have accused him of a certain condescending attitude toward his characters, but I think he's transcended that here. He honestly feels for Florence and Greenberg and, chances are, you will too (unless you've wandered into the wrong theater thinking you're about to see a hilarious new Jennifer Lopez flick).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nog Joins The Runaways!

There's a lot to like about The Runaways. The film looks right, as if the director has been poring over rock photography of the era: everything's a little hazy and camera angles are increasingly akimbo late in the film as the band begins to spiral out of control. The performances feels right too: Kristen Stewart is sexy and tough as Joan Jett; Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie nails the "jailbait" appeal of the band's lead singer (watching her makes you a little uncomfortable, as it should); and the always odd and interesting Michael Shannon gets to go suitably over-the-top as Kim Fowley, the canny, loopy producer of The Runaways and many bands of the era. All these things work so well that it's hard to pinpoint exactly what's wrong with the film. I'll blame the screenplay, which is certainly a bit lacking, rarely as incisive as it should be and occasionally veering into a broad comic tone that's out of place. The writing gives us a real feel for the personas of Joan, Cherie, and Fowley, but they never quite feel like flesh-and-blood human beings somehow (and the rest of the band is largely ignored altogether). Even so, the film has points to make that are worth considering. Although we may often consider the 70's a period of musical integrity, the film shows us that The Runaways were as much a manufactured, mass-marketed media creation as some of the bands we deride today. There's talent there, to be sure, but talent is secondary to Fowley, at least as he's portrayed here. Yet the film's final scenes suggest, optimistically, as Jett emerges as an important artist despite the circumstances, that passion and talent will ultimately win the day.

All this aside, however, it's our friend Beth's blog who provides the most compelling reason to see the film:

"Kristen Stewart jumping around in a t-shirt and black panties, with Joan Jett hair, and an electric guitar, is just movie gold; I don’t care who you are!"

Let's just hope Ms. Stewart's talent keeps emerging (in films like this and Adventurland) even while she's chained to the fucking Twilight series!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nog Sees Amanda Seyfried Naked (in Atom Egoyan's Chloe)!

Like his Canadian compatriot Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan has often made films about sex that are (deliberately) unsexy, approaching the subject with a clinical detachment (Exotica, for instance, is a very good film, but if you're looking for a sexy film about strip clubs, you've probably got the wrong film). With Chloe, which is easily his highest profile project in terms of acting talent (Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Ms. Seyfried), Egoyan seems to be trying to maintain some semblance of a grip on his usual tones and themes while still delivering a (more or less) mainstream product which is, at its core, essentially an erotic thriller about obsession with a plot not-so-different from any dozen other films of that type (and a remake of a French film which I have not seen). Anyway, Egoyan's attempt to fuse his usual "arthouse" sensibilty with the mainstream is not very successful.

The plot in a sentence: Julianne Moore believes her husband (Neeson) has been cheating on her so she hires a lovely young escort/prostitute (Seyfried as the titular Chloe) to pose as a flirt and test his inclinations. The film is at its best in the sections where Seyfried verbally relates (often graphically) her discoveries to Moore. Here we see Egoyan's interests in the manipulation of point-of-view emerging, but unlike his earlier, better films, this time it's mainly used in the service of the film's obligatory thriller "twist," such as it is (you'll see it coming far in advance). By the time Chloe arrives at its laughable final moments, no one is likely to feel much investment in it (the motivations of the characters alternate between unbelievable--Moore--and deliberately inscrutable--Chloe). But let's end by addressing the reason that a few people will be drawn to the theater for this: yes, you see Seyfried naked early and often and complete with a lesbian scene.