Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nog and Cyrus and the Duplass Brothers!

The Duplass' brothers have emerged from the "mumblecore" world of their previous films. The Puffy Chair and Baghead, and entered the multiplex with Cyrus, keeping the awkward relationships and off-kilter sensibility of the earlier films pretty much intact. Oddly enough, their foray into the mainstream is actually a darker and edgier film than the early works and, I think, better. It comes off less "look-at-me-I'm quirky" than Puffy Chair and less "look-at-me-I'm-meta" than the super-odd Baghead. John C. Reilly (a Nog On Film favorite!) plays John, seven years divorced and increasingly isolated. He remains unusually close to his about-to-be-remarried ex (Catherine Keener) who coaxes him out to a party where he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei). Molly zeros in on the very qualities that the rest of the party guests find offputting (his neediness, his awkward honesty), and they fall into a quick relationship. Too quick, at least according to Molly's 21 year old son Cyrus (Jonah Hill), who still lives at home and shares an unusually close and ultra-dependent relationship with his mother (whom he always calls Molly). I've deliberately used "unusually" twice here, as opposed to something like "inappropriate," because the Duplass's seem, on some level, interested in questioning the nature of familial and sexual relationships. What does it mean to be an ex-lover? What does it mean to be a mother and son? Where are the necessary boundaries in these relationships? Midway through, the film briefly threatens to turn into a broader kind of comedy, as John and Cyrus engage in a battle for Molly's affection, but this is no Stepbrothers, and a slapsticky moment at Keener's wedding quickly yields to raw, honest emotions. Near the end of the film, the Duplass's give us a bonding moment between John and Cyrus, allowing the often-creepy Cyrus to soften his edges and let down his guard. "I'm starting to think I'm a fucked-up and dysfunctional person," he tells John. It's a laugh-line for the audience (we're all thinking, "No shit!"), but it's a moment of honest recognition for Cyrus. The films ends more-or-less happily, though certainly not happily-ever-after-ly in the way of a more typical romantic comedy. We sense that both John and Cyrus, previously locked in patterns that don't allow for real emotional growth, are both now ready to move on to new stages of life. And this doesn't feel sappy, but hard-earned. How rare is that? The Duplass brothers supposedly work in a heavily improvisational manner, which is easy to believe. The writing isn't showy, but the characters feel very lived-in. There is solid work from all four main actors here. Yes, even Jonah Hill. Good film.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Nog Is Three Levels Down With Nolan's Inception! (No Major Spoilers, but Still You Should View Before Reading!).

While I fully agree with all the critics who are saying that one probably shouldn't levy a final verdict on Nolan's Inception without a second viewing, that doesn't mean I can't go ahead and write about it prior to seeing it again! First off, it's certainly the most fun I've had at the multiplex this year. If it's not as "perfect" as Toy Story 3 (and it probably isn't), I give it the edge for the complexity (and fun!) of its vision...not to mention, in IMAX, an aural and visual experience so intense as to be nearly overwhelming. My gut reaction is that I'll be more critical of the action-scenes the second time around. While Levitt's zero-gravity hallway fight scene may be an instant classic, some of the gun-battles--fighting a "militarized subconcious," no less!--are likely to grow a little tedious on repeat viewings. Inception is wildly complex in its ideas but (mostly) not off-putting in its execution (though I suspect the repeat business here will come mainly from sci-fi geeks, not from action it too "smart" to be a major blockbuster? discuss!) Nolan attaches the basic format of the heist film (assembling the team, committing the heist) to the film's sci-fi conceits (dream-raiders who steal or implant information, the latter called "inception"), and leads viewers into a remarkably constructed (and outrageously lengthy) final action set piece that occurs on three (really, four?) levels of dreaming. The cast is all-around solid (I'm increasingly liking Leo's performances of late...and JGL's cool quotient is ever-increasing), but my initial thought is that the film could use a more solid emotional core. While it's always involving, it's only sporadically moving, and the already controversial final shot threatens to jettison emotional connection in favor of one final mindfuck which is wonderfully fun to debate but arguably unecessary. Go see it, for goodness' sake!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Nog's Criterion Corner: Mystery Train

Mystery Train is the third Jim Jarmusch film to arrive on Criterion (following Down by Law and Night on Earth), and it's probably my personal favorite of his films. Robby Muller's cinematography is gorgeous and colorful while still conveying the dinginess and loneliness of the not-so-nice parts of a city (Memphis, in this case) late at night. The film gives us three stories happening (more or less) simultaneously, all linked by a gunshot. For me, the first, Far From Yokohama, is the most perfect of the three, and maybe the best distillation of the Jarmusch aesthetic, a sort of deadpan cool masking a deep sense of longing and alienation. Two Japanese teenagers arrive by train in Memphis. Mitsuko, the girl, is excited to see Graceland and all things Elvis. Jun, perhaps to establish himself as a more discerning consumer of American pop-culture, constantly asserts that "Carl Perkins is better." Mitsuko is a wide-eyed bundle of energy; Jun is utterly laconic, insisting upon arrival that the city is not so different from Yokohama. After a visit to Sun Studios, which leaves them baffled by the mile-a-minute speech of their Southern tour guide, they end up at a cheap hotel (the night manager is played by musician Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who gets some of the film's funniest lines). Late at night, Jun stands by the window in their hotel room, looking out at the city and finally seeming to acknowledge the distance he's come from his familiar world. "It's cool," he says, "to be 18 in Memphis." He and Mitsuko make love and afterwards we see hints that their relationship, which has seemed wonderfully tight-knit, may be a bit tenuous after all (and the next story, "A Ghost," quickly transitions into a world of relationships falling apart). Keep this cool stuff coming, Criterion!