Entertainment round up for the week of January 29th – February 4th 2009.
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist: Kim and I saw this enjoyable little teen romantic comedy in the theater and Kim made sure to buy it when it came out on DVD this Tuesday. It’s a story about a guy and a girl (played by Michael Cera and Kat Dennings) meeting for the first time who spend a night traveling around NYC in his Yugo looking for a super-cool indie band called “Where’s Fluffy” (A reference to Metallica’s “Breadfan” cover maybe?). Exes, gay band mates and the travails of a disgusting piece of gum all figure in along the way, eventually the young duo realize that they’re perfect for each other. If I go into too much analysis of this flick it might lose some of its charm (Like how Norah’s character arc is reliant upon her walking away from her boyfriend who isn’t really her boyfriend, who is so obviously a real dick it’s amazing that we’re supposed to believe that there might be a reason that she’s with him.) So I won’t analyze it. The movie succeeds most when it is sweet, fun and genuinely awkward (Michael Cera has a deep well to draw from). Where it most obviously lacks is the (thankfully few) Juno-esque passages of dialogue and when it tries to get too “deep” like when Thom tries to explain what “it’s all about” by using The Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” for reference, or when Norah mentions her favorite aspect of Judaism. Overall It’s worth a watch, but don’t expect it to change your life. The movie was very effective at making NYC a character involved in the story and really made me miss the city, it’s been far too long since my last trip in. I wonder how people that don’t live near NY react to it. Do they think the portrayal of the city is bullshit or do they believe in the representation?
Across The Universe: Speaking of NYC Nick & Norah… wasn’t the only NY based movie I saw this week. Although Across the Universe isn’t solely set in NY the bulk of it takes place among artists, musicians and anti-war “revolutionaries” during the combustible times of the late 60’s. If you’re not familiar with Across the Universe it’s a musical that tells the story of Jude and Lucy who fall in love during a tumultuous and highly romanticized time in America’s recent history. The story is advanced and characters deepened by weaving 33 of The Beatles’ songs throughout the picture. Julie Taymor directs this movie musical with her usual flair for visual extravagance, stylized excess and, in places, her usual heavy handedness. Taymor’s rise to prominence began and, really, peaked with her direction of the groundbreaking musical, The Lion King on Broadway. When she moved into feature films she began with Titus, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” arguably the most poorly written and least meaningful of his plays. I say ‘arguably’ because in college I fought to get this play included in our 1998 season. “Titus Andronicus” exists mostly as an excuse for excessive gore with one shocking and disturbing set-piece after another. I lost. Taymor established herself as a very indulgent director who preferred to focus on spectacle rather than true human relationships and conditions. Titus, like blood soaked cotton candy, ultimately leaves the viewer feeling empty. It appears that Taymor considered improving upon this flaw with Universe because at times she attempts to focus on the human relationships at the center of this movie. Instead, she can’t help but to either turn the emotional aspects into big musical numbers (“Let it Be” during the funerals for Jojo’s brother and Daniel) or practically skip past them with a line of dialogue (Max being “messed up”). But it’s unlikely that Taymor wanted to make emotionally deep, realistic small indie films and this movie does have some great things going for it. The integration of The Beatles’ music is spot on and enhances the experience, and that’s really what Across the Universe is, it’s an experience, a very theatrical experience. Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess turn in great performances as Lucy and Jude respectively. Taymor does a good job of showing the many sides of the “revolutionary” story. And she opens the movie with one of the most beautiful opening shots I’ve seen. Across the Universe is very much a musical, very stylized and very much not for everyone but I enjoyed it.
Taken: Basically, Taken is an intense thriller about a guy (Liam Neeson) whose daughter (Maggie Grace) is kidnapped in Paris for servitude in the international sex trade. Liam Neeson just happens to be the last person on earth whose daughter you want to kidnap because, as he puts it, he has “a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you” and a nightmare he makes. The Bourne Supremacy does better in the action department but Taken wins in the intensity department, probably because the personal stakes are well established. It’s worth seeing if you don’t mind sitting on the edge of your seat. I couldn’t stop thinking about Natalie Holloway.
The ASOALS: Caught some excellent local music this week when The ASOALS (American Society Of American Lyricists Society), played at Frank Critelli’s Songs From The Sofa at Books & Co. in Hamden, CT. The ASOALS are a singer/songwriter collective(?) that meet once a month to individually create songs based on a central assigned theme, critique each other and improve upon the creative process overall. The members are Shandy Lawson, James Velvet, The Sawtelles, Eric Parradine, Mike Lasala and Russell Shaddox (who missed the show due to a broken ankle). Good stuff, if you live in the Connecticut area seek these guys out when they’re out and about playing around. It’s good times and great people.
That’s it for this week!