Movie Review: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)


Don’t you love those movies that take place all in one crazy night, with characters finding love and friendship and music and hilarity along the way? Me too! Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a pretty good example of exactly that kind of movie. Heartbroken Nick (Michael Cera), still pining after his air-headed ex Tris (Alexis Dziena), is convinced by his queercore band mates to leave the house and play a gig in New York opening for Bishop Allen. Snarky Norah goes to school with Tris, and knows Nick only through the mix CD’s Tris throws away. Her favorite band, Where’s Fluffy?, known for ultra-secret late-night shows in the city, is rumored to be playing that night so she and her best friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) plan to spend the night in New York looking for it. The two girls end up at Nick’s show, where Caroline gets extremely drunk and Norah, in an attempt to keep her cool in front of condescending Tris, makes out with pretend-boyfriend Nick.

After a mish mosh of interactions, Nick’s matchmaking bandmates Thom (Aaron Yoo) and Dev (Rafi Gavron) and nameless friend (Jonathan B Wright from Spring Awakening) hoist Caroline into their van to take her home while Nick and Norah hop into his tiny yellow car to search for Where’s Fluffy? (also Nick’s favourite band). Nick’s obsession with Tris frustrates Norah, while meeting her sort-of-boyfriend Tal (Jay Baruchel) is off-putting for Nick. Thom and Dev lose Caroline, who wanders drunkenly around the city for most of the evening, while Tris stalks Nick. The pair switches cars and objectives as they hunt for Caroline while still keeping an eye out for Where’s Fluffy? clues. All this and more is happening with pretty cool tunes playing in the background (I felt pretty hip for recognizing most of the songs), and at the end everything wraps up like it should. Great job everyone!

I just had a really good time watching this. The story was interesting, not too complicated, and held the promise of satisfaction at the end- of course Nick and Norah will eventually realize they’re perfect for each other, the question is how much semi-sarcastic banter must first be exchanged? The cast is wonderful: Ari Graynor plays a hilarious drunk, Michael Cera is an adorable wit, Kat Dennings is very likeable and intelligent, and the bandmates were just great. I like that they talked so much about music- it didn’t seem to be in a pretentious, “look how hipster my movie is” way, but more in a realistic, this-is-how-these-kids-would-actually-talk way. The movie didn’t do anything very special but it did a good job updating the falling-in-love-in-one-night story for a young 2008 audience. I haven’t read the book it’s based on, but regardless of how true it is to the source material it’s still a really fun, laid back movie.

Movie Review: Slap Shot (1977)

Well, I guess it’s time to catch up on all those Paul Newman movies I still haven’t seen. Slap Shot is one that my dad and little brother talk about all the time, quoting it to me and aghast when I remind them I haven’t seen it. So I finally saw it. And it was good, but I’m not about to reach their obsessive quoting status.

Slap Shot chronicles the descent of an unskilled, on-the-brink-of-termination minor league hockey team, the Charlestown Chiefs, into complete barbarity in order to secure enough interest and wins to be sold for profit to a different owner. The coach and oldest player, Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman), does his best to encourage violent games, incorporating the Hanson Brothers, newcomers with brutal methods, into the lineup. He also hunts down the elusive owner of the team, beseeching her to sell the them instead of completely disbanding them. The movie follows them through many games, but focuses more on the the players off the ice, especially Dunlop’s fragile relationship with his ex-wife and growing attraction to/sympathy for teammate Ned Braden’s (Michael Ontkean) wife Lily (Lindsay Crouse). Braden himself has a lot of problems with the way Dunlop has been playing the game, while simultaneously trying to smooth things over with Lily. Everything sort of works out, in true dramedy fashion.

This is a pretty good movie, but I guess I thought it would be more of a straight comedy. It was funny but not uproarious, and parts of it were a bit sad or hopeless. If I had gone into it with different expectations I might have liked it better. Or it might be one of those movies that grows on you after repeated viewings. Also I’m not that into sports. Anyway Paul Newman’s there so there’s really not much more to know about it! And it’s kind of cool that it’s mostly based on (or inspired by) a true story. The writer, Nancy Dowd, had a brother on a team called the Johnstown Jets who played the game pretty rough. The Hanson brothers are based on the real Carlson Brothers and are played by two of the Carlson brothers themselves plus one other guy from the real team (the third brother couldn’t make it). Most of the other characters are based on real people too.

I was surprised and excited when I saw the movie was written by a woman. Because it’s so male character-centered and has the kind of humor that caters to my dad and brother, and a sports movie from the 70s, I guess I just wouldn’t have expected it. Pretty cool though. She’s penned or helped pen several other movies from the 70s and 80s (sometimes under male pseudonym Rob/Ernest Morton), written for a season of SNL, and won a screenwriting Oscar for Coming Home. What a cool lady! I can’t find what she’s up to now, if anything. Anyone have any information on Nancy Dowd? Or movies to recommend? I just added Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains to my Netflix queue, and I’ve already seen Ordinary People.

Here is a short article she wrote about Slap Shot and its origins.

Movie Review: Im Juli (2000)

As I am learning the German language and will be studying there next semester, it follows that I am a pretty big fan of German culture, particularly its movies! There are a lot of great ones out there, old and new, but none that I’ve seen are straight-up comedies. Im Juli, a comedic road trip through Eastern Europe, broke that mold for me. Most of the film is a frame story in which hitchhiker Daniel (Moritz Bleibtreu) tells driver-with-dead-body-in-his-trunk Isa (Mehmet Kurtulus) about how he came to be abandoned in Bulgaria. Daniel is a fairly conservative high school Physics teacher, ready to spend the spring holiday week alone at his house in Hamburg. Adventurous Juli (Christiane Paul) has the hots for him and in a scheme to get his attention she ends up sending him into the arms of another woman, Melek (Idil √úner), who is leaving for Istanbul to meet someone under the bridge on Friday at noon. Propelled by his instant fascination with her, Daniel decides to drive to Istanbul and declare his love, accompanied by hitchhiking Juli (who coincidentally is also going to Istanbul, well whaddaya know). As they get to know each other, they feel both frustration and attraction. They go through many changes of vehicle, lots of lost funds, a couple of problematic border crossings, and get separated more than once. And of course, they meet a lot of ca-razy people! In the end, everything comes full-circle as Daniel, Juli, Isa, and Melek all cross paths and everyone decides to continue their wandering ways together! With Love and Friendship!

Because of his Turkish heritage, director Fatih Akin often incorporates German-Turk relation issues into his films. I like the multi-national aspect of Im Juli, with locations in Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey (they went through Romania as well but weren’t allowed to film there so it’s shown as a series of photographs). I also like how the movie can acknowledge its own silliness: while getting high for the first time, Daniel literally floats; in an attempt to apply science to a car stunt, he fails miserably. And of course, Akin’s passion for music shines throughout. Melek serenades beach campers with a Turkish ballad, Daniel and Juli croon “Blue Moon”, and there are a couple cool club scenes. It’s got pretty much everything you need for a good road movie, with pretty landscapes, near-death experiences, comedic side characters, lack of proper hygiene, and a focus on the development of a relationship. If you’re looking for a German movie that doesn’t relate to WWII, the DDR, or general unsolvable Problems, then you are in the right cinematic location!


Suicide Swing“- J*Let (best song in the movie, from a great club scene where Daniel is hallucinating)

Movie Review: Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

Oh, boy. Here’s a movie that just has everything going for it! Remember all those funny guys from The State? Well, most of them are here! As well as a bunch of other funny people! Plus there’s lots of making out, precocious children, montages, short shorts, and hijinks! And it was written by David Wain (who also directed) and Michael Showalter! Did I mention that icon for cute glasses-wearers everywhere, Janeane Garofalo? She’s totally in this movie too.

It’s 1981, it’s the last day of camp, and there is a lot going on with a large number of wacky characters, from hormonal teenage camp counselors to romantically challenged adult leaders to the whiny campers themselves. Alright so Coop (Michael Showalter) is totally digging fellow counselor Katie (Marguerite Moreau), but she’s dating asshole/stud Andy (Paul Rudd), who is lusting after Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks). Victor (Ken Marino) and Neil (Joe Lo Truglio) have to take a bunch of campers for an overnight river rafting trip, but Victor can’t miss the opportunity to finally have sex with Abby (Marisa Ryan). Camp Director Beth (Janeane Garofalo) is crushing on camp neighbor Professor Henry Newman (David Hyde Pierce) but their mutual insecurities lead to problems. Counselor Gail (Molly Shannon) gains relationship advice and confidence from her arts and crafts campers. JJ (Zak Orth) and Gary (AD Miles) are worried their buddy McKinley (Michael Ian Black) isn’t getting enough sex, while cafeteria worker Gene (Christopher Meloni) is dealing with fetish denial and a talking soup can (Jon Benjamin). While all of this and more is happening, there’s the big talent show that night, and everyone’s getting ready for it! Mostly, drama instructors Susie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Bradley Cooper) have to deal with a group of talentless morons. Finally, maybe a falling meteor will destroy the camp?

The stories all intertwine and everything works out for better or worse, depending whose side you’re on. A lot of ridiculous things happen and it is all fairly silly, in the best of ways. It could have felt like a bunch of sketches linked loosely together, but I think it all fits pretty well contextually. The large amount of characters can be a bit confusing but they’re all so distinctive that you don’t feel lost in any of their individual stories. Plus I love the whole movie-taking-place-in-one-day thing. Obviously, this is a must for any fan of The State or Stella or The Ten, but also it’s for anyone who likes enjoyable, exciting, often-nonsensical comedy. Perfect for summer, but funny in any season!

Highlight: Training Montage (and lots of dancing) with Michael Showalter, AD Miles, and Christopher Meloni.

Highlight: Joe Lo Truglio and Janeane Garofalo really need to find the f***ing phone!

Movie Review: Choke (2008)

So there’s this writer with an interestingly-spelt last name, Chuck Pahlaniuk. Maybe you’ve heard of him? No? Fight Club? Hello? Well anyway he also wrote a book called Choke, which is funny and enjoyable and in true attention-deficit, non-linear Pahlaniuk style. Not as good Survivor or Invisible Monsters but I guess someone out there thought it warranted a movie. That someone was mostly right.

First time director and second-time screenwriter (after What Lies Beneath) Clark Gregg, who also co-stars in the movie (his acting resume is quite large; I recognized him as the SHIELD guy in Iron Man) as Lord High Charlie, a colonial theme park employee, does an impressive job of taking the choppiness of the source material and making a fairly cohesive film. Choke is the story of sex addict Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) and various experiences/routines he goes through while struggling with his amnesiac, domineering mother (Angelica Houston). He goes to sex addict anonymous meetings to get picked up. He goes to restaurants so he can make himself choke and get saved by rich people who will get hero complexes and feel responsible for Victor for years to come (usually in the form of sending him periodic checks). He works in a colonial re-enactment town, where he mostly imagines visitors and co-workers naked (and often sleeps with them while on the job) and hangs out with best friend and recovering chronic masturbator Denny (Brad William Henke). He visits his mother in a mental ward, filled mostly with older women who have memory problems and assign Victor as the object of their frustrations (whether it’s an older brother or former lover, etc). But every time he visits she usually thinks he’s someone else and so wallows in the belief that he never actually visits. Her condition worsens, so Victor and new doctor Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald, you know, Carla Jean in No Country For Old Men, and Evangeline in Nanny McPhee) work on a sexy experimental procedure that will maybe save her. Scenes from Victor’s highly idosyncratic childhood are shown throughout the movie, giving more depth to the character. Also, maybe he’s the half-clone of Jesus. Oops, was that a spoiler?

I thought it was pretty darn enjoyable, and a surprisingly on-target adaptation. Sam Rockwell was perfectly cast, and he really drives the whole film. There probably could have been more sex in this story of a sex addict, but I guess ratings were a concern? Also I noticed (or at least, it is my opinion) that they made Victor’s character more sympathetic. I haven’t read the book in a few years, but I remember thinking he was very funny but pretty unlikeable. Here I found his character (or maybe it was just Rockwell’s performance) much more touching, especially with the reminders of the shitshow that was his childhood. They focused more on the Paige-Victor relationship, which was ok and a very movie-ish thing to do. However, I felt that Kelly Macdonald was just awful as Paige. She was completely out of place, didn’t seem to know what to do with the role, and ended up falling flat with every line she uttered. It’s tolerable since she’s not the star of the film, but she’s in it enough to affect my opinion as a whole. Also there’s this metaphorical thing Denny does that they touch upon in the film but is more meaningfully expanded in the book, and it’s too bad it didn’t get its due. I’d say Choke is good, not great, but still a lot of fun. Kind of like the book itself. If you want your fix of back-and-forth, sex-fixated, manly comedy/drama/mystery/seediness, then stop on by.