LAFF 2010 Review: The New Year

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To give a plot summary of Brett Haley’s The New Year is almost a disservice to the film, not because it would spoil important plot developments (there’s really nothing to spoil in the film), but because it makes the film sound mundane and uninteresting, and it’s anything but. Sunny Elliot dropped out of college in her junior year two years ago to care for her father in Pensacola, Florida, after he was diagnosed with cancer. During that time she’s also been working at a bowling alley, dating a nice but fairly bland guy she met at the bowling alley, and hanging out with a few other friends. Then Isaac Briggs, a high school friend and rival who left for New York to become a stand-up comic, returns to Pensacola for the Christmas holidays, and Sunny starts thinking about all the things she wanted to do with her life and hasn’t been able to. See what I mean? Nothing particularly new or innovative there.

Yet as I watched, I found myself more and more drawn in and connected to Sunny. Part of this is because except for the relationship specifics, Sunny is me at age 25 – this is one of the best and most genuine portrayals of the quarterlife crisis I’ve seen on screen. It matters not at all that very little actually happens in the film beyond a series of scenes following Sunny and her friends and her dad at the bowling center, the bar, her home, the hospital, etc. The moments of emotional weight are subtle ones, a hug here, a touch of the hand there, a glance or a half-smile. Though everything plays well from a cinematic perspective (nothing feels awkward or uncomfortably improvised the way off-the-cuff indie realism sometimes can), it feels absolutely un-manufactured.

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NEVER LET ME GO Trailer is Understated and Ominous

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It has been far too long since Mark Romanek’s directorial debut, One Hour Photo. It has been eight years, in fact. After bailing on a lot of pre-production work in The Wolfman (which eventually flopped under jobber Joe Johnston) Romanek picked a whopper of a challenge for a follow up; a difficult to adapt Kazuo Ishiguro novel, Never Let Me Go. The book is one of the best books I have read in the past few years or so (along side Cormac McCarthy’s The Road). And Fox Searchlight and Co. have cast the film wonderfully: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins and Keira Knightley. The sumptuous (sunset and foliage) visuals can be seen instantly from the trailer that came online today at Apple.com. The tricky part, is how Romanek will manage the high amount naivete and drama and mystery; where the characters (in the novel, anyway) are ignorant of what is going on moreso than the audience. I recommend avoiding spoilers or any sort of plot synopsis for this film. Even the trailer is close to spoiling – VERY close (consider this is your fair warning.)

Nevertheless, along with Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, this is one of my three most anticipated films of the year for me.

Trailer is tucked under the seat or at Apple in all shapes and sizes.
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Review: Greenberg

Greenberg"

Director: Noah Baumbach
Screenplay: Noah Baumbach
Story: Noah Baumbach & Jennifer Jason Leigh
Starring: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rhys Ifans
Year: 2010
Rating: R
Duration: 107 min

More than just a known commodity, the films of Noah Baumbach (Kicking and Screaming, The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, and now, Greenberg) are an acquired taste. They capture with startling candor life unrehearsed without the benefit of selective memory. There is no safety net for these characters by a merciful writer, their struggles for dignity are lonely (though inevitably comical) affairs. Firmly planted in the theater of the absurd, the Baumbach universe is made to agitate.

Roger Greenberg’s life is a one act play: the not-quite Jew, the bundle of neuroses who refuses to be identified with his stint in a mental hospital, who breaks even the Larry David/Woody Allen mold of comedic curmudgeon, as someone not quite of either coastal city, but of both and back, and of course, my favorite, the lone pedestrian in a city of cars. The stage is set for complexity, but it is ultimately in the minutiae of Roger’s strained attempts to belong, the performance of Ben Stiller and the gracelessness of the dialogue that supersede the premise.

After a nervous breakdown in New York, Roger comes to housesit his brother’s home in Los Angeles. This is the real Los Angeles, not the beach or the modernist cliff mansion, but the sprawling, smog-ridden kitsch wasteland that strips away the mystique and becomes a suitable adversary to Roger’s want of sincerity. Shortly upon his arrival he encounters his brother’s assistant, Florence Marr, and the two kick-off one of the strangest romantic courtships ever captured on celluloid. Unlike Garden State, where love interests of relative quirkiness are paired together in ways that solely accentuate said quirks, the relationship that develops between Roger and Florence is something like a mating dance of the life-incapable, it is actually in its own way kind of beautiful in its start-stop aimlessness. Florence (played magnificently by Greta Gerwig) is more than a romantic foil, her self-proclaimed geekiness bodes an unflappable counter-balance to the Roger’s flawed ego; neither a feminist icon nor an object of desire, Florence walks her own walk as a similarly vulnerable co-conspirator of this unspecified relationship. Lesser films habitually build characters from plot and thematic needs downwards, here characters seem to act first, without fine definitions of what their actions mean even to each other. An apt comparison is the romance of Punch-Drunk Love; however, as with all of Baumbach’s stories, the character studies of Greenberg are given ample time to stew in their own juices, unburdened by conceits of plot. Would you like to know more…?