October 3, 2008 in Seven

Nick, Norah and near-perfect love

Romance captures youth at its best
From wire reports
 
Associated Press photo

Michael Cera, right, and Kat Dennings star in “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.”
(Full-size photo)

“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” is one of those magical, near-perfect youth romances, a film that so vividly reminds you of the glories of young love that you wish you were 18 again, full of hope, not jaded by life and love lost.

Sassy, savvy and wistful, it throws two strangers together for one wild, unsupervised night in Manhattan, a night of searching for a lost, drunken friend and a mysterious, mythic band about to play an impromptu gig, of nightclubs that apparently never card anybody – even kids too young to drink.

But that’s OK. Nick and Norah are “straight edge” types, as in edgy, hip kids who don’t do drugs, booze or tobacco.

Nick (Michael Cera) has just been dumped. Norah (Kat Dennings) is alone “again” at a bar where Nick’s band is playing. She goes to school with Nick’s ex, Tris (Alexis Dziena). She’s been picking Nick’s soulful mix CDs out of a trash can the trashy Tris has dumped them in.

Imagine her surprise when the guy she begs “Be my boyfriend for five minutes,” just to impress Tris, turns out to be the sensitive, cute but still shell-shocked Nick.

Norah has a pal, Caroline, transformed by actress Ari Graynor into the funniest underage blond drunk in New York City. She goes off with Nick’s bandmates, who lose her. And Nick and Norah – whom the band (Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron) and we know were meant to be together but who can’t seem to connect – must dash hither and yon through the night in Nick’s battered yellow Yugo.

There’s a lot more of “Juno” about this Peter Sollett film of the Rachel Cohn/David Levithan novel than just the casting of the boy-next-door Cera in it. It’s smart. It’s romantic. It’s not coarse, crude, sexist or homophobic.

It’s “High Fidelity” meets “Sixteen Candles,” not that your average teen will spot that. But they won’t need to. “Nick and Norah” is now, their generation’s “Say Anything.”

– By Roger Moore, The Orlando Sentinel

“Appaloosa”

Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) are hired guns paid by frontier towns to pin on badges and clean things up. In the New Mexico burg of Appaloosa that means taking on a ruthless rancher, Bragg (Jeremy Irons), whose men terrorize the citizens.

None of this is original. Over the years we’ve seen plenty of power-mad cattle barons, timorous townsmen and laconic shootists, but Harris (in his second directing effort after 2000’s “Pollack”) and Mortensen strike the right note of a comfortable male relationship.

While Virgil is good at intimidation and stoic slow burns, Everett displays a more sophisticated psychology. Which is why his hackles rise when Allison French (Renée Zellweger) shows up.

Mrs. French is a widow who has hardly alit from the stagecoach when she starts batting her lashes at the flummoxed Virgil. Let’s not mince words here: Zellweger nearly sinks the movie.

So while “Appaloosa” reminds of lots of other, better Westerns – “Lonesome Dove,” “Open Range,” the classic “My Darling Clementine,” even the recent AMC cable miniseries “Broken Trail” – it lacks the substantial story that would make it memorable.

– By Robert W. Butler, McClatchy News

“Flash of Genius”

This story of the guy who invented the intermittent windshield wiper isn’t a bad film. But producer-turned-director Marc Abraham, the writers and star Greg Kinnear, don’t give us a reason to care about the lonely, dull quest of the inventor to be paid, and get credit, for the device that changed rainy-day driving forever.

The film ambles through a long flashback, showing the “eureka” moment when Robert Kearns, an inventor and engineering professor, identified a problem and set out to solve it, with the help of his wife (Lauren Graham) and six kids.

“Look for the un-obvious,” he tells his children, obsessing over ways to make a windshield wiper do what a human eye does – blink at different speeds, adjustable to the conditions of the moment.

He cracks it. He has a backer, his local Detroit Ford dealer pal (Dermot Mulroney). He has the interest of the Ford Motor Company. And he has a dream, to build the wipers himself, “just to do something important.”

Things go well until they suddenly go wrong, and Kearns is left in the lurch by Ford. When he spies wipers on a new Mustang, headed to an auto show, flopping intermittently in the rain, he snaps.

But it’s a long, slow snap, like everything else in “Flash of Genius.” The kernel of a good movie was here, in this story of obsession and an injustice that consumes a victim. But “Flash of Genius” never rises above dry history lesson/period piece, which, in a way, is a final injustice to poor Kearns.

– By Roger Moore, The Orlando Sentinel

“Religulous”

Bill Maher is preaching to the choir with this documentary that dissects organized religion, but he’s doing it in his laceratingly funny, typically sardonic way.

The comic has touched on this topic often in his standup act and on his HBO talk show “Real Time With Bill Maher,” but here he uses his formidable debating skills to go on a full, focused attack.

If you’re an atheist or an agnostic, you’ll be completely on board and happy to tag along with Maher as he travels the globe asking people about their faith – everywhere from Jerusalem to the Vatican to Amsterdam.

At a makeshift truckers’ chapel in Raleigh, N.C., the drivers put their hands on his shoulders and pray in a circle that he’ll find the Lord. At the shlocky Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando, Fla., Maher interviews the actor playing Jesus, a hippie who wears a headset microphone to perform on stage.

If you’re a true believer, though, you’ll probably be offended. Maher is surely smart enough to realize that his movie will convert no one, but he seems to get off on the thrill of the challenge nonetheless.

And Maher undermines his arguments at the end when the tone turns sharply serious: He tries to make a connection between religion and all the wars and violence in the world, and he does it with the same kind of certitude he condemned others for having. He takes his infinite verbal capacity and turns it into a heavy-handed tirade, when the process of seeking enlightenment had a far more divine power.

– By Christy Lemire, Associated Press

“How to Win Friends and Alienate People”

The problem with this comedy is that it wants to be your friend and it doesn’t want to alienate you.

Simon Pegg plays Sidney Young, a British tabloid journalist who is recruited by a Vanity Fair-style magazine to write profiles of celebrities in the U.S.. Sidney, who doesn’t believe in coddling his subjects, is taken aback by the softball approach he’s asked to use for his new job.

Celebrity journalism is certainly a prime target for mocking, but the filmmakers seem more interested in turning this into a Nick Hornby-style romantic comedy, with Sidney doing the flirtation dance with his sometime aghast colleague Alison (Kirsten Dunst). This punch-pulling is a little surprising coming from director Robert B. Weide, whose credits include Larry David’s HBO squirm-com “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

– By Robert Philpot, McClatchy News

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