Sunday, May 15, 2011


Could it be? is Marcus Pinn actually taking the time out to give what little praise he can muster up for a movie scene he generally cant stand? Well...kinda. Oh, and by "movie scene" (or "film movement"), i mean a group of films that share similar themes and subject matter, made by and starring a closely knit group of a filmmakers and actors who frequently collaborate with one another (like the french new wave or German new wave). In mumblecore's case, that scene consists of key players like; The Duplass Brothers ('the puffy chair' and 'baghead'), Aaron Katz ('Quiet City' and 'Dance Party USA'), Joe Swanberg (directed; 'LOL' and 'Hannah Takes The Stairs' and co-starred in 'Quiet City') and actress Greta Gerwig ('Hannah Takes The Stairs' and 'Baghead'). In this blog, we're gonna get in to Katz' and the Duplass Brothers' latest features.
In the last year, not only have i been able to make it through an entire mumblecore-related movie without rolling my eyes or throwing my hands up in a "what the fuck?!" gesture, but I've had some pretty positive things to say about a few of the movies as well. Don't get me wrong, i still for the life of me can't see what legitimate critics like Roger Ebert and elitist prick Ray Carney see in this film scene overall. Are we (the American movie audience) so desperate for a relevant film movement to call our own (which in my opinion we haven't had since the 90's independent renaissance, led by filmmakers like soderbergh, gus van sant, spike lee, tarrantino, jim jarmusch, the coens and kevin smith) that we'll just accept anything, compare it to the works of john cassavetes and terrnace mallick and call it brilliant? Is it the pressure for the American independent/arthouse scene to keep up and compete with other countries who have still managed to maintain some solid film movements in recent years like France's "new french extremism" (baise moi, pola x, the piano teacher, irreversible, i stand alone, etc) or Denmark's dogma 95 (which hasn't been THAT popular in the last 8-10 years, but still...). Or even Asian countries like Korea and Thailand who have been making a HUGE dent in the film world in recent years. If that's the case, i don't see stuff like 'LOL', 'Dance Party USA', 'Mutual Appreciation' or 'Quiety City' standing up to the likes of Korea's 'Old Boy' & 'I Saw The Devil' or France's 'Pola X' & 'L'Humainte'. But 'Cold Weather' (even with its horrible ending) and 'Cyrus' are a nice indication that the mumblecore film scene is maturing and becoming less predictable.
Roger Ebert said that 'Cold Weather' was the best American film of 2010. I don't agree with that at all, especially due to the fact that the movie got completely lazy and pretty much gave up in the last 20 minutes or so, but director Aaron Katz still stepped outside of his comfort zone of movies focusing on 20-something year olds from Portland or Brooklyn, whining & mumbling (like...literally) about their relationships and whatnot. 'Cold Weather' is nothing like that. In fact, its neo-noir. In the film Chris Lankenau, who starred in Katz' previous feature; 'Quiet City', stars as "Doug". A forensics science major who recently dropped out of college to come live with his sister and work in an ice packing factory in Portland (...of course he did) while he's figuring out what he wants to do with his life. Even though he no longer studies forensic science, he still keeps up with it and maintains a fascination for mystery novels & Sherlock Holmes. Later on in the story, his ex-girlfriend (Rachel) happens to be in town for work (...or so she says) and the 2 meet up. As soon as we see Rachel, we can tell something is up by how nervous and edgy she looks, even though she tries her best to hide it. While Doug's ex is in town, she becomes kinda close to Doug's co-worker/DJ buddy Carlos. One night, when Rachel doesn't show up to hang out with him like she was supposed to and stops answering her phone, Carlos jumps to conclusions and assumes something bad has happened to her. With Doug's help (and his knowledge of forensics and mystery novels), they break in to her hotel room, where's she's still nowhere to be found, and they uncover that she actually is in some serious trouble, and she isn't actually in town for work like she said. As it turns out, she was supposed to pay someone a large sum of money, but the briefcase containing the money was stolen. Now Doug, Carlos and Doug's sister have to work together to help Rachel and recover the money.
Like i said before, i love the fact that Aaron Katz didn't make another typical mumblecore/relationship drama. I would've never expected a neo-noir mystery to come from him. My issues with the film were that i found a few (important) things very vague. I mean, just because someone doesn't show up somewhere they were supposed to one night, doesn't automatically mean something bad has happened. That didn't seem believable to me. Like, this one little thing causes a huge mystery to unfold? I dunno about that. I think the writing with that part of the story couldve been tightened up some. Also, i thought the ending was a HUGE letdown. I'm sorry, but in a straight forward mystery like 'Cold Weather', i think there shouldve been more closure with the ending. Sure there are noir thrillers like; 'Mullholand Drive', 'Lost Highway', 'Inland Empire', 'Blade Runner' and 'Donnie Darko' that have very subjective open endings, but those movies are quite surreal and strange from the get-go, and its expected (especially with David Lynch's films) that these movies will have some kind of subjectivity and leave things open to interpretation in the end. However, straightforward mysteries (which 'Cold Weather' falls in to) like 'Chinatown' or even the more recent 'Brick' have some closure and don't leave you hanging on certain aspects of the plot that shouldve been sewn up. I mean, in the end of 'Cold Weather' we don't know if the money ever made it to the right person or if Rachel is still in trouble. Instead, Katz reverted back to his comfort zone with a typical mumblecore ending: Doug and his sister sit in a parking lot playing mixtapes for each other in a parked car. Talk about anti climactic. Its like the movie just randomly stopped and the credits started rolling.
Hopefully with Aaron Katz' next film (which i do anticipate) he'll take elements of his 2nd to last feature ('Quiet City') which had a troublesome 1st half, but an excellent 2nd half and combine it with elements of 'Cold Weather', which was an extremely solid film up until the very ending, and manage to come up with a great film overall, which in my opinion he has yet to do.

Leave it to the true "all-stars" of this film movement (the Duplass Bros.) to make, in my opinion, the best mumblecore-related movie ever. This is what happens when you get ACTUAL actors to star in your film instead of your buddies, which is something these mumblecore directors cant seem to get past. Just because your friend who works at American apparel is cute, or your buddy who lives off of the L train line is kind of funny, doesn't mean they can hold down an entire movie. Aside from co-stars; John C Reilly and Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener is probably one of the best American actresses working today. And i know its become pretty cliche and typical to voice your hatred for Judd Apatow related-"anything", but i even found Jonah Hill pretty damn funny in this too. And most importantly, when you cast actual actors, your dialogue wont consists of every other word being "like" or the phrase "you know?" coming after every other sentence. I mean, even though the basic plot of 'Cyrus' has been done before (a son or stepson trying to ruin his single mom's love life so he can have her all to himself), it was still a solid film overall.
What makes this mumblecore movie stand out over all the other films is that its the first (or at least the first of what I've seen) to deal with characters outside of the typical age-range that these films usually focus on. The main characters are in their 40's, divorced and one is a single parent. No mumblecore-related film that I've seen has yet to focus on any of that along with parenting or the type of dysfunctional relationship between Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei's characters.
In 'Cyrus' John C Reilly plays a lonely guy, who hasn't moved on or had a real relationship since his divorce. At the advice of his ex-wife, he tries his best to get back out there and meet someone. Eventually he does (Marisa Tomei), and they both seem to hit it off real well until Tomei's son (played by Jonah Hill) comes in to the picture. She has no idea that her son isn't the perfect angel that she thinks he is. Hill sees Reilly as a threat, and tries his best to sabotage his mom's relationship so he can have her all to himself. Unfortunately, no one recognizes what Hill is really like except for Reilly. So the 2 of them have to put up a front when they're around Tomei like they're really getting along, but when she's not around, they're at each others throats, essentially competing to win her over
The mother/son relationship in 'Cyrus' is very interesting, odd and...unique. Even though the son is in his 20's, he still needs his mom to pick the vegetables out of his food, sleep in the same bed as him when he has "panic attacks" (which may or may not even be real panic attacks) and they hang out more than a 20-something year old son should hang out with his mother. In fact, he doesn't seem to have any friends (or even a girlfriend for that matter) outside of his mother. There's nothing incestuous between the 2, but its definitely not a normal relationship.
John C Reilly's performance is a nice transition in to his next and more dramatic role ('We Need To Talk About Kevin'). I love "Dr. Steve Brule" just as much as anyone else, and Reilly is a funny guy, but I'm starting to get worried that there's a new generation of kids who are going to only identify him as a comedic actor, unaware of his earlier work like; 'State of Grace' or 'The Thin Red Line'. It seems like ever since he started playing the somewhat dopey/comedic supporting roles in the more serious films PT Anderson ('Sydney', 'Boogie Nights' and 'Magnolia'), Reilly started to get get typecast after that. His performance in 'Cyrus' is just as funny (the opening scene when Catherine Keener catches him masturbating or the scene when Reilly quietly threatens to knock Jonah Hill out) as it is sad (the scene in the beginning of the film when he's at the party and confesses some pretty heavy/sad stuff about his life to a complete stranger). I don't know if any actor couldve pulled off the performance the same way he did.
The Duplass brothers managed to maintain their John Cassavetes-influenced/natural looking cinematography (found in their previous films) and this may sound corny, but 'Cyrus' does have a some genuine and touching moments. Yes, as the story unfolds it does get predictable and sure you can see the ending coming from a mile away, but i still enjoyed it very much.


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