Matt's Movie Quick Takes — July 2, 2010

Greenberg (2010) — Set for release on DVD July 13, Noah Baumbach’s (The Squid and Whale) latest stars Ben Stiller as Roger Greenberg, a brooding 40-something-year-old New Yorker who makes the decision to do “nothing” after coming out of a mental institution following a nervous breakdown. Spending time house-sitting his brother’s home in California, Greenberg’s apparent goal is to simply live his life one day at a time and not to come to any profound life revelations — so naturally, everywhere he turns there’s some kind of important life lesson to be had. Greenberg does everything he can to stay inside the plastic bubble of  social isolation he has created for himself. At the same time, he throws himself directly into the line of fire, visiting with ex-girlfriends and friends with whom he has drifted apart. Greta Gerwig (Hannah Takes the Stairs), darling of the creatively-titled “mumblecore” film movement, also stars as Greenberg’s love interest. (Mumblecore (noun): A term used to describe a recent wave of low-budget talky movies focusing on the relationships of adults in their 20s usually featuring unknown casts of actors and actresses.) Gerwig’s Florence, Greenberg’s brother’s assistant, is charmingly awkward. What does Florence see in Greenberg? That’s just one of the puzzling questions raised by this film. Don’t expect much plot here — if that even needs to be said. But don’t expect a pointless movie. There are obstacles for these characters to overcome — even if the hurdles are of the internal sort. This movie rules, by the way. I liked it so much, that I immediately set out to watch as many mumblecore movies as possible, which led me to…

Humpday (2009) —  Pretty amazing/unbelievable set-up here. Two 20-something-year-old supposedly heterosexual guy pals who have drifted apart over the years (a la Greenberg) reunite and, after a wild night of partying, get themselves into a truly bizarre predicament.  They have decided to participate in an amateur pornographic film festival by agreeing to videotape themselves having sex with each other. Why? Partially as a dare and partially as an attempt to create what they consider to be real “art.” Also, it’s a way for one of the two men to prove he still has the ability to be spontaneous and outrageous and for the other man to prove his bohemian persona is more than just talk. Ben (played by mumblecore auteur Mark Duplass, director of The Puffy Chair, Baghead and, most recently Cyrus) is the one of the two friends who has taken the domestic route with his life. He’s married and on the road to fatherhood. His friend Andrew (Joshua Leonard of The Blair Witch Project) is more the free spirit — trekking across the world, doing drugs and fucking beautiful women. Is Andrew enough of a wild boy to bang his old chum in the ass? Does Ben have what it takes to face the challenge? What does Ben’s wife think of the whole situation? And who’s going to be the top and who’s going to be the bottom? Will they simply flip a coin? Humpday answers all these questions — well, at least most of them. Humpday is straight-up mumblecore. It’s shot on digital video. Most, if not all, of the dialogue is improvised. This movie also led me to the conclusion that if you enjoy movies with likable characters, avoid mumblecore movies — because most of the people featured in these films are right assholes, whether it be Greenberg or Humpday‘s ambiguously gay duo. Speaking of assholes, in spite of Humpday‘s premise, this movie is not as “gay” as I expected it to be. Netflix labels Humpday as Gay and Lesbian Cinema — but it’s really not. On the movie scale of gayness, with 10 being Young and Hung Vol. 6 and Dirty Harry being 1, I’d rate Humpday about a 5. It may be the world’s first asexual movie. This one’s available on Netflix Instant Watch, as is The Puffy Chair — which I’m planning to watch next. So check either of these out if you’re interested in this whole mumblecore business. Then check out Greenberg when it’s released on DVD.

The Plague Dogs (1982) – Martin Rosen’s follow-up to Watership Down, about two canine test subjects that escape from an animal testing facility, is the most downbeat animated film ever. I hate to use superlatives, but I challenge any of you to find an animated movie with more of an ever-present sense of impending doom. Even the initial escape from the laboratory is depressing. Sure, the two dogs are no longer going to be subjected to cruel experiments (The one dog is repeatedly given “endurance tests”, being forced to doggy-paddle in a tank of water until he drowns and has to be fished out and resuscitated. The other has been subjected to brain surgery and, as a result, wears a plastic cap affixed to his head with tape covering his exposed brain.) But as soon as they escape, the younger and more optimistic of the two dogs immediately expresses disappointment that the world is not how he remembers it. Instead of biscuits, warm fireplaces and “masters,” they are thrust into an empty wilderness. Soon, the hunger sets in and neither of the two animals are equipped to find food. The situation gets worse when various human threats close in on the pair. These dangers include farmers armed with shotguns and laboratory technicians aware of a potential PR nightmare resulting from the escape. Absolute hopelessness is the theme of the film, which seems to draw some parallels to human slavery with the occasional use of gospel music in its soundtrack. A total feel bad movie, but a landmark film in the use of animation to tackle dark, adult subject matter.

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3 responses to “Matt's Movie Quick Takes — July 2, 2010

  1. I also enjoyed Mark Duplass’ role as the straight guy in the F/X Comedy series “The League” about a bunch of old Gen-x’ers in a Fantasy Football League.

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  2. i was wondering when greenberg would be out. i usually like giving noah baumbach a chance after kicking and screaming (not the will ferrell one), even though i haven’t been as interested in his subsequent output.

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