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Monday Review: Appaloosa, Flash of Genius, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist


'Appaloosa' is a western

A headline that blunt usually points to a forthcoming bad review full of expressions like "doesn't reinvent the wheel." While that expression might be entirely true of Appaloosa (it in fact firmly reestablishes the western wheel) in this case that isn't a bad thing and the simple statement that Appaloosa is a western should be seen as a glowing recommendation of the film, not a half hearted attempt to say something nice about it.

The American western is an almost dead tradition that use to be the great staple of American cinema. Now when we get a western it always seems that there has to be so meting special about it, something that makes it more than just a story about cowboys. Appaloosa looks at that trend and runs the other direction, creating a film that could have easily come out in the heyday of westerns when John Wayne carried a six shooter and horses riding off into the sunset was the way a large chuck of movies ended. The story fits nicely into the classic western with two hired guns, Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), riding into a town called Appaloosa to rid it of Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) a well connected outlaw. Throw in the destructive force of a woman, one of the most common themes in classic westerns where the solitary man was always prized, with the entrance of Allison French (Renee Zellweger) and you've got yourself an excuse for plenty of shooting. Gun fights, train hijackings, smart talking and long draws ensue in a western town that was probably built for movies over 50 years ago.

I'm not sure you could pick two better actors to portray grizzled, hardened cowboys than Mortensen and Harris, the latter of which also wrote and directed the film. Both men seems like they're taken from a generation of actors that knew that they were going to ride a horse with cowboy boots on at some pint in their career and I don't think anyone has ever pulled off a mustache as robust as Mortensen's since Magnum P.I. The two have genuine chemistry in the film that only reaffirms the classic western themes of male bonding and solidarity amongst men. It's as if the two decided that breaking out of the western mold like Hollywood has been doing was a bad idea and so they stepped right back into it. Even the villain is a sign of the loss of the freedom of the west. Much as the old western films yearned for a time when there was a sunset to ride off into Appaloosa does the same thing, with Jeremy Irons' character representing not only corruption and violence but the overruling hand of government that won't allow men to be men and settle things their own way.

It's all quite refreshing in a totally un-refreshing way. Unfortunately some parts stick out a bit more than others. The casting of Zellweger might be one of the worst decisions the filmmakers made. She looks absolutely horrendous in the clothing and hairstyles of the time and her performance seems to lack chemistry with almost all of the actors. It's offsetting, especially when any time the camera isn't near her the film seems to jump to life. I realize that in westerns the invincible hero cowboy, here represented by Cole, has to have his downfall, but her character seems so out of place with the rest of the film that it ruins much of what could have been great about the movie.

It doesn't ruin it completely though, as the strengths of the film outweigh the weaknesses. Harris directs with a sort of straightforwardness that lets the slower moving plot work its way out and when it does pick up allows it to do it well. The score is also of note. With a sort of Shane/Spaghetti Western feel to it, it might be the only part of the film that feels like it's not from the past, with modern twists over a classic sounding track.

At first I wanted to call Appaloosa a love letter to the western bemoaning its downfall, but it isn't that, because it isn't paying its respects or trying to duplicate the classic westerns. It is a western, plain and simple and for that I can do nothing but applaud.
4/5. If you don't like westerns you'll hat it, but otherwise solid,


Flashes of greatness, but no genius

I want to say that Greg Kinnear nailed his role as Bob Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, but it's hard to say if he did or not since I didn't even know someone had invented the intermittent windshield wiper in the first place so i can' treally judge how well Kinnear performed as him. I suppose it did have to be invented, it didn't just appear out of thin air after all, but who knew there was so much drama behind it.

There was a whole lot behind the invention in fact. First Kearns invents the wiper, which had been stumping the automotive world for years, in his basement with his family. Then he shows it off to Ford who signs a deal saying that he can manufacture the wiper for them. After a few months, and a massive investment from Kearns and his family in a factory, Ford pulls the contract. A little while later the new Ford cars come out with intermittent windshield wipers, obviously stolen from Kearns. Kearns then goes forward suing Ford for patent infringement and summarily goes crazy, hurts his family and turns down large sums of money all in the hopes of getting credit for his invention and having Ford say they were wrong. At least that's the way the movie tells the story. I'm sure reality is a bit different here and there, but the overall David and Goliath themes are true enough.

On the whole the film does a decent job of championing the little man and making corporate America look evil, despite the fact that the true evil is the US justice system that kept the case out of court for ten plus years thanks to loopholes and regulations. Viewers are getting their basic Oscar hopeful feel good film out of this one and while some of the performances might be Ocar worth the overall film falls too easily into general happiness to ever really draw much emotion out of anything but the ending. Even Kearns's separation from his wife, played by Lauren Graham, is a long throw from emotional. It's as if the film is just moving through the motions with the regularity of, say, a intermittent windshield wiper.

That being said, the fight between Ford and Kearns is incredibly tense both because of the performance by Kinnear and the subject matter itself. When the film is focusing on his obsession with proving Ford stole from him and their downright dirty business practices it is at its best, delivering plenty of moments where you want to stand up and cheer for the little guy. One wonders if the real Kearns was as charismatic and likable as Greg Kinnear's performance, which completely negates his miscasting in Ghost Town. It's hard to imagine actually getting excited about windshield wipers but there is so much more behind it that you can't help it.

No one is going to walk out of this movie feeling bad. It's a perfectly well made movie about the triumphs of one man against a large corporation. We're Americans, we love the underdog. As a whole though the film isn't that special. It tells a great story, it tells it decently well, but in telling that story it seems to forget the humanity in it and only sees the bigger battle. Despite Kinnear's strong performance the man behind the wiper gets a little lost.
3 out of 5. Warms the heart but nothing special.


Infinitely Enjoyable

At some point the quirky indie comedy with opening credits written like they're ripped from a high schooler's doodles in a notebook, a soundtrack of bands you're not cool enough to know and youthful actors with that sort of on screen presence that just makes you love them is going to become an unfunny cliche of itself as more and more companies try to pump them out. Luckily for us we aren't there yet and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, the most recent in these style of movies, is quirky, funny and enjoyable throughout.

The film takes place over the course of one night in which Nick (Michael Cera) and Norah (Kat Denning) meet and proceed to have crazy sober antics together since neither of them drink. Unfortunately for them Norah's best friend does drink and gets lost after Nick's gay heavy metal band mates lose her. Also drinking that night, as the group of high schoolers looks for a mythical band aptly named "Where's Fluffy" in bars across New York, is Nick's ex-girlfriend who broke up with him on his "b-day" and Norah's on again off again boyfriend. Everyone's looking for Fluffy so clearly paths cross and entangled relationships ensue.

I won't argue that it's the most original plot in the world but the undeniable charm of Michael Cera and the rest of the quirky and enjoyable cast delivers a comedy that hardly ever disappoints in making you laugh, though the beginning stars off slow, but also plays out with a real world charm that is missing from many comedies of the same ilk. Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron might steal the show as Nick's band mates who are constantly arguing over increasingly inappropriate names for their band. I'd have to argue though that the most impressive performance comes from Kat Dennings, who I am slowly falling in love with. As Norah she delivers a wonderful straight edge to Cera's charmingly befuddled attitude, which everyone will note is far different from the charmingly befuddledness of Hugh Grant who actually invented the concept -- or maybe that was Jimmy Stewart. But I'm drifting off into film history and losing my point, which is that Dennings and Cera deliver and have the sort of awkward chemistry between a guy and a girl that is usually kept out of the movies and reserved for reality.

Which is even more impressive when considering the tight writing and long list of punchlines that could have easily fallen flat had less qualified actors delivered them. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is one of those screenplays that are truly dangerous for filmmakers. Picking it up and reading it would only tell you that it could be done right but that it could also go horribly, horribly wrong if the stars don't align because if they don't it's just going to be another bad romantic teen comedy in NYC.

And I suppose at it's heart that's all Nick and Norah is. Jealous exes, drunk friends, parties and alcohol all under the guise of nerdy sub-culture is pretty much the run of this film. Add in Zac Efron and Ashley Tisdale and take out the gay band members of course and the story becomes another cliche teen romance. However, those actors aren't in the film, there are gay band members and while at its base it might be just another teen movie the acting and writing of Nick and Norah make it so much more.
4 out of 5. It's funny and charming, what more do expect from Cera?


I also saw How to Lose Friends and Alienate People which was a big pile of OK with Simon Pegg tossed in the middle and Blindness which was over directed and disappointing.

Also give me clicks on all three pleaaaase!
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About Cowzilla3one of us since 9:42 AM on 07.12.2007

Names Matt Razak and I'm just a gamer with a Wii and a 360 and PS3. I'm also really, really, really, ridiculously good looking and a ninja...and humble. I'm the Editor and Chief at Flixist.

Things I've Done or Am Doing

Front Paged
Music In Gaming
What is a Hero?: Sonic
Good Idea, Bad Idea: Casual Gaming
What No More Heroes Really Means
Social Activism in Gaming
Educate Yourself - Castlevania
Start of the Affair
What is a Hero?: Lara Croft
Wii Fit Review

Recognizing Your Gaming Journalist
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Drinks Ron Workman Can't Handle
Metroid Mojito
Mario Mudslide, The Super Punch Out, Princess Peach Schnapps
Pikachu Punch, Triforce Triple
DK Daquiri, Yoshi Jager, Mother Brain Drain (MBD)
Rocks on the Scotch, Bowser Bad Ass

Interviews With Famous People
Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Richard Shepard
Michael Davis
Jason Schwartzman

What Happened?
The First
My Favorite One
To be continued...?
Obviously there are tons more, but I'm not linking them all.

Interesting Walls of Text
Gaming Journalsim
How do we discuss games as art?
My Great Concern

What is a Hero?
Solid Snake
Master Chief

Educate Yourself
Kid Icarus
Kid Icarus Final Impressions
Splatterhouse Final Impressions
Fall Out

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