Friday, October 10, 2008

Choke; Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Sam Rockwell plays Victor Mancini in this adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel. He's a sex addict\con man (his con is going to restaurants and purposely choking himself in an effort to be saved by by standing good samaritans) who works as a historical re-enactor at a Colonial Williamsburg-type theme park to pay for his mother's (Anjelica Huston) medical bills. That's an earful, and at time the film succumbs a bit too much to it's quirky exposition. But at it's core-- Choke is actually a sweetly warped romantic comedy, between Victor and Paige (Kelly McDonald), his mother's doctor. The setback is that sex-addicted Victor can't seem to rise to the occasion for Paige because perhaps for the first time there's actual feelings attached. Writer\director Clark Gregg (who also appears as a nit-picky historical re-enactor) has a lot of fun keeping the energy and demented sense of play addling Victor's sexual problems and in handling the tricky relationship between him and his Alzheimer's afflicted mother harboring a buried secret. In a sense Victor is the least complicated character in Choke (even Paige is holding out in a funky twist I didn't expect), but Rockwell is perfect for the role. There's few actors who ooze a sense of raunchy charm almost instantly, and he anchors the film (even in it's rockier moments) with a sense of intelligence and smugness. I never read the original novel and have heard many quibbles of adaptation issues and less than stellar reviews, but I found Choke to be a pleasant and diverting dirty-minded fable. B

In 2003, filmmaker Peter Sollett made his directorial debut with Raising Victor Vargas a joyful teen romantic comedy with a real sense of character and an uniquely honest but sweet depiction of a Bronx upbringing. Now Sollett is back with another teenage romance set in the same city chronicling a chance encounter between two ironic music geeks on a search for a phantom band. The budget is higher, and Michael Cera and Kat Dennings (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) play the young budding musically obsessed, irony infused could-be lovers. While Nick & Norah doesn't really have the same sense of arrival that Raising Victor Vargas had, it's still a notch better the usual need-to-get-laid of teen romances. Nick (Cera), whose the only straight member of his band, is hurting bad over a bad break-up of a serious be-yotch, and Norah (Dennings), whose in a quasi-something with a guy painfully wrong for her, meet cute in a New York club, which lead to a night long dance of words between the awkward-stammering (a Cera specialty) and verbose apathy-- at times it feels a high school production written by Woody Allen, but every so often the film has a Before Sunrise-type feel to it. There's lots of barriers on the way, including the two exes who appear out of nowhere, and Norah's drunk friend (a game Ari Graynor, who fulfills the necessary gross out scenes perquisite), who disappears. But there's a sweetness and a fair mindedness to Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist that wins out, a sweet chemistry between Cera and Dennings, whose Jewishness is admirably no big deal, and gay supporting characters who aren't just there for fabulous punchlines. B
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