Randall Miller's Nobel Son pairs its genius autodidact characters with the rush of Paul Oakenfield's techno beats to make an swift but smart thriller. Whereas The Crystal Method were stuck in a slow drama (London), Nobel Son doesn't slow down for a minute, which works well in conjunction with over-the-top acting (courtesy of youngbloods like Bryan Greenberg and Shawn Hatosy).
The plot switches from kidnapping to revenge to double-cross to turnaround so fast that it'll make your head spin: will the recent Nobel laureate pay his son's ransom? Is his son in on it? Is the kidnapper more than just a villain? Is the mother? The genre switches as often as the plot, from dark romance (Eliza Dushku) to a rather one-sided car chase, and all the way to comedy (a droll Alan Rickman). If this is the result of pop-culture oversaturation and ADHD, then bring it on: it doesn't take a genius to recognize Nobel Son as an exhilarating rush of a film.
Always be nice to your friends: if you do, they might someday help you make a low-budget horror film. Mulberry Street doesn't have much of a plot and no more than the usual flings of character development, but Jim Mickle's back-against-the-wall passion has been the mother of invention for him and his film is a beautiful monstrosity. The camerawork, always tight when it's not canvassing the grimy wonders of Manhattan, finds a wide variety of angles to shoot from (or through), and the rat-zombies, gently brushed in the dark of night, fit right in. The on-site apartment where this was filmed is given a real presence in the film, and all of the chase scenes are tightly shot moments of chaos. Classic shots too: monsters pounding at the doors to get in, bodies being devoured on lonely streets, young women running with a desperate gait from packs of flesh-eating zombies . . . not to mention the ever-lasting appeal of a main character who, as a boxer, has to punch each and every beast in his path.
The film is so impressively executed that I'm willing to forgive the fact that it doesn't really end, so much as get interrupted, and that there are plot holes bigger than the ones ripped into the corpses strewn across the set. We don't need explanations so long as we're being properly entertained . . . and besides, horror and thinking don't exactly go hand in hand. The claustrophobic and decomposing tenements of lower Manhattan make for a fittingly frightful place to make a last stand against the gnashing horde of "rat people, fucking rat people" and the studios would be foolish not to give Mickle an opportunity . . . at least for a second film.
Kal Penn may have made good on his Harold and Kumar fame, but if this is all John Cho has to give us . . . . Michael Kang's film is a straight-up mundane amalgam of Korean gang culture and traditional corruption films. The street toughs are bombastic and overplayed, the heroes are staid and boring, and the women are nothing more than epaulets that sparkle and shift in the wind. Why the idea of "room salons" -- private parlors amongst the karaoke rooms of Manhattan's 32nd Street -- is so fascinating or mysterious is a fascinating mystery to me, but the film itself is far from compelling, especially given the hasty and hackneyed script.
At best, we can understand why John Kim (Cho) needs to get inside a syndicate: he needs evidence that will clear his client and secure his partnership. But why the middle-man, Mike Juhn (Jun Sung Kim), would deal with John -- especially as portrayed by Cho -- is beyond me. Maybe it's just a cultural thing, but the film's ill-conceived conclusion makes little sense, too: if all it takes is a lying witness to get Kim's client off the hook, and if Juhn's just looking for a dirty defender, why not just do that to begin with, and skip all the exposition? Hey, industry: if you can't figure out a reason to tell a story, don't. Especially when you don't have stars or directors able to sell it for you.
Sunday, April 29, 2007