Film » Film Features

Short Takes

Nobel Son, Trouble The Prize, And More Reviewed


Eyes on the prize

Nobel Son star Bryan Greenberg juggles acting and singing Calling from a van on his way to a soundcheck at House of Blues here in Cleveland, Bryan Greenberg admits it's been a struggle trying to pursue a career as both a singer-songwriter and an actor.

"A couple of years ago, I was on tour with Gavin DeGraw, but this is the first time I've done it in a van for a month," he explains. "It's definitely a trip, but I'm having a good time. I just did this pilot [How to Make It in America] for HBO in New York, and I had to reschedule all these concert dates. The difference is that the music industry needs months of planning in advance, and with the film and television industry, it can change the week of. They don't complement each other very well. This is a good time for me to tour because the holidays are kind of slow."

Playing a struggling actor and musician comes naturally to Greenberg. That's basically the role he had in Unscripted - a George Clooney-directed HBO series from a couple years back that, mixed with fact and fiction - documented Greenberg's attempts to get into show biz.

"I loved that show," Greenberg says of the series, which lasted for only one season. "It's the weirdest thing, because I was playing a more na•ve version of myself. We improv'd all the dialogue. At the time, there was nothing like it. Now, there's shows like The Hills and shit, which kind of ripped off the style."

While Greenberg has a major role in Bride Wars, a romantic comedy starring Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson due out early next year, his biggest role to date is in Nobel Son, in which he plays Barkley, a graduate student who struggles to cope with his egotistical father (Alan Rickman), a chemistry professor who's just won the Nobel Prize. His father is such a prick that when Barkley is kidnapped, he's more concerned about losing his ransom money than getting his kid back. The movie takes so many twists and turns, it's almost impossible to follow (and its bizarre ending is completely half-baked).

"The script was crazy," says Greenberg. "It took me three times to read it before I got it. But I was coming off romantic comedies and it was good to do something different. It's not for stupid people. You have to be on your toes. I like movies that challenge me. I'm sick of Hollywood cookie-cutter movies. They're fucking boring. Nobel Son is a really funny movie. You're going to laugh your way through this movie. It's a really tongue-in-cheek movie. It's hard to explain, but it's a really crazy ride. - Jeff Niesel

Nobel Son Opens Friday areawide.

Ashes of Time Redux

The filming of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai's 1994 Ashes of Time, an expensive, star-studded wuxia (martial-arts swordplay) saga loosely based on a Louis Cha novel, dragged on for more than a year - so long, in fact, that the director shot Chungking Express during an editing break. On release, Ashes received mixed reviews and was one of the director's few commercial failures. The director was never fully satisfied with Ashes, but some critics consider it an underappreciated film. More than a decade later he decided to dust off Ashes and give it a sleek re-edit, new music and a U.S. theatrical premiere. The new version is only slightly shorter but features new color tinting, digital effects and altered music cues. Set in ancient China, the episodic film, which follows five seasons in the Chinese calendar, centers on a fallen swordsman, Ouyahg Feng (the late Leslie Cheung), who was betrayed by the woman he loved (Maggie Cheung), and now lives on the edge of the Gobi desert and arranges contract killings. Every year, Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Ka-fai) visits him.

Other visitors to his hideout include: a pair of male-female twins (both played by Brigitte Lin) locked in a bizarre love-hate dyad; a nearly blind swordsman (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), who's determined to fight murderous bandits; and a fighter (Jacky Cheung) who avenges a poor woman's murdered brother. Feng's relationship with his old lover, who married his brother, is recalled in flashback, and Feng contemplates whether to drink a magic wine said to banish all memories. If you accept that the plot is elusive, you can appreciate the film for its considerable aesthetic virtues: lyrical editing, tastefully shot battle scenes, William Chang's excellent art direction, Christopher Doyle's sensual cinematography with its rich palette of desert hues and a gorgeous, evocative score featuring Yo-Yo Ma on cello. - Pamela Zoslov Opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre

Trouble the Water

Cobbled together from home footage and TV coverage, this documentary about the devastating effect Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans is difficult to watch, and not just because of the destruction we see. The shaky footage provided by Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her husband Scott is essentially something you might see in a DIY film showing at an underground film festival. Sure, we witness how the water rose up to the level of street signs and flooded their entire house to the point that they had to climb to the top floor. And audiotapes of 911 calls to operators who confess there are no "emergency vehicles available" are really disturbing. But the random way in which the film is constructed (with no real linear narrative) makes it far from engaging. As much as this footage is exceptional, it pales in comparison to Spike Lee's elegiac When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, a superb documentary that set a high (perhaps insurmountable) standard for any film about the tragedy that befell the Crescent City. - Niesel

Opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

Most famous as the guy who delivered the head butt to an opposing player in the 2006 World Cup Final, Zinedine Zidane actually has a long and storied history as one of the world's greatest soccer players. This film, a "portrait" of sorts, tries to capture his style in a rather unique manner.

Filmmakers Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno set up 17 high-definition cameras with super zoom lenses to film an entire 90-minute match between Real Madrid and Villareal. The result is unlike any sports footage you've ever seen. We see Zidane run and occasionally hear him yell at teammates. We see close-ups of his face and shots of him walking when the ball is on the opposite side of the field. But for the most part, Zidane is expressionless and there's no dialogue, though the subtitles do provide pearls of wisdom from the man (such as "I do not experience the game in real time"). While it's billed as "more art installation than sports documentary," that doesn't make the movie any more accessible. Even art-film fans will have trouble connecting with it. The terrific soundtrack (provided by Scottish indie-rockers Mogwai) does give the images some kind of emotional resonance, but, despite the innovative filming techniques, the movie's overall point is difficult to fathom. - Niesel Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5 and 9:20 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Cleveland Scene works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Cleveland and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Cleveland's true free press free.