The Brothers Bloom

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The Brothers Bloom
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz

The Brothers Bloom
is a whopper of a tale. It follows the typical con-man falls for the con plot, but The Brothers Bloom is far from typical. It’s fantastical, farfetched, and riveting. Writer/director Rian Johnson, who brought us the neo-noir film Brick (2005) is back in action, and clearly having a hell of a time.

The story follows the lives of con-men Stephen (Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody) from their early days when they were kids to the height of their deceptive prowess. After their latest escapade Bloom decides that this isn’t the life for him. Years later, Stephen shows up with one last con for the duo to pull off.

While being repetitive nearing the end of the film, I found the story to be fresh and lively. The plots within the story seemed more convoluted than they actually were, and were easily followed, giving the viewer more freedom to experience the film. There were times, however, when I felt like the film needed a little more subtlety. While the narrator was needed and kept the story going at it’s brisk pace, I occasionally felt that the narrator gave away too much information. There were also a few quick flashbacks near the end of the film that were redundant.

The subtext of the film is hard to pinpoint, and I expect that I will be revisiting this film very soon. It’s difficult because The Brothers Bloom is at times subtle and at times very upfront about what’s going on. Thinking back, one of my favorite scenes is when Bloom, who has been struggling with his personal freedom (seemingly) steals an apple at random. It’s a defining moment for Bloom and for the theme of free will, which is ironic within the environment of the film.

While Bloom is the main character of the film, Mark Ruffalo is the talent that shines. Mixing Cary Grant with a dash of Paul Newman, Ruffalo exudes a roguish charm, topped off with a black fedora.

Robbie Coltrane shows up as a minor character, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt sneaks in with my favorite cameo of the year so far. The character of Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), while mildly entertaining, is an unnecessary character that has very little bearing on the other characters…although she did bring explosives.

At the end of the day I have to ask myself, did I take much away from the film? I’m not sure. But it was one hell of a ride, and I look forward to watching it again.

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Inglorious Basterds

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Inglorious Basterds
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Written By: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz

“I make movies for the planet Earth”
-Quentin Tarantino

We’ve all heard of writer/director Quentin Tarantino, from his early days working as a video store clerk to his successful independent feature, Reservoir Dogs. Highly controversial in his presentation of violence, language, and race, he has developed a rare fanbase over the years that draws from everyday moviegoers to hardened cineastes. Tarantino’s blend of pulp, dialogue, and homage to other films are his defining characteristics.

Inglorious Basterds, easily one of his most accessible films to date, is set during World War II in “Nazi-occupied France”. The titular heroes are a group of Jewish-American soliders led by Aldo “The Apache Raine (Brad Pitt). Raine gets his nick-name from his habit of scalping Nazis. The Basterds are charged with the duty of reaking havoc among  the German ranks, which they do with glee.

The film starts with a fantastic scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film, introducing us to the protagonist, villain, and length of scenes. Tarantino has described Inglorious Basterds as a World War II spaghetti-western, and this is evidenced here. It also has one of the best references to The Searchers that I’ve ever seen.

Inglorious Basterds is broken up into 5 separate chapters, complete with title cards. With the way that each chapter feels like only one long scene, I think the title cards were a smart move, creating the rhythm of the film.

One element that I highly appreciate from this film is the wide range of international actors in the film hailing from France, Austria, Spain, and especially, Germany. (Take that, Valkyrie) Tarantino’s use of subtitles in the film was also a good move. The liberties that he took with that, noticed more in the opening scene, were quite humorous.

I was surprised at how little screen-time the Basterds received overall, focusing more on Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) and Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) The praise goes to Waltz for his chilling and nonchalant performance as Landa, “The Jew Hunter”. Expecting the film to be heavily wallow in the gratutious actions of the Basterds (which are shown on screen), I was more involved in the story than I expected to be.

It takes a while to get there, but the ending is thrilling to say the least. Tarantino could have taken the film several different ways, and kept me guessing until the fade to black. The final shot is as close to Tarantino’s trunk as you can get without actually having a trunk.

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Ponyo

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Ponyo
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Noah Lindsey Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey

Ponyo, the latest anime feature film from academy award winning writer/director Hayao Miyazaki, is a heart-warming tale of childhood and love set in a peculiar tragic landscape.

The film is centered around a meeting between Ponyo, a little girl of aquatic origins, and Sosuke, a little boy who lives with his mother and father on a cliff over-looking the sea. Ponyo escapes from her underwater family, curious to see the land above. Her father  (voiced by Liam Neeson) is desperate to take Ponyo home, for fear that she will destroy the balance between water and land by becoming human.

At it’s core the story is fairly simple as far as fairy tales go, but in typical Miyazaki fashion, the world that his characters inhabit is considerably more complex.

One thing that surprised me the most about the film was the balance between a sense of dread at the surrounding tragedy and a giddy feeling watching Ponyo experience the world that she so desperately wants to be a part of.

In fact, I was so involved in Ponyo’s exploits, that there were moments in the film where I had to stop and remember what was at stake in the story. This is the power of animation. I highly doubt that Ponyo would work as well as a live-action film.

Sitting down in the theater, I was surprised that there were so many children in the audience, and I’m curious what their overall reaction was to the film. Did they enjoy it, was it too metaphysical, or as I would like to imagine, was the premise of the film easily accessible to people of all ages? I would love to see some answers from movie-going parents.

As for me, I’m going to go watch some more Miyazaki films.

(Originally posted at MovieZeal.com)

The Way We Get By

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The Way We Get By
Directed by: Aron Gaudet
Written by: Aron Gaudet

The Way We Get By is a fantastic documentary by writer/director Aron Gaudet. It is about three older people and what they’ve gone through in the last five years as the self-appointed welcoming committee for American troops as they return to native soil. The film is predominately set in the Bangor Airport in Bangor, Maine, and the homes of the welcomers.

The Way We Get By is a short documentary that was made for the long-running PBS television series P.O.V. It’s a film about nothing, and yet, everything. By that I mean that the stories don’t seem to be as heavily influenced by the director as other documentaries might be. And the many themes that come across in the film (loss, loneliness, family, spirit, etc.) are universal themes.

The style presented in the documentary keeps these stories fresh and interesting. There’s an amazing rhythm from story to story that keeps it going. One style in particular reminded me of David Lynch’s on-going Interview Project, which centers around individual stories. The similarity lies in the edit, where the interviewee’s audio track is dubbed over a different shot, trying to capture the right emotion for what is being said.

Each person in The Way We Get By is a dear soul, and I instantly connected with William, Joan, and Gerald on an emotional level. There’s so much pathos here. Heck, the preview itself had me tearing up. I found one line from Gerald to be especially poignant. When asked why he was doing what he was doing, he replied, “Be nice to somebody and that makes you feel nicer. That’s the only way you can deal with it.”

I loved seeing the different attitudes and opinions of the greeters as well. I love how these people, even the ones who don’t support the war, are there to support the troops regardless of their stance. That in mind, I wouldn’t call The Way We Get By an anti-war film. Rather, I think anti-loss would be a more fitting term.

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NetFlix Recommendations

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@berutt recently posted the following on Twitter:

Looking for some suggestions for my Netflix queue. Documentaries, cult classics, comedies, non-fiction. Any suggestions?

Rather than inundate Twitter with several recommendations (140 characters just doesn’t cut it sometimes), I decided to properly respond by hammering out a quick response here. Not only will I be able to more accurately pick some films to recommend, but hey, it’s an excuse to write more. :)

Taking the genres listed into consideration, here are several films that deserve to grace anyone’s NetFlix queue:

Salesman
Dare I say, the perfect documentary? Salesman and the Maysles Brothers opened my eyes to the beauty of documentaries, from their fascinating subjects to their fly-on-the-wall style of filmmaking. (And if you like this, go ahead and add Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens as well)

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Another documentary that I fell in love with. It’s easily one of the most suspenseful documentaries I’ve ever seen, and is assembled well.

Plan 9 From Outer Space
Regarded by many as the worst film ever made, this cult classic, directed by Ed Wood, is a treat for the cinema masochist.
And as an added bonus, do your self the favor and watch Ed Wood after wards. Ironically, I consider it to be Tim Burton’s best film and Johnny Depp’s best performance.

Arsenic and Old Lace
Everyone needs to have a little fun now and again, and Frank Capra’s no exception. This off-the-wall dark comedy is an instant classic with many memorable moments.

Raising Arizona
The Coen Brothers wrote and directed. Need I say more? And Nicholas Cage’s performance is good.

The Fisher King
A fantastic film from Terry Gilliam. I’d say more, but I’d rather not ruin the experience.

What NetFlix films would you recommend?

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Lovely by Surprise

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Lovely by Surprise
Directed by: Kirt Gunn
Written by: Kurt Gunn
Starring: Carrie Preston, Austin Pendleton, Reg Rogers, Michael Chernus

Charlie Kaufman’s absurdity meets the style of Wes Anderson in this quirky look at humanity and the art of storytelling.

Carrie Preston plays Marian, an author who is struggling with her latest novel about two man-children (No, this is not a Will Ferrel movie) who live together in a landlocked boat in the middle of nowhere, surviving on cereal and milk.

Faced with writer’s block, Marian goes to Preston (Austin Pendelton) for help. Encouraged by her mentor, Marian attempts to off her main character. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that Humkin has other plans in mind, and literally leaps into our world.

Marian confides in Preston

I hesitate to say too much about the iconoclastic story for fear that it would take away from experiencing it for yourself. It’s a mixed bag of emotions, and first time director Kirt Gunn (also the writer) handles it delicately. It reminded me of Stranger Than Fiction and Adaptation, but only in plot. Kirt’s story is unique, fresh, and well worth watching.

At times grandiose and overacted, the decidedly idiosyncratic story has a peculiar blend of fiction and reality that works surprisingly well. The title of this film is very apt, and wonderfully absent from the film. It’s a title that makes sense in retrospect, which is a credit to the film.

The range of acting talent on display in Lovely by Surprise is, in my mind, the film’s greatest component. Carrie Preston, Austin Pendelton, and Reg Rogers perform admirably. I would love to see more from them. Michael Chernus brought a great amount of charisma to his performances as Humkin, and a What About Bob? quality to the character.

It’s a great little film with a lot of heart.

Lovely by Surprise comes out on DVD July 7th, 2009.

(Originally posted at MovieZeal.com)

PDQ Reviews (6/9)

RKO

Title: RKO 281
Directed By: Benjamin Ross
Starring: Liev Schreiber / James Cromwell / John Malkovich
PDQ: Tells the story behind Citizen Kane. The casting is genius, but the story was too bland and already covered.

Love

Title: Love and Death
Directed By: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen / Diane Keaton
PDQ: A fun, epic romp with Woody Allen. (You might want to watch The Seventh Seal first)

Cassandra

Title: Cassandra’s Dream
Directed By: Woody Allen
Starring: Ewan McGregor / Colin Farrell
PDQ: More in the style of Match Point than Allen’s earlier films. Not much going for this cautionary tale.

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