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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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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Or not.

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.

Nashville Film Festival Report, Day 2

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Day 2 of the Nashville Film Festival started with the 1:00 showing of a documentary called Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary. The overall format of the film was interviews with a host of documentarians around the world broken up by clips from their films. I appreciated the range of talking heads, as there were many faces that I didn’t recognize. After the film was over, I came away with two cemented ideas: Errol Morris continues to fascinate me (Especially with his interviewing device showcased in Fog of War), and I appreciate Werner Herzog more and more…but trust him less. He blurs the line between fact and fiction too much for my tastes. His point that all film in a sense is fictionalized, but I don’t think that should stop filmmakers from trying to portray truth in the films. This is a discussion that I would have liked to see more interaction with between the interviewed.

Mothers and Daughters

After a quick lunch, I watched Mothers & Daughters at 3:15. This film followed the mother/daughter relationships between several characters, overlapping in some areas. Overall it came across as being overly dramatic in several scenes, but there were a few gem moments that really touched me. The older woman (pictured above)  in the film was fantastic. The emotionality of the character was portrayed with such subtelty.

Gonzo

I admit that William Shatner was one of the selling points of the festival for me. I’d read a little about the William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet here and there, but wasn’t quite sure what it was about until watching it at the festival. In short, it’s a documentary that tells the story behind choreographer Margo Sappington’s ballet Common People. The performance fuses the ballet with Has Been, a recent album by William Shatner and Ben Folds. The documentary, which works more as a DVD special feature than a feature-length film, tells the story through interviews with the artists involved in both productions, which is a great story to tell. It also features footage from the ballet, which was riveting to say the least. I would have loved to see it performed live. After returning from Nashville, I purchased a copy of Has Been, which is quite a treat.

Up

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Up
Directed By: Pete Doctor / Bob Peterson
Written By: Bob Peterson
Voices: Edward Asner / Christopher Plummer

Up is the latest animated film from Disney / Pixar, and is a treat for all ages. It follows the exploits of Carl Fredricksen, a disgruntled, elderly balloon salesman, and a local boy scout named Russell, as they set off in a grand adventure to South America in Carl’s house, propelled by a plethora of colorful balloons.

That’s the most that I want to give away from a film that everyone should experience for themselves. I was impressed by the balance between the style and the narrative in Up. The opening 15 minutes or so, for example, is in essence a montage, that blends the two together perfectly and sets up the rest of the film nicely.

Pixar has a history of technical excellence, and Up definitely falls into this category. It was released in 2D and 3D formats, and I applaud the Pixar team for creating a 3D film that doesn’t feel too gimmicky. The 3D format accentuates the film, and doesn’t draw too much attention to itself, taking the viewer out of the experience.

From the beginning of the film, the story evokes feelings of nostalgia, childlike innocence. While Up is a decidedly humorous (Sometimes too silly for my tastes) family film, it’s also very serious, touching upon themes of family, belonging, and fear.

Following in the footsteps of WALL·E, I love Pixar’s emphasis on non-verbals, especially in the opening montage, drawing upon Charlie Chaplin’s physicality, antics, and especially pathos. The emotionality of the film was especially heightened by Michael Giacchino’s breathtaking score, which kept me in my seat during the end credits.

While I found the story especially moving at times, however, some of the dialogue seemed forced and on-the-nose. An example of this would be when Russell tells Carl about his family, a scene that felt like tacked on exposition to get the story moving. In writing a story, subtlety is a virtue.

And while I was more than wiling to accept the fantastic nature of the film by leaving my brain at the door and taking my heart with me, there were certain elements that left me scratching my now empty head.

But aside from a few issues that I had with the film, Up is a truly fantastic film that everyone deserves to see. The themes and characters are so rich that the whole family can take something away from it.