Despite The Cloying Quirks, THE BROTHERS BLOOM Works

THE BROTHERS BLOOM (Dir. Rian Johnson, 2009)

The opening set-up montage featuring the title’s namesakes as kids is narrated by the voice of the actor, writer, and smooth magician Ricky Jay. Jay did the same duties for the striking beginning of MAGNOLIA 10 years ago so he lends an air of familiarity immediately to the punchy proceedings. Likewise, straight out of the Wes Anderson playbook, comes another montage in which Rachel Weisz displays how she “collects hobbies”. These devices recall the notion of a sea of quirk that Michael Hirschorn of the Atlantic envisioned a few years back (“Quirked Around” Sept. 2007). Hirschorn wrote that due to the likes of the Andersons (both Wes and Paul Thomas) and their peers, there was a threat that indie cinema could drown in quirk.

It’s an empty threat though; quirky characters in strained, possibly life endangering situations – the ‘cinema of cringing’ it could be called – have been the norm since the dawn of movie history. THE BROTHERS BLOOM, about con-artist brothers (Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffalo), has many bits that feel like re-fried quirk from other flicks, yet it still works, gloriously too at times.

For some reason Brody is called Bloom while Ruffalo goes by Stephen so the title I do not get * but whatever. Brody, tired of an endless series of cons, decides he wants the “unwritten life” but Ruffalo gets him to go on one last big score. Of course, a woman (Weisz) fouls things up and twists them around and around in their little art smuggling scam. Brody says of his brother’s cons that they are like the narratives of some Russian novelist, containing “thematic arcs and shit.” We’re swept through scene after scene of double crossing with some predictable turns, yet just like the quirks they can be forgiven with such a capable cast and a not too clever for its own good tone.

Brody and Ruffalo carry THE BROTHERS BLOOM and play off each other with the believable edge of siblings. Wiesz gels well with them too even with her sitcom girlfriend vibe going strong. The film shows director Johnson getting comfy with comedy, though it must be said that it isn’t quite on the level of his previous dramatic work – the brilliant BRICK. Without a doubt, the stale “style over substance” complaint will be used in many reviews but many moviegoers will enjoy swimming in this particular sea of quirks.

* Looks like no less than Roger Ebert didn’t get this either so I don’t feel as bad.

More later…

More Or Wes Worthwhile

Peter (Adrien Brody) : He said the train is lost.
Jack (Jason Schwartzman) : How can a train be lost? It’s on rails.

Wes Anderson’s latest opus THE DARJEELING LIMITED starts playing today in my area as it has now entered its nationwide release. It opened in New York at the end of last month and a few other places after that but now film geeks from all markets can rejoice. I caught a sneak preview of it last night so here’s my review :

THE DARJEELING LIMITED (Dir. Wes Anderson, 2007) Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and a new addition to the Anderson reparatory company – Adrien Brody are brothers who haven’t seen each other in the year following their father’s death. In a plan initiated by Wilson they meet up to take a train ride in India to bond and take “a spiritual journey” – also suggested by Wilson. They lug a huge amount of luggage with them on this trip – of course we get the symbolism there – baggage, right? Along the way they fight, embrace, engage in odd enforced rituals, and wonder where the Hell they are really going and what they are going to achieve. It is easy to wonder that about the film as well but Anderson’s visual mastery is absorbing as usual, his soundtrack choices exquisite (including The Kinks and music from Satyajit Ray’s films), and the acting superb so it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

It is hard though, maybe impossible to not think of Owen Wilson’s real-life suicide attempt when his character here had nearly killed himself by crashing his car on purpose and spends the film with his head wrapped in bandages. What makes it so difficult to separate the art from the non-fiction is his character is given practically no back story. In fact we are given so little to go on with just about everybody on the screen – Schwartzman is a published writer but of what type and is he respected or a hack? I can’t recall at all what Brody or Wilson’s occupations are and the info given on their parents is pretty vague too – their Mother (played by Anjelica Huston in a quiet but effective manner) became a reclusive Nun at some point but again we are given little motivation. They seem to have an unlimited amount of fundage to back their trip and to buy expensive trinkets so maybe their family was old money – who knows? These people don’t appear to have any life except what we see on the screen but maybe that’s the point.

Not fully thought out narrative threads and a pungent lack of pay-offs aside this is still a worthwhile night at the movies. Anderson may be treading water in some respects but it’s his own water and he stays afloat more than he sinks. The train of the films title winds down the tracks unconcerned with any existential meaning or the lack of it and that’s how moviegoers should be too when they get on board.

Postnote : I didn’t realize before seeing the film last night that the 13 min. prequel HOTEL CHEVALIER (reviewed on the post The Darjeeling Prequel – Now Playing On My iPod Nano 10/1/07) was going to be played before the main feature theatrically. It gave me the chance to re-evaluate the short and I admit I liked it a lot better on the big screen as opposed to my previous iPod postage stamp sized viewing. Go figure.

More later…

Dreaming On: THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP, THE ILLUSIONIST, And HOLLYWOODLAND

“So many social engagements, so little time.”
– Gale (John Goodman) RAISING ARIZONA (Dir. Joel Coen 1987)

Yeah – lots going on. Recent theatrical releases, new releases on video, and some notable music DVDs need to be blogged ’bout but this time out I’ll just deal with the last few movies I saw at the theater :

THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP (Dir. Michael Gondry) Many many movies have been about earnest yet clumsily romantic young artists who live fuller in their dreams than in reality. Gael Garcia Bernal fills the part with wide eyed likeability though unfortunately the flimsy sitcom premise doesn’t sustain the big picture. The wonderfully fluid dream sequences will no doubt make this a cult favorite in years to come but it feels like a rough draft. The relationship between Stephane (Bernal) and Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsburg) doesn’t sparkle and the uneven narrative doesn’t help – I feel like a good 20-30 minutes could be edited out and the flow would improve greatly. Still, with the amount of unadventurous crap out there, THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed by film babblers like me – visually it is a beautiful film, so I’ll conclude : flawed but worthwhile.

THE ILLUSIONIST (Dir. Neil Burger) Based on the short story Eisenheim the Illusionist. However, I heard Eisenheim (played by Edward Norton) through the accents sound like ‘Asinine’ as if thats what the characters name would be in a crude Mad magazine satire. Not that this flick is asinine – no its a fairly entertaining period piece mildly marred from unecessary and purposely unexplained special effects and a twist ending right out of THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Norton puts in a stoic and strangely unenergetic performance and Paul Giamatti chews scenery as a Chief Inspector intent on figuring out Eisenheim’s tricks while Jessica Biel provides the elusive love interest. Maybe the real illusion the movie pulls off is that it is better than mediocre – it’s not but at times you’ll think it is.

HOLLYWOODLAND (Dir. Allen Coulter) If I were still in quick quotable blurb mode like in my last post I might be tempted to just write “Hollywoodbland!” but that, like the Asinine the Illusionist in the review above is just silly non-criticism and definitively inaccurate. While I agree with the Onion AV Club that this feels like an HBO original movie and concur with the New York Times that it “tells several stories, one of them reasonably well”, I enjoyed the performances and bought into the boulevard of broken dreams pathos. Having watched the reruns of ’50’s TV Superman starring George Reeves as a kid I appreciated that they nailed the look and style in the recreations. Adrian Brody does solid work as the gumshoe hired to solve the mystery of Reeves headline making suicide and we switch back and forth in time from him to Ben Affleck’s surprisingly note-perfect portrayal of Reeves in the events leading up to his death. If not remarkable HOLLYWOODLAND is a decent pointed period piece, I’m not sure if I’m on board with the film’s implications in it’s conclusion – involving mistress Diane Lane and her jealous studio boss husband Bob Hoskins but that doesn’t make it ring hollow.

Hmmm, I’m sensing a trend here – I mean I just babbled ’bout 3 movies that were neither great nor awful just decent. I hope we’re just in summer to fall transition and the movies will get much better or at least more interesting. We’ve got some possibilities coming with THE DEPARTED, FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION, STRANGER THAN FICTION, and RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, but no breath holding here.

Some more babble ’bout some concert films and a notable documentary when film babble returns…

More later…