A Slice of Fried Gold

The Fireweed Special

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sometimes its nice to be a bargain shopper. Sure, sometimes you have to go out of your way to do it, but its worth it. In this case, while everyone else was off spending $10 (each!) to see inferior movies like Transformers 2: Revenge of the Slow Motion Spin and Ice Age 462: Icelandic Boogaloo, I dropped $6 this past weekend at Fireweed Theaters in Anchorage to see two great new flicks: Rian Johnson's the Brothers Bloom and Woody Allen's Whatever Works.

Both were totally ace, but observe the why's and how's below.

The Brothers Bloom (Written and directed by Rian Johnson)

The Brothers Bloom falls into one of my favorite genres that also happens to never get the representation it deserves - the con film. Outside of works by David Mamet and the film Confidence, I can't really think of a lot of con artist films that I have really liked since the Sting (I enjoy the Freshman and Matchstick Men, but ultimately they aren't all about the con). Not only is it another great addition to the con artist genre, but it also gives you a slightly different spin as writer/director Rian Johnson (2005's very underrated Brick) imbues the film with indie sensibilities and a unique sense of flair and charm.

The first step to capturing that flair and charm is the visual feel of the film, as it is shot very warmly and precisely to best capture this group of people who are seemingly pulled from a different time (you could even say that the whole movie feels that way). While it is absolutely in modern time, the costume work sings of a different time, as even children can pull off suits and bowler hats without you ever questioning why exactly that is happening. You still get the occasional modernistic move by Johnson and the rest (such as the slow motion shot of Adrien Brody flying over Rachel Weisz' car), but for the most part, it really harkens back to another time of film.

This film follows two brothers (played by a slightly against type (but still awesome) Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody respectively), one a man completely in love with what the con game (as his brother says, "Stephen doesn't just write a con, he gives it thematic arcs"), and the other is the part of the team who wants out and has dicated that this would be their last con. The dialogue is tight and funny (not laugh out loud so, more grinning perpetually) and excellently pulled off by a very able cast.

Rachel Weisz is the standout in my mind, playing the "is she or isn't she spacy as all hell" mark for the brothers Bloom. Weisz plays her in a way that makes you realize the wheels are always turning, but in such an innocently charming way you openly wonder whether or not she is in the con or not. Besides Weisz, my favorite was Japenese import Rinko Kikuchi as the brothers silent but deadly assistant, who seemingly would appear out of nowhere with everything they needed. In some ways, she was a mobile deus ex machina, but never in a bad way.

Sure, the film could be about 20 minutes shorter and the wrap up of the film could be brought together a bit better, but it would be impossible to not enjoy the ride with the brothers Bloom around the world. It's not going to win any awards (of course, with ten best picture nominees this year in the Oscars, who really knows?), but it is an absolute joy to sit through and is one that makes you want to see it again sooner rather than later.

The Brothers Bloom: B+

Whatever Works (Written and directed by Woody Allen)

I have an odd relationship with Woody Allen. Not in a "I'm his daughter and married him" sort of way, but in the sort of way that I've only seen his recent films. What kind of film buff can I be really if I've never seen Annie Hall? No less, I quite like Match Point, found Scoop to be diverting, and found Vicky Cristina Barcelona to be ridiculously sexy, but really that is it. Just based off the stereotypes of the past and seeing him in person, I thought that he found a compatriot in Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David for sure, and the fact that he cast him as the lead in Whatever Works seemed to work quite nicely indeed. So how did it work out in reality?

Well, any time the movie starts out with the lead character breaking the fourth wall, you know you're going to be in for an experience (typically a bad one to be honest). Skeptical, I proceeded onwards and quickly was captured by the odd charm of this movie. Allen does an amazing job with this script, as he creates many characters who could have been uninteresting stereotypes (the beauty queen from the south, the cynical genius, the overbearing mother, etc.) but manage to transcend their lowly shackles by their relationships with each other and the organic life changes they go through because of what others around them do.

In a weird way, Whatever Works is a remarkable study showing that lead characters Boris Yellnikoff downer ideologies really only work if you haven't surrounded yourself with the right people. The way the characters meet, the way they pursue each other, you could argue that its overly convenient but I disagree. It feels more natural because of the way they meet, as not everyone has meet cutes. Sometimes you meet because you are trying to commit suicide. It's the randomness of life.

Of course, Allen would be well off to hire a better editor (or fire himself?), as the movie runs probably 15 to 20 minutes long and tends to lose focus when David isn't on the screen. It still is an extremely charming movie that is an oddly realistic study on modern day relationships, plus it has the one two punch of Allen and David, which goes a long ways.

Whatever Works: B+


Matt said...

The only things I disagree with in this article is a) Brick is definitely not underrated, at least by the general phenomena that is "the internet" and b) the run times for both movies felt appropriate. Other than that, I'd agree with every point you make.

Now see Annie Hall. And while you're at it, Manhattan and Sleeper will be fine too.

David Harper said...

Well, outside of the internet Brick is underrated. I could count the people I actually know that have seen it on one hand. Actually, on one finger, as out of people I'm friends with, I believe I am the only one I know that has.

I thought Whatever Works dragged a good amount in the second act, whether or not that was a length issue or just a general interest issue, I could be mistaken, but it just felt a little long when it was all said and done because of it.

As for the Brothers Bloom, I definitely thought the last act felt separated from the rest and could have used some molding, but I'll forgive it because the last bit with Ruffalo and Brody was so damn good I couldn't care less.

Now I just need to see Away We Go and Moon. Stupid Alaska.

Erik said...

You saw Brick with me, I hate you.

Matt said...

Away We Go and Moon are great as well. Moon is slow but very intriguing, Away We Go is the most enjoyable film of that nature I've seen in a long time. Sam Mendes 4 for 5 with that one.

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