Monday, August 24, 2009

Recent Observations of Moving Pictures

The Brothers Bloom

I adored Brick, writer/director Rian Johnson's previous film. It was basically a love letter to Dashiell Hammett, a modern day film noir. Only set in a high school. It sounds unworkable, but it sold it beautifully, and managed the tricky feat of being very funny while still never winking at the camera.

Enter The Brothers Bloom. Convoluted tale of crime? Check. Anachronistic pulp aesthetic? Check. The signs are good.

So why doesn't it quite work?

Rinko Kikuchi nearly steals the show as the almost-mute Bang-Bang. Rachel Weisz is ditzy and adorable. Adrian Brody is put-upon and vulnerable. The actors all do their part.

The problem is in the plotting. The main characters are con-artists, and there's a bit too much knowing self-awareness there. And soon you become aware that everyone is being jerked around by Stephen Bloom and his preternatural planning ability. Including the audience.

It's just a bit too clever by half.

(Also, I don't know if I've been broken by too many movies slavishly adhering to the three act structure, but there's something wonky with it there. But let's not get too nerdy here.)

Public Enemies

The story of America's most famous bank robber and the FBI agent that hunted him down seems tailor made for Michael Mann, who's made a career out of depicting duels between men on different sides of the law.

Alas, this will go down as one of his mediocre pieces.

Not from lack of acting caliber though. Depp and Cotillard in particular are great, as is Billy Crudup as J. Edgear Hoover. A lot of the actors are short-changed by the script though, Christian Bale in particular has very little to do except being the grim humourless lawman. A lot of the elements, like the other big bank robber in the yarn, Baby-Face Nelson, feels very undercooked.

Somewhere, there's a half an hour longer cut that fleshes everything out and lets all the elements breathe properly.

His stylistic tics steer him wrong this time. He's been going for a glossy, high-saturation look since at least the Miami Vice/Manhunter days, so him embracing digital photography is in many ways a natural development. Much like the rest of the movie though, there's plenty of times when it just doesn't work. For every moment that feels like you're right there, there's another where the cinematography goes all high-contrast, ultra-digital and just throws you out of the scene.

It's a Michael Mann movie, so it's still worth seeing, but it's a bit of a disappointment.


He's a spy, she's a spy. They work for competing corporations, fighting over a new top secret formula. They have an affair. But wait! She's actually using him. But wait! They're really in love, and they're working together for one of the sides. But wait! He's get the idea.

It's reasonably likeable fare. Clive Owen and Julia Roberts are decent enough leads, and Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson are clearly having fun as the dueling CEOs. But after a while, you get tired of the constant reversals. Like Brothers Bloom, it suffers from too-clever-by half syndrome. And while it does have a stronger throughline in that we're constantly focused on the Roberts/Owen relationship, it's not nearly as charming or stylish as Bloom.

Crank 2

In a way, this was the most remarkable film I've seen lately.

But not in a particularly good way.

In the first Crank, Jason Statham had to keep his adrenaline up to prevent a poison from killing him. And then he fell out of a helicopter with the guy who poisoned him. Fin.

Well, no. It made money, so he miraculously survives and gets snatched for harvesting his miraculous organs. This time around he has to keep electrocuting himself to prevent his spare heart from stopping until he can get his real one back.

The first Crank was immensely stupid, and pretty funny. This one's immensely stupid, grotesque, rancid and mad.

At one point, Jason Statham gets so electrocuted he imagines himself as a child on a talk show. Geri Halliwell is his mother. Then he's electrocuted to the point that he imagines himself as Godzilla. That's the sort of lunacy that should make you cackle with glee, but instead you feel soiled. Part of it is the camerawork, which is the worst sort of ADD-filmmaking, and somehow makes every frame feel ugly.

The other part of it is the stuff like a man cutting off his own nipples for little discernable reason. Or a stripper getting shot in the breast, blood and silicone pouring out. And the movie expecting you to laugh at this.

Oh yeah. It has a bit of a problem with women. Every female character is either a whore or a stripper, or an old woman that Statham has to rub against to generate static electricity. Because that's hilarious.

Either this is writers/directors Geraldine and Naylor extending a giant middle finger for having to make a sequel against their will, or it's them vomiting their id all over the screen. In any case, you find yourself unable to look away, but really wishing you could.


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Kevyn Hagemann said...

Hey, I'm a huge Jason Statham fan, but I agree with your comments on Crank. I'd rather watch The Transporter series over and over than watch those 2 movies. I like The Transporter because of the awesome car chase scenes. I really wished it was a Dodge. Dealers in Edmonton have Dodge jeeps, and my sis would like one of those for the family to have road trips and stuff like that. I, on the other hand, would buy a Viper if I had the money. Lol! I wonder if that Dodge dealer Edmonton has sells a good Dodge jeep.

SH said...

I'm leaving Kevyn's comment in place because even if it's filthy spam it is also Correct: the Transporter movies *are* superior to the Crank movies. This is FACT.

If you are in doubt, the Kermode will explain things for you.