May 14, 2009 – There comes a point when you’ve innovated something as far as it can possibly go, added all that you could conceivably add, discovered all that there was to discover, so that nothing can ever again be new. For the most part, the con-man genre is like this, and if you draw a line back through cinematic history, you can trace the evolution of the double-cross in the most basic of terms. It began with a lie – one character deceiving another in such a way that the audience was in on the scam. And for awhile, the lie was enough. We were content to know exactly where the ball was at any point during the shell game. Whether the target would figure out the con was thrill enough for us. But then we got smarter, wiser, more demanding, and filmmakers delivered the triple-cross, or simply added another element to the con, shuffling around the shells at such a rate and speed that while the audience was aware of the deception, the conclusion was always surprising.
Then came the point at which the characters themselves were no longer sufficient victims. We’d gotten too good at spotting the bait-and-switch, the sleight-of-hand, and so the filmmakers were then forced to con us, the viewers. The story would seemingly end, the con would be revealed, and then, in a surprising twist on the twist, we would discover that somehow, in some way, we had been fooled, the final, unspoken players in the confidence game.
So con movies became clever while audiences became smarter and if we weren’t already a step ahead, we were hardly ever that far behind. Thankfully, Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom injects some desperately needed vigor into this waning genre. The follow-up to Brick, Johnson’s ode to the “film noir” motif, Bloom is filled with first-rate scams, refreshing whimsy and incredibly well-layered performances, yet it aims to be something greater than simply another drop in the con-man bucket. It’s smarter than that, and the con being played upon the audience is that we’re watching a brilliant and thoughtful deconstruction of the genre without really knowing it.
The story of two brothers, Stephen and Bloom (played by Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody, respectively), the film follows their efforts to pull “One Last Con” on a mega-wealthy shut-in, Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz). Having shut herself up for years in her sprawling estate, the richest woman on the Eastern Seaboard has become a virtual outcast, studying and learning every craft from every book available to her. Stephen, who writes his cons with all the grace and symbolism of classic literature, is clearly in love with his work, both storyteller and character all at once, while Bloom seeks to lead what Stephen refers to as “an unwritten life.”
And it’s this basic premise – the ability to lead a life un-scripted by family or fate – that makes The Brothers Bloom perhaps the most entertaining and dare we say important con movie of the last several years, delivering consistently on all levels. Of course, Penelope quickly transcends the title of victim to join in on a bigger con – and it’s to Johnson’s credit that we’re never quite certain if the brothers are still playing her, if Stephen is playing Bloom, if somebody else is playing all of them, or if they’re all actually being honest with one another.
Johnson takes a sizeable step forward as a director with this film, which feels almost 180-degrees away from the dark, brooding tone of Brick. This is a colorful movie, full of grand sequences and vibrant set pieces. It moves quickly and freely, embracing a never-too-quirky sense of style that makes the story feel more in the vein of a Wes Anderson film – most especially the opening prologue. The banter is quick and smart and poignant, and each actor rises effortlessly to their character.
It’s likely that audiences have yet to see the uber-dramatic Ruffalo in a role quite this light, and while Stephen certainly passes through his fair share of drama throughout the film, Ruffalo shows a side of himself that’s considerably less intense and vastly more accessible than his more gruff, tortured roles. His relationship with Brody, his brother, is wonderfully complex – full of love and loathing – and, in turn, Brody’s relationship with Weisz is breezily romantic. And yet, each of these pairings are obscured by the constant presense of “the con” and we’re never fully able to trust our footing in any given situation.
There is no excessively self-clever ending to Bloom – the film simply isn’t as concerned with executing the perfect con as it is with watching it fall apart – and somewhere in between the drama and comedy, the whimsy and the tragedy, the idea of the “unwritten life” is ever-present. The Brothers Bloom will undoubtedly have a place among the better, if not the best, films about con-men, but it’s also a film about family and trust and the limits of both. Do yourself a favor and give yourself over to the shell game because it doesn’t matter where the ball turns up, so much as that you played at all.
Another big movie opening this weekend. Angel and Demons hit theaters this, Friday.
The team behind the global phenomenon “The Da Vinci Code” returns for the highly anticipated “Angels & Demons,” based upon the bestselling novel by Dan Brown. Tom Hanks reprises his role as Harvard religious expert Robert Langdon, who once again finds that forces with ancient roots are willing to stop at nothing, even murder, to advance their goals. Ron Howard again directs the film, which is produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, and John Calley. The screenplay is by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman.
When Langdon discovers evidence of the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati – the most powerful underground organization in history – he also faces a deadly threat to the existence of the secret organization’s most despised enemy: the Catholic Church. When Langdon learns that the clock is ticking on an unstoppable Illuminati time bomb, he jets to Rome, where he joins forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and enigmatic Italian scientist. Embarking on a nonstop, action-packed hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and even to the heart of the most secretive vault on earth, Langdon and Vetra will follow a 400-year-old trail of ancient symbols that mark the Vatican’s only hope for survival.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Ayelet Zurer, Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, David Pasquesi; Directed by: Ron Howard
Audrey Tautou’s poster for her new film has been banned in her home country. The poster for the biopic “Coco Avant Chanel,” which features the French actress holding a cigarette, has been deemed “unhealthy and inappropriate.”
The posters show Tautou as the legendary fashion designer, who was known for her penchant in smoking 50 sticks a day, clad in silk pajamas with a cigarette smoking in one hand.
Paris’ bus and train advertising authority Metrobus prohibits the display of the picture in order to abide by the country’s laws prohibiting the depiction of smoking in advertising.
And although it is rare to find a Chanel photograph without her holding a cigarette, Metrobus said that law comes before historical accuracy.
A spokesman told U.K.’s Telegraph, “Cigarettes are banned on our entire transport system, and there is no reason why we should be giving them free advertising through this film poster.”
Warner France has replaced the offending image with an alternative poster that shows the actress with a male co-star.
A rep for the film studio told the paper, “For us, the real poster is where Coco Chanel is smoking in a natural pose that translates her strong personality and her modesty.”
“Coco Avant Chanel” opened in the country this week to critical acclaim. It features Chanel in her younger days before she reached fame. She died in 1971, aged 87.
Kevin Spacey has signed on to play disgraced US political lobbyist Jack Abramoff in Casino Jack, based on the true story of a man who went from hanging at the White House to chilling in the Big House.
For those of us on this side of the Atlantic who have (at most) the vaguest idea who Abramoff is, he was a hugely successful Washington lobbyist who was convicted in 2006 on corruption, briberty and fraud in his dealing with several Indian casino groups, who he was said to have defrauded of tens of millions of dollars. He was also connected to the Bush administration, with some of its officials caught up in his trial.
The film, originally called Bagman, is set to be directed by George Hickenlooper, who previously directed Factory Girl and Dogtown. It’s based on a screenplay by Norman Snider (Dead Ringers). The film shoots in Toronto this month; while we’re waiting for the results, you can see Kevin Spacey in Shrink, The Men Who Stare At Goats with George Clooney and father-daughter comedy Father of Invention.
Graphic novel The Secret is being adapted for the big screen by Universal and producer Scott Stuber. But this is no superhero movie: it’s a teen-horror-thriller with a set up that’s more slasher movie than supermen-in-tights.
The plot sees normal teen Tommy Morris invited to party with the coolest kids at Franklin High School, a group that includes girl-of-his-dreams Pam. But following a prank phone call, and the strange appearance of a faceless man, Pam soon disappears and Tommy is the only suspect.
The book was written by Mike Richardson, founder of Dark Horse Comics and a creator of The Mask and comics like Living With The Dead and Cut as well as this one (which Jason Shawn Alexander illustrated). Scott Milam, who’s currently got scripts Bedlam and Wichita in development, and was recently hired to write the Mother’s Day remake, will adapt the story for the screen.
Is this more than just another horror comic? Let us know what you think…
Al Pacino is in talks to play a lead role in the Stephen Gaghan-helmed adaptation of the US bestseller Blink. Written by Malcolm Gladwell, Blink makes the intriguing case for ‘thin-slicing’ – the theory that spontaneous decisions are often better than more considered ones.
Pacino will play the estranged father of an idealistic teacher from downtown New York. The two reconnect early in the piece with Pacino persuading the boy to use his ‘blinking’ skills to make a tonne of cash on Wall Street. The script, which is being touted to distributors at Cannes, is described as Scent Of A Woman meets Wall Street.
The once-great Pacino hasn’t made a hit movie since er, hmm… well, it’s been a while, so we’ve got fingers crossed for a return to form. Gaghan, of course, is the screenwriter-cum-director behind the brilliantly mind-bending Syriana, so it’s safe to expect an intelligent, thoughtful piece of filmmaking. Hoooh-ha! Phil de Semlyen
Depending on what you think of “Cars,” Pixar makes it either 9½ out of 10 or 10 for 10 with “Up,” a captivating odd-couple adventure that becomes funnier and more exciting as it flies along. Tale of an unlikely journey to uncharted geographic and emotional territory by an old codger and a young explorer could easily have been cloying, but instead proves disarming in its deep reserves of narrative imagination and surprise, as well as its poignant thematic balance of dreams deferred and dreams fulfilled. Lack of overtly fantastical elements might endow “Up” with a somewhat lower initial must-see factor than some summer releases. But like all of Pixar’s features, this one will enjoy a rewardingly long ride in all venues and formats. Pete Docter’s picture has the privilege of being the first animated film to open the Cannes Film Festival, on May 13.
The two leading men are 78 and 8 years old, and the age range of those who will appreciate the picture is even a bit wider than that. Like previous classic films about escape from the mundane, from “The Wizard of Oz” to “Wall-E” and many in between, “Up” is universal in its appeal. At the same time, it may be the most subtle Pixar production to date in its use of color schemes, shapes, proportions, scale, contrast and balance, factors highlighted by the application of 3-D, which will be available at many initial engagements.
The ghost of Chaplin hovered over “Wall-E,” and although “Up” is a more talkative film, it also delves back into earlier eras for inspiration. The first thing on view is a mock ’30s-style black-and-white Movietone newsreel documenting the exploits of maverick explorer Charles Muntz, who heads back to South America to redeem himself after a giant bird skeleton he presents in the U.S. is denounced as a fraud.
Not long after comes an exquisite interlude that, in less than five minutes, encapsulates the life-long love affair between Carl Fredericksen and his wife Ellie in a manner worthy of even the most poetic of silent-film directors. The two were brought together by their mutual enthusiasm for Muntz, and it remained Ellie’s lifelong dream to emulate the adventurer and travel to Paradise Falls in South America.
But life has other plans, and Ellie must settle for a happy life with balloon-seller Carl (voiced by Ed Asner). When she dies, she leaves behind a scrapbook as well as a very grumpy widower, who retreats into self-enforced exile. With heavy-rimmed black glasses, thick white hair and eyebrows, bulbous nose, square jaw and a scrunched body that looks like it’s been through a compactor, old Carl resembles a cross between Spencer Tracy and Walter Matthau at the ends of their careers. He wants no company, content to live out his days in the house he shared with Ellie, which becomes surrounded by giant construction projects.
Finally faced with eviction, Carl concocts a plan. In a surprising and brilliantly visual sequence, thousands of colored balloons hatch from behind the house, prying it from its foundation and carrying it skyward; Carl intends to fly it to South America, fulfilling Ellie’s dream.
However, he’s got an unplanned passenger in the form of Russell (Jordan Nagai), a roly-poly, eager-beaver Junior Wilderness Explorer who’s previously tried to enlist the old goat’s help to win him a badge. The trip goes uneventfully — no time wasted on navigational challenges — the better to quickly achieve the destination. The arrival is stunningly portrayed, with thick fog clearing to reveal bizarre rock formations atop a mesa adjacent to the falls (designs were inspired by Angel Falls, the world’s highest, and the actual tepui mountains around the juncture of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana — the location of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World”). Carl and Russell quickly come upon the very sort of rare bird Muntz went back to find decades before, a brilliantly plumed, gawky 13-footer they name Kevin.
Kevin’s antics throughout are so humorous and beautifully animated they would be at home in a “Looney Tunes” highlights reel, as would a breed of attack dogs commanded by Muntz himself (Christopher Plummer), who sends the canines in search of the elusive bird.
At just 89 minutes, “Up” is unusually short for a Pixar film, and the action climax comes on rapidly. One setpiece features the two old-timers, Carl and the swashbuckling Muntz, going mano a mano aboard the latter’s spectacular, zeppelin-like flying ship, and numerous vertigo-producing shots show characters clinging for dear life.
Although the cliffhanger effects are augmented by 3-D projection, never do Docter (“Monsters, Inc.”) and co-director Bob Peterson shove anything in the viewer’s face just because of its 3-D potential. In fact, the film’s overall loveliness presents a conceivable argument in favor of seeing it in 2-D: Even with the strongest possible projector bulbs, the 3-D glasses reduce the image’s brightness by 20%. At the very least, the incentive for seeing “Up” in 3-D would seem less powerful than it is for other films.
Despite the sheer volume of incident and action required of any film that includes young kids as a major portion of its target audience, “Up” is an exceptionally refined picture; unlike so many animated films, it’s not all about sensory bombardment and volume. As Pixar’s process is increasingly analyzed, the more one appreciates the care that goes into the writing. The underlying carpentry here is so strong, it seems it would be hard to go too far wrong in the execution.
Unsurprisingly, no one puts a foot wrong here. Vocal performances, most importantly from Asner, Plummer and nonpro Nagai, exude a warm enthusiasm, and tech specifications could not be better. Michael Giacchino’s full-bodied, traditional score is superlative, developing beautiful themes as it sweeps the action along on emotional waves.
Read the Star Trek review courtesy of Jay Stone of canada.com
J.J. Abrams’ re-invention of the venerable sci-fi saga presents the origins of Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of a familiar cast. It’s a nice, unpretentious adventure that will delight the fans. Even those who know nothing about the franchise except the phrase “Beam me up, Scotty” may find themselves turning into late-stage Trekkies.
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg
Rating: four stars out of five
People who enjoy science fiction say that it helps illuminate the human condition, to which I reply: If you want to illuminate the human condition, turn on the light in the bedroom.
I’m not sure what we’re supposed to have learned, for instance, from all the “I’m your father, Luke” business in Star Wars. Except that if you go into dad’s line of work, you’re going to want to kill him sometimes, and if you wanted to know that, you could just have asked anyone in a family business.
Which is another reason to enjoy Star Trek, a movie version of the venerable sci-fi saga that touches on several universal themes — fathers and sons, sons and mothers, Romulans and Vulcans — without getting all illuminate-the-human-condition about it.
I’m not sure how faithful it is to the many Star Trek movies and TV shows that preceded it, because I’ve never seen one: everything I know about Star Trek (“Live long and prosper,” and “Phasers on stun”) I picked up vicariously from the cultural ozone.
When the engineer named Scotty (Simon Pegg) says, “I’m giving it all she’s got, captain,” the resulting audience laughter lets you know that this is another Trekkie phrase, cheered for its familiarity.
Star Trek is very much like that, but even for us newcomers — people who have been living under rocks, as opposed to those who have been living in their parents’ basements — it’s nevertheless an adventure with lots of high technology, high spirits and a low sense of self-importance. There are no papier-mache rocks falling on Captain Kirk, but there’s enough papier-mache dialogue to ensure he’s in constant, if cartoonish, peril.
The movie begins with a Superman-like origins story: a father on a dying planet (or in this case, a crashing vessel) sends his only son to Earth to become the hellraising Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, winner of the Christian Slater sound-alike contest), who is on his way to becoming the Capt. Kirk we know and love. Pine is no William Shatner, but give him 40 years and a few good meals, and he might make it.
We also learn about the origins of Spock (Zachary Quinto from Heroes), a half-Vulcan, half-human whom we meet reciting things like “four-thirds pi times radius cubed,” an early sign of his logic-based genius. Spock, who does things with his eyebrows that we haven’t seen since Theda Bara went into retirement, will grow up to be Leonard Nimoy, who makes a featured appearance in the film — much cheering and laughter — as his future self.
This is the sort of thing that could drive more ambitious space movies to a doctoral thesis on the time-space continuum, but in Star Trek, it’s just another wacky bit of interstellar life: phasers on fun!
The plot has Kirk stowing away on the USS Enterprise, captained by Bruce Greenwood, as it speeds into space and a confrontation with a long, stringy spaceship under the control of Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan with facial tattoos and a murderous disposition: he looks like someone who got lost on the way to Mad Max.
Nero is out to get Spock because of something he did to Romulus, or maybe it was Remus. In any event, he’s set on blowing up planets by pouring “the red matter” into their cores, creating a black hole.
There are several large explosions and lots of fights on narrow platforms that have no railings — the cosmos is not a friendly place for older people — and a nice turn by Pegg, who brings a comic sensibility that pulls Trek a degree or two toward self-parody, although not too far (the formula, I believe, is four-thirds pi times radius cubed.)
Every time I see one of these space epics, I’m reminded of the Mel Brooks plan to do a satire that would be called Intergalactic Mishigas. There’s a bit of that in Star Trek, but not too much: director J.J. Abrams has found a balance between excitement and knowingness. Beam me up, Scotty, and give it all she’s got.
Release date: Friday July 17, 2009 Genre: Comedy/Romance Director: Marc Webb Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures Screenplay: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber Producer(s): Jessica Tuchinsky, Mark Waters, Mason Novick, Steven J. Wolfe Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Moretz, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Rachel Boston, Minka Kelly Official Site:foxsearchlight.com/500daysofsummer Rating:PG-13 for sexual material and language Available film art: (500) Days of Summer movie posters
Synopsis This post modern love story is never what we expect it to be — it’s thorny yet exhilarating, funny and sad, a twisted journey of highs and lows that doesn’t quite go where we think it will. When Tom (Gordon-Levitt), a hapless greeting card copywriter and hopeless romantic, is blindsided after his girlfriend Summer (Zooey Deschanel) dumps him, he shifts back and forth through various periods of their 500 days “together” to try to figure out where things went wrong. His reflections ultimately lead him to finally rediscover his true passions in life.