The Brothers Bloom


The Brothers Bloom

Now that's a fine how-da-ya-do!

(2009) Offbeat Caper Comedy (Summit) Adrian Brody, Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Maximillian Schell, Ricky Jay (voice), Zachary Gordon, Max Records, Andy Nyman. Directed by Rian Johnson

When you’re a con man, there is no real life. There is no trust, there is nothing that isn’t scripted down to the finest detail, there isn’t anything really exciting. That’s the way it’s done, at least, by this brother team.

Brothers Stephen (Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody) are con artists, and they would tell you there is considerable art in what they do. For Stephen, the ultimate con is where everyone gets what they want; for Bloom, he just wants a life that is unscripted, one he can call his own – one that isn’t quite so predictable. Obviously, he hasn’t lived the life the rest of us lead.

We see them as youngsters in foster care, having been thrown out of every reputable foster home in the state of New Jersey – that’s about 38 of them back in the day (Sha-zing!) when young Stephen (Records) organized the first con starring his brother (Gordon) in an effort to get him to socialize. Twenty years later and Stephen is still trying to get his brother to be less socially awkward.

Now they are accompanied by Bang Bang (Kikuchi), a mostly silent Japanese demolitions expert who excels in making things blow up real good. For Bloom, however, the rose has lost its shine. He is tired of the game, tired of the life, tired of not knowing who he is. He wants out. As is de rigueur for con films, this is to be their last job, even though Stephen still delights and revels in the life.

The mark is Penelope Stamp (Weisz), an agoraphobic heiress who is bored bored bored with her life, so much so that she collects hobbies like juggling chainsaws on a unicycle, skateboarding, break dancing and performing unnecessary breast enlargements on alcoholic women. Okay, the last one wasn’t in the movie but she may well have done it. After a carefully orchestrated encounter with Bloom turns into a near-death experience, she gets roped into his world hook line and sinker.

And what a world it is, replete with vaguely threatening sorts (Coltrane as the Curator) and out-and-out threatening sorts (Schell as Diamond Dog, the mentor to the Brothers and now a rival) and, of course, exotic Eastern European locations. The issue becomes that Bloom begins to fall in love with the mark, and how can you con someone when you care about them?

Director Johnson debuted in 2005 with Brick, a kind of film noir hardboiled detective movie set in a modern California high school. Although Da Queen didn’t like it much, I respected it for its cadences, the obvious love of the source material and the imaginative genre-bending that was done. There are some of those elements here as well.

Brody is making a career out of the sad sack romantic, and nobody does it better. He’s not really the sweetest person on earth nor is he the handsomest, but he always seems endearing enough to charm the pants off (literally) nurturing young women. Ruffalo gets to play a very meaty part that doesn’t look like it so much on the surface, but he imbues Stephen with enough quirks and just enough compassion to make him really compelling by film’s end.

Think of Johnson stylistically as a cross between Wes Anderson and David Mamet; I’d say overall the tone of the movie combines Mamet’s House of Games with Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Anyone who knows these movies will either be straining at the leash to go see The Brothers Bloom based on that description or will be running for the nearest exit.

I get it; the movie is quirky and offbeat which can be a turn-off for mainstream moviegoers who like their movies pre-packaged with predictable storylines, well-known actors and Hollywood endings. This ain’t for you, folks; this is for those who love to be surprised and pulled every which way at the movies. This doesn’t have the wallop of The Sting but it does keep you guessing throughout the movie until you don’t know which way is up, which way is down or which way to the popcorn stand. If you’re headed that way, pick me up a bag with extra butter. If I’m going to chow down on The Brothers Bloom, I might as well go all the way.

WHY RENT THIS: Johnson is a phenomenal talent behind the camera and the movie may be quirky but it is ultimately endearing.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The tone of the movie is offbeat and American audiences don’t do offbeat.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a touch of foul language, some brief violence and a bit of implied sensuality but overall nothing most kids haven’t already seen before. 

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The various hobbies “collected”  by Penelope in the montage, actress Rachel Weisz learned to do every single one of them.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.5M on an unreported production budget; although this is an indie as it gets, chances are it didn’t make any money.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Righteous Kill

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Where the Wild Things Are


Even a Wild Thing needs a chilldown after a wild rumpus.

Even a Wild Thing needs a chilldown after a wild rumpus.

(Warner Brothers) Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini (voice), Catherine O’Hara (voice), Forrest Whitaker (voice), Lauren Ambrose (voice), Chris Cooper (voice), Mark Ruffalo, Paul Dano (voice), Pepita Emmerichs. Directed by Spike Jonze

In all of us there is a wild side. It is the side that defies authority, the part of us that breaks the rules and the part of us that acts out when we don’t get what we want. It is the part in us that is closest to the child in us, so it is no surprise that children are more cognizant of their wild thing than we are.

Max (Records) is a young boy being raised by a single mother (Keener) who is too busy working to have the time for him he would like her to have. He doesn’t have many friends, and his sister (Emmerichs) is older, moving into teenager things and having even less time than his mom does.

He has a vivid imagination, turning a snowdrift into an igloo and old toilet paper dispensers into fantastic skyscrapers. However, he has had difficulty adjusting to a life without his dad and when his mom starts dating a new boyfriend (Ruffalo) he has a nuclear meltdown and runs away.

He finds a small boat and navigates it out to see. After a day and a night he arrives at a strange island with a rocky shoreline as dusk is falling. He is attracted by flickering torches and is startled to discover a group of strange, shaggy creatures, one of whom is in the process of destroying their huts. His name is Carol (Gandolfini) and he is distraught because one of their number has left the family. Max reveals himself and Carol takes to him immediately as a kindred spirit.

Not all the others are so welcoming. Judith (O’Hara) is described as a bit of a downer, and that’s accurate enough – she is suspicious of Max and wants to eat him. However, when Max reveals himself to be a king in his own country, the others (even Judith) relents and accept Max as their new king, the Wild Things being without a king at the time. Max declares a wild rumpus and the commotion attracts the attention of KW (Ambrose) who also instantly takes a liking to Max. Max, for his part, has found the family he’s always wanted.

That family also includes Ira (Whitaker), a gentle giant who is in love with Judith and is also nearly as fond of making holes in things; Douglas (Cooper), Carol’s best friend and right hand, Alexander (Dano) who is consistently ignored by the others and the Bull, who mostly communicates in grunts. Max decides to have them build a fort where only the things they want to have happen occur. He gets the idea when Carol shows him his secret spot on the island where he has built a model city out of twigs, complete with canals and figures of his family members.

At first building the fort gives them purpose but as time goes on Max begins to realize that being King of the Wild Things isn’t as easy as it first appeared and that his more aggressive nature was causing some of his new family pain.

There is no doubt that Spike Jonze has an incredible imagination, and he may well have been the perfect choice to bring the classic children’s story by Maurice Sendak to life. Visually, this is very imaginative, unlike any movie you’ve ever seen. The faces of the Wild Things are amazing, CGI representations of the actors who are voicing them given a Wild Thing treatment. These CGI faces are then digitally inserted onto actors wearing oversized costumes, creating a natural movement that no computer could have replicated.

Records is a pretty decent actor as children go in a part that is not a typical kids part. For one thing, Max doesn’t have all the answers – in fact, he has far more questions than answers. He isn’t smarter than the grown-ups around him and he doesn’t save the day. Basically, he’s an unruly boy with emotional issues.

Therein lies my problem with the movie. Max is never accountable for his actions; when he bites his mother, she screams at him that he’s out of control and he screams back that it isn’t his fault. Well, whose fault is it then?

More egregiously, the movie diverges from the book on some key points. Now, while I’m usually fine about movies being different from the books they’re based on, one of the key elements of Where the Wild Things Are (the book) is that it all takes place inside Max’s room, literally inside his head. Here, the Wild Thing Island is literally an island that Max travels to.

The ending of the movie isn’t terribly realistic either. When Max arrives home after (presumably) running away for several days, his mother greets him with dinner and chocolate cake for desert. I don’t know about your mom but mine would have hugged me and then killed me had I run away like that.

This is such a visually arresting movie that it’s worth seeing just on that basis. There are some terrific performances, particularly from Gandolfini who captures the blustery Carol’s mood swings and inner pain. I do have a problem with the movie’s message, which seems to be that it is okay to give in to the Wild Thing inside and there will be no consequences, no repercussions. Lots of kids will be seeing this and get the message that acting out is ok, whether that’s the message the filmmakers (and Sendak) wanted to send or not.

We all have wild things inside of us. It is a part of us, as is the part that is responsible and caring for each other. The Wild Things tend to be the side of us that is selfish and undisciplined, necessary for our creative sides to come out but at the end of the day, merely a component of our psyches. Sendak always meant the Wild Things of his book to be elements of Max’ personality, and they are here as well; the important thing is that the Wild Things are not the Only Things. As for the movie, it’s flawed but I applaud the effort, the imagination and the visual sense. It’s certainly worth your attention.

REASONS TO GO: Jonze amazing visual sense makes this a treat for the imagination. It is, after all, the filmed version of one of the most beloved children’s books of all time.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie veers away from the book in some significant ways. Max is so troubled that at times it’s hard to watch him act out. There are almost no lessons in accountability and the ending is far more of a fantasy than the rest of the movie.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of language and violence, as well as some kid-in-jeopardy scenes but all in all suitable for the entire family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The original songs in the movie were written and performed by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who was dating Jonze at the time of the production. They’ve since broken up.

HOME OR THEATER: This should be seen on the big screen, no question.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Six Days of Darkness begins!