The Brass Teapot

You ain't never had a friend like meeeeeeee!

You ain’t never had a friend like meeeeeeee!

(2012) Fantasy (Magnolia) Juno Temple, Michael Angarano, Alexis Bledel, Billy Magnussen, Alia Shawkat, Bobby Moynihan, Stephen Park, Debra Monk, Ben Rappaport, Lucy Walters, Jack McBrayer, Michael Delaney, Tara Copeland, Thomas Middleditch, Bob McClure, Rebecca Drake, Claudia Mason. Directed by Ramaa Mosley   

I don’t think there’s a person alive who hasn’t had a wish-fulfillment dream – a dream where their most fondly imagined wishes are made to come true. Sometimes it comes in the form of a Lottery win, or of an inheritance – most of our actual real world dreams generally come with real world fulfillments. But then again, would anyone turn down a magic lamp….or teapot?

Alice (Temple) and John (Angarano) are a couple with more love than money. Alice is recently unemployed and John works at a crap job that he can’t stand – one in which he is hoping for a promotion from a boss who spouts meaningless aphorisms that motivate John not even a little bit.

They live hand to mouth and whenever the rent is late, which it is often, Alice must put up with the brutish come-ons of landlord Arnie (Magnussen). While driving to visit Alice’s parents, the two are involved in a car accident when they are t-boned at a rural intersection. While John sorts things out, Alice wanders into a neighboring antiques store and finds hidden away a teapot. Impulsively she decides to take it and as it turns out, their car was drivable so they drive away.

When John discovers what Alice has done, he is disgusted; “We’re already two steps above white trash as it is.” He doesn’t ask her to take it back however and the continue on to dinner where they get put down by both Alice’s parents, her sister (Monk) and brother-in-law (McBrayer) who are those smug conservative Christians that drive most liberals crazy.

The next day, John is back at work but not for long – he’s being laid off. Fortunately for him, Alice is finding out something about the teapot – anytime pain is experienced anywhere near it, the pot produces hundred dollar bills. Lots of them depending on the severity of the pain. She spends much of the afternoon beating herself up – literally – until John arrives. At first incredulous, he is soon motivated to join the party.

John knows they need the cash but he is concerned about the price to be paid and makes Alice agree that they won’t let this brass teapot take over their lives and when they’ve made enough, they’ll stop. She readily agrees.

They’re able to start buying new things but before long they receive a visit from a pair of Hassidic Jews who beat the crap out of John and steal the proceeds from the teapot. Apparently it was their mother whom Alice stole the teapot to and she’d recently passed away. Not long after that the two get a visit from Dr. Li Ling (Park), a patient Chinese expert on the teapot who warns them that the teapot can destroy them and that the only way to save themselves is to give it to them.

They have no intention of doing that however and continue to discover new things about the brass teapot, including that mental and emotional pain can trigger cash as can the pain of others. Soon they have enough to buy a mansion near new neighbor and former high school rival Payton (Bledel). However, things begin to take a turn for the worse. Arnie finds out about the Teapot. John becomes increasingly worried that Alice has become obsessed with it and won’t be able to give it up when the time comes. It sure looks like Dr. Ling’s worst prognostications are coming true.

This is Mosley’s first feature after a sterling music video career and it’s pretty solid. Writer Tim Macy has developed a pretty solid mythology behind the teapot which gives it a solid footing. I like the imaginative concept although the execution of it really didn’t utilize it properly. The equation of pain and wealth sounds on the surface like a commentary on our materialistic society.

Macy and Mosley don’t really do that though. Mostly this is a comedy of creative ways to hurt yourself which wears a little thin by the end of the movie. Fortunately, there’s a pretty solid cast to keep your attention even when the vignettes lose their luster. Temple, one of the most engaging up-and-coming actresses today, has a good comic timing, something I wasn’t aware she was known for. Angarano has made some missteps in his career but is slowly emerging as a talent of his own.

The important thing is that the chemistry between Temple and Angarano is genuine. The movie doesn’t work if you don’t sense the love between John and Alice but that emotion is clearly there. Even when they appear to be drifting apart there is still that connection – that’s why you continue to root for them even though they’ve done such disagreeable things. You also get that these are people made desperate by an economy that failed them.

The denouement is pretty interesting and doesn’t particularly come out of left field. I would have liked to have left this film with a bit more thought regarding the value of the pursuit of wealth and its effect on the human soul. The Brass Teapot doesn’t particularly add anything to that particular conversation, which is a bit of a shame but then again it doesn’t necessarily have to. As entertainment, the movie delivers which is really all you can truly ask of it but a little something extra would have been nice.

REASONS TO GO: Quirky sense of humor. Nice fantasy environment without a lot of special effects.

REASONS TO STAY: A bit mean-spirited. Some of the self-inflicted pain is bit squirm inducing.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a bit of violence, some sexuality, some drug use and a fair amount of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Screenwriter Tim Macy also wrote the short story that the movie is based on.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/3/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100; critics clearly didn’t like this film a whole lot.



NEXT: Oblivion


Four-Warned: April 2013


Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

1. OBLIVION (1.2)
2. 42 (1.5)
3. EVIL DEAD (1.6)
4. PAIN AND GAIN (2.0)


RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

APRIL 3, 2013

ANDRE GREGORY: BEFORE AND AFTER DINNER (Cinema Guild) Genre: Documentary. A portrait of the subject of My Dinner With Andre years after the fact. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 He’s an amazing raconteur but the trailer doesn’t give a sense of that.
LUNARCY! (Epix) Genre: Documentary. A group of disparate eccentrics have only a love for the moon in common. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Could be fascinating but teasers don’t really show a whole lot about the movie.

APRIL 5, 2013

6 SOULS (Radius) Genre: Horror. A multiple personality patient may restore a grieving psychiatrist’s faith in God, but at the same time may lead her to a deadly secret. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Nothing like an encounter with the devil to restore one’s faith in God.
THE BRASS TEAPOT (Magnolia) Genre: Fantasy. A struggling young couple find a magic teapot in an antiques store but as always with magic teapots, one must be careful for what one wishes for. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Looks fun and kinky at the same time.
THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. When a reporter exposes a former member of the Weather Underground now living a quiet life, he inadvertently lets loose long-kept secrets and exposes both men to mortal danger. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.3 Robert Redford directing and an out-of-this-world cast? Count me in.
EDDIE THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL (Doppelganger) Genre: Horror Comedy. A has-been artist discovers his protégé is a sleepwalking flesheater but determines that this will inspire his greatest masterpiece yet. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.0 Looks kind of…uhhh…indie precious.
EVIL DEAD (Tri-Star) Genre: Supernatural Horror. A group of five friends find an ancient book in a remote cabin and unwittingly release an evil force. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 A remake of a Sam Raimi classic probably won’t equal the original – but it still could be worthwhile.
FREE ANGELA AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS (CODEBLACK) Genre: Documentary. The tale f Angela Davis, the controversial Berkeley philosophy professor whose left-leaning politics would put her at the center of a sensational murder trial. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Davis herself speaks out for the first time about the events that made her a household name.
JURASSIC PARK 3D (Universal) Genre: Science Fiction. A test run at a biological theme park turns deadly. Release Strategy: Wide (3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 3.6 Yet another classic movie cheapened by a brazen cash grab.
LOTUS EATERS (Phase 4) Genre: Drama. A group of young hip Londoners express their discontent with the system through embracing indie rock, having lots of sex and taking lots of drugs. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles April 12). RATING: 2.9 Haven’t we seen this movie before?
NO PLACE ON EARTH (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. A family of Ukrainian Jews hide from the Nazis in a pair of cold, damp caves for over 18 months. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 An incredible story that hasn’t been told in 60 years.
SIMON KILLER (IFC) Genre: Thriller. Recently heartbroken, a somewhat mysterious young man visits Paris and falls in love with a prostitute, leading to blackmail, betrayal and a revelation of his true nature. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 A mesmerizing trailer; the word out of Sundance is that this one is amazing.
THE STORY OF LUKE (Gravitas) Genre: Dramedy. After his grandmother passes away, a young autistic man is forced to live with his dysfunctional family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Good cast. Kind of a been there done that story though.
THALE (XLRator) Genre: Horror. Two crime scene cleaners discover a mythical creature living in the basement and soon uncover the terrifying secret why she was there. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Another odd and twisted Norwegian horror movie; they seem to be getting to be the next hot horror spot.
TOMORROW YOU’RE GONE (Image) Genre: Action. When an ex-con’s promise to commit murder for a cellmate who saved his life in the slam goes awry, he must fight to protect his freedom and the life of his new lover. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 While I like Willem Dafoe and Stephen Dorff, the trailer wasn’t impressive.
TRANCE (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Thriller. An auctioneer involved in an art heist double crosses the gang and is wounded in the head; when he awakens he has no memory of where the priceless painting is and must use a hypnotherapist to find the answers – which aren’t what they seem to be. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 The latest from Danny Boyle looks decidedly trippy.
UPSTREAM COLOR (erpb) Genre: Science Fiction. A man and a woman are drawn together, their lives tangled in that of an ageless organism that threatens to absorb their identities if they can’t do anything about it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 From the director of Primer another sci-fi tale that relies less on special effects than being thought-provoking.

APRIL 12, 2013

42 (Warner Brothers) Genre: Sports Biography. The incredible story of Jack Roosevelt Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 A great American hero gets a lavish film to tell his story.
THE ANGELS SHARE (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. A chronically unemployed new father wants to prove to his girlfriend’s family that he can support his child turns out to have a flair for brewing Scotch whiskey. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 The Full Monty in kilts and director Ken Loach has another solid addition to his filmography.
ANTIVIRAL (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. A new industry that supplies viruses from celebrities suffering from head colds to inject into obsessed fans who want to get closer to the objects of their obsession turns deadly. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Directed by David Cronenberg’s son Brandon who appears to be a chip off the old block.
DISCONNECT (LD Enterprises) Genre: Drama. Several intertwining stories about our increasing reliance on technology for socialization and the devastating consequences that might be in store because of it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Some fascinating stories; hopefully it fares better than most anthology pieces.
FISTS OF LEGEND (CJ Entertainment) Genre: Drama. Three childhood friends whose dreams of pugilistic glory were derailed 25 years earlier gets one more shot at the brass ring. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 The trailer didn’t excite me much.
INTO THE WHITE (Magnolia) Genre: War. At the beginning of World War II a group of British and German airmen are shot down in harsh Arctic conditions and must co-operate to stay alive. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 The presence of Harry Potter star Rupert Grint will doubtless excite some curiosity.
IT’S A DISASTER (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Comedy. Four couples meet for brunch just as the world is about to end. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles/Austin. RATING: 2.4 The humor looks to be dry as a bone; that kind of appeals to me.
SCARY MOVIE 5 (Dimension) Genre: Horror Spoof. The latest in a line of horror send-ups that take on recent hit horror films. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.3 If you’re likely to see this, you probably don’t need to know what it’s about anyway.
THIS AIN’T CALIFORNIA (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. Skateboarding culture in Germany turns out to be not that different than skateboarding culture in California. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.8 Who’da thought?!
TO THE WONDER (Magnolia) Genre: Romance. A newlywed couple who move from France to Oklahoma find their relationship tested. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 One of the most beautiful trailers I’ve ever seen for director Terrence Malick’s latest, starring Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Olga Kurlyenko and Rachel McAdams.

APRIL 17, 2013

DECEPTIVE PRACTICE: THE MYSTERIES AND MENTORS OF RICKY JAY (Kino Lorber) Genre: Documentary. Renowned magician Ricky Jay discusses his background, who influenced him and shows off some of the dry humor that makes his act so memorable. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 No real trailer that I could find but the footage I did see looked very talking head.
MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS (Self-Released) Genre: Musical Documentary. The acclaimed indie band The National’s 2010 tour is chronicled by the lead singer’s rascally younger brother. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Also missing a trailer; might be good depending on how far out of the box they go.

APRIL 19, 2013

FILLY BROWN (Pantelion) Genre: Urban Drama. A young rapper comes to the awful realization that the ticket to her dreams may cost her everything she has. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 A hip-hop Cinderella story with a Latin twist.
HOME RUN (Goldwyn) Genre: Sports Drama. A baseball star suspended from the game is sent home to be a youth baseball coach. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Looks like a standard sports redemption movie.
IN THE HOUSE (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Drama. A 16-year-old boy insinuates himself into a classmate’s home and causes chaos while his semi-truthful essays spark inspiration. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 Terrific cast and the right balance between comic and creepy.
THE LORDS OF SALEM (Anchor Bay) Genre: Horror. A DJ in Salem, Massachusetts plays a record she receives in a strange box and literally unleashes Hell. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 The latest from Rob Zombie stars his wife and looks like it kicks ass just like his other movies do.
OBLIVION (Universal) Genre: Science Fiction. A maintenance man repairing drones on an abandoned Earth after a failed alien invasion discovers an astonishing secret that could change everything. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.2 Tom Cruise starrer looks like it will probably do fair to middling business but I’m a sucker for these sorts of movies.
UNMADE IN CHINA (Seventh Art) Genre: Documentary. The experiences of an American filmmaker trying to make a movie in China. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Looks pretty fascinating and looks like making a film in China makes making movies in Hollywood child’s play by comparison.

APRIL 24, 2013

AT ANY PRICE (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. An ambitious farmer wants his son to expand the family farming empire while the young man wants nothing more than to be a race car driver. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.6 Sounds cheesy on paper but could well be a realistic look at what is facing the family farmer in the 21st century.

APRIL 26, 2013

ARTHUR NEWMAN (Cinedigm) Genre: Comedy. A man fakes his own death after screwing up his life, hoping to find a fresh start. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Not so sure about the premise but with Colin Firth in the title role you can’t really go wrong.
THE BIG WEDDING (Lionsgate) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A divorced couple must pretend to be happily married in order to appease the ultraconservative religious mother of the bride who is marrying their son. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 Good cast but looks like another rote rom-com from the trailer.
GRACELAND (Drafthouse) Genre: Thriller. When the driver for a corrupt Filipino senator sees his own daughter kidnapped by mistake, he finds himself falling deeper into a web of deceit and corruption. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks like a pretty taut and compelling thriller which is pretty rare these days.
KON-TIKI (Weinstein) Genre: True Life Drama. The story of Thor Heyerdahl’s epic journey to prove that pre-Columbians could have journeyed across the Pacific ocean in a balsa wood raft to colonize the Polynesian islands. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 One of the great adventurers of the 20th century.
MUD (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Drama. A pair of young boys find a man named Mud hiding out on an island in the Mississippi and decide to shelter him which may prove to be a fatal mistake. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Matthew McConaughey has been on a roll of good performances and this just might be his best ever.
THE NUMBERS STATION (Image) Genre: Action. A CIA operative whose last assignment went disastrously wrong is ordered to guard a code breaker at a remote company station; when it comes under attack he must figure out what is going on and stop it before something even worse happens. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 John Cusack’s in it you say? Well that’s swell!
PAIN AND GAIN (Paramount) Genre: Action. A group of bodybuilders in a Miami gym mastermind a kidnapping and robbery but don’t count on the lengths their victim will go to get his money back. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Dwayne Johnson seems to be in every movie being released this year so far.
THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST (IFC) Genre: Drama. A Pakistani living in the US is viewed with suspicion and mistrust after 9/11. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks very intriguing, and director Mira Nair is one of my favorites.
SUN DON’T SHINE (Self-Released) Genre: Romance. A couple of newlyweds take a road trip through Central Florida, although their motivations are highly mysterious and suspect. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 Looks a bit confused and muddled from the trailer.
TAI CHI HERO (Well GO USA) Genre: Martial Arts. A town of Tai Chi Masters whose form of Tai Chi is forbidden to be taught to outsiders finds their town under siege by a remarkable array of machines. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 The second in a trilogy, infuses steampunk into a martial arts movie – very cool!

42, Oblivion, The Big Wedding, Mud, Pain and Gain