Saturday, July 4, 2009

Lazy LI, and Lies That Tell the Truth

We had been on vacation for about a week. It was lazy and nice and included some films...

With my folks as babysitters, Abby and I were able to catch The Brothers Bloom. Like Brick before it, Bloom is formally impressive and inventive. Rian Johnson is one our more interesting young directors and he may grow up to be one of our best. Like some other US "indie" directors, I think that he's actually hurt by only filming his own scripts. I'm hoping that he'll soon try his hand at someone else's material.

The Brothers Bloom
just doesn't work as a Con Man movie. Too many little twists left me unwilling to ever trust Johnson. And a confidence man needs to earn my trust. I liked the story and the characters and the complete unwillingness to engage in any sort of realism. But, the inventiveness and playfulness of the first half of the film just sort of dry up and disappear by the end and I walked away not caring.

It might not matter because Bloom doesn't feel like a Con movie. It's a story about storytelling disguised as a Con movie. But storytelling and confidence tricks are not the same thing, nor should they be.

Criminal, a film by Soderbergh's shadow man, Gregory Jacobs, is a Con movie from start to finish. There's not an ounce of fat on this lean little film. It reveals Brothers Bloom for the pretender that it is. Brothers Bloom's greatest Con on the audience is having had anyone believe that it was a Con movie. Criminal has no pretensions, but modest ones, and it succeeds with its advances even while they strain credibility. What it does share with Bloom is that it looks like all of the actors are having a lot of fun.


The Good Fairy is a perfect example of how much smarter comedies could be 70 years ago. Directed by William Wyler with a script by Preston Sturges and a cast that could pull it all off. Sprinkle in some discussion about beards and you have everything that I could want in a movie. Honestly, everyone can keep their Hangover. I'm not interested. There's a scene in The Good Fairy in which our heroine sneaks into the movie theatre where she's working as an "usherette." The movie playing within the movie is hilarious. Abby and I were both laughing so hard that we stopped breathing properly and were keeping my parents awake wondering what was so funny that they could hear us through the floorboards (we were down in the basement).


In the past 3 months, I've read 13 novels by Michael Connelly. I've been reading other things, too, but 2009 has definitely become the year of Connelly as far as I'm concerned. I'll be caught up with everything he's written pretty soon. One of his better non-Bosch books was Blood Work, a novel about an ex-FBI agent, Terry McCaleb, who had to stop working because of a heart condition. While recovering from a heart transplant, he's approached by a woman who wants him to investigate her sister's death. This woman knows that McCaleb has received her dead sister's heart. McCaleb can't say no. Things are always interesting and the twists that keep coming nearer to the end make for quite the thrilling read.

So, of course I was interested to know that Clint Eastwood had directed a screen adaptation of this novel. Now I've seen it and I think that it's good. It suffers for not being as good as the novel, but it is mostly faithful to its source and the changes that it does make are better for the purposes of the film. I grew to really like Jeff Daniels as Buddy. Daniels' take on the character is definitely faithful to the source, but it is also different than how I had imagined the character, not the least reason being that the character's story arc is so drastically changed in the film. Once I got used to the disconnect between my imagination and this interpretation, I found that I really loved Daniels' lovable earnest goofiness.

The best moment of the film comes from an editing decision made by Eastwood or someone else involved. Eastwood's character, McCaleb, has brought a box of donuts to a police station to share with a couple of detectives that he needs to talk to about a case. At one point in the conversation, McCaleb grabs a donut. Then, the friendlier police officer takes one. Then the not-so-friendly one takes a donut. There's silence as the three eat donuts and the camera holds the shot, lingering on them eating donuts long after there probably would have been a cut in any other modern police/action movie. Good stuff.


I finally got to see A Scanner Darkly. While occasionally truly interesting and definitely the best of all Dick adaptations, it still fails gloriously alongside every other Dick adaptation. I do think that A Scanner Darkly succeeds in conveying the mental and spiritual disorientation of its protagonist fairly well, which is certainly something that can be difficult to convey in visual terms. Indeed, it's a common Dickian theme that is often lost in translation, but shines clearly here.


I had Netflix on hold for the past couple of months, but I just reactivated my account. Portable DVD player viewing is less than ideal, but it's enough for me for now.

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