Another Couple of Films – November 19th, 2009

With The Brothers Bloom, Rian Johnson is proving to be, more and more it seems, the filmmaker that Wes Anderson really, really wants to be, and was at one point – there’s a quality about this film that reminds one of the “quirkiness” that everyone always mentions with Anderson’s films, especially in regards to the character of Bang Bang, a sort of high-powered bubble-gum pop Harpo Marx, who just gets gradually more intriguing as the film goes on, without saying (almost) a single word. But, like Anderson’s early films, this ‘quirkiness’ feels genuine – that is, it genuinely seems to come from the personalities of the filmmaker and the characters, rather than, say, giving one character or another a distracting and absurd facial feature, or having them constantly rattling off oddballisms. It’s in the eyes, is what it is.

And, like his first film, Brick, his sophomore effort serves as a kind of tribute to another genre that’s become lost in recent years – here, the Screwball Comedy, with it’s two main characters (portrayed by Mark Ruffalo and ‘he-of-the-long-face’ Adrian Brody, respectively)  as travelling conmen in possession of wonderfully gawky faces under fedoras and nice suits. And, there’s always a dame – one who wasn’t supposed to mean anything, but dang nabit if she doesn’t end up endearing herself to to the two of them. But, what’s interesting is, where Brick was essentially a cover and a transposing of the tropes of the Neo-Noir genre into a different context, this film is both a wonderful and new example of that genre and another look at how well Johnson can – and often does – pull these tropes for all of their emotional worth. Where Brick was an interesting (constantly, though) stylistic exercise, this film really allows Johnson to show us “what he can do.” Shot in consistently nostalgic hues and tones, the film also brings up another comparison with latter-day Anderson – because I love taking pot-shots at the guy, you understand – in that there’s a lot of great uses of colour in the film, and none of them seem to fall into that staid, stilted trap that got under The Darjeeling Limited‘s skin, in particular.

The con between the two brother’s becomes increasingly convoluted, as the film reaches its end, and it becomes hard to keep track of who’s doing what in the where. But, perhaps that’s the point. The film is, itself, one ‘big con’ on the viewers, constantly – right up until the end, when the curtain is pulled back and, for once, everything becomes clear. That “there’s no such thing as unwritten life. Just a badly written one.”

Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist is – well, pretty bad. Not horrifying, or wretch-inducing, as he seemed to want it to be. Just kind of – incomprehensible, and filled with hamfisted Biblical allusions sprinkled here and there. His thesis seems to be that this is a world built on evil, a kind of opposite to ours – okay, that doesn’t make this stuff any better, though. Pointless shock imagery. A couple has sex as their baby falls out a window. Dafoe gets his nuts bashed in with a hunk of wood. His wife (“She,” of “He” and “She,” respectively – yes, really) runs out into the woods to relieve herself, for some reason. And, so on. It’s kind of like the base idea of a horror film as executed by every art school student you’ve ever hated – black and white slow motion openings set to drawn-out opera music, and so on. The film at its base seems to be about the growing resentment between the two of them after the tragedy that’s befallen their house, and the way the two of them eventually fall into madness because of it. But, such a thing is covered in so many needless abstractions that after a while it becomes more about cloven hooves (or something) and chestnuts and faceless people and shots of crows pecking their young to death and other such things that whatever subtext Von Trier was trying to convey – if there was any – is squashed beneath it all; Von Trier seems to have forgotten to invest in the relationship between the married couple any real humanity, which is essential if you’re going to have them poke and gouge at each other and expect it to have any lasting impact, I think. These two aren’t really characters, and I’m not even sure they were meant to be, and so the continuous barrage of sadism toward themselves and the audience does become numbing after a while, but not in an emotional sense – more in an “oh, come on already” sense.  Then there’s all the animal encounters “He” has. With a deer, at first – and, they have a staring contest.

Ah, but the fox. It’s the fox that’s become the newest internet sensation, so strange and over-the-top is his one real scene. Dafoe’s travelling through the wood, slowly – ominously. Staring at the camera, as the wind goes by. Tense. Pushes past some brush, and comes upon a fox eating himself, and quite loudly. Fox turns slowly to the camera, and says — “Chaos reigns,” in glorious and jarring slow-motion, with a deep, slowed down Mr. Microphone voice. Of course, I don’t need to tell you this. You’ve seen it. He’s everywhere by now. The fox, I mean.

Of the film, Von Trier said, “…the script was filmed and finished without much enthusiasm, made as it was using about half of my physical and intellectual capacity.” Okay. Now explain your other films.


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