As I mentioned recently, I’m suffering from Star Wars fatigue.  But I have to admit, having seen Star Wars VIII director and writer Rian Johnson’s film The Brothers Bloom, I’m curious to see what he’ll do with the space saga.

The Brothers Bloom (Image via Wikipedia, used under Fair Use)

Brothers Bloom is a weird movie.  It’s probably the second-weirdest movie I’ve seen–only The Ruling Class, starring Peter O’Toole, was weirder.  And it’s very close. Oddly, both of them are about an eccentric rich person and their bizarre exploits. The movies are otherwise fairly different, but I thought it was a curious similarity.

The eponymous brothers are con men from birth.  But the younger brother, played by Adrien Brody (the character’s name seemingly is “Bloom Bloom”, since everyone, including his brother Stephen, always refers to him as “Bloom”) wants out of the con business.  Naturally, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) convinces him to do one last con–they will pose as antique smugglers to swindle the eccentric, reclusive heiress, Penelope Stamp. (Rachel Weisz).

Bloom of course quickly falls in love with Penelope, and begins to feel increasingly guilty about the scheme.  Penelope, meanwhile, loves the concept of being a smuggler that the brothers have fed her.  She pursues it with greater enthusiasm than the brothers themselves.

The plot is winding and complicated; and there’s no way I could do it justice here.  It provides all the twists and turns one would want in a con man movie.  There are numerous funny scenes and comical misadventures–probably the highlight being a mistake made by Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi)–the Brothers’ silent Japanese collaborator and explosives expert.  But it might be the scene where Penelope tries to evade Czech soldiers by sneaking through a ventilation duct, and for once, the ventilation ducts are not the infallible escape route that movies usually make them out to be.

Despite the enjoyable, humorous tone of the film, the story takes some very dark turns towards the end, and the finale is extremely bittersweet.  I won’t spoil it here–it’s the kind of movie where part of the fun is trying to guess what will happen.

One interesting thing about the film is that it never seems clear in what time period it is set.  The fashions seems to be 1920s or ’60s, but the cars look modern or 1980s.  People travel by steam boat or train, but there are also references to cell phones and anime. I think it must have been deliberate, and it creates a very weird effect–almost like this is some alternate retro-reality. Like a steampunk world, only cooler.

The last thing I want to note is a comment on the rating system.  I watched this movie shortly after watching the superhero film Thor. Both movies are PG-13.  This strikes me as hilarious.  Thor has cartoonish violence (mainly against monsters, as well as a few “henchman” type characters.) and I think a couple people might say “what the hell”. That’s it on the objectionable content.

Brothers Bloom has tons of swearing–up to and including the big “F”.  It has violence–the brothers routinely fake being shot to death as part of their cons, and sometimes things aren’t always so fake.  It has several sex scenes, plus some brief nudity.

I don’t object to any of the stuff in Brothers Bloom, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a prude, and all of it makes sense in the movie.  I’m not even saying it should have gotten an “R”. I’m just saying that any movie rating system that gives the same rating to Thor and Brothers Bloom has something seriously wrong with it.

Quick! Name that movie about a pilot who gets horribly burned and disfigured. You know, the one where earlier in the story, he’s been trying to save the life of his secret lover. In fact, he’s so desperate that he turns traitor and aids a tyrannical, militaristic government. But even so, he fails–his lover dies, and he becomes a barely-living shell of his former self.

Got it yet?

Actually–as you already guessed from the title of this post–that describes two movies: The English Patient, starring Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas and Juliette Binoche, and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen.

The English Patient was nominated for 12 academy awards, including best picture, which it won. It’s considered a powerful, moving, tragic love story. Revenge of the Sith was a box office hit, but was generally received poorly by critics. The Devil is in the details.

Actually, in this case, the Devil is in how the main character is written and performed. Count Almasy, the lead in The English Patient, is just likable enough that while you don’t exactly forgive him for giving aid to the Nazis, you can believe he truly did it out of his love for Katherine. He really seems like he cares about her. Add to this Ralph Fiennes’s charisma and acting skill, and you have a compelling doomed romance.

Anakin Skywalker, on the other hand, is an entitled jerk from his first scene to his last. He constantly whines about why he hasn’t been given privileges that he has not earned, while simultaneously breaking every Jedi rule. Even his supposed love for Padme never seems like anything other than an excuse to commit further atrocities. He claims to be trying to save her (“from [his] nightmares”), but ultimately kills her himself because of his inability to control his arrogance and rage.

Now, I’ve left out quite a few differences between the two movies. The English Patient is told through flashbacks, and there is another plot running through it parallel to the story of Almasy: the story of Hana, the nurse who finds him after he’s been burned, and her own struggle to deal with the horror of war and death. The only other plot element in Revenge of the Sith is about an evil robot General with four arms. So maybe the main character isn’t the only issue here.

Even so, I still think there is a really strong story in Revenge of the Sith. You can see it whenever McGregor, Portman or Ian McDiarmid are on the screen. It’s just that it kept getting undercut by the massive problems with the way Anakin Skywalker is written and portrayed. (Once he becomes pure evil in the final third of the movie, it really comes together. This is probably because Christensen was better at playing evil, and an evil character is easier to write than a complex one.)

The bottom line is: when Count Almasy gets burned alive, you think: “poor guy, he just wanted to help the woman he loved.” When Anakin Skywalker gets burned alive, you think: “the S.O.B. had it coming.”

I expected “The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu” to be unwatchable.  Anytime you see a DVD for $2.00, you can’t have high hopes.  But, Lovecraft movies aren’t super-common, so I thought I’d give it a try, fully expecting to stop watching after five minutes.

I was very pleasantly surprised.

The movie stars Kyle Davis as Jeff Phillips, the last living relative of horror-writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Jeff and his friend Charlie (Devin McGinn, also the film’s writer) are entrusted by a secret society to protect an ancient relic that the Cult of Cthulhu is trying to steal to awaken the infamous Sea-Monster-God.  Only Jeff has Lovecraft’s genetic ability to resist the telepathic powers of the Cultists, which drive all others who meet them insane.

If this premise sounds a little silly, well, it is.  That’s because the movie is a horror/comedy, but I’d say it’s about 80% comedy, and 20% horror.  And it works.  It’s a very amusing little adventure, while still being reasonably faithful to the principles of Lovecraftian-ism.

The monster special effects are horribly cheap and hokey-looking, but it all works because (a) it’s a comedy and (b) Lovecraftian horror isn’t really about the monsters you see; it’s about the monsters you don’t see. Granted “Lovecraft” and “comedy” are two words you don’t often see together, but in this case, the two blend pretty well.

Is it a great movie? No, but it’s a lot of a fun for anybody who enjoys Lovecraft’s “Yog-Sothothery” but doesn’t take the “Mythos” too seriously.  It’s the most successful blend of cosmic horror and  comedy I’ve seen since the great “Fishmen” musical adaptation of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”.

The only other thing I’d add is that if you are offended by coarse language, you might want to steer clear.  There is a lot of swearing, although it never felt forced or like “swearing for the sake of swearing”. There is also a fair amount of violence, what with the monsters eating people etc., but frankly, the effects are so silly it barely qualifies as violence in my book.  Your mileage may vary.

I happened to see a bit of the first Harry Potter movie on TV the other day.  It was about as I had remembered: too faithful to the book, to the point where it got dull.  (An explanation of the rules of Quidditch is funny and entertaining on the page.  On the screen, it is boring.)

For whatever reason, I decided to also watch the last Harry Potter film as well afterwards–mostly just to see how the cast aged.  But what I noticed, due to the discussion of color in my last post, was how different everything looked from the first film to the last.  I’m not talking the actors here–I’m talking about everything.

Apparently, Voldemort’s rise resulted in a change in how light is reflected.  The colors in the first movie–while still relying heavily on orange and  blue–were nonetheless fairly vibrant and distinct from one another.  By the last movie, everything looked completely washed-out and greyish brown.  It appeared that someone had applied a desaturation filter to everything except the magic spells.

I’m guessing they think they were doing a good job matching the darker tone of the story in the last movie by doing this.

They were wrong.

The movie was so visually uninteresting that it physically hurt to watch.  That’s not good film-making, and it’s not a good way of matching the tone of the story with the scenery.  It can be, sure; but it is not automatic.

The first Harry Potter film was by no means a triumph of cinema, but it was fairly decent visually. The last one was borderline unwatchable because of how uninteresting it looked. I might not have thought too much more about this though, except that I then happened to watch a couple scenes from the movie Apocalypse Now a few days later.  Now, I don’t think it’s an especially good movie, because the story doesn’t make any sense, but it does have awesome cinematography. If you couldn’t tell from the title, it is a rather thematically “dark” film as well, and yet the ending scenes where Martin Sheen goes to assassinate Marlon Brando have plenty of vibrant color.

Here is a still from the climax of Apocalypse Now:

Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now”. Used under “fair use” for the purpose of criticism. Image via IMDB.

Here is a still from the climax of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:

Still from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”. Used under “fair use” for the purpose of criticism. Image via IMDB.

How is it that a picture of a camouflaged man standing in a muddy lake at night is more visually compelling than a wizards’ duel?