Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Duo of Brothers: Bloom and Blues

The Blues Brothers

Jake and Elwood. A couple of simple men, with simple desires. They love good music, good friends, fast cars and to stay away from their exes. But there is a crisis: the severe nun who raised them is about to lose her orphanage. So they embark upon their mission from God: they are going to get their rockin’ blues band back together and do one more big benefit show to keep the orphanage going. In the midst of this, they find that they must have a number of car chases, including one through a mall, insult some rednecks and run from a mysterious woman who wants to kill them. Just another adventure for God.

Technical 3/5—The acting is basic, sometimes it is basically bad. But that is all to remind us that most of these supporting characters aren’t actors, they are musicians. The cinematography is also pretty basic—nothing fancy or pretty. It’s your basic entertainment from the 80s.

Interest—4/5—What a fun film. The music is great, having some of the classics rock and soul songs from some great artists. And it is such a blast. The car chase through the mall is still classic, and the Brothers’ choices are amazingly stupid. For a skit brought to screen, it is really entertaining.

Tension—3/5—In a sense, it doesn’t really matter what happens. The important thing is that the movie goes from song to violence to song to violence. What happens to the characters aren’t so important. The only tension is really found when the Brothers’ are VERY late for the show. But Cab Calloway saves the day—how fantastic!

Emotional—3/5—If LOL is an emotion, then I was there.

Characters—3/5—Frankly, I like the fact that Belushi and Ackroyd played the Brothers deadpan. It offered a wonderful contrast to their stage presence and the insanity around them. It just added to the humor, even if it means no character development for them. Carrie Fisher, however, is perfect as the Ex. She steals every scene she’s in and is way better than all of Scott Pilgrim’s Exes combined.

Theme—2/5—Abusive nuns shouldn’t ever ask the kids she’s raised to help her. In anything more than painting walls.

Ethics—2/5—Ethically, the film is interesting. We are asked to withhold judgment on the various criminal activities of Jake and Ellwood because they are doing it to help out an orphanage and they are socially clueless as to what would be appropriate. In other words, since their moral imagination is low and their motivation is good, then we should wink at the damage they have done to relationships, buildings, families, as well as the countless laws they have broken. Besides, their band rocks.

Two things disturb me about this moral reasoning. First, that good motivation always produces moral actions. Clearly, in the Blues Brothers, this is not the case. And it is not the case in real life. The fact is, moral action not only needs positive motivation (“I want to help this person”), but it also requires wisdom to understand the best options. Which J and E clearly lacked.

Second, and what really bugs me, is J and E represent a certain kind of religious reasoning that damages the world. We can laugh at their idiocy, but others see their kind of religious experience without thought to be a fair assessment of proper religious action. They can be seen as a mockery of religion (which I don’t think the Blues Brothers is) or they can be used as a defense for a kind of religious action. Really, I’ve seen it. I know a number of Jake and Ellwoods. I know of people who pray for protection before they break into a store to steal thousands of dollars of goods, and believe that God has heard their prayers. This is horrible. Again, it’s not the fault of the movie. Perhaps the film is just laughing at this kind of reasoning. Unfortunately, knowing that the reasoning is actually out there, takes away some of the absurdity for me.

If God is in The Blues Brothers, He's the one who caused the orphanage to close down in the first place.

Personal—2/5—Nothing personal, it’s just an entertaining film.

The Blues Brothers is along the lines of The Emperor’s New Groove or the original Pirates of the Caribbean film. It is simply entertainment, nothing more. And it isn’t as great entertainment as those other films, so it won’t make my top 100. But it is worth rewatching about every decade.

The Brothers Bloom

Rian Johnson is a director whose name should be widely known. Honestly, he's young and he's only directed two films. But these two films are so filled with the knowledge of their particular genre, and both goes just that extra step that Johnson should be someone to really keep an eye on. His first film was Brick, a noir film that takes place in a high school. It is tense, smart, and just a pleasure to watch.

But even better is his follow up, The Brothers Bloom. I watched this for the second time with a dumb smile on my face the whole time. This is a con movie, but the real issue is not what the con is, but how the artists con themselves. How, in reality, we all invent ourselves and re-invent ourselves. That who we are is not accurate memory, but rather that our identity is found in the narrative we have placed ourselves.

The first time, Bang Bang enchanted me. This time, I fell in love with the whole cast. I understood what was going on, which made me lose some of the mystery, but it was just as good. The storytelling motif is not just interesting, but important. Oh yeah, this is a keeper.

Technical-- 5/5-- Johnson is an amazing filmmaker. Every frame is planned, and every moment carefully placed. And it is all a wonder to look at. Some of the sequences are so complex that you think you are watching one of those Rube Goldberg machines that take up a room in order to crack an egg. Perhaps it is unnecessary, but the entertainment is in going through the complexity.

Interest-- 5/5-- There isn't a frame without something amazing taking place. Unbelievably entertaining. Funny, touching, occasionally deep, and most of all, fun.

Tension-- 3/5-- The tension was certainly less the second time around. But the final scene was still intense.

Emotional 2/5-- This film doesn't really stir my emotions, which is why it won't make my very top films. The most I can say is "touching" at times.

Characters 4/5-- Not only was I entertained by these characters, I almost believed in all of them. Bang Bang, probably one of my favorite supporting characters of all time, is part Chaplain, part Harpo and part Basher Tarr. Oh, and she's Asian. But all of the characters are a lot of fun. The point was not to see the characters as "real" so much as to feel what they feel. All the characters, not just Bang Bang, felt, to a degree that they came from a much older day of cinema, which made them a bit more shallow, but still likable and you still wish you could spend more time with them.

Theme 5/5-- The idea of life as story and the power of writing one's own story is excellent.

Ethics 4/5-- Well, conning is bad. That's criminal. And lying. But making sure that everyone gets a benefit from the arrangement is good. Perhaps it is self-deception on Stephan's part, but interesting to think about. The interesting thing about this film and most con films is the idea of lying as a potentially positive thing. Deception is bad, not because people shouldn't be deceived, but because deception is almost only exclusively used for one's own personal benefit. But if one could lie in a self-sacrificial way, to benefit another, is it actually wrong?

Personal 2/5-- Didn't really connect personally, but you can't have everything.

It's a film of entertainment, with a little to think about, but it succeeds admirably for that. I was firmly entertained and I thought a little. I would place it above The Blues Brothers and I declare Rian Johnson as someone I will watch just because his name is attached to the project. Oh yeah and I think The Brothers Bloom will make my top 100 list.

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