Explore the world of original plots and unique storytelling with Sylvy, a film major and chronic indie fan. She will steer you toward the best that independent cinema has to offer at home and abroad, past and present.
Now go get the popcorn ready…
The Brothers Bloom
Director: Rian Johnson
Release Year: 2008
The Brothers Bloom opens with the two titular characters as children: Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and his younger brother, Bloom (Adrien Brody) move through dozens of foster homes together and as they do, they find their life calling: being con men.
Years later, Stephen is still cheating people worldwide out of their fortunes by writing clever scenarios that Bloom and his silent Asian assistant Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) help him act out. However, Bloom is tired of pretending and wants “an unwritten life.” Stephen proposes that they work on one last con together and he brings Bloom to New Jersey, where he’s supposed to convince eccentric heiress Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz) into an international adventure that will rob her of millions.
I should stop to clarify what is meant by eccentric: Penelope “collects hobbies”—Weisz learned how to break-dance, juggle, do karate, play ping pong, unicycle, skateboard, and play piano, violin and accordion for the role—yet she’s surprisingly normal for someone with such a tragic upbringing. More than making her character kooky or a hapless victim, Weisz gives Penelope a depth that makes her not only loveable but respectable. The same can be said about Brody, whose performance as a conflicted con man with nagging thoughts of morality is entirely convincing. Even the film’s quietest character, Bang Bang, deserves praise for her ability to bring comic relief to this tale of deception, intrigue, and love.
Filled with great performances, excellent dialogue (or, in Bang Bangs case, lack thereof), gorgeous European settings, and a plot that’s just the right amount of confusing, The Brothers Bloom is highly entertaining.
The Ramen Girl
Director: Robert Allan Ackerman
Release Year: 2008
The Ramen Girl isn’t a story that hasn’t been told before, but there’s something about it that makes it fun to watch. Abby (Brittany Murphy) moves to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend Ethan (Gabriel Mann), who promptly leaves her stranded in a city where she doesn’t speak the language or know anyone.
Four years out of college with nothing to show for it, she decides she’s going to finish something she starts for once and asks a traditional Japanese râmen master (Maezumi, played by Toshiyuki Nishida) to teach her how to make the famous noodles. The only problem? Maezumi’s temper is legendary, and the fact that Abby doesn’t understand Japanese only makes him more impatient.
What follows, of course, are laughs and Abby’s transformation into someone with self-respect and work ethic. None of what happens is really a surprise for the viewer, but how it plays out—from the non-stereotypical representation of an exotic locale to the endearing chemistry between Murphy and her supporting cast of comedic characters—is what makes the film enjoyable and worth seeing.
Director: Rian Johnson
Release Year: 2005
Reviewing The Brothers Bloom felt wrong without talking about another great Rian Johnson film, Brick. Its unique concept is pretty easy to describe although a little hard to imagine: Film noir meets high school.
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (of 500 Days of Summer fame) as the outcast Brendan, the film begins when he finds his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin) dead at the entrance of a sewage tunnel two days after she calls him frantically asking for help. Brendan remembers four words Emily mentioned during their last conversation (brick, tug, frisco and pin) and decides that they should be able to lead him to the person who killed her so he can take revenge.
The next two hours are spent in a dizzying web of suspicion that takes Brendan everywhere, from the dressing room at his high school theater to the homes of upper-crust classmates who are up to no good. The most fascinating thing of all is how Johnson manages to make this detective story convincing despite its unusual backdrop of underground high school crime rings.
Casting definitely had a lot to do with it, with Gordon-Levitt delivering one of his best performances to date and several lesser-known cast members threatening to steal the spotlight with their intense villainous portrayals, but outstanding editing and a classic film-noir score filled with pianos and violins also helped make Brick the must-watch masterpiece that it is.
By Sylvana Fernandez
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