Archive for Brick

The Mailbag

Posted in movies with tags , , , , on July 25, 2009 by bradellison

Yes, boys and girls, it’s time once again for everyone’s favorite feature*, as we** here at Brad’s Oneiric Rantatorium take the opportunity to respond directly to you, the reader.

“John,” of john.com***, writes:

Brick was low budget and it showed! It was a movie for geeks who wish they were were able to bang girls like Meagan Good and whoever played Laura! Wish fufillment for people with shaggy haircuts who deeply believe that one they could be cool and arrange drug deals and hang out with sociopaths!

Before we get started on dissecting this correspondence, let’s take a moment to commend John for his relatively firm grasp on the English language.  Almost no words misspelled, proper capitalization, decent punctuation (a little heavy on our old friend Mr. Exclamation Point, but perhaps John is simply a very passionate man), and fairly solid grammar.  The last sentence could use a subject, but it’s implied by the preceding sentences, and I frequently utilize the same colloquial phrasing myself in informal situations such as commenting on the blogs of strangers.  So kudos to you, John.

Now let us set to work inspecting this missive in finer detail.

Brick was low budget and it showed!

Well spotted, John!  Brick was indeed made for around $500,000 dollars, relying heavily on public places, little-known actors, and friends and family.  Only one actual set was used, and it was built in a storage facility and redressed to serve as two different rooms.

However.  Does this mean anything at all in regards to the movie’s actual quality?

Let us ponder, for a moment, the fantastically expensive and awe-inspiringly terrible film Godzilla, starring Ferris Bueller, Leon from The Professional, and a very expensive special effect.

Let us cease pondering that movie, as it is aggressively stupid and badly made, and everyone involved should be very ashamed of themselves, especially Jean Reno.

Here’s the thing.  While Brick was made on the cheap it was also

  • Very tightly scripted
  • Masterfully edited
  • Well-acted
  • Filled with striking and exquisitely crafted images

Also, it had Richard Mother@#$%ing Roundtree in it.

The little-known actors turned out to be very good at their jobs, which is why Joseph Gordon-Levitt is now doing steady critically acclaimed work in a number of films, and also why he’s playing Cobra Commander.  The location shooting gives the film a very grounded look.  And the talent demonstrated in the shooting and editing of the movie is considerable.  In terms of the money-to-quality ratio, there are very few films in the same league.  El Mariachi was a lot cheaper, and factoring in the cost of blank cartridges and squibs, it’s arguably more impressive.  Primer was a lot cheaper and is damned impressive, but in terms of visual style it loses out.

So, Brick was a low-budget film, but Rian Johnson made excellent use of the resources available to him.  Sorted?  Good, we can move on.

It was a movie for geeks who wish they were were able to bang girls like Meagan Good and whoever played Laura!

Now here we find ourselves faced with a bit of the old ad hominem, directed at persons who liked the movie.  Interestingly, while logically and factually our friend John is on rather shaky ground, I may be prepared to concede a bit of a point to him here.  In some ways, Brick is indeed a movie for geeks.

Specifically, Brick, being as it is a distillation of Rian Johnson’s passion for Dashiell Hammett and hard-boiled fiction and noir in general (which passion is, itself, rooted in a passion for the films of the Coen Brothers, specifically Miller’s Crossing), is very much a movie about the genre in which it exists.  It’s a movie for people who love film noir, hard-boiled detectives, and crisp film-making.  In short, it’s a movie for movie buffs.  You don’t have to be a movie buff, or a noir fan, or a worshipper of Hammett and Chandler, but if you are those things, you will find yourself much better equipped to appreciate the movie.  I embraced it whole-heartedly in part because I shared Johnson’s passions, grokked his intent, and found it good.

In fact, I’m even prepared to grant him, to an extent, the second clause of his sentence.  Because, not gonna front here, I am a little bit in love with Nora Zehetner.  But honestly?

I’m prepared to argue that it’d be weird if I weren’t.  Of course, one might as well say that Casablanca was for guys who just wanted to bang Ingrid Bergman, or that The Big Sleep was just for guys who wanted to bang Lauren Bacall.  And, well, for one, that’s every guy, because

Damn.  Well played, Bogie.  Well played.

Where was I?  Ah, yes.  And for two, I heard a rumor that a couple of women out there also liked Casablanca.

Which leaves us with the final sentence.  It’s a poor, tragic thing, lost and forlorn without its subject, but we ain’t in the mercy for grammatically incorrect sentences business, we’re in the merciless ridicule business.

And cousin, business is a-boomin’.

Wish fufillment for people with shaggy haircuts who deeply believe that one they could be cool and arrange drug deals and hang out with sociopaths!

Now the bit about the shaggy haircuts seems to come from nowhere and arrive nowhere, but it does provide us with our first real clue as to who John of John.com is.  He may very well be somehow posting from the early 1950s.  Salutations, my temporally misaligned correspondent, from the exciting world of the 21st century, where it is now acceptable for men, even men who are not beatniks or communist agitators, to grow their hair down to their ears!  I trust you are enjoying the halcyon days of the Eisenhower administration.  I have good news and bad news, though: on the bright side, we eventually beat the Russkies to the Moon, but on the other hand, it turns out this rock and roll thing isn’t just a passing fad.  Good luck to you, sir.

Let’s skip to the end of the sentence, since that’s the part with the highest concentration of stupidity.  For starters, it seems to be missing a word (I’m guessing “day,” as in “…that one day they could…), but that’s okay, because we’re all reasonable people and can easily suss out our chronologically impaired commenter’s intent.  He asserts here that the film geek fans of Brick wan nothing more than to one day arrange drug deals and associate with sociopaths.

I put it to you that this is not, in fact, the case.

Having spent some time around drug users and drug dealers, I assure you, most of them are fairly dull annoying people and you’re best off minimizing your contact with them and above all else avoiding business deals with them.  There are, of course, exceptions; some drug users I know are very nice, interesting people and well worth associating with.  However, on the whole, setting up drug deals is not a fantasy I much indulge in.  Similarly, hanging out with sociopaths is a pretty dreary way to spend time.  They’re not good company, as a general rule.  I strongly suspect that I am not the exception to the rule among Brick fans here.

But back to the start.  “Wish fulfillment.”  Aha, my Ike-liking correspondent, there you have me!  It may indeed be fair to say that wish fulfillment is in play here as one of the elements that makes this movie so satisfying.

Raymond Chandler, who sits at the right hand of God in all matters pertaining to crime fiction, has this to say on the subject of hard-boiled detectives:

In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.

Now, “The Simple Art Of Murder” is indispensable reading for anyone who wants to try his hand at writing crime stories, and I’m almost prepared to go further yet, and elevate to the level of Gospel.  It is fair to say that Raymond Chandler’s fiction serves an almost religious purpose for me, and I regard Philip Marlowe with something of the reverence generally reserved for saints.  Simply put: when I get up in the morning, I get up asking myself “what would Philip Marlowe do?”****

Brendan Frye, throughout the course of the film, does this.

It’s fair to say that Brendan is everything I wished I was in high school: smarter than everybody else, cooler than everybody else, tougher than everybody else.  A loner, but entirely by choice.  A cool observer able to maneouver through any group with ease, whether dealing with pot-heads, drug dealers, the in-crowd or The Man (and who is that Man, that’d risk his neck for his brother man?).  And, as the pure embodiment of the hard-boiled ideal, he is in many ways what I want to be now.  I work daily to grow more cynical, more detached, more sarcastic, and more sick of the seeping corruption and degradation of the world around me.  In my dreams I too become a hard-boiled yet pure-hearted paladin in a grubby trenchcoat fighting to stay honest in a world that oozes filth, rolling with the punches and punching back, fearlessly making cutting quips right to the faces of the men who think they can buy and sell or beat and scare me, picking up beautiful dames even when they’re nothing but trouble.

That’s the great thing about fiction.  It helps fulfill those wishes.  Tolkien’s Middle-Earth his it big once a sufficiently large audience existed, an audience who was ready to leave this world behind for someplace better and purer.  The Crow came into being as one young man’s outpouring of rage and grief and pain, him giving faces to the forces that took from him, and giving himself an avatar with which to punish them, and the reason it resonates is that so many of us want to feel that satisfaction, forcing the world to make sense is a shower of blood.  Bruce Lee?  Clint Eastwood?  Charles Bronson?  Sonny Chiba?  Bruce Willis?  Tony Jaa?  The careers of these men are due, in no small part, to the desire we have to vicariously live as total badasses.

Do you, from your transtemporal computational communications interface device, have the ability to access any of these cultural references, John?  If not, substitute Hopalong Cassidy, Erroll Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks and James Cagney.

To sum up: it did not cost a lot of money to make Brick, which makes it even more impressive that it’s so good, and also means the profits it’s made are that much greater.  I would, in fact, kind of like to have sex with Nora Zehetner.  And I have a shaggy hairdo and wish I was a hard-boiled private eye.

Also, Richard Roundtree rules.

*Well, it probably would be, if I’d ever done it before.

**And by “we” I mean “I.”

***Not actually a real website.

****So far, I’ve had little success in marketing WWPMD? bracelets, t-shirts, bumper stickers, Bibles or other paraphenelia, but I continue to dream the dream.

Never read the comments

Posted in movies with tags , , on May 22, 2009 by bradellison

It turns out that there are a bunch of people out there on the web who hate Brick.  And these people freely disparage it, its cast, and its director, sheltered by the gentle anonymity of the internet.

Obviously, I can’t punch all of them.

But everybody needs to keep this in mind: talk shit about Brick or Rian Johnson in my physical presence, and I’ll be able to punch you.