Movie Reviews: Big Man Japan, Management, Not Forgotten 

Also, Brothers at War, The New Twenty, The Skeptic, The Brothers Bloom and Next Day Air

Wednesday, May 13 2009

BIG MAN JAPAN Hitoshi Matsumoto, one-half of a legendary Japanese comic duo, debuts as big-screen director/star with this goof on the rubber monster movie line, a special debt owed to Ultraman. Dai Sato (Matsumoto) is heir to a family of Big Men, homeland protectors who, under high-voltage electroshock, grow to apartment-block size and wrangle on television whatever rampaging cheapo CGI is threatening the peace. In Sato’s era — underpaid, ratings in the basement, geishas gone — this means dog-catching low-comic grotesques: a Cyclops with an eye dangling from its crotch, or publicly copulating behemoths. Life at normal size only adds to the indignity. Sato’s a distracted burnout with time-warp sartorial sense, intent only on stroking his hair out of his eyes. His wife has left him, taking his daughter and any prospect of a successor. His transformation ceremony takes place in a storeroom. His agent sells ad space on his torso. Sans secret identity, he takes the PR hits (and obscene graffiti) when Big Man slips up — the best bit involves mishandling an infant monster and resulting mawkish vigils. Between such shots of inspiration, Matsumoto’s mock-doc framework seems a lazy stock device, interviews playing more dead than deadpan and failing to exceed an over-familiar comic-pathetic attitude toward the lives of functionaries. (Nuart) (Nick Pinkerton)

GO  THE BROTHERS BLOOM Writer-director Rian Johnson’s movies are clever and soulful confabulations. The filmmaker, whose screenplays read like novels, serves up movies that could play like parodies: 2005’s Brick was his gumshoe-in-tennis-shoes noir about a slang-spouting baby Bogart on the hunt for his lady friend’s killer. Now comes The Brothers Bloom, a love story — two, actually — that flirts with the con-man movie clichés with which Johnson ultimately can’t be bothered. Which is just as well. The genre’s big game is played out, after all: In a confidence film, everyone is exactly who they say they are, even when they insist they’re not who you think they are, or something — aha! Johnson dispenses with that phony device up front; he doesn’t have an endgame gotcha up his sleeve and isn’t interested in making a puzzle to be solved. Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) are, from first scene to last shot, precisely who we think they are: lonely little fabulists who tell stories to find the joy that eludes them in “the real world.” When they’re boys, Stephen spins his profitable fictions to find his brother the perfect girl; in adulthood, he does it to land Bloom the love of his life, Penelope (Rachel Weisz), the Jersey heiress so wealthy and bored that she collects hobbies. Clearly, Penelope’s in need of an adventure, which Johnson provides, in a movie where affectation gives way to affection till it steals, well, only your heart. (ArcLight Hollywood;  Landmark)  (Robert Wilonsky)

MANAGEMENT Each new superfluous Jennifer Aniston rom-com is already met with low expectations, but add some overcooked, middlebrow Indiewood quirk (skydiving into a pool while being shot by a BB gun?) and you’ve got cinema’s purest shade of beige. Aniston doesn’t have to stretch a muscle as Sue, a traveling corporate-art salesperson staying in an Arizona motel, where she’s courted late at night by the owners’ man-child son, Mike (Steve Zahn). Awkwardly bringing her champagne and complimenting her ass, he nearly blows a fuse when she actually allows him to cop a feel. The next morning, en route to the airport, she inexplicably circles back and bangs Mike, and since they still have nothing in common, he follows her all over the country like some retarded puppy. Tape playwright-turned-director Stephen Belber’s debut is reminiscent of the gimmicky Audrey Tautou vehicle He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not— at least the first half, when the Amelie star pined romantically for a man who, as shown from his point of view later, thinks she’s a mentally ill stalker. Sure, this is a comedy, but even beyond Woody Harrelson’s broad turn as an ex-punk yogurt mogul, there’s something about Belber’s script that demands the romance be taken seriously. If that were possible, it would be more disturbing than sweet. (Citywide) (Aaron Hillis)

click to enlarge The Brothers Bloom: Ruffalo and Brody
  • The Brothers Bloom: Ruffalo and Brody

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NEXT DAY AIR Benny Boom built his reputation directing music videos and commercials, and his first feature, Next Day Air, falls somewhere between the blunt-force visuals of the former and the focus-grouped formulas of the latter. What’s being sold in this skeletally plotted story of a drug shipment gone awry is not a hip-hop star (though a couple of them appear) nor an energy drink, nor any debut directorial vision. Instead, Boom sells the viewer back to him/herself: “This is what you like,” the film’s mash of confidently broad laugh-lines, “lovably” repugnant characters, and abrupt plunges into violence suggest. The ensemble cast includes Donald Faison as a pothead deliveryman who mistakenly delivers a massive cocaine drop to two ineffectual thugs (Mike Epps and Wood Harris). When the Puerto Ricans next door start taking heat from their Mexican drug lord for the missing package, a sort of Keystone Cops sequence of events is set into motion. Except there are no cops, not much farcical energy, and none of the satiric edge it would take to pull off the film’s grim denouement. Next Day Air is a straight shot up the middle. (Citywide) (Michelle Orange)

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