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Moriarty Drops A Dime On BRICK!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

Rian Johnson’s debut feature is a remarkable bit of conceptual brilliance that pays off in something of substance, not just a style exercise. If you haven’t seen the very groovy trailer, I recommend you check it out. Focus is doing a good job of selling the film. What that trailer promises you is what you’ll get, and then some. In a way, this reminds me of Paul Brickman’s landmark RISKY BUSINESS. There’s something of that movie’s cool at work here in Johnson’s all-American detective story played out against the backdrop of the savage jungle of high school. It’s not a joke... it’s not played for the knowing laughs of season one VERONICA MARS, for example... but is instead something that seems very natural. Joseph Gordon-Levitt isn’t playing some self-appointed Philip Marlowe wanna-be, and the word “detective” is never used. He’s simply someone who finds himself wrapped up in a mystery that threatens to destroy him if he doesn’t solve it.

Gordon-Levitt’s been around for a while, and even on THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN, it was obvious that he had great natural timing and that he could hold his own opposite even the most insane of John Lithgow’s digressions. He struck me as the same kind of natural performer as Michael J. Fox when he was on FAMILY TIES. I met Gordon-Levitt at Sundance in 2001, when he was in town to support MANIC, a pretty solid teen drama that’s all over pay cable this month, and he struck me as a really serious actor, a guy who wanted to polish his craft. After the one-two punch of last year’s haunting MYSTERIOUS SKIN and his work in this film, Gordon-Levitt’s leapt forward as one of the most interesting guys his age. Even at his most shut down and hunched over and crushed in this movie, there’s still something about him that seems exposed, vulnerable, and you can’t help but empathize with him. He plays Brendan Frye as this bruised bulldog of a kid, determined to do right by the memory of his girlfriend Emily (played by LOST’s Emilie de Ravin), whose death is the film’s stark opening image. The deeper he digs, the worse things seem to get for him, but he’s unflappable, and Gordon-Levitt makes us believe that he’s going to figure it all out.

It’s not easy to take a style exercise and invigorate it with a genuine sense of life, but Rian Johnson’s succeeded in the way that the Coens succeeded in their early work. If anything, this puts me in mind of MILLER’S CROSSING in the way it takes some of the signatures of Hammett and Chandler but manages to make it feel original and organic. High school students have a language all their own and a social pecking order that is carefully defined and almost completely separate from the world of their parents. I love the way we only glimpse parents once or twice in the film, and they play a subservient role, just showing up long enough to serve refreshments before disappearing again. Because Brendan lives in this private world of teenagers, it makes sense that he and his friends all speak in this slang, this private language. Instead of coming across as an affectation, it makes us believe that these people all share the same social sphere. It makes it specific.

Brendan’s a great unflappable hero. No matter what happens, no matter how rough things get, he just picks himself up and refuses to back off. He’s not a muscular guy, like Noah Fleiss as Tugger, and he’s not an evil genius like the Pin, played by Lukas Haas. Brendan’s just determined, tenacious. He stays on the case long after anyone else would have walked away, even after he’s given plenty of reasons to walk away. After a while, I get the feeling he couldn’t give up even if he wanted to. He’s just coasting on the forward momentum he’s created, and if he stops moving for any reason, he might never get started again.

Steve Yedlin, Johnson’s cinematographer, is a vital piece of this particular puzzle, as his work here is so strong. He’s cut his teeth on good genre films like Tobe Hooper’s TOOLBOX MURDERS and Lucky McKee’s MAY, but BRICK is world-class work that should steer him to even bigger things in the future. This can’t have been an expensive movie, but there’s a sleek surface to the film that is Yedlin’s doing. He gives the film a smooth visual style to go along with the dense verbal wordplay.

Eventually, this turns into RED HARVEST (or YOJIMBO or FISTFUL OF DOLLARS or LAST MAN STANDING, depending on which version you’re most familiar with), as Brendan has to play everyone against the middle in an effort to escape this quicksand that he’s dug himself into. The way he pulls his plan together, the way he thinks on his feet, that’s what makes Brendan worth rooting for. It’s one of those story shapes that has been used over and over for a reason. When it works, it really works, and you get the feeling that the film is building towards something terrible.

So far, BRICK is probably my favorite new release of 2006, although I’ll admit... I’m behind this year. I’ve missed a lot of screenings, most of them because I just couldn’t work up the interest in what’s been screening. As we head into the summer, I’m dedicated to getting back to the business of actually seeing and reviewing things. I’ve done a lot of set visits and other side projects for AICN, all of which I’m busy transcribing and preparing for you now, but it’s nice to finally have some films coming out that are worth discussing again. I’ll have reviews of SLITHER and AWESOME! I FUCKIN’ SHOT THAT! coming up for you later this evening, and then next week, we’ve got the first of a series of special anniversary articles on the way for you. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • March 30, 2006, 10:18 p.m. CST

    First, bitches!

    by jacknewton

    Just that. Also, this movie will pwn.

  • March 30, 2006, 10:18 p.m. CST


    by halfmahalfn

    Yup - it look's like Brick will be worth the visit. The third pig may have been on to something. Yes, I've just had my third beer at work.

  • March 30, 2006, 10:36 p.m. CST

    this movie will own all your asses

    by tripp5

    well written review, too. i like being able to read why a movie is good or not good without having to be told what the eff happens in the film.

  • March 30, 2006, 10:38 p.m. CST

    This looks very interesting.

    by JonQuixote

    I really noticed Levitt not so much during 3RD ROCK, but of all places during a guest appearance on THAT 70'S SHOW. The sort of comic timing that makes a pretty standard joke into a scene you just don't forget. I'm really looking forward to BRICK.

  • March 30, 2006, 11:24 p.m. CST

    MORI, there was a fountain screening in LA...

    by JohnnyBlueJeans

    weren't you there, and where's the review?

  • March 31, 2006, 2:08 a.m. CST

    I'll be seeing this soon

    by zikade zarathos

    I'm expecting great things. Hope I'm not disappointed. Trailer's great, though, so I'm not worried.

  • March 31, 2006, 5:05 a.m. CST


    by kiddae

    A man after my own heart. Definitely my all-time favourite, and criminally undervalued in my experience. Though I probably prefer it that way.

  • March 31, 2006, 6:19 a.m. CST


    by IAmMrMonkey

    Is that real?!!

  • March 31, 2006, 7:23 a.m. CST

    Is it like Miller's Crossing

    by brycemonkey

    in that the protagonist keeps getting the shit beat out of him? JK... Anyway, very excited to see this thank god there are a few decent movies out this year.

  • March 31, 2006, 7:28 a.m. CST


    by drew mcweeny

    ... actually... yeah.

  • March 31, 2006, 7:31 a.m. CST

    This opens in NY and LA this week?

    by Barry Egan

    I live in the midwest, which means we will be getting this in 2015, just in time for the Superbowl.

  • March 31, 2006, 7:34 a.m. CST


    by brycemonkey

    But does he even get his ass handed to him by the female lead? Gabriel Byrne got beat by *everyone* in that flick...

  • March 31, 2006, 7:37 a.m. CST

    Yeah it's a must see

    by monkeymafia

    I'm not a fan of anime but the way everything is so exagerated and stylized it seemed like a real-life high brow cartoon or comic. Be warned though you're going to come out of this movie imitating that ryhtmic manner of speaking and tossing around vocab like "burg" and "take a powder"

  • March 31, 2006, 7:40 a.m. CST

    That's interesting

    by Andsoitis

    I read and interview with Rian Johnson in Giant magazine. He sighted Blood Simple as being one of his influences. He is a huge Dashiell Hammett fan, and from what I gathered from the article, the Cohens are as well. All that aside, I've been looking forward to this film for a long time. La folks should go check this at the arclight. Johnson is going to be there for Q&A.

  • March 31, 2006, 12:12 p.m. CST

    seems most people respect it; only some like it

    by HypeEndsHere

    in the WSJ the guy had a good point: "Brick doesn't try to match that force [of earler Dashiell Hammett adaptations]--it's a parody, after all, and some of it is very funny. But its arcane slang, which is meant to be mannered, grows mannered in unintended, off-putting ways, and the performances, though amusing, can be painfully short on energy. "Brick," which took six years to put together, has the inherent limits of all movies that feed on movies, rather than life--it's original, yet it's not."

  • March 31, 2006, 2:58 p.m. CST

    just looked on RT, and critic response...

    by veenie mixed in the type of way that really makes me want to see it. 'Mixed' as in they mostly seem to love it or to respect-but-don't-dig-it, which to me shows a movie that's doing something interesting. And there's a few who hate it passionately, like Rex Reed, which REALLY makes me want to see it.

  • March 31, 2006, 3:07 p.m. CST

    Rex Reed's Brick review- Hysterical

    by Lovecraftfan

    Honestly you guys r ead that review. It comes off as so unnecessarily bitchy its a hoot to read. I laughed and laughed. Cannot wait for Brick. Also for everyone saying where has Levitt been I guess you guys missed Manic and Mysterious Skin.

  • March 31, 2006, 4:46 p.m. CST


    by OhDaesu

    This film has some truly stunning cinematography. It's a great film. That's all that needs to be said. Now go see it!

  • April 1, 2006, 4:01 a.m. CST

    just saw it at the Arclight

    by veenie

    Loved it. The big surprise was that it was totally hilarious, in a Coen bros way. Can see how people land on one side of the fence or the other, but I went with it and had a great time. So thanks Rex. (And Mori.)

  • April 1, 2006, 8:40 p.m. CST

    Hey, Look!

    by drew mcweeny

    It's a Scorched Planet troll! Yes, it looks like my fan club has grown tired of just touching themselves to photos of me and TIVO'd G4 appearances, and so now they've decided to start publishing fake descriptions of my next MASTERS episode. Awesome!

  • April 2, 2006, 11:25 a.m. CST

    If Drew says that description of PRO-LIFE is fake,...

    by LaserMonkey

    ...then why doubt him????? It's not like he's ever lied before, and it's not like this site ever ever ever posts news that ISN'T 100% TRUE. We'll know for sure when the episode is done and John Carpenter "works his magic" on the script. But really, this is all very silly and continuously hypocritical. Whenever Drew has a chance to show he's grown he blows it. Scoop his scripts and post perfectly legal AICN-style news and he gets it removed. Regardless of who it is it's very very childish and just feeds the haters. You lose while you win Drew. Per usual.

  • April 2, 2006, 12:53 p.m. CST

    Do Your Shoulders Hurt...

    by drew mcweeny

    ... from carrying that chip, LaserMonkey? Nobody made anybody do anything. I don't control other people on the internet, and I can't magically force someone to take down a synopsis of something. If that guy took down something you goofballs sent him because he didn't like being used in your troll games, that's his call. A good one, too. But don't let that stand in the way of your crusade to dislike me! Bring on the dislike!

  • April 2, 2006, 2:07 p.m. CST

    Missing the point as always, Drew

    by LaserMonkey

    Somebody strong-armed the kid and made him remove it. He now says he has a version that's different. He pretty much told me himself what happened. Everybody knows that the version Snooch scooped was accurate. Much like AICN has done, he reviewed an early version and gave it a negative spin. Why are standards different for you and your ilk?? Why do you guys get to do things that others cannot? Why can this site bend the rules and skirt morality but when it's done to you you rage for fairness?? Just answer hat one question, man. I don't give 2 fucks about any of your material. I've read enough to know you guys stink. But so what? 99% of working screenwriters suck. The hypocritical doucheiness is what brings the dislike. I carry no chip. I get sundry laughs from all of it. Your inability to look in a mirror, chang who you are and respect where you came from is the reason so many people dislike you, whether they are SP trolls or just posters on this site. But if it helps you sleep at night then go ahead and keep simplifying. Be honest and answer charges and they will go away and we can all go on wasing our lives picking over movie minutae. You won't answer but I'm sure Nordling or Jeremy Smith will jump to your defense. the true best answer is to stop being a patronizing rageaholic and develop as a human being, a writer and a fan. You're the same kid who I first read on this site 9 years ago. "Troll games" and whatnot are no doubt childish, but considering where you sit you look a fool criticizing anyone.

  • April 2, 2006, 3:36 p.m. CST


    by HypeEndsHere

    what the fuck are you babbling about? either write a screenplay or go sit in the sunshine a while. you've had too much internet, son.

  • April 2, 2006, 6:02 p.m. CST


    by LaserMonkey

    Screenplay writing has shit-all to do with anything. That's a straw man argument. Whether we are screenwriters or not has no effect on drew or his psychodrama. Nontheless, that episode ends. Good luck to carpenter getting a decent episode out of that drivel. If it's good I'll admit it. CIGARETTER BURNS was surprisingly decent. Pains me to say it. BRICK sounds swell.

  • April 2, 2006, 6:10 p.m. CST

    No, No, Hype...

    by drew mcweeny

    ... let them get it out of their system. It's all so important. You see, I am a bad writer. And it is their duty to tell the world. And they are censored so heavily that... ummmm... no one's taken down any of their talkbacks. Evidently, they're upset that I wrote to a webmaster to correct erroneous information, something that's been done hundreds of times to us. And he corrected it. SO THIS MEANS WAR. *sigh* The Internet, folks. One of the greatest communication mediums ever created. And this is what it comes to.

  • April 2, 2006, 6:11 p.m. CST

    Oh, Wait...

    by drew mcweeny

    ... I forgot. I'm not going to "answer charges" here. I'm in hiding, evidently.

  • April 2, 2006, 6:37 p.m. CST

    god, doesn't anyone around this site know how to use

    by HypeEndsHere

    'straw man argument' correctly? anyway, i'm not providing an argument at all. i'm saying it's his site and he's more than gracious enough to allow you to come to it and shit wherever you like. if you've got problems with another site's content, gee, i don't know, TAKE IT UP WITH THE OTHER SITE. as for me, i've never seen anything of Drew's but he's making his way in my field and for that (regardless of quality) he gets my respect.

  • April 2, 2006, 7:27 p.m. CST

    I've read his stuff

    by LaserMonkey

    It's awful. And yes, Drew, to your credit you havn't banned me or anyone else and the TB goes on. Maybe you're learning a TINY bit. Baby steps. And it doesn't "mean war." It's just funny and as I said we'll see. You remain hypersensitive as always. Hype, lick my balls after you're done licking Drew's.

  • April 2, 2006, 9:17 p.m. CST

    i don't know if i have the time, 'LaserMonkey'

    by HypeEndsHere

    i mean it takes HUGE balls to anonymously attack someone over the internet for attaining some level of success. served.

  • April 2, 2006, 11:03 p.m. CST

    Okay, So I'm on crack...

    by Andsoitis

    The article made reference to Miller's Crossing and not Blood Simple. Good observation on those that saw the parallels. Not that it wasn't glaringly obvious. I just saw the movie today, and it was awesome. Oh yeah, wasn't this thread supposed to be about BRICK.

  • April 2, 2006, 11:17 p.m. CST


    by drew mcweeny

    ... it turns out that Rian Johnson's pretty open about how MILLER'S CROSSING was the film that first inspired him to go read Dashiell Hammett's work, which is funny since it's not directly based on any one particular book by him. Glad you dug it. I'm surprised by how much the film has stuck with me in the month or so since I saw it.

  • April 4, 2006, 12:07 a.m. CST

    Hype, I have built a man out of straw,

    by ol' painless

    and I frequently have arguments with it: is THIS what you mean? I also engage in other acts with it, but this sometimes gives me a rash. I might write a screenplay about it.

  • April 9, 2006, 12:47 p.m. CST

    Saw it yesterday

    by elecam

    and Brick is truly great. By far the most inspired movie I've seen this year.