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Rian Johnson’s Last Con

Rian Johnson’s Last Con (photo)

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How do you follow up a film that managed to be both a faithful noir throwback and an unusually effective teen movie? Rian Johnson knew before he finished his 2005 debut “Brick” that his next feature was going to be about con men. But “The Brothers Bloom” is as much about the relationship between two siblings as it is about graft — Bloom (Adrien Brody) and his brother Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) are the greatest con artists in the world, and like so many of their cinematic brethren, it’s the personal problems that do them in. Bloom, who’s point person in all of Stephen’s artful plans, wants out of the game, but is pulled back in for one last job, one that may have been tailored by Stephen to give his brother everything he’s ever wanted, including the love of an lonely, winsome heiress named Penelope (Rachel Weisz). I talked with Johnson about Europe, Wes Anderson comparisons and “Paper Moon.”

What’s the appeal of genre been to you? “Brick” and now “The Brothers Bloom” have both been located in very specific niches of film language.

The appealing thing about working in genre is it gives you a defined playing field, a chessboard to play on. It also gives you a certain set of audience expectations, both to play with and to play off of, and the discipline of that is something I really like. Those kind of limitations — the space that the thing has to fit into — that’s something that I welcome. Otherwise, it’d be very easy for me to go off the deep end and make four hours of nonsense. (laughs)

Where would you place “Bloom” in relation to the typical conman movie? It exists in a sort of alternate universe.

The conman genre is a pretty flexible one. You’ve got everything from the more intellectualized “House of Games” to broad comedies, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” to fable-type things, “Paper Moon”… I’d say it probably slides more towards the scale of “Paper Moon” if I had to place it in the context of other movies, but I wasn’t really thinking of it that way when I was conceiving it. It came from a place of wanting to take a crack at a character-based conman movie, wanting to do something where the payoff at the end wasn’t a plot twist, but was an emotional payoff, and the challenge of doing that in a genre where the audience is trained to not trust the characters.

Bloom himself is a conman movie archetype, the character who wants to get out of the game, but who gets called back in for one last con.

05132009_brothersbloom4.jpgThere’s definitely that element of it, which, again, sets up a familiar dynamic for the audience, which I hope in some ways helps cushion things, especially towards the end of the film when everything doesn’t end up paying off the way that you expected. Obviously Stephen writes these grand fictions and lives his life through a process of storytelling, and Bloom is trapped in a story that he didn’t write, which is something that has a lot of resonance for me. There’ve been plenty of times in my life, in all of our lives, where we kind of take a look around and realize that we’re doggedly playing out a role in a play that we don’t particularly like.

The other easy parallel to make is that of actor and filmmaker — Stephen’s cast his brother as the leading man in all of their cons.

Absolutely… (laughs) I have an immediate reaction to divorce it from those terms just because the way I’d elaborate on that would sound condescending to actors as a trade, so — divorcing it from that, it’s the passivity of Bloom playing these parts as opposed to the activeness of Stephen creating them. Bloom’s journey is going from passive to active and hopefully writing his own story at the end as opposed to just reciting lines.

How do you feel about the Wes Anderson comparisons? Was there any kind of intentional relationship?

There were absolutely no intentional comparisons at all. It’s weird. I’m a big Wes Anderson fan. I love his movies, and if people are going to compare me to something, it’s good to be at least compared to something good. But at the same time, it’s kind of a shallow comparison, especially when it’s put out there dismissively — it indicates to me that maybe they weren’t paying very close attention to the film. It’s mainly a loose connection between the visual styles, and the soundtrack and the fact that Adrien Brody’s in it… But there are so many other films that I stole from more! I’m more surprised I don’t get called out for stealing the whole scene on the steamer ship from “The Lady Eve” or the bearskin rug scene with Shirley MacLaine in “Being There.” I guess I should be thankful that the accusations of theft are so short-sighted. (laughs)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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