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The Brothers Bloom flowers to open the Denver Film Festival

Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo in the Rian Johnson film The Brothers Bloom.
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The Brothers Bloom offered the folks behind the 31st Starz Denver Film Festival with a win-win situation at last night's opening night. The film has a local hook of sorts: Its director, Rian Johnson, spent part of his youth in Denver. Moreover, the movie's actually pretty entertaining, unlike some past first-night flicks I could name -- like, for instance, Breaking and Entering, the disappointing final flick by the late Anthony Minghella that kicked off the 2006 fest.

Before the film could start unspooling at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, however, there was some back-patting to be done.

Nina Henderson Moore, chair of the Denver Film Society's board of directors (and wife of Denver Post editor Greg Moore), opened the proceedings by talking about how the world had gotten a chance to see Denver through new eyes during the Democratic National Convention; her mention of Barack Obama's election nine days earlier prompted a round of applause. The fest, she added, now offered filmgoers an opportunity to look at the rest of the world from a similarly fresh perspective. Then, she introduced new Denver Film Society executive director Burleigh "Bo" Smith in a notably odd way -- she asked the crowd to collectively greet him with, "Hello, Bo!"

Hard to say why Smith didn't say a few words of his own. After all, he couldn't have been more awkward than the poor guy for Ceavco Audio Visual, a sponsoring organization, who seemed less than thrilled to be dragged onto a podium to greet Denver's version of the hoi polloi. Magic Cyclops felt otherwise, waving and acknowledging the crowd from near the front of the mostly full venue following this year's sponspor-pimping intro clip, in which he's the featured yakker. Too bad the video itself was so difficult to watch -- a badly paced, one-shot presentation in which the Magic man came across like a desperate Russell Brand imitator instead of the unique oddball he actually is. Betcha movie lovers will be mighty sick of this thing by the time the fest is over.

Fortunately, things picked up when festival director Britta Erickson introduced Johnson, who seemed genuinely happy to be in Denver. He talked about his days as a student at Dry Creek Elementary School and his early experiments with a video camera purchased by his father -- the primitive type that required the user to carry the actual recorder with him at all times, which wasn't easy for Johnson at age nine. Then he noted that since The Brothers Bloom is a con-man comedy, as well as something of a romance, audience members should loosen their ties and feel free to laugh.

Which they did, early and often. Bloom revolves around two brothers -- an eager charlatan played by Mark Ruffalo and his reluctant, sad-sack younger sibling, portrayed by Adrien Brody -- who engage in an elaborate scheme to fleece zany heiress Rachel Weisz. As this description implies, Johnson, following up on 2005's Brick, his neo-noir feature debut, engages in genre-play throughout, mashing together elements of screwball comedy (Weisz is the spiritual daughter of Katharine Hepburn's character in 1938's Bringing Up Baby) and old-school capers. Along the way, he borrows visually, thematically and even musically from Royal Tenenbaums master Wes Anderson, who's made a career out of chronicling oddball family dynamics, as well as Joel and Ethan Coen, whose showboating visual style is echoed by wonderfully elaborate sequences like Brody's bicycle-meets-car encounter with Weisz. But enough of Johnson's own personality shines through to prevent Bloom from seeming like a mere homage. Granted, its final section represents at least one twist too many, and the conclusion strains for the sort of emotional heft that's out of proportion with the production as a whole, which basically qualifies as a charming trifle, not a serious character study.

Still, this miscalculation isn't enough to undermine one's appreciation for Johnson, who's among the more promising young talents that Hollywood has to offer, or for the Denver Film Festival. Although the red carpet in front of the opera house last night may not have been trod by many (or any) genuine stars, it led to a worthwhile movie. And that's what the festival is supposed to be all about. -- Michael Roberts

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