With Oscar season finally over, The New Beverly Cinema has ended its “Django Unchained” residency and posted a new film schedule with selections from arthouse, cult, foreign and independent cinema that will play over the course of the next two months. On Sunday, March 10 and Monday, March 11, this will include a double feature of Rian Johnson’s first film, “Brick” and his most recent, massively successful effort, “Looper.”
Rian Johnson is what one could call a shining example of the independent filmmaker, succeeding on his own merit, based on distinctive screenplays, an engrossing visual style and impressive cinematic output. Criticism of his films aside, and ignoring the box office stutter-step of “The Brothers Bloom” in 2008, Johnson has pulled off what any indie filmmaker hopes to achieve. He launched onto the scene in 2005 with the idiosyncratic low-budget feature “Brick” which, as Johnson has described it, is “a bizarre high school detective movie.” It was made for an estimated budget of only $475 thousand according to imdb, and went on to gross over $2 million. It didn’t hurt that the film starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who was coming into his own at the time and provided an impressive performance that carries the film. Back then, however, "JGL" was still mostly known as “that kid from 3rd Rock From The Sun.”
“Looper,” Rian Johnson’s latest feature which was released in 2012, makes the scope and success of “Brick” appear minuscule by comparison. Made for a budget of $30 million and with a worldwide gross of over $165 million, “Looper” exhibited an astounding escalation of numbers for Johnson, both in the amount of money he was able to raise for the production, and in the film's box office success. In his favor, Johnson was working with a more bankable genre this time with sci-fi/time travel, as well as more bankable stars. Along with casting Joseph Gordon-Levitt once again, who at this point was now riding the "Inception" and "Dark Knight Rises" star meter, Johnson also managed to cast Bruce Willis. Suffice it to say, the money lenders and spenders were evidently on board with these names, and it paid off.
It should be a fascinating comparison to view “Brick” and “Looper” back to back, to see how Rian Johnson has grown so far as a filmmaker, and compare what he was able to pull off with so little on “Brick,” versus what he came up with when he had all the resources on “Looper.” Johnson himself is scheduled to appear at the New Beverly on Sunday night, possibly along with cast members… who wants to bet that kid from 3rd Rock will be there?
For more on Rian Johnson it’s worth checking out his website. All three of his feature screenplays are available for free download. Of particular interest is the one for “Brick,” which includes the novella that Johnson initially wrote and based his screenplay on. To boot, check out his early short film titled “The Psychology Of Dream Analysis,” available on vimeo. It's an odd work, but for Los Angeles-spotting, some of it takes place at the The Daily Planet newsstand next to Bourgeois Pig on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood.