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Brass Teapot, The

Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // June 18, 2013
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 24, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Alice (Juno Temple) and John (Michael Angarano) are young and in love. Wait, scratch that: let's go with "young, in love, and flat broke" instead. That's what overpriced,
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unmarketable degrees and a lousy economy will do to you, I guess. John pisses away his afternoons making cold calls to shill extended warranties, while Alice slogs her way to pointless job interviews to be told yet again that a B.A. in Art History is barely worth the paper it's printed on. Whatever, though, because young love...! The two of 'em hope for more but are happy for what they have, just as long as they're together.

...and then there's that damned teapot. Swiped from some deranged old biddy's antique shop, this brass teapot spews out crisp hundred dollar bills whenever someone in close proximity suffers. A pinch of the arm might be worth $100. Getting a tooth pulled with no anaesthetic...? Let's say $30,000. A swift knee to the groin or a full Brazilian wax...? That's a downpayment on a house right there. Bye bye, Pinto. Farewell, barely making rent on that rundown P.O.S. house. From a shiny new BMW to a gated community McMansion all the way to a line of premium vodka, the teapot makes all of Alice and John's dreams come true. All they have to do is smack either other around a little...or, well, a lot. Still, though, the payoff's way more than worth it, right? It's just that you know all about monkey paws and buttons, buttons, and it's the same deal here. A darkness within Alice and John is unleashed that they never knew was there, and as their appetites grow and the teapot's generosity diminishes, this mystical relic threatens to consume the two lovers as it has so many others throughout these many centuries...

Look, The Brass Teapot has been trashed left and right. Reviews have been at best indifferent and at worst...well, about as scathing as they get. You're about as likely to stumble upon an out-and-out positive review of The Brass Teapot as you are a mystical artifact that vomits twenty large when you accidentally whack your thumb with a hammer. I guess I'm going to be that guy who really, really dug it, though.

I walked in expecting the movie to be some unrelentingly dark Saw-type retread about a couple whose greed compels them to start hacking off each others limbs and stuff. The Brass Teapot isn't even a little bit like that, as it turns out. It''s darkly whimsical. It's a twisted fairy tale that plays like a mash-up of a romantic comedy, any number of your favorite installments of The Twilight Zone, and some demented, under-the-radar Sundance favorite. Movies like this tend to lean too heavily on their high concept premises as a crutch. The Brass Teapot, meanwhile, devotes a great deal of
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time and energy into fleshing this young couple out as proper characters. They have honest-to-God personalities. You quickly get a sense of what makes them tick. It sure doesn't hurt that Alice and John are brought to life by actors who really give these roles their all, especially the intense crescendos to which Juno Temple repeatedly builds. Knowing little more than the general premise of the film beforehand, I expected The Brass Teapot to be a 24 minute episode of Tales from the Darkside awkwardly stretched out to feature-length. I'm very glad to say that the movie is instead very well-paced, and Alice and John repeatedly discover new facets to the teapot's extremely simple set of rules to keep things from feeling static.

Temple and Angarano are surrounded by a pretty terrific supporting cast that includes Alexis Bledel, Alia Shawkat, Bobby Moynihan, Jack McBrayer, and, briefly, Matt Walsh as he rocks a stuffy British accent. The movie chugs along at a steady clip and resists the urge to stay in a straight line. There are parallels to other "be careful what you wish for..." stories, sure, but with its combination of cacklingly dark comedy and sincere, intense emotions, The Brass Teapot in no way feels like a movie I've seen before. It doesn't hurt that Juno Temple is half-naked for something like half the movie, and John is about as obsessed with Saints Row The Third as I was a couple years back, so...yeah.

The Brass Teapot gets so much right that its missteps are easier to swallow. I'm not crazy about the presence of a couple of Hasidic thugs out to reclaim what they see as their birthright, and Steve Parks' role as the broken-english Chinese knight sworn to rid the world of the teapot makes me cringe a little. What's certain to most deeply offend is the suggestion that this made-up teapot is responsible for the Holocaust, and...well, there's not a whole lot more I need to say there. I can look past that, but I can certainly understand why many others can't.

I'm honestly kind in awe that The Brass Teapot works. Mashing together several different genres like this, the way it alternates between sugary sweetness and outright cruelty without feeling jarring, anchoring the movie around greedy, self-destructive characters and somehow finding a way to keep them sympathetic, a moral message about consumeristic greed that could very easily have gotten too preachy: it ought to be a recipe for disaster and then some. It's a testament to screenwriter Tim Macy and director Ramaa Mosley -- both first-time feature filmmakers! -- that they pull off by what all rights ought to be impossible. Recommended.

The Brass Teapot looks expectedly terrific on Blu-ray. The image is consistently crisp and detailed throughout, boasting a warmly saturated palette and silky smooth contrast. No overzealous noise reduction, sputters or stutters in the authoring, or
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artificial sharpening threaten to rear their head. This isn't an especially long write-up, I know, but sometimes "great!" covers it all.

The AVC encode for The Brass Teapot spans both layers of this BD-50 disc, and the presentation has been letterboxed to preserve its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio.

The aural end of things isn't quite so cheery, unfortunately. The Brass Teapot boasts a six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, but it's basically stereo-and-then-some. The surrounds are reserved just about exclusively for reinforcing various bits of music and lobbing out some light ambiance, such as cars whizzing by in the background. Even key effects where you'd expect the rear channels to swoop in for the kill, such as a violent car wreck that sends Alice and John's Pinto careening around, are rooted entirely up front. Bass response is very modest, with the subwoofer again only groggily waking up to beef up the music a bit. A handful of more loudly shouted lines wind up sounding shrill and clipped. I mean, this isn't a bad mix by any stretch of the imagination, and all the dialogue is balanced as well as it ought to be. The Brass Teapot just sounds more like a TV movie than a shiny, richly cinematic Blu-ray disc.

No dubs or alternate soundtracks this time around. Subtitles are limited to English (SDH) and Spanish.

  • Audio Commentary: Director Ramaa Mosely is eventually joined by executive producer P. Jennifer Dana for The Brass Teapot's commentary track. Lively and informative, this is a wonderfully involving discussion that puts listeners alongside them in the low-budget indie trenches. Mosely delves into everything from writing to financing to production design, and I also enjoyed hearing about the level of preparation Juno Temple invested into the role as well as what you need to grab off the shelf at Publix to make Jack McBrayer a happy boy.

  • Uncovering: The Brass Teapot (27 min.; SD): With oodles of historical illustrations as evidence and a small army of Brits to add an air of respectability, this documentary helps sell the didn't-exist-till-now legend of the Brass Teapot over the past two millenia. It's all extremely well-done, and if not for some dodgy Photoshoppery
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    and the whole thing where I'd heard the movie's director say the brass teapot was made up a few short years ago, I think I might've fallen for it.

  • Deleted Scenes (16 min.; HD): An unused prologue (3 min.) set in the distant past is presented as its own extra, but...well, the movie's a whole hell of a lot better off without it. The mythology's not really that important anyway. If the rest of the deleted scenes had been left in, they would've made the movie quite a bit more top-heavy, triple-underlining some of the points it's trying to make about consumerism, greed, and instant gratification. It also makes John look like way more of an unlikeable dick at the office, no matter how lousy his job is. You do get one more comeuppance out of the deal, though. Interesting to see how some relatively small adjustments can make a huge impact.

  • Interviews (13 min.; HD): Director Ramaa Mosley and actor Michael Angarano each score their own interviews. Angarano's was clearly shot for promotional purposes but is a little meatier than these conversations usually are. Mosley, meanwhile, covers an astonishing amount of ground in seven and a half minutes. She tackles the format-leaping origins of the film, gleefully duping people into believing that the brass teapot is part of an actual legend, and even getting kind of analytical about the movie while she's at it. Worth a look for sure.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): There's also a two minute high-def trailer, and if you can't get enough of it the first time...

  • AXS TV: A Look at The Brass Teapot (5 min.; HD): Excerpts from the trailer sprinkled throughout excerpts from the other interviews. Nothing new here.

It might be worth mentioning that the cover art looks nothing like what's listed on Amazon, by the way.

The Final Word
Did I really make it this far in the review without a single "no pain, no gain" joke? Missed opportunity. Anyway, I strolled into The Brass Teapot expecting a grim, cruel, one-note shock-horror flick lazily resting on its high-concept laurels, and instead I was rewarded with a dark fairy tale that deftly executes any number of impossibly delicate balancing acts. Though its stabs at ethnic and religious humor misfire, its rewriting of history to suit its pain-rewarding magic kitchenware may make some viewers squirm in their seats, and its supporting cast isn't even a little bit well-developed, I really don't think The Brass Teapot deserves to be reviewed anywhere near as savagely as it has been. Imperfect, sure, as most things are, but very ambitious, very unique, very well-done, and very much worth discovering now that the movie has clawed its way onto Blu-ray. Recommended.
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