J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Brass Teapot: The Dark Side of Antiquing


To paraphrase Gerald Ford, any supernatural agency powerful enough to grant your wishes is ominous enough to produce some grimly ironic consequences.  This is something anyone who has read W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw” or seen the “Man in the Bottle” episode of The Twilight Zone ought to know. Unfortunately, that excludes young, dumb Alice and John.  They are not so great at getting and holding down jobs either, so when they have the chance to make cash from a paranormal piece of kitchenware they are all over it, despite the painful complications in Ramaa Mosley’s The Brass Teapot (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Alice was predicted to become quite the success after high school.  John not so much.  She married him anyway and they both have fallen short of expectations.  Although she is a college graduate, Alice is fundamentally unemployable.  Though technically employed, John will not be surprised to get the axe at his tele-marketing gig.  Enter the antique teapot Alice is mysteriously compelled to steal from a Holocaust survivor.  Through an everyday household accident, she learns the teapot mystically rewards pain with cold hard cash.

Before long, Alice and John are beating each other fifty shades of black-and-blue to move into her dream home.  Naturally, they forget about their real friends and start hobnobbing with the smart set.  However, their new found affluence comes with a wicked catch—the teapot requires the pain to escalate.  There are also third parties who suspect what they are up to, including a horribly clichéd Orthodox Jewish gang and Dr. Ling, a hereditary member of a secret society dedicated to containing the evil handle-and-spout.  Since they are the good guys, it must be voluntarily given to them.  They will not take it by force or subterfuge, which is why Dr. Ling’s brethren are still watching and waiting after all these years.

There is an intriguing backstory to the teapot.  It might even be the most interesting aspect of the entire film.  Nevertheless, the decision to adorn the item in question with Stars of David seems like an unfortunate choice.  Mosley and screenwriter-short story author Tim Macy may not be aware of this, but centuries of hate literature has perniciously linked the Jewish people to money and avarice for sake of justifying some terrible things.  Watching Brass one gets the creepy feeling the wrong sort of people might be able to use it.

Regardless, it is hard to imagine a more irritating couple than Alice and John.  Juno Temple’s pixie charms quickly fray, while Michael Angarano’s John is more of a whiny loser than an identifiable everyman.  Frankly, viewers will soon have the urge to help them earn more cash from the teapot.  Just about the only character that is not pure fingernails-on-the-blackboard is Stephen Park’s Dr. Ling, who is also largely the product of cultural stereotypes, the Asian wise man, but in this case not such an offensive one.

As if aware of her characters’ vacuity and sometimes questionable imagery, Mosley keeps her foot firmly planted on the gas.  Occasionally, a sharp scene breaks out here and there, as when the physically exhausted couple resorts to emotional pain. Even so, the overall film is just a complete tonal mishmash.  Recommended only for those looking to see Temple pouting in lingerie, The Brass Teapot opens this Friday (4/5) in New York at the Cinema Village.

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