by Joshua Ryan Taylor
What an occasion! The night of Sunday the 10th, the Tower Theatre was packed with people from all over the Central Valley excited to see the premiere of a truly Fresno Film. Shot and set in Fresno, created entirely by Fresno (or, at least, at-the-time Fresno) artists, Brick MADNESS charmed the audience, who was primed by a red carpet entrance.
Shot as a mockumentary in the style of Christopher Guest, a filmmaker (Robin Steffen) follows the Brix (Legos, but called Brix for copyright purposes) national championship from its first round to its finale, interviewing contestants and picking up on backstage drama along the way.
Contestants of note include Ricky 6 (Anthony Taylor) a loathsome builder going for his seventh consecutive championship, Seth Paxson (Matthew Albrecht) a bright-eyed young man who runs a charity to bring Brix to underprivileged children like the mayor’s son, Delilah White (Laura Howard) the only woman in the competition, Marvin Middleton (Byron Watkins) a Brix hopeful with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and the brothers Rockermeyer (director Justin McAleece and cinematographer Ian McAleece).
The film opens with a mini-documentary on former Brix champion Max Grand (Alan Agazarian). After revolutionizing the world of Brix, the former champion was discovered to have been cheating by glueing his pieces together, and he has since gone into exile, making no public appearances and shunning the world of Brix entirely. This sequence is easily the film’s best, and it reminded me of the section in Being John Malkovich where a documentary discusses Malkovich’s prowess and rise to fame as a puppeteer. In some ways, “Brick Madness” feels like that five minute bit extended to a full-length feature.
It’s fun to watch this ensemble play, especially with the amount of familiar faces in it. Anthony Taylor has a blast chewing every inch of scenery in sight, and Tilt Tyree is adept at producing cringe-laughs as Wyatt Puckett—a guy who, even surrounded by adults competing at Lego building, is still a loser.
I do have an issue with the character of Marvin Middleton. He never acquires a single distinctive trait outside of having OCD, and furthermore, his mental illness is constantly treated as a source of comedy and is even the reason he loses the competition. It’s unfair and unkind to create a character defined entirely by their mental illness.
As we progress through the competition, I found myself confused as to the exact rules of Brix. Seth and Max have a scene of mentorship, and Max explains the SNOT concept of brick building, but beyond that the film doesn’t explore what makes one good at Brix. How exactly do the judges rule on this competition? They give scores out of 10, but how do they arrive at them? I wish we had been given more specifics about this world—the filmmakers thought up a unique, unexplored world, and I wanted them to explore it a bit more.
Towards the end of the film, the characters discuss bricking as an art form, comparable to painting or playing guitar. The film asserts that these characters, outcasts from more widely recognized art forms, found a home in Brix. The idea that outcasts can find joy and comfort in art and that anything can be an art if practiced with love and care are wonderful, worthy ideas about which to make a movie. The themes felt a bit tacked-on, though, as though existing outside of the plot rather than arising from it organically.
Still, it’s wonderful fun to see hometown locations and actors up on a big screen, and especially nice to see Fresno treated as a setting rather than as a joke. Filmmaking is impossibly tough, and to create something on a nonexistent budget without the help of professionals is a Herculean achievement. I hope McAleece continues making films, and I look forward to seeing them.
Check out KRL’s interview with the film’s director Justin McAleece.