Friday, November 20, 2009


A detective story with a beat you can't dance to

By Edward Copeland
In the history of cinema's odd performances, and I'm only referring to the ones that actually work such as Mickey Rourke in Barfly, you can now add Michael Shannon in the underseen and unusual excuse for a detective story called The Missing Person.

Shannon, whose two scenes in Revolutionary Road were so great he snagged a supporting actor Oscar nomination out of them, plays John Rosow, a private investigator and former New Yorker who is now based out of Chicago. He drinks a lot, but he doesn't seem like a drunk. In fact, he doesn't really seem as if he's from this planet with his air of permanent distraction and a sense that not much in life interests him at any given time, even the case he's being paid to work on.

Written and directed by Noah Buschel, The Missing Person lets the audience in on its secrets very slowly, yet this isn't a film that's preoccupied with twists. It seems as disinterested in letting us in on the story behind Rosow or the man he's following (Frank Wood) as Rosow does going about his day. The movie earned Buschel a prize as breakthrough director at the Gotham Independent Film awards and I can see why.

Shannon's performance, and the movie itself, could be off-putting in the early going, but if you relax and surf this film's unusual waves, it will ultimately prove rewarding, especially if you use Shannon as your guiding star. His eyes always seem to be focused elsewhere, yet you remain riveted on him. There's a scene late in the film where he's shot at a distance, standing in a hallway, beneath a bright overhead light. The character he's talking with thinks he's about to do something, but Shannon's performance is not a hair-trigger one and that's what makes it all the more interesting.

Warning: The next paragraph contains spoilers.

There is a reason for John Rosow's perpetual fog. The connection between Rosow and the man he is seeking is 9/11. Many films have touched on the subject since that tragic day in 2001, but more than a fair share came off as gimmicky and plot points placed just to push the audience buttons. That's not the case here. It's the first film I've seen that treats the event as a fact of life. While some aspects of what it caused characters to do may seem wrong or hurtful, it's the first film that so underplays it that it also comes from a place of emotional understanding.

Spoilers done. Resume reading.

Supporting Shannon's efforts in this most unusual journey are the aforementioned Wood, a very good actor that most people will recognize but probably not as many will know by name as they should. He won a Tony for his role in Warren Leight's Side Man and might be most familiar as Murray's mild-mannered co-worker at the New Zealand consulate on HBO's two-season wonder Flight of the Conchords.

A couple of other HBO veterans also come along for the ride. The great Amy Ryan (The Wire), who scored an Oscar nomination for her brilliance in Gone Baby Gone, plays someone involved in hiring Rosow and John Ventimiglia swaps his chef's hat as Artie Bucco on The Sopranos for a hack's license. There also are nice turns by Margaret Colin and Linda Emond.

Still, it's Buschel's screenplay and direction and Shannon's original performance that makes The Missing Person a keeper. It's a detective story where the real mystery is why the film didn't get more attention from critics when it was originally released because it certainly deserved it, if only to read the discussion it would have inevitably sparked.

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Monday, November 16, 2009


We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when

By Edward Copeland
It makes me sad to announce that because of the latest developments with my health, I'm being forced to place the blog on an extended hiatus. I hope to return at some point, but I can't be certain if or when. Regardless, circumstances will put a dent in both my ability to be online and to watch movies.

Of course, so many projects have been scuttled over the past year or so by my health problems, but many others will drop by the wayside now. I've managed to make it to the theater to see a whopping two new releases this year, but those days are officially over for awhile. In fact, my DVD watching is going to be hampered to some extent but my computer use will be severely affected by new treatments, so it's best to turn the lights off here for whatever duration.

I'd thank all my supporters out there in the blogosphere, on Facebook and in the real world, but the list would be so lengthy that I'd inevitably leave someone out and feel bad about it. Before I go, I want to thank all my contributors, past and present, who have helped me over bumpy parts in my life and have helped make ECOF a better site by lifting some of the load off my shoulders. Many of them you will still be able to find elsewhere in the blogosphere and I encourage you to seek them out. Thanks to Josh R, the longest-serving contributor here, and David Gaffen. EscutcheonBlot might pop up at Liverputty again someday. You will find Ali at his own site, Cerebral Mastication, and from time to time at The House Next Door. Ivan will continue to manage his own one-of-a-kind blog, Thrilling Days of Yesteryear. Look for Jonathan's writings at Bohemian Cinema as well as The House Next Door and you'll read John Dacapias' thoughts at Emulsion Compulsion and The 405.

As for past contributors, you can still find Brian at Hell on Frisco Bay, Peter Nellhaus at Coffee, coffee, and more coffee, Jeffrey Hill and Wagstaff still hang out at Liverputty and you never know where Odienator might pop up in the blogosphere. Also thanks to Alex Ricciuti who contributed a couple of pieces over the years. It also is worth mentioning all those who took part in the various surveys over the years.

I'd also like to thank Michael Stickings and the gang at The Reaction for giving me an outlet both before and after the demise of my political site the Copeland Institute for Lower Learning to rant now and then about what Washington was doing to piss me off.

For now, that's all folks. The archives will stay here, but I can't promise that any new comments will be posted in any timely way. I've told my contributors on the left that if they are ever moved to write something here, they should feel free to do so but not to bend over backward to try to keep it breathing.

This blog has been a tremendous outlet for me during many struggles, health and otherwise, and I will miss it. This latest development will make me pledge to boycott this year's movie award season even easier, so there is a slight silver lining.

Tak dlouho nyní
Så længe, før nu
Zo lang voor nu
در حال حاضر چندان
Nyt Niin kauan
Tellement longtemps pour maintenant
So lang für jetzt
Τόσο πολύ για τώρα
Har yanzu kam
כל כך הרבה זמן כי עתה
अब तक के लिए
Így hosszú most
Così lungamente per ora
이렇게 오랫동안 당분간
Så lenge for nå
له دې چې اوس
Tak długo bo teraz
Assim por muito tempo para agora
Atat de mult timp pentru acum
Настолько длиной для теперь
toliko dugo vremena za sada
Tan de largo para ahora
Så long för nu
Böylece uzun şu an için
اب اتنی طویل
So long for now


The Kids Aren't All Right

By Jonathan Pacheco
The first time I saw The 400 Blows a couple of years ago, I walked away unimpressed, seeing it as a solid film, but one that was "about" a lot less than most people thought. I credited the film's praise mostly to its relationship with the French New Wave, or to people's infatuation with the heavily autobiographical threads that François Truffaut wove throughout the film — aspects of the film that, at the time, seemed irrelevant to my viewing experience.

Watching the film a second time, I've realized that some of these aspects are incredibly relevant. The 400 Blows is a film distinctly shaped by Truffaut (and, to an extent, his lead, Jean-Pierre Léaud), and an extremely personal piece, much like the novel of a passionate, aspiring writer. I don't label it as "extremely personal" because I've looked up trivia to find out what in the film did or didn't actually occur in Truffaut's childhood. I'm able to say it because the details in the film make it so obvious. Since The 400 Blows, there have been countless films involving troubled kids raising Cain and keeping their parents stocked with ulcers. We're used to the rebellious child, to the character who acts out when he feels unloved. Yet, 50 years later, Truffaut's film still stands out from the crowd thanks to the sincerity and truth in the emotions and depictions of his characters.

When Antoine reveals that his mother desired an abortion upon realizing she was pregnant with him, it doesn't shock me (even though, these days, the sole purpose of a revelation like that is to shock), but when he tells the story about the book his grandmother gave him, and how his mother confiscated it as punishment, eventually selling the book, I'm moved. I realize I've never seen that moment on film before. More significantly, I realize that a detail like that is so specific that it must be real. And I realize that this is what people talk about when they praise the autobiographical details of The 400 Blows. As a director, Truffaut knows that truth and sincerity aren't conjured up from thin air, they come from a place within you.

If you've ever been in a college Creative Writing class full of beginners, you know that many stories feel contrived, underdeveloped, and clichéd, but they almost always contain that detail or two, those moments that feel so sincere, you know they're straight from the author's life. You encourage the writer to capture what they've created in that moment. To quote a recent episode of Friday Night Lights, that's the part that didn't make you want to vomit. Watching The 400 Blows, I was constantly impressed with Truffaut's ability to form a film predominantly from those very moments.

As a character, Antoine isn't diabolical, he's just not much of a thinker. The 12 year-old spends his days clowning around in school and playing hooky just like most other kids his age, except he's got a special knack for getting caught. The fact that he doesn't seem to care to stop is what drives his parents and teachers nuts. This second time watching The 400 Blows, Jean-Pierre Léaud's performance as Antoine resonated with me more than I expected. He and Truffaut didn't create a perfect angel victimized by the devils of society, nor did they create an exceptionally malicious hell-raiser, despite the implications of the film's title (after all, half of the time Antoine does something bad, he's doing it with a friend by his side). As far as the director is concerned, judgment or pity towards his lead character is kept to a minimum; it's all about being frank.

Despite some of the film's (unsuccessful?) attempts to explain the boy's behavior, Antoine exists as somewhat of an enigma, always brandishing a blank expression despite his constant punishments. It's almost maddening, as we try to read the boy in hopes of figuring out what the heck is wrong with him. It also makes the film's quiet climax — the moment he's carted off by the police — even more affecting, as it's the one occasion in the film that the boy cries. His tears are barely visible in the stark black-and-white darkness of the scene, but that moment adds a wrinkle to a character that nearly everyone agrees is a lost cause.

Antoine's usual blank look also makes the famous final shot of the film deliciously ambiguous. As the boy runs to the ocean — a sight he's never before seen — it's a last-ditch attempt at freedom. Antoine longs to be a man, to do his own thing, and having been abandoned by his parents, he strikes out on his own. Yet, when he finally arrives at the beach, he unenthusiastically splashes in the water for a moment before turning around and looking straight into the camera with that same impassive expression. Is he happy? Is he disappointed or disillusioned? Maybe he's not any of those; it's difficult to tell. I wonder if it's another one of those Truffaut details from his own life: he knows something significant has happened, he just isn't sure what.


View my short video essay comparing the ending of The 400 Blows to 2004's Birth.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Centennial Tributes: Robert Ryan

By Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.
(Warning: Spoilers contained herein…)

Robert Bushnell Ryan was born 100 years ago on this date and he’s one of only a handful of actors who I’ll take the time to watch in anything. But since confession is good for the soul, I thought I’d start this essay out with an admission of guilt…

I used to get actors Robert Ryan and Sterling Hayden confused.

Thankfully, I don’t do that anymore. They’re both still favorites of mine, of course, but I’ve probably seen more Ryan films than those of Hayden’s. My preference for Ryan is due to the fact that the celebrated actor — a man who, off screen, was a pacifist, a tireless campaigner for civil rights and a dedicated foe of McCarthyism — excelled at portraying sadistic villains who were more often than not thoroughly despicable, possessing not the slightest shred of human decency.

And what’s more — he did these roles in such a way that made these “bad guys” oddly endearing…

Born to Timothy and Mabel Bushnell Ryan in 1909, young Robert’s dream was to become a playwright — but since that noble profession can sometimes lead to starvation, he decided to study acting in order to support himself. He had attended and graduated from Dartmouth in 1932, distinguishing himself as the school’s heavyweight boxing champion during all four years of his attendance. He then latched onto a series of odd jobs, including ship’s stoker, ranch hand (in Montana) and a stint with the WPA before signing up to study alongside the great Max Reinhardt. It was during his time with Reinhardt that he met his future wife Jessica Cadwalader, whom he wed in March of 1939 and stayed married until her death in 1972 (he died a year later).

Ryan’s big break on stage came when he was appearing alongside “Viennese Teardrop” Luise Rainer in A Kiss for Cinderella in 1941; her ex-husband Clifford Odets offered him the juvenile role of Joe Doyle alongside Tallulah Bankhead in Odets’ Clash by Night. (In 1952, Ryan would appear in the film version but because of his age was cast in the lead role of Earl Pfeiffer.) It was at this juncture that Ryan began getting small parts in films like The Ghost Breakers (1940) and Queen of the Mob (1940); he received his first screen credit in a B-quickie entitled Golden Gloves (1940), which capitalized on his boxing prowess. From then on, he began to get noticed for his roles in North West Mounted Police (1940), Bombardier (1943), The Sky's the Limit (1943) and Tender Comrade (1943). Upon signing a secure contract with R-K-O in January 1944, Ryan enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served as a drill instructor there until 1947. It was while he was in the Corps that he took up painting and, hearkening back to his halcyon college days, won a boxing championship as well.

While in the Marines, Ryan befriended a writer (and future director) named Richard Brooks, who had written a novel that the actor very much admired entitled The Brick Foxhole. Back in Hollywood, R-K-O adapted Brooks’ novel into Crossfire (1947), a down-and-dirty film noir directed by Edward Dmytryk and produced by Adrian Scott (with an adapted screenplay by John Paxton). Ryan portrayed Montgomery, a recently demobilized American soldier who kills a fellow G.I. named Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene) simply because Samuels is Jewish; two other soldiers, Keeley (Robert Mitchum) and Finlay (Robert Young) investigate the murder and ultimately bring Montgomery to justice. Ryan’s portrayal of the anti-Semitic Montgomery was nothing short of astonishing; he literally oozed hatred and intolerance from every pore. The role earned him the only Oscar nomination he would ever receive (for best supporting actor) — but unfortunately typecast him as the silver screen’s resident bigot; he would play similar parts in films like Bad Day at Black Rock (1954) and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Because roles like Black Rock’s Reno Smith and Odds’ Earle Slater were completely at odds with his real-life persona, Ryan accepted the fact that these parts presented to him as an actor a real challenge — but not one with which he was necessarily happy; he was quite reluctant to discuss Crossfire in later years because he thoroughly detested the Montgomery character. Indeed, Crossfire sort of scarred his film career — though he would get an occasion to be a “good guy” every now and then (Berlin Express [1948], The Boy with Green Hair [1948]), he continued to play the reliable “heavy” in films like Caught (1949), The Racket (1951), Beware, My Lovely (1952), House of Bamboo (1955), Billy Budd (1962) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). When he was once complimented on being one of the silver screen’s best heavies, Ryan remarked: “I guess they never saw me in most of my pictures. Still, I've never stopped working so I can't complain.”

But Ryan’s talent was such that even when he was required to be the "baddie" he was able to add subtle nuances to each character that made them three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood human beings. A good example of this is his portrayal of ex-POW Joe Parkson in Act of Violence (1949) — from the moment the movie gets underway he menacingly stalks his former commanding officer Frank Enley (Van Heflin), a seemingly nice middle-class businessman who’s completely flummoxed as to why the embittered Parkson is obsessed with meting out revenge. As the story unfolds, however, we learn that while Parkson’s elevator may not go all the way to the top it’s entirely the fault of Enley, who sold out his fellow soldiers during their internment in the POW camp.

In The Woman on Pier 13 (1950, a.k.a. I Married a Communist), Ryan plays a former stevedore who’s just starting to make good in his company when his past comes back to haunt him in the form of Communist agitators eager to exploit his former affiliation with the Party. Though the film presents the Commies as little more than “gangsters,” Ryan’s Brad Collins character is actually played in a sympathetic fashion; a tragic noir hero whose fate cannot be altered because of his youthful indiscretion. Another noir from that period, On Dangerous Ground (1952), features Ryan on the right side of the law — but as big city cop Jim Wilson, he’s often no better than the “garbage” he deals with on a day-to-day basis…roughing up suspects and seeming on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Assigned by his commander (Ed Begley) to assist locals in a murder investigation in a small town upstate, he comes face-to-face with his doppelganger (Ward Bond) and is redeemed by the love of the murderer’s blind sister (Ida Lupino).

As I stated in the opening lines of this essay, I am such a huge fan of Robert Ryan that I’ll watch anything he’s in…and admittedly, there are a large number of his movies that I can easily pick out as favorites. But the film I keep coming back to — and the one that I personally feel contains his finest performance onscreen — is The Set-Up (1949); a short-and-sweet boxing saga (written by Art Cohn and directed by Robert Wise) that stars Ryan as a worn and faded pugilist named “Stoker” Thompson who’s scheduled for just another bout in his thirty-five years participating in “the sweet science.” Stoker is washed up, a has-been — and his crooked manager Tiny (George Tobias) is so certain that Stoker is going to tank that he takes money from mobster Little Boy (Alan Curtis) for his man to “take a dive”…but decides not to clue Stoker in on the deal, in order to keep more of the kitty for himself.

Stoker is definitely mismatched: he’s fighting the much younger and heavily favored “Tiger” Nelson (Hal Baylor), but somehow has a feeling that he’s “just one punch away” from reversing his misfortune in the ring. His ever-patient wife Julie (Audrey Totter) has heard this all before, and vows to herself that she won’t be at his bout that evening because she can’t bear to see him take another beating. (She later changes her mind.) But the angel who looks after fools, drunks and children is in Stoker’s corner that evening; Stoker’s actually giving Nelson a good scrap — and even when Tiny finally tells him about the fix, he refuses to give up. He soundly beats Nelson to a pulp, and emerges victorious — but Little Boy has the final say when his goons break Stoker’s right hand, taking him out of the fight game forever.

The Set-Up runs a total of 72 minutes and takes place in “real time” — and Ryan is nothing short of sensational. His early career as a boxer no doubt helped in this role, but Ryan clearly has the chops to convince the viewer that he is that washed-up pug who daydreams of a comeback and gets that one-in-a-million opportunity to show that he “could have been a contendah.” The haunting finale of the film — where an anguished Stoker cries out to Julie “I can’t fight no more” — is both heart-breaking and bittersweet; Totter’s performance as the supportive spouse will convince you that although Stoker’s career has ended due to tragedy, she is just the woman who can inspire him to carry on.

One thing that has always fascinated me about Robert Ryan is how he managed to emerge unscathed from the period of paranoia prevalent in the 1950s despite his defiant liberalism; when the House Un-American Activities Committee was discovering “subversives” under every bush and many actors and actress who had even the tiniest tinge of “pink” (read liberal) in their politics found themselves out of work. Ryan once commented: “I was involved in the things he [McCarthy] was throwing rocks at but I was never a target. Looking back, I suspect my Irish name, my being a Catholic and an ex-Marine sort of softened the blow.” Ryan walked the walk and talked the talk (he intensely disliked his Flying Leathernecks co-star John Wayne because the Duke was in favor of the blacklist): he was an extremely vocal supporter of the group known as “The Hollywood Ten” and donated his time and money to groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee, and United World Federalists. He also founded the Hollywood chapter (along with entertainer Steve Allen) of The Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy in September of 1959. In the 1960s, he volunteered to serve in the cultural division of the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and with other actors like Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier, founded the short-lived Artists Help All Blacks. He even became a vociferous supporter for Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s quixotic Presidential campaign in 1968.

Toward the end of his life, Ryan continued to do outstanding work in films, including The Professionals (1966), The Wild Bunch (1969), Lawman (1971) — he even went out with a winner in his last film, The Iceman Cometh (1973), in which he played the terminally ill political activist Larry Slade. Ironically, Ryan was himself was diagnosed at the same time with lung cancer, a condition that he publicly denounced (in the manner of actor William Talman) as being caused by his heavy use of cigarettes. He died on July 11, 1973.

(Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. blogs at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, where Robert Ryan is often referred to as “one of the most delectable rat bastards of the silver screen”…and in all honesty is meant to be a compliment.)

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009


You are who they pay off

By Edward Copeland
Maybe it's the fact that Hollywood is in such doldrums that they are so afraid to take chances and think the next big thing is making movies based on toys and board games that makes well-made documentaries so often beat their offerings in quality and appeal. Even the indie market seems to have hit a rut where those filmmakers plow the same crops, even if they are fields ignored by the big guys. That's why when a documentary as informative and put together with such panache as Robert Kenner's Food, Inc. comes along, it's a cinematic breath of fresh air that puts the majority of fiction films to shame.

Food, Inc., doesn't take the stance as a political screed urging vegetarianism for all. On the contrary, Kenner's film is a remarkably well-made expose on all aspects of the American food system which, as we've learned through the greed and carelessness of the big financial institutions on Wall Street or the money grubbing of hospitals, doctors and health insurance companies, spend much of their time lining the pockets of those who supposedly represent the common man so they can maximize profits and literally control not only what we put in our mouths but what is allowed to come out of them.

Before I delve into the substance of this brilliant film, I want to point out the wonder of its opening credits. Many films have great credit sequences, but unless Saul Bass was involved, they don't usually get the credit. The opening sequence of Food, Inc., is perfection, as it not only pleases the eye but serves as an excellent conduit into the documentary itself.

Unlike the documentaries of Michael Moore, where he is a key part of the show, Food, Inc., isn't about stunts. It's reporting at its finest while still managing to be riveting and informative. Of course, none of the many corporations mentioned in the films agree to talk to the filmmakers and the businesses's deep pockets scare many into insisting on disguises or not talking at all. It's shocking to learn what strong-arm tactics have been used against the nation's farmers and to see the revolving door between the food companies and government regulatory jobs (of which there are far fewer now that there were a mere 30 or 40 years ago).

The corporations have no reluctance to crushing people's lives if they don't conform to their assembly-line, unsafe ways of raising animals for food or growing soybeans. Lawmakers are willing co-conspirators. In Colorado, it actually is a crime if someone speaks out or writes something disparaging the quality of beef raised in Colorado. The First Amendment need not apply to beef.

What's even more special about Food, Inc., is that it's not really a film that falls on one side of the political spectrum or the other, though it definitely, combined with all the other recent scandals, shows the need for strong regulations to protect Americans from all corporations. They keep the prices of the unhealthiest foods down, so that's all the poorest can afford. I almost don't want to cite specific examples from the film: It needs to be experienced. It doesn't matter whether you are as far left as they come or as far right as they come, I don't see how you can watch Food, Inc., and not be angry by the film's end. Maybe this is where common ground can be found since we all need to eat, no matter who we vote for.

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Monday, November 09, 2009


Is research that hard?

By Edward Copeland
Whenever I complain about anachronisms or factual inaccuracies in a movie, some people think I shouldn't be taking the film in question so seriously. However, I can't help it. If a feature really has me under its spell, that kind of goof breaks it immediately and it's hard to recapture that spirit in the middle of the movie. Granted, Lymelife wasn't really wowing me anyway, but as the inaccuracies added up, it just added to my distaste for the film, despite its talented ensemble cast.

Before I start ranting about the anachronisms and inaccuracies, I feel it's best to talk about Lymelife itself. There's the oft-repeated Tolstoy quote about all happy families being the same but all unhappy families are different, but I swear movies, particularly indies, try their damnedest to put that author's truism to the test.

Lymelife is the directing debut of Derick Martini, who co-wrote the film with his brother Steven. Based loosely on his own experience, it stars Rory Culkin as 15-year-old Scott Bartlett, facing an array of growing pains in 1979 Long Island. His parents Mickey and Brenda (Alec Baldwin, Jill Hennessy) have a tense relationship, especially, as far as Scott knows, over Mickey's grand plan for a large housing community while Brenda yearns for their life back in Queens. Scott's older brother Jimmy (Kieran Culkin) is in the Army and about to be activated for an overseas engagement. At school, Scott is the victim of bullies and longs for Adrianna Bragg (Emma Roberts), who views him as nothing more than a friend (and who hasn't been there).

Adrianna's life isn't going much rosier. Her mom Melissa (Cynthia Nixon) is unhappy and the breadwinner of the home, secretly sleeping with Mickey since Adrianna's dad Charlie (Timothy Hutton) is unemployed because he's been diagnosed with Lyme disease. (On a personal note that rang true, he mentions that at one point in the diagnosis process, doctors thought he might have multiple sclerosis. Before I was diagnosed with M.S., they ruled out Lyme disease as a cause of my problems.) As a result, he spends much of his free time in the woods with a rifle stalking deers he blames for his fate, though he's got more problems than just his illness. If a gun is introduced in the first act...

The cast all performs more than ably, though at times Hennessy lays her New York accent on a bit too thick. Once again, it's truly amazing what good actors the younger members of the Culkin brood, particularly Kieran, have turned out to be given what a mugging ham their older brother Macaulay was in his heyday.

Now, back to the rant. According to the IMDb, Derick Martini was born in 1975 and Steven Martini was born in 1978, meaning the brothers were 4 and 1 in the year the film was set, made clear that it's 1979 by a brief TV shot of the taking of the U.S. hostages in Iran and in a collection of train tickets. Since the press notes say the story is semiautobiographical, why did Martini choose to make it a period piece and, more importantly, why not make certain he got the facts of the period right.

There are little things. Scott has a collection of Star Wars figures and at one point in a hybrid of Travis Bickle and Han Solo, is shooting a laser pistol at his mirror at "Lando." I played this back twice to make sure I wasn't mishearing Greedo, but no, he's calling out Lando, the character played by Billy Dee Williams in The Empire Strikes Back who wouldn't be introduced until May 1980.

Other anachronisms could be nitpicked, but it's a huge inaccuracy that just pulled me out of the picture. Scott's brother is being activated as part of the U.S. effort in the Falkland Islands war. Now, maybe many of you have forgotten that war, but it was between the British and Argentina, it took place in 1982 and the U.S. was not involved in it whatsoever.

Maybe the Martini brothers were too young to get the facts straight, but the movie had two executive producers, including Martin Scorsese, and six producers, including Alec Baldwin, who helped get Lymelife made. Why did none of these people, who could mentor these young filmmakers, step up and say, "This is a giant goof about the Falkland Islands war." I know a lot of them are old enough and smart enough to know the real story and since this was a low-budget indie, they weren't just there for a paycheck. So why shirk their responsibility to help these young men?

Having just finished watching the first two seasons of Mad Men, which is meticulous in its details of real events, down to the day, it comes off as laziness when you see such blatant indifference to the facts in a film such as Lymelife.

Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is ignorance and though many advise you to check your brains at the door for movies, that applies more to crap such as Transformers. When you're trying to be real, why be so careless as to allow things to break that reality?

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Friday, November 06, 2009


The harder they fall

By Edward Copeland
As documentary filmmaking became more and more interesting, and profitable, in the past few decades, the more old-fashioned "talking head" documentary tends to be a subject of mockery, but that is more or less the form director James Toback uses in his film, though he only has one head and it is a large and recognizable one: Mike Tyson, who is surprisingly self-critical and open as he gives a first-person recounting of his rise and fall in Tyson.

Toback tries to shake things up at time, almost to the point of distraction, with split screens which work fine when one shot is Tyson today and the other is other footage but which seems silly when the screen is filmed with three or four different shots of Tyson speaking to the camera at the same time.

That's a minor criticism though for what proves to be a surprisingly compelling film. Granted, this only contains Tyson's viewpoint, so there aren't any other witnesses to the events to back him up or disagree, but Tyson is so open to admitting his own flaws, that it almost feels unnecessary.

I've never had much of an interest in boxing and while this is certainly no When We Were Kings, it is fascinating to hear Tyson explain what would prompt someone to bit another boxer's ear off. The tale overall is a bit of a sad one and you can't help but think that if his original manager Cus D'Amato had lived a bit longer, perhaps Tyson would have been able to avoid the inevitable fall since D'Amato definitely kept him grounded and focused.

The documentary doesn't miss any of the tabloid moments that surrounded the former heavyweight champ though when he speaks of his rape conviction, he puts most of the blame squarely on the accuser. I have no way of knowing what happened in the hotel room but I remember at the time that his trial happened in the same time period as William Kennedy Smith's rape trial and the two were such a study and what the difference in having good defense lawyers make. At the time, I remember Tyson's lawyers basically saying, "She had it coming because she went back to his room" and painting him as a monster, yet in the documentary, Tyson never gives it to his lawyers.

Still, you ultimately feel sympathy for an athlete who had so much skill at what he did, made a fortune and then squandered most of it, including his love for the sport, though at least he seems to find some kind of peace as a family man now, even though he still seems as if he's a man-child more than someone in his 40s.

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Monday, November 02, 2009


12 сердитых людей

By Edward Copeland
I sure hope the estate of Reginald Rose or whomever owns the rights to 12 Angry Men got some sort of payment from the makers of the Russian film 12, because there is no question that the film is an unequivocal remake. Sure, there are some changes, but most of the story has merely been transplanted to Moscow, even the easy availability of supposedly unique knives. Director Nikita Mikhalkov's film does enough different to make the story seem fresh, but its length hampers the enjoyment.

Of course, 12, which was one of the Oscar nominees for foreign language film in 2007 though it didn't get a U.S. release until 2009, doesn't have the advantage that all the American incarnations of 12 Angry Men have in that most of the cast are made up of performers familiar to U.S. audiences, giving them a leg up to separating the characters. 12 can't quite differentiate as well. Even when you start to realize which one is the doctor, etc., part of it still plays in terms of Sidney Lumet's 1957 feature version, picking out the Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb stand-ins.

What really lengthens Mikhalkov's film and seems unnecessary are the flashback scenes fleshing out the story of the defendant. It really steps on the directorial flow of Mikhalkov, who also plays one of the jurors. Still, it's much better than the film Mikhalkov won the foreign language Oscar for, Burnt By the Sun. 12 wants to be story of a justice system struggling in post-Soviet Russia. There isn't a suitable jury room adjacent to the courthouse, so the jurors make their decision in a rundown school's gymnasium, complete with leaky pipes and asbestos falling from the ceiling.

Accused of murder is a young Chechen man who was adopted by a Russian soldier when his father was killed in Russian-Chechen combat. It does allow for a bit of the hatred between the Russians and Chechens to rear its head (along with some anti-Semitism between the jurors), but the scenes really do nothing to add to the deliberations, especially shots of the defendant spinning in dance in his jail cell as if he were Billy Elliott.

12 Angry Men is such a warhorse, that it almost always can work and this version, written by Mikhalkov, Aleksandr Novototsky-Vlasov and Vladimir Moiseyenko, does have a nice twist in the final stage of deliberations, focusing on what life will be like for the young man, that almost makes 12 reach a higher level of artistry. Unfortunately, it's such a long, predictable drive to get there.

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