Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Tyson (2008)


The man tattooed his face.

He… tattooed… His face.

How does a world-class athlete, household name, and one-time multi-millionaire get to the point in his life where he decides to get a tattoo on his face?

On the subject of Mike Tyson, the comedian Artie Lange once remarked that when you tattoo your face you’re basically declaring that your life is over.  He was exaggerating for the sake of comedy, but there’s a point in there.  You can’t ever go back from the face tattoo; once that happens, straight-world suit-and-tie jobs are out of the question forever.  You’re giving up on at least half the world.

If you’ve ever wondered about why he opted for this facial alteration, or if you are curious about what Tyson almost imprinted on his left profile before he ultimately settled on Maori warrior markings [that trivia answer would be “hearts”!!!], then you need to see the new Tyson documentary – entitled “TYSON,” for obvious reasons. If you are a boxing aficionado like me, or if you are just a student of human nature, it’s a necessity.

The filmmaker James Toback is apparently a controversial figure himself, but he dials that infamous persona down for this movie.  While Toback’s sympathies are clearly aligned with his subject (Tyson appeared in Toback’s improv film BLACK & WHITE), here he simply sets the camera on Tyson’s face and only occasionally cuts away to archival footage and photographs.  He lets Mike Tyson tell Mike Tyson’s story, in effect.  Obviously the perspective is slanted, then, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth attention.

Some of the bad deeds attributed to Tyson were well-documented; some were completely fabricated; some true but exaggerated; some true but explainable; some forgivable; some not.  Is Mike Tyson a monster?  Absolutely not.  That’s a hellish title to lay on an obviously troubled, conflicted human being.  He’s a rageful man, yes, but one might argue that this is a requirement and a function of his profession.  The only steady job he ever held demanded that he hit grown men in the face.  He’s also sensitive and sentimental and has a weird poetry in him, which has made him endlessly quotable.  The reality is almost always more complicated than we expect or want it to be.  This is absolutely a realization that Tyson, the documentary, will lead you towards, even if you retain your negative perception, which you are free to do.

Mike Tyson’s voice isn’t really the most soothing voice to listen to for more than an hour, and his face is not the most reassuring face to gaze upon for that long either.  But his words are worth considering – both for what he says out loud, and for what he as a continuing presence in popular culture says about the rest of us.




I wrote the above piece all the way back in September 2009.  I’m not even positive I still agree with myself, but I’m reprinting it today because Mike Tyson finds himself in the public eye again.  Last night he appeared on the Tony Awards, singing and dancing alongside Neil Patrick Harris.  (He did a tour on Broadway this past spring in a Spike-Lee-directed one-man-show, so it’s not totally without context.)  This new musical duo is garnering rhapsodic reviews with the theater crowd, which just shows how much public perception can change in twenty years.  Then again, Chris Brown sings and dances all the time, and half of America thinks it’s totally swell.  It’s funny what and who we’re willing to forgive, and when.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of Mike Tyson myself — take away the disturbing allegations and he’s basically Forest Whitaker in GHOST DOG, a large violent man who has a soft spot for pigeons.  Vocally and visually, he’s an outsized character, just south of a cartoon, and that’s always going to be compelling.  But we’re absolutely living in stranger days when Mike Tyson is the toast of Broadway.  Among the cooing audiences in Radio City Music Hall last night, I bet Tracy Letts got the irony, but I wonder if anyone else in that room did.


Put up your dukes on Twitter: @jonnyabomb



P.S.  Remember when Michael Jai White played Mike Tyson




The Hangover (2009)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:  A vintage classic is “re-imagined” for a modern era, with mixed results.  It’s a pretty common joke nowadays, but back in 1984 it was still fairly novel.  Taylor Hackford’s Against All Odds is a loose remake of Jacques Tourneur’s impeccable noir Out Of The Past (1947), with Jeff Bridges stepping in for Robert Mitchum, Rachel Ward stepping in for Jane Greer, and James Woods stepping in for Kirk Douglas.  I’m a huge fan of the original film, written by Daniel Mainwairing (Invasion Of The Body Snatchers), who adapted Out Of The Past from his novel “Build My Gallows High“, which he wrote under the name Geoffrey Homes and which I’ve read and can highly, highly recommend.

So it’s fair to be skeptical of any 1980s movie that is meant to walk in those shoes, but it’s apparent that Against All Odds, however artistically successful it may or may not be, was at least very evidently a passion project, having generously made room in the cast for a pair of vintage noir icons.  It’s like the way Stan Lee keeps being dutifully included in all the Marvel movies, only the point of comparison would be if he got to play Doctor Doom.  Interestingly enough, original femme fatale Jane Greer has a role in the newer movie, playing the mother of the character she would have been playing in 1947, and in a bizarre but very welcome nod to noir history, veteran actor Richard Widmark gets to play the nefarious string-puller — it’s only bizarre because while Widmark played the heavy and the hero in so many classic films, none of them happened to be Out Of The Past.

That eagerness to pay tribute to the soon-extinct lions of noir is what endears this movie to me, even as its conflicting filmmaking approach probably disqualifies it as the real thing.  Journeyman director Taylor Hackford made the huge hit An Officer And A Gentleman right before he made Against All Odds, and that brand of sweeping romanticism somewhat clashes when grafted onto a genre of lovecrimes, coldblooded violence, and heartless betrayals.

Unlike authentic film noir, Against All Odds is a film drenched in daylight.  It begins with its hero, Terry Brogan (Jeff Bridges) roaming a tropical paradise, in search of an heiress, Jessie Wyler (Rachel Ward) who has gone missing and who Brogan has been hired to find by her boyfriend, skeezy bookie Jake Wise (James Woods, who else?), against a competing offer from Jessie’s mother (Jane Greer) and her consigliere (Richard Widmark).  The fact that all these people can find no headhunter any more experienced than Terry Brogan, who is an aging football star eager to reignite his fading career, is a bit of a head-scratcher which the movie doesn’t seem bothered to pry into too deeply.  Terry has betting history with Jake, which means Jake has him over a barrel, but still, if you have a mystery to be solved, do you hire a Tom Brady or do you find a Lt. Columbo?  And again, doubling back after the initial tropical opening, to go into football-field flashbacks isn’t exactly fertile noir territory.  After a brief cameo from the great Bill McKinney as the head coach of Terry’s team, the trainer Terry turns to in his hour of need, Hank Sully, is portrayed by one-time NFL star Alex Karras, best known to most of us for his henchman role in Blazing Saddles and for playing Webster’s dad.  It’s no great surprise that Sully turns out to have a role in the network of double-crosses that ensues, but with bad guys like this one, it is hard to buy into the menace that the movie kind of needs to be a true noir.   James Woods does supply some snakish creepiness, especially in a legitimately-terrific practical-stunts sportscar scene where he and Bridges race each other in actual traffic on Sunset Boulevard in West L.A., but the plot sidelines and neuters him in ways Kirk Douglas never had to worry about in the original.

The main point of interest in this film, and the reason why 92Y Tribeca screened it recently, is that it is a lesser-remembered part of the filmography of Jeff Bridges, who is now finally receiving his just due on a widespread basis.  As an older character actor, he’s endlessly fascinating, but as a leading man, he had an all-American quality that led some to undervalue his acting talent.  There was never anything bland about Jeff Bridges, and taking another look at even his earliest movies confirms it.  There’s an edge and a viciousness that creeps into Bridges’ portrayal of Terry Brogan that gives the movie more weight than it would have had with any other lead actor.  I don’t believe that this is a very great noir, but he’s good at playing a noir hero.  The other thing you’re going to notice about him in this movie is, “Holy crap that guy is good-looking.”

I don’t care how straight you are, and I’m pretty damn straight so I will venture to speak for the species, but it’s pretty impossible not to notice that this is some attractive dude.  Rachel Ward is a pretty excellent-looking woman, but she’s away from the screen for large stretches of this film, whereas Jeff Bridges is on screen pretty much the entire time.  It definitely occurred to me more than once that “If I looked like that, I’d probably only have half the problems I have now.”  This movie ogles Jeff Bridges the way most movies ogle beautiful women.  Maybe that was the intent.  Maybe this was meant to be a new hybrid: chick-flick film-noir.  If that’s the case, more power to ’em.  But please, watch the original first.

Now there’s only one thing left to address about Against All Odds, and that’s the elephant in the room:  Phil Collins.

Phil Collins wrote and performed the title track, which became one of his signature songs, and in retrospect the song is probably more famous than the movie from whence it came.  You really can’t watch the movie now and not be nervously anticipating the arrival of Phil Collins.  I’m not slagging Phil Collins — I think it’s a good song and I happily admit that I like it, even though I think the dramatic kicking in of the drums is a bit of a bite off of Phil’s own song “In The Air Tonight” — but again, this is not the kind of tune that ever would have accompanied a classic studio noir and all you have to do is turn on TCM to see what I mean.  A real film noir could never provide you with your wedding song, ladies and gents.  A real film noir might make you consider swearing off the notion of romance for at least as long as you forgot you swore it off.  Not to mention the fact that there’s not a great reason for this movie to be named “Against All Odds” except for the fact that it has a song called “Against All Odds” at the end of it.  I can’t say I was completely unaffected by that ending — I’m only human, damn it! — but again, it’s not of a tone that truly fits the genre of films the movie seems to have planned to homage.  True noir achieves a poetic bleakness, not a romantic yearning.  I suppose what I’m saying is, Against All Odds succeeded in getting its title track stuck in my head, but the rest isn’t quite as inescapable.

P.S.  If you were wondering why Against All Odds reminds you so much of The Golden Child, it’s because both movies share a cinematographer (Don Thorin) and a composer (Michel Colombier.)  Also, if you look closely, you can see Victor Wong fly through one of the island scenes in the form of a tropical bird.

(Yes, this was a very strange place to make a very specific reference to The Golden Child.)


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