Combustible Celluloid
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With: Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Katheryn Winnick, Patricia Arquette, Aubrey Plaza, Dermot Mulroney, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Paul Benshoof, Angela Lindvall, Anne Bellamy, Tyne Stecklein, Lindsey McLevis, Lexy Hulme, Bar Paly, Gloria Laino, Richard Edson, Stephen Dorff
Written by: Roman Coppola
Directed by: Roman Coppola
MPAA Rating: R for language and some nudity
Running Time: 86
Date: 15/11/2012

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A Mutable 'Mind'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

What's wrong with Roman Coppola's A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III? So far the movie has been terribly trashed. It has been compared, unfavorably, to Bob Fosse. It has been called "messy" and "self-absorbed." And the Charlie Swan character is considered a bit too close to actor Charlie Sheen's life.

But I like this movie, and I know I may be the only one. The kinds of movies I like least are the ones that do not try at all, the ones that are factory-produced, the ones that attempt to cash in on the latest trends, and the ones that rely more on marketing and hype than on actual filmmaking. A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is a small movie that actually tried something. It tried something personal, and whether or not it succeeds, it's a movie that came from human hands, flaws and all.

It is a mess, but it's as messy as anyone's mind might be during a terrible time. Thoughts and emotions flit around and collide in ridiculous and painful ways. There's no set rule to capturing this rhythm cinematically, and it's astounding how few have tried; we seem to be trained, as a moviegoing culture, to prefer "realism."

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is not realistic, and virtually anything that can be imagined can happen within its confines. It begins with Charles Swan (Charlie Sheen), an artist that has made a niche, and a fortune, designing album covers in the 1970s. One of his major clients is a Lenny Bruce-like comedian, Kirby Star (Jason Schwartzman). This is more fuel for the detractors' fire, since the movie not only recalls Bob Fosse's All That Jazz (1979), but it also pays homage to Fosse's Lenny (1974). This, of course, is reason enough for many to throw stones.

But Charlie has just lost the love of his life, the beautiful Ivana (Katheryn Winnick); if nothing else, no one can fault Coppola's taste in women. Charlie can't stop thinking about her, and a haze of booze and a hospital visit only further fragment his thoughts and dreams. His flashes turn into Westerns, animation, and musical numbers. Often, even his waking moments are too bizarre to count upon.

Various other characters float in and out of Charlie's vision, including his business manager Saul (Bill Murray), his author sister (Patricia Arquette), and a secretary/assistant (Aubrey Plaza). It's up for debate whether any of these characters falls under the term "likeable," or whether any of them finds redemption or has an "arc," but there's no rule that says good movies can't be about self-involved artists. Sheen himself may or may not mirror the character of Swan, but it doesn't matter. (Coppola has said that he wrote the role before thinking of Sheen.)

The woozy rhythm of this phantasmagoria constantly knocks the viewer off-balance, shifting gears suddenly, changing tones, but never losing touch with a comic edge, or a feeling of loss; there's something missing from Charlie's life, even if it isn't true love. And he's definitely searching for it, which is a start. Maybe he finds it, and maybe he doesn't but either way, this movie proves that movies don't need quite so many rules.

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