How far would you go to keep a roof over your family's head and food on their plates? Would you sell a kidney? Would you work at McDonald's? How about taking experimental medication, or having sex for money? Some of us might resort to extreme measures (just admit it already, Scott Peterson), but not Byron Tiller, our protagonist in the predictable, yet entertaining, neo-noir-drama-slash-quasi-tragedy, The Man From Elysian Fields.
Byron (Andy Garcia) is a former advertising executive who gave up that line of work to become an author. His first book, which took seven years to write, was a hit with the critics, but failed to catch on with the public. This is evidenced by Fields' first scene, which depicts Byron's horror upon seeing Hitler's Child languishing in the remainder bin at an LA bookstore. Byron has plenty of things to be thankful for, however: He has a hot wife named Dena (Julianna Margulies), a cute little kid, and a second novel he's sure will knock the socks off the literary world.
But Byron's world comes crashing down around him when every publisher he approaches gives him the bum's rush. Dead broke and completely miserable, Byron lies to Dena to make her think his latest work has been purchased. This happens right around the same time he befriends a distinguished-looking gentleman named Luther Fox (Mick Jagger), who has space on the same floor as Byron in the Barton Fink-y building they both call office (why a guy this worried about money insists on having a separate place of business is something Fields never explains).
Fox, we learn, is the owner of the titular business Elysian Fields, which is named after that mythological paradise found in the afterlife. It's a fitting name, since Fox's business is male prostitution. Byron eventually swallows his pride, succumbs to Fox's intriguing proposition, and --- wouldn't you know it --- his first Jane turns out to be a looker (Olivia Williams) with a dying husband who has won three Pulitzer Prizes (James Coburn doing Hemingway with diabetes). If you've seen more than five movies in your life, you can pretty much figure out how the second and third acts play out in Fields.
As flawed and foreseeable as Fields' conclusion is (how the heck can a writer not see it coming, by the way?), there are still quite a few things to like about the film. Most importantly, it gives us a much better final impression of the late Coburn than Snow Dogs did, though it's still pretty heartbreaking to watch him playing a dying man when you know he's already gone (a la Jason Robards in Magnolia). The wonderfully cast Jagger, who also narrates Fields, is nearly a revelation as a career gigolo who has fallen for a Jane (Anjelica Huston) --- he's able to act circles around other musicians-turned-wannabe-movie-stars. But best of all is Garcia, who perfectly portrays the desperation of a very insecure man.
If you feel as though there's something missing in your life, there's a pretty good chance that aching, gaping void is caused by a complete lack of 19th century slasher movies. Friday night (February 28) is your big chance to see if A Chronicle of Corpses can serve as spackle for your soul. The film, which is Night of the Living Dead for kids who cut their teeth on Ken Russell, is screening at the Dryden Theatre.
Set in 1807, Corpses is much more concerned with weird camera angles and shadows than it is the spattering of blood. The action centers around a bizarre, wealthy family and their plantation --- and I do mean "action." Dad has a thing going with his brother-in-law, Mom does it with a stable boy... oh, and family members keep getting bumped off, one at a time, by this mysterious thing that's supposed to be a metaphor for their own decaying lives and lack of place in history (Hence the title and tagline: "What will our new history be but a chronicle of corpses?").
I think my favorite part was when I was nearly lulled to sleep by a very pedestrian scene depicting the delivery of communion wafers to the tongues of the Elliot clan, only to be startled awake by a shot of a Fat Bastard lookalike toting a body. Other sections of Corpses feature the kind of editing that makes you wonder if any of the actors could remember more than one line at a time.
The cast is comprised mostly of stage actors from Philadelphia, which is where writer-director Andrew Repasky McElhinney (he was 21 when he made this flick) hangs his hat. Think fellow Philadelphian M. Night Shyamalan funneled through Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, and you're in the right neighborhood, despite the fact that Corpses probably would have been better if its running time hovered somewhere near the 60-minute mark, instead of the 83.
Bookending Corpses at the Dryden are Derrida, a Kirby Dick-directed documentary about French philosopher Jacques Derrida (Thursday night); and the Japanamation spectacular Metropolis, the surprise non-Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature, which is based on an Osamu Tezuka comic book. Don't confuse it with Fritz Lang's 1927 film of the same name, like I did when it played at the Little a couple of months ago.
Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.