Usually, when a filmmaking team comes together and produces a fantastic film, you look forward to anything done by one or more of the participating members. Think of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg or one of the many filmmakers that they have worked with over the last few decades. It's a safe bet that if a filmmaker you enjoy works with a newbie, that the newbie is going to turn out well too, but that's not always the case with the folks who have worked with Wes Anderson. This is especially true with Roman Coppola. His last movie, 'A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,' doesn't show a hint of his collaborative work with Wes Anderson, 'Moonrise Kingdom.'
For as many bad movies as I have to watch, there really aren't many that are so bad that they make the runtime move at a snail's pace – but 'Charles Swan' is one of them. Clocking in at a short 86 minutes, the always-flat lifeline makes it feel three hours long. Some movies are so bad that they make you frequently check your watch; 'Charles Swan' is so bad that you would rather watching the second-hand rotate 86 times around the dial than have to bear what's on screen.
Charlie Sheen plays the titular character, Charles Swan, a playboy graphic designer in the mid-'70s who's struggling with creative block and a mid-life crisis. The movie opens with Charles (most commonly referred to as "Charlie") being interviewed / interrogated by a shrink. All the while, Monty Python-esque two-dimensional animations represent the thoughts flowing out of Charlie's examined mind. After this opening sequence, we see the catalytic event that puts Charlie's life into a nosedive – his girlfriend Ivana (Katheryn Winnick) leaves him after finding a drawer containing photos of his many exes. Charlie has left his philandering ways in the past, but this is the final straw for Ivana.
Losing Ivana destroys Charlie. He gives into mass amounts of alcohol and other unhealthy habits, but that's not the root of the "glimpses" that the title refers to. Charlie has an over-imaginative mind. The most seemingly insignificant statement aimed at charlie or the most harmless thought can cause his mind to wander. Unfortunately, his thoughts cause the audience to be dragged along with him. These daydreams feel more like pointless tangents than anything. It's like watching 'Family Guy' if each "This reminds me of the time... " moment is not necessary, funny, or entertaining. When Charlie's mind wandered, so did mine.
Just like Charlie's daydreams, the movie itself is directionless. Where's it going? It seems like Coppola didn't even know when he started filming. Is it about Charlie trying to win back Ivana? Is it about his penniless graphic design company struggling to stay above water? Is it about his relationship with his sister (Patricia Arquette)? It doesn't matter. None of it matters. In the end, they're all insignificant. Nothing that Charlie does has repercussions – for good or for bad. No matter what stupid shenanigans he gets himself into, he doesn't walk away any smarter or dumber in the end. He doesn't learn anything and surely doesn't have anything to teach anyone – including the audience.
'A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III' feels like a bad amateur film school project, not the product of an Academy Award nominee. There were several sequences through 'Charles Swan' that I recognized as being music video-esque – a short story told through a silent film set to music. These dialogue-free montages weren't half bad, so I am rooting for Roman Coppola to pursue a career as a music video director.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate has placed 'Charles Swan' a Region A BD-25, slapped it in a blue Elite keepcase and given it the ugliest cover art out there. It's obvious that they were trying to make it look like an airbrushed '70s poster, but it ultimately gives the impression of a catalog title from a distributor that didn't give a damn. Upon inserting the disc, the most random set of trailers follow the FBI warning and the Lionsgate vanity reel – one for Sheen's 'Anger Management' television series, 'The Beaver,' 'I Love You Phillip Morris,' 'Meatballs' and 'Casa De Mi Padre.'
The only real flaw in this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode kicks off right in the opening. During Charlie's smoke filled interrogation, bands are painfully evident as the result of the light dimming away from the source. This isn't the only instance of banding, but it's the most painfully evident due to the solid black background.
Aside from banding, the rest of the video is fairly strong. Because Charlie's life is depressing, great portions of the film are dark and neutral on the color wheel. It's only in Charlie's imagination that we see brighter-than-life colors. His dreams are explosive – literally – and warrant lots of neon variations that border on oversaturation, but never fall victim to it.
The picture is clear and crisp as only a digitally shot film can be. From individual wild hairs on Patricia Arquette's zany head to the texture of Charlie's absurd hot dog sofa, details are almost always visible. There isn't a strong amount of depth to the picture, but the smoke from Charlie's cigarettes warrants a great three-dimensional look as it slowly rises and circles through the air.
At times, the strong quality of the picture makes the low budget shine through. There's nothing worse than the bad CG work during green screen moments.
Much like the writing and directing of the movie, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track also carries an amateur feel. Instead of uniquely assigning sound to channels, the majority of the film feels like each channel was mixed identically to the others just to keep each speaker active. Don't expect dynamics. Don't expect imaging. Be prepared for an ultimately flat track. The vocals are flat and lifeless, often making evident the fact that they weren't cleaned up at all. In a bathtub scene, Charlie and Ivana's voices can be heard echoing off the tile of the bathroom wall. I understand that these little effects are typically left in or added to scenes to make them subtly realistic, but here is simply sounds bad. It sounds cheap.
Music and effects are also mix flatly. For example, an explosion spans the entire room, but with the same sound coming from each speaker. Each one blares the same sound at the same volume level. The music is also mixed this way. The only instance that I remember hearing it mixed any differently is during a "glimpse" where a group of scantily clad native women attack Charlie and his friend on horseback. During this one moment, the trotting hoofs actually sounded dynamically mixed.
If you, like me, are a fan of Wes Anderson and want to see what 'Moonrise Kingdom' co-writer Roman Coppola can do on his own, don't expect anything Anderson-y at all. Coppola would make a fine music video director, but his passion project 'A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III' doesn't come remotely close to even Anderson's lowest quality film. Instead, it feels like an amateur film school project. Had it not been a Coppola making the movie, I'm certain that it would not have the big-name actors that it has. The video quality is decent, but the audio quality and special features fall flat. Without a clear direction, style, story, or tone, I find it hard to believe that anyone would give 'Charles Swan' a stamp of approval.