Peter Fonda’s Inventive, Ultra-Rare Idaho Transfer Starts Sunday

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Peter Fonda’s Idaho Transfer is a strange and inventive little film that has gained something of a cult following over the years, though it remains stubbornly elusive. The Trylon, working with the Minnesota Historical Society, has gotten hold of the only known print of the film, making this something of an event. While it’s a flawed movie, it’s also an intensely interesting one: a parable of human frailty and stupidity, and an elegant eulogy to the shattered dreams of the 1960s.

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Westworld Kicks Off Our Dystopian 1970s Series January 1!

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Review by Elizabeth Kingsley, from the film blog And You Call Yourself a Scientist!  Reprinted by permission.

I love Westworld. I want to state that quite plainly at the outset because, while I do love it, I also have a lot of very serious reservations about it. This was the first film directed by Michael Crichton, made back in the early days of his career, before he was seduced by The Dark Side; and as with most of his early work, Westworld is a warning about the perils of mankind placing too much faith in technology. However, the film fails as a message picture because its central premise is utterly untenable.

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Great Scott! “Back To the Future” I, II and III screen at the Trylon this weekend!

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The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” — L.P. Hartley

The 1985 depicted in Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future is as distant to us now as 1955 was to Marty McFly, the protagonist of this now-classic time-travel comedy. Looking back, the juxtaposed Eisenhower and Reagan eras of 1955 and 1985 seem to be suspiciously similar places, defined by a zeal for conformity and the acquisitiveness of their inhabitants. It shouldn’t be surprising that high school student Marty ends up in the 50’s, since at the time of Back To the Future’s release America had been trying desperately to get back there for three decades, and the election of Ronald Reagan was in many ways a referendum on transporting the entire nation there as quickly as possible. It is no small irony that Marty’s goal is to return to a future that itself was longing to escape into the past.

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Enter the world of the computer — 80’s style — in “Tron”

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Review by Trylon lightcycle racer Aaron Vehling

The original Tron, released in 1982, and starring Jeff Bridges and David Warner, is wholly of that era and yet it feels timeless. Some of that is the perpetual 80s nostalgia we’ve been living in for a good eight years (and codified in our daily breathing exercises in 2011, thanks to Drive). But some of it is also that the film’s politics, religion, and fear of technological inventions is an ongoing concern today.

Bridges is Kevin Flynn, a cool-cat former programmer with computer company ENCOM (The dude abides, even 15 years before The Dude is The Dude). He’s been sidelined by Ed Dillinger (Warner), a top executive at the company who made his way to higher echelons of power by stealing Flynn’s video game ideas.

Flynn’s been trying to break into the company’s main computer system virtually to find the proof of Dillinger’s malfeasance, but the autonomous, HAL-like Master Control Program has made sure not to allow such things to happen. Besides, MCP is too busy trying to break into the networks of the Pentagon, the Kremlin, and other consequential computer systems in an effort to absorb all of the software he can get into himself. He doesn’t need Flynn messing about.

Meanwhile, Flynn’s pal, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), has programmed security software called Tron. At one point, Flynn convinces Bradley and their friend and colleague Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan) to help him break into the ENCOM headquarters after Flynn’s own program, CLU, fails in its bid to find the secret files pointing to Dillinger’s intellectual property theft.

Flynn succeeds to a point. They break in and he finds himself in front of the computer, ready to implement some special hacking tomfoolery, when the MCP gets upset and beams Flynn into the computer world.

That point when he ends up in The Grid, ENCOM’s cyberspace, is a bit like that moment in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy wakes up and everything’s in color. In this case there are distinct reds, yellows, and blues contrasted against black, coloring strange wireframe objects, ribbons and other ephemera. But more importantly, the dour realm of Reagan’s 80s is left behind in exchange for this loco contrast that houses anthropomorphic computer programs who engage in some gladiator-style video game warfare, with some of the key programs played by the same actors who play parts in the “real world.”

Although Tron isn’t merely Oz updated for the 80s generation, that it is a product of its time is apparent. The oppressive MCP, while a mere HAL-like hacking program in the real world, in The Grid is a Stalinistic dictator and his second-in-command is a program that is a reliable party-secretary-in-waiting. Flynn and his cohort are the American liberators in the Soviet hellscape. Hell, the bad guys are even embellished with red neon if the distinction weren’t clear enough.

The contrast of America’s political system and that of Russia’s is also on display in the response to some programs’ religious devotion to their “user,” the human in the real world who — at minimum — gives the program instructions, or has even created the program. MCP and his comrades mock the “religious” and seek to undermine the credibility of the false gods. The Americans are the pious and the Russians are the heathens. Oops, I mean the good guys are the pious and the bad guys are the heathens. There. That’s better.

The other element — fear of our own creations, or our own creations’ inevitable awareness and revolution against us — is also on display. The MCP, echoing HAL, is a malevolent creation. He originally started out as a chess program and become more powerful but maintained some benevolence. When Dillinger came into the equation, he set MCP on an ignoble path.

MCP’s conquest of various important computer networks foreshadows the artificial intelligence prowess of Skynet from The Terminator, although MCP isn’t yet ready for mass homicide. It also echoes the ongoing fear of the era of the Soviets somehow getting control of the American defense network, or just a general fear of the unknown harm that could be perpetrated by the relatively new technology of personal computing and widespread networks.

All of those considerations, which make it an 80s film, don’t necessarily date Tron. Neither do the somewhat laughable special effects, a then-groundbreaking mix of back-lit animation and computer graphics. Today, the graphics are co-opted frequently by musicians and graphic artists in the 80s retrosynth/synthwave scene as part of the overall tour-de-force of nostalgia for the decade.

The political contrast, though altered somewhat, is still a concern: Although we’ve grown tired of the news about Russia invading the Ukraine, that event overall solidified a renewed breakdown in Russo-American relations — much to the pleasure of pols and pundits rendered obsolete by “The End of History.” Nowadays the religious battles are scarier than ever, what with ISIS and Al Qaeda and their lot.

The funny thing is that for an 80s film, and one of this character, the soundtrack is utterly lacking in the synthesizers sacred to the eras premiere composers, such as John Carpenter, Giorgio Moroder, and Harold Faltermeyer. This is legitimately ironic, given that Tron composer Wendy Carlos was a pioneer in using synthesizers for classical compositions.

Ultimately, Tron isn’t a bad movie. The Disney touch, responsible for Carlos using predominantly symphonic instruments in the score and the reason for the film’s ending, ensures that it can’t be a great one, though. Despite that, it’s still a classic. It’s still a film to return to occasionally, especially when you have the time to watch it and its Daft Punk- and Lebowski-infused 2010 sequel. –Aaron Vehling

 

 

See Ralph Bakshi’s audacious “Heavy Traffic” — Monday and Tuesday at the Trylon

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Much is made of the fact that Ralph Bakshi’s first two animated features —  Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic — received the “X” rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. What’s really remarkable, though, is that the “X” rating existed at all. Before the early 1970s, not only would these films not have been cleared for theatrical release, they would probably have been illegal to exhibit publicly in most places; but as the last vestiges of the old studio system crumbled away the last vestiges of its censorship arm went with it.  Newly liberated filmmakers were now able to do the projects they wanted to do. You can feel that exuberance throughout Bakshi’s Heavy Traffic, his most personal film, and his best.

Heavy Traffic tells the story of Michael Corleone, an underground comic-book artist and 22-year-old virgin living in a seedy New York apartment with his bickering parents. His Jewish mother, Ida, is unhappily married to his Catholic father Angelo “Angie” Corleone, who is a low-level mob lackey, and in a series of absurdist comic bits, Ida and Angie attempt to kill each other with various kitchen implements.

While Angie works desperately to get Michael laid — hiring a local prostitute at one point, to no avail — Michael trades his sketches to brassy local bartender Carole (Beverly Hope Atkinson) for drinks. This lands Carole in trouble with her boss and she quits her job. Out of work and being stalked by Shorty, the bar’s (legless) bouncer, Carole moves in with Michael; but because Carole is black, Angie hits the roof and the two of them are forced to strike out on their own.

Unlike Fritz the Cat, which was based on characters created by R. Crumb, the world of Heavy Traffic seems closer to Bakshi’s heart.  The neighborhood is filled with mobsters, drug addicts, hookers and low-lifes, but far from being something that Michael seeks to escape, his surroundings nurture him and serve as inspiration for his art.

Like most of Bakshi’s movies this one makes heavy use of rotoscoping and still photos as backdrops. In too many of his films use of these techniques seem driven by low budgets but here they serve to tie the action to the real world, as does an interesting frame device in which a live-action Michael (Joseph Kaufman) plays pinball in a seedy bar. The movie returns again and again to the pinball machine to punctuate and separate the episodic story elements; like most of Bakshi’s projects this one is rather haphazardly plotted.

Overall, this is an arresting and experimental film, one of the most audacious animated features ever made. –Michael Popham

HEAVY TRAFFIC screens Monday and Tuesday, August 24 and 25 at 7:00 and 9:00 at the Trylon. Tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

Our Jeff Bridges series continues with the dark, underrated “Cutter’s Way”

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Review by the Trylon’s grizzled war veteran Ben Schmidt

Over the course of the Trylon’s “Jeff Bridges Abides” series, the Bridges I’ve grown to know and love is not the Jeff Bridges that showed up for work on the set of Cutter’s Way. Here, playing low-rent playboy Richard Bone, Bridges displays little of the naive, charming troublemaker from The Last Picture Show. And there’s nary a wisp of the blissed out, impish drifter from Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. No. If Bridges to this point has been our lovable, shaggy, golden retriever, that which begins this film by easing itself from a married woman’s hotel bed to slink off into the night is nothing short of a mongrel.

What happened, Jeff Bridges? Acting? Perhaps. The need to sink into the dark script and sometimes bizarre world of Cutter’s Way could have posed quite a challenge for the young actor. And If it was a challenge he sought, Bridges rises admirably to it. His natural charisma completely inverted, Bone presents as a mottled former golden boy, worn hollow, or worse, at the core. It’s a performance that feels oddly similar to his Jack of The Fisher King, a character that charms you despite having fallen quite far from grace.

Here, as Cutter’s Way begins, Richard Bone may not yet have fallen, but he’s certainly on the way down. Leaving the aforementioned hotel, he edges his old car out into a dark, rain-soaked evening. Taking a shortcut through a back alley, his car stalls on him. Stepping out to assess the situation, he narrowly avoids being run over as another car races past, refusing to stop.

Alive but soaked, he curses his luck (and the Lord above for good measure) and runs off towards his destination. But in his rush and confusion, he fails to notice that tucked off nearby in the darkness the legs of a dead young woman hang plainly exposed over the edge of a garbage can.

Bone arrives at a (the) bar to find his friend Cutter, drunk and perhaps also insane (most certainly angry), doing his best to pick a fight with everyone around him. Cutter, we learn, is a Vietnam vet, who came back badly damaged from the war. Though they claim friendship, Cutter makes his old friend uneasy, and in a rage drives Bone away.

Bone returns home, to Cutter’s home actually, where he’s greeted by Cutter’s girl, Mo. There is some tension here. We gather, also, there’s some history here. And the fact that, despite the late hour, Mo sips directly from a (her second?) bottle of vodka suggests the history these three share is most likely complicated.

Around dawn, Cutter makes it home with the help of family friend Richard. But before he can pass out in the morning light, two detectives arrive at the door of this happy home. They’ve found the girl in the alley, along with Bone’s car. And Bone is hauled in to tell the cops what he knows.

Like the character it’s named for, Cutter’s Way seems obsessed with grit and a certain, oddly fierce cynical worldview. But this film does capture seemingly random moments of beauty.

One occurs here at the police station, where Bone stands in dismay as a police lieutenant, skeptical of both Bone’s story and alibi, sinks back into the chair behind his desk. The air hangs heavy. It’s silent for a moment as we lose sight of the policeman, obscured by the haze of smoke in the room and the sunlight glowing through the window blinds behind him. It’s a moment that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in the polished noir of Blade Runner.

Cinematic moments like this are rare in Cutter’s Way. Though it’s worth noting that this film and Blade Runner, released only a year apart, do coincidentally tie a white horse to the fates of their heroes.

In Ridley Scott’s film, the white horse is used symbolically, suggesting that a man may be realizing that he is, in fact, not one at all. This moment causes him to confront his path of violence. Has all this, we wonder alongside Deckard, been right?

However, in Cutter’s Way, a white horse delivers what’s left of a man violently and rather directly through a large mansion window. This moment causes Bone, our poor mongrel Bone, to confront his friend’s path of violence. Has all this, we wonder alongside Bone, been right?

Both films build to an ending where the viewer is left to wonder if one last life will be taken. And in what way (if any) that taking will matter.

Sure, between these two friends it may have always been Cutter’s way, fueled as much by injustice as alcohol. But in the end it’s our poor mongrel who is left with the final decision to make.

I wonder, could the younger, more optimistic Bridges have sold how this film resolves? — Ben Schmidt

 

CUTTER’S WAY screens Friday and Saturday, August 21 and 22 at 7:00 and 9:15, and Sunday, August 23 at 5:00 and 7:15. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

 

Take a trip to Ralph Bakshi’s “Cool World” — Monday and Tuesday at the Trylon

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Cool World is Ralph Bakshi’s attempt to reverse-engineer Who Framed Roger Rabbit into something that fits the seedy urban environments that were on display in Heavy Traffic and Fritz the Cat. At the same time he takes the opportunity to indulge in his own pet obsessions. It won’t surprise anyone familiar with Bakshi’s work just what those obsessions are; and in fact the possibilities — and potential pitfalls — of sex between “noids” (humans) and “doodles” (cartoons) becomes a central concern of the movie.

Bump-and-grind doodle sexpot Holli Would (Kim Basinger) is determined to break free of Cool World, a cartoon universe created by a jailbird artist named Jack Deebs (though perhaps Deebs didn’t create it, but simply tapped into an alternate universe that already existed; this point isn’t entirely clear). Holli pulls Deebs into Cool World with the aim of seducing him and thereby getting him to aid her escape into the human realm.  Meanwhile, detective Frank Harris, a noid who had been pulled accidentally into Cool World and who has been living there as a human expatriate for many years, suspects that Holli is up to no good and plans to stop her from becoming a doodle in the noid world, or perhaps a noid outside the doodle world.

Bakshi attempts to raise the stakes by introducing a magical spike atop a Las Vegas casino that Holli is trying to acquire; if she succeeds it will hurl the noid and doodle worlds together, with presumably disastrous consequences. But really, the focus here is on Cool World and its flipped-out, funhouse-mirror versions of familiar cartoon tropes.  Well, the focus is also on the idea of gettin’ it on with hot and improbably-proportioned cartoon characters, but you already guessed that, right?

Like many of Bakshi’s films Cool World seems a bit ragged around the edges, as though he just didn’t have enough time and money to see his vision through; and the script itself demonstrates that plotting was never the man’s strong suit. In spite of the film’s obvious attempt to create a more salacious Roger Rabbit pitched to adults, Paramount apparently couldn’t bring itself to release it with an “R” rating and toned it down to “PG-13”, which might explain some of the plot holes and apparent gaps between scenes. Nevertheless, Bakshi is one of the most interesting animators of the 20th century, and this intriguing misfire — his last film — was perhaps his most mainstream project.

Gabriel Byrne plays Deebs, a part originally intended for a young Brad Pitt, whose star was quickly rising thanks to his turn in Thelma and Louise the previous year; but Pitt was handed the Frank Harris role instead. Kim Basinger tries to make the human version of Holli move with the same cat-like slinkiness as her cartoon counterpart, but her human skeleton and musculature don’t quite allow her to pull it off. — Michael Popham

 

COOL WORLD screens Monday and Tuesday, August 17 and 18, at 7:00 and 9:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

Jeff Bridges teams up with Eastwood in the off-kilter “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot”

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Review by Trylon safecracker Ben Schmidt

A preacher (Clint Eastwood) runs through a vast Montana wheat field. Behind him another man in dark glasses gives chase, trying to kill the preacher with a pistol. This goes on for a while until the preacher reaches a road and tries to flag down an approaching car. The car, recently stolen by a drifter (Jeff Bridges) and approaching at an unsafe speed, swerves around the preacher and into the field, right into the man with the pistol. This random and sudden impact dissuades the man with pistol from continuing his pursuit.

As the drifter maneuvers the car back onto the road, the preacher jumps into the window and manages to work his way into the passenger seat. The drifter is amused at what’s just happened. The preacher is anything but. Brought together by screenwriter fate, they drive off into the mountains to begin an adventure together.

(Note: this particular adventure goes on to involve grand theft auto, old angry war buddies, ice cream scooters, betrayal, beers, bank vaults, school(s), the fleeting importance of social security numbers, dressing up in drag, bloodthirsty security dogs, landscaping, nudity and young Gary Busey.)

Our young drifter goes by Lightfoot. I’m not certain we ever find out why. As played by Bridges, he certainly isn’t a good guy. But he’s so dang likable it’s hard to describe him as bad. He even manages to charm Eastwood’s grizzled, hardened, Thunderbolt, so nicknamed (we eventually learn) for having once cracked a safe with the help of a large piece of military firepower. A big-ass gun.

The entire first half of the film takes its time moseying towards this latter revelation. Sure, everywhere these two go someone is trying to kill Thunderbolt. But these attempted assassinations are handled so casually that one begins to get the sense that Thunderbolt has simply accepted people trying to murder him as one of his many daily annoyances. It’s nothing that anyone gets too excited about. You can’t kill Clint Eastwood, so this kind of makes sense.

It’s here that things take a turn. Two new characters are added to the mix and we begin to focus exclusively on the elaborate preparation for a (one last?) big score. Interesting, yes. But this shift in story threatens at times to channel us away from the kooky charm at the heart of this film. A charm anchored by the odd energy Eastwood and Bridges share on screen.

Was Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (the film) trying to be kooky? Does any film aspire to be kooky? Is it, instead, off-kilter? Perhaps first-time director Michael Cimino (who would go on to direct The Deer Hunter) was outbalanced by Eastwood’s stature as star? (One who by this point had directed three of his own films?)

Or is the pairing of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (the characters) simply unique? Is it less a buddy/road/caper movie and more a vessel that happened to capture the contradictory intentions of Eastwood and Bridges?

Most likely accidental, this odd alchemy alone makes for great viewing. Take, for instance, the moment where both men wait along the side of the road to hitch a ride. The camera is at ground level, angled up towards an expanse of blue Montana sky. Eastwood in the middle-distance shifts his gaze from one part of the horizon to the next, anxious to move on to bigger and better things.

Bridges though, plops down right at our level, seated as if to meditate. Knees out, pulling his ankles tight, he closes his eyes and settles into the scene, content in soaking up the joy of being alive.

This one moment, like all, doesn’t last. And considering what happens next, trunk cargo and all, this moment almost seems like an afterthought.

But therein lies the lesson to tapping into the mania of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Come for the plot points Iconic Eastwood and Young Bridges bob and weave their way through. But make sure you’re plopped down and present for the points between plot where this funky little monkey of a film truly enjoys coming alive, flaws and Gary Busey and all. — Ben Schmidt

THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT screens Friday and Saturday, August 14 and 15 at 7:00 and 9:15, and Sunday, August 16 at 5:00 and 7:15. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

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A visually stunning cult classic: Ralph Bakshi’s “American Pop” at the Trylon

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Review by Trylon rotoscopist Maria Gomez

Ralph Bakshi’s 1981 cult classic film American Pop a timeless story of one Russian family and their history of  American music told through four generations. The story begins with Zalmie coming to America with his mother in the late 19th century as Russian immigrants. They are looking for a better life than what they had in war-torn Russia. Through an unfortunate event, Zalmie finds himself living the life of a stage performer.  As the story continues we see Zalmie grow and live through societal and political changes but we also see the growth of his musical family; his sons, his grandson, his great grandson, and so on.  We see how each generation changes from the last and we see each character grow with the times, the wars, the fashion trends, and the music….always the music.

If you walk away from this film remembering two things, it will be the animation and the music.  Bakshi implemented some of the most famous American music of the 20th Century and he did not exclude any musical genre. We even hear the Vaudevillian music that was popular at the start of the 20th century to the Big Band era of the 1940’s all the way to the punk scene when it reached America in the late 1970’s.  Bakshi really throws the progression of musical evolution and styles together so eloquently that it flows naturally and only adds to the story that is being told. In a brilliant sequence in the film, Bakshi attempts to show us the tragic contrast of that time by presenting various couples swing dancing to Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing while alternating with scenes that take us through the violence of World War II.

Bakshi also makes use of visual imagery in the film and not only with his animation. He truly creates an emotional backdrop of the time by inserting photographic images, as well as live action video footage of pinnacle moments in time. Iconic images that we have all seen before but here, are cleverly used in a way to tell the story with impact-to take us back to that time that we can experience for just a brief moment but one that will never happen again.  From the infamous image of a woman horrified at the Kent State College shooting to the gruesome image of a Vietnamese man being executed by a militant on the street, Bakshi charges the film chock-full of emotion that is difficult to deny.  One reason that this film may feel so emotional is Bakshi’s style of animation. Bakshi used a technique called Rotoscoping in which his illustrators would draw over live actors; through this technique he was able to give the impression of realism in a way that brought the character’s facial expressions and body movements to life.

In this way that he gave “life” to his subjects through his filming style and animation technique, Bakshi gives us a cinematic painting of a slice in time. Although some critics may disapprove of this style, there is no denying that, combined with the music soundtrack and stunning visual imagery,  American Pop is one of Bakshi’s most stunning films to date. — Maria Gomez

 AMERICAN POP screens Monday and Tuesday, August 10 and 11 at 7:00 and 9:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

John Huston’s gritty boxing drama “Fat City” screens this weekend at the Trylon

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Review by Trylon southpaw Ben Schmidt

It’s late after fight night. The crowds and most of the staff of this VFW (or dilapidated theater or wherever we’re at) have all gone home. Four young boxers sit around a table, mere feet from the ring where hours before they each took a beating. Surprising, because each arrived that evening bursting with pride, sure they’d come here to win.

Such is the fat of Fat City, flesh that’s gotta burn so the rest of the system can function. But that being said, if young, athletic, fresh-faced Ernie (Jeff Bridges) is the fat, then what to make of broken, raw, rough-around-the-edges Tully (Stacey Keach)?

Gristle perhaps. Because by its very definition, all gristle was once cartilage, a healthy, productive material found on the surface of joints. A thing that helped other, more important things move. But by the time we’ve caught up to it, something significant enough has happened to warrant a change in label. What once was cartilage is now nothing more than gray, indigestible tissue that gets forked over to the side of the plate.

John Huston’s Fat City opens on Tully, forked by way of an umpteenth hangover to the side life’s plate. And if there’s one thing this film does both right and wrong, it allows us to chew on the gristle for a while.

Tully rouses himself in no particular hurry. Finds his way downstairs to the street to dance a little jig. Then retreats back inside. But there’s a method to this madness, as the long-take (one of many in this film) allows us to gnaw on this particular piece of gristle, surprisingly charming in its own right.

Soon we’re at the YMCA, where Tully runs into young Ernie, who’s throwing punches against a heavy bag. Tully just happens to have a couple sets of boxing gloves with him, and is able to cajole Ernie into some light sparring.

The kid isn’t bad? Maybe? We’ll never know, because Tully quickly claims a pulled muscle and sends Ernie towards the guys who used to train him. Good guys. The guys who will soon sit around Ernie and the other suckers (or up and comers?) feeding them more of what they need or want to hear.

It’s tough to know what to make of most of Fat City. The deeper we’re drawn into Tully’s story and all its messy edges, the harder he is to follow.

But perhaps that’s the point. By the time Tully and Ernie cross paths for the first time in a long time, and perhaps for the last time, late into the film, it’s surprising the two agree to share some time over a cup of coffee. But here all along, we’ve been wondering what to make of fat and gristle. And at the end of this story, they surprise us, by openly questioning what’s to be made of them. –Ben Schmidt

 

FAT CITY screens Friday and Saturday, August 7 and 8 at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, August 9 at 5:00 and 7:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.