THREE CHRISTS (2020)

January 9, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Based on the actual events documented in the book “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti” by Social Psychologist Milton Rokeach, the film turns ground-breaking work from 60 years ago into a generic, somewhat bland big screen production … albeit with a talented cast. Director Jon Avnet (FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, 1991) co-wrote the script with Eric Nazarian, and they evidently believed the strong cast would be enough. Instead, we get what in days past would have been described as the TV movie of the week.

The actual story is quite interesting. Dr. Alan Stone (the dramatized version of Dr. Rokeach) is played here by a blond-haired Richard Gere. Dr. Stone comes to Michigan’s Ypsilanti State Hospital in 1959 to study delusions of schizophrenics. Up to that time, we are informed that only extreme treatments were utilized, with minimal psychoanalysis practiced. Dr, Stone’s approach is through therapeutic treatments. Specifically, he arranges for group therapy consisting of only three patients – each who claims to be God/Christ.

Leon (Walton Goggins) demands to be addressed as God. He is the most perceptive of the three, though it’s quite clear, he mostly wants a friend. Joseph (Peter Dinklage) says he is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, though he speaks with a British accent, listens to opera, and wants only to return to England (a place he’s never been). Clyde (Bradley Whitford) claims to be Christ “not from Nazareth”, and he spends much of each day in the shower attempting to scrub away a stench that only he can smell.

The film is at its best, and really only works, when the doctor and the three patients are in session. It allows the actors to play off each other, and explores the premise of how they go about working through the confusion of having each believe the same thing … while allowing Dr Stone’s approach to play out. Where things get murky and clog up the pacing are with the number of additional characters who bring nothing of substance to the story. Stone’s wife Ruth (Julianna Margulies in a throwaway role) pops up periodically with alcoholic tendencies or a pep talk for hubby. Stone’s young research assistant Becky (Charlotte Hope, “Game of Thrones”) seems to be present only as an object of desire for all the Gods, and to remind us of the era’s drug experimentation. And beyond those, Stone carries on a constant battle with hospital administrators played by Kevin Pollack, Stephen Root, and a rarely-seen-these-days Jane Alexander (we shouldn’t forget she’s a 4-time Oscar nominee).

Alec Baldwin’s “I am God” from MALICE is still the best, but it’s always fun to watch a God complex … and this film offers four. The story is bookended with Dr Stone dictating his preparatory notes for a hearing on his professional actions, and the film does serve as a reminder that electroshock therapy and severe drug therapy are likely not as effective as empathy for many patients. It’s rare that God, Freud and Lenny Bruce are all quoted in the same film, but mostly this one just never pushes far enough.

watch the trailer:


MAX ROSE (2016)

September 6, 2016

max-rose Greetings again from the darkness. It’s pretty rare that an actor goes twenty plus years between lead roles, but such is the case for the legendary comedian and Muscular Dystrophy telethon host Jerry Lewis. Writer/director Daniel Noah’s film was shown at Cannes Film Festival in 2013 as part of the tribute to Lewis, but it’s taken about three years for it to gain any type of United States distribution.

The film begins with a grief-stricken Max Rose (Lewis) dealing with the death of Eva, his wife of 65 years (played by the great Claire Bloom). We see Eva in flashbacks to little life moments, and also as an apparition and conversation partner as Max tries to solve the mystery of a 1959 make-up case … it’s a mystery that could destroy Max’s memories and the accepted version of his life.

Max is being looked after on a regular basis by his doting granddaughter (Kerry Bishe) and periodically by his son (Kevin Pollack), who has more than enough stress in his own life. Max, a retired jazz pianist, has clearly never been the warmest or most open of gents, and the eulogy he delivers at Eva’s funeral can best be described as self-centered.

Soon enough, Max has moved into an assisted-living facility and the best scenes of the film find him re-discovering life with the likes of Rance Howard, Lee Weaver and Mort Sahl. Unfortunately this sequence is short-lived and Max is back on the trail of the mystery make-up case … which leads him to the mansion of a movie producer named Ben (or BS, if you’re looking for a punchline). Dean Stockwell and Jerry Lewis are two screen veterans who know how to work off of one another, but just aren’t given much to work within their time together.

And that’s probably the film’s greatest weakness … it leans heavily on nostalgia. Seeing Jerry Lewis (age 90 today) back on screen generates a warm feeling – as do Ms. Bloom and the other old-timers, but the story is just too simple to provide any real insight or commentary on aging, loss, or family stress or secrets. The combination of nostalgia and sentimentality can work provided there is more depth – something that’s simply lacking with our story and characters.

Mr. Lewis gamely plays an unsympathetic character, and does capture the cantankerous nature that we’ve all witnessed in some elderly folks. There is even a laugh out loud moment featuring knitted pot holders, and we do get Lewis in a red clown nose – fortunately without his “Hey Lady!” voice. What’s missing is the depth required if one plans to tackle a theme like making peace with the past … especially when the past isn’t there to defend herself.

watch the trailer: