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Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, A

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // May 14, 2013
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted May 7, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Roman Coppola has spent much of the past few years co-writing films with Wes Anderson, and easing back into the director's chair for the first time in more than a decade, Coppola has made...well, a Wes Anderson movie. I mean, A Glimpse Inside
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the Mind of Charles Swan III
is an immaculately designed period piece with an indescribably brilliant soundtrack about a self-absorbed, self-destructive eccentric. Sure, it's drop dead gorgeous, and yeah, Coppola has assembled a hell of a cast, among them such Anderson alums as Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III doesn't just invite comparisons to Wes Anderson's ouevre; it clubs comparisons over the head with a turquoise '64 Fender Jaguar and drags 'em inside by the smalls of their necks, and it does it without a fraction of the wit, intelligence, humanity, warmth, or vulnerability that define Anderson's immeasurably superior work.

Sex, drugs, and graphic design: Charlie Sheen stars as Charles Swan III, a rock star pop artist in '70s Los Angeles whose life is on the skids. He's pissed away most of his wealth, his middle-aged body is crumbling apart, the love of his life just stormed out the door for good, and the well of ideas that made his name has completely run dry. With borderline-nothing to distract him from what a fuck-up he's become, Swan is forced to re-evaluate what really matters. At least Chuck still has his sister (Patricia Arquette) and his seemingly last remaining friend (Jason Schwartzman) to lend him a little moral support: occasionally in real-life, and other times throughout a series of increasingly ornate Walter Mitty-style fantasy sequences.

Taken strictly as a technical exercise, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is brilliant. Belying a very limited budget, its inventive production design and vivid, artfully framed photography are endlessly striking. I can't fathom stumbling upon a more memorable, more note-for-note perfect score than the one musician Liam Hayes has crafted here. I'm a cheap date for any movie with Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Aubrey Plaza, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (::respectful swoon!::) on the bill. There's also something to be said for the parade of breathtakingly
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gorgeous and mostly nameless women that play Swan's exes. The daydreams that comprise so much of the first act of the film left me wide-eyed and entranced.

The problem is...well, everything else. For one, Swan is such a prick. That doesn't have to be an inherent flaw. Look at just about any of Wes Anderson's films -- Coppola sure has! -- or we can keep the period piece ad man routine going and use Don Draper as a point of reference. Don makes far more than his share of unforgiveable mistakes, but it's also a fully realized person who's ultimately at fault; that 360° view changes everything. It doesn't hurt that Don is also staggeringly talented, and that sort of artistry helps smooth over at least some of his shortcomings. Swan has basically nothing going for him. The way Charlie Sheen more or less plays the public perception of himself, Swan is devoid of any charm whatsoever, we're told he's a world-class talent but we hardly ever get to see that put to work, and since his girlfriend's out the door after a few short minutes, I'm left with zero investment in the failed relationship that's the crux of the entire film. The fantasies help buoy the movie along for its first half hour, but they're pretty much over and done with after that. For the last fiftysomeodd minutes, you're mostly left with a loathesome, sadsack asshole hellbent on showing you just how much more you can despise him.

It's frustrating because I'm completely enamoured by the sense of style on display here. The fantasies throughout A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III are so artful and such a ridiculous amount of fun, and I can't begin to tell you how gorgeous a stripped-down, heartfelt Portuguese musical number late in the film is. As flawed as so much of the movie can be, Coppola really does do a spectacular job bringing it all together in the film's final moments. At the end of the day, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is style as substance, and when it stops distracting viewers from how
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vacant it really is and focuses instead on the story, it's on the brink of being unwatchable. A marginal rental at best.

It's a well-worn cliché, I know, but I really do feel as if I could mash the 'Pause' button and hang up any random frame from A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III up on the wall. Its colors are sumptuous, contrast robust, and definition and detail beyond reproach. This intensely visually-oriented film translates about as flawlessly to Blu-ray as anything I could ever have hoped to see. I couldn't spot any hiccups or missteps at all, something I was somewhat concerned about after noticing the AVC encode's sub-18 Mbit/s bitrate. Some screenshots look kind of wonky up close -- look to the one at right for a harshly digital case-in-point -- but I couldn't detect anything like that in motion. Very nicely done.

Single layer Blu-ray disc. AVC. 1.85:1.

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is backed by a lively, playful, lossless soundtrack. Every last element in the mix is clear, distinct, and perfectly balanced. The fidelity of Liam Hayes's score eclipses anything DVD could ever hope to deliver. There's a wonderful sense of directionality and some silky smooth pans from the front channels to the surrounds. Sequences like a battalion of scantily-clad Indian swimsuit models encircling our heroes take further advantage of the six-channel setup. Perfect.

DTS-HD Master Audio. 24-bit. 5.1 all the way. Commentary aside, there are no alternate soundtracks. Subtitles are limited to English (SDH) and Spanish.

  • A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles White III (12 min.; HD): You might not know real-life pop artist Charles White III by his
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    name, but you definitely know his work. White speaks about his ascent and evolution as an artist throughout the '60s and '70s, from countless album covers to hundreds of advertisements to that pulpy '40s-style Star Wars poster. White closes by speaking briefly about the film he inadvertently inspired.

  • A Glimpse Behind the Glimpse: Making A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (25 min.; HD): Well, that's a title. This making-of piece revolves heavily around the iconic airbrush art that made White's name in the '60s and '70s as well as realizing the movie's daring visual style. There's some Mutual Admiration Society fawning over how wonderful Sheen, Coppola, Schwartzman, and an underutilized, largely wasted Murray are here. The greatest highlight comes near the end, focusing on A Glimpse Inside...'s transition to its end credits which is one of my favorite things in any movie I've seen in the past few years.

  • Audio Commentary: Hidden under the 'Setup' menu is a commentary with writer/director Roman Coppola. It's kind of dry but is extremely informative just the same, giving a sense of what it's like to helm such a visually ambitious film on an incredibly low budget. It details the deceptively simple fabrication of some of these sets, how much of A Glimpse Inside... was shot in Coppola's home, and how his family and close friends were critical in getting the project off the ground.

Oh, and yeah, there is is a slipcover for anyone keeping track at home.

The Final Word
Pretty. Vacant. Rent It with caution.
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