Thursday, July 29, 2010

Raggedy Anna 'n' Angie (Smiley Face and Salt)

With star vehicles for actors becoming endangered and for actresses practically extinct, it's worth celebrating a comic tour de force in even a film as minor as Smiley Face (2007). Gregg Araki's likable stoner comedy is a remarkably sustained eighty-five minutes of Anna Faris doing a series of creative sketches on her feckless pothead protagonist, Jane F., who would be experiencing the worst day of her life were she lucid enough to notice. Well-meaning yet breathtakingly irresponsible, Jane runs afoul of both her creepy nerd roommate (Danny Masterson) and her judicious drug dealer (Adam Brody), arrives late to an audition for a TV commercial (where she encounters a spiky Jane Lynch cameo), shamelessly exploits a mild-mannered young man in the throes of a misguided crush (John Krasinski), impersonates a union rep at a slaughterhouse (long story), and is pursued by the LAPD on account of a rare manuscript of The Communist Manifesto in her unreliable hands (an even longer one).

Thankfully, Smiley Face is a screwball comedy instead of a romantic one, and Jane F. a terrific part for one of our most inspired screen comediennes. Turn on the Comedy Channel when any of the Scary Movie series is playing and you'll see Faris consistently getting laughs where none exist. In The House Bunny, she did a spirited impression of Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch ("Who knew steam could be so hot?"); in Lost in Translation, her impersonation of Cameron Diaz was so uncomfortably accurate nobody likes to mention it. Araki's farce is a solid cut or two above most of Faris's filmography, hilariously uncompromising, and features a showstopper sequence where Jane launches into a Norma Rae monologue that is rousing from her perspective, incoherent babble from ours. There is also a curious recurring motif of pigs -- including an uproarious voice-cameo from Babe narrator Roscoe Lee Browne -- that might mean something profound, or may simply be (like the rest of the film) amusingly random.

I wouldn't have bothered with Salt, the origins of an action-hero franchise for Angelina Jolie, were it not for first a string of rave reviews followed by a series of you-gotta-be-kidding pans, with critics I respect highly on both sides of the fence. Suffice to say I found the effusiveness of the movie's admirers more infectious than the movie itself, which is rather imbecilic, not terribly offensive (though an attempted assassination of the Russian president comes close), yet simultaneously too serious to be any fun and too absurd to take seriously. A couple of action set-pieces contain a few welcome jolts but come nowhere near the Bourne series, their obvious source of inspiration. What makes those films compelling (especially the last two, directed by Paul Greengrass) is how the camerawork conveys mental action as well as physical: fleeting images -- a pen, a window, a fire escape -- seemingly arbitrary at first, combine to show how Jason Bourne is always three steps ahead of everyone else, and has to be in order to survive. Evelyn Salt moves as fast as Bourne and has a MacGyver-like touch with household objects, yet rarely do we see Jolie thinking her way out of a jam. Virtually the only times we're in her head are via a couple of gauzy flashbacks where she makes goo-goo eyes at her husband, scenes that have all the earmarks of an unsuccessful test screening. ("Main character not sympathetic enough.")

Phillip Noyce, who directed the best of the Tom Clancy adaptations, Patriot Games, is a somber, dutiful filmmaker with a scant sense of mischief. He must be puzzled by the purported high spirits attributed to his movie, what with all the trouble he took to establish its drab interiors, heavy-handed themes, and lukewarm performances. None of this quite distracts from the idiocies and groaning obviousness of Kurt Wimmer's script. (Is Salt really the villain? Could the actual villain instead be the most duplicitous-looking actor in the movie? You'll never guess.) Jason Bellamy has thoroughly and wittily vivisected the plot so I won't echo his salient points here. We did, however, have an interesting exchange in the Comments, where I pointed out that many of the most prominent critics who found fault with Inception are showering Salt in a rain of roses (Seitz, Edelstein, Zacharek, Taylor, Emerson, O'Hehir). As Jason surmised, I don't think it's a conscious collective effort to praise one movie at the expense of another. I believe their reactions are sincere, if wildly overstated. I can even imagine Noyce, in response to the chorus of hosannas, scratching his head and muttering abashedly, "Really, it was just a paycheck."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blood Ties (Winter's Bone, Mother, and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada)

Warning: Possible spoilers.

Which is more astonishing -- an impressive special effects sequence or an unexpected character development? I don't pose this to come across as a fuddy-duddy. (Wait until the end of the paragraph, where my fuddy-duddyism will become truly apparent.) Thirty years ago, when actual characters in movies were taken for granted and sophisticated F/X was still evolving, my answer, at least, may have been different. Over the past week, however, I've been bored by the effects-laden Inception and riveted by the character-driven Winter's Bone, reactions that sum up my general response to current cinema. I didn't care what happened to anyone in the former film; whereas not only did I care about the people in the latter, I was often amazed by what happened to them.

Winter's Bone has been called an "Ozark noir," and indeed the movie is as absorbing as the finest examples of the mystery-suspense genre without being constricted by its trappings. (The film is based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell.) Modern-day rural Missouri makes for an original setting, and Ree Dolly (played with remarkably unforced self-assurance by Jennifer Lawrence) an appealingly unique heroine. A 17-year-old girl forced to look after her mentally ill mother and two younger siblings in a small, run-down house in the woods, Ree spends the film desperately trying to locate her father, Jessup, a "cooker" of meth who abruptly vanishes before a scheduled court appearance. If Jessup misses the court date, Ree's family will lose their home.

The quest takes Ree through the cold, rustic heart of southern Mizzou and into increasingly dangerous encounters with her extended kin. Both landscape and family are vast yet oppressive, with secrets buried as deeply as Ree's determination to uncover them. Debra Granik, who directed the movie and co-wrote the script, hews close to her protagonist, so that we decipher clues the instant Ree does. (Lawrence is in every scene.) The deadliest puzzles involve interpreting the actions of other members of the Dolly family, who are all involved in the meth trade and go by names like Teardrop (John Hawkes), Thump (Ronnie Hall) and Merab (Dale Dickey). In the Dolly clan, menace and magnanimity turn on a dime; and each scene unfolds with utter unpredictability, where even a cup of coffee could be either a gift or a weapon.

Winter's Bone wanders into a minefield of potential cliches and stereotypes and, like its heroine, rarely steps wrong. Granik betrays not a whiff of condescension for her characters: in their homes, the expected signs of poverty (dirty dishes piled in sinks, tires scattered in yards) are offset by loving displays of photographs, cards and drawings on refrigerators and in scrapbooks. (In the opening scene we are even treated to children laughing, a sight and sound far away from the films of Kelly Reichardt.) Granik draws us deeply into the entrenched history of these families, lets us observe their unspoken rituals and codes. Men may claim to rule this world, but it is women who function as gatekeepers and make the crucial decisions.

In addition to the central mystery, I was fascinated by the investigation of a key theme, spelled out at one point by Ree to her brother and sister as "Never ask (for help), wait til it's offered." Amid the hostilities are sudden acts of kindness, as when a neighbor stops by with food, or a selfish blowhard is talked out of the keys to his truck, or a macho drug addict's physical threats ("I already told you to shut up once with my mouth") are belied by provisions of cash and aid. Yet this last character, Teardrop, who is Ree's brother-in-law, transforms from a passive bystander to an active ally, eventually telling Ree that there are times to stir the pot rather than hoping idly that answers come to them.

Winter's Bone is the increasingly rare film that puts character at the forefront of story, and in so doing allows its actors a chance to shine. Lawrence gives a tremendously physical performance, simultaneously headstrong and vulnerable, wearing her dilapidated jacket and stocking cap like a frayed coat of armor. Hawkes, normally typecast as wimps and snitches, startles as the gruff, grizzled Teardrop. (He shares one of the best scenes in the movie -- a tense standoff with the county sheriff -- through a rearview mirror with fellow Deadwood alum Garret Dillahunt.) The bulky, purposeful Hall is terrifying in a nearly wordless turn as Thump Milton, while Dickey, as Thump's wife Merab -- as hard-edged as she is impenetrable -- inspired David Edelstein to marvel "that you could watch this performance a hundred times and never get to the bottom of it." In another venue, Edelstein responded to the accusation that he likes only "smaller independent films that touch no one's hearts and don't matter at all" by countering that Winter's Bone "matters a great deal and has touched many hearts." Without ever asking, it certainly touched mine.

I was looking eagerly forward to Mother, the new thriller by Bong Joon-ho, whose previous two features, Memories of Murder and The Host, ranked among my favorite movies of the aughts. In those films, Bong effortlessly juggled tragedy with farce. He's not above killing off children or depicting the mentally-challenged as the butt of jokes; yet those movies never settled for manipulative contrivances or cheap shots. They delve deeply into familial dynamics and character psychology; and they expand widely into cultural mores and political corruption. Bong is also a master of confounding expectations: in his films, smart people make costly mistakes, while fools have moments of grace.

Mother, though, feels like a step backwards to me. Like Memories of Murder, the movie revolves around the killing of a teenage girl, only this time the police assigned to the case are ancillary to the plot. The titular character (played by Hye-ja Kim) is instead a lower-class South Korean woman trying to prove the innocence of her son, Yoon (Bin Won), who does not take kindly to repeated taunts of "retard" yet on account of his mental disability and a load of circumstantial evidence is hastily rounded up as a scapegoat for the crime. Whereas Debra Granik invests complete empathy for her characters in Winter's Bone, I detected more than a bit of contempt in Bong's gaze for his. The first half of Mother is a long exercise in condescension, with Yoon's mom duped into false promises, blackmailed for money, and making one misstep after another in her efforts to crack the case. The second half of the film improves markedly, as the hidden-in-plain-sight clues are revealed, and the movie ends with a powerfully elusive image of Kim in the throes of denial or ecstasy or both. (Kim is excellent throughout.). But it's too little too late. Bong appears to be sacrificing his typically broader view for an intensive character study here, and I have no qualms with him trying again. I only hope that next time he goes down in the dirt that he conveys the impression that he's doing more than slumming.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005), starring Tommy Lee Jones in his directorial debut, is a film I avoided over the past few years that turns out to be a real sleeper. Jones stars as a lonely Texas rancher who fulfills a vow to his dead best friend (the title character, played in flashbacks by Julio Cedillo) by taking his body across the border for a proper funeral in Mexico. Along for the ride against his will is Melquiades' killer, Mike, a hotheaded border patrolman (played by Barry Pepper). Rugged terrain, illegal immigrants, and temperamental rattlesnakes are encountered, hijinks ensue. The plot description may sound like one of John Sayles's civics lessons, yet Three Burials surprises with Jones the actor's slightly unhinged, self-effacing performance, and Jones the director's emphasis on dark humor. The array of physical punishments and psychological torments inflicted on Mike are horrifically funny and humanize the character.

I could have done without the Tarantinoesque title cards and the overly scrambled opening hour (the screenplay is by Guillermo Arriega, who wrote Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, and who must eat dinner in the morning and breakfast when it's dark). And I still don't know what to make of the fogged-in acting style of January Jones, who plays Mike's bored wife and gives a performance somewhere between her effective turn on Mad Men and her disastrous hosting gig on Saturday Night Live. Fortunately, most of the performances feel precise and lived-in; and Chris Menges, one of the best cinematographers in the world, gives us ravishing vistas to look at. At its best, Three Burials is a fascinating contemporary oater that depicts the cowboy way of life -- manly and violent, yet also tenuous and fragile -- in the manner of classic Westerns of yore.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Is Jon Turteltaub the New David Lean?

By now I'm sure you've all heard the asinine thought-provoking comparisons of Christopher Nolan to Stanley Kubrick. With the release of Inception and all of its self-flattering nods to Kubrick's body of work, this is wholly understandable. Yet this wasn't the only challenge by a contemporary filmmaker to a legendary one that transpired over the past week. Although I haven't seen The Sorcerer's Apprentice, I was struck nonetheless by the innumerable similarities between director Jon Turteltaub's oeuvre and that of none other than the late, great David Lean. Hyperbole aside, this thus begs a most serious question: Is Jon Turteltaub the new David Lean?

Consider the evidence:
  • David Lean was 6 feet, 1 inches tall. It is entirely possible that Jon Turteltaub is also 6'1".
  • Lean used cameras with a variety of lenses to achieve his effects. It is rumored that Turteltaub also uses cameras with occasionally more than one type of lens.
  • Although from different generations, the two directors were great admirers of each other's work. Turteltaub declared that 3 Ninjas was "my Doctor Zhivago." Lean announced that his ultimately unfilmed version of Mutiny on the Bounty was to be "my Driving Me Crazy."
  • Nicolas Cage based his character in the first National Treasure on William Holden in The Bridge on the River Kwai.
  • Jon Turteltaub's first hit, 1993's Cool Runnings, was actually a David Lean project prior to Lean's death in 1991, titled A Bobsled to Jamaica.
  • David Lean's 1948 adaptation of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist features a child protagonist. Jon Turteltaub pays obvious homage to this radical concept with Disney's The Kid.

  • Nicolas Cage based his character in National Treasure: Book of Secrets on Judy Davis in A Passage to India.
  • Turteltaub's Phenomenon stars John Travolta, a well-known Scientologist. Lean's Lawrence of Arabia features Anthony Quinn, who once beat the shit out of a Scientologist.
  • Episodes of Jericho, Harper's Island and From the Earth to the Moon are among the work that Turteltaub has done for television. Rumors persist to this day that Lean once owned a television.
  • Nicolas Cage based his character in The Sorcerer's Apprentice on Alec Guinness in A Passage to India. However, Turteltaub balked at Cage's insistence that he don an Indian accent and a turban.
  • The plot to Turteltaub's National Treasure 3 will involve Charles Dickens's secret manuscript of Great Expectations, which became a secret screenplay to David Lean's acclaimed adaptation of the film, which an inebriated Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif buried in the desert where Lean filmed Lawrence of Arabia.
  • Jon Turteltaub directed While You Were Sleeping. This was reportedly the working title to Ryan's Daughter.
  • Nicolas Cage has said he plans to base his character in National Treasure 3 on Katharine Hepburn in David Lean's Summertime.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

You Snooze, You Lose (Inception)

Warning: Spoilers.

There's a scene in The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan's tiny arthouse flick from two years back, that illustrates my conflicted feelings about him as a filmmaker. Early in the movie, the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) and his henchmen are up to no good in an underground parking garage when they're confronted by a couple of wannabe Batmen as well as the actual Caped Crusader himself. Immediately the movie introduces a key theme -- the spread of vigilantism in Gotham -- yet it's conveyed through a visually incoherent fight sequence where it's virtually impossible to tell who's who and where they are in relation to one another. Still, the scene more or less does what it needs to accomplish to get the point across. This is Nolan in a nutshell: a great idea combined with sloppy execution that ends up sort of working anyway. I'm not sure exactly how he accomplishes it without any semblance of passion, playfulness or wit. He's the directorial equivalent to a plodding pulp novelist who manages to hook his audience while rarely turning a memorable phrase.

To achieve this, it helps to stand out from the pack, and with its intelligence and intensity The Dark Knight was at least a notch or two above the usual summer blockbuster fare. Nolan's latest feature, this summer's Inception, already deserves credit for being something other than a sequel or a remake (though Nolan has made his share of both). As everyone knows by now, Inception is a brainteaser movie about infiltrating dreams, with Leonardo DiCaprio leading a team of dream-invaders to plant an idea within somebody's mind. Nolan, as usual, is onto something, only this time the ingeniousness of the concept far outstrips his grasp.

Dreams have a high risk-to-reward factor in cinema: done well, and they can rank among the most memorable scenes in movie history; done poorly, and they can sink a film. David Lynch is frequently cited as our greatest living filmmaker of dreams, but in my mind he's far too self-conscious about his own "weirdness" and fixations to pull off a convincing dream sequence. A director whose movies do feel to me like dreams is Aleksandr Sokurov: Russian Ark, his amazing one-take historical stroll through the Hermitage Museum, left me in a heightened daze; similarly, The Sun, about Emperor Hirohito's surrender at the end of World War II, is a digital depiction of history that also leaves you in a discombobulated state of mind. The movie additionally features an extraordinary sequence where Hirohito envisions the horrifying bombing of Hiroshima with planes resembling flying dragons spewing fire on the city below. Sokurov understands that real dreams function as an amalgam of the straightforward and the surreal.

Nolan's film, however, contains a fatal flaw. For "inception" to work, explains the protagonist Dom Cobb (DiCaprio), the subject must be persuaded to believe that the dream world is real. Therefore the team's architect, Ariadne (Ellen Page), takes pains to construct a world that is just like our own: when anomalies occur, as when Cobb's dead wife Mal (Marion Cottilard) intrudes on their dreams, the risk grows that the subject -- in this case, a young mogul (Murphy again) poised to inherit his dying father's industry -- will become aware that what is transpiring isn't real and will awaken. Except since when have strange occurrences made us conscious that what we're experiencing is a dream? Random oddities are entwined with the familiarly mundane in our dreamworlds: many of the examples in Matt Zoller Seitz's piece linked above show filmmakers who understand this and have created exhilarating flights of fancy. Nolan is even more self-conscious than Lynch, and far more thuddingly literal: he seems to want to distinguish Inception from being even more derivative of The Matrix than it already is, and I would conjecture that the best way he thought to do this was to make the creators of the dreamworld the good guys rather than the baddies.

It's a bummer to watch a movie about dreams where all the dream sequences are like James Bond films without the sex. Inception's impressively ambitious hour-long climax crosscuts between a handful of dream-layers (one of the film's most imaginative concepts), yet all involve our heroes getting chased and shot at by "projections" of the dreamer, who resemble the villains in The Matrix bereft of Hugo Weaving's personality. One of these sequences so closely resembles the bravura skiing shootout in On Her Majesty's Secret Service that I wasn't surprised to learn that Majesty's is Christopher Nolan's favorite Bond movie. Nevertheless, there's no discernible joy in how he stages the scene; it's as self-serious as the rest of the film. Moreover, as Matt Seitz also points out: "how can a film that posits four or more layers of dream world have absolutely no sex, or sexual feelings, anywhere in them?"

This is how Cotillard is truly wasted, in a part that poses plenty of opportunities for mischief. (She comes out of it unscathed, as she did Michael Mann's wax-museum Public Enemies and Rob Marshall's megaton stinkbomb Nine, but she needs to choose her parts more wisely -- admittedly, not that good ones are abundant for actresses.) Cotillard looks more than game to have some fun in the role of saboteur. But Nolan has always had little use for women in his films, not out of any apparent misogyny so much as they don't seem to fit into his mathematical theorems. A truly great filmmaker would approach this as a viewpoint worth exploring and challenging: stretches of Inception seem to want to be about the struggle between order and chaos, like The Dark Knight, only represented by masculine and feminine impulses. I typically loathe reviews that offer suggestions for a different version of a movie rather than focusing on the one that was made, but I couldn't help but feel that Nolan ignored a lot of comic potential in his premise. Making DiCaprio and Cotillard as playful adversaries with an erotic attraction may have jolted the movie to life. Yet even when focusing solely on their characters in the actual film -- a husband still mourning and haunted by his deceased wife -- a missing sexual component dilutes the emotional impact of their relationship.

True to Nolan, and despite these flaws, Inception kind of almost works anyway. Cillian Murphy, in the film's best performance, works wonders for him again, filling in a sketchily written character with emotional resonance. Leonardo DiCaprio doesn't come across as strenuously as he did with his similar character in Shutter Island, though I can only guess Christian Bale was busy on The Fighter and therefore unavailable. (Did David O. Russell put Nolan in a headlock again?) I like the idea of "the kick," the name for the common physical sensation of being jolted awake, and which prompts the team out of their dreamscapes. (Using Edith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" as an exit cue is a nice touch, though it should be more aurally powerful than it is.) The extended climax sticks with you even if you think it's botched, as does one of its set-pieces, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's zero-gravity fight in a hotel lobby. Gordon-Levitt, who plays Cobb's right-hand man Arthur, has the spindly physicality of a silent-film star -- to which Marc Webb, his director in (500) Days of Summer, was acutely attuned, and to which Nolan appears oblivious save for this one scene. Much more could have been done with his character as much as Cotillard's, while Ellen Page proves once again to be in over her head inhabiting a character requiring two or more dimensions. (She and Gordon-Levitt are allowed exactly one fleeting kiss, from which Nolan cuts away with the embarrassment of an eight-year-old eavesdropping on his parents.) Reportedly, Emily Blunt was considered for Page's part, and she'd have given both the character and the movie a much needed comic edge and healthy dose of irony.

But these are Serious Times, mainstream movies continue to remind us, with audiences surprisingly eager to embrace dourness and solemnity. I don't begrudge others their want of entertainment, much as I fail to understand it. (Has there even been a less jaunty putting-the-team-together sequence than the one in Inception?) Perhaps one day somebody will fully illuminate how post-9/11 movies like Inception have tapped into our sense of loss and need for closure on that event. I'm not the man for that job. I can only note that Christopher Nolan remains on my list as a compelling filmmaker: well above James Mangold regarding the originality of his ideas, though far below Martin Campbell in terms of visual dexterity, elegant craftsmanship, and appreciation of his actors. (Comparisons to Stanley Kubrick....don't even go there.) It was in, respectively, The Mask of Zorro and Casino Royale, that Campbell made stars out of Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Daniel Craig and Eva Green. Their characters came across as multi-dimensional, sophisticated yet carnal, flesh-and-blood human beings. What that kind of director could do with the likes of DiCaprio, Gordon-Levitt and Cotillard, one can only dream.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

He's Just Not That Into You (Cleveland): A Special Sneak Preview

FADE IN as a NARRATOR somberly intones:

This is a story of boy meets city....

The boy, LeBron James, grew up believing he would be "The One."
This belief stemmed from early exposure to entourages,
and a total misreading of Nike shoe slogans.

The city, Cleveland, Ohio, had not won a championship
in any professional sport since 1965. Ever since that time,
there had been endless pain, frustration and agony:
The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, and countless
other debacles over the years.

Nevertheless, from the moment Cleveland
met LeBron James, it invested all its hopes
in him, firmly believing that he truly was "The One."
This is a story of boy meets city.
But you should know up front, this is not a love story....

OVER OPENING CREDITS, clips of home-movies play of both boy and city, a bittersweet trip down memory lane, scored to Regina Spektor's "Us."


A typical Miami nightclub: loud music, wild dancing, patrons consuming heavy amounts of blow sweets. A visiting CITY, all dolled up, approaches a BASKETBALL STAR at the bar. His best friends, DWYANE and CHRIS, are chatting up some bikini-clad girls nearby.

"January, 2011"

Hey, you!


Well, how's this for a coincidence?

Uh, yeah.

Surprised to see me?

Uh, yeah.

(twirls around):
Don't I look nice?

Uh, yeah.

Don't you like what I've done with my bridge?

Uh, yeah. Listen, what are you doing here?

What do you think I'm doing here, silly?
I came to see you.

Well, look, LeBron James is flattered. It's just that, you know,
LeBron James thought we had an understanding.

Hmm? What do you mean?

You know, when LeBron James left. Six months ago.
LeBron James thought we agreed to stop seeing each other.

Ohhhh, that!
(slaps his shoulder and tee-hees)
That was all just a silly misunderstanding.
I was going through a phase back then. I'm
in a much better place now.

That's great. It's just that, you see,
LeBron James is in a better place now too.

I don't follow.

LeBron James is happy here.

I'm glad to hear you say that.
(squeezes his hand)
I'm happy here with you too.

(pulls hand away)
Look, Cleveland, what I'm trying to say is....
LeBron James has moved on. You need to move on too.

You mean that?


Gosh. I came all the way out here.
I got all dressed up.

LeBron James is sorry.

I feel like such a fool.

It's not you, it's LeBron James.

You never loved me!

Of course LeBron James loved you.
LeBron James still loves you.
LeBron James just isn't in love with you.

Oh, why didn't I see the signs?

What signs?

The signs that you were interested in someone else!

Not ringing any bells.

The signs that you were going to betray me!

Don't know what you mean.

How could you humiliate me like that?
On national television!

LeBron James wanted to get it all out in the open.

It was humiliating for you too, you know.
It was even worse than that cover photo
you agreed to do for Vogue.

LeBron James would appreciate it if
you didn't bring that up.

Don't you know racism when you see it?


We were together for seven years. All that time
I put up with your flirtations, your coming up short in the playoffs,
your constantly referring to yourself in the third-person.
And only now am I finally seeing you differently.

How do you mean?

I mean that you are self-aggrandizing.
I mean that you are a cold-hearted bastard.

LeBron James thinks you can be pretty cold too.

Nevertheless, you hurt me very badly.

You hurt LeBron James too. After LeBron James left.

I may have overreacted....

You frightened LeBron James.

I got a little carried away.

At that moment, a deranged NBA OWNER enters the club and approaches the bar.


How "dare" you "toy"
with our "emotions!"
"I" personally "guarantee" we will "win" a "championship" before "you" do!

Dan, what did I tell you? Wait in the car.

Dan Gilbert stalks away to the other end of the bar.

LeBron James would have stayed had Dan
ever picked up some decent free agents.
LeBron James can't do everything by himself.

Is that why you came to Miami--so there would
be less pressure? So you could play with your friends?


And you're not the only "King" any more?

LeBron James is happy to share his crown.

Well then, I guess I should wish you well....

LeBron James is not a machine.
LeBron James has feelings too, you know.

You're going to be okay, LeBron. And you know
what? I'm going to be okay too! The name
"Cleveland" has a long, proud history.

That's true.

The name "Cleveland" is not somebody's idea
of a cheap joke!

That's right.

Oh, LeBron, I'm glad we had this talk.

Cleveland, LeBron James has made some mistakes. And
LeBron James knows that right now it still hurts.

(wipes a tear)
It does.

But LeBron James knows, one day you will
get over LeBron James.

I know.

LeBron James wishes you all the best.
LeBron James hopes we will meet again as friends.

They embrace. LeBron returns to his seat, looking melancholy. Cleveland takes a couple steps before turning back around.

If we do, it probably won't be in the playoffs.
Everybody knew that we would struggle this season.
But it looks like you guys are struggling too. Rumor has it
it's only a matter of time before you get a new coach. Is
that true?

Just then, a slick-haired, AL PACINO LOOK-ALIKE strides to the bar. He drapes an arm around LeBron, an NBA championship ring on each finger.

Hey LeBron, how you doin', pal?
(points to Cleveland)
This town bothering you?