Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 24, 2016 9:02 pm 
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R.I.P. Anton Yelchin (1989–2016)

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Sad about the death at 27 of the Russian-born American movie star Anton Yelchin. His death happened in a freak accident at home when he was trapped between his heavy Jeep and a gate to the driveway. This may have been due to a defect in the design of the car's gear box. Besides the new Star Trek, Yelchin has 65 IMDb credits. I remember him in small films like Alpha Dog, Charlie Bartlett, Odd Thomas, Like Crazy. He was an appealing young actor. Anton was brought to America as a baby by his parents, who were champion skaters of the Leningrad Ice Ballet, and defected. He was Jewish. He had an eager, boyish quality. He may have taken so many roles, not all great ones, partly out of a need to be fully self sufficient, to justify initially disappointing what he called in an interview his parents' conventional "Russian-Jewish thing" of wanting him to be a doctor or a lawyer. But his presence not only in the high-profile Star Trek but also recently in Jarmusch's beautiful Only Lovers Left Alive and Jeremy Saulnier's cool, ultra-violent Green Room indicated that his career, which had already included some distinctive roles very early, was growing steadily stronger and more selective. He had personality, passion, intelligence and heart. As a Rolling Stone obituary article says, "He was only beginning what would have been a long, rich career."

This is also an appalling reminder that home is the most dangerous place of all. Anton Yelchin was just getting ready to go out in his car. Pointbreak's Bodhi (Patrick Swazye):"Life sure has a sick sense of humor, doesn't it?"

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Anton Yelchin in Alpha Dog

For Variety Peter Debruge has written an unusually specific and intelligent appreciation of Yelchin's short but prolific career, which I recommend that you read. Debruge has a grip on it that's beyond most of us. I have simply not seen all of his movies, though I liked the ones I saw, even when they were imperfect. What film is perfect? That's a silly thing to say. But I mean his choices were nearly always interesting and he was interesting in them.

Alpha Dog,” Debruge writes, "was a turning point in the careers of nearly its entire cast, debuting at Sundance five years before Like Crazy, the movie that took the festival’s grand jury prize and ultimately revealed just how far Yelchin might go as an actor. Prior to Like Crazy it seemed that he might follow in the footsteps of fellow child actor Elijah Wood, who seems never to have grown up — and only made his physiognomic limitations worse by playing a hobbit.

The story of two lovers who meet in school but are forced apart when Yelchin’s lovely British obsession (played by Felicity Jones) overstays her visa," Debruge continues, "Like Crazy calls for its young cast to tap into a completely adult set of emotions. It may well have been the first time we saw the actor’s brow furrow. Behind it was a man, vulnerable and entirely relatable, wrestling with real-world problems too big for him to control."

Debruge concludes: "That was the moment we knew for certain Anton Yelchin would be a star, that he had the chops to translate the career he’d begun as a child into something of substance over the rest of his life."

I did give Alpha Dog a pretty thorough mulling over, enjoying the big collection of up-and-comers. I didn't have that much to say about Anton, but "a sweet kewpie-doll younger brother named Zach (Anton Yelchin) who's dying to turn bad and escape his boring, cloying home." And then I said "Yelchin has the innocence and cheekbones to be a tragic victim and bubblegum idol who's catnip to the girl groupies. But singling out leads is misleading because there are several dozen characters here and the movie's accomplishment is that they all come alive pretty well." But Yelchin's "Zach" is the kid who's kidnapped, around whom the story sort of revolves.

I liked Like Crazy, appreciating its snapshot concision and avoidance of rom-com clichés. I also noted "Yelchin is still baby-faced, but this is a relatively grownup role at last."

It's strangely disconcerting (and of course deeply sad) when you realize you were following a career, but now it's cut short so early you can't follow through and conclude anything at all definitive (Anton was too eclectic for that, not as focused a talent as the sooner-cut off River Phoenix). It's as if you are writing a book but you lose the notes for it and have to abandon it unfinished.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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