Sunday, February 1, 2009

The True Heir to the Throne

I spent a great deal of my college and post-college life scanning through TV listings to find every Marlon Brando film. It was not easy. Even thought the VHS era was full throttle, there were plenty of titles not available and only to be found on late night television. No TCM, or AMC, FMC either. For New Yorkers, the places to look for old films were WOR, WPIX or Channel 5 (what were their call letters?).

But I saw them all, some real stinkers too. Even stinking turds like Morituri, a submarine flick with Yul Brynner, there would be a scene of undeniable brilliance. For The Formula, dedication was required as Brando's moment came at movie's end. There he was, fat and bald, waddling through the scene like a clown. But when he genially, and oddly, offers George C. Scott Milk Duds, it's a moment of pure transcendence.

For a good while it looked like Robert DeNiro could be the new Brando. Dangerous territory, that "new" tag. Just look at every "new Dylan" from Donovan to Conor Oberst. But DeNiro had it, that amazing vacuous quality of having no personality of his own, allowing complete submergence into his character. I was willing to put Bobby on nearly the same level, but glad I didn't. For a decade now, DeNiro has been constantly worthless to watch and I blame Billy Crystal. Analyze This was DeNiro's unmaking. He did lampoon his own thug persona well, but the transformation into a comedic actor has ruined him. Unlike Marlon, who took on his Corleone character in The Freshman and turned into a funny but real figure, DeNiro has become a mugging joke.

Ah, but Edward Norton, this man is the real deal. He is shape-shifting Trickster which allows for pure character development. There is no one but Norton who can make believable white supremacists and Incredible Hulks. Watching Pride and Glory last night, a pretty weak cop drama, was well worth it observe Norton's deep, thoughtful portrayal of a man torn between duty to right and loyalty to family. He's a marvel.

There are many must sees in the Norton canon - Fight Club, 25th Hour and, importantly, The Illusionist. Just see them all. He'll make it worth your time. And to see all three - Brando, DeNiro and Norton, see The Score. It's not good, but the trio make it a sight to see.

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