Alpha To Omega-Beginning To End-Alpha Dog Covers What Makes A Film Fine

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What makes A Film fine?

The Story:

Written by Nick Cassavetes (John Q, The Notebook) also known for shared writing credits with Denis Leary for the screenplay of the movie Blow, it is based on a true story in which a series of events amongst a team of misguided youths ran inexorably out of control. Cassavetes developed his tale as a cautionary one, while at the same time allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions about the individuals and the morality at play.

On August 6, 2000, 15-yearold Nick Markowitz was seen just after noon, strolling down a road in West Hills, California. The previous night he had a run-in with his parents when they discovered drug paraphernalia bulging out of his jean pocket. He bolted. His parents, upon hearing his return in the middle of the night, resolved to hold any discussion until the following morning. They would never see him again.

The Plot:

As events unfold, a group of apparently voiceless teenagers, Tiko, (Fernando Vargas) Frankie, (Justin Timberlake), and Elvis, (Shawn Hatosy) fall under the spell of their drug-dealing friend, Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) to the extent that not one of them sounds the alarm after helping Johnny cross the proverbial line by kidnapping the brother of a client, and holding him over the course of the next three days for ransom for a bad drug debt.

The story flows effortlessly into its own abyss and Cassavetes, who also directed, should be lauded for the conciseness and tightness of every frame. This tale has all of the elements of Greek Tragedy. In Greek Tragedy, the word “tragedy” refers primarily to tragic drama: a literary composition written for actors with a central character, a tragic protagonist or hero, who suffers some serious misfortune which is not accidental nor is it meaningless. It is significant in that the misfortune is usually connected to the hero’s actions. This story has more than one central character. The hero is young Zack Mazursky, the antagonists – his brother Ben and Ben’s nemesis, drug-dealer Johnny Truelove.

The Music:

Backed by a flawless and exciting soundtrack specifically designed to enhance the visual impact of the story, it unfolds as if one were watching it play out from a window as close as next door, a la Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched. From the opening refrains of Somewhere Over The Rainbow poignantly sung by Eva Cassidy behind visuals of home movies of various young boys and girls – to the pure street beats of Tupac Shakur – the soundtrack has everything in between, including David Bowie, Paul Bushnell, Citizen Cope, Lazarus, Mic Holden, Lowd, Tech N9ne, Miredys Piguero & Paul Graham and original work by Aaron Zigman and Nick Cassavetes. This exciting compilation is sure to make the soundtrack a music- industry winner.

The Cast:

Ben Foster plays big brother and, oh-so loose cannon, Ben Mazursky. The performance is a brilliant one, as tightly controlled as Mazursky is tightly wound. It is a riveting portrayal of a meth freak gone mad. He leaves you breathless by dint of his rapid switching from calm to convulsive in a heartbeat. Sometimes, the same heartbeat.

Younger brother Zack, (the name of real-life victim Nick Markowitz’ dog,) is played with ethereal presence, by Anton Yelchin, (Taken, Jack and Hearts in Atlantis.) He radiates good and all things innocent. It is a perfect contrast to the rough and tumble teenage mayhem that surrounds him – teens with too much time on their hands and too much dope in their heads. The girls, who appear in various stages of wantonness, upon discovering that he is being held for ransom, give him the moniker ‘Stolen Boy.’

Emile Hirsch, who was phenomenal in his portrayal of Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown, is equally stellar in his role as Johnny Truelove; Cassavetes name for the story’s real-life dealer and small-time hood, Jesse James Hollywood. His research on Jay Adams has stood him in good stead for this role as Adam’s has had numerous run-ins with the law and has spent time in prison for assault and drug crimes as well as being a member of the Venice Suicidals street gang.

The part of Jesse James Hollywood’s main man, Jesse Rugge, known in the movie as Frankie Ballenbacher, was played with a curious sensitivity by Justin Timberlake. Loose and light-hearted was the overall persona presented effortlessly by Timberlake. It was incongruous with the key part that Rugge played in the three days that culminated in the death of a fifteen-year old. One can only assume that the research Cassavetes did on his subjects led him to believe that Rugge had simply gotten in over his head and, in order to save face, went along with the caper to the point where he couldn’t retract himself. There are clearly no winners in this story.

As the real story goes, Nick was taken to various houses in Santa Barbara [Palm Springs is substituted for Santa Barbara in the movie] over the course of three days and often ended up at Rugge’s family home. In the movie, as in the court transcripts on the case, there was what can only be described as one long roving party that continued over the course of the kidnapping and took place at the many spots they visited, accumulating numerous witnesses to the kidnapped hostage along their route. In a Los Angeles Times article, Rugge’s father, Baron Rugge (Chris Kinkade) said that, “I thought Nick was up here visiting.” And that, “when I saw him, I saw him just to say ‘Hi,’ and ‘Yeah, you can stay here if you want.”‘

As with most of the parents represented in this film, the senior Rugge’s lack of attention or concern for the comings and goings of his son and his son’s friends is telling. In the film, Cassavetes points a few fingers at parents who are too busy partying and hanging on to their own misspent youths to be of much use in child-rearing. Minutes into the film Johnny is arranging a large drug buy through his father Sonny, (Bruce Willis) an alleged underworld figure who hangs with an older, withered crony, Cosmo Gadabeeti, (Harry Dean Stanton) the man who ultimately handles the mess Truelove makes of his life by making it go away. For awhile.

The exception to this is Zack’s mom Olivia Mazursky. Sharon Stone plays real-life mother to Nick and step-mother to Ben, Susan Markowitz. By the end of the film, Stones heart-felt portrayal of a mother’s grief was so intimate that her pain brought tears to my eyes. Maybe it’s because I’m a mother. I applaud her ability to get inside Markowitz’ skin and allow her normally-gorgeous self to be seen as a middle age overweight basket-case with such flawless conviction.

Susan Markowitz, a formerly attractive sunshine-blonde, gained 65 pounds during the ordeal of the ensuing trials and attempted suicide twice. The in-your-face camera-work in Stone’s final scene is reminiscent of director John Cassavetes work with his wife, actress Gena Rowlands, – and every bit as arresting.

Probably not by coincidence, Susan, (Dominique Swain) happens to be the name of the only sane one of this bunch of party animals. Hers is the only voice of reason raised amongst this group of stoners oblivious to the trajectory of their lark.

A lark that ended tragically when Elvis Schmidt, (Shawn Hatosy) in the role of convicted murderer Ryan Hoyt, fires a semi-automatic weapon into Zack at the edge of a pre-dug grave. Hoyt was convicted of shooting Nick in the head and torso nine times with a TEC-9 semi-automatic.

In November, 2001, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and he sits on Death Row at San Quentin, waiting to die by lethal injection. Jesse Rugge was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in five years. Two others received short sentences for their part in the caper.

Like the movie, River’s Edge, the majority of the players flitting around the flame of this tragedy received punishment meted out by their own conscience.

One hopes that it screams long and loud.

write by turner

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