When the last Star Trek movie came out, I was invited to see a screening of it at Comic Con with the cast of the film. It was such a powerful experience with the San Diego Symphony playing the soundtrack live, and lasers overhead. It was even more powerful when the cast stood on stage to introduce the film, they said a few words about Anton Yelchin, who was no longer with us. They pointed to his parents in the crowd, who were sitting a few rows away from me. They asked for a moment of silence, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how heartbreaking this must be for them. They were professional ice skaters in Russia, who came to America not knowing English, right after Anton was born. And from an early age, he had success in commercials, TV, and film. And now we were about to watch a hit movie…and they’re viewing it without him. Halfway through the picture, they got up and walked out, and I just lost it.
I saw that a few critics mentioned the death of actors River Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in their reviews of this documentary. Since they died from drug overdoses, I wouldn’t even bother listing them — or all the musicians in the “27 club,” the age at which he died when his Jeep rolled back and crushed him against the gates at his house.
Editor/director Garret Price gave us a nice love letter to Yelchin, and you’ll learn a lot about this talented actor. I was surprised how many movies he had done that I never saw (he did around 69 films and TV shows). He stated that he wanted to do as many projects as possible.
It was adorable to see him as a little child, starting off the documentary giving direction, and naming the people involved in the filming at his house. We watch as he gets obsessed with the craft, after saying his two favorite movies were the horrible Last Action Hero and Space Jam. His father quickly decides he should see some “real” movies, and throws a lot of Scorsese at him. He becomes obsessed with Taxi Driver, writing extensively about Travis Bickell in his journals. Near the end of the documentary, we find out he’s writing/directing his first film, titled “Travis.”
There’s something that just warms my heart about somebody that is great at their job in entertainment, that also knows and loves the history behind it. I was irked about 20 years ago, when there were some major league baseball players who didn’t know who Jackie Robinson was. You think people making millions doing something fun, would know a little about the trailblazers that came before them. And I love when musicians know about the older groups, and actors about other filmmakers. Listening to John Cho, his early co-star in a film before Star Trek, talks about being blown away when Anton took him to see The Big Heat (Fritz Lang movie starring Lee Marvin/Glenn Ford). Cho was thrilled by the experience, and felt Yelton seemed cavalier about it. That was only because he had already seen the movie five times.
The film covers a lot about his battles with cystic fibrosis, and the fact that his parents kept that from him throughout his childhood.
It’s no surprise to find out he had a few girlfriends (one of them being a teenage Kristen Stewart, who shares some stories). It was odd to find out that when he got into photography, he seemed obsessed with underground sex clubs. Chris Pine seemed rather shocked by some of the photos Yelchin showed him. Although even with that revelation, the movie doesn’t want to tarnish his reputation in anyway. So, we see more about the letters he’d often write his mom, and how often he called her. I told my wife, “Their relationship bordered on weird.” She laughed and said, “Bordered? Oh no, it was well past that. It was really weird.”
After the documentary she theorized, “Maybe they were so close because of the life expectancy of someone with cystic fibrosis, and the fact that they couldn’t speak English so well and he did.”
It was sad when we’d see Yelton working with someone that’s no longer around, like Robin Williams (House of D); or hearing acting legend Martin Landau sing his praises.
We also got to hear from Jodi Foster, who directed him in the horrible film The Beaver (Mel Gibson), as well as Star Trek cast members Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto and director J.J. Abrams. It was fun hearing Quinto talk about debating who was better: Bob Dylan or Simon & Garfunkel. Especially since we learn that Yelchin wasn’t happy with his guitar lessons, quit those, and taught himself to play [I highly recommend you see the dark film he did involving a punk band called Green Room].
Ben Foster shared some great stories, as did Bryce Dallas Howard, and Jennifer Lawrence, who revealed something risque regarding Yeltin and Cindy Crawford. Seeing her in tears in her last segment on him was heartbreaking.
Acting legends Jon Voight called him “a rare talent” and Willem Dafoe spoke glowingly of him.
The talking heads did get a bit redundant, though. And someone needs to explain to me why they cast Nicolas Cage to read his journal entries. Don’t get me wrong, it’s probably the best performance Cage has given in a decade. It just didn’t make a lot of sense, especially since it’s a tad distracting and his voice sounds nothing like Yelchin.
Overall, this was an enjoyable experience, even if I felt like it was missing something.
It was nice to see a clip from Thoroughbreds, his last movie — and one of the best films of 2017.
This is only playing locally at the Landmark’s Ken Cinema, and might not be there for long.
3 stars out of 5.