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James Toback
Mike Tyson
Writing Credits:
James Toback

Love him or hate him, Mike Tyson is inarguably one of popular culture's most fascinating figures. In this riveting documentary portrait of the controversial boxer, filmmaker and friend James Toback lets Tyson tell his own volatile story. It all started in a rough-and-tumble Brooklyn neighborhood, where Tyson was picked on and beaten up as a youngster. But when he turned his fear into anger, he realized that his fists had the ferocity to frighten everyone around him. As a teenager, Tyson moved upstate to live with trainer Cus D'Amato, who became the devoted and compassionate father figure he never had. This support helped Tyson develop the strength and focus needed to become a devastating champion inside the ring. But when D'Amato died, something inside Tyson died too, turning him into an even more dangerous monster outside of the ring.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$85.046 thousand on 11 screens.
Domestic Gross
$884.296 thousand.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 90 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 8/18/2009

• Audio Commentary with Director James Toback
• “A Day With James Toback” Featurette
• “Iron Mike: Toback Talks Tyson” Featurette
• “James Toback on The Fabulous Picture Show” Featurette
• Trailer
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Tyson [Blu-Ray] (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 17, 2009)

Arguably the most controversial and troubled athlete of his era, boxer Mike Tyson becomes the focus of a documentary simply titled Tyson. Though the program features some archival footage, the majority of the material comes from modern Tyson interviews conducted for this film.

The movie examines Tyson’s life in fairly chronological order. We learn about Tyson’s childhood, his entry into boxing, and his relationship with trainer Cus D’Amato. From there we watch his ascension in the heavyweight ranks, his success as a boxer, his failures, and various personal issues.

I think it says a lot about Tyson that we conjure images of his failures more readily than his successes. Honestly, I find it hard to firmly recall Tyson’s victories, possibly because they came so quickly. Tyson was notable as the guy who won his bouts in seconds; he was a force of nature and not someone whose battles stood out as memorable in and of themselves.

But when Tyson fell, he fell hard. I can remember how shocked I was when I heard that he lost to Buster Douglas in 1990, and I recall very well the news about the infamous ear-biting episode during the 1997 fight with Evander Holyfield. Tyson’s time in jail stands out as well, and all his travails with Robin Givens remain stuck in my head.

Given that so many of us maintain negative associations with Tyson, it becomes an uphill battle for director James Toback to make him a sympathetic character. This rehabilitation starts right off the bat, as the film opens with footage of the fight in which Tyson first won the heavyweight title. In a somewhat manipulative move, Toback accompanies the shots with Rocky-style footage to add positive associations.

From there, we dig into the unpleasant aspects of Tyson’s early life. Those sequences and much of what we hear after that seems intended to garner sympathy for Tyson, as we’re led to take pity on a guy with an awful childhood.

And that’s fair, if one-sided. Through the interviews, Tyson appears to be pretty up-front about his foibles. He readily admits his many flaws, though he doesn’t acknowledge everything; for instance, he denies that he ever did the rape that sent him to prison. Maybe he shouldn’t, as I don’t know how well the prosecutors proved that case; Tyson wouldn't have been the first person sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

In any case, we definitely get a more thoughtful than expected Tyson – for better or for worse. He occasionally ventures into “TMI” territory, such as when he talks about the gonorrhea he suffered during his first title bout. Overall, Tyson comes across as older, wearier and more introspective.

Which is good, though I’m not sure we really learn anything particularly notable here. Tyson does humanize the boxer to a decent degree, though I think it’s too one-sided. As I implied earlier, the film tends to manipulate the viewer to cast Tyson in a positive light. Between the Rocky-style music and the litany of sob stories, we’re led to see Tyson as a victim of circumstances.

To some degree, that’s true, but the film needs more balance – and more of a willingness to criticize Tyson for some of his more outlandish behavior. I don’t expect the flick to include all of his negative episodes over the years, but it ignores a lot of them, and they’re felt by their absence.

I also wish we’d gotten outside perspectives. Perhaps the filmmakers didn’t really want to create a broad global view of Tyson, and I certainly can’t accuse them of making a hagiography; we learn too many negatives about Tyson for this to be called a whitewash.

Nonetheless, the fact that we receive a single viewpoint limits the usefulness of the information. If you watch this film, you’ll think Tyson was framed for rape with no serious justification – and again, maybe he didn’t commit the crime for which he was incarcerated. However, it’d sure be nice to know the other side of the story, as the movie leaves us with no additional perspective.

Tyson does a reasonably good job as a documentary, for it certainly keeps us interested in its subject. However, I think its limitations keep it from greatness. Too much of the film feels like an attempt to rehabilitate Tyson rather than to examine him.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+

Tyson appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. The nature of the material led to some rocky spots, but the image held up well given its limitations.

Inevitably, the archival footage looked the worst. Most of this material came from video sources, and these clips tended to be soft and muddy, with murky colors and little depth. That didn’t surprise me, as it accurately represented the problems that come from old video shots.

The modern Tyson footage looked pretty great, though. Sharpness was consistently good, as only a hint of softness ever crept into a few shots. During these elements, no issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement was absent. Only the archival material showed source flaws; the interviews conducted for the flick were clean and fresh.

Colors seemed fine. Most of the interview shots went with a high contrast, semi-blown out look, so they didn’t develop really vivid hues. Nonetheless, they appeared positive given the visual orientation. Blacks were dark and tight, and the occasional low-light shot was clear and well-developed. The ugly archival footage knocked down my grade, but I thought a “B” was appropriate.

Don’t expect a whole lot from the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack of Tyson. That’s fine, though, as I wouldn’t want a whole lot of auditory fireworks from a documentary of this sort. Speech dominated, so only occasional flourishes appeared. The sporadic instances of music showed good stereo imaging, and fights offered decent crowd noise. These stayed focused on the forward speakers; the track used the back channels to a mild degree but they didn’t have much to do.

Audio quality was fine. Again, speech was the most important element, and dialogue was concise and clear. When it cropped up, music appeared lively and full, while effects seemed acceptably accurate. There wasn’t much to make the soundtrack memorable, but it satisfied.

A few extras round out the set. We start with an audio commentary from director James Toback. In his running, screen-specific chat, Toback discusses Tyson’s fights and the various bits of archival footage, impressions of Tyson and conducting the interviews, editing and the flick’s structure, and a few other technical areas.

Though it becomes obvious that Toback doesn’t view Tyson in an objective light, that doesn’t mean his commentary turns into a sycophantic mess. Instead, Toback provides a fine examination of the film and its subject. He offers a consistently chatty piece that covers a lot of good ground. Granted, you won’t learn a ton about the technical elements, but Toback makes this an involving chat nonetheless.

Three featurettes follow. A Day With James Toback runs 16 minutes, 11 seconds and follows the publicity tour for Tyson and one of its premieres. Parts of this are interesting, but much of it makes Toback look like a self-aggrandizing name-dropper. The show is a letdown after the commentary.

Iron Mike: Toback Talks Tyson goes for 11 minutes, 49 seconds. We see some movie clips of Tyson and hear Toback’s thoughts about the boxer and creating the film. A few new insights appear here, but most of the material already appears in the commentary, so don’t expect much fresh material.

Lastly, we find the 13-minute James Toback on The Fabulous Picture Show. Here the director covers pretty much the same topics found in the prior programs. The featurette exists to promote the movie, so it doesn’t bring much fresh to the table. It is nice to see some clips from Black and White, the flick on which Toback first worked with Tyson, though.

The disc opens with a few ads. We get promos for Blu-ray, Sugar, and Moon. These also appear in the Previews area along with clips for Rudo Y Cursi, Whatever Works, Redbelt and Waltz With Bashir. The disc throws in the film’s trailer as well.

I’m not sure a documentary about a subject as complex as Mike Tyson could be dull, and Tyson certainly manages to sustain the viewer’s interest. However, its use of only one viewpoint limits its usefulness, and it also tends to feel more like an attempt to garner sympathy for Tyson rather than to explain/interpret him as a person. The Blu-ray provides perfectly acceptable picture and audio along with a decent selection of extras. The movie can be reasonably interesting and would be worth a rental, but it doesn’t dazzle.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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