cleancutcThe revival of analog releases and recording methods is more than a kitschy approach to music in a world dominated by on-line hits and streams. It can actually form the music. Miami-based musician Alex Caso understands the role that the analog plays in creative restraint. It is one of the reasons why he self-released his two recent albums — under the alter ego Alx Czo — as cassettes.

Perched on the edge of Independent Ethos’ leather couch, Caso is decked out in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and canvas shoes. His translucent blue sunglasses are perched atop his bushy hair, as we share a listen to his ambient album, She is a Galaxy. He checks to make sure the noise reduction is off on our sound system. It’s the way he prefers people listen to his new albums.

Releasing his music on tape is not so much a choice to satisfy audiophiles as it is to have a physical end-product that defines the music. Let’s face it, cassettes have an inherit hiss by nature, and there is always a generational loss from the master, but when music can take those qualities and run with them it transcends the medium’s limitations, and Caso’s luscious, dreamy, rough-hewn music works aptly with it.

Mujeres cassette

It’s not about pristine sound quality. The subtle hiss of tape adds an almost subconscious layer to the music, which itself is quite layered with the dreamy wash of synths and guitars. That it is rich with electronics that reverberate with a layered luster somehow makes it appropriate for the medium. But do not call it ramshackle or gimmicky. Caso put a lot of consideration into these albums.

Listening to the wash and sparkle of the ambient album, Caso admits a preference for this music over what he calls his “pop” record, Mujeres Infieles, which roughly translates from his native Spanish to “Unfaithful Women.” As you may infer, his preference is not so much about the quality of the music as it is what inspired the different works.

He wrote and recorded Mujeres over the course of a year, between 2011 and 2012. He calls them love songs, but they are not the uplifting sort of ditties that elevate the romantic notion to a pedestal. “I work a lot out of emotional needs,” Caso explains. “A lot of these songs I wrote after a break up. It’s all emotionally based. It’s like exorcising demons. They’re what I call heartmares.”

In fact, the album features two tracks named “Heartmares,” a “dub” version that closes out Side A and the original version, that ends the album. The dub version is an instrumental of layered, twinkling melodies and hums, that also has a steady, casuallashing crackle that actually sounds like a brittle, old tape. The original actually sounds like an early Depeche Mode song, if Depeche Mode made spy music. The only vocal is a distant howling wind, distorted by a ghostly echo.

It’s generally hard to understand what Caso sings on the album of pop songs. It could be by design, as he’s not really into revealing details about who the songs are about. Though, he says, they may know who they are. But it matters little, as it’s about his affection for sonics, which sound inspired by early Magnetic Fields and My Bloody Valentine. The album opens with “Princess Fantasy,” featuring an electronic beat mixed into a hissing, percolating melody that chugs along like a brilliant early Magnetic Fields song, in fact.

He is aware that ‘80s and ‘90s-era music is a big influence on him. He says pop songs from back then were just better than those of today. He notes there is just no vision in commercial or pop songwriting anymore. “The old guys were right because every decade the songs are getting worse,” he bemoans. “Everything now is a dance remix or songs about butts/big booty girls or a generic hum to drink your coffee at Starbucks.”

His vocals are mixed into the music in such a way that it is hard to make out exactly what he is singing, but the ambiguity is part of the music’s charm. During “Princess Fantasy,” I may have heard “She belongs to Satan” at one point. It works, as these tapes are a sonic statement to an era with sly little nods to its medium. Within the album there are also sonic effects like warped piano and some clicks of mechanics that might seem like the aural symptom of an aged cassette tape. That the music is often muscular and catchy is testament to this Miami music veteran’s skill as a songwriter.

Whereas Mujeres was completed in a year’s time, he notes She is a Galaxy is the product of roughly a decade of ideas. The springboard often came from a need to wind down from a night of work. “A lot of this stuff was recorded at 4 to 5 o’clock in the morning after DJ-ing,” he says.

Galaxy cassette

Sometimes he would be wired from the rush of spinning and in need of mellowing at home, so he would brew up some ambient music on his keyboards and computer. He admits that the effects of the buzz of excitement, libations and sometimes exhaustion was not always conducive to judging his work. When he would wake the next day and listen back to the results he could either be delightfully surprised or horrified. Though he admits to the challenge of this music, he says he preferred working on the ambient work over the pop songs because of the amount of free-flowing creativity involved. “It’s based on a sound, and then you go from there,” he says.

Still, the former member of the Miami-based band The Waterford Landing — among other area groups — notes that he enjoyed working solo. Even though he also admits missing some aspects of collaboration. He found himself with some surprising mic checkchallenges when dealing with some elements of the pop songs, from the way the music sounded to the bridges within the songs. “When I was in a band, things would get recorded faster,” he explains. “It’s always better working with more heads, and sometimes you get in the way of recordings with self-doubt.”

But he is quite happy with the results, and the neat package of the cassette offers a sense of closure and accomplishment. He says it’s about preserving an era, even if some of that was documenting an emotionally painful time (he’s currently in a content steady relationship). Music is by its nature ephemeral, but these tapes capture his songs in a satisfying physical object. “I wanted some sort of document,” Caso says.

He also says the package signifies the end of a project in a nice tidy physical object, but it also offers something deeper. “It is nostalgic too,” he admits. “It reminds me of when I was a kid. There is something about the sound quality.”

He only had 50 tapes manufactured of each album, and he still has a few left. He says he found the process easy and enjoyable. Now, Caso is already considering releasing more music, if not his then someone else’s. “If I could keep it as a boutique label, I’d be happy,” he notes.

Hans Morgenstern

You can order either cassette via Alx Cxo’s Bandcamp page: www.alxczo.bandcamp.com, and stream them in their entirety at no cost. There is also a 6-song covers EP called “Under Cover,” which you can even download for free. Both these albums are also available in the Miami area via Sweat Records and in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at Radio-Active Records. Tomorrow is International Cassette Store Day, and both stores will be running specials during that day.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

CHILD OF GOD-Scott Haze - 2One of this year’s most startling films has to be Child of God. It took a while for this film critic to warm up to it while watching it. It’s harsh, spare but ultimately eye-opening. Once you tangle with its stark intentions: accepting the humanity of a man who commits reprehensible acts, this is truly a film that deserves respect (read my review: James Franco captures pathos of a necrophiliac psycho with ‘Child of God’). The film, based on the 1974 book by Cormac McCarthy and directed by the popular actor James Franco, challenges the audience on several levels. Viewers are not only expected to bring open minds but also a sense of empathy for a character most movies would portray as frightening or despicable. That demands the audience to travel to a dark place within themselves.

I spoke with the film’s star, actor/director Scott Hazevia phone ahead of his visit to the Miami Beach Cinematheque where he will sit down and talk with two film critics about Child of God for about an hour. “Variety” film critic Justin Chang and “Hudak On Hollywood” film critic Andres Solar will engage Haze during the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema.” The event will feature clips of the film and will be recorded on video to be archived for educational purposes.

Speaking from his car in Hollywood, California, Haze talks openly about the lengths of his preparation and the baggage that comes with being judged as part of a Franco-directed film. Much of our conversation has already been published in the “Miami New Times” art and culture blog “Cultist.” Read it by jumping through the logo to the blog below:

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We spoke for nearly a half hour, so there was a lot to our chat. Below you will find a modified Q&A featuring lots of the great material I could not fit into the “Cultist” story. It captures the gist of our 25-minute conversation without repeating anything from the “Miami New Times” story:

Hans Morgenstern: Have you ever been to Miami?

Scott Haze: I’ve been everywhere in the United States except for Miami, which is crazy.

Do you have any expectations?

My expectations are really probably very lame. Miami’s been such a backdrop for some of my favorite movies as a kid, so the expectations I have are that it’s a great city, it’s a fun city. There’s a lot of beautiful women. There’s a lot of parties.

I have a sense that you and Franco worked very closely on this film, which I think is one of the most humanizing portraits of a serial killer that I have seen.

You know, this project started as a passion project with James years ago. He knew that Sean Penn wanted to make the movie, and he’s a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy, so I guess it started as his desire to translate this project into a film. He does a lot of adaptations, but this was a dream project. This one and As I Lay Dying were the two movies that he wanted to make before he died.

What is the audience supposed to take away from this film?

I don’t know. I think that’s the cool thing about cinema. People are obviously not going to see The Wizard of Oz or Spiderman. You walk away with different things when you watch Child of God. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have walked away with many, many different things. A lot of people have connected to the feeling of looking at somebody who’s really alone and what it was liked in the 1950s in Tennessee. It could happen to somebody because back then they didn’t have Instagram, they didn’t have Twitter, they didn’t have Facebook, so Lester probably couldn’t have gone online and made friends, so it’s a different time. I think a lot of people have felt — if they look at being isolated and being alone for that amount of time — what it looks like. Some people are deeply moved by it, some people are rooting for Lester, some people cheer him on. Some people are horrified, but they want to see the story unfold, so they stick with it. It’s been really varied.

What did you do to get into this character’s head?

I did a lot of stuff. What I did was I realized I had to lose a lot of weight because I just played a Marine, had a shaved head. I was really built up, so I ended up losing tons of weight. I had a friend in Tennessee, and I went out there with an actress named Elissa Shay, and we did work on the script for about a month, and I filmed like a short documentary on the town and the community and what it was like interviewing a thousand people who were from that actual time frame and where Cormac set the novel. The novel is set in rural Tennessee. My friend actually happened to be the town historian of that city, so he took me on like this crazy tour of learning about caves, and everything Lester does in the novel I did. Half that stuff didn’t make the movie, which is just funny. I think of all that work I did, like scenes we shot where I make my own ax, which is in the novel, so I did everything that Cormac wrote in the novel … and then [my friend] had a cabin there, which was alone in the woods, and then I ended up living in isolation for well over a month in the cabin. Then I was in the caves for a little over a month. There was like this ongoing, evolving process of how this thing happened.

Haze in Child of God

Watching your performance, you really go all out. Was it a fun role to play or was it painful?

It’s both. It was really, really hard, but at the same time, I look back on it, and a lot of people said I was just kinda crazy at that time, but it was fun at the same time. I knew that this was a great role. As a kid growing up wanting to play these great roles, I knew that I was very fortunate. I knew that Sean Penn wanted to do this role, and he couldn’t get this movie made for 15 years. It was like an adventure, like the stuff you watch on the Discovery channel.

Speaking of physicality, why include the scene of you shitting in the woods?

Well, that’s just in the novel. It wasn’t like I said, “You know what, James? What we need to do right now is I need to shit.” I think it was more like it’s what Cormac wrote, and I think there’s like something really wild about showing the conditions he’s living in and his mental state. There’s a lot of things that that does that I think Cormac was thinking about when he wrote that into the book … basically when you see that, the audience should realize what they’re in for. At that moment, when you see something like that, you don’t go, oh, I’m going to see Spiderman now, and I think James is a filmmaker who doesn’t want to shy away from something that may be hard on the audience.”

You are director too. How does that help the performance?

I direct films, I direct theater and I’m a filmmaker myself … I get it. There’s a scene in the movie where I could walk through the cold water in 10 degree weather or I don’t. What it was is it was James and I teamed up to tell the story, and we both understood that we were both completely invested. I think that being a director helps me in so many ways. It helps me in my preparation. It helps me in understanding filmmaking. It helps me in understanding how to help other actors in the scene. A lot of what I did I think it helps in a lot of ways.

The critical reception has been divisive at best. What are critics not getting?

If you were to put Brad Pitt in the role of Lester Ballard would that make Child of God different? I don’t know. I read an article in “Vice” that asked, ‘What are people missing out on by not realizing that Child of God is important to cinema today?’ I think it’s just a testimony to where we’re at with entertainment. These are really important movies that examine situations in life and human behavior that tell a story and don’t involve a green screen and don’t involve a cape or a superhero. Not only that, it’s really tackling serious circumstances in a very honest way. It’s hard to watch if people consider it a horror movie, and it’s not a horror movie. It’s a character study. It’s easy for people to say, ‘this is shocking, this is so crazy,’ and I don’t think it is.

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I think you are definitely touching on the way I feel about it because I think the more you escape, the more you detach from humanity. This film makes you realize you have to have humanity to sympathize with such a character. There’s something more dehumanizing in these cartoon movies as opposed to a film like this which says, ‘Hey, wake up.’

I’m really glad you liked it, man. I really am because I’ve talked to people since the movie came out who are just awful to talk to, and they ask me some of the stupidest questions. Like the worst one is, Did you read the book? I’m like living in a cave to prepare for the movie and ‘I’m like, ‘Did you read the book? Yes, I read the book, a thousand times.’”

I think sometimes reviewers are biased due to the star persona of James Franco, but at least some people, like Jonathan Romney in “Film Comment” are writing intelligently about this movie.

The reason I think that this one was more well-received than a lot of his work, cause this movie played in competition at Venice last year and people like yourself who understand it love it, and they said this was his best movie, and I think it’s because of the story we’re telling that we were able to get away with things that you can’t get away with if you’re doing Ocean’s 11, like we had a camera on sticks in the middle of nowhere or going handheld. The fact that this movie is so rugged in the filmmaking style that he rolled with added itself sometimes to help it when it could have been disastrous. Your overall question is that there’s tons of people that just hate people, and they just want to take people down who are out there trying new or daring projects, so yeah, it’s huge, and I know that he knows it, and I know it, and anybody who roles with our crew know it if he’s named as our director that people are going to come in and hate, and I don’t think it’s fair to him. I think he’s doing something that’s not revolutionary but that they used to do in the theater back in New York. They had a group of actors that all just made movies together that were friends, and I think, as the years go on, people might step back and look at this differently with what he’s doing. Sure some of it is crazy, but most of it is not. Most of it is really daring, challenging projects that no one else thinks to do or doesn’t have the balls to do or doesn’t want to do, and he does it because he wants to do it, and then his close friends get it.

Hans Morgenstern

Child of God is showing exclusively now in South Florida at the Miami Beach Cinematheque through Sept. 28. On Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m., actor Scott Haze will join “Variety” film critic Justin Chang and “Hudak On Hollywood” film critic Andres Solar for the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss this film. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. Tickets for each screening and the event can be found by visiting mbcinema.com.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Tin+Machine+1990TinMachineJoefullOf course real David Bowie fans know that the 67-year-old rock icon frequently called “the chameleon of rock ‘n’ roll” has been so much more than Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke. As a Bowie fan, I felt inclined to break him down to 13 other personas (including his “just a member of the band” phase with Tin Machine, as pictured above in 1990). All longtime Bowie followers know he has made inconsistency an art form. After all, isn’t David Bowie a facade for David Robert Jones? So I threw together a listicle for the Miami New Times’s art and culture blog “Cultist” ahead of the national, one-night-only screening for David Bowie Is. You can read it and see lots of videos, by jumping through the “Cultist” banner below. I open with a Bowie anecdote few have probably heard about from director John Landis:

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I’ve had a chance to preview David Bowie Is. Though I won’t review it, suffice to say Bowie fans who have not had the chance to see the exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, where it premiered last year will love it. The documentary, directed by Hamish Hamilton with Katy Mullan, does not directly focus on Bowie but on the bits of Bowie ephemera that make up the internationally acclaimed David Bowie retrospective exhibit. The directors provide some nice insight into the persona that is and was David Bowie. The film, shot during the exhibit’s last day at the V&A, connects the dots between his many reinventions through things like costumes and hand-written lyric sheets, reflective of the essence of the exhibit. It also features speeches by the curators, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, and celebrities like Jarvis Cocker.

Focusing on particular periods of Bowie’s 50 years of recording and performance history, the film does not dwell on the popularly known Bowie such as Ziggy or his “Let’s Dance” era, which could tire the diehards, but really examines the minute details that actually reverberate across his career. For instance, a nice amount of time is spent on a rare short film called “The Mask,” which Bowie stared in as a mime. It’s premise, about a shoplifter who steals a mask that makes him popular when he wears it and the tragic karma that befalls him, may sound familiar to those who understand the strain Bowie felt to committing to his Ziggy persona for those two years of lengthy touring in the early ’70s.

I won’t spoil anything else beyond that. Below my signature and the film’s trailer are the only screenings in Miami. The O Cinema screening has sold out, however.

Hans Morgenstern

David Bowie Is plays one night only on Sept. 23, coinciding with the exhibit’s only U.S. visit in Chicago, at many U.S. theaters. In South Florida it will play at Miami’s Tower Theater, which has two screenings, one at 7 p.m. and another at 9:15 p.m. (get tickets). The O Cinema Wynwood screening at 9:15 p.m. has already sold out. For screenings in other parts of the country, visit this link and put in your zip code.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

ChildOfGod_keyart_406x600Note: This review does go into spoilers, but I feel I needed to in order to explain some of the film’s redemptive and misunderstood qualities.

Some of the bleakest films in recent memory have been based on books by Cormac McCarthy. The Road almost felt like an exercise in hopelessness. No Country for Old Men had a sense of inevitable futility. Respectively directed by John Hillcoat and the Coen Brothers the films captured McCarthy’s dark sensibility via cinema. Now comes the media factotum James Franco to take on McCarthy and one of his earlier novels: Child of God, which is not only told from the demented perspective of a serial killer who has sexual relations with corpses but does not forget those who failed to stop him. Whatever you might think of this actor/director/author/poet who seems to spread himself kind of thin, there is no lack of quality direction invested in his adaptation. It follows Lester Ballard, a man abandoned by his family, community and humanity as a whole. What becomes of such a person is disturbing in its implications of society, and that Franco pulls off channeling that from the book as well as he does — though not flawlessly — deserves praise.

Smartly constructed, Franco’s Child of God (like the book) unfolds across three distinct acts that subtly grow baser and more harrowing as the story unfolds. The film takes place in rural, mid-20th century Tennessee. It’s winter, and the trees are mostly stripped bare of their leaves. Actor Scott Haze puts himself into the titular character of Lester Ballard with a grandiose lack of inhibition. We meet him confronting a group of people and an auctioneer on what Ballard says is his rightful property. Rifle in hand, he yells bloody murder at those who show interest in the land and large house. The scene, as with much of the film, is presented via handheld camera. It establishes the movie’s raw tone early on. Furthering the film’s earthy quality, the extras and bit players come across as non-actors genuinely recoiling as this beast of a man in a scruffy beard spits angst and frustration in an almost unintelligible drawl.

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Child of God would probably not be as watchable were it not for Haze’s go-for-broke performance. His version of Ballard recalls what Denis Lavant did with Mousier Merde, a remarkable monster who could hardly speak and ate bouquets of flowers after emerging from the sewer in two films by Leos Carax, a short film in the omnibus Tokyo! and his terrific feature Holy Motors. But Haze doesn’t get the cartoonish flourishes of living underground and devouring flowers. Ballard feels more realistically and frighteningly grounded in the primal.

What Child of God is more interested in exploring — if it’s not already apparent in the title — is the underlying, universal basis that everyone needs human connection. In one scene after another Ballard is denied genuine, vested sympathy by others on screen. Haze channels Ballard’s anguish with a visceral performance beyond his unkempt exterior and a nose prolific enough to produce large globules of mucus when he’s at his most desperate. His hangdog face and over-bite add to his character’s pitiable quality, but there’s also a conviction in his eyes and posture that never wavers throughout the movie.

Franco also uses cinematic flourishes that speak to his keen skills as a director. The perspective of this man is of course easily manipulated through cinema. It’s about editing and the decision of what to show of the narrative, but it is a film that “shows” in the best narrative sense. CHILD OF GOD-Scott Haze - 1The banjo music by Aaron Embry brings Deliverance to mind and unknown narrators give background vignettes that allude to the ghost of the person Ballard once was, though they make him no less frightening. “He’d grown lean and bitter. Some say mad,” says a voice-over narrator as Ballard stalks the side of a road, his gun in plain view, yelling at cars. Oh, Ballard also defecates in the woods and scrapes between his butt cheeks with a stick (just one more element of Haze’s conviction to his character).

With a harsh, layered musical sting out of a horror movie, Franco turns to Part II of the film. The unseen narrators have dropped out at this point, reflecting the notion that what lies ahead will seem inconceivable to the civilized person. Eventually, Ballard stumbles across a pair of young lovers who have died in their car of carbon monoxide poisoning, and during an extended sequence that features him having his way with the corpse of the young woman, he finds love. Ballard is now cuddling up with the young woman’s body in an abandoned home, saying “it’s me and you.” Companionship at last. As noted, the film is only headed further down a grim path. The sheriff (Tim Blake Nelson) who enters the film to the sound of bells is half on alert for Ballard. As the unkempt, homeless man is left to roam the woods, he eventually finds shelter in a cave. Ballard is mostly regarded as a nuisance… until his crimes are revealed.

This is a man presented with little human connection from the beginning of the film and alluded to as much by the mysterious narrator(s) who help flesh out Part I of the film. It’s an extreme and ultimate example of the dissolution of humanity, but it stays true to the McCarthy ethos. Yet, deep under the murder and necrophilia, COG-1073Franco finds a way to keep the humanity of the film’s protagonist relatable while maintaining an objective sensibility that does not make his acts forgivable. The film only seems to jump too ambitiously toward the end, after Ballard seems to have come to terms with his impulses, giving him an alien quality that betrays the film’s ambitions… or maybe it’s making its point even more harshly.

It’s tough to say because Child of God demands a lot from the audience that dares to seek out truly adventurous filmmaking. Far from a feel good film yet not deserving of the label of exploitation, Child of God aspires for a kind of enlightenment via the shadows that should not be ignored. As with much of Franco’s work, it’s the fact that he dares to explore certain themes that does not always make him easily palatable but no less worth shrugging off as irrelevant. He’s not.  Of course there is no excusing Ballard’s crimes, but the film speaks to the need of sympathy for such people. It’s a cautionary tale that supposes psychosis as a social problem and not all psychological. A lack of moral guidance can happen from the outside as well as from within. The film dares to indict society and the onlooker as much as its protagonist. No one is innocent of horrors because, let’s face it, stuff like this can happen.

Hans Morgenstern

Child of God runs 104 minutes and earns its R rating. It opens exclusively in South Florida at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on Friday, Sept. 15, which provided a screener link for the purpose of this review. On Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m., actor Scott Haze will join “Variety” film critic Justin Chang and “Hudak On Hollywood” film critic Andres Solar for the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss this film. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. Tickets for each screening and the event can be found by visiting mbcinema.com.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

TTI_21.6_M2.0V5.0Following their 2011 film The Trip, Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Michael Winterbottom reunite again for The Trip to Italy, which follows the same format as its predecessor, only playing with a few slight twists. The two actors get together for a road trip under the pretense that The Observer will publish their musings on fine dining, wine and spectacular high-end hotels. The difference this time is that the actors are supposed to be following in the footsteps of Byron and Shelley. They even bring books with them to inform the experience, which, reflective of the last trip, of course, leads to more than one poetry-out-loud smack-down between the two.

So what if there’s a familiarity to the formula with only small differences in circumstances? If you enjoyed the last trip, this will do just as well. This time, as opposed to the English countryside, the pair sets off to Italy. Brydon contacts Coogan and argues that the first iteration of the report was a success, and The Observer is now footing the bill for them to visit Rome, Liguria, Capri and more. The relationship between the actors is one of friendly rivalry. Like siblings — in another recurring theme — they invest in competition driven by ego, as when they compete for the best impersonation of Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy (my favorite) and so many others.

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The Trip to Italy is the prolific Winterbottom’s first sequel, and it would precede a director like him, who has dabbled in a variety of genres, to call attention to the notion of the sequel within the film. Early on, both Coogan and Brydon comment on how awkward sequels can be, so caveat emptor. Brydon and Coogan once again play exaggerated versions of themselves in a style recalling “Curb Your Enthusiasm” by Larry David. The Trip to Italy, however, is definitely British in its style of humor. Their banter, though incredibly funny, has slowed down from the previous installment of The Trip. Here, a calmer Coogan settles into himself and — to the extent that is possible — also laughs at himself. The change feels real, it comes after the actor appeared and co-wrote the screenplay for last year’s Philomena, which was a departure from the comedic work that made Coogan famous.

Against vistas of an idyllic countryside in Italy that almost resemble landscape paintings, Coogan and Brydon discuss the important things in life, like Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill, a CD which Brydon attributes ownership to his wife, yet they sing along to it during one of the funnier chats about their own relationships with women. Despite the rivalry, the tone in this sequel seems to be more caring about relationships. In one of the twists of The Trip‘s formula that both calls attention to itself while also playing with reinvention, this time it is Brydon who undergoes some sort of personal crisis, casting doubts on his own abilities while gallivanting around Italy. He says early in the film that he is perceived by the British audience as affable, but he is not as affable as his public persona, so he can let loose in Italy — and does he ever … as he will come to regret.

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Beyond the laughs, The Trip to Italy is about a inner journey of life and accepting the ups and downs may not always be easily done. This consideration comes via a more profound Coogan, who is working to come to terms with mortality and searching for a deeper meaning to his life. He bonds with his son and apologizes to a woman he had a one-night stand with in the previous film — huge strides for someone who was portrayed as a narcissist in the previous film. As with any journey, the sequel shows that there are ups and downs and everything in between.

The film is thoroughly enjoyable, especially for those who appreciate British humor and are avid consumers of popular culture. If you go, make sure you get some snacks or have a dinner appointment right after the film. Winerbottom inter-cuts the conversations with positively hunger-inducing cooking, prepping and plating shots from the kitchens that will have you craving pasta for days!

Ana Morgenstern

The Trip to Italy runs 108 minutes and is rated R (the banter and subject matter can get adult). It opens in South Florida in the following theaters on Sept. 12: O Cinema Miami Shores, Movies of Lake Worth, Movies of Delray 5, Living Room Cinema 4 in Boca Raton. It also opens on Sept. 19 at the Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables. If you live outside of Florida please check here for local listings. It’s also available via VOD. IFC Films provided a DVD screener for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

jealousyThe opening shot in Jealousy (La Jalousie) is striking in its power and minimalism. Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant), staring slightly off camera, struggles between smiling and crying. It’s a brilliant moment that shows a profound range of emotions washing over her, as she oscillates from sadness to deep pensiveness to a look that almost seems like acceptance before a fade to black. The powerful shot sets the scene for the film, which does not rely on flashy flourishes but rather the stillness of the camera capturing human emotions as they unfold. Jealousy tells the story of serious, sensitive, struggling actor Louis (played by Louis Garrel, the director’s son), who early in the film ends a relationship with Clothilde, the mother of his child, also a former actress. He has moved on to a new relationship with Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), who is also a struggling actress, as she hasn’t landed a role in over six years. The couple’s daughter Charlotte (Olga Milshtein) is also deeply affected. We meet her through a beautiful shot, as she watches her parents break up through a keyhole in her door. She certainly can feel something has upended their world, but she cannot understand it.

While on the surface the story of Jealousy can be succinctly summarized: a man breaks up with the mother of his child for another woman who in turn leaves him for another (wealthier) man, the layers of narrative make this film a deep psychological portrait of relationships. It goes beyond the romantic bond between the partners. Director Philippe Garrel is in his finest, most subtle form in years. He presents several scenes with Louis and his daughter in these small moments that create depth and intimacy in a relationship. Seemingly — at least by the Hollywood standards of action-driven narrative — not much happens, yet we are able to gain an understanding of who these people are and what motivates them because of the director’s delicate hand.

Though the film is titled Jealousy, the theme seems to be more about what binds people together and the complex ties interwoven in a mosaic of people coming in and out of one another’s lives. In one of the scenes, Louis, who grew up without his father, is approached by a woman who tells him she loved his father. In another montage, Claudia washes the feet of an old writer whom she befriended because she liked his work so much. These vignettes might be confusing or out-of-place, but in Garrel’s subtle narrative they connect us to the characters and create an atmosphere that feels so familiar it allows us easy empathy for these people.

A standout character is little Charlotte, who moves the story along with her straightforward yet delightfully sweet tone. The character is partially based on director’s own experience as a child. For instance, in one of the scenes Charlotte talks to her mom about the lovely day she spent with her dad and his new girlfriend. The scene plays out as she starts to divulge the fun afternoon and then tries to take it back as she notices her mom’s reaction. In an interview with Film Comment Garrel admitted that the episode happened to him, and he remembered feeling guilty about it. That is just one of the ways in which this film is so personal, yet the performance by Covenant makes it very light with a performance that feels genuine.

A study on relationships, Jealousy feels both abstract and quite personal. Shot in black and white, the film showcases the many shades of gray within the personal. The acting is at times subtle but clearly depicts the high and low points of flawed relationships with earnest affection by a director who has returned in full effect. The choice of black and white, Garrel said in the interview, comes from his love of silent cinema:  “I’ve made silent movies, I love silent films. They’ve left their mark on me.” When it comes to acting, one can see that he pays painstaking attention to the technical details. The mise-en-scène is one of the main achievements of this film. Also, the film was shot in real anamorphic scope, 35mm. Garrel also specified “for certain close-ups I use special lenses, designed to shoot from very close, which allow faces an incredible expressivity.” A beautiful film indeed, and one that will leave a lasting impression for sure.

Ana Morgenstern

Jealousy has a run time of 77 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is not rated. The film opens in the South Florida area today, Friday, Sept. 5 at the Tower Theater in Miami, the Miami Beach Cinematheque and in Coral Gables at the Bill Cosford Cinema (all theater names are hotlinks to screening times and dates). The Tower Theater provided an on-line screener for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

coverDespite what you may have seen at last night’s MTV Music Video Awards, classic rock ‘n’ roll is not going to ever go away. As this veteran music writer grows older, every year there seems to be some group of younger and younger musicians who come up with new music that harkens back to the roots of rock. Last week, I pointed out Broncho, a band from Norman, Oklahoma, who have come up with one of the catchiest tunes of 2014. Their song “Class Historian” hits on the tiniest details of ‘70s era post punk with an uncanny sensibility (Broncho’s new single: the catchiest indie rock song I’ve heard in years).

Tomorrow, Ty Segall will release his 12th full-length album, Manipulator. Over the past few years Segall has refined his garage rock noise-pop to feature more diversity in his song-writing and a stronger grip on the subtleties of the rock song. Opening like nothing else in his catalog: with a blare of harmonizing organs, the album bounds along through 17 tracks as varied as anything else in his career. Some even include strings. But he has not compromised his command of the electric guitar, offering many a shifty, screeching solo over the course of the sprawling, near hour-long LP (and double vinyl – order here to support IndieEthos).

ty_promo_4_by_denee_petracek

“The Singer” is one of several tracks that feature a string section. It also has the added bonus of whispered vocals to add emphasis to a few words that end certain phrases — very ‘60s psychedelic. But, more than ever, the influences that shine brightest are that of the early ‘70s glam rock scene. Segall’s voice more than ever recalls Marc Bolan, and there’s even a song (“The Clock”) that features strings and an acoustic guitar line that sounds eerily like the one that drives “Andy Warhol,” a deep cut on Bowie’s classic 1971 album Hunky Dory.

A back-to-back trio of songs early in Manipulator cast a powerful shadow of the guitar crunch bravura Segall is best known for over the album. “It’s Over,” features the pounding, driving, feedback-fueled stuff fans would be more familiar with.ty_promo_8_by_denee_petracek “Feel” opens more subtly but eventually features a muscular guitar solo that builds and builds to more rapid plucking until it gives way to a drum solo featuring a nice amount of cowbell. Finally, “Faker” features dominating, strutting guitar work that stands as testament to Segall’s connection with the instrument.

But there are more surprises in store. “The Connection Man” is driven by pulsing archaic electronics that brings to mind the tools of the Silver Apples. Over all, Manipulator is one grand rallying cry celebrating the immortality of rock ‘n’ roll, produced with great affection with his stalwart collaborators Mikal Cronin (bass), Emily Rose Epstein (drums) and Charles Moothart (guitar) and several other guest musicians adding vocals, keyboards and strings. Manipulator speaks to Segall’s strength of a musician open to growth and experimentation without betraying any semblance of a signature style and could very well stand as his best album yet. I’ll leave you with a link to an mp3 of a preview track released a few weeks ago, “Susie Thumb” (jump to KEXP.org for it).

Hans Morgenstern

Ty Segall will be in Miami with Wand (Drag City/LA), Plastic Pinks and DJ Sean Ashworth on Thursday, Sept. 11, 9 p.m. at The Stage Miami courtesy of Miami’s coolest vinyl shop Sweat Records, where you can also pick up the record and tickets to the show. Ages: 18 and up. Tickets: $12 in advance, $15 at the door. His U.S. tour kicks off Aug. 28 Click here for tour dates. Pitch Perfect PR provided me with a preview of the album for the purpose of this review and an up-coming article in “Pure Honey” magazine.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
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