Before the very first stark image hits you, Fury director David Ayer unnerves the audience with a simple title card describing the all-out war they are about to witness. The text establishes this is 1945, the end of World War II and U.S. troops are advancing on Berlin. Hitler’s forces are down to recruiting children and old men to fight, but they still have tanks that outgun the comparably puny Shermans of the U.S. army. Then the land fades up from black. It’s all gray and black mud, destroyed war machines and crumpled, muddied bodies. The camera tracks and tracks across this for enough time to set up that this is not a film out to glamorize or romanticize war but to present it as stark and as harrowing as Hollywood can.
For the most part, Ayer succeeds. Forgiving an early sequence that tries too hard to reveal the heart of Brad Pitt’s character Don “Wardadddy” Callier, where he frees a horse from an SS officer, the film’s power lies in its ability to present the unforgiving quality of war. Soldiers are burned alive and torn apart. Faces are removed and bodies burst below tank tracks. These events of horror occur in the film’s first 20 minutes. “This ain’t pretty,” Don tells his new, fresh-faced co-pilot Norman (Logan Lerman). “This is what we do.”
Ayer not only stages vicious battles and skirmishes but presents aftermath as horror: stacks of squishy, gelatinous body parts quivering in rumbling truck beds and even a bit of stiff, pancaked human road kill. He does it all in sharp, steady deep focus. Unlike Spielberg, who, in Saving Private Ryan, stylized his presentation of war violence by enhancing the imagery with tints, shaky camera movements and ratcheted shutter speeds, Ayer wants to present something more unadulterated. Even the interior of the titular tank is far from romantic. Besides photos of loved ones, there is nothing but cold, hard metal bits, much of which blocks out the faces and bodies of the five-member tank crew. They have been consumed by this machine and are only partly human. They are family and hive with various capacities in making “Fury” run while trying to cling to their individual tiny, salvageable bits of humanity.
All actors deserve nods for realizing their characters. Michael Peña’s Mexican character, Trini Garcia, nicknamed “Gordo,” the tank’s driver, handles anxiety with cool determination. Don refers to Jon Bernthal’s Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis as an animal when we meet him trying to fix a broken-down “Fury” on a smouldering battlefield. Bernthal infuses Grady with an unstable sort of menace, even when he tries to show affection to his mates by tugging at their ears and noses. Then there’s Boyd “Bible” Swan played with tortured heart by the too often underrated Shia LaBeouf. His Bible-quoting could have easily been a contrivance had LaBeouf not brought such expressive heart to his character. He’s a focused psychotic but also has great affection for those in his company. Sadness and anger with righteous Christian logic used to rationalize behavior never appeared more conflicted.
Yes, they are a motley crew, but to fault the film on that means you should fault all ensemble adventure films for such tropes since John Ford’s Stagecoach. It’s Ayer’s unflinching sensibility that makes the film stand out as a statement film because this is not entertainment. This is a nerve-rattling confrontation with the sublime. The tank battles are not CGI, and the effect only enhances the weight of their power on soft humans — both internally and considering the unforgiving science of visceral matter. Ayer’s only enhancement to the tension is a score by Steven Price featuring swelling, rhythmic horns, voices and timpani and bass drums, but it’s plenty enough to tune into for the sense of dread the director is trying to present with this anti-war film.
We follow these men as they show little mercy to surrendering SS troops, the most fanatical of Hitler’s military. Early in the film, Don gives Norman, who was a mere Army typist before being sent to the front, a brutal lesson in killing. After taking a town “decorated” with bodies of hanged children with signs around their necks dubbing them cowards, Gordo mows down an unarmed, surrendering SS officer alleged to have committed the atrocities. Then, one splice cut later, he makes out with a now gracious, liberated fräulein. The boys can have a civilized extended meal at the home of two rattled women, and Norman can have a moment to fall in love. But nothing quiet can last in this all-out war. So the mood can be brought down when Fury’s crew brings up France and their methodical execution of scores of wounded horses, and then there’s worse… the return to killing for their lives.
The brutality of the end of World War II was harsh. I’ve heard stories from my father who was forced into the Wehrmacht at 16 years old, when his family tried to flee to Spain. It was that or face a firing squad. He survived Africa and Stalingrad (I’m still looking for a translator of his diaries from that era as pictured in the following post: Bonding with the filmmakers of ‘The Book Thief’ over my father’s German WWII story). I’m glad that Ayer did not turn this film into some fluffy adventure movie. You might nitpick the characters, but the real star of this film is violence and the strain for humanity to break through it. The culminating skirmish that ends the film speaks to both random luck both good and bad but also a little more: a sense of hope for the only strategy that can end wars: just stop fighting.
Fury runs 134 min. and is Rated R (it’s one of the most justifiably, unflinchingly violent films I’ve seen in years). It opens today at your local multiplex. Sony Pictures invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review.
‘The Blue Room’ captures the sense of memories in murder-mystery full of telling imagery — a film review
October 15, 2014
I’ve only ever noticed Mathieu Amalric as an actor. I had no idea he could direct, and what an introduction to his directing is The Blue Room (La chambre bleue)! What first strikes the viewer is the gorgeous work of cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne and set design by Christophe Offret. The framing is sometimes ideally symmetrical or fractured by strategic placement of foreground. Colors are either vibrant or obscured by shadow. These visuals carry an important weight because it will be hard to trust what anyone in this movie says. This is a murder-mystery, after all, and even though police detectives have caught their suspects at the start of the film, what actually happened will remain a mystery until the movie’s still intriguing finale.
Based on Georges Simenon’s 1955 novel, a book that reads like a puzzle gradually coming together and into focus, Amalric co-wrote the script with co-star Stéphanie Cléau with great respect to the work both literally and figuratively. The recurring image of a woman’s legs opening to reveal a glistening pubic bush half-covered in shadow is lifted right from the book. Oh, the trouble that lies within. But the story takes on another quality as a movie. It’s a fractured mirror inviting the viewer to both judge these people and sympathize with them, as the film takes a while to arrive at any sense that a horrific crime was committed.
The director/actor plays the lead role of adulterous husband Julien Gahyde married with a young daughter to the quietly suspicious but repressed Delphine (Léa Drucker). We meet him in the afterglow of sex with Esther Despierre (Cléau). She’s the wife of his family’s pharmacist. Julien seems both nervous and excited by the liaison. But this is only a memory. In fact, the film seems filled and informed by the haze of memory. At a curt 76 minutes in run time, the movie is best thought of as a series of vignettes reflected on from the trial. Hidden in the edits could lie the truth. “Life is different when you live it and when you look back on it after,” Julien tells a magistrate early in the film during questioning.
Visually, blocking and vertical lines fracture many images, reflecting half-remembered situations. There are many windows, passages, doorways that represent obscured and maybe not completely honest memories. Presented in the 4:3 academy aspect ratio, which speaks to the influence of early mystery masters like Hitchcock and Chabrol, masters in the game of perception, the film’s framing also creates a window in and of itself. The movie is filled with many a lush image loaded with probable meaning. The score by Grégoire Hetzel is often overwrought and steeped in nostalgia. Strings swell and woodwinds modulate from wispy to soaring. It’s a bit over-the-top, but it’s by design.
Not only does Amalric show an incredible eye for beautiful staged images. He has pacing down to a brisk clip, and his interpretation of the source material is brilliant in how it embraces mystery and suspense giving no sign of relief but also no solid answers. The Blue Room is a baroque thriller that presents more than an answer to whodunit but offers the questions and stories in layers of tantalizing teases toward a subtle reveal that speaks more to the notion of judging people than any ultimate, definitive truth.
In some ways, the movie has a kinship with Gone Girl (‘Gone Girl’ examines perceptions we make with stories we tell — a film review). Like Fincher, Amalric prepares the viewer early on for the film’s unique quality. In the titular bedroom, Esther bites Julian on the lip, drawing blood. “Will your wife ask you questions?” she asks Julien. During his recounting of this incident to the magistrate, Julien is asked, “Could she have bitten you on purpose?” This is a film that says more in its questions than it does in any of its scenarios, so Amalric prepares the audience quite nicely to play interpreter and judge. Questions can only lead you so far, but they can also lead to great post-movie conversations, and many viewers will not always come away with an exactly similar viewing, as the film also features blink-and-you-might-miss-them behavioral reveals that will maintain the film’s intrigue long after the house lights go up. The Blue Room is an exquisite movie made for the dark chamber of the movie house.
The Blue Room runs 76 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is not rated (but expect violence and frontal nudity). It opens this Friday, Oct. 17, in the Miami area at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. It then expands the following week, on Friday, Oct. 24, at the Bill Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus. IFC Films provided a DVD screener for the purpose of this review. It began screening across the U.S. on Oct. 3, so it may already be screening at your location, check local listings.
“Where perception is, there also are pain and pleasure, and where these are, there, of necessity, is desire.” –Aristotle
There are two things you need to know about Gone Girl before going in to enjoy this movie. The first: it’s about a young woman who goes missing in a small town, and the husband is suspect. The second, nothing is really what it might seem to be. Now, that last point can mean many things, and because spoiling the plot of this film seems so sacrilegious, most of this review will focus on the latter without saying much about the story except its intentions to reveal a certain existential, grim truth about couples: how no one can ever truly know the other — a trap that the pair could either fall into or transcend.
The myth that intimacy between lovers gives them the power to read the other’s mind is demystified pretty early in Gone Girl. In flashback, the two lovers at the center of the film, Nick and Amy (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike), exchange presents: the same bed sheets. Amy makes a sarcastic comment about how endearing they must appear. Indeed this is a film not about the cute couple whose members think alike, but the appearances of the individuals in the relationships, the players who reach and shape behavior so they might appear acceptable to the other. Furthering that, the film questions the repercussions of such behavior on the interior of these people. Well, according to director David Fincher and novelist/screenwriter Gillian Flynn, it can rot them should they become slaves to them.
Fincher is perfect for adapting this huge hit of a book by Flynn, who closely collaborated with the director to realize her 18-million-plus bestseller for the big screen. The film is a showcase for the cinematic details Fincher — one of Hollywood’s few auteurs — so painstakingly often highlights. Dilated pupils stand out without resorting to ultra close-up shots. Beyond the usual dark cinematography featuring a pallet of grays, blues, silvers and browns, there is also the darkness in the soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross who have become regulars of the Fincher aesthetic. The flashbacks featuring Nick and Amy engaging in their games of seduction are given an undercurrent of dread with swelling synthesizers that recalls the work of Angelo Badalamenti for David Lynch.
It all successfully serves to sustain an atmosphere of nothing-is-what-it-seems throughout the film, and Fincher can mess with perception so grandly. Those who know this probably noticed the final note of The Social Network or the overall feeling of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Zodiac or even the heavy-handed revelation at the end of Fight Club. But no film in Fincher’s oeuvre has ever so blatantly considered manipulation of perception, both conscious and unconscious, so consistently, from one scene to another than Gone Girl.
After five years of marriage, Nick cannot seem to maintain the convincing face of a lover, which must make him guilty of the disappearance of his pretty young wife. Plot twists are revealed with a heightened sense of self-awareness that come across as almost satirically comical. But these instances are just plot elements that invite the viewer to examine how human beings relate to one another. All Gone Girl wants to do is mess with perception, from one scene to the next. Even the film’s title harbors a double meaning.
Early in the film, before Amy is declared missing, Nick sits at a bar and shares a drink with the barmaid (Carrie Coon). There’s an intimacy between them that makes the audience wonder. Why is he confiding in her about troubles in his marriage? Why is she giving him crude sex advice? It is not until a couple of scenes later that the film reveals that this barmaid is Nick’s sister, Margot. A bit later in the film, more information is revealed about her: she is his twin. The game of fact versus perception is played on the audience while revealing a relationship that begs inference of closeness. It signals to the audience that not everyone is ever truly who they might seem to be and some bonds may be too close to fully comprehend.
The significance of the truth of the relationship between Nick and Margot versus its initial presentations is key on a subtle level. For something more direct, one could also quote the film’s opening monologue by Nick, but it’s so good it’s not worth spoiling. Just understand that Gone Girl will be dense with scenes that call attention to people who try to alter how others might see them, and the audience is often invited in on the joke. For instance, as the investigation into Amy’s disappearance begins, Margot tells Nick the next day not to shower so he might look like he was up all night. Still, even the bond between a twin brother and sister cannot be fully knowable. Before his first press conference she watches him basically bullshit on the phone. Responding to her WTF expression, he says, “I was trying to put on a good face.”
There are flashbacks that present Nick and Amy as both playing roles in seducing the other while also trying to figure out what lies below. We learn they met at a party. Their conversation is full of easy-going banter but also lots of questions. At one point, Nick asks her flat-out, “Amy, who are you?” She gives him a trio of choices, two of which are false and one… well, not so false. When he pays her a compliment, she wonders about the sincerity of his statement coming from a face with a “sinister” cleft chin, so he covers it up with two fingers and repeats himself adding “no bullshit,” a character tick that will appear twice more in the film as he pursues her. These are not genuine people, no matter who they claim to be. They are indeed putting on masks. They are trying roles that might please the other and bring them closer. It’s the dating game, and it’s happened for eons.
Ultimately, no matter what anyone says or how they behave, no one outside that person can ever truly, honestly nor fully understand the other. These are not characters in a traditional sense of movies asking you to sympathize with them. They invite you in and dare you to relate with them in an incriminating way. There is also a meta layer of awareness that calls attention to the actors playing people trying play roles. Affleck famously suffered some flak last year when, during his Oscar acceptance speech, he called marriage “work” while giving credit to his wife, the actress Jennifer Garner. In Gone Girl, Amy writes in her diary, “Everyone told us and told us, marriage is hard work,” underlining the last two words.
These characters are ultimately roles, and while we know the names of the actors who play these roles, reality is always deeper and more complex. It becomes hard to fault the film for any stereotyping of which it could be called guilty of. The media persecuted Affleck for his statement so much so that Garner had to come to his defense. It’s egotistical to think anyone knows what really happens in the Affleck/Garner household. No matter how we struggle to understand behavior, much less statements, what really happens remains obscure. Gone Girl plays with this dynamic between actions, motivations and reason in a playful way, both keeping mystery interesting while also amusingly going for some laughs of dramatic irony. It’s what keeps the nearly 2-and-a-half-hour-long movie interesting.
Fincher also has a wonderful cast to work with beyond the leads, which includes Neil Patrick Harris as Desi, a man with a romantic history with Amy, and Missi Pyle as a histrionic, judgmental Nancy Grace clone. Fincher and his regular casting director Laray Mayfield have also recruited a wonderful pair of actors for Amy’s parents. David Clennon and Lisa Banes embrace their roles of not just the parents of Amy the human being but the creators of her alter ego “Amazing Amy,” a character in a popular series of children’s books inspired by Amy. She’s both real and an idealized figment for these parents, who come across as contriving in a superficially sincere way. Banes is even made up heavily to look as though she is wearing a mask.
The film is rich with all this stuff. The popular news media, which is well known to pick and choose what missing persons story to follow, is also shown little mercy. The pop culture media machine eats up information like the superficial voracious recycling machine it is, and Gone Girl presents it on the superficial level it deserves. In Gone Girl, facts of course matter little. Facts only get in the way of assumptions, expectations and bias. Who needs honest inquisitiveness that might allow for a peak below the surface at what lies beneath, which only complicates perception? Looking below the surface is often complicated and messy. It tears down clear-cut heroes and villains. It means cracking open the skull of a surface you might love, to poke in the messy brains below the pretty surface. No one really wants to see and understand that … do they?
Gone Girl runs 149 minutes and is rated R (there’s bloody, gory violence, nudity and adult language). It opens pretty much everywhere today. Find screening times and places here. 20th Century Fox invited me to a preview screening Thursday night for the purpose of this review.
What if you didn’t bond with your baby right away? What if after giving birth, your life changes in ways you’re not ready to accept? The motherhood debate has long been a sensitive topic, one which is explored with tact and honesty in Kelly & Cal. It premiered this year at SXSW, a fitting place to unveil this independent film that focuses on a midlife crisis told through a female perspective. There, the film received the Gamechanger Award, which honors women filmmakers — a big boost to director Jen McGowan and first-time screenplay writer Amy Lowe Starbin. By focusing on middle-aged women as a multifaceted, dare I say, complex people, McGowan and Starbin are truly game-changers. Some of the issues they delve into include the search for personal identity as life gets complicated with motherhood and the struggles within relationships that reach a level of maturity.
Kelly & Cal opens with an exhausted Kelly (Juliette Lewis), six weeks after having her first child. When she visits her doctor, Kelly seems detached and even a little scared. Her doctor tells her she is healing and that she is ready to engage in sexual activity again. Kelly looks less than thrilled and comes back home to her newborn and husband Josh (Josh Hopkins), who quickly hands off the baby. She tells him about the news, and he responds by turning on the TV. The mood at home is far from romantic not only with a blaring TV and crying baby but also a new neighborhood that creates a widening gap between husband and wife.
Indeed, it’s the old tale of suburbia. With her husband gone most of the day at work, Kelly looks for an outlet to cope with her perpetually bawling baby but has a hard time fitting into the neighborhood. She goes out for long, lonely walks with her newborn. During one such walk she encounters a group of happy mommies. After a brief exchange of polite introductions, the queen bee mom informs her that their group has an application to join with dues for activities and adds at the end: “but everyone is welcome.”
Kelly is out of her element, for she was hip once, which she soon decides to reveal to a much younger, frank-talking, wheelchair-bound neighbor, Cal (Jonny Weston). She impresses him with a cassette tape and a story of an earlier life as the former bassist for a riot grrrl band called Wetnap, which went nowhere beyond existing in the ’90s zeitgeist. The embittered angsty teen becomes smitten, the aura of which is not lost on Kelly. Back to reality: adding to her woes, Kelly’s in-laws make it clear that they think she is seriously in need of a motherhood intervention. Cybil Shepard plays her passive-aggressive mother-in-law who sees Kelly adrift and tackles her as a project, providing her with babysitting, a makeover and even cooking. The well-intentioned mother-in-law only succeeds at making Kelly feel more awkward about her new role.
But then there’s 17-year-old Cal, a neighbor who not only listens to Kelly but also finds her attractive. For Kelly, the attention — though unwanted — is most welcomed. Weston gives an earnest delivery as a teenager trying to find his footing after losing the ability to walk and some of his motor skills in an accident. During his first interaction with Kelly it becomes apparent that both are running away from their current circumstances. Their encounter comes as Kelly sits in her backyard smoking while her infant cries, Cal asking for a smoke:
Your kid is crying, Kelly.
I know. The whole fucking neighborhood can hear him cry.
So, you’re just gonna let him cry it out?
Cry it out? It’s called ferberizing. When they cry.
Right, I think I heard of ferberizing.
I’m sure you have.
No, I’m not kidding.
You have great tits.
This little junior in there should be more grateful.
Though the exchange might seem shocking; it is the first bit of attention they both get. Their relationship ensues as both get something that they crave from the other, something lacking in their lives. The collaboration between McGowan and Starbin successfully maintains a female point of view on the hardships of motherhood and maintaining relationships with the in-laws. Although there are some sincere moments of vulnerability portrayed onscreen thanks to some great acting by Lewis, who appears subdued and frail, by the film’s mid-point the dialogue starts to lose its punch and wanders off to commonplace, predictable areas of over-sincerity of good intentions. For instance, Kelly reaches out to Cal after she rejects him and offers him a piece of wisdom, “You cannot let your chair define you.” Although adventurous, Starbin easily dials back the dynamic between Kelly and Cal, which gets resolved not without conflict but neither in any original way. While the ideas behind the film are impactful, the delivery and execution become less so, as the film lumbers toward its finale. One feels like there was a compromise somewhere between the beginning of the film and the unraveling of the relationship between Kelly and Cal and the subsequent mending of affairs between Kelly and her husband, Josh.
An enjoyable film nonetheless, Kelly & Cal comes from a sincere place that does not forget its sense of humor while tackling the seriously complex issue of growing up in adulthood. Hopefully it marks the occasion of many more films featuring middle-aged women as leads with honest, human flaws.
Kelly & Cal runs 104 minutes and it is not rated (but there is language and nudity). The film opens in South Florida on Oct. 3 at the Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables and Oct. 17 at Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale and Cinema Paradiso in Hollywood. It is also on demand. But see it in a local theater! Check listings outside of South Florida, visit here.
September 26, 2014
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.
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, lashing 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.
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 challenges 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.
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.
September 21, 2014
One 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 Haze, via 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
September 18, 2014
Of 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:
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.
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.