A Star is Born

October 5, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott
Directed by: Bradley Cooper (debut)
Written by: Eric Roth (“The Insider”), Will Fetters (“The Best of Me”) and Bradley Cooper (debut)

Three-time Academy Award-nominated actor Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”) makes a mostly convincing, albeit imperfect, directorial debut with “A Star Is Born,” the third reimagining of the film since the original version hit the silver screen more than 80 years ago.

In this newest reiteration, six-time Grammy-award-winning singer Lady Gaga steps into the spotlight where actresses Janet Gaynor (1937 version), Judy Garland (1954 version) and Barbara Streisand (1976 version) once stood. Gaga plays Ally, an aspiring musician swept off her feet by alcoholic rock star Jackson Maine (Cooper), who is instantaneously captivated by Ally’s talent when he sees her perform “La Vie en Rose” at a drag bar.

Witnessing Ally and Jackson courting each other during the first act of the film is when “A Star Is Born” is at its most charming and romantic. It never reaches the level of something like 2007’s Oscar-winning Irish drama “Once,” but Cooper and Gaga sell their relationship as a genuine love connection, despite its seemingly quick development.

Movie magic occurs when Jackson invites Ally onto the stage during one of his concerts to perform a duet with him. It’s unrealistic to think an original song could actually come together like that without a bit of rehearsal, but by the time Ally bravely takes the mic to sing the second verse of “Shallow” (a song co-written by Gaga, which will undoubtedly land an Oscar nod for Best Song), there’s no real reason to argue logic. The single is that good.

As soon as their relationship is established, however, the script starts losing momentum and seems to find comfort in falling into familiar territory. Again, “A Star Is Born” has a long history of remakes, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that screenwriters Eric Roth (“The Insider”), Will Fetters (“The Best of Me”) and Cooper, who is also credited as a writer, follow a conventional template. The dimming of one star and the rise of another is a formula that has worked well in the past, but Cooper is only somewhat successful in transforming it into a story that truly feels fresh.

During a scene in the final act, Jackson’s older brother Bobby (Sam Elliott) explains to Ally what Jackson’s musical philosophy is by describing music as “12 notes between any octave — 12 notes and the octave repeats” and adding that it’s up to the artist to say something significant enough inside those parameters to move listeners emotionally. In “A Star Is Born,” Cooper and Gaga have voices worth listening to, especially when they’re harmonizing in front of a crowd of thousands. We just wish the narrative mixed in a few more sharps and flats to ensure a clearly distinct sound and experience.

Colette

October 4, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough
Directed by: Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”)
Written by: Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”) and Richard Glatzer (“Still Alice”)

While mainstream audiences might associate two-time Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley (“The Imitation Game”) with her role in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, just as many moviegoers probably consider her more recognizable from the handful of costume dramas she’s starred in during her career.

From the emotionally resonant 2005 adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” to the under-appreciated uniqueness of 2012’s “Anna Karenina,” Knightley is synonymous with characters who don modest muslin gowns and colorful Victorian-era silk dresses. It’s unfortunate, then, that her latest foray into the late 19th century isn’t as effective as her prior period pieces.

In “Colette,” Knightley stars as Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, one of the most important voices in women’s literature ever to come out of France (notable works include Chéri and Gigi). The film introduces audiences to Colette as a young country girl who is whisked away to Paris by Willy (Dominic West), a charming and well-liked writer and struggling publishing house owner.

Living above their means in Paris, Willy, who manages a team of ghostwriters who churn out literature to sell to Belle Époque socialites, persuades Colette to write a coming-of-age novel about her teenage years and allow him to publish it under his name. When the book, Claudine at School, becomes a hit, Willy demands she continue writing (there are four novels in the Claudine series). This all occurs while her relationship with Willy deteriorates because of his refusal to credit her as the real author and the problems caused by their open marriage — which Colette uses as inspiration for her writing.

Directed and co-written by Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”), “Colette” is hitting theaters during a moment in our cultural history when many women, much like the film’s title character, are standing up for themselves against the oppression of toxic men. It’s a timely biopic on female empowerment — one that rests solely on the shoulders of Knightley and her insightful depiction of strength and desire for independence.

Where the film falters, however, is in Westmoreland’s script, which should have offered more narrative support from its secondary characters. Instead, “Colette” remains a loner as she confronts the unsustainable life she’s built with Willy and the romance she later establishes with Missy (Denise Gough), an androgynous partner who understands the frustration Colette feels from having to stay silent and unseen for so long — like a ghost floating around in literary limbo.

Although it’s a central message, Westmoreland gets a bit heavy-handed with his metaphors. In one scene, Colette is transfixed on a male mime singing soprano before the camera pulls back to reveal that he is lip-syncing a song actually being sung by a woman standing behind him. If we didn’t know any better, we might think “Colette” was trying to say something.

Kevin Hart – Night School

October 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “Night School,” comedian Kevin Hart stars as Teddy Walker, a high-school dropout who returns to school to earn his GED with the help of a ragtag group of classmates and a teacher (Tiffany Haddish) who refuses to allow him to breeze through the semester. We caught up with Hart last week in Dallas to talk about his new movie, working with Haddish, and the San Antonio Spurs.

How does Tiffany stack up when compared to other actors you’ve teamed up with, like The Rock, Ice Cube and Will Ferrell?

You gotta put Tiffany at the top. I would put Will Ferrell after that. Then Cube. The Rock is last. That’s how I would rank it. Tiffany is unbelievable. She did an amazing job in this film. We were very lucky to get her fresh off of “Girl’s Trip” with all the success she had with that movie.

So, when you heard there was potential for a Hart-Haddish movie, was that an automatic yes for you?

It’s an automatic yes. [Fans] have literally stepped up to the plate by simply saying, “We want that. We would love to see it.” The response I’m seeing on social media is, “We can’t wait to see the movie,” which is a great thing for us, especially in a world where comedy has kind of been on a backslide. We have a great opportunity to give comedy a spike up.

If you had to do high school again, what would you do differently?

I would do it exactly the same. We should do a segment where we get all of my teachers from high school just to talk about the type of student I was. I think it would help other kids understand how to really embrace that moment and take full advantage. I graduated (purposefully mispronounces) magnum cum laudum.

You should just say you were valedictorian.

I could’ve said that, but it sounds better when I say magnum cum laudum.

I know you’re a fan of the NBA. How do you think the Spurs will do this season?

Well, you got younger. The worst thing for you guys is that you’re losing Ginobili. For years, Ginobili has been your glue. But DeMar DeRozan is no slouch. He can definitely bring a new sense of energy to your town. You guys will be in the playoffs. You got the best coach in basketball. The one thing that you’re not is an exciting program. I don’t know what it is about [Coach] Pop and fun. Pop just doesn’t like to have fun. [Imitating Pop] Pick and roll, pick and pop, all right now. Done.

Nicholas Gonzalez – The Good Doctor (TV)

October 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the hospital drama “The Good Doctor,” actor Nicholas Gonzalez plays Dr. Neil Melendez, an attending surgeon who manages the surgical residents at the fictional San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. Season 2 of the TV series begins Sept. 24 on ABC. At the end of the first season, Dr. Melendez has learned how to trust his residents more, including main character Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore), whose autism and savant syndrome makes him a medical genius.

During an interview with me last week, Gonzalez, 42, talked about what makes “The Good Doctor” different from other hospital procedurals, explained how he was able to balance the production of two TV shows, and shared why he thinks his animated show “Bordertown” was cancelled after only one season.

What can fans of “The Good Doctor” expect from Season 2 and your character Dr. Melendez?

They’re going to see Melendez in a bit of a transition in a sense. He is no longer with his fiancée (Jessica Preston played by Beau Garrett). He’s decided that while he wants children at some point in the future, he still needs to learn how to be a good husband. For him, medicine is who he’s married to right now. He realizes that’s where his focus needs to be. We’re going to see more of [Melendez’s] home life. There is going to be a nice little surprise in the first few episodes. I’m really excited to see that world get fleshed out.

What do you think makes “The Good Doctor” different from other hospital TV dramas that have come before?

I think sometimes the hospital dramas can get a little soapy. They can gloss over the medicine. I think we give a healthy dose of it. These are very smart and high-end doctors. But we also give a bit of character. We give a peek in to their home lives and their romantic relationships and the real grappling that takes place in these doctors’ minds, whether their fighting with morals or office politics.

As you read the script for Season 2, how did you react to the decisions the writers made with your character? Did you get excited about the things you liked and groaned at the things you didn’t?

Well, it’s a collaboration. I think so much attention gets thrown to the actor that we forget about the producers and writers. All these guys have such an input in building this story. I’m just a part of it. For me, if there is something I don’t like or that doesn’t resonate with me and the character, that’s an easy conversation where I would call up [executive producer] David Shore and we’d talk about notes. He sure as hell doesn’t need notes because he is brilliant, but we talk about it. But there are sensibilities that are connected with [Melendez] that I know because I live in his skin.

How did shooting Season 2 of “The Good Doctor” affect your schedule for shooting “How to Get Away with Murder?”

That was crazy. What was supposed to happen when I got cast on “How to Get Away with Murder” was that my character was supposed to be a villain throughout that whole third season. But when I [booked] “The Good Doctor,” that really changed everything because I was suddenly unavailable as much as they needed me. So, I missed out on playing that character fully. I would finish shooting [“The Good Doctor”] in Vancouver, hop on a plane and go down to L.A. and shoot all my scenes in one day [for “How to Get Away with Murder”]. It was difficult, but I welcomed it.

You’ve done a lot of TV shows in your career – some that last a few episodes; some that last a season or two. When does working on a TV show feel like home and not just another gig? I’m assuming you felt that when you were working on “Resurrection Blvd.” back in the early 2000s, yes?

I’ve had some moments on different shows over the years, but feeling like a true family where everyone comes together, the last time for me was probably “Resurrection Blvd.” Nothing has come close to that feeling of family and camaraderie until [“The Good Doctor”]. It’s a different kind of connection, but it feels like family. It feels like home to me.

Another show you were involved in recently was the animated comedy “Bordertown,” which only lasted one season. Why don’t you think audiences responded to it as much as you would’ve liked?

I think the audience responded, but I don’t think Fox did a lot for it. There wasn’t a lot of publicity that could’ve been done. [Executive producer] Seth MacFarlane surely didn’t do a lot of publicity or talk about it. We didn’t get a lot of help. Once the show [got cancelled], you started to see how timely we were. We had a ridiculous [U.S. presidential] candidate running with the promise of building a border wall. If anything, I think the world needs [a show like “Bordertown”] right now. It’s through humor that you can show just how ridiculous the situation is that we’re currently in.

The Children Act

October 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Emma Thompson, Fionn Whitehead, Stanley Tucci
Directed by: Richard Eyre (“Notes on a Scandal”)
Written by: Ian McEwan (“On Chesil Beach”)

Films where characters are presented with a moral dilemma usually give rise to thought-provoking conversations. In the 2015 war thriller “Eye in the Sky,” the decency of the U.S. military is examined when they must decide if they should bomb a group of terrorists if it also means killing a young girl near the targeted site. In 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone,” the question posed at the end of the film is whether the wellbeing of a child should be risked in favor of a neglectful mother’s rights.

The complicated, life-altering situations continue in “The Children Act,” a polarizing and ultimately erratic drama starring two-time Academy Award-winning actress Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility”) as an English judge assessing a controversial case. Although Thompson is a gem, “The Children Act” minimizes its most interesting courtroom narrative with insignificant storylines during the first half before transforming into an entirely different — and less absorbing — picture in the second.

Thompson stars as Fiona Maye, a High Court justice living in London with her American professor husband Jack (Stanley Tucci), who confesses to her that he has become dissatisfied with their passionless marriage. Besides placing added stress on Fiona, who is obviously a workaholic, the revelation doesn’t add much to the screenplay adapted by Ian McEwan (“On Chesil Beach”) from his own 2014 novel of the same name. Still, McEwan and director Richard Eyre (“Notes on a Scandal”) milk the relationship problems for all they’re worth, which hurts the impact of the film’s main moral issue.

The case that comes across Fiona’s desk is of Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead), a devout 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness and leukemia patient who sites his religious beliefs and refuses a life-saving blood transfusion. Despite having little time to weigh the circumstances fully (Adam will die soon without the procedure), Fiona makes an unprecedented move and chooses to meet Adam at the hospital before she makes a final ruling.

Until the encounter takes place, “The Children Act,” named after a law in the United Kingdom that requires the protection of a child’s welfare, is a well-developed and smart story in spite of the overplayed and hollow marital spat. Where the film comes apart is when we step out of the courtroom and into an awkward scenario where Fiona’s personal life collides with her work life in a way she’s never experienced before.

As the pragmatic Fiona, Thompson gives a brilliantly direct performance — one that will probably be overshadowed by showier characters once awards season starts getting serious — and stands out as one of her best since 2013’s “Saving Mr. Banks.” A major opportunity is missed, however, when the script chooses to take a clumsy route rather than a compelling one when it hits the homestretch.

Pick of the Litter

October 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Directed by: Don Hardy Jr. (“Theory of Obscurity”) and Dana Nachman (“Batkid Begins”)
Written by: Dana Nachman (“Batkid Begins”)

If Animal Planet was as smart as a Border Collie, it would figure out a way to adapt the crowd-pleasing and educational documentary “Pick of the Litter” into a reality show. Sure, the cable network already has plenty of programs that fill the category like “Pit Bulls and Parolees” and “My Cat from Hell,” but none currently feature the pets going fluffy head to fluffy head in a thrilling competition (the hit TV show “Puppy Bowl” doesn’t count because puppies, contrary to popular belief, can’t really play football).

In “Pick of the Litter,” five newborn Labradors — Patriot, Potomac, Primrose, Poppet and Phil — are placed in a training program with the California-based nonprofit Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) to become guide dogs for the visually impaired. While the training program isn’t a competition, directors Don Hardy Jr. and Dana Nachman have a little fun in the doc by arranging the 20-month-long process into a tail-wagging battle royale where the five pups put their skills to the test in order to make it to graduation day and be placed with a new owner.

The idea works surprisingly well since becoming a guide dog for GDB is incredibly difficult. According to the organization, only 300 of the 800 dogs bred annually will complete the training program as guide dogs. And demand is high. Each year, GDB receives 1,100 applications from potential dog owners. By setting up the film as a friendly contest, “Pick of the Litter” is more enjoyable for moviegoers who are interested in rooting for their favorite pooch — from Phil and his easygoing lease on life to Patriot who is a bit of a biter.

Like any gripping reality show competition, “Pick of the Litter” also comes with other heartwarming stories about the men and women who are working together to get each dog to meet its goals. This includes the volunteer “puppy raisers” who care for the pups for a few months before they transition to more experienced trainers called “puppy club leaders.” Most of the trainers have uplifting stories to tell about why they enjoy raising and training dogs. The narrative gets emotional during the more touching scenes when some of the pups are cut from the program (GDB labels these dogs “career changed”).

As cheerful and affectionate as the humans are in the story, the dogs, of course, are the true stars of “Pick of the Litter.” Watching the five showcased here — from their entry into the world as yappy little fuzzballs to these incredibly intelligent animals — is a wonderful testament to the services provided by GDB, which have changed thousands of lives since its inception in 1942. For that, “Pick of the Litter” certainly deserves its fair share of tummy rubs.

Life Itself

September 24, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Bening
Directed by: Dan Fogelman (“Danny Collins”)
Written by: Dan Fogelman (“Danny Collins”)

Dan Fogelman, creator and executive producer of the hit NBC series “This is Us,” seems to have the television drama formula worked out better than most — a little yank at the heartstrings here, a heartwarming relationship there, a dash of solid character development and throw in some nonlinear storylines. After only two seasons, viewers and critics are eating it up.

As the writer and director behind the feature film “Life Itself,” however, using a similar template is a disastrous exercise in emotional manipulation and pretentious storytelling. It’s the kind of screenplay that needed a few more rounds of workshopping. As is, it should’ve been tossed into a bin of scripts destined to never be seen again.

It’s regrettable since Fogelman, whose first foray into filmmaking was 2015’s Al Pacino vehicle “Danny Collins,” assembles a more-than-capable cast led by Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) and Olivia Wilde (“Drinking Buddies”). Broken into five muddled and overwritten chapters, the film starts with an introduction to Will (Isaac), a sad sack of a man we see during his happier times when he’s courting the love of his life, Abby (Wilde), but also during his court-mandated counseling sessions with his therapist, Dr. Morris (Annette Bening).

In this chapter, Fogelman pulls out all the stops and crams the melodrama with so many unnecessary and contrived components, one may wonder if he thought he would even get to finish the last four segments. This part of the film includes a nod to the 1946 classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” when Will goes back in time to see random moments in the past that will likely shape his future. It’s one of the many times Fogelman needlessly reminds the audience that fate will catch up to everyone eventually.

Fogelman mucks up his clichéd screenplay even more by employing the storytelling technique known as the “unreliable narrator,” a term coined by literary critic Wayne C. Booth in 1961, which argues that a narrator of a story can’t be trusted because he or she is telling it from a single perspective. Fogelman essentially suggests that the storytellers he’s chosen to recollect their own memories might be remembering incorrectly. The decision to include this narrative device is a lazy choice that allows Fogelman to offer moviegoers various interpretations or perspectives of the same scene — scenes that ultimately fall flat.

As the film stumbles into the other chapters, Fogelman abandons most of his filmmaking gimmickry to connect Will and Abby to a host of other characters — their adult daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke) and a family living in Spain — but by then it’s fairly evident where everything will end up. Unfortunately, wallowing in a cinematic abyss of tragedy, pain and victimization is better suited for fans of the “Saw” franchise.

Lizzie

September 24, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan
Directed by: Craig William Macneill (“The Boy”)
Written by: Bryce Kass (debut)

While it has sustained a strong interest among American folk historians and true-crime enthusiasts for decades, the story of Lizzie Borden, a young woman suspected of murdering her father and stepmother with an ax in 1892, has never received the cinematic attention that a crime of its notoriety would normally demand.

Four years after Christina Ricci portrayed the title character in the laughable Lifetime movie “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax,” which featured a lot of goth-punk music, the legendary murders are explored with more style and intimacy in director Craig William Macneill’s indie psychological thriller “Lizzie.” Despite a worthy effort by Macneill and first-time feature screenwriter Bryce Kass, Lizzie is more memorable for its foreboding atmosphere and believable performances by the film’s top-billed actresses Chloë Sevigny (“Lean on Pete”) and Kristen Stewart (“Adventureland”) than its storytelling prowess.

Along with setting up an ominous backdrop, Macneill and Kass should also be commended for depicting a host of unusual theories as part of the Lizzie Borden narrative, some of which seem to be loosely based on author Ed McBain’s 1984 novel “Lizzie.” In his book, McBain speculates that Lizzie committed the killings after her stepmother discovered she was having a tryst with their Irish housemaid Bridget Sullivan.

In “Lizzie” the film, it’s her father Andrew (Jamey Sheridan) — not her stepmother Abby (Fiona Shaw) — who witnesses the lustful encounter between Lizzie (Sevigny) and Bridget (Stewart). The situation is complicated even more because Andrew is taking sexual advantage of Bridget and has also decided to make Lizzie’s uncle John Morse (Denis O’Hare) custodian of her inheritance, a move that aggravates his daughter.

There are also threatening notes being left at the Borden household that suggest someone else in town might have an issue with the family (“No one will save you from what is to come” and “Your sins will find you” aren’t exactly neighborly messages). When Lizzie and Bridget’s resentment comes to a boiling point, they devise a plan to rid themselves of the people who are harming them.

Shot beautifully by cinematographer Noah Greenberg (“Most Beautiful Island”), “Lizzie” is a somber revisionist interpretation that fails to reach the story’s full potential as the minimalist murder mystery it hoped to become. The chemistry between Sevigny and Stewart is palpable as the sexual tension mounts throughout the film, but there just isn’t enough substance behind the relationship to warrant an entirely new take on what took place inside the walls of the Borden home more than a century ago.

Boyd Holbrook – The Predator

September 14, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “The Predator,” a reboot of the franchise that started with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original 1987 action movie, actor Boyd Holbrook takes the lead as Quinn McKenna, a former Army Ranger who goes to battle alongside a team of ex-soldiers in a fight for their lives against a group of the extraterrestrial title characters.

During an interview with me this past week, Holbrook, who is featured as one of the main antagonists in “Logan” and in the Netflix series “Narcos,” talked to me about starring in a film with a built-in fanbase, movie reboots and whether or not we should take President Trump’s proposed Space Force seriously.

Prior to our interview, I was asked not ask questions that did not pertain to the movie or Holbrook’s career. This included questions about the controversial scene that was cut from the film, which included actor Steve Wilder, a friend of director Shane Black, who is a registered sex offender in real life. When actress Olivia Munn found out about Wilder’s criminal history after the film was completed, she asked for his scene be cut from the final film. The studio granted her request.

Besides “Logan,” this is the only film you’ve starred in that already comes with a built-in franchise history. Do these types of films put more pressure on you as an actor to get it right since there is already a fanbase eager to see what you all come up with?

Yeah, I guess so. I mean, at this scale, there are budgets, so there is obvious pressure financially. Creatively, I leave a lot up to the film gods. We definitely tried. We had a fun time and a good crew and cast. We tried to make [the movie] new and exciting and reinvent it.

What do you think should be the basis for rebooting a franchise in Hollywood these days? Of course, there are no written rules for when a studio can reboot something. Is it all a matter of having someone like director Shane Black come in with a new vision for the story? Is that all it should take?

Absolutely. It’s like a play. Plays are put up in different cities with different actors and people enjoy them just the same. I think with [“The Predator”], it was Shane Black and his vision. We’re all here because of the original version. He had a lineage and linkage to the original film (Black played the character Hawkins in the 1987 film). He was a part of that. As he’s grown as a filmmaker, he came back and had his own vision three decades later.

So, if your military team and Schwarzenegger’s team from 1987 were dropped in the same jungle to fight the Predators, which team would have the most survivors at the end?

Obviously, my team. Which do you think?

We’ll yours has more brains and Schwarzenegger’s has more muscle.

Yeah, buff don’t mean tough.

Speaking of buff, did you get a chance to reenact that famous handshake between Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers from the original movie?

Oh, yeah. We were always trying to throw in little homages and anecdotes to recall the original film. We were always trying to do something.

I don’t know if you believe in life on other planets, but is the idea that Predators actually exist somewhere in the universe justification enough to take President Trump’s proposed Space Force seriously?

Listen, if there is a Space Force and they’re spending a billion dollars on it, I think you need to take it seriously and look into it a little more. That will be the ultimate war. I think there is life out there. We’re finding bacteria on Mars. I’m fairly confident in saying there’s probably life out there somewhere.

I have to go back to “Logan” really quick. In my opinion, I thought that film transcended what superhero movies had been about for the last 30 years. Did you know you were making something so different while you were shooting that film?

I knew we were doing something where we could see what those claws were really capable of. I knew that it was going to change the dynamic [of superhero movies] quite radically. I knew we had a great script and then, obviously, the great direction by James Mangold.

What are you looking for in career in Hollywood? Is there something specific you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?

I want to have a well-rounded career. I started out doing indies. I’ll always do indies. I want to jump into the big vehicles sometimes, too. I want to do love stories and comedies and action movies. You have to shake it up and never get comfortable. I’m excited about the things I’ve done and for the things that are coming out. I’m never going to get comfortable.

Blaze

August 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ben Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Charlie Sexton
Directed by: Ethan Hawke (“The Hottest State”)
Written by: Ethan Hawke (“Before Midnight”) and Sybil Rosen (debut)

Imagine that Bob Dylan was never inspired to write something as perfect as “Blowin’ in the Wind” or if post-Beatles Paul McCartney didn’t release “Maybe I’m Amazed” on his first solo album. What if the Beatles had stayed together through the ’70s? Would they have recorded another album as admired as Revolver or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?

What if a beloved song, film or piece of art was never created? How many of these masterpieces have we lost throughout the years?

Those questions are at the heart of “Blaze,” a musical biopic on country-music singer and songwriter and San Antonio native Blaze Foley. His songs have been covered by luminaries such as Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and John Prine.

Foley (played magnificently by breakout star Ben Dickey), with his unbridled talent, hoped to give audiences as much of himself as he could for as long as he could. Blaze is an ode to a highly-gifted, troubled legend who left the industry (and this earth) with his own distinct brand of folk and country music, which seemed to arise from the depths of his soul. As tortured artist biopics go, it’s an authentic addition to the genre.

“Blaze” is based on the memoir “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley” by Foley’s muse Sybil Rosen, who co-wrote the screenplay with the film’s director, four-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter and actor Ethan Hawke (“Before Midnight”).

In the film, which would make a wonderful double feature with Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2013 drama “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Hawke tells the story of Foley’s rise to fame – from the time he’s living rent-free in a dilapidated shack in the forest with Sybil (Alia Shawkat) to their journey to Austin and Chicago so they could introduce the world to his music.

Fortunately, Hawke is more interested in tapping into Foley as a man and musician battling drug and alcohol addiction than he is about maneuvering through every nuance of his turbulent career, which comes to an end in 1989 when he is shot and killed by the son of a friend during an altercation. Foley was only 39.

Hawke delivers a captivating narrative about a man who was larger than life. As Foley, Dickey might not be the biggest name Hawke could have cast, but in him he discovers the spirit and musicianship that Foley brought to the stage for every performance at every hole-in-the-wall bar he stopped at – even when under the influence.

“Where does a real song come from?” Foley asks in the film. “Where was it before it arrived?” Wherever that place is, Foley was a master at finding it, and “Blaze” is equally capable of depicting that profound emotion on screen.

Searching

August 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La
Directed by: Aneesh Chaganty (debut)
Written by: Aneesh Chaganty (debut) and Sev Ohanian (debut)

The tech thriller “Searching” is a welcome surprise. Although the subgenre is new – a film told exclusively through modern-day technology (iPhones, laptops, hidden cameras, etc.) – “Searching” proves that with enough creativity, a project of this kind doesn’t have to play out like a gimmick.

A movie such as “Searching,” unfortunately, will be copied and re-copied for years to come until Hollywood studios have exhausted its originality – see the found-footage subgenre after “The Blair Witch Project” debuted almost 20 years ago. Other computer thrillers have hit theaters before “Searching” (2014‘s “Open Windows,” 2014’s “Unfriended” and the 2018 sequel “Unfriended: Dark Web”), but it’s safe to say that this film is much more inventive and strikes some important and sympathetic themes.

Directed and co-written by first-time feature filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty, “Searching” begins with one of the most effective setups of 2018 – a quick montage of the happy life of a small family over the span of a few years through home videos, social media posts and other online platforms. When it’s revealed early on that mom (Sara Sohn) has died of cancer, Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian hook viewers emotionally as dad, David Kim (John Cho), and his daughter, Margot, continue their lives on their own.

By laying a strong foundation for a pair of characters we’re about to go through the wringer with for the next 90 minutes, Chaganty and Ohanian understand that without those opening scenes, “Searching” would only resonate on a visceral level. Instead, with these scenes, it’s much easier to sense the frustration and fear David conveys when 16-year-old Margot (Michelle La) goes missing after a late-night study session with friends.

Working with leading Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) to search for Margot, David starts doing his own investigating by logging onto his daughter’s laptop and poring through her online behavior to see if he can find any clues. However, with Det. Vick and David running into countless dead ends, they both worry their window for finding Margot alive is closing fast.

Like the best true-crime feature dramas and documentaries, “Searching” is a gripping mystery that features a handful of clever plot twists and an underlying feeling of dread that is unshakeable. Skeptical audiences might think a film like this would be limited by the method it chooses to tell its story, but with a smart script and a heartfelt father-daughter relationship at its core, “Searching” is an absorbing and unique achievement.

Ben Dickey – Blaze

August 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

During his tour across Texas to promote his new biopic “Blaze” on late singer/songwriter Blaze Foley, first-time actor and musician Ben Dickey made a stop in San Antonio last week for an acoustic concert and a special screening of the film.

I caught up with Dickey in downtown San Antonio to wax philosophical and talk about what turns him on as a musician and why he’s going to keep acting for as long as the industry will have him.

Where did you start your research when you landed the role of Blaze Foley? Does it start with the music?

I’ve known Blaze’s name for 20 years, but I learned a lot about his music. I spent a lot of time with it. I did go look around at some of the places he had lived. What I read about his time in Texas was that they were sort of on the run from his father. There were a lot of people in his life that were generous enough to offer up information about him.

Something I love that this film explores is the idea about where songs come from and how there are so many more we’re never going to hear. It’s really a sad thing to think about, isn’t it?

It confirms this notion of infinity. Somewhere you can hear those songs, in my opinion – somehow, someway. In some way, those songs are echoing through this multiverse that we’re supposedly living in. With [Blaze Foley], we missed out. It’s one of those wonderful, striking mysteries.

How do you feel when an artist passes away and then years later, someone opens up a filing cabinet and finds a trove of his or her work that they never finished or released? Is that something you welcome or would you rather that work stay buried?

There’s so much posthumous [Jimi] Hendrix stuff. I’m a huge Hendrix fan. There was a record that came out called Voodoo Soup. Somebody added things to it willy nilly to make it sound like a full band. Everyone that I’ve talked to who worked with Jimi said that he would not have wanted that. He would’ve been super bent out of shape about it. But then there’s the other part of you who thinks, “Well, maybe that’s what it would’ve sounded like – maybe.” I don’t know what the guidelines are, but I was sure happy when John Lennon’s demos came out.

As a songwriter, do you have your own trove of unfinished work that you have stored away that you may or may not ever get to again?

I have tons of stuff. I write constantly. Sometimes my partner, Beth, will go, “Whatever happened to [that song]?” I’ll go back to it and go, “Oh, yeah, that’s a great song.” The thing I’ve always wanted to be in this life is a musician that can work. I love being in a studio and being with musicians.

So, when you don’t finish a song, or you put it to the side for whatever reason, why do you do that?

Sometimes it’s just clear I’m having trouble with it. When good songs come, they come whole. On my first solo record, I released a song that I was fond of, but it was long and meandering and I didn’t know how to make it a song. When I was making that record after my band broke up, I was like, “Screw it. I’m going to work on it.” The producer was like, “It’s the only song on the record that doesn’t move with the rest of the album.” So, songs like that can get away from you. But you can also surprise yourself. Once I start thinking about a song too much, I lose perspective.

How has the process of making an album changed for you over the years?

Well, as soon as we finished shooting “Blaze,” I wrote like 40 songs for my new record and sent them to Charlie Sexton, who produced it. This was the first time in my life doing this. He was like, “These 10 songs are the record” and I was like, “OK.” I surrendered it over to him because he’s a master. The songs he picked were not the ones I would’ve picked, but this was an opportunity to make a record with someone I love and revere. We made a very interesting record. It forced me to treat [the songs] differently and consider them differently. He was like, “Dude, you’re going to write 40 more and we’ll do this again.”

Blaze was a very philosophical musician. It’s evident in his lyrics. In today’s music industry, do you think a song has to say something meaningful to stay relevant?

I don’t know that it has to, but my ears perk up when it does. Now they can do an algorithm to create a country song. John Prine just put out his most recent record and it resonates with people I would probably enjoy visiting with. No offense to Katy Perry or anyone, but a new pop song that is an amalgam of beats and sequences that has been proven to turn on people on dance floors through a weird mathematical equation doesn’t do anything for me.

You’re currently promoting “Blaze” and you have another film called “The Kid” you’ve also completed. Is acting something you’re going to continue to do along with your music?

I had no idea I was going to be in [the film] business and I don’t know how long I’ll be able to maintain it. I want to keep working and discovering, so if I’m lucky enough to be put into that position, I’m open to it and ready for it. People keep asking me, “What if the movie part takes over?” It’s never going to diminish the fact that I love music. I really can’t tell you how stunned I still am to have this pivot in my life. I don’t want to screw it up. I’m knocking on wood, but I’m still rockin’ and rollin’ like I always have.

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