Blaze. Actor Ethan Hawke transitions from actor to director to bring the life of unsung outlaw country music legend Blaze Foley to the screen. Based on the memoir by former wife Sybil Rosen and starring Benjamin Dickey, it tells Foley’s story in three crucial stages: his days with Rosen (played by Alia Shawkat) living in a remote cabin in the woods; the success and failures of performing on the road, and his last, fateful night which would end with him being shot and killed by the son of a close friend. Dickey is incredible as lumbering, limping Foley, who is only at his best when he’s with Rosen and with a guitar in his hand. Away from either one, he’s the essence of self-destruction, drinking too much, prone to explosive fits of anger and driven to remain in obscurity even as his songs would later be covered by Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Lyle Lovett, among many others. Dickey also pays glowing tribute to Foley as a vocalist, singing all of the songs featured throughout. Shawkat brings an assured radiance as Rosen, who brought some much needed love and stability to Foley’s life, but was lost due to the allure and the pull of the road. In addition to the capturing the splendor, beauty of mystery of the Texas and the South as a whole, Hawke also assembled a strong, but unlikely supporting cast: Musician Charlie Sexton, who is perfect as Foley’s friend and fellow outlaw country legend Townes Van Zandt; Kris Kristofferson in a crushing cameo as Foley’s father, and Richard Linklater, Sam Rockwell and Steve Zahn bring amusing, yet acidic cynicism to their roles as record executives looking to sign Foley. It’s an honest, moving tribute to one of country music legend. Blaze opens in select theaters this Friday and nationwide in September. You can also go to www.ifcfilms.com for more information.
John McEnroe: In The Realm Of Perfection. In 1984, John McEnroe was at the peak of his powers. He went 82-3 that year, which included a 42 match winning streak and Grand Slam victories at Wimbledon and The U.S. Open. His outspokenness and temper were also on full display, which led to a fine and a three week suspension. Director Julian Faraut culls together 16 mm footage to capture the tennis legend on and off the camera during what still remains as the highest single season win rate in the Open era. The use of close ups, slow motion and animation captures McEnroe’s pinpoint attention to the subtleties of the sport and how applied it to his game. The footage works exceptionally well to break down the nuances and drama behind McEnroe’s epic 5-set match with Ivan Lendl at the 1984 French Open – one that still haunts him to this day. With narration from French actor/director Mathieu Amalric, Farut has not only given tennis fans a wonderful primer to the U.S. Open, but also to those who love the art of filmmaking. John McEnroe: In The Realm Of Perfection opens in New York on August 22nd, and in select theaters starting August 31st. You can also go to mcenroe.oscilloscope.net for more information.
The Wife. Bjorn Runge’s big screen adaptation of the Meg Wolitzer’s best selling novel stars Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce as Joan and Joe Castleman, who on the surface have a marriage that perfectly compliments each other: Joan is shy, elegant and self-effacing while Joe is vain, casual and brash. Joe is a world renown novelist while Joan runs the household, remains close contact with their two children and makes sure Joe takes all of his medication. When Joe receives word that he’s been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, it should be a nice cap on a career and marriage that has spanned nearly 40 years. But the subsequent flight to Stockholm and the awaiting reception opens up a cauldron of secrets: Their son David (Max Irons) is also an aspiring writer, but feels hampered by his father’s blunt criticisms and trying to emerge from his father’s enormous literary shadow. Then there’s Nathaniel Bone, (Christian Slater) a slimy writer who is needling Joan to assist him on what he hopes to be the definitive bio. The trip also triggers flashbacks to when they first met – when Joe was a creative writing teacher (married with a child) and Joan was his student. When Joe openly flirts with the attractive photographer assigned to cover the ceremony, it cruelly reminds Joan of the numerous affairs that she had to turned a blind eye to during their marriage. It all builds up to a release of emotions that she’s built up for decades. Close takes her long and distinguished career to a new height as Joan, the long put upon wife and mother who has a life awakening. Pryce is just as strong as the self absorbed, yet quietly insecure Joe, who for decades buried his wife’s aspirations to fuel his own. Slater is also a revelation as the opportunistic Bone, looking to use the Castleman’s fragile family structure to further his own career aspirations. It’s a late summer sleeper that should not be forgotten during awards season. The Wife opens in New York and L.A. this weekend. You can also go to www.sonyclassics.com for more information.
Lynyrd Skynyrd: If I Leave Here Tomorrow. The story of the band that came to define Southern Rock makes its way to Showtime. Directed by Stephen Kijak (Scott Walker – 30th Century Man, Stones In Exile) and narrated by sole surviving member Gary Rossington, it tells the story of how a group who met as teenagers in Jacksonville, Florida became one of America’s most beloved bands. Using rare interviews, never been seen archival footage it shows how Skynyrd got its name, its salad days rehearsing in a shack, playing local bars and clubs, and, after getting discovered by producer/musician Al Kooper, quickly graduated to concert halls, arenas and stadiums. Kijak also makes the film a moving elegy for Ronnie Van Zant, the band’s frontman and undisputed leader via radio interviews and remembrances from band mates, family and friends. It also looks at the darker side of the band’s success, including drug and alcohol abuse, car crashes and all out brawls. There’s also a chilling recollection of the events leading up to, and after, the horrific 1977 plane crash that took the lives of Van Zandt, Steve & Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilots Walter McCreary and William Gray and severely injuries to the rest of the band and crew. Anchored by great stories, footage and, of course, a slew of Skynyrd classics, Kijak has put together a moving salute to one of the titans of Southern Rock.
Lynyrd Skynyrd: If I Leave Here Tomorrow premieres Saturday at 9pm Eastern on Showtime. You can also go to www.sho.com for more information.
New York City. Utterly Winona. For over 30 years, Winona Ryder has carved out a place in film history that very few of her contemporaries can match. Whether its in the moment comedies or historical-based dramas, indie films or big-budget blockbusters, Ryder has shown a depth and range that has saw her work with some of the cinema’s top directors (Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, Woody Allen, Jim Jarmusch, J.J. Abrams, Darren Aronofsky) and gain a legion of fans worldwide. Ryder was also in the forefront of the campaign to seeing more women behind the camera, more involvement in the production process and having more of their stories brought to the big screen. As a ramp up to her upcoming film Destination Wedding (which reunites her with her Dracula co-star Keanu Reeves), Quad Cinema will be presenting a two week retrospective showcasing some of her best work. It will include Beetlejuice, Heathers, Edward Scissorhands, Reality Bites, Girl Interrupted, her Academy Award-nominated roles in The Age Of Innocence and Little Women, plus much more. As a new generation of viewers re-discovers Ryder through the Netflix show Stranger Things, this series put her career and influence in a broader, more comprehensive context. Utterly Winona will be at Quad Cinema August 17th through September 1st. You can also go to www.quadcinema.com for a complete rundown of films, tickets and additional information.
New York City. Say It Loud: Cinema In The Age Of Black Power, 1966-1981. To coincide with the upcoming Soul Of A Nation: Art In The Age Of Black Power exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in September, BAM Cinematek will be presenting a two week film retrospective featuring films that broke the color barrier and presenting all facets of Black life during that tumultuous periods. It feature seminal works by Melvin Van Peebles (The Story Of A Three Day Pass, Watermelon Man), Gordon Parks (The Learning Tree) and Charles Burnett (Killer Of Sheep); rarely seen but vital pieces of that period (Uptight, The Spook Who Sat By The Door); documentaries featuring James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Eldridge Cleaver and The Last Poets; groundbreaking works directed by pioneering Black women directors such as Sarah Maldaror (Sambizanga) as well as viewpoints of the Black experience from international directors Haile Gerima (Bush Mama) and Med Hondo (Soleli O). There will also be a slew of short films, guest introductions, and much more. With the new generation of Black filmmakers, writers and performers making a profound impact on the film world, this is a solid reminder that they are truly standing on some legendary shoulders. Say It Loud will be at The Brooklyn Academy of Music August 17th through the 30th. You can also go to www.bam.org for tickets, a complete rundown of events and additional information.
New York City. The Emerging Music Festival. Most of the summer music festival captures artists at the height of their fame. But this two day music festival is devoted to acts that are poised to be the next best thing. This year’s lineup includes Talking Heads-inspired Underground System, garage rockers Native Sun, the baroque pop stylings of Palmas and much more. There will also be giant lawn games, a slew of local vendors and even a chance to learn how to juggle. The best part is that its all free. See them now but they graduate to bigger venues later. The Emerging Music Festival takes place August 17th and 18th at Bryant Park. You can also go to www.bryantpark.org for more information.