Blaze Foley (Ben Dickey) - nee Michael David Fuller - was a Texas country singer of some minor note who came to a tragic end at age 39. Few knew about the man and his music - until now. Writer-director Ethan Hawke (yes, that Ethan Hawke) brings Foley’s short life story to us in “Blaze.”
Laura's Review: A-
As an unseen DJ (Ethan Hawke) interviews musicians Townes van Zandt (musician Charlie Sexton) and Zee (Josh Hamilton, "Eighth Grade") the former begins telling tales that evoke hilarious expressions from the latter. Van Zandt has turned attention away from himself and towards the little known musician he considers a legend, "Blaze." One of the most beautiful and moving films ever made about a musician, "Blaze" reveals its cowriter (with Sybil Rosen)/director Ethan Hawke as a true romantic and its star, musician Ben Dickey, as an extraordinarily natural performer. This clear labor of love follows a familiar arc, but Hawke's three-ply, multi timeline approach makes it fresh while cinematographer Steve Cosens' ("Born to Be Blue") color palette responds to emotions evoked by each. The first version of Blaze Foley (musician Ben Dickey) we see is not the one we come away from the film with. He's drunk, in a Hunter Thompsonesque mania that is part philosophy, part rant, the type of behavior that got him thrown out of bars where he should have been cultivating fans. This is one of three perspectives Hawke uses, Blaze performing at Austin's The Outhouse before an American flag, his songs punctuating and commenting upon the rest of the action. While Townes's legend-making is amusing (a famous yarn is told about how Foley's corpse was dug up to retrieve a pawn ticket for his guitar), it is the third strand that is the film's anchor, inspired by Rosen's memoir 'Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley.' As Sybil (Alia Shawkat, "Green Room") attempted to rehearse Shakespeare in an artists' collaborative's hall, she had to ask the man working with power tools below to please hold off until she finished. Soon the two were moving in together, into the ramshackle tree house of Sybil's memoir. They are blissful soulmates, their days consisting of music and enjoying each other. Sybil chides her man as he tries on stage names (Michael David Fuller was Foley's real name), finding them distasteful, but it is she who eventually pushes them out of their nest for him to sell his songs to the world. 'I wrote that song for a beautiful little Jewish gal with kinky hair. I thought that song would last forever,' Blaze informs us from the Outhouse stage and we are hooked. How could a romance this glorious end? Cosens filmed their wedding like a rural country daydream, the couple jumping into the air in slo motion after their vows, but his warm, gold-tinged greens, browns and teals pivot on his bluest tone and turn cold as the couple hits the road. A functioning yet ugly apartment replaces the treehouse squat and Rosen dons a waitress uniform while Blaze sings in strip clubs, indulging in their wares. (He'll later adorn the apartment walls with lyrics asking for forgiveness.) That Hawke skips about his timeline, even within a particular story strand, without losing the through line is a testament to his command of this material. The film is peppered with big names in small roles, the trinity of Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn and "Boyhood" director Richard Linklater a trio of oilmen looking to start a recording label, Wyatt Russell dropping in as Blaze and Sybil's 'landlord.' We learn of Foley's awful childhood as a member of The Singing Fuller Family when he and Sybil visit his dad in an institution, Kris Kristofferson's only, repeated line 'Got any cigarettes?' as we hear how he traded the family's food for booze. But this is Dickey and Shawkat's film. Dickey, who looks nothing like the real Blaze Foley, is a giant bear of a man, his childlike nature cutting both ways, his voice melodious in both conversation and song. Shawkat is a freckled goddess, the type of woman a man can sink into with comfort and trust. Hawke pulls his three separate timelines together to tell us how Blaze Foley died too young, shot by the son of a friend he was attempting to protect. You may never have heard of him or his music (his most famous collaborations were with Merle Haggard and Van Zant and Lucinda Williams wrote a song about him), but Hawke ensures you'll never forget him. Grade:
Robin's Review: B
Sophomore writer-director Berger (“Torremolinos 73 (2003)”) explores making a movie without sound, much like last year’s Oscar-winning “The Artist” but also very different. Both films are black and white, have great music soundtracks, a terrific story and talented production teams in front of and behind the camera. “Blancanieves” is not trying to be a silent movie but one without sound, telling a visual story paying homage to its classic source material just as “The Artist” honors the golden age of silent movies. The story will be familiar to many, primarily femmes, and begins with famous matador Antonio Villalta (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) preparing to face six bulls in the ring, the last of which is the infamous Ferdinand. He dedicates the fight to his very pregnant wife Dona Concha (Angela Molina) but things go terribly wrong and he is gored by Ferdinand. While Antonio goes under the knife, Concha goes into labor and has a very difficult time of it. When comes out of surgery, he is greeted with the news that his wife died in childbirth. When the infant is presented to him, he rejects the baby girl, too hurt by the loss of his beloved Dona to even look at his child. This is where the fairy tale gets very Snow White. Encarna (Maribel Verdu), is the nurse caring for the recovering, but paralyzed, Antonio. From the moment she arrives on screen, you know she will do something wicked. (Verdu lacks only a mustache to twirl as the story’s very bad guy.) The child grows into a bright, pretty and inquisitive young girl, Carmencita (Sofia Oria), who has been kept away from her father by the horrible Encarna. She has insinuated herself in the mansion, marrying Antonio and keeping him and his large fortune under her control. She cannot control, though, little Carmencita, who begins to secretly visit her isolated father. Antonio sees his beloved Dona Concha in his pretty daughter and a real bond is formed between the estranged father and daughter. She shows an interest in his bullfighting fame and Antonio trains her for the bullring. Soon, though, Encarna learns of her husband’s new interest in his daughter and sees her lifestyle, and his fortune, taken away from her. She resolves this problem quite neatly. Things get much more complicated when Carmelita, now grown-up Carmen (Macarena Garcia), comes home again and is an even greater threat to Encarna, who handles things in her own wicked way. Suffice it to say, what follows is Snow White and the Seven (here, six) Dwarfs. The rest of this beautifully shot and imaginatively told fairy tale should be seen my many, but only a few will likely get to enjoy it. This is a shame for the audience it is intended for.