Blaze (2018)


When I was younger, I had a “type” – I dated aspiring blanks. Aspiring artists, aspiring musicians – all unconcerned with mundane, earthly questions like how to get money for rent, drinks, and drugs. Instead, they were already living with an eye on posterity, assuming every word they said was going to be quoted someday. Have you ever spoken to someone who thinks everything he says is worth quoting? Take it from me, it’s absolutely exhausting, and you’ll most likely walk away wondering, “What did we even talk about?”

This is all a roundabout way of saying Ethan Hawke’s biopic Blaze reminded me of every boy I dated in my early twenties. For those who don’t know, Blaze Foley was a Texan country singer songwriter in the 1970s. Ethan Hawke’s version is a bigger, larger than life man (played by newbie Ben Dickey who is literally a good fifty pounds heavier than the true Foley) who says he doesn’t want to be famous; he wants to be a legend. And yet we spend two hours watching him flounder on his journey to becoming a legend. The movie starts in a circular fashion, we see both Foley falling in love with his future wife, Sybil Rosen (played by the charming Alia Shawkat) and his friends wrestling with the aftermath of Foley’s death on the air in a radio interview (with radio host Ethan Hawke, no less). Rosen is Foley’s muse and biggest supporter. She blindly fangirls him and believes in him. And so, of course, he leaves her to pursue the rock star lifestyle of drinking too much with his musician friends and being yelled at by his record label. In the radio interview, Van Zandt justifies this by explaining just how much you have to be willing to give up to make it as a musician. But what Van Zandt sees as strength and discipline comes off as a succumbence to vices on Foley. Foley talks a big talk, mumbling on and on about the cosmos, energy, and inspiration, but we mostly watch him, and the movie, stumbling.

Maybe the problem with the movie is that both Hawke and Rosen have rose-colored glasses on. The movie is an adaptation of Rosen’s memoir, “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze”, and Rosen and Hawke wrote the screenplay together. The film makes it clear that both Hawke and Rosen truly loved Foley, but it doesn’t quite do enough to make the viewer feel the same. The best part of the movie is the music. Dickey is more musician than actor and his husky voice commands your attention. While the movie doesn’t quite convince me that Blaze Foley was indeed a legend, it’s worth watching, if only just to serve as a reminder that making art and music is hard work and requires more than big dreams and quotable nonsense.

Rating: 6.0/10.0

Additional Reading:

  • Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze on Amazon
  • Watch the trailer here



Adaptation: Room

Adaptation is a series that examines the film adaptations of some of the books I’ve read (and vice versa). **Warning – there may be spoilers if you have yet to read the book or watch the movie!**

room poster

A Quick Summary: Jack has lived in Room his whole life, but when he turns 5, he learns that an entire world exists outside of Room.

Did you read the book or watch the movie first? I read Emma Donoghue’s Room last September and wrote about it here At the time, I didn’t realize it would be a movie coming out this year as well. I finally made time to go see it at the Angelika this week.

egg snakeHow were the book and movie different? I think the movie was able to truly capture how claustrophobic and small Room was in a way that the book was not. I thought that Brie Larson was phenomenal. She exuded a quiet combination of strength and emotional turmoil, and I found her much more likable than the Ma in the book.

How were the book and movie the same? I think one of the best parts of having Emma Donoghue write both the book and the screenplay is that the themes and tone of the book did not get lost during the adaptation. I was worried that the movie would sexualize Ma or play up the gruesome aspects of the book, but we truly get a movie about the bond between mother and child in spite of terrible circumstances.


Parting Thoughts: I think that Emma Donoghue was a little too sentimental to her own writing. There were long voiceovers in the movie of Jack reading (what seemed like pages) from the book. I thought it worked well at first to help set the scene, but I found it more distracting than anything else later on. Overall, I was pleased to find the same strong female protagonist and I was amazed by Jacob Tremblay’s portrayal of Jack (the actor is only 9!) However, since this wasn’t one of my favorite-books-of-all-time, I would probably recommend either reading or watching it, but wouldn’t encourage doing both.


Other Posts in the Adaptation Series:



Whatever Happened to Booth Tarkington?

booth tarkingtonHave you ever heard of Booth Tarkington? Born in Indianapolis in 1869, Newton Booth Tarkington was a playwright, politician, and novelist. He may be most famous for being one of three people to have ever won the Pulitzer more than once. (The other two writers who hold this honor are William Faulkner and John Updike.) In 1922, Literary Digest proclaimed Booth Tarkington as “America’s greatest living writer” – he sold over five million copies of his books before paperback books were available.

Tarkington loved his home state of Indiana – he set most of his works there, served on the Indiana House of Representatives, and was a generous supporter of Purdue University. There is even a dorm named after him – Tarkington Hall. His “Penrod” novels (three in all) have been compared to Huckleberry Finn, both in terms of style/plot and popularity. So why have I never heard of Booth Tarkington until I decided to read all of the Pulitzer Prize winners?

Tarkington seems to have fallen out of popularity with the literary world shortly after his death in 1946. His writing has since been deemed to be uneven, inconsistent, and overly nostalgic.

To be caught with Tarkington in one’s hands is to be suspected of nostalgia, a willingness to endure the second-rate for the sake of some moonlight on the Wabash, which must still be flowing somewhere through the heartland.

alice adamsMany of Tarkington’s books are about very young people, coming of age in a time of rapid industrialization and change. He was obsessed with the “soul-killing effects of smoke and asphalt and speed” and writes about how cars are ruining society and quality of life. I noted in His Family that Ernest Poole had a similar (but positive) obsession with cars. I suppose this was akin to the environmental crisis of the early 20th Century. The Atlantic suggests that this obsession made his peers think he was a cranky old man, instead of a sensitive soul greatly affected by the changes surrounding him and his characters.

In 1942, Orson Welles adapted The Magnificent Ambersons into a feature film, which seems to have stood the test of time a little better than its novel counterpart. However, the book was recently added to Modern Library’s list of top 100 novels (it was #100 on the list), so maybe we will see Booth Tarkington make a comeback in the next few decades, what do you think?

This Month in Review: 07/31/2015

This Week in Review

Can you believe tomorrow is going to be August? 2015 is flying by, and I’m not ready! This month has been a whirlwind for both of us. Between the two of us, we were in six states, watched six movies, and sent about 153,000 texts back and forth (just kidding, maybe!) We thought it’d be fun to share one-sentence reviews for all of the movies we saw this month.

Jurassic World: Roles of technology and dinos advance while roles for women regress.

A Little Chaos: Watch Kate Winslet look good in everything.

Inside Out: It’s okay to be sad sometimes, too.

Mr. Holmes: It’s heartbreaking to watch Sherlock Holmes try to remember the last case he took on.

Me, Earl & the Dying Girl: One hundred times better than The Fault in Our Stars.

Infinitely Polar Bear: The director tries too hard to do too much, but the children really shine.


Bonus Links:

Adaptation: Wild

Adaptation is going to be a series that examines the film (and maybe some play) adaptations of some of our favorite (and not-so-favorite) books. **Warning – there will be spoilers if you have yet to read the book or watch the movie!**

When you really love a book, sometimes you are almost loath to see it turn into a movie. Is the director going to have the same vision for the characters? Once you see a movie’s aesthetics, it can irreparably replace your memory and imagination. This is something I think about often, and there are many trailers that I’ll refuse to watch until I’ve read the book first.

At the other end of the spectrum, some movies end up with beautiful images that would have never been possible in a book, or a director may interpret a book in a way that would have never occurred to me. I thought for our first in this little series, I would start with an example of a great adaptation – a movie I loved as much as the book. Without further adieu, I present to you – Wild.


A Quick Summary: A 26 year old Cheryl Strayed’s life is spiraling out of control in the aftermath of her mother’s death. She leaves everything behind to hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in hopes of finding herself again.

Top to Bottom: Reese Witherspoon and Cheryl Strayed

Did you read the book or watch the movie first? I watched the movie first. I knew I wanted to watch the movie as soon as I saw that the movie was directed by Jean-Marc Vallee of Dallas Buyers Club fame. I will admit, I heard about the book back in 2012 when it was selected for the Oprah 2.0 book club, but I generally tend to ignore books that Oprah recommends (no offense, Oprah).

How were the book and movie different? The book definitely shed more light and background on Cheryl Strayed’s past. She actually has a stepfather who loved her, but drifted away after the death of her mother, who doesn’t make an appearance in the movie. Cheryl also has the time and space to tell us more about the logistics – how she planned and paid for things, how she dealt with her period every month, etc. But the Pacific Crest Trail is an absolutely breathtaking sight, and the movie is able to make a 1,100 mile hike visually captivating in a way the book is not.

How were the book and movie the same? I think this is because Cheryl Strayed helped write the script, but the movie retains the lyricism of Strayed’s memoir. We see her handwriting and quotes appear (in a very non-cheesy way) throughout the movie, and Reese Witherspoon has voice-overs reading passages from her journals and book. My favorite quotes from the movie are unsurprisingly also my favorite quotes from the book.

Parting Thoughts: I loved the book and movie in different ways. I felt more connected to and related more to Strayed in her book than in the movie, but I loved the scene in the movie where she sees the fox and is convinced it is her mother. This scene is also in the book, but it wasn’t as visceral to read. I think that these are perfect companion pieces for one another. The film isn’t true to the book in the way that the book is a memoir and not 100% true to the facts of a life.

Have you seen and read Wild? Which did you prefer? What are some of your favorite book to film adaptations?

Movie Review: The Wolfpack, a Documentary

The Wolfpack is a documentary that made its rounds in the film festival circuits earlier this year before its theatrical release about two weeks ago. Directed by Crystal Moselle, it shows the lives of the Angulo brothers, who grow up all but trapped in their family’s tiny apartment in New York City’s Lower East Side. Their father is the only person with a key to the apartment, and so the boys’ childhoods consist of being homeschooled and watching movies.The Wolfpack

These boys have an absolutely unrepressable creative energy, and they channel it into recreating scenes from their favorite movies. We see them painstakingly transcribing scripts from movies, in a way that anyone growing up in the 90s will recognize – don’t you remember trying to record songs off the radio or movies on VHS? Some of their favorite movies to re-enact are Reservoir Dogs, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Pulp Fiction, not much different from any other teenage boy.

What drives the movie is the spirit of the brothers, their resilience and creative energy. I think that Crystal Moselle’s directorial debut left much to be desired. The documentary was at times meandering and directionless, things aren’t clear, and Moselle interferes and changes the course of the story without so much as an explanation.

Regardless, the documentary is absolutely captivating. It’s not a documentary that will take you into the nitty-gritty and the logistics – how are they affording things? why didn’t anyone report this to child services? etc – that we, as a nosy, prying, and entitled society want to know. I was lucky enough to attend the TriBeca film festival premiere, which was followed with a Q&A with the entire family and crew. I was absolutely horrified at the questions being asked – some people have no sense of boundaries and common sense! These are very real people, and the panel left me feeling very awkward, as if we are treating this family like an exhibit in a zoo. There is a definite sense of voyeurism and crossing boundaries while watching the documentary. I felt uncomfortable and creepy at times.

It has taken me a few months to process the experience, and I think that it was worth it. There are so many important and beautiful moments that you get to see – the boys go to the ocean for the first time, write and create an original play, celebrate Halloween with an indoor bonfire. In the Q&A session, Susanne, the mother, spoke up. She said, to her, this is a movie about absolute beauty and creative freedom – about what happens when you put six boys together with limitless imagination and creative energy. I would have to agree with her – halfway through the documentary, you almost forget the bizarre living situations that are the premise of the documentary. This isn’t a documentary about wolf children and voyeurism, it’s a documentary about the innate need to create that is within all of us.

Recommendation: Definitely Go See


Watch the Trailer

Official Instagram

Movie Review: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter


Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is about Kumiko, a girl in Japan who discovers a VHS of Fargo buried under a rock in a cave. She is convinced that a scene of Steve Buschemi burying a suitcase full of money is real, so she sets out to recover the buried treasure. Kumiko constructs a treasure map by measuring the dimensions of her television screen, and then she flies to Minnesota in the middle of winter and tries to find her way to Fargo with nothing but her red jacket.kumiko

Rinko Kikuchi is absolutely flawless to me. She plays Kumiko with the perfect combination of stubbornness, aloofness, and empathy that is required to convey the kind of person who would leave everything behind and set out on an impossible journey halfway across the world. One of my favorite scenes is when Kikuchi yells “Not fake, real!” with a desperate conviction that underlies the entire movie. The soundtrack, by The Octopus Project, is also beautiful and perfect for the endless snowscapes of Minnesota. (Is snowscape a word? I might have just made that up.)


The script was written by two brothers, David and Nathan Zellner, and directed by David. The script was inspired by a bizarre set of real events, which I wouldn’t read about before watching the movie! The dialogue in the movie is sparse, and we spend a good chunk of the time watching Kumiko on her own. I am always impressed with movies with little to no dialogue and a limited cast of characters. (Other examples: Locke, All is Lost, Amour) The dialogue that happens alternates between laugh-out-loud funny or relaying a heart-searingly kind of loneliness and disconnect.

kumiko (1)

As funny and quirky as the premise of the film may be, it’s anything but a comedy. We have more in common with Kumiko than we may realize or want to acknowledge. Kumiko reminded me of Michael Ondaatje’s not-prose-and-not-poem piece, Elimination Dance. An elimination dance is a kind of dance or competition where a speaker will read a set of criteria out loud one at at time, and if you meet the criteria you are out of the running. Ondaatje’s starts off silly enough, those who are allergic to the sea, any person who has lost a urine sample in the mail. You begin to feel comfortable and think, “Oh I’m safe, I’m not like any of these weirdos”, until Ondaatje dives deeper in his last line, “Anyone with pain,” and with that, you’re eliminated as well. That’s exactly how I felt while watching Kumiko.

Recommendation: Definitely Go See


Watch the Trailer 
Listen to the Soundtrack
Elimination Dance, Michael Ondaatje