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Interview with Trey Edward Shults

21 Nov

The three-film secret of Trey Edward Shults: Keep it personal, even during the apocalypse

 

Trey Edward Shults on the set of “Waves” with actor Sterling K. Brown.

The films of Trey Edward Shults are haunting in their immersive ambience and enigmatic narratives, but they’re also – to date – deeply personal, if not autobiographical. In his debut, “Krisha” (2016), Shults explored the effects of addiction on the family surrounding the user, reflecting how Shults’ immediate family had been affected by addiction and alcohol abuse over the years; even his near post-apocalyptic chiller “It Comes at Night” (2017) was a means for Shults to work out the grief of losing his father to pancreatic cancer. 

Themes of addiction and struggles with an estranged and dying father are also part of Shults’ latest, “Waves,” in which young African American wrestler Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), in a tumultuous romantic relationship in addition to struggling against his controlling father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown), turns increasingly to drugs after an injury that threatens to sideline his promising athletic career and shot at college. Meanwhile, Luke (Lucas Hedges), another wrestler on the team, struggles to reconnect with his his dying, distant father. 

“I’m both Tyler and Luke,” Shults said in an interview with the Day, “and [their] girlfriends are something like my girlfriends. The parents are somewhat based on mine – primarily Luke’s dad – but Brown brought a lot to the role of Ronald.”

The story revolves primarily around Tyler’s family members, who happen to be black. “I wanted to tell a tale that was both universal to what all families go through, but also show the challenges a black family faces that white people don’t,” said Shults, who is white, and wrote in collaboration with Harrison Jr. At one juncture in the film, Tyler’s dad tells him that because they are black, they need to work 10 times as hard to take a step forward, and then there’s the one lone hateful drop of the N-word – just one, but it resonates. 

“I just knew I wanted to work with him again after ‘It Comes at Night,’” Shults said of Harrison Jr., whose experiences described in long “mini therapy” talks between the director and actor helped “Waves” take shape. Harrison Jr., who was also in “Luce” earlier this year, delivers a nuanced and complex performance that is bound to elevate his stock.

Shults, on his third film at only 31, got into filmmaking somewhat by happenstance when visiting his aunt, Krisha Fairchild – yes, the star and title character of his debut – in Hawaii, where she got him a job working on commercials. That led to an encounter with Terrence Malick, who was there filming his documentary “Voyage of Time” (2016); Shults, just 18, stepped in as a film loader for the shoot. Seeds for “Krisha” were sown quickly.

“That film changed my life,” Shults said. After “Krisha” won the Grand Jury and Audience awards at South by Southwest, buyer and distributor A24 was was hungry for more. “I had a version of ‘It Comes at Night’ before I shot ‘Krisha,’ and A24 wanted to know what else I had.”

As for what comes next, “I’m not sure,” Shults said.

“Maybe live a little? I put everything I had into this film,” he said, “and now I’m just a blank slate.”

Interview with Local Filmmakers of “The Rabbi Goes West”

15 Nov

‘Rabbi Goes West’ on mission to Montana, filmmakers following to close out festival

 

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North Cambridge resident Gerald Peary knows a lot about film. He’s been a critic for more than 40 years and a film studies professor and curator for more than a quarter-century, and is about to premiere his third documentary feature, “The Rabbi Goes West,” Sunday night at the Somerville Theatre. The film – co-directed with Peary’s wife, Amy Geller, it follows a Chabad rabbi who moves from Brooklyn, New York, to Bozeman, Montana – closes out this year’s Boston Jewish Film Festival, playing this week and last at the Brattle Theatre and other locations.

The reason for 34-year-old Chaim Bruk’s relocation is a mission to bring his brand of Judaism to the American West by placing a mezuzah (an encased prayer offering) on the door of every Montana Jew – not a large population. Along the way Bruk encounters resistance from within the Jewish community, and more frighteningly, threats from neo-Nazis.

“I wanted to make a film which spoke to my Judaism,” Peary said. “I’m the most secular Jew, who doesn’t attend synagogue but knows who all the Jewish writers, athletes, et cetera, are. I asked myself, ‘What do I like about Judaism?’ I like mezuzahs – the scrolls put up on Jewish doorposts including inside a verse from Deuteronomy. Having a mezuzah on your door tells the world you’re Jewish, and it’s a big ‘fuck you’ to Hitler, Nazis and Neo-Nazis. ‘Jews are here!’”

“The Rabbi Goes West” co-directors Amy Geller and Gerald Peary.

“Anyway, I read on the Internet about a Hasidic rabbi who has a pledge to put a mezuzah on the door of very Jew in the state of Montana – that’s 2,000 Jews in a state 14 times larger than Israel. I called up Rabbi Chaim Bruk in Bozeman, Montana, and he invited Amy out to film him putting up mezuzahs. The rest is our movie,” Peary said.

Geller co-directed “The Guys Next Door” (2016), a documentary about a gay male couple raising daughters, and Peary said he was delighted to work with a partner who is a “brilliant, talented producer first, and second, knows documentaries inside and out.”

“She was also incredibly demanding about our film,” Peary said, “never letting go of any facet of the movie until she felt it was perfect.“ During production, Peary said most nights they would discuss and argue about the film over dinner and while going to bed. “That was all exhausting,” he said, “but if the movie is really good, it’s because of the intensity of our collaboration.”

Over the years, Peary has penned for several alt-weeklies in the area (“Real Paper” and “Boston Phoenix” – both sadly defunct), taught film studies at Suffolk University and continues to run the Cinemathèque program at Boston University and contribute to The Arts Fuse. His first film, “For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism” (2009), which Geller co-produced, served as something of a bittersweet elegy for iconic film critics Roger Ebert and Andrew Sarris (both died in the short years following) and poetically pondered the fate and value of film criticism. In 2015, his “Archie’s Betty” explored the roots of the comic book town of Riverdale in Haverhill, where Archie creator Bob Montana had attended high school.

Peary doesn’t think making movies affects what he writes when easing back into the critic’s chair – something Ebert also did, having famously penned Russ Meyers’ bit of 1970s kink, “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”

“Everyone making movies has endless hardship stories, especially about the financing part in a country which doesn’t support the arts in any way. But it’s ultimately what’s on screen that counts, and only what counts,” Peary said. “I’ve always been a tough critic with high demands for cinema, and I remain that way.”

Wiener-Dog, Todd Solondz Interview

7 Jul

‘Wiener-Dog’ — A Comedy Of Despair About Mortality And A Dachshund

A still from Todd Solondz's latest film "Wiener-Dog." (Courtesy IFC Films)closemore

Indie auteur Todd Solondz, whose latest dark comedy “Wiener-Dog” opens Friday, has always made films his way — on his own terms — plumbing moral and ethical realms that would make most cringe. If he sounds like something of a maverick or self-starter, on paper he is, but in the flesh he casts a very different image.

To begin with, Solondz, who cites Andy Warhol and John Waters as influences, is a mild reflective sort and willing to collaborate for the sake of art. He’s quite humble too. After eight features he points out, “I am very fortunate I am still able to get films made,” referring to the struggle many directors face trying to garner enough funding to make independent film.  Continue reading

The Final Chapter

17 Mar

The final chapter

Sylvester Stallone discusses Rocky Balboa

By TOM MEEK  |  December 19, 2006

It’s been 17 years since Rocky V and 30 since the original. This week, Rocky Balboa opens, and you can almost hear the comics and late night TV hosts sharpening their knives. After all this time, why make another beat-the-long-odds boxing movie, especially when the franchise’s star, Sylvester Stallone is 60?“The fifth one ended with no emotion,” said Stallone, looking fit in jeans and a white button down during an interview at the Ritz Carleton. “It did not come full circle. The optimism that is usually associated with Rocky was not there. There was no moral message, nothing uplifting, zero.”

John G. Avildsen (The Karate Kid) directed the first and fifth Rockies, while Stallone, who cooked up the series and penned each script, helmed the others. Balboa, he says, will be the final chapter, and a tone of therapeutic necessity marks voice of the ’80’s icon. “I just wanted to end the series on the right note, and to do that, you’ve got to do it yourself. You go back to basics. If it stumbles, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.”  Continue reading

Ray Manzarek

17 Mar

Interview: Ray Manzarek of the Doors

The return of the Lizard King, sort of

By TOM MEEK  |  April 5, 2010

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Photo:http://www.visum-reportagen.de

It’s been nearly 40 years since the death of Jim Morrison, but the surviving members of the Doors, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and percussionist John Densmore have kept soldiering on, playing in various reformations (Densmore has, for the most part, largely declined to partake) of the ground-breaking band.  The meteoric rise of the band, during Morrison’s brief stint, is chronicled in the new documentary, When You’re Strange directed by longtime indie stalwart, Tom DiCillo (Johnny Suede and Living inOblivion).

Manzarek has openly called the film “the true story of the Doors” and the “anti-Oliver Stone,” in reference to the 1991 bio-pic The Doors, starring Val Kilmer. I spoke with Manzarek via telephone to get his input on the film, Oliver Stone, his relationship with Morrison, and his upcoming East Coast tour (including a Boston stop) with Krieger as Manzarek–Krieger (with former Fuel front man Brett Scallions filling Morrison’s large shoes).

So how did the project come together?
Dick Wolf, the TV producer.  He was a big fan of the Doors and booked the Doors when he was in college a long time ago.  So he’s been a Doors fan ever since, and he came to us and said, “Let’s make a documentary.”  He had won an Academy Award with a documentary short about two firefighters who died during 9/11 [Twin Towers, 2003] and he wanted to make a feature and hired Tom DiCillo, a guy who had made documentaries and did well at Sundance. So we talked to Tom and he had a lot of great ideas, especially the whole shamanic thing with Morrison driving in his car and hearing about the death of Jim Morrison.  It was something Tom wanted to cut back to [in the film]; Jim Morrison coming back to Los Angeles even if he was dead, or is he? [The footage was from a short film Morrison made during the recording of L.A. Woman, the Doors last album with Morrison]. I thought it was an in interesting idea.  Continue reading

Edward Zwick

17 Mar

Interview: Edward Zwick, director of Love and Other Drugs

Beyond Glory days

By TOM MEEK  |  November 26, 2010

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Folks most immediately identify Edward Zwick as the director behind Glory (1989), perhaps one of the greatest Civil War dramas ever rendered on film. Not bad for a sophomore outing — one that came as a  stark contrast to Zwick’s first feature film, About Last Night, a 1986 cheeky romantic comedy starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. From there, Zwick — who’d worked in drama at Harvard and cut his teeth in TV with the popular serial thirtysomething — would embark on a cinematic directorial career encompassing a diverse and wide-sweeping range of subjects: Zwick was the hand behind such films as The SiegeDefiance, and The Last Samurai.

Equally impressive are Zwick’s endeavors as a producer. His name is etched on such Academy Award golden children as Shakespeare in Love and Traffic.

For his latest, Love and Other Drugs (read our review here), Zwick writes, produces, and directs. This one’s another rom-com, with some darker issues at heart and centered on the late-’90s pharmaceutical bubble crowned by the introduction of Viagra to the marketplace. The inspiration for the movie comes from Jamie Reidy’s novel Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman and stars desirable, upwardly mobile talents Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. I recently had a chance to sit down with Zwick and discuss the film and his life behind the camera.

What drew you to this project?
I had always been interested in human behavioral comedy. I had done it before in my career and gone back to it with My So-Called Life and thirtysomething, so it’s not like I ever left it. I think it’s really important for an artist to remain a moving target, and I think I have focused the past couple of years on pieces that were larger in scale and that were often in a historical context or epic, and I just wanted to bring it down to something that was only about the performances and only about the smaller moments and try to talk about what is epic in personal lives. Continue reading

Welcome to Sarajevo

17 Mar

R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 01/08/1998, B: Tom Meek,

Bosnia calling

Michael Winterbottom’s scathing Sarajevo

by Tom Meek

WELCOME TO SARAJEVO, Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, based on the novel Natasha’s Story, by Michael Nicholson. With Stephen Dillane, Woody Harrelson, Marisa Tomei, Emira Nusevic, Kerry Fox, Goran Visnjic, Emily Lloyd, and James Nesbitt. A Miramax Pictures release. At the Kendall Square.

Michael Winterbottom is perhaps the most-talented, least-known filmmaker of the moment. His fledgling accomplishments — Butterfly Kiss, the tangy road movie about two lesbian serial killers, and Jude, featuring the red-hot Kate Winslet in an idiosyncratic updating of the quintessential Thomas Hardy novel — demonstrated the British director’s knack for visual storytelling. But neither film would serve as an appropriate yardstick for what Winterbottom has achieved with Welcome to Sarajevo, the first cinematic rendering of the Bosnian conflict.

Based upon British war correspondent Michael Nicholson’s novel Natasha’s Story, and piquantly peppered with other journalistic reports from the front line, Welcome to Sarajevo is a blistering docudrama, as refreshing as it is horrifying. Told through the eyes of Western journalists, the film doesn’t concern itself with the nebulous details of the Bosnian Serbs’ terrorist assault on the city that hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics; instead it’s a simple, eloquent, chronicle of Sarajevans’ daily struggle to survive. Winterbottom sets the film’s stark tone in the unassuming opening sequence as his camera follows the ceremonial preparations of a bride and her wedding party. The pageant frolics along, carefree and unconcerned, until the rip of a sniper’s bullet terminates the moment of jubilation and ushers in the shocking reality of civil war.  Continue reading