We are completely honored to bring you our chat with actress Stephanie Kurtzuba. Stef recently stars alongside Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN which is currently streaming on Netflix. Her other credits include THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, ANNIE, and the upcomig film BAD EDUCATION with Hugh Jackman. Her television credits include CHICAGO PD, BLUE BLOODS, THE LEFTOVERS, and THE GOOD WIFE. Stef speaks about her early beginnings in Nebraska to attending NYU, working on stage, and meeting Martin Scorsese and working on one of the best films of the new century, THE IRISHMAN.
I did not expect the creators of Amazon Prime’s Homecoming to craft something as compelling for their second season as they did the first time around but here we are. Season one is a brilliant, tense, meticulously mounted piece of suspense drama storytelling and is one of those perfectly bookended items that never even needed a continuation, which is why I am so surprised at how much I loved this second iteration, which is just close enough to the heels of its predecessor to be considered a new chapter of the same story and just independent enough to be kind of anthology as well.
From this point forward it gets a bit spoiler heavy for season one, so there that is. As we open a young woman (Janelle Monáe) awakens in a canoe on the middle of a lake with complete amnesia, her mind wiped clean. This keeps up the paranoid Bourne and Hitchcock stylistics that have been a staple since season one. When we left this story it was becoming clear that the shadowy Geist corporation is doing some shady pharmaceutical research on unknowing veterans with PTSD, and as we enter into this new chapter we see that this is even unbeknownst to their own CEO, a salt of the earth entrepreneur played by the great Chris Cooper, who I haven’t seen in a while. Monaé’s character along with others must get to the bottom of what Geist is up to while dealing with season one’s disgruntled vet Walter Cruz (Stephan James, an extraordinary talent), crafty Geist fixer Audrey Temple (Hong Chau, always excellent) and a spectacularly corrupt Department of Defence bitch played by Joan Cusack in a towering pillar of ham fisted lunacy.
This season is quite the departure from the first, mainly for the fact that Julia Roberts’ Heidi Bergman is no longer around, she was the rock, moral centre and sympathy bank for that chapter and the others who absorb that position here are considerably less innocuous. That provides lots of terrain for moral ambiguities, complexities and psychological rifts especially with Monáe’s character who is played wonderfully. Chris Cooper was the highlight of this one for me though, as the aging founder of Geist, a profane horticultural guru who feels ill matched to the tide of corrupt bureaucracy and mutinied against by his own employees. He lives in a rusticated farmhouse on the edge of vast crops of mysterious foliage while the Geist headquarters loom clandestine on the horizon, built of hard metals, stark angles and gloom. He’s an earthy element amongst all this new age Pharma innovation and I loved his cranky, compassionate performance, an obstinate old salt who watches Airwolf on a tiny analog tv to get him ‘fired up’ and rebels haughtily at the malevolent forced trying to privateer his inventions. One way this differs from the first season is in use of music, there are no more direct lifts from classic film scores but rather beautiful new compositions from Emile Mosseri. The themes are all still intact though, probing the same moral ground and complicated character profiles using terrific camera work and burnished colour timing to bring this story to life, a scintillating tale that takes a while to get to the heart of, kind of like the frequent images of spiralled architecture we see that serves as visual cue for what this story wants to explore in structure and content. A bit shorter and less dense than season one but no less mesmerizing, well written, flawlessly acted and beautifully produced.
James Horner was a totemic titan of Hollywood musical composition, one of the absolute greats. If you needed unparalleled orchestral grandeur, primally elemental accents to landscape and nature, rousing battle cry pieces of flowing, melodic passages he was your guy and crafted some of the most prolific, memorable scores in cinema. He left us far too soon in a tragic 2015 plane crash but his work lives on eternal, and these are my top ten personal favourite original scores from this wonderful artist!
10. Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs
He goes gritty, smoky and jazzy for this classic buddy cop flick, keeping the excitement somehow both light and dangerous in his work. Favourite track: the exuberant main titles with faint, pleasant steel drums that suit the breezy San Francisco vibe.
9. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart
Beautiful bagpipes pull at the heartstrings and sweeping strings roll over the Scottish highlands in this classic historical epic. Favourite track: Can’t beat that main title.
8. James Cameron’s Aliens
His composition is eerie, badass and mirrors the darkly lit corridors of creepy space stations here, getting appropriately intense once the creatures make themselves known. Favourite track: ‘Bishop’s Countdown’, a master class in impossibly suspenseful tension and epic, cathartic release.
7. Ron Howard’s Willow
Swashbuckling high fantasy is the musical tone in this beloved, refreshingly dark and slightly underrated children’s adventure film. Favourite track: ‘Escape from the Tavern’, a playful, jaunty piece that accompanies Val Kilmer in drag and Warwick Davis as they sled down a snowy mountain on a shield at full throttle.
6. Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall
Another historical epic sees James compose some of his most achingly beautiful and richly melodramatic music yet, compositions that sweep over the rugged Montana terrain that is home to an early 1900’s family and many struggles they encounter. Favourite track: the main theme, utilizing brass and pan flutes to evoke a strong emotional connection to the material, setting and characters.
5. Joe Johnston’s Jumanji
Those drums man, they still haunt me. This is a playful, sweet natured score that dips into appropriately scary and primal places. Favourite track: ‘A New World’, a lovely piece that has a sympathy for the protagonist’s tough arc and a great sense of small town character.
4. James Cameron’s Titanic
This is just so iconic, and probably the most recognized collaboration between Horner and Cameron who maintained a strong working relationship over several films. Deeply romantic, wistful and reverent, this score has it all and is pretty much time capsule worthy. Favourite track: tough pick but ‘Rose instrumental’ just always gets me in the feels.
3. James Cameron’s Avatar
Here he ducks a typical SciFi sounding score for something far more down to earth and elemental, with tons of affecting vocals and a breathtaking auditory scope. Favourite track: ‘Jake’s First Flight’ … just try listening to that without getting goosebumps and little spikes of actual adrenaline. Pure magic.
2. Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy
He absolutely nails the Greek tragedy aesthetic in this very underrated, beautiful and heartbreaking epic. Using vocals and battle drum percussion theres a real sense of approaching threat as war literally looms on the horizon and a sense of deep romantic regret from both factions. Favourite track: ‘3200 Years Ago’ sets the mood like no other.
1. Ron Howard’s The Missing
This may look like a weird first choice but it’s an underrated, gorgeous horror western and James’s music is stark, eerie, gruesome and suits the haunting mood just perfectly. Favourite track: ‘New Mexico, 1885’ ushers in the spooky atmosphere nicely.
Bells echo from a tower that doesn’t exist. The bellowing and snorting of cattle reverberates from the inside of a factory. It starts with one of many dirty, consumerist livestock, as they begin to pour from the opened gates of the dilapidated, crumbling building like blood seeping from a wound. They mingle with the outside world in the way that same wound’s blood might wisp about and spread after dripping into a glass of milk. Moaning, searching, the cattle skitter about slowly but surely, some attempting to graze, some mounting one another in excitement. Around them is a barren, sodden environment of muddy, wet road. There doesn’t seem to be a blade of grass in sight. The piercing cold, grey skies have eliminated any and all greenery. The trees are bare, coated only in wet, freezing rain. The cattle continue to roam, further and further away, until finally they turn a corner and disappear. The circle closes.
Satantango was shot in the anemic fields of Hortobágy directly after János Kádár, the longtime communist leader of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, had finally stepped down. Béla Tarr returned to his homeland to begin working on the film, which he had been planning for years prior. The quickly crumbling infrastructure of Eastern European communism sets the stage for an otherwise languid, slow-paced affair.
This is a film, first and foremost, about time and its relation to humanity. Whether it’s about how time slowly chips away at us, or how we slowly chip away at it, I’m not sure, but Tarr meticulously pieces together this constricting, plodding experience with the confidence and expertise only a cynically depraved Hungarian of his stature can. Scenes play out in full, tinged with harsh, bleak environs, creating a completely realized atmosphere of existential disquietude. The camera is always lingering, always present, roaming about the lives of the villagers at the heart of the narrative, coercing the audience into a similar struggle of existence. We are constantly both moving and staying stagnant, all at the behest of our coercive god-like auteur. We end up much like the characters, facing an indifferent, harsh reality, merely trying to scrape out a meaningful existence amidst an ever-shifting matrix of influence.
Watching a movie at this length, a monolithic 432 minutes, both exhausts and exhilarates. It promotes a feeling of invincibility, as if you’ll never need to watch another movie again, or that you can watch literally any movie ever now… which is extra ironic, given the lack of invincibility embedded within the subtext. Either way, Béla Tarr has made me stronger.
Tyler Harris is a film critic, English teacher, and former theater manager from Louisville, Kentucky. His passionate love for cinema keeps him in tune with his writing.
Anyone who has ever experienced identity theft will relate to Sandra Bullock’s desperate situation in The Net, one of those lynchpin 90’s thrillers that captures the dawning internet culture in ways both silly as well as frightening. I mean this is kind of an off the wall film but it’s an old favourite of mine and always works as perfect escapist entertainment. Plus Sandra Bullock just makes the perfect protagonist, she’s so down to earth, humble and sweet that I always find myself right there in the passenger seat, sympathetically along for the ride in whatever crazy scenario she finds herself in. Here she plays Angela Bennett, a garden variety computer programmer who unwittingly stumbles into a deep set conspiracy that’s not only out of her pay grade but way beyond her level of comprehension or ability to dodge. Soon whatever forces out there have noticed and scary shit starts to befall her: her credit cards decline, law enforcement is hijacked into believing she’s a fugitive, a mysterious operative (Jeremy Northam) first appears attractive and friendly before becoming despicable and malevolent and her life begins to spiral out of control. I further sympathize with Angela because she’s virtually alone and has no one to really turn to, no boyfriend, no obligatory supportive coworker, no kindly boss, even her mother (the great Diane Baker) suffers from Alzheimer’s and barely recognizes her. She’s sort of a loner anyways but in that characteristic she finds the necessary resilience, defence mechanisms and edge to fight back against the nefarious net that’s closing in around her. This gets ragged on a lot and sure you can write it off as just another creaky 90’s cyber-tech thriller but it’s Bullock who wins the day with sheer star power and believable work the whole way through. Love this one to bits.
Some 40 odd years ago, Steve De Jarnatt put pen to paper and started to craft what would be his cinematic masterpiece and final film (so far), Miracle Mile. The 80s classic was spiked with romance, conspiracy, violence and ultimately the end of the world as we know it thanks to a fictional nuclear annihilation everyone lived in constant fear of during the Cold War. As the poster boasted, it was a welcome blast, a genre smashup that keeps an audience guessing until the final reel because it juggled so much with such expertise. Some have stated the film achieved cult status instead of Oscar gold because its lengthy trip from screenplay to screen ended at the same time the Berlin Wall was coming down; in 1989, everyone was in the midst of a deep exhale as the animosity between world powers was on the wane and perhaps few felt they needed the reminder of how close we’d all been living to oblivion.
Fast forward to now and you’ll discover De Jarnatt’s timing couldn’t be more perfect. He’s dropped his first set of short stories on the literary world, and they’re a stinging balm for this planet, thrown into tumult the way it hasn’t seen for a century. Grace For Grace (a phrase taken from a standout story involving a whale, Her Great Blue) shows the writer remains fascinated with the edge of chaos we as a species exist on at all times, and how we as clumsy, mean, beautiful, messy and loving people handle it. The randomness of the universe, the many apocalypses hiding around every corner, are on full display here—a detoxing soldier fights a hurricane, an earthquake interrupts a mob hit, and in what could be the most De Jarnatt moment in all of his work, a little girl gaily skips over the heads of a theater full of people who are about to burn in a theater fire. And that’s just scratching the surface of the beautiful chaos revealed herein. The writer throws us into the middle of these nightmares and dreamscapes with little warning about what’s going on and certainly what’s going to happen next; the scenarios slowly but surely reveal themselves and almost always hinge on what direction human nature will drag his protagonists in when faced with challenges created by decades of their own behavior or the random cruelty of the universe—or, more often than not, the combination of both.
The delightful news? Far from some Ligotti style depression fest over how empty our existence is, De Jarnatt’s globe trotting tales celebrate his characters and their faults, deformities and mistakes. He does indeed, time and again, find the grace in humanity. Through these stories he shows a complicated but pure love for his fellow men and women. We fight, lie, fuck and fail, but we get up and try to do a little better the next day, and maybe even rise to the occasion when things go south—and things always go south. Perhaps one of the best in the collection, Escharotomy, highlights this complicated dance, as a supposed victim of a terrible crime seeks out her supposed assailant, a man burned head to toe not once but twice, who now roams forests decimated by flame to help nurse the wounded survivors back to health. It encapsulates the chaos we cannot control, the damage we inflict on ourselves and others, and the complicated, almost unknowable process of healing and loving despite it all. De Jarnatt delivers these fables with lively prose, equally as comfortable weaving wild tales as he is taking chances with language. Characters and moments bolt off the page and come to life in the reader’s mind, almost as if a great filmmaker is orchestrating a series of loosely connected cinematic vignettes before our very eyes. I don’t know if he’ll get behind the camera again, but no matter what creative endeavor he launches next, it’ll be well worth looking out for. Grace for grace, deed by deed.
“Don’t forget what we escaped, just to repeat with impunity what we believe in.”
The life of man in nature, as Hobbes tells us, is brutish, poor, and short. Cruelty seems to be our only virtue. Violence is inherent. Built into our being is the all-pervasive need to tribalize, to colonize, and to kill. The principle of human exceptionalism holds humanity in the highest regard and, of course, human exceptionalism is a concept created by… you guessed it… humans. Selfishness emanates from us; our species is forcibly meant to be the galaxy’s shining hill. With On the Silver Globe, Zulawski crucifies any remaining notion of human exceptionalism that may remain within your naive soul.
Notoriously difficult in production and known for being, unfortunately, an unfinished product due to Poland’s government shutting down the film’s creation mid-stroke, Zulawski’s sci-fi sand punk philosophical scribe is a daunting, exhausting experience. About 1/5 of the film was unfilmed as the Vice Minister of Poland’s Cultural Affairs forced production to a halt and had the sets and props destroyed. Ten years later, Zulawski would return to The Silver Globe and finish it, inserting into the missing sections a narration of what otherwise would have taken place in the narrative. Where it suffers from being unfinished, it benefits in acting as an enigmatical, broken transmission from the cosmos beyond.
The film is split between a deeply subjective, POV-oriented narrative of a new Eden and an omniscient, wandering grotesquerie of the dark ages in a newfound world. This new world is founded by a group of astronauts who have left Earth, presumably to escape man’s political constraints and form a colony of freedom. These astronauts postulate philosophies about freedom for the majority of their young time on this new planet, which drives home even further the restrictions of humanity’s abilities, the fact that we, collectively, are trapped in this hellscape because of ourselves. Zulawski posits the question at the beginning — can humanity be successfully restarted without our very worst qualities hindering the species from further development and evolution? With the rest of the film, from the entrance of Marek, our new world’s fated messiah, Zulawski answers his own question with a resounding, haunting display of war, organized religion, death, and destruction. You already know the answer. So does he.
You can watch On the Silver Globe as part of Exmilitary’s current Eastern European Apocalypse series here.
Tyler Harris is a film critic, English teacher, and former theater manager from Louisville, Kentucky. His passionate love for cinema keeps him in tune with his writing.
For a film about some book written by the Devil, old Satan is curiously absent from Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, a gorgeous looking but frustratingly muddled and ultimately incomprehensible pseudo religious mumbo jumbo thriller starring Johnny Depp and his trusty librarian’s man purse. Depp is Dean Corso, a rare book dealer known to be ‘thoroughly unscrupulous’ by his peers for his cunning habit of ripping off clueless clients. He’s a decent-ish guy though and is moral enough to be kind of shook when millionaire manuscript collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella, never hammier) and his hilarious pinstripe suit commission him to track down an ancient volume said to be written by Lucifer himself. This leads him on a Europe trotting spot of intrigue to compare Balkan’s copy to two others and look for clues that might help this collective bunch of spooky book nerds summon the devil… or something like that. This is either one complex film that was just beyond my tired ass or one confused film that Polanski didn’t really know what to do with other than give it the slow burn Rosemary’s Baby effort. The problem is, there’s nothing in the kerosene lamp *to* slow burn here, it’s just an undercooked series of chases, extended discussions on theology and satanism and one very silly, very cliched summoning ceremony complete with baroque robes and hundreds candlelit stone chambers as only rural Europe can provide. What works about it? The supporting cast is nicely placed. Langella has a lot of fun as the maniacal zealot and I was thinking the whole time that they just should have casted *him* as the Devil to amp up the proceedings, he already has the look. Lena Olin is appropriately savage as a vicious cultist bitch who fornicates with Depp and runs off into the night. The underrated James Russo has a nice bit as Dean’s rare book dealer buddy. Impossibly sexy Emmanuelle Seigner is some supernatural siren who follows Depp around like a vulture and uses her snazzy powers to assist him when necessary, for purposes the film never feels the need to even tell us. There’s a terrifically unconventional score by Wojciech Kilar, who also put his talents towards eccentrically spooky work in Coppola’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and is perfectly suited for oddly eerie compositions. Depp is strangely ineffective here and is either stressed, smoking, slamming cocktails or wandering about in a trench coat daze while nondescript forces of muddy menace muster around him. And the ending? Fuck if I know, man. I mean it works as a neat tour guide of some really pretty Europeans cities and towns, the atmosphere is very evocative, the supporting actors all give wonderful work but it’s like somehow the lynchpin of it all, and I suspect it’s the script, is just… absent. It’s sad because this premise with all the talent involved should have been something truly frightening and memorable and instead it’s just kind of.. meh.