Steve De Jarnatt’s Grace For Grace

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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.

Grace For Grace

On Andrzej Zulawski’s On the Silver Globe: The Greatest Film Never Made

“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.

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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.

Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate

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.

-Nate Hill

Apocalyptic Mania: Briefly Interpreting Zulawski’s Possesion

Warning: light spoilers ahead.

Chaos. Order. Chance. Faith. It’s enough to make one go mad. 

The apocalyptic mania at the heart of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981) is rooted deeply in both ontology and cosmology. This is a film, in the end, about our end. With that comes a frightening acknowledgment of life and death. Much like Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011), the audience is subjected here to two branching, reactive states of hysteria in regards to an exacting, lingering proposal of death. It’s a hysteria emanating from the devastation of all we find to be good and right. In Zulawski’s diegesis, God — or what we’re led to believe is God — can be discovered in the corner, or on the bed, in various stages of rebirth. He has been oozed into the world, forced from a virginal birth of blood and slime. He is an assimilation, perhaps even an expulsion, of hate, the failure of love. As Mark and Anna’s marriage disintegrates into madness, the disease of life, manhood, womanhood, and death is slithering its grip on finality. It isn’t a coincidence, then, that Anna’s other lover notes for us that the only way to find God is through disease. Indeed, in life we find death; through death, we find life. But what kind of life? 

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There is much posturing to be found online and in cinematic circles about Possession and what religious or social subtexts Zulawski implanted within it. I would argue it’s quietly political, more than anything, similar to Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (1986), wearing a devilish smirk as the film’s finale drops its bombs… quite literally. As Mark’s double, God himself, has fully formed himself, so has our end. And wouldn’t you know it — chance, or faith, chaos, or order, has granted him the ability to hunt down Anna’s double, who’s taking care of a child smart enough to know when not to answer the door and when to hide in the tub of water, just as the sirens begin to ring their earth shattering song of ruin.

Many Polish people born in 1940, as Zulawski was, can attest that just because the sirens are ringing, just because the bombs are dropping, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end. The climax of Possession actually posits a new beginning, perhaps the same beginning that can be found after death. One where God is hovering just behind the frosted glass of the front door, a doomed silhouette bringing with him the unknown.


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.

Josh Trank’s Capone

Tom Hardy and Josh Trank have some big collective nuts in pulling off a stunt like this, but they’ve crafted a bold, original and ghoulish piece of work with Capone, aka The Man With The Golden Tommy Gun or Zombie Tom Hardy Putrefied In Florida. This is a fucking bonkers film like no other, approaching the historical character study from an angle few would dare to try but the borderline experimental process and beyond weird stylistic choices combined with Hardy’s positively extraterrestrial performance as Al Capone and references to everything from Twin Peaks to The Shining make this a winner and my favourite film of the year so far.

Most filmic chronicles of real world crime figures focus on the up and coming rise to power of any given person, it’s a safe-bet, tried and true Hollywood formula that always raises pulses. Trank diverts from that route, instead showing us Capone in the last few miles of his twilight years, slowly rotting away both physically and mentally from neurosyphilis in his drafty Florida mansion while his family looks on in exasperation. Not once in the film do we see Capone as a younger man, at the height of his power and only for one brief moment is he anything that resembles sane, delivering a peppy anecdotal barb to his granddaughter at thanksgiving dinner before passing out of coherence and into a surreal, purgatorial twilight zone of his own wrought. His loyal wife (Linda Cardellini is fantastic as always) stays by his side but is increasingly more upset by the drooling spectre her husband has become. His twitchy doctor (Kyle Maclachlan, terrific as well) grasps at straws to plug the leaks in the once sharp gangster turned ghost and Al’s old friend Johnny (Matt Dillon) appears to him on elliptical vignettes. His son (Noel Fisher) struggle with the reality of his condition and everyone is pretty much there to bear witness to the deeply troubling unravel of a once iron fisted patriarch.

Hardy’s performance must be given special note; since his inception as a minted Hollywood star his performances have gradually edged off the face of what may be considered ‘normal’ in some circles, his portrayals getting more eccentric, each new vocal character choice becoming more bizarre. He’s barely human here as Al, a shambling, defecating, mumbling, scaly, bloodshot eyed phantasm who wanders about in a delirium, haunting his own house and trapped in a horrific, kaleidoscopic nightmare of his own violent past. He shits himself (twice), chews his cigars harder than the scenery, rants and raves at nothing in particular and has now patented the ‘Tom Hardy dialect’ that consists of grunts, guttural utterances, half formed syllables and rumbly noises so odd that it’s tough to tell what sounds are being made by his vocal chords and what ones are from his voiding bowels. You’re either onboard for this very disturbing character or not, but there’s no copping out by calling it a gimmick. Capone really did die a dishevelled mess and I’m pretty sure that nothing Hardy does here is too far from the grisly truth of a soul near death, which Hollywood nearly always shies away from showing in full splendour, or squalor.

Many people are going to hate this film with a passion, and I get it. It’s very different, frequently uncomfortable to watch and oh so terminally weird. Trank plays around with distorted reality and hip hop artist El-P composes a strange, otherworldly score that places Capone in a twisted, freaky haunted house of his own mind and there’s no baseline narrative to easily return to from the madness. What I took from this was an unflinching look at how a life of crime, violence, lies and fear ultimately leads to an anticlimactic, sadly ironic, deteriorated final episode of misery. The feds are on Al’s case but he barely knows what fucking planet he’s on anymore and his poor family, relegated from collateral damage to picking up his pieces must now deal with them as well as looming destitution. Ultimately a life of crime as prolific as his leads to dead ends, demons of torment and the slow, inevitable encroach of mortality like the alligators Al screams at as they unnervingly approach from the swamps surrounding his broke-down palace. This is a spectacular film and whether or not it’s ultimately your thing, there’s no denying the craft and vision put to work here.

-Nate Hill

An Irishman in Hollywood

Two films, one year, three histories. Altering history isn’t easy, but leave it to the power of Martin Scorsese and the retro-fitting of Quentin Tarantino to formulate an indelible mark that sets into question our very own notions of the past. We are, of course, talking about The Irishman and Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, a pair of 2019 films that are today still immensely popular fodder for cinephiliac conversation, but are somehow overlooked in their entwining subtexts.

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The Irishman begins with a title card — I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES — which foreshadows a conversation between teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa and budding gangster Frank Sheeran, future friends fated for tragedy. The film is bifurcated with two performances, one indulgent and one deeply understated. Pacino’s indulgence allows the veteran to fall into his iconically shouty, spastic gruffness, but because he brings an emotional dignity and devastating gravitas to each scene in which he stars, he’s able to effectively steal the film. At the heart of the movie, though, is Robert De Niro’s soft-pedal portrayal of Sheeran. He’s unemphasized and unmoved, capitalizing on Sheeran’s lack of empathy, penchant for sociopathy, and ultimate isolation. Frank kills his best friend, his only friend, Jimmy, at the top of the last third of The Irishman, granting us a peek into the “what if?” of history, spiraling both the audience and Sheeran into a purgatory of regret. Scorsese utilizes these performances in dual fashion to tell the sprawling story of an American dream — all that individuality, familial responsibility, and work ethic America is meant to represent — left for dead, devastated, and ruined in a nursing home. 

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood also features two male leads, one equally showy, one equally downplayed. DiCaprio is hilarious and fantastic as Rick Dalton, an aging TV star of the 60’s who is coming closer and closer to being booted into character actor territory from his place in stardom. Whereas he used to hold his own against the heavy in Bounty Law, along with his guest spots on Hullabaloo, he now finds himself a “sexy, evil Hamlet” on the set of the Lancer pilot. His stunt double, long-time friend, and gopher, Cliff Booth, is the yin to his yang. Pitt, who won an Oscar for his role, plays it cool — and, yes, he is very, very cool in the role, sporting a Champion t-shirt, enjoying episodes of Mannix, fixing roof satellites, killing Manson cultists… all in a day’s work. Yes, history is also altered here by Tarantino, albeit in a more extreme, brutal, perhaps even hilarious way. 

It would’ve been really easy for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to wade into that morose pitfall of discovery — that our favorite movie stars bleed red just like we do and that it’s up to the nastiness of the world to prove it to us with a knife — but the film has just a little more to say than that. It presupposes all the above and then asks, “What’s the point in living in a world like that, when you don’t have to?” Tarantino understands the power of film, the world-building that comes with a movie camera. If he wants to live in a world in which Sharon Tate’s murder was halted by an acid-trip-experiencing stuntman, then by God, who’s to stop him? It’s the same for Scorsese’s work — a career of examining Catholic guilt through the lens of street urchins, disturbed protagonists, and gangsters. If Scorsese wants to alter the past, provide a fate for Jimmy Hoffa that’s otherwise nonexistent, in order to examine grief and remorse, then he should be allowed to do so. Why should history be followed by these men?

The Irishman does for Jimmy Hoffa what Once Upon a Time in Hollywood did for Sharon Tate — not just giving us a self-proposed alternate look at history, but also attempting to provide some categorical sense of closure. The emotional punch that stems from the hindsight and understanding of what took place in real life is overwhelming by the end of both films. The tragedy at the heart of The Irishman is almost Shakespearean, not just in length, but in the elegiac, time-turned way it looks at aging, empathy, loyalty, friendship, and loneliness. It also reveals an exacting blood relation with Tarantino’s film, in that the joy of each movie revolves around the machismo energy of the male stars, but the heart is revealed in two subtle, heartbreaking female performances by Anna Paquin and Margot Robbie (and it’s no surprise that both movies have been criticized for the lack of female characterization by the reactionary public — can the point of either movie fly any higher over someone’s head?) The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may take place on opposite sides of the country, but they both reveal a whole lot about where we’re from as a country, east to west, and where we are likely (or, unlikely) to go. 


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.

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Christopher Lee Performances

Christopher Lee was the kind of guy that came to mind whenever you heard the term ‘commanding presence.’ He had a legendary career that bridged the gap from 70’s Hammer horror fare all the way to being a regular in Tim Burton films as well as memorable voiceover work and a handful of instantly recognizable roles in iconic Sci-Fi/fantasy franchises. The one aspect to this wonderful actor was his strikingly deep voice, like molasses poured over mahogany and put to use in countless treasured performances. These are my personal ten favourite!

10. Victor in Disney’s Return From Witch Mountain

This is an admittedly lacklustre sequel to a magical Disney classic but it’s on here for a reason. I grew up with Escape To Witch Mountain, I’ve seen it a trillion times and I waited forever for Disney to release this one from the vault. It’s enjoyable if not as amazing as the first but I really loved seeing Lee as the darkly charismatic mad scientist who wants to harvest the hero’s supernatural powers, stepping in for Ray Milland’s maniacal billionaire antagonist from the first film.

9. Rochefort in The Three Musketeers

This is a totemic role for me because many actors I adore have played it including Michael Wincott in the 90’s as well as Tim Roth and Mads Mikkelsen more recently. This 1973 musketeers film is admittedly a silly version but Lee makes an imposing incarnation of the one eyed anti-musketeer.

8. Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Jinnah

I’ve admittedly only seen part of this on TV in Europe but it’s one of Lee’s personal favourite roles that he himself cherishes and an important piece of acting/filmmaking. Jinnah was the political founder of Pakistan and a man who believed that all human beings everywhere have the right to worship whichever god they choose and can coexist and be free. It’s a stunning performance from the man and if you YouTube any interviews where he is asked what roles he cherishes most in his career he always brings it up and you can feel how important it is and how much it meant to him playing that historical figure.

7. Dr. Catheter in Joe Dante’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch

If there’s one thing Lee was great at it was keeping a straight face in the midst of sheer lunacy. He’s a maniacal scientist hellbent on weird experiments here as the huge high rise building he works in becomes infested with nasty Mogwai, and he plays it pricelessly deadpan.

6. Burgomaster in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow

He’s only in this for like two minutes right at the beginning but he basically singlehandedly sets the mood with a couple lines. I’m not sure what a ‘burgomaster’ is but he appears to be some kind of austere judge who dispatches Johnny Depp’s Ichabod Crane to Sleepy Hollow and is the first character in the film to actually say the town’s name in that iconic voice.

5. Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man

The legacy of this awesome British cult horror film is obviously now scarred by the obnoxious Nic Cage remake but seek it out anyways, Lee plays the deeply philosophical and extremely unnerving head of a pagan cult with supernatural proclivities and a hostile attitude towards puritans. He embodies this charismatic fiend with affability that swiftly turns into menace, a very fascinating antagonist.

4. Dracula in a bunch of Dracula films

Lee in the Vampire getup is such totemic symbol of 60’s/70’s horror, what can I say. I haven’t seen all the Dracula stuff he did but the image of him as the character is imprinted in my pop culture subconscious as I imagine it is for many.

3. Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun

One of the classiest, most dangerous and cool Bond villains, an assassin for hire with a literal golden gun and a… uh… third nipple. Lee is calm, sociopathic and deadly as the guy, who enjoys killing people a lot and is good at it too.

2. Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus in George Lucas’s Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones

My second favourite Star Wars antagonist after Darth Maul, Dooku is a no good scheming arch-baddie who incites a war, pits intergalactic factions against each other and masterminds one of the most memorable gladiator arena matches in cinema history. He gives the guy an ever so slight air of aristocracy and swings around a cool curve handled lightsaber like nobody’s business.

1. Saruman The White in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings

This was the first film I ever saw him in and will always be the character I remember him for. He’s unbelievably intense, measured in line delivery and incredibly malevolent in an implosive portrait of power hungry mania. Saruman is the wizard gone bad, and Christopher takes full advantage of that arc, not to mention nailing the stark look of the character wonderfully.

-Nate Hill