Tag Archives: michael pena

Werner Herzog’s My Son My Son What Have Ye Done


Werner Herzog’s My Son My Son What Have Ye Done, although not quite congruent with what you’d call my cup of tea, is an impressively bizarre little foray into… well, something. Michael Shannon plays a disturbed stage actor who, in an offscreen fit of violence, slays his mother (the great Grace Zabriskie) with a sword. Now, whether by mental illness, strange Peruvian spirits that piggy-backed on his psyche after a trip down there or reasons unknown, he slowly unravels throughout the rather short yet obstinately molasses paced film, until the final act solidifies his exodus into the realm of total bonkers lunacy. Shannon is an expert at all things in the circle of mental unrest in his work, and even when playing innocuous supporting characters or stalwart leads, there’s always a glint of menace in the whites of his eyes. It’s an impenetrable character study though, giving us not much to go on other than obtuse clues and the weird, wacky troupe of people in his life, portrayed by an appropriately zany bunch of cult actors. He has an uncle (Brad Dourif, a Herzog regular) with an ostrich farm and some, shall we say, interesting views on life. His quiet girlfriend (Chloe Sevigny) looks on in unsettlement, and his mellowed out drama instructor (Udo Kier) tries to make heads or tails of everyone else’s strange behaviour. You know you’re in the twilight zone when Udo Kier is the most well adjusted character in your film, but such is the territory. As Shannon descends into whatever internal eye of the storm privy only to him, he takes his mother and her two friends hostage, and the obligatory salty detective (Willem Dafoe) and his rookie partner (Michael Pena) show up to add to the clutter. David Lynch has an executive producer credit on this, and although the extent of his involvement is hazy to me, simply having his moniker post-title in the credits adds a whole dimension of bizarro to go along with Herzog’s already apparent eccentricities. It’s well filmed, acted and looks terrific onscreen, and I’m all for ambiguous, round the bush storytelling as a rule, but this just wasn’t a dose that sat well with me or tuned into my frequency as a viewer. Worth it in spades for that cast though, and their individual, episodic shenanigans. 

-Nate Hill

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A chat with filmmaker Jack Perez: An interview by Nate Hill

 

Excited to bring you my latest interview, with filmmaker Jack Perez. Jack is responsible for one of the coolest, most unique indie films of the 1990’s, La Cucaracha. Starring genre icons Eric Roberts and Joaquim De Almeida and featuring an early career turn from Michael Pena, it’s a film like no other, a severely underrated south of the border morality play with shades of everything from Peckinpah to Walter Hill, a style all its own and a script that is genuinely one of a kind. The film has just been remastered for streaming release on Amazon prime, and I have included a link to the new trailer here, it’s  not a film to be missed. Enjoy! 

Nate: What led you to filmmaking? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do, or did you fall into it?
Jack: I got into it very young, one of those Super 8 kids who borrowed the family camera and drafted my sister into doing homemade monster movies. My father was a movie nut, and our primary mode of communication was watching old films together, so that’s what started it.  
Nate: Who are some filmmakers that you would say influenced your work, or you are a huge fan of and have looked up to?
Jack: Peckinpah definitely, probably above all others. His work was personal and mythical and expressionistic and truthful. And totally alive! Scorsese, of course – his mastery of the medium also melded with a powerful personal vision. Robert Aldrich, who did such a great range of work: VERA CRUZ and THE DIRTY DOZEN and KISS ME DEADLY. Altman and Polanski. Hitchcock and Hawks. Wyler and Wilder. Again, my father is the one who first introduced me to the classics, so by the time I went to film school I was pretty well saturated and ready to look at European cinema and cool experimental work (like Maya Deren!).
Nate: If you could have the rights to any novel/graphic novel series to undertake as your dream project, what would it be?

Jack: I don’t know if it could be done, or even should be done (probably not), but Dan Clowe’s LIKE A VELVET GLOVE CAST IN IRON. Overwhelmingly striking.
Nate: La Cucaracha: How did the idea come about, and did the end result look anything like what you first started out with on paper?
Jack: My writing partner, Jim McManus, and I were very much into Peckinpah at the time, and the whole idea of gringos getting into trouble south of border was very much on our minds. BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA was a huge influence, but we were also enamored with THE WAGES OF FEAR and TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and RIDE THE PINK HORSE. The south-of-the-border noir is kind of a mini-genre unto itself and we wanted to use that as a backdrop for a new kind of story. Something more character-driven and personal. Actually, Jim’s original concept – the one that set the whole thing in motion – was that the Walter Poole character would literally roll into town in his wheelchair at the climax, guns blazing ala Rooster Cogburn, and go down in a hail of bullets. An nifty idea. Of course, by the time we actually got to the end of the screenplay that ultimately resulted, that kind of hyperbolic nihilistic ending didn’t fit anymore.  Also I had intended to shoot it on location in Mexico and use the actual landscape and real people as part of the film’s fabric. But budgetary considerations brought us to the backlot of Universal, and the result was a Mexico much more mythical than intended (which I have to say, I kind of preferred in the end because it allowed for a more expressionistic look overall).
Nate: Working with Eric Roberts: you can honestly claim that you have directed him in what is, for me at least, in the top three greatest performances he’s ever given. How was the working relationship? What is he like? Do you guys keep in contact?
Jack: It was great working with Eric, and we’ve remained close over the years – him and his wife, Eliza. Eric works a lot, but I think he came to see LA CUCARACHA as an opportunity to really create a character, and show dimensions and vulnerabilities that he sometimes doesn’t get a chance to play. He knew I was deadly serious about making this picture the best it could be and, to his credit, attacked the role accordingly. He was a joy and a lot of fun to hang out with. Great sense of humor and loves animals (as I do).
Nate: Working with Joaquim De Almeida: a criminally underrated actor who rarely gets to show his true range and versatility. How was it working with him, especially in his intense and emotional scene near the end of the film? You can also claim to have seen probably the best and most truthful work he has ever done. 
Jack: I totally agree. A great actor – like Eric – sometimes limited to roles that don’t show what he’s truly capable of. Here, he went for it as well. In fact on the day we shot the Sunday Schoolroom scene, where he tests Walter’s character and actually steps on his head – he had a huge, complex 2-page monologue that, when he finished – the crew literally jumped to its feet and broke out in applause. Ive never seen that happen on any set. He was also a real gentleman, bright, warm and thoughtful. And unafraid. The scene at the end that you mentioned required him to be emotionally naked, and he went there.
Nate: How did the remastered version of La Cucaracha come about? To be honest it’s nice to see it now widely available, I searched for it for nearly five years before finally finding a second hand DVD, being blown away and wondering why it wasn’t on every shelf of every store out there.. Did Amazon approach you for this?
Jack: I pushed for it. I too was bummed it was sorta out of circulation. Certainly not in HD or in the proper aspect ratio (the DVD release cropped the the original 1.85 image). So I approached Renascent Films, who had acquired the streaming rights, and asked if they would pursue it. Thankfully they agreed and I set about tracking down the 35mm negative, which was no longer in the original lab and wound up – through a corporate buyout – in the vaults of Technicolor. We did the telecine there and I’m happy with the results and genuinely excited it’s out there on Amazon Prime.
Nate: What’s life like for you these days? Any upcoming projects, film or otherwise, that you are excited for and would like to speak about?
Jack: I’m always going after the next project. The more personal the better. Though to make ends meet or just for the quick junkie filmmaking fix, I’ll do a TV project or a genre pic for hire. But the real joy is doing work that is personally necessary, ideally in an environment where not too many people fuck with you. That limits you to the world of independent financing. Anyway, we’re close to raising the bucks for a female-driven action-thriller I wrote called SHOTGUN WEDDING. I’ve wanted to do it for years and am I’m psyched for that!
Nate: Thank you so much for you r time, Jack, it’s been an honour and I’m very much looking forward to seeing La Cucaracha once again remastered!

Jack Pérez’s La Cucaracha: A Review by Nate Hill 

La Cucaracha means cockroach in Spanish (duh), which is somewhat of an ironic and sad reference to the main character of this exquisite little indie character study, a damaged man named Walter Pool (Eric Roberts). Walter is a writer drowning in alcoholism as he spend his days hiding out in a Mexican shanty town. Wallowing in self despair, he’s the perfect protagonist just waiting for an inciting incident, and as we all know, rural Mexico is a breeding ground for trouble of all sorts to spur on a good campfire tale. While on a bender in town, Walter is approached by a shady American lawyer (James McManus) and offered a job with malicious implications involving the son of local Mexican mobster Jose Guerra (Joaquim De Almeida). He takes the task, but nothing is what it seems and he realizes he’s been set up, lied to and left for dead. Used to being a write off, something snaps in him and he fires up with a need to know the truth about Guerra and his family. He’ll wish he never bothered, because the truth is disturbing and not at all what you’d expect from this kind of tequila soaked, south of the border intrigue. There’s very little action, gunplay or usual thriller tropes, and pretty much all the narrative is left to the actors and the writing, making it very unique amongst this type of fare. This is essential for any Roberts fan, he’s not doing one of his extended cameos or winking supporting jaunts here. He’s front and center the entire time and owns it with vulnerability and resilience, especially in a curiously sad monologue that goes into his past and let’s us see some of what has led him to his unique, end of the road situation. Almeida once again plays a Latin criminal, but unlike most of the other times, he’s given something to do here besides wave a gun around and be the villain. He’s treated intimately by the script, giving Guerra a personality, secrets and a haunted soul of his own. The scenes later in the third act between him and Roberts crackle with charisma and potency. The cover of the dvd for this shows a gunslinger type guy brandishing two pistols. Ignore that fully. Nowhere in this film is there anything that can be branded as an action flick. It’s all about character, good and bad deeds, redemption, evil and choices we make. An astonishing little story that’s been seen by almost no one up til now, deserving of far more accolades. 

David Ayer’s Fury: A Review by Nate Hill

  

David Ayer’s Fury is the most fearsome, unrelenting war film of the decade and quite the experience to sit through. One stumbles out of the theatre as shell shocked as the brave soldiers we’ve just witnessed onscreen, needing time to wind down from the horror, after which we realize that among the thunderous bravura and non stop, head shattering combat are moments of tender humanity and ponderous reflection, just enough to contrast the madness. Logan Lerman has the pretty boy look, which is quickly stripped away and replaced by frenzied terror and confusion, playing a young army clerk who hasn’t seen one second of combat, suddenly tasked with joining the ranks of a tank warfare crew. They are each hardened in their own way by what they’ve seen and done. Brad Pitt is Wardaddy, their iron jawed commander in a gritty, unstable and altogether brilliant performance. Jon Bernthal is the obligatory redneck Neanderthal, a big lug whose brutish ways mask a childlike yearning beneath. Shia Leboeuf is the restrained one, a bible reader and thinker whose resentment of the war radiates from his eyes like sad and sick beams of sympathy. Michael Pena, reliably excellent, is the closest to neutral of the group. Ayer airdrops us right into the action without pretext, warning or proclaimed intention. This isn’t a ‘men on a mission’ war flick, this is a single harrowing day in the lives of men at the end of the world as well as their ropes, an intimate study of the horror inflicted on both body and soul, both soldier and civilian, the collective horrific impact of the war refracted through the prism of a small period of time. Such a tactic has huge potential, and here it works wonders in brining us closer to these characters, as well as anyone they meet along their way. Pitt leads this ragtag band with the indifferent sentiment of a hardened, brittle man who has been in one too many a tight spot and seen one too many a comrade fall under his care to waste time with compassion for the enemy. Time and tide have turned killing into a purely instinctual, second nature business for him, and we see this unfold in a kicker of a scene where he forces Lerman to murder an unarmed German private who begs for his life. Such is war, and such is Ayer’s film, free from Hallmark moments and structured escapism. Midway through, the film stops dead in its tracks for a beautiful, tension filled sequence in which the band finds temporary refuge in crumbling abode with two German girls. The culture shock is numbed out by the extremity of the war, and these two groups are forced to coexist, if only for an hour or so. The youngest of the girls (Alicia Von Rittberg) is stunning, a baleful example of the corrupts of innocence, her character arc a testament to the senselessness of war. The combat scenes within the tank clank with clammy, claustrophobic dread and desperation, helped by the fact that for the most part they filmed inside real replicas. Jason Isaacs shows up in yet another war movie role as a grizzled commander who briefly assists them, and (of course) steals his two quick scenes in the process. War films often struggle to find humanity amongst the ugliness by trying a little too hard, and by being a little too obvious. This one is frank, unrelenting and assaults you with a deafening roar of chaos, with a few extremely subtle moments of introspect and emotion. It may just have cracked the formula for finding the comfort in such turmoil: less is more. One of the best war movies I’ve ever seen.