Ashes (Cenizas)


Sometimes an erupting volcano doesn’t hold a candle to the rage in a human heart.

(2018) Drama (Abaca) Samanta Caicedo, Diego Naranjo, Juana Estrella, Estela Alvarez, Pavel Almeida, Maria José Zapata, Emilio Reyes, Julia Silva, Cristina Muñoz, Eduardo Filippini, Martino Pacheco, Arnoldo Sicles, Pablo Villacis, Myriam Valdivieso, Michel Dreyer, Ignacio Lordugin, Pamela Noboa. Directed by Juan Sebastian Jacome

The things that cause families to implode more often than not come from within. Secrets, held close over months, years, decades – they are incendiary devices on a timer with an unknown setting. The longer that the timer takes, the more destructive the blast becomes.

Caridad (Caicedo) lives in a small Ecuadoran town near the base of a long-dormant volcano. When the volcano begins to erupt, she knows she has to get her belongings out of town. Reluctantly, she asks her father Galo (Naranjo) from whom she has been long estranged if he can come help her assemble her things and store them until it is safe for her to come back home.

Galo is only too happy to oblige. The estrangement of his daughters has been very painful to him and he is eager to reconcile with both of them, including his older daughter (Silva) who is a shadowy presence who will only speak to Caridad. Despite Galo’s attempts to try and bridge the gap between Caridad and himself, Caridad is cold to his attempts. Galo’s new wife Julia (Estrella) tries to mediate but is met with similar frost.

It turns out that Galo was accused by his ex-wife and mother of the two girls of horrible acts. Galo swears that the whole incident was the invention of a vengeful wife who was furious at her husband for cheating on her, so he pleads his case and tries to show Caridad tenderness and compassion although his temper gets the best of him at one point when her boyfriend (Almeida) gets a little too aggressive. Caridad now has doubts about the veracity of the rumors that surrounded the accusations that were made against her father. Was he really the monster she believed him to be all her life, or was he a innocent man who faced with terrible accusations sacrificed his own feelings to do what was best for his children?

The slow eruption of the volcano is a metaphor for the slow build towards the climax. The film feels unsteady early on as the story seems to ramble quite a bit but as the film unspools eventually things do come together for patient viewers. Still the story is somewhat difficult to follow early on particularly the first 20 minutes or so. Be patient; it does get better.

It doesn’t hurt to have two extremely proficient actors handling the two main roles. Caicedo is absolutely luminous, a true star in the making whereas veteran actor Naranjo uses an unusually expressive face to get across a whole lot of anguish without saying a word. The two work extremely well off each other and the tension between them is palpable, making the strained relationship believable which is crucial in a film like this.

The erupting volcano covers everything in a soft grey ash which gives the film a kind of winter-like feel, as well as a feeling that an explosion is not very far away. The ash makes things feel cold even though clearly there is heat and humidity going on; it’s an interesting dichotomy. Even the scenes in Quito (where Galo lives) are slightly overlit giving the movie a kind of soft unfocused look, mirroring the confusion that Caridad feels as her long-held beliefs about her dad are called into question.

There are some very powerful emotions at work throughout the film and there are several scenes that will provoke tears, revulsion or frustration. At times Caridad feels unnecessarily cruel and callous to her dad but as you discover the nature of his alleged indiscretions you realize she has good reason. I’m not sure that keeping that particular revelation was necessarily a good thing; it makes it harder to relate to Caridad as for a good half hour the audience is led to believe that she’s just a gold medal-winning bitch. As Jacome manipulates our perceptions of Caridad, we feel a bit cheated. Perhaps others may disagree but I think it would have been better to allow the audience to know what the nature of the accusations against Galo was from the start.

This is the kind of movie that makes going to film festivals so rewarding. It is hard not to come out of this with some feeling of catharsis as we discover the truth behind the rumors that kept Caridad and Galo apart The climactic scene is perfectly played and shows a director, in only his second feature, growing confident in his own skill. Undoubtedly Jacome is going to be an important figure in Latin American cinema for decades to come

While the film doesn’t have an American distributor as of yet it should be appearing on the festival circuit once it makes its world premiere in Miami on the 14th so keep an eye out for it. Their Facebook page (which is mostly in Spanish) promises a theatrical release down the line so hopefully that will happen. This is a movie not to miss. If you don’t want to miss it, you can order tickets here.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the scenes are raw, emotional and explosive. Caicedo does an amazing job in her role.
REASONS TO STAY: The story is often hard to follow, particularly at the beginning.
FAMILY VALUES: The thematic content is very adult.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Andrew Hevia, one of the producers on the film, has an Oscar for being one of the producers for 2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/9/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: There’s Something About Amelia
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Brawl in Cell Block 99

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Miami Film Festival 2018


Today is the opening night for the Miami Film Festival which turns 35 this year. To celebrate, the opening night film will be Jason Reitman’s Tully starring Charlize Theron and Ron Livingston. Reitman and Livingston will be in attendance on the Red Carpet and an afterparty with Miami flair in the Design District.

The MFF – the only major film festival sponsored by a college – has always concentrated on films from Latin America and the Caribbean so there are a lot of films screened during the festival that you can’t see anywhere else or hardly anywhere else. Latin films excel in providing slice of life looks at their culture. I have always appreciated their authenticity; you don’t get young artists living in million dollar lofts in Manhattan with no visible source of income. These are families living in middle class homes, or in wealthy haciendas or in deep poverty. Whatever the situation, Latin screenwriters seem to understand that making things feel real is what connects an audience to a film.

I’ve been honored once again to sit on the jury of the Rene Rodriguez Critic’s Award. Named for the longtime Miami Herald film critic, ten films sit in nomination of the award. I am still in the process of seeing them all but I can tell you that all of the nominated films I’ve seen have been worthwhile, some incredible. It makes for a busy film critic but I like it that way.

I’ll be trying to post two reviews a day for at least the next ten days to keep the backlog from growing unmanageable. Some of the films I’ll be reviewing will be difficult to find but when possible I’ll update the reviews with information on streaming and/or theatrical releases.

For those in the Miami area, I strongly urge you to support this worthwhile festival. For those hearing about it for the first time, you might want to consider attending this year’s (it runs through March 18th) or next year’s. The Festival is a reflection of the Miami attitude; there are a lot of parties and hot spots around the City; I’ve never seen a film festival utilize the nightlife of the host city quite as well as this one does.

Get Me Roger Stone


Roger Stone is about as conservative as it gets.

(2017) Documentary (Netflix) Roger Stone, Donald J. Trump, Paul Manafort, Tucker Carlson, Jeffrey Toobin, Alex Jones, Jane Mayer, Wayne Barrett, Henry Siegel, Matt Labash, Nydia Stone, Michael Caputo, Charlie Black, Ryan Fournier, Mike Murphy, Steve Malzberg, Kathy Tur, Timothy Stanley, Ann Stone, Danielle Stevens, Adria Stone. Directed by Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme

 

When looking at modern American politics, specifically on the Republican side, it’s hard not to wonder how a party that at one time was the bastion of thinkers like William F. Buckley, populists like Dwight Eisenhower and gentlemen like Everett Dirksen has become the party of trash politics, of misinformation and exclusion, of divisiveness and corruption. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Roger Stone.

Or more to the point allow this Netflix documentary to introduce him. Described by New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin as “the sinister Forrest Gump of American politics,” Stone has been at the center of much of the most important political changes of the last 30 years. At 19 he was the youngest person to be called to testify before a Watergate committee; he was also one of the innovators of PACs and Super PACs that transformed campaign finance. He was a disciple of Roy Cohn, the pit bull of a lawyer who was Joseph McCarthy’s attack dog and one of the most amoral political figures to ever walk the face of the Earth. He co-founded (with Paul Manafort and Charles Black a firm that became known as the “torturer’s lobbyists” for all the third-world dictators they represented.

Perhaps worst of all, he saw political potential in a real estate mogul named Donald J. Trump. Stone groomed him over more than 30 years, pestering him to run for President (but never pushing). He is given credit for getting Trump aboard the Birther train that essentially established him as a political figure. As a campaign advisor, Stone helped shape the vicious tenor of the campaign, often seen wearing a t-shirt of former President Bill Clinton (husband to the Democratic nominee) with the word “Rape” below in a snarky parody of the Obama “Hope” poster. Stone made sure the country thought of the former President as a rapist as prodigious as Bill Cosby, conveniently ignoring the fact that his own candidate had been accused of sexual assaults himself.

Stone is an affable fellow in person, a respectable raconteur that at first glance you might not mind having a drink or two with. However, it wouldn’t take long before you notice that mostly what Stone talks about in an underhanded way is himself. He has a tremendous ego and a need to be the center of attention; it is no surprise to anyone that the Trump campaign couldn’t handle more than one ego like that That’s likely the reason why Stone was removed from the campaign itself, although he continued to offer advice when asked and support Trump on his own.

The film is divided into sections headlined by what Stone calls “Stone’s rules,” a series of aphorisms that he uses to guide his political philosophy. Some of them are meaningless; “Business is business,” for example. What the hell else would it be? There are others like “Hate is a greater motivator than Love” which is cynical in the extreme but frustrating because he’s largely right in that case.

Stone is a master of dirty political tricks and feels no remorse for anything. His guiding principle is that winning is the ONLY thing. Stone would probably tell you that you can’t implement a political philosophy if you lose; only winners get to determine the course this country and indeed the globe takes. As far as Stone is concerned, nothing is out of bounds so long as it doesn’t violate campaign laws. If the truth is stretched and people misdirected, that’s all right. If people are gullible enough to believe the big lie, then they deserve the leadership they get. It is something of a page out of the Hitler playbook.

Yes, if you haven’t noticed by now I’m a leftie that Stone would be somewhat amused by. I don’t think he hates liberals; he just wants to beat them. The fact that he’s so good at doing so tends to frustrate the hell out of the left. It allows Stone to gloat and he does so with a smug expression on his face.

As far as getting to know the real Roger Stone, don’t bet on it. Stone is a master at creating images – anyone who can characterize a real estate billionaire as a man of the people has to be admired to an extent. Although the filmmakers are also liberal (which Stone jokingly warns his friends of) in many ways Stone controls the narrative here. Although the filmmakers turn the documentary into almost a black comedy that is as cynical as can be, it is Stone having the last laugh.

This is tailor made for those conservatives who take great satisfaction in twisting the knife into bleeding hearts. Liberals may have a hard time watching this, particularly towards the end. It’s hard to watch the soul of your country being corrupted by someone who doesn’t care what the effects of this amorality has on the psyche of a nation. I’m sure Roger Stone has no issue with the Vince Lombardi quote “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” but even Lombardi knew that there were some costs that were too high to make winning worth it.

What Stone doesn’t understand – could never understand – that when you corrupt the soul of something, it ceases being what you admired about it in the first place. Making America great again has nothing to do with the rhetoric spewed by Trump, Stone and their ilk – it’s in fulfilling the dreams of the founders and those that followed them, being the place that embraced the American dream rather than trying to cut it off from the masses so that only those who have already achieved it can benefit from it. That is the real tragedy of Roger Stone – in winning he has lost everything he was fighting for, and he doesn’t even know it.

REASONS TO GO: This is in a lot of ways a black comedy; the fact that it’s true is depressing.
REASONS TO STAY: The lack of ethics is very hard to watch at times.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity here.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stone’s political ideology was largely shaped by reading Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative at a young age.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/9/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews: Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: You’ve Been Trumped
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Ashes