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Critic Reviews for Blaze
The great singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt used to say there are two kinds of music: the blues and zip-a-dee-doo-dah. Both are on full, florid display in Blaze, an absorbing, illuminating film about the late musician Blaze Foley.
It's the kind of movie that, if you give yourself to it, you'll love.
Every one of the relationships depicted crackles with history, tension and love. This a film about how we tell stories about the dead, and who gets to craft these legends.
A valiant if studied effort, one that occasionally calls to mind Terrence Malick's 2017 freeform music drama, "Song to Song."
Blaze feels like a true passion project, an engine running on Hawke's endless supply of enthusiasm for his subject.
Audience Reviews for Blaze
AMERICAN FOLK-BORE - My Review of BLAZE (2 Stars) Have you ever seen a film where all of the elements are there - great acting, directing, writing, and cinematography - yet you just can't stand the experience of watching it? Welcome to BLAZE, my nominee for worst best movie of the year. Directed by Ethan Hawke and co-written with Sybil Rosen (based on her memoir and played by Alia Shawkat in the film), this artfully made, experimentally crafted biopic traces the story of Blaze Foley, a Texas outlaw singer/songwriter whose battles with alcohol, mental illness, and ego contributed to the end of his short life in 1989 at the age of 40. Ben Dickey, in his film debut, has a shaggy dog charm in the early years depicted in the film, which intercuts that time with his fateful last night and his semi-successful touring period. The other two thirds, however, presents him as a drunken, spewing, half-lidded monster who never had a gig he couldn't commit to self-destruction. I have no doubt he influenced a great deal of musicians, but this tortured artist story wore me down to the point where I kept muttering to myself, "Just die already!" I begged for John Malkovich's death in THE SHELTERING SKY as well, so Hawke's in good company. Now, I'm saying all of this, yet I acknowledge that this is a really well-made film. Every burnished frame, shot by Cinematographer Steve Cosens, whose prior work I don't know, is gorgeously rendered. Danielle Dyar's set decoration authentically captures the dank spaces of the rural 70s and 80s. Every bedroom quilt looks damp. Every empty dive bar suffers quietly. Dickey and Shawkat, along with wonderful assists by Josh Hamilton and Charlie Sexton, have a terrific, lived-in chemistry. You believe what brought this rebel musician together with this Jewish stage actor, despite their many differences. The kaleidoscopic storytelling feels like the right approach to get inside Foley's mindset. All great things, right? Yet, I feel like any random 30 minutes could have been cut from its lengthy running time and none would be the wiser. Some may make comparisons to INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS and BOUND FOR GLORY, which I understand. The former film shares BLAZE's "asshole musician" DNA while the latter feels similar with its depiction of a beautiful but downtrodden Americana. Still, I'd watch either of those films over and over happily, and I never want to see BLAZE again. Part of my bias stems from not really wanting to follow this entitled, tortured soul around, despite his Vincent D'Onofrio style of sweet charm, but my real issue - and I heartily acknowledge that you may not share this with me - is that I absolutely cannot stand the music he created. Growing up, I heard so much acoustic guitar noodling by the likes of Neil Young, John Prine, and Dan Fogelberg that I couldn't wait to move to LA and hear the new stuff. I turned on KROQ radio and out blasted The Pretenders' "The Wait" and I was hooked. Sue me, but I love energetically performed, mightily produced music, I hated it when Springsteen created NEBRASKA. Can't he just play with a band? There's something about a musician playing an acoustic guitar that makes me want to die. Piano is great. Sara Bareilles can tickle the ivories and sing "She Used To Be Mine" all day and I'm rapt. Pick up a six string and it feels masturbatory to me, like you're recording a demo and will fill it out later. It's no wonder I love Queen, Mika, and Phil Spector so much. They filled their shit out! So watching Blaze Foley tinker with his guitar felt interminable to me. I loved his lyrics, which reached beautiful levels of poetry at times, and his melodies had a simple grace, but his style was nails on a chalkboard to me. Another slight gripe involved letting the audience know right away the circumstances surrounding his death. I would imagine Hawke made this choice so that we would focus on Blaze's life and music and not his demise. When the tragic sequence unfolds, however, he denies the audience of what would have been a true shocking moment. Ethan Hawke has certainly enjoyed an amazing 2018 with his fantastic performance in FIRST REFORMED and the critical reception to JULIET, NAKED and BLAZE. I appreciate his wanting to bring a Hal Ashby aesthetic back into the filmmaking universe and by using unconventional techniques. This feels like a film being whispered in your ear, and that's not an easy thing to sustain. So I'm gonna blame myself for being the wrong audience for this film and go turn the volume up on anything by Garbage or The Divinyls. Come to think of it, I'd pay good money to see biopics about Shirley Manson and the late great Chrissy Amphlett!
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