Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lucid (Rhoades)

‘Lucid’ Offers Devil of a Premiere at Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A devilish problem for moviemakers: There’s a Bible Belt out there that hates Halloween, eschews “Harry Potter” because it’s about witches, and boycotts movies that have satanic themes.

Years ago when I was launching Cricket, a literary magazine for kids, I could count on getting tons of reader complaints whenever I ran a classic story like Stephen Vincent Benét’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster.”

Sure, there have been some successful devil movies – from “Rosemary’s Baby” to “Damn Yankees” – but actor-director Alec Baldwin found out the hard way when he tried to produce a movie version of “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” with Anthony Hopkins as ol’ Daniel and Jennifer Love Hewitt as a beautiful Devil. No, you’ve never seen it, because the production ran out of money and nobody would pony up the funds for a devil movie.

Undaunted by such red-states mentality, Key West writer/director Michael Marrero, producer Christopher Shultz, and writer/actor John Crawford spent seven long years bringing their devil-themed movie to the big screen.

You can catch a world premiere showing of “Lucid” next Tuesday night at the Tropic Cinema. The screening starts at 8 p.m. but you’ll want to get there an hour or so earlier to meet members of the cast and crew. No, Lucifer himself won’t be there, but the actor stand-in will be!

Filmed entirely in Key West, the cast includes such familiar faces as Richard Grusin, George Murphy, Michael “Gigzy” Fisher, Robin Deck, Michael “Champ” Jolly, and Rob Edaragin, among many others.

Despite all those years in the making, the arrival of “Lucid” is well timed – immediately following the US presidential elections – for the film is about an election between God and the Devil, each vying for the title of Ultimate Supreme Being.

In this alternate universe where God and the Devil are competing for your vote, a man called Pope (ably played by local bartender Justin Bowden) is busily collecting souls in order to ransom back his comatose wife’s life.

Like any proper election, “Lucid” opens with a debate between the two candidates. Political issues range from euthanasia to capital punishment.

“Thou Shall Not Kill,” says God

“An Eye for an Eye,” counters the Devil

“Lucid” features several films within the film, campaign promos where the candidates deliver “paid” messages, either pro-abortion or anti-killing depending on which deity is approving the message.

Co-scripted by Mike Marrero and John Crawford, with an assist by Chris Shultz, “Lucid” went through more than a dozen rewrites. The film was completely reshot more than once, with only 10 seconds of the original production remaining in this final version.

All the effort – the rewrites, the reshoots, the shouting matches, and near-fistfights – paid off. “Lucid” is a highly original film.

The acting is quite good, the parts well cast. John Crawford plays God with the zeal of a tent-show revivalist, while Jennifer Cohen portrays the Devil as a smiling dark-eyed temptress. Justin Bowden, with his short-cropped hair, engaging British accent, and commanding physicality, makes a perfect protagonist, a man beleaguered by his soul-collecting mission. Jed Sloe is convincing as a Bible-thumping minister. Gordon Ross is smooth-as-silk as the moderator of the election debates. Thirteen-year-old Hannah Holbrook proves herself a natural as a precocious blonde orphan. And Chris Shultz delivers an enthusiastic cameo as Dr. Giggles, a bloodied popeyed agent of the Devil.

“The film doesn’t fall into any one genre,” Mike Marrero told me as we chatted at the White Tarpon where Chris Shultz bartends as a day job.

True enough. You’ll at times be reminded of “Angel Heart” or “Jacob’s Ladder” or “Barton Fink.” Yet its sense of humor and streaks of irony give it a deliberate “Evil Dead” tone.

In addition to writing and directing duties, Marrero also served as the film’s cinematographer, proving to have a good eye for composition, a talent for lighting, and a sure-fire sense of the grotesque.

David Berman, a film school pal of Chris Shultz, edited “Lucid” with a professional hand, a final cut that often startles the audience with the juxtapositioning of sinister and comical sequences.

The original score was composed by Harry Pierce and Rock Solomon, fortified with such old standards as “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea.”

“Lucid” is Marrero’s third outing as a filmmaker, his first two films being shorts called “Southernmost Point” and “Square Grouper.” This is Shultz’s first feature film.

The two thirtysomethings are products of their generation – Steven Spielberg fans. Despite diverse backgrounds – Mike a born-in-Key-West Conch of Cuban heritage, Chris a Nordic type from Minnesota – both grew up watching “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” films.

Having studied photography at FSU, Marrero describes himself as a filmmaker, painter, and writer. Sitting there at the White Tarpon, wearing a porkpie hat and checkered shirt, he has a jovial air about him, relaxed amid these familiar surroundings. On the other side of the bar is Shultz, slender and blond, a graduate of Emerson College where he received a degree in film. And there in spirit was the long-absent Crawford, the New Orleans-based engineer who co-scripted the film with Marrero and plays the role of God.

The boys admit that during the film’s production tension among them was palpable. According to production notes, “it is learned that while Shultz has a temper, it is no match for the thick head of Marrero.”

The blow-by-blow description of making the film can be found at: – an interesting read in itself.

While some movies carry a disclaimer stating no animals were injured in the making of the film, Mike and Chris point out that eight friends, one chicken, and two dogs died during their seven years of producing “Lucid.” You’ll see them remembered in the film’s credits.

The end credits also acknowledge that the film’s creators “may have damaged brain cells during making of this movie.” Like I said earlier, you’d have to be crazy to make a devil movie.

Was it worth it? “You bet,” says Mike Marrero.

Was the final film anything like he expected? “Not a chance in hell,” he shakes his head wryly. “The film directed itself.”

Hey, I expected him to say the devil made him do it.

[from Solares Hill]

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