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July 28, 2012

Heaven Strewn

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Jeremiah Gurzi - 2011
Cinema Libra Studios All Region DVD

I'm not sure if Heaven Strewn would qualify as contemporary film noir, at least in the way that the genre is generally understood. What is more certain is that there is are threads of inspiration, primarily from John Huston with his stories of men losing everything, or almost everything, to pipe dreams. More specifically, when Mickey and Jasper go out to the desert in search of their own lucky strike, I couldn't help but think of Treasure of Sierra Madre.

Mickey and Jasper have been friends since childhood, and have a history of getting into trouble when together. Mickey is currently trying to get by as counterfeiter. Jasper is a freelance journalist unable to meet a deadline due to writer's block, or perhaps simple inertia. Bonding again at a meeting for recovering alcoholics, Mickey, with a couple of DUIs and an impounded car, talks Jasper into going on a road trip to the desert in search of valuable space meteorites. The two are the only ones in an otherworldly stretch of desert, when another car appears in the distance. A big convertible shows up with three equally big men who stop to bury something in the sand. Mickey goes down to the spot where the trio stopped, and digs out a suitcase full of money. As can be expected, trouble follows Mickey and Jasper.

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Filmmaker Jeremiah Gurzi made the unusual choice to shoot his film in wide screen 16mm. As is stands, this also represents a one time use of the format as filmmaking becomes more exclusively digital. What is also of interest is that unlike many filmmakers who would use 16mm to film handheld, Gurzi chooses often static, carefully framed and lit shots. In this way also, Heaven Strewn also recalls more classic movies. Even though this is Gurzi's debut feature, the difference is that he not only has made several short films, but has worked on the more technical end of other productions, either in lighting or cinematography.

The real star of this movie would be the location of the Trona Pinnacles. It's the kind of setting that upstages the actors because it is so unnatural looking. Unlike Monument Valley which simply is imposing, Trona Pinnacles looks like the kind of place where sentient beings of any kind do not belong. The actual stars, Wyatt Denny and Rob Tepper, look like the kind of guys one would pass on the street without much notice. On the other hand, even from a distance, the criminal trio of Magdaleno Robles Jr., Robert Zepeda and Robert Larabee manage to look menacing, the kind of guys one gives a wide berth to when seen walking the street.

Save for the smashing of a truck window, there is no onscreen violence. What lingers is the threat of violence, and the sense that the trio is going to do whatever it takes to get their money back. It may be an old fashioned notion to suggest rather than to show in a film such as this. When Gurzi's badass three are on the loose, there is a palpable sense that whatever they are capable of could well be worse than what is imagined.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 28, 2012 08:33 AM


This sounds very interesting. I'm rarely intrigued by independent movies... oh, ok, new movies... these days, but you've sold me on this one. I'll have to keep my eye out for it.

Posted by: Neil at July 28, 2012 10:46 AM

I feel the same as you, Neil.

And, I've seen Rob Tepper both live on stage and in films. Why this guy is not a huge star by now is beyond me. He can act!!!

And like, for example, Daniel Day Lewis, you see the character he is portraying, and not Rob Tepper.

I suspect his relative film anonymity does not have much longer to go. He will be shown, and known.


Posted by: julian at July 29, 2012 08:23 PM