Posts Tagged ‘Ethan Hawke’

Ethan Hawke

“FIRST REFORMED” My rating: B+

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“First Reformed” doesn’t always work, but even as a partial failure it packs more mind- and soul-shaking punch than any other film yet released this year.

This simultaneously beautiful and desolate drama from Paul Schrader isn’t shy about borrowing from its antecedents, foremost among them Ingmar Bergman’s early ’60s religious trilogy (“Through a Glass Darkly,” “Winter Light,” “The Silence”) and Robert Bresson’s 1951 “Diary of a Country Priest.”

But thanks in large part to what may be Ethan Hawke’s finest performance, “First Reformed” finds its own voice, one that uncomfortably weighs conformity against concern for God’s creation.

Our protagonist, Reverend Toller (Hawke), is pastor of First Reformed Church in a picturesque New England Town.

Established before the American Revolution, First Reformed has hardly any parishioners; its doors are kept open through the financial support of a local megachurch whose ambitious and charismatic preacher (an excellent Cedric the Entertainer) views it as a curiosity, a sort of historic religious theme park.

It’s immediately obvious that Toller has hit bottom. A former military chaplain, he urged his son to enlist; when the boy died in combat Toller’s wife left him.

Now he spends his days writing sermons nobody hears and scribbling in a journal — he calls it “a form of prayer” –that he hopes will provide insight into the tailspin that has become his life (“When writing about oneself one should show no mercy.”)

Physically he’s slowly becoming a wraith, thanks to digestive issues — cancer? — which limit him to a diet of bread and broth.

Occasionally, though, he actually does a bit of ministering. He’s approached by a young parishioner, Mary (Amanda Seyfried), who requests counseling for her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger).  Mary is pregnant and Michael wants her to abort the baby.



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Sally Hawkins

“MAUDIE” My rating: B 

115 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Simultaneously a biopic about an eccentric outsider artist and a politically incorrect love story, “Maudie” isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy.

Director Aisling Walsh’s study of Nova Scotia painter Maud Lewis  — the Canadian equivalent of Grandma Moses — is both inspiring and troubling.

Inspiring because the naive Maud overcame crippling arthritis to develop her primitive yet poetic visual style, and troubling because of her marriage to a man who, at least early in their relationship, was guilty of both physical and psychological abuse.

Good thing, then, that Walsh and screenwriter Sherry White have for their stars the terrific Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, whose performances transcend our usual notions of marital right and wrong.

When we first meet Maud (Hawkins) in the late 1930s, she is a prisoner of her domineering aunt and her indifferent older brother.  Thanks to the arthritis from which she has suffered most of her life, the thirtysomething Maud moves slowly and clumsily; her unimpressive physical presence leads many to assume she’s mentally incapacitated as well.

Hardly.  Though poorly educated, Maud has a biting wit and fierce sense of self.  When she learns that crusty local bachelor Everett Lewis (Hawke) is advertising for a housekeeper, she declares herself a free woman and goes after the job.

Basically she ends up working for room and board for a laborer who was reared in an orphanage, has minimal people skills and is often ruled by his volcanic temper. She puts up with his cruelty because she has nowhere else to go…and because she realizes she’s smart enough to manipulate this angry ignoramus, eventually marrying him.


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Ethan Hawke and canine costar

Ethan Hawke and canine costar


104 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Notwithstanding the participation of two major stars — Ethan Hawke and John Travolta — Ti West’s “In a Valley of Violence” is a toss off,  an indifferent diversion at best.

It’s a mashup of Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western elements — an animated credit sequence that mimics that of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and an ersatz Morricone soundtrack of tympani, Indian flutes and electric guitars — and oater cliches somewhat bent by eruptions of oddball humor.

Paul (Hawke) is a lone rider headed to Mexico in the company of his dog, an adorable mutt.  Everybody who sees the pooch wants to know if it does tricks. “She bites,”  is Paul’s sullen reply.

John Travolta, Ethan Hawke

John Travolta, Ethan Hawke

In an all-but-abandoned former mining town Paul slows down for a bath and a shopping spree in the general store.  But he runs afoul of Gilly (James Ransone), the pushy, trigger-happy deputy and son of the local marshal (Travolta).

After leaving the burg Paul is waylaid by Gilly and his fellow deputies, who do bad things to him and his dog.  Left for dead, Paul gets his shit together and heads back to town for revenge.

There are some small pleasures here.  Travolta’s Marshal is a loquacious sort out of a Tarantino film, and he at least has the decency to be embarrassed by his idiot offspring. Taiga Farming plays a teen-age hotel maid who becomes our hero’s confidant; Karen Gillan is her prettier spoiled sister.

The film looks good but, really, West’s “High Noon”-ish plot is way too familiar and the abrupt tonal changes — bloody sadism to goofy silliness — are less intriguing than irritating.

| Robert W. Butler

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Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker

Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker

“BORN TO BE BLUE” My rating: B

97 minutes | MPAA rating: R

We are introduced to musician Chet Baker (Ethan Hawke) in a filthy jail cell. He’s lying on the concrete floor in a fetal position, sweat pouring off him, surrounded by cigarette butts. He seems to be going through heroin withdrawl.

So we know from the getgo that “Born to Be Blue,” Canadian filmmaker Robert Budreau’s feature about the “James Dean of jazz,” is going to be a rough ride.

Trumpeter/vocalist Baker (1929-1988) is famed as the inventor of West Coast swing. He is also the very model of the white junkie jazz genius, his main competition for the title being the late Art Pepper.

“Born to Be Blue” isn’t a formal biopic. Rather, writer/director Bureau attempts something like Todd Hayne’s Bob Dylan-themed “I’m Not There.” Think of it as a fantasia on the life and loves of a terrific musician who was also a deeply flawed individual.

The junkie jazzman is hardly a new cinematic concept, but “Born…” benefits from what may be Hawke’s strongest performance. Chet Baker was a handsome, charismatic charmer who, when he wasn’t creating great music, was battling demons.

Watching Hawke’s work here, we realize why people were drawn to Baker, and why most eventually bailed.

The film begins in 1954 with the young Chet playing New York City, pursued by swooning bobbysoxers and desperate to earn the approval of his idols and competitors, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

In this black-and-white segment he picks up a beautiful black woman and takes her to his hotel suite, where she turns him on to heroin. Their buzz is interrupted when the woman (Carmen Ejogo, the Brit who played Coretta Scott King in “Selma”) breaks character and accuses Chet of ignoring their dialogue and improvising.




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seymour“SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION” My rating: B 

81 minutes |MPAA rating

Seymour Bernstein is not part of any religious order, but it’s difficult not to think of him as some sort of holy man.

For 50 years he has lived in a monk’s cell of a Manhattan studio apartment, sharing the tiny space with his beloved grand piano. He is celibate…possibly asexual.

And in a sense he prays daily for the salvation of mankind, except that he addresses his devotions not to the Almighty but to the muses of music, fingering not rosary beads but the keys of his piano.

Beginning in the early 1950s Bernstein, who is now 87, had a spectacular career as a concert pianist.  But he gave it all up at age 50, having concluded that the business side of his profession — and his innate fear of performing before an audience — was sapping his love of music.

So he turned to teaching piano, both at a university and in the privacy of his apartment.

A few years ago he met actor Ethan Hawke at a party. At the time Hawke was going through his own crisis involving fame and art, and Bernstein provided a sounding board, offering his own life experiences as and example of how to find balance.

Hawke was so impressed that he made the documentary “Seymour: An Introduction.”


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Ellar Coltrane...growing up before our eyes

Ellar Coltrane…growing up before our eyes

“BOYHOOD”  My rating: A (Opening Aug. 1 at the Tivoli, Rio, Glenwood Arts and AMC Town Center)

165 minutes | MPAA rating: R

True originality is rare in the cinema, perhaps the most self-referential and cannibalistic of all the art forms.

But with “Boyhood” Texas auteur Richard Linklater has given us something so fresh and new it boggles the mind.

The gimmick is that Linklater filmed the picture over 12 years, each year shooting a few new scenes featuring the same actors.

His central character, Mason,  is portrayed from age 6 to 18 by Ellar Coltrane, who is as natural in his scenes as a college freshman as he was as a first grader when the movie began almost three hours earlier.

It isn’t just Mason who grows up before our eyes.  Everyone in the cast undergoes the transformation dictated by the passage of time — Lorelei Linklater (the filmmaker’s daughter), who plays Mason’s sassy older sister Samantha, and Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, who portray their divorced parents. (Hawke, of course, is with Julie Delpy the star of Linklater’s “Before…” series, which to date has produced three movies examining a romantic relationship over two decades.)

Early in this review I called “Boyhood’s” setup a gimmick. Well, if this is a gimmick it is a singularly profound gimmick, one that packs an overwhelming emotional punch. By using the same actors at various stages in their lives Linklater is able to meld the specific with the universal in a way I’ve never before experienced in a fiction film.


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before midnight

“BEFORE MIDNIGHT” My rating: B (Now showing at the Rio)

109 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Think of “Before Midnight” as a romantic bouquet laced with poison ivy.

It is, of course, the third chapter of the long-running exploration of love — from director Richard Linklater and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy — that began with “Before Sunrise” in 1995 and continued with “Before Sunset” in 2004.

Once again Hawke and Delpy reprise their roles of Jesse and Celine.  In the first film, which took place overnight in Vienna, the vacationing young American and the French girl met, walked the city, and had a fling (in a park, as I recall) before parting with the rising of the sun.

The second film, taking place a decade later in Paris, found them both in relationships but thrown together once again when Celine attends a reading of Jesse’s novel…a novel inspired by their long-ago night together. They wander Paris until it is time for Jesse to head to the airport…only to find their love is rekindled in what had to be one of the sexiest moments in movie history.

“Before Midnight” finds Jesse and Celine now a couple (though unmarried). It unfolds on a picturesque Greek Isle where they are vacationing with Jesse’s 13-year-old son (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) and their twin daughters (Jennifer and Charlotte Prior).

Anyone who’s gone on a family vacation with young children could predict that the eroticism-charged romance of the first two films would be supplanted by a humdrum reality of kids and responsibility. What you might not anticipate is that before it’s over we’ll be questioning whether Jesse and Celine are going to make it as a couple.


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