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Posts Tagged ‘Ethan Hawke’

Benjamin Dickey as Blaze Foley

“BLAZE” My rating: B- (Opens Sept. 28 at the Tivoli, Screenland Armour and Glenwood Arts)

128 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Ethan Hawke’s “Blaze” is unlike any other music biz film biography I can think of. Its closest competition in its nontraditional approach would  be 2015’s “Miles Ahead” with Don Cheadle playing the great jazz trumpeter in a narrative-tossed-salad retelling.

The ostensible subject of “Blaze” is Blaze Foley, a Texas musician and songwriter who hung out with country/folk music’s “outlaw” wing until his untimely death by gunshot in 1989 .

Hawke’s film (he  directed and adapted the memoir by Foley’s wife Sybil Rosen) follows no particular chronology. It’s all over the place. As a framing device he has given us a radio interview with fellow folkie Townes Van Zant (Charlie Sexton); scenes from Foley’s life play out as Van Zant provides a running commentary.

Foley (Ben Dickey) is a bearded, burly good ol’ fella.  He can be charming in a down-home way. He can also be a drunken maniac.

A Foley concert might be sublime, or it might be a slog, given the musician’s tendency to rap endlessly when the customers only wanna hear some tunes.  A few of his songs were recorded by the likes of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Lyle Lovett and John Prine, but he was never a household word or a major player.

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Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd

“JULIET, NAKED” My rating: B+

105 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The drolly amusing “Juliet, Naked,” isn’t my favorite film based on work by Nick Hornby (that would be the sublime “Brooklyn”) but it’s right up there with “About a Boy” and “High Fidelity.”

And like the latter, it’s a comedy/drama that pivots on a guy obsessed with rock music.

Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) teaches pop culture at a small British community college. He’s the kind of geeky prof who, for a course on HBO’s
“The Wire,” supplies his students with a glossary of American inner city words and phrases. You can imagine him leading serious  classroom discussions about the etymological roots of “mofo” and “ho.”

His biggest crush, though, is on a marginal American singer/songwriter named Tucker Crowe whose LP “Juliet”  holds the 43rd place on at least one list of great heartbreak albums.

Duncan loves “Juliet” and scarfs down every bit of information he can find about Tucker Crowe, who vanished a quarter century ago.  Duncan is also the proprietor of a Tucker Crowe web site where he trades theories with other Crowe disciples and writes rambling blogs about how Tucker is the J.D. Salinger of alt rock.

In short, Duncan is perfectly ridiculous. (Not that we can’t relate. Most of us have our little hard-to-explain musical fixations: Richard Thompson. Eric Andersen. The Beau Brummels.)

Anyway, Duncan’s live-in girlfriend Annie (Rose Byrne) has just about had it with the whole Tucker Crowe thing.  When an early stripped-down demo recording of the songs on “Juliet”starts circulating on the Internet, Annie writes a withering (and anonymous) review of what is being called “Juliet, Naked.”

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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

“IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE” My rating: C

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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