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Monthly Report: August + September 2013

August was a busy month with work, so there was little time for movies, hence the lack of an August report. Here’s another double-monther to compensate.

Trance (Danny Boyle, 2013)
Cool and twisty thriller, presented with all the flash and flair we’ve come to expect from Mr. Boyle. In fact, this might be my favorite film of his since Trainspotting. Maybe. Okay, probably not. But it’s up there with Sunshine.
4/5

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (Julien Nitzberg, 2009)
A freak show kind of documentary with little intent other than to show off one train wreck of a redneck family. It’s lazy, mean, and a bit too long for its own good, but I won’t deny that it’s reasonably amusing for the most part.
3/5

World_War_Z

World War Z (Marc Forster, 2013)
Started out as a War of the Worlds-ish family survival action movie, only to settle into more familiar zombie flick territory as it went along. Most of it works just fine; there’s nothing extraordinary about anything going on, but nothing offensively bad either. I’m not sure the film needed both the Korea and Israel sections, as it felt like they were just trying to cram as much of the world into the film as possible. The characters just went along from one location to the next without much flow to the story. Overall though, I was fairly entertained.
3/5

Butter (Jim Field Smith, 2011)
Clunky story that tries to meld feel-good comedy with an underscore of political satire to limited success. Hugh Jackman earns a few snickers, but other than that, there’s not a whole lot of laughter on offer in this one.
2/5

Flirting with Disaster (David O. Russell, 1996)
The rare comedy where all the characters are funny in their own ways. Plenty of laughs to be had here.
4/5

Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, 2007)
So restrained it becomes nothing at all. The ending was handled nicely, but for the most part, this was quite the yawner, and very much a disappointment when compared to Take Shelter.
2/5

Lifes-What-Ifs

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)
To say that I have been looking forward to this one would be an understatement. My initial reaction is that it’s a very good film, but the shift in tone from Before Sunrise and Before Sunset threw me for a loop, and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, the new more bitter taste feels like a realistic evolution of the relationship between Jesse and Celine. On the other hand, I’m not sure that’s what I would have really wanted to see – though since when has “it should be more feel-good” been valid criticism? A film is what it is, and should probably be judged as such. I could see myself coming around to this one after some more time to process it. It does have the same qualities as the two previous films in the series, in that the fine writing and the wonderful acting from Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke makes it a joy to listen to these characters talk for 100-ish minutes.
4/5

Nick of Time (John Badham, 1995)
Sometimes, you look at the cast list of a film and are immediately intrigued. Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken is one such combination of actors that easily sparks my interest. Unfortunately, Sleepy Hollow this ain’t. As great actors as the two are, they can’t lift this one above the level of run-of-the-mill thriller.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 8
Average score: 3.0 / 5
Best film of the months: Trance
Worst film of the months: Shotgun Stories

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Posted by on 3 October, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1994

1994 tends to be one of those years people refer to as great film years. It’s hard to disagree too vehemently with such a statement, as it had plenty of quality movies to offer in a wide variety of genres. About half of these films are long-time favorites of mine, wheres the others are newer acquintances that I’ve seen for the first time within the last few years.

As always, this is going by listed release year on IMDB.

Honorable mentions: Ace Ventura – Pet Detective, Airheads, The Crow

10 – SWIMMING WITH SHARKS (George Huang)

“You are nothing! If you were in my toilet I wouldn’t bother flushing it! My bathmat means more to me than you!”

While Kevin Spacey recently played a horrible boss in the aptly named Horrible Bosses, this was hardly his first outing as that character type. In Swimming with Sharks, he plays a movie mogul who takes great delight in putting his new employee Guy (Frank Whaley) through all kinds of torment. Spacey is teriffic in the part, but praise should go not just to the delivery but to the material as well. A well-written black comedy with a brutal ending.

9 – HEAVENLY CREATURES (Peter Jackson)

“It’s all frightfully romantic.”

What’s really interesting about Heavenly Creatures in hindsight is how it encapsulates everything else Peter Jackson had done or would go on to do. There’s drama, there’s fantasy – in dream sequences -, and there’s bloody murder. Based on a true story, this harrowing tale of the obsessive friendship between two teenage girls is one that sticks with you. Also notable for being the film debut of Kate Winslet.

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Posted by on 27 August, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1995

As usual, this goes by release year as listed on IMDB.

Honorable mentions: The City of Lost Children, Copycat, Heat, Senior Trip, Welcome to the Dollhouse

10 – CLOCKERS (Spike Lee)

“Who the fuck is Rosa Parks?”

The plot of Clockers may be about a murder mystery, but it has a wider scope than that. Not surprisingly when it comes to Spike Lee, the film deals with black people in New York. There’s tension going on between them and the white cops, but also under the microscope here are the crimes the African-Americans inflict upon each other. It’s an intriguing film thematically, but it’s also some of Lee’s best story-telling that I’ve seen, and it all comes together through his trademark audiovisual style, with bright colors and an effective use of music. There’s also a pretty great Harvey Keitel performance in here. Clockers is not the director’s best movie, but it definitely deserves to be talked about more than it is.

9 – GET SHORTY (Barry Sonnenfeld)

“Rough business, this movie business. I’m gonna have to go back to loan-sharking just to take a rest.”

There’s a lot to like about Get Shorty. The numerous movie-related references and meta-jokes are sure to tickle the fancy of most cinephiles, but the humor is still broad enough to appeal to anyone. Having wonderfully constructed dialogue lifted straight from the Elmore Leonard novel helps too. Throw in a twisting plot of a loan-shark trying to get his foot – and more – into the doorway of Hollywood, and you have one hell of a fun ride. Has John Travolta ever been cooler than in this one?

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Posted by on 14 June, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1997

Here we go with another list of my favorite films of a given year. This time we’re in 1997. The year when we found out that the Terminator movies weren’t accurate predictions of the future as Skynet didn’t take over on August 29. The year when “MMMBop” reigned supreme on the pop charts. The year when James Cameron released a little film that would go on to obliterate the cash registers at the box office. The year when Lady Di met an unfortunate end. And, of course, plenty of good movies.

As usual, this list only counts movies with a stated release year of 1997 according to IMDB.

Honorable mentions: Boogie Nights, The Fifth Element, Life is Beautiful, Suicide Kings, Titanic

10 – CUBE (Vincenzo Natali)

“No more talking. No more guessing. Don’t even think about nothing that’s not right in front of you. That’s the real challenge. You’ve got to save yourselves from yourselves.”

A group of people wake up in a maze consisting of cube-shaped rooms. Some of the rooms contain deadly traps. There. That’s an effective two-sentence summary of Cube’s premise. While there are scenes of gruesome deaths, the focus lies primarily on the characters and how they cope with each other as they try to figure out where they are, why they’re there, and how they can get out. With claustrophic tension to spare, this Canadian thriller is not one to miss.

9 – PERFECT BLUE (Satoshi Kon)

“You bad girl! You have to follow the script!”

Perfect Blue is a must-see for anyone who liked Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan as they deal with similar themes: uncertainty of what’s real, pressure to succeed, and the psychological effects of sex. Here we follow a young famous pop artist who decides to switch gears and become an actress, only to find herself stalked by an all-seeing obsessed fan who thinks her a traitor. At only 80 minutes, Perfect Blue is a very condensed psychological thriller that packs a heavy punch.

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Posted by on 19 April, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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9 director/actor team-ups that need to happen

The title for this blog post should be fairly self-explanatory, but to clarify, I’m talking specifically about directors and actors that (to the best of my knowledge) haven’t worked with one another before on film. I’m also limiting myself to pairings that could happen today, i.e. no dead or retired persons.

Woody Allen + Rosario Dawson

Considering the sheer volume of Allen’s cinematic output, it’s no surprise that he has crossed paths with tons of actors over the years. But not Rosario Dawson, which is a shame. Allen’s trademark humor would be a good fit for the actress. Remember Clerks II, another talky comedy? She was so great and charming in that one! Allen could get something even better out of her, I’m sure.

David Fincher + Viola Davis

I believe it was In Contention‘s Kristopher Tapley who mentioned in a podcast that he would love to see Viola Davis as the star of an action franchise. I can only agree. Fincher may lean closer to the thriller-side of things in general, but he has a good track record with female characters, from Alien 3 to Panic Room and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (not that I love all those films, but at least the protagonists are strong). This needs to happen sooner rather than later, as Davis’ star is currently brighter than ever.

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Posted by on 26 March, 2012 in Lists

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2004

Where my 2006 list featured lots of comedies and my 2005 one had a disproportionately high number of documentaries, this one doesn’t really feature any remarkable trends. Indeed, as great as all the films on this list are, perhaps the most noteworthy thing about these ten is what a homogeneous collection it is. All of them are fictional movies, and they could all be said to be American (though three are by directors from other countries, and a fourth takes place solely in Europe). As I’ve said before, I make no concious effort to either infuse or stamp out variety in these lists of mine. It just so happens that my favorite films of 2004 just happen to be these ones. And there is at least genre diversity within the specific subgroup here, with drama, comedy, action, animation and romance all getting their time in the spotlight.

As usual, this is 2004 strictly as listed on IMDB (which is the reason why there can be two Best Picture Oscar winners on here). And it’s merely a list of my favorite films, and nothing more than that.

10 – THE INCREDIBLES (Brad Bird)

” ‘Greater good’? I am your wife! I’m the greatest good you are ever gonna get!”

This is my favorite Pixar film, and a large part of it is due to its relatable characters. Sure, the family of superheroes all have their superpowers, but their problems are all human and recognizable, from Mr. Incredible’s longing for his old glory days in the spotlight to his shy daughter Violet’s feelings of inadequacy. Having a bunch of cool action sequences helps too, of course.

9 – CRASH (Paul Haggis)

“That’s good. A little anger. It’s a bit late, but it’s nice to see.”

Some love it, some hate it. I’m among the former. Crash‘s strength doesn’t lie in what it has to say about racism (someone in my Twitter feed once suggested that’s it’s actually less about that than about grace). Rather, what I appreciate in this film is the power of its individual scenes, helped along by strong performances by Michael Peña, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton and others.

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Posted by on 6 December, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Rewatch Review – Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

This was a film that I absolutely owed a rewatch. The first time I saw Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead was a few years ago, and the circumstances were less than ideal. I was with two friends who didn’t like it at all and found it boring, and they wouldn’t shut up about it. Eventually, I just gave up on trying to focus on the film and we just started babbling about other things. I gave the film a low mark as a result, justifying it with “it failed to hold my attention”. While this is true, this is obviously not something that should be placed on the movie’s shoulders. When I thought about it a while ago, I realized I didn’t remember anything about the film itself other than the circumstances around seeing it. People seem to have a lot of love for it though, so it went onto my rental list. I’m glad I gave it another shot.

Told in a non-chronological order, the film uses a botched robbery as its real kick-off point. A masked guy threatens the elderly shopkeeper (Rosemary Harris) with a gun, but the end result is both of them shooting each other. At this point in the film, we are not aware of who these people are. It’s soon revealed that the robbery was the brainchild of a corporate accountant named Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who soon enlisted his weak-willed brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) to help him do the deed. Both are in urgent need of money: Andy to cover up his embezzling at work, Hank just to pay the rent and provide good living for his daughter. It was meant to be nice and simple: no guns, no bloodshed, no victims (the diamonds were all insured). As we now know, this is not how things turned out.

This is a wise crime film in that it deals with ordinary people who are forced to deal with the fallout of a heist gone awry. They’re plagued by guilt over the people who died, they have to look after their distressed father (Albert Finney) who had ties to the store, and all the problems the robbery was supposed to take care of still remain. Andy was planning a vacation to Rio de Janeiro to liven up his strained marriage to Gina (Marisa Tomei), but now that’s out the window and the auditors at work are fast closing in on him. He also has a heroin addiction that needs feeding. Meanwhile, Hank is struggling to just get through the day financially, something not alleviated by him now being blackmailed by a man (Michael Shannon) who seems to know about his involvement in the robbery.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is made by Sidney Lumet, highly acclaimed director of films such as 12 Angry Men, Network and Dog Day Afternoon. It was to be the last film he directed before he died in April this year. It’s a strong note to end a career on, even if not everything in the movie fully works. Perhaps my chief complaint is how little is done with the non-chronological structure. The opening robbery where we’re not sure what’s going on is effective, but apart from that, the constant back-and-forth jumping in time adds little to the film. This is a story that could have been told more straight-forwardly and still accomplish everything it needs to. The shifts in time and perspective are accompanied by flashing cuts and noise that distracts from the characters’ lives. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is many things, but seamless is not one of them. But it’s a fun story to behold no matter how it’s presented. It’s clear to see how one event leads to another and how the situation slowly but surely spirals out of control. This is a character-driven film free from contrived plot developments, and debuting screenwriter Kelly Masterson deserves a lot of praise for his work here.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favorite actors working today, and he doesn’t disappoint here. His character Andy feels the most fleshed out of the main players, swaying from jovial smooth-talker to stressed-out volcano with ease. As he inches closer to the deep end, we’re with him every step of the way. Ethan Hawke also does a fine job as the easily manipulated Hank, more overtly nervous than his brother. It’s a role that doesn’t necessarily play to his strengths (to me Hawke shines in roles that put him in more ordinary situations like Before Sunset/Sunrise, Reality Bites and Fast Food Nation), but he pulls off a solid performance here. Albert Finney brings a weighty presence to the role as the father, really bursting with energy in a couple of choice scenes. And then there’s Marisa Tomei, constantly getting better with each passing year, here doing the most of what limited screentime she has and nailing every second of it.

So yeah, I liked this movie. More than on my first watch, understandably, almost to the point where I wonder how any of us could have been bored with it. While there’s little extraordinary about the film, it’s a tight story where we’re clearly aware of the characters’ motives and reasonings throughout even when they’re not spelled out explicitly. I do wish the film could have provided a stronger sense of urgency at times. It feels a bit too methodical and distant at times, and some more tension would have been welcome. Regardless, it’s a well-acted film with a compelling story. Others have liked it more than me, so if it sounds appealing to you, don’t hesitate to check it out.

Score: 3/5

 
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Posted by on 6 October, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews

 

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