Ethan Hawke

Predestination (2014, Peter Spierig and Michael Spierig)

With Predestination, the Spierig Brothers take the narrative gimmick to the nth degree. It’s not just a real part of the story, it’s the story. Unlike most films where there’s some satisfaction for the viewer in discovering the gimmick, the Spierigs figure out a way to just push the viewer further down the rabbit hole. The film’s a delicately constructed guided tour of a maze (though the guide isn’t clear) and the film raises a lot of questions it doesn’t want to be responsible for answering. The gimmick gives the Spierigs a way out–because if it’s about the gimmick, there’s no responsibility.

But so much of Predestination is so good–and expertly constructed–it’s hard to imagine how they could do the story with responsibility. They don’t promise it and the gimmick unravels entertainingly throughout. So it’s a success. It’s a moderately budgeted time travel picture and all the settings are great. Between the careful composition and Ben Nott’s delicate photography, the film always looks good.

And the acting is excellent. Ethan Hawke has to perform with the gimmick in mind, which means having an utterly sympathetic, but somewhat obtuse demeanor. It’s impossible to identify with him, more impossible the more his character develops, but the the film still requires the viewer do so. As his protege, Sarah Snook has a rather difficult role (which just gets more difficult) and she does well.

It’s a very strange film (and not). It should be better, it shouldn’t be so good.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Spierig and Michael Spierig; screenplay by Peter Spierig and Michael Spierig, based on a story by Robert A. Heinlein; director of photography, Ben Nott; edited by Matt Villa; music by Peter Spierig; production designer, Matthew Putland; produced by Paddy McDonald, Tim McGahan and Michael Spierig; released by Pinnacle Films.

Starring Ethan Hawke (The Bartender), Sarah Snook (The Unmarried Mother) and Noah Taylor (Mr. Robertson).


Brooklyn’s Finest (2009, Antoine Fuqua)

When Richard Gere gives the best lead performance in a film, it’s definitely a problem. Gere doesn’t bring any gravitas to this role–a retiring police officer–and, when it gets to his redemption, it’s not clear why he needs redeeming. The film calls him a failure a lot, but it’s never clear why he’s a failure, especially when he’s being juxtaposed against two dirty cops.

Don Cheadle’s at least an undercover cop who’s experiencing morality qualms as his superiors support one drug dealer over another, but Ethan Hawke’s just a scumbag. The film loves to use Catholic as an excuse for anything, like why Hawke and Lili Taylor have an endless supply of kids, one for whenever the film needs to emphasis Hawke’s money troubles.

Fuqua manages to keep Brooklyn’s Finest on schedule, if not on track. His Panavision composition doesn’t fail and, for a time, it seems like the film might squeak out one honest moment (the script’s a collection of movie cliches). But every opportunity it has, it squanders–most of these opportunities go to top-billed, non-lead Gere, whose story has at least two threads left unfinished, though only one of them really deserves any attention.

The supporting cast–Vincent D’Onofrio has a great cameo–is weak. Will Patton’s terrible, as is Ellen Barkin. Wesley Snipes plays a caricature, but is better than most of those around him (surprising since they’re all “Wire” alums).

Too bad they didn’t hire a “Wire” writer for a rewrite.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Antoine Fuqua; written by Michael C. Martin; director of photography, Patrick Murguia; edited by Barbara Tulliver; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by John Thompson, Elie Cohn, John Langley, Basil Iwanyk and Avi Lerner; released by Overture Films.

Starring Richard Gere (Eddie), Don Cheadle (Tango), Ethan Hawke (Sal), Wesley Snipes (Caz), Jesse Williams (Eddie Quinlan), Will Patton (Lieutenant Hobarts), Lili Taylor (Angela), Shannon Kane (Chantel), Brian F. O’Byrne (Ronny Rosario), Michael K. Williams (Red) and Ellen Barkin (Agent Smith).


Daybreakers (2009, Peter Spierig and Michael Spierig)

According to the gaggle of morons who saw the film in the same theater I did, the end of Daybreakers is stupid. Why anyone would release what’s essentially a film noir slash action slash vampire movie in American theaters is beyond me… at least outside of areas with high literacy rates (I live in a low literacy rate area, lucky me).

It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s violent, Daybreakers is the kind of movie no one makes anymore. It has a lot in common, in terms of execution (it’s well-directed, well-written, well-acted), with Carpenter’s Escape from New York. It’s a genre picture, there are effects, but it’s not for the pleebs. I can’t even imagine how Lionsgate tried to advertise it.

The film keeps its vampire conventions simple and traditional so it can play better. It’s future America with vampires is frightening banal. From the start, the world of vampires isn’t a leap of the imagination, it’s completely believable.

The Spierig’s direction is, just like it was in their first film, fantastic. Here they do a lot more, since it’s such a mix of genres. I’m actually glad Daybreakers isn’t a hit, since it’d be terrible to see them do a Matrix someday. Though I would love to see them do a romantic comedy. They’re fantastic filmmakers.

The acting’s all great, especially, shockingly, Sam Neill, who finally learned how to chew scenery. Willem Dafoe’s hilarious in his part of a good ol’ boy (written by Australians).

Wonderful stuff.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Peter Spierig and Michael Spierig; director of photography, Ben Nott; edited by Matt Villa; music by Christopher Gordon; production designer, George Liddle; produced by Bryan Furst, Sean Furst and Chris Brown; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Ethan Hawke (Edward Dalton), Claudia Karvan (Audrey Bennett), Willem Dafoe (Lionel “Elvis” Cormac), Michael Dorman (Frankie Dalton), Vince Colosimo (Caruso), Isabel Lucas (Alison) and Sam Neill (Charles Bromley).


Assault on Precinct 13 (2005, Jean-François Richet)

Assault on Precinct 13 doesn’t remind of an early 1990s action movie because of Dorian Harewood, Kim Coates or Brian Dennehy showing up–or even because of the movie specific end credits song (by KRS-One no less). It doesn’t even remind of that genre because it lifts the icicle shamelessly from Die Hard 2. Even the presence of Matt Craven–in a theatrical release–doesn’t do it. I guess it’s because, even with all these identifiable similarities, Assault on Precinct 13 is a both traditionally solid action movie, as well as very self-aware. The casting is peculiar and I’d like to think the familiar faces were supposed to illicit the warm recognition they did. Assault on Precinct 13 feels like an action movie for people who won’t just recognize the icicle, but Coates as well. It’s a peanut butter and jelly movie.

As a remake of John Carpenter–one of Carpenter’s most distinctive features no less–Assault on Precinct 13 feels like they got the idea from a TV Guide description. With the exception of Laurence Fishburne’s character’s name, there isn’t any reference, isn’t any homage. There’s no urban uncanny here, the villains are all clearly defined (it’s Gabriel Byrne no less)–dirty cops instead of a street gang. Ethan Hawke (who would have thought, Hawke’s greatest commercial success comes from being an action guy) is a tormented cop who doesn’t know if he can make it. The psychological ramifications are trite and time wasters (the remake runs twenty minutes longer than the original), but they do allow for Maria Bello to be in the cast so I can’t complain too much. From her first scene, Bello and her acting quality seem rather out of place in Precinct 13, which is sturdily performed and all… but most of the cast members get about half their goofy dialogue out without it sounding cheesy. Bello gets it all out (to be fair to screenwriter DeMonaco, all of Bello’s scenes are the best written in the film). Hawke’s fine, but any acting ambitions he seemed to once have are very clearly gone. Fishburne’s fine too, but I was expecting more (he often just goes cheap with a Matrix delivery). Byrne’s lousy, but Currie Graham’s good as his sidekick. Dennehy’s good. John Leguizamo, in what should have just been a repeat of his annoying characters, adds some real texture to his performance. Drea De Matteo runs real hot and real cold.

But it’d be hard for Precinct 13 not to work. It’s a siege action movie and, as such, it’d have to be incompetently made to be bad. Director Richet is anything but incompetent. His composition isn’t startling, but it’s quite good and there isn’t a scene–even the poorly written first few–he doesn’t make compelling.

There’s one obvious, but not bad, CG shot. In the opening, Hawke’s at his desk (tortured, of course) and the camera pulls through the window and out into the sky until the precinct building becomes small. It reminded me of Curtiz’s use of miniatures in the 1930s. It’s a cool shot, sets the mood and all, but it’s nowhere near as interesting as it should be.

Anyway. The film’s certainly got me looking for more of Richet’s work.

But they never use the music. Carpenter’s theme to the original is one of his more recognizable compositions and it’d have made a great closing number… apologies to KRS-One.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jean-François Richet; written by James DeMonaco, based on the film by John Carpenter; director of photography, Robert Gantz; edited by Bill Pankow; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Paul D. Austerberry; produced by Pascal Caucheteux, Stephane Sperry and Jeffrey Silver; released by Rogue Pictures.

Starring Ethan Hawke (Sgt. Jake Roenick), Laurence Fishburne (Marion Bishop), Gabriel Byrne (Capt. Marcus Duvall), Maria Bello (Dr. Alex Sabian), Drea de Matteo (Iris Ferry), John Leguizamo (Beck), Brian Dennehy (Sgt. Jasper O’Shea), Ja Rule (Smiley), Currie Graham (Mike Kahane), Aisha Hinds (Anna), Matt Craven (Officer Kevin Capra), Fulvio Cecere (Ray Portnow), Peter Bryant (Lt. Holloway), Kim Coates (Officer Rosen), Hugh Dillon (Tony), Tig Fong (Danny Barbero), Jasmin Geljo (Marko), Jessica Greco (Coral) and Dorian Harewood (Gil).


Lord of War (2005, Andrew Niccol)

Lord of War fails on quite a few levels–I suppose some of the direction is interesting and some of the puns are funny–but it still surprised me when it attempted to be civic-minded in the end. I should have seen it coming, but I was a little distracted by the end. The last scene and one of the first scenes are pretty much it for actual scenes in Lord of War. The present action takes place over nineteen years so most of the storytelling is done in summary or half-scene. A more imaginative director would have had Cage narrate it to the camera throughout, but instead we just get to hear him tell the story instead. Lord of War breaks that cardinal rule of voiceover narration–without Cage’s narration, the film would not make any sense. It would be a loose collection of scenes tied together. The viewer might not even know he was an arms dealer.

I was going to delay the flailing, but I think I’ll end the post on a positive note. Where to start. How about the names… Cage and Jared Leto (Leto plays his brother) play Ukrainian immigrants with Ukrainian names–except when Cage calls Leto “V” (for Vitaly), because “V” just sounds cool, doesn’t it? Actually, the reason for the Ukrainian heritage is for a later event–Cage plays a composite of five arms dealers, so calling it factual is a bit of a stretch. As the arms dealer, Cage is occasionally appealing, but he isn’t operating with any depth. The screenplay is shallow (Niccol made Gattaca, which is deep, so he seems to have burnt-out right away). The dialogue–when it’s not trying to be funny, of course–is bad. Jared Leto still acts with his hair. A flop to the right means his angry, a flop to the left means addicted to cocaine. Ethan Hawke has a crew cut (playing an inexplicably authorized Interpol agent) so he doesn’t get any acting help from his hair. He’s real bad. I mean, it’s a tossup who’s worst in this film, between Leto, Hawke, Bridget Moynahan as the wife or Ian Holm. Moynahan is terrible in a funny way–it’s funny hear her say her lines. It’s absurdly amusing, but poor Holm. Holm is so bad–and so visibly bad, Niccol does nothing but put him out there to embarrass himself–he’s so bad, you’d think he’d won an Oscar in the early 1980s either as Indian independence leader or as composer who had it in for Mozart. He’s awful.

It’s a cheap film too. Niccol’s got a lot CG-aided shots (the opening credits are a bullet going from manufacture to use and it looks like Pixar did it) and they’re cheap and glossy. They look fake, so maybe Niccol’s trying bring films back to the old days when the audience was meant to be aware they were watching a false reality–and I like that kind of thinking and I like those movies–but I don’t think he was going for it.

It rips off Goodfellas. The helicopter from Goodfellas. There’s something really sleazy about ripping Goodfellas.

Now for the good part. Eamonn Walker plays a Liberian warlord. He’s great. This guy ought to be in everything. He should be the new Superman. He’s great.

He almost makes the film worth watching.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by Zach Staenberg; music by Antonio Pinto; production designer, Jean Vincent Puzos; produced by Philippe Rousselet, Niccol, Nicolas Cage, Norman Golightly, Andy Grosch and Chris Roberts; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Yuri Orlov), Jared Leto (Vitali Orlov), Bridget Moynahan (Ava Fontaine), Ian Holm (Simeon Weisz), Eamonn Walker (Baptiste Senior), Sammi Rotibi (Baptiste Junior) and Ethan Hawke (Valentine).


Gattaca (1997, Andrew Niccol)

I guess I forgot about Gattaca, because I was worried about it….

Which was stupid.

Gattaca is, in my non-brother-having opinion, the best film about brothers ever made. East of Eden was about fathers and sons and I can’t think of any other good examples right now. I’m transferring over a bunch of old Stop Button reviews right now for the planned site upgrade (which is probably pointless, since none of the site counters report any readers) and I came across a review for THX 1138. It said something along the lines that I couldn’t talk about THX 1138 properly, so I wouldn’t even try. I also came across my Superman review, which was brilliant, so maybe I’ll say some more about Gattaca….

Rarely can you point at a film and say, “Look, that’s his brother then and that’s who’s become his brother now but there’s his real brother and it’s all about these relationships between men and the beauty of them.” I got teary at Gattaca and I can’t think of another film about men I’ve gotten teary about. Heat, maybe? I can’t remember.

I’m not going to waste energy talking about Niccol’s directing or the film’s style–it’s perfect, but lots of films have perfect direction and style and fail (and lots have neither and succeed… to some degree, anyway). Niccol’s created a situation where one can appreciate the truly beautiful things people can do for each other. And, hey, if you have to set it in the future in a genetic engineering thingy, I’m with it. I haven’t seen a human being do a beautiful thing for another human being in my entire life (that’s why there are movies and books). The real world just doesn’t have the Michael Nyman score going for it.

This is the point when all those blogs I think I’m superior to but actually have readers say things like: discuss. Well, for now (don’t know about the upgrade), don’t waste your time discussing, just go see this film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol; director of photography, Slawomir Idziak; edited by Lisa Zeno Churgin; music by Michael Nyman; production designer, Jan Roelfs; produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Ethan Hawke (Vincent), Uma Thurman (Irene), Gore Vidal (Director Josef), Xander Berkeley (Lamar), Jayne Brook (Marie), Ernest Borgnine (Caesar), Alan Arkin (Detective Hugo), Blair Underwood (Geneticist), Loren Dean (Anton), Jude Law (Jerome), Tony Shalhoub (German) and Elias Koteas (Antonio).


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