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Archive for the ‘Ethan Hawke’ Category

First Reformed

18 Jun

First Reformed –– written and directed by Paul Schrader. Drama. 114 minutes. Color 2018.
★★★★★
The Story: The pastor of a famed New England Church struggles with crises of faith, ethics, mission, courage, and his own past.
~
How does an actor convey all these at once?

He never conveys them. He holds still, opens his pores, and lets the audience convey them for him.

Of course, that’s the way it’s written and directed and filmed, but Ethan Hawke is an actor in the past covered with a sheen and endowed with an unfortunate smirk at the corners of his mouth, so he has never been an actor of much penetration, but rather an actor of unearned smugness.

But, recognizing himself to be not an A-list actor, the movies he has chosen to be in have been more interesting than his work in them. This has served him well and kept him before us. This has been true of him since he was young, which he no longer is. Here he plays a pastor of 47 which is also the age he is. He looks every day of it.

And he has largely mislaid his basket of acting tricks, we get only one empty side-long glance. His pushy charm and the coin of youth are gone.

He is not an actor who inhabits a character or whom a character inhabits. In his watchfulness as an actor there is the sense that he is not an actor at all, but a writer. So his instrument is limited and squeezed.

But what has always been so is that he is an actor who is present for the character to be present. And, oftentimes in screen acting, more than this is unwanted.

We are told about his minister; he tells us things; others tell us things; things are shown about him; the camera watches what he does, and all these things inform us with what we must learn in order for us to participate in creating this character.

So Ethan Hawke has begun to grow up in his craft. Hawke does not distract us or force a point of view of the character on us, so he is never remote. If, for narrative purposes, the character feels despair, we see despair in Hawke’s eyes and face. Otherwise not. If the character drinks, and it is narratively unnecessary for us not to know why, Hawke never betrays the story by detouring it into making whisky understandable. If the character is meant to internalize the ravage of the environment, the domination of the plutocracy, the fatness of the megachurch, his thoughtless fatherhood, he holds true to an ancient family and social code of consideration for others which would compress these influences and never show them. And we believe it. He does not indicate they are in him, and because he does not, we intuit that they must be in him.

Hawke keeps the physical circumstances of his body small. It’s a part which the slightest gesture would betray the role into overacting.

So we are not interested in Ethan Hawke here because he is, like Bette Davis, an actor of passionate histrionic drive whose physical show stuns us. No. Hawke simply leaves that out and lets the audience do the job of bringing the character alive in Hawke’s flesh. Hawke’s presence and the character become concurrent.

This is important because of the style of the film which is ruled by the decorum of church settings, music, and deportment. The film does not rush. It is as ritualized as a processional. Words are allowed to be heard. Scenes are allowed to develop. Arguments are allowed to ripen. We are in a film of grown up matters. There are social and spiritual and religious dialogues. We have to hear them out, for we too, as audience, have our pastoral duty. We see that characters do not realize that some of this formality is so beside the point that it is dangerous.

The film lets music play its role but never to enforce mood, but to counterpoint it. The camera is as steady as the style of the tale it tells. The acting of the others confirms the director’s style, which is to reveal the story straightforwardly and no more fully than our digestion permits.

With First Reformed we are constantly in the experience of story. Paul Schrader is like Satyajit Ray and Ingmar Bergman in this.

Hawke’s character has lost his ability to pray. Every human on earth loses their ability to pray every day. Each of us struggles towards an ethos vivid to us. Hawke’s character has lost this struggle. What is he to do?

I honor this film, everything about it, and everything in it.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: Method, Ethan Hawke, PERSONAL DRAMA

 

Cymbeline

15 Sep

Cymbeline directed by Michael Almereyda. Shakespearean Fantasy. 97 minutes Color 2017.
★★★★
The Story: A princess, against her father’s wishes, marries her love who is forced to flee, and, after extreme complications, he is restored to her.
~
The director has cut the play, quite rightly and expertly, to its stony bones. It’s set in modern times, but it was written in the time of Game Of Thrones, which is to say in a Dark Ages that never existed save in fantasy drama – a genre which remains enormously popular to this day.

It would be silly to track the story here, as it would that of Game Of Thrones, for our interest lies in who shall be king. Everything in the story subserves that end.

Except, in this case, Shakespeare has created marvelous humans to enact the exploits and coincidents and passions so multitudinously arrayed before us. Cymbeline, being a pre-medieval computer game, is the most modern of Shakespeare’s plays, and the director gives it to us in modern dress. What does not work is that he gives it to us in modern acting style.

The recreation of the Globe Theater in London is large and holds 1400. The original Glob Theater held 3,000. (Radio City Music Hall holds 6,000.) So you see, the original Globe was enormous. So Shakespeare’s words were written for a certain vocal production audible in a vast theater, open air, out of doors, in full daylight, in a busy noisy city.

None of the actors here have the training in this particular voice production.

It is not simply a matter of speaking loud. It is a way of speaking, of surrounding words chosen for that way of speaking, surrendering to them, getting not just behind but way behind them. None of the actors, save one, has the inner placement from which to deliver the language.

Actors required for Shakespeare also, have to have enormous stage personality. And as good as Ed Harris’s Meisner training might be as the basis for the main body of his fine work as an actor, Meisner despised and denounced Shakespeare, and so Harris does not fare any better than the others do in opting to make the lines colloquial, gutsy, and intuitive. The voice is placed just at the back of his throat, so everything comes out without weight, without emphasis. He can act the part, but he cannot speak the part. The investment is missing. The investment is not Method investment, but an investment in a place in the human body from which these truths must be uttered.

This is true of all the actors, and because they have wonderful parts one watches them through. John Leguizamo, as the obedient/disobedient retainer, gathers himself into and out of the situations convincingly. His physical weight has carrying power and as a middle-aged actor we care for his destiny. Leguizamo knows something that enables him to play this part.

Anton Yelchin plays the brat/villain with every convention sticking out of his performance like a porcupine. We need to identify with this character’s compromised position in the drama, not dismiss him out of hand as a stereotype.

Dakota Johnson as Imogen gives us this great role with vapid tone, her voice wrinkling like a Valley chick. But Imogen is not a Valley chick. She, like Desdemona, is a young woman of parts, a role for a young Katharine Hepburn, a woman who dares defy her father to marry the man of her choice, and who will not back down. You need a big personality to play this young woman. It was a role for which Ellen Terry was renowned. But Johnson’s Imogen does not know what she is saying nor how to say it.

Ethan Hawke takes the choice role of Iachamo. Certain things he does well: the closet scene with the chest, for one. I believed it. But it is a pantomime scene. When he opens his mouth, the words that come out do not belong to Iachamo, nor to Hawke either. Nor does he seem to understand the character.

Iachamo is a Texas A & M fraternity boy of devastating looks and charm – and a nasty streak a mile wide. His ego sets the play in motion, but Hawke plays him mildly, as an After Sunset chap with a sly eye. No. Iachamo is the brat of brats. He’s a horror, but you’ve got to hand it to him. Finally, Hawke is simply too old for the part.

The one actor who does not suffer from inadequacy here is the great Delroy Lindo as Belarius, the stepfather of the princes. He simply has by nature the voice the role requires. When will someone give Delroy Lindo Lear?

I loved watching the movie; I liked the cuts; one gets to see Cymbeline too seldom. I was grateful for a lot of it. And – oh, that late Shakespeare – best in my appreciation books.

 

Seymour: An Introduction

02 Apr

Seymour: An Introduction – directed by Ethan Hawke. Documentary. 84 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: Hawke memoirs the life and work of the great classical piano teacher Seymour Bernstein, 87.

~

What do we have here but a visit with a fountain!

He sits and talks with his friends, his students, his director. He plays – and plays divinely – in the great romantic repertoire – in which he concertized successfully until he was 54. Giving up the concert stage once he had passed beyond his fear of it and his dislike of its commercial restrictions, he turned to a long life of teaching. So what?

So his students love him, and we love him too, as he takes the details of half-keying the the approach to a Beethoven sonata or the minutiae of the first chords of the Rachmaninoff 2nd and opens them up to the young ones about to play them in public.

His approach to music is as his approach to life, generous, telling, devoted. He envies no one. He honors the honorable. If music is a divinity, we must hear it from someone like him. What is in his eyes is so simple, so loving. As we see him in master classes elucidating the mantra beat of a Mozart piece and suggesting when to let go the emphasis on a repeat.

When to let go of the emphasis.

So life goes too. What applies to the left hand resounds in the right. And we have a sense of a life unified, no longer compartmentalized, but rich, talented. and fun.

He is happy to think he helped get Clifford Curzon knighted, and we are treated to a delicious recital of Curzon, who was his teacher. And we are also treated to a run-down of the playing of that nut-case Glenn Gould whose eccentricities were more interesting than his Bach.

What we get here is a kindliness crowning a great art. What we get is an earned wisdom, which it is our privilege to sit at the feet of. To hear him go through the pianos in Steinway Hall to find the right one – well, did you ever think you would find yourself this close to a master? And just hear what he says about it. Just hear what he says about pianos.

And, finally, just hear him play the final movement of the Schumann Op 17. Playing it, and explaining it, and playing it.

So, my dears, don’t hold back. Betake yourself to Seymour. He’ll be glad you introduced yourself to him. And so will you.

 
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Posted in DOCUMENTARY, Ethan Hawke, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

Boyhood

28 Jul

Boyhood – directed and written by Richard Linklater. Drama. 165 minutes Color 2014

★★

The Story: A six year-old boy grows over the years to become eighteen.

~

Atrocious.

I covered my face with shame watching it. It is devoid of originality and it is very, very, very badly written. The Emperor has lots of clothes and they are all chic cliché.

It is the same old problem of a writer imagining he can direct – or it may be the other way around. The two talents rarely go together. Some try it. Only Woody Allen succeeds. Here they are so many miles apart I cannot make out that they exist in Richard Linklater at all.

What we have here is a marvelous idea, which is to chose a six year old boy, and make a movie about his doings over the years as he grows, until he is eighteen.

That this is not done as a sort of home-movie is fine. But what the director shows instead has nothing to do with anything that he has not learned from cheap TV dramas. Andy Hardy Has A Pillow Fight With His Sister. Andy Hardy Looks At Playboy With His Friends In A Back Alley. Andy Hardy Goes To College.

There is nothing original or particular in it. There is no eccentricity in it. There is nothing that does not record the customary, the rule, the expected. There is nothing that exists outside of the acceptable. Every scene is a slogan. Every line a dread banality. And there is nothing personal to the young man in it whatsoever.

I was ashamed to have to sit there pulling the wool off my eyes. People applauded at the end and laughed on cue all through. Big Brother was impersonating Boyhood.

Ellar Coltrane, who plays the young male, is just fine. He is introverted and beautiful, both of which draw one to him. His sister Samantha is played by Lorelei Linklater, and she is the opposite of introverted, and she is just fine too. There is nothing to forgive them for. Nor is there in the case of Patricia Arquette as their mother. Everything she does is simple, clear, believable, and true. She’s a fine actress. My hat’s off to her.

As to the three men who play her husbands, their performances are so bad I will not defame myself by describing them. Let us just say they are over-detailed without being particular. Which means they are hammy. Bill Wise, though, as the Uncle has a marvelous moment at the end. And the end is long in coming. For we have traversed A Currier And Ives Calendar Of Typical Boyhood Moments, climaxed by a scene in which we are treated to the father urinating on a campfire. He instructs his teen-age son to follow suit. This act of ecological mercy is followed by the boy’s eye view of his pissing. It’s yellow, yep. Yet a boy’s eye view would have shown his penis. But no. It’s Andy Hardy, the difference being that no one thought Andy Hardy was real, only that Mickey Rooney was. Like everything else about this film it was impersonal, hollow, and unnecessary.

The film is a gimmick without content. The three leads deserve something better. The subject of boyhood deserves something better. I deserve something better. And so do you.

 
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Posted in Ethan Hawke, FAMILY DRAMA, Patricia Arquette

 

Snow Falling On Cedars

06 Feb

Snow Falling On Cedars –­ directed by Scott Hicks. Mystery. 127 minutes Color 1999.

★★★

The Story: A Japanese fisherman is accused of the murder of an American fisherman, and the former lover of the Japanese fisherman’s wife may know the truth.

The movie opens with an alluring shot of the American fisherman out at sea barely visible in a thick fog. Into it one peers, with all the need to know one possesses.

Other scenes follow – a still boat on a bay of Pudget Sound surrounded by still trees and colossal skies.

Other scenes equally exquisite follow one upon the other.

Yet none of the expectations continually before us in these displays of beauty are supported by the material underlying them in the human interactions also displayed.

The principal fault is not just the casting of Ethan Hawke who does not have sufficient character to carry a film. (I confess, I also find his face hard to look at.)

Everyone else is perfectly cast, John Cromwell as the canny judge, Richard Jenkins as the hemming-and-hawing sheriff, and Sam Shepard as the editor with probity. James Rebhorn as the hard-driving D.A., Youki Kudoh as the loyal wife, and the ambiguous-eyed Rick Yune as the accused fisherman. Max Von Sydow is delicious as his defense lawyer.

The director has also co-written the piece, and therein lies the fault, for he is blind to see that the Japanese are all presented from the outside, and that this cannot be. They must be presented from the inside. The TV series Tremé is a perfect example of a movie in which exotic cultures are presented inside-out; you see them in relation to the world around them. But presenting the ill-treatment of the Japanese-American population during and after World Ward II from the outside never invites us in and reduces their tragedy and their story to a polemic. Oh, too bad, we say. What we need to say is nothing: we need to be them. We need to say, “Ow! That hurt!”

A good deal of time is given over to the romance of Hawke and Kudoh when young, and because all of it is conventional none of it convinces. It has plenty of environment and no eccentricity. Without this properly established we cannot much care what Hawke is going through.

The director points out three mysteries in the film, but he is telling a whopper. There is only one. He also points out that Hawke has only one arm. Because the presentation of it was not properly introduced, we had to be told. These are things we shouldn’t have to be told. They should be self-evident. Instead, we are betrayed by the allusive. The title is one such allusion. Snow? Yes. Cedars? Where? Perhaps that’s the fourth mystery.

 

Before Midnight

06 Jun

Before Midnight – directed by Richard Linklater. Marital Drama III. A married couple of 40 fight it out on vacation. 108 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

How do you make a romantic drama with two stars who are despicable? That’s the question I faced going in. And what I also faced was how you could make a romantic drama with two actors who have no sense of humor? This doesn’t mean that they cannot play comedy, for they certain nail line after line, and both of them at times are very funny, but it does mean that the salve of inner humor is not present to back them or to use as a no-man’s land for truce.

What we get is an opening scene badly over-written and overacted in which Ethan Hawke says goodbye to his 14 year-old son. Hawke plays fatherly solicitousness, a utilitarian emotion, not a real one. The boy carries the scene.

This is followed by a long sequence in a car, which is brilliantly acted by Julie Delpy and by Hawke, a sequence whose writing is so calibrated of waves dashing against one another that we never wish it to end. That’s Act I. Act II is an al fresco lunch of four couples — in their early 20s, their late 30s, their 50s, their 70s — all of whom are partnered, each individual voicing views and tales of married life.  Act III then takes place on the way to and in a hotel room where they can be free of their eight year-old twin daughters for a night.

What Hawk and Delpy do is fight. And fight. And Fight. They do it in the car, they do at the lunch, they do it until The End. Is this George and Martha? Is this Jiggs and Maggie? Is this Kate and Petruchio? It certainly isn’t Tracy and Hepburn or Russell and Grant because it never is any fun. It is a humorless textbook on marital discord. It plays well but only as an object-lesson.

Hawke is marvelous acting his part, and so is Delpy hers, since a more captious actress cannot be imagined than Julie Delpy. She is belligerent by nature and preference, and since she wrote the script with Hawke and the director, what we are really faced with is Ma and Pa Kettle, Delpy wielding the rolling pin and Hawke dodging her in between paper glider valentines he scoots her way.

But it does not work because the fundamental work has not been done by director, writers or actors. The two actors can act the parts; they cannot act the roles. You never believe they are the parents of those three children. You never believe Delpy is a talent in architecture. You never believe Hawke is a writer. You never believe they love one another. You certainly never for a minute believe they are married. And because you never believe they are married, you never believe there is a marriage at peril, and so you are treated to a drama about nothing-at-stake.

I love films in which characters talk a lot and talk wittily. I loved the long sequences in this film in which that talk rises and falls and turns around on itself again, only to rise and fall, and smash itself against a cliff. I am glad the picture was made as it was. I wish it had been made as it wasn’t.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, Ethan Hawke, MARITAL DRAMA

 

Waterworld

15 Feb

Waterworld – directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal – Drama. A high school teacher regales his history class with his youthful sexual history. 94 minutes Color 1992

* * *

Some actors are hired for their ability to perform a character. Others for their ability to perform themselves. Jeremy Irons is of the latter category but this film requires someone of the first category. Irons can carry a film as himself very nicely, but this knack has disastrous consequences on what might have been an interesting and comprehensible picture. Irons’ character is supposed to be that of a grownup version of an English peasant boy from The Fens on the North Sea, but he proceeds in the part with his upper class airs and charms in full swing, a person who would no more end up teaching English in Pittsburgh PA high school than The Prince of Wales would. With Irons is Sinead Cusack as his wife, and she has clearly based her performance on the character of the teenage girl she was once supposed to be, even using prosthetic teeth to duplicate the young girl’s gat-teeth. She is a character; Irons is not a character. Her scenes with Irons are professional to the max, but it must have been like playing Ophelia opposite Donald Duck. And it discombobulates the film out of reason. The two teenagers, Lena Headey and Grant Warnock are just fine as the kids. And David Morrissey, who plays the retarded older teenager, is super, and is perhaps the only person one cares about in this misguided movie. His Insolence Ethan Hawke floats through the show to no purpose in a part that probably should have been cut. Whereas Pete Postlethwaite right-sizes his small role as the father and is particularly effective in the remarkable and moving denouement. We also have John Heard, wasted again, in a supporting role, in which, however, he is excellent. And the high-spirited, laughing face of Maggie Gyllenhall in her first screen appearance flashes by. Another difficulty, and again it is a big one, is that the set decorations are completely at odds with the setting. Houses in Pittsburg didn’t have that furniture and didn’t have wallpaper and if they did it wasn’t like that. The result is that we never believe where we are watching. And because of Irons we never believe whom we are watching. See it. It is interesting to watch all this collapse the film.

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