Archive for the ‘John Hawkes’ Category


14 Oct

Everest ­– directed by Baltasar Kormákur. Docupic. 121 Minutes Color 2015.


The Story: Four commercial climbing expeditions join forces for the sake of safety as they take their clients up to the highest elevation in the world.


Well they certainly found the perfect actor to play the lead. Jason Clarke, an Australian actor, brings to his role the requirements needed to hold the entire story together. Because there is that within him that allows you to believe that he holds the entire expedition together. It is he who has the foresight to see that five expeditions cannot embark on the same day, and gets three of them to join with his group. This actor exudes the compassion, expertise, and common sense which makes us go along with him on what is, after all, a $65,000 ticket to a thrill for the climbers.

The film takes us into the depths of the mountains, and I wonder how they ever managed to film it. I was astonished. I was held. I kept learning. I felt present on the spot.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays an expedition leaders, a rapscallion. And John Hawkes plays a climber on his last chance to make it. Josh Brolin plays a climber addicted to mountaineering. The great Icelandic actor, Ingvar Eggert Sugurösson plays a leader who never uses oxygen and who does jim-dandy without it. He alone is clean-shaven, which helps his performance, for it is often hard to tell one character from another, since all the men wear beards which cooperate with the snow and the oxygen-masks to disguise them. But you can identify the characters by their parkas. And the director makes the back-and-forth of the perils they meet as clear as can be in all that white.

The female actors are particularly strong. Keira Knightley as Clarke’s pregnant wife, Robin Wright as Brolin’s. Elizabeth Debicki as the base camp doctor holds the fort with the wonderful Emily Watson who plays the base camp manager. What a treasure she is!

I won’t tell you the story, because I did not know it myself when I saw it. But I surmised that things did not turn out well for all these people, or the film would not have been made. It’s beautifully done. The mountain itself looms above it all, deciding who will live and how and who will die and how.

The peril is threefold. Steepness. Oxygen deprivation. Cold. I am a cold person, so the last of these interested me most, in that some of the characters are clearly more comfortable with cold than others.

Of course, by cold, I do not mean nasty, narrow, cruel, prudish, or mean. Cold is a temperature of love of life and a latitude for moving through it. Hot blooded people are colorful, bold, and tempting. But the cool ones love the reserves in themselves, and the path therein to their souls and their callings. So I like snow. I like ice. I like to witness the perils inherent in them. The perseverance. The melt.

Also, I saw it in 3-D, which helps, I think. Anyhow, I recommend it, as, of course, I do the film itself.


A Life Of Crime

16 Aug

Life Of Crime – directed by Daniel Schechter. Crimedy. 98 minutes Color 2013.


The Story: three inept criminals target a rich woman for kidnapping.


Aren’t you glad I never give away the story?

Why should I when sitting through one as pleasing as this is half the reason for going to a film at all.

Jennifer Aniston plays the lady earmarked for snatching. Is she not the best actress before the cameras today? You may discount her because her haircut does not change. But don’t short-sell her as an actress to watch, follow, wait for, harken to. Her responses are always fresh. You’d think they might not be. You’d think maybe she was stale from all that TV work. You’d wonder that she hasn’t aged. You’d discount her because she always looks good in her clothes. You’d be distracting yourself, if you did, from the brilliance of her work, her mastery of the tone of a role, her instinctual sizing of a part, her ability to strategize a role. Her delivery. Her artistic self-possession. I don’t know what you’re waiting for. She is a masterpiece Chinese meal, a little taste at a time, and a feast throughout.

The film is well written and played perfectly. Tim Robbins plays her cad-husband with disarming relish and talent. Isla Fisher is wonderful as his doxie. Yaslin Bey (known to many as Mos Def, rap artist) is right on the money as one of the crooks. But the one I liked a lot was John Hawkes, an actor I do not remember having seen before, but have actually seen a number of times, mainly in The Sessions where is plays a paraplegic laid out on a bed and receiving sexual services from a surrogate. Where have my eyes been all this while. He has had a big career in film, Oscar nominations and all. I shall seek him out, good, self-taught Virgos as we both are. And he’s just wonderful here as the crook with some common sense and sensibility.

Have I gone off my rocker?

I hope so. Join me. Delight in A Life Of Crime.



16 Nov

Lincoln – directed by Steven Spielberg. Docudrama. President Abraham Lincoln is surrounded on all sides as he presses to get Congress to pass the 13th Amendment forbidding slavery. 149 minutes Color 2012.


I was thrilled, stirred, gripped.

I thought beforehand I would not be, for the coming attractions are ill advised.

But, once there, everything about this film surprised, entertained, informed, and moved me.

My first fear was that Daniel Day-Lewis would simply dress himself up in a top hat and shawl and, in the voice of Henry Fonda, perform The Lincoln Memorial.

But what Daniel Day-Lewis has done with Lincoln, is to give him a posture which is stooped, which we know he had, and a short gait, which we couldn’t know he had, but which keeps him in the contemplative present when he moves.

Day-Lewis’s figure is tall and thin, as was Lincoln’s, and his face is long, as was Lincoln’s. He has, as Lincoln had, cold eyes. Lincoln had a high-pitched voice, and that is what the actor contrives for us. The impersonation is beyond exception.

The actor also has the ability to negotiate Lincoln’s remarkable diction, so he is able to manage Lincoln’s speeches and his raconteurism –– everyone said Lincoln was a most entertaining individual, and folks gathered around him to hear him tell jokes and stories –– and this is given full play as is his play with his little son. But the weight of the matters that concern and confront him and how he faces them are the story.

The political shenanigans environing the passage of the 13th Amendment are the setting here, and in this he is beset by his foes and friends alike. Among the foes is Lee Pace, an actor of signal clarity of attack, who leads the Democrats of the day who, like the Republicans of our own, have no agenda but to oppose, in all matters, the person who holds The Presidency.

The complex backstairs bargaining and bribery and bullying to get the amendment through is exciting and involves a lot of first class actors to bring off. Kevin Kline as a wounded soldier, Jared Harris as U.S. Grant, Bruce McGill as Secretary Stanton. We have James Spader as the foul-mouthed operative sent to influence the undecided with sinecures and cash. Hal Holbrook as the peacenik operative whose truce-making might arrest the entire effort. John Hawkes as Robert Latham.

But the big difficulties at the time were two people who were in favor of the amendment. The first was Mary Lincoln, unbalanced by the loss of a previous child and exhausting and distracting Lincoln by indulging herself in grief because of it. This is an astonishing piece of work by an actress who has grown over the years: daring when young, even more daring now: Sally Field.

The second problematic character was Thaddeus Stevens, an abolitionist so radical his extreme fundamentalism bid fair to upset the applecart. A formidable politico and vituperator, it required an actor no one could out-wily, out-cunning, out-sly. And such an one we have to hand in the person of Tommy Lee Jones. He’s killingly funny and powerful in the role. It’s one of his great film turns.

The filming of story and the direction of it are exactly right, established at once by Janusz Kaminski with a Brahmsian color palette and a scenic arrangement that gives us a view from under the table of the White House goings-on and political dealings that never fall into the staid tableaux of Historical Documentary or the expected or the pat.

But the great credit of all the great credit due is to Tony Kushner who wrote it. He alone of modern playwrights could negotiate the elaborate rhetoric of 19th Century invective, without which the telling of this material would be incomprehensible. Instead of taking out your gun and firing at an insult, you had to stand still to hear it long enough to mount a more suitable riposte than a bullet. Congress in those days was messy, rude, and volatile. We see it all.

Kushner frames the picture with two speeches, and each one is given to us in a surprising way. Historical events with which we are familiar are gestured when they are not integral to the strife within. He knows how to write a scene with lots of words, and the material needs them and welcomes them. You have to lean forward and keep your ears alert, just as these men and women did in their day. You want to. It’s part of your engagement, your learning, your joy, and your satisfaction.

Up close and personal with Lincoln, if you ever imagine yourself so lucky as to be, you sure are here. You give full credence to this actor’s Lincoln. You watch Lincoln, yes, he is available. You still admire him, you are touched by him, you know him as well as you ever will, save you read his letters. A man of great depth of reserve and great humor. Torn, pure in two, but one. Because fair and honest and kind. Smart because he understands human language from aint to art. When has his party put forth for president a person of one tenth his character? Will they ever do so again?


The Sessions

10 Nov

The Sessions –- written and directed by Ben Lewin. Docudrama. A 38 year-old man confined to an iron lung by polio decides to lose his virginity, and hires a sexual surrogate to help him. 95 minutes Color 2012.

John Hawkes plays it like a true Virgo, that is to say he plays it understanding that the only thing that is critical to the role is that the character is in a physical difficulty that no human being could become quite used to no matter how long he had been used to it, and that this requires nothing more than a shift in vocal pitch – the only thing, since, as he is completely paralyzed, his voice is the only expressive instrument available to him. Everything else in the part is played by the audience. He will be nominated again for an Oscar. We ourselves see him with difficulty – from the side, from the top looking down, in profile supine. He is never shown upright and so we must meet him by lying down too.

And what sort of person is this? A very humorous one. Even his admission of self-pity is humorous. His humor gives us enough to do the rest.

The trick for such a story is to achieve a balance of ingredients.

First is a man who is sexually potent but sexually inert. He needs training. (Some men are like that. I was, and I too relinquished my virginity late, aged 20, to the whores in Inchon, to whom I am ever grateful. Like him, I was feckless. Like him, the first time did not work.) So he arranges for a sexual surrogate to come in, a trainer in the craft, here played by Helen Hunt. Hunt gives a generous, straightforward performance, much of it easily naked. She represents and plays the simple sexual act, unburdened by social or religious or family strictures. That’s the second ingredient.

Third is the weight of all outside moral stricture in the form of a Catholic priest, his minister and confessor. This is a part that must be played by the actor who does play it, that beaker of Irish whiskey neat William H. Macy, for the role requires the most impolitic of actors, and he is just the one, isn’t he? He is inherently without rules. He is adorned with hippy locks and jeans for pastoral visits. It’s a funny performance without ever poking fun. And that is smart and correct of Macy, for Hawkes must have all the jokes.

So you see it’s very interesting from the casting point of view. Helen Hunt has a beautiful figure and must be in her fifties, so we’re not talking about a sex kitten – that wouldn’t be legit. She has to be played by Hunt who is legitimacy incarnate. And the polio man has to be played by someone we don’t really know as an actor. Why? Because we have to fall into him, as into unknown territory in ourselves. It’s the sort of part that Sean Penn would kill for, but then it wouldn’t work, would it, because with Penn we’d already know too much.

The movie is about human sexual decency at its most naked. When have you ever seen it before?

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