Rating: The Good – 71 Genre: Horror Duration: 110 mins Director: Scott Derrickson Stars: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone
Spooky psychological horror with Ethan Hawke playing a true crime writer desperate for another bestseller who moves his family into a house where the previous occupants were hanged so that he can investigate the unsolved crime. Discovering a box of 16mm home video tapes in the attic, he briefly wonders how the police could’ve missed something so important but quickly finds himself absorbed in the revelatory footage and the series of family murders that they reveal.
Veteran horror director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) meticulously crafts a movie of unyielding creepiness in this original take on the haunted house scenario that reaches into pagan lore as opposed to the more typical Christian mythology. Hawke is intense enough to carry the majority of it and though the support cast are more peripheral than usual, Juliet Rylance is outstanding as his past tolerance wife while James Ransone provides a slightly mercurial presence as a comical but deceptively competent deputy. Draped in shadow and deep blacks, even the daytime scenes are dreary to the point that the audience will find few opportunities for some much needed reprieve. The excessive gloominess thus bleeds into the narrative rendering Sinister an unforgiving watch even for the most seasoned horror fans.
Embedded within this stark profile, novel demon concepts permeate the story and plot adding a serious dose of unpredictability while a slow creeping collaboration between Christopher Young’s score and obscure indie tracks haunt the darkest parts of the movie, in particular, Hawke’s viewing of the 16mms. Derrickson’s script is economic or revealing where needed and does well to steadily intertwine the necessary expositions with the unfolding drama. However, while everything outside of Hawke’s new home is necessarily kept at a distance, it could be argued that his family, particularly his son and daughter, needed to be more relevant to the narrative given its ultimate destination. That said, it can’t be denied that the ending works in a uniquely chilling manner. It may make for a bleak bit of entertainment but Sinister counts as yet another success in the catalogue of indie horror.
Rating: The Good – 68.5 Genre: Horror Duration: 85 mins Director: James DeMonaco Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Rhys Wakefield
A nifty little horror set in a future America that limits its social violence to one night of the year when the citizens are encouraged to purge their anxieties via any means or crimes necessary, no questions asked. Ethan Hawke is the family man trying to protect his family from a group of well mannered teenagers intent on killing a homeless man who they’ve given shelter to. Against a backdrop of live media commentary on how the Purge is progressing, Hawke and his wife (Lena Heady) are sucked into a full-on battle with the masked enthusiasts while a creepy bunch of suburbanite neighbours wait in the wings. If The Purge deserves any credit, it’s that it celebrates the 90 minute format that big budget movies have turned their backs on in favour of the bloated meandering 150 minute format of the 21st century. It’s fast, lean, and easy to watch. However, it goes beyond that by, firstly, serving up a couple of blinding action sequences and, secondly, offering a sardonic, playful extrapolation on modern right wing politics. It may be a bitter pill for some but there’s an eerie familiarity in much of the rhetoric spouted by the proud citizens of this future society not to mention the defiantly narrow mentality behind it. As movies go, James DeMonaco sets a nice tone but struggles to handle the momentum of his streamlined script and the kids are rather bland in both conception and realisation. But Hawke is in fine fettle as he pulls a worthy Straw Dogs, Heady turns in a sturdy performed as the family’s moral compass and, best of all, Rhys Wakefield is delightfully sinister as the polite leader of the home invaders.
Rating: The Good – 84.1 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 106mins Director: Andrew Niccol Stars: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law
Andrew Niccol’s feature debut is a lesson in how science fiction film’s should be made. Ethan Hawke excels as the natural born genetically imperfect Vincent who must contend with a world tailored for the genetically modified where his ambitions of becoming an astronaut in the elite Gattaca programme are hampered by a culture of discrimination which proclaims him too mentally and physically weak to do so. The film becomes a profound meditation on the timeless mind/body debate as Vincent assumes the identity of the genetically ‘superior’ Jerome (brilliantly played by Jude Law) only to successfully infiltrate Gattaca and become its best and brightest astronaut. Like all great sci-fi, this film succeeds on both the technical and conceptual levels. Niccol’s vision and Slawomir Izdiak’s sumptuous cinematography give the drama a distinctly modern nourish feel using shadow and light as majestically as the great film makers of the 40′s did. They also use a perfect mixture of predominantly blue, yellow, or green lit scenes to set the various tones of the film. All this is accompanied by Michael Nyman’s haunting score which will stay with you forever.
The true power of this film, however, is in the writing. There is an array of deeply layered characters, the motivations of whom reflect their different personal perspectives on the moral issue of genetic engineering. From Alan Alda’s older police man who is all too willing to believe that an “invalid” could infiltrate Gattaca’s elite to the motivations of the genetically engineered detective he answers to, who is twenty years his younger and also Vincent’s brother Anton. He is not so keen to believe even though he knows in his heart that there is an infiltrator and that it’s his brother. Though they live in a world foreign to us technologically speaking, each character comes across as completely real. This is down to the writing, the superb ensemble acting, and the cultural parallels that this story draws with our own world. Though Vincent’s relationships with Jerome and Uma Thurman’s character are themselves fascinating, the film is about Vincent’s determination to overcome or simply disprove biological predetermination. This is encapsulated beautifully in the scene where he races his brother across a moonlit bay as he turns to his floundering brother and explains how he has done what he did: “I never saved anything for the swim back”. Near perfection.
Rating: The Bad – 59 Genre: Romance, Drama Duration: 105 mins Director: Richard Linklater Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Andrea Eckert
Richard Linklater could legitimately be described as a master of talk cinema but irrespective of how many people hail this as a perfect film there’s no way around the fact that this is an awkwardly acted, superficially written, and adolescent exercise in tedium. Fans of the Linklater that gave us the gentle wit of Slacker, the thunderous resonance of Dazed and Confused, and even the insightful analysis of Tape have repeatedly tried to like this but Before Sunrise fails to even roughly emulated those aforementioned pieces. On top of that, the two leads are entirely out of sync with each other for much of the film, which alone destroys its entire premise. Ethan Hawke comes across as annoying and vacuous and Julie Deply seems continually disengaged and overall an unlikely match for him. Linklater’s directorial craft is all over this however, and his ability to seemingly blend the camera into the reality of the characters’ worlds is as evident here as it was in Slacker. Alas, that is not enough to save this un-engaging and excruciating romantic drama.
Rating: The Good – 68.7 Genre: Drama, Thriller Duration: 86 mins Director: Richard Linklater Stars: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman
In Richard Linklater’s drama, part-time drug dealer Vince (Ethan Hawke), arranges for his old friend (Robert Sean Leonard) and ex-girlfriend (Uma Thurman) to reunite for the first time since high school in a cheap motel room. The relationships are as complex as Vince’s motives and it’s not long before the conversation takes a dark turn. Shot in DV, using just the one set, and taking place in real time, the film provides an interesting study into perceptions of truth and fully engages the audience in doing so. The three actors don’t miss a beat and frugal set decoration and lack of any trimmings serve to sharpen the audience’s focus on the story as well as the nondescript sense of authenticity. In fact, by shooting Tape in such a low-key manner, Linklater provides an amusing contrast with the modern conveyor belt of over top visual effects bonanzas which to some of us seem to go on forever. Despite the bare unremarkable sets of this film, you could sit glued to the characters’ interactions for 70/80 minutes without even looking at your watch because the essential drama is just so compelling. And when it ends, you’re amazed you’ve seen as much as you did. The stark DV shooting will not to be everyone’s taste and some may be tempted to turn it off in the first few minutes due to the low production values but if you stick with it, Tape will sink its hooks into you.
Man-sized performances and slick direction define this excellent crime drama about a rookie cop’s one day trial with a hard core LA detective who crosses the line he’s supposed to be protecting all too often. Ethan Hawke proves yet again that he’s one of the most interesting actors around as the fresh-faced Hoyt while Denzel Washington (in a different kind of role to his more typical ‘good cop’ personas) puts in a blistering performance as the edgy Alonzo who roams the streets of LA like a king. Antoine Fuqua’s direction is both faultless and inspired as he brings a gritty, kinetic LA to the screens. David Ayer’s script gives everything an authentic feel and with Washington and Hawke as his mouthpieces, the dialogue is seriously cool. The always enjoyable Scott Glenn is one of the many decent support players but for the most part this film is all about the tense chemistry between the two leads.