The Summer’s Most Valuable Player is … Ethan Hawke?

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Yep. Ethan Hawke. Don’t believe me? Consider that the actor can currently be seen in one of the summer’s surprise hits, “The Purge,” and its best-reviewed film, “Before Midnight.” Okay, so “The Purge” took a rather insane plunge in week two, but in its first weekend, the horror-thriller took in $34 million on a $3 million budget. (Entertainment Weekly talked with the actor about the film and its success here.)

That’s big. Now, it is hard to calculate how much of the credit goes to Hawke, but I would not dismiss his presence. He has become a reliable, trusting actor, an audience conduit who is attractive and cool, but not as attractive and cool as he used to be. This slightly world-weary look is used to an even greater degree in “Before Midnight,” Richard Linklater’s bitter, oh-so-realistic at what happened to Jesse and Celine after they actually dove into a relationship.

Julie Delpy has the “showier” role, and is marvelous. But it is Hawke who steals the movie. He goes through a wide range of emotions, from his sad expression while watching his son go through airport security to his face when Celine angrily leaves their hotel room, and sells it all.

The three “Before” films with Delpy and Linklater likely represent Hawke’s peak, and it is worth noting that the trio are credited as cowriters of the last two. But while these are the standouts, there many, many other treats to be found in the actor’s filmography.

Most of us first notice him in 1989’s “Dead Poet’s Society,” but by the time of 1994’s “Reality Bites,” I already found him obnoxious. That feeling did not last, however, as “Before Sunrise” came in 1995 and the underrated “Gattaca” and “Great Expectations” came in 1997 and 1998, respectively.

The next few years saw highs (“Hamlet,” “Tape”) and lows (“Snow Falling on Cedars”), but his greatest triumph came in 2001: “Training Day.” Not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, “Training Day” did offer up two meaty parts for Denzel Washington, who won an Oscar, and Hawke, who was nominated for one.

The rest of the 2000s were also dotted with success and failure. Hawke received another Academy Award nomination, this time as a screenwriter, for “Before Sunset,” and provided a stellar turn in Sidney Lumet’s final film, 2007’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” He also directed two films, albeit weakly received ones: “Chelsea Walls” and “The Hottest State,” the latter based on his novel.

But the misses outnumbered the hits in this decade: “Taking Lives,” “Assault on Precinct 13,” “Lord of War,” “What Doesn’t Kill You,” “Daybreakers,” “Brooklyn’s Finest.” (I liked “Brooklyn’s Finest,” incidentally, although many did not.)

But last year’s “Sinister” was a truly scary smash, and this summer has finally seen him win both audiences (“The Purge”) and critics (“Before Midnight”) within days. “Midnight” will surely bring him another writing Oscar nomination, and with any luck, he will be in the Best Actor mix, too. (The film is likely to score a Best Picture nomination.)

Last week, a trailer for Hawke’s next film ran before “This is the End.” It is a “Taken”-lite thriller costarring Selena Gomez, horribly titled “Getaway.” This is Hawke back in audience-conduit mode, and something tells me it was a) cheap to make and b) will double or triple that budget in its opening weekend.

Good for Ethan Hawke, always an interesting actor, but now one who — surprisingly — has become a great one.

Ethan Hawke as Jesse in “Before Midnight”; photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Weekend Preview: This is the (Week)end for Superman, Seth Rogen, and Jesse and Celine

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As Jeff Simon put it in his Buffalo News review of “This is the End,” with that film, “Man of Steel,” and “Before Midnight” opening locally, “this is, far and away, the movie opening weekend of the year on my scorecard.” Indeed it is, one of the most wildly diverse release weekends in a long, long time.

The number one spot at the box office will most certainly be claimed by Zack Snyder’s Chris Nolan-assisted Superman reboot, “Man of Steel,” but the question is, how big will it open? Some estimates have it pegged at a $100-million weekend, but I’m not so sure. Reviews have been wildly mixed, and I’m still not quite sure I’ve seen a “wow” trailer, so I think $90 mill is a more likely figure. Nothing to laugh at, and in a relatively week summer, it could play well for several weeks. It’s easy now to forget that Nolan’s “Batman Begins” took in “only” $205 mill in North America, but that was in 2005, and for a budget at least $100 million less than “Steel”’s. Warner Bros. is likely hoping for $300-plus, enough to justify a costly “Justice League” follow-up. We shall see. I’ll have my own thoughts on the film here soon.

“The is the End” is something very different, a well-reviewed apocalypse comedy in which some of the Apatow generation’s biggest names — Seth Rogen (who co-directed with writing partner Evan Goldberg), James Franco, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill — play themselves. I’m especially intrigued to see the lovely Emma Watson as “Emma Watson.” The buzz on this is that it is extraordinarily wild; it could represent one of the few imaginative big studio releases of the summer.

While I’m intrigued by “Man of Steel” and “This is the End,” the movie I am anticipating more than any other is Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight,” which opens tomorrow at Dipson’s Amherst and Eastern Hills theaters. This is the third film in the “Jesse and Celine” series; the first, 1995’s “Before Sunrise” and 2004’s “Before Sunset,” are pretty close to modern classics. The idea of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprising their roles, and seeing where things are for this couple, which finally seemed to come together at the very end of “Sunset,” is intoxicating. It is one of the best reviewed films so far this year, and a possible Best Picture nominee, so this is certainly a must-see. More to come on this one, soon. (“Frances Ha” is still showing at Amherst and Eastern Hills, too.)

Note that the documentary “Hey Bartender” is screening Saturday night at the Amherst Dipson; I wrote about the film here.

Francis Ford Coppola’s most recent film, “Twixt,” finally arrived on VOD a few days ago, and ironically, his debut feature, the enjoyably daft “Dementia 13,” is showing on Friday and Saturday night at 9:15 p.m. at the Screening Room. (“Sorry, Wrong Number” screens at 7:30 p.m.)

Here’s something I’ll outline more in the weeks to come: Buffalo.com recently posted the schedule for the University at Buffalo’s outdoor summer film series, and it has some real gems, including “The Place Beyond the Pines.” The proceedings open with a movie that makes me very nervous, since I’ve felt from the get-go that it could be a disaster, Sam Raimi’s “Oz the Great and Powerful.” (I actually have it from Netflix right now. It’s staring at me, angrily.) It shows at 9:15 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18, and Friday, June 21, at the North Campus, and at 9:15 on Wednesday, June 19, at the South Campus.

Meanwhile, I’m a week late in mentioning Bacchus’s Summer Film Series, which is held in its quaint courtyard. The Buffalo-appropriate “Natural” kicked things off yesterday, June 12, but the series continues with “The Truman Show” next week, the 19th, and, even better, “The Big Lebowski” on June 26.

Superman, Seth Rogen, Julie and Celine, cocktails, Coppola, Oz, and a God-like Ed Harris? An eclectic week for movies, to be sure.

 

Photo credit: Left to Right: Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine. Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The Summer Movies of 1995 and 2013: It Was the Best of Times, it Was the Blurst of Times

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A friend recently pointed out that this seems to be a pretty awful summer for big-studio blockbusters, and I think that’s a reasonable argument. Behold this list of some of the biggies:

“Iron Man 3,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” “The Hangover Part III,” “Fast & Furious 6,” “Epic,” “After Earth,” “The Internship,” “This is the End,” “Man of Steel,” “World War Z,” “Monsters University,” “White House Down,” “Despicable Me 2,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Pacific Rim,” “Grown Ups 2,” “Turbo,” “Red 2,” “R.I.P.D.,” “The Wolverine,” “Elysium,” “Disney’s Planes,” “Kick-Ass 2”

Lots of sequels. Lots of star power. Lots of possible flops. (I’m looking at you, “R.I.P.D.”) It is not to say there is no imagination or ingenuity here, and even monsters like “World War Z” and “Pacific Rim” represent atypical attempts at the genre film. But there is little here to get overly excited about. And that’s too bad.

I have so many fond memories of seeing big summer movies, some I’m ashamed to admit I paid for — “City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold” and “The Cowboy Way” seemed like good ideas at the time — some I still enjoy revisiting.

The year 2013 most seems to resemble, at least in terms of iffy looking blockbusters, is 1995. That was … a pretty week year. Take a gander at this rum bunch, which I’ve out on separate lines for maximum impact:

“French Kiss”

“Crimson Tide”

“Die Hard with a Vengeance”

“Forget Paris”

“Braveheart”

“Casper”

“Johnny Mnemonic”

“The Bridges of MadisonCounty”

“Congo”

“Batman Forever”

“Pocahontas”

“Apollo 13”

“Judge Dredd”

“First Knight”

“Species”

“The Indian in the Cupboard”

“Nine Months”

“Under Siege 2: DarkTerritory”

“Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home”

“Clueless”

“The Net”

“Operation Dumbo Drop”

“Waterworld”

“Babe”

“Something to Talk About”

“Virtuosity”

“Dangerous Minds”

“The Baby-Sitters Club”

“Mortal Kombat”

Pretty grim, right? I know “Braveheart” is beloved, “Apollo 13” is solid, “Die Hard With a Vengeance” was “Die Hard” when “Die Hard” was still “Die Hard,” but outside of those, “Clueless,” and “Babe,” every other film is one I never wish to watch again. Even that summer’s indie releases were rather slight: “Desperado,” “The City of Lost Children,” “Fluke,” “Smoke,” “Kids,” “Unzipped,” “The Usual Suspects,” “The Brothers McMullen.” Not a bad bunch, exactly, but not a lengthy one, either.

Yet this summer, at least, there is something else happening, something noteworthy: It’s a phenomenal season for indies. Check out this small list of independent films that have opened or are scheduled for release from May through August:

“Before Midnight,” “Frances Ha,” “Only God Forgives,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” The Grandmaster,” “The Bling Ring,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Prince Avalanche,” “The To-Do List,” “The Spectacular Now,” “Blue Jasmine,” “Girl Most Likely,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Byzantium,” “The Hunt,” “Berberian Sound Studio,” “The Way, Way Back”

I can’t speak to the quality of most of these — I’ve seen “Frances,” “Much Ado,” “Girl Most Likely,” and “Byzantium,” but none of the others — but I can say with confidence that it’s an eclectic, fascinating mix. Any summer that includes films from Richard Linklater, Noah Baumbach, Nicholas Winding Refn, Wong Kar-wai, Sofia Coppola, Joss Whedon, Woody Allen, and Neil Jordan is going to offer a few gems.

At the very least, we can be thankful that the travesty that was “A Good Day to Die Hard” opened in February. It would have made a bad summer even worse.

 

Photo from “Die Hard: With a Vengeance” courtesy of 20th Century Fox