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: “Frances,” “Maisie,” and “Love” Finally Make it to the Buff

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I’m not sure why there has suddenly been a cluster of TIFF 2012 movies opening in Buffalo, but I’m not complaining. This week sees three interesting films for adults that emerged from the Toronto International Film Festival with varying degrees of buzz: “Frances Ha,” “Love is All You Need,” and “What Maisie Knew.”

The biggie is surely Noah Baumbach’s swoon-worthy “Frances Ha,” a wonderful film that I wrote about today on buffalospree.com. I’ll likely be posting that piece and more thoughts on the film here very soon. Suffice to say, I adored it, and Great Gerwig’s performance in it. I’m not sure I’ll ever hear Bowie’s “Modern Love” again without thinking of her twirling through the air. This one is highly recommended.

Susanne Bier is a fascinating filmmaker, but I’m not sure I’ve figured her out yet. She directed the stunning “Brothers” (the original) and “After the Wedding,” featuring one of Mads Mikkelsen’s finest performances). But her English-language debut, “Things We Lost in the Fire,” while a gallant effort, fell flat. So, too, did her Academy Award-winning “In a Better World,” a marginal work that somehow defeated Haneke’s “White Ribbon” for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.

“Love is All You Need” looks like a rather dopey adult romantic comedy, but the presence of Bier and stars Pierce Brosnan (who has grown more interesting with age) and “Better World’s Trine Dyrholm, along with the lovely Italian scenery, make it moderately alluring. Reviews have been very mixed; as Stephen Holden put it in the New York Times, “The first sign of trouble in the romantic comedy ‘Love Is All You Need’ is the clichéd and incessant use of ‘That’s Amore.’”

The pint-sized star of “What Maisie Knew” is adorable — her visage truly sells the poster — but the movie, a present-day Henry James adaptation, does not sound appealing. The first line of the film’s description fills me with dread: “Susanna (Julianne Moore) is a pushy but seductive rock and roll icon married to Beale (Steve Coogan), a charming, distracted art dealer.” Oh boy. Yet the cast is a draw; Moore, Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard. And directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have done interesting work together (“The Deep End,” “Uncertainty”). I would expect this one to close quickly, so if interested, act fast.

Of course, these are just the wee indies. In the multiplexes, the big openings are the Vince Vaughan-Owen Wilson Google-promotion/comedy “The Internship,” and Ethan Hawke in the horror-home invasion thriller “The Purge.” Get this: Box office buzz indicates that “The Purge” may top “The Internship.” That would be a huge blow for Wilson and Vaughan; there seems to be little enthusiasm for the film, and perhaps the Onion has hit on why with this headline: “‘The Internship’ Poised to be Biggest Comedy of 2005.”

It actually seems as if “Internship” won’t even hit the number two or three spot, with the still-going-strong “Fast & Furious 6” and the surprise hit “Now You See Me” coming ahead of it. If Shawn Levy’s comedy is topped by “After Earth” in its second week, we’ll officially have a disaster on our hands …

One other option, of course, is to stay in and watch Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color” on Netflix. Yep, this mind-blower is now streaming.

As I previously mentioned, coming this Friday and Saturday at the Screening Room in Amherst: “Sorry, Wrong Number” at 7:30 followed by “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” at 9:15.

And as the Buffalo News reports today, the North Park Theater is no more — at least, for a little while. It’s a shame, truly, but it is fitting that the final film to play there under Dipson was Buffalo product Peter McGennis’s “Queen City.” Let’s hope the theater does, indeed, reopen soon.

Next week sees Superman return in “Man of Steel” while Seth Rogen and friends face the apocalypse in “This is the End.” What’s the best news for Buffalo movie fans? Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” arrives.
Photo: Doane Gregory/Sony Pictures Classics