‘2 Guns’: Bangin’

July 30, 2013

2guns

There’s been a lot of action at the movies this summer, very little of it memorable.

So Baltasar Kormakur’s “2 Guns” comes as a welcome surprise: a film with the wit, tension and sheer headlong pace to grab and hold your attention for a brisk 106 minutes. (More…)

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‘The Spectacular Now’: Looking ahead

July 29, 2013

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It’s the rare teen-ager who can see beyond tomorrow. While they may worry about the future, they tend to live in the moment because, among other things, they feel immortal and most have little evidence to the contrary.

Certainly that’s the case with Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), the high-school senior at the center of James Ponsoldt’s touching, if familiar, “The Spectacular Now,” opening Friday (8/2/13) in limited release. Sutter is the ultimate party animal in his high school in little Athens, Ga.: the smooth-talking guy who everyone knows is good for a laugh, a quip or a solid. (More…)

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‘The Wolverine’: Good enough

July 26, 2013

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Whatever else you may say about “The Wolverine,” the latest Marvel comic-book adventure to reach the big screen, say this: It takes guts – and, apparently, both a big movie star and a popular hero – to get Hollywood to spend a bundle on a tentpole movie the bulk of whose characters are Japanese.

Hollywood has a massive fear of foreign film and stars who either don’t speak English or don’t look obviously American. Why? Because Americans – particularly that crucial young audience, many of whom seem to spend so much of their time writing and reading texts – apparently hate subtitles. (And black-and-white – but that’s another issue.)

So while, yes, “The Wolverine” is about a famous comic-book figure (the most popular of the X-Men), it’s still a movie that is primarily set in Japan and features mainly Japanese actors. (Though its subtitles are, in fact, minimal.)

Thankfully, there is more to be grateful for than just Hollywood’s (reluctant) effort at diversity. (More…)

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‘The To Do List’: Get her done

July 25, 2013

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Aubrey Plaza’s deadpan affect would seem to have limited comic potential. And yet, as she’s shown in the past (in “Safety Not Guaranteed”) and now with “The To Do List,” she’s really a minimalist who knows how to do a lot with a little. (More…)

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‘Blue Jasmine’: Woody just gets better

July 24, 2013

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Approaching the age of 80, with more than 40 feature films under his belt, Woody Allen continues to astonish, finding new ways to surprise audiences with each year’s film.

With “Blue Jasmine,” he shows once again that he is a master of texture and tone – of creating complex, compelling work that never quite goes where you expect it to, even as it draws upon source material as familiar as Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” (More…)

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Comic-Con: Everything that’s wrong with Hollywood

July 23, 2013

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I’ve posted diatribes the past few years about Comic-Con – an event I’ve never attended and never hope to.

But I was going to ignore it this year. (More…)

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The rising career of John Hawkes

July 22, 2013

Nat (Ryan Simpkins) and Tom (John Hawkes) in ARCADIA
Photo/Film Movement

It takes a while to get a focus on Tom, the central character of Olivia Silver’s sometimes edgy family drama, “Arcadia,” debuting on DVD Tuesday (7/23/13).

Which is what attracted actor John Hawkes to the role: the fact that Tom tends to make people uncomfortable because you don’t know his full story.

“That’s one of the things I liked when I read the script,” Hawkes says in a telephone interview. “Here’s a father, ostensibly kidnapping his own children. I liked the fact that there wasn’t this big ‘Aha!’ reveal and yet there was another dimension to him.

“Eventually, you realize this is the kids’ story. Obviously, it’s important we go along with them. It’s (actress Ryan Simpkins) story, it’s her film. We’re inside her head. I just tried to find a way to make him a human being.”

In “Arcadia,” Tom packs up his three kids in the car late one day and leaves Connecticut, bound for California. Simpkins is the middle child, the most resentful and the most questioning. Why can’t they take their dog? Why isn’t Mom along? Why can’t they even call Mom?

Through it all, Tom keeps telling them stories about how great things will be in the town of Arcadia, Calif. But his stories begin to ring hollow. And, as Hawkes notes, “He really is slightly delusional.”

The film is one of a number of independent films that Hawkes, a native of Alexandria, Minn., has worked in during the past decade. At the age of 53, Hawkes has been acting in movies since the mid-1980s, building his reputation in films such as “A Slipping Down Life” and “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” cementing it by playing one of the few thoughtful, nonviolent characters on HBO’s “Deadwood.”

“Well, there were a lot of things that feel like I definitely climbed a rung on the ladder,” Hawkes allows. “Then you get more choices in what’s available to you.”

Hawkes started acting in high school, taking drama mostly so he could share a class with his older sister: “She and her friends took it because they thought it would be a goof,” he says. “But I ended up really liking it and taking it seriously. The turning point was when a teacher put us on a bus and we drove 150 miles and saw ‘The Crucible’ at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. I was just stunned.

“I wasn’t sure I could be part of that world but there was definitely something happening. I thought it might be possible to do work that would make people think and feel that way.”

Hawkes began auditioning (and being cast) in plays in high school and, after a year of college, took off for Austin, Texas, where he helped start a theater company. By his mid-20s, he was regularly getting roles in Hollywood films being shot in Texas. Eventually, he took the plunge and moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a carpenter, a waiter and any other job that would pay the rent while he went on auditions. Not that those day jobs stood a chance if he actually was cast – no matter how small the role.

“If there was a choice between taking a restaurant job and a crappy job in a situation comedy, I didn’t think twice,” he says. “I didn’t turn anything down.”

The parts got bigger as Hawkes developed a reputation as a character actor with the skills to play everything from goofy to menacing. He worked more and more – and his choices expanded after he earned an Oscar nomination for 2010’s “Winter’s Bone.”

Still, even he was surprised when he was cast in a romantic lead – although one in which he played a character who was partially paralyzed – in 2012’s “The Sessions,” for which he won an Independent Spirit Award and a Golden Globe nomination.

“I’ve never seen myself as a classic leading man,” he says. “But then Dustin Hoffman cut a path for those of us who aren’t conventionally handsome. And in ‘The Sessions,’ it was a very unconventional leading man.”

He heard about his Oscar nomination for “Winter’s Bone,” which had its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010, at the 2011 Sundance, where he was appearing in “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”

“That changed things a great deal,” he says. “I went from a limited amount of offers and more auditions to more offers that don’t require auditions. Maybe I’ve become more discerning now in what I do because I have more choices. I’m trying to ride it a little because I’ve been having kind of a streak. But I think I have to schedule myself some time off, too.”

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‘Red 2’: 2 little 2 late

July 19, 2013

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One of those movies that worked much better than it deserved to, 2010’s “Red” offered action that was smart, funny and well-cast enough to make you forget just how ordinary it really was.

Unfortunately, its sequel, “Red 2” is a movie of a very different and unwelcome type: the kind where all the best jokes are in the trailer. It’s as thoroughly unnecessary a movie as anything out there, with the possible exception of “The Lone Ranger.” (More…)

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‘Only God Forgives’: Only He could

July 18, 2013

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Everything that I loved about Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film, “Drive,” all the things that I found immediate and evocative – those are all the things that struck me as wrong-headed, self-indulgent and pretentious in his newest, already much-vilified “Only God Forgives.” (More…)

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‘The Conjuring’: Spooky

July 17, 2013

conjurying

The older I get, the less interested I am in horror films, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, the modern horror film has evolved into a choice between torture porn (violent and grisly for its own sake) and special-effects extravaganzas. Most of the horror I see (or try to avoid seeing) seems too much in love with sadism, instead of tension

While I have little problem giving myself over to a fantasy or sci-fi thriller, I have a hard time buying into the supernatural. Ghosts, demons, the paranormal – sorry but I’ve never been a believer. If something like “The Amityville Horror” happened today, it would be all over the Internet quicker than Justin Bieber’s last bout of public toilet-training. And, just as quickly, it would be debunked. (Yeah, that’s what they want you to think, say the conspiracy theorists.)

So it’s always a pleasant surprise to happen upon a movie that achievers the level of suspense or just plain creepiness that “The Conjuring” manages. (More…)

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