(On DVD, November 2017) I came to Before Sunrise unusually, having first watched the middle (Before Sunset), then the end (Before Midnight) only to finish at the beginning of the Jesse and Celeste trilogy-so-far. This time, however, I knew what to expect: A time-compressed romance featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy at their most charming selves, having an extended conversation spanning relationships, philosophy and clever ideas. It worked well in the two latter movies and it works just as well here. This being said, I’m not sure I like Before Sunrise better than the others—it lacks the almost-real-time pacing of Before Sunset (with its masterful long shots) or the verbal pyrotechnics of Before Midnight’s most harrowing sequence. It also feels as if there are far more intrusions by third-party characters than in the other movies that focus intensely on the lead couple. But, as a first entry in the trilogy, it’s still special. Knowing how the story has unfolded afterwards, there is a profoundly ironic quality to Before Sunrise’s first scenes and dialogues, in which an old married couple argues in front of our protagonists and one of their first conversations is about jumping ahead “ten, twenty years” and being stuck in a marriage that “doesn’t have that same energy that it used to have.” But Jesse and Celeste do have the same energy here than in later movies, and it’s a delight to just sit back and hear them exchange ideas and experiences just for the sake of it. Vienna is a good backdrop for that kind of not-so-aimless wandering (one of the final sequences of the movie shows us Vienna without Jesse and Celeste, to surprisingly poignant effect) and the entire film is quietly triumphant. I passed on Before Sunrise for more than twenty years, but it’s far better than it sounds on paper. But then again, I’m far more interested in writer/director Richard Linklater’s movies than I was before as well.
(Netflix Streaming, December 2016) I am, once amazed, at writer/director Richard Linklater and what he has managed to do with Before Midnight. I shouldn’t like that film. It’s the third in a trilogy whose first film I haven’t yet seen (although I was quite taken by the second one), it’s a chatty domestic drama and its dramatic centrepiece is a terrible argument between husband and wife. It’s really not my cup of tea, but much like I was halfway smitten by Before Sunset, I’m similarly charmed by Before Midnight. It’s a dialogue-heavy film, but what dialogue! The interplay between Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke is fantastic even (especially) in the midst of their argument, and there’s a lot of wit in the way the conversations develop. The dialogue can be quotable at time (There’s a “bimbo” scene that’s an instant classic as far as I’m concerned) yet heartfelt soon afterwards. The development of the couple’s relationship over time and three films (yet in short, almost real-time bursts every time) is remarkable: in-between this trilogy and Boyhood, Linklater is carving a unique niche for himself as a filmmaker experimenting with time in ways others won’t even consider. The Greek Mediterranean scenery adds much to the film without undue effort, but the real heart of the film is in the script and the way the lead actors develop it. I’ve been taken by surprise twice by this trilogy, and I have to get my hands on Before Sunrise before long now that I think that I know what to expect.
(On DVD, September 2016) I wasn’t quite expecting to like Before Sunset. On paper, it sounds like a snooze: two ex-lovers meeting again a few years later, walking around Paris and talking about their lives. Sounds dull, right? Add to that the added complication that it’s a sequel to a film (Before Sunrise) that I haven’t yet seen and I was firmly expecting to fidget through the entire movie. Much to my surprise, though, Before Sunset quickly becomes almost hypnotically compelling. As two characters talk about the profound and the mundane, often in uninterrupted long shots showcasing Paris, we’re drawn to the movie almost as eavesdroppers, wishing them the best even though “the best” may end up breaking existing relationships with others. Writer/director Richard Linklater has become the master of unusual small-scale dramas, and Before Sunset looks like a peak in his filmography, creating sharp interest out of elements that would be dull in other hands. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are fantastic in their roles and it makes perfect sense to learn that they’ve had some input in their dialogue. Utterly charming, uncommonly mature and compelling almost from beginning to end, Before Sunset is a beautiful anomaly, and the one main lesson I take away from it is that I must now see both Before Sunrise and Before Midnight.
(Video on Demand, August 2015) Writer/Director Andrew Nichols has had a checked career with hits and misses, but he’s almost always interesting and Good Kill certainly fits that description. A five-minutes-in-the-past depiction of what feels like a five-minutes-in-the-future anticipation, this is a film preoccupied not just by military drones, but the people flying them. Our protagonist (played intensely by Ethan Hawke) is an ex-fighter pilot struggling with the ease with which the drones allow consequence-free killing –feeling emasculated, worried about the video-game crazy younger drone operators, and increasingly estranged from his wife. It all leads to a definitive break, but not before musings on the nature of this new kind of war, where decisions come too freely to people safely insulated from the consequences of their killing. It’s not an entirely successful film –January Jones is bland as the housewife, some sequences seem out of place, it’s easy to wish that the ending could have been stronger. But Good Kill is very clever, both with its themes and the way it presents its topic, intentionally contrasting the desert landscape of Las Vegas with those of Afghanistan, the plight of housewives in either places and how even push-button killing takes a toll. It still feels like a strange quasi-science-fictional idea even though it’s all real, and increasingly pertinent as the United States invests more and more heavily in drone warfare. For a writer who also penned Gattaca, S1M0NE and Lord of War, I’d say that this latest film is a pretty good addition to his resume.
(On Cable TV, July 2015) I don’t normally approve of movies changing the title of their literary origins, but considering that Robert A Heinlein’s “All you Zombies” is both an instantly-recognizable spoiler and a strikingly misleading title, let’s see the retitling of the story as Predestination as the first of the writer/director Spiering Brother’s many good decisions in adapting this seminal SF short story. Given that the short story pack a lot of punch in a few thousand words, it’s not entirely surprising that there’s enough material here for an entire film, along with a slight but pleasing coda that brings us a bit beyond the short story without robbing it of its twisty power (and adding an extra thematic layer to it). Part of the problem in discussing the film is in deciding how much to say – Ethan Hawke is pretty good in the lead role, but Sarah Snook is absolutely spectacular in a far more difficult role. The film is carefully written and directed, taking place in a slightly alternate world that owes much to the fifties’ vision of the future. Predestination’s success is even more remarkable considering that the source material couldn’t be trickier to adapt –one wrong decision, and the sheer preposterousness of the entire story would crush it lifeless. But the result, amazingly enough, holds up –and it also holds up for those readers who know every twist and turn of the original story.
(On Cable TV, June 2014) As a fan of car-chase movies, I took Getaway‘s horrible reviews with a spoonful of salt: Most B-grade action films get low grades anyway, and as we know that it’s really the action sequences that make or break these films, right? Well, it turns out that the reviewers completely understood the film: Getaway is a frustrating waste of money and talent, in the service of incompetent directing by Courtney Solomon (of Dungeons and Dragons infamy) and a near-worthless script. There’s a small comfort to find out that the film doesn’t take a long time before degenerating into nonsense: From the incoherent opening credit sequence alone, it’s obvious that this film will really not be any good. A mess of random camera angles edited with a blender, Getaway makes a blurry mush of its action sequences, wasting several dozen cars in the process: the action scenes flash on-screen with no sense of geography, continuity or excitement. (It’s not a surprise if the film’s best shot, a lengthy uninterrupted driving shot reminiscent of C’était un rendez-vous, temporarily dispenses with the two-cuts-a-second aesthetics) If the incomprehensible action is the worst of Getaway‘s, problems, don’t think it gets off any easier on the rest: Selena Gomez is completely miscast as kind of a shrill and rebellious hacker/car enthusiast: she has the aggressiveness of a kitten, and Getaway (unlike Spring Breakers) can’t even claim to have her turning against type. Ethan Hawke seems out of place here, turning the wheel and looking intensely in front of him as Jon Voigt’s voice barks “Do it now!” over and over again. There’s a smidgen of interest in setting the action in Sofia, but none of it goes anywhere as the film almost trips upon itself in trying to justify why an all-American cast should be involved. All it does in underscore how unredeemable Getaway becomes. Not even a half-clever final coda can save the film. It is awful even by the generous standards of car movies, and even enthusiasts are advised to watch something else.
(On Cable TV, October 2013) There are so many average horror movies out there that finding a decent one always seem like an achievement. Sinister may not be exceptionally made or all that elegantly plotted, but it’s effective at what it tries to accomplish, and it manages a few dreadful moments along the way. The story of a true-crime writer who comes to discover a supernatural serial killer, Sinister effectively sets up its premise and doesn’t waste a lot of time before unspooling its horror. Audiences are likely to be as fascinated and repulsed as the protagonist in watching grisly Super-8 movies showing a few families’ final moments. Sinister is a knowing horror film in that it manages to exploit a few well-establish tropes, upend a few others and twist a few more. It doesn’t break out of the genre and has little meaningful social commentary to offer, but it creates a great atmosphere, a few jump scares, a relatively fresh take on classic material and some disturbing visual imagery. The ending may be unsurprising, but it builds to a crescendo that matches good visuals with a fine sense of pacing. Ethan Hawke doesn’t embarrass himself as the obsessed protagonist, while writer/director Scott Derrickson hits his intended targets –an underestimated skill in the horror genre. Worth seeing, although perhaps not by the entire family!
(In theatres, March 2010) Brooklyn’s Finest is a profoundly ironic title, but there’s little sly humour in the rest of this deliberately gritty and down-beat police drama that follows three variously-corrupted Brooklyn policemen. This isn’t director Antoine Fuqua’s first corrupt cop drama (remember Training Day?), nor the first corrupt cop drama in recent memory (Dark Blue? Street Kings? Pride and Glory? Righteous Kill?), so viewers may be spared a sentiment of déjà-vu. Where this film distinguishes itself is in structure: The three stories rarely intersect, except for a bit of tragic cross-fire at the very end. In the meantime, we get Richard Gere (far too proud and well-coiffed for his own role) as a disillusioned veteran marking down his last days, the always-fantastic Don Cheadle as an undercover informant with stronger ties to criminals than his own superiors, and Ethan Hawke as an overwhelmed father-of-many who resorts to stealing drug money in order to supplement his pay check. Brooklyn’s Finest has a patina of unpleasantness that is supposed to transmute into authentic grittiness, but this illusion doesn’t sustain the steadily-increasing body-count as criminals are gunned down in police raids by the dozen. Few of the film’s characters can be expected to live until the credits. This sombre tone, alas, creates expectations that the unfocused, moralistic ending can’t match: Since this isn’t a popcorn picture, we look in vain for a deeper message and a stronger conclusion than a final hail of bullets. The script, while interesting throughout, fails to cohere in its third act and the result is a mild disappointment. Like many of its corrupted-blue brethren, Brooklyn’s Finest will be another forgettable DVD in the crime section; adequate to satisfy those looking for that kind of film, and insignificant for everyone else.
(In theatres, January 2010) Every genre fan comes to develop a fondness for “the B-movie that could”, the twice-a-decade film that comes along with a little budget and big brains to take the genre in a newish direction. While that’s a lot of praise to dump on Daybreakers all of a sudden, consider that it manages to combine horror and science-fiction to imagine a future society that has adapted to the fact that most people are vampires. Add a few action scenes, Willem Dafoe playing a redneck with a fondness for crossbows and muscle car, tons of special effects and a script that doesn’t devolve into total silliness and the result is an impressive piece of work, especially in the doldrums of January. It’s a savvy piece of work, one that privileges quantity of special effects, little details and genre-blending to deliver a mean and lean movie. The direction is pretty good, the thematic underpinnings are solid, the pacing always accelerates and we have the sense of watching something that hasn’t been done before (no, Ultraviolet doesn’t quite compare). It’s not a perfect piece of work: Ethan Hawke is a bit dull, some of the details make no sense, and the revelation on which the third act depends seems quite a bit… convenient. Nonetheless, Daybreakers is a vigorous, stylish, entertaining B-movie that will earn quite a few admirers. It’s probably my favourite vampire film since Blade II, and it pumps some blood back into what was becoming a tired monster. I’m not sure what the writer/director Spierig brothers will do next, but I’m already interested.