Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Rated: R

Stars: Ethan Hawke,  Julie Delpy,  Seamus David-Fitzpatrick

Director: Richard Linklater

Genre: Drama/Arthouse

In Before Sunrise and Before Sunset,  Jesse and  Celine  (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy)  were falling in love.  In the third leg of the trilogy, Before Midnight, we find them as a  middle-aged couple with two young daughters. Jesse has a teenaged son who lives with his estranged wife back in the states.  

The film opens with Jesse and his boy, Hank, (Seamus David-Fitzpatrick) at the airport. Hank is returning to Chicago after spending some time on dad's turf in Europe. The father -son connection will figure prominently into the plot, as it's ripple effect will cause some tension between Jesse and Celine. Jesse wants them to consider moving to the states so he can be a real part of his son's life. Celine feels that's too radical of a shift. 

So we are there in the car with Jesse, Celine, and their adorable daughters, who are zonked out in the back seat. The two adults talk about all manner of mundane subjects. They talk. And they talk. And they talk. And while this extended scene is playing out, I'm beginning to wonder if I might soon be joining the little ones in la la land. 

And then I catch on.

Before Midnight is to be a movie in the mold of My Dinner With Andre, where the entire film is one long conversation around the dinner table. Here we thankfully get a few changes of scene along the way, but the similarity between the two films can't be ignored. We are the third wheel--the fly upon the wall--along for the ride to witness all the intimacy of this couple's life together, which ranges from an extended dinner table conversation with extended family, (everything about this film is extended) to some real intimacy in the bedroom where the sparks begin to fly. 

And it's all freaking BRILLIANT!

I gotta figure that much of the dialogue is off the cuff, because who is going to be able to deliver rehearsed lines in one continuous take that runs for a half an hour or so, without messing up?  Can you imagine the director, Richard Linklater, yelling "CUT"  twenty minutes into the scene, and they have to go back and take it from the top like, a hundred times? 

The brilliance of Before Midnight is that it is so fascinatingly real. In these tour-de-force performances from Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, there is more than just acting going on here. These two have immersed themselves into their characters to a degree that is rarely seen these days. Life, death, love, loathing, conflict, philosophy--it's all there. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the extended toplessness of  Delpy in the bedroom scene. That really topped it off for me.   

Grade: A


Finally: a film that backs up the boxing kangaroo image.... I couldn't disagree more with Tim's praise-worthy review of this endless talkathon. I haven't seen the other two films in this tired trilogy but BEFORE MIDNIGHT has the power to make any "hopeless romantic" give up Valentine's Day. Clearly the two actors had a hand—a heavy one—in the improvised script for which they both get a credit at the end. We all know that women can drive you crazy with their incessant, unforgiving, beating-a-dead-horse repetitions of what pisses them off. And we also know that a man's best (and sometimes only) defense is deflecting the situation with humor. Yes, French-American actress Julie Delpy has a nice set of knockers. And yes, Ethan Hawke (ex hubby of Uma Thurman) uses his boyish smile effectively. But do I really need to sit through one hour and forty-eight minutes of this self-indulgence? For me, nice tits and a nice smile aren't nearly enough.

If I had to say something positive about this film? The scenery is spectacular. And I suppose I'd have to compliment director Richard Linklater for the relaxed and realistic way he shot that last supper scene which was, for me, the only redeeming five minutes in the entire film. In this instance, Tim and I saw BEFORE MIDNIGHT separately (him in Tucson, me in La Jolla). Had we seen it together, we'd probably still be in the empty movie theater arguing about our very divided reactions!

Grade: D


Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Rated : R

Stars: Dennis Quaid,  Zach Efron,  Maika Monroe,  Kim Dickens,  Heather Graham

Director: Ramin Bahrani

Genre: Drama

In At Any Price, Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) is a glad-handing, stab you in the back kind of guy--not exactly what comes to mind when you hear the word "farmer." Henry inherited a family farm that at one time was a neighborly kind of operation--I know because I spent many of my formative years on an Iowa farm, like Henry. So what made him this way?  Big business, which has extended its money-grubbing reach and turned farming into a cut-throat enterprise, as the mantra "get big or die" echoes o'er the land.  At least that is the case for those like Henry, a salesman for the Liberty Company and its genetically modified corn seeds. Henry competes with other salesmen to carve out his territory by being the most successful sales rep in a multi-county area. 

The Liberty Seed Company--as anyone who has a mild awareness of what's going on in the agribusiness these days will recognize--is a stand-in for Monsanto. If you don't know the whole Monsanto story and the way in which genetically modified seeds have been foisted upon the farming community, you need to see a revealing documentary called "Food, Inc." which will get you up to speed.  

Henry would like to see his son, Dean, (Zach Efron) join him in the business, but Dean has dreams of becoming a NASCAR race driver, as he routinely picks up trophies for winning races at the local track. But is Dean a born racer, or are his aspirations born more out of a disgust for his father's lack of integrity?  We will find out, so don your helmet and strap yourself in. 

Henry's family is fractured in other ways as well. He has another son who is off climbing mountains in South America and doesn't want to come back. His wife, Irene, (Kim Dickens) tells him she loves him, but that he makes her feel like a fool for it everyday. Mix in his mistress, the alluring Meredith, (Heather Graham) stir that pot, and you've some toil and trouble a brewin.' .

Throughout At Any Price we see those monolithic windmills towering above the cornfields. But they're different from the old style windmills we had when I was a kid--sleeker looking---and the way in which director Ramin Bahrani keeps returning to them is highly symbolic of the prevailing winds that now blow over these vast fields of green---an ill wind that blows no good. 

Despite it all, we'd like  to see Henry's family come together in the end--but the way in which that is accomplished is the dark and sinister part of this film. Is this a marriage of convenience--as in three conspirators who need each other to keep their stories straight to cover for some serious misdeeds--or have they finally grown to appreciate each other for who they are? At any rate, you will leave the theater in a reflective mood. 

At Any Price features good performances from Quaid and Efron, though Quaid's Henry--with that cemented on ear to ear grin-- may be a bit more of a caricature than I  am willing to totally buy into. 

Grade:  B +


If I shared what I felt was the major flaw in AT ANY PRICE, I'd ruin it for you. And if there's one thing that really pisses me off it's reading a review that reveals too much about a movie. Suffice it to say that I didn't buy the idea that all three "conspirators" would be able to pull off the conspiracy. (That didn't give away anything, did it?)

Dennis Quaid's character adds new dimensions to the word "smarmy." And his devoted wife has definitely never read an issue of "Cosmo." But the actor who impressed me the most was Zach Efron (whose last name means "lark" in Hebrew). From Farley Granger to Tab Hunter, Hollywood has always had its quota of pretty boy actors. And before I saw this 25-year-old golden boy in AT ANY PRICE, I would've put him in that same category. But despite his perfect face and well plucked eyebrows, Zach Efron has acting chops. And the role of Dean Whipple gives him plenty of opportunities to use them.

Since Tim forgot to mention it—but I know he agrees with me—the score by Dickon Hinchliffe was excellent. Too often people take the background music for granted. But it is "instrumental" (pardon the pun) in creating a mood. As was a wonderful scene in this movie where bleachers full of corn-fed spectators at a local drag race sing The National Athem a cappella. What a marvelous way to cement those folksy faces in our minds. Americana at its best – and worst. When I went to see this flick, I wasn't expecting to like it. But by the time I left the theater, I couldn't stop talking about the many underlying themes.