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Entries in before midnight (2)

Thursday
Aug292013

Getaway

Despite a filmography that consists of a few stinkers, Ethan Hawke is a daring actor, mainly because he isn’t afraid to plant himself in all kinds of different films. In the last three alone, he has starred in a home invasion thriller (“The Purge”) a wonderful romantic drama (“Before Midnight”) and an intensely frightening supernatural horror movie (“Sinister”). He’s drawn to ideas, even if the final product encompassing those ideas isn’t always successful, like the aforementioned “The Purge” or 2009’s alternate take on vampire mythology “Daybreakers.” This leads me to wonder why he would ever agree to star in something like this week’s “Getaway,” a derivative, brainless action film with zero ideas and only the thinnest of stories. After seeing “Before Midnight,” it was obvious he was going to appear on my obligatory best-of list at the end of the year. After watching “Getaway,” it’s now apparent he’ll also appear on my worst.

The film has a nifty stylized, black and white opening that begins in a wrecked apartment with blood and broken glass everywhere. Initially a first person view, it eventually transitions to a third person view where we first see our protagonist, an ex-racecar driver, Brent (Ethan Hawke). It’s his apartment that he shares with his wife, who has been abducted by a mysterious man for unknown reasons. Cut not too far in the future and he finds himself in a game where he has to use his driving talents to pull off certain jobs and if he calls the cops or is caught, his wife dies.

And thus begins a movie with no plot structure, no flow, wimpy dialogue and annoying characters so inconsequential and uninteresting that one of the two main ones isn’t even given a name, an 18 year old girl that IMDB so aptly classifies as “The Kid” (Selena Gomez). Yet the nameless character isn’t the biggest problem, but rather her and Brent’s utter lack of personality. It must be no more than a few minutes in before Brent is racing away from cop cars through a darkened Bulgaria, so no time is taken to truly characterize this man and make him someone we should care about. A mid-movie sob story about why he gave up racing is so forced in as to be almost comical. Similarly, the first time we meet his wife, she’s being dragged screaming down a dank, decrepit hallway by two goons who lock her up for safe keeping. It’s obviously not an ideal scenario for any person, but who exactly is she? If not for the mysterious voice on the other end that helpfully labels her as Brent’s wife, we would have never even known, given that they don’t share a single minute of screen time prior to the kidnapping.

To be fair to the film, it’s not like it has high aspirations. It knows it’s a big, stupid action picture and it plays it up for all it’s worth, creating high octane chases through narrow alleyways, cluttered highways and crowded parks at seemingly every turn. It never takes the time to make these scenes work in conjunction with what little story it has, though, instead opting to make The Kid a genius tech geek, able to hack into security networks with nary a plausible explanation, no doubt a quick and accessible way to bypass all that pesky talking. But none of these scenes work because it never truly feels like the characters are in any real danger, given the incompetent police force chasing them. At one point, after he slams into a cop car, The Kid remarks that he just committed assault with a deadly weapon, which gives the police the authority to shoot at them, yet they never do. Never does it come to mind that perhaps they could take out a tire or two, effectively ending his rampage. The only ones that are smart enough to pull out their guns are the mysterious voice’s hired hands, but even they only shoot at the body of the car, despite the knowledge that the car is armored. The worst driver in the world would be able to escape such idiotic opposition.

If there was some type of skill put behind the crafting of these action scenes, many of these problems could be ignored, but such a reality is quickly dashed. Directed by Courtney Solomon, whose only other directing credits include 2000’s abominable “Dungeons & Dragons” and 2005’s equally bad “An American Haunting,” has no idea how to stage an action scene to elicit excitement. Instead, it’s the editing that hopes to manufacture it in a thinly veiled attempt to hide the fact that what’s going on isn’t really all that interesting. The scenes are cut in rapid succession similar to the shootouts in 2009’s “Gamer,” to the point where you can barely even register certain shots before they disappear. If some of these shots were any shorter, they’d be subliminal.

Then the twist comes and the mystery man is revealed, not that we actually know who that man is as a character. The reveal is more one of the actor playing the mystery man, which means little to nothing in the big scheme of things. Strangely enough, questions are left unanswered, which is tough to do in a movie with such little plot to speak of, though you likely won’t care enough to have them answered anyway. When the movie ends, the title card flashes onscreen once more, almost as if it’s telling you to get away as fast as you can. You likely won’t need to be told twice.

Getaway receives 0.5/5

Friday
May312013

Before Midnight

Rarely in the world of cinema does a romance come along and touch you in a way that can’t be explained. Rarely does one relate to you or your ideas of a perfect love while still remaining grounded enough to avoid the fairy tale expectations society has associated with it. Director Richard Linklater’s enchanting 1995 film, “Before Sunrise,” managed to do just that. It was a simple film, one where Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train in Europe and decide to spend the night together strolling around Vienna and sharing stories about their lives, but it was nonetheless wonderful. The two characters connect not just on a physical level, but on intellectual, spiritual and emotional levels as well. The movie portrayed the type of magical night we all wish we could have, even if it is fleeting.

Such was the case with Jesse and Celine and when sunrise came, Jesse had to leave, the film ending on an ambiguous note that kept the viewer wondering if they would ever see each other again. That question was answered in 2004 with the blissful follow-up, “Before Sunset,” and again, the film ended on a hopeful, but not exactly final, note. Now another nine years have passed and we have “Before Midnight,” and it’s almost as good as its predecessors. Considering that it’s following two of the greatest romances ever put to screen, that’s really saying something.

The beginning of the film confirms it. Jesse and Celine are together now and have two beautiful twin girls. Jesse has moved to Europe, leaving his 13 year old son, who has just hopped a plane to head back to the states, behind. They’re in Greece for a quick getaway and, thanks to some friends who agree to watch the twins, they have the entire night to themselves. However, it has been nearly two decades since they first met and one since they decided to be with each other, so that fairy tale romance has long since passed. Their lives are more complicated and Jesse pangs to be with his son, especially during this time of his life where he’ll be discovering his sexuality and meeting girls. As he puts it, in another four years, he’ll have graduated high school and the chance to connect will be gone. He’ll be an adult. Celine, on the other hand, has a wonderful opportunity with a potential government job and doesn’t want to move to America, despite her love for Jesse’s son. Naturally, this leads to argument.

If the previous two movies explored the love that can form between two people, “Before Midnight” is about the potential destruction of it. It answers the question that cynics wonder and romantics try to avoid at the end of a romance: what happens after the movie ends? Over time and in real life, the bond that was so strong before begins to weaken and it’s only natural for someone to wonder if they really love this person anymore. This movie explores that in-depth and, though it isn’t always pleasant, it’s always truthful. The pent-up frustration Jesse and Celine have been carrying around all come bubbling to the surface and hurtful things are said, things that threaten to end a relationship that looked so perfect all those years ago.

But hidden within the fighting are philosophical themes that contemplate life, love, the inescapableness of time and the finite nature of all things. Jesse and Celine both realize that they’re getting old, perhaps closer to their deaths than their births, and such a notion puts things into perspective. Have they lived their lives the best they can? Have they done all they can to care for their children? Are they really happy with each other or has their attempt to recapture the feeling they felt that night in Vienna all those years ago fooled themselves into thinking they are? Much like the previous movies, there’s no clear answer (only another sequel will be able to shed some light), ending with a scene that feels hopeful, but not definite.

All of this is done with an exquisite sense of direction, one that refuses to overcomplicate things and decides to keep it simple despite its non-simplistic themes. Much like the previous movies, Linklater more often than not settles on long takes, effectively placing the viewer in the scene with the characters. It doesn’t cut back and forth in the typical filmic shot reverse shot based on who’s talking, but rather places them both on camera, allowing them to play off each other in a seemingly less scripted way, whether they be walking down the road or driving in the car. These long takes only work with actors that can pull them off and both Hawke and Delpy do so with aplomb. Although they’ve only worked with each other across the three movies for what couldn’t be more than a couple months, it nevertheless feels like they’ve been in each other’s minds and lives for the two decades these movies span.

It may sound strange to hear, but it’s no exaggeration to hail this romance trilogy as one of the best ever. To give that statement some context, this film doesn’t quite live up to the standards of “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” yet it’s still likely to be one of the best of the year. “Before Midnight” is nothing less than a majestic, ethereal treat.

Before Midnight receives 4.5/5