John Hawkes

Lionsgate

Ordell (Mos Def) and Louis (John Hawkes) have planned the perfect kidnapping. Their target is Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), wife to a sketchy businessman named Frank (Tim Robbins) who’s hiding a fortune in a secret bank account. The plan is simple. Kidnap Mickey, tell Frank to pay the ransom if he ever wants to see his wife again and then retire in style. But they never considered the possibility that Frank might not want his wife back. Chronology is a funny thing. The inclination will be (and has been if you check the IMDB page) to label Life of Crime a straight-up rip-off of 1986’s Ruthless People. In actuality though this is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard‘s 1978 novel, The Switch. Keep moving backward and you’ll find that all of these incarnations share an inspiration in O. Henry’s 1907 short story, “The Ransom of Red Chief.” The problem for this film then is how to stand apart from the crowd, and unfortunately, it’s a problem the film never really solves.

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the_playroom-1

The Playroom constantly states the obvious. For instance, nearly every time some finishes their drink, they proclaim, “I need a drink!” There is a also close-up of a newspaper article announcing the arrest of Patty Hearst, in case we didn’t catch that it takes place in the 1970s. More examples of this occur throughout the film, but said obviousness in direction quickly grows tiring – just give the audience some more credit. Directed by Julia Dyer, and scripted by her sister Gretchen Dyer, The Playroom tells the story of one evening in the lives of four suburban children, cared for chiefly by their teenage sister Maggie (newcomer Olivia Harris), as they are sequestered in their upstairs playroom while their parents Martin and Donna (John Hawkes and Molly Parker) get increasingly drunk and debaucherous downstairs with another couple, Clark and Nadia (Jonathan Brooks and Lydia MacKay). To disguise their feelings of abandonment, they weave tales of how they plan to escape to a place where there are no adults, though new revelations and heartbreak creep into their fantasy world. Hawkes, Parker, and Harris all turn in impressive performances, though their skilled portrayals are not enough to make this film rise above mediocrity. The direction is straightforward, the story trajectory nearly flat lines, and an attempted narrative device poorly executed.

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Isla Fisher

What is Casting Couch? Today it’s a casting column that’s relying on the dreaded “short list” for content. You can’t really say that The Switch is a Jackie Brown prequel. Its story doesn’t really connect with the goings-on of Jackie Brown in any way, and Quentin Tarantino isn’t involved or anything. But it is an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel that features many of the same characters Jackie Brown did. Case in point: Variety reports that fiery redhead Isla Fisher is in negotiations to play Melanie, the same stoner surfer girl that Bridget Fonda played in Tarantino’s film. The Switch also features Mos Def and John Hawkes in the roles Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro originally played, and Jennifer Aniston as a kidnapped housewife. Fisher’s character is said to be the manipulator of the story, and isn’t that always the case with these pretty girls?

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Sean Penn

What is Casting Couch? It’s a daily casting column that isn’t stalking Maria Bello. It swears. Sean Penn has been one of Hollywood’s top actors for decades now, but he’s never really been the sort of performer who stars in big budget blockbusters. Doesn’t he deserve to have his own action franchise already? Well, if his latest project takes off at the box office, he might get it. THR reports that Penn has signed on to star in an adaptation of one of French crime novelist Jean-Patrick Manchette’s books, “The Prone Gunman,” where he will play a badass spy type who gets betrayed by his organization and ends up getting chased all across Europe in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Think of it as being like Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, only starring an actor.

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One of the highlights of any film festival is the panels and discussions that take viewers beyond simply watching the films into understanding the process behind getting them to the screen. In theaters now, The Sessions is a fictional story based on the real-life Mark O’Brien, who became paralyzed from the neck down after contracting polio and decided that, despite his physical limitations, he wanted to lose his virginity. John Hawkes brings Mark’s plight and writer-director Ben Lewin’s words to life through an unforgettable and transformative performance. The two sat down with The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway this afternoon at the Roosevelt Hotel to discuss the film, the challenges they faced in making it, and the impact the film had on each of them.

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Editor’s Note: These blog entries are meant to be a discussion of the most current episode of The Walking Dead, so we recommend you watch said episode before reading to avoid spoilers. Keep your eyes peeled for them every Monday morning. On last week’s episode, Rick wasted some prisoners, he and Lori pretty much got a verbal divorce, and that pesky Carl slipped away without anyone noticing to get medical supplies. Oh yeah – and Hershel is still kickin’. A recap of last week has little to do with this week’s installment, however, seeing as we are completely taken outside of the prison milieu as we follow the ongoing adventures of Andrea and Michonne and how they become entangled with The Governor (well-played by David Morrissey of Basic Instinct 2 fame). While Michonne and Andrea remain flawed, this week’s episode – “Walk With Me” – succeeded on many levels where last week’s did not. New and very interesting characters were introduced in The Governor and Dallas Robert’s Milton, Season One’s Merle came back to serve up some redneck badassness in his brother Daryl’s absence, and some of the principle characters actually came off as multilayered. This episode also does it darndest to deliver the desired gore factor. The Governor is also a more-than-formidable foe for Rick down the line – he also is aware that everyone is infected – and perhaps has the advantage of being somewhat of a sociopath.

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Editor’s note: With Sundance winner The Sessions (formerly titled The Surrogate) hitting limited release, here is a re-run of our festival review, originally published on January 25, 2012. Based on the article, Seeing A Sex Surrogate, The Sessions takes you into the life thirty-eight year old Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) who has lived with polio since the age of six. Only able to be out of his iron lung for a few hours a day, Mark is otherwise stuck inside with just his thoughts, poetry, and faith. Most would resent a life like this, but Mark finds the humor in his situation, always putting those around him at ease and never letting the fact that he can barely move his head from side to side limit his ambition. Having graduated from the University of Berkeley, Mark now has even bigger aspirations in his life – he wants to lose his virginity. Mark takes a shine to one of his aids and while it seems she seems to return his affection, when he expresses it, she gets scared and runs away. Mark jokes to his priest (William H. Macy) that he tried to go about his sexual revolution the “proper” way, but now he has another option he is considering – a sex surrogate who specializes in helping the disabled not only have sex, but teach them the tools and skills to have their own sexual relationships.

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Cloud Atlas releases this month

This September wasn’t a bad way to get out of a summer slump. If any of you were disappointed by this past summer’s films, last month should have picked up your spirits. You were either in awe or disappointment over Paul Thomas Anderon‘s The Master, but whatever camp you fall into, at least you more than likely had thoughts about it. Rian Johnson‘s Looper completely lived up to the hype, wonky time travel logic and all. And we got Dredd 3D and End of Watch, two B-movies which exceeded expectations. Not a bad way to start a new season. There are plenty of offerings for every taste this October including one with a bug-eyed, jacked up, and horrifying Matthew Fox who apparently will be taken down by Tyler Perry. Keep reading for a glimpse at seven other movies you should run and skip to the theaters for.

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American Pie and Fast Times at Ridgemont High would be the best examples of a film like The Sessions, if it were filled with more lust than honest sexual desire (and younger people). What sets it apart from the flurry of raunchy teen sex comedies is that, in those films, we laugh at the characters because we were all once like them, but this film allows us to empathize with the main character for a much different reason. This is not a case of a protagonist being a virgin by choice, but by design, and due to developments in his work life he finds himself poised to be in contact with a sexual therapist named Cheryl (played well by Helen Hunt) who handles disabled clients. It’s a sex comedy for grown-ups. The humor in this movie is sharp, lovely and always great enough that its cute flirting nature is never left looking like cheesiness. The dramatic and romantic moments are heartwarming enough to spread out between every Lifetime film for an entire decade and still not run out. John Hawkes’ – playing the man in an iron lung looking to have sex for the first time – has a great way of making the awkward moments not so awkward and the disparaging ones touching.

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Eastbound and Down ended on the perfect note last season. Whether there would be a fourth season was still up in the air, but Jody Hill and company gave their series a sense of closure. Unlike that cheap slap in the face Entourage gave to its fans – “It may not really be over because of that silly movie idea, but it might be!” – Kenny Powers’ arc and the show itself felt completed. However, apparently HBO disagrees, considering that they’ve recently ordered a fourth season.

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John Hawkes in The Surrogate

When you first hear that John Hawkes’ latest movie sees him playing a character whose spine has been left so curved due to a battle with polio that he’s completely immobile and even physically deformed, it sounds like it’s going to be a depressing affair. Is The Sessions one of those hand-wringing dramas that hammers home just how difficult and painful disability is, for two hours straight, and then ends on some sort of bittersweet but life-affirming moment? Not at all. Actually, from the looks of the first trailer, it seems like it’s a lot of fun:

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A quick search of the site archives tells me that we haven’t done much reporting on the upcoming movie Switch yet, and that’s kind of a shame because it’s an interesting project for a number of reasons. The biggest and most obvious of these reasons is that it’s an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, and a sort-of prequel to Jackie Brown. What does that mean exactly? It means that this story features some of the earlier shenanigans of the Louis and Ordell characters that Robert De Niro and Samuel L. Jackson played in the Quentin Tarantino adaptation of Leonard’s “Rum Punch,” which became Jackie Brown. I said this was a sort-of prequel to Jackie Brown though, so don’t expect to see Tarantino or either of those actors back. This is a completely new take on Leonard’s material involving completely new people. But, the good news is that all of these new people kind of rule, too.

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Movie News After Dark: Katy Perry

What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly movie collection of links, posters, videos, and other newsworthy mediums that mostly have to do with movies. Sometimes we mix in a bit of television. Other times we’re talking about something completely different. Call us unfocused if you must, but don’t you ever call us boring. Leading with a photo of Katy Perry, not my finest moment. Rest assured, though, as there is some actual movie news associated with the buxom pop singer picture above. Paramount Pictures — the studio that brought you the box office cow Justin Bieber: Never Say Never — is planning a Katy Perry 3D movie documentary concert film thing. Squee!

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John Hawkes in The Surrogate

John Hawkes has quickly became one of my favorite actors by giving my favorite supporting performances of the last two years. First he was the oddly intimidating Uncle Tear Drop in 2010’s Winter’s Bone, and last year he was the strangely charismatic cult leader in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Both of those films made their initial splashes at Sundance, and seeing as this year Hawkes returned to the festival, this time in a leading role, with the movie The Surrogate, I think there’s a good chance he could give my favorite performance of the year overall in 2012. That is, if reports of the film getting lengthy standing ovations and the glowing review of our own very helpful Allison Loring can be believed. The thing that strikes me about Hawkes is the absolute authority he’s able to command his characters with. He’s a slight man, but he made me fear him completely as Tear Drop. He’s not a pretty man, but he sold me completely on the spell he had those girls under in Martha Marcy May Marlene. In The Surrogate he plays Mark O’Brien, a poet who suffers from Polio, which has left him with a severely curved spine. Hawkes gave a pretty lengthy interview about the movie to Vulture, and the most interesting bits of it, to me, were the parts where he talks about how taxing it was physically to bring this character to life. It sounds like we’re getting another Hawkes performance where he goes all in.

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John Hawkes describes his cult leading character Patrick as if he “just came from outer space.” After you’ve seen the film, you’ll know that that description could not be more apt. Patrick is a walking and talking enigma with no past or future. He’s someone who lives in the moment and is only interested in feeling that moment. Does he have a greater agenda? Maybe. Are his intentions malicious? Possibly. Where does he come from, and what does he believe in? No idea. That’s Patrick: a mystery. The gentle and quietly frightening character is one of the many mysteries in Sean Durkin’s feature debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene. The Sundance hit raises far more questions than the answers it barely gives. Durkin’s psychological horror film trusts you to fill in the blanks, as does John Hawkes. Here’s what the actor had to say about the oddly and charming ways of Patrick, the walking mystery:

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The real-life experience of being seduced into a cult and dealing with its psychological ramifications is probably a lot like that undergone by Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) in Martha Marcy May Marlene. That’s the highest praise one could offer this engaging drama, which arrives in theaters after causing a mini sensation on the festival circuit, complete with an unfortunate title and a brand new Indie It Girl in Olsen. Writer/director Sean Durkin‘s feature filmmaking debut isn’t going to cure global hunger or cause world peace, despite what the frenzied hype might suggest. It is, however, an assured work that achieves the tricky feat of offering a finely-tuned window into the existential burdens of its protagonist while simultaneously keeping her at a distance. The picture’s split chronology parallels Martha’s introduction into the Upstate New York “family” led by the manipulative, charismatic Patrick (John Hawkes) and her re-integration into her real family two years later. Without launching into convoluted explanations for Martha’s actions, the film follows her experiences in the harrowing reclusive clan, which has a propensity for guns, austere clothing and psychological torture, as well as a general acceptance of vicious physical abuse. At the same time, she is shown adrift in the lavish lakefront Connecticut home of her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy).

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Very few films resemble the structure of Martha Marcy May Marlene. The story follows a young girl, Martha (Elizaebth Olsen), both when she was a part of a cult and when she leaves it to try to relive a normal life. The psychological drama doesn’t give you the introduction of how Martha made it into the cult, which one would expect to take up the first act, and the film also ends on a scene that would’ve been the beginning of any other story’s third act. Martha Marcy May Marlene features subverted conventions, bare-boned exposition, and a whole lot of ambiguity. However, writer/director Sean Durkin never approached his drama to deliberately “subvert conventions,” it just happened to turn out that way. Durkin confessed to never quite getting the lessons from screenwriting courses, and perhaps that was for the better. By avoiding expected screenwriting tropes, in his feature debut, Durkin made an anti-cliche cult film. There are no heroes. There is no third act bang. Plus, the moral compass of the film, Ted (Hugh Dancy), is almost as off-putting as the ambiguous cult leader, Patrick (John Hawkes). Clearly, not your regular “cult” film. Here’s what Sean Durkin had to say about cracking the structure of Martha Marcy May Marlene, approaching the story with a fresh perspective, despising lazy flashbacks, and the mysterious ways of the warm and scary community leader, Patrick:

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As the temperatures turn just the slightest bit colder and the fall colors settle in the landscape (if you’re lucky enough to live near trees), we should start directing our film focus to the fall movie season. We love summer for its mind-numbing fun, but the last season of the year tends to offer some of the most vulnerable, honest, and captivating films (you know, just in time for that other “big O”). Fall supplies films meant to scandalize our minds and even our naughty bits, and there is nothing wrong with that. But with so many films and film festivals to choose from between now and December, it becomes overwhelming to sort through all the goodness being dispensed our way. Lucky for you, my love of highlighting full-frontal male nudity and questionable sexual conduct happens to pay off for a change. Below you’ll find a helpful collection of five sultry features sure to stimulate your brain and your nethers.

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Films about cults were all the rage at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, with some of the buzziest titles all revolving around veritable innocents sucked into organizations that are far, far more terrifying than they first let on. Vera Farmiga starred in and directed the religious-tinged Higher Ground, Sundance It Girl Brit Marling haunted audiences in Sound of My Voice, but the only culty hit that captured my attention (and made it wear rags, sleep in a room with eight other people, and till a garden) was Sean Durkin‘s Martha Marcy May Marlene. The film starred another Sundance break-out talent, Elizabeth Olsen (sister to the twins) as the titular Martha (or is it Marcy May? or even Marlene?), a young woman who has recently escaped a cult, led by none other than the magnetic John Hawkes. The film follows Martha’s attempts to reintegrate herself into a “normal life” with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy), both of whom have no idea what’s she been through to get back to them. The film flashes back frequently to show just what Olsen’s character has been through. It is, in one word, consuming. Fox Searchlight has released two new trailers today, both hidden in QR codes, but our pals over at The Film Stage went ahead and embedded them for your viewing pleasure (i.e. terror). Check them out after the break.

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A box just landed on my doorstep, and as the UPS man drove away, I opened it up to find a device that gets rid of germs on cell phones using some sort of UV light. Why would a marketing department send me that? Because inside was a USB drive containing the first trailer for Contagion – the forthcoming viral outbreak thriller from Steven Soderbergh. What better way to kick everything off? Plus, the trailer is gripping. Matt Damon brings the intensity, Laurence Fishburne brings the expertise, the rest of the cast (including Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law) bring anxiety, but behind every single performance is a major element of fear. Holy hell, this looks great:

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published: 11.21.2014
D
published: 11.21.2014
B+
published: 11.19.2014
C+
published: 11.19.2014
B-, C


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