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Film

A Tale of Three Hawkes: Juliet, Naked, First Reformed, and Blaze

Ethan Hawke (2018)

Images courtesy of IMDB.com Ethan Hawke

A barbaric yalp.

That’s my first memory of Ethan Hawke. Whether or not you love Dead Poet’s Society like I do, you can’t argue that Ethan Hawke took the success of his role as young Todd Cavanaugh and catapulted himself to become a Hollywood heavyweight.

Listing the major films he’s appeared in proves this point. There is 1995’s Before Sunrise and its sequels, Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013). Then there’s 1997’s Gattaca, opposite of Denzel Washington in 2001’s Training Day, 2009’s Brooklyn’s Finest, 2013’s smash hit The Purge, and 2014’s Oscar darling Boyhood. That is a short list of a long and successful career. So what does Ethan Hawke bring to the table this year?

Four-time Academy Award Nominee. A triple threat. Three films all in different styles, genres, and roles. Without further ado, let’s dive into Ethan Hawke’s trio.

Juliet, Naked

Juliet, Naked Poster (2018)

Let’s kick off this list with the lightest and most fun of the tour de Hawke. Juliet is an album by Tucker Crowe, played by Ethan Hawke. He’s got some super fans across the pond, led by the budding Chris O’Dowd playing Duncan. He lives with Annie, played by Rose Byrne, who is much less a fan of Tucker’s sole album and the lore regarding his disappearance than her boyfriend Duncan.

When a package arrives addressed to Duncan, she opens and listens to the CD titled, ‘Juliet, Naked.’ The stripped-down version of the album she’s grown tired of hearing is neither entertaining nor ground-breaking, and she shares that opinion online. Tucker gets in contact with her, romantic feelings develop, a collage of creative storytelling and heartwarming romance later, and you have a fun and happy film in Juliet, Naked.

This may not have been this generation’s Before Sunrise but I really liked it! It was fun, it was well-acted, the story had some good twists and turns, and I loved the ending. It wasn’t so predictable, which I found refreshing.

Juliet, Naked with Ethan Hawke and Rose Byrne
This picture is very indicative of the movie. Cute, fun, and easygoing. I wish I could find me a Rose Byrne across the sea. Well, maybe.

Ethan Hawke plays a character that seems natural for him. A father with numerous children by numerous women who laments his raucous Rockstar days a wee bit. He finds friendship in Byrne’s Annie, and realizes that his baggage has more at stake than customs and transcontinental airlines. There are lives and people involved and life gets messy when you try to invite someone else in.

There are great themes and timely issues in Juliet, Naked, and it caused me to think more about relationships and how people change. Taking it for what it was and the intended purpose, I’d say Juliet, Naked delivered.

4/5 feathers for the Hawke and his band of Yanks and Brits

First Reformed

Ethan Hawke in First Reformed (2018)

I will be alone in my opinion here, but so be it. While Ethan Hawke’s most powerful performance in years, it was not my favorite movie. But guess what? Movies aren’t meant to please everyone, and that’s okay! I have nothing against Hawke, or the director Paul Schrader who is most famous for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.

The movie was…odd. Very quiet, very dark, cold, and muted tones visually, and weird. Like, really weird. Without spoiling it for anyone, there’s just this scene with Amanda Seyfried and Ethan where she’s lying on top of him. They’ve both taken drugs (or something like that), and the next thing you know…they’re floating and flying. Like, the dancing in the stars scene in La La Land but under the influence of a heavier and less street-legal substance. The background visuals weren’t top-notch either. You could tell a background was displayed behind them, and it broke the 4th wall in an uncomfortable way. We don’t want to know that we’re watching special effects patches over a green screen, but that’s all I could focus on.

The way I comically described it required a little knowledge of Disney’s “Soarin’ USA” and “Soarin’ World” rides. This was just an extended scene that I call “Soarin’ Ethan Hawke.”
Maybe I just ‘don’t get it’ or I’m not ‘artistically inclined’ enough, but this scene was bonkers.

It wasn’t that the movie was bad, because it wasn’t. I just wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it again. It struggled to juggle (say that five times fast) the themes, characters, and events that were too complex for the time constraint. Suicide, environmental impact, faith and doubt, relationships and unrequited love, the internet, loss of children, the military, widowed women falling for their pastors, explosives, alcoholism, journaling, ecclesial ethics, the business of being human, all in one movie.

See how hard that was to read over and contemplate?

That’s what First Reformed was like to watch.

Amanda Seyfried and Ethan Hawke in First Reformed
Icy, weeds all around, and some shocked-looking couple. That also describes the scene of my last break-up…but let’s not go there either.

I know that our attempt at hyper-realistic film has pushed the boundaries on storytelling. I also know that movies can be portals to worlds, ideas, and points of view people may never come in contact with otherwise. Yet, to try and make a movie as complex as human beings themselves are is a disastrous feat. The pursuit of such leaves too many questions after such little ground was covered.

Why did the artist William Utermohlen paint himself after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? He wanted to show how the mind decayed through the disease. 5 years and 7 paintings showed the world what is was like to lose oneself. How then could a filmmaker take a hair over two hours and attempt to show the dissolution of human sanity?

It was a task too great for First Reformed, and while I don’t knock the Hawke for his stellar performance, I don’t love the movie either.

2/5 Feathers for the Hawke and his chilly Christian Congregation

Blaze

Poster for Blaze (2018)

No, this is not the ultra-conservative whack-job website ‘The Blaze.’ Whew, got that out of the way. This is a music biopic that takes a hint of Inside Llewyn Davis, adds a drop of Walk the Line, and adds a sprinkling of Once for taste. The result? The gritty, sepia-tone story of Blaze Foley, the mysterious Ozark-born country singer-songwriter.

Why make a movie on a man whose name is foreign to this generation? Well, that’s the mastery and mystery of Mr. Hawke. He didn’t step in to do a movie on Buck Owens, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, or Conway Twitty. He picked a man whose songs have been covered by John Prine and Merle Haggard. Blaze Foley recorded a four-track live album at the Austin Outhouse. Fulsom Prison would have been Carnegie Hall to Blaze Foley.

And you know what? That’s partly what makes Blaze so enthralling.

Blaze Foley is played by actor and folk musician Ben Dickey.
Foley’s wife Sybil is played by Alie Shawkat, most notably from Arrested Development, but whose acting chops and credits extend well beyond the Bluth family.

Together, they form a duo as sweet and cute as they perfectly cast. Their on-screen chemistry is spot on. Hawke plays an off-screen radio host asking a few friends, played by Josh Hamilton and Charlie Sexton, about Foley’s story.

Still from 2018's Blaze
I almost want to buy a truck and move to a mountainside cottage myself after seeing this movie. Then I thought about central heating and pushed that thought out again.

What unfolds is the tragedy of man. An Arkansas-born folk poet whose alcoholism and feather-rufflin’ spirit got him into more trouble than it did record label offices. Dickey’s gruff voice and melodic folk sound give him a kind of charm that keeps you drawn into the slow songs and lyrics.

The dark lighting and sepia colors gives the movie a kind of dusty look. I think that added to the folksy legend that is Blaze Foley. In that, Director Hawke put his prowess on parade. The art of visual storytelling is so much more than just a scene that is multilateral. Color, pacing, background props and clues, and style all add to the feel and perception of a story.

5/5 feathers for the story of a folk legend previously unknown to me

In my opinion, Ethan Hawke showed he’s got more stories to tell. I, for one, am here for what’s next. Whether it be in front of the camera or behind, Ethan Hawke’s got a fan in yours truly.

Ethan Hawke (2018)
Ethan, keep doing you. That’s the only ‘you’ you can do.




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