Tag: emile hirsch

Never Grow Old


Never Grow Old (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

The thing about westerns is that many are revenge stories in their core. And so it is often a challenge to tell a story in a fresh way when ruffians (Josh Cusack, Sam Louwyck, Camille Pistone) arrive in a frontier town and decide to stay indefinitely. It is apparent about a quarter of the way through that “Never Grow Old,” written and directed by Ivan Kavanagh, lacks both originality and vision; at one point I wondered why the filmmaker felt this particular story needed to be told. Because if the viewer had seen at least five western pictures, it would be easy to determine its ultimate destination. Does it truly require eighty minutes to get there?

An argument can be made that it is not about the destination but the journey. However, the journey is not interesting either. Emile Hirsch plays Patrick Tate, Garlow’s carpenter and undertaker. He lives just outside of town with his pregnant wife (Déborah François) and two young children (Quinn Topper Marcus, Molly McCann). Soon Patrick meets Dutch (Cusack) in the dead of night, the latter having knocked on the former’s door, asking for directions regarding a man with a bounty on his head. It is made clear that Patrick cannot refuse—not only this favor but also future ones. Hirsch plays Patrick with a constant air of desperation. Despite the inconsistent Irish accent, he is able to meet Cusack’s calm intensity.

But the screenplay fails to do anything interesting with these two forces who must clash—morally and physically. It goes on autopilot as bodies pile up when Dutch decides to open a business—a whorehouse that serves alcohol, considered to be a mighty sin by the devout Christians (led by Preacher Pike portrayed by Danny Webb) of Garlow. Violence is paraded on screen—men being shot, a young girl getting raped by an old man, blood mixing with mud, a hanging, among others—and yet there is only minimal drama. The reason is because we do not care about these disposable characters. Most intrigue is generated when Patrick and Dutch are in a room simply exchanging words.

Patrick’s occupation involves building objects and putting corpses in the ground. There is poetry in lending a hand on creation and destruction yet the writer-director does not take advantage of it. Instead, Patrick is consistently shown reacting to situations—merely a tool in a plot so ridden with clichés—until the protagonist is no longer an enigma. Meanwhile, Dutch disappears for long periods in the middle of the film. He appears from time to time to do or say something would-be philosophical. I grew tired of the charade that the material forces upon us.

I enjoyed the look of the picture, particularly when it employs natural light. Scenes shot at night are appropriately dark and menacing. There is a convincing quiet in the darkness, like anything could step out from it. Not even lamps or torches could allay the danger. When the film is not so plot-driven but rather driven by feeling, one cannot help but wonder whether the work might have been better off as a sensory experience: strip away the heavy-handed plot and let the emotions flow, place us directly in a mindset of having to survive in an 1849 frontier town.

All Nighter


All Nighter (2017)
★ / ★★★★

Despite two charismatic co-leads, the would-be comedy “All Nighter,” written by Seth W. Owen and directed by Gavin Wiesen, disappoints with a deafening thud. Just about every attempt at comedy comes across as sitcom-like, played out, devoid of inspiration. About halfway through, one cannot help but wonder what performers of J.K. Simmons and Emile Hirsch’s calibers saw in the script to sign up for a movie with barely anything going for it.

The plot revolves around a missing woman named Ginnie (Analeigh Tipton), a character whom we barely get to know, let alone care about. Her father (Simmons), a workaholic who is often overseas, contacts her ex-boyfriend, the good-natured, banjo-playing underachiever Martin (Emile Hirsch), for possible information regarding her whereabouts. Mr. Gallo has gotten increasingly worried since it is so unlike Ginnie to not to pick up calls or return them on a timely manner. The title promises misadventures but the events that transpire are neither funny nor fun. The movie exists simply to pass the time.

It is strange that the picture is at its strongest during the more dramatic scenes, its quieter moments of admission and confession. Whether it be at the dinner table on a mid-level fancy restaurant or in a car in the middle of the night, when the protagonists sit down and simply speak with and look at one another, we recognize the raw potential of the material. This is because Hirsch and Simmons know how to carry a scene. They are not afraid of introducing pauses and silence. They have the ability to extract every little emotion from the words their characters say and feel. These moments of gravitas are never earned, however. We get the feeling that characters are revealing something about themselves simply because the plot requires it in order to create a semblance of character history or development.

Supporting characters are so extreme at times that they are almost cartoonish, caricatures. The couple constantly at each other’s throats (Taran Killam, Kristen Schaal), the barista who couldn’t be bothered (Stephanie Allynne), and the drunk party girl (Xosha Roquemore) quickly come to mind. Sure, eccentric people do live in Los Angeles but is it truly necessary to paint nearly every character encountered as one-dimensional freak show?

A standout is a woman named Lois because she is actually normal. More importantly, however, she is played with winsome energy by Shannon Woodward. As soon as the picture was over, I had to look up her body of work because she knows how to get our attention without leaning on creating an exaggeration. I couldn’t believe I had never seen her before.

“All Nighter” could have used several dosages of fun and authenticity. With a cast of recognizable names and faces, it is unfortunate that the material isn’t willing to take enough risks by trying on different types of comedy to attempt to find which works best for itself. What results, for the most part, is a forgettable and occasionally soporific romp.

The Motel Life


The Motel Life (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jerry Lee (Stephen Dorff) wakes his brother, Frank (Emile Hirsch), in the middle of the night and tells him that something terrible had just happened: He had accidentally struck a kid on a bike with the car. Although he had tried to pick him up and take him to the hospital, it was of no use. The boy was already dead.

Frank and Jerry Lee are inseparable, partly because they wish to honor their dying mother’s wish which was expressed to them back when they were still teenagers. Now in their thirties, the duo choose to remain in Reno with hopes of riding out the investigation. If they were to disappear suddenly, suspicion would surely arise.

“The Motel Life,” directed by Alan and Gabe Polsky, is more a story about the love shared between two brothers than it is about guilt, not having enough money, or the past although these three elements are major driving forces that continue to shape trail of their journey. It is a moving story, heartbreaking in some ways, and yet it is also about hope. No matter what happens, Frank and Jerry Lee are there for each other no matter what the cost.

The lead performances sizzle with stifled emotions. Hirsch gives Frank a level of strength that is almost unexpected because he looks much younger than Dorff, who injects Jerry Lee with so much pathos that we forget sometimes that he has committed a hit-and-run. I would have guessed that Dorff would play the stronger character—the protector—and Hirsch would play the guilt-ridden half.

Nevertheless, what ultimately ends up on screen is the correct decision. Since the casting choice is less obvious, those familiar with the performers’ repertoire will be fascinated because they manage to thrive in a relatively new territory. Meanwhile, those who are less familiar with Hirsch and Dorff can still enjoy the relationship of the two brothers by discovering, slowly, how their dynamics work.

The best scenes involve Frank telling Jerry Lee stories of their imagined great adventures. The wonderful animation employed vary in style and content but not so much that they come across detached from one another. On the contrary, there is fluidity in the drawings and plots and so we learn about what goes on in Frank’s mind: his inspirations, disappointments, his values, his hopes for the future. He is a man who does not speak a lot. It is easier to grab a bottle of alcohol than a shoulder of a friend—especially when he is not very social in the first place.

There are two people in Frank’s life that I wished were fleshed out a bit more. Kris Kristofferson plays a man named Earl who sells cars. In a way, he is a father figure to Frank. They share two scenes: One when Frank is a teenager (Andrew Lee) and the other when older Frank needs a car. Another person of importance in Frank’s life is a former girlfriend named Annie (Dakota Fanning). They have lost touch for years only to cross paths again under very different circumstances.

Based on the novel by Willy Vlautin, “The Motel Life” shows a portrait that may not be pretty or convenient but one that is worth looking at and thinking about. It made me feel glad that I have a brother who I believe will do anything for me when it really counts. Perhaps that is the reason why I was so moved by the brothers’ bond. Though we come from completely different backgrounds, I still saw a reflection of myself and my sibling in Frank and Jerry Lee.

Prince Avalanche


Prince Avalanche (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) must paint traffic lines on a long stretch of highway that was once consumed by wildfire. While the former thinks that the job is an excellent opportunity for him to be one with nature and further get to know himself through solitude, the latter finds himself unable to deal with loneliness. With the weekend coming up, Alvin decides that he is going to stay in the woods while Lance plans to go home, attend a party, find a girl, and have his “little man squeezed.”

“Prince Avalance,” a remake of Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson’s “Á annan veg,” is consistently beautifully photographed, especially for a comedy about two men who are sort of losers in their own way, but I found the languid tone of the picture to be inert and soporific at times. Just when we are about to slip into a coma, it turns up the soundtrack to jolt us into paying attention until once again our eyelids start to get heavy.

The picture is not without core strengths. The script has such a good ear for dialogue, a three- to five-minute scene that mostly consists of the camera staring at a face inspires us to paint an entire story in our minds. Particularly memorable is the conversation between Alvin and an older woman (Joyce Payne) who is going through the rubble of her former home. I wondered if the performer on screen had experienced losing her house in fire because it does not feel like she is acting at all. Instead, she seems to be sorting through the memories of her former home and then telling us what she is feeling through her body language. Unfortunately, the scene that comes right after, in which Rudd is allowed to act silly with his body language, dilutes the power of what we had just seen.

Furthermore, director David Gordon Green makes good use of wide shots as he is able to show nature in its rawest form, from a group of desolate old trees which reflects the physical isolation of the subjects to animals in search of food or shelter. He appears to have an eye for which behavior is worth putting in the final product and against which complementary color or specific texture. I will be very interested to see the result if Green decided to make a nature documentary.

The humor is, for the most part, quite understated. There are times when Lance and Alvin are unaware they are funny. However, I was unable to buy into the chemistry between the two leads completely. Instead of being convinced that Lance is forced to put some effort into liking Lance because one just so happens to be dating the other’s sister, much of my energy was put into trying to convince myself that I was supposed to be observing characters rather than actors playing their respective parts.

There is a difference between minimalism and plain. To its credit, “Prince Avalanche” dares to walk along that line. It is understandable why a select audience will be drawn to some of the poetry of the material, but it lacks a certain energy that allows it to stand above other comedies that share similar bloodlines.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe


The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

André Øvredal’s deliciously creepy horror picture “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” knows how to get under the skin of its audience. Unlike many modern films of the genre, it does not rely solely on jump scares and try to pass such evanescent shocking sensations as a genuine horror experience. Instead, it bears numerous similarities with old-fashioned horror movies in that it is interested in tension-building and then breaking it without warning. What results is a highly watchable and curious project, one best seen in a group with all the lights off.

The picture unfolds in a morgue where father and son, Tommy (Brian Box) and Austin (Emile Hirsch), receive a recently found corpse found in a bizarre crime scene. The woman has neither ID on her nor are her fingerprints on the police database and so, during the coroners’ autopsy, she is named Jane Doe. Immediately, during the first round of examination, the veteran notices something strange: despite Jane Doe’s eyes being cloudy, which is a sign that the body has been dead for a couple of days, the body looks fresh—rigor mortis has not even set in yet. This is but one of the many contradictions the Tildens are going to encounter throughout their increasingly frightening night underground.

The film is at its best when simply observing the characters work. The director is aware that the material is interesting and so he is confident in allowing the camera to capture the action without employing ostentatious tricks or gimmicks. (Like having the camera enter from the nose passages and exploring inside the body or something laughably silly like that.) Øvredal uses closeups at the right time and he knows how long to hold the frame in order to extract the greatest level of fascination. I admired that there is great control from behind the camera even though images involve cutting of the flesh, sawing of the bone, organs being taken out. Its clinal approach is most appropriate.

Notice its use of sound. When a drawer containing a corpse is pulled open, metals rubbing against one another make a flinch-inducing noise. The sound of footsteps are amplified when it is dark. Sudden changes of songs or announcements emanating from the radio grabs one’s attention. And never have I been more disturbed to hear the sound of bell tinkling from a distance. Decide to see the film and you’ll know why. And sometimes it’s extremely unnerving when no sound is heard for a couple of seconds.

Imaginative minds are likely to find “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” to be a fun playground full of possibilities. After each strange detail is presented, my hypothesis about who Jane Doe was or what happened to her changed. It demands that the audience think alongside the characters and to keep up. Fans of well-written, well-acted, old-school horror will walk away satiated.

Ten Thousand Saints


Ten Thousand Saints (2015)
★ / ★★★★

Based on the screenplay and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, “Ten Thousand Saints” is an ambitious drama about youth, friendship, family, New York City on the verge of change, and sacrifices that adults (and soon-to-be-adults) are willing to make for their children, but it is not a successful film because it fails to focus on and explore any one of the subjects it attempts to tackle. What results is a formless picture, bereft of compelling elements that are specific to the characters involved.

After a New Year’s Eve party in Vermont, Jude (Asa Butterfield) suggests that he and his best friend, Teddy (Avan Jogia), get high on freon—the former unaware that the latter had taken some cocaine at the party just a few minutes prior. They lose consciousness amidst the snow and the next morning, both of the boys’ bodies are found—Jude still alive but unable to move, Teddy dead for several hours. Jude’s father, Les (Ethan Hawke), who grows cannabis in NYC as a source of income, invites his son to live with him in the city for a chance to make a change, if Jude wanted, in his life. Soon enough, the surviving teenager meets up with Johnny (Emile Hirsch), Teddy’s elder brother, who lives his life as a Straight Edge—one who makes an active choice in avoiding all drugs, sex, and eating meat.

The picture is shot quite beautifully, highly convincing in showing us different lifestyles of people who do not have much money but are getting by. The interior of homes are so detailed, it is like visiting a real house with many years of memories. This is especially critical when people get into a disagreement or when secrets are revealed. The walls and decorations exude the feeling of becoming more alive over time—that the more experience family and friends go through together, the picture frames, furnitures, figurines, and other knickknacks become all the more embedded in the place of living’s DNA.

Significantly less convincing is the love shared between Jude and Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld), the daughter of the woman (Emily Mortimer) that Les is currently dating. Although the screenplay touches upon the different types of love between them, Jude’s feelings for her are never given a chance to come into focus. As a result, the protagonist is paper thin as a character but has a memorable physicality: bright blue eyes and a lanky frame. He is a quiet young man, but what does he stand for? Why is this specific story worth telling through his eyes? There is a lack of a defined perspective and insight here.

Another lost opportunity comes in the form of failing to delve into teen drug abuse. Although the material addresses the topic quite heavily during the first third, it is almost completely dropped about halfway through. Instead, we get to hear Jude tell another person he longer is into smoking marijuana—and that’s about it. This is inappropriate because he still feels guilty for being an instrument toward his friend’s untimely death. By sweeping the drug angle under the rug as if it were unimportant, the film loses about half of its staying power. The second half drags like nails along a chalkboard.

Based on the novel by Eleanor Henderson, “10,000 Saints” is also about rebellion, whether be in a suburb or a city, but there is a lack of convincing passion amongst its main players. What the film needs is rage and a punk-rock attitude to match its soundtrack in order to ignite the fire underneath the more melodramatic elements. Because it is missing this critical ingredient, the characters are unforgivingly dull, one-dimensional, and forgettable.

Killer Joe


Killer Joe (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Chris (Emile Hirsch) owes six thousand dollars to a local gangster and if he does not pay his loan within a couple of days, goons will be sent to kill him. Chris’ mother has just kicked him out of her house and, out of anger, he tells his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), that her life insurance policy is worth fifty thousand dollars. To get that money into their pockets, all they have to do is find a way to kill her. Rex, the boyfriend of Chris’ mother, tells Chris that he knows a man willing to do the job. For twenty-five thousand dollars, Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a detective, will perform the service. The only problem is that he requires to be paid in advance.

Make no mistake that although its premise has elements of a crime-thriller, “Killer Joe,” based on the play and screenplay by Tracy Letts, is a comedy so grim (but deliciously lurid), each chuckle is almost always accompanied with a feeling of guilt. All of the characters we have the pleasure to observe trade their morals for the possibility of getting a couple thousand bucks richer without a moment’s thought.

The performances are grating during the first twenty minutes. Hirsch as a desperate loser sounds as though he is reading from the script as he attempts to get his sister, Dottie (Juno Temple), to unlock the front door of their father’s trailer home so he can get inside. There is a lack of verve to his performance in the opening scenes and I began to question if he was fit to play the role. Hirsch and everyone else’s performances, however, is elevated once McConaughey’s cold and calculating Joe dives into the mix. When Joe speaks and tells a story from his past, the actor that has starred in a handful of flat and uninspired romantic comedies disappears completely. Since McConaughey takes a risk by not holding a level of intensity but actually playing with it, we almost feel his co-stars being challenged and wanting to feed off the unpredictability in front of them.

Although the picture does not shy away from putting the violence front and center, it excels in creating intimate scenes, most often between two people, under the guidance of director William Friedkin. It feels wrong to watch Joe and Dottie, who we can assume to be underaged, first converse about mundane topics, work up to flirtation over a meal, and eventually get intimate physically, but it is impossible not to want their scenes to continue because the script and the acting have formed a synergistic magnetism. Joe’s need to take the girl’s virginity and the girl’s unsure sexuality is such an interesting combination that it undermines the circumstances involving the possible murder.

And that, ultimately, is the main problem. The central crime in “Killer Joe” neither has the strength nor the off-kilter palate to complement the good, sometimes great, performances. If the individual scenes between Dottie and Joe; Joe and Sharla (Gina Gershon), Ansel’s new wife and Chris’ stepmother; and Chris and Dottie were taken out, what remains fit the description of a hundred bland crime pictures.