Ethan Hawke stars in two of the new films this week—one very good, the other very bad
THE WE AND THE I: This is a real high school movie but not like any I’ve seen before. It takes place on one long ride on a New York City bus under the direction of Michel Gondry. In other films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and his many music videos, his imagination runs wild. Here he’s kept it in check (relatively) and created a truthful portrait of modern teens. Basically he’s moved the whole school society on to that bus. We’ve got the pretty girl fretting about a party she’s planning. Her friend who says she “hogs” all the boys. Three boys in the back are know-it-all smart alecks, sometimes bullies, constantly laughing and cracking jokes, some of them harshly funny.
One calls his girlfriend a “two pound baloney in a one pound bag.” He takes worse verbal swipes at an old lady who’s driven to respond with a racial outburst. And so it goes. The film bobs around them and maybe a dozen other teens to represent the various characters you find in a school. Their talk is authentic, partly because Gondry worked with a community group in the South Bronx to develop the script. Those same teens became the actors in the film. There’s no story as such, but many little incidents, scenes and tales that together make up a rich study and a lively movie. (Cinematheque) 3 ½ out of 5
Alternating with …
SAFETY LAST: Also at the Cinematheque, an American silent classic. You’ve seen the pictures of Harold Lloyd dangling from a clock tower. It’s one of the best-known movie stills ever.
Here’s the film it comes from and it’s just as funny, cleverly constructed and entertaining as I imagine it was back 90 years ago. Lloyd was a bigger star than Chaplin and Keaton. He did his own stunts and played an everyman. He leaves Great Bend for the big city and lands a job in a department store. The sight gags are frequent as he tries to outwit that imperious floorwalker and impress the boss with a publicity stunt. He’ll have his friend climb up the side of the tall. Naturally, he ends up having to do it. Wind, birds and a dog are just a few of the difficulties he has to deal with in a sequence that’s still thrilling even today. The film is showing on five days. The last screening, next Saturday at 2 p.m. is free as part of the Cinematheque’s open house. Tickets available on that day only. 4 stars out of 5
THE PURGE: I had to choose between seeing this or The Kings of Summer (see below). I decided I just had to see what these filmmakers could do with such an obviously ridiculous premise. What they did was make a ridiculous movie. Imagine: one night a year, all criminal laws in the U.S. are suspended. No cops; no emergency services, no restrictions. Even murder is allowed, and according to the script, it’s a popular activity that night. Radio and TV pundits extol the benefits. People release all their aggressions in one 12-hour period. Crime the rest of the year and unemployment are both way down. Satire? Doesn’t feel like it. Social criticism? Misses that mark too.
Instead of focusing on the chaos said to be going on in the streets, the film is set in one house in a gated community. Ethan Hawke (producer Jason Blum’s best friend) plays a father; Lena Headey (of Game of Thrones) plays his wife. They feel safe with their two children inside a fortress-like security system until the son opens it up and lets a black homeless man into the house. People appear outside and demand he be handed over. The father is willing but now can’t find the man who has hidden himself. The house has gone dark and the outsiders are ready to break in. A lot of excitable and irrational behavior ensues, but only intermittent suspense. I blame that bone-headed plot. It’s riddled with logical flaws and that kills the believability. The NRA might like it as a justification for guns. (International Village and suburban theatres) 1 ½ out of 5
Also now playing …
THE KINGS OF SUMMER: I couldn’t get to the previews but several people have told me this is a charmer, a bit like Moonrise Kingdom with less quirky whimsy but more clumsy content.
A teen who feels abused and humiliated by his dad sets out to start a life on his own. He convinces two friends to join him in building a small house in the woods, not far away but apparently not findable by the dad or the police. A girlfriend’s arrival complicates the fantasy. Nick Offerman, of TV’s Parks and Recreation, Megan Mullally and Allison Brie are the most recognizable names in the cast. (5th Avenue)
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