In Cop Car, a b-movie thriller about two kids who steal a police vehicle for a joyride, Kevin Bacon plays Sherriff Kretzer, a bad cop short on dialogue but long on menace. It’s an intense role but one that once upon a time the Footloose star would have turned down.
“When I first started becoming an actor I would judge a role by how many lines I had,” he says. “Then, later on, by, ‘Where’s my big scene?’ As time has gone on I’ve really loved the idea of trying to use everything cinema has to offer in terms of helping you unfold the mystery of who somebody is. Sherriff Kretzer is one of those guys who, somehow, even though there is very little being said, I had an image for who he would be. Sometimes it just comes to me.”
Now into an almost four decade long career—his first professional acting gig came in 1978 on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow—he’s come to understand why less is often more on screen.
“Look at something like Diner,” he says. “I didn’t want that part because the guy didn’t say much. I didn’t know or trust that who he was would come through [in the scene where] I was just sitting there watching the college bowl. People talk about that as being the moment where they totally got the guy, but on the page I didn’t get that. I was too naïve to understand that. In the course of my career I have started to realize that the camera sees so much more than we see in real life. It’s not that it just shoots real life, it’s that it goes deeper. You shoot somebody’s eyes, do a close up on somebody’s eyes, and you see things that the human eye can’t see. It actually reaches down into that person’s soul so you’re exposed to something that is deeper and more beautiful.”
Bacon says he and director Jon Watts give audiences everything they need to “metaphorically jump in the car and come along” without over explaining the characters.
The result is a violent film that transcends its b-movie roots to become a story about loss of childhood innocence. “I think it is a surprisingly moving and emotional film,” he says. “I know my wife [actress Kyra Sedgwick] feels that way.”
Ben Kingsley is an Academy Award winner and one of the most recognizable faces in movies. He is an actor, and a very good one but he prefers to be called something else.
“I’m sure I am a storyteller,” he says. “I’m sure that is the right place for my DNA to be.”
Whether he is playing Darwan in this weekend’s Learning to Drive or Mohandas Gandhi, Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List or Sexy Beasts’ Don Logan, he strives to tell stories that get under the audience’s skin.
“Something happened to me and it stayed with me forever,” he says. “I had the privilege of playing Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company and I was walking and it was always in my head. It is a very all-consuming role.
“I was in Snitterfield, an open field just outside Stratford Upon Avon. A lovely young woman was on the opposite side of the field and seemed to be walking towards me, so I decided to tack to my right to avoid her feeling that I was intruding on her space. She tacked to her left. In other words, she mirrored me. Then I went the other way and she mirrored me. She was determined to meet me in the middle of this field. Then face-to-face, she said, ‘I saw Hamlet last night. How did you know about me?’
Something (I did) must have gone right in there (he points to his heart), straight through the sternum and said, ‘I know.’ That’s the connection.”
In his new film Kingsley makes a connection with co-star Patricia Clarkson. She plays Wendy, a divorcee who hires Darwan to teach her how to drive so she can travel to upstate New York to visit her daughter. As she learns to navigate Manhattan’s mean streets, they form a bond, teaching one another about life and love.
“I think in a really beautifully fashioned play or screenplay you have a feeling that the gods look down and say, ‘I’m going to bring you two together.’ I love that idea in mythology that the gods look down and send somebody to somebody. It is only through very unfortunate, heartbreaking circumstances that she finds herself in a taxi.
Heartbroken. I am driving a heartbroken woman. And I loved in the way, as in all great stories, the little coincidences are the gods guiding and bringing people together for some purpose. Here it is not for a great romance, it is to heal.”
Zac Efron became a teen heartthrob with the success of the High School Musical movies and then did everything possible to decimate and alienate the core audience that made him a star.
He rightly realized that the shelf life of a young Disney star was limited and turned his attention to making serious but little seen films like Parkland, At Any Price and The Paperboy, an art house film better known for a scene utilizing an age-old cure for a jellyfish sting you don’t normally see administered by an Oscar winner like Nicole Kidman.
His latest movie, We Are Your Friends, the first major-studio film set in the world of electronic dance music, is a mix of music and romance that sees Efron play an aspiring DJ who falls in love with his mentor’s girlfriend.
It’s a role that should appeal to his original fanbase, the kids who have aged out of High School Musical and now listen to EDM, where his other screen choices seem to have left them behind. Occasionally he’s thrown them a bone, with popcorn movies like New Year’s Eve, or Neighbors, where he plays the prerequisite 20-something good-looking Hollywood hunk.
Take That Awkward Moment for instance. He played an avowed hook-up artist, a young guy who would rather hang out with his best friends Daniel (Miles Teller) and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) than have a meaningful relationship with a girl. In time-honoured rom-com fashion, it’s a movie that takes advantage of its leading man’s blue eyes and sculpted abs. Efron’s hair is practically a character in the film.
Perhaps while making The Lucky One, a Nicolas Sparks romance co-starring Taylor Schilling, it occurred to him that simply watching good-looking people fall in love does not a movie make.
I couldn’t help but think that Efron, when he says to Schilling’s character Beth, “I know you deserve better than this,” was actually speaking to the audience.
Luckily his other films are less about his looks and more about his ability. The Paperboy is an odd film. It’s an art house thriller — meaning that there aren’t many thrills — in which each of its stars do some fairly intense envelope pushing in a story about a reporter returning to his native Florida to investigate a murder.
Paired with risk-taking actors like Nicole Kidman, David Oyelowo, John Cusack and Matthew McConaughey, Efron works hard to shake off the early teen idol gloss that made him famous. He mostly succeeds, although director Lee Daniels’s camera still caresses the actor, taking full advantage of his effortless appeal.
In Me and Orson Welles, Efron is overshadowed by an actor playing a man who died many years before the core audience of this movie was even born. Christian McKay plays Orson Welles with such panache that Efron becomes a supporting player in his own movie but still makes a strong impression as a teenager with dreams of being on stage in this handsomely mounted period piece.
Other films like At Any Price, a 2012 powerful tale of fathers and sons and the pressure to succeed, have shown not only his depth but his willingness to stretch as an actor.
So why does Efron, who could have a movie franchise career in a heartbeat, look past the obvious career path?
Efron told the Hollywood Reporter that his often eclectic acting choices are always artistic in nature and never about money.
“I’m constantly searching for characters that are about betterment of self and betterment of others,” he says. “And I’m searching for those parts because those are the ones that make me happy. They’re the ones that fulfil me personally.”
“We Are Your Friends,” the first studio movie set in the world of electronic dance music, can be looked at two ways.
In its most basic form it’s a romance about a young, ambitious DJ trying to make a name for himself but a closer look reveals more.
Cole, played by Zac Efron, learns the hard way that real art, something that comes from the heart and really means something, doesn’t come in shiny happy packages but is the result of life experience.
Like Cole, it’s not hard to imagine that the former teen heartthrob has learned a thing or two in his twenty-eight years. In a search for more interesting roles he’s tried his best to alienate the audience who first fell in love with his High School Musical good looks and charm. I’m not saying that “We Are Your Friends” is great art, but Efron’s involvement suggests that this coming of age story might be his first truly adult role.
The film begins in the San Fernando Valley, a metaphor for the disconnect its characters—Cole, Mason (Jonny Weston), Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer)—feel to the glamorous life of Hollywood. Bright lights, fame and fortune are literally just around the corner but may as well be a thousand miles away. The quartet has a plan, however. They promote a Thursday club show and have dreams of stardom.
Cole gets a leg up from superstar DJ James Reed (Wes Bentley), a troubled guy who teaches the younger man about finding his true path and making music that reflects his life. Complications arise when Cole jumps into bed with James’s girlfriend / assistant Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski).
“We Are Your Friends” is a simple story about aspirational behaviour that effectively speaks to millennial angst with one repeated chorus: “Are we ever going to be better than this?” The message is wrapped in a slickly made movie with an interesting dynamic between Cole and James—Bentley absolutely nails James’s world-weary narcissism—and an energetic relationship between the four friends.
On the downside, the romance, which is the catalyst for much of the action, is the least interesting thing about the film. Ratajkowski is a slinky presence, a whirlwind on the dance floor, but aside from pillowy lips doesn’t bring much excitement to the role. Like many of the plot devices used here Cole and Sophie’s fling is a given. The movie telegraphs many of its twists and you know form the moment they meet that something will happen between the two.
What is less expected is the powerful climax. This is a no spoiler zone, but I will say “We Are Your Friends” concludes with a sequence that not only speaks to Cole’s ambitions but makes a larger statement about his generation. “Are we ever going to be better than this?” It’s a potent question and by asking it Efron speaks to a legion of cut adrift twentysomethings whose lives will be much different than the lives of their parents.
In many ways “We Are Your Friends” is a teen movie but Cole’s coming-of-age and Efron’s performance feels very grown up.
The are driving lessons in “Learning to Drive,” a new film starring Patricia Clarkson and Sir Ben Kingsley, but learning how to parallel park or merge into traffic isn’t the point of the story.
Clarkson is literary critic Wendy, a recent divorcee who hires Darwan (Kingsley) to teach her how to drive so she can travel to upstate New York to visit her daughter (Grace Gummer). Still stinging from the separation she learns to navigate Manhattan’s mean streets, as the unlikely pair form a bond, teaching one another about life and love.
“Learning to Drive” is a Prius hybrid, a well-meaning movie that isn’t as flashy as other contemporary models. It is, however, a smooth ride, fuelled by the lead performances. The lessons learned aren’t revelatory—“It doesn’t matter what is going on in your life out there,” says Darwan, “you must shut it out. When you are at the wheel of a car, that is all there is. Your life right now.”—but because the characters are so compelling the simple metaphors kick into gear.
Clarkson is a live wire, a fiery woman torn between a lust for life and the shattering realization that in the wake of the divorce her life is unalterably changed. Kingsley brings warmth, vulnerability and charm that nicely mirrors her heartbreak.
“Learning to Drive” is a touching movie that isn’t so much about the destination—frankly that part is a mild let down—but about the journey and the words. The pleasure of the film is taking the trip and listening in to these two professionals deliver them.
“The End of the Tour” breaks the cardinal rule of movie making—show me, don’t tell mew. It is, essentially, a ninety-minute interview that plays out between author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) and his profiler, Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). Based on Lipsky’s five days spent bantering with the “Infinite Jest” writer, the film shows very little but tells us much.
“To read David Foster Wallace was to feel your eyelids pulled wide open,” says Lipsky, a frustrated novelist who pays the bills writing five hundred word profiles of boy bands for Rolling Stone. A rave review of “Infinite Jest,” Wallace’s satirical 1000 page epic on the pursuit of happiness, prompts Lipsky to set aside his own literary ambitions and arrange an extended interview at the end of Wallace’s three-week promotional book tour.
Travelling to Wallace’s home in Bloomington, Illinois the New York journalist finds one of the most famous writers on the planet trying to balance fame and success with his “regular guyness.” “I don’t mind appearing in Rolling Stone,” Wallace says, “but I don’t want to appear as someone who wants to be in Rolling Stone.”
For the next five days they eat candy, smoke cigarettes, listen to Alanis Morissette, talk and argue. A woman briefly comes between them as ego, insecurity and intellectual curiosity color the relationship between the two men.
“The End of the Tour” works both as a portrait of Wallace and an observation on the interview process. In what is essentially an extended Q&A Wallace comments on the artificiality of the situation—”This is not real,” he says.—acknowledging that an interview cannot capture the essence of a person. It’s a comment on the celebrity culture of self-revelation from a reporter who digs for a scoop and a reluctant subject. Lipsky sees Wallace’s secrecy as a problem—“You’re not willing to risk giving the real you,” he says.—Wallace prefers to let his work speak for him, calling himself a shy exhibitionist. It’s a cat and mouse game between hunter and hunted as Lipsky cozies up to Wallace, then snoops through his medicine cabinet looking for clues to a long rumoured heroin habit.
It’s also a portrait of a writer who is often compared to Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Pynchon, a once in a generation talent who didn’t live long enough—he committed suicide at age 46—to fulfill his destiny. Segel plays him as an unmade bed of a man, a mercurial 34-year-old struggling with the fame that comes along with sudden success. He doesn’t quite trust Lipsky or the process or why anyone would want to interview him—“You can stay around and write a story about my dogs, it might be more interesting.”—but understands the relationship between celebrity and the press.
It’s a quiet performance, tinged with loneliness and brilliance that draws attention to itself by avoiding tortured artist clichés. Occasionally it feels like an excuse for introspective comments from the David Foster Wallace Book of Wisdom, but Segel finds the humanity in him, playing him as a man who lived inside his head even as his world expanded to include a public hungry to know more about him.
Eisenberg’ s Lipsky rides the line between reporter asking tough questions and trying to be a friend. His relationship with Wallace is split between admiration, jealousy—both professional and personal—and self interest. He resents Wallace’s genius and success and his frustration is broadcast in tersely delivered lines like, “Not everyone can be as brilliant as you.”
The two men really aren’t that different, but Wallace, having hit heights Lipsky could only dream of, understands you have to be careful what you wish for.
“The End of the Tour” is an interesting movie that, unsurprisingly, doesn’t peel back the layers of Wallace’s psyche. As good as the performances are, the script is based on the actual 1996 interviews between Lipsky and Wallace, leaving contemporary audience’s with the same vague dissatisfaction the reporter felt at his subject’s reluctance to strip himself bare.