Alexis Alexanian

Alexis Alexanian

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The Hottest State Review


Grim
The film version of Ethan Hawke's The Hottest State, which he adapted from his own novel of the same name, represents a strange form of time-travel. In it, the young actor Mark Webber embodies the kind of character -- self-conscious, scruffy, chatty, and able to make self-deprecation seem downright pretentious -- that Hawke himself grew out of playing about 10 years ago. Webber even sounds a bit like Hawke in his voiceover narration; it's like a low-tech version of motion capture, allowing Hawke to virtually direct his ten-years-younger self.

Perhaps not coincidentally, a decade back is about when the novel version of The Hottest State came out. Webber/Hawke's William is an aspiring actor, apparently, though if this aspect of the character is autobiographical, Hawke left out any details that explain how exactly he got through any auditions without clever asides or other low-key hipster gestures. William is the type of guy who talks about acting almost exclusively in terms of personal metaphors about pretending and deception, despite never appearing to act like anyone but his own insecure, talkative self. While I don't doubt that some young actors behave this way, I have a little more trouble believing they'd somehow get flown down to Mexico to star in an Alfonso Cuarón movie (the name of the fictional film's director is never mentioned, but it's briefly visible on a clapboard, just long enough to register vague disbelief, even if it is just an autobiographical in-joke -- the real-life Hawke appeared in Cuarón's version of Great Expectations).

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Tape Review


Terrible
While the film world awaits what sounds like a daring experiment from director Richard Linklater -- the animated Waking Life, coming in October -- the filmmaker attempts to hold us over with Tape, a failure of a low-budget project if ever there was one. The movie is shot on video and confined to a single motel room, for the entirety of its real-time, 84-minute length. With such restrictive parameters self-imposed on a feature, success really must lie in creative direction, acting power, and a solid screenplay. All three are non-existent here.

Tape is based on a play by Stephen Belber, and the playwright contributes the clunky script, full of obvious dialogue and silly posturing. With one strike already against them, the experienced, name cast (Hawke, Leonard, and Thurman) then take the problem a step further, apparently not realizing that performances need to be taken down a notch on video, as the medium tends to overexpose every movement and moment. (While Thurman's performance is good, the trio need to watch Brad Anderson's Session 9 for a good example of subtle acting on video.)

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Final Review


Excellent
Bill (Denis Leary) wakes up in an institution. He is told by his doctor, Ann (Hope Davis), that he is only there for observation. He can leave whenever he makes the decision to accept reality. He is gripped by delusional fantasies that he was frozen by some government agency and is awaiting a "final" lethal injection. He doesn't know what his crime was, but can't shake the notion that he won't live much longer.

As one session with Ann melds with the next, Bill begins to understand that his amnesia is interfering with the possibility of release. Still, this realization adds stress to his already warped mind, causing images between the past and present to collide. Watching him struggle through varying streams of previous faults, responsible Ann becomes compelled to bend rules in exchange for a quicker recovery.

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Pieces of April Review


Weak
Reviewing Pieces of April brings up a metaphysical question: What do you say about a movie that's not really there? April has several moments of note, quiet, sad bits of truth that feel like they've just come in out of the rain. Pieces, in other words. But writer/director Peter Hedges doesn't give them any larger purpose beyond themselves, and, as a result, his film is a flock of good intentions without somewhere to land.

It's Thanksgiving Day and April Burns (Katie Holmes) has invited her estranged family in from suburban Pennsylvania to her tiny Manhattan apartment for holiday dinner. April shares the flat with her boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke) a generous partner with sloppy taste in friends. Her parents Jim and Joy (Oliver Platt and Patricia Clarkson) and siblings Beth and Timmy (Alison Pill and John Gallagher Jr.) are less than thrilled about the idea, having given up on April and her new piercing/tattoo/boyfriend lifestyle a long time ago. But Joy is in the advanced stages of a terminal illness. Without saying it too loudly, the family knows that if Mom and April don't at least try to reconcile, later may be too late. Everyone piles into a station wagon and off they go.

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Tadpole Review


Excellent
When you're young, it seems all you want is to be older - whether it's finally to be allowed to stay up late, to go out to a bar, or just to be taken seriously. In Oscar's case, it's just to be desirable.

All of Oscar Grubman's (Aaron Stanford) prep school friends - including best friend Charlie (Robert Iler of Sopranos fame) - tell him that he's a 40-year-old trapped in a 15-year-old's body. Instead of feeding on pop culture and pop music, Oscar spends his time quoting Voltaire and listening to opera. Think of him as a Max Fisher minus the bullshit. He strives to be cultured and sophisticated well beyond his years, and girls his age just don't cut the gouda.

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Women in Film Review


Terrible
Phew! I looked at the title of Women in Film and, figuring this would be some snoozy documentary about Joan Crawford, et al., I almost tossed it into the transom pile of TV compilations and PBS documentaries that we never end up reviewing.

Would that I had. Women in Film is an actual film, a real movie-movie based on Bruce Wagner's novel I'm Losing You. The film follows the verbal memoirs of three women involved with the film trade -- a producer (Beverly D'Angelo), a casting director (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), and a masseuse (Portia de Rossi), talking to the camera and never with another character in the room. The movie flips around among the three, with no rhyme or reason for the switches, and no story having anything to do with the others.

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Chelsea Walls Review


OK
New York living is all about location. And where you live is often a sign of your lifestyle. If you live in Brooklyn, it is assumed you are more artistically inclined then, say, someone living in Queens (though this borough is making a comeback with its cheap rent). But the most notorious creative residence in all of New York has been the Chelsea Hotel, as far back as anyone can remember. Boasting such notable alumni as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Bob Dylan, there is still a laidback, comfortably scrappy atmosphere about the place when you walk by.

Ethan Hawke (Training Day) courageously attempts to capture the essence of what makes this landmark so addictive in his directorial debut, Chelsea Walls. A collage of character plotlines that only barely intersect, Chelsea is a unique and respectable experiment in its focus on an inanimate object as its central character. Backed by a score that appropriately feels as if it were written while observing the production, Hawke creates an environment easily accessible to both New Yorkers and the non-initiated.

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