"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

John Hawkes - Man of Steel

Not so much a movie review, but an Actor review.   (Updated at end of post)
(23 JUL 2010 - New update about sound problems at end of post)

Part I - Setting the stage...

Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell.
Sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly (seventeen, in the movie) is trying to support two younger siblings, and a mother who is no longer quite all there, in the Missouri Ozarks.

The local deputy-sheriff drives up and informs her that her father, Jessup (out on bail for running a crystal meth lab), hasn't shown up for his court date and, Oh by the way, had signed over everything for his bond.

She has maybe a week to find him and haul his ass back, or find proof that he's dead, before losing the property and becoming homeless.

Part II - Meet Uncle Teardrop...

Into the situation enters Jessup's brother, Haslam (Teardrop - so called because of three blue teardrops, made with prison ink, below his left eye; each one denoting some grisly prison deed that needed doing, was done, and probably best not inquired about).

He's the first person she goes to in her quest, only to be advised that such poking around is, "a good way to get et by hogs", and that she should know better than that. (Her best friend, Gail, already fearing the worst, supposes "Either he stole, or he told; that's what they'll kill you for here.")

Teardrop has a reputation that precedes him when some local toughs (and they truly are tough) look out of a garage, see his truck approaching, and react "Oh, Sh*t!" and "Let me get something from the car; I don't want to be standing here naked if that motherf**ker's comin' in."

After he has pulled her out of a very tight situation, Ree confesses to him, "You've always scared me, Uncle Teardrop." To which he softly replies, "That's because you're smart".

Part III - And to play him...

John Hawkes as Teardrop - Photo from Winter's Bone website.

John Hawkes has appeared in an amazing number of movies I've seen, some of which I have, including From Dusk till Dawn  and The Perfect Storm.

He may be best known, at least to Deadwood fans, as Seth Bullock's partner Sol Star ("the hardware jew", as he was sometimes referred to there) whose best line may have been ONE word when Trixie (the whore he's been shacking up with) ends an argument with, "Well, do you want to get f**ked or not?".  To which he replies, "PLEASE!"

At first glance, he may seem a strange choice as he is not in the least imposing physically (sorry, Mr. Hawkes, but that's the way I see it), but there is steel there.

In his character, all he has to do is stand there, quietly looking at you with sad eyes, and the vibe you get (just rolling from him) is, "Son, you do not want to mess with me."

This may be one of the most under-rated actors in the business, because he doesn't work to steal scenes from other actors, but to get the job done. In other words, a professional.

As for the movie itself, it just may be the best of the year, so far. I personally think Hawkes deserves an Academy Award nomination but, since his work is so understated, I wont hold my breath.

As it is an independent film, with very little real support, some of you may not get a chance to see it until a DVD is eventually released, unless there is a local art house theater near you (I am so blessed with one within walking distance of where I live :-).

If you can find a showing within your reach, I promise you it is worth the effort. My only complaint is that the sound quality is not very good, so you really have to pay attention. With my less-than-perfect hearing, I recently devoured the book to better understand some of it (the movie is quite faithful to the book). Here's hoping the eventual DVD has subtitles or close-captioning; I confess to sometimes needing them.

UPDATE - 18 JUL 2010 - The movie has wider distribution than I thought. Check out the official website (linked under the photo). They list theaters where it is currently playing, or about to.

UPDATE - 23 JUL 2010 - This post was (and still is) primarily about John Hawkes, but at the end of the original post I had noted sound problems making much of the dialog inaudible.

After a few rounds here, and in comments on http://maridethsisco.com (blog of Marideth Sisco, music consultant and singer in the film) and on http://moonmooring.wordpress.com/ (blog of Sarah, who oversees Marideth's blog), I got this reply on Marideth's blog...

About the sound problem, I’m advised by the director that similar problems have occurred when the theater playing the film fails to notice the attached tag that says the movie is to be played at Dolby sound level 7.5 — Most films being shown these days are so full of explosions and very loud special effects that if played at 7.5 it would blow their speakers, so they play the audio set at Dolby 5. At that level the WB sound is very muddy.

I emailed this info to the customer service departments of the Landmark theater chain (which runs the theater I went to) and Roadshow Roadside Attractions (distributor of Winter's Bone).

The latter replied, thanking me for the heads up, and promised to get with the theater to see what was going on.

Apparently, they did. Tonight's showing was much better as far as audio goes; while I still had to strain in a few places to catch some of the dialog, it was infinitely better than before. The remaining part of my problems can probably be attributed to hearing I have already described as a bit "less than perfect". Because of that last caveat, I still hope for captioning on the DVD.

But, in the meantime, there is at least one theater in this area that is now playing it the way it was meant to. So, I feel I have managed to accomplish something worthwhile. :-)


Sarah said...

Thanks for the positive comments about Winter's Bone. In spite of its' small budget it is making quite a splash in theatres everywhere and to sell out crowds still.

Via Moonmooring, on behave of Marideth Sisco who is the singer and musical consultant and a native of the area where Winter's Bone was filmed. maridethsisco.com

Paul_In_Houston said...

Thank you, Sarah.

I have one concern about "Winter's Bone", and as you seem to have contact with some of those involved, maybe you can pass it along.

Because of my "less-than-perfect" hearing, I'm hoping for closed captioning or subtitles on the eventual DVD.

If those are on the "to-do" list, my concern is past experience with some truly awful captioning on some releases that are sometimes not even close to what was actually said. I hope to God that whoever does this one has access to the script to get it right.

As Daniel Woodrell's prose is an integral part of the story, I suggest that he be in attendance, perhaps with a 2x4.

Of, course, with lead times involved, I suspect that the DVD preparations may have already been made and I'll just have to hope for the best. Regardless, I'll snap it up the first time I come across it.

Paul_In_Houston said...

I also placed the comment above on Sarah's blog ( http://moonmooring.wordpress.com )

She replied there, and graciously gave me permission to copy that rely here...

Sarah says:
July 18, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Paul, I’m not sure of the status of the DVD or closed captioning (Winter’s Bone). What I do know is this, the speaking style of the particular people portrayed in the movie, the vernacular, hesitation, low volume, the blunt to the point and short phrases are quite specific and correct. This does make it difficult to watch/hear. I found myself almost straining to make out some of it, but it portrays the reality of this small segment of the populations’ speach patterns. I hope you bear through the movie a second time and are able to pick up some of the subleties of the movie and the words. It is profound in in its simplicity. Something the general movie goer (I believe) is unused to (too often simplicity surrounded by garrishness and noise fill the screen and our minds with faux greatness).

Thanx for your reply and interest in the movie. I hope you have visited Marideths blog as well and posted there. If not, I will convey your words toward her.


Paul_In_Houston said...

Sarah's reply, about the speaking style of the people there causes me to reconsider my "not very good" remark (about the sound quality) in my post.

I don't recall having any trouble hearing the music and singing, but I did have to strain to catch some of what was said.

I'm getting wishy-washy on this one.

Paul_In_Houston said...

"I'm getting wishy-washy on this one."

Well, no more.

I've just seen it again, tonight, and the sound quality is definitely poor as far as the dialog is concerned.

There were far too many instances where I understood what was said, only because I had read the book and knew what it had to be.

Other people in the audience had problems with that as well.

So, I'm definitely hoping for close-captioning or subtitle capability for the DVD.


Sarah Denton said...

Good to have some closure on this one... good closure at that! Keep those movie reviews coming!

I think I have a friend and a cousin or something down south near Houston... might be a visit working its' way to the surface.


Paul_In_Houston said...

I'm cool with the idea of a visit. Be warned; I may be a bit boring in real life. :-)

Keep those movie reviews coming!

Well, I need practice at that. I truly love movies, but that doesn't guarantee doing a good job at a review.

I really loved "Avatar", but had to practically give up in the middle of that post because I really hadn't decided where I was going to go with it; managing to sidetrack myself into defending director James Cameron (who's perfectly capable of defending himself) because I saw the knives coming out for him the same way I did for almost a YEAR before the release of "Titanic".

See! Right there, I went on a detour; couldn't help myself.

It's also not easy to talk about what impresses you (or not) about a movie without managing to give away too much.

I like to think I did a decent job with this post, probably because it was more focused on John Hawkes than on the movie.

I'm sure I'll do more along this line. In fact, I'm trying to conjure up something on subtitles and dubbing, to go up soon, as there are also a LOT of foreign movies that I love. There are a quite a few subtleties involved in doing them right; it ain't as easy as just getting a translator and starting to type.

I suspect that those kind of reviews (focusing on the mechanics) may come more naturally to me.

We'll see.

And, at least it's a break from political ranting. :-)

Sarah said...

Hey paul, thought I'd stop by and say hello. We are still getting an occasional hit from this post you have here. Thanks again for the great work you do!

Hope you are well,

Paul_In_Houston said...

Thanks, for your latest comment.

I'm glad somebody likes it; I feel pretty good about it myself.

I bought the DVD the day it came out (Oct 26) and love it. As it is both Close-Captioned and subtitled, it addresses my hearing problems. On top of that, the audio is much better than in many theaters (not even counting that you can always just turn it up :-). The captioning and subtitling are spot on and I've realized that some things I thought I heard weren't really there but almost certainly my memory filling in with what I had read in the novel (as dialog in a movie is usually trimmed to keep things moving).

It's probably only a month or so before Academy Awards nominations are made, and I hope to God that "Winter's Bone" is not overlooked. Especially John Hawkes (as that was the guy I was writing about in the first place), but Jennifer Lawrence is simply amazing as well.

Again, Thanks.

Sarah said...

Well, thank you for reposting it here Paul!

There sure has been a LOT of scuttlebutt about Winter’s Bone and Oscars. We’ll know shortly. I heard through the grapevine some people already have their Oscar outfit! If I get to attend I’ll probably just wear some old black dress.

See you there?


Paul_In_Houston said...

See you there?


Go to California?!!!

Even if I could afford it...
Been there, Done that.

Sarah said...

Seems I just crossed your path on Steve's Armchair Traveler blog! So I thought to stop by and say hello AGAIN.


Paul_In_Houston said...

Hi Sarah, and Thank You.

I was disappointed to not see Oscar wins for the movie, Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes.

But, I had written earlier that Hawkes' work was so understated that I really didn't expect him to be even nominated.

I'm truly happy to have been wrong about that.


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