Archive

Monthly Archives: July 2014

BOYHOOD

I wrote a review of Boyhood for Obsessed Magazine. Here’s an extended version of it:

“What do you remember most about childhood” was what was written on a notecard handed to the people attending the screening for Richard Linklater’s opus Boyhood. Thinking about the question caused some conflict within me for the inherent challenging nature of such a vague question. There is a lot of difficulty in zeroing in on the one thing out of your childhood that resonates the most. Reflecting on this question I could only revisit my past in spurts and interludes of brief standout moments.

Linklater’s Boyhood does the same. It’s sweeping and sporadic, jumping from year to year sometimes in a blur. Boyhood tells the story of the evolution of Mason, Jr (Ellar Coltrane) over a 12 year period, starting from age 6 and going on until he hits 18. The film was shot over a 12 year period starting in 2002 for a few weeks out of every year.

Mason’s parents are divorced. His mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette), is his and his sister Samantha’s (Lorelei Linklater) primary caretaker. His dad Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke), visits inconsistently whilst trying to hold on to dreams of being a musician and the cool dad.

We watch Mason move from house to house for reasons ranging from money, to opportunities for his mom to advanced to second marriages to abusive drunks. over the course of a little under 3 hours you’re watching people, children especially, grow older before your eyes and you start to care about them as your own. You bring your own childhood experiences to the film and, despite personal differences or experiences, this is a universal story.

The film moves like childhood moves: quickly and sometimes hastily. If it wasn’t for the fact that kids change so dramatically in those developmental years, you’d never notice that time had gone by. Linklater knew this and made a film that tailored to how these people age, what life does to you in this time period and how you change. As a technical showcase of filmmaking, Boyhood is outstanding. Every shot feels purposeful and focused. The film glides from point A to point Z without tripping or getting too caught in its own importance. Unlike say Before Sunrise or Slacker, this is not a movie meant to display its own intelligence and outlook on life in a direct manner. It’s a movie in which life speaks for itself.

As a story, Boyhood is heartbreaking and charming. Patricia Arquette is given so much to deal with and it’s hard to watch what she goes through and not feel for her. She is given the role most mothers are given: the most thankless one. Watching her go through school and ultimately become a professor should be a triumph but it never feels that way, instead it always feels like there’s more she has to do. Ethan Hawke nails a character that Ethan Hawke knows how to nail; the guy trying to hold on to being cool. Throughout the film, he disappoints his children and comes up short all in the name of chasing a dream. It’s almost like he uses being hip as an excuse for being lackluster, like if he can convince these two kids that he’s awesome they might forget that he’s not very existent in their lives. And yet, when he does finally get a thankless job selling insurance, remarries and trades in his old school Mustang for a minivan, you feel bad for him. You know that he gave up even though it’s never said or discussed. That’s part of his finally joining adulthood: giving up.

The real gut punch lies with the kids though. Watching both Mason and his sister Samantha get older before our eyes and battle the trials of adolescence is endearing. They’re angst ridden and obtuse but you get it and you want the world to give them a moment to breathe. With Mason specifically, you want him to be allowed to fly free like the bird he wants to be, but that’s not the world. You think back to your own adolescence and how oppressive in nature the adults are in your lives. Preordaining a path for you, taking out frustrations on you and telling you who to be as a person. This is Linklater’s deal. From the many pseudo-intellectuals of Slacker to Jason “Pink” Floyd in Dazed And Confused, He’s always told the story of kids who don’t get the world, who don’t fit in and who just want to find some kind of real answer.

Near the end, Mason’s mother breaks down as he prepares to leave for college, and in her fit of tears she says, “I just thought there’d be more”. It’s the most heartbreaking and weighty line in the film and it’s never answered. There’s no moment of consoling or reassurance, it’s just there for you to take in. That’s the bittersweetness of this film. There are no answers to your questions. You feel pain, you feel pleasure and you wonder whether any of it meant anything at all. You’re always chasing a fulfillment that never comes.

Things just happen to these characters and there is no time for pause or reflection, life always goes on. To paraphrase one character near the end, “you don’t really seize the moment, the moment seizes you”. Boyhood is about the moments the seize you and mold you into who you become. It’s messy, beautiful and chaotic and in the end I just wanted to relive it one more time, just like childhood.

Advertisements

video-undefined-1C88A9B800000578-163_636x358

At some point, the summer movie season became exhausting. Everything about it feels relentless, repetitive and terribly loud. These days the summer movie season no longer exists in what we call summer; it’s seeped its way into all the other seasons with its sequels, prequels, origin stories, remakes, reboots, reboots of sequels and so on. Sometime around the mid-2000s, nerd culture became mainstream and anything related to a comic book, action figure, video game or board game started getting made. Now this is always happening, but what’s different now is that film studios seem to be exclusively in the business of pumping out quantity in order to keep up with a changing media landscape, and the easiest way to produce quantity is to make property that’s already available. Remember that stretch armstrong you love so much? It’s gonna be a movie starring Jon Hamm. That game Jenga? That’ll be out in theaters in 2019, and I know you love Cats! The Musical, well get ready to love it with Anne Hatheway in 2018.

I write this after just getting home from Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, the sequel to the prequel Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes released in 2011. It was fine, I guess (be on the lookout for a review on Friday), but like all the other movies like this, it was just draining. The plots don’t change very much between these movies: there’s a hero who’s battling an inner turmoil, there’s always an origin tale, there’s always long-winded speechifying, there’s always a bad guy who planned to get caught and there’s always a city being completely destroyed.

The worst offense though is that none of these movies ever really end: they’re placeholders for other movies coming soon. These movies are rarely standalone, they end with some sort of tease for the next one and they probably have something at the end of the credits just for the fanboy enthusiasts who will these projects to life. Hollywood doesn’t seem particularly interested in telling stories anymore, they just want to make a product. An easily manufactured product with commercial viability. More and more, as time passes, movies that told new stories were given a chance. Studios would finance smaller fare tailored for a specific crowd. Now those smaller movies are most likely being played on VOD and the majority of romantic or slapstick comedies and dramas are being pushed to the fringes because America needs their movies to play well in China.

Smaller studios like A24 are doing their best by throwing money at more experimental filmmakers and filmmakers with a distinct voice to make their film and release it to theaters. Most recently, they distributed films like Obvious Child, The Rover and my favorite film of the year so far Under The Skin. But a few studios can only do so much. Marvel studios alone has shown no interest in slowing down or even making interesting movies. They’re making product at a high frequency for both movies and television. Michael Bay is having bags of money thrown at him to remake all your favorite 80s products louder and bigger. Go on any film geek site and you’ll see lists upon lists of soon to come films; sometimes just the listing of a movie set to come out in 2017 is more exciting than the actual movie. Everything now is about what’s next, who’ll make it and who’ll be in it. It’s pure fan wish fulfillment, the movie is almost beside the point.

It’s an exhausting task to keep up with all of these movies and an even more frustrating one to sit through them. For every one that tries to have a voice and a real style, there are a million that use the Chris Nolan darkness filter. Speaking of which, at some point around Batman Begins, it was decided that all of these movies have to be so serious and so gritty and drab and full of so much faux-intellectualism. Every movie is a statement on something political or a catastrophic event; none of these movies want to be fun. This is silly. We already have to sit through a movie based on a rare 1980s anime that 5 people were into when it came out, at the very least make a fun movie. And if you’re going to go the serious route, get a real filmmaker and not a gun for hire. There are nights when I wish that Ang Lee’s Hulk had worked, because then maybe you’d have artsier directors using these properties to make something a little more fascinating. Currently, these movies just feel tailored for a short attention span; meant for nothing more than a reaction of “that’s neat. Can’t wait for the next one.”

%d bloggers like this: