Archive

Tag Archives: film

CUCRqwoW4AAUY_y

As a millennial, excuse me Willennial, I have been a fan of Shia Labeouf since he was on the Disney Channel series Even Stevens. Back then, Shia was all spastic, silly ball of energy in a show that was weird, crass and always funny. I wanted a friend like Louis and, because I was a child, I thought that meant I wanted a friend like Shia.

So I followed his career the whole way: from that awful Dumb and Dumber prequel to Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle, from the secret gem of a movie A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints to *shudders* the Transformers series. The movies varied in quality sure, but I felt like his proud best friend the moment he became a movie star and it hurt my heart the most to see what that kind of fame did to him…. at first.

I’ll be the first to admit: I don’t actually get Shia Labeouf. He’s still charming and irreverent in TV interviews, as though he’s still a kid just happy to be there. He seems to resent celebrity but I mean everyone hates celebrity, so it’s not much of anything to note. He has daddy issues which I can relate to, he dresses like your divorced uncle going grocery shopping which is a look I can get with and he does things that feel like purposely sarcastic commentary on life which is also right up my alley.

The whole performance art thing was easy to dismiss at first. The “I’m Not Famous Anymore” stunt was ridiculous and hilarious. When he turned up on a red carpet with the paper bag over his head, it irritated people (which felt like the point) and it seemed to be the latest in a long line of signs that Shia Labeouf was spiraling towards the bottom. Then it became one big performance art piece titled #IAmSorry at an art gallery in Los Angeles, where anyone could come in and interact with Shia in anyway they wanted to. Shia himself had the bag over his head and refused to talk or move. What was sure to be one big joke of an event, where any reporter who could nab the story could go in order to make fun of the ludicrousness of this social experiment, instead turned into an empathetic moment of connecting with a celebrity. The reviews were pretty positive but it didn’t signify much of anything other than people who mocked Shia now hoping he found a little happiness.

After this, there were other stints at performance art, including one in which Shia made a motivational video in front of a green screen reciting statements sent to him by fans, but none of it compared to Shia’s latest production: #AllMyMovies. The idea is simple enough: Shia shows up to an open movie theatre and watches every single movie he’s ever been in reverse chronological order while a camera records his reactions the entire time.

On its face it may seem like a narcissistic endeavor into self-voyeurism, but it only seems that way because it is –in a sense. All of Shia’s performance art seems to be some sort of metamodernist exploration of our self-aggrandizing, internet-fueled and celeb obsessed culture. Where “I’m Not Famous Anymore” put the onus on the people to gauge a reaction, #AllMyMovies was 100% about Shia. In a sense, it’s like watching all your home movies with strangers, in another it’s essentially taking in all you’ve accomplished with your career up to this point and assessing where you came from.

It’s the same sort of fixation we all have with ourselves–our tweets, our instagrams, our bodies, ourselves as brands–exacerbated to a fuller extent. Also, it’s an excuse to go back to the oeuvre of Labeouf: the good, the bad and Eagle Eye. #AllMyMovies has been a hit with critics and has provided the internet with the currency it loves the most: memes. But what was it really?

 “In that room it was egalitarian. Yes, I was being stared at and I’m the focal point and the pointing is happening, but the pointing is happening for me too. If we’re all pointing, then we’re on the same level. Yes it’s a film festival where you’re watching all of my movies, but a lot of this stuff—especially Even Stevens…the Even Stevens Movie was interesting, it’s all of our childhood. It’s mine and it’s yours. It wasn’t just me smiling like that. If you look at the freeze frames, everyone is smiling like wow, I remember Beans. I remember that stupid-ass song. We were all looking at our yearbook together and we’re all in the yearbook. It felt like family, we were sitting there like a high school class.”

This was one of the more insightful statements made by Shia in his Newhive interview with his collaborators Rönkkö and Turner. What he’s ultimately getting across in this and many other portions of the interview is connection. Celebrity is a bubble and being an actor forces you to have a technical outlook on filmmaking; in this moment he was an audience member, especially late into the project when the novelty of Shia in the audience wore off and it just became about the movies.

This response is probably a little disappointing to anyone looking for some sort of detached commentary on modern self-obsession and performing for audiences. But while I’m sure there’s a sliver of this in the formation of the project, isn’t all of that about secretly about connection anyways. Living in a bubble (whether imposed or self-created) is lonely  and being disconnected from people for so long causes you to recede further into yourself to the point that you’re always on defense. It’s short-changing to say that Shia got to be human for 3 days, instead he got put in a position to be communal in a way he’s never had to be. Shia confirms as much, “I just know if I can explain a feeling, I feel lighter today. I feel love today.” 

Shia found love by confronting himself head on and embracing everything that it entails. We should all be so lucky.

shiablog

Advertisements

George Miller made a movie that looks like a bump of the finest cocaine. It’s visually aggressive, it’s incredibly fast and extremely chaotic despite being a laser-focused story and production. Mad Max: Fury Road is extremely unique in the current Summer blockbuster climate: it’s fast, the story is thin yet fully formed, it allows women to be the focus and heroes in a way that feels genuine and not purely as bait to appeal to PC culture and most importantly, it’s just a fun ride. There’s nothing quite like it right now and it doesn’t seem to want to do any of the things that other summer movies/sequels/reboots want to do which is, namely, to sell toys and set up for the next 7 movies in line.

Mad Max: Fury Road brings back the titular Road Warrior, now played by Tom Hardy, into a depleted yet still technically thriving desert landscape known as the Citadel, where a ghastly beast-man kept alive by a makeshift breathing apparatus by the name of Immortan Joe, rules over the entire fortress: from the scarce supplies of water released from a sewage system at the top of his fortress based on his whims to the manufacturing of women’s breastmilk to the use of women’s bodies for the purposes of making more children to fight in his wars in the name of their God.

The movie starts with Max’s kidnapping at the hands of Immortan Joe’s soldiers where he is turned into a blood bank for the weakest yet most energetic of the soldiers, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). When a one-armed tank driver named Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leads a band of rebels tired of being used by Immortan Joe for reproduction on an escape through the Wasteland in search of a new home, she’s hunted down by every soldier and bloodthirsty, war-mongering lunatic in the Citadel. 

In the midst of their escape, Furiosa and the women are joined by Max and forced into working together in order for the both of them to escape their dire straits. I worry about whether this description functions properly to state what this movie is about since so much of the movie simply moves without feeling the need to explain itself. Truthfully, it doesn’t need to: There’s a group of dictators, warlords and sheep and there’s a group of underdogs trying to escape them is enough to sustain a movie whose primary goal is action, excitement and visual spectacle.

The dialogue isn’t scant necessarily but it is small, you learn just enough to know that Furiosa is seeking to make something right from her past and that she cares about protecting the women. You learn enough about the Citadel and Immortan Joe to know that this a man who wants an endless supply of soldiers to work under his hand, that the Citadel is full of people who know to worship him as a God and that children, and as a result women, are tools in keeping this order. You also learn what drives a character like Nux and that Max is ultimately still trying to atone for the family he lost in the original Mad Max.

Much has been by critics and cultural writers about the feminist agenda of the film–a thought that hadn’t crossed my mind until I heard a lot of commotion about complaints from meninist groups and internet trolls. I suppose the film is feminist in a broad sense. Despite the title, the real star of this film is Charlize Theron and her band of women who are running away from patriarchy essentially. The phrase “who destroyed the world” comes up a few times and it’s pretty safe to assume that the answer is men (that’s certainly the answer in real life). There’s a lot of very clear ideas about toxic masculinity: Immortan Joe’s soldier’s are deviants obsessed with sacrificing themselves in the name of their Lord, they are brutish in the way they speak  and both the violence and the vehicles are cartoonishly excessive. I mean there’s a guy whose job it is to play a garish axe guitar over a giant bass system on the top of a monster truck like vehicle while flamethrowers go off behind him; it is a winking parody of everything about masculinity.

At its core though, it is a movie about underdogs and people who just want peace and hope. You could equally use the film as a referendum on religion or with capitalism. Immortan Joe has an army of sacrificial lambs excited to die for a cause they assume is meaningful in the name of their God so that they can be welcomed into heaven. The Citadel is a society with a clear upper class and lower class that are treated terribly and children are bred to bulk up the armies that make sure the Citadel continues to have gas and water from other enemy territories. These are the foundations of most apocalyptic action films. The Have-Nots vs The Haves and the influence of religion in our wars.

That’s not to say the feminist coding of Mad Max: Fury Road is unfounded. This is still a movie with a female heroine and a band of women at the forefront of the action who either fight side-by-side with Max or utilize Max as a partner to fight for them. Max is never the leader; he’s the muscle at times and he even comes up with a plan in the movie but nobody thinks to look to him for what they should do. There’s no superhero movie trope of the woman who has to prove that she’s just as tough as a man and there’s no backstory or desire to sort of showcase the femininity of the women even though they’re extremely tough as some sort of misguided attempt at nuance. It’s feminist in the way it lets the women be human beings stuck in the same grim world as Max and surviving in the exact same way.

Speaking of superhero movie, in a Marvel run world, this movie really does feel like a bottle of cold water after days spent walking in the desert.  Watching the latest Avengers’ film is a lot to take in: it’s noisy, cluttered, all over the place, full of CGI, full of story, full of backstory and full of pounds and pounds of exposition. Everything happens and yet at the end it all feels disposable; I can’t imagine that’s completely accidental. The thing about these movies is that they’re one long commercial for the next seven movies. Nothing feels essential or valuable because nothing in these movies is essential or valuable. They’re all based on comics that have existed for years and hell, characters have died and come back so, does any of this really matter.

Mad Max, despite being the fourth movie in a series, is fresh in the sense that it has a straightforward story and it’s not particularly concerned with the how of all of this. There’s no backstory explanation and there’s no side story or extra baggage tacked on. This is a movie celebrating spectacle and insanity. There’s nothing like it right now and that’s both a positive and a sad reality.

Protests and activism is a messy affair. This is probably the biggest lesson I took out of the unrest in Ferguson and the actions spawned all over the country over the deaths of black people at the hands of police. Before, when you only read about it in school or watched documentaries on the civil rights movement, you could imagine that it was a unified call to arms by all black people in the country to fight for their rights; it’s only as you delve deeper that you uncover that things more or less unfolded with a similar messiness. Selma is a very-carefully directed, well-lit, strong film that really moves with determination. Every shot is treated with importance, and though not without its flaws, what the movie does right, it does very right.

Selma is a movie about the messiness in protest and the great weight of being looked at as a leader: whether you’re a leader of a race of people fighting for their rights or a leader of the country as a whole. Selma recounts the story of the events leading up to the march from Selma to Montgomery that culminated in President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The film, directed by Ava DuVernay, features Martin Luther King, Jr., Hosea Williams, James Bevel, Diane Nash and the SCLC’s plan to organize the march and their attempts to work with SNCC. It is a film focused on people who ascribe themselves as nothing more than that. They are humans who want to do what’s right but also are concerned with what’s in other people’s best interests.

David Oyelowo as MLK is weary. He’s a man who’s been doing marches, protests, getting arrested and called nigger for too many years and it’s taken a toll on him as a man and a toll on his family. His wife loves him but is now at a point where the constant fear of death for him and her family has worn her down; that and his own infidelities has strained their marriage and you feel that dark cloud around them throughout this movie.

This, along with the actual marching on the highway, was the most readily identifiable link between the events depicted in this movie and what has been taking place today. From Trayvon to Jordan Davis to Ferguson and so forth, people have been exhausted. They are exhausted from the marching, the screaming, the organizing, the fighting with police, the being talked down to by the media, the racist trolls on the internet and, more importantly, they’re exhausted from the constant prospect of death that lives in the recesses of their brains. To go through this throughout 2014 would take a mental toll on anyone, so the idea of doing all this in a much more hostile environment during King’s time would be punishing. In America’s need to turn its martyrs into superheroes we lose this understanding that King was a man with fear, with hopes and with frustrations.

In the same vein, Tom Wilkinson’s LBJ is boisterous and flustered with the job he has; it’s clear that, as any politician in that situation, he’s trying to do just enough for everyone in order to get through his term. He is any other president that wants to appease his constituents. King has serious requests that need to be met but Johnson has constituents to appease and an out-of-control war to deal with, that he doesn’t feel the same urgency as King. King is nuisance but Johnson is not malicious in his tactics to downplay his influence, instead he’s just insistent on being in control of every situation and sweeping things under the rug for later. It is only until he’s finally backing into a corner that he relents and gives his State of the Union address that announces the Voting Rights Act. Johnson is also a weary man with his own flaws and the supposed backlash over how he’s depicted comes off not as a corrective but as the petty grievances of a liberal think tank more interested in congratulating itself than evaluating history critically.

The articles and thinkpieces taking Selma and DuVernay for task for what is seen as an undermining of LBJ’s contribution to the fight for voting rights is littered with the typical whitewash of historical events as well as a need to make LBJ more admirable and heroic as opposed to what he actually was, which is a politician. The critiques lobbed at the movie have consisted of anger at the idea that LBJ was not 100% onboard with getting the Voting Rights Act done, upset over the idea that LBJ allowed the FBI to try and “break up the home” of MLK and Coretta and they’ve even gone so far as to assert that march from Selma to Montgomery was LBJ’s idea–as a way to put enough attention onto the issue in order to get the law passed.

The last assertion is easily the most offensive. Ignore the work of Diane Nash, James Bevel, SCLC and SNCC, it was all about LBJ and his quest to fight for human rights in order to make the world more of a wondrous melting pot. Aside from this being untrue, it’s implausible to perceive that a president would put it on MLK to rabble rouse and create a climate for him to pass more civil rights legislation. This involves a loss of control and a president cannot relent control to a leader and situation that could lead to any numerous things happening because it would be irresponsible.

There is plenty in the movie that may have been stretched. The nature of LBJ and J. Edgar Hoover’s relationship isn’t completely known, neither are the direct conversations between King and Johnson, but it’s a movie and movies tell a story that captures an essence of the time it’s telling. The idea that this movie of all movies is under heavy scrutiny is comical when we’re less than a month removed from a film about white ancient Egyptians and a couple years removed from a film about Abraham Lincoln that was sweeping, big and romanticized; yada yada-ing over the more uncomfortable aspects of his beliefs on Black Americans.

The biggest takeaway from all of this for me is that none of these complaints are really about keeping Selma honest, it’s about thinning the Oscar herd and also about who gets to tell history and how they tell it. Selma seemed to come out of nowhere to the Oscar conversation; full of contentiousness and elitist attitudes over what movies get to join the conversation and what movies don’t. Movies that are late to the party always cause problems because they come with intense momentum in a country focused on the new conversation and not what happened months ago. If a movie like Selma can be undermined it will be and, as you can see, it could be.

You can’t help but notice the other side of this coin too: in this backlash there is a thick sense of “what-about-me-ness” that fog up whatever valid complaints one could have about the film. LBJ seems to be the stand-ins for white liberals to air their grievances of “not all white people” and hoist him in an effort to get some sort of credit for their support of the movement. One wonders if DuVernay were a white male instead of a black woman, and the film had its requisite white interloper, would the film have gone down easier. Maybe that’s not it either; maybe the issue really does come down to how we view president’s that have been redeemed by history. Perhaps we only want to see Johnson and King as the God-like geniuses that time has turned them into, and in this feeling, perhaps we do want to give our leaders more credit then they need. As much as I like him, I shudder at the thought that 50 years from now when the story of Ferguson is being told, Obama will be given credit he didn’t deserve.

Men become Gods every day due to how we process history: without gray areas and without blemishes. History has always belonged to the winners because winners are the only ones we can respond to. Selma took that idea away from us, perhaps that was the real crime.

Short of studying Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice novel like a graduate student, you’re probably not going to be able to take it all in one viewing. That’s part of its charm though; it’s dense, thick, compressed and rarely lets up for air. Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation breathes a life and a smokey hangout vibe to an overwhelming text; this isn’t a movie that is committed to being coherent or plot focused or even sensical and that choice along with many other choices made by the actors in the film create a world that is such a vibrant and thrilling place.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Larry “Doc” Sportello, a private detective living in a California beach community: getting high, watching TV and dining on the finest pizzas. A visit from an old lover, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), gets Doc on a whirlwind of a case involving lowlifes, high authorities and everything in between, while also rekindling old feelings inside himself. Shasta’s current beau, rich real-estate tycoon Mickey Wolfmann, has a wife who may be plotting to commit him to a mental hospital. When Mickey and Shasta both disappear, Doc navigates through a haze of smoke and a seedy underworld to solve the case. Summing the movie up this way doesn’t begin to say anything about what this film is or what it’s even about because it’s about everything and nothing. Doc meanders and mumbles and smokes his way through ridiculous scenarios and fever dream-like machinations that are treated with the utmost gravitas and poise. Josh Brolin plays a surly, macho straight cop who loves frozen chocolate bananas and kicking Doc’s ass. Joanna Newsom plays a wafting, fairy-like hippie comrade who narrates the film like she just came over to eat your leftovers and tell you about her crazy night. Owen Wilson is so many things to this movie that it isn’t even right for me to talk about his character and Reese Witherspoon is like a grown up Tracy Flick who went back in time and became a DA with an affinity for getting her own buzz on when she’s not on the clock. 

What I can say for sure about the experience of watching this film is that it is a freewheeling story that drifts, wavers, blends and dissipates the way that the 60s did when the era of free love began to come to an end and the Charles Manson massacre sort of changed everything for certain kind of people in a specific generation. It is a film about conspiracies and the idea that everyone is in cahoots with one another and that you never really get to the bottom of anything and solve things, you just do your best to get your own piece of mind. It is also a film about the “one that got away” and how feelings sometimes never go away, they just hang around and sprout up at any given moment. This is a movie that is a complete mess; a sporadic, slapstick circus that you will likely not get a grip on the first time around. Instead the best thing to do is to let the movie wash over you and enjoy hanging out with its goofballs and miscreants: they’re always looking for a good time.

The best scene for me is the Ouija board scene: Doc and Shasta have kicked their weed habit and are desperate for any distraction. They end up playing with a Ouija board which leads them to a phone number. When they call the number they get an address and, In an extended one shot, Shasta and Doc are running in the rain only to discover that the address leads to an empty lot. It doesn’t matter though, they find cover and hold each in the doorway of the building next door; forgetting all about the stress of kicking their drug habit and the slow disintegration of their relationship.

This moment is the essence of the whole film: a pervading love that never really goes away even though the good times have past and change is all around. The film is packed with gags and jokes and cutting moments of twisted sentimentality that it all feels like an incoherent mess. It is an incoherent mess though, but that’s how things (relationships, eras, mysteries) really do tend to end; it’s only when the history is being written do we smoothen everything out and turn it into a story deemed worthy of telling.

This is the first Anderson film that I felt never really belonged to him; this feels like Pynchon through and through, which makes for a different feeling than most PTA films leave you with. At the same time, it seems like it took Pynchon to get PTA out of this new trajectory for his career that involved extremely serious yet puzzling exposes on subjects like capitalism and religion. Inherent Vice was a reminder that PTA is still fun but also still kind of a kook; a kook that made a film that doesn’t try to make sense of the ridiculousness of everything happening in it, we’d be wise to do the same.

interstellar_movie_still_2

I wrote a smaller thing about this movie earlier this week, you can read it here.

The following is a more in depth journey into the majesty and the frustrations with interstellar– a very gorgeous and immersive action film that does not realize that it is also a silly space opera about the power of love. I wouldn’t read it until after you’ve seen the film.

IMG_16-Nov.-07-01.18

Christopher Nolan has perfected a specific time of movie viewing experience that is simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating. His movies are expert nonsense with awe-inspiring images and—much to the chagrin of everyone watching—the self-indulgence on display makes it hard for you to ignore the flaws.

Interstellar is Nolan’s latest grand statement. A space opera tailored for the 21st century that is, at one moment, breathtaking, mesmerizing and exciting and then at the next moment is overwrought and bloated. It’s an erratic and glorious slog of a movie that feels even longer than it’s 168 minutes.

Interstellar follows the story of Cooper (Matthew McConaughey): a former pilot and engineer who is now a farmer due to widespread hunger caused by a future blight. He lives with his father-in-law (John Lithgow), teenage son Tom, and 10-year-old daughter Murphy (named after Murphy’s Law because of course). Cooper is a fine farmer but he really wants to get back to being the explorer he once was. While his son is more enamored with the farmer aspect of his life, it’s the daughter who carries the adventurous spirit of her father. She believes a ghost hiding in a bookcase is communicating with her but when Cooper discovers it, he interprets this instead as gravity. The gravity is sending the two a set of coordinates in binary, which takes them to a hidden NASA base.

There, the two meet with Cooper’s old mentor, Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), also a scientist at the facility. They explain that gravitational anomalies (i.e. ghosts) have occurred in recent years, the largest manifesting as a wormhole near Saturn. Based on a previous mission through the wormhole that narrows down three possible new home planets, Brand has come up with two plans: one where the NASA facility itself lifts off and travels to the new planet with many people in tow, or the other where frozen fertilized eggs are used by a second mission to start a new colony.

Cooper, despite the wishes of her daughter, reluctantly joins the second mission after being recruited. There’s no doubt that he feels tremendous guilt going on this trip but as his father says to him, “this world never was good enough for you.” Thus, Cooper takes the mission to attempt to save humanity. He bids his son farewell leaving him his farming truck and gives his daughter one of a matched set of watches, keeping the other for himself and, unwisely, promising that he will come back.

Cooper, along with Amelia, and two other scientists: Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley), and a sophisticated robot assistant TARS (Bill Irwin). Journey into space to successfully to dock with an orbiting space station and begin the two-year trip to Jupiter and the wormhole.

interstellar.black_.hole_

The story is as seemingly straightforward as possible. A dad, who is also a space cowboy, tries to save the planet; this is a Chris Nolan film however, and plot is nothing more than a catalyst to get to what really matters: the awesomeness of space. Nolan seems as fascinated with space as any dough-eyed child who spent their days watching Cosmos. The movie’s approximation of space (on an IMAX screen) is spectacular. Just as Gravity and 2001: A Space Odyssey before it, Interstellar captures the wonder, beauty, seemingly endless vastness and pure fucking terror of space. There are times when the actors seem like distractions to what is really a love letter to space and the infinite possibilities inherent.

That’s ultimately the frustration with the movie. It wants to tell this big melodrama about love’s ability to transcend all things through the love of a father and his daughter (way to give the son the shaft guys), but too often it feels like the actors are chess pieces in a game where the player is more interested in how amazing the board is. They move because they have to and too often—when the action does get into full gear—everything happening on screen turns into a frenetic jumbled mess where 1,000 things are happening at once.

Despite this, this movie would still be a lot more fun if it didn’t get trapped under the weight of Nolan’s self-serious and self-important need to make this some sort of definite statement on mankind’s instinctual sense of survival and the can-do American spirit of exploration. McConaughey is the proto-typical masculine American cowboy now asked to be Astronaut. He’s great in this because he does what’s asked of him: he’s pure charisma, he’s built as the kind of handsome hero that a space folklore would need and he’s serviceable as a dad who just wants his kids back. Yet, there’s no room for him to be anything more than a driver for this vehicle and there’s even less asked of from the other great actors in this movie. Nolan packs this film with an 80’s Lakers roster of top-notch talent and then asks them all to be role players to service his grand doctrine on love and humanity (Jessica Chastain might be strongest after McConaughey). For someone who’s on his 5th major studio film (and is more or less guaranteed to inexplicably fill a movie theater), you’d think he’d learn the number one secret of these kinds of movies: they’re supposed to be fun.

Nolan takes a lot out of Kubrick’s own vision of space and the infinite, except Kubrick is cold, calculating and distant whereas Nolan is the same way but wants to seem like he’s warm and sentimental. There are many cues that are aimed to tug at the heartstrings and move you close to tears, but it always seems beside the point—as though it’s there because it needs to be. That’s not to say it doesn’t work at all. This movie was an amazing experience. Nolan has a clear vision and fascination with science and astronomy. Each planet that the explorers visit in the film is mesmerizing: one that’s one big tidal wave, another that is covered in ice. The film’s vision of a blackhole and infinity is original and sublime, even if the science behind it may not be completely sound. You end up leaving this movie wondering what it would be like if Nolan went full Kubrick and didn’t even bother tacking on an action movie to what is essentially a love letter to astronomy, science and discovery.

For all the flack Nolan gets for the self-indulgence in display in his movies, he is good at what he does. He thinks huge and goes for more; his movies are beautiful, lush and every detail is thought over. He’s in love with loud—so much so that in the brief moment in the film where everything goes quiet it’s a jolt to your system—but he has Hans Zimmer there to soundtrack an epic feat of moviemaking like only he can. While the lesson of “love conquers and transcends all” doesn’t completely land, what does is the idea of dreaming big and reaching for the stars.

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.

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: