Monthly Archives: July 2014

Boyhood — 9/10

BOYHOOD (2014, Richard Linklater)

Towards the end of DAZED & CONFUSED, some high school seniors are lying on the grass of a football field looking up at the stars at night, and they talk about how despite the awful conditions of the school, the authority figures and the ultimate meaninglessness, it’s about you want to look back and be able to say “you did the best you could while you were stuck in this place… had as much fun as you could while you were stuck in this place.” It’s the kind of existentialist call-to-arms that comes natural to 17- and 18-year-olds.

The Linklater that wrote those lines knew himself quite well those 20 years ago, and he knew himself even better 12 years ago, when he began work on this sensational achievement. What it leads to is another 18-year-old boy thinking similar things, having similar philosophical crises, but the work around him has a special kind of power — because it isn’t just a snapshot of one night at the end of school: it’s hundreds of snapshots over more than a decade; a living photo album; a talking historical slideshow; a moving diary. For a film whose chief artistic message is the unremitting passage of time, the inevitability of aging, and the impermanence of youth, the form itself is the thing that counters its very argument. The images and moments have been captured and they will live on. And it breathes like a living thing, more tactile than any memory of a forgotten childhood.

It makes sense, of course, that Mason aspires to be a photographer — he has an eye, he sees things differently, and he wants to capture images so they don’t disappear. The first of many indelible shots Linklater shoots is that of Mason’s friend waving goodbye as Mason moves to the next of his many homes. The kid is on a bike, Mason is in a car, and some foliage blocks their view of each other as the vehicles just whiz the boys away from each other. That inability to really say goodbye has quite an impact on young Mason, and he will continue to grapple with the things that happen when you move on.

It also makes sense that Mason’s father is an artist — he comes off initially as that cheesy Guitar Guy you meet first at college parties and then later on when he becomes a more depressing adult, but the more you get to know this prototypical cool-dad, you bond with those goofy songs he sings and find his obsession with classic rock endearing. Like father, probably like son. (I don’t want to ignore Ethan Hawke’s reliably terrific portrayal of the dad — Hawke is at his best with Linklater, and this is no exception). Mason gets some first-class scenes with his mom (Patricia Arquette, just as great), one where her sense of humor cracks his teenage-tough exterior, and one where his enthusiasm reveals her own sadness. These parents are richly detailed, beautifully flawed, and quite understandable as the creators of this young man. I would have liked a solid final scene between Mason and his sister Samantha — a character who drifts into irrelevance in the film’s third act, sadly. And one or two supporting performances don’t really match up with those of the leads (and I don’t even know if it’s luck or Linklater’s scary casting ability back in 2001, but Ellar Coltrane sure turned into a fine actor). But this is a tear-jerking drama about an American life unfolding not as a short story, but as a fictional timelapse photograph that only the movies could deliver to us — yet one that no movie before it ever has.

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22 Jump Street — 7/10

22 JUMP STREET (2014, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller)

I belatedly caught up with Lord & Miller’s second film of 2014, and it’s somehow even more self-reflexive and tongue-in-cheek than THE LEGO MOVIE. I was mixed on 21 JUMP STREET which, despite some good laughs, also had a lot of draggy parts and was a little too pleased with itself. It also had too much Rob Riggle, who sucks. The sequel still has a scene with Riggle in it, but thankfully it’s short, and he’s been replaced by villains like Peter Stormare and Jillian Bell, the latter making her Dixie character on EASTBOUND & DOWN seem downright lovable.

But this movie belongs to the leads, and they’re on top of their game. Hill peaks early with a slam poetry performance that cooks, and Tatum waits until the climax to roar to life (well, unless you count his over-the-top awesome reaction to a bit of gossip involving Hill and Ice Cube). You can still criticize Lord & Miller for eating their cake and having it too — skewering sequels and lambasting Hollywood, only to serve up just what they’re ostensibly above — but it hardly matters when the laughs are this frequent. From the dorm-hall twins who are never not funny to Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt Russell in a breakthrough role, there’s a lot to like on display. I’ll be curious if L&M ever try to have any semblance of warmth or heart in their films, because I don’t know if it will ever work (the point in LEGO when Will Ferrell tries to act is atrocious) — but as long as they’re being nihilistic with their intent to be cynically post-modern and cavalier, they’ll always be above average and below great.

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They Came Together — 7/10

THEY CAME TOGETHER (2014, David Wain)

Not quite the wondrous parody of rom-coms I wanted, but I had high expectations. Showalter has already given us THE BAXTER, which is pretty much the same thing (but even more semiotically weird). This has less heart and more Paul Rudd, and a lot of laughs but not WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER or WANDERLUST-level laughs. So it’s good, but coming from a creative known for being great, I guess it’s kind of a disappointment. (Especially because its targets are really obvious and kind of fish-in-a-barrel). But see it anyway; it’s funny. And smart.

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Snowpiercer — 8/10

SNOWPIERCER (2014, Bong Joon-Ho)

Rollicking good entertainment, paced like a rocket despite a running time over two hours. Swinton and Harris both relish the villain role, though the former is a little more successful (but the latter has a perfect final line). A solid mix of violence, humor, sci-fi weirdness, and sociopolitical allegory that always seems to be tonally fine — quite a feat given this material. Looks a little cheap at times, but then really strong in other places. Hard not to strongly recommend, even though I’m giving it the short shrift in this too-brief review (written a week after I saw it and without much time to scribble thoughts).

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