Archive for the Drama Category

The Trip to Italy

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on September 17, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Trip to Italy photo starrating-3stars.jpgLike The Trip in 2010, this follow-up was edited down from the series of the British TV sitcom with the same name. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing fictionalized versions of themselves, are enlisted for another restaurant tour in the second series. The inaugural one was in England. This time it’s in Italy with stunning locales from Liguria to Capri. Their destinations follow the Grand Tour of Italy, the beaten path of 19th century Romantic poets like Byron and Keats.

Anyone who has seen the first picture knows what to expect. More fantastic meals filmed in beautiful locations, accompanied by humorous conversations. There’s no denying that the duo has some amusing observations scattered throughout. Although any screenplay that zeroes in on Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album Jagged Little Pill as a target of humor two decades after the fact, isn’t aiming for timeliness. There’s an air of melancholy too. Rob Brydon contemplates an affair from his apparently unhappy marriage. Coogan laments his waning sex appeal to young women. The script is witty, but it lacks confidence to add something fresh to the familiar concept. It saunters along with no direction. It’s more of a reflection than a focused film.

The Trip to Italy is more of the same. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are a funny comedy team. Their dueling Michael Caines were a standout in the original. This time however the shtick comes across as a bit desperate. The movie has barely begun and they’re already going back that well again. “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” Steve Coogan shout at the top of his lungs. The obvious Caine quote from 1969’s The Italian Job. Then the pair discuss The Dark Knight Rises and who is less understandable – Tom Hardy as Bane or Christian Bale as Batman. Do you like the impressions? Then I have very good news for you – a whole slew of celebrities are mimicked: Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Hugh Grant, Dustin Hoffman, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Humphrey Bogart. Some are good (Woody Allen). Others are just awful (Al Pacino). Perhaps that was the point. Most of these are done by Brydon who once again plays the irritant to Coogan’s agitated fellow. So how do you say déjà vu in Italian?

09-10-14

Starred Up

Posted in Drama with tags on September 15, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Starred Up photo starrating-4stars.jpgJack O’Connell (the lead in Angelina Jolie’s upcoming Unbroken) plays Eric, a troubled 19 year old youth from London reassigned to an adult prison for his aggressive behavior. While making enemies of the guards as well as his fellow inmates, he comes face to face with the one man who may be able to soften him — his dad. Eric’s father, Nev (Ben Mendelsohn) is a powerful person in the prisoner hierarchy. Also trying to get through to the boy is a psychiatrist named Oliver (Rupert Friend). A man whose peaceful “let’s talk it out” methods aren’t entirely embraced by the authorities in charge.

Starred Up is written by Jonathan Asser, a real therapist turned screenwriter. The account is based on his “encounter groups” for problem cases at Wandsworth Prison in London where he attempted to pacify violent criminals. Right from the beginning, our protagonist is manufacturing a shank only seconds after entering his jail cell. Shortly thereafter he brutally assaults an innocent inmate. Director David Mackenzie does two things really well. First perfectly establishes the character. Then he details his temperament to everyone around him. It’s a captivating watch, Yes it’s a gritty portrait, but Starred Up isn’t the most brutal display of incarceration I‘ve ever seen. (The HBO TV series Oz and those jail sequences in American History X come to mind.) Although it could possibly be the most corrupt view. There are a lot of unchecked abuses going on in this joint.  At first I thought the penitentiary’s main kingpin Spencer (Peter Ferdinando) was an employee there because he had so much power. Convicts regularly get in altercations with nary a warden in sight. Perhaps that’s just as well since the guards seem to be more of a threat to the inmates than their fellow detainees.

Starred Up is extremely solid. The validity of Jonathan Asser’s screenplay comes through in every scene. Not just in handling the atmosphere with sincerity, but for extracting genuine emotion. Ben Mendelsohn and Jack O’Connell are extraordinarily good. Their interaction is infused with subtlety and nuance. As his estranged father, Nev tries to give his son some life lessons to help him from becoming a permanent resident there. It’s a real father-son relationship as opposed to a metaphorical one. I haven’t seen that before. They act the roles to perfection. I suggest a primer on British prison slang prior to watching, however, starting with that title. Starred up refers to young offenders whose conduct is so violent that they’re prematurely transferred from a juvenile institution to an adult one. Gwap is money, prison officers are kangas, and to mug off is to show disrespect. All of this makes the dialogue a little inscrutable, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The authenticity is appreciated and it adds to what makes Starred Up the credible drama that it is.

09-14-14

Love Is Strange

Posted in Drama with tags on September 4, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Love Is Strange photo starrating-4stars.jpgI have a confession. Once I saw the title, I was truly hoping that Love is Strange would feature John Lithgow and Alfred Molina doing a cover version of Mickey & Sylvia’s classic ditty. Alas, I was to be disappointed. No such luck.

After nearly 40 years together, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) have decided to get married. As a result of this act, George loses his job as a music teacher at a Catholic school. No longer able to afford the rent on their Manhattan residence, the two scramble to find living arrangements. George still receives some income from the music lessons he provides locally. In order to stay close to his students, George sleeps on the couch in the small apartment of their sympathetic neighbors. Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Perez) are two cops. Ben on the other hand stays in Brooklyn with his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan). Their distant residences gives way to a unique set of issues with which each man must deal.

Love is Strange highlights a sterling ensemble cast. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are extraordinarily good. Through the construct of Ben and George’s situational living development, drama from their everyday lives is extracted. George likes classical music and reading books. His desires don’t quite mesh with the hip party loving atmosphere of his hosts. There is an amusing scene of party revelers dancing to bass heavy music filmed in close-ups. I was certain these people were in a club only to have the camera pull back to reveal them just hanging out in a tiny apartment. Meanwhile struggling writer Kate, the wife of Ben’s nephew, politely listens to Ben’s ramblings while trying to finish her novel. Marisa Tomei gives an exquisitely sophisticated performance that showcases the various sacrifices being made by the family.

American director Ira Sachs’ work is clearly a movie made for devotees of reflective film and not mainstream box office. Sachs also co-produced and writes this account of disparate relationships. The fabricated arrangement gives way to some admittedly contrived situations manufactured in the interest of extracting a reaction. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are extraordinarily good as the displaced couple. They lend a gravity to their characters that raise this chronicle to a higher level. Despite the narrative’s handling of the hot button topic of same sex marriage, the real story exploits genuine emotion as it deals with the many-sided personalities in an extended family. This is a subtle production that has universal appeal. Whether they’re singing at a piano to guests at a party or reflecting on what has become of their lives in separate bunk beds, Molina and Lithgow give nuanced performances. Yet the script accomplishes so much more. Love is Strange is a well written drama that beautifully handles the observational insights of a family tree and the way a simple crisis affects its many branches.

08-31-14

Frank

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on August 24, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Frank photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgDomhnall Gleeson is Jon, a young wannabe keyboardist who manages to get recruited into an outré band called The Soronprfbs. The group is led by an enigmatic personality named Frank who wears a giant cartoon papier-mâché head that he never takes off. The gang includes Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) a supremely negative individual who plays the theremin (natch), Nana their drummer (Carla Azar of experimental LA act Autolux), petulant lead guitarist Baraque (French actor François Civil) and their manager Don (Scoot McNairy). Despite having little to no talent whatsoever, Jon desperately craves mainstream success. Meanwhile the rest of the band appears to have less focused aspirations. His dream of appearing at Austin’s famed South by Southwest (SXSW) festival is driven by his social media campaign via Twitter and YouTube.

The production captures the collaborative efforts of an unknown indie band with real authenticity. There’s a reason for this. The inspirations for Frank are actually more interesting than the film itself. The screenplay was written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, and was based on Ronson’s experiences playing in the new wave act Oh Blimey Big Band during the late 1980s. Their leader, Chris Sievey was an English musician and comedian. He succumbed to cancer in 2010. Sievey’s comic persona Frank Sidebottom included wearing a large spherical shaped head made of papier mâché and dressing in a retro styled suit from the 1950s. Beneath that veneer, the writers have fashioned a bizarre fictional group that also owes an obvious debt to the talents of avant-garde individuals like Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa and Daniel Johnston.

Frank is a black comedy with a dark undercurrent. How dark? Well someone who has committed suicide by hanging himself from tree is presented as a visual joke. In another instance a man is suddenly hit by a car in a sonic surprise that virtually slaps the audience with a punctuated jolt. Frank is definitely an odd little film with a sensibility that will charm some and irk others. There are some amusing moments. Frank’s attempt at his most likable pop song is something called “Coca Cola, Lipstick, Ringo.” In the words of screenwriter Jon Ronson, it would be the result “if someone with manic depression tried to write a Katy Perry song.” The final ditty “I Love You All” is strangely affecting as well. Unfortunately those occurrences are few and far between. Most of the picture isn’t that funny or even particularly memorable. Frank isn’t a bad movie. There are some touching episodes amidst the bleak humor, but I’ll liken its appeal to food. Frank is a heaping plate of fava beans. There’s nothing wrong with fava beans. I just wouldn’t call myself a fan. I’ll take a plate of broccoli instead.

08-23-14

What If

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on August 20, 2014 by Mark Hobin

What If photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgCan men and women be “just friends“? That’s the age old question that What If address within its well worn story structure, Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) becomes infatuated with Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party only to discover that she already has a boyfriend at the very end of their evening together. Chantry maintains she loves her current beau but would like to remain friends. Wallace agrees. Things don’t go as planned.

What If isn’t wholly generic but it isn’t particularly innovative either. Surprisingly, Chantry’s boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall) isn’t made out to be a complete jerk. You could imagine the two of them getting married and living a happy life. Although Ben’s first interaction with Wallace is rude and it causes the audience to dislike Ben right from the start, despite his sincere devotion to Chantry. What If does indeed have moments of relaxed whimsy. Radcliffe and Kazan are charming up to a point and they generate enough chemistry to sustain interesting discussions. They share a scene in a diner and a conversation about a disgusting sandwich known as Fool’s Gold was something I had never heard before. More often than not, however, these offhand fragments feel like the carefully orchestrated fabrications of a writer. The twee stretches outweigh the periods of genuine honest emotion.

Chantry’s latent attraction becomes frustrating. In spite of her exhortations that she doesn’t want a romantic relationship, her actions speak otherwise. Upon their first meeting, Chantry flirts conspicuously with Wallace at the party. It’s shocking when she abruptly reveals she is already spoken for when he drops her off. They spent an entire evening together. She couldn’t mention this earlier? Their accidental meeting at a revival showing of The Princess Bride is another mixed signal flirtatious conversation as well. Chantry is a complex woman and she remains a compelling individual, but her behavior develops into this cat-and-mouse game where she seems to express an attraction towards Wallace, then gets indignant when he responds. Then there is her exceptionally bizarre reaction late in the narrative. Her amorous feelings prompts a grand declaration of love from him. Her subsequent response renders her character a most confounding object of befuddlement.

What If is all about when men and women enter the “friend” zone. The picture frequently recalls the far superior When Harry Met Sally both in subject matter and alliances. Wallace and Chantry embark on a platonic relationship. She opens up to her sister Dalia (Megan Park) for advice. He confides in his buddy Allan (Adam Driver). Allan also happens to be Chantry’s cousin. More quirkiness. The production was originally titled The F Word when it was released at the 2013 Toronto film festival in September. That the filmmakers ditched that significantly more zesty title for a humdrum one, actually belies the movie’s true heart. What If is pleasant enough but the slightness of the story ultimately relegates this affair to little more than passable time filler.

08-17-14

Calvary

Posted in Drama on August 13, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Calvary photo starrating-2stars.jpgBrendan Gleeson is Father James Lavelle, a pastor of a church in County Sligo on Ireland’s Northwest coast. The province is in an outlying area, an environment full of natural beauty that is a facade that hides an ugly sinister heartbeat of assorted sinners and delinquents. The tale begins as he hears the confession of a man. The confessor vows to murder Lavelle in one week’s time because of abuses he suffered when he was a boy at the hands of a completely different priest. The congregant’s rationale is that it would be a more powerful statement to kill a good priest, on a Sunday no less. The movie then introduces us to the various weirdos of his congregation, apparently so we the audience can play, “Guess the culprit.”

Why are there so many misanthropes in this picturesque little Irish town? There’s the promiscuous wife (Orla O’Rourke). She cheats with the approval of her married husband (Chris O’Dowd), a butcher. He is indifferent to his wife’s persistent adultery with an abusive mechanic (Isaach De Bankolé) from the Ivory Coast who thinks women want to be slapped around every now and then. There’s also the rapist murderer (Domhnall Gleeson, Brendan’s actual son) who felt like God when he was killing, an atheist doctor (Aidan Gillen) with a wicked temperament, an ineffectual young man (Killian Scott) who hates women for not paying attention to him, a flamboyant gay hustler (Owen Sharpe) whose affectations come across like a reject from a failed production of Grease, and a snotty rich man (Dylan Moran) who urinates on an priceless work of art to demonstrate his contempt for life. Let’s not forget his fellow clergyman (David Wilmot), a passionless assistant who seems more like an insurance salesman than a man moved by religious conviction. Lastly there’s the aging writer (M. Emmet Walsh) that just wants to commit suicide. You will too after being surrounded by this sorry lot.

So how does a priest spend what might possibly be the very last week of his life? By keeping mum on the threat to his existence and sublimating himself in the mire of his own congregation. Brendan Gleeson is a conscientious man of the cloth with his heart in the right place. He’s mostly a positive portrayal of a Catholic father in an age where that is an original concept. In contrast, writer/director John Michael McDonagh surrounds Brendan Gleeson with a coterie of oddballs and miscreants. A circus freak show would look like the picture of normality when compared to this parish. It’s very self consciously arty. The one actually nice person in this whole depressing production is actress Kelly Reilly who plays Lavelle’s daughter. He was once married and entered the priesthood following the death of his wife. She provides a bit of a respite from the miserableness. Along the way we endure situations brought down by dialogue that challenges the very nature of what it means to produce an engaging drama. The ending is one last expression of disregard for an audience that has endured a narrative that ultimately goes nowhere. Calvary is the hill in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. And that’s a pretty good description of how I felt after this film was over.

08-13-14

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on August 10, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Hundred-Foot Journey photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgDirector Lasse Hallström has demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for light romantic dramas that aim to please a mass audience. His Chocolat is a particularly relevant example as it closely resembles his latest work. The Hundred-Foot Journey is a comfy well worn mélange made of simple ingredients.  An Indian family new to France is currently looking for a place to live. They had a restaurant in Mumbai but on election night it was set on fire, killing their mother in the ensuing fracas. The remaining clan escapes those horrible conditions for Europe. After a series of failed starts the group is driving through the French countryside. All of sudden their van conveniently breaks down in the picturesque little village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. They meet Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), a young local woman who’s stunning and the same age as their middle son Hassan (Manish Dayal) who also happens to be handsome. She takes them to her place and provides a bountiful meal full of locally grown fruits and vegetables all lovingly captured in colorful detail. In the morning, after the van has been repaired, Papa (Om Puri) discovers an old abandoned restaurant and decides to buy it. Wouldn’t you know, it’s right across the street from Le Saule Pleureur – Madame Mallory‘s (Helen Mirren) highly acclaimed Michelin star restaurant. More coincidence.

The actors go a long way into making the trite anecdotes seem a lot more weighty. Helen Mirren plays the snooty Madame Mallory. She starts out as a tough-as-nails disciplinarian. Naturally she’s really just a lovable old softie deep down, which should surprise absolutely no one watching this. Strict patriarch (Om Puri) opens up his Indian restaurant Maison Mumbai on the other side of the road. The 100-feet refers to the distance between the two establishments, This prompts a war of one-upmanship. Cue the inevitable culture clash as it’s France vs. India. Puri is an accomplished actor that holds his own in every scene with the equally talented but more critically applauded Mirren. The two of them are an MVP team of brilliant actors schooling the rest of the cast. They make this material seem fresh. I found their interaction to be rather amusing. For three-fourths of the movie the screenplay mines a familiar rhythm that is comforting. The final quarter devolves into a rushed, overly plotted narrative that goes off in a bizarre direction as our protagonist Hassan finds success. It almost looks like the story will go off the rails but then it suddenly gets steered back on course. The drama ultimately ends exactly like you always expected everything to turn out. To be honest, I’m not sure whether I should fault the film for remaining totally predicable or applaud it for being consistent. I guess I’ll go with the second choice.

Anyone who has ever seen a romantic drama will know precisely how this will all play out. The Hundred-Foot Journey is deliberately calculated, button pushing entertainment as manipulative as they come. The thing is, it’s very well done. It’s highlighted by seductive cinematography. The performances are engaging. So you have to ask yourself, am I going to fight this script because it appeals to the lowest common sentimental denominator or shall I sit back, relax and simply enjoy the beautifully photographed ride? I choose the latter.  The production is a pleasant diversion, but it exploits every emotional beat that you expect. Destiny, serendipity and happenstance are the ingredients in a recipe that dictates the storyline. It’s all very precious. There are no surprises or innovation and yet the contrivance goes down rather smoothly. The confection is sweet, akin to a custard filled pastry liberally sprinkled with a lot of sugar and no nutritional value. Its appeal relies on very obvious charms. Let’s just say that I enjoyed the film, but kind of embarrassed to admit that I did.

08-10-14

Get on Up

Posted in Biography, Drama, Music with tags on August 5, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Get on Up photo starrating-3stars.jpg1988 – A man in a green tracksuit arrives at a strip mall that he owns. He realizes someone has been using the bathroom without his permission. With shotgun in hand he enters a room and points it at the small gathering of people demanding to know the guilty culprit. He accidentally fires a shot in the ceiling amidst shrieks of the people now cowering on the floor, frightened out of their minds.  Police sirens are heard approaching in the distance. James Brown, The Godfather of Soul, is that man.

The practice of digitally encoding music and reusing it as part of another song is common practice today. They claim that James Brown is the most sampled artist of all time. In that vein, director Tate Taylor (The Help) gives us haphazard excerpts of a life. These vignettes are selected from different years at various intervals as if chosen from a buffet of life experiences. A detailed handling of the life of James Brown would be a formidable enterprise no doubt given the amount of material the man’s life would entail. Perhaps the filmmakers realized the task of accurately recounting the biography of a man with a long and complicated life would be too daunting. Nevertheless the disregard for chronology is odd. Get On Up is a biographical drama about the life of James Brown, where telling a traditional chronological tale is rejected in favor of emotional touchstones grouped by feeling.

As a result, the saga never has a chance to build momentum. We start near the end where James Brown is already a legend in his own lifetime. People are chanting his name as he walks down a concert hall. As he reflects upon his life, we get the aforementioned run-in with the law. We see a sketch during the 60s where he’s nearly shot down, right before he’s entertaining the troops in Vietnam. 1939 – He’s a little boy running in the woods of South Carolina with his mother, Then he’s performing at a gig in 1964 with his singing group The Famous Flames preceding The Rolling Stones. Jill Scott plays Dee-Dee Jenkins, James Brown’s second wife. One minute they’re handing out gifts as Santa and Mrs. Claus. The next he’s beating her within an inch of her life. Before we can process what‘s happening, the narrative has moved on to another year. Flashback and flash forward. Back and forth, all over the place.

The technique becomes particularly frustrating on the occasion where James is celebrating in his dressing room at the Apollo theater after a show. His mother, whom he hasn’t seen in years, walks in smiling. The power of that scene dissipates as it abruptly ends right there and we skim a myriad of other time periods instead, detailing different relationships with assorted women. All the while an alert viewer is wondering what exactly was the outcome of that fateful reunion of James Brown and his mother. We finally get the answer but it’s over 30 minutes later. In the interim, we come to realize how James Brown could be an effective mediator. A concert at The Boston Garden following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. is nearly cancelled for fear of riots. In an effort to diffuse a situation that has an excitable police presence on edge, he appeals to the crowd for order. James calms an excitable crowd whose dancing members keep getting up on stage. It’s a powerful moment.

One thing is for sure. Get on Up is highlighted by some great acting. Let’s start with the supporting parts. Dan Aykroyd as his manager, Viola Davis as his mother, and Octavia Spencer as the Aunt who raised him – they’re all memorable. But none more so than actor Nelsan Ellis (TV’s True Blood) who matches Chadwick Boseman’s work for unadulterated emotional heft. While in prison, James Brown met the man that would change his life, Bobby Byrd. Wives and band members would come and go but his long suffering sidekick stood by his side through the best and worst times of his life. As one of the most moving relationships in James Brown career, it’s a poignant performance that lingers after the music has faded.

Chadwick Boseman is impressive as James Brown. He fully embodies the man in vocal inflections, attitude and behavior. Boseman gets James’ signature raspy voice spot on, extending beyond mere mimicry. And when James sings! The musical performances are the best part. All of his hits are here including “Get Up Offa That Thing”, “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, Pt. 1″, and “I Got You (I Feel Good)”. The presentation relies on lip synching to actual James Brown tracks and personally I’m glad that decision was made. The singer’s idiosyncratic musical style would have been extremely difficult to duplicate. Chadwick Boseman gets the electricity of James’ delivery down pat, complete with the dancing, the splits and the sheer athleticism. People in my theater actually got up and danced. I’ve never seen that happen. Get on Up isn’t a deep film. It samples from the highlights of a very intricate life with a slapdash approach. I suppose the disjointed sampling is appropriate in an ironic way. It’s how his music is often manipulated today. However, it doesn’t lend itself to a dramatically affecting story arc, just a well acted one.  Chadwick Boseman is indeed an actor to watch.

08-03-14

A Most Wanted Man

Posted in Drama, Thriller with tags on July 30, 2014 by Mark Hobin

A Most Wanted Man photo starrating-3stars.jpgA Most Wanted Man is a dense, elaborate adaptation of the 2008 John le Carré espionage novel of the same name. The particularly timely subject matter concerns The War on Terror but the film will probably be best remembered as the final starring screen role of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Not surprisingly he turns in another stellar performance. He is truly missed.

As in all John le Carré novels everyone has an important part in the wide-ranging chronicle. The real focus of our tale is one Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant who seeks asylum in Germany after he is half beaten to death. As the son of a notorious Muslim terrorist he is heir to his father‘s wealth. The authorities have labeled him a militant jihadist as well. However his true allegiances are still a bit of an enigma. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Gunter Bachmann a German counterterrorist expert based in Hamburg. He heads up a secret intelligence team working within the Islamic community to stop radical organizations. He’s a hard drinking, unkempt sort, disheartened by his life experiences. Yet he remains an intelligent man guided by principle. He is still willing to pause and see the big picture first before rushing in to act. Rachel McAdams is Annabel Richter, a young German human rights attorney. She’s an altruistic type fighting in the interest of the downtrodden. Nonetheless, in Bachmann’s eyes she’s a social worker for terrorists. Also a foil to Bachman is corrupt British banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe) whose bank holds the fortune of Karpov’s father. Brue forms an association with Annabel and these two comprise a coalition of sorts with Karpov.

There are no good guys in A Most Wanted Man. There are decent people, yes, but they’re caught up in a maze of moral ambiguities that can compromise their ethics. It’s a dreary but well acted critique concerning a global military campaign in a post 9/11 world. The saga is highlighted by a plethora of memorable characters beautifully rendered with studious care as layered personalities. Like a chess game you never know what one person’s next move will be. The sympathetic becomes insensitive, the heartless becomes merciful. Everything comes to head when the rival spies of Germany, England and America converge in a climax that literally involves a man initialing papers at a desk. Of course the issue being addressed is deeper than that, but like most John le Carré stories, the narrative remains emotionally cold and the milieu is bleak. It succeeds despite an overworked set up that somewhat wanes in the middle. For a movie that runs over two hours, not a whole lot happens to be quite honest. At times it’s an indictment of bureaucratic incompetence. Nevertheless this carefully modulated character study ultimately ends on a powerful note.

07-30-14

Boyhood

Posted in Drama with tags on July 23, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Boyhood photo starrating-5stars.jpgRichard Linklater’s sprawling 2 hour and 45 minute magnum opus details 12 years in the life of a family, and principally that of a young male lead, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a six year old boy when our drama begins. Mason is like many juveniles. He happens to live in Texas in a typical town like many others. He has a sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) who is older by one year and a Mom played by Patricia Arquette. Olivia is a divorced single parent. A struggling working class woman, Olivia is raising her children the best way she knows how. We see Mom’s choices revolve around her family at the expense of being able to go out and have fun. Mason does have an absentee father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). He doesn’t appear right away but then shows up rather unexpectedly one day to take the kids bowling. Once he is introduced to the audience, his presence becomes a bit more familiar. Given the narrative breadth, Boyhood could have just as easily been called Motherhood, Fatherhood or simply Childhood.

As the story progresses, the principals grow older. In most movies this would involve casting different people to represent the kids at various stages as they got older. Makeup would probably be used to age the adults. Instead, Boyhood was actually filmed over the course of 12 years so as the characters mature, so do the actors. It’s a fascinating development that infuses the tale with an allure not found in the way a traditional picture is shot over a few months. Richard Linklater not only utilizes the appearance of his performers to inform the passage of time, but also little cultural touchstones in each era. These present the minutiae that makes up our everyday lives. Mason ogles the women in the underwear section of a department store catalogue, is annoyed by his sister’s rendition of “Oops! I Did It Again” by Britney Spears, and attends a book release party for the latest Harry Potter novel. These non-events are what compose a life. Individually they mean very little, but added together they represent the sum total of an existence.

Boyhood has an astounding level of characterization. The depiction of the four principals is deceptively simple. Yet it isn’t until after you contemplate the full scope of the chronicle that you fully comprehend the complexity of the portrait. The production was shot over 39 days beginning in the summer of 2002 and completed in October 2013. Mason gets taller, his voice deepens. His personality matures before our very eyes. But even more than the physical changes is the emotional evolution of a life. Linklater isn’t content to merely gives us Mason’s reality. Mom Olivia has a compelling dramatic arc as well. Incidentally, Patricia Arquette is extraordinary. This is the single greatest performance of her career. She registers fear, pain, sorrow and joy with absolute veracity. At different points, her depiction details two marriages to men of questionable character. A scene where her husband Bill interrogates the kids about their mother’s whereabouts is chilling but it gets increasingly intense when he starts checking their cell phones for calling history. Conversely there are moments that are quite moving as well. An offhand comment by Olivia to a handyman replacing their home’s water pipes will have major repercussions later. All of these vignettes immediately make an impression but they must meditate in the mind well after the saga is over. The drama advances organically and the actors perform naturally. Rarely has an individual’s developmental transitions been dramatized so imaginatively on film. Boyhood is an outstanding achievement and a magnificent paean to the simple brilliance of the human experience.

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