Skip to main content

You don't want the bumpers, life doesn't give you bumpers.

Boyhood
(2014)

(SPOILERS) Richard Linklater’s one-time shoe-in Best Picture winner went from being early favourite to also-ran as the initial wow factor of its logistical achievement subsided. Making a film at intervals over a 12-year period is indeed quite something, but more impressive is how it achieves its storytelling goals seamlessly and subtly. It has no earthly need to be nearly three hours long, yet it never becomes a chore to watch, despite its young protagonist having resoundingly uneventful formative years. The drama occurs on the periphery, as do Linklater’s less measured indulgences. This is where you can hear the same guy who made the Before… trilogy voicing his adorably trapped-in-amber student philosophising and political discourses.


Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the picture is how passive Mason Jr (Ellar Cochrane) is. That’s not a negative in this case, although it may be for some; we follow Mason Jr from the age of six and, the odd flare up aside, he never becomes a clichéd troubled or rebellious youth (perhaps that is really why his girlfriend calls him weird, since there are no other obvious indications). In a genre (and reality) where this age range is always the end of the world for those experiencing it, it’s interesting to see a teen go apparently untraumatised through such turbulent times, a contemplative observer, even as his domestic situation undergoes tumultuous change.


Cochrane isn’t always the most naturalistic physical performer, but his understated manner helps him along (more consistently impressive is Lorelai Linklater as his sister Samantha). Linklater only comes unstuck when he attempts to foist his own preoccupations on the character, diving into the kind of shallow stoner contemplation that is probably his most consistent trope. So Mason Jr musing on how we’ve become robots through technology is a bolt from the blue; where did that come from? At least his campaigning for Obama has the touch of dad (Ethan Hawke).


That’s the main problem here. If you’ve seen enough Linklater films you recognise the same conversation clusters repeating. One can put that down to the “like father, like son” influence here, but Hawke’s Mason Sr is a slacker version of his Before… character. Political punctuation points never feel finessed, so the War on Terror repeatedly intrudes on the conversation with a big arrows pointing to it. While Mason Sr’s wife’s family turn out to be Bible bashers, Linklater at least exercises some restraint in not making them evangelical crazies. They still give Mason Jr a shotgun for his sixteenth birthday, though. Linklater handles the way in which kids are wont to idolise the less-than-perfect absent parent perceptively, but his parting shot of Mason Sr’s empty wallet when he offers to contribute to his son’s graduation party is clumsy at best.


The best passages are those focusing on the experiences of mum Olive (Patricia Arquette, more than earning her Oscar statuette) and her serial lack of luck with the men in her life. Marco Perella amps up the charm as her second husband and former professor, until his drinking problem manifests as spousal abuse. Perella perhaps isn’t so good with the dramatics (the tense meal scene featuring flying glass borders on parody at moments; I could easily see Will Ferrell performing it), but Arquette contrastingly carries these episodes powerfully. We also witness her repetitive cycles and tendencies matter-of-factly; her passivity in relationships until the situation snaps and she is compelled to act, and the recurrence similar types recur in one’s life; Jim (Brad Hawkins), her next beau, is a veteran and one of her students (a little too neat mirroring there of her previus hubby) and he too has problems with drink. Her moment wondering where life goes as her kids leave the roost and she moves house is somewhat telegraphed, but poignant nevertheless.


Being in part an exploration of his own upbringing, it’s probably no surprise Linklater should have Mason Jr gravitate towards a career in the arts, so its welcome that he doesn’t opt to have his alter persona offered everything on a plate (his photography teacher advises that talent isn’t enough on its own). Generally though, Linklater’s film is more successful when he doesn’t announce his themes and indulge his pop sensibilities. The picture begins with the easy emoting choice of Coldplay’s Yellow and ends with a space caked rumination on how we don’t seize the moment, “the moment seizes us”. Both are Linklater at his most Linklater, but in between it’s the restraint and contemplation that impress the most.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.