Waxing [cinematically]: Boyhood

It’s been five full days since I saw Richard Linklater’s new movie ‘Boyhood’. I’ve thought about it multiple times in each of those days since.

In writing this, I’m almost more consumed by my thoughts of the last week than the movie itself. The truth is, the move is so beautifully presented, so swift in its movement in a young boy’s growth, that you forget some of the earlier scenes. In a coming-of-age story, everything replaces itself. There isn’t a current state of affairs you can harken back to.

It reminded me, somewhat, of reading Garp, and trying to remember those first few chapters where you got to know this new person. What was he like back then? Could we have seen things coming that happened later?

Boyhood wasn’t so literary and it wasn’t as long as a true novel. Instead, Linklater employed a pastiche-ing strategy, at least at the start. Twelve (12) clips of 10-15 minutes, comprising a boy’s formative years. Comes together to make a movie.

He didn’t ultimately go with that. Some years are more dynamic than others. The mother’s (Patricia Arquette) story needed its time to breathe. The father (Ethan Hawke) drew watchers in too and required time. We saw him become exactly the type of guy that his first love wanted — and it was so fulfilling see that self-actualization actually make it into the film (in one of the final scenes).

It turns out, the pastiching was more than just the formatting of the movie. And I can’t say that without thinking of the ‘Before’ trilogy. In those, we had a twist of sorts — a bare-bones romantic engagement that the audience was invited into. And with that close-up intimacy, we’re allowed into an intimacy among the characters (Hawke and Julia Delpy).

Much the same, here, we see Linklater do something to the form=function equation which is really higher than mastery. It’s a special thing to see — and a special see to be a part of in the current.

In ‘Boyhood’, we see pastiching of moments come together to tell the story. And guess what the film itself stands on the laurels of — moments coming together to make up a whole. It’s an integral moment of the movie (you’ll know what I mean once you’ve seen it) and a true lesson that our characters learn. Not just Mason (played over 12 years by Ellar Coltrane), but his surrounding family as well.

Aside from that, as a viewer it was a welcome party to a journey of sorts. You can sense that over a dozen years these characters have grown together — professionally, personally, in regards to attachment of the story, etc… That was truly a joy.

Boyhood was the best reviewed movie I’ve seen. I knew it was a critic’s darling before I saw it. It’s hard to believe that it would live up to that hype. But it did. There aren’t holes worth tearing apart. It was shot beautifully, written sentimentally, and made whole by moments of acting prowess.

An absolute must see.

Waxing [Cinematically]: The Great Gatsby

When I heard a(nother) Great Gatsby movie was being made, I sighed. It won’t work, I said. It hasn’t before, and it won’t this time. The book doesn’t translate. It’s beauty is in the density of beautiful words, splayed out for you as Gatsby in his own vulnerability.

It’s not a thriller. It’s not an exciting plot. It’s an exhaustive excursion into the soul of a man guided by love, living in a new society that doesn’t seem to appreciate exhaustive searches into anything. Life had too much going on, what with all the riches and all.

Then I learned DiCaprio signed on. Well, I like him, this could be a good sign. And Baz Luhrmann is going to direct. I like him, too. Okay, two things going for it. Carey Mulligan, yeah, she’s alright.

Okay, maybe this thing has a shot.

 

But, still, with so little offering toward making a viable film from this book’s material — Baz was either going to see something no else had saw and make a masterpiece, or fall into the same trap that the Redford version fell into (and, though, I haven’t seen it, the review the oldest version seems to get too).

It may sound trite, but I waited to hear reviews before seeing Gatsby. The first review of indifference I heard (and then subsequently mixed reviews from there), told me everything I needed to know. It was going to suck.

I just saw it. Last night. Now half a year since it’s release. And, gosh, was it bad.

 

Sure, maybe had it not had to be made in the shadow of one of the finer American novels ever written, it could stand up on a leg. But you have to know what you’re getting yourself into when taking on a project like this.

I’ll start with the small slice of good. Leo didn’t disappoint. Baz gave what was expected; gaudy, gaudy colorful scenes, parties, a soundtrack that didn’t fit, dialogue that was snappy enough to either matter TOO much or not matter at all; and some sexiness to tie that all together.

The dialogue failed though. It couldn’t keep up with Fitzgerald’s writing. It’s a tall task, for sure. But half the time Toby McGuire’s Nick Carraway spoke, it felt like he was splurted out lines fed to him through an earpiece. He failed to see how even the works’ most crucial lines (“you can’t repeat the past”) have to actually fit into a context for them to establish their power. [See: every powerful quote you remember from the cinema]. If you miss, it becomes laughable. Laudable. Almost “camp”.

McGuire missed just about every time he spoke. His writing scenes were atrocious (why, WHY couldn’t we just have gotten his Wonder Boys character thrown in just for the f*ck of it?).

Mulligan was barely allowed to speak. Fine. Daisy doesn’t need a whole lot of words. But she has to command attention somehow. Her Daisy looked too scared to even be on camera.

And then, the eyes. The eyes of the Dr. TJ Eckleburg. A fine literary device that Fitzgerald carried through his novel. Luhrmann threw that away. It was no longer device. It was a smack to the head. Like saying, “HEY, here’s a metaphor. You see, we put it in. We’re literaries! LOOK, LOOK!” and not giving anything more.

Put it in the background, dude. You don’t need to shove it into our corneas. Those that want to find that, will find it. Those that don’t, don’t need to. They’re probably waiting for more scenes of Gatsby’s front hallway.

There’s more to complain about. I won’t go into the butchering of some of the more important lines in the novel (“she smelled like money” or Gatsby in the image of god or just the unnecessary voice overs Luhrmann decided to put in because he spent so much time on pizazz he forget to tell the story), but I’ll stop there.

Linda Holmes actually did a pretty good review of the movie; and its relation to the book for NPR. If you want to read more on the movie, it’s a good place to head.

If I had to score it: 4.8.

 

Waxing [Cinematically]: “Gravity”

I had high expectations for Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.

That’s an understatement.

I had almost laughably high expectations for it. After seeing the first trailer I said “there’s no way a studio would finance this unless it was going to be the move of the decade.” And then I went on predicting it would be.

There was just no one that a big studio would finance a movie with two characters floating in space. No way that Cuaron would spend the precious years following up Children of Men on anything of a lesser project. There was too much at stake in both those situations. Let alone the signing of big names like Clooney and Bullock (the latter who I was less than thrilled about the casting of before I saw the movie; and still not thrilled about after).

As I did with Blue Jasmine, I’ll assign a completely arbitrary score to this film. Let’s say that arbitrary score is an 8.8 out of 10.

 

Cuaron and his team did amazing things with space. That can’t be understated. If the Academy was as impressed with the work on Life of Pi as it seemed last year, there’s no way it’ll pass up the amazing shots of space shuttle AND a space station exploding into the abyss of Cuaron’s outer atmospheres. That was mind-blowing, yes.

But effects are never going to win my heart when it comes to cinema. Is it cool? Yes. It may be the coolest movie of the year. I learned from it, too, from what I’m hoping are somewhat realistic details, so have to give kudos on that front too. But I needed more. From someone who will always put a film like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind over Avatar, Gravity left a bit to be desired.

This was Hollywood’s first major isolationist film since the aforementioned Life of Pi, and maybe the most isolationist major film since Castaway. Bullock’s character has to deal with the existential nightmare of being all alone in a very, very lonely place. I don’t know that the film achieved the deep dive into nausea as it had the opportunity to do. Actually, I do know; it didn’t.

Even in the [spoilers] scene where Bullock hallucinates a conversation with Clooney, it missed a really opportune time to sail into Kubrick territory. Clearly, Bullock has lost her mind at this point. Oxygen-deprived, lost, lonely, forlorn, everything in between; Bullock’s hallucination should have been more surreal.

Maybe that’s not what Cuarón was going for. The movie, in its attempt to break new grounds, tried its best to be hyper real. To have the view feel within the realm of what Bullock was going through. Don’t know if that was needed. The effects, the floating, the adventuring with jet packs — all too surreal to feel the need to draw us in in a nonfictional atmosphere. Our beliefs were already suspended here, let them float, I say, float right into the starry abyss.

The movie had some great shots, some great scenes and some great reasons to be remembered. It just wasn’t the great I hoped for. Still just as after Children of Men I started immediately looking forward to Cuaron’s next film; so to does this get me ready for what may come next. Hopefully it won’t be eight years before it comes.

Did it meet expectations? No. Could it have? Probably not. Still worth the see. Still breaks ground by not needing solid ground.