Waxing [Cinematically]: The Ending of ‘Short Term 12’

I saw Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12 three months ago. It hasn’t left my mind since. It’s a movie that sticks with you — thanks to a brilliant cast, great pace, and most of all, a focus on storytelling.

That’s no more evident than in the movie’s final scene. You can find that scene here — and it has the rare distinction of not being a spoiler for the movie at all really. In fact, it’s a bit of a departure from the movie’s main plot lines, yet still embeds itself (rather deeply) in the film’s themes and purposes.

It’s an astoundingly powerful scene of storytelling. It can stand alone, really, which is all the more of an amazing feat for a movie’s final scene. Yet, you can feel the familiarity in it — both with the characters themselves and then with those characters and the subject matter of the story. This is evident when one person asks, “Marcus drinks cappuccino?” and you understand that there are preconceptions being broken here.

John Gallagher Jr. does a brilliant job moving through this story. He nearly chokes up at the end, which is the perfect cap to this story and the perfect mirror to Brie Larson’s character’s reaction. What they must have felt during the actual event of this story come back in this retelling and we bear witness to this first-hand, but belated account. And we can still see how important it is & was to these characters.

As for Larson, this was a role that she OWNED. It was one of the best lead performances I’ve seen this year and she handled the depth and vulnerability so perfectly. She truly captured the mess that comes when your life is surrounded by fucked-upness and you have dedicated yourself to helping others move past that. It’s tricky, and complicated, and to stay positive you need a few wins which is what we see from her in this scene, in its most subtle glory.

Check her out at 1:54 and then again at 2:14. This is the most important 20 seconds of the film, both for it at large and for her character. And she doesn’t even speak. Instead we get a few close ups of her and we can read into her about just the true power of this story and its meaning. So brilliantly acted, we see that this is what it all comes back to. Marcus at the coffee shop. Her work, her soul, her tears, it’s this. This is the win. This is the beauty of her surviving past her own shit to help others get through theirs.

It’s as powerful of non-verbal acting as I’ve seen. And it closes down a movie full of this kind of beauty, acting, and storytelling.

(SPOILERS, wanna see Marcus in action? Check this scene out for one of the movie’s most powerful scenes)

Waxing [cinematically]: The One I Love

The billing sold me first. Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss.

And then I read it was really only those two. Ted Danson is in there. For, what, a minute? Two?

So we have two favorites. 90 minutes. With just them.

And what a ride it was. It’s not just them two, it’s them two times two. That’s the trick. The trailer won’t tell you that and (SPOILERS) that’s what the movie hinges on. Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss) meet each other’s nearly-Platonic form in a guest house that plays as an alternate world (and as the movie tongue-in-cheeks itself “some weird version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”).

The two actors (playing themselves and then their other “forms”) are really in sync here. You can see them play both sides of the coin — coy and new love, and disrupted, stretched-out romance. In this, we see how easily these sides are divisible from each other in life, through the lenses of these characters. They can be happy together, it would just take some kind of drastic change on their parts (and, then, even, who gets the person they want to be with? Who doesn’t?)

There’s a lot of compelling reasons to see this movie. It’s unique. It’s well acted. It’s got lessons on love, relationships, and, I think, most of all, communication.

That’s what really struck me here. Both characters knew something strange was happening, and there’s some base level communication about what’s happening there. But after that? Nothing.

The Ethan and Sophie that are on rocky terms do almost nothing to describe to each other how the other acted in the guest house. Sophie has a chance and, in what becomes a terse moment for any onlooker, kind of lets it go. My guess is that her character doesn’t think she owes Ethan anything (and for good reason).

Communication is so disruptive in its absence here. Both characters choose to stay silent (Sophie more than Ethan) and turn the widening gyre of their reality into what’s happening in the guest house. Without communication, and with this distance expanding, Ethan panics and loses his cool. And, yet, still, NO communication. He can’t even explain to Sophie why he’s upset. He can’t bring himself to that vulnerable of a place (which is necessary). It’s not in his character, and a wall of history stands between that.

Not all couples are built to last, one supposes. But there was something, some golden bowl you saw once. What was that? And what if that came back? The movie asks these questions and more.

Worth the watch.

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.

Waxing [Cinematically]: Blue Jasmine

There are few things I get to look forward to year after year than Woody Allen’s next movie. The man’s output is just absurd — 44 movies in 47 years — and he continues his somber parade on with more and more creativity. To be short, I love what the man does with his opportunity. He makes great movies and he makes a lot of them. He makes duds, too, to be sure, but by sheer numbers he’d have to.

It’s precisely that I like Woody’s work so much that Blue Jasmine didn’t enthrall me the way it might a first timer to the Woodman’s art.

In thinking about how I might objectively quantify a movie like Blue Jasmine — I’d probably give it something of an 8.4.

In thinking about where I might place it among Woody’s recent movies — it’s better than any of his movies in the last 10 years except Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris.

And Cate Blanchett? Well, yes. Probably the finest leading actress performance in a Woody Allen movie in the last two decades. (Though I’d have to go back and look through all of those to be sure).

What I can be sure of is that she was incredible. Moving, theatrically — at once calling for your deepest sympathies and then clawing on the door of your greatest annoyances. You just can’t sit with her for too long, except that you want so badly to sit with her for so long. This all made even more powerful knowing that Allen is famous for his quick takes, for letting actors and actresses play things off the cuff and just “go with it”

Okay, so why all of this? Well I’ll get to that. And then I’ll get into why it’s fair to put this, and any other, Woody Allen movie against other Woody Allen movies.

It looks like I’ll have to do both to pull off a cohesive point, so let’s do both.

Blue Jasmine is classic Woody. Well actually it’s classic Woody with more than a dash of A Street Car Named Desire. Still, the movie doesn’t try to say too much that his past movies haven’t. This opposes Midnight in Paris, for instance, which had a thesis about classicism that Woody’s other movies have only mentioned but never focused on.

Jasmine? Relationships. Heartbreak. Meeting new lovers. All of it is there. Just as it was explored in 80s, here it is again. And that’s fine. He does that better than most any other.

But that’s just not enough for me to fall in love with Blue Jasmine. Not the well I fell in love with Midnight in Paris. Not the way I fell in love with Annie Hall, Love and Death, Bananas, or Vicky Cristina.

And that’s okay. It was still a great movie, held together by a great performance thanks to Ms. Blanchett.

So my entire take is based on comparing this movie to his others. Fair? Well, it has to be. Woody movies are Woody movies — and I apologize if it’s a mistake to not allow things out of that categorical thinking. It’s just how it is for me. They have the feel, the dialogue, the touch that only Allen’s mind provides. And so it goes, Jasmine gets judged against the others and it fairs well, very well in fact, but it won’t be a masterpiece on his mantel when he goes.

For Blanchett, it may be. Though she’s put in a lifetime of great performances already and has more to come.

Definitely recommend the movie — just more to wax on this one than meets the eye. And I owe that all to my love of Allen’s flicks.