BOYHOOD (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language including Sexual References, and for Teen Drug and Alcohol Use

Boyhood poster

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Written by: Richard Linklater

Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke

Mountains of hype can make a difference on a film. As much as I try to steer clear from early critical consensus on new movies, it’s very hard in the age of social media to avoid what people are saying at film festival premieres. BOYHOOD received an insane amount of praise during Sundance. Since its limited release began a few weeks ago, many critics have been calling for a possible Best Picture nomination. Richard Linklater’s epic-length project is extremely ambitious, but ambition doesn’t necessarily mean something is automatically good. Linklater has taken on interesting ideas in the past and didn’t stick the landing (e.g. FAST FOOD NATION and more so with A SCANNER DARKLY). BOYHOOD is worth celebrating and there hasn’t ever been anything like it in the history of cinema, but it’s far from perfect.

MCDBOYH EC005

Mason is an imaginative six-year-old living with his single mother and his bratty sister. After his mother starts attending college to make a better life for her family, Mason’s father returns into his life but only on every other weekend. The rest of the film is Mason growing up and experiencing different things over the years. We follow him from ages six to eighteen, while also viewing how much life changes for everyone around him. That’s the episodic plot and it feels like an authentic slice of life. That phrase is used quite often (I’m guilty of throwing in plenty of reviews), but it’s never felt more real than here and there’s a solid foundation to back that up…

MCDBOYH EC007

BOYHOOD was shot over twelve years. Linklater was provided an annual budget from IFC Films and then shot with the same cast for a few weeks every year for over a decade. This means that we see these actors, not just characters literally grow over time. The script was never fully completed in the process either, but rather improvised around where the cast members’ were at that point in their lives. It’s the most exciting experimental filmmaking that I’ve ever heard about and a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making-of might prove to be even more interesting than the resulting movie. The passage of time is very apparent and will jog memories of many audience members, especially millennials and the current generation. Pop culture references (e.g. the bratty sister singing a Britney Spears tune or a brief visit to a midnight release party of HARRY POTTER & THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE) and a soundtrack that contains a number of songs popular during the various times of filming only brought back more of the nostalgia I had brewing in my system.

MCDBOYH EC006

As far as the acting is concerned, Ellar Coltrane is the main star as the ever-maturing Mason and starts off shaky. His acting skills dramatically improve as he grows up alongside his character. The same can be said of Lorelei Linklater. She’s annoying as some kids are, but does find sustainable ground later on. This is especially true in one of the more emotionally upsetting periods of the film involving their mother’s attraction to an abusive alcoholic scumbag. Patricia Arquette hasn’t been in anything too notable for the past decade, but is given a meaty role as Olivia, Mason’s mother. Her cycle of lousy taste in men is one of the stronger threads in the film. Ethan Hawke is great as Mason’s father (a.k.a. Mason Sr.) and fleshes out his weekend father figure that gradually matures as well. BOYHOOD can be seen as not the story of Mason (though he’s the main focus), but the story of the three family members around him.

MCDBOYH EC008

The lack of a plot is really just the summary of one boy’s journey of growing up. Things randomly happen in life and Mason remarks that it’s always “right now.” Time passes us by every second and it’s what we do with those moments and how we choose to remember everything that matters. Mason goes through the motions that everyone goes through. He has teenage drama in high school, gets a low-wage job, deals with some difficult home situations, and finds young love/heartbreak. This is a movie that you really can’t spoil even if you tried, because you know how it ends already. He grows up. We all did at one point or are in the process of doing so. The big issue that comes with this free-for-all style is that the nearly three-hour-long running time comes dangerously close to wearing out its welcome. It never fully goes into BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR areas (where focus goes to more mundane details), but I found myself thinking that certain scenes could have been cut to make a tighter film.

MCDBOYH EC004

The acting from the young Coltrane and Linklater in the beginning was a little off. The running time is also too long. However, there’s plenty to be praised in BOYHOOD. Mason remarks near the end of the film that instead of seizing the day, time seems to do the opposite. The moment seizes us. That’s a wonderful way of putting life in general. BOYHOOD takes a fairly ordinary chunk of somebody’s life and transforms it into a special creation. Mason is fictional as are all the characters around him, but there are people who have grown up in the same situations that he does in the film. We all have our own stories to tell. If there’s any stand-out accomplishment I can say about BOYHOOD that makes it stand out from the pack of movies in cinema history, it’s that most viewers will be looking back at everything they’ve accomplished, felt, and gone through in their lives in careful detail, while appreciating every joyous second they’ve lived. If that’s the case, then my criticisms don’t have much of a place in the bigger picture of things.

Grade: B+

FAST FOOD NATION (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Images, Strong Sexuality, Language and Drug Content

FastFoodN poster

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Written by: Richard Linklater, Eric Schlosser

(based on the book FAST FOOD NATION by Eric Schlosser)

Starring: Patricia Arquette, Luis Guzman, Ethan Hawke, Ashley Johnson, Greg Kinnear, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Willis, Paul Dano

Far more on the dramatic side of things than the documentary SUPER SIZE ME bringing attention to the same problems, FAST FOOD NATION is told through multiple connecting narratives that revolve around the greasy food industry. A good way of describing this storytelling style is that this is TRAFFIC with the drugs swapped out for burgers and still set around a corrupt broken system. What makes NATION so much more intriguing as a film is that writer Eric Schlosser, who penned the non-fiction book that this film takes its name from, joins director Linklater on the screenplay. The commentary and messages aren’t subtle in the slightest, but everything is solid enough to bring plenty of weight to the everything being said. Well-written characters make the film work as a drama, even if some of the stories themselves come off as one draft away from being completed. I can safely say that this is an interesting and intelligent movie saddled with a fair share of pitfalls.

MCDFAFO FE163

Don Anderson is a marketing representative for Mickey’s (a fast food restaurant chain) and has been informed of a very disturbing test result. A popular new menu item called “The Big One” has been found to contain some cow manure in the meat itself. His boss politely addresses it as “There’s shit in the meat.” So Don is sent to a small Colorado town to investigate the company’s meat-packing plant, but he’s suspicious that everything is being sugar-coated for his visit. In the very town that Don is visiting, Sylvia and her fellow illegal immigrants are working in the very same meatpacking plant. Soon they find that the job is not without significant risks, both from unsafe conditions and a belligerent supervisor. Finally, there’s Amber, a young Mickey’s employee. Amber works in a Mickey’s to earn cash needed to get by, but she’s faced with moral dilemmas popping up at her unhealthy workplace.

MCDFAFO FE105

There’s plenty of intriguing details in FAST FOOD NATION. I enjoyed watching it as a whole and appreciated the brutally honest nature. If you do some research on fast food as a whole, you’ll find some pretty disturbing stuff. Enough to make you question why people would bother to put that stuff into their bodies. The graphic visuals are unapologetically disgusting and though I don’t know for sure, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the filmmakers used real cow carcasses in the meat-packing plant scenes. It’s clear that Schlosser is co-writing this screenplay with director Linklater, because it almost seems like stretches of words right off the page of his book have been turned into dialogue for the characters. It’s not annoying or forced in any way. These are some very realistic people brought to the screen. Ethan Hawke shows up for a few scenes in a minor role, but makes a big impression.

MCDFAFO FE165

Undeniably, the best part of the movie comes in one conversation with Bruce Willis’s scene-long character. He delivers a lenghty monologue and the shocking statements coming out of his mouth most likely reflect the empathetic feelings of heads of these big fast-food chains. After all, why should McDonald’s change a damn thing if they keep serving billions around the world? This is all regardless of the disgusting discoveries made at plenty of their restaurants (watch the stellar documentary SUPER SIZE ME for more details on those). The same can be said of any huge fast food chain. The food is crap and they know it’s crap, just like the people eating it know it’s crap. They still eat it (it’s quick and convenient) and the fast food industry is still booming. Willis’s amazing dialogue drives every point of this home and I felt that scene should have been the conclusion of the entire film. This final moment would have sent everything off with a powerful bang.

MCDFAFO FE120

Instead, FAST FOOD NATION is a mess when it comes to the organization of the three plot-threads. Kinnear’s character of Dan is front-loaded into a majority of the first half and as a result his story concludes at the halfway mark (with Willis delivering that awesome speech). Then the viewer is left with one very solid thread and another plot that goes on well enough, but builds to absolutely nothing as there isn’t a proper conclusion given. This all comes as a result of Linklater and a screenplay focusing far too much on significant stretches dedicated to one specific plot-thread out of the three. The final cut suffers in being uneven and winding up as a good movie, but one with some baggage that’s hard to ignore.

MCDFAFO FE108

I did think that FAST FOOD NATION is a film that was worth my time, in spite of the aforementioned problems. I might even revisit this one in the future. If all three threads had been balanced out more and one specific storyline had been given a couple of scenes to conclude in a satisfying manner, then this would might have been a great-bordering-on-fantastic film tackling important issues. Instead, it’s a good flick with some interesting things to say, but it ultimately winds up suffering from those damn screenplay problems.

Grade: B-

TRUE ROMANCE (1993)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language, and for Sexuality and Drug Use

1. True Romance

Directed by: Tony Scott

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Saul Rubinek, Dennis Hopper, James Gandolfini, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer & Samuel L. Jackson

Quentin Tarantino is a master at what he does, but he doesn’t have a few lesser films here and there. It may be blasphemous, but I think the KILL BILL movies are a bit overrated. TRUE ROMANCE is a Quentin Tarantino film that doesn’t quite fall under his name in the usual sense. Instead of directing (which he originally planned to do), Tarantino just wrote the script and sold it to another director. Some minor tweaking was done, mainly to the ending, but I have a feeling that this was pretty much the vision of Tarantino, rather than Tony Scott. This being said, TRUE ROMANCE may be a cult hit, but it’s got some problems.

True Romance 1

Clarence (Christian Slater) is about to go see a kung-fu triple feature, when he runs across Alabama (Patricia Arquette), a pretty young woman who seems to be into him. Three Sony Chiba movies later, the two are bonding over eating a pie at a diner, then they return to Clarence’s apartment. After some steamy sex, Alabama reveals that she is a call girl but has fallen deeply in love with Clarence as the night as gone on. Throwing caution to the wind, the two lovebirds get married.

True Romance 2

Clarence is still a little edgy about Alabama’s pimp, Drexl. The ghost of Elvis (Clarence’s idol) appears to him and tells him to go confront the dreadlocked dead-eyed creep and let him know that Alabama is done with him. Things go sour, the pimp is killed and Clarence mistakenly takes a suitcase full of cocaine from the scene. Now, Clarence and Alabama are on the run and have to contend with the sinister gangsters who want their cocaine back, along with some cops who are investigating these stolen drugs.

True Romance 3

TRUE ROMANCE is a movie that nearly gives away all of its good scenes within the first hour. The confrontation between Clarence and Drexl (played by a creepy-ass Gary Oldman) is my personal favorite scene in the movie. Everything from the background music to the carefully chosen words that continue to escalate the tension is absolutely essential to giving the audience a memorable showdown between hero and freaky villain. In lesser hands, this role of a wigger could have been a stereotypical joke, but Oldman blends into it and makes it absolutely terrifying to watch.

True Romance 4

Dennis Hopper shows up as Clarence’s father and lasts about two scenes, while Christopher Walken is an intimidating gangster. It’s a pity that Walken’s stone-cold killer only appears in one scene. As the movie progresses, I was expecting him to come back in a big way, but it was not to be. James Gandolfini is also quite evil as a gangster who isn’t afraid to beat a woman halfway to death.

True Romance 5

You may notice that I am only mentioning the villains and that’s part of the problem with TRUE ROMANCE. For the protagonists, Clarence and Alabama seem like one note characters. They’re in love. That’s about it. There are bits of exposition given about Clarence’s troubled relationship with his father, how much he loves comics and how Alabama also adores Elvis, while being smitten with Clarence. It’s throwaway stuff. The movie also throws in the subplot with the cops in the final 30 minutes as almost an afterthought. Things build to a cool few final scenes, but there’s a good chunk of movie that drags.

True Romance 6

TRUE ROMANCE has a cult following and while the film is a blip on the radar of when compared to other crime-thrillers, it is a decent flick. There are some major issues I have with the film that ultimately deterred my enjoyment of it. This is a perfect example where some edits would have made for a more tense and cool flick. The main couple experiencing the “True Romance” as it were, weren’t exactly worth rooting for either. They almost seemed like cardboard cutouts with a few more inches to thicken them up. Overall, the film is worth a look but is far from Tarantino’s best writing or Tony Scott’s best movie.

Grade: B-

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑