Boyhood

Director: Richard Linklater

2014

I am neither a Richard Linklater fan nor an Ethan Hawke fan, as some of you may remember from my blog on Before Midnight (2013), and unfortunately for me they are one of those frequent collaborative pairings that you often find in Hollywood.

It’s fairly safe to say that I approached Boyhood with some already preconceived notions based on my previous experiences with the Linklater/Hawke pairing so I wasn’t really expecting much. Then there was my additional issue with films that seem to attract an annoying level of hype and praise before they even hit the cinemas in their general release (like Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens but more on that at a later date!) – so rarely do these types of film actually live up to the hype that I have learnt to temper my expectations. I guess this is in part why I avoid reviews as much as possible. Ironic I know, given that I am in the very process of doing exactly that and writing a review.

With Boyhood my reluctance to watch the film was not just the inordinate amount of hype surrounding the film, or the unfavourable pairing (at least in my eyes) but also the very concept of the film. Growing up is a hard thing to do in the first place without the added pressure of doing it on camera … and let’s face it Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record of looking after it’s young stars now does it? So to me the idea of filming someone going through what could arguably be the most awkward period of their life, over a prolonged period, seems massively self-indulgent on Linklater’s part.

“The actors age before us, though it is the evolution of Ellar Coltrane (who plays the boy, Mason) and Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter, playing Mason’s sister) that has the most resonance.” (931, Mick McAloon, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

BoyhoodWhile it is kind of fascinating to watch Ellar Coltrane grow up I was never entirely comfortable with the film and couldn’t quite ignore my feeling that it’s somewhat exploitative. There doesn’t actually appear to be that much of a narrative but rather relies on the gimmick of watching the cast age across the period of 12 years. It’s a massive undertaking on all parts, which I do definitely recognise, but in the main just ends up strengthening my view that the film is much more about Linklater’s overweening arrogance. In recognising Linklater’s achievement I am never the less left with a faint sense of voyeurism that never really sat very well with me.

 

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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Director: George Roy Hill

1969

“The iconic teaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford was so magical – and so profitable, scoring the year’s biggest hit – that this offbeat character study/action comedy in Western trappings and bathed in cinematographer Conrad Hall’s Oscar-winning sepia hues has been a touchstone for bickering buddy pictures ever since.” (494, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

I went through a period where I watched films in genres or by directors that normally bore me to tears and discovered that actually there were a few I enjoyed, such as Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). And it turns out that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is, so far, the only Western film I’ve watched that hasn’t bored me silly. But then I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it strictly as a western. It may have a number of the western tropes but in reality it is much more character driven. It’s really about these two men and their friendship that just so happens to take place against a western backdrop. And this is precisely why I found it entertaining rather than turgid like so many other films in the western genre.

There is lots of humour and having watched a number of buddy movies it’s clear that a lot of them have been influenced by this movie. The core trio of Butch (Paul Newman), Sundance (Robert Redford) and Etta (Katherine Ross) are brilliant, and in some ways remind me a little bit of the ‘golden trio’ from Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling) – they work best as a trio, each complimenting and at times reigning each other in. I actually really enjoyed watching Newman and Redford in their prime. Paul Newman is often held up as one of the truly brilliant actors of recent Hollywood and yet he is an actor whose work I have really not seen very much of so it was interesting to see him working his magic on-screen. They make a handsome pair of bandits as well it can’t be denied.

“[But] the film is immortal for its final image of the pair, freeze-framed as they run out into a shoot-’em-up with an army.” (494) Having never seen the film I had still been aware of this iconic final image. Now I have the context behind it and it makes the image so much more powerful.

butchButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is an utterly disarming combination of smart, original screenwriting, handsome visual treatment, and star power. With all the jokes and poses, there is still real interest in the well-defined, contrasting characters.” (494) I couldn’t agree more with Errigo. If it had been otherwise there is a high chance I would have been writing yet another blog about how dreary and tedious I find western movies so this was a nice surprise. However apologies for the crapness of this post – I’m pretty tired and clearly my brain isn’t working all that well. Don’t let my inarticulate ramblings dissuade you from watching the film because it really is so much more than I have touched upon in this update.

Before Midnight

Director: Richard Linklater

Nominated: Best Adapted Screenplay

I’ve not seen the first two films in what is now ultimately a trilogy. Before Sunrise (1995, Richard Linklater) and Before Sunset (2004, Richard Linklater) were films I always meant to watch but hadn’t yet got around to actually watching and now I doubt I ever will. Although this is the shortest film I have watched this awards season at just under 2 hours it is the one that has felt the longest and the one I had the most trouble with. It feels so much longer than it really is and that’s not a good thing.Before Midnight

The whole film is comprised of relentless dialogue, mainly from the two leads Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), and yet says remarkably little. The narrative seems to revolve around the tensions in their relationship and a large portion of the film is dedicated to the same argument occurring multiple times in different locations and with increasing ferocity. We don’t even really get to see that much of the beautiful Greek location the family is vacationing in. And I felt like the supporting characters were disappointing. You weren’t really introduced to them at all and they were never developed past being sounding boards for Jesse and Celine’s self-important diatribe.

I’m sure a lot of people enjoyed Before Midnight but I really didn’t – I thought it was a piece of self-indulgent writing and directing that I found a chore to watch. Linklater’s directing style was one that annoyed me. He used hand-held shots to create a voyeuristic sense of intimacy but whenever the shot wobbled (which was often) you were reminded that you were watching something constructed, which ultimately pulled you out of the moment – the complete opposite of the intention behind using a hand-held style in the first place.

It really wouldn’t surprise me if Before Midnight went and won the Oscar because while you can never really guess what way the Academy will go year on year this feels like something they would laud over some other films.