“Boyhood” (2014) dir. / scr. Richard Linklater

By now, most people know the story of the making of “Boyhood.”  Writer-director Richard Linklater assembled a group of actors 12 years ago to document the growth of a boy from six years old to 18, showing moments from each year of his life and family.  The principal actors (Ellar Coltrane as Mason Jr., Lorelei Linklater as his sister Samantha, Patricia Arquette as mother Olivia, and Ethan Hawke as Mason Sr.) filmed parts of the story over 12 years, while the director and actors worked on other projects.  The result is an extraordinary look at ordinary people, struggling to make sense of the challenges around them.  Like most of us, some years are good, some bad, most of them on a continuum in-between.

“Boyhood” is one of the best movies of our current century.   With the amount of acclaim “Boyhood” has received in the past several months, the contrarian side of me wanted to find things not to like about it.  While “Boyhood” is not a perfect film, it’s one of the most satisfying film experiences I’ve ever had.

As Olivia and Mason Sr., Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke deliver the best performances I’ve ever seen of single parents in a fictional narrative.  One thing that becomes very clear when you become a parent is that most of the time, you’re making it up as you go along.  No one has it figured out and when you think you do, life and karma have a funny way of reminding you that you really don’t.  Olivia and Mason Sr. don’t always make the best decisions, but overall, they’re good people and good parents.  At the beginning, Olivia is the mature one, while Mason Sr. is still finding himself … a task that’s easier when you don’t have primary custody of two small children.  Olivia makes decisions that most of us think would be good ones (going back to school, choosing to marry a professor), but those decisions take an unexpectedly bad turn.  That’s the funny thing about life … even when you thoughtfully and carefully make choices, sometimes those choices turn out to be bad ones.  Arquette does a terrific job of conveying the complexity of someone who seems to have things figured out, but continually makes bad choices (especially when it comes to men).  Trust me, she OWNS the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress this year.  At the same time, watching Mason Sr. evolve from lost slacker to responsible adult is a remarkable achievement on Hawke’s part.  What could have easily devolved into a stereotype of a terminally immature and lost manchild, Mason Sr. is always likeable and most importantly, a very good parent, even at his most callow.

As the young leads, Coltrane and (Lorelei) Linklater do an extraordinary job of playing regular kids.  In a film like this, there might be a tendency to portray these children as wise beyond their years in some way, but for the most part, Linklater defaults towards keeping it real.  My only quibble … and trust me, it’s the only one in an otherwise terrific movie … is that by the time Mason Jr. approaches his 11th grade year, he comes off more as a thoughtful adult’s idealized portrait of a teenager than someone who is actually that age.  It becomes especially clear in the romance between Mason Jr. and his girlfriend Sheena.  Sorry, I realize that some of us out there may have had amazing significant others at that age, but no one has ever had a girlfriend or boyfriend as cool as Mason Jr. and Sheena.  They come off more like mature 24-year olds than 17-year olds.  Maybe that scenario does exist in the world, but experience tells me “no.”

Still, the great thing about “Boyhood” as well as Linklater’s earlier “Dazed and Confused,” is the way he allows his characters to do stupid, sometimes reckless, things … and there’s no horrible consequence that results.  This may not be what we conventionally expect as moviegoers.  When people warn a character about a danger or when we see someone do something careless in a film, we’re always expecting that to pay off in a negative way.  But in real life, that doesn’t always happen.  That’s not to say that bad things don’t happen to the characters in “Boyhood” on occasion, but for the most part, the film allows its characters to make mistakes and lets them off easy.   It’s clear, not only from “Boyhood,” but from most of his films, that Linklater genuinely likes his characters.  That spirit is what makes Linklater’s films so satisfying to watch and what ultimately makes you root for him and his films.

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“Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film” by Patton Oswalt

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Attention all comedy and film nerds … Patton Oswalt’s latest book “Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film” just dropped today. Great book. However, my only complaint is the same complaint I had about his first book “Zombie Spaceship Wasteland” … too f–king short (though not as short as “Zombie”)!

Key takeaway (a realization by Oswalt after spending all hours of the night with his friends complaining about “Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace” in 1999):

“Movies – the truly great ones (and sometimes the truly bad) – should be a drop in the overall fuel formula of your life. A fuel that should include sex and love and food and movement and friendships and your own work. All of it, feeding the engine. But the engine of your life should be your life. And it hits me, sitting there with my friends, that for all of our bluster and detailed exotic knowledge about film, we aren’t contributing anything to film …

And here I am. I’ve traded a late-morning coffee shop for a late-night, post-screening bar, angry at George Lucas for producing something that doesn’t live up to my exacting standards, and failing to see that the four hours of pontificating and connecting and correcting his work could be spent creating two or three pages of my own.”

Did I mention this was an awesome book?  Dave says check it out!

“The Interview” (2014) dir. Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, scr. Dan Sterling

You’ve all heard about the controversy surrounding this one ad nauseam, so I’ll cut to the chase … “The Interview” is one of the ballsiest, funniest movies I’ve seen in years and the best satire of American media since Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers.” Having said that, let’s discuss further.

Yes, the premise is tasteless, considering it involves the assassination of a living world leader.  Yes, I would probably be outraged if another country made a similar film about our president.  But the North Korean government is not above parody or satire. If anything, a government that has been as secretive and oppressive and delusional about their world image is begging to be made fun of.

To the filmmaker’s credit, the portrayal of Kim Jong-un in “The Interview” is kinder than any other way he’s been portrayed in the world media, including by the North Korean government itself. The portrayal may not be accurate, but the filmmakers identify a humanity in the North Korean leader that very few have bothered to acknowledge.

“The Interview” is less an attack on North Korea or even Kim Jong-un than on the American media for the degradation of news into infotainment, the hubris of modern-day journalists, and our obsession with celebrity. Yes, there are some crude jokes typical of the Rogen / Goldberg wheelhouse. But there’s far fewer of them than in their other films. “The Interview” isn’t a perfect film, but a lot of the more critical reviews I’ve read miss the mark entirely, coming off more outraged that the likes of Rogen / Goldberg attempted a political satire than by anything in the film itself.

I realize that the controversy over “The Interview”‘s release is going to cause some people to overvalue and undervalue this film. In our current climate, it may be impossible to review it objectively. I’m a fan of Rogen’s / Goldberg’s, but wasn’t expecting a lot given the mixed reviews. However, I’m trusting my gut on this one. This film made me laugh … frequently and very hard. I enjoyed it more than their previous film “This is the End.” “The Interview” may not be “Dr. Strangelove,” but what’s here is extremely funny and smart much of the time.