“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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Happy Valentine’s Day!

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In honor of Valentine’s Day, this is my all-time favorite romantic scene from a film. From the Quentin Tarantino-scripted / Tony Scott-directed 1993 cult classic “True Romance,” I first saw this at a time when I was a lot like Christian Slater’s character Clarence. This movie gave me hope at a bleak time in my life. Eventually, I found my Alabama … ironically in Alabama … three years later. Thankfully, she was not a call girl, four-days on the job or otherwise. And yes, I’m envious of my friends in Norfolk, Virginia who are watching this on a big screen tonight at the Naro in Norfolk, Virginia.

“Flirting with Disaster” (1995) dir. David O. Russell

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Director David O. Russell is currently enjoying a critical (and increasingly popular commercial) hit with “Sliver Linings Playbook.” While Russell has directed some great films in his career (“Three Kings,” “The Fighter”), my favorite is the nearly forgotten “Flirting with Disaster” from 1995. Easily one of the best comedies of the 1990s, Ben Stiller plays a new father who can’t bring himself to name his new child until he discovers who his real parents are. His journey leads him down some very bizarre and hysterically funny detours. Everything about “Disaster,” from the script to the casting (Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Tea Leoni, Josh Brolin, Richard Jenkins, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, and several other terrific character actors) is flawless. Aside from the generic title (which is pretty terrible, in my opinion), I don’t know why this film was not a commercial hit. While it has become a minor cult favorite, the film truly deserves better and is so goofy and weird, it will put a smile on your face, even if you’re in the worst mood.

4. “True Romance” (1993) dir. Tony Scott

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This selection on my all-time favorite film list shouldn’t come as any surprise if you’ve been following the blog recently. I recently posted two clips from this film due to director Tony Scott’s recent demise. While the clip on the rooftop between Christian Slater’s and Patricia Arquette’s characters is my favorite scene from the film, this one also ranks high on the list.

Since my entry about this film on my previous blog is gone, I’ll briefly summarize why this film has so much meaning for me (and you can skip this part, if you’ve read this already on my earlier blog). I saw this movie during the fall of 1993, which at that point in my life, I was very similar to Christian Slater’s character Clarence: no girlfriend, dead end jobs, and the only beacon of light was maybe the chance I’d get accepted into a grad school program somewhere. Anyway, not only was this movie enormously entertaining, it gave me a beacon of hope, in an odd way. Granted, my personal beacon didn’t involve a suitcase full of illegal drugs, a prostitute girlfriend, and 10 million bullets, but it did put a big smile on my face back in the day … and still does.

This is my favorite Quentin Tarantino film, even though he was only the screenwriter. Tarantino has admitted that Clarence is autobiographical to a certain degree, because he was a lot like him when he was in his 20s. It’s a very special script and Tony Scott so respected it that he allowed Tarantino to be an integral part of the process of making the film (something unheard of in Hollywood). Their most passionate argument during the making of “True Romance” involved the ending. In Tarantino’s original, Clarence dies. However, Scott made an impassioned case to Tarantino to let Clarence live, not for commercial reasons, but because he said he loved Clarence and Alabama (Arguette’s character) so much, he wanted them to have a happy ending. Scott’s respect for Tarantino was such that he shot two endings, one where Clarence dies and the one where he lives. And Tarantino admitted that Scott’s ending was the better ending for the film that Scott made. A true gentleman’s agreement if there ever was one.

Yes, this is Tarantino so the attached scene is not safe for work or little ones.