The Dinner Guest.
Welcome back. It's been a bit of a while, hasn't it. I got caught up with a couple errands and unexpected appointments that delayed the last page quite considerably, but we're finally here so let's not waste any further time.
This time around I didn't see anything blockbuster-y. Only If I Stay premiered that had any sort of major-ish US buzz, but honestly I wasn't so eager to check out what was in theory a sequel to The Fault in Our Stars. Maybe I'll catch up with it later, if I'm with someone willing to join me on my journey, or if I've got nothing else to watch and I've got some cheap seats available. Time will tell if I'll care.
Instead, this time around I got to see a handful of author-driven movies, which either by concept, cast and/or crew could easily become a crossover hit, or at least a noteworthy cult hit. But I wasn't all aboard with all of them – although I'm certainly in awe and in love with the first film of this bunch.
It's Richard Linklater's Boyhood. When I wrote about Before Midnight for my in-spanish Top 10 films of 2013 blog entry, I mentioned you ought look out for this one – and boy, I wasn't wrong. This is something else, all while being something uniquely Linklater. “Masterpiece” is a word often thrown around for things we rave and gush over, sure; but it's so rarely that the word fits like a ring like in this case. This is undoubtedly Linklater's best film. It's the one that propels him to a “master” degree – he's the master of his own craft, of portraying the passage of life and time through the ages, forever wandering aimlessly, unsure of itself. He's the great cinematic painter of the imperceptible weight of time.
Through-out twelve years, Linklater tells not a story precisely, but... just stuff, really. There's this kid, Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, and we see him grow up from age 5 to 18. Going through divorces, friendships, likings, fallouts, ideas... a stream of, well, things going on in anyone's life. He lives with his sister, Samantha, played by Linklater's daughter Lorelei, and their mom, Olivia, played by Patricia Arquette. Their dad, Mason Sr., played by Ethan Hawke, comes and goes, offering a chance for the kids to get away from their essentially careless next-in-line stepfathers.
I may be underselling the movie by not talking about, you know. Plot twists or devices. “Something around the corner will change their lives”, that sort of stuff that'll hook most. But honestly, seeing the kids grow up and the adult actors adapt to them growing up and the changing times is very much the one thing that comes up first to my mind. When I said “through-out twelve years”, I – and in reality, Richard – meant it – in little less than three hours, you're very much watching twelve years go by in real time. And the actors are never replaced. The little kid you see at the beginning of the movie, clothed and wallpapered with Dragon Ball Z goodies, is the same guy who grows up to be a laid-back college freshman with a passionate, though certainly pretentious, inclination towards photography. Maybe there's not a real, A-to-Z-through-C-and-J plot going on, but seriously, whose life has a plot? Boyhood could've been a movie of anyone else. It could've been a movie about me, you, your best friend, your worst enemy, anyone. It's time passing by. Increasingly thinking how distant last year was compared to how soon the next one will be. And everyone here's so engaged here it borders on documentary.
Good times. Bad times. Short times, long times. They're all here. It's casually epic. It's just a normal life, but that's what so great about it. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
Up next is Ari Folman's The Congress, the follow-up to his 2008 animated documentary Waltz With Bashir, about Folman's involvement in the 1982 Lebanon War, and the memories he long lost about it. That was a trippy, dreamy film of unexplainable sights and motions – and this one's not far from it. At least visually.
Robin Wright stars as herself. Once a go-to actress for big, promising projects, now she's become infamous for being overly picky, rejecting most blockbuster projects even if the producers are very willing to fulfill all her demands. However, this attitude has left her mostly unemployable, resorting to working on lame films that go nowhere. Her career's done, her agent tells her, but there's something on the horizon: if she's willing to let Miramount Studios (Miramax+Paramount) scan her body to be digitally used in whatever film they have in mind, she'll have a steady income through the involved contract. She VERY, VERY relunctantly agrees, and... the rabbit hole here's a deep, deep one.
What I've described here is the majority of the live action part of the film, which makes up for a third in my estimation. We then dwelve into the animated part and it's very intentionally a different movie altogether. It's a hectic, nearly liquid, kaleidoscopic landscape of varying cartoon styles, from the 1920s, peppy-and-bouncy types, to a colder, bolder, more geometrical design, akin to something from the Macromedia Flash boom of the early 2000s. But each individual here is so unique the disarray and general visual mess's a desired product. It's like Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Space Jam, if they had an greater drive to make the design clash as big as possible. The only thing that comes to mind that looks like this movie is Cool World; but that's more on a mood-and-vibe kind of comparison, since the characters there felt like all drawn by the same hand. Not to mention that The Congress's far more tolerable.
What you'll make out of it it's up to you, honestly – you can say it's about how the industry's overly relying on CGI and animation to cover up imperfections, whether at a skin or acting level. Maybe it's about the post-Facebook Internet age, and how we all live through avatars and virtual profiles that it's a self-edited reflection of ourselves, always positive and trying as hard as possible to be different from others. Maybe it's about drug use. Maybe it's about all those things combined, or about something else – I thought it was kinda hard to properly gauge when half the movie is told in a very straight-forward manner, going through each step of the many processes as slowly and carefully as possible, but then it goes the other way around, being narratively dreamy, and visually unruly. At times you'll feel like one scene of the movie is sort of contradicting, or changing something already mentioned.
In any case, it's a one-of-a-kind movie. It's supremely animated and performed. It's one you'll certainly want nearby whenever you're too tired from the same old popcorn nothings. Give it a look, you won't regret it even if the plot leaves you behind.
Keeping up with Robin Wright (but more importantly, Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last leading role – then there's only the final two Hunger Games films and that's it, very, very sadly), we've got Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man. Filmwise, it's my first Corbijn. But I've known the man from the long years he's been U2's go-to photographer, and often music video director. “One”, “Please”, “Electrical Storm”, and also Depeche Mode's “Enjoy the Silence”, and Coldplay's “Talk” – a devout black-and-white artist.
Based on John le Carré's novel of the same name, it's a film about an espionage operative. A Chechen refugee enters Hamburg, Germany – but the team led by Hoffman's character's tracking him down because the Chechen's got deep, close connections to a terrorist cell. Soon enough an invisible web surface among individuals related in different degree to said terrorist cell, but it'll take some time and some definite evidence to get the full picture, and measure the real gravity of their intentions.
If I keep this review shorter than the others it's because I didn't like it. I nearly fell asleep during it – I was tired, the screening was late, the seats were super comfy... and the movie wasn't starting properly anytime soon. It literally takes the movie one hour to get things going, to build any sort of tension or momentum. While I can't speak for le Carre's original work, under Corbijn, “Most Wanted” may be a couple of words too big for the Chechen character. There's nothing going on with him – he's one the dullest, most inactive characters I've seen all year, being kept away from most other character's reach, feeding what it seemed at times like a romantic drama set-up. But that would be changing into something else, and the movie's dryness wouldn't let it.
The protocols and procedures are delivered safely cold. Nothing compromising or risky. I may be complaining on the agents's well-rounded competency, but their motions don't do much to give the film a much needed spice. It'll sound cheap and tacky, but man did this movie needed like an explosion or two. Cue in a fast car, Tokyo-drifting through the german streets, chasing the suspicious Chechen character through dank alleys and crowded ports. Sadly, by the time one of these happen, it's all over.
Like mentioned, didn't like this one. Too impersonal, too meticulous to let fun, or something close to fun, sneak in.
But if it's about it being too dry, what about Steven Knight's Locke? Tom Hardy stars as Ivan Locke, a construction chief who, one night, travels from Birmingham to London – but not for pleasure or work. A while ago he had a one-night-stand with a co-worker and she's now pregnant and in labor in London, so he's running there. All while trying to explain, excuse, and justify himself over the phone to his distressed wife, doing his best to avoid divorce. And adding to that, there's the fact that the following day the team he's in charge of will conduct a major procedure and he won't be around, so he'll have to give his instructions by phone. But both sides are direr than Locke will admit.
The thing (or particularity, trick, what have you) with this movie is that it's told strictly from Locke's point of view. He's driving a state-of-the-art BMW with a phone built in. He talks to them through the speakers, and that's our movie. We never see his wife, his son, his co-worker who he nicknamed “bastard” in his contact list, or the lady he got pregnant. The camera's stationed on different points of the moving vehicle, largely staying still throughout the whole experience. And the English roads aren't lending themselves to pretty vistas and sights – it's nighttime, and we're on a highway. Any mile here is just like the mile before and the mile ahead. Though it's a clean looking movie, it's a boring looking movie. It's minimalism bordering on cheapness.
But if anything, it's an experiment I'm happy it happened. It's an intimate, seemingly casual affair (not too far from Linklater), of a man traveling from one city to another, dealing with his own demons and the burdens he places on others. Tom Hardy's pretty good here, donning a mask of civility, professionalism and responsibility, when in reality, he's gone too far to have it all as he so wishes. Also, the movie avoids falling into being a mere ad for the BMW he's driving by making it all about the fires he has to put out and not about the luxurious car he's piloting – needless to say, I feel the car was chosen not out of quality or prestige, but because it was one simple way to have the movie take place without having the character constantly breaking the law by taking out his physical phone every now and then to talk for 15 minutes while driving.
Very much like eavesdropping on someone you don't know, the movie makes you work to deduce his past and present, and the voids between him and the ones he's calling, so you can figure out the big picture. Its moods, its un-looks, and its plot will take a time and test your patience a bit, but you'll feel rewarded, trust me. By looking outside the window there may be nothing much, but inside the car there's a quiet storm slowly brewing.
Last but not least, there's Tate Taylor's Get on Up. For this James Brown biopic, he brings Chadwick Boseman, fresh from playing Jackie Robinson in last year's 42, to play another important figure of modern black American history. Also from his previous work The Help, he casts Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer (who won an Oscar for her work there, if you remember) as Mr. Brown's mother and aunt. It's a biopic, from his childhood in the woods to the early nineties, then already a music legend having gone through major ups and downs.
While tonally similar, I wasn't as engaged with this movie as I was with Jersey Boys, the Clint Eastwood film about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I'm not gonna mix the Get on Up review by mixing it up with Jersey Boys through comparison, but where as Eastwood's film was straight-forward and focused, dealing with creativity spurs and meltdowns with a balanced, smooth grace; Get on Up's a bit all over the timeline. It'll go from 1939 to 1960 to 1993 to 1950 and so on, without letting things build or go somewhere proper regarding Brown's personality, behavior, or even, his creative process – this one's a bit of a major problem in the movie, considering everyone's calling James Brown a genius but the movie never address his own qualities in a justifiable form. We saw the songwriting process in Jersey Boys that not only showcased the talents of certain individuals in the group, but also highlighted how involved some were in its success. None of that is found here, other than whoever's willing to go against Mr. Brown's gonna pay for it. That may be true for him, that he was an asshole, but he was so good at it they let him to be an asshole, or something like that. But the movie never deals with the subject more than the bare minimum.
It makes the movie an annoying sit for anyone who isn't a major fan of James Brown – why is he being heralded as a genius, where is all that coming from? We know the songs, and why they're so good. How did he come up with that? All we get is a redundant “funk is the one and all” mantra, echoed through times as Brown remembers instances of his life where he was down on his luck, and how music just came and saved him by encouraging him. Considering the aggressively in-your-face nature of James Brown, such things come as sappy.
But in any case, Boseman's great. The music, as you can expect, is even greater. It's watchable for those two elements, but not for much else. Maybe it's more listenable than watchable, but it's certainly worth a part of your attention.
That's it for now! Until next time!