Archive for July, 2014

rsz_boyhood-2014-movieWhen we think about Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s new film, it is interesting to note the maverick auteur Werner Herzog’s idea about the ‘ecstatic truth’: the suggestion that film makers will never be able to truly capture life in all its authenticity, that fabrication and imagination is the key to unlocking life’s gilded mysteries. Linklater has proven to be keenly entranced by the idea of authenticity and documenting the passing of time over his career. Slacker, Dazed and Confused and the beloved Before Sunrise trilogy all took place over the space of 24 hours, polaroid pictures of scattered lives and fleeting moments. Boyhood is his most ambitious project yet, tracing one boys blossoming into adulthood over a 12 year period.

Everything that has been written and eulogised about the film essentially comes down to Ellar Coltrane, the young boy plucked as a 7 year old to star in an alternate vision of his own life. His ‘character’ Mason is a thoughtful child living with his precocious sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and single Mom (Patricia Arquette) in suburbia, Linklater’s usual playground. His early years are defined by endless bike rides with friends, delinquent graffiti vandalism and video games. Linklater uses musical cues by Coldplay and other pop punk hits to define the cultural landscape of the early 00’s. We are introduced to his vagrant Dad (Ethan Hawke), arriving back from Alaska to bribe his offspring with daytrips out and presents.

The film then becomes defined by Mom’s choices; a series of hopeful marriages turned sour by alcohol and new schools for the kids to acclimatise to. We begin to see how the adult world is just as messy and confused as the children’s lives, and how a child’s life can be transformed on the parent’s whim. Mason becomes more introverted, his cherubic glow giving way to a sullen teenager. He begins to make contact with girls and finds a passion for photography, all the while trying to come to terms with his mother’s nomadic lifestyle. Dad flits in and out of the film, much like a customer of separation would, and starts his own family. Boyhood is not a film of great invention and drama, but one trying to illuminate the smaller moments.

The ambition shown by Linklater is quite astonishing. There was a recent Michael Winterbottom drama that similarly tried to evoke a stretch of time like this, but other than that Boyhood is something of an anomaly. In interviews the director has stated that they tried to film for a few weeks every year, creating a short film annually. He admits that there was an element of uncertainty running through the production, and if we are being objective, it shows. Casting a couple of young children to play out characters and watch them evolve shows a remarkable degree of trust. Does it work? In my opinion, not quite. As Coltrane ages, the initial charm he has as a kid subsides; his introversion comes to the fore, and he doesn’t have the requisite acting chops to deliver the more dramatic scenes. Neither does Linklater’s daughter Lorelei for that matter.

Yet there is a strange beauty in this flaw, the unpredictability of these human beings and what life will throw at them down the years. Linklater has obviously had to adapt his story and his characters as the two actors develop. Where the film falls down, and in quite a big way, is the broad strokes that Linklater uses to convey the story. In dealing with such an epic timeline, he resorts to numerous cliches and cut out characters. Professor Bill, for example, Mom’s first husband, changes from charismatic saviour to monstrous pig with no warning. There is a lack of character development and nuance here. Elsewhere Linklater hams up his themes a little; the religious right and the war in Iraq are both dealt with in crude slabs.

While Boyhood is not a perfect film, there are moments of poignance running through the film. Particularly Mason’s relationship to his errant Dad, and his attempts to instil some fatherly advice on camping trips. Many viewers will delight in observing the changing cultural landscape, as we see the leaden, clunky iMacs fall to the wayside as iPads and Facetime take over. There is a particularly nostalgic moment for our generation as Mason attends the arrival of the newest Harry Potter books; it hits a personal chord because my sister also attended one of the midnight openings. That’s the thing about this film: for Western audiences there will be something that everybody can identify with at one point or another, whether it being a first shitty job or drinking your first can of beer.

An ambitious yet flawed film, it still feels like an event and for large parts, quite an achievement on Linklater’s part.

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If you ever need a change from the humdrum assembly line of Hollywood movies, it is always worth checking out the Academy Award Foreign Language film winners, nominees and submissions. Nearly every year there’s a gem or two to be found in the selection; in this case it’s the Australian submission (sadly not entered for competition), The Rocket. The feature debut from Kim Mordaunt is a sweet, uplifting and often shocking account of a family in Laos. Mordaunt brings his knowledge of the land (after directing documentary Bomb Harvest that looked at the remaining bombs from the US attack on Laos) along with a magic-realism tone and Spielbergian child character to create a truly enchanting film.

With a land destitute, lacking a particular age, Laos has a fascinating beauty. Due to its scarred land, it is also a place of solemnity. These are the two key aspects of Mordaunt’s film – a joyous depiction of splendour combined with heartbreak and toil. It begins with the birth of Ahlo and his still-born twin brother; the former being tagged “little balls” comically before the latter’s bereaved entrance. This juxtaposition continues throughout, making The Rocket an honest and therefore affecting film.

In a nutshell Ahlo’s twin genetics marks him as a figure of bad luck. In his young life he experiences this continually, yet he always strives to overcome it. When his family are moved out of their homes due to planned construction, the trek to a new life leads them to an unfit area of living. Ahlo then hears about a rocket-building competition that offers money to the winner. With his intellect and spirit he plans to win it, keeping his family safe and able to move them to a better property.

The simple storyline expands beyond its perimeters to explore notions of innocence, discrimination and the bonds we find in life. As a family film (with a 12A certificate), The Rocket is affirming and intelligent, worthy of comparison with some of the Capra and Disney greats. Not only does it keep your attention fixated on the determination of one boy, it reminds you of the scarcity in some people’s lives that can be overruled on the strengths of family and virtuousness.

Messages and morals aplenty, The Rocket is never preachy. It has a very clear set of values and an unquestionable elegance. The first 30 minutes are laced with stunning cinematography and a finely tuned score. As the film becomes more of a character study the visuals become less styled, thankfully reintroduced in the finale. It is a work of class, with Mordaunt making a terrific name for himself. He has the wit, humanity and wisdom to make the right sort of film, and The Rocket is already an excellent example of that.

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