Posts Tagged ‘Harry Potter’

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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Directing for Hammer Horror, James Watkins (Eden Lake) brings The Woman in Black to the big screen, complete with a much anticipated new role for Daniel Radcliffe. Critics have taken to the film with beady eyes, highlighting the simplicity of the plot, addressing the sparse characterisation and treating Radcliffe’s performance with pedantic scrutiny. When all is considered though, their in depth examination seems laughable in the face of what is a first-rate horror film like one we haven’t seen in years.

Based on Susan Hill’s novel, The Woman in Black tells the tale of a young solicitor and single father, Arthur Kipps who heads to a desolate mansion on the English coast to see to a deceased woman’s paperwork. Kipps has a young son to provide for and the sadness of his wife’s death (who died in child birth) still hangs upon his shoulders. Upon arriving he is informed by the locals that he should not visit the mansion, as they believe it is haunted by a darkly clad female apparition. Applying reason to the situation Kipps decides to see the job through, as he must prove his worth to his employer for fear of losing his job.

Radcliffe’s first serious non-Harry Potter performance is in good hands with James Watkins who gives him a mature role, playing a grief stricken father. While Radcliffe’s acting range is discernible, Watkins plays to his strengths allowing us to invest suitably in his dilemma. Building the authenticity of the story Watkins selects some superb locations, particularly the mansion itself – the design team dressed Cotterstock Hall in East Northamptonshire to create the epically creepy Eel Marsh House.

Watkin’s shooting style brings to mind classics of the horror genre, notably Psycho, Halloween and Alien. The movement of the characters and the coordinated use of close ups and shallow depth of field keep us on edge knowing that something sinister is lurking near-by. The design and lighting combine to give us a sense that the woman in black herself is omnipresent, building a constant sense of tension. Use of CGI is limited and thankfully so – often the effects feel like some of the cheapest tricks, but Watkins reins it in. He also deserves credit for rejecting the initial proposal that the film should be shot in 3D – this would have destroyed the classical creep of the Edwardian set story.

Amping up the scares towards the end, in a fashion particularly comparable to Halloween Watkins makes The Woman in Black first and foremost a thrill ride, but this is not to say that the film lacks substance. The payoff requires credible emotional investment from the audience and it carries it off with precision, allowing the fear of the woman in black to make a real impression. This film, like the novel it is adapted from, is designed to haunt you after it has ended. Perhaps when you are home alone, or just going to bed it will come back to give you one extra scare – when you buy tickets to see a horror film that is what you pay for and The Woman in Black welcomely delivers.

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