“Boyhood”: Richard Linklater’s Lesson on Adolescence

The Evolution of Ellar Coltrane in "Boyhood"

The Evolution of Ellar Coltrane in “Boyhood”

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
– Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986

We’ve seen a lot of memorable characters from movies and television shows grow up over a certain period of time. We’ve seen Harry Potter and his friends survive seven years at Hogwarts after destroying Voldemort. In Boy Meets World, Cory Matthews learned lessons from his parents and his teacher/next door neighbor Mr. Feeny about growing up and heading into the real world. Even in The Godfather, Michael Corleone took Vito’s place as the Don of the mafia family. Imagine if those films or television shows were filmed over a certain period of time and put into one film/miniseries. We watch the characters grow up before our eyes. It would be one helluva project, but it would be very tricky. What if a gifted and confident filmmaker made that project?

Enter Richard Linklater, a native from Texas who directed such unique films as the Before trilogy (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight) and School of Rock. He began a project called Boyhood (originally titled Growing Up, then 12 Years) in 2002 consisting of a 6-year-old boy becoming an adult. Every year, Linklater would use the same cast to film some scenes to see them age and mature before our eyes over the course of one movie. When his daughter Lorelei Linklater lost interest in the project after a few years, Linklater refused, thinking it would be unacceptable to kill off her character because it would be too much from what he was planning. His project wouldn’t look that well. At the end of production, he made the cast feel like a real family.

Ellar Coltrane and Patricia Arquette in "Boyhood"

Ellar Coltrane and Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”

What makes this 2014 movie so brilliant is the scope. It wouldn’t do well if Linklater decided to separate it into countless sequels. He was capable of turning this ambitious project into a singular 3-hour narrative epic. He doesn’t give timestamps to notify what year we’re in. The audience figures it out when the main character’s voice deepens, has a different hairstyle, or when someone talks about the war in Iraq or the Obama election, or if they hear a song from a certain year in the 21st century (a subtle transition). There are times in the movie where he is giving the audience a lesson in adolescence; asking us questions about life.

The movie begins with 6-year old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) laying on the grass looking up at the clouds; using his imagination. Even as a kid, he feels as if he is in his own little world; collecting arrowheads, playing video games (GameBoy Advance and XBOX), and watching Dragonball Z. He slowly but surely comes to realize how hard it is to live in a family with divorced parents. His mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) has custody of Mason and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Olivia is struggling to make life easier for herself and her children. They frequently move around the state of Texas, so Olivia can get remarried and get a college degree. The kids had to get used to having a stepfather, and following their strict rules. In one tense scene, Olivia married her college professor at the University of Houston. He tells the kids to finish their chores. His alcoholism starts taking over his life. He drinks hard liquor at the dinner table. Mason ignores him, then he starts throwing glasses and plates. From his facial expression, Mason wants to get out of the house and spend time with his father.

Speaking of which, Mason and Samantha spend every other weekend with their father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). However, they haven’t spent time with him for a year because he went up to Alaska. Mason Sr. is a musician/songwriter.

Boyhood even references Richard Linklater’s early films. There are scenes where he plays his songs to his kids, which are reminiscent to the scene near the end of Before Sunset where Celine plays a waltz for Jesse.

Richard Linklater setting up the Obama/Biden sign for a scene in "Boyhood"

Richard Linklater setting up the Obama/Biden sign for a scene in “Boyhood”

Mason Sr. acts like a teenager. He comes back home to Texas in his Pontiac GTO to pick up his kids. They spend time going to the bowling alley (“You don’t need the bumpers. Life won’t give you bumpers.”), seeing Roger Clemens pitch at a Houston Astros game, spend time putting up signs for the Obama election (a very hilariously amusing scene), or spending a weekend out at camp. They talk about various topics (ones we would hear in real life). For instance, the sharp dialogue between Mason Jr. and Mason Sr. as they discuss about a possible Star Wars sequel. It amused me because they talk about it years before it will be announced. It’s almost as if the producers of Lucasfilm took Hawke and Coltrane’s (and possibly everyone’s) discussion into consideration.

Boyhood is natural on how it portrays the life of a fictional family. It’s easy to believe how real it’s depicted through the eyes of an ordinary boy. When we start seeing Mason growing up as a teenager before our eyes, we see him getting into serious situations like a typical teenager would. He encounters bullies at school, gets into peer pressure, partying, and drinking. Mason is about to go to college, and learn the responsibilities of becoming an adult. Mason begins to have an interest in photography, and falling in love with an attractive girl named Sheena (Zoe Graham). They begin having a conversation at a party – also reminiscent to the Before movies – and become immediately attracted to each other. They decide to spend a night with Samantha and her boyfriend in Austin. They share a conversation in a 24-hour restaurant eating nachos, and share a kiss as the sun rises.

Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke in "Boyhood"

Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”

Seeing Boyhood in the theater is an experience like no other. There are times in which I laughed, smiled, gasped, and felt very moved by it. I couldn’t help but relate to any of the family’s situations in the movie. I grew up in a family in which my parents got divorced at a young age, and realizing how hard it is to be in this situation, even up to this day. If anyone out there can’t relate to this movie at all, they might have been spending their entire lives under a rock. I really admired what Richard Linklater and his phenomenal cast have done. Not only is this is easily the best film of 2014 and the best of the decade so far, but this is also one of my absolute favorite films of all-time.

2014 Summer Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

GOTG

Chris Pratt and his group of A-holes team up to save the galaxy in “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Finally! A comic book movie with a new group of heroes!

Guardians of the Galaxy has been one of my most anticipated movies of the year. After spending six years of releasing movies featuring the members of “The Avengers”, it’s about time for MARVEL to give fans something they haven’t seen before. A group of outlaws featuring a talking tree and a talking raccoon…it couldn’t get any more awesome than that. Sure, it might seem an unlikely group, but indie director James Gunn brings enough wit and charm into these memorable characters to make us become emotionally connected to them. He makes our inner child burst with satisfaction.

After the death of his mother, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) gets on a spaceship to leave Earth. Years later, he’s adopted by an alien race called the Ravagers, and grows up to be a bounty hunter taking the alias of Star-Lord. While discovering his home on the planet Morag, Quill finds an orb in an abandoned building (cleverly paying homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark). He steals the orb, brings to the planet Xandar to sell it for a good amount of units, and gets arrested for stealing it from Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).

After hearing the news of Ronan using the orb to destroy the entire galaxy, Quill teams up with four other companions. They are:

  • Gamora (Zoe Saldana, using green makeup rather than motion capture), an alien assassin trained by Ronan.
  • Drax the Destoryer (Dave Bautista), a maniacal warrior with tattoos seeking vengeance after his family tragically died.
  • Groot (Vin Diesel), a tree humanoid with very limited vocabulary. The only words he says are “I am Groot.”
  • Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a foul-mouthed, genetically engineered raccoon who is a bounty hunter invested with weapons.

Together, they come up with a plan to save the galaxy.

There have been several movies this year in which I would have a blast seeing them in the theater. However, there isn’t a movie quite like Guardians of the Galaxy. It made me feel like a kid watching perhaps the best movie in the world. Gunn provides some of the year’s most stunning visuals and exhilarating action sequences. What makes the movie fun, however, is the characters and their interactions with each other. When Pratt’s Quill puts a mix tape containing popular songs from the ’70s (including Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling”) in his Walkman and starts dancing to the beat, it gives a reminder that the audience is in for a treat.

Peter Quill is like the brother Han Solo never had; he’s handsome, witty, charismatic, and bit of a wiseass. It’s impossible not to get a kick out of him when he uses his charm as the only way to get out of a certain situation. Whenever he interacts with the computer-generated characters, I feel as if he is actually interacting with them. Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon is like the Joe Pesci from Goodfellas. Not only is he funny, he’s also insane. The supporting cast including John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro couldn’t get any better. With an ending leading up to a sequel, I think it’s safe to that Guardians of the Galaxy is the best MARVEL movie since The Avengers.

4/4

2014 Summer Movie Review: Hercules

Dwayne Johnson brings the muscles and the body armor in "Hercules"

Dwayne Johnson brings the muscles and the body armor in “Hercules”

There have been several movies featuring the legendary demigod Hercules. One of the most well-known versions was the 1997 animated film from Disney. Although I’ve seen bits and pieces of that version, it still gave me the knowledge about the origins of Hercules. With two movies featuring the hero came out this year, I assume the latest version starring Dwayne Johnson and directed by Brett Ratner (who completely ruined the X-Men trilogy) is much more entertaining than 2014’s first big flop The Legend of Hercules, in which I avoided like the plague. However, one of the film’s reasons why it’s rated PG-13 is among the several problems I had with it. It’s not as bad as I expected it to be, but it’s nothing special.

Hercules opens up with, like with the other versions, the origins of the legendary hero. He became the son of Zeus (or more accurately, Jupiter) and known for his unbelievable strength, spent twelve labors, betrayed by his wife Hera, and believed he ended up murdering her and his children. Years later, he becomes mortal and shows up wearing a hide of Leo the Lion (I’m hoping you get the joke) to save his nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) from the pirates who don’t believe the truth of Hercules. We see him as a leader of a group of mercenaries going to Thrace to be hired by King Cotys (John Hurt) to train his army in order to defend his kingdom by the vicious warlord Rhesus.

There is some entertaining scenes in this movie. The battle scenes are actually pretty good. Ratner knows how to film action, however, they are ruined by the poorly rendered CG effects. Some of the effects here make the effects from Ghost Rider look quite exhilarating. The backstories of Hercules are also ruined by Ratner’s weak direction. For instance, the first flashback with his wife and children getting slaughtered comes out of nowhere with absolutely no feeling of intimidation whatsoever. I understand this is a popcorn flick, but some of the one-liners makes the tone go into a completely different path.

I can’t imagine a better actor than Dwayne Johnson to play the titular role. With his WWE days behind him, he’s becoming capable of being a talented actor. Sure, he might star in some bad movies (like Tooth Fairy, where he wears a tutu), it’s impossible not to love this guy. He does a good job bringing loads of muscles and giving speeches like William Wallace from Braveheart or King Theoden from The Lord of the Rings.

1.5/4

2014 Summer Movie Review: Lucy

Scarlett Johansson can use all of her brain capacity in Luc Besson's "Lucy"

Scarlett Johansson can use all of her brain capacity in Luc Besson’s “Lucy”

If one of the prettiest actresses of all-time stars in a movie with an insane concept directed by the same creator of Léon: The Professional and The Fifth Element, what makes you wonder? It seems like Luc Besson put thought into the story of Lucy. It might sound similar to Limitless (which I haven’t seen but I assume that’s a much better movie). However, Luc Besson is capable of taking a silly yet intriguing idea seriously. The result is . . . quite something. It might hit several bumps in the road, but Lucy still hits full throttle until the end.

Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) gives a lecture about his research about the brain capacity. The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Someone asks what would happen if a person can use all of their brain, which Norman doesn’t have the complete answer to. Enter Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), a woman living in Taiwan as a drug mule. Under the supervision of drug lord Mr. Jang (Choi Min-Sik), she makes a deal to sell bags of drugs that could increase a person’s brain function. Instead, she is held captive with one bag in her stomach. When one of the drug thugs kicks her in the stomach, the drugs leak into her system. This causes Lucy to gain physical and mental abilities – instantly absorbing information, telekinesis, etc.

Lucy sets out on a mission to arrest the men responsible for putting the drugs in her. Before she does so, she calls her mother in a Taipei hospital (in a cheesy yet powerful scene) about how she feels everything from her. Unaware of the drugs, her mother doesn’t believe what she’s talking about. We know, however, that Lucy has just gained the ability to feel everything she had touched in her life. Then, Lucy calls upon Norman saying she had instantly read all of his research, and that he’s on the right track. As her brain power increases, the more unstoppable she becomes.

Besson does a capable job discussing how a complex theory would change how we view the world. He starts the movie out like a nature documentary on the Discovery or National Geographic channels about the evolution of humans, narrated by the God of Hollywood, Morgan Freeman. The stunning cinematography and visuals remind us of all the other sci-fi films, but not entirely ripping them off. He makes it Scarlett Johansson’s time of her life as the blond bombshell who can control everything. With Lucy running for 90 minutes, it becomes fascinating until the credits start to roll.

3/4

2014 Summer Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Malcolm (Jason Clarke) enters the land occupied by Caesar and his apes in Matt Reeves' "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"

Malcolm (Jason Clarke) enters the land occupied by Caesar and his apes in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

I haven’t seen any of the Planet of the Apes movies, but I am familiar with the series. The only one I’ve seen was Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I was pleased with what I saw. It featured an underrated performance by James Franco (before he became a complete joke) as Will, a scientist testing his Alzheimer’s cure on his father and then on a chimp named Caesar. I couldn’t have asked for a better climax resulting in an incredible build-up for the sequel. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (which I’ve seen last night), director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) takes the story to a whole new level.

The movie opens in 2016, where our hero Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his group of apes unleashed a virus leaving billions around the world dead. The reason for this is that they could make peace for themselves. After taking San Francisco by storm a decade earlier, Caesar and his apes have settled in Muir Woods. He becomes the leader of the apes; learning that apes are equal, and they should not kill other apes (nod to George Orwell’s Animal Farm). He has a family; his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) becomes ill after giving birth. His son Blue Eyes is walking in the forest when he spots a human.

The human, Carver (Kirk Acevado) is one of the few hundred survivors of the virus outbreak. He’s a member of a group, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), struggling to make peace. With no power in the city, the group decide to enter Muir Woods to generate a dam that might restore the power. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), the head of the survivors, doesn’t appreciate the apes living on Earth. He decides to go to war with the apes to prove who’s the dominant species.

Caesar has as much respect for the survivors as for the apes like he did with Will in Rise. Even though he acts like a human-being, he is really sympathetic to humans. In one emotional scene, Malcolm and his family find shelter in Caesar’s childhood home when the war between man and apes is taking place. Caesar stays up in the attic for the night as he finds a fully charged camcorder. He presses ‘play’ and he watches a video of himself (as an infant) being taught by Will. After the video, Malcolm asks him “Who was that in the video?” “A good man,” Caesar responds, “Like you.” However, his lieutenant Koba (one of the best villains in recent memory), prefers to kill every human-being on Earth. This is understandable that he leads the other apes to war against the humans for Caesar. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes hits it out of the park with emotion.

Reeves brilliantly captures the ruined city of San Francisco and the apes’ settlement with an allegorical, emotionally powerful and action-packed story as intelligent as the apes themselves. It looks like the humans are actually corresponding to the computer-generated primates without pretending they aren’t even there. The motion capture is as phenomenal as ever; it makes us forget we’re watching an actor capturing the ape’s body language rather than a realistic CGI creation. I think it’s time that Andy Serkis receives a special achievement Oscar for bringing this wonderful technology to life. From Gollum to King Kong to Caesar, he’s definitely brought motion capture to the next level. If it isn’t for him, it would probably get old very fast. This is how a sequel is made!

4/4

2014 Summer Movie Review: Jersey Boys

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hit the stage in Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, "Jersey Boys"

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hit the stage in Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, “Jersey Boys”

Clint Eastwood is a bizarre choice to direct a musical. He got his start in Westerns; mainly on the television show Rawhide and Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Over the years, Eastwood became capable of not only starring in movies but also produce and direct his own movies. Not to mention his well-deserved Oscar for his 1992 Western Unforgiven. After the successful Gran Torino, Eastwood has mostly been directing some minor hits (Changeling, Invictus, Hereafter). For someone who has never seen the musical, I have to admit seeing the movie version of Jersey Boys once was good enough. It’s not a bad movie, but it could have been a lot better.

The movie starts off in 1951 in Belleville, New Jersey. Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) tells the audience he’s willing to go for the real story. He meets up with his friend Frank Castelluccio – later, Frankie Valli – (John Lloyd Young) at a barbershop. Frankie’s mother is not appreciating the friends he’s hanging out with, because they like to get into a ton of trouble especially for breaking and entering. One night at a nightclub, DeVito asks Valli to be the singer of his band. A lot of people are blown away by his falsetto voice, and hoping he will become famous one day

“I’m going to be big as [Frank] Sinatra,” says Valli as he talks to his future wife.

Once DeVito forms a quartet featuring Valli as the lead singer, they show their support, especially by mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). As they head into the 1960s as the well-known Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, they continue to show their fame despite the rough times they had as a group.

There are solid performances by the Four Seasons, notably John Lloyd Young who perfectly captures the spirit of Frankie Valli with his powerful voice and strong heart. However, he – along with Christopher Walken as the mob boss – can’t hold much drama to make the Jersey Boys‘ sluggish pace faster. Throughout the 134-minute running time, I almost fell asleep once and begged for the movie to move on. Probably there is something wrong with the film’s cinematography, or maybe Clint Eastwood is following the footsteps of Martin Scorsese.

As the music comes into play, Eastwood speeds the pace up with its vibrant colors and energy to have the audience tapping their feet along with the Four Seasons. The finale is all-around fabulous, giving me a reminder on how great music used to be back in the day. With modern music becoming repetitive, it’s always refreshing to hear the classics we know and love. Coming from a fan of music from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, I never knew who the Four Seasons were before I heard about Jersey Boys. After seeing the movie last night, I immediately listened to their songs on Spotify. I am happy but sad I went to see the movie. Seeing the Broadway version might be expensive, but hell, I assume $70 to see a play is more worthwhile than $10 to see a film adaptation.

2.5/4

2014 Summer Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless are back to protect the peace of Berk in "How to Train Your Dragon 2"

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless are back to protect the peace of Berk in “How to Train Your Dragon 2”

Three months before Toy Story 3, Dreamworks released an animated film called How to Train Your Dragon. It follows a teenage Viking named Hiccup (an admittedly odd name) becoming friends with a dragon. The movie set new grounds in computer animation. In an era where hand-drawn animation is being replaced by CGI animation, there wouldn’t be one from Dreamworks that is as gorgeous, imaginative and heartfelt as How to Train Your Dragon. There was an emotional depth that I didn’t expect at all. During the sequences where Hiccup flies with Toothless, it made me have the same feeling when I saw Avatar in 3D. It made me feel like I was flying on Toothless with Hiccup. I think it’s the best animated movie that Dreamworks has ever done since the first Shrek movie. It’s rare for a sequel to be better than its predecessor.

With How to Train Your Dragon 2, continues the pattern of having the perfect blend of comedy and drama, gorgeous animation, likeable characters, and thrilling action sequences. However, I think it takes that advantage of being bigger and better than the first movie.

Five years after the events of the first film, the Isle of Berk has made peace with the dragons. Dragons are now living as companions to the villagers and taking part in sporting events. For Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless, they decide to spend time exploring new worlds. One of their adventures leads to an ice cave where he learns about an evil dragon hunter named Drago Bludvist (voiced by Djimon Honsou, a great addition to the franchise) starting a war on Berk to capture every dragon.

Later, Hiccup discovers a dragon rider who is his long lost mother Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett, another great addition to the franchise) who lives in a haven that is home to hundreds of dragons. Together, they must protect the peace of Berk by Drago in one of the absolute best action sequences of the year.

You can tell how much the characters have changed since the last film, especially the main character Hiccup. Although being pressed by his father Stoick (even though he begins to pay attention to his son), he’s at an age where he has what it takes to be brave as a dragon rider and chief of Berk. I appreciated the emotional relationship between Hiccup and his parents. When Hiccup meets his mother, he wonders why she left the family a long time ago. He’s also at a point where he can marry Astrid, and live a wonderful life. Their love doesn’t consist of appearance, but rather than the gifted respect they have for one another. I guess it makes sense that earning enough respect would help save the day.

4/4