Review : Boyhood (2014)

Review : Boyhood (2014)

Almost like a time capsule that has been opened, Richard Linklater’s latest offering is possibly the pinnacle of filmmaking, virtually drawing the line of realism throughout and captivating the audience with each progression of the story.

One of the most intimate yet extravagant movies in modern cinema, Boyhood stands out as an ultra-realistic piece that dramatically contrasts the July big budget blockbusters.

Richard Linklater would not necessarily be classed as a household name ala Steven Spielberg, but this could be his launch pad into that category. After viewing the Before Trilogy, a unique story and branch of characters, it is hard to see anything surpassing that type of realism and genius, but Boyhood takes that to a whole new level, with Linklater incorporating elements from his previous movies and expanding to create a masterpiece of modern cinema.

The acting is an integral part of the film, and all actors deliver throughout the whole 12 year cycle. Though some are not present in certain points of the movie, the principal actors were all part of the 12 year shooting schedule and contributed to scriptural elements that define their characters. It is worth noting that due to the small budget, the actors were not given contracts and were not obligated to return every year, but returned year in, year out to complete their work on this monumental picture.

Ellar Coltrane (Salmon when cast), the main character of the movie and that which it follows, can be seen growing as an actor throughout the whole movie, something that isn’t seen to this extent in the film industry. Each year he brings a little more to his character and really comes into his own as he grows up, both in character and in real life. He is surely a name we won’t soon be forgetting.

Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Lorelei Linklater round out the core cast, and provide significant and masterful supporting roles as they make up the broken family that Ellar Coltrane’s character is central to. Hawke, a severely under-rated actor, continues his sustained character driven approach from the Before Trilogy and makes himself memorable in all scenes. Arquette, a questionable choice at first, really blossoms and becomes her character to the fullest extent, showing off her acting abilities in many parts of the movie. Lorelei, daughter of Richard Linklater, is the third piece of the puzzle that makes the family, and unfortunately is the weakest. This isn’t to say she isn’t a terrific actress, she is memorable for the full first half of the picture, but her character seems to trail off in the second half and that’s where she begins to weaken, unable to claw back where she has missed out. All in all though, a great performance from Lorelei which rounds out the family.

The narrative of the movie is vast, spanning a full 12 years and taking into account many major and minor events that occur during the life of Mason Jr. However, it does not alienate the audience with excessive story progression, it gives just enough with each year that passes on screen; and although not labelled, the use of cuts and location show the time progression effectively.

Richard Linklater cements himself as a tour de force in the film industry, a diverse director in every way possible, and Boyhood is his finest hour yet. Festival season 2015 will be an interesting one, especially to see if the major awards ceremonies recognise this amazing achievement, that is not likely to be replicated this effectively. Undeniably unique, Boyhood is a film that speaks for itself, a character study that will stand the test of time.

★★★★

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Review : Before Trilogy (1995, 2004, 2013)

Review : Before Trilogy (1995, 2004, 2013)

It may be the greatest trilogy ever made, but there’s no doubt it’s one of the most thought provoking and conversational that there has ever been, and we can only hope that writers/stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy along with writer/director Richard Linklater come back for more after another 9 year sabbatical.

There’s something very quaint and traditional about these three movies, they closely follow Jesse and Celine through different periods of their lives, and are set in a short and concise time period, giving the audience only a brief snapshot of their world, leaving them wanting more.

Their conversations differ in topic, but never seem forced or rehearsed (even though they thoroughly are), they just seem to flow from one to the next and so on. Their conversations in the third movie are more retrospective of the preceding films and their events, which is a very realistic topic to be discussing when a couple have known each other in their world as long as they have.

The choreography of the movies is absolutely perfect, making it look so natural and elegant for the audience, and therefore reinforcing the realistic vibe that they are trying to create and maintain. It is rare that this level of creativity is exercised in such a fashion, and in such an exciting and artistic way, which further elevates this trilogy.

The acting and chemistry between Hawke and Delpy is undeniable. Their pairing is genius, and you can see that throughout all 3 movies. They make such a likeable and realistic couple that the audience can both relate to and aspire to be like.

All 3 films end in a certain degree of uncertainty and mystery for the viewer, you are left hanging and have no way of getting the answers you crave. This is where Linklater, Delpy and Hawke make their biggest impression, the whole film silently leading up to a key scene that makes you question the direction of the next instalment.

Before Sunrise is the benchmark that sets the tone and style for the sequels. It is a city-wide romance that comes full circle as the movie closes, leaving the audience hopeful and wholly satisfied. Before Sunset is the shortest of the trilogy, but makes an excellent sequel that blends the city setting of the original with a deeper meaning of romance as they meet again, years down the line. Before Midnight has a more family orientated backdrop, but still firmly concentrates on Jesse and Celine’s relationship, and sees it grow, evolve and almost wither. With all movies ending on a somewhat optimistic note, it makes the audience wonder how events will play out in another 9 years, but let’s hope we can all find out.

★★★★

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Review : Suspect Zero (2004)

Review : Suspect Zero (2004)

Featuring a strong cast and an intricate story, Suspect Zero is a rare film that tackles the murder-thriller genre head on, albeit with varying results.

Wasting no time establishing its forte, Suspect Zero gets right to the guts as a tense thriller, with a very strange and offset intro that is made for disorientation and curiosity. Through this intro, we see some artistic camera angles that partially block the view, reinforcing the disorientation, but unfortunately these angular enhancements don’t last long, and are long gone sooner than they should have been.

Zak Penn originally wrote the screenplay, which was later rewritten by The Hunger Games scribe Billy Ray, but both are fine at their chosen craft, there’s no doubt about that. The story is definitely well thought out, and is executed effectively on screen, with a surprise supernatural theme that audiences won’t have suspected at all, but is a change of pace from usual thrillers.

Sir Ben Kingsley, one of the finest English actors of his generation, plays a mysterious yet methodical character with a twist. At first he is portrayed as the villain, but later becomes an unorthodox anti-hero, and a powerful match for the lead character, a great performance as always from Kingsley.

Aaron Eckhart, trying to establish himself as a leading man, takes on the head role, and his appearance excels the character greatly, with Eckhart showcasing his abilities with a character that is frail at all edges.

Carrie Anne Moss and Harry Lennix round out the impressive cast, but unfortunately both suffer from poor character development. Moss has an unacceptably subdued supporting role, one that doesn’t fit her talents at all. Lennix, however, gets off lighter than Moss, being born for superior roles such as this, albeit with more development and screen time deserved.

Flashbacks play a major part in the movie and its narrative, and are a useful tool utilised by director E Elias Merhige to engage the audience in the backstory, and help them understand the events that precede the film. The flashbacks aren’t too extensive, and all help the plot and character development, making them worthwhile additions.

Sound is a major part of Suspect Zero, and although it does enjoy a creepy sound in the suspenseful parts, it is necessary for some of the themes that run through the movie – very well scored by Golden Globe Nominee Clint Mansell.

Suspect Zero is a very subjective film, constantly looking from outside perspectives, which is a risky move by any filmmaker, and although it is fresh, it does become partially stale towards the end of the movie. The strange overlay on some scenes is largely unexplained until quite late in the film, and even then now very thoroughly, making it seem like it’s trying too hard. The movie does boast some brilliant performances by Eckhart and Kingsley, which carry the movie, but there is definitely room for improvement.

★★★

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Review : Raising Arizona (1987)

Review : Raising Arizona (1987)

The Coen Brothers prove they are an undeniable film making duo with this incredibly well-thought out comedy from 1987.

In the opening of the film, which is actually quite extensive, it relies heavily on familiarity and similarity in its scenes, but this is done for emphasis and also moves the plot slowly along each time, drawing the audience in. The introduction lays out the groundwork for what is to come, setting the film up nicely for the events that follow.

Nicholas Cage is a leading man at his best in this piece, steering the picture himself, and his acting style fits the role perfectly. Cage had gone down in the ranks recently (see Ghost Rider 1 and 2), so he should really get back into more character roles that develop like in this movie. Cage’s narration is also something worth mentioning, as it carries the audience through the events, and gets the perfect balance between too much and too little.

Holly Hunter is nothing less than standout, with her emotion-filled performance being both fitting to the character and entertaining for the viewer. Hunter is the perfect compliment to Cage, and they work on screen so naturally, creating the chemistry seen with ease.

Frances McDormand makes a brief, however not that memorable appearance in this feature, not having enough time to fully establish herself and grow into her own, a shame considering her talent and ability.

Barry Sonnenfeld does a great job in the cinematography department, creating a stylish look with minimal surroundings, but keeping the audience interested with differentiating camera angles and lighting.

The music of Raising Arizona, credited to Carter Burwell, is very fitting to the genre and characters, helping the film along, but not pushing it too far.

The longer takes used by the Coen’s and the intricate dialogue they created only excel the movie and lift it up within the genre, even thought if is an over the top crime comedy. The climax of the movie, however, is too fleshed out and runs on far too long, subtracting from the piece itself slightly – it should have been shorter and it would have packed a bigger punch.

Having said that, the closing of the movie turns out to be completely sublime, with the ending being better than could have been first imagined. It combines the present and the future, and gives the audience some closure on the story and how it all eventually turns out.

The Coen Brothers were in their early days with Raising Arizona, but still managed to captivate audiences with their unlikely yet fulfilling story and unconventional yet likeable characters, with a somewhat glorified redneck representation mixed in. It’s no wonder the film has achieved cult status, and is regarded as one of the Coen Brothers’ greatest works alongside Fargo and my their remake of True Grit with Jeff Bridges. Undoubtedly, Raising Arizona is one of those landmark films that don’t age, and continue to be appreciated widely, which is how it should be.

★★★★

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Review : Oldboy (2013)

Review : Oldboy (2013)

Spike Lee’s remake of the 2003 landmark Korean movie of the same name is bold and brutal in more ways than one, a thought provoking thriller with a heavy dose of mystery.

Spike Lee is a legendary director in his own right, with movies like Inside Man and Malcolm X to his name, and he only further cements his reputation as a brilliant independent filmmaker with 2013’s Oldboy. Spearheaded with his stylish look and feel, Lee integrates beauty into violence, but not in a glorified way, in a realistic and effective one.

Josh Brolin is undoubtedly a great actor, one of the best of this generation, and it’s hard not to draw comparisons between him and Tommy Lee Jones, one of the finest American actors of all time, and a versatile one too. Brolin is the character he plays, he owns it and it is completely his, down to a tee. The emotions that he displays are portrayed clearly and effectively, helping the audience to empathise with him in the terrible predicament he was in, and the one that follows.

Michael Imperioli has a good part in Oldboy, and even though his character does meet his demise (just like in this year’s The Call), he makes his mark and is effective in what he does.

Sharlto Copley is completely unrecognisable in this feature, a world away from his roles in Elysium or The A-Team, and he really shows his depth of acting ability, especially in the antagonist position. His villainous nature comes off as not too excessive, but enough that it will always be there waiting, and it’s his creepiness in general that brings out the character properly to the audience.

Samuel L Jackson is quite underused in this movie, something which shouldn’t have happened. Considering his A-list status as a supporting and leading man, Jackson’s bit part could have been played by an amateur actor, not someone of this calibre. The character seems shoved in at some places just at last minute, and that really isn’t satisfying when there’s a classic actor in his boots, a major area for improvement there.

Elizabeth Olsen truly shines in Oldboy. If she wasn’t already established (don’t believe that), she is now, and things can only get better for her from here. Her mature approach and delivery is something that is a staple and excels her character to new heights, backed by this phenomenal performance that is key to the narrative.

The movie’s story strays from the original 2003 movie, and even more from the manga that it was based on. However, the story does unfold very well throughout, and even though it is a very controversial and odd story, it shapes the tone of the piece beautifully, letting the audience know it’s not afraid to show true emotions.

The music of the piece is strong, with Spanish composer Roque Baños showing us where his strengths are, and entertaining the audience all the while.

The movie is efficient in establishing locations and characters, especially through its clever use of almost interactive flashbacks, that help the audience understand the past whilst it relates heavily to the narrative.

Spike Lee, even with the total omission of guns, treats the audience to some amazing long take fight scenes that capture the nature of the lead character, whilst showcasing the power of choreography in acting to achieve this fever pitch.

Oldboy is overshadowed with mystery, is brutal and violent where needed, and deals with some pretty heavy story elements and themes that all surmount to this spectacular and intricate account of the complete and utter deterioration of a man and the world around him, even when he’s trying to rebuild it. This revenge thriller runs at a respectable 105 minutes, but it’s shocking to hear that, with no final cut privilege, Spike Lee’s original 140 minute cut has been cut a stellar 35 minutes to achieve this version. It’s not completely obvious, but throughout you can’t help but think that something is missing, and hopefully with a directors cut we will be able to find out. Otherwise, Oldboy is one of the best thrillers of 2013, that’s the truth.

★★★★

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Review : Don Jon (2013)

Review : Don Jon (2013)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt directs, writes and stars in this modern day romance tale that has a somewhat unholy slant – it’s not for the easily offended.

This is a career moment for JGL, his first feature film as director and writer, this is where you have to up your game and show your worth to the critics. It could be a make or break for his career behind the camera, and even though he does a good job on this project, it brings morning spectacular – that’s where the writing and acting come in to uplift it.

The movie is the ideal length at 90 minutes, and with its story it could have gone much longer, and wouldn’t have felt as explored if it was shorter. To this end, it is straight into the movie and characters, wasting no time at all getting to the subject area and the character development.

If you’ve read up on the movie, you’ll know it’s not a typical romantic comedy, far from actually. It’s slightly pornographic, and deals with that subject in a very open and honest fashion, which deserves credit. The atypical story is one that isn’t familiar to general audiences, and especially with all the frills that go with it, it’s a breath of fresh (or dirty) air into a repetitive genre.

In the acting department, JGL and Scarlett Johansson are on top form, giving great performances in their roles, and creating a substantial chemistry in the parts. The setting also calls for East Coast American accents, which are executed perfectly by the actors, and only bring realism and diversity to the piece.

Taxi star, Tony Danza, plays an overbearing yet entertaining father character that is prominent throughout and delivers some great, funny lines. Danza is a solid actor and his presence should be required in more movies.

Julianne Moore is introduced quite late into the movie, considering the running time, but makes herself known, especially with the way that the story goes. Her part seems like it should have been played by a different actress, not that Moore isn’t up to standard, but it should have gone to a different, maybe lesser known actress who would have fit the sorry and character more effectively.

Although it tries to stray away from Hollywood clichés, it still embraces them in some form, especially with its play on words title (referring to legendary womaniser, Don Juan) and slight repetitiveness with the lead character’s routine. However, it does contrast those parts with a permanently engaging story and the sexual elements that go with the territory – very against the grain.

Don Jon is ripe with music, some clichéd, but most of it is manageable. One scene that stands out with regards to music and acting is JGL driving to Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s Good Vibrations, and getting incredibly involved vocally, which is something that further excels his performance, and reinforces the opportunities that music can bring to film.

Keeping the focus almost entirely off employment of the main character, it shows what is needed to be seen by the audience, and is there to please (no dirty connotations intended). Unfortunately, the two other members of Jon’s family let it down, with the extremely over the top mother character becoming irritating from minute one, and the mute sister not utilised until the last minute, a shame considering Brie Larson’s acting abilities. That being said, the film ends on a somewhat happy ending (depends what you think), and the issues created are resolved, which brings the picture full circle, even if it’s not the circle that you wanted to see. It’s bold and boisterous, and it should be commended for that, it just needs a bit of tweaking, but other than that – well done JGL.

★★★

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