Saturday, July 26, 2014


     Do people see movies alone? I feel like Richard Linklater's Boyhood could be the type of movie to see alone.

     The one thing that I must say before I start is that everyone should see this film. It transcends the confines of a "movie" and delves into the realm of art more than anything i've ever seen. Hence, as a production, this movie is a masterpiece. Hands down. Linklater filmed over a span of 12 years, using the same actors during that whole time... Unheard of. There are so many risks to this approach, with an uncertain reward at the end of the road. But at a completely objective, analytical standpoint, Boyhood was just an above average film. Which is why I have to look at it in those two different lights: as a production, and as a film.

    Director Richard Linklater stabbed at an idea that could be either hit or miss, and he made pretty solid contact. Like I said, using the same actors over a span of a few years is quite crazy and ambitious, but Linklater is no rookie to the concept. He is responsible for the love stories Before Sunrise, Sunset, and Midnight. These movies starred the same two leads (one of them being Ethan Hawke, the come-around father of the lead, Mason, in Boyhood) throughout the three films, whose release dates were 1995, 2004, and 2013, respectively. He is also the director of classics such as Bad News Bears, School of Rock, and a personal favorite: Bernie.

Really, with that hair?
Now really try to think about what Linklater did with Boyhood. Over 12 years, an actors perspective, talent, and look can all change pretty drastically, and it's his job to keep that contained. But one of the genius things about that is—and I think Linklater knew this—that this way of filming is the only way to capture the true transformations of a human, mentally and physically. Skills flourish and wane. Puberty naturally comes into effect. Physique fluctuates. Most importantly, hairstyles change. Drastically. But Linklater creates these transitions happen so fluidly on screen, allowing the real life transformations of the actors to become something more. An alum from my high school observes this well in his review: "Eventually, the film focuses squarely on Mason, brilliantly timed to coincide with Coltrane coming into his own as an actor. This is the section of the film where we truly start to see linearity in Linklater’s selective and specific choice of moments". Seamless transitions and natural growth are what allow viewers to submerse themselves in Mason's world and life, and are what change the experience entirely.  Without Linklater's guidance, this film would have been an unorganized coming of age story, but instead it is something so much more personal. We feel like we have known mason all of his life, grew up with him, perhaps even raised him. We hate seeing him fall under bad influences and love seeing his character evolve. This experience is so unique and special and can't really be appreciated while viewing a "normal" movie.

     As a film, I think Boyhood deserves a bit less praise. However, it did many things right, connecting with the audience, drawing sympathy, and creating a character we can root for; everything we can expect out of a good Drama. It's timeline made it relatable to many age demographic, as every kid could connect with a certain age, and the struggle of divorced parents could speak to those divorcees watching the film, as well as kids with a similar domestic stance.  Boyhood covered well some daunting concepts such as that of relationships and time, but fell short on ones like consequences and meaning. I think the most powerful message this film displays is one that time is the only truly independent variable. It really proves that with the blink of an eye, years can fly by without giving you a real chance to grasp what's meaningful. The cuts between years worked to Linklater's disadvantage at times but proved helpful in others: on one hand, it created some confusing timelines and seemingly pointless changes, while on another, it provided us with a sense of longing, one similar to that felt by a mother missing her child's younger years. I say confusing timelines because we sometimes didn't know how a romance started or ended, and curious changes can be seen in the likes of Mason's sister, Samantha, becoming emo for no apparent reason. Although I said this is a weak point, I want to contradict myself here. This style can be a testament to the fact that time has no biases, judgements, or preferences, and it's impact on everyone's lives can be felt so abruptly. It also made viewers feel more connected, missing, perhaps yearning to return to times when Mason didn't have to deal with the temptations of drugs or alcohol, under the cover of naiveté. 

     Speaking of drugs and alcohol, is it just me, or are teenagers always portrayed as irresponsible assholes who have literally no regard for their own or others' lives? (American Pie, Superbad, Project X) While Mason grew up, from 8th grade onwards, he was constantly barraged with peer pressure to drink and smoke. From personal experience, I can vouch that it isn't that bad, and most guys don't talk about girls like that and call people faggots so frequently (and mean it). It all just seemed a bit forced. But that wasn't the only strife that seemed manufactured. Throughout the film we see that Mason's mom, played by Patricia Arquette, has a questionable taste in men. Time after time she is courted successfully by men who appear nice, but are real scumbags after a year or so of marriage. The scenes where these stepdads  lash out are very scary ones, don't get me wrong. But to see two husbands of equally asshole-ish degree seems a bit like forced conflict, as if Linklater needed to add some insecurity to the lives of Mason and Samantha. What made it seem even more fake was the fact that these relationships seemed to work themselves out, breakups or fights appearing off-screen. This seemed like a bit of a theme. Any problem Mason or his family had, typically got better without leaving any real mark or causing any repercussion. Mason, for example, besides some drunk and disapproving stepdads, in a way coasts through life seemingly having things handed to him. Nothing bad ever happens to him after falling under the influence of drugs and alcohol. After a stern talk from his photography teacher saying he will go nowhere, he lands a scholarship to a photography school. Everywhere he goes, Mason has a very attractive girl who is into him. And the one thing that seemed too perfect was after the mom told a plumber that he was smart and should go to school, he later ends up owning a restaurant they visit. The only reason I have a problem with things working themselves out in this way is because it makes it harder to become immersed in the story, it takes a bit of the realism out of a film where realism is the main objective.

     While Boyhood eventually revolves solely around Mason, it starts of as move of a movie about family, tracking everyones lives and just giving insight into a day in the life of  a family of four (albeit with an estranged father). But really quality performances from Hawke and Arquette tie the first half together, while Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, strengthens his acting to become a bit more layered during the back half. So while the film is in majority one about Mason growing up, the beginning focuses more evenly on the parenting aspect. Here, we see Arquette, a house-poor mom struggling to keep up with her two kids and her own life. She must be stern with them most of the time, and has very little time to just take them out and have fun. Enter Ethan Hawke, the stepdad whose job is to pick the kids up every weekend in his GTO and have fun with them. How can this be fair to mom? Now i did not grow up with this type of parenting, but it seems fairly common, and Boyhood once again depicts a pretty complex concept during normal everyday lives. I thought Hawke's was such an important influence on Masons life, constantly giving little tidbits of advice, and as Hawke evolved as a dad, so did Mason into a young man. Hawke stole every scene he was in, and he seemed to be the only redeeming factor in Mason's life. I relished the moments where they were together, and longed for him when Mason needed guidance. Arquette, after all of the bullshit with second husbands, going to school, finally can just be a mom near the end of the film. But she, more than anyone, is left, empty handed, with nothing but questions. There is a scene that really spoke to me, as a second child about to fly the coop and leave my parents all alone. When Mason is packing up for college, we find mom crying, asking him, "Is that it?". She rolls over all the big moments in hers and Mason's lives, and begins to realize that the next big landmark is her own death. How is that supposed to make Mason feel? Or for that matter, any guy my age who is essentially abandoning their mother? As a tear rolled down my eye, I was really forced to think about life and time in a different perspective.

      It's hard to tell with Mason. Hard to tell if he's meaningful, hard to tell how real he is. Fairly introspective throughout his adolescence, he becomes a soft spoken, suave guy as he nears college. Because age is marked via haircuts and popular songs at the time, we get a clear sense of when Mason grows, and that allows us to analyze his change specifically. I think he's fairly likable throughout, and he goes through phases in the form of girlfriends, outlooks on life, etc. As the naiveté of young Mason begins to shed, he begins asking important questions, ones that we struggle to answer every day. He brings up modern conflicts such as society and technology, and we see his relationship with his girlfriend reach its pinnacle, and its downfall. His storyline, character arc all fit in well and are both compelling, but to me, lacks passion and direction. I would credit this to the fact that Linklater didn't want to give Coltrane direction, instead, he let Coltrane's real life changes dictate the progress of the movie. This, while creating a lot of lulls, was a powerful tool that let us witness the real growth of intelligence and maturity of a young man. But, time and time again, we get the sense that he just doesn't really care about much.

    Excusing the cringe-worthy acting/writing during that scene in the abandoned house, there wasn't any one thing too distracting. A well woven storyline and unparalleled idea helped turn what is an above average film into a piece of art that does exactly what Linklater wants. Boyhood puts time into a new perspective, makes the viewer analyze its impact on a single subject, and afterwards, analyze its impact on themselves. What really matters after seeing this film is that we begin to ask questions, we begin to try to relate our lives with others, and we start to realize that once our lives are set in motion, everything counts, and nothing matters.

Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

     Guys. I went to my first party that somehow drew the attention of a police helicopter. I think that alone can make any night exciting and worth having. I say this because although the every other part of my day/night was pretty much boring, I'll still refer to it in stories for years to come. That helicopter reminded me of a dragon, so I went to see How to Train Your Dragon 2. No, no, that's a terrible transition. How about: watching that World Cup Final flying back and forth reminded me of a dragon, so I went to see... No. To be honest, theres no good transition, because this was very impromptu. A sunday night movie with a friend. I ditched my dad for the third night in a row, which normally I wouldn't feel bad about, but in this case, he's had nobody to hang with (my mom has been on a "girlfriends' retreat"). So, yeah. Also, just saying, no matter what type of movie watcher you are, if you don't take a moment every so often to see an uplifting animated movie, then you're a monster.
    Dragon 2. Behind the beautifully fluid animation lies multiple serious undertones that I can imagine would resonate with kids from pre teens to young adults. Concepts like abandonment, coming of age, and the loss of a loved one offer plenty to think about and bring a sense of maturity to the film, but are well balanced with playful writing and beautiful scenes. What I was most impressed with was how they continued the story line after the first movie. In some cases, a sequel's plot can seem forced and confusing, but writer and director Dean DeBlois created a seamless transition. I really like how now, with the help of the dragons, the citizens of Berk thrive and our protagonist, Hiccup, has begun to explore and map out uncharted territories. Hiccup, along with the rest of his friends from the first movie, have all grown up a bit, donning the preview of facial hair and a bit deeper of voices. But Hiccup is a troubled soul. On top of his mommy issues, he now anxiously anticipates his inauguration into chiefhood. This struggle is similar to the one he faces in Dragon 1, in the sense that he feels pressured to be like his "perfect Dad", but doesn't know how. But with the help of his friends and the reunion of his father and long lost mother, Hiccup becomes the man he was meant to be, although in a rather cliche manner.

The Alpha next to Hiccup and Valka
    The movie's message comes across clearly and cleverly, but wouldn't keep the attention of the kids without magnificent visuals and malevolent baddies. Animation never ceases to amaze me, with its ever increasing potential for greatness. Each wide shot more stunning than the one before, and the capability to capture epic scale warfare. Each flying scene blew the audience away, really taking us through the scares and pleasures of what Hiccup must have been feeling. And during one of the more intense periods, we get a real treat: a dragon sanctuary with a magnificent alpha dragon at its center. Scenes like these are, at least for me, what really draw me in to see animations.

    Aditionally, if you think for a second that an animated flick will be short of stars, think again. The movie stars Jay Baruchel (She's Out of My League, This is the End). Baruchel is annoying to say the least, but very fitting to his character, and with any other voice, Hiccup would lose his genuine nature. Aside Baruchel are big names such as Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, McLovin, Jon Snow, and Kristen Wiig, among others. Chances are, if you think you recognize the voice of one of the characters, you probably actually do. These actors arent just a big clump of names put together, either. They really blended well in Dragon 2, providing one liners and hilarious banter left and right. Christopher Mintz-Platz and Jonah Hill battle over the heart of Kristen Wiig, all while her twin brother, T.J. Miller (She's Out of My League, Silicon Valley) jabs at the both of them. And all of these lovable characters really come together, as a display of teamwork ends up being the only thing to get them out of tough situations.

     Dragon 2 also tried to tackle some pretty tough subjects, especially for a kids movie: strong female roles, and the death of a father/main character. It succeeds with one of the two. Stoic, Hiccup's father, plays a role ambiguous enough to resemble many fathers out there—strong, protective, supportive, but with high expectations. We love him for his humor and for his love for Hiccup. But then the Dreamworks studio does what hasn't been done for a long time: (SPOILER ALERT) they kill Stoic. This was a complete shock to everyone, there was no foreshadowing leading up to this event, this was not an inevitable demise. It tore at my emotions, and yet, I loved it.
Just look at that armor damn... Statue of Liberty meets
Infinity Blade
This relatively small gesture did wonders to chip at the veil media has held over children's eyes. This type of thing was a bit more common years ago, with deaths like Mufasa's, and Bambi's mother, and real scary scenes like those in Snow White and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Stoic's death isn't going to start any sort of revolution, but I am glad to see a step away from overly sugar-coating children's movies. Now, onto the strong female roles. As seen in Disney's Frozen, the era of charming prince saving princess is losing grasp, and girls now have stronger characters to look up to. I think DeBlois tried to do something like this in Dragon 2. He establishes two pretty perfect candidates, the strong of mind and body Astrid (s/o to Asterix comic), voiced by America Ferrera, and the mysteriously powerful Valka, voiced by Blanchett. Astrid, a girl Hiccups age, continuously shows her prowess on the back of a dragon, beating out all the boys during competitions. However, when it comes down to the real battle scenes, she does little to contribute to the outcome, and she is reduced to yelling "go get em' babe!" to Hiccup. She even had the potential to become chief, as Hiccup was apprehensive at first, but that never materialized. I really thought they had it with Hiccup's mom, Valka. She seemed so badass upon first meeting, a masked mystery-man-turned-woman. She knew all the dragon tricks, and was an inhabitant of the epic dragon sanctuary. But, when it counted, she disappointed, just like Astrid. I think it was a solid attempt to bring something new to the table, but in the end it failed. But, besides that, How to Train Your Dragon 2 succeeded as a sequel, and as a movie itself, building upon past concepts while bringing forth original and worthwhile new ones. Go see it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

     Are there more important things in life than movies? I'm not sure. I had this past week off of work. I originally intended to use this time wisely—exercise, spend some time with friends and family, make a dent in my summer schoolwork—but instead, I kind of just sat at home watching a ton of movies via Netflix and listening to weird music (and playing weird video games don't judge me). I watched The Machinist, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Following. I would strongly recommend all three. Since they are older films, I feel like I shouldn't review them because this blog is about more current ones, but if my masses of fans want to see some reviews then feel free to comment that. Here are some songs you could listen to while reading this, if you're feeling it (this is a Mount Kimbie minimix thats 20 mins long).

     In an effort to compensate for my poor timing before Edge of Tomorrow, I arrived at the theater early for Dawn. Perhaps a bit too early. I had to kill 20 minutes on iPhone games while waiting to sit down for trailers. But when the film started I was immediately impressed. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opened with a stunning and concise montage explaining the events between the ending of Rise and the beginning of Dawn: most humans die out and governments collapse due to the spread of the simian virus. It was a clever and beautiful way to spew exposition, and I didn't mind it at all. But then, queue 20 minutes of Apes talking and being smart? this footage didn't really do what I think it wanted to do. The audience knows how intelligent the apes have become from the first film, they don't need a very long sequence showing off their new brainpower. There is some very touching but painfully obvious parallels between the apes and men, i.e. father son bonding, making it abundantly clear that apes are becoming more like humans, but being a bit too transparent about it ("think before you act, son"). It's all good and fine, but I think it would have been more mysterious and powerful had the opening just tracked the humans' expedition into the forest, only to discover that there is that whole colony of evolved apes living there. Maybe that would have even helped me form a connection to the human characters which was lacking during the film's entirety.

     Before the summer started, I was faced with a very tough decision: do I watch dinosaur transformers or do I watch apes on horses shooting guns? Rotten Tomatoes helped me make the decision: not even Marky Mark can save that franchise. However, Matt Reeves, the new director for Dawn, found a way to build upon the success of Rupert Wyatt's Rise, while also making a completely different film. In Rise, we saw a relationship story between a young, naive Caesar and James Franco. This installment established the grounds for the virus as well as the building blocks for the "monkey uprising". But what made it so special was the real emotion between man and ape. And this is what Reeves did very well in Dawn. He lacks in the human to human and even ape to ape connection, though not for lack of trying. But there really was magic in the formerly mentioned circumstance.
I was very impressed with Jason Clarke (Malcolm), whom we've seen a bit of talent from in Zero Dark Thirty, and unsurprisingly impressed by the insanely talented Andy Serkis (Caesar). Together, they go from enemies to brothers, and Malcolm shows Caesar that his ignorant loyalty to his own species is unwise. But most importantly, the two made me feel double the emotion than any same-species interaction did, which I think is so important and aligned with the whole message of the film.

     Let's talk about the two assholes of the movie. Such a cliche to have a character who is so stubborn, selfish, or stupid that they alone can ruin things for everyone else. Some examples: Iceman inadvertently killing Goose, Frodo almost turning on Sam, Cypher betraying the matrix squad... In Dawn, we get two of them: Carver and Koba. If these two didnt exist, the humans and apes could live together. Period. But, you know, evil human is evil. He has to shoot the first ape and bring a gun when
he knows he's not supposed to. And, you know, evil ape is evil. He has to steal guns and usurp the simian throne. And I know that these sequences are completely necessary plot drivers, but it just pisses me off so much when things could go right but one dude ruins it for the rest. On top of that, there are so many damn miscommunications that could be solved if the apes weren't so stubborn. We know you're primal, but do you really need to scream and hit things at the slightest hint of a red herring? It's obnoxious.

    Can we talk about the CGI for a second? It really blew me away. It's one thing to have, for example, a werewolf flick with one really well done monster, fully detailed in every shot. But in Dawn, the crew transformed actors in body suits into some very convincing apes. On a massive scale. While Maurice, Koba, and Caesar got their fair share of close up screen time, it was the large battles and scenes with upwards of 200 weapon yielding monkeys that showed off the prowess of our technological advancement. Comparing this type of filmmaking to the 1968 Planet of the Apes, which at the time, received world acclaim for its makeup effects, is like comparing a Tesla to a horse drawn carriage. And I know there are some people out there who don't like CGI, and would rather have the makeup of the old days, then they don't deserve the awe-inducing talent of computer geniuses. One last thing though. I want to say a thing or two about the two big names in this film: Gary Oldman and Keri Russel.
Coulda used a Dark Knight
Basically, every human besides Clarke and Oldman was pointless to the plot. Especially Keri Russel. She brought nothing but a whiney attitude and a very fake phd. In fact, every time she opened her mouth, I just didn't listen, because I knew it would be unimportant. Shut up, Keri Russel. Oldman was fine. Until he turned into a dick. Then, I didn't like Oldman.

This dark epic, while lacking in human emotion, excelled in computer imagery and showed real interspecies compassion while making me legitimately worried about a simian uprising.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

     So after the USA vs. Belgium game left a hole in my heart, I decided to get my anger at the gym. This was super effective and I was able to crank out some serious sweat, but unfortunately it made me late for this movie. I know. Faux pas. Whatever, I only missed like the first 5 minutes (which were probably pretty crucial to the exposition) so give me a break. Anyways, a new thing I want to do is link songs that you could listen to while reading this, so here they are. Keep in mind, they have nothing to do with the mood or plot of the movie in any way. Oh also, check out two series on comedy central called "Nathan for You" and "Drunk History", for they are epic and fun and funny.
     Edge of Tomorrow. Action movie with a badass Tom Cruise ~ fine, normal. Action movie with a badass Emily Blunt ~ what!? I'll be honest, when I first saw a trailer for this flick, I was totally turned off. A drawn out formula of an alien race attacking earth, Tom friggin Cruise in another world saving role (Shouts out to Oblivion), Emily friggin Blunt as an action star (stick to Devil Wears Prada?), and the same friggin song used in the trailer for Battle: Los Angeles. For frame of reference, Battle LA got a 35% on Rotten Tomatoes. That was generous. Literally the only thing that made me buy tickets was the consistently positive word of mouth. And the more I thought about it, the more I started to respect their twist on the washed up Earth is in danger plot.
These things can absorb and dodge bullets to equal
For one, this Alien race seems pretty unkillable even without their time travelling abilities, as seen in this clip. In addition, the relationship between Cruise and Blunt actually seems pretty genuine, which I credit to the fact that it isn't completely centered around unrealistic love; they only ever actually kiss for a brief second *cliche af*. But most of all, they utilize the most original plot driver since Groundhog Day. However, I can't tell if it was clever to use the "repeat the same day" idea or just lazy, because there was so much of the same damn footage in this movie. In the end, I was once again pleasantly surprised.

     Before talking about Emily Blunt of Tommy the Scientologist, I just want to mention that there were essentially no other characters in this movie. I say this because every supporting role was entirely expendable. Maybe three guys did anything to drive this plot, and these tasks could have most likely been carried out by the time traveling Cruise anyhow. But more on Cruise. He'll never regain the action magic he brought to the screen in Mission Impossible or Top Gun, but he came pretty damned close during the 113 minute film. There was some refreshing passion we didn't get to see in his recent work in Jack Reacher or Oblivion. His comedic timing was pretty on point, and he really nailed the look of confusion he often wore. But one thing anyone in his role had to do the most of is wake up, as also seen in Groundhog Day. Cruise most likely took lessons from Peter Gilroy to have that on such a tight lock. Emily Blunt taught me a few things about herself through her inspiring preformance. She honestly had one of the first true strong leading female actino roles done well. Sorry Katniss. I really didnt think Blunt had it in her. She was commanding, intimidating, and really stole most of the scenes she was in. I also learned that, by God, she is hot! When she first did that little push up shot I was like damn. Then she did it about 6 more times due to the time travel, and I was like hot damn. Anyways, the two had excellent chemistry, which really helped make the viewing more enjoyable.
    One thing worth noting is that this movie isn't a fluke hit. Obviously all viewers know Cruise as a big name action star, but he has produced more flops than successes, especially as of late. Besides quality preformances from him and Blunt, a major factor adding to the appeal was Doug Liman, the director. Some of you may not recognize the name, which is understandable. Allow me to refresh your memories. Liman directed a top three all time action thriller: Bourne Identity. Also producing the following two in the trilogy, Liman has quite a bit on his resume. While the plot to Edge of Tomorrow differs a lot from Bourne's, you can really feel Liman's influence throughout the action sequences, as well as during the in between dialogues.

     However, this movie wasn't all roses. There were some pretty long chunks scattered around the movie that left me bored and let my mind drift into other thoughts. This was mostly a result of the character's goals not being very clear until quite late in the film, which is typically fine in an action flick, but this one wasn't quiiiite entertaining enough for that. But the thing that pissed me off the most was the ending. I had a similar problem with the X-Men: Days of Future Past ending. This is a common flaw in big budget American film: a need for a happy ending. Even visionary directors succumb to the draw of a "more popular movie". In Edge of Tomorrow, Blunt's and Cruise's last ditch suicide ends up being all for naught—they kill the bad guy and still manage to live for some ridiculous reason. Honestly, some ridiculous reason. I cant think of one thing that would cause this miraculous hero-creating time travel if not to please the audience. But whatever, money is money, so I understand. In the end, this movie was a success because Cruise and Blunt put in serious work both acting wise and kicking mimic butt wise, as well as because the script didn't try to do too much with the time travel aspect. Don't forget your vegetables