See ‘Boyhood’; Skip ‘A Long Way Down’



Movie Info

Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOD is a groundbreaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a child named Mason (a breakthrough performance by Ellar Coltrane), who literally grows up on screen before our eyes. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason’s parents and newcomer Lorelei Linklater as his sister Samantha, BOYHOOD charts the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film has before. Snapshots of adolescence from road trips and family dinners to birthdays and graduations and all the moments in between become transcendent, set to a soundtrack spanning the years from Coldplay’s Yellow to Arcade Fire’s Deep Blue. BOYHOOD is both a nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting. It’s impossible to watch Mason and his family without thinking about our own journey.

R, 2 hr. 45 min.


Review: ‘Boyhood’

William Goss

“Linklater’s third masterpiece in the past decade.”

I cannot promise how “Boyhood” will move you, or even that it will. Richard Linklater’s long-forming project charting the growth of its subject, Mason, in real time from age six to eighteen is not entirely unprecedented; Michael Apted’s “7 Up” documentaries revisited the same British children every seven years as they grew older, François Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series cast the same actor as the eponymous character over the course of four feature films, and Linklater’s own “Before” trilogy caught up with its protagonists every nine years much as they caught up with one another.

Rare, though, is the opportunity to see a cast age naturally over the span of a single film, and yet Linklater had the incredible patience and foresight to reunite with lead Ellar Coltrane, parents played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, and Lorelei Linklater, his own daughter, on an annual basis to capture piecemeal Mason’s growth from a hapless child of divorce into a young man of promise. The result is a movie made up of unlikely moments — I don’t believe we see a single wedding or funeral, a welcome contrast to the carefully dictated milestones of last year’s supposedly life-affirming “About Time” — that marks the passing years much as anyone does: with changes in pop music, fashion, technology, politics and entertainment.

For instance, Olivia (Arquette) is shown early on reading the first “Harry Potter” novel to her children, Mason (Coltrane) and Samantha (L. Linklater), and in due time, we watch as they eagerly line up at midnight to purchase the sixth volume. It’s a constant in their lives, even as Mom moves them all around Texas, from Houston to San Marcos to Austin, and even as Mason Sr. (Hawke) makes sporadic appearances in their lives. In the meantime, Mason Jr. grows up — fighting bullies, dating girls, fearing stepdads, finding hobbies (graffiti), developing passions (photography) and gradually becoming his own man.

To that penultimate point, a teacher tells Mason that “any dipsh*t can take pictures, it’s hard to make art,” and to his credit, R. Linklater is not merely taking pictures over a carefully prolonged photo shoot. The story grew as his lead did, and the writer/director is wise enough to know that life tends to be both experienced and recalled with a certain fluidity. The passage of time in “Boyhood” often arrives casually, as we realize that Mason’s family has found a new home, or that our young man has a new haircut, or that ostensibly significant moments have already taken place off-screen. After all, memories themselves aren’t tidily restricted to emotional highs and lows; there’s a whole lot of in-between, and it’s in this space that the film thrives with its funniest, tensest, saddest exchanges. (In some of the film’s savviest moments, Linklater wisely plays against our expectations of potential injury from other, more calculating films. Mistakes are sometimes made by the characters, but “accidents” aren’t simply tossed into the narrative in order to drum up suspense and sympathy. Enough of both is earned simply from these tumultuous relationships and the uncertainty of daily existence.)

Hawke and Arquette are expectedly excellent throughout, and the director’s daughter brings a charming sense of antagonism and eventual respect to scenes with her on-screen brother, but this is inevitably Coltrane’s film to carry. Even when he’s surrounded by somewhat stilted teenage line readings, the maturing actor manages to give a convincingly unaffected performance entirely in line with the camera’s casually observational approach. Whether or not this leading man has the chops (or interest) to star in another film remains to be seen, but as the emotional anchor of his own story, Coltrane pulls off an unenviable feat in nearly every scene.

The most singular image of the film comes when a pre-teen Mason is asked to paint over the growth marks in a doorway as Mom packs up their things. Just because the lines and dates are gone doesn’t mean that he and his sister will somehow stop growing, and much of what follows comes from a place of wisdom and perspective almost entirely unseen in American cinema (if anything, this project merits comparison to the likes of everyday epics “Yi Yi” and “The Best of Youth”).

Like the best of fiction, it conveys greater truth about coming to terms with the world at large, and regardless of whether each individual scene is ultimately justified in its inclusion, the cumulative impact of seeing something resembling a life unfold over a mere two hours and forty minutes is overwhelming. “Boyhood” is Linklater’s third masterpiece in the past decade, and it should only affect anyone who’s ever been someone else’s sibling, child, parent, lover or friend.

SCORE: 9.5 / 10


a long way down

Movie Info

Four lost souls – a disgraced TV presenter, a foul-mouthed teen, an isolated single mother and a solipsistic muso – decide to end their lives on the same night, New Year’s Eve. When this disillusioned quartet of strangers meet unintentionally at the same suicide hotspot, a London high-rise with the well-earned nickname Topper’s Tower, they mutually agree to call off their plans for six weeks, forming an unconventional, dysfunctional family, becoming media sensations as the Topper House Four and searching together for the reasons to keep on living.

R, 1 hr. 36 min.

Drama, Art House & International, Comedy
Film Review: ‘A Long Way Down’

Four characters meet while planning to commit suicide and decide to annoy one another instead in this tacky Nick Hornby adaptation.
Peter Debruge
Film Critic@AskDebruge

Nothing says comedy like “A Long Way Down’s” contrived meet-cute among four strangers who’ve all climbed to the top of the same tall building to commit suicide on New Year’s Eve. Pierce Brosnan’s character ruined his life by indulging an underage fling, Toni Collette’s feels “helpless,” Imogen Poots’ probably just wants attention, and Aaron Paul’s seems upset that “Breaking Bad” is over. Luckily, these desperados have each other, which evidently worked for Nick Hornby as a novel, though in movie form, it’s worse than tacky, trivializing depression for a handful of easy laughs and pop-psychology platitudes. Euro auds might buy it, but the pic will hit the pavement hard abroad, no doubt swan-diving into VOD.

Like a cross between a warm-and-fuzzy support-group hug and one of those infernal Garry Marshall-directed holiday ensemblers, this ingratiating adaptation of Hornby’s fourth novel has been interpreted with plucky sitcom style by British TV scribe Jack Thorne and brought to the screen by French helmer Pascal Chaumeil (“Heartbreaker”). Together, they aim to plaster a big old grin on the face of each and every audience member, starting from the unlikeliest possible place to do so.

While the rest of London is ringing in the New Year, disgraced talkshow personality Martin Sharp (Brosnan) lugs a ladder up the stairs of Toppers Tower, determined to off himself. As he stands hesitating on the ledge — in the one shot viewers won’t find instantly forgettable — a timid woman named Maureen (Collette, looking like a middle-aged Muriel) joins him on the roof, politely asking whether he wouldn’t mind hurrying it up so that she might take her turn. In short order, Jess (Poots, a dull young thing working overtime to seem eccentric) and J.J. (Paul, typically sullen) turn up, corroborating what their respective stereotypes have already suggested: Each of these individuals is a walking cliche, incapable of an original thought, even when it comes to making his or her exit.

Speaking of exits, or the lack thereof, the comedy that follows may as well be Hornby’s answer to Sartre’s “hell is other people” dictum, as these four souls make a sort of purgatorial pact on that rooftop not to kill themselves for four weeks, postponing the deed until at least Valentine’s Day. In the meantime, they’re stuck together, alternately annoying and amusing one another once the press gets hold of their story and turns them into a mini-sensation: the “Topper House Four.”

In the series of television interviews that follow, the film fixates on a remarkably unfunny detail in which “professional liar” Jess invents a story about how they were saved by an angel who looked like Matt Damon. Celebrity and the pursuit — or half-hearted avoidance — of public attention are among the pic’s more poisonous preoccupations, with the contrast illustrated by Martin (who misses the adulation of his old job) and Jess (who’s disgusted by her phony politician father, played by Sam Neill). Hornby, who so charmingly weaves his trove of pop-culture knowledge into other projects, comes away preaching that suffering is somehow validated when it can be shared with others.

Having shamelessly exploited suicide as a plot device, the script proceeds to give its characters Reasons To Live, offering all sorts of implausible bonding opportunities, including a group vacation to Mallorca. If pics such as “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Love Liza” depicted the harrowing effects of addiction and depression, then “A Long Way Down” deals in the greeting-card alternative. Had one of the group actually gone through with it, that might have been ballsy. Instead, Chaumeil — with his bouncy music and bright studio production values — is content to be cutesy. Plenty will find it adorable; the rest will be left wanting to slit their wrists.

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