Boyhood

There has never been a film like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Its concept is quite unique. Linklater says, “I’ve long wanted to tell the story of a parent–child relationship that follows a boy from the first through the 12th grade and ends with him going off to college.” We’ve seen several films where different children are hired by the director. He has one actor playing the boy at six-year-old, another one to play the boy at ten, and so forth. But when Richard Linklater started filming Boyhood in 2002, he hired seven-year-old Ellar Coltrane to play Mason Jr. Living with his divorced mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), and his older sister, Samantha (the director’s daughter, eight-years-old Lorelei Linklater). Ethan Hawke plays Mason Sr, the children’s father who, once in a while comes to pick them up for a week-end and buys them gifts. This small company of actors met yearly with Linklater and his crew, to write and film the story of Mason Jr. 12 years in the making. We witness Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater grow up in the course of this epic film. There is nothing announcing that Mason gets a year older. It’s flowing. Only the hairstyles are noticeable. There is really no story, only daily life. One day Olivia says they are moving to Houston. The kids don’t like it, but soon they’re moving out. We see Mason Jr. going to an event dressed as Harry Potter. Although Olivia is a loving mom, her choice of men tend to go towards the aggressive, alcoholics type. In 2008, Mason Jr. and Samantha help Mason Sr. put some Barrack Obama signs on lawns. Later Mason Sr. marries Annie and the have a baby. Annie’s parents give Mason Jr. a personalized bible and a gun for his birthday. After receiving a scholarship, Mason seems to want to study photography (fitting since the Boyhood experience is reminiscent to snapshots or stop motion photography techniques). And of course, as Linklater promised Mason Jr. goes “off to college”. Mason is a quiet boy and his sister more talkative, and Lorelei Linklater seems to be creating a more consistent character than young Coltrane. But soon, as Mason becomes more independent and his sister less present, Coltrane invests his character with more physical assurance. Ethan Hawke’s Mason Sr. is a man who has not yet found out where he fits (a ‘lovable’ deadbeat dad, if there is such a thing), but that does not seem to worry him too much. He is a calming presence for his son and daughter, away from the histrionics of mom and her latest boyfriend/husband. Let’s not mince words, Patricia Arquette is brilliant. Olivia juggles so many things at once: motherhood, school, work, love, ect. And Arquette makes it look so effortless and nuanced. I doubt Boyhood would be as good without her. And now let’s talk about Ellar Coltrane. He is in every scene in Boyhood, and the film clocks in at 2 hours 46 minutes (a tad too long). And he is so good. It is a phenomenal acting feat. Both he and Lorelei Linklater’s relationships to each other and their parents are so touchingly real and emotional. What is coming through in Boyhood is the love we feel for our families. It is there in every scenes, in every nuances and glances. We connect. What is amazing is that Richard Linklater’s gambit has paid off. In 12 years so many things could have gone wrong. Boyhood is more than an artistic success, it is the best film of the year, and possibly the best film of the decade.

And the Oscar went to… A lot happened between the time the Oscar nominations came out in mid January and Sunday night’s ceremony. Back then Richard Linklater’s Boyhood was the favorite to win Best picture. It won the most awards (over 25) as Best picture, compared to Birdman winning about a dozen so far. According to CriticsTop10.com (http://criticstop10.com), it was included on 536 lists and topped 189 of them — both records by that site’s count. And Birdman? 354 lists; 60 top spots. So what happened that turn the momentum against Boyhood, a film that received such widespread universal acclaim? What made the Academy vote for Birdman? Is it political? You get angry, and then you remember that in 1941 Orson Welles’s masterpiece, Citizen Kane (now considered one of the best American film ever) lost to John Ford’s How green was my valley. Who remembers How green was my valley today? And this is not the only time. Crash winning over Brokeback mountain. Or Saving private Ryan losing to Shakespeare in love. But Sunday night was really shameful. Some critics called it “a travesty”. ‘Nough said! But I am happy for Boyhood‘s only award to Patricia Arquette. A mother playing a mother, Arquette ended her acceptance speech making a plea for equal pay for women in the US. It got cheers from Jennifer Lopez and Meryl Streep among others.

 

 Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 Boyhood

 

Directed by: 
Richard Linklater
 
Screenplay by: 
Richard Linklater
 
Starring: 
Ellar Coltrane
Ethan Hawke
Patricia Arquette
Lorelei Linklater
 
166 min.
 
Rated 14A

A most wanted man

Philip Seymour Hoffman died this winter, and A most wanted man is probably his last great on-screen performance. It is an adaptation of the John le Carré 2008 book. It takes place in Hamburg, Germany, the city where a group of terrorists, headed by Mohammed Atta, planned the Sept. 11 attacks. Understandably, the country has become very paranoid. Except for Günther Bachmann (Hoffman), head of a secret anti-terrorism agency. Bachmann, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking man, who believe that the way to do things is to infiltrate terrorists to catch bigger fishes. Take Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a young immigrant, who is hiding in Hamburg, and who is believed to be an escaped militant jihadist. The Americans, British and Germans wants Karpov arrested to prevent him from making contact with terrorist cells. But Bachmann wants to play it more strategically to trap a man they’ve been trying to catch. The agencies give Bachmann’s team 72 hours to achieve their aim. The complex plot involves human-rights lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) and banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe). CIA agent Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) befriends Bachmann and seems in agreement with his stance. The clash that is shown here between two different ideas is what is happening in today’s political world. It is more important, for some, to work with a set of popular standards that may not be effective, but keeps appearances, and scores political points, than, like Bachmann, be more effective but work outside of those standards. Director Anton Corbijn slowly builds the tensions and the suspense all throughout the film in a very effective manner. And cinematographer Benoît Delhomme’s hand-held camerawork has a documentary look, with the camera seeming to be spying on everyone. The cast is all perfect. Rachel McAdams is at her best. And Hoffman is the film’s heart, he gives A most wanted man the right rhythm, the right beat, and brings the others along. One heck of a performance in what is one heck of a film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

A most wanted man

 

Directed by: 
Anton Corbijn
 
Screenplay by:
Andrew Bovell
Based on the novel by John le Carré
 
Starring: 
Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Rachel McAdams
Nina Hoss
Rainer Boch
Robin Wright
Daniel Brühl
Willem Dafoe
Gregoriy Dobrygin
 
121 min.
 
Rated 14A

Wish I was here

There is so much material in Wish I was here, that you feel you are watching a full season of a an American sitcom. And not a very good one. Director and co-screenwriter (with his brother Adam J. Braff) Zach Braff plays Aidan Bloom, an unemployed actor with a wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), and two kids. Since Sarah is the one feeding the family, it has been up to Aidan’s cantankerous father, Saul (Mandy Patinkin), to pay the kids’ private Jewish education. One day Saul announces the he won’t be able to pay for school anymore, because he has cancer and needs the money for his treatments. This the start of a long lists of subplots piling one on top of the other, to the point that it becomes cacophony. And it has some of the worse lines I’ve heard in a while. The saving grace is the acting from Hudson, Patinkin, Joey King, who plays Aidan’s teenage daughter, and Josh Gad, who is Aidan’s brother and Saul’s estranged son. They bring the right emotion to the film, but they certainly need a better script.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Wish I was here

 

Directed by: 
Zach Braff
 
Screenplay by: 
Adam J. Braff
Zach Braff
 
Starring: 
Zach Braff
Kate Hudson
Joey King
Pierce Gagnon
Mandy Patinkin
Josh Gad
Allan Rich
 
106 min.
 
Rated 14A

The rover

The rover is set in Australia 10 years after a global economic collapse. It stars Guy Pearce as Eric, who drives is sedan through the most post-apocalyptic desert you have ever seen. The sedan gets stolen by three men who have crashed their truck. They all have guns and seems to be fleeing trouble. One of them, Henry, is badly wounded. Eric manages to start the truck again, and tries to find them to get is car back. The reason why this particular car is of such importance to him only becomes clear at the end of The rover. In his search Eric finds Rey (Robert Pattinson), a young man who happens to be Henry’s brother. Like Henry, Rey is wounded as a result of a robbery gone wrong. Rey will lead Eric to the gang’s hideout. Along the way : mayhem, violence and death. Australian director David Michôd is a master at creating a foreboding atmosphere. His first feature film was the brilliant crime drama Animal kingdom. Good acting here from Pearce and Pattinson. Although Pattinson can mumble at times, he still creates a compelling character. Cinematographer Natasha Braier shows a dirty and ugly desert, but still manages to also show a beauty of epic proportion. And there is a vibrating score by composer Antony Partos assaulting our ears, and announcing bad things coming. Very bad indeed.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 The rover

 

Directed by: 
David Michôd
 
Screenplay by: 
Joel Edgerton
David Michôd
 
Starring: 
Guy Pearce
Robert Pattinson
Scoot McNairy
Tawanda Manyimo
David Field
Susan Prior
 
102 min.
 
Rated 14A

Words and pictures

Words and pictures is a new romantic comedy starring Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen. Owen plays Jack Marcus New England school English teacher. Jack has a drinking problem, is always in a bad mood, and is not really liked by his students. As the film starts, he learns that he’s about to lose, not only his literary magazine, but possibly his job too. Binoche is Dina Delsanto, the new art teacher. Dina is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, and that forces her to walk with a cane and wear an arm brace. Like Jack, Dina is also not an easy person to like. And they certainly don’t get along with each other. In the teacher’s lounge Jack is trying to engage her in word games, but that always ends up making Dina angrier. And then Dina challenges Jack to a debate : what is better literature or art? Is a picture really worth a 1,000 words? That also challenges the students. And of course the teachers fall for each other. And Jack alcoholism gets in the way (and it does not get better between Jack and his son). Words and pictures has too many clichés, and not enough punch. When the debate comes it is a dud. There are also secondary plots that seems to have been thrown in to make the film longer but have no business here. Binoche and Owen are good, but I was expecting better from veteran director Fred Schepisi. The ideas behind Words and pictures are not really achieved by an ordinary, ineffectual screenplay.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 Words and pictures

 

Directed by: 

Fred Schepisi
 
Screenplay by: 
Gerald Di Pego
 
Starring: 
Clive Owen
Juliette Binoche
Bruce Davison
 
111 min.
 
Rated Parental Guidance

Begin again

If musical comedy-drama Begin again has such a likeability, maybe it is because everybody involved seems to be having the time of their lives. Writer-director John Carney previously directed indie hit Once. Begin again starts as Greta (Keira Knightley) reluctantly agrees to sing one of her own song at an open mike. Down-on his-luck record producer Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), stares at her mesmerised. While she sees only faults in her performance and the song she wrote, he only hears good things. Reassuringly for us, Dan’s perception of Greta’s talent is not romantic, but professional. Greta has broken up with her boyfriend Dave (singer Adam Levine, a revelation here), who has just signed a deal with a major record label. Dan is drinking too much. His ex-wife (Catherine Keener) believes he is a bad influence on their teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld). When Dan proposes to record a demo, Greta is gradually won over by Dan’s passion and conviction. One of the great idea they have is to record the songs on the streets, rooftops and other public places in New York (New York becomes a character in Begin again). There is not one false note in Begin again. The cast (which includes Cee Lo Green) is as perfect as can be. Keira Knightley wears her character like a second skin, and her singing is impressive as it takes center stage in this film. Mark Ruffalo has a knack for playing people whose actions are making us laugh and cringe simultaneous. Ruffalo has us in the palm of his hand from the start. The songs are another aspect that makes Begin again a film to see. New Radicals frontman Gregg Alexander was music supervisor and composed some of the music and songs. What is so great about Begin again (beside everything else) is its positiveness. Totally and unabashedly positive. I myself see nothing wrong with that.

And the Oscar went to… The only nomination this joyful film gets is in the Original song category. “Lost stars” was composed by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois (Yes, Danielle Brisebois formally from the sitcoms All in the family and Archie Bunker’s place). But the winner was the song “Glory” from Selma Music and Lyric by John Stephens (AKA John Legend)  and Lonnie Lynn (AKA Common).

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Begin again

 

Directed by: 
John Carney
 
Screenplay by: 
John Carney
 
Starring: 
Keira Knightley
Mark Ruffalo
Adam Levine
Hailee Steinfeld
Catherine Keener
Cee Lo Green
 
104 min.

 

Le vrai du faux

Marco Valois (Stéphane Rousseau) is a film maker who specializes in The fast and the furious type action movies.  After the death of a young man who crashed his car (a replica of the car used in Marco’s movies), he decides he needs something drastically different. He wants to do serious movies, films that will make a difference. He meets Eric Lebel (Mathieu Quesnel), a vet who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Eric has numerous psychological scars from his experience in Kandahar. Marco offers Eric the possibility to tell his story on film. Eric is quite reluctant. Marco is quite persistent. The two of them embark in an eventful odyssey. Émile Gaudreault has the ability to talk about serious social subjects. He did it in De père en flic where he took a look at father and son relationship through the scope of group therapy. He does it again this time through the eyes of a director who wants to make a movie on war post-traumatic disorder, one of the most serious social problems for the military. Gaudreault manages to make it entertaining, not heavy, funny but respectful. I say funny because it’s a comedy-drama. It’s in no way a caricature but it has some humoristic overtones. To the credit of Gaudreault, we can praise him for having been able to combine intelligent humour with such a serious subject. It is a buddy-buddy movie that evolves slowly, gradually, that takes its time to tell the story. The clashes are frequent between the two main characters which keeps us amused and entertained.The second part of the film dwells more on its dramatic parts. Mathieu Quesnel is quite credible in the portrait of the macho vet who refuses to talk about his past, who hides behind humour, corny jokes and  machismo. Stéphane Rousseau is also believable as Marco Valois, a filmmaker who  seeks a second chance. Also to mention the performance of Guylaine Tremblay as the mother of Eric. I could see a Jutra (trophy for film recognition in Québec) for supporting actress. Le vrai du faux is an intelligent comedy with a serious subject that should do well in Québec this summer.
 
André St-Jacques
 
 
Le vrai du faux
 
 
Directed by:
Émile Gaudreault
 
Screenplay by:
Émile Gaudreault
Pierre-Michel Tremblay
 
Starring:
Stéphane Rousseau
Mathieu Quesnel
Julie Le Breton
Charles-Alexandre Dubé
Guylaine Tremblay
Marie-Ève Milot
 
105 min.
 
In French

Les vacances du petit Nicolas

It’s the end of the school year, the summer holidays are there at last. Little Nicolas will spend summer at l’hotel Beau Rivage, a posh french resort, with his parents and grandmother. At the beach, he makes new friends with the other kids at the hotel, including Isabelle who follows him everywhere, observing him closely. A first glance at relationships between boys and girls for Nicolas. How will he react? This summer will be an eye-opening experience for him that will give him a different outlook on life. This is one of those marvelous little films, absolutely charming that invites us to take a look at childhood in all its innocence and  its simplicity. This is the follow-up to Le petit Nicolas from 2010 (adapted from a popular French cartoon) which I haven’t seen. I can only tell you that this movie took me back to childhood and made me laugh.  The children are natural and amusing. The most hilarious of Nicolas’s friends is Blaise who eats everything and I do mean everything, even alive. Mathéo Boisselier is superb as Nicolas as well as Erja Malatier as an intriguing Isabelle with those big inquisitive round eyes. Not to mention Dominique Lavanant as meme the grandmother. Les vacances du petit Nicolas is a sweet film the whole family will enjoy this summer.  
André St-Jacques
 
 
 
Les vacances du petit Nicolas
 
 
Directed by: 
Laurent Tirard
 
Screenplay by:
Laurent Tirard
Based on a popular French cartoon
 
Starring: 
Mathéo Boisselier
Kad Merad
Valérie Lemercier
Dominique Lavanant
Erja Malatier
 
97 min.
 
In French
 

The immigrant

James Gray’s film The immigrant begins in 1921 at Ellis Island. Newcomer Ewa Cybulska (Marion Cotillard) sees her sister, Magda, quarantined because of TB. Ewa is about to be deported back to the war-torn Poland she is trying to escape. Enter Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix) who bribes the officer and ‘saves’ her. Ewa soon finds out she’ll have to perform in Bruno’s burlesque show and prostitute herself, with the promise of one day be reunited with Magda. And then Ewa meets Orlando (Jeremy Renner), a magician. He is also Bruno’s estranged cousin, and like Bruno, falls in love with Ewa. The immigrant feels like an adaptation of a literary, but is actually based on Gray’s grandparents. Certainly it is well made, but I found it was somehow lacking the right chemistry between the many elements of the film. The acting is a good case in point. Marion Cotillard plays melodrama exactly like it should be played in 2014: with subtleties and restraints. A real class act. Joaquin Phoenix’s Bruno is threatening, then obsessed and later a kind soul after having received a beating by the police. Phoenix has good moments at first, but later overplay terribly. As for Jeremy Renner… well, it is a mess. There always seems to be something that prevented me from enjoying The immigrant.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The immigrant

 
 
Directed by: 
James Gray
 
Screenplay by: 
James Gray
Ric Menello
 
Starring: 
Marion Cotillard
Joaquin Phoenix
Jeremy Renner
Dagmara Dominczyk
Angela Sarafyan
 
120 min.
 
Rated 14A
 
In English and some Polish with English subtitles.

Locke

Here is something we’ve never seen before: a one-man show. Or shall we say a one-man movie? Locke‘s only actor is Tom Hardy. He plays Ivan Locke, a construction foreman, who is driving to the London hospital where his one-night stand lover, Bethan, will prematurely give birth to their child. He spends the trip on the speaker phone trying to reassure her, or with his wife, his sons and people at his job, trying to solve the many problems caused by his sudden departure. But mainly, Locke is going to be there for Bethan and their child. Tom Hardy really carries the whole film. Even though we can hear, through the speaker phone, the people Locke is talking with, Tom Hardy is alone on-screen for the entire film. Hardy is in effectively playing a multilayered character. Ivan Locke is a lovable, caring human being with a considerable amount of pressure on his shoulders. This is what you call a “tour de force”. But Locke is more than a simple talking head experiment. Director Steven Knight and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos have worked very hard with such a limited framework and delivered a visually stunning film. All around this film is a must.

 Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Locke

 

Directed by: 
Steven Knight
 
Screenplay by: 
Steven Knight
 
Starring: 
Tom Hardy
 
85 min.
 
Rated 14A