Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy Dies – Now Off to That Undiscovered Country

First appeared on Blogcritics.

spock 2 Sometimes when you hear of a famous person dying, it is like turning another page in your life; however, when I learned of Leonard Nimoy’s passing away, it felt like the closing of an entire book.

Growing up watching the original Star Trek series, it was impossible not to be affected by the weekly mission to “boldly go where no man has gone before.” Though the voice over is done by Captain Kirk (as memorably played by William Shatner), there is also the feeling that the final frontier came into our living rooms courtesy of the green-blooded half-human Vulcan named Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) who somehow managed to make “alien” a positive word. 

Spock’s logical but amiable alien nature certainly opened viewers up to the notion that all beings from outer space were not out to destroy us (as in War of the Worlds) replace us (as in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers), or give us a dire warning (as in The Day the Earth Stood Still). The character of Spock required viewers to reassess all pre-conceived notions – such as pointed ears were a sign of evil and someone from another planet was a dangerous alien. Credit Nimoy’s portrayal as one that imbued the character with wry humor (a raised eyebrow alone would be negative commentary on something a human did), acerbic wit, and a grudging pinch of humanity thanks to the blood of his human mother.

Many of us fondly remember Spock’s hand signal (index and middle finger spread apart from ring finger and pinky) and the words associated with it: “Live Long and Prosper.” They seem like a mantra now, not just for his character but also for the entire series. The promotion of harmony among all beings – not just humans on earth but all creatures across the galaxy – struck a nerve with young people like me who were coming of age and feared a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

Star Trek jumped forward to the 23rd century when Earth was an integral part of the Federation of Planets. All beings within the federation worked for a common cause and co-existed peacefully with some of them living and working together on ships that crossed the quadrants of space. To be sure there were always those surly Klingons, Romulans, and other belligerent races ready to cross the neutral zone and start up a confrontation (anyone thinking that sounds like the Cold War is right), but those conflicts qualified the importance of tolerance and working cooperatively for the common good of all planets.

A vibrant cast of characters existed aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, especially the skipper played with gusto by Shatner. It is hard to imagine a more easy to imitate characterization (usually for laughs), but I wanted to be Kirk anyway because he was the focus of the show, the guy who got the glory and usually the girl. However, looking back on it now I think I also wanted to be Kirk because he had the indispensable Mr. Spock by his side. With such a great friend and colleague, Kirk seemed fortunate indeed.

spock 1There were the other diverse characters: Dr. “Bones” McCoy (played with panache by DeForest Kelley), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan), the all business but beautiful Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), the Russian Ensign Chekhov (Walter Koenig ), Nurse Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett), and the Chinese helmsman Sulu (George Takei). These main characters were joined week after week by many other characters from distant planets and galaxies, and it became so commonplace that as a kid I took for granted that in the future all would be as uncomplicated and peaceful as series creator Gene Roddenberry showed us in the Star Trek universe.

Unfortunately, the original Star Trek series only lasted three seasons, but through all those episodes we were left with a lasting impression regarding race, gender, equity, and power. Kirk and company were not free to just blast away aliens and planets – the Prime Directive kept them in check every time. If Kirk contemplated stepping out of bounds, Spock was always there to reel him in before he did too much damage.

A situation often utilized in the series involved Kirk “beaming down” to a planet and leaving Spock in charge. If you were the captain of any ship, you would want someone as capable, dependable, and loyal as Spock to take over whilst you were away. Spock’s logic kept things clear and by the book, but Kirk’s impetuousness also was seen as the human element that made him a better leader overall.

Spock’s nature as half-human and half Vulcan always tortured him as much as it helped him to understand the shenanigans of the humans he observed. When someone got emotional and Spock’s eyebrow would arch and he would utter “Fascinating,” well there was probably not a better reaction that could have summed up the proceedings. Spock at times seemed the outsider looking in at humans, but the fact that he was part human would be revealed in subtle ways, such as his happiness (and revealing smile) when he discovered Kirk had not died in one episode.

Spock would live on after the series in Star Trek movies, and Nimoy would also direct two of them and other films, including the seemingly incongruous but very funny Three Men and a Baby, and Nimoy also became known as a serious photographer, but Spock would hover over him throughout his life and as he got older Nimoy not only accepted his alter ego but embraced it. Perhaps one of the hardest moments to take for true fans was when Mr. Spock died at the end of the second movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, giving up his life to save Kirk and crew. The first time around the scene was extremely hard to handle because it felt like we lost a friend, but even in subsequent movies after Spock was resurrected there was no way to forget that loss of someone who more than anything remained a friend to the end to Kirk (and all the fans who were watching).

Now Leonard Nimoy and Mr. Spock are off to find that undiscovered country, or as Kirk once said when asked what course they should take, “Out there!” Space may be the place where heaven is or where God resides, but it is also a state of mind that leads the human consciousness to contemplate not just what it can see but what it can imagine in infinite wonder. Nimoy’s Mr. Spock has inspired generations to be logical but within reasons, to be loyal to those we call friends, and to wish people well with a greeting of “Live Long and Prosper.” Now that Nimoy is gone he leaves behind the image of Spock with his hand signal, a reminder that there is not just what we know out there in the universe but stuff beyond what we have ever dreamt could be.

spock 3When summing up Nimoy’s life, perhaps his old cast mate George Takei said it best: “Leonard played an alien, but he was the most human individual I ever met.”

Rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy and know that Mr. Spock will “Live Long and Prosper” in the minds of your fans now and forevermore thanks to your indelible portrayal.

  Photo credits: corbis kipa,, wikipedia   

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Movie Review: Birdman – What Happens When a Faded Movie Star Does Broadway?

First appeared on Blogcritics.

bird1 The film Birdman has the “feel” of heft to it – it seems as if you are expected to associate gravitas to the proceedings basically from the first few seconds. Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thomson is a middle aged actor known for playing super hero Birdman in a blockbuster film and its sequels (the obvious reference to Keaton’s turns as Batman). Now he is having an existential crisis of the most extraordinary kind – Birdman is an alter ego who keeps whispering less than sweet nothings in his ear as he tries to survive the premier of a Broadway show with him as star to restart a fading career.

Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu keeps banging us over the head with behind the scenes wrangling in a New York City theater, where Thomson is staking his already floundering reputation on a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” There are moments of literal drum banging as Keaton navigates a sticky path of getting the play right before the curtain rises. Along the way his difficult relationship with his daughter, formerly drug addicted Sam (played as a sharp NYC cookie by Emma Stone), and other actors provide the conflicts that our hero must overcome in order to succeed, but his greatest problem is his inner conflict with the always hovering Birdman.

bird3Iñárritu has established the setting and time and place well, and it doesn’t hurt that he has also stacked the deck with some really terrific supporting players – Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, Andrea Riseborough, and Zach Galifianakas and others help keep things going – but the wildcard is the addition of Edward Norton’s Mike to the cast of Thomson's play that throws him into a tailspin. He knows Mike is a fantastic actor but all his baggage (and relationship with Watts’ character Lesley) seem to threaten the future of the production.

Antonio Sanchez’s drum score is both jarring and compelling. It is sort of a thumping heart that Thomson refuses to acknowledge is beating out of control. Thomson can flash brilliance in a scene, but then fall apart in his dressing room. All the while the Birdman alter ego is just steps away, giving him either the best tips or the worst advice on how to ruin a career (and a show).

Norton has a history of being a difficult actor to work with, and Keaton has his skeletons with the Batman films, and there is a tongue-in-cheek sort of referencing to these real world tidbits that audiences are going to either love or hate. The problem here is that the script (written by Iñárritu and several others) drags the story along at times, and there is not enough of that explosive kind of scene when Norton’s character throws a glass and goes postal during a rehearsal when none of his fellow actors are prepared for it.

bird2A play within a play motif is always difficult to pull off, and here it just seems more like a device to get us where we need (or ostensibly don’t need) to go. All of this is not just an attempt to capture the conscience of the king (in this case Keaton’s Thomson) but to sort of free him from his restrictions, allowing him to perhaps once again soar as Birdman – both literally and figuratively.

This is Keaton’s finest film performance (though my favorite remains Beetlejuice), and Norton and Stone are right behind him with complex, attention getting acting in key scenes. Together they should have knocked the ball out of the park, but I kind of feel that they only got a triple out of the whole deal. Credit or blame Iñárritu’s choppy hand-held cam style of directing that gets the feel of behind the scenes of NYC theater but never really captures its essence.

bird4In my opinion something is missing here even though there is much to admire, but in the end Keaton and his co-stars’ performances are going to win the day. Don’t be surprised if Stone and Keaton take home Oscars (Norton should win but I feel it’s J.K. Simmons’ year for Whiplash). While I am sure that Iñárritu is seriously in the running for Best Director, as with Norton I think this someone else’s year – in this case Richard Linklater for Boyhood.

Go see Birdman if you want to see great acting and get a feel for what happens in NYC theater, but be warned that you may be checking your watch as I was doing throughout. That is not an indictment but more a reality check. During the much longer Boyhood I never looked at my watch even once. Maybe this says something about both films or probably it’s just more about my proclivities as a movie goer at this point in my life.

Photo credits:,,,  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Movie Review: The Imitation Game – Can Great Acting Overcome Tedium?

First appeared on Blogcritics.

im3 Sometimes there are films that I go in to watch with great expectations, and other times I am worried that I will be disappointed. Much of this comes from the so-called “buzz” from critics, friends, etc. As I went in to see The Imitation Game I was expecting to experience some kind of thrilling espionage tale set in World War II with highly praised acting by Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role. Sadly, all I got was the acting, but you can question whether or not that was better than nothing.

As directed by Morten Tyldum and with a screenplay by Graham Moore, based on the book Alan Turing : The Enigma, the film is decidedly British in tone and theme. What I mean here is no disrespect; rather, there is a slow pacing, a buildup of the action (as it were), and the development of rich characterizations, particularly with Cumberbatch as genius Turing. Unfortunately, I was thinking along the lines of a James Bond type escapade and I got something more resembling a graduate course lecture.

To spice things up as much as possible, a lovely Keira Knightly is brought in as Joan Clarke, who along with a group headed by Turing is trying to break the Nazi code on a machine called Enigma. If the gang can break the code they will be able to let the military know when major attacks are being launched. The premise is exciting enough, but the way it is handled here has all the excitement of watching snails run a marathon.

I must give points for one scene where a fellow code breaker punches a pompous Alan (this is about as much action as we get), or when Joan gives a somewhat stilted confession of affection for Turing even though he has already revealed to her that he is gay. She argues that they will have more together than traditional couples who need sex upon which to base a relationship, but Alan is having none of it. Turing builds a machine that is basically a precursor to the modern computer, and with it they are able to break the Nazi code.

im1Ultimately the best scene comes after the Enigma code is broken; the gang discovers a convoy is going to be attacked, but Alan argues that if they reveal themselves now that they won’t be able to get to the bigger news and battles down the road. Obviously, members of the convoy prove expendable and it is a tight dramatic scene with solid acting.

In fact, this film probably would be a great one to use in an film school course. The acting is so articulate and impressive that it keeps you wanting it all to be part of something bigger and better. Instead, we have a lot of sound and fury signifying a story that had much potential but that is a disappointment as the impressive parts do not add up to a satisfying whole.

im2Still, Cumberbatch is a simmering mess of genius meeting the stark reality of time and place. No matter how brilliant Turing is the facts are that this is still 1940s Britain, with all its ignorance and especially intolerance for homosexuals. Despite Turing’s vital role during the war, his treatment later on is despicable and leads to unnecessary tragedy.

In the end the film should have used the title of book on which it is based; it is reminiscent of the way Winston Churchill once described Russia – “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." That would best sum up not only Alan Turing but this film about his solitary but brilliant life.

  Photo credits:,, 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Brian Williams – Only Guilty of Telling Us What We Wanted to Hear?

First appeared on Blogcritics.

bri1The sanctimonious uproar over the horrific “Brian Williams scandal” gets more ludicrous by the day. There are more new stories emerging about his tall tales than people accusing Bill Cosby of something. Williams, like Cosby before him, appears to be taking a hard fall and no one seems willing to come along and help him out.

My thinking is that Brian Williams is mostly guilty about being a part of a grand scheme to take “news” and make it into entertainment. The golden days of guys like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite are long gone. If you are like me you have long ago given up the notion of getting “hard news” on nightly broadcasts – the fluff and puff are obvious, the filtering and pandering apparent, and the talking head as movie star material is lamentable.

I used to think if Mr. Williams were British and could act that he would have made a great James Bond. He has that look about him, and then we find out that his embellishing of stories could be said to border on acting, and apparently he was rather good at it. He seemed to have the credibility factor locked in, so we were open to believing in him and what he said. That isn’t his fault but our own. We want to feel like we know these people on TV, we want to like them, and it is clear people really liked Williams.

Having all those things going for him, Williams should have been in the clear; however, his tall tales were eventually going to get fact checked. My goal here is not to go into them in detail; enough people have done that already; however, I suspect that Mr. Williams is not alone in his ability to enhance the danger of a situation, the drama of a reporting moment, and in that we have to look at the motivation for Williams and other reporters to do so.

Anyone who has seen CNN’s Anderson Cooper holding on to a lamppost as a hurricane blew rain and debris all around him has to know what I’m talking about. Now you may have asked yourself (as have I), why Cooper and many other reporters would put themselves in such situations. The answer is something that we aren’t going to like – they are doing it because we want and expect it!

Even your local humble reporters on TV are out there in zero degrees covered with ice and snow as they report on conditions during a blizzard. Why do they do that? Because the viewer at home, warm and snug and watching, will only keep watching if he or she sees how bad things are and wants to know if it will get worse. People get vicarious delight in seeing these reporters exposed to the elements, suffering for their art as it were, to keep everyone at home safe.

We have come to this sorry state of affairs as we are inundated with reality TV – which is neither real nor television in my mind. Just as “news” seems to be no longer true and unbiased reportage, but rather repackaged to come at you as entertainment to keep you from changing the channels. You have to like the guys and gals speaking, right? You have to imagine that they like you too, and no one wants to listen to a crusty and unattractive anchor droning on about facts and figures anyway. Of course, not!

bri2Brian Williams is charismatic, handsome, and extremely affable. I have seen him on talk shows, and he is warm, friendly, and genuine. He also comes across as a regular joe, the kind of fellow you could go out with and have a beer or two. Until all this came out, I bet many guys would have loved to watch the Super Bowl with Williams, and the female viewers would have had no qualms about him bringing them roses and taking them out to dinner.

Williams was a bankable star. This is what we have come to – news as commodity. The bottom line is always the bottom line. Williams was good for his employers, and since he has been off the air NBC Nightly News has taken a big ratings hit. Losing viewers is bad for business, and so that should be a warning for all networks and their reporters and anchors who may also be prone to embellishments in their stories.

Iconic late night host David Letterman may have the best perspective on Williams in terms of facing up to the “truth” of the situation. Letterman said,
“He (Williams) says millions and millions and millions of things every day on the little nightly news show over there so occasionally some of them have to be re-jiggered. … They should just put at the end of the (newscast): ‘Some of what Brian says may not be true.’ Not that big a deal; I don’t care. You like seeing him when he comes on here.”
And yes, the audience always liked Williams on Letterman, on his nightly broadcast, and wherever else he appeared. Williams was and is a highly likeable person. Perhaps (just as with Bill Cosby) the fall is even harder and more difficult to accept when the person has been so well liked for so long. The public cannot process or fathom how that can happen, but in the end we only have ourselves to blame.

bri3 I am all for the truth in news but that seems to be the same as wishing "reality" and "television" were never mentioned in the same breath. Brian Williams was an extremely lucrative product until he made the mistake that many people are guilty of making. We make it home through the blizzard, and it’s human nature to exaggerate a bit about how difficult the journey was for us. It’s normal behavior for most people but, when millions of people are watching, the stakes are exceedingly higher.

Just as Marc Antony with Julius Caesar, I am not here to bury Brian Williams nor praise him; rather, I am saying that he is not any better or worse than everyone else on TV news who shoot for the entertainment factor. In the end Williams may return to his broadcasting duties; and, if he does, he will be a little tarnished and contrite. He will look at the cameras, make his apology, and we will all believe him because that's what we want to believe.

Perhaps when the dust settles we will all see this as TV new business as usual, and that is what has been happening for a long time, since after Cronkite retired and Dan Rather slipped into his “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” mode. Either way we should face an inconvenient truth – TV news is no longer the indisputable source of current events and it never will be again. Brian Williams is not responsible for that – we the viewers are!

  Photo credits: Wikipedia,,    

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Movie Review: The SpongeBob Movie – Sponge Out of Water

First appeared on Blogcritics.

sponge 2 It has been eleven years since our stalwart hero, the titular SpongeBob, appeared in a full-length film. That vehicle – The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie – was memorable for throwing our intrepid fry cook and his friend Patrick (voiced by Bill Fagerbakke) into a quest for Neptune’s crown in order to save Mr. Krabs's life. This film included an  hilarious encounter with a scene stealing David Hasselhoff in full Baywatch lifeguard mode.

In this second go around, the Hoff seems to have been otherwise engaged; therefore, a scenery chewing Antonio Banderas has come aboard as Burger Beard, an evil pirate who has the audacity to steal the Krabby Patty formula. SpongeBob (once again the voice of Tom Kenny) is then off on another quest, but this time he has Mr. Krabs’s (Clancy Brown) arch enemy Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) along for the ride to help him defeat the big bad pirate.

sponge 3I could have waited for this to come to Blu-Ray, but my six-year-old had to see it as soon as possible, and I must admit experiencing it in 3D is more rewarding; it also gave him an opportunity to laugh along with all the other kids in the packed theatre at every one of the usual punchlines and expected jokes to come from characters we now know so very well.

As directed by Paul Tibbit and written by series creator Stephen Hillenburg (and several other writers), The SpongeBob Movie – Sponge Out of Water does well all the things that the series does, which means it is sure to please the target audience. We have come to know that SpongeBob will persevere against all odds, and this time he will even convince the always evil Plankton to help him get back the formula (that Plankton is always trying to steal for himself).

If you don’t know SpongeBob and the many characters in his universe, then this may not be for you; however, if you have children who know every salient detail about the series and need to see this film, you won’t be disappointed in taking them. It is certainly easier to watch than some movies that are up for Oscars (like Birdman and Imitation Game). I am not saying that it is a better film than those nominated ones, but rather that it was a less excruciating experience for me (meaning I was not checking my watch every few minutes).

sponge1One issue I do have with this film is using live actors with cartoon characters. Now, I know this has been done before (thinking of Mary Poppins and many others), but there seems to be a breaking of some kind of rule that I cannot locate in the filmmaking handbook. The problem is that based on the TV series, we know that Hillenburg features the human “mouth” of the captain who sings the theme song at the start of every episode. There have also been frequent episodes where Patchy the Pirate (Tom Kenny) has made an appearance as President of the SpongeBob Fan Club. Hillenburg probably deserves a pass for continuing with this tradition, and Banderas is hilarious in his scenes.

sponge 4There isn’t much else to complain about regarding The SpongeBob Movie – Sponge Out of Water, unless we want to talk about the superhero incarnations of Plankton, Krabs, Squidward, Patrick, and SpongeBob that are now available as toys that are continually advertised on TV. It is clever marketing to be sure, and I suppose I should be honest and tell you that I have already added these new items to my son’s ever expanding Bikini Bottom collection.

The truth is that The SpongeBob Movie – Sponge Out of Water is an entertaining family film going experience that kids will enjoy and you won’t hate. After seeing this film it’s not hard to understand why SpongeBob remains the most incredibly popular yellow, absorbent, and porous cartoon character around.

 Photo credits:,,

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Walking Dead – What We Need From Second Half of Season 5

First appeared on Blogcritics.

d3 If you are anything like I am, you are still reeling from the death of Beth Greene (Emily Kinney) in the mid-season finale before the break. The sight of Daryl (Norman Reedus) carrying her limp body out of the hospital caused many hearts to break, but just as our gang of intrepid survivors may have been crushed by this, it also may lead to something even more important – a new resolve to move forward and change the playing field.


In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes) doesn’t reveal any spoilers, but he does let us know that all bets are off this second half of the season. He doesn’t explain why he was seen clean shaven while filming episodes, but we can imagine that Rick may simply have found a mirror and a razor someplace. More than that we have to only speculate. 

In my mind Beth’s dying is more than just the death of a beloved character – it is a clear signal that no one is safe. No one! In my mind, and I know this will break more hearts, a real game changer would be if we lose someone we have been thinking will never die on the show – Daryl, Glenn, and even Carl come to mind. I know, you’re thinking there’s no way they will kill off Carl, but that is exactly what showrunner Scott Gimple likes to do. He wants you to sit there after the episode is over and whisper, “Oh my God.”

There was a throwaway line by Beth in season 4 that has always stayed with me – she told Daryl that he would be last man standing. She also said that he would miss her so much when she was gone. Talk about foreshadowing and then some, Beth’s prediction about her own fate has come to pass. Would it surprise you if Daryl is the last one to survive? Perhaps not, but my bet is that you take everything away from the person through whose eyes we really have seen this warped world of the dead since the beginning – Rick! How fitting it would be that Rick survives and yet loses everyone he loves and has tried to protect.

I think this last half of season 5 has to do something more than just kill of loved characters. With the reveal that Eugene’s (Josh McDermitt) tale about saving the world was all a lie, there has to be some hope. I think that is needed more than anything. Otherwise, these characters are just thrown out to the wind like a handful of dust, and where they scatter and fall will be unpredictable but less tragic. The idea that there is hope – and then even that they all cannot reach that salvation of escape – is more powerful than living in the grim reality that there is nothing to live for.

I am truly excited about this last half of the season, but I am expecting that we have not prepared ourselves to lose those whom we are going to lose. Still, if Gimple doesn’t provide a carrot of optimism, there’s no way he can expect the horse (we in the audience) to move on. I imagine that Rick’s encounter with a razor may have something to do with it, but there is no telling how far they will get before the world comes back to haunt them again.

d2As I’ve said before, the most dangerous element on The Walking Dead has long ceased being the zombies (whom our gang easily dispatch as of now). It’s other living people who are the most lethal element they face. We can only wonder about who the next living and breathing antagonist will be, but he or she may not remain that way too long if they confront Rick and company.

Still, I wonder about that last man standing. Maybe I am wrong and there is a chance that this series, whenever it finally does end, will have some of our survivors in a good and happy place. Unfortunately, I feel it is more likely that things are going to end grimly and maybe Rick will be the final survivor. How does he go on then? Maybe he will have one last bullet left in that revolver that will help him to join the others instead of the zombie hoard. That may be the ending no one wants but that will best complete the journey of Rick Grimes, even though I hope that is not the case.

For now we have a chance to savor new episodes. I have a feeling another important cast member is going to die early on – maybe even in this first episode. My hunch – Carol joins Lizzie in that great flower bed in the sky. I hope I’m wrong (I have been before), but wouldn’t that put Daryl completely over the edge?

I do feel that someone’s going and after losing Beth (the heart) all we need is to lose Carol (the soul) and perhaps there will be no place left to turn. It seems Gimple loves to put our band of survivors in that place where no one wants to see them be in order to get the explosive reaction that keeps this series being the best thing to watch on TV.

 Photo credits: AMC,,

Movie Review: Boyhood – Not Just About a Boy

First appeared on Blogcritics.

boy1 Director Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood can be viewed as either an incredible piece of cinema or an extraordinary movie gimmick. Those who have dismissed the film in various degrees no doubt feel that there is something off about a director who will devote 12 years of his life and career to one project. Then there are others, like myself, who find that this film is an indelible portrait of a child – the actor (Ellar Coltrane) and the character (Mason) whom he portrays. In capturing the essence of one “boyhood” Linklater has done something more indelible – he has caught up the essence of life for all of us who have gone through growing up and have experienced loss, love, and awareness.

boy5The story starts simply enough with Mason lying on the grass and staring up at the clouds in the sky. He is waiting for his mother who is inside the school talking with his teacher. At this point Mason is five and we learn that he has already experienced the breakup of his family unit – Mom (Patricia Arquette) and Dad (Ethan Hawke) are divorced, with Mom struggling to make ends meet. Linklater hooks us with this moment, getting us to feel the wonder Mason has as he looks at the bigger world, and then giving us the perspective of the world looking down on the tiny boy whom we will watch grow into a man.

The fact that Linklater could lock up Arquette and Hawke (both are amazing in these roles) for the long haul says something about his persuasive powers as much as it does about their artistic sensibilities to commit such a project. They provide the gravitas to not only take the film seriously but to keep watching. While it is so intriguing to see Mason grow, there is also a tremendous change in both Arquette and Hawke as they grow older before our eyes. It is one thing to have the cinematic “aging” process that has been used over the years in films (I keep thinking of Orson Welles in Citizen Kane), but to have actors actually aging and allowing that process to be filmed is cinematic gold.

boy2Mason goes through all the things that boys have to go through and then some. Along for the ride is his sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater) as Mom bounces from place to place. Determined to better herself, Mom goes back to school and starts a relationship with a professor (Marco Perella) whom she admires. Soon they are married but as years go by his closet alcoholism takes its toll on the family. One of the most grueling scenes in the film is when he forces Mason to have a haircut. The image of this boy losing his long locks is terrifying; thanks to Coltrane’s performance we see the pain and fear etched in his face.

Mom eventually gets out of that relationship after he starts hitting her, and the narrative takes us through the years as she finally gets her degree, becomes a professor herself, and then marries Jim (Charlie Sexton), one of her students who just came back from Iraq. Unfortunately, it turns out Jim is also an alcoholic, and one of the things Linklater’s script does is show that Mom can make very bad choices even though she is still a loving mother.

boy4During the children’s lives, Dad pops in and out of the picture. First he’s working in Alaska, and then he decides to come back to Texas in order to be closer to them. There is all the authentic drama of the pull and take of two parents who long ago decided that they didn’t love each other anymore but love their kids no matter what. Scenes between Arquette and Hawke are achingly authentic – you firmly believe they are a real but fractured couple who wish they could have worked things out but now must go about living separate lives.

As Mason and Samantha grow older, it’s intriguing to watch them actually morph into adolescents and then young adults. There are braces, zits, and changes in features that we who are parents will watch with wonder and a touch of fear as we see it happening in our kids. Linklater allows everything to be captured in order for us to not only confirm his cinematic prowess but to capture our hearts as we can do nothing but stay with the story for every one of its exquisite 165 minutes.

Throughout the film there are traces of the time and place seen on TV screens or in actions of the characters. One of the funniest and telling sequences involves Dad taking the kids around to put Obama signs on people’s lawns. The feedback of some of the people who don’t want Obama signs on their lawns is revealing (and shows even the current polarization in red and blue America). When Dad steals a McCain sign from a lawn and throws it in his car trunk, he justifies this to the kids by saying he’s doing it for a good cause.

The story ends with Mason grown up and heading off to college. With Samantha already gone and Mason packing his things, Mom gets super emotional and, in a scene that I believe had to lock in her Oscar nomination, she dumps all of her years of angst and sadness onto her son. There is something so pathetic as she catches us up in her summation of a life lived and in many ways failed, and yet there is also an inherent dignity – which Arquette has infused in this character in every scene – and we want to cry with her as Mason leaves, most certainly to be off to his own life that he once imagined as he stared up at those clouds so long ago.

boy3Boyhood is an exquisite piece of cinema history for what it achieves as a unique movie making accomplishment. If you think it is a gimmick to film the same people over twelve years in the same story, you are missing the whole point. The achievement is a master story teller getting all aspects of the narrative right, and by keeping the same actors as the same characters and allowing them to age gracefully and otherwise, we learn life’s greatest lesson – life is more about the moments than it is about the momentum.

Linklater has given us a true cinematic gem in Boyhood, and if you open yourself up to its world, you are in for a treat. Enjoy it for all it’s worth because you will probably never see the likes of it again.

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