DRAFT DAY (letterboxd review)

This review reportedly contains spoilers.

This film might technically and narratively deserve a three or three and a half star review, but I'm giving it four because tonally it was just what I hoped it would deliver and what I needed right now (light and airy, akin to JERRY MAGUIRE, compared to the heavier, darker dramatic works I tend to gravitate towards) and because Kevin Costner has always had a way of assuaging the cynic in me.

DANCES WITH WOLVES, BULL DURHAM, FIELD OF DREAMS... these are seminal films from my childhood, cherished works really (especially in the case of Wolves and Durham), and I have always fancied myself a Costner apologist (yes, there was a time when such a term was necessary, after the floggings he received post-ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, WATERWORLD, and THE POSTMAN — all arguably misunderstood films, if acknowledged misfires). A PERFECT WORLD is an all-time favorite of mine (and Eastwood's second best film after THE UNFORGIVEN, in my book), JFK is a masterpiece, NO WAY OUT is a lynchpin 80's thriller, OPEN RANGE is an extremely underrated and classical western... I could go on and on, at which point I risk turning this into a review and retrospective of Costner's career as opposed to a review of DRAFT DAY.

But Costner's naturalism and pedigree as the likable everyman in sports films is relevant and helps carry the movie. Here, as Cleveland Browns' General manager Sonny Weaver, he is less of a cad and rogue than say Roy "TIN CUP" McAvoy or THE UPSIDE OF ANGER's Denny Davies, but his easy charm and contained, less demonstrative style suit the role like an old, comfortable slipper. Though emotional subplots do play in the film (centering around a pregnancy with salary-cap manager Jennifer Garner and the death of his father), it's mostly an examination of a "scene" — and I happen to be a big fan of films that explore niche scenes. The scene in this case is, of course, the hours leading up to and during the NFL draft.

For sports fans (myself being one, more "fan" than "fanatic," to be sure), some of the proceedings may not ring true — never could I imagine a real-world scenario in which this series of unlikely and reality-pushing trades is pulled off. But again, Costner gets me to buy in, and we realize the film is not meant to be so much a documentation of the NFL Draft but a thematic story about taking the reigns, defining moments, stepping out of the shadow of predecessors and staking a claim by way of planting your flag. Throughout the film lines are drawn in the sand by everyone from Sonny's boss and owner of the Browns (the always welcome Frank Langella), to Sonny's coach (expertly cast Dennis Leary), to his own mother (living legend Ellen Burstyn) and his fellow general managers as he wheels and deals under the pressure of a ticking clock.

But through it all, Sonny finds a way to not only stay true to his heart and draft the player he wanted all along (a heart and soul middle linebacker played by rising star Chadwick Boseman), but to also make his coach happy by pulling off another trade for a coveted running back, and his owner by "making a splash," and recovering the future draft picks he gave up in the first place in order to move to the number one spot.

Again, this film ain't reinventing the wheel, but it is a dependable, comforting wheel that moves at a brisk pace (thanks in part to director Ivan Reitman's use of split screen and wipes and a breezy, Black List-topping script by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph) and delivers a good amount of heart and warmth. Don't go into this film expecting a cynical, realistic treatise of the NFL (for that, see Oliver Stone's ANY GIVEN SUNDAY) — but if you're in the mood for a feel-good sports movie that takes place away from the field and is tonally centered between JERRY MAGUIRE and MONEYBALL, look no further.

SEE IT — non-sports fans might enjoy it even more than sports fans. My brother, who could give two shits about sports, also enjoyed this inside glimpse of a world he would normally never see.


PS - have I made it abundantly clear that I have always, and will always, love(d) Kevin Costner? Again, the film itself might play a star lower for you, but for this viewer, some Costner-in-his-wheelhouse gives it an automatic bump.


This review reportedly contains spoilers.

Okay, this film obviously isn't going to warrant my typical long-form, verbose review... that said, it actually does have some thematic relevance to underscore an otherwise silly parade of verbal and physical gags, which hedges it somehow into "satire' territory.

I loved the lampooning of the modern 24-hour news cycle (particularly Rupert Murdoch's Fox "News"), and this shit had me rolling for a good 45 minutes. Carrell is beyond ridiculous, Ferrell delivers, Rudd is fantastic as always and I am a sucker for anything Dylan Baker (ever since his mythic turn as the world's most forthright pederast in Todd Solondz' deviant masterpiece HAPPINESS — one of my all-time favorite films). I'm not going to recount any of the gags, because I can barely remember them — but during the viewing some of that shit had me in stitches (sitting two feet from an oft-used Volcano vaporizer also might have played a role in my enjoyment).

However, this flick had without a doubt one of the all-time lamest, shittiest, and shameless end-game set pieces I have ever laid eyes and ears on. It basically ends up in an extremely overblown, gratuitous, laborious and pandering celebrity cameo clusterfuck complete with lasers and kung fu and explosions and fisticuffs and very, very, very few laughs. Each time a celebrity appeared and uttered their ham-fisted compulsory one-liner, I found myself more and more uncomfortable. How could it be that someone, out of *ALL* of this talent, both comedic and otherwise, did not stop and just say "Wait... what in the fuck are we doing here? Is this REALLY the way to end this movie?" It was abhorrent.

I find myself feeling the same way about most comedies, which seem addicted to ending with action set pieces. Action is not what brought us to the theater or couch to see these films, yet it almost always seems to go there in the end — and laughs are sacrificed in droves. I swear, some day I am going to pull a Soderbergh and put a bunch of recut comedies up on our website... or maybe just a 12-hour long splice of all of the first acts (and first halves of second acts) of Hollywood comedies, because from midpoint on most of them feel obliged to tie up and pay-off (complete with unnecessary callbacks... ie: the shark bit in the denouement of ANCHORMAN 2) a plot we never quite gave a shit about in the first place.

Please, HW comedy writers and filmmakers, I implore you: Leave the big action set pieces to those who know what they're doing, and stories that demand it.

That is all.

Final verdict:

SEE IT if you want some cheap easy laughs, but consider falling asleep or having to deal with an emergency electrical fire or some shit before it reaches its ungodly conclusion.

PS: Okay, I guess that was kind of longwinded after all. I have issues.

CHILD OF GOD (letterboxd review)


This review reportedly contains spoilers.

No... your eyes doth not deceive you: I just gave a 5 out of 5 star review to a film directed by James Franco. This is no hyperbole or winking stunt — this film is just that provocative and powerful, thanks in no small part to the brilliant author of the source material.

CHILD OF GOD is a revelation, as is the performance of its lead Scott Haze. The fact that this kind of rawness actually made it to a screen with fidelity to the source material intact is astounding. *Major* props to James Franco for not only recognizing the fundamental truth of Cormac McCarthy's third novel, but for bringing it to life with such gusto (he not only directed and played a small part, but co-adapted with Vince Jolivette). For the record, I consider McCarthy to be our greatest living author, and he probably makes my Mount Rushmore of all-time literary heavyweights. It is obvious that Franco sees what I see in his work.

The film breaks down into three parts (as does the novel), which makes for a convenient three act structure amenable to film. Each of these parts progressively track Haze's Lester Ballard as he devolves into a true creature of violence and isolation. As the film opens, we find Lester an uneducated, unloved man-child who threatens the lives of the men who have come to sell off his dead father's foreclosed property... what transpires from there is a sight to behold; a sick spiral into the depths of mental illness and depravity unlike I have ever seen captured on film.

The film unfolds like the sickest of Grimm tales, set in a 1960's Tennessee that, save for the occasional finned sedan and flashlight, could be the 1800's. From the very get-go we are welcomed by Haze's most unsettling gaze and mouth gesticulations — this is a miscreant whose words often get stuck in his throat and he clicks his sharp-angled jaw and bellows in frustration to let them loose. Mere moments after the opening scene, we are welcomed by his bare ass *literally* shitting in the woods (and if that is not actual feces coming out of Haze's actual anus, this film deserves even more awards than I thought), then "wiping" his ass with a broken branch. This is true, elemental McCarthy at work, and Franco channels that vision with zero compromises. His shot selection is pure in each and every frame, the pacing and manner in which the film unfolds is shocking in its simplicity and eagerness to repel, the music/score is minimalistic and diegetic and never tries to inspire emotion, only evocation of mood and tone. Franco has peopled this film with real faces of the ugly and the downtrodden, which was a major turn on for this viewer who loathes the perfect teeth and powdered foreheads of typical players, especially in such a truculent, down home narrative as this. I really cannot say enough about the job James Franco has done here... this film is an absolute testament.

In CHILD OF GOD, theme and character are perfectly intertwined in the form of Haze's astounding turn as the aforementioned Lester Ballard. This sorry excuse of a human being is in fact a proxy for all mankind — the title of the film is no mistake, as is alluded to in one of the many, varied narrators' (another awesome device that stays true to McCarthy's novel) description of Lester as "a child of God much like yourself perhaps." As the saying goes: We are ALL God's children, and that includes the most depraved and profane among us... which Lester certainly is. If repeated scenes of necrophilia turn your stomach, you might want to shy away from this most provocative of films — or at least take in the gruesome spectacle through the space between your fingers. Lester is, in the form of one sick individual, all of us, all that mankind is capable of and therein lies the parable. He is at turns violent, aggressive, dangerous and profane... but at the same time he is lonely, misunderstood, denigrated and exiled, capable of great ingenuity and curiosity and even childlike playfulness. He is at equal turns capable of generosity and coddling (of an ironic, sick sort — such as when he buys a gift-wrapped red dress and other romantic effects for his paramour... a girl he found dead in a car, half-naked and under the body of her lover as they asphyxiated by way of carbon monoxide poisoning during the throes of passion) and the most vile, wretched activities known to man. By the third act Lester has fully devolved into a cave-dwelling psychopathic serial killer and routine necrophile — yet we still miraculously find ourselves rooting for him when he makes a triumphant escape from the clutches of a lynch mob who has stolen him away from the hospital in which he is recovering from the loss of his arm, and nearly his life (in a scene in which you just have to witness for yourself. Rarely has madness been so well rendered on screen, suffice to say).

I could go on but I feel I have spoiled and ruined enough already. You seriously owe it to yourself to watch this film, and to do so with an open mind that is ready to engage the themes Franco (by way of McCarthy) is meting out. Once more I must applaud the director and everyone involved, not least of all Scott Haze in one of the most profound and powerful transformative performances I have ever witnessed. Who is this man? How is he not a major star? Perhaps, if the world is at all just, he soon will be.

Final verdict, as if it needs to be stated:

MOST DEFINITELY SEE IT (unless you are a natural born prude, or easily rattled and disgusted by representations of true acts of depravity... but even then, you might need this film more than most)

PS - currently streaming on Netflix.

AMERICAN SNIPER (letterboxd review)


This review reportedly contains spoilers.

Firstly: I'm a huge proponent of separating the Art from the Artist when it comes to objectionable, scandalous, or criminal behavior (take the "cases" of Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, etc — not that the actions and reps of those two should be conflated, mind you...), and I'll approach this review with the same respect to Chris Kyle, who it now seems was rather fond of hyperbole, embellishment, and the occasional flat out lie in regards to recounting his "heroic" exploits. So yeah, I'll be judging the film on its own merits, not its factual accuracy or veracity... same as I would with JFK or FOXCATCHER or LONE SURVIVOR or any other biopic or film that's "based on a true story" and takes dramatic liberties.

Eastwood's direction is as solid as ever. In this day and age of massive coverage and furious editing, I love the slow, sure, measured pace of an Eastwood film. The rock solid framing, the unobtrusive and justified movement of the camera. The film has a great look and palette (thanks to DP Tom Stern), and was edited seamlessly by Joel Cox and Gary Roach. Also in play was a solid (again, unobtrusive) score that didn't try to make us feel anything other than the tension and suspense of the theater of war (the film's main scoring/theme was written and performed by Eastwood himself).

Moving on to Jason Hall's very solid script (aside from ducking what promised to have been a mind-blowing ending, more on that below)...

Narratively, the film plays in a somewhat episodic manner (as do most chronology biopics and some war films in general). There are obvious dramatic throughlines, such as the tracking of the toll these constant, prolonged deployments take on the families back in garrison (as a former member of the military and a military brat, I have often wondered at the military's encouragement of active duty personnel starting families.. then again, I recognize that having a family to return to is incentive to dig deep on the battlefield). This episodic treatmnt means a lot of war and sniping set pieces, all of which were effectively rendered, if not as tense as, say, some of the scenes in THE HURT LOCKER for instance. There is another throughline of Kyle's near-equal, an Al Qaeda sniper who wreaks havoc in Sadr City. This subplot felt to me a little bit like a Hollywood fabrication, as if the film felt the need to build for Kyle a singular worthy adversary or foil — I will have to do a little more research and see if this was the case or not.

The other obvious dramatic throughline is territory that has been well tread in films from COMING HOME to THE HURT LOCKER: the return of a soldier from combat, how he assimilates back into "the world" of kids and barbecues and small talk and grocery shopping. While this material has been covered before, it's something we need to be keenly aware of and invest more of our national consciousness towards. PTSD (what used to be called "shell shock") is a real phenomenon with real world implications for untold veterans and their families. Suicide is pervasive among returning combat vets, and those who don't end their own lives often commit violent crimes against others, or end up homeless and penniless and wrestling with the horrors they've experienced on their own. The VA tries, but they are overloaded and underfunded and when wars drag on endlessly and vets experience several back-to-back combat tours as did Kyle, it takes a serious toll — no matter if you are the mentally toughest SOB on the plant (as Kyle is initially portrayed in the film) or not. The deconstruction of Chris Kyle from mental and emotional stalwart to someone who has trouble assimilating and has to come to grips with this fact and admit it before his inner turmoil engulfs his family is one of the more compelling elements of the film, on a human level. It's not FULLY explored, but we get the picture and Bradley Cooper shows more emotional range here than he has in most (if not all) of his previous roles.

On to Cooper, and the rest of the performances: As is the case in most Eastwood films, performance is the name of the game. Again, he doesn't try to dazzle you with the camera and his visual stylings... this is an old school director (and actor, of course) who respects the craft enough to settle the camera and let his actors do work in the frame. Sienna Miller does a good job of emoting, even if her character treads stock tropes and her scenes are somewhat redundant. I might have even appreciated more scenes of her at home alone, forging ahead with the children, dealing with all of the pervasive loneliness and fear that a military spouse endures while their counterpart is in a combat zone. Most of what we get with her, until Kyle is back in garrison, are harried phone calls from Chris as he prepares to snipe someone or is under fire. Still, she comports herself well in the role, as do all of the ancillary characters, from the insurgents and Al Qaeda operatives to Kyle's fellow troops.

So there you have it — a very well executed film that deals with real issues, offers tense (if not extremely tense) combat scenes, and a (thus far) career defining role for Cooper. Kyle may have been a bit of a superhero according to the movie (and his self-aggrandizing personal accounts), but the film did an admirable job of deconstructing the character. I did, however, question his means of "helping" veterans in the later stages of his life... was taking these troubled, dangerous, and often unstable men to the gun range really the best way to get them to cope with the horrors they'd experienced?

In regards to my aforementioned ducking of a potentially mind-blowing end scene, perhaps the blame lies more with avowed gun rights advocate Eastwood than the screenwriter or any other party (and perhaps this was done on the insistence of Kyle's family, to include his father who reportedly sad he would "unleash hell" if his son's memory was tarnished by Eastwood and company) — but the film misses a HUGE opportunity in my mind and for this transgression I knocked anywhere from half a star to a full star off its rating. What I am talking about is the cowardly decision to post-script Kyle's death with a single line scrawl.

I wanted this scene. The film NEEDED this scene, and the story deserved it. Knowing how Kyle died (at the gun range, helping other vets with PTSD, and at the very hand of one of these troubled men), I saw this dodge as a huge mistake and think it robbed the film of a tremendously powerful "live by the gun, die by the gun" thematic haymaker. As we had repeatedly seen Kyle instantly end lives in the war with the single pull of a trigger (Eastwood again did a great job of *not* over-dramatizing these kills - trigger is pulled, "BLAM!" goes the gun, and another body simply drops), seeing how his own heroic, larger than life existence was also instantly snuffed out by a handheld killing device would have put a hell of a punctuation mark on the proceedings — what could have been a fair and balanced treatise on guns and gun worship and their role in our society is rendered, by way of this weak scrawl and dodge of seeing a firearm end this heroic sniper's life, an oversimplified glorification of the Gun (and again, we know where Eastwood stands on this issue).

If I made this film, I would have included this scene, and I would have shot it as starkly as possible to underscore the point. Pull a trigger, a life can end in an INSTANT. That is the awesome and terrifying power of the gun, no matter the skill or heart of the man who wields it. It really disappointed me when that simple scrawl appeared on the screen and the credits rolled.

All that said, the film captures some bravura filmmaking (that sandstorm set piece is dank) and a terrific performance by Cooper. In closing, as if I need to tell an America that came out for this film to the tune of over a hundred mill on its opening weekend:


COLD IN JULY (letterboxd review)


This review reportedly contains spoilers.

Okay... sorry, Jim Mickle: This one is going to sting.

I went into COLD IN JULY with very high hopes and expectations. Not only did the Rottentomatoes critical community eat it up to the tune of 85% critical praise, but I'm a bonafide sucker for (and purveyor of) southern-fried crime stories.

This is a story with hellafied potential in the set-up alone: When a man kills an intruder during a home invasion, he's soon harassed and his family threatened by the jailbird father of the deceased.

That is a strong, provocative, straight forward premise with real built-in stakes, pathos, generational thematics, and the promise of dramatic tension. But alas, it veers *wildly* off course in both tone and plotting.

A lot of the blame goes to the source material, surely, but I think director Mickle has to shoulder his fair (and sizable) share of it as well. Again, his film has been universally praised, and for that he should be pleased. And who am I, but a lowly writer and filmmaker who's working hard to be in a position to make feature films like Mickle has and is? Who am I to disagree with these professional critics, who apparently watched a different film than I did — or bought in so hardcore during the early, more promising scenes that they stuck with it once the plot and tone and direction had jumped the tracks like the Fonz over so many hungry sharks?

First things first, the story: What could have been a thematically contained, tense, suspenseful tale of a man who accidentally pulled a trigger and altered the course of his life forever and thus must fight to protect his family from a dangerous convict is instead the convoluted, inconsistent, and ever-parting-with-reality tale of a man who accidentally kills an intruder, finds he is being targeted by said intruder's murderous criminal father, then finds the police are corrupt and ends up saving the murderous criminal father when the cops try to kill him, then they team up when our hero (a meek "picture framer," mind you) finds out the man he killed was indeed NOT the son of the murderous criminal, but some random, unknown entity (complete with fingertips and teeth removed so as to conceal the fact that the deceased is not who the cops say he is), and that the murderous criminal's actual son is in the witness protection program as he has sung like a canary to the police in regards to his "Dixie Mafia" cohorts, and now, under the veil of Witness Protection, lives as a video store owner while meanwhile killing underaged Mexican prostitutes in snuff films — a crime for which his murderous criminal father (and, for some reason, the "framer" hero and eccentric pig farmer private eye they've enlisted, played by the ever entertaining relic known as Don Johnson) has decided he must die.

You see where I'm going here? It's a mess. It's all over the place. I can appreciate the fact that the film took a wild narrative turn, I found that refreshing actually — initially — but as the story continued to spiral further and further out of control the sneaking suspicions I had early on that we were not in the best of hands directorially were confirmed... by the end and the big, obligatory "set piece" shootout (a term I hoped would not be necessary in reviewing this movie when I first hit "play" on the Blu Ray), the characters (primarily our protagonist) behaved in laughable manners that belied anything remotely resembling common sense or relevant motivation.

Let me track this for you:

Dane, the framer (played by a typically muted Michael C. Hall), kills this home invader. Dane feels bad about it. He's a Christian, a good man with a conscience. Dead guy's supposed bad seed daddy shows up. Dane is fearful for his family, wants police protection. Finally gets it, but finds it to be of the incompetent variety. After the bad seed daddy ("Ben Russell," played by American living legend of theater and film Sam Shepard) hides in a crawlspace in Dane's home and has a chance to kill Dane's own son in retribution (but curiously doesn't) before escaping and being caught in Mexico... Dane curiously takes an unexplained, conscience-driven drive by the apartment of Ben (who has supposedly been apprehended, but is somehow still in town and just chillin', unless I missed something), only to conveniently arrive as the police are dragging Ben out and stuffing him into the back seat of a nondescript car. Dane, curious as ever, follows, and watches as the dirty cops inject Ben with some sort of sleeping aid and leave him to die on a set of midnight train tracks. At this point, Dane would probably want nothing more than to see Ben disappear and stop harassing him — but, being a Christian or man of conscience or whatever he saves the old jailbird who has overtly threatened his family.

From here the plot completely shifts away from a story of retribution, and sees Ben and Dane team up, with the help of "Jim Bob," (yes — "Jim Bob") the private eye/pig farmer (yes — "pig farmer") Ben enlists to help them find his actual son that Dane now believes was *not* the man he killed. Fine, whatever. But...

There is a GREAT throughline and motivation for Dane that Mickle (and presumably novelist Joe R. Lansdale) all but casts aside: Once he finds out he did not kill Freddy Russell, son of Ben, Dane wonders who that is at the bottom of the grave. Who is this mystery man he ended the life of? Who have the cops buried, knowing he was not who they say he was? THIS WHOLE ELEMENT, one that could have conceivably weighed heavily on the mind of such a conscience-driven man as Dane, and been a real source of character motivation to continue navigating this plot as opposed to just going home and enjoying his now-safe family (once Ben is off his tail, now knowing his son is actually alive and Dane didn't kill him) is used for one beat and one beat only and then summarily discarded.

This is the only way I could see Dane still invested in this plotting, the desire to find out who he *actually* killed. And he does seem motivated by this notion — again, for a single beat. Then he's suddenly all about helping Ben find his son, and once they find him and discover he is a maker of snuff films, Dane (remember, meek framer of pictures and Christian and family man) now — for some reason that completely escapes me — is compelled to go into a veritable guarded fort, both fists filled with firearms, to kill anyone who steps in his path as he helps Ben kill his own son (a very solid irony that could have been better implemented in a seriously toned down plot). I see ZERO realistic, palpable motivation for such a turn of events to unfold and for Dane to behave in such a manner.

By the end I was groaning and rolling my eyes like Caesar with the "falling sickness," and Mickle's penchant for over-direction (which I had sniffed out early on and watched grow more and more into focus as the film progressed and continued to deteriorate) was fully evident: The lighting, pacing, overwrought slow-mo (not a fan of this far too-used device, which often strives to impart gravity and stakes but only serves to slow plot and tip its hat to cliché), etc was egregious. It was like he tried to get all Nic Refn with Bangkok lighting in what looked like a fortified barn. It made no sense. TONE IT DOWN, son! Do less. Move the camera less. Get less "arty" and contrived with the lighting, try to be less clever in the plotting, etc — the lesson Mickle imparts, inadvertently, is this (as etched into the great Charles Bukowski's tombstone):


Or at least try to be less conspicuous as a director, if you want us to take what is presented as a boiled-down southern fried noir seriously. Or, if you are going to be artfully conspicuous, let it be for well-thought out and measured framing and camera movement, not gratuity and paint-by-numbers film schoolery.

I dunno, by this point I had checked out thanks to the narrative warts and very well could have just been shitting on any and every aspect of the film — but I would contend that is the fault of the film, and not my own.

I could continue. I could talk about what a worthless character Dane's wife was (played by Vinessa Shaw), how she was nothing but a typical dissatisfied, one-note harpy who offered nothing but forced conflict by way of being inordinately bitchy for no reason, another tell-tale sign of inferior storytelling... but that would just be piling on.

Again, I went into this one wanting to love it and I was on its side off the blocks... but its compounding sins were too many for this humble viewer in the end.

Final verdict? As much as it pains me to say:

SKIP IT (with the concession that it has high reviews, and you might dig it so... SEE IT IF YOU WANT?)

ETA: Two Stars for execution, with an extra half for the great premise and set-up.

BOYHOOD — (letterboxd review)


This review reportedly contains spoilers.

It's taken me a few days to get around to reviewing this one, and that is to say I am still pondering it. That said, this much can be confidently stated on my part:

This is one of the "truest" films ever made.

I have a friend on Facebook who tagged me in his review of Boyhood after watching his SAG screener — he was basically calling out the film for its lack of plot and payoff, and mentioned me when he said "Boyhood is the canonical example as to why Jason Thornton's profession is the integral constituent that defines what a "movie" actually is, and, without which, is just masturbatory Arriflexing."

Though I appreciate the name drop — as a writer and storyteller I have to respectfully disagree.

What Linklater set out to do, and in my mind accomplished with aplomb, was anything but a conventional bit of storytelling complete with discernible act structure, plot points, payoffs and tropes. He had no interest in telling a standard tale. What he was after, and captured, is something much more evocative and profound than a mere genre yarn. If one is to make a distinction between "movies" and "films," this is most definitely the latter — a dramatic story told in pictures, with no regard for the conventions of normative, popcorn narratives.

And I, personally, find that refreshing as fuck.

Perhaps it is because I am a white male, raised with a single sibling by a single mother until she settled on our stepfather (after a few other men came and went)... but this film unfolded, for me, as do my own fractured, piecemeal memories of childhood. It comes in elusive fragments, usually focusing on the less joyous moments of childhood because it is truthfully in the fires of interpersonal drama that our burgeoning personalities are forged. And so too it is with the film's "protagonist," if such a term applies.

Mason is what white suburbia might call a typical boy. He daydreams, he questions, he wonders at the world around him as he learns to navigate it. He is also a product of a broken marriage, as so many of us are. But he is not unloved, and it is in recognition of this fact that we must realize what a different film this might have been — what plays as a chronology of an average life unfolding could have easily been a cautionary tale had Mason not been loved, and shown love, by not only his mother (played marvelously by Patricia Arquette) but by his come-and-go father as well (Arquette's equal in Linklater staple Ethan Hawke). Both of his parents are, in their own ways, proponents of education and a life introspectively examined... and the children they brought into life and raise, in their own ways, are products of this environment. That is to say: They could have turned out hella worse, these kids.

From the children to the adults, the film's "characters" play like real people, with real pasts and futures and ideas about life. Both of Mason's parents are non-violent. They are thinkers and strivers in their own ways (mother in her pursuits of education, to find both personal fulfillment and to better provide for the children she cares for — father in his wayward pursuit of music and personal freedom and expression and truth)... and they impart upon Mason, as we learn in the later scenes of the film, a self-awareness that far too many people lack. Of course this manifests itself in the doom and gloom non sequiturs of a somewhat "emo" young man groping to find his place in the world, and to prescribe meaning to his life... I can recall similar scenes from my own "boyhood" in which a girl I was spouting such pontifications to called me "weird," as Mason's soon-to-be high school girlfriend Sheena does in the film. There is real truth, and hence beauty, in these types of effortless exchanges... and the film is brimming with such moments.

Again, I wonder what this film may have been like had Mason been raised by stoutly religious parents (love the scene in which his father's new In-Laws gift Mason a bible for his birthday, complete with the word of Jesus in red ink — a gift shortly followed by the giving of a rifle, because, you know: Texas). Or had he been raised by racists, or a single mother more interested in fulfilling her own needs to the point that it's at the expense of her children (as happens far too often in life), or a mother who constantly threw their wayward, lackadaisical, irresponsible father under the bus.

But no, this is the story of caring, loving people learning to care and cope and carry on in their own way and time (particularly in the case of Mason's father, who is afforded this luxury of time by way of his own irresponsibility to his children and ex-wife, his refusal to live under the constraints of domestication; but eventually even he comes around to father another child and become a responsible loving husband — the kind of man "Mom" needed all along but, by way of bad timing, was not to have).

And that is part of the thematic thrust of the film, I believe: That we must all get there in our own way, and in our own time. That life unfolds not at the convenience of plot points and dramatic structure, but more ethereally, in smaller and less dramatic increments.

I could go on and on, and talk about this film for days. Its technical achievements, the patience and artistry and passion of all involved so evident, the attention to detail.... literally each and every scene had a kernel of resonant truth in it, and each scene and dramatic movement of the film does indeed deserve praise — from the queasy unease of watching teenagers hang out in a near-completed house and throw circular saw blades like shurikens (I was so sure something bad would happen, but it didn't, and it's in these flirtations with disaster that the film also alludes to truth), to the slow walk and talk with a girl, to the misery of men who come and go and drink to cope with lives they wish they had led differently, to shed responsibilities they took on in a moment of idealization and now have come to recognize as incompatible with their own inner desires (see the parade of men Mom deals with before ultimately ending up alone, an empty nester rightfully saying, as her youngest leaves her alone in a small, barren apartment to go off to college, "I just thought there would be MORE.")... but again, that is the point and the magic of this film.

While some viewers and reviewers (such as my aforementioned friend in SAG) might be left saying the same of this film ("I just thought there would be MORE")... I am afraid they might be missing the entire point of the film. There is not more. There is merely what we get, and what we make of it. That is a universal axiom that applies not just to "boyhood," (and Boyhood) but to life itself.

This film is, ultimately, a marvelous example of how the medium can do so much more to reveal and illustrate the beauty of human existence than merely spin a yarn, impress us with spectacle, or wow us with its clever plotting. Linklater set out to do something different, to render unto us a piece of art that is not mere product — and for that he should be lauded, and this film should be watched.


WILD — (letterboxd review)


This review reportedly contains spoilers.

Bottom Line: This film resonates. It is a visual poem, and while its central character (and author of the source material Cheryl "Strayed," played here with true depth and resolve by Reese Witherspoon) is somewhat egomaniacal and self-involved and wayward to the point of self-destruction, we are always on her side. We understand how and why she operates as she does, thanks to a series of beautifully evocative and emotive flashbacks.

Consider it a companion piece, or sister if you will, to Sean Penn's adaptation of Krakauer's INTO THE WILD, the tragic account of the wanderlust and death of Chris McCandless — no better and no worse, but on equal footing with that most magical, timeless of human tales. This is high praise coming from myself, an ardent proselytizer of that film.

While Cheryl doesn't reach a tragic end, and hence WILD does not reach the tragic heights of hubris in its crescendo as does INTO THE WILD, it often threatens to. As well-rendered as Emile Hirsch's McCandless was, Witherspoon's portrayal of Cheryl truly plumbs the depths — she is fully exposed, warts and all, and her inner pain and guilt and shame (surely imparted in spades at an early age by her abusive father, which sets her on a crooked course of meaningless sex and infidelity and self-abuse that results in the end of her marriage to a good man) are laid bare as she punishes herself with a grueling trek north along the Pacific Coast trail. She did not "train" for this trek, as has a male hiker she meets on the road (and outlasts), she overpacks (the weight she carries is both physical/literal and emotional/metaphoric), and that is the point — this journey is a self-imposed walk through the fire.

As she traverses the coastline, from the desert to the emerald forests of the Pacific Northwest, Cheryl learns to accept herself as she is. Her journey may be somewhat masturbatory and self-involved, but it is ultimately cathartic. We should all learn to love ourselves, to forgive ourselves for our "sins," and hopefully this film inspires others to do so without punishing themselves or putting themselves in danger (by way of terrain, thirst, and threat of rape in the company of rough men on the outskirts) as does Cheryl.

WILD truly is an outstanding film, and credit goes to all involved — it is beautifully acted (special nods to the exceedingly naturalistic and effortless Laura Dern, the ever-underrated "redneck D'Onofrio" W. Earl Brown, and everyone in between — not least of all Reese, whose talents are on full display), artfully shot by visual poet Yves Bélanger (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB), seamlessly edited by Martin Pensa, and directed with a sure hand and expressive vision by Jean-Marc Vallée (also of DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, making him one to definitely keep an eye on if you enjoy humanistic dramas full of pathos and depth, judging by these consecutive films).

I can't recommend this film enough (especially if you live in a city and long to be transported to the WILD).



Welcome, Freaks!

We'll be keeping a blog here, which will loosely be maintained, for the most part, by Jay (Chris, while a man of many skillz and interests, is not a blogger at heart).

Expect the occasional rant, screed, announcement, inspirational (by way of mutiny) post on working in Hollywood as a screenwriter and writing and filmmaking in general, and the occasional link of a movie review from Letterboxd. Comments are on, so feel free to discuss and flame one another to your heart's content — but try to stay on topic.