BOYHOOD feels like a summing up of Linklater's central interests as a filmmaker--the power of conversation, and, of course, the passage of time. The 12 year shooting schedule is ambitious enough in itself that Linklater does little else to punch up the passing of the years, he just lets them slip quietly by--we hear the time passing as much as anything, in the quiet fading of one background pop song into another, and I found myself unexpectedly choking up the moment I realized I no longer recognized every song on the soundtrack. The choice is simple, the effect is often profound (and the inclusion of Harry Potter in the kids' lives is both a nice memory and a nice allusion to probably the only other piece of coming-of-age fiction in recent memory to demonstrate this kind of scope). And, of course, it's this element of time passing that's the star of the film. That's not to say that the script or the performances or the other directorial choices aren't strong--they almost always are, and the mundanity of the story is not only part of the point, but also far more moving than a more focused, less sprawling, more thesis-driven piece might have been. This is American childhood as epic cinema, and it's beautiful. Linklater seems to maybe get teenagers better than he does the young children, but the approach he takes to the adult characters is maybe more demonstrative of his understanding of how children experience the world--gathering clues about adult life and the real world scattered around the peripheries, gradually picking up pieces of information and slowly developing a larger picture of what it means to be a person. To use one example, Linklater wisely and poignantly stages the scene of domestic violence offscreen; like Mason, we only see the effects, little traces of what's going on, and we see them through a half-open garage door, darkly. Later, when Mason celebrates his 16th birthday at some crazy old people's house, it takes us awhile to determine whether they're his grandparents or the parents of his dad's new wife (it turns out to be the latter). The point is, that's how childhood works. The choices your parents make for you determine your reality, and it's not until the end of the film that Mason, naive as he still is in many ways, has really started to develop the tools he needs to question it. Until that point, drinking, smoking, staying out late and having sex are, predictably, his outlets for rebellion--and, really, rebellion is about having some control over certain aspects of his life (it's no coincidence he becomes a photographer, finding ways to capture life as it slowly, then more speedily, slips by).
The effect of all this is a powerful reminder of how long the years feel as a child and, later, a teenager, and how fast they start to pass you by just a short time later. When you're young, you notice, but don't seem to feel the years; when you're older, you feel them, but don't seem to notice them--except as reflected in and amplified by the children in your life. The two scenes that seem to sum up the film come towards the end--the first, when Patricia Arequette's mother breaks down in her kitchen, realizing that, with her children gone, the next milestone to which she has to look forward to is probably death. The second scene concludes the film, and seems to be a summing up of Linklater's obsession with time passing, as Mason, having recently split with his high school girlfriend, goes out hiking with his new roommate at the dorms, his roommate's girlfriend, and the girlfriend's girlfriend. Mason and the girl sit and watch the sun set in the beautiful red rock. And it's always right now.
"Magic in the Moonlight" might have been a masterpiece in Allen's 1980s heyday. Today, it feels more like a brilliant idea for a movie than a brilliant movie, as Woody works through familiar ideas about faith and skepticism and magic and love and performance and mortality in a script that feels like one of his most cohesive artistic statements, while also feeling like it really could have benefitted from a few more drafts. Still, some of the shortcomings actually work for the movie. Though few of the laughs really land, it winds up not being a problem, since this is largely a story about people who overestimate their own intelligence and wit. Allen's direction here feels abnormally languid and drawn out--the movie feels like it could have been compressed into a more potent 80 minutes--but, while I'm not sure if "deliberate" is accurate or not, the pacing IS often effective, even when it feels unintentionally so, allowing us space to consider the ideas that are being teased out and even allowing for a sense of something like spirituality to (ironically) creep into some of the negative space at times. It's being marketed as a follow up to "Midnight in Paris," but "Magic in the Moonlight" owes more to Bergman's "The Magician" than maybe anything else.
Lest I sound too much like the Woody Allen apologist that I'm sure I sometimes am, there are all kinds of other things that don't work. For a movie about the magic of the human heart, it feels strangely distant and unemotional a lot of the time, the central romance could have used some work, some of the writing just feels clunky, and I can see why the pairing of Firth and Stone makes many uncomfortable. Allen's dealt with these ideas before, and to greater effect ("Hannah and Her Sisters" feels like the clearest thematic predecessor, while "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy"--another riff on early Bergman--is maybe the closest thing to the pastoral quality of the setting and overall feel of the film), but rarely has Allen made a film that was so clear or comprehensive in teasing out some of the overarching attitudes towards life that pervade his work. In the same way that "Midnight in Paris" felt like a summing up and coming to terms with Allen's ideas about nostalgia and romanticism, "Magic in the Moonlight" feels like his concluding statement on religion, faith and romance. It's not a great movie, but it's certainly an interesting (and, for Allen enthusiasts, maybe an essential) one.
Though there seems to be a surprising lack of conflict here for a story about bucking the system (Jackie's temper, which seems to be his main internal obstacle, is overcome fairly quickly and rather easily, and even the whole racist institution seems like a pretty meager opponent), Brian Helgeland's enthusiasm for his subject is clear and infectious. Structurally it's a little unfocused and stylistically it's maybe a little watered down, but, as commercial as it looks and sounds, "42" also has the conviction of a passion project, and, as Jackie Robinson, Chadwick Boseman is just electric, brimming with natural screen presence, playing each moment with an honesty that's both clear and understated, demonstrating a real sense of athleticism, inhabiting the role with complete confidence and seeming ease. It's a remarkable star turn from a guy who should go on to become a remarkable star.
Sort of the British "Lincoln"--a beautifully made (though Misan Sagay and Amma Asante are a notably less formidable duo than Kushner and Spielberg) period piece about the abolition of slavery. Where Kushner and Spielberg's film was a celebration of the legislative process, "Belle" is all about judicial review; each film ends with a rousing courtroom scene that we know is coming, but is powerful nevertheless, and each film draws some subtle and not-so-subtle political parallels to contemporary social issues. The highlight here is Wilkinson's tremendous, detailed, present performance as Lord Mansfield--nothing showy, just further demonstration that Wilkinson is one of the best actors working today.
An extraordinary political parable and expressionistic sci-fi thriller from Bong Joon-ho. It's fierce, frightening, funny, complicated, exciting, unexpected, brilliantly written, designed, and executed. It's a monumental piece of craft, and a movie I suspect people will look back on decades from now as one of the defining films of our time.