Tag: richard linklater

Before We Go


Before We Go (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

“Before We Go,” directed by Chris Evans, takes inspiration from Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” in which two people meet and by the end of their limited time together, they realize that perhaps there is something between them worth exploring further. Although the film has an identity of its own, the romantic elements do not come together in such a way that leaves us enraptured and wanting more.

Perhaps it is due to the dialogue. At times Nick (Chris Evans) and Brooke (Alice Eve) share some amusing and touching exchanges, but platitudes are inevitably come up—especially when they offer each other advice. The experience is like listening to really nice song but a split-second or two the player skips and it is just enough to ruin the moment. Credit to Evans and Eve for trying their best to work with a script that occasionally comes across as false. These two have a lot of natural charm—together and apart—and it makes up for moments that ought to have been reshot or eliminated altogether.

Shooting onsite in Manhattan elevates the picture. During its slower moments, it is worth taking a look at the background: the kinds of people out on the streets late at night, how they walk, what they are wearing, the multicolored lights dancing in the city. The urban milieu is quite beautiful because it is taken as is. We could almost smell the stench of the garbage and sewers as the characters walk through rougher neighborhoods.

The characters express plenty of inner turmoil, but it feels like something is missing. Maybe it is because they talk about their past and regrets so often that it does not give enough time for them—and us—to appreciate the present. Part of the reason why this film’s inspiration is so successful as a character study is because Linklater makes a point of focusing on the present. Céline and Jesse do talk about their pasts but we get a strong sense that they are not defined by them. Here, Brooke and Nick are superglued to what has happened (or has not happened) to them that their conversations feel like a pity party at times.

The film, written by Ronald Bass, Jen Smolka, Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair, offers a few standout scenes. The performance on stage with Nick playing the trumpet and Brooke singing “My Funny Valentine” dares the viewer not to put on a smile. Another highlight involves a psychic (John Cullum) with wisdom to impart. But three or four well-executed scenes are not enough to make the movie a completely romantic experience. The dialogue, the environment, the themes, and the performances must dance together and share the same rhythm.

Everybody Wants Some!!


Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Those expecting a defined beginning, middle, and end, along with the standard parabolas of plot and pacing, are certain to be disappointed by “Everybody Wants Some!!,” written and directed by Richard Linklater, a delightful and fresh comedy about college baseball players simply living, bonding, and partying together before the first day of university.

In mainstream films, especially comedies, jocks are almost always a target of ridicule. They are often depicted are dumb, mean, and sexist, sometimes downright racist—with nothing on their minds but throwing balls, driving expensive cars, chasing girls, and getting some action. We are so aware of these stereotypes that we almost expect these assumptions to come to the surface every time we meet a character in the movies who just so happens to be passionate about sports or a specific sport. Linklater, a most humanistic writer-director, unveils a world where audiences do not have to settle for the lowest hanging fruit. Instead, he inspires us to look up and recognize alternatives that are much closer to reality.

The picture is an extended hangout with the guys. Aside from their shared athleticism, they are painfully ordinary which makes them all the more relatable. Our conduit to the story is pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner), one of the five incoming freshmen who, like their seniors, were the best baseball players in their high schools. It is interesting to observe the dynamics of the team members as they live in two neighboring houses. All of them are competitive; all of them hate losing. When someone loses a game, even it is over something as silly as a pingpong match or a round of billiards, we get a chance to peek at their true characters. Hilarity ensues.

But the film is funny not because there are great gags that can only happen in the movies. Amusement often comes in our recognition of ourselves in characters we don’t image we can relate with on any level at first glance. Sometimes it is through a character’s specific sense of humor. Unlike mundane comedies we have been accustomed to being constantly subjected to, every jock we meet here has a personality, a perspective, a certain unpredictability. Each of them has a different “self” which can be observed when he is in a group versus conversing with only one other person. It is enjoyable to discover who they are in different environments and circumstances because sometimes they might not even know who they are just yet.

From a technical standpoint, most impressive is the writer-director’s confidence in modulating pacing and tone. Observe that about halfway through when the guys have started to become familiar with one another, there is a considerable slowdown of pace and the tone leans toward a more philosophical ground. There are still parties but the parties in the latter half are not only about getting drunk or hooking up any longer. There is a great exchange between Jake and Finnegan (Glen Powell) in a punk party where they acknowledge that experiences allow them to put on identities that they can choose to take away and cultivate. I loved that there are valuable lessons dispersed throughout the film that one cannot learn only by sitting in a classroom.

Notice I have not used to the word “nostalgia.” The story is set in end-of-summer 1980 and there are wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) music, clothes, hairstyles, slangs and phrases. But to define the picture as mere nostalgia is to deny it ample credit. Take away these so-called nostalgic elements and it remains a great picture because its core radiates humanism. “Everybody Wants Some!!,” like Linklater’s excellent comedy “Dazed and Confused,” is a piece of work that will, or should be, remembered many years down the line. Both films simply show young people as young people and such an honest approach transcends time.

21 Years: Richard Linklater


21 Years: Richard Linklater (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Richard Linklater has always been one of my favorite directors probably because his film, “Before Sunset,” made a big impression on me when at the time when I was still trying to figure out the kind of stories I would be willing to invest my time in. When that film ended, I remember feeling excited, maybe even inspired, because I had not seen anything quite like it.

Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood’s “21 Years: Richard Linklater” is an entertaining and informative documentary about Linklater’s films up to “Before Midnight” but because it attempts to cover as much ground as possible and as quickly as possible, it does not feel cohesive. In addition, some of the interviews come across as pandering rather than as a true celebration of an artist whose works helped to shape the landscape of independent cinema.

The picture is divided into sections. For example, “Daze and Confused” gets about ten to fifteen minutes of discussion. There are other instances, however, when two films are combined into one section like “The Newton Boys” and “Bernie.” Although the technique makes sense because the discussions aim to highlight Linklater’s fascination with lovable losers or criminals, the connections between such films are few.

Interviewees are performers such as Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and Ethan Hawke as well as directors that range from Mark Duplass to Jason Reitman. While there is no shortage of personality, eventually it begins to feel like the same people are being asked the same types of questions. While the energy in front of the camera is appreciated, one wonders about the other aspects of the director’s techniques. He is often labelled as having a very relaxed approach to making his films but how does that work necessarily when his projects are so different from one another?

The material is at its best when it provides information we do not already know. For instance, Jack Black admits that “School of Rock” is his first time really working with kids and he was concerned about having to do so. One might not have guessed that because his character has such a strong connection with the children. Also, I enjoyed moments when the documentary takes the time to underline important scenes in movies like “Before Sunrise,” particularly the scene where Jesse and Celine go inside a listening booth and genuinely connect in a place of quiet.

“21 Years: Richard Linklater” has a playfulness about it that is endearing but that same quality gets in the way at times. It needed to ask tougher questions, maybe even provide information about the subject growing up, his past and current influences, the challenges he had to overcome to create films that will stand the test of time. Overall, I liked the subject more than the film itself.

Boyhood


Boyhood (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Having seen Michael Apted’s tremendous achievement called the “Up” series, where the same seven-year-olds are interviewed and filmed every seven years so we can learn the many different directions their lives have taken, I was more nervous and anxious than excited to watch Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.” I was concerned that given the two projects’ similarities, it would be difficult to sit down and absorb Linklater’s work as is without the gnawing need to compare.

It is a most pleasant surprise that “Boyhood” offers enough originality and confidence to separate itself from the aforementioned behemoth of a project. First, the writer-director’s decision not to show title cards designed to tell us what year certain scenes are taking place gives a fluid quality in terms of how the story unfolds. Instead, we are left to our own reference points, from the pop music either playing on the radio or soundtrack to the sorts of technologies characters use in their every day lives.

Without the title cards, we are asked to become active participants: to look a little harder or to listen a bit more closely, to think back on where we were in our lives when those same songs were on the radio and when those same gadgets became fashionable. The film, in a way, works as a time capsule of the early 2000s to the early/mid-2010s.

The picture is not about plot but about growth and the familiar thoughts and sentiments in between. Its magic lies in small truths like how an elder sister (Lorelei Linklater) would purposefully annoy her younger brother, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), so early in the morning by singing Britney’s Spears’ “Oops! …I Did It Again”—just because she can. Further, we are given a chance to look back on feeling inadequate or small because our brother or sister may excel in the very thing that we are not good at. Another example lies in observing Mason Jr. and Samantha trying to get their father’s attention and approval because they have not seen him in years. It touched me on a personal level because it invoked memories of my father coming to visit from America and my brother and I would want to be around him and try to impress him in whatever way.

We observe different types of parenting. As Mason Jr. and Samantha grow over the years, we wonder whether the directions they steered their lives towards could have been attributed to inconsistent parenting. Though their mother (Patricia Arquette) is around, the siblings are familiar to seeing men come and go. Their biological father (Ethan Hawke) who means well, is barely around. He takes them out every other weekend at some point, but the bond between father and child, one might argue, remains tenuous. There is a scene in a car where the father expresses his frustration because he feels his children are not sharing enough about their lives. The script is so well-written that it manages to avoid clichés while still honing in on the message it wishes to convey.

Mason Jr.’s high school years touches upon his lack of direction. He has never been the kid who finished his homework on time and to get straight A’s on his report card. But just because he is not motivated academically, it does not mean he is not passionate. There is an excellent exchange between Mason Jr. and his photography teacher later in the film. In my opinion, it is a scene that young people at that age (and perhaps younger) ought to see and really think about—even though they may not want to do either.

Mr. Turlington (Tom McTigue) makes a point that there are a lot of talented people in the world. But just because one is talented does not necessarily mean that he or she will amount to anything without discipline, commitment, and having a really good work ethic. It made me think about my own life. This scene is not strictly applicable to talent.

When I was in high school, I thought people who would become the most successful were the “smart” ones—you know, those in the debate team, those who won a bunch of awards and other forms of recognition during graduation, those who had grade point averages above 4.0. In reality, who, in my eyes, ended up most successful? My peers who are not just smart, but the ones who are no stranger to hard work, highly adaptable, those who have lively personalities and drawing people in effortlessly. The most successful people are those who are able to bring something to the table that nobody else can.

“Boyhood” captures the attention not just because there is a gimmick involving picking a child and putting him in front of the camera for a couple of days throughout the years. It offers insight by pinpointing its characters’ imperfections and challenging us to relate and sympathize with them because we have walked or might one day walk in their shoes. The film inspires us to look back in the past, but it also aims to broaden our horizons.

Dazed and Confused


Dazed and Confused (1993)
★★★★ / ★★★★

It is Lee High School’s last day before summer of ’76 officially begins and students from various cliques are eager to celebrate. Summer means no getting up early for class, no teachers, just friends, late nights, and freedom. Word is going around that Pickford (Shawn Andrews) is going to throw a party since his parents are away for the weekend. For many, it is the place to be to commemorate the arrival of summer.

We are all familiar with that strange feeling in our gut and the shroud-like calm that seems to touch every little thing when we are about to let go and be reckless for a change, perfectly captured by writer-director Richard Linklater in “Dazed and Confused.” It is a very accessible picture because it dares to capture and remain true to that universal feeling.

Though it certainly helps, the film is smart not to rely on the hair styles, the clothes, and the cars to tell its story. It focuses on being young, living in the moment, and acknowledging that the future can be a scary and exciting thing. Filled with very different and memorable characters, the easiest to root for is Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London), the football team’s star quarterback who is able to fluidly hang out with one clique to another.

Because of this character, I noticed that the screenplay is honest in portraying high school students. Contrary to popular media’s portrayal of jocks being one-dimensional steroid-hungry bulldogs who scare people into hiding in their lockers, in my experience, athletes like Pink do not just remain in their circle. Some of them are able to have friends outside of their spheres even if they do not necessarily share the same interests. Likable athletes tend to be popular not simply because they can throw the ball really far. They have a charming aspect to them that encourages us to let our guard down even for just a little bit.

Pink is going to be a senior in the fall, but he is not sure if continuing to play football is still right for him. His feelings and thoughts are handled without sentimentality that might potentially make the picture feel drab. After all, when reduced to the lowest common denominator, the film is about a night of freedom.

And yet the screenplay surprises the viewers by striving to become more than just a night of drinking and partying. As the night unfolds, it is able to focus on its characters: young people with real thoughts and concerns with adulthood—or their ideas of adulthood—looming near. For example, Pink represents the present while Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) and Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) represent the future and past, respectively. Pink is happy to be where he is but he consistently crosses paths with his coach who wants him to sign a piece of paper which states that he will not do drugs and get in trouble with the law during the summer. Although signing may sound practical because he has a responsibility toward his team, the community, and his future, we are made to understand that for him a signature means signing away a part of himself and the gnawing desires of living in the now.

I admired that although the film showed stereotypically “bad” things like drinking beer, smoking weed, and committing a bit of vandalism, the script maintains a surprising level of insight. There is a conversation in the car between Mike (Adam Goldberg), Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi), and Tony (Anthony Rapp), so-called geeks, about how they feel the youth is being programmed into preparing for the future but it is, in the end, all for nothing. They argue that once that future is reached, we do not or may not necessarily find ourselves being truly happy and living. We tend to worry about the next future and how to achieve it.

“Dazed and Confused,” accompanied by an excellent soundtrack, has a surprising level of clarity. Notice certain scenes when one person comes along to greet a group of friends already immersed in a conversation and the dynamic completely changes. Small details like that goes a long way. I wish more movies were like this.

Before Midnight


Before Midnight (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

One would think that by stripping away some of the elements I admired most from its predecessors, “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” director Richard Linklater’s sublime portrait of two souls who met eighteen years ago would be less palatable. On the contrary, one might argue that “Before Midnight” is the most confident of them all, certainly the most mature, because it is able to break away from the expected and deliver more rewarding elements about the characters who we believe we already know.

An extensive fluid shot of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) strolling around a breathtaking European city while philosophizing, jesting, and yearning are gone. Instead, the picture is divided into five pieces: the airport, the ride to the market, the early dinner with their host and some friends, the walk to the hotel, and the big fight. Each scene builds on top of one another, the whole day of trial culminating in the last five minutes. When the camera begins to pull away from the couple, I knew it would not happen but I wished anyway that it would stay—even for only a minute more.

This is a work made for people who love to look at faces and carefully consider the thoughts behind them. Right away, we are thrusted into the mindset of Jesse as he fears that he is missing out on a lot by not always being around his son, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), who spent the summer with Jesse and Céline in Greece. He expresses his frustration—regarding the difficult situation with his ex-wife in Chicago mixed with the sadness and feelings of helplessness he harbors—by telling Céline that his son cannot even throw a baseball properly. Though the material is, on the surface, driven by words, the looks the characters give one another or us having the chance to catch a certain sparkle in their eyes when no one is looking at or paying attention to them convey a whole lot.

Céline and Jesse no longer look fresh. They once looked so ready to take on the world; now it seems as though they just want to avoid grasping at each other’s throats. I suspect the minute subtleties of the problems that they have in their marriage are lost on me for the time being, given where I am in my life currently, but the screenplay does an excellent job pulling in those of us who do not have a spouse and allowing us to consider how we might feel if our partner, for example, says something we do not want to hear or fail to say something—anything—when it counts most. The great thing about the story is that we know it began with friendship and so there is a history there we can grab onto.

The argument in the hotel room is one I will remember. When characters in the movies get into an argument, it comes off fake a lot of the time. Here, I felt like I was strapped in an uncomfortable chair in that room—problematic because when people argue, I like to leave when I am not involved. Jesse and Céline saying so many mean, unfair, accurate things toward one another took me back in time—back when I was a kid and I did not have yet the sense to walk away from a space of increasing negativity—times when my parents would start screaming at each other for whatever reason. I felt scared for Jesse and Céline’s relationship. I felt sad that for them because I sensed that the two of them constantly being around one another is an uphill battle. I wondered if they have come to the finish line. Or maybe they are just having a really bad day. I certainly hope so.

Before Sunset


Before Sunset (2004)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is in Paris for the last stop of his book tour. As he is interviewed by reporters about his recently published novel and a possible plot for his next project, he notices Céline (Julie Delpy) standing a couple of feet to his right, the woman he met in the summer of ’94, the very person his book is based on. After the interview, Jesse approaches and invites his old friend for a cup of coffee. She happily accepts. In less than two hours, Jesse is due at the airport for his flight back to America.

Not one kiss is shared, not even a whiff of a sex scene, just a hug between a man and a woman who met in Vienna nine years ago and “Before Sunset” cements itself as a small but quintessential film about love, romance, friendship. It is appropriate that it is a more mature work than its predecessor, “Before Sunrise,” because its characters have grown a little older. Gone are their youthful verve and their willingness to impress but their yearning to find meaning in life remains.

Most immediately noticeable is Jesse and Céline dressing differently, less casual and more professional. They have jobs, they are in their own respective relationships, and they are no longer in school. It is easier for them to establish eye contact. Their hand gestures are more confident, used to draw someone in rather than to distract or to hide an insecurity. And yet without noticing how different the characters are compared to when they met as young, idealistic twenty-somethings, the film still works.

I should know. I saw “Before Sunset” for the first time without any knowledge of “Before Sunrise,” in high school, back when people still had to drive (or walk–as I did, rain or shine) to Blockbuster to rent movies and Wikipedia was not yet a common term. I was captivated. A movie that consists of two people holding a conversation for its entire duration was a novelty to me. No, I had not yet heard of “My Dinner with Andre” directed by Louis Malle.

The camera moves fluidly, matching the stream of consciousness nature of Céline and Jesse’s exchanges. They walk around Paris, giving the illusion that everything is happening of the moment, the background moving and changing with each step and corner they take. Most of the shots are from the waist up, a perfect middle-ground for capturing body language and facial expressions on an intimate level. They joke, they reminisce, they fight. There are times when the camera is placed from behind, welcoming a different place to be visited, a whole new arena for chatting about a multitude of topics.

The issues they talk about are bigger than themselves. While they have a tendency to philosophize at times, more emphasis is placed on different parts of the world, genuine problems like certain countries not having enough clean water for people to drink and a group of people looking for ways to transport pencils to a school a few miles away so children can get an education.They discuss Buddhism, marriage, as well as current and past relationships. They are full of contradictions and flaws which make them fascinating.

Some people think that the ending is sad because there is a suggestion that they may not end up together. To me, it is neither sad nor happy. It is… optimistic. The film ends with the two of them being in the same room, sharing something intimate and beautiful. Céline shares her apartment and talent in music. Meanwhile, Jesse is in complete captivation of her, the woman who got away. Just minutes prior, Jesse talks about his wife in the most generic way–“smart,” “a good mother.” We get the feeling that he does not look at his wife the way he looks at the French woman in front of him, dancing to a song by Nina Simone.