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Movie Review: Richard Linklater's 'Boyhood' Is A Beautiful, Naturalistic 12-Year Journey

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BY JOSEPH EHRMAN-DUPRE

Boyhood is a concept film, but it does not feel like one. Filmed over 12 consecutive years, using the same actors to portray the same characters as they age naturally, Richard Linklater’s newest feature is a structured journey through time. The best part about it, though, is that the nearly three hour, briskly paced film feels unstructured and unrestrained, a listless walk (and sometimes run) alongside Mason (Ellar Coltrane, bravely putting his most awkward years on display). 

Boyhood3The narrative of the film, befitting its sprawling time frame, is difficult to describe succinctly. It feels as though a great deal happens, and also as if nothing happens, a mirror held up to the swiftly moving complexity of lives that sometimes feel dull and plodding. We do get to know several characters well along the way, though. Mason’s single mom (Patricia Arquette) has bad luck choosing men and proves alternately caring and prickly toward her son and daughter, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter and a natural comedian). Their dad, (Ethan Hawke, who grows more handsome as the film progresses) when we first meet him, has been largely absent, but, when he decides to come around, figures as an exciting and likable savior from the mundanity of everyday life. 

As a child, Mason and his sister go bowling with dad; a neighborhood friend shows off a Victoria’s Secret catalogue and they ogle the women inside; mom remarries a psychology professor and goes back to school herself. In his early teenage years, Mason drinks his first beer and alludes to several girlfriends (“We have nothing in common,” he laments to his dad) and his mom undergoes yet another divorce. High school brings a focused interest in photography, first time employment, a serious girlfriend, and the beginnings of collegiate aspiration. Cultural artifacts, from Obama-Biden campaign signs to Harry Potter midnight release parties, fill in the nooks and crannies.

Boyhood4It is incredible, really, just how much life Linklater brings into focus, and how easily enjoyable the film remains throughout. He avoids ticking off easy categories of development, opting instead for intimate scenes of sometimes awkward dialogue between members of the family, their friends, and acquaintances. Mom bears the heaviest emotional load, dad remains aloof and carefree, and the kids seem to be doing exactly what they would be doing when they aren’t shooting a film. It is clear that Linklater collaborated with his actors on the screenplay, which never feels forced.

The film is shot in a naturalistic style as well, unconcerned with picturesque beauty--save for when the characters themselves notice it--and captivated by the constantly shifting faces of Mason, his parents, and his sister. Also changing is the soundtrack, an audible timeline for those who will recognize minute evolutions in popular music across the twelve-year progression. Linklater thankfully never keeps viewers guessing about Mason’s age, though, slyly editing between years in a way that never interrupts, and sometimes enhances, the narrative thrust. When mom meets the professor she will marry, for instance, he suggestively intones that their kids should have a play date while Mason looks on, seeing his mom blush perhaps for the first time; we cut at least one year into the future and Mason, Samantha, and two other children are bouncing on a trampoline in the backyard of a comparatively palatial residence. Mom and her new hubby are just returning from their honeymoon, and the audience is instantly aware of what sort of change has occurred.

Boyhood is a joyride, really, a pleasure cruise that left me smiling and feeling, well, alive. It resonates on such a deep level because it is so deeply personal, a collaboration between artists who spent over a decade developing characters and getting to know each other just as a family does. It has imperfections: the children’s acting in particular can feel wooden, we miss all the times that are left out, and there could be more moments of driving dramatic force. But after leaving the theater, I found myself forgiving those flaws entirely. Perhaps it is because of Linklater’s ambition and the relative aplomb with which he pulled off his vision, or perhaps it is because in life itself, flaws abound. 

Flaws and all, Boyhood is sure to be one of the most unique and fulfilling cinematic experiences you’ll experience anytime soon.

Boyhood is now open in theaters nationwide. 

Check out a trailer for the film, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Ethan Hawke Says LGBT Characters in Film and Television Will Help Prevent Teen Suicides

Boys don't cry

In an interview with the Toronto Star, actor Ethan Hawke shared his thoughts on the changing societal attitudes towards homosexual love, with much of the positive change driven by growing LGBT visibility in pop culture.

Said Hawke:

Ethan hawke“It’s been fascinating to me. One of the biggest differences I think between my generation and my kids is that they have almost zero homophobia. They’ve grown up thinking that it’s not a big deal to have gay characters on TV or in movies like Boys Don’t Cry or Kiss of the Spider Woman.

“There are all these things that started this (gay acceptance) ball rolling, and now people are really comfortable talking about it. I think you’ll see a lot less teen suicide in the coming years. I really do believe that.”

Check out the full article HERE, which offers a fascinating look into how the James Dean classic Rebel Without a Cause was a milestone for gay-positive cinema. 


'Predestination', A Surprising Sci-Fi Noir About Time And Identity: PHOTOS

Predestination


Sxsw_2014In Predestination — a sci-fi mystery based on Robert Heinlein’s short story "All You Zombies—” — Ethan Hawke plays a time-traveling investigator chasing The Fizzle Bomber, a terrorist who killed thousands of New Yorkers during a devastating 1975 attack. Hawke seems doomed to fail until he meets a pessimistic patron in a New York tavern whose past may hold a clue to the Bomber’s true identity.

The film’s tightly constructed plot and amazing narrative twists make it hard to elaborate without spoilers. In fact, if you want to walk into the film completely blind, you should just stop reading now. But if you’re interested in learning just a little more as well as why we’ve included this film in our South By Southwest coverage, read on.

Keep reading and see some film images AFTER THE JUMP...

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Ethan Hawke Stars In ‘Macbeth’ on Broadway: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

A lot of sound but not much fury suffuse director Jack O’Brien’s cacophonous production of Macbeth starring Ethan Hawke in the title role, which opened on Broadway November 21st in a Lincoln Center Theatre production at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Only a handful among the mostly misused cast of talented actors escape Hawke’s fate of being dwarfed by the production’s overbearing design and concept.

Macbeth LCT 10-13 062 CAPTIONED A note in the Playbill identifies the ‘Seal of God’s Truth,’ a mandala with origins in the Hebrew Kabala’s system of planetary magic, as inspiration for the circular markings on the stage floor and other elements of O’Brien’s production. Set in what seems like a massive black void accented with expensive-looking set pieces by accomplished designer Scott Pask, the production indeed leans heavily on magic—of the sort conjured by both its designers and its witches.

Another of Shakespeare’s deluded men who leaves a bloody trail on his way to the throne, Macbeth is told early on by three witches that he’ll become king, thus planting seeds of ambition that fuel the rest of the story. O’Brien carves out a more significant role for his witches at nearly every turn, played here in a sort of monstrous drag by the estimable Byron Jennings, Malcolm Gets and John Glover. The three actors double as other characters throughout to make clear that the witches’ magic (and, unfortunately, their magic alone) drives this production forward.

Macbeth LCT 10-13 186 CAPTIONED It’s a compelling idea and one skillfully executed by the three men and Francesca Faridany as Hecate (their queen bee). But it takes the onus off Mr. Hawke (among others) to develop his character’s own place in the story.

While his signature emo charm could be fitting for a somewhat reluctant villain arguably seduced by his wife into murder, Hawke often rushes through his performance without making sense of his lines (or even, at times, speaking them audibly). Far from a stranger to the stage, or to this particular stage where he earned a Tony nomination for his performance in O’Brien’s productions of Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia trilogy in 2007, Hawke even has a knack for characters caught in a downward spiral (he played one Off Broadway in Clive earlier this year)—but his presence shrinks from the production’s looming canvas.

Much acclaimed for her work in the West End, Anne-Marie Duff makes a resonant Broadway debut as Lady Macbeth despite an uneven showing from her sparring partner. In scenes that tend to emphasize her carnal influence over a weak willed husband, Duff brings a vigor and emotional precision to her performance that is refreshing by contrast.

Macbeth LCT 10-13 263a CAPTIONED Shakespeare’s shortest play certainly doesn’t feel it here, and high concept design elements rarely allow a moment of the story to escape without being marked by some blunt, illustrative visual—a stark lighting special, a swelling sound cue, a murderer dressed in blood red.

By the time the witches light up a pipe packed with hallucinogens and pass it over to Macbeth in the play’s second act, some of the production’s manic, expressive energy begins to make a bit of sense—though unfortunately they don’t pack enough for everyone.  

Recent theatre features...
Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: t. charles erickson)

Ethan Hawke Opens in ‘Clive’ Off Broadway: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Realism bites—and so does reality, for that matter. Before Ethan and Winona, there was Bertolt Brecht, the anti-naturalist whose 1923 play Baal, about the self-propelled downward spiral of a poet-cum-anti-hero, serves as inspiration for Jonathan Marc Sherman’s Clive, which opened Off Broadway last night in a New Group production at the Acorn Theatre.

Ethan & ZoeAppropriately enough, Sherman sets his retelling—directed by and starring frequent New Group collaborator Ethan Hawke—squarely in the Gen-X hunk’s heyday: that angsty, flannel-clad era when grungy rock stars burnt up quickly with unironic rage, the 1990s. It’s a far cry from Brecht’s pre WWII Germany, but the portrait of an artist-as-hedonistic-narcissist is a tale as old as time.

Sherman refashions Brecht’s drunken German poet into a drunken New York City musician named Clive, played by Hawke. Following the basic framework of Brecht’s plot, the play presents a series of disjointed, episodic scenes rather than a clear, conventional storyline. Though increasingly bizarre in style as the play progresses, scenes chronicle the sort of typical bad behavior you might expect from a rocker who looks like Ethan Hawke living in 1990s New York City—plenty of booze, pills, and of course, much womanizing with consequences of varying severity. 

You shouldn’t need to know much about a play’s source material to greet it on its own terms (although the New Group does provide a written insert), but a few minimally nuanced tidbits from Brecht’s Wiki might be helpful here for anyone who didn’t go to drama school.

Clive 3Though Brecht wrote Baal when he was twenty, before fully developing his signature theory and practice of ‘epic theatre’ (and becoming a staunch Marxist), nascent elements of it are on display here. Brecht and his peers were foremost insistent that the audience never get swept up by the action of a play and forget that they’re sitting in a theatre. Actors speak their actions (“I wept, openly!”) often in place of performing them, and frequently address the audience directly, breaking the so-called fourth wall.

Alienation, though not an accepted translation of Brecht's desired effect, can feel pretty accurate in Sherman and Hawke's borrowed aesthetic.

Hawke’s ensemble cast includes Vincent D’Onofrio (Law & Order: Criminal Intent), indie darling Zoe Kazan (Angels in America), comic chameleon Brooks Ashmanskas (Promises, Promises), and the playwright himself, each juggling a variety of characters, most of whom are mistreated by Clive or worse on his way to rock-bottom.

Clive 4The production’s integration of musical effects is both inventive and seamless, thanks in no small part to Derek McLane’s imaginative set design with uncommon instruments built into its doors. Though with both playwright and director busy on stage, Hawke’s staging seems to lack the benefit of an outsider perspective.

Brecht and the distinct style of theatre he pioneered are definitely not for everyone—i.e. if you prefer your theatre served straight-up, complete with empathetic characters and storylines and a slice-of-life for dessert, you'll likely want to fill up elsewhere. Otherwise you might ask your neighbor to nudge you awake three quarters in, so at least you can say you saw Ethan Hawke topless in a 199 seat theatre. 

Clive continues performances Off Broadway at the Acron Theatre through March 9th. 

Recent theatre features...
Martin Moran's 'All The Rage' Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
Ben Rimalower Is Working Through His 'Patti Issues' At The Duplex: INTERVIEW
'Picnic' Starring Sebastian Stan Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
'The Other Place' Starring Laurie Metcalf Opens On Broadway: REVIEW
Rob Ashford Takes on 'Cat On A Hot Tin Roof' on Broadway: INTERVIEW

Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar.


Watch: Ethan Hawke and His Wife Ryan Speak Out for Marriage Equality

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Ethan Hawke and his wife Ryan are the latest high-profile New Yorkers to record a video urging the state to pass marriage equality.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

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