Richard Linklater

[ What I love about Linklater’s movies is that they’re philosophical, unconventional and artsy, yet they don’t feel pretentious at all. Linklater doesn’t want to show off or to prove that he’s smarter than you, the impression you get is that he’s endlessly curious about the things of life, great or small. It’s like the filmmaker and the audience are on the same level, both contributing to the experience. “Slacker” is a series of glimpses into the lives of various Austin hipsters, weirdoes, oddballs, nutjobs and yes, slackers. We follow one guy who meets with someone, then we go off with this other dude and so on. You could watch these unrelated scenes in any order, you could even turn the sound off and make up your own stories about these characters or close your eyes and associate whatever images you want to this symphony of small-talk, semi-profundities and conspiracy theories. There is no plot, no definite themes, no conclusions – the person watching the film brings as much to it as those in it. Trippy. ]

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[ I used to be a total infatuation-sucker. I basically fell in love with every girl who paid the slightest attention to me. And when it went beyond that, watch out – best and worst feeling in the world at the same time. You know, you meet someone new and you start talking and magically there are no awkward lulls, no small-talk filler, you’re just going smoothly back and forth about all these fascinating little funny things. It goes on for hours and it’s like you’re the only two persons left on the planet, out of thought and time… Unfortunately, too often it ends there, each going back to their own life, or it sputters away into unsatisfying friendship. Still, one cherishes these brief moments when, as Alaskan poet Jewel Kilcher once wrote, 2 Become 1. That’s “Before Sunrise” right there. Ethan Hawke is one day away from leaving Europe when he meets beautiful French student Julie Delpy on a train. They strike up a conversation and they decide on a whim to both get off in Vienna and spend the night together, just walking around and talking… It doesn’t really matter what you think of Hawke and Delpy or whether you agree or not with the ideas they share. What’s so touching and special about the film is the way it captures that connection, that chemistry, that space between two people where, for a while, everything is possible. ]

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[ Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio and Skeet Ulrich star as Texan brothers who leave horse trading and cotton picking for more lucrative bank robbing. Eventually they get caught, there’s a trial, then title cards explaining what happened to them after they got out of jail. Roll credits. This almost-Western is the least distinctive film Linklater’s ever made. McConaughey’s a charmer and I like the old-timey music, but the narrative seriously lacks urgency and there’s nothing here we haven’t seen done better many times – even the hold-ups are boring. ]

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[ This low-budget DV movie is adapted from a stage play by Stephen Belber. Ethan Hawke is a dick who deals (and does) drugs, Robert Sean Leonard is his sensitive artsy filmmaker friend and Uma Thurman is a girl who got between them back in high school. The whole film takes place in a motel room, as the three are reunited after ten years apart and confront unresolved issues that blur the line between who’s a “dick” and who’s “sensitive”. Belber’s screenplay is complex and full of ambiguities, the performances are strong and Linklater keeps things relatively dynamic. It still feels more like a filmed play than a movie-movie, but this huis clos works surprisingly well. ]

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[ The almost unanimously rotten reviews (notably our own Jean-François Tremblay’s) scared me away – I’ll catch this foul ball on DVD. Maybe. ]

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[ Linklater tries his hand at a “Traffic”/”Babel”-style multithreaded socio-political ensemble piece, with more or less success. He’s not the brilliant visualist that is Soderbergh, nor is he able to milk every moment for every last drop of its dramatic potential as would Gonzáles Iñárritu, for better or worse. Linklater’s strength lies more in everyday human interaction and conversation as narrative drive. It doesn’t help that this is a film that attempts to make storylines out of a non-fiction book and that fast food, bad as it may be for you, is hardly as potent a subject matter as, say, drugs, which often do destroy lives. To fill things out, they have to digress into subplots about illegal Mexican workers, chicks fucking the foreman and doing drugs, a teenager hanging out with her uncle, etc. This is all watchable enough, co-leads Greg Kinnear, Ashley Johnson and Catalina Sandino Moreno are fine and there are some noteworthy cameos by Luis Guzmán, Kris Kristofferson, Patricia Arquette’s cleavage, Bruce Willis and Avril Lavigne, but it doesn’t add up to anything particularly profound or affecting. ]


BERNIE    83
[ I knew next to nothing about this one before seeing it beside the fact that it was directed by Linklater, reuniting with “The School of Rock” star Jack Black. So when it said at the top that it was a True Story, I didn’t know whether or not to believe it (the Coen brothers’ “Fargo” has forever made me suspicious of films claiming to be based on a true story). Likewise, I was never sure whether the documentary-style interview bits with folks from Carthage, East Texas were the real deal or not. But these fact-or-fiction? tensions were not a drawback, quite to the contrary. All through “Bernie”, I felt engaged by them, wondering if I should laugh or not at these people/characters. Once Matthew McConaughey shows up, about half an hour in, in another hilarious turn this year (see also: “Magic Mike”) I started to suspect this was all a big bunch of straight-faced silliness à la Christopher Guest. One thing’s clear from the get-go: Jack Black is a treat as a super-sweet funeral parlour employee who may or may not also be a bullshit artist and may or may not be gay. Oh, and he spends nearly as much time singing here than he did in “School of Rock” (gospel, mostly)!  Much of the story deals with his unhealthy relationship with a mean old widow played by Shirley MacLaine, which is ambiguous like the rest of the movie. Who’s exploiting whom there? And there are more such questions we ask ourselves further down the line, as things grow more dramatic. The kicker? This actually IS a true story! Reality can be stranger than fiction, eh.   ]

[ It’s all these long scenes, showing people talking and interacting… Living, man. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much, but when you think about it, it’s virtuoso writing, directing and acting. I mean, it all feels so natural yet it’s so precisely and involvingly crafted. Plus, there’s the obvious fact that we’ve grown to care so much about these characters. It’s almost never been done, to have a trilogy like this where you catch up with characters every decade or so. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) met and fell in love as twentysomethings in “Before Sunrise”, then their paths crossed again as thirtysomethings and the attraction was still there in “Before Sunset”, and now, in “Before Midnight”, they’re in their early 40s and they’ve been together since the last time, they even have kids now. And once again, we follow them for a day and a night and it’s fascinating. I loved everything about it: the gorgeously shot locations in Greece, the relaxed feel / pace /tone, the dialogue, the music… Most of all, I just love Hawke and Delpy together, even though they’re not so young and idealistic and romantic anymore… In fact, I think I love them more for having flaws and fighting and all that. That’s life, man. ]

[ It kicks off with Coldplay’s “Yellow”, the first of many great music cues in the film. I’ve always loved that song and it always felt cinematic to me, which is the first of many moments of resonance for me in the film. The other thing you realize right from the get-go is that writer-director Richard Linklater really lucked out when he cast Ellar Coltrane, the young actor he would depict growing up from 6 to 18 years old. You’re immediately taken in by his big expressive eyes and by his very natural performance. Linklater’s daughter Lorelei is also good as Coltrane’s sister, though she’s a bit more of the precocious, cutesy type. Then you’ve got seasoned pros in Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as the divorced parents and they’re as solid as you would expect them to be. Together, these four actors form a very believable family who we quickly grow to care about as they go through various ups and downs. Even though the film lasts 165 minutes, it doesn’t feel long because the storytelling is so effortless, skillfully using ellipses to capture 12 years in the life of a boy and his family. It’s endlessly fascinating to watch Coltrane and the others get older right in front of us; kids especially change so fast! It’s also interesting to catch the little bits of current events and pop culture sprinkled through the film as we go through a decade and change, which, again, make us marvel at how fast time goes by! That’s the main thing about “Boyhood”. Some drama happens here and there, but for the most part, this is a thick slice of life or a hanging out movie, very much in the vein of Linklater’s “Slacker”, “Dazed and Confused” and “Before” trilogy… and then it ends with Arcade Fire’s “Deep Blue”,  the last of many great music cues in the film.  ]

[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]