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Boyhood • Into The Storm

Magic In The Moonlight

August 14, 2014

Boyhood (*** ½) R

Funny how it’s sometimes the small moments in a film that get to you. Like the scene in the new film Boyhood, where the main character, a seven year old boy, looks back at his old neighborhood for the last time as his mom drives away, watching his childhood friends play and knowing he may never see them again. Goodbye and letting go are central themes in the film. For me, the tears flowed readily. 

Director Richard Linklater’s revolutionary new film Boyhood seems to be the next logical step in his filmmaking journey. In my mind it’s probably the only time I can recall that a filmmaker has attempted to paint a portrait of life as it is actually being lived. The central idea—to capture a boy on film as he grows into manhood—is a concept Linklater has previously flirted with in his series of  ‘Before’ films (Before Midnight, etc.) as we’ve followed those characters over eighteen years. 

Since Boyhood was filmed over a real time period of a little over a decade, Linklater is able to take that concept into a whole other realm. Over the course of the film’s two and three quarter hours, the audience is witness to the passage of time transpiring right in front of its eyes. The film’s structure and storytelling style may be of a subtle nature but the magical spell it casts will linger long in the viewer’s mind.

Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood

The main character in the film is Mason, played by the well-cast Ellar Coltrane. The film’s story picks up with Mason at the age of 7. His parents (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke) are divorced. Mason and his sister, Samantha (the director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater), live with their mother, who has a penchant for picking bad men. Their father tries to see them as much as he can, but as anyone who’s lived through it knows, being a single father isn’t an easy gig and things don’t always work out in the most ideal way. Mason eventually grows into a sensitive, artistic type, as life goes on around him and we are witness to the changes.

The experience of the film is much like life itself and I guess that’s what makes the film so entrancing. The aging of the characters that we see most frequently in the film happens in such a way that we don’t notice. The aging of other characters appearing more infrequently can easily be detected and proves to be a little jarring at times, just as it is in real life. It’s the little details like this that make the film so special.

In terms of storytelling and narrative structure, Boyhood isn’t anything revolutionary or innovative but that’s okay. Imbuing the film with the relaxed feel that Linklater has chosen suits the film’s nature. You don’t realize the enormity of what has transpired until the film is over and, like most of the great films, that’s when it begins to work its spell. As a character says at the end of the film,  ‘It’s the moments that seize us.’ The same can be said about Boyhood.

Into the Storm (**) PG-13

Populated with cardboard characters and more implausible situations than you could possibly shake a stick at, Into the Storm is the type of film where the special effects are the only possible reason to even bother and boy, are they something to behold. The effects that movie audiences were witness to some eighteen years ago in the similarly themed Twister pale in comparison to what’s on display here. This is the kind of thing that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible and will not play nearly as well if you wait for the inevitable Red Box rental.

Still, it’s hard to recommend a film filled with such disposable characters and situations as Into the Storm, so it’s a bit of a conundrum. It’s best to just know you’re going for the sound and light show on display during the film’s 89 minute unspooling and not much else.

Max Deacon, Nathan Kress & dad Richard Armitage

The stock characters on display include a storm chasing single mom (Sarah Wayne Callies) and her money-motivated boss (Matt Walsh). Then there’s a widowed assistant principal (Richard Armitage) and his two teen sons (Max Deacon, Nathan Kress), one of whom is estranged from the old man. Finally, as if that’s not enough, there are a couple of redneck yahoos (Kyle Davis, Jon Reep) thrown into the mix, seeking fame as the next viral video sensation with their storm footage.

The film’s plot, as it were, revolves around all of these stock characters running around the Midwest town of Silverton as an unprecedented number of storms pummel the city in the space of a day. No character’s fates are ever in question as everything is telegraphed so far in advance that even an elementary school student could see the plot developments coming. It might have helped matters if there had been some attempt on the part of the filmmakers to make an explanation as to why Silverton is being hit with so many storms or why weather patterns, in general, have changed so drastically over the last several decades but that would require some effort on the part of the writers. I suppose that would be too much to ask, although the High School’s principal does look suspiciously like our current president.

It all depends on what frame of mind you may be in as you go into the film. It helps knowing that if you’re looking for a disaster film with some depth or nuance, you’ll be required to look elsewhere.

Magic in the Moonlight

(** ½) PG-13 

It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’ve got to hand it to Woody Allen for continuing to crank out his annual film. At age 78, he’s certainly earned the right to retire and rest on his laurels but he insists on doing what he’s always done. And therein lies part of the problem with his latest film Magic in the Moonlight.

Last year, with the release of his film, Blue Jasmine, I felt he was continuing to stretch himself and attempt new things. Magic in the Moonlight, however, has the feel of Woody returning to territory that he’s already mined before. Granted, the film is well crafted, but it’s Woody Lite and there’s the inescapable feeling that we’ve been down this well before and maybe a few too many times. There are some interesting dialogue exchanges from time to time and some gorgeous cinematography and great period detail to keep it all from being a total washout, but it just feels like everyone is on auto pilot, going through the motions and not much more. Woody has always said in interviews that filmmaking, for him, is a distraction from the depressing facts of life. In this case, I would say that a distraction is an apt description.

Magic crops up in a lot of Woody’s films, probably because he perfected the craft as a teen and has had a lifelong obsession with it. Here the main character is a magician.  Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) has made a life for himself by portraying a Chinese conjuror onstage.

Emma Stone & Colin Firth in ‘Moonlight’

He regularly poo-poos the idea of blind faith but is intrigued when his friend, Howard (Simon McBurney), insists that he’s stumbled upon a clairvoyant by the name of Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who is the real deal. Stanley is intrigued and embarks on a quest to debunk Sophie but soon things transpire that force Stanley to reassess his set of firmly held beliefs. This development in the plot leads to some of the best stuff in the film and some interesting dialogue exchanges regarding blind faith, or the lack thereof, lift the film out of its formulaic conventions.

The film is certainly well cast and that helps to conceal the film’s perfunctory feel to some degree. In particular, Firth and Stone, whose onscreen chemistry is palpable and carries the film along farther than one might expect. The supporting cast, which includes Marcia Gay Harden and Jacki Weaver, also aid immeasurably.

I suppose one can’t complain too much, especially when Woody still manages to crank out a film a year. We all know he can’t do this forever but I just wish that when he does decide on a project it would be a little more substantial than Magic in the Moonlight. For me, it was the definition of a mixed bag.

Boyhood opens Friday, August 15, at the Carmike in Hickory. Into The Storm is playing now at the Carmike.

Moonlight opens Friday in Mooresville at the Amstar 14.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

 

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