(On DVD, November 2017) I came to Before Sunrise unusually, having first watched the middle (Before Sunset), then the end (Before Midnight) only to finish at the beginning of the Jesse and Celeste trilogy-so-far. This time, however, I knew what to expect: A time-compressed romance featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy at their most charming selves, having an extended conversation spanning relationships, philosophy and clever ideas. It worked well in the two latter movies and it works just as well here. This being said, I’m not sure I like Before Sunrise better than the others—it lacks the almost-real-time pacing of Before Sunset (with its masterful long shots) or the verbal pyrotechnics of Before Midnight’s most harrowing sequence. It also feels as if there are far more intrusions by third-party characters than in the other movies that focus intensely on the lead couple. But, as a first entry in the trilogy, it’s still special. Knowing how the story has unfolded afterwards, there is a profoundly ironic quality to Before Sunrise’s first scenes and dialogues, in which an old married couple argues in front of our protagonists and one of their first conversations is about jumping ahead “ten, twenty years” and being stuck in a marriage that “doesn’t have that same energy that it used to have.” But Jesse and Celeste do have the same energy here than in later movies, and it’s a delight to just sit back and hear them exchange ideas and experiences just for the sake of it. Vienna is a good backdrop for that kind of not-so-aimless wandering (one of the final sequences of the movie shows us Vienna without Jesse and Celeste, to surprisingly poignant effect) and the entire film is quietly triumphant. I passed on Before Sunrise for more than twenty years, but it’s far better than it sounds on paper. But then again, I’m far more interested in writer/director Richard Linklater’s movies than I was before as well.
(On Cable TV, June 2017) I’m not sure when Richard Linklater landed on my list of interesting directors. Probably by the time I got tired of writing, “you know, I didn’t really expect to enjoy this but…” about nearly every one of his recent films. Here, Linklater goes back to college in describing the first few days of his protagonist’s arrival on campus. Unlike other college movies (and much in-line with Linklater’s playful habit of playing with time in his films), Everybody Wants Some!! takes place nearly entirely before the beginning of classes, in-between our protagonist’s arrival at the house where his baseball team stays, and the first course he attends. The three days in-between are a charmingly plotless mixture of girl-chasing, parties, baseball practice and spirited conversations. There is a plot of sorts, but much of the movie feels like the pilot episode of a much longer series, delicately setting up plot threads but ending on an upbeat anything-is-possible note. Against every single one of my expectations (and keep in mind that my college experience was barely PG rated), Everybody Wants Some!! is immediately and steadily engrossing. The characters are likable, the situations have just enough nostalgia to be compelling and the dialogues are razor-sharp. Blake Jenner is blandly likable as the viewpoint protagonist, while Zoey Deutch is too cute for words as the eventual romantic interest and Glen Powell steals the show as the wizened sarcastic Finnegan. A terrific soundtrack wraps up everything nicely. Atypical and successful as most of Linklater’s movies now seem to be, Everybody Wants Some!! feels like an unexpected hit, even for those who have nothing in common for the early-eighties nostalgia it invokes.
(Netflix Streaming, December 2016) I am, once amazed, at writer/director Richard Linklater and what he has managed to do with Before Midnight. I shouldn’t like that film. It’s the third in a trilogy whose first film I haven’t yet seen (although I was quite taken by the second one), it’s a chatty domestic drama and its dramatic centrepiece is a terrible argument between husband and wife. It’s really not my cup of tea, but much like I was halfway smitten by Before Sunset, I’m similarly charmed by Before Midnight. It’s a dialogue-heavy film, but what dialogue! The interplay between Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke is fantastic even (especially) in the midst of their argument, and there’s a lot of wit in the way the conversations develop. The dialogue can be quotable at time (There’s a “bimbo” scene that’s an instant classic as far as I’m concerned) yet heartfelt soon afterwards. The development of the couple’s relationship over time and three films (yet in short, almost real-time bursts every time) is remarkable: in-between this trilogy and Boyhood, Linklater is carving a unique niche for himself as a filmmaker experimenting with time in ways others won’t even consider. The Greek Mediterranean scenery adds much to the film without undue effort, but the real heart of the film is in the script and the way the lead actors develop it. I’ve been taken by surprise twice by this trilogy, and I have to get my hands on Before Sunrise before long now that I think that I know what to expect.
(On DVD, September 2016) I wasn’t quite expecting to like Before Sunset. On paper, it sounds like a snooze: two ex-lovers meeting again a few years later, walking around Paris and talking about their lives. Sounds dull, right? Add to that the added complication that it’s a sequel to a film (Before Sunrise) that I haven’t yet seen and I was firmly expecting to fidget through the entire movie. Much to my surprise, though, Before Sunset quickly becomes almost hypnotically compelling. As two characters talk about the profound and the mundane, often in uninterrupted long shots showcasing Paris, we’re drawn to the movie almost as eavesdroppers, wishing them the best even though “the best” may end up breaking existing relationships with others. Writer/director Richard Linklater has become the master of unusual small-scale dramas, and Before Sunset looks like a peak in his filmography, creating sharp interest out of elements that would be dull in other hands. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are fantastic in their roles and it makes perfect sense to learn that they’ve had some input in their dialogue. Utterly charming, uncommonly mature and compelling almost from beginning to end, Before Sunset is a beautiful anomaly, and the one main lesson I take away from it is that I must now see both Before Sunrise and Before Midnight.
(On Cable TV, August 2015) It would be tempting to criticize Boyhood’s endless digressions, hefty running time and scattershot plotting, but that would be missing the point of the film. Famously filmed over twelve years, Boyhood is about the little moments of early life – the dumb conversations with friends, the visits to church, the breakups and the trips and the fights and the dress-downs and the ways lives changes. Even as Boyhood grinds to a halt for family parties, philosophical digressions and daily minutia, there is a poignant resonance here with everyone’s universal experiences. Despite my uneventful early years as far away from Texas as possible, I could certainly find flashes of similarities between my boyhood and moments of the film. Boyhood lives in the interstices of other flashier stories, and there’s something almost profound in the way it combines the very intimate with the epic sweep of a twelve-year story in which the protagonist visibly matures before our eyes. The cultural references are amusing (albeit liable to make older audiences reflect on the passage of time as in “was that twelve/ten/eight years ago already?”) Acting-wise, Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette provide welcome anchors of continuity, which somehow becomes more and more important as Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater do a great job aging twelve years in nearly three hours. It doesn’t take much to zone out during Boyhood (perhaps evoking the first image of the film, reflected on the poster) as the film effortlessly puts us in a reflective mood, thinking about our lives and how they go on, one small moment after another. Unique in scope, Boyhood is another small triumph for iconoclast director Richard Linklater, once again doing fascinating things with cinema.
(On Cable TV, August 2014) Truth is often stranger than fiction, so it’s no surprise to see Bernie work extra-hard at blurring the line between the two in telling us an unusual story of crime and punishment in small-town East Texas. Blending interviews with real people with fictional re-creation of the events, Bernie is the story of a likable man who ends up shooting a disliked widow. The public reaction in the community is such that in planning the trial, the District Attorney ends up requesting another venue in order to ensure that his client won’t be pre-emptively acquitted by the jury. Of course, the fun of the story is in the details, and the way writer/director Richard Linklater ends up presenting this true story through a blend of testimonials and scripted scenes. Jack Black has a good role as the titular Bernie, earning himself a spot outside the annoyance zone in which his last few roles have landed. Bernie also features two smaller but showy roles for Shirley McClaine (as the hated widow) and Matthew McConaughey (as the ambitious District Attorney, and another link in the rebirth of his career) While Bernie isn’t a laugh-a-minute comedy, it’s an often-affectionate look at a small Texan community and the weirdness of true life crime.
(On DVD, March 2010) Adapting a book to a movie is a gamble even in the best circumstances, but adapting a well-regarded non-fiction classic into an ensemble drama is really asking for trouble. To its credit, Richard Linklater manages to touch upon much of Eric Schlosser’s critique of the fast-food industry: We get a taste of its reliance on students and migrant workers, the bloody mass butchery required to keep those burgers flowing, the external costs inherent in cheap food and even details such as made-in-laboratory flavours. What the film doesn’t do as well is in dramatizing those issues: Often, Fast Food Nation feels like a talky issues show in which every scene mentions a problem or two. (Even a quick walk through school corridors can’t help but feature metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs.) Some characters are more interesting than others (there are plenty of cameos and small roles for familiar faces, the best of which being a single-scene semi-villainous turn for Bruce Willis), but the film shuts down before it can tie up most situations adequately: it’s all setup and little payoff, although it leads, Heart of Darkness-style, to a revelatory climax showing the gruesome nature of the “Killing Floor” discussed so often during the rest of the film.. This unflinching moment, filmed in a real Mexico butchery said to be cleaner than US ones, is meant to disgust –but it may not be the film’s intended climax for viewers who already understand that animals become meat become burgers. Still, Fast Food Nation generally sticks close to reality, and its failings as a piece of narrative fiction are profoundly linked to its strength as a semi-documentary exposé. It could have been much stronger by including a third act, presenting its messages more carefully (although, thanks goodness, it avoids the most obvious “fast food will make you fat”) and sticking closer to its characters. But even with its flaws, it’s a worthwhile film: the issues are there to ponder, and there are a handful of scenes good enough to make the film compelling. Don’t plan on eating much fast-food right after, though. Appropriately, viewers may come to appreciate the film more after listening to co-writers Linklater and Schlosser on the audio commentary track: they discuss what material was kept from the book, the nature of low-budget moviemaking and some of the themes they were tackling. A handful of other extras round up the DVD, the most memorable of them being the now-classic Meatrix Flash animation short films.