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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 3:07 p.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Force Majeure’

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Eric Robinson.

“Force Majeure”

★★★★✰

Discomfort is definitely the feeling one experiences when watching director Ruben Östlund’s “Force Majeure,” a Swedish film that follows a family on vacation at a ski resort in the French Alps.

After the father, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), has a moment of cowardice, his seemingly perfect life with his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and his two kids is completely shaken.

Promotional poster for “Force Majeure.”

What follows is an examination of gender roles, masculinity and parenthood, with Ebba keeping Tomas from moving past the event, and Tomas refusing to openly take responsibility for his actions.

Östlund captures the tension between the two parents with long, uninterrupted shots of their conversations that are completely stationary, forcing the audience to witness every moment of their unease. Each talk is like a ticking time bomb, as one wrong word or facial expression has the potential to turn a civil exchange into a full-blown argument.

Östlund’s strengths are in more than just the conversation scenes: His film contains some fantastically beautiful imagery. In one scene, the characters are caught in a snowstorm and barely visible. Faint shadows serve as the only visual aid, and the audience must use them to follow the characters.

In another scene, a stunning pan of the French Alps at nighttime shows little orange lights dotting the peaks in the distance. Even the opening scene, which consists of a simple shot of the French Alps during the day, is gorgeous in the way the blue of the sky contrasts with the pure white of the snow.

But there are moments of “Force Majeure” that seem a little extraneous, particularly in the final scenes. Kuhnke also flubs a few emotional moments toward the end, which dampens the film’s resolution. But Kuhnke lackluster performance doesn’t hamper the bold way “Force Majeure” challenges the image of the “perfect family” and the roles that mothers and fathers are supposed to play.

In one crucial scene, Ebba argues with a woman over open marriages. Ebba is perplexed by the family’s health because it goes against her preconceived notion of how marriages are supposed to work. Such is the problem with Ebba’s marriage: Both partners have expectations for “how marriages work” that get in the way of a healthy relationship.

“Force Majeure” is ultimately a cry for emotional openness and less judgment between married couples. As a cinematic bonus, it does this with flair and beauty.

Released: Oct. 31
Director: Ruben Östlund (“Involuntary”)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius

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Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014 10:36 p.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Citizenfour’

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Eric Robinson.

“Citizenfour”

★★★★✰

Promotional poster for "Citizenfour."

Promotional poster for “Citizenfour.”

There’s a moment in “Citizenfour,” a documentary that follows journalist Laura Poitras as she works with Edward Snowden to leak information about the National Security Agency surveillance program, that encapsulates the paranoia and darkness at the film’s heart.

During one of Snowden’s many conversations with Poitras and Glenn Greenwald in a Hong Kong hotel room, a fire alarm blares to life. Tension increases as Snowden openly wonders whether the alarm is meant to force the group out of the hotel room so others can spy on them.

When it turns out that the alarm is just for a drill at the hotel, the room relaxes – but not completely, as evidenced by the hint of hesitation in Snowden’s voice as they resume the discussion.

Moments like this punctuate “Citizenfour,” whether it be Snowden shaving his face and cutting his hair in an effort to radically change his appearance or a roomful of journalists getting rid of all their cell phones to avoid being bugged.

It is impossible to know whether anyone in the room was actually wiretapped, making both the film’s characters and viewers wonder if they are being watched.

“Citizenfour” takes place firmly from the point of view of Poitras and Greenwald as they meet with Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room before, during and after the release of the leaks. The sequence is tense because of its intimate vantage point as the leakers watch the world react to the information they provide.

It’s very much like watching history unfold before your eyes.

Whereas most politically motivated documentaries go for a confrontational or incendiary style reminiscent of Michael Moore, “Citizenfour” is more subtle. Poitras uses a minimalist style, incorporating emails, raw interview footage and secret communications.

Poitras completely excludes herself from the documentary despite her very active role in the leaks, a decision that makes the film seem more journalistic. The film isn’t made so much to anger or outrage you, but rather to immerse you in a world of secrecy.

Yet even with this style, “Citizenfour” is rather terrifying. Its portrayal of a world so frightened of terrorism that governments feel the need to spy on absolutely everyone is effectively disturbing and saddening.

In one particularly grim scene, Greenwald sits in a room with Snowden as they communicate via pieces of paper – in case the room has been bugged.

After finishing their conversation, Greenwald tears up the pieces of paper, and a final shot shows Greenwald gathering the pieces with his hands.

With scenes like this, the film leaves one question for viewers: In a paranoid world, where everything can be traced and found, how can anyone, like whistleblowers and journalists, be safe?

Released: Nov. 26
Director: Laura Poitras (“The Oath”)
Genre: Documentary
Cast: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, William Beeny, Jacob Appelbaum, Ewen MacAskill

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Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014 2:31 p.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Wild’

“Wild”

★★★✰✰

Reese Witherspoon as Strayed in "Wild." Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed in “Wild.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

A careful adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, “Wild” tells the true story of the author’s inner struggle as she walks out of a troubled past – on a solo trip of 1,100 miles.

Reese Witherspoon takes on the part of Strayed, whose life has unraveled into uninhibited promiscuity and a mirage of heroin after losing her mother to cancer. With nothing else to live for – no home, partner or job – Strayed decides it’s time to live one of her dreams and plans a backpacking trip north on the Pacific Crest Trail.

From the start, Strayed’s struggle on the long journey is clear. Without any means of communicating with the outside world, Strayed must solve her many challenges – from crossing paths with a rattlesnake to bypassing the worst Sierra Nevada snow of the decade – alone.

The intensity and peril of the journey is portrayed in riveting and sometimes difficult to watch scenes, like when Strayed pulls off one of her too-small boots during a rest on a mountain peak, revealing a bloody and bruised foot and a dangling toenail. With viewers cringing, Strayed grabs the nail and pulls quickly.

As she stumbles backward from the force, a boot slides off the cliff, and Strayed grabs the other boot and chucks it off the mountain, yelling, “Fuck yeah, bitch,” with such anger that a burden of pain and troubles is released through the sound.

Strayed’s closest friend, Amy (Gaby Hoffmann), agrees to send food and care packages to each stop on her trip, reminding her, “You know you can quit at any time,” but Strayed is resilient, and her determination to finish the impractical journey makes her character fascinating.

Witherspoon as the rugged, strong-willed yet regretful and lost Strayed is a refreshing change from her usual rom-com roles, and her narration throughout the film creates an enduring connection with the audience.

Without the need for anything more than clear and minimalist shots of the beautiful West Coast forests, the camera follows Strayed as she walks past the natural blue lakes, mossy rainforests and windy deserts, and the imagery itself is a work of art.

Strayed’s haunting past is depicted through blurs of dark flashbacks, but these scenes of damp apartments with a drugged Strayed lying on the ground are largely unexplained, making the film feel somewhat stagnant.

Because of the lack of insight into Strayed’s inner thoughts or earlier life, the film’s conclusion seems rushed and cut off. Although Witherspoon narrates an epilogue to her story, the actions of her character during the film don’t reflect her apparent outcome, and the viewer is left thinking how she overcame the troubles haunting her.

The viewer knows Strayed has gone through a change in her behavior and outlook, but isn’t quite sure why or how.

Author Cheryl Strayed’s powerful story allows director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornby to craft a unique film that stands out from other recent releases, if it be by plot alone. But though the first half of the film connects viewers to Strayed’s life and confides in them her past struggles, it is missing the resolution that makes her 1,100 mile hike worth it.

Released: Dec. 5
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”)
Writer: Nick Hornby (“An Education”)
Genre: Drama
Cast: Reese Witherspoon (“The Good Lie”), Laura Dern (“The Fault in Our Stars”), Gaby Hoffmann (“Veronica Mars”), Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman

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Monday, Nov. 10, 2014 2:15 p.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Birdman’

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Jarrod Carman.

“Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

★★★★✰

As a Hollywood satire from a director who’s known for his bleak films, “Birdman” could have been a laborious exercise in despair.

Luckily, the film flies high.

Promotional poster for "Birdman."

Promotional poster for “Birdman.”

In this latest film from Alejandro Iñárritu, Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thompson, a washed-up celebrity who used to play a superhero named – you guessed it – Birdman.

Riggan decides to take on a new project: A Broadway adaptation of one of Raymond Carver’s short stories, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” to prove he’s more than just a man who put on tights for a paycheck.

Along the way, he must deal with his druggie daughter/assistant Sam (Emma Stone), pretentious Broadway star Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), his possibly pregnant girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough) and the voice of Birdman in his head.

Did I mention that Riggan might also have telekinetic powers?

The film seeks to satirize both the world of Broadway and the prevalence of superhero movies in today’s day and age, and it succeeds with hilarious results.

Riggan’s play comes off as particularly pretentious, as he’s managed to expand a short (emphasis on short) story into a full-blown, sold-out Broadway show. The addition of a theater critic who sets out to pan Riggan’s show before she even sees it is meant to demonstrate how ridiculous the world of theatre is.

The movie also mocks modern superhero films when we see Birdman, Riggan’s hallucination, follow Riggan around the streets of New York, begging him to sign on for “Birdman 4.”

“Birdman” even takes a jab at Oscar-nominated actors like Jeremy Renner and Michael Fassbender, who have taken roles in superhero films, when Riggan suggests casting them for his play.

This scene is especially ironic, given that Keaton, Stone and Norton have all taken major roles in superhero films in their careers.

Most of the film takes place inside the real St. James Theater on Broadway, which lends Riggan’s play and the movie itself some credibility. The incredible Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity”) shoots the film as one large scene without any cuts, allowing the audience to be fully immersed in the action.

The camera occasionally shifts to the first-person perspective of the characters, firmly placing the audience in their heads and showing how they see the world.

The performances are authentic and bring life to characters who would otherwise be caricatures. Keaton gives the best performance of his career, managing to make his character an anchor for the audience despite being incredibly selfish and possibly insane.

Norton is hilarious as Shiner, the actor who can only really live when he’s playing someone else. Norton mocks his own reputation for being difficult on set by creating the most egotistical character possible. In one scene, he demands he drink real alcohol as a prop in the middle of Riggan’s play instead of simply substituting water.

His performance is enhanced by Stone, who brings a real vulnerability to her role as an assistant straight out of rehab who spends all her time performing tasks for a bunch of prima donnas.

The film, however, has a hole at the center: We see the audience rapturously praising Riggan’s play, but we can’t tell whether it is good. Is Iñárritu trying to show Riggan as a genius, or is he mocking the general public for falling in love with something terrible?

Perhaps Iñárritu is laughing at the viewers of the film. We’re calling “Birdman” great and brilliant, but the meaning and conclusion of the film are left ambiguous. Are we applauding something we don’t even understand?

It’s a shame we’ll never get an answer.

Released: Oct. 17
Director: Alejandro Iñárritu (“Babel,” “Biutiful”)
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Cast: Michael Keaton (“Batman”), Emma Stone (“The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Easy A”), Edward Norton (“Fight Club,” “The Incredible Hulk”), Zach Galifianakis (“The Hangover”), Naomi Watts (“King Kong,” “The Ring”)

 

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Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014 11:46 a.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Whiplash’

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Everly Jazi.

“Whiplash”

★★★★★

In a scene from “Whiplash,” blood spurts out of aspiring drummer Andrew Neyman’s sore hands as he grips his beloved drumsticks, playing the same measure he has practiced for weeks.

Aside from the drum kit and mattress Andrew pulls inside, the room is a bare prison where he works to become the best jazz drummer in history.

Promotional poster for "Whiplash."

Promotional poster for “Whiplash.”

“Whiplash,” which has already received two awards at the Sundance Film Festival, follows the first-year jazz student Andrew (Miles Teller) as he endures massive pains, like those displayed by this scene, while attempting to join a studio band at the fictional Shaffer Music Conservatory.

As Andrew spends hours over his drumset, perfecting his work with maniacal precision, “Whiplash” exposes the music industry as a demanding and controlling powerhouse, a complete contrast to the creative, glamorous environment portrayed in the mainstream.

The studio band Andrew hopes to join is led by conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a machine-like perfectionist with a selfish, obsessive and intimidating personality who comes to represent the harsh truth of the industry.

As Andrew plays for the conductor for the first time, Fletcher gives the audience a glimpse at his caring side by genuinely saying, “Just do your best.” But as soon as Andrew misses a beat, Fletcher responds by throwing a chair at his head.

Throughout the movie, the audience is stunned by the behavior of each character and the absurd but realistic plot that feeds on its own addictive outrageousness. The audience joins in Andrew’s struggle as he works toward becoming one of the greats, while also losing his sanity.

Director Damien Chazelle leaves the audience battling the question: Is it worth going crazy if great art results?

Teller’s performance was crucial to the film’s success. The actor surprised the film team with a talent for drumming and was able to play throughout the film without a stunt double. Teller conveys a seemingly shy and vulnerable character who again and again proves his resilience and strength – his aggressive but hilarious one-liners adding humor to the dark film.

During a dinner party with family friends, Andrew is overshadowed by a football star student, who urges Andrew to “come play with us.”

“Four words you’ll never hear from the NFL,” Andrew quips back.

Simmons also gives an outstanding performance, creating the perfect balance of rage and charm to portray Fletcher. His unrelenting character leaves the audience both intimidated by Fletcher’s intensity and in awe of his dedication.

Chazelle’s vision for the film, inspired by his own experience as part of a jazz studio band in high school, translates into the perfect thriller, leaving audience members gripping their seats in anticipation throughout each lengthy drum solo.

The riveting plot, a relentless take on the music industry, will leave viewers thinking long after the film, still uneasy from its 2-hour adrenaline rush.

Released: Oct. 17
Director: Damien Chazelle
Genre: Drama
Cast: Miles Teller (“The Spectacular Now”), J.K. Simmons (“Spider-Man”), Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser (“Life After Beth”)

 

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Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014 11:34 a.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘The Book of Life’

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Niamh Cahill-Billings.

“The Book of Life”

★★★★✰

Jorge Gutierrez’s newest animated film, “The Book of Life,” is a sweet, vibrant and surprisingly progressive alternative to the bombardment of horror films that normally take over theaters in October.

The film begins on the eve of Dia de los Muertos when La Muerta (Kate del Castillo), the leader of the rambunctious world of remembered souls, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), who watches over the desolate world of forgotten souls, make a wager on who will win the pueblo’s sweetheart, Maria (Zoe Saldana).

Promotional poster for "The Book of Life."

Promotional poster for “The Book of Life.”

Xibalba bets that Maria will marry Joaquin (Channing Tatum), the charming Adonis that saves the pueblo from evil, while La Muerta supports Manolo (Diego Luna), a musician forced to follow his family’s bullfighting tradition.

As the plot unravels, this buoyant and refreshing fantasy manages to touch on hevy concepts of death and mortality, gender roles, bullfighting and Latino machismo while also maintaining the innocence and naiveté that make the film enjoyable for all ages.

“The Book of Life” joins the ranks of the growing body of animated movies that have abandoned cliché and antiquated sentiments of what it means to be a princess, petitioning instead to represent a wider spread of cultures in film.

Woven throughout the scenes is an American-Mexican fusion of style, a theme typical of Gutierrez work, given that he grew up in Tijuana, near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Aside from boasting the largest Latino voice cast in animated movie history, the film’s costume design represents a colorful amalgamation of cultures.

Manolo, the film’s protagonist, sports a Johnny Cash-inspired matador costume meant to emphasize growing globalization and cultural mélange between Mexico and the United States, Gutierrez said in a post-screening interview. Maria’s costume was inspired by Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo, who dressed primarily in traditional Mexican attire.

But the soundtrack stands out as one of the best aspects of the film.

Diego Luna, the voice of Manolo, performs a wide variety of Latino covers of artists from Radiohead to Biz Markie and Mumford & Sons, crafting a mariachi interpretation of pop classics. While older audiences will recognize and appreciate the music choices, younger audiences are enthralled at the goofy mariachi band performing the popular tunes.

The one thing the film is missing is a villain: there’s no evil stepmother typical to so many animated films. Each character is multi-faceted and has understandable motives.

Instead, Gutierrez focuses on the pursuit of adventure rather than the strict good-versus-evil plot employed time and again, adding to the progressive nature of the film.

“The Book of Life” is a refreshing and dynamic experience, despite the heavy and somewhat controversial themes the film confronts. A focus on youth and the saliency of family with the backdrop of colorful Mexican culture lends the film a sense of airiness and ease, especially with the festive setting of El Dia de los Muertos.

It would be naive to say that cartoon culture is no longer dominated by European storylines featuring primarily white casts, but the growing trend to represent and celebrate other cultures, exemplified by “The Book of Life,” is both refreshing and promising.

Released: October 17
Director: Jorge Gutierrez (“El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera”)
Genre: Animation/Adventure
Cast: Diego Luna (“Milk,” “Elysium”), Zoe Saldana (“Avatar,” “Star Trek”), Channing Tatum (“21 Jump Street”) Kate del Castillo (“Under the Same Moon”), Ron Perlman (“Drive,” “Tangled”)

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Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014 1:27 a.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Gone Girl’

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Jack Alber.

“Gone Girl”

★★★★★

A mesmerizing tale of marriage, manipulation and the thirst of the media, David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” is a strong contender for movie of the year.

Promotional poster for "Gone Girl."

Promotional poster for “Gone Girl.”

The film is an adaption of the wildly popular 2012 novel of the same title by Gillian Flynn. In a rare occasion of the film world, Flynn herself was given control over the screenplay, which she absolutely nailed.

In “Gone Girl,” the plot doesn’t thicken, it congeals.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is a seemingly perfect husband to his seemingly perfect wife, the witty, intelligent Amy (Rosamund Pike). When Amy suddenly goes missing on the couple’s fifth anniversary, the ensuing manhunt grips the country and begins to expose the cracks in the facade of Nick and Amy’s “perfect marriage,” posing the question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

Tyler Perry plays celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt, who specializes in defending husbands, little-known actress Carrie Coon (“The Leftovers”) takes the part of Nick’s loyal sister Margo and Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”) is Amy’s long-ago and insanely creepy ex boyfriend, Desi Collings.

Affleck gives Nick’s every movement and thought a subtle but striking touch, creating a character that is at times charming and at other times despicable. Perry adds refreshing moments of humor to the dark film, and Harris fits perfectly into a Fincher film with his ability to bottle up his natural charm, appearing simultaneously genuine and strange.

But it is Pike’s performance that truly makes the film.

Granted, she has the most dimensions of a character to work with, and nearly every revolution of the plot gives her a moment to shine. But Pike knocks her role as manipulative, complex Amy out of the park with every word, look and breath.

She is perfectly composed, yet perfect at letting her composure fall apart.

The dark, moody cinematography is nothing too spectacular, but the soundtrack is the true lifeblood of the film, with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross turning in a throbbing and tense score guaranteed to make viewers all the more thrilled as the events unfold – not that you’ll need any help.

As the characters wriggle around in their deceptions, the meaning of the movie itself seems as difficult to pin down as the truth about Amy’s disappearance.

On the one hand, “Gone Girl” presents a sober and pessimistic – albeit highly exaggerated – depiction of the dangers of love. But the film could also represent a satire, or indictment, of the gossip peddlers that dominate news media today, or a warning of the dishonesty and distortion that can come from living a charade.

Maybe none, maybe all three. But whatever you walk away with, “Gone Girl” is guaranteed to make you think long after the credits start rolling.

Surprisingly humorous at parts, poisonously dark, intensely gripping, “Gone Girl” is a film that will be talked about for generations to come.

Released: Oct. 3
Director: David Fincher
Screenplay: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Thriller
Cast: Ben Affleck (“Argo,” “Good Will Hunting”), Rosamund Pike (“Pride & Prejudice”), Tyler Perry (“Diary of a Mad Black Woman”), Carrie Coon (“The Leftovers”), Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”)

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Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014 6:50 p.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Wetlands’

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Eric Robinson.

“Wetlands”

★★★★✰

Sex comedies are always problematic.

Most indulge exclusively in sexist male fantasies. Yet with his latest film, German director David Wnendt defies this trend, presenting an unflinchingly honest depiction of sex from the perspective of a teenage girl.

Promotional poster for "Wetlands."

Promotional poster for “Wetlands.”

“Wetlands” follows the exploits of sex-obsessed Helen Memel (Carla Juri), who embarks on various sexual escapades while scheming to reunite her separated parents.

After a reckless shaving accident, Helen ends up in the hospital, where she reflects on her lifestyle choices and attempts to charm a young male nurse.

The film presents imagery that is, to put it mildly, revolting. Whether it’s four guys masturbating into a pizza or Helen swapping bloody tampons with a good friend, “Wetlands” is not for the squeamish.

Though the scenes in “Wetlands” are absurd, Wnendt’s presentation of grotesque bodily functions is at least true to life. Whereas other films would avoid even showing nudity, Wnendt does the audience the courtesy of revealing every dirty detail.

In one memorable shot during the opening minutes, the camera actually zooms in on a toilet seat teeming with microorganisms.

Wnendt approaches this imagery with both humor and a surprising amount of heart. When Helen and a friend use their own period blood as warpaint, what would normally register as just ridiculous and disgusting becomes hilarious and weirdly touching.

But the film’s writers, Wnendt and Claus Falkenberg, enter dark territory as well. Suicide and divorce serve as a backdrop to the film’s examination of modern teenage sex culture.

Juri gives an outstanding performance as the mischievous and snarky Helen, while also adding a shade of mournfulness to her character that works in the film’s darker moments.

For all its honesty, the movie falters with a generic rom-com-style ending. This moment of insincerity is not enough to topple the entire piece, but seems out of place compared to the rest of the film.

Ultimately, Wnendt’s effort is a welcome change for sex comedies. Profane, nauseating and somber at times, yet sweet, funny and touching, “Wetlands” succeeds because of its willingness to engage with the topic at hand – sex – in a way that’s both frank and entertaining.

Released: Sept. 5
Director: David Wnendt
Genre: Comedy
Cast: Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski, Marlen Cruse

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Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 10:52 a.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Love is Strange’

“Love is Strange”

★★★✰✰

Updated: Sept. 3, 2014 at 11:15 p.m.

While superhero movies and sci-fi thrillers have recently taken over the industry, sometimes you’d like some realism on the screen.

A scene from "Love is Strange." Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

A scene from “Love is Strange.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Love is Strange” submerges the audience in the high-brow, art-loving world of Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), who finally marry after almost 40 years as a couple. But not everyone is happy to hear that news.

George, who is a choir instructor at a Catholic school, is asked to leave his position, and the couple, now in financial ruin, decide to live separately until they can afford an apartment of their own.

The decision prompts Ben to live with his nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their son Joey (Charlie Tahan). Meanwhile, George lives with friends Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Pérez), two gay policemen who often turn their small apartment into a raging club.

Director Ira Sachs adds comic relief to scenes with depictions of ordinary dilemmas: Ben is forced to share a bunk bed with young Joey, and while Ben constantly talks to Kate while she is writing, he complains when others do the same.

“I can’t really work if there’s someone else around,” Ben says to Kate ironically.

But beneath a comedic exterior, Sachs crafts a film with artistic depth. The film is based on three different phases of love – represented by Ben, Elliot and Joey – a theme that is subtly woven into the movie throughout yet retains a poignant influence on the viewer. Sometimes, though, the subtlety of “Love is Strange” muddles the concept and detracts from the message.

Interestingly, “Love is Strange” is a personal story for Sachs, who drew inspiration for many characters from people in his own life. He manages to turn the stories of past mentors and experiences into a linear depiction of love.

With New York City as a setting for the drama, characters depicted with careful attention to personality traits and an unexpected story that brings unique perspectives to love, “Love is Strange” is the perfect pick for some quiet contemplation.

Released: Aug. 29
Director: Ira Sachs (“Married Life” and “Forty Shades of Blue”)
Genre: Drama
Cast: John Lithgow (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), Alfred Molina (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), Marisa Tomei (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”), Charlie Tahan (“Charlie St. Cloud”)

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the character Ben complained that Kate constantly talked to him while he was writing. He actually complained to Kate that others had done that to him. We regret this error.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 11:46 a.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Boyhood’

boyhood_xlg“Boyhood”

★★★★✰

The concept behind Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” is one-of-a-kind: a movie that follows a boy from age six to 18, filmed with the same actors over 12 years.

The word “nostalgic” doesn’t come close to encompassing this movie. Still, viewers don’t necessarily walk away from the film thinking they’ve just seen a masterpiece of a project. It feels more like a great home movie, the kind you secretly love to watch with your family on rainy days.

In the theater, the audience genuinely laughed at cutesy kids jokes and often whispered to each other when scenes between parents reminded them of their own.

The movie follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he watches anime, attends the book release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” rides a bicycle with a friend on a RipStik and spends class time traveling the Oregon Trail on a PC. As audience members watch the kids get braces, play the new Game Boy Advance and eventually grow facial hair, they are immersed in the movie’s realistic quality. Shooting in short bursts from 2002 to 2013, the filmmakers didn’t need to set the scene or buy the right items from eBay to fit the time. The costume directors didn’t have to go to Goodwill to buy clothes from 2003.

“Boyhood” not only enthralls viewers with a convincing story, but also makes them remember their childhoods, the time their parents fought, the time they had to go to a new school. Linklater shows all of these common experiences without making the film too self-aware of the feat it is accomplishing.

In the early years, Mason is a quiet, shy boy who is overshadowed by his loud, attention-seeking sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Living with their mother, the children are overjoyed when their somewhat irresponsible and immature father (Ethan Hawke) comes back from Alaska in his black, 1968 Pontiac GTO with a pile of presents inside.

The audience really gets to know Mason a few years later when he and his father go camping. Mason starts to develop into a more independent and unique character. As the story progresses, he deals with multiple moves within Texas, alcoholic stepfathers, girl problems, bullies and deciding what to do after high school. His dad changes, his mom changes, his sister changes, he changes and we watch it all on the screen.

Linklater is known for his attention to detail, and this talent is ever-present in “Boyhood.” He is one of those directors who you swear must keep a running list of ordinary things people say so he can include them in every movie. But rather than the usual philosophical and theoretical banter in his “Before” films or “Slacker,” Linklater’s dialogue is centered on everyday life and follows the actual experiences of growing up.

The sentimental soundtrack fits the scenes of the movie nicely, with songs playing during the years they were actually released: “Yellow” starts the movie off and goodies like “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Somebody That I Used to Know” are sprinkled in. Those details remind viewers that they are watching a movie that spanned years of filming.

A lot happens in the almost three-hour movie, but “Boyhood” never feels overwhelming. Transitions move the audience seamlessly from one glimpse of each year in Mason’s life to the next. His boyhood ends in the final scene: a hike with new friends. It’s a start to another chapter beyond the camera lens.

Released: July 18
Director: Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused” and “Before Midnight”)
Genre: Coming of Age/Drama
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette (“Medium”), Ethan Hawke (“Reality Bites” and “The Purge”)

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