A heat wave is predicted for July and August on the East Coast, which is perfect air-conditioned movie theater time. Please keep that in mind when the air is sticky and even the air you breathe is hot so that sitting in a cool, dark, air conditioned theater may be a better choice than boiling on a beach in the Hamptons or Fire Island.
LETS GO TO THE MOVIES
BOYHOOD Director Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater’s small epic of the modern nuclear family was 12 years in the making. Taking one family in Austin Texas and filtering the experience through the eyes of a 7-year-old boy, how he sees his role in the family structure and the world around him is the core of the film. Linklater shot 39 minutes screen time each year over 12 years. Boyhood is not a documentary. We watch actors play the members of the family and we see them age in real time as actors and characters right before our eyes. Ethan Hawke plays the father of the children and Patricia Arquette the mother. We watch how the free wheeling folk rock singer (Hawke) disappears out of the picture and is replaced by serial lovers acting as surrogate dads. Hawke returns periodically to lay his free spirit, Woody Guthrie ideas on his children and tries to pretend he has been a good dad even if not physically present. We see the kids as they grow older and distance themselves from his narcissistic seduction and charismatic charm (Think perhaps Loudon Wainwright and his children Martha and Rufus). Arquette plays the sometimes lost, always-needing-love mom and repeats the same mistakes in her choices of men. Both actors are simply superb. We watch the toll life takes on their faces and dreams over the 12 years. The center of the film, from age 7 to 19 is Mason played by Ellar Coltrane and right next to him is his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) who, in her own way, is played remarkably and insightfully (if reluctantly) by Linklater’s own daughter.
Boyhood is centered on the Mason’s coming of age. What Linklater has accomplished is to tell a universal coming of age story while centering it on a white, middle class family in Texas that implodes. The same underlying male coming of age story, told in a different location, class and ethnic reality, would still, I believe, ring true. It’s a remarkable triumph of filmmaking.
Boyhood is an American masterpiece that will take its place along side Orson Wells and John Ford’s cinema masterpieces. Don’t be put of off because you may in your own life know well the emotional life Boyhood travels. While in his private life, Linklater knows well what this couple and their children go through, as an artist, he is able to distance himself from this personal story while informing it with the emotional truth he has learned personally. This is a great movie for all generations to see as all of us in some way are up there on the screen.
LIFE ITSELF director Steve James
Most smart people know Roger Ebert, the Chicago based film critic from Sneak Previews, the PBS incarnation of his groundbreaking television show with Gene Siskel. Most smart filmgoers know the documentary filmmaker Steve James from the insightful and sensitive award winning documentaries Hoop Dreams, Stevie and The Interrupters (all available on VOD). I knew Roger from his show and his reviews in the Chicago in print and online and from seeing him on the festival circuit. I often sat next to him at Sundance, in public screenings, and in the back row of the largest theater. One year we actually had a verbal public fight after he interrupted me when I was asking a young filmmaker a question that Roger thought was inappropriate. I disagreed, and in front of about 1300 people, we squared off.
I loved Roger Ebert because he was passionate about movies, went out of his way to advocate for films that would have fallen through the cracks and did not see his role as critic divorced from the world around him. He was a role model, one could say, for an engaged critic.
James in my view is the most important documentary filmmaker in the US today. He takes his time to show all dimensions of a subject with no easy answers given to the viewer. What he does do is immerse the viewer in the complicated world of his subject and challenges the viewer to figure out his/her own response.
What a perfect choice to fully dimension, a TV icon, Roger Ebert. I learned so many things about what made him the profound critic he was from Life Itself: the early days of being the geeky overweight kid with a nose for news, hard drinking, self-destructive and brilliant at the keyboard. James traces his growth as a journalist into a film critic and how he navigated out of the dark side of alcoholism and became the insightful, if pugnacious, pop critic who would champion a film he thought you MUST see. He and Gene Siskel were the yin and yang of film critics. Both were passionate but in very different ways. Both were competitive in their views and it made exciting television and got many butts into seats to see films that they thought should have a life. Life Itself interview subjects, such as Werner Herzog, Errol Morris and Martin Scorsese all speak of how Roger affected them and their work.
In his 50’s, Roger met at a 12-step meeting, Chaz, fell in love and married her. Gene died. Roger carried on alone and then was diagnosed with cancer. He made it public and showed us the face of cancer and the grotesqueness of its physical rampage. What James at Roger’s insistence shows us is the battle to live and not be shamed into a shadow by the physical devastation from the disease and side effects of medical interventions. Life Itself is a remarkable portrait of a Roger Ebert who brought the same passion to his writing and public advocacy for the cinema to his own fight to live. He refused to be assigned to a dark room where nobody looks.
Life Itself is not a dark film. While it does dwell on a dark subject, cancer, Life Itself is a brilliant study of a life well lived right up to the end. See it.
YVES SAINT LAURENT director Jalil Lespert
My friend Drake Stutsman once whispered in my ear, “You can learn as much about the politics of a time from looking critically at how people dressed and fancied themselves as you can from all the historical essays championed as definitive.” This thought, which I did not fully understand, stayed in my consciousness. I have always wondered why so many people were enamored with the world of couture fashion when most would never live in its world. They would never able to wear a Channel, Dior, Balenciaga, Charles or Valentino or Largerfeld. I asked myself why did the designers take on international celebrity and fame? A few years ago, a documentary on Valentino gave a peek into the world behind the dresses celebrities wear. As beautiful as it was, it still seemed hermetic and cold. We were not really let inside.
At this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, I found myself so engaged with the documentary film, Dior and I, which chronicled the debut of collection by Raf Simons for the House of Dior that I actually cried. It was an adventure tale with all the surrounding excitement.
Now we have the lush and dramatic narrative film on the world of Yves Saint Laurent by Jalil Lespert. This bio-drama is freed from the boundaries of a factual documentation to take us into the world of this shy, quiet little boy who always wanted to draw clothes for women. He had supportive parents including a mother who wanted to wear everything he drew. She was his first muse. When Yves Saint Laurent (Pierre Niney) gets a job at the House of Dior his talents are quickly recognized. Then when Dior passes the designer rein, to 21-year-old Yves it goes. He hated the business side of fashion. He just wanted to design. Like Valentino, he found a personal and professional partner, Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), the arts patron, who took care of business and protected the passive-aggressive designer from the public and the business people. It is the 60’s and 70’s and we see how this self possessed and often selfish designer danced with fame while running from it and bathed in the material world it offered him. Pierre was always there to shield him from the business people and to protect and/or rescue him from the excesses of fame as well as the 60’s swirl of sex, drugs and Morocco. Laurent’s female muses are also vividly introduced: Victoire Doutreleau (Charlotte Le Bon) the loyal beauty who not only modeled his clothes but protected him from the media snoops. Loulou de la Falaise (Laura Smet) who I knew from the back room of Max’s and Andy’s neon glow and was the smart girl with all the latest drugs to share with Yves in his hideaway in Morocco. Yves Saint Laurent captures the craft world of couture and the fabulous world of fashion icons in the same way a director like George Cukor did in the golden age of Hollywood http://jimfourattsreeldeal.blogspot.com/ .