Tag Archives: richard linklater

Bernie – Review

29 Dec

In 1996, the small town of Carthage, Texas experienced the most bizarre act of violence it has ever seen perpetrated by the least likely of suspects. This strange, almost surreal tale, caught the attention of a journalist named Skip Hollandsworth, and his article on the event caught the attention of film making auteur Richard Linklater. After the two put their minds together, the end result of their collaboration was the 2011 dark comedy Bernie. Murder may seem like a really heavy subject to make a joke out of, but in the hands of Linklater it has the ability to be both funny and upsetting, which makes Bernie an odd, but lovable dark comedy.

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It would be a strange thing if the most popular and loved man in town was the assistant mortician, but that is the case of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black). In the small town of Carthage, Texas, Bernie serves the community in the ways he knows best: making the deceased look their best for their funeral and comforting the the grieving family in the days and weeks that follow. Normally it all works out fine, but Bernie gets in a little over his head when he gets involved with Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), the meanest woman in Carthage who recently lost her wealthy husband. While Bernie does become good friends with her, their relationship deteriorates over the course of a few years which pushes Bernie to do something unthinkable and completely out of character. As questions start rising about Nugent’s sudden disappearance, District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) starts building a solid case for murder.

Bernie works really well on a few different levels. For one thing, you have some surprisingly fantastic performances, but then you also have a really unique true crime story that works because of how funny the screenplay is and how interesting the questions is raises are. It’s quite clear that Bernie Tiede did something egregiously wrong and deserves to be punished, but I found myself siding with the people of the town when they were lobbying to make his sentence a lot less harsh than it should have been. It made me wonder about the adage that the punishment should fit the crime. Can there be circumstances where that shouldn’t be as strongly applied? I don’t want to analyze this movie too much because it doesn’t really need to be, but it was nice to see that there was more to it than just a dark comedy. It had a point of view that could rouse up debate, which is a good thing when working in this genre.

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Going into Bernie, I was expecting it to be pretty straightforward when it comes to structure, but this is actually a very strange example of how to make a movie. Leave it to a film maker like Richard Linklater to take what could’ve been a pretty average movie and work it into something different. What makes this movie really unique is that there are interviews throughout the length of the film with some of the real residents of Carthage who personally knew Bernie Tiede. There are some interviews that are scripted, but a majority of them are spoken by people that experienced the events first hand. This makes the movie feel very authentic, but also something like a legend to come out of this small Texas town, where word of mouth sometimes distorts the truth but gives you a taste of the town’s lifestyle. It’s also really funny to see scenes play out that are exactly what one of the interviewees were just talking about. At first, I was a little put off by this, but I’ve grown to really love the originality behind it.

Other than his part in his band, Tenacious D, I feel like Jack Black’s film career really took off when he starred in another of Linklater’s movies, School of Rock from 2003. Black gives a funny and pretty standard performance in that film, but he really gets to show off his acting chops in Bernie with a performance that may be the only reason you need to see this movie. Sure, I highly recommend the film anyway, but I find that it’s almost necessary for people to see it because of Black. Bernie is a character that is far from what the actor is used to playing, but he seems to pull it off with ease and it’s easy to forget that you’re watching an actor and not the actual Bernie Tiede.

Bernie had a lot of potential to be a run of the mill dark comedy, but under the direction Richard Linklater, it became something a little more. With films like Dazed and Confused and Boyhood under his belt, it’s quite obvious that Bernie doesn’t rank up at the top of Linklater’s filmography but it does rank the highest for Jack Black. This is an interesting movie in terms of content and structure, but it will also make you laugh and want to stick around for the end. I’d say check this one out.

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Boyhood – Review

15 Jan

Richard Linklater has been the forerunner of independent film making ever since he jumped on the scene with his cult classic, Slacker. Since then the writer/director has been involved with many other projects like his history making rotoscoped films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, his stoner comedy classic Dazed and Confused, and his trilogy Before SunriseBefore Sunset, and Before Midnight. Little did we know that throughout all of these films, he’d be slowly constructing a twelve year masterpiece that changes the way stories are told in films. This movie is Boyhood.

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Mason (Ellar Colatrane) is an average, but special, kid growing up in Texas. The film chronicles different chapters of his life starting when he is six years old and he’s beginning to understand the relationship problems between his mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and his father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). As time goes on for Mason, Olivia, and Mason’s sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), we see them age, grow a little more understanding or ignorant, and learn what it means to make mistakes and be part of a family.

At first glance, Boyhood looks like a three hour movie about a kid that’s growing up, what you would call a coming of age story I guess. That seems like a lot of time to fill to just show someone growing up, but it didn’t feel like three hours at all. This is a truly remarkable film and not just one of the best films of the year, it may even be one of the best films ever made. The technical achievement and patience that went into making this movie must have been staggering. While being technically shot over 12 years, it really only took a matter of weeks in total, stretched over a 12 year period. But it makes me wonder how the movie was actually written and edited, and how the actors were committed to the project for so long.

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Why I’d call this movie the ultimate coming of age movie, is because we literally see it happen before our eyes. A brilliant piece of film making is seen in Boyhood in that Linklater never specifically tells us what year it is or how long its been. Instead we see pieces of technology that weren’t publicly available before or a popular song playing on the radio that may indicate what year we’re in and how much older everyone is. It was also just fun to see certain things and remember my own childhood and growing up. I can’t tell you how excited I got when I saw Mason playing Oregon Trail on an old Mac in his school. Memories…memories.

While the film making is fantastic, a lot of the credit has to go to the actors who put so much into making this movie possible. Patricia Arquette pretty much steals every scene she’s in as a mother who’s trying desperately to keep a family in a healthy environment. Ethan Hawke is probably my favorite part of the movie as the over excited dad who’s just happy to be around his kids. It was also refreshing to see how Ellar Colatrane and Lorelei Linklater kept their performances very together and on point throughout the years. To all of the actors really, who had to keep a sense of their characters over such a long period is very commendable.

Boyhood is the most impressive movie I’ve seen in a very long time, and that’s during a year of very impressive movies. It’s been hailed as one of the best pictures of the year, already picking up Golden Globes for Arquette, directing, and best picture. Now it has 6 Oscar nominations, but that’s still not for a bit. I loved this movie more than I thought I could and it just blows my mind that Linklater and the rest of his cast and crew made it work. This is film history here, people, you don’t want to miss out on it.

Slacker – Review

11 Sep

Richard Linklater has recently earned a lot of attention from both critics and audiences for his new film Boyhood, which I have unfortunately still not seen yet. Instead, I’m going to be looking at a movie that was the star of Linklater’s career and also a film that is considered by many to be the quintessential indie film and a modern day classic in its own right. This is Linklater’s 1991 film, Slacker. Being made with a meager $23,000 budget and shot on a 16mm camera, I believe that this truly is the indie film, but it also served as inspiration for film makers of a generation and gave a voice, however silly it may be, to a group of people no one wants to listen to.

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The plot for this film is extremely simple in the sense that there is no plot. This film follows a group of lazy, quirky characters over a period of 24 hours in Austin, Texas. After staying with a character for a few minutes, we segue on to the next one to hear what that person has to say or what they do with the time that they could be using to do something productive. Over this day philosophies are spewed, alcohol is consumed, and life is pretty much just lived, which for this eclectic group of losers, isn’t really all that special. In their own ways, however, they are all totally fine with that.

Slacker feels very similar to a few of Linklater’s other later films, mostly 1993’s Dazed and Confused and 2001’s Waking Life. In both of these films, there’s just a whole lot of talking and hanging around without any really big plot developments, or really plots at all, but in some way, Linklater makes them work. The way he achieves this is by making all of the characters different and interesting. They may talk a whole lot of bullshit, but it’s so much fun listening to them say this bullshit with such confidence and bravado. While Slacker has the youthful angst and mentality of Dazed and Confused, it feels much more similar to Waking Life in terms of style. No, Slacker isn’t roto-scoped, but it is just made up of a bunch of people hanging around and talking, which is exactly what Waking Life is, except on a much deeper level.

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It’s weird even thinking that Linklater wrote this movie since everything sounds so natural. This is a very difficult movie to make, in my opinion, because it all hinges on the writing and the performances to be executed as naturally as possible. There’s no plot for this movie to fall back on. The entire point of it is to hear and see these people go about a moment of their day, and if we don’t believe that that’s what is actually happening, then the whole movie is ruined. Luckily, even amongst all of the oddities, Richard Linklater and his cast pull off all the strange dialogue that you would expect to hear by a group of out of school/out of work youths who have nothing better to do than talk about their theories on every aspect of life.

What’s also really cool about Slacker is that this type of person is neither mocked nor praised. It’s quite clear that they aren’t who you want to turn into, but at the same time it seems like they are having a good time and enjoying the life that they have. It’s a nice middle ground that Linklater found, and it almost feels like he actually did just travel through Austin and go from one person to the next. The segues are also really fun, and they make everything feel connected. One thing I will say is that this movie can sort of start to wear on you. Trimming off 15 minutes definitely wouldn’t hurt it at all. It just seemed that some of the segments were nowhere near as interesting as others.

While Slacker isn’t a perfect film it certainly is a landmark in independent film making and it can not be denied that it has earned a place in film history, even though it was only made in 1991. Hell, this is the movie that directly inspired Kevin Smith to make his now iconic film, Clerks. Even though there is no plot to speak of, Richard Linklater’s Slacker is a movie that I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy, but ended up really liking it. The lack of story may definitely be a turn off to some people, but this shouldn’t deter someone from seeing this movie. Just spending time with this eclectic group of misfits is fun enough.

Waking Life – Review

22 Nov

Richard Linklater has an interesting way of story telling. From movies like Dazed and Confused and A Scanner Darkly, it is evident that he has a knack for setting up a film’s narrative using supposed randomness shown in a very true to life kind of way. Waking Life is much like that, except broken up in such a way as to mimic a dream. Also like A Scanner DarklyWaking Life uses real actors but is completely animated afterwards via rotoscope. The result is a very wordy philosophical journey through a man’s dream as he begins to dig deeper into themes such as existentialism, follies of society, and philosophies of art.

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An  unnamed man (Wiley Wiggins) is asleep, but what’s going on inside his head seems all too unreal for it to be his actual life. He begins wandering the dreamscape, meeting different people and hearing their thoughts on life and philosophy. This man’s dream takes a strange turn when he realizes that he is dreaming and is having a hard time waking up. As he begins dealing with his lucid dreaming, he also starts interacting more with these dream characters and learning more about what it means to dream, how it relates to life, and how to get out.

This is a very bizarre film, which is a very high compliment. There is almost no narrative at all, with the exception of the later conflict of the main character trying to get out of his dream. All up until that point, all we get is a series of random meetings between the main character and other people, or between two completely unknown characters without having Wiggins present at all. This makes it a very difficult movie to watch if you aren’t interested in the subject matter, but luckily if you aren’t quite into philosophy, you can at least look at the beautiful rotoscope animation that, at the time (in terms of live action films), was very new and still equally as remarkable.

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Bob Sabiston, a computer scientist and animator at the MIT media lab, came up with a computer assisted rotoscoping process that was used for this film. In fact, Waking Life, is the first feature film to use this rotoscoping technique, and the result is mind blowing. The scene of this movie is a dreamscape, which is perfect for this psychedelic rotoscoping. While the different philosophers and other characters are talking, there are occasional triply animated effects that happen that match their words or ideas. Also their distorting facial features and bodies look really weird and cool. I absolutely love it and worship the grounds these animators walk on after spending three years alone rotoscoping this film.

Everything else about this movie is pretty debatable. The ideas and topics brought up are of a wide variety and some are really interesting, while others are of no interest to me whatsoever. Scenes about existentialism and film theory are all really cool, but then there are topics about social change and how the government is an evil tyranny that we need to rise against comes off as sophomoric and reminds me of discussion I had in high school.

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Waking Life is an odd film that is not for people who are expecting mindless entertainment. It’s a lot of talking and sitting and thinking, not a lot of action. The whole movie was made for us to tap into a deeper part of our brains and accept different ideas from many different people who are very passionate for what they believe in. Their passion helps drive this movie. The rotoscoping is beautiful and the discussions are thought provoking, but it’s certainly not an easy ride.

A Scanner Darkly – Review

14 May

Living in a world where our every move could be closely monitored by the government without our knowing is a terrifying concept. For all we know, this may be happening already. I could be under surveillance as I sit here writing this review. Then again, maybe I’m just being paranoid; moreover, this paranoia is the essence of A Scanner Darkly.

Seven years into the future, nothing is secret and everything is questionable. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is a police officer working deeply undercover amongst a group of junkies addicted to a new drug, Substance D. These junkies consist of the clever and possibly homicidal Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.), the spaced out loser Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), the paranoid Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), and the dealer of the group Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder). Soon enough, due to a suit that hides the officers identity while at the precinct, Arctor is assigned to spy on himself, and deal with the junkie turned informant, Barris. As this vicious conundrum of identity and trust keeps unraveling, Arctor soon beings to lose control of who he is due to “cerebral cross chatter” and the other effects of Substance D.

The initial main drawing point of A Scanner Darkly is the bizarre and intriguingly surreal animation. After the film had been shot it was than edited over a period of 15 months using Rotoshop, which the director, Richard Linklater, had used in a previous film, Waking Life. This stunning use of animation gives the film an other worldly feel that I’ve never experienced before with a movie. It was realistic, than at the same time, was artificial.

With films like Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting, the theme of drug addiction and withdrawal is not new. What A Scanner Darkly does differently is explore this theme with a deeper level of subtlety. The film doesn’t use eerie music or impressive camera techniques to make the viewer uncomfortable. The Rotoshop animation helps, but what I feel is the driving force of paranoia is the way the story is told. Up until the very end, the viewer has very vague impressions of what is real and what is not. The story is expertly told from both the sides of the police and the junkies, so when these worlds collide, it’s enough to make your brain split down the middle.

This story is definitely classified as science fiction, but a lot of what occurs in the film is funny. Robert Downey, Jr, Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane are fantastic at playing the three most paranoid characters I may have ever seen. The way these characters handle themselves using the backwards logic of drug use is very entertaining, yet in no way condones the use of drugs.

The government in this semi-futuristic society only adds to the paranoia backing up the film. Sure, the characters are nervous, but shouldn’t we be just as nervous? I can honestly say that I have no idea just how deep the government, the FBI, the CIA, etc. can probe into the lives of everyday citizens. I wouldn’t call my uncertainty fear, but I would say that there is a good chance that we very well may be watched by “Big Brother” sometime in the near future.

I love how everything about A Scanner Darkly relates back to paranoia. The psychology behind Arctor, the drug abuse, and the overpowering government are incredibly fascinating.  As a film, A Scanner Darkly succeeds in making the audience feel strange and nervous, all while telling an intricate narrative. I’m definitely interested in going out and finding my own copy of Philip K. Dick’s original novel, which this story is based on, and seeing how Dick tells the story. For now though, I highly recommend A Scanner Darkly. It is a fantastic film.