Slow West


John Maclean’s debut film Slow West (2015) is a quirky Western that blends together several genres: the Western, romance, the coming-of-age story, and the road movie. Slow West accounts the journey of Scottish man Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) across America to find the woman he loves, Rose (Caren Pistorius), a fellow Scot who is on the run in the American West with her father, John (Rory McCann). Along his journey, Jay meets and travels with the mysterious Silas (Michael Fassbender).

It didn’t hit me until several listens of the soundtrack to realize that Slow West is a retelling of Orion the Hunter. The soundtrack is structured by alternating between tracks of dialogue from the film and tracks from Jed Kurzel’s beautiful score. The first track from the soundtrack is “Orion’s Belt”, a bit of dialogue from the very beginning where Jay looks up at the sky and identifies constellations. Once he finds Orion’s constellation, he takes his gun and pretends to shoot the three stars that make up Orion’s belt. Jay is Orion. Orion’s story is a tragic love story, just like Jay’s. Jay, being an innocent lad from Scotland and making his way through the rugged American West in a suit, is not a skilled hunter like Orion. He’s only a hunter in the sense that he is out hunting for Rose. In some versions of the myth, it is Artemis herself who unknowingly kills Orion with her bow and arrow instead of Scorpio – which is mirrored in Jay and Rose’s final meeting. There’s even a flashback scene where Rose asks Jay how he’d like to die and he responds, “By bow and arrow,” and she simulates killing him with a bow and arrow. After his death, Jay’s memory isn’t broadly remembered in the way Orion is remembered in the stars; however, his is memory lives on with Silas, whose life is drastically changed when he settles down and raises a family with Rose. Silas expected to survive the West until he died, but Jay’s (possibly naïve) positive outlook on life showed Silas that there’s more than just survival. It’s a lovely interpretation of the Greek myth, subtle yet meaningful.

One of the most important themes in the film is that things are not as they appear to be. The film itself is structured in a way that continually defies expectations. The earlier flashbacks, introducing Jay’s character, show him and Rose in what appears to be a requited romantic relationship, but as the story unfolds, the true nature of their relationship is revealed. Similarly, Silas joins Jay on his journey, and his motivations slowly are deconstructed throughout the film. Almost every character is not who s/he appears to be. Werner, the traveling writer, appears to be a friendly man who gives Jay shelter for the night, until he steals everything from him while he sleeps. Rose appears to be a girl in need of rescuing, until she shows she can absolutely take care of herself in the shoot out scene. Silas is a rugged and cynical man, but his transformation in the end is quite drastic. Jay is the only character in the film that is exactly as he seems: an idealistic and innocent boy chasing love, delusional as it may be.

Slow West has many quirks. While set in the American West, near Colorado, the film is actually shot in New Zealand, giving the film a Middle-Earth feel. This causes a subliminal disjunction of location, another iteration of the theme that things are not always what they appear to be, giving this Western a fantastical quality. Another quirk in the film is Maclean’s use of mise-en-scène. Maclean presents the West as rugged and dark, which makes the first glimpse of Rose’s cabin a stark contrast. It’s a clean-cut, perfectly built cabin with bright white walls. On the shelves in the cabin are charming trinkets and labeled condiments. The cabin looks like a Wes Anderson set. This unexpected aesthetic serves to further differentiate Rose and her father from the setting as well as further agonizing the audience when Payne (Ben Mendelsohn) and his gang of outlaws descend on their pleasant and humble home.

Maclean also has a flair for the exaggerated, perfectly exemplified in Jay’s final scene. His love has in fact become his downfall, and if that wasn’t painful enough, Maclean adds salt to his wound – literally. Bullets from Payne’s gang fly through the window and break open a bottle of salt that falls right over Jay’s open wound. Despite all the quirks and humor, Maclean is ever aware of the fatal reality that was the American West. After the shoot out, a reverse-order homage to all the fallen in the film plays out in a reverent montage. While Rose and Silas are fortunate enough to live out a peaceful life, it did not come without a cost.

The (D)Evolution to Jurassic World


Jurassic Park captured the imagination of both children and adults alike by bringing to life long lost dinosaurs. Steven Spielberg blended together a chilling science-fiction tale with the majesty of living and breathing dinosaurs to create a cult classic. Twenty-two years later, Jurassic World is breaking box office records by stunning audiences with a fully functional dinosaur theme park. Sitting in the theater before the movie started, my date asked if I would go to that dinosaur theme park, and I responded, “Well, we now have four films telling us not to go.” Then the film started and Michael Giacchino’s score guides the audience through the incredible features of the theme park, from the dinosaur petting zoo, the herbivore river tour, and the Mosasaurus water show. At that moment, I leaned over and whispered, “Yes, I would go”. How could you not want to go? John Hammond’s dream is finally realized! But the bravado of Jurassic Park falls short in Jurassic World. The latter pokes fun at the idea of bigger and badder means better, but the film essentially embraces that idea in its narrative. Spielberg has the perfect formula for Jurassic Park, but its three sequels all flounder in their imitations. What has caused this devolution from a thoughtful and portentous story to a flashy summer blockbuster?

Storytelling is fundamental to what made Jurassic Park the successful film that it is. Spielberg is a master storyteller, who goes to great lengths for the believability and magic of a good story. In Jurassic Park, it’s evident that his first priority was telling a cogent story. In fact, there’s no one storyline for Jurassic Park; it all depends on how you look at it. This is the story of how John Hammond’s most profound dream crumbles before his very eyes. It’s the story of how Dr. Grant learns to appreciate and protect childhood. It’s also the story of how human hubris could cost humanity itself. It’s the story of how Dr. Sattler figures out what she really wants in life. It’s a story about how life, uh, finds a way. Use this story test on Jurassic World, and the outcomes are not as numerous. Jurassic World is the story of stopping a super dinosaur. That’s it. To be fair, it could also be the story of how Claire, after what seems like years of devoting herself to her job, suddenly realizes that she wants and needs children to fulfill her life and conveniently finds that possibility in the hunky arms of Owen – which is an all too familiar and lazy female character trope. The visitors of Jurassic World want a bigger and scarier dinosaur, and, judging by its incredible sales so far, 2015 moviegoers want a flashier yet shallower film.

A core flaw in Jurassic World’s storytelling deals with villainy. Jurassic Park did not have a villain, per se. Dennis Nedry was a greedy man, but even if his plans had come to fruition, it would not have caused the kind of damage that occurred in the film. The hurricane that hit the island was an unfortunate incident that certainly acted as a catalyst for many of the events in the film, but it was by no means a villain. The brilliance that Spielberg brings to the story is that Hammond and his geneticists were their own villains. They, like the creators of the Titanic, felt that they had a handle on every situation and outcome — that they were indestructible. Enter the selfish computer programmer and the tropical storm and it’s clear just how delusional they are. Their own hubris is the “villain”; they are their own downfall. This makes for a true science fiction story, portentous at heart, warning society of the danger of thoughtless technological advancement. Dr. Malcolm perfectly sums it up: “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Upon first glance, it appeared that Jurassic World was going to take a similar approach. Claire talks about how the park needs new attractions every so often and that kids want a bigger and scarier dinosaur with more teeth. When the Indominus Rex is introduced as a completely genetically engineered dinosaur, a brand new and original dinosaur species, it looks like hubris in genetics is the villain again, only ramped up a notch – which would have been a genuine story to tell. Instead, the film actually has villains, InGen’s Vic Hoskins and nostalgic Dr. Wu,  who have concocted a laughable and contrived plan to create a genetic hybrid dinosaur army. It’s clear from the first moments of watching Owen interact with the velociraptors that he’s not in any position to control the dinosaurs, yet Hoskins’s resolve to use the raptors in battle doesn’t waver. Let’s say there ever is a plan to create a non-human army, wouldn’t the logical first step be to use animals that humans can already somewhat control? Dogs? Horses? That Jurassic World goes from zero to genetically altered super dinosaur is altogether idiotic and absolutely takes from the verisimilitude in the story. With this storyline, Colin Trevorrow puts the narrative secondary to the wow factor.

Another creative flaw deals with dinosaur screen time. Out of the 127-minute long Jurassic Park, dinosaurs appear on screen for only fifteen minutes. This caused a lot of uproar from moviegoers hoping to see more dinosaurs on screen. Because of this, writers included more dinosaurs in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and the trend continued with Jurassic Park III and Jurassic World. In all my years watching Jurassic Park, I have never felt cheated of dinosaur onscreen time, and that is because Spielberg was economical with his time. Sure, at the time, creating dinosaur animatronics (auto-erotica, as Gennaro humorously calls them) and CGI dinosaurs was a challenge, but when dinosaurs are on screen, it’s meaningful. Dinosaurs are exploring their world without a cage, and humans are interacting with herbivores in astonishing ways. Spielberg is also showing the world just how smart these animals potentially could have been. That is what makes Jurassic Park so terrifying – you don’t know what these beasts are capable of. In the following films, there is a lot more dinosaur screen time, but there is also a lot more destruction for destruction’s sake. It’s as if the dinosaurs in the sequels are less animals and more pure monster. It makes for some suspenseful watching, but it makes for lazy and trifling writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Jurassic World. I love dinosaurs and it was exciting seeing the fully functional and, up to that point, safe dinosaur theme park. I imagined myself spending hours in the dinosaur petting zoo or kayaking down the river alongside sauropods and stegosaurs. If I ignore the deficiencies in storytelling and take the movie for what it is — a summer thriller — I can enjoy Jurassic World. And to his credit, Trevorrow truly ups the ante with the Indominus Rex. He’s a ferocious and intelligent dinosaur with long, grasping arms, capable of camouflage. The film gets increasingly hopeless when the Indominus Rex turns the raptors to his side. It seems like there is no winning scenario – unless you gang up the fan-favorite Tyrannosaurus Rex and velociraptor together and lure the Indominus to the water’s edge to unleash Chekhov’s Mosasaurus. An easy out, yes, but I was absolutely engaged and stressed out. Jurassic World was meant to thrill, and it accomplished its objective, though it falls short of Spielberg’s objective to tell a good story. This narrative devolution from Jurassic Park to Jurassic World directly reflects on the cinematic devolution over the past two decades.

The Overnight


Firstly, what a great day in the US! Marriage Equality is country-wide! I want to remember this day forever. What will make this day extra memorable is that I saw Adam Scott tweet about a couple showings of The Overnight in Chicago where he would be in attendance for Q&A sessions after the movies. So not only did I get the right to marry in this country, I also got to meet Adam Scott! What a memorable day.

And what a fun movie. This is not the typical indie comedy. It is not shy about going to that uncomfortable zone. This film covers everything: full-frontal male nudity, breast pumps, massages with happy endings, skinny dipping, butt-hole paintings, among other things — so if any of that would make you uncomfortable, you’re probably not going to enjoy the film. Despite all the racy content, it’s ultimately a story exploring the stagnancy that comes with marriage and children. Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) moved to Los Angeles with their young son. She’s a career-oriented woman; Alex is a stay-at-home dad and finding life socially challenging. How do you meet new people at that age, when you don’t have work?

It’s a very interesting concept, because I imagine this is a widespread experience. You grow up, get married, have kids, and, as Adam Scott said after the film, you reach a point in life where you stop changing and growing, and it’s hard to deal with that. So this film explores that — albeit in very exaggerated ways. Alex and Emily learn how to figure out how to get past the inert quality of their relationship from spending one crazy night with Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and Charlotte (Juliet Godrèche). 

I will admit that I didn’t foresee the direction the narrative was going to take. It became one of the most palpable and thrilling shared movie theater experiences I’ve ever had. Throughout the entire film, the audience was laughing consistently, but when the climax of the film arrived, the audience became very quiet. It was an unexpected turn — something you thought could happen but not something you thought would actually happen. Then it’s actually happening before your very eyes, and I couldn’t even tell you how long it lasted. Time stood still, and the audience was silent. It was the kind of silence that you can feel all around you — like everyone was holding their breaths. I was holding mine. I was shocked, honestly, and wondering what was going to happen. I won’t tell you what happens, but it’s all in line with the somewhat twisted humor of the film. 

Definitely one of the most fun movie theater experiences, and it was such a treat to hear Adam Scott speak — and such a treat to meet him! What a night!

Jurassic Park


To commemorate the release of the reboot of the Jurassic Park franchise this week with Jurassic World, I thought it a perfect excuse (though, any excuse will do) to revisit Steven Spielberg’s prehistoric thriller, Jurassic Park (1993).

Jurassic Park is one of my very favorite films. It blends together excellent filmmaking from the thoughtful Spielberg, an excellent cast, a vibrant and exciting score from John Williams, and the most exhilarating subject matter to grace the silver screen — dinosaurs! In 2015, it’s hard to imagine a time when dinosaurs weren’t regularly represented in media, be it film, television, illustrations in books, etc, but Jurassic Park brought dinosaurs to life in a big way. That is one of the ways the film is so innovative: the filmmakers put in the care and effort to effectively represent dinosaurs on screen which inspired a slew of other filmmakers, documentarians, and artists to represent the long lost world of the dinosaurs. As a four-year-old, seeing Jurassic Park was probably terrifying, but it was also overwhelming to see living, breathing dinosaurs (or so it seemed) right before my eyes. While Jurassic Park is not often praised for its creative and artistic endeavors, outside of the creation of dinosaurs — an idea that irks me that we’ll get to in a second — the film has forever found a special home in the hearts of many around the world for inspiring this state of awe and wonder.

After watching this film over and over again for over ten years, I feel like I am very attune to its various nuances. The film is incredibly thoughtful, dedicating care to delivery of lines, character development, interacting different character personalities, the general verisimilitude of the film, even to the creation of the dinosaur sounds, which are all a frightening conglomeration of various unrelated animals’ calls and roars. While obviously a thriller, Jurassic Park is quite funny. Let’s take a scene from the beginning, where we first meet Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). They paleontological team is using radar to see the velociraptor skeleton in the ground, and for some reason there is a kid at the dig and he makes fun of the velociraptor, saying it looks like a six-foot turkey. Dr. Grant, established in this seven, has a devout respect for the velociraptor, and commences in thoroughly frightening the kid by simulating how a pack of velociraptor would attack him, complete with a velociraptor claw as a visual aide (“The point is…you’re still alive…when they start to eat you.”). That scene itself is funny, to see this grown man scare a kid. Then the scene cuts to another scene where Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler are talking about kids. You get the sense that they may be dating and Dr. Grant frankly expresses just how he dislikes kids. This all may seem unnecessary, or merely an exercise in character development, but all that is established early on so that later, at the Jurassic Park Visitors Center, when John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) introduces their special guests, his grandchildren, the pan to Dr. Grant’s perturbed face is absolutely giggle-worthy and thoroughly explained. Spielberg takes great care in creating and exploring his characters and their personalities.

Another example of Spielberg’s antics is his exploration of dissimilar personalities. Spielberg brings together Dr. Grant, Dr. Sattler, chaos mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Jurassic Park mastermind John Hammond, and the lawyer Mr. Gennaro (Martin Ferrero). There are mostly strong personalities with focused agendas, and things are pretty awkward when they’re put together. Spielberg embraces this awkwardness. Take the helicopter ride to the island. Dr. Malcolm is flirting with Dr. Sattler. Dr. Sattler is trying to distract herself with Dr. Grant. Dr. Grant is having none of the whole trip. Mr. Gennaro is babbling on about his thorough investigation of the park. And Mr. Hammond is being detachedly jovial. Anytime the whole “gang” is together, there’s a strange and unpredictable vibe permeating the entire group. But at one point, I think, Spielberg foreshadows the traits that the characters use later on in the film. Back to the helicopter scene, as they descend to the island, all passengers buckle their seat belts as the landing is pretty turbulent. Dr. Grant somehow has two buckles and can’t find the opposite component, so there’s a bit of chaos that starts. Dr. Malcolm chuckles and watches, which foreshadows his mostly secondary role in the film. Mr. Hammond starts trying to take control of the situation, but halfway through gives up, which illustrates his controlling nature as well as his flighty and flakey nature as well. Dr. Grant tries to ignore all the noise in the chopper and ties the buckles together, showing his tendency to think outside the box and showcases his adaptivity, both of which will serve him later in the film. There’s not much in a Spielberg film that can be taken for granted; he’s always working towards a bigger picture.

Another reason why this film is fantastic is that it’s a true science-fiction film. It tackles the notion of thoughtless scientific innovation, in this case the cloning of dinosaurs, with more preoccupation towards the ability to achieve something without thinking about the ethics surrounding it. While the film also takes on the role of a thriller, it also posits those big questions in the first half of the film — something which the other Jurassic Park” films do. Jurassic Park: The Lost World and Jurassic Park III are disproportionally more thriller and don’t delve into anything meaningful. Let’s see if Jurassic World can bring balance to the sci-fi/thriller genre once again.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), directed by Chris Columbus, was the start of an epic film series, riding on the skirts of the epic book series by J.K. Rowling. This debut film not only visually introduced the world to Harry Potter’s wizarding world, but it cast three young actors into the three starring roles in a hopeful and perhaps overly-trusting attempt to find the perfect faces for our beloved trio. This film brought together incredible talent with absolute newbies to the acting trade. As a musician, I have to wonder what it would be like to put on some high-profile symphonic concert or opera with some of the top musicians in the world with outright beginners. It couldn’t work! But The Sorcerer’s Stone works marvelously.

There is wide criticism out there concerning The Sorcerer’s Stone. Many criticize the “kiddy” nature of the film. Other criticize the raw performances of the young actors. And to those, I say: 1) Yes, the film is catered to a younger audience, as the first novel was catered to a younger audience, 11-year-old readers who related to the first-year students at Hogwarts. For a novel catered to that age group, it makes perfect sense for a story line to be a little tame, especially when it’s blanketed with imaginative and detailed descriptions and exposition that introduces Rowling’s comprehensive and complexly interwoven magical world. It makes sense that a story that starts with a younger audience will darken as those readers grow up. So yes, the nature of the film was a little juvenile, but The Sorcerer’s Stone may be the most authentically adapted film of the entire series. Just because the film came out when the much darker Goblet of Fire novel had just been released doesn’t mean that The Sorcerer’s Stone had to lose the magic that started the entire craze. 2) The young talent in The Sorcerer’s Stone are beginners, but I believe they embody the essence of their respective characters so well. Daniel Radcliffe plays the titular character, and while he does struggle with that lazy eye, he exudes a beautiful sweetness that I find so endearing. He balances the many sides of his character — the abused orphan boy who longs for friendship and somehow still has outstanding manners — quite adeptly, in my opinion. Rupert Grint plays our lovable Ron Weasley. The kid could deliver a punch line. Some of his reactions and jokes from The Sorcerer’s Stone have become iconic for the entire series, perhaps most of all his “Wicked!” after seeing Harry’s scar. But I think the best performance is from Emma Watson as Hermione Granger. After my most recent re-watch of The Sorcerer’s Stone, I was absolutely engaged with her performance. She *is* Hermione, from her bushy hair (which I lament doesn’t last the entire series) to her know-it-all demeanor and her exuberant enthusiasm in the classroom, she found Hermione’s core and let us all see it. From her first scene, when she enters Harry’s and Ron’s train car, repairs Harry’s glasses and then chastises Ron’s dirty nose, to her iconic “Wingardium Levi-O-sa” scene, she oozed essence of Hermione. There may have been acting deficiencies which affected everything from the cinematography and pacing, but the young actors radiated the essence of their characters — and honestly, I think that’s the most important part.

Now that that is out of the way…

The Sorcerer’s Stone is one of my favorite Harry Potter films, and it is the film I’ve seen the most. Maybe that’s why I am not so sensitive to the deficiencies of the film, because it both takes me back to that time of innocence and wonder when reading and watching Harry Potter books and films for the first time and it reminds me of the journey that both the characters in the book made and I made as we all grew up together. Re-watching The Sorcerer’s Stone is like looking back to where my adolescence started and I can look to see how far I’ve grown. At the risk of a little aside, that’s the beauty of the Harry Potter series and why it’s had such a huge impact on our generation — it’s a reflection of our assent into adulthood. OK, OK, enough of that! All that to say that I very much enjoy watching The Sorcerer’s Stone and I may be turning a blind eye to the bad because of how much I love the good.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone does a superb job visually introducing the world to the Harry Potter world. It brings together incredible talent, like Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore — oh, how I still wish he had been able to complete the entire series, Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall, Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, Julie Walters as Molly Weasley and way too many more names to list here. One great outcome of all this talent was that the young actors had such incredible mentors to guide them through the series and into their own careers. Much like I ranted about the book series acting as a reflection of our generation growing up, the films give the world the ability to watch the young actors grow up right before our very eyes, almost like an eight-movie-long Boyhood. All of that combined with the attention to detail concerning costumes, sets, props, and John Williams’ incredible and magical Oscar-nominated score have created a craze the world is still saturated in. There will be three Harry Potter spin-off movies in the near future and the Harry Potter Wizarding World is thriving. The theme park would not have worked were it not for the creative work that started in The Sorcerer’s Stone. This film, like the novel, was the start of many things to come.

Boyhood


What a year! Both Boyhood (2014) and Birdman come out, both with two “gimmicks” that test the conventions and abilities of filmmaking. I find both “gimmicks” as incredible ideas that bring artistry back to filmmaking. In Boyhood, director Richard Linklater follows the life of a boy over 12 years. In the span of two hours and forty-five minutes, you literally see a boy grow up. It’s absolutely incredible.

Boyhood follows the life of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), a six-year old boy. He has an older sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater) who is two years older than him. They live with their mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) who starts the film as a struggling single mother. Each year, they filmed a little bit, creating a story that spans 12 years. What this film does that other movies with similar themes never achieve is clearly and artfully articulating the process of growing up. What I mean by that is that you not only see the children physically grow older but you actually see them become the people they will be as adults. Samantha starts out as a spunky and chatty girl. Over the years, she becomes introverted and reserved, always hiding behind a pair of headphones or a cell phone keyboard. She doesn’t make much trouble, she goes to college, and she’ll be alright. She makes a pretty big change though, from outgoing to withdrawn, which is fascinating to watch.

Mason Jr. makes another big change. He starts off also chatty, a little strange, but sweet. Over the years, dealing with a couple of horrible alcoholic step-fathers, plenty of moving, seeing his mom finish school and stabilize the household, and interacting with his father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), his journey through boyhood is a little more colorful than his sister’s. He deals with varying degrees of work ethic. He experiments with drugs and alcohol. He finds a passion for photography which keeps him motivated through high school. He becomes a soft-spoken young man with a hint of an anarchy streak in him. He doesn’t open up to people very often, but when he does, he’s loyal. He basically becomes a hipster artist who somehow sidestepped a move to Austin, Texas. This film really accentuates what parents see over the years, succinctly in a film: children meander around, looking for their personalities and characters until they finally discover themselves and root themselves into the adults they will be. I don’t have children and I don’t have any younger siblings, so I haven’t really been aware of this phenomenon. The film brings it to life artistically with poignant clarity.

Arquette delivers the performance of a lifetime. She starts off as a struggling single mother, who works so hard juggling parenting and school in order to give her children a better life. She stumbles into two bad marriages, one of which was very toxic. She finally landed a great job and was able to finally start giving her children a comfort and stability in life they hadn’t ever experienced. Her character is incredibly dynamic and her performance is just as dynamic and beautifully nuanced. At the turn of a hat she can switch from a loving mother to the strict parent and to a vulnerable person. What I find wonderful about her character is that, despite the ill-suited men she kept marrying and their thoughts about her children, she always trusted her children. Even as Mason started experimenting and saying out later, she knew him and trusted him, and I believe that Mason valued that trust and never abused it. Patricia Arquette will surely be winning an Oscar tonight.

Not only is Boyhood a meaningful journey through life, it’s also funny. The film sports a lot of pop culture references that keep each year distinguishable from the one before and after. Early in the film, Samantha smacks Mason with a pillow and starts dancing and singing to Britney Spears’ “Oops…I Did it Again”. Such a funny moment. Later on in the film, Mason and his dad are shooting the breeze and start wondering if there ever will be any more Star Wars movies, which, in itself isn’t funny, but it’s hilarious when the movie comes out the year before a new Star Wars movie is released. Humor is an important part of the recipe for Boyhood. It’s not enough to have a solemn look at the upbringing of children. If there’s no humor and laughter in life, what’s the point? I think the humor beautifully balances out the drama in Boyhood.

I had the opportunity to see Boyhood right when it came out and I missed it. Ever since, I have been eagerly waiting to see it, as it gained more and more acclaim and accolade. Finally, I’ve seen it, and while I wasn’t able to identify with it very much, I was astounded with the story and means of telling that story. The attention and care that Linklater took to actually make this film happen, year after year over twelve years, is absolutely remarkable. For that, I expect him to win an Oscar for Best Director tonight. He had the forbearance to recognize that he had a great cast, particularly in his boy star, who he had to believe would grow into his talents. Boyhood has a remarkable cast who performs beautifully, especially for revisiting their characters once a year. For me, the most important impact from Boyhood is the marvel parents must feel to see their children become the men and women they find for themselves.

Song of the Sea


Wow, what a treat! I have been waiting so long to see Song of the Sea (2014), especially since it was supposed to show at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre about a month ago — but this film is certainly worth the wait.

Song of the Sea is an Irish animated film, nominated for an Academy Award, centered around the Celtic legend of the selkie — a mystical creature who is said to have the form of a seal in the water and the form of a human on land. I cannot praise Song of the Sea for its artistry enough. The animation is absolutely gorgeous. The visual aesthetic not only is technically pristine, but it also creates a unique character for the film. The use of color is astounding. Bright colors shine when you least expect them, which is part of the characteristic ambience of the film. Everything, from the waves in the ocean to the whiskers on the seals, is methodically crafted to create a homogenous, magnificent world. Its style creates an impression that will not be forgotten — and an impression that everyone will try to replicate.

Animated films are the perfect vessels for visually-led storytelling. Some of the best moments in animated films have no dialogue and are driven purely by the visuals and the music. Examples include the gorgeous montage in Up! and the beginning of Wall-ESong of the Sea has one of those moments, when six-year old Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) wakes in the middle of the night and finds these warm points of bright light floating about in her room. She follows them to a locked chest and finds a white coat inside. She creeps out of the house, clad in the coat, dancing about the points of light. She has never uttered a word her entire life, so a sequence devoted to developing her character certainly should avoid the spoken word. Instead, the enchanting music of Bruno Coulais and Kíla highlight Saoirse’s delightful mannerisms and personality. The sequence reveals the innocence and liveliness that lives inside her, even if she cannot verbally express it to her family. The scene continues as she transforms into a glowing white seal. She swims with a pod of seals and explores the sea. These shots in the ocean are mesmerizing, as every aspect underwater is uniquely marked, making it undeniably part of this beautiful world. At one point, the pod of seals swims by a spectacular humpback whale. This entire scene is done without dialogue, and it may be the most entrancing sequence in the film.

What struck me about Song of the Sea, in terms of its animation and its menagerie of characters, is how it likened to a European Miyazaki film. The animation is lush and breathtaking, creating elaborate and inspiring landscapes. The characters are all endearing, yet many have strange eccentricities. There is the old man with the disturbingly long hair, yet endearingly funny; there is the elderly fairy trio who just wants to jam and sing; there are the seals, who have big lovable eyes, that stare a lot. There is a spirit that while many of these characters may look strange or may not be entirely pretty on the outside, they have an innate goodness on the inside, which sits at the heart of many of Miyazaki’s films. The greatest similarity, to me, is the animation of the old women. In Song of the Sea, Macha and the grandmother (both voiced by Fionnula Flanagan) are illustrated brazenly as old women, layered in wrinkles. It’s Macha, especially, with her eyes that immediately made me think of the old hag in Spirited Away. While these depictions of old women may not be the most appealing, I think they’re less cruel and more honest. The lot of the auxiliary characters have flaws, both cosmetic and inveterate, but it is what is inside or how characters change that makes the difference.

While I know it won’t win the Academy Award, it should. This film was engaging, moving, and heartwarming. Saoirse and her brother Ben (David Rawle) interacted delightfully, evoking the chemistry of a real brother and sister. The story is timeless and will age well over the years. This is an animated film that generations can bestow on their little ones, one after the other. The music will enchant you, and the animation will inspire you.