Back in the 1950s, big budget movies were touted with catch phrases like “cast of thousands . . . and three years in the making.” In some cases, that hype actually lived up to what we saw on the screen. Boyhood, however, can boast, without hesitation, that it was twelve years in the making . . . a long-duration cinematic project onto which the majority of the cast agreed to assemble at various times over twelve years to film the continuation of their character’s lives through those years. It is a bold concept, and one that I hope will spawn more like it.
Boyhood is a complete slice of life, twelve years thick, with a poignant sampling of life in urban and rural Texas. The two and three-quarter hour film is sustained by an uncanny sense of reality, as if the cast simply played out their lives as it was happening at that moment, no cameras present. At no time did any of them seem like they were anything other than their real selves working out the problems of their own lives. There is absolutely no evidence that a screenplay was even a factor, thanks to the vision and innovation of Richard Linklater, writer and director. Even more remarkable is Linklater's choice of Ellar Coltrane as Mason -- the boy.
Linklater's faith in Coltrane for such a long-term project, not knowing what kind of young man would emerge twelve years down the road, is truly amazing. He needn't have worried. Coltrane is now an engaging young man with a serene screen presence that is hard to define. It needs to be experienced.
Then there is Ethan Hawk -- not only a convincing actor, but a convincing human being as well. He plays the biological father of the two principal children. The progression of own his life has been a story in itself. Once a child actor himself, I first saw him in the preposterous but well-intentioned Explorers (1985). Later came Gattaca, Dead Poet's Society, and Training Day. He has experience working in long duration time-capsule film projects as well. Those who have seen Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight know of what I speak, three separate movies all updating the same two people's lives over the years (1995 to 2013). And I think this is what drew him to commit to the 12 year Boyhood project.
Patricia Arquette is the mother, who ages gracefully through several divorces from bad choices in men, always keeping her kids safe and loved. Her subsequent husbands are played to an unsympathetic fever pitch by Marco Perella and Brad Hawkins. And this is the crux of the story, and what makes it so true-to-life. Boyhood is an adequate name for this motion picture, but Parenthood might have been better, except that title was already taken for Ron Howard's best movie (1989). If anyone tells you that there's nothing but junk in theaters this summer, I am here to tell you that there is some great cinema as well. Boyhood is one fine motion picture.
Interstellar is a big budget motion picture depicting the relationship between relativity and relatives, a curious mix of some cutting edge space/time theory, and a story about a corn farmer whose field of dreams house conjures up obscure clues, like “if you build it, Matthew McConaughey will come.”
A wormhole has “been placed’ near Saturn, as a gateway for humans to travel to another galaxy to check out planets that show conditions favorable for potential human colonization, given that on Earth, global climate change has taken a deadly turn, and life, as we know it, is in great peril.
So, McConaughey, with complete faith in Michael Caine’s incomplete black board calculations, sheds his farmer personna, dons a spacesuit and takes off in a rocket, complete with familiar overused footage of the first stage dropping away from an Apollo mission era booster, beginning a two year flight to Saturn. Both years are skipped over as incidental in a fast forward arrival at Saturn, an edit that leaves many unanswered questions . . . a gaping black hole in screenplay continuity for sure.
But that flaw is adequately compensated for by the stunning view of the Saturn flyby, which, when seen in theater, is breathtaking and far more to believable scale than the airbraking scene around Jupiter that you may recall seeing in Peter Weir's 1985 production of 2010. Enjoy Saturn while you can though, for we are soon off into the wormhole, which catapults us to another galaxy with an eyeful of all kinds of visual depth and motion tricks, ultimately arriving in the vicinity of three planets. I wish I could say “where no man has gone before,” but part of the vagueness of this plot is that men HAVE gone there before, leaving signal beacons which have been relaying misinformation about the habitability of these planets. To complicate things, the planets are perilously close to a massive black hole (naturally). Now, see if you can guess if McConaughey is drawn into that black hole. While you are pondering that infathomable question, let’s look back.
With Interstellar, Hollywood has not seen this much money poured into a black hole since 20th Century Fox sank $44 million into their 1963 production of Cleopatra, an enormous risk that nearly collapsed Fox into the fiscal equivalent of gravitational singularity; a crushing deficit that, two years later, emerged out of that black hole as The Sound of Music, a huge hit, and a box office supernova. Thus it is with Interstellar. It dazzles us with its power and beauty, takes us to another galaxy, glossing over all of its storyline flaws with the same uncertainty hidden from us in quantum theory. So while this review is as convoluted as the story line of Interstellar, it is not a bad movie. Quite the contrary . . . it’s terrific.
-- Thomas Ormsby
The Theory of Everything is the most apt title for this story, for it covers all the bases, from the beginning of time and the quest for an equation that will demonstrate that time does indeed have a beginning -- an equation yet unwritten. But with all the forces at work within Quantum Mechanics and Relativity--the most complex forces are within the nature of human relations.
This is the story of Stephen Hawking, the cosmologist who picked up where Einstein left off, giving us an even deeper look into how the great engine of the Universe works, at least those parts we can observe with our technology and our math. And simultaneous to this is the love story, between a woman who was attracted to a lanky young man, endowed with the same irresistible geek beauty that we saw in Iron Lady, when the politically ambitious Margaret Roberts set her sights on the bookish and bespectacled Dennis Thatcher.
So it was with young Hawking in his college days at Cambridge in 1963, when he met and fell for the equally smitten Jane Wilde, just prior to the onset of his motor neuron disease, which would rob him of vocal speech and mobility. Hawking produced much work on the nature of black holes and the collapse of matter, as he himself was experiencing the same phenomenon in his own body.
Whatever you know of Stephen Hawking, you may not know the entire story. Suffice to say it is played out by a remarkable cast of talented actors with startling effectiveness. Eddie Redmayne folds and curls himself into the wheelchair-bound Hawking with such aplomb that he could have easily delivered a lecture on black holes before an audience of any stature with complete credibility. Jane Hawking is lesser known; but Felicity Jones' interpretation of her conveys the strength of the love and devotion that was shared in their wedding vows. And David Thewlis as Hawking's academic supervisor at Cambridge has to be his best work to date. They're all remarkable.
It is a month too premature to speculate about Oscars and Best Pictures, but if you are interested in such things, you might want to see this motion picture -- not to get a leg up on possible awards -- but simply to enjoy the rewards of how wondrous it is to be a human being in this particular space/time continuum.
Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 production of The Ten Commandments was a very theatrical version of this same story of the exodus of the Hebrews out of Egypt, after 400 years of enslaved servitude. Charlton Heston's take on Moses was rendered in a decidely Michaelangelo-style of power and appearance. Fifty-eight years later, Christian Bale tries to convince Pharoah to let the people go with a more understated acting approach; but he comes with a far more impressive package of plagues to help in the persuasion process.
This Ridley Scott interpretation of the second book of Moses is a more spectacular look into the 12th century BC., at the peak of Egypt's domination of the world in that era . . . a world built with slave labor, despite The History Channel's assertion that this was all one big public works project, with happy volunteers all lined up to haul 100 ton stones up daunting inclines to whatever Pharaoh-commemorating monumental construction project they were directed. We are treated to sweeping scenes of the culture of that time, with its monuments, statuary and decor, and Ridley Scott's trademark flyover aerial views of ancient Memphis, taken, we assume, from Pharoah's blimp. Pharoah, it turns out, was not the benevolent construction contractor that we might be led to believe. He was a man after his own heart, devoted to the preservation of his own reputation and legacy, no matter how many whip lashes were required.
Enter Moses, a member of Pharoah's household, but by adoption--not birth--a fact revealed early in the plot. So jealousies and rivalries force Pharoah's hand and he orders Moses into exile, a sojourn that takes him to his future wife and the God who needs a general. Some liberties were taken in depicting certain aspects of this three-thousand year old story--the personification of God, for example--and many purists will balk at how this was done. I can hear them now. But I am not among them. The book of Isaiah states that "a little child shall lead them," and though I am aware that this refers to the kingdom of God yet to come (Isaiah 11:16), I found this form of personifying God to be an effective plot device in the same way that I found the stowaway aboard the Ark in last year's Noah to also be a very effective way to demonstrate that evil would still be present in the world when the flood waters subsided. But that movie went too far afield, at times coming off like some weird amalgem of Transformers Meets Lord of the Rings. But there are some outright inaccuracies that were in this screenplay that needn't have been. The Lord forbade Moses from entering the Promised Land because he had killed a man . . . not several men as Ridley Scott depicts. And the turning of the Nile into blood was initiated when Moses dipped his staff into the water, and not the way this movie shows. I did find it to be highly effective visually, and it does inspire wonder--but it is not accurate--if you hold to the version of Exodus that Moses actually wrote.
And I do. It has been difficult to derive the total truth of Biblical stories from Hollywood productions; but it has been far more difficult, over a far greater span of time, to derive the truth of what the Bible actually says as opposed to the teachings of many churches. How many of us have been taught that when we die, we go to heaven. And yet the Bible says nothing of the sort. It clearly states that "the dead are dead, and know nothing." Or, "No one has gone to heaven except He who came from heaven." So, I tend to give Biblically based movies some latitude, because I was influenced to be a faithful man early in life, not because of anything I heard in churches; but due to the powerful influence of several movies I saw as a teen. The power of images is unmistakable. This is why, in the Book of Exodus, there is a commandment against fashioning images of any living thing, and bowing ourselves down to them. Some churches even teach that the commandments of God are no longer valid--so with that kind of deception at work, I really cannot fault Hollywood for some minor variations from the truth I saw in this movie. And I will say this in defense of Exodus Gods and Kings. It upholds the presence of an Almighty God working behind and within all of the events of the Exodus from Egypt. And this motion picture does show, on an enormous scale, the power of God to bring down an empire with the forces of His Nature alone.
For these reasons, I do recommend it.
-- Thomas Ormsby
If you are considering seeing The Hundred Foot Journey, allow me to set the table and present you with the menu. The main course will be Helen Mirren, a class act, as Madame Mallory, the uncompromising owner of a Michelin one star restaurant perched on a hill above an isolated French village. She is served with a pinch of haughtiness and a dash of grace, all factors in collusion to obtain that elusive second Michelin star. Here, Mirren is as convincingly French as she was portraying a Russian spacecraft commander in 2010, with the added bonus of having her costume designer, Pierre-Yves Gayraud, dress her to understated perfection for this role.
To this, we carefully fold in a flavorful family of cooks from India who purchase an abandoned restaurant across the road--one hundred feet away. They bring with them a trove of sub-continental spices which have long been neglected in traditional French haute cuisine. Thus begins an international food fight, and a cross-cultural love affair. Om Puri plays Papa, fresh from India, now in France, but still the controlling patriarch, who becomes the perfect humorous counterpoint to Mirren's withering demeanor. To this, we add a few drops of bitters in the form of the ill-tempered Jean-Pierre, played by Clément Sibony, whose nocturnal flambé turns out to be the spark that ignites a change of heart in the normally tough-as-snails Madame Mallory.
For dessert, we place before you the creamy beauty of Charlotte Le Bon as Marguerite and the smooth mocha handsomeness of Manish Dayal as Hassan, two sumptuous young newcomers to the screen, the sight of whose eyes alone are totally worth the price of admission.
Anyone who enjoyed The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel should certainly appreciate the lightheartedness and character interaction of The Hundred Foot Journey, in which food is most certainly a member of the caste (sub continent humor). Truly, not since Babette's Feast, have I seen a motion picture so satisfying, both to the eye and the palette, where food is the catalyst that brings about complete reconcilation between neighbors, once so at odds with each other.
Of course, any memorable dining experience would offer suitable background music. Enter A.R. Rahman, best known to most for his wondrous fusion of East and West, such as we heard in the scores for Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours.
At the conclusion of any great meal comes the tip, so here it is. Please be informed that this movie is not only romantically fulfilling and scenically lavish -- it is also a total culinary delight.