Tuesday, January 27, 2015

JIMBO GOES TO THE MOVIES: "Boyhood" (2014) Review

Some are calling it a modern masterpiece, but is the much celebrated indie darling anywhere near as good as the critics would have you believe?

The Reverend Al Sharpton -- who, depending on your political leanings, is either an unjustly maligned civil rights icon or a race-baiting sack of dog shit -- recently made headlines when he called for a boycott of the Academy Awards because the momentum on the post-Eric Garner cops-killing-black-kids brouhaha is dying down “Selma” didn’t get enough nominations.

At the heart of Sharpton’s argument is the overbearing, unrelenting whiteness of this year’s Best Picture nominees. Yeah, “Selma” did indeed pick up a nod (and will probably win, because Hollywood kowtows to even the slightest suggestion that its executives might be a bit on the racist side), but the remaining nominees are so flabbergasting devoid of melanin their reels would probably catch fire if exposed to sunlight.

A movie about a white sniper, directed by an old white dude who talks to invisible Obamas on live television. A movie about white jazz drummers, starring J. Jonah Jameson. A Stephen Hawking biopic, a deconstructionist comic book movie starring Michael “Vanilla Mayonnaise” Keaton, and a goddamn Wes Anderson movie … on any given year, any of the above would be the frontrunner for most Caucasoid cinematic offering of the year, but hoo boy, did we get ourselves a movie in 2014 that brings unparalleled levels of whiteness to American multiplexes.

“Boyhood” isn’t just the whitest Best Picture nominee of 2015, it’s arguably the whitest movie in film history -- it makes “Triumph of the Will” feel like a multicultural jubilee, and “Birth of a Nation” feel like a Melvin Van Peebles production. It’s a film so utterly enrapt in its own whiteness that if you poke the DVD hard enough, Radiohead starts playing.

Of course, none of this is to say that “Boyhood” ports about anything even remotely resembling prejudicial sentiments against non-whites. Rather, this is a film that doesn’t even acknowledge brown people exist, serving as something of a the film equivalent of Brendan Fraser’s character in “Blast From the Past” -- an absolute vacuum of whiteness, the living, breathing definition of Caucasoid insulation.

There’s no denying that “Boyhood” is an ambitious movie. Director Richard Linklater -- he of “Slacker” and “Dazed and Confused” fame, not to mention the mastermind behind that supremely overrated “Sunset” trilogy -- spent the better part of 12 years filming it, with the cast aging a decade throughout the production. It’s a novel cinematic hook, to be sure, but unfortunately, it appears Mr. Linklater forgot that part about, you know, crafting an actual movie around the gimmick.

The first warning sign are the opening credits, which are synched up to “Yellow” by Coldplay … arguably the most saccharine, wishy-washy, artificially nostalgic song ever recorded. From there, we jump to what is probably 2002, and meet our main character Mason when he’s about six years old. He spends most of his time watching the Majn Buu episode of “Dragon Ball Z” and vandalizing tunnels with spray paint while the Hives play in the background.

His mama, played by Patricia Arquette, gets sick of her boyfriend, so she decides to take him and his slightly older sister Samantha (played by Richard Linklater’s own daughter) to Houston so they can live with their grandmother while she takes psychology classes. Cue lots of Sheryl Crow songs while Mason plays “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” on his Game Boy Advance.

Olivia and Mason’s dad, played by Ethan Hawke, takes them bowling at one of those pastel-hued pseudo-futuristic alleys, and he gives them sage life advice about how real life doesn’t have “bumpers” preventing gutter balls. He smokes indoors, talks about the Iraq War, and his why his children should vote for John Kerry. He and Patricia have an argument, as Mason watches helplessly from his bedroom window.

From there, Patricia starts boinking one of her professors, this dude who seems really amicable upfront, which obviously means he’s a sonofabitch of almost Dwight Yokam caliber. So, Patricia and the prof get married, and Mason and Samantha move in with him and his two kids, and they play “Halo 2” a lot, and their new daddy tries to show them how to play golf and then we learn he likes to chug Sprite and vodka, and before long, he’s slapping their mama around and throwing glasses at them and drunk driving them to liquor stores to cash checks for him. Needless to say, that don’t last too long until Patricia grabs the kids, files for divorce and moves in with one of her friends, where Mason plays a lot of Wii Sports boxing.

Ethan Hawke shows up to take the kids out to a Houston Astros game so they can see Roger Clemens play, and they all dress up like Muggles for the midnight release of one of the “Harry Potter” books.

So, Mason and his biological daddy go camping and they talk about the potentiality for more “Star Wars” movies and pee out fires, and then the kids go door to door putting up “Obama/Biden ‘08” signs in the neighborhood and Ethan tells them to go yank down some McCain posters.

So, Patricia gets a job teaching pop psychiatry in Austin, and Mason starts drinking beer and punching wooden blocks and throwing saw blades at stuff. Patricia, whose boobs pretty much quadruple in girth over the course of the film, winds up marrying one of her students, an Iraq War vet, and she tells this one day laborer he’s pretty good at English and should probably go to college or something. Mason, meanwhile, starts smoking weed and making out with generic blonde girls, but his mom, surprisingly, really don’t seem to care all that much.

Ethan gives the kids a stern talking to about condoms, which is pretty appropriate, because he’s gotten remarried and has a new baby of his own. Mason gets mad at him because he sold the GTO he thought he was going to inherit, but their daddy’s new wife’s parents gives him a bible and a rifle, so that … kinda’ makes up for it, maybe? Oh, and there’s a part where they talk about the Beatles solo work for, like, ten straight minutes.

Mason’s photography teacher tells him he’s talented but lazy, so he makes him go film a football game and he just spends the entire third quarter taking pictures of a practice net. He visits his sister, now at the University of Texas, and plays pool while Gotye plays in the background. They make fun of people who talk to themselves at Denny’s and freak out Sam’s roommates, who walks in on them all naked and stuff.

So, Mason wins some pointless photography awards and his mama leaves her third husband because he has PTSD and stuff and he has an argument with her about moving away to college, and there’s a big party and his daddy has a really gross looking mustache now and then, he meets his dorm buddy, and a girl gives him psychotropic mushrooms literally one minute after arriving on campus and then they go to a canyon and yell at the sky and talk about living in the moment. And then … the credits roll.

My Score:

Two Tofu Dogs out of Four

Now folks, I am not an opponent of artsy-fartsy cinema. One of my all-time favorite directors is Bela Tarr, a dude whose filmography includes a menagerie of eight-hour long minimalist black and white movies about evil whales and people boiling potatoes. I can most certainly do avant-garde, but this “Boyhood” simply isn’t great art, by any stretch of the imagination.

If you strip away the “it took 12 years to make” hook, there’s hardly anything noteworthy about the picture at all. Thematically, it’s no different than something like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” and god knows that kind of shit ain’t worthy of an Oscar.

The acting is good, and there are portions of the film that are entertaining, but it’s oh-so overlong and, ultimately, pointless. The main character has the personality of a wet marshmallow, and the rest of the cast is so whiny and one-dimensional that you kind of want this thing to turn into “Elephant” halfway through it -- without question, this has to be the most critically acclaimed Lifetime original ever made.

This movie, no doubt, will appeal to a lot of folks -- most likely, the staggering number of high-brass child predators in the film industry and all the neo-urbanite post-hipster scum who think liking what pseudo-intellectuals like gives them some sort of relational perceptiveness or credibility.

At the end of the day, though, the big problem with “Boyhood” is that, for an event film, it’s oh-so uneventful. This isn’t just a boring movie, it’s something far worse: a white-hot boring movie, a film so steeped in upper-class Caucasian ennui that it makes “American Beauty” look like “Do the Right Thing.”

It’s clear that Linklater takes a lot of pride in his movie, and I don’t want to be that asshole that rips apart a dude’s literal life’s work, but at the end of the day, this is a GLORIOUSLY overrated motion picture. Oddly enough, the character development just isn’t there, the story itself is frustratingly devoid of anything engrossing, and there are segments that just dawdle on forever, giving you the glimmer of something significant, but ultimately, hardly anything we see in the movie leads to any kind of meaningful denouement. Like every other fucking movie made over the last forty years, it’s just another celebration of youthful suburban alienation, suggesting that the cure-all for affluenza is lowering one self into a state of inauthentic paucity. At the end of the day, “Boyhood” has nothing more profound to say than “do drugs and don’t give a shit about anything” -- an astoundingly immature narrative for a film being hailed as a master work of the matured cinematic form.


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