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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with BOYHOOD, WISH I WAS HERE and DORMANT BEAUTY!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

Many critics who have talked at length about writer-director Richard Linklater's almost inconceivable master work BOYHOOD have allowed the film to sink into their own lives and pull out memories that have shaped and rattled them from a young age to quite recently. And I'd almost hate to think that a person could go into BOYHOOD and feel it lacks something because they don't come out with their entire world changed and these memories dredged up. The film isn't meant to be the cause of an emotional maelstrom — quite the opposite. Linklater has beautifully and elegantly crafted a work that speaks to each of us uniquely and with a slightly different voice. I'm guessing an 18-year-old watching this film will respond quite differently someone in their 40s (as is the case with most films), but I'm also guessing that that some 18-year-old would see the film in an entirely different way 10 years from now.

Boyhood is meant to capture universal truths through the eyes of young Mason (newcomer Ellar Coltrane) over the course of 12 years. Against all types of logic and odds, Linklater was able to gather us the same core cast members—Coltraine, his daughter Lorelei Linklater as Mason's slightly older sister, and Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as the boy's divorced parents—each year for a couple of days or weeks at a time to shoot a new small sequence that chronicles some small but significant moment in Mason's life. Although the framework isn't specifically said to be a flashback, it's clear that everything we see is meant to be viewed as a remembrance from Mason's perspective. They aren't meant to be seen as individual moments, but rather as the ingredients that when mixed together become the young man the film presents us with at the end.

If you only see BOYHOOD once, I think you'll be denying yourself a wonderful opportunity to have the film open up in ways that a single viewing simply doesn't allow. The first time through, you'll focus on Mason, as you should. But additional viewings give you a chance to appreciate the work of the other actors all the more, especially Arquette's work as Mason's tireless single mom who raises her children the best she can, which isn't always that great considering the "parade of drunken assholes" (as Mason puts it late in the film) she ends up dating or marrying after Hawke. Arquette is a stand-in for all moms who put in thankless years of playing the bad guy and protector in the hopes that her kids don't make any truly terrible mistakes—that's about the best she can hope for.

Not that Hawke doesn't have his qualities here. He gets to pop in and out of his kids' lives and play the cool dad who they find it easier to talk to, even if they can't rely on him for any kind of true stability. In many ways, Mason Sr. grows up just as much as his children as the film goes on, and the place he is by the end of the 12 years is both unexpected and remarkable. Linklater makes the cumulative experience seem to natural and effortless, it almost feels like a documentary at times, with Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater turning in such natural performances that it's impossible to spot them acting. An early sequence in which Hawke talks to the pair at a bowling alley about safe sex is clearly as impossibly embarrassing for Lorelei to listen to as it is for us to watch. Her reactions are 100 percent genuine, and I loved watching these kids act without an actor tricks to lean on.

For a film that runs more than two-and-a-half hours, BOYHOOD moves remarkably fast. We're too preoccupied looking and listening at the details in in scene to notice the time passing around us. The music, the video games, a significant presidential election, and other cultural sign posts give us a clear indication where we are in history without distracting us from the story at hand. The film refuses to be nostalgic in traditional ways, instead making each scene feel like the present and all around us. Boyhood can be appreciated as a pure cinematic event or as a trigger into your own memories.

I couldn't help but wonder what moments might appear in a version of BOYHOOD surrounding the same 12-year period in my life. I can't imagine three years of writing film reviews for my high school newspaper would be that exciting, but who knows? I guess my point is, don't be disappointed if watching the film doesn't result in a wave of devastating callbacks flooding back into your brain. It won't do that for everyone; it isn't supposed to. Use it as you see fit, and enjoy the experience on your own terms and not the way others might. You'll get the most out of it, believe me.

I truly adored GARDEN STATE, and I see the spiritual fingerprints of that film all over writer-director-actor Zach Braff's latest work WISH I WAS HERE. But like most things covered in fingerprints, this new film is smudged with the evidence of past great work without actually being great work itself. Garden State's musings on life and love seem to rise up from it's simple story almost by accident; there were quotable lines and great music choices. WISH I WAS HERE has those elements as well, but it feels forced and overly precious. There are literally moments where two characters will be having a conversation and then one of them lets loose with a "meaningful" line, and there's a noticeable pause in the action, as if Braff wants that heavy thought to sink in a little longer.

WISH I WAS HERE works best when it allows humor to rule the day. This is not a jokey piece, but Braff's inherent charm (as well as the comic strengths of a cast that includes Kate Hudson as his wife Sarah and Josh Gad as brother Noah) seems most in display when he's commenting on the darker sides of life through the lens of comedy. Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a perpetually out-of-work actor, who is starting to feel guilty about not properly providing for his family. The guilt isn't just coming from him, however. His ailing father (Mandy Patinkin) and even his rabbi pile on as well, insisting that he consider another career. Some of the film funniest moments are Aidan's auditions, where he runs into characters played by the likes of Jim Parsons.

When Aidan's father announces that he is severely ill, the focus of the film shifts. Suddenly the divide the brothers have with their father seems wider, and Aidan tries to remedy that, while also playing newly appointed home school teacher to his kids (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon). King as Grace is particularly good here as a growing child who is struggling with how deeply and devoutly she wants to follow the Jewish religion. Aidan isn't especially observant, so he's not quite sure how to advise her, but the film's attempts at addressing this issue fall apart slowly and sloppily as the story progresses.

In fact, the same could be said for pretty much all of the story threads in WISH I WAS HERE. The issues between Noah and his father are never really addressed; they just resolve without much resolution. And a silly subplot involving Noah and a fellow cosplay cutie (Ashley Greene) is just dumb.

There are also bizarre fantasy sequences in which Aidan envisions himself as a sci-fi hero that are so unnecessary as to be infuriating at times. To hear Aidan discuss how he and his brother used to pretend they were space rangers is one thing, but to actually see it is just embarrassing. There are a few stray moments in WISH I WAS HERE that worked for me. When the film concentrates on Aidan and his wife and kids, things feel plausible and sometimes even worthy of contemplation. But when the proceedings stray outside of the walls of their home, my mind began to wander as well. It just isn't worth it when you try and be quirky. It's like those people who constantly remind you that they have a crazy sense of humor because actually they don't. I want Braff to keep making films, because there is a talent for it there. I just wish he'd stop trying so hard to be deep and meaningful.

It the week's most truly curious offering, Italian director and co-writer Marco Bellocchio tells several interconnecting stories, several of which call into question the practice or mercy killing/euthanasia. In some cases the examples are based on actual cases (including the infamous case of Eluana Englaro, who spent 17 years in a vegetative state and whose case nearly caused the laws to be changed). In DORMANT BEAUTY, the young woman in question is treated like some sort of living statue by her suffering father and slightly manic mother (Isabelle Huppert), while her brother with violent tendencies would rather have her dead so his parents will even notice him.

Another storyline involves a politician (Toni Servillo) on his way to Rome to cast a vote in the matter, while his daughter is among the young protestors attempting to persuade the Italian parliament to vote one way or the other. And because of personal reasons, Servillo's character is possibly on the verge of voting against his party.

DORMANT BEAUTY loops around itself and its several stories, all of which are all touched by life and death themes, but often veer into tales of everything from young romance to acting to religion to politics. Some of these seem right at home as part of this discussion, and others seem weirdly out of place. That doesn't make them any less interesting, and the film does seem to attempt to sum up the current mindset of the Italian political landscape, but in the end, the film is a mixed bag of issues that don't always make sense juxtaposed the way they are. It's a visually gorgeous work and the performances are mostly quite strong, but director Bellocchio seems to be attempting to cram too much into one movie, and the result is a lovely mess.

-- Steve Prokopy
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