Just a note, as of November 24th, I’ve officially been on Film Threat for a year. Break out the alcohol free Wine, folks.
And it’s been a fulfilling time stuffed with new compadrÃ¨s earned (you know who you are), new challenges accomplished, and a s**t load of movies I’ve yet to finish. And I love it. Corny, right?
On that time I’ve thought, if I could have one wish throughout my tenure here, whether through accident, or circumstance, if I could have one wish, it’d be to interview Richard Linklater. It’s a bit selfish to test my luck in that regard, only because you’re only granted so many wishes in life before the well runs dry, but I mean it, if I could, I’d pick that man’s brain for at least an hour.
There are only a few directors in Hollywood right now who can release a film and keep me waiting on the edge of my seat for it to be released, and there are few directors who can demand enough interest to seek their films out relentlessly.
It’s not just because of the company he keeps (Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt, Ethan Hawke), it’s because the man’s writing is utterly fantastic. I’ve yet to see a film from him that didn’t garner some sense of sheer entertainment and insight. Linklater’s films require attention and demand from his audience, they’re wonderfully written save for a few hitches along the road.
A few nights ago I was finally able to view “A Scanner Darkly,” and I admit I was brutally disappointed. It was faulted in being utterly dull and Keanu Reeves in his usual stone gaze level gave a sleepy performance, but it wasn’t awful. There’s that last scroller before the credits that really hit home.
But for every “The Bad News Bears,” there are three more “Waking Life,” and “Before Sunrise” from Linklater on the way.
Talking to that brilliant bastard would truly make this man’s life worthwhile.
While mental defects with cameras like Eli Roth, and Michael Bay get all the attention, Linklater is still out there providing worthwhile dramas and comedies. So, anyway, here’s a rundown of the films I’ve seen from Mr. Linklater, and some sneaky review insertions just because I’m a snake, and I love lists, and I like to grade s**t.
Dazed and Confused (****)
It was said that Linklater spent most of the money for this on the soundtrack, and that was a worthy investment considering the soundtrack is one of the best ever made. Not since “Saturday Night Fever” has one genre of music clashed so naturally. Classic rock galore. “Dazed and Confused” is a pure masterpiece and an unofficial take off from “American Graffiti” chronicling the last night of a group of high schoolers before summer. All the typical Linklater regulars can be found here Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, and Jason London.
“Dazed and Confused” has some of the most memorable scenes in modern film from the paddling sequence set to “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” to the party at the moon tower, and what would a film from the man be without your usual great dialogue? The soundtrack is the key here though, and every bit of it works in the film’s favor. I dig almost everything from the sixties and seventies, and this is a must see.
Before Sunrise, Before Sunset (****)
I think many would agree these films are just two of the best romances ever written. I was originally very skittish for the sequel, but Linklater just didn’t disappoint. You can watch them in sequence, and or you can watch them separately and none of the effect is lost. Where “Before Sunrise” was the coincidental meeting of two people traveling abroad and getting lost, the sequel brings us forward to re-unite where they lost contact and eventually met up yet again by coincidence.
The optimist is the cynic, and the cynic now the optimist thanks to life. Linklater never forces melodrama or cheesy exchanges between the two, he just sets them down on the Parisian landscaper where Jesse and Celine discuss where their lives have led them, and discover they’re meant to be together. Now they just have to see if life allows them that desire. Where as “Sunrise” left us wondering about their meeting, “Sunset” answers the questions, while leaving us in suspense yet again; Linklater craftily ends the film on a rather crucial scene. What about the book tour? Will Jesse sacrifice his true love for his son? Did Jesse ever make it to the train? One wonders. Two of the most underrated romances ever made.
A few people who saw this said Linklater perfectly reflected the pointless efforts of small towners looking to break free from their surroundings, and fight the inevitable. But I just couldn’t find anything interesting in this. From the bland melodrama, the cheesy murder mystery halfway in, or the sense of futility, I just couldn’t enjoy this as much as Linklater’s other films. Granted, there are very good performances, but this is one of his weaker entries.
The Newton Boys (**)
Much more mainstream this time around, his bank robbery heist film based on a true story is yet another weak drama with the back drop of action behind the story of the three brothers. With McConaughey half assing it, Hawke playing second banana, and Skeet Ulrich in a barely memorable performance, “The Newton Boys” escapes from most of my collective memory. It’s surely not a film that sticks with you.
Waking Life (****)
This is a film I’ve seen perhaps ten times, and I always manage to pick up something new from it. I was originally attracted to it by Linklater’s name, and was rather stunned to discover it was animated. Then I was equally taken aback to learn it has zero plot. It’s basically a philosophical existentialist fantasy about a young boy drifting in and out of different dream sequences. No matter how hard he tries, he just can’t wake up, and he eventually bumps into one or more folks and engages in utterly engrossing and rather elaborate conversations about life, and the state of being. Look out for the cameos by Nicky Katt, Adam Goldberg, and Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy who reprise their roles as Jesse and Celine. This is brain candy, pure and simple.
This is yet another simplistic drama set to Linklater’s usual verbose style. Like a stage play, the entire film takes place in a seedy motel room, where Ethan Hawke, and Robert Sean Leonard discuss their past, their current gripes with life, and the foggy details of the rape of a girl from their school. Uma Thurman appears in the utterly hectic climax where she enlists her own form of assurance on the two who can’t decide if they raped her or not. Gritty direction, improv, and brilliant dialogue, all Linklater in a nutshell.
School of Rock (****)
Linklater’s mainstream outing is a kick a*s piece of family comedy with the typical story of a teacher changing the lives of a group of kids, but as usual, Linklater just doesn’t serve up rehashed crap, even in the confines of a kids film. There are no cutesy characters, no cheesy dialogue, no sentimental sub-plots, and the kids are just kids. And then there are the gold nuggets. Classic rock score: check, homage after homage to classic rock giants: check, and of course there’s the mostly improvised performance by Jack Black as a wannabe rocker who trains a bunch of kids to form a band to compete in a Battle of the Bands contest which all builds up to the fantastic climax where they rock to the awfully catchy “Teacher’s Pet.” Black is in rare form here, and this is a movie with replay value up the a*s.
A Scanner Darkly (** 1/2)
My viewings of “The Bad News Bears,” and “Fast Food Nation” pending, “A Scanner Darkly” was just an utter disappointment for me. After all the anticipation, the waiting, and the suspense, this resulted in a mostly dull science fiction yarn set to a modern drug ridden society. While the animation is eye catching, and performances by Downey and Cochrane are memorable, the film is steeped in mostly drab characterization, and a crime sub-plot that went nowhere. However, there is the final scroller. As someone who grew up around the drug environment with many family and friends taken by the addiction, it’s a gut wrenching end to an otherwise sub-par effort. No one is more disappointed than I am.
But through the good and bad, Linklater is just an artist. Every film he gives American movie-goers ensures a memorable piece of work, and I’m just a fan. He gets put on the grill often by folks who claim he’s too verbose and heavy handed, but I was attracted to his films because of it. He doesn’t ramble. Every piece of dialogue matter, every piece of dialogue serves some sense of importance, and I’ll be awaiting my chance to check out his last two offerings. My hat’s off to you, dude.
As for the interview with Linklater… well, one can have his pipe dreams, can’t he?