FRESH POUR: Boyhood (2014) / The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

Clint takes a look at one or two new releases that come out each week –just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal. 

Dir. Richard Linklater
IFC Films

Richard Linklater is one of those filmmakers whose works I’ve enjoyed for a long time, but for whatever reason I never actively sought him out. I loved Dazed and Confused, I’ve seen both of his rotoscoped sci-philosophy works (Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly), and even his more accessible stuff like School of Rock. One of Linklater’s greatest strengths is being able to view a character or set of experiences from the outside, but still give it an astonishing amount of warmth and intimacy; Boyhood one of his most ambitious efforts toward that end, if not one of the most ambitious films ever made.

Told and filmed over the course of 12 years, Boyhood follows the childhood and adolescence of a young Texan named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a child of divorced parents Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, along with his sister Samantha (Linkater’s daughter Lorelei Linklater). We see his life in episodes, as Mason juggles three different fathers (and a host of other father figures) over the course of his childhood. Along the way, we see abuse, ambivalence, miscommunication, heartbreak, and a host of other subtle but real components of the experience of growing up, and Linklater’s nearly invisible direction sucks us right into the world of the characters.

Linklater filmed this work in fits and spurts from 2002 to the end of 2013, and it has an amazing effect on the passage of time through the film. In most films, the growth of children and the passing of time involves changing actors, researching clothes and culture of the past, and so on; here, it’s all organic – you see Mason turn from a chubby-cheeked little boy into a full-grown man (complete with acne scars and half-grown beard) over the course of two and a half hours, an engrossing process that lends the film an incredible sense of authenticity.

Culture changes, too; in any other movie, we might roll our eyes at Ethan Hawke’s ranting about the Iraq War, or white yuppies insufferably going on about how great Obama’s gonna be when ‘we’ get him elected, but these were the real conversations of the times. One particular scene, where little Mason excitedly stands in line for the sixth Harry Potter book, reminds us just how long ago that actually was. The soundtrack (filled with period-appropriate songs from Coldplay and Sheryl Crow all the way up to Lady Gaga and Arcade Fire) is another fascinating time capsule to experience.

Linklater, it must be assumed, is thanking his lucky stars at the discovery of Ellar Coltrane; he carries the film with aplomb. Right from his first scene, he has a wonderfully honest charisma, and it’s absolutely touching to see him grow from precocious child to disaffected slacker teenager – a process that feels wholly organic and real. The film was essentially a living document of this kid’s life for 12 years, and we get to see him grow up just as the other characters (and Linklater) did.

While Linklater’s writing, especially of Mason, occasionally veers toward incredibly obvious pot-philosophy, it really works when coming out of the mouth of a high school indie kid who thinks he’s got it all figured out. I mean, who wasn’t insufferable and philosophical at that age, anyway? We were all saying this stuff, either out loud or to ourselves, and we weren’t strictly wrong; we just didn’t know how annoying we sounded. Mason’s flexible sense of self-awareness, especially in these later stages of his adolescence, is pitch-perfect and heartwarming.

To focus on Coltrane, however, would be to do a disservice to the rest of the cast, particularly Hawke and Arquette – the closest things to marquee names in the film. The two don’t get many scenes together, but their separate influences are clear on Mason; Hawke (Mason Sr.) is the “fun dad” who still drives his old GTO around, talks frankly about politics, sex and video games with his kids, and wallpapers over his own lack of direction in life as best he can when they’re around. Arquette, meanwhile, struggles long and hard to find a balance between her own individual needs and those of her children, often leading her into abusive relationships with the authority figures she so desperately wants her kids to have.

Both characters are heartbreaking, especially since we see them age and grow as much as Mason – as Mason steps into his prime, Arquette and Hawke shrivel out of theirs. In one late scene, Arquette realizes she’s reached the last of the milestones in her life by sending Mason to college, and the only major thing that’s left for her is the grave. Fittingly, Mason doesn’t know how to react or relate to this – he still has his whole life ahead of him; his reply is, “Aren’t you skipping ahead about, like, forty years?” Boyhood revels in this exploration of the age and cultural gaps between parents and children.

Boyhood is a tremendous effort from Linklater, and surely one of the most ambitious and engrossing films I’ve seen in a good long time. You get to see the actors and the filmmakers grow as people and as artists, watching Linklater’s style evolve and adjust to fit Mason’s is a joy to experience. By the time you’ve finished watching Boyhood, you feel like you’ve not only grown up with Mason, but helped to raise him – his victories become yours, and vice versa. That’s a rare feeling to instill so completely in an audience.

Clint’s Verdict: Loved It!

Boyhood Movie Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever Mason’s hairstyle changes
2) Drink every time a father/parent figure gives Mason advice
3) Drink any time you hear a new song
Finish Your Drink When:
Olivia (Patricia Arquette) says, “I just thought there would be more.”

The Purge: Anarchythe-purge-anarchy-2014
Dir. James Demonaco
Universal Pictures

The Purge was one of 2013’s more lackluster horror-thrillers, a tepid house-invasion thriller based on an equally ill-conceived Orwellian premise: what if everything was legal (including murder) for one night, with no consequences? That first entry squandered what little potential the premise had under a haze of rough, clichéd filmmaking and a disappointing lack of ambition from director James DeMonaco. Imagine my surprise, then, when DeMonaco himself would turn around and deliver an extremely satisfying and much-improved sequel to the first in The Purge: Anarchy, making much better use of its concept and offering the balls-out Carpenter/Walter Hill homage I was waiting for.

The premise, in case you skipped the first (which you should not be faulted for), is simple-minded and didactic, but surprisingly sorta works this time: America has been taken over by the “New Founding Fathers,” a cabal of old white men who have decided that, for twelve hours one night each year, all law enforcement and emergency services are shut down and people have legal immunity against all crimes committed during that time. While the possibilities are endless (in my review I posited several ways I’d “Purge,” none of which had to do with putting myself in danger), in this world cities turn into a Tea Party version of The Warriors, where roving gangs of gimmicky mass-murderers wander the streets with high-tech equipment, looking to vent their rage against any unsuspecting people they can.

Whereas the first Purge focused on one yuppie family and their domestic squabbles in a gated community, The Purge: Anarchy creates a surprisingly smart and well-honed structure that allows for an anthology of smaller stories to be told within this larger world. For the first act, we are introduced to our main characters: a poor Latin-American mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul, the real hearts of this film), an insufferable yuppie couple on the brink of divorce (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) from which we get the lion’s share of our Crash-style white guilt narrative, and Frank Grillo as a grieving father/ex-soldier who feels the urge to Purge one particular soul on this night. While the first half hour shows them dealing with the leadup to the Purge in their separate stories, circumstances bring them together for survival as they’re caught outside during the festivities themselves. Luckily, Frank Grillo’s character is basically the Punisher, complete with combat training, armored car and black jacket, so they stand a better chance than normal.

As the fivesome makes their way from environment to environment, smaller stories about the Purge and how different people deal with it (or exercise their rights) get to be told along the way, bringing wonderful bits of color to this strange world we’re thrust into. A dying grandfather decides to sell himself off to get Purged by a group of rich people in exchange for leaving his family money. An obese woman with a machine gun and a bullhorn shouts her frustration with the iniquities of the world into the night. One awesome segment late in the film combines a sick, twisted version of a black-tie ball/auction with The Most Dangerous Game, in which rich dudes and their affluent kids “buy” people to hunt in an elaborate playing field. The group finds temporary safety at a friend’s house, only to get wrapped up in the middle of an armed squabble over infidelities.

The Purge is manifested and co-opted by many different people for many different things, and it’s these bits of color (combined with the wonderfully sustained tension throughout) that really makes the world of the film shine. DeMonaco’s sense of pacing is wonderful, and he manages to draw decent-to-great performances out of his actors (particularly Grillo, whom I’ve always liked; his central conflict is brilliantly played, especially when he is finally confronted with the person he’s been wanting to Purge all night). The action is also well-staged in that gritty, John Carpenter-esque way – DeMonaco’s commitment to his weird, twisted metal world of urban warfare is what holds up a lot of the shakier elements and characterization.

What’s hinted at in the first film, and explored much more directly in this one (to the point of bluntness at times) is the idea that The Purge isn’t some grand statement on our inherent animal natures, but a clever ruse to wage war on the poor. It’s essentially classism/racism, combined with gun-nut NRA mania to create a state that literally can’t get rid of its “undesirables” fast enough – a cartoonish dystopian echo of our current partisan, Fox News climate. Michael K. Williams’ Black Panther-esque character Carmelo is the primary mouthpiece for this subtext/text, which can get annoyingly direct at times, but I also sort of admire the film’s dedication to its polemic. (It doesn’t hurt when you realize that Carmelo is basically a combination of Cyrus and Lynne Thigpen’s DJ character from The Warriors.)

There’s actually a lot to admire about The Purge: Anarchy. Not all of it works, to be sure, and sometimes you get the feeling that DeMonaco doesn’t know which part of the world he wants to focus on next. There’s a schizophrenic, caffeinated quality to the structure of the film, but I think it works in its favor more than not. I love Carpenter throwbacks, though, and this film essentially puts Snake Plissken into the middle of the plot of They Live – it’s hard for me to hate that, to be honest. It works as a wonderfully tense, high-concept action/horror/thriller flick, and is about as well-made as high-concept schlock can be. If DeMonaco’s willing to continue expanding the scope of his concept (make sure to keep Grillo, though) and keep this grimly comedic tone, count me in for Purge 3.

Clint’s Verdict: Liked It

The Purge: Anarchy Movie Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever you see or hear broadcasts from the “New Founding Fathers”
2) Drink whenever Frank Grillo kills someone
3) Drink every time you see a new Purging group or individual
Finish Your Drink When:
Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) says, “FUCK THE PURGE!”

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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