The F Word (2014)
Dir: Michael Dowse
The best romantic comedies snap and crackle with the pop of witty dialogue and effervescent chemistry. It’s a genre that has embraced and embodies many hoary clichés, yet can also transcend them when the right elements align. The F Word (renamed What If outside of Canada) is Daniel Radcliffe’s latest post-Potter pic, and it falls somewhere in between those two extremes.
The movie opens, as all films of its ilk must, with Daniel Radcliffe’s Wallace meeting-cute with Zoe Kazan’s Chantry. Wallace is thawing out after a long post-breakup hibernation and Chantry embodies all the manic pixie dream girl ideals that we’ve come to expect from modern rom-coms. The twist? Chantry has a boyfriend and is only looking for a friend (the titular F Word). It’s an intriguing setup and one that could have legs in the right hands. Radcliffe is game, if a little overmatched, and Kazan shines in the kind of a role that she could easily make a career of.
As Wallace and Chantry’s friendship grows, a kind of “will they or won’t they?” stasis is established that the movie looks to draw tension from. After an initial period apart, (more…)
Dir: Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood – an epic yet intimate tale of one boy’s growth from age 6 to 18 shot piecemeal over the course of 12 years – amazingly and improbably proves worth the wait. This is the work of a master filmmaker at the top of his craft – the result of a series of assured choices that leads to scenes that weave a tapestry of a young life. Maybe you weren’t born in 1994, as the main character and actor was, but the story itself is universal in its telling. This is the story of growing up and growing into oneself, and rarely has it been told so well.
The movie opens to the strains of Coldplay’s breakout song Yellow, a massive hit in the early 2000’s that nicely sets the time period without being overly obvious. Boyhood is full of these cues – music, videogames, political references – that signify each time period. Ellar Coltrane portrays Mason, the titular character, and he’s introduced (more…)
Life Itself (2014)
Dir: Steve James
Roger Ebert – that towering personality who dominated popular film criticism for pretty much the entirety of its television heyday and beyond that into the early 21st century – gets the documentary treatment from fellow mid-Westerner Steve James in Life Itself. Friends, colleagues, filmmakers and family, along with Ebert himself, look back upon his life and legacy in this comprehensive, poignant and frequently funny film.
Adapted from Ebert’s autobiography of the same name, Life Itself traces Ebert’s life from childhood to his death in 2013. Every American Icon needs a worthy origin story, and Life Itself ably provides. A precocious child with a passion for the written word, Ebert’s gifts were encouraged by his immigrant parents who foresaw a better life for their son. Fun anecdotes from Ebert’s time as editor of his college newspaper, The Illini, foreshadowed his passion for journalism and eventual career path. His quick rise to Chicago Sun Times film critic in 1967 is crosscut with ribald tales of his drinking and carousing (more…)
Under the Skin (2014)
Dir: Jonathan Glazer
Scarlett Johansson takes a break from the brawn of big-budget blockbusters to ably command the screen in Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s long-in-the-works third feature. Science fiction and Scottish miserablism combine in this visually stunning but narratively light film that’s long on haunting imagery and short on dialogue.
Johansson stars as the unnamed lead, an alien who haunts the Scottish countryside in a white panel van in search of lonely men with few societal connections. There’s a motorcyclist who acts as her handler of sorts, a dilapidated building that serves as home base, and the aforementioned van where much of the film takes place in and around. And then… things occur. Without being dismissive of the film, it’s more a tone poem and less a traditional narrative, and to detail (more…)