The Films of Richard Linklater
It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books
Dazed and Confused
Before Sunrise (July 16/13)
Undoubtedly one of the most romantic movies of all time, Before Sunrise follows two strangers (Ethan Hawke's Jesse and Julie Delpy's Celine) as they meet on a train and immediately hit it off - with the film detailing the pair's subsequent walk through the streets of Venice. It's a simple premise that's executed to impressively engrossing effect by filmmaker Richard Linklater, as the director, working from a screenplay cowritten with Kim Krizan, kicks the proceedings off with a captivating meet-cute that's heightened by the palpable chemistry between Hawke and Delpy. The characters' utterly charming dynamic ensures that their conversations are, for the most part, far more compelling than one might've anticipated, with Linklater and Krizan's script packed full of cogent observations about topics as varied as relationships, death, and religion. It goes without saying, of course, that Before Sunrise is at its best during its more blatantly romantic moments, with, in particular, Jesse and Celine's first kiss ranking high on the movie's list of swoon-worthy sequences. (The film's highlight, however, is an absolutely spellbinding scene involving the couple's imaginary phone calls to their respective friends.) And although movie does hit a bit of a lull in its slightly overlong midsection, Before Sunrise recovers for a gripping final stretch detailing Jesse and Celine's efforts at figuring out where to take their newfound relationship - which ultimately does cement the picture's place as a unique and completely disarming modern romance.
The Newton Boys
Waking Life (June 16/06)
It's clear almost immediately that Waking Life's been geared almost exclusively towards followers and fans of various philosophical ideas, as the film is essentially a series of seemingly endless lectures delivered by several disparate figures. It's just as obvious, however, that neophytes to the many theories proffered by filmmaker Richard Linklater will be left out in the cold (there's certainly no storyline or actual characters for viewers to latch onto). The movie follows actor Wiley Wiggins through a particularly eventful series of lucid dreams, where he encounters a whole host of chatty folks - each with their own perspective on the meaning of life. Waking Life is initially kind of interesting - albeit on an incredibly sporadic basis - but the ceaseless prattle eventually becomes mind-numbing and meaningless. It doesn't help that the majority of this stuff comes off as pompous and utterly nonsensical, though there are one or two compelling moments mixed in with the chaff (the sequence in which Before Sunrise costars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have a brief dream-related discussion is an obvious highlight). The novelty of the much-lauded animation style wears off about halfway through, with the end result a film that's more interminable than anything else.
School of Rock
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Before Sunset (July 16/13)
Before Sunset follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) as they reconnect in Paris nine years after their encounter in Before Sunrise, with the film, naturally, detailing the various conversations that ensue between the pair over the course of one very leisurely afternoon. In its early stages, Before Sunset doesn't seem as though it's quite going to reach the stellar heights of its predecessor - as the pronounced emphasis on the central characters' philosophical musings results in an atmosphere that's almost akin to director Richard Linklater's tedious Waking Life. (Before Sunset, of course, never comes close to the interminable depths of that animated endeavor.) The electric chemistry between Jesse and Celine, coupled with the actors' fantastic work, ensures that the film remains compulsively watchable even through its more esoteric stretches, and yet there's little doubt that Before Sunset improves immeasurably once the protagonists start exploring the effect that that fateful night has had on both their lives. It's subsequently impossible to deny that the second half possesses a frankness that's nothing short of irresistible, with the intensely romantic vibe paving the way for an absolutely riveting (and rather emotionally-draining) final 30 minutes. (And this is to say nothing of the note-perfect capper that closes the movie.) The end result is a superior sequel that accomplishes everything that one might've hoped, and it certainly goes without saying that future installments of this (hopefully) ongoing series will have a lot to live up to.
Bad News Bears
At 113 minutes, Bad News Bears feels overlong by at least a half hour; what should've been a fun and breezy comedy is ultimately transformed into an incredibly tedious ordeal, although there's certainly something to be said for Billy Bob Thornton's gleefully malicious performance. A remake of the eponymous 1976 Walter Matthau flick, Bad News Bears follows pro-baseball-player-turned-drunkard Morris Buttermaker (Thornton) as he attempts to whip a group of ragtag misfits into something resembling a competent little league team. Director Richard Linklater is clearly striving for a vibe similar to his own School of Rock, as the two films essentially feature the same storyline (ie a lazy slacker finds redemption after successfully teaching kids how to excel at something). But where School of Rock was engaging and entertaining, Bad News Bears is bloated and ponderous; screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (working from Bill Lancaster's original) infuse the film with an unusually deliberate pace, a problem that's exacerbated by the fact that the final baseball game occupies over a half hour's worth of screentime (!) That the majority of these kids simply cannot act certainly doesn't help matters, nor does Buttermaker's magical metamorphosis from apathetic abuser to kind, caring coach.
Fast Food Nation
A Scanner Darkly
Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach
Me and Orson Welles
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Bernie (May 17/12)
There's little doubt that Bernie represents a fairly drastic departure for filmmaker Richard Linklater, as the movie, which tells the true story of the relationship between a kind-hearted funeral director (Jack Black's Bernie Tiede) and a loathed yet wealthy widow (Shirley MacLaine's Marjorie Nugent), rarely unfolds as one might've anticipated - with Linklater's decision to blend fictional elements with real-life Q&A footage admittedly taking some getting used to (ie the initial proliferation of interviews results in an atmosphere akin to a network-television reenactment). It's clear right from the outset, though, that the movie benefits substantially from Black's revelatory performance, as the actor effortlessly slips into the skin of a low-key and consistently likeable figure that couldn't possibly be farther from his larger-than-life persona. The ongoing emphasis on Bernie's subdued exploits does, as a result, fare somewhat better than one might've anticipated, although there's little doubt that Linklater's palpably meandering modus operandi becomes more and more problematic as the film progresses into its relatively pointless midsection (ie one can't help but wonder if the movie is going to be content merely documenting the weird relationship between the two central characters). And while the film receives a burst of energy with a rather unexpected twist about halfway through, Bernie ultimately comes off as a watchable endeavor that works mostly as a showcase for three admittedly spectacular performances (Matthew McConaughey, cast as a pragmatic lawyer, delivers his best work in years here).
Picking up nine years after Before Sunset (and 18 years after Before Sunrise), Before Midnight follows a married Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) as they're forced to confront a series of relationship-based issues while on holiday in Greece. Filmmaker Richard Linklater, working from a script cowritten with Hawke and Delpy, has infused Before Midnight with exactly the sort of low-key and talk-heavy atmosphere one might've anticipated, with the movie's opening half hour certainly delivering on the promise of the first two films in this ongoing series (ie there is, for example, an unbroken shot in a car that ranks with the best that the franchise has to offer). It's only as the action moves to the quaint villa in which Celine and Jesse are vacationing that one's interest first begins to wane, as Linklater offers up a selection of uninteresting, distracting periphery figures and devotes a good chunk of time to their decidedly irrelevant musings (ie there's a dinner party that just seems to go on and on). The picaresque atmosphere, coupled with Hawke and Delpy's expectedly engrossing work, ensures that the movie remains at least partially compelling even through its misguided stretches, however, and there's little doubt that Before Midnight does pick up substantially once the emphasis is shifted back to Celine and Jesse's exploits together. The movie culminates with a somewhat shocking sequence in which the central couple engages in a squirm-inducing (yet undeniably engrossing) marital spat; despite its effectiveness, this stretch almost feels as though it belongs in a different movie (ie it's just jarring when compared to the entirety of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset). Linklater deserves credit for taking these characters to a place of authenticity, it seems, but there's ultimately no denying that Before Midnight bears too few similarities to its thoroughly superior predecessors.
Boyhood, which was famously shot over a 12 year period, follows Ellar Coltrane's Mason as he navigates the trials and tribulations of adolescence, with the movie also detailing the exploits of several important figures in Mason's life - including his beleaguered mother (Patricia Arquette), absent father (Ethan Hawke), and sardonic sister (Lorelei Linklater's Samantha). Filmmaker Richard Linklater has infused Boyhood with a low-key vibe that proves an ideal complement to his relaxed screenplay, as the movie, for the most part, unfolds at a lackadaisical pace over the course of a long-yet-never-boring running time. The narrative's coming-of-age focus results in a preponderance of familiar elements, to be sure, with Linklater emphasizing such tropes as the abusive stepfather and the first love - and yet the inclusion of these components is handled with far more grace and subtlety than one might've anticipated. (And besides, the movie's subject matter seems to demand the presence of certain well-used plot developments.) It's worth noting, too, that the movie's time-jumping central gimmick is employed to impressively seamless effect, as Boyhood, though meandering, possesses a momentum that only grows more and more captivating as time progresses - with the film building to a series of unexpectedly (and heartbreakingly) profound revelations in its climactic stretch. (Arquette's final scene, for example, packs an emotional punch that's nothing short of devastating.) It's ultimately the movie's epic scope and swing-for-the-fences atmosphere that compensates for its rough-cut feel, with the end result a truly memorable and singular cinematic experience that's well worth the wait.
Everybody Wants Some!!
Last Flag Flying (December 18/17)
Written and directed by Richard Linklater, Last Flag Flying follows Steve Carell’s Larry Shepherd as he tracks down a pair of old army buddies (Bryan Cranston’s Sal and Laurence Fishburne’s Richard) and embarks on a road trip to bury a close family member. It’s ultimately hard to deny that Last Flag Flying feels like a rough cut of what could (and should) have been an engrossing, streamlined drama, as Linklater delivers a bloated and overly lackadaisical endeavor that’s quite stirring in parts and yet, as a whole, never quite comes together to become the searing work one might’ve anticipated. It’s a shame, certainly, given that the movie boasts a preponderance of better-than-average elements, with, especially, the performances from the three stars going a long way towards keeping things interesting through the narrative’s shaggier stretches. And as typically solid as Cranston and Fishburne are here, Carell delivers a subtle and often heartbreaking turn that remains a highlight throughout and indeed stands as perhaps the actor's finest (and most nuanced) big-screen work. The almost episodic midsection, which is rife with sequences that could've been left on the cutting-room floor (eg the guys buy cell phones), paves the way for an erratic vibe that ultimately proves somewhat disastrous, as the big emotional beats of the movie’s climax are simply unable to pack the punch that Linklater has intended – with the end result a decent effort that works as an actor’s showcase more than it does a fully-realized motion picture.