Linklater’s New Film “Boyhood” a Real Grown-up Treat.

Ellar Coltrane in "Boyhood".

Ellar Coltrane in “Boyhood”.

Boy­hood pulls off a rare feat. It’s a film that works and really engages despite being based on a gim­mick. The gim­mick in ques­tion is one of those things that must have sounded like a good idea at the time.

Take a cou­ple of chil­dren, and a cou­ple of adults, and film them in a hand­ful of scenes once a year, for twelve years.

The more you think about that, the more the whole thing should have fallen flat on its face. The rea­son that it all works so won­der­fully well is because of the way that Richard Lin­klater makes these kind of films, his per­sonal ones as opposed to the ones he makes for the studio.

As we have seen in what we have to call the Before series, as by now there have been three of them (to date), Sun­rise, Sun­set and Mid­night (reviewed ear­lier here), he and his actors work­shop their scenes exhaus­tively, in a sort of anti Ken Loach man­ner. So that instead of being in any way impro­vised, the films evolve from a script that has been writ­ten within an inch of its life.

Ch ch ch changes...

Ch ch ch changes…

By the time the actors come to film their scenes, they know their char­ac­ters and why they are doing what they are doing inside out. And any impro­vi­sa­tion comes from the per­for­mance, and not thank­fully from the story telling.

The main dif­fer­ence between Before and Boy­hood isn’t so much the time frame, as it is the focus of atten­tion. In the­ory at least, as the title sug­gests, it’s the story of a boy’s jour­ney from seven years old to 19. Which could have been hor­ri­bly saccharine.

And there’s no ques­tion that the film isn’t quite as gut-wrenchingly unfor­giv­ing of its char­ac­ters as Before Mid­night was, because Lin­klater is under­stand­ably less inclined to put his child actors through the emo­tional mill in quite the same way that is he with his adults.

But the rea­son that the film works so well is because in real­ity it offers a twin per­spec­tive. On the one hand there are the two chil­dren, of ordi­nary par­ents, and the way in which their lives seem to be imposed upon them from with­out. Sud­denly they are forced to move, and start a new school, and they’ve a new father, and then it’s all over again, and they have to move and start all over, again.

The teenage Coltrane with Zoe Graham.

The teenage Coltrane with Zoe Graham.

And on the other, there’s a guy and a girl who are find­ing it hard enough at becom­ing adults, and now they have to bring up a cou­ple of kids at the same time. And the gap between what they’d hoped their lives would become, and the lives they are being forced to live just to make ends meet, is get­ting ever wider and increas­ingly unbridge­able. None of it is anyone’s fault. And yet they all blame each other.
All the per­for­mances are stun­ning. And yes the two kids Ellar Coltr­tane and Lorelei Lin­klater are amaz­ing. But it’s the adults Ethan Hawke and espe­cially Patri­cia Arquette as the mother that gives this film its sub­stance. The weight of moth­er­hood is all too vis­i­ble as she lit­er­ally ages before our eyes.

Richard Lin­klater is one of the very few seri­ous film mak­ers work­ing today. And Boy­hood is another triumph.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you posted every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!

Sub­scribe here for reg­u­lar updates. And get your FREE GIFT of the first 2 chap­ters of my book, A Brief His­tory Of Man.

The Antlers new album “Familiars” Simmers.

The Antler's "Familiars".

The Antler’s “Familiars”.

After releas­ing a cou­ple of albums on his own as The Anl­ters, Peter Sil­ber­man was joined by multi instru­men­tal­ist Darby Cicci and Michael Lerner on drums, and Famil­iars is the third album from them as a threesome.

The band have fre­quently been joined by fel­low Brook­lyn res­i­dent Sharon Van Etten on back­ing vocals (whose lat­est album is reviewed ear­lier here), and as you’d expect from their postal address, we’re very much in the beat­ing heart of hip­ster­land here.

What makes the music of The Antlers so engag­ing is their very dis­tinct tone. They craft songs of emo­tional hon­esty, naivety almost, and posit them in an expan­sive if minutely cul­ti­vated musi­cal land­scape. These are then given body with a suc­ces­sion of unapolo­get­i­cally gor­geous melodies that are draped in Silberman’s sweep­ing, ele­giac vocals.

Some time backing vocalist Sharon Van Etten.

Some time back­ing vocal­ist Sharon Van Etten.

Though the results are in many ways very dif­fer­ent, it some­how calls to mind Nixon, Lambchop’s sem­i­nal album from 2000. Kurt Wag­ner and his band though were more clearly defined as com­ing under the alt coun­try rubric. The Antlers will only ever be listed under Indie. They just man­age to be incred­i­bly melodic with­out ever being sac­cha­rine. But best of all, they are unashamedly earnest.

There is lit­tle in the way of irony or dis­tance here. All of the sophis­ti­ca­tion is invested in the music. So there’s an emo­tional heft to the songs that the sweep­ing melodies only serve to heighten. The boys from Pitch­fork gave it an impressed 7.8 here

And you can see the video for their sin­gle Palace here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below and I shall keep you posted every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!

Sub­scribe here for reg­u­lar updates. And get your FREE GIFT of the first 2 chap­ters of my book, A Brief His­tory Of Man.

Waiting for Superman”, when Life is Literally a Lottery.

"Waiting For Superman".

Wait­ing For Superman”.

The  2010 doc­u­men­tary Wait­ing For Super­man is yet another one of those remark­able and riv­et­ing films that take a mun­dane and qui­etly depress­ing issue, and turn it into a bril­liant film and a ral­ly­ing call to action. Directed by Davis Guggen­heim of An Incon­ve­nient Truth (’06) fame, this time around it’s on the Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion system.

In a glo­ri­ously biased and impec­ca­bly une­d­u­cated man­ner, many of us have long had our sus­pi­cions about the schools over there, with­out nec­es­sar­ily know­ing any­thing about them. This alas con­firms all our worst prejudices.

For those who can’t afford to edu­cate their chil­dren pri­vately, and at huge expense, the only option is to send them to the pub­lic school in the dis­trict where they live. And, as pretty much every­body in Amer­ica seems to know, these are all quite sim­ply awful.

The inspirational Geoffrey Canada.

The inspi­ra­tional Geof­frey Canada.

For a long time it was thought that woe­ful inner city pub­lic schools were merely a reflec­tion on the areas they were located in. But increas­ingly peo­ple are com­ing to believe that it is the other way around. And that it is the qual­ity of the schools that feed into and deter­mine the area they’re housed in. So if you can fix the schools there, you can begin to ease the social inequal­ity that has crip­pled so many urban centres.

The film fol­lows five kids and their par­ents as they grap­ple with their pas­sion­ate desire to give their child the best pos­si­ble edu­ca­tion, against their need to do so in the dread­ful pub­lic school sys­tem. And you’ll never guess what colour skin four out of the five kids we fol­low have? What­ever about the White House, the rich keep get­ting richer and the poor just get blacker.

Against this bleak back­drop, and a sys­tem crip­pled by mil­i­tant unions – thank God we’re free of that here in Ire­land eh… — a num­ber of edu­ca­tors, a hand­ful of politi­cians, and an indus­tri­al­ist (Bill Gates, again) have come to focus on char­ter schools as an alter­na­tive to con­ven­tional pub­lic schools.

Crit­ics of the film have claimed that it over­states how suc­cess­ful char­ter schools have been. And that only about 20% of char­ter schools are sta­tis­ti­cally bet­ter than most pub­lic schools. And it’s true that the film pins its nar­ra­tive to those 20% of char­ter schools that do do bet­ter. But the few char­ter schools that are bet­ter are spec­tac­u­larly more suc­cess­ful. And there’s the rub.

Because what that means is that all of those finan­cially chal­lenged par­ents who are nonethe­less deter­mined to give their kids a bet­ter chance at hav­ing a life than they ever had, are des­per­ately try­ing to get their kids into one of those char­ter schools. And the only thing the char­ter schools can do to equi­tably deter­mine who does and does not get in, is to hold a lottery.

Like democracy, an education is taken for granted until you're deprived of it.

Like democ­racy, an edu­ca­tion is taken for granted until you’re deprived of it.

And so we watch in hor­ror as our five chil­dren gather at their prospec­tive schools, to attend a lot­tery there with thou­sands of oth­ers, to see whether their num­ber will be ran­domly selected. And whether they will, against all the odds, have a life.

Like watch­ing vin­tage social satire in a clas­sic – i.e. early – episode of The Simp­sons, your first reac­tion on see­ing this film is, dear Lord, what a coun­try to find your­self liv­ing in. But just as that thought is form­ing, you realise of course that this is the kind of coun­try that pro­duces film mak­ers, teach­ers and par­ents like this.

It’s a coun­try in other words that man­ages to man­u­fac­ture mon­u­men­tal prob­lems such as these. And to inspire the mak­ing of films like this that address them. And bril­liantly so.

You can see the trailer to Wait­ing For Super­man here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion and I shall keep you posted every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!

Sub­scribe here for reg­u­lar updates. And get your FREE GIFT of the first 2 chap­ters of my book, A Brief His­tory Of Man.

First Aid Kit’s lush, plush new album “Stay Gold”.

First Aid Kit's Stay Gold.

First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold.

Swedish sis­ters Johanna and Klara’s third album as First Aid Kit is as warm and sunny as its title Stay Gold would sug­gest. But it’s the gold of the sun­set. There’s that sense of sub­tle trans­for­ma­tion as the bright cer­tain­ties of youth become tinged by the pos­si­bil­ity of future dis­ap­point­ment and disillusion.

As they did with their sec­ond album The Lion’s Roar, reviewed ear­lier here, they’ve trav­elled to Omaha to hook up once more with Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes who takes up pro­duc­tion duties again. But there’s a big­ger, more expan­sive sound to the album this time around.

The bench mark for the two sis­ters is still the plain­tive har­monies of Emmy­lou Har­ris and Gram Par­sons. But like Par­sons before them, they’ve moved on from the sounds of Nashville to embrace a wider, unashamedly Amer­i­can panorama. As with Sharon Van Etten (reviewed ear­lier here) we’re back with Fleet­wood Mac. But again, on the best of the latter’s very best days.

Johanna and Klara

Johanna and Klara Soderberg.

The boys from Pitch­fork give Stay Gold an approv­ing 7.3 here. You can get a taster with the video from the open­ing track from the album My Sil­ver Lin­ing here.

But best of all, if you want to under­stand, or at least eaves­drop on the sorts of har­monies pro­duced by that sixth sense unique to sib­lings, then have a look at the acoustic ver­sion of Fleet FoxesTiger Moun­tain Peas­ant Song that they recorded in a wood here. It’s from all the way back in 2008 when the pair were about, oh, I’d say around seven years old.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below and I shall keep you posted every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!

Sub­scribe here for reg­u­lar updates. And get your FREE GIFT of the first 2 chap­ters of my book, A Brief His­tory Of Man.

New Jack White Album “Lazaretto” Kicks.

Jack White's "Lazaretto".

Jack White’s “Lazaretto”.

It’s hard to believe that this is only Jack White’s sec­ond solo album. True, the White Stripes only offi­cially dis­banded in 2011, but their last album, Icky Thump was way back in 2007.

It’s hard to believe because in the interim he seems to have become a one man music mak­ing machine.

There was The Racon­teurs, the band he formed with Bren­dan Ben­son and co. The Dead Weather, the one he put together with Ali­son Mosshart from the Kills and Dean Fer­tita from Queens of The Stone Age. The won­der­fully atmos­pheric album Rome, pro­duced by the sim­i­larly ubiq­ui­tous Dan­ger Mouse and Daniele Luppi (reviewed ear­lier here). Plus the small mat­ter of Third Man Records, the record label he formed and runs seem­ingly entirely on his own.

So far his Nashville stu­dio has played host to Wanda Jack­son, Laura Mar­ling, Loretta Lynn, First Aid Kit (reviewed ear­lier here), Drive By Truck­ers and Beck as well as pro­duc­ing reis­sues of Char­lie Pat­ton, Blind Willie McTell and Rufus Thomas. Oh, and his crack­ing first solo effort, Blun­der­buss from 2012, reviewed ear­lier here.

The White Stripes in all their pomp with "Elephant".

The White Stripes in all their pomp with “Elephant”.

Lazaretto his sec­ond is, in the best pos­si­ble sense, a great­est hits com­pi­la­tion of the many dif­fer­ent musi­cal moods and gen­res that he’s drawn to.

There’s the aus­ter­ity and rigour of the White Stripes, the more expan­sive and relaxed coun­try rock of the Racon­teurs, and that con­stant pur­suit and explo­ration of the roots and rhythms of his Amer­i­can musi­cal her­itage that’s becom­ing increas­ingly cen­tral to every­thing he does.

In this, and in his con­stant rest­less­ness, that sense of being for­ever dri­ven to gaze ever fur­ther afield, and ever more deeper within, we finally have a musi­cian gen­uinely capa­ble of pick­ing up the man­tle of his friend and musi­cal men­tor Bob Dylan.

White’s the real deal. And Lazaretto, as you’d expect, is gold.

You can see the title track’s video Lazaretto here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below and I shall keep you posted every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!

Sub­scribe here for reg­u­lar updates. And get your FREE GIFT of the first 2 chap­ters of my book, A Brief His­tory Of Man.