REVIEW: Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny

6 08 2016

Richard Linklater Dream Is DestinyCurrent discourse surrounding auteur theory seems to presuppose a lone genius whose singular vision contains in it the power to overwrite all other contributions and supersede all commercial influence. There’s something to be said for raw talent in moviemaking, but such a collaborative and expensive art form seems to demand a more complex explanation of creation.

Louis Black and Karen Bernstein’s new documentary, “Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny,” provides a necessary corrective for a generation of film fans learning about directors through tabloid-infused cults of celebrity or video essay supercuts that celebrate visual repetition as proof of self-evident virtuosity.

Their subject, Texan troubadour Richard Linklater, has had a career that would baffle anyone looking for a straight-shot trajectory of accelerated accomplishments. His most well-regarded films have defined generations, yet others in his filmography barely registered with anyone. Linklater hit and missed with both studio and indie films, critics and audiences. So why is he worth making a film about?

Black and Bernstein look for the secret sauce of Linklater not in some inherent brilliance, but rather in his hard work. The director (and often times writer) regularly earns plaudit for how effortlessly his films can replicate and recall our visible reality; the underlying assumption is often that such a conjuring requires no effort on his part. Clearly, such a statement could not be farther from the truth.

“Dream Is Destiny” features quite a remarkable coterie of guests paying tribute to Linklater, drawn from collaborators, critics and contemporaries. The documentary is far superior to 2014’s “21 Years: Richard Linklater,” a film with a hagiographic adoration of the director that never jived with his unassuming style. Black and Bernstein do not soften the edges or sugarcoat the realities of Linklater’s decades in filmmaking. At far too many points in his career, someone has doubted Linklater’s abilities – and often precisely because he is so difficult to neatly classify. Thankfully, he perseveres on the strength of his modest self-certainty and proves in true Texas style that the coastal – I mean, polar – extremes are not the only modes of operation for filmmakers. B+3stars

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INTERVIEW: Actors Tyler Hoechlin, Ryan Guzman and Blake Jenner of “Everybody Wants Some!!”

22 04 2016

I should have known to just throw out all my pre-prepared questions when I walked into the interview suite to the sight of Everybody Wants Some stars Tyler Hoechlin, Ryan Guzman and Blake Jenner in a full-on body pile on top of the film’s executive producer, Steven Feder. The ten minutes with the actors that followed were among the wackiest, zaniest and most unpredictable I ever expect to have with talent – and I loved every moment of it.

Not that I ever doubted the authenticity of the team-building fostered by director Richard Linklater, but it was abundantly clear after this interview that there was no fakery up on screen. They banter about like siblings but with little of the rivalry and power jostling that normally comes about in such a relationship. As I quickly learned, Jenner’s status playing the film’s protagonist, freshman pitcher Jake Bradford, made him no more or less valuable than older or more experienced actors like Hoechlin and Guzman, who respectively play senior hotshots McReynolds and Roper.

Chalk it up to me being the last person at the end of the press day, or perhaps because my standing as a 23-year-old guy just out of college himself made me a closer demographic match to a peer than most journalists grilling them, but the traditional model of interviewer/subject transaction seemed to fly out the window. I did my research prior to our sit-down yet never found any examples of the guys seemingly so loose and unfiltered. The conversation started off about Texas (since we were in Houston, Linklater’s birthplace) and wound up in tangents of good-natured barbs, obscure pop culture references and the occasional song lyric. So just like any other gathering of multiple twenty-something dudes, in other words.

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I’m sure you’ve heard this all along the press tour, but Everybody Wants Some really could be anyone’s college experience anywhere. But as a native Texan, it struck me as being very specific and accurate about this state. When you all were developing the characters and the atmosphere with Richard Linklater, did he want them to be true to Texas?

TYLER HOECHLIN

I don’t remember that being a thing because I don’t know if I even thought about that. I thought of my guy being an out-of-state guy, to be honest.

RYAN GUZMAN

I thought of my guy being a Texas guy.

TYLER HOECHLIN

But it never weighed on the film. We never talked about, “This guy’s from this part of Texas.” Maybe he did with certain guys in particular.

RYAN GUZMAN

Like Bueter [the nickname for Will Brittain’s character, Billy Autrey], for instance. He might have talked to him about that.

TYLER HOECHLIN

But it wasn’t something where we all sat down individually and said, “This part of Texas is you.”

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RYAN GUZMAN

But we love Texas.

BLAKE JENNER [after a beat]

Texas Am I.

[Hoechlin and Guzman erupt in laughter]

TYLER HOECHLIN

What was that?

BLAKE JENNER

I am Texas, Texas am I.  You’ve never heard that saying?

TYLER HOECHLIN

No, not at all.

BLAKE JENNER

I guess I’m just spiritually older than you guys.

[Interviewer’s note: I’ve never heard this phrase in over two decades living in the state of Texas. The Internet was not helpful, either. Sorry, Blake.]

What did you take away about Texas, either from playing your character or just from shooting the movie here?

RYAN GUZMAN (with a put-on drawl)

Y’all got some pretty ladies out here. I do like it.

BLAKE JENNER

You guys have some great, great Mexican food. I’d never had breakfast tacos before. I got to go to ACL and see Eminem, which was really cool. I really enjoyed that experience.

RYAN GUZMAN (overlapping)

Really good music out here.

BLAKE JENNER

I was living on Elizabeth and South Congress, which was a nice spot to check out some art shops and bookshops. I just like the culture you got out here.

RYAN GUZMAN

Hell yeah.

TYLER HOECHLIN

I really like the feeling of originality in Austin that’s really just kind of its own thing. The music scene, the art scene – it is its own special place.

RYAN GUZMAN

I had planned to go back to where I was actually born, but it was like six hours away from Austin.

BLAKE JENNER

ROAD TRIP!!!

That’s the thing people don’t realize about Texas – other people say “the next town over” and for us, that’s six hours away.

RYAN GUZMAN

Yeah.

BLAKE JENNER

Oh, and the barbecue. I went to Salt Lick, and it’s the most incredible barbecue I’ve ever had in my life.

I know the working title for the movie was That’s What I’m Talking About, which I didn’t think much of until I saw the movie again and noticed how many times you all said the phrase. Literally, I think every character had at least one moment where they said it. If you’re allowed, can you elaborate a little on what “that’s what I’m talking about” means to the movie?

TYLER HOECHLIN (looking over to studio personnel)

Are we allowed to talk about that?

BLAKE JENNER

Now that it’s not the title, it’s just slang. It’s common language between them.

RYAN GUZMAN

I think it started becoming ingrained in us. Like we would just spout off, “that’s what I’m talking about,” without even realizing we were saying the title.

TYLER HOECHLIN

I don’t know what more we’re allowed to say.

BLAKE JENNER (curling up, in a soft voice that slowly takes on a German accent)

They beat us. They beat us. They beat us. We don’t talk about it.

TYLER HOECHLIN (as Guzman joins in on the “They beat us”)

You can ask the next one, they’ll just keep going.

[Interviewer’s note: A source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, later added: “It was a VERY popular phrase, but it was also used in Dazed and Confused. It was a phrase one of the characters in Dazed and Confused used a lot. So there was a tie-in to that. But part of it was like, oh, they say it so much that to name the movie after it would be a cliché. Rick liked the idea of a song, like Dazed, as the title.”]

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Watching the film again last night, I was struck by how much more endearing these guys in 1980 are than your average 2016 bro, even though the characters in the movie are probably a little bit more crude and open about how they feel about women. Have you brought anything back from the period to be a little more … chivalrous? [Interviewer’s note: was reaching for a different adjective and the wrong one came out – was aiming for something more in the ballpark of genial or sociable.]

TYLER HOECHLIN

Chivalrous? From these guys?

RYAN GUZMAN

I have never actually thought of those two things together, chivalry and this movie.

TYLER HOECHLIN

No, I can’t say I took anything from McReynolds on chivalry.

RYAN GUZMAN

Yeah, definitely not Roper for sure.

BLAKE JENNER

Maybe just like a little piece of knowledge we took back from into present day?

RYAN GUZMAN

Well, you know what, living in the moment. I think we can all agree on that…

BLAKE JENNER

Yeah, that’s what I was going to say. I just didn’t want to be the first one to say it.

Living in the moment for sure. Everything was so disconnected in the best way back then. You were with your boys, and those were the only people you were with. There were no cell phones, no Facebook, no Twitter, so this movie is a cool message to live in the now.

RYAN GUZMAN

You actually had a reason when you were together to talk about your lives rather than just tweet about everything or Snapchat everything.

BLAKE JENNER

That’s all we do now, we talk about SisQó.

RYAN GUZMAN

Where did he go?

BLAKE JENNER

Where did SisQó go?

RYAN GUZMAN

Look up his Snapchat.

BLAKE JENNER [singing lyrics fromSisQó’s “The Thong Song”]

I like it when the beat goes / baby make your booty go!

Everybody-Wants-Some-Blake-Jenner

Blake, that final creeping grin on Jake’s face in the film reminded me so much of the face Mason makes in the last shot of Boyhood.

BLAKE JENNER

The birth of a psychopath…

Was that coincidence or was it written into the script?

BLAKE JENNER

No, that was actually written into the script! I just didn’t want to make it a gimmicky kind of thing or, like, “This is the checkpoint at the end of the movie!” It feels pretty natural the way we shot it, me, Temple [Baker, who plays fellow freshman teammate Tyrone Plummer] and Rick that day. But yeah, that was part of it the whole time.

The movie is so much about living in the moment and embracing the joy of the present, but were you ever thinking about what happens to your characters after the movie ends? Like, is McReynolds going pro, is Jake planning to hone in on a single girl and a single identity?

TYLER HOECHLIN

We’ve thought about it recently because we’re trying to figure out how to convince Rick to do a sequel.

BLAKE JENNER

Or a mini-series. Any series.

RYAN GUZMAN

At the time, we were talking about this whole “Mac & Cheese” thing (an affectionate power couple name for the bromance between the two characters played by Hoechlin and Guzman) for a little bit.

TYLER HOECHLIN

We decided, as character research, we were just actually going to move in together. So Ryan and I actually live together now. So, yeah, we’re researching for “The Mac & Cheese Show.”

RYAN GUZMAN

He says “living together,” but he just orders me around. And I just clean the house.

TYLER HOECHLIN

It’s not my fault you let it happen.

BLAKE JENNER

You’re like the robot maid in the Jetsons.

RYAN GUZMAN

Yeah, I don’t know why I wear a bustier.

BLAKE JENNER

What’s her name, Rosie? Is that the maid?

TYLER HOECHLIN

You’re Rosie Jetson.

RYAN GUZMAN

I’m Rosie Jetson. Cool. That’s what I planned to be when I came out to L.A. [in a soft, hokey aspirational voice] “What do you want to be? I want to be a Rosie Jetson! A star.”

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Whatever it takes to make the dream work!

RYAN GUZMAN

I’ve heard worse.

BLAKE JENNER

With Jake, I think he’d get to know Beverly a little more and maybe make his mark over the next couple of years on the team. Do his best to become a leader like McReynolds and Finn and all those guys.

RYAN GUZMAN (put out)

And Roper, I guess.

BLAKE JENNER

No, Roper is going to jail. Roper is being imprisoned.

RYAN GUZMAN

Yeah, me and Jay Niles and Coma. All for different reasons.

BLAKE JENNER

Coma for public intoxication.

RYAN GUZMAN

Mine’s for a prostitution ring.

BLAKE JENNER

And Jay Niles flipped out at a mall. He was working at a kiosk. “TOO PHILOSOPHICAL FOR THIS KIOSK, MAN!”

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I’ve heard you all talk a little bit about the casting process and how you each auditioned for multiple parts, and I think it’s interesting the way the cast came together with some of the older, more experienced guys getting the upperclassmen parts and the younger guys along with the fresher faces playing the freshmen. Beyond how it provides some degree of realism on screen, do you think that the characters’ place mirroring the actors’ place helped the bonding process off screen, too?

TYLER HOECHLIN

I don’t think anybody’s history ever came in.

RYAN GUZMAN

Yeah, it was more so just getting together and figuring out how to work this thing out. From day one, we all turned into brothers. There were certain things like, “How was Jennifer Lopez’s butt?” That was one of the first questions. But nothing from our history came into play.

TYLER HOECHLIN

I remember walking into the production office, and I had no idea who had been cast yet. I saw, I think it was Juston [Street] and Austin [Amelio] were there, maybe one or two other people. They didn’t say we were going to meet the cast; they didn’t say anything. So I showed up and met them, and it took me a minute to go, “Oh, ok, I had no idea you were too!” We just got to know each other from a base normal level and just became a team.

RYAN GUZMAN

It was instant love the first second I saw Blake Jenner…

Blake Jenner (singing the song by Gary Weaver)

Dreaaaaaaam weaver!

RYAN GUZMAN

…since that first question.

BLAKE JENNER

What was the first question?

RYAN GUZMAN

I can’t say it.

BLAKE JENNER

You can’t say it? Oh, the length. Yeah.

RYAN GUZMAN

We both equaled out to two inches.

[Entire room bursts into laughter]

TYLER HOECHLIN

On that note…

On that note, don’t just sit here and laugh. Go see “Everybody Wants Some!!” It’s now playing just about everywhere. 





REVIEW: Everybody Wants Some!!

30 03 2016

SXSW Film Festival

After completing the arduous shoot of “Apocalypse Now,” director Francis Ford Coppola famously remarked, “My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.” Writer and director Richard Linklater, brilliant though he is, seems to lack Coppola’s penchant for bombast or self-promotion. So, if I might, I would like to say what I doubt Linklater ever would about his latest film, “Everybody Wants Some!!

“Everybody Wants Some!!” is not a film about college. It is college.

For the roughly two hour runtime of Linklater’s so-called “spiritual sequel” to “Dazed and Confused,” I did not merely watch a representation of college-aged males running amuck. I was transported back to my own college days – never mind that the film takes place in 1980, when my dad first enrolled. The cars, the hair, the music and the outfits might have shifted in the four decades between then and now, but the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.

I have praised many a college movie, from Noah Baumbach’s sardonic “Kicking and Screaming” to Lord & Miller’s farcical “22 Jump Street” and even the animated with Pixar’s “Monsters University.” Those movies can hardly hold a candle to “Everybody Wants Some!!” I recognized every single character in the film as having some analogous counterpart in my own life. This may have a little something to do with the fact that Linklater is, like myself, a Houston native and very familiar with that distinctly Texan strain of the “bro.”

I suspect, however, that my reaction comes less from geography and more from ethnography. The film is not rooted in place or time, though each definitely leaves a stamp. Rather, it is about the full college experience and all it entails. “Everybody Wants Some!!” celebrates that very unique freedom of the period between being someone’s kid and being someone’s parent. It’s the rare occurrence where liberty comes with hardly any repercussions or responsibilities. The now matters more than the future, and everyone collectively agrees to enjoy it.

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REVIEW: Hitchcock/Truffaut

12 12 2015

Hitchcock:TruffautThough Kent Jones’ documentary “Hitchcock/Truffaut” may bear the name of two deceased titans of the cinema, but make no mistake about it: this film is focused on those still living and producing vital work.

Of course, the consummate critic and historian Jones does present the the subject in more than sufficient detail. French New Wave founding father Francois Truffaut idolized the British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, whose work was popular yet not necessarily given much clout as art. Truffaut set out to prove it was just that in a series of conversations with the Master of Suspense, which he later transcribed into “Hitchcock/Truffaut.” The book became a seminal text in the field of film studies and, as Martin Scorsese personally attests in the documentary, inspired the next generation of filmmakers.

In recounting the making of the book and the influence which it exerted, Jones himself crafts a documentary likely to be studied as often as “Visions of Light.” (That reference means everything to anyone who has taken an Intro to Film class and nothing to everyone else, by the way.) “Hitchcock/Truffaut” provides an excellent primer on auteurist theory while also delving into Freudian, historical and economically determinist readings of Hitchcock’s work. If any of this sounds complex, it all feels effortless to understand when explained by today’s masters David Fincher or Wes Anderson.

The most exciting moments of the documentary come from hearing these contemporary filmmakers delving into the theoretical questions raised in Hitchcock and Truffaut’s conversation. Plenty of times, these directors have to answer questions about the influence of cinema’s giants, but it is usually only in conjunction with how it manifests in their latest film. Here, people like Richard Linklater and James Gray, two directors who rarely make films that resemble Hitchcock’s suspenseful thrillers, can talk about the surprising ways in which his work and his methods affected the way they understand their own work.

This kind of in-depth discussion gives “Hitchcock/Truffaut” a profundity far beyond the sound bites we normally get from filmmakers on a press tour. At times, Jones seems to lose sight of the original conversation in favor of letting Scorsese geek out over “Psycho,” but these joyful nuggets prove his point that Hitchcock and Truffaut’s dialogue is one still worth studying. This celebrated past has clearly exerted its influence in the present, and now, thanks somewhat in part to this documentary, it will continue doing so in the future. A-3halfstars





REVIEW: Boyhood

14 07 2014

BoyhoodWriter/director Alexander Payne has said of cinema’s advent, “I think that mankind had been looking for this magnificently verisimilar art form which really mirrors life.”  And like an answer to an unspoken prayer, “Boyhood” arrives after over a century of narrative cinema to show that the medium has far from exhausted its capabilities of wondrously recalling life beyond the screen.

Richard Linklater’s film is at odds with notions of conventional fictional cinema, resembling a curated ethnography in its creation.  “Boyhood” condenses twelve years of shooting a young boy growing up through his grade school years into under three hours, not into a prescribed narrative arc but into a singular sort of time capsule.

It’s not crossing off significant life experiences of childhood and adolescence from a preordained bucket list.  It’s not out to provide an alternate cultural history through a child’s eyes.  It’s not trying to make some grand statement about the ever-changing nature of boyhood (nor about the various things that seem to stay the same).  It’s not even necessarily moving towards any sort of dramatic climax other than the ultimate one we all have to face, that of the end of time.

Instead, “Boyhood” focuses mostly on the mundane moments and the routine conversations, so literally portraying “slices of life” that no film can really lay claim to the phrase anymore.  Yet in the sheer act of capturing these everyday occurrences, Linklater elevates the profane to the level of sacred.  These brief and otherwise insignificant flashes of childhood are nothing, yet they are also somehow everything.

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REVIEW: Before Midnight

22 04 2013

Before MidnightSome movies I just really don’t expect to fully comprehend at the ripe old age of 20.  For example, I don’t really expect to understand the intricacies of love and marriage as portrayed by “This is 40” and “Amour.”

Though both are extremely realistic and vivid, I almost feel like I’m watching a fantasy film because I cannot locate them anywhere within my own personal experiences. The same is true for “Before Midnight,” Richard Linklater’s third entry into what I suppose can be called the “Before” series (comprising of 1995’s “Before Sunset” and 2004’s “Before Sunrise”).  I just kind of have to take the word of others that the film once again captures something true about the place of love in the human condition.  I get a feeling that in twenty years, something about Linklater’s film will resonate more strongly with me.  But for now, I’m left most impacted by the saga’s first entry that explored idealistic notions of love and compatibility.

Though this is the now the third time that they’ve done it, I’m still left reeling by the fact that Linklater, along with co-writers and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, can make long, drawn-out conversations about broad topics into compelling cinema.  It’s a bold and daring conceit to expect an audience to sit for nearly two hours and listen to fictional characters broach subjects that they themselves are often too scared to touch.  The concept seems like one bound to the stage, but it works yet again on screen.

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REVIEW: Bernie

25 06 2012

Most movies are just set in some generic city, and it proves merely a bland backdrop for the story.  Sometimes, though, a filmmaker finds a special affection for a city, a state, or a country, and the setting becomes a character in the movie.  Lucky New Yorkers have been lavished with movies celebrating their magical city thanks to Woody Allen and all his proteges, and Allen gave Europeans one of the all-time best city characters with his recent “Midnight in Paris.”

Richard Linklater, a fellow Houstonian, has created his own “Midnight in Paris” with “Bernie,” a true crime flick with a documentary angle set deep in the heart of Texas.  Granted, no one would ever mistake Carthage, Texas for Paris, France.  But just as Allen acquaints us with the architecture, the culture, and the rich history of Paris, Linklater gives us a taste of small-town Texas with pinpoint accuracy.

For once, my beloved state isn’t the butt of the joke, mocked by caricature, or stereotyped into a mythical land where cowboys ride their horse to work.  (As I like to remind everyone, we have three of the ten most populous cities in the United States!)  It’s a tender and nuanced portrayal of a tiny community rocked by a scandal beyond their wildest imaginations.

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