The Strange Little Cat
**1/2 (out of 4 stars)
The title of this film is a bit misleading because the cat is hardly the movie’s central character. If there is one, in a film teeming with characters, it would have to be Clara, a quirky young girl. Regardless, the film is actually a lighthearted sketch of three generations of a family that gather in a cramped apartment in Berlin to dine and spend some time together—is it a holiday? Does it matter? As the day unfolds, we see the family in all their eccentric charm, though whether you find them charming or not depends on your disposition. I found the film pleasant enough, and the logistics of filming all of those people, to say nothing of the cat and a dog, in such a small apartment is pretty impressive. But the characters tended toward affectation, as they look lovingly at one another while relating pointless anecdotes or doing something kooky, which is Clara’s forte. For example, every time the coffee grinder is turned on, she yells. Very loudly. Charming? Annoying? It’s your call. The effect of watching these gentle eccentrics put through the paces of an almost plotless film is rather like watching You Can’t Take It with You minus the madcap humor. And really, without that, what are you left with?
*** (out of 4 stars)
At the beginning of Locke, the eponymous Ivan Locke, the only character to appear in the film, sits at a stoplight, signaling a left turn. He dozes off but is jolted awake by the honking of a truck behind him. The light has changed. Instead of moving, Locke sits in the intersection for a while before he suddenly snaps the signal to the right and tears off in the direction opposite of where he originally appeared to be heading. That decision takes his entire life in a different direction, as well, and it is the consequences of his decision that make up the drama of Locke. To say what those consequences are, unfortunately, would undo the suspense at the beginning of the film, as the characters he calls from his car ask with incredulity and not a little anxiety what could possibly compel Locke to turn his back on the most important construction job of his career, an act that will surely cost him his job. Little do they know, Locke’s job is just one of many things that will be different after this eventful night. What’s unusual about Locke is that the action is confined to Locke driving and talking on his phone with those who will be affected by his decision. Still, the film remains briskly paced and maintains a fairly high level of tension. Though that’s to the film’s credit, it also points to a problem the film has: it doesn’t always seem to trust its story, so it falls back on busyness. This was apparent with the introduction of a fourth storyline in which the ghost of Locke’s father figuratively haunts him, and it is there in the restless editing, too. Images aren’t held for long, despite how gorgeous some are. Granted, one might argue that the editing mimics the state of Locke’s mind, further represented by the occasionally abstract and disorienting cinematography—a swirling parallax effect achieved as yellow and blue chimeras of light circle Locke’s head, tugging back against his forward momentum. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, what might have been the effect—perhaps one of endlessness and inescapability—achieved by a less fidgety approach, one more controlled, like we’re told Locke usually is. We’ll never know. Still, what we have, anchored by Tom Hardy’s excellent performance, is quite a ride.
**** (out of 4 stars)
Undoubtedly, the most notorious fact about Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s bildungsroman of a movie about a boy growing into a young man, is that Linklater filmed it over the course of eleven years, one year for each of the boy’s years in school. It’s an approach that sounds like a gimmick, and perhaps it is. But the physical changes that the actors undergo over the course of the movie—mainly Ellar Coltrane as Mason Jr., Lorelei Linklater as his sister Samantha, Ethan Hawke as Mason Sr., and Patricia Arquette as his mother Olivia—add an existential weight to their development, as we watch their bodies transform along with their personalities and outlooks on life. More importantly, Linklater has made a funny, observant movie about what it is to grow up during a particular time in a particular place—in this case, Texas at the turn of the millennium. We watch as Olivia, divorced from Mason Sr. before the film opens, tries to do the right thing for herself and her children, sometimes cringingly as there are some unfortunate missteps, and we watch Mason Sr. mature into being a good father, something he was never terrible at, but a role he didn’t seem ready for until the end of the film, as he finally begins a new family with a new wife. And finally, there’s Mason Jr., whose personality becomes more distinct as he ages, going from a vague, dreamy boy to, perhaps, a less vague, dreamy young man. Boyhood is an accessible, entertaining film that doesn’t turn growing up into yet another tiresome cliché.