TBT: Stand By Me (1986)

So since I couldn’t get my act together and decide on a theme for this month’s TBT reviews, we’re going to have another one of those random picks months, and that’s okay I guess because it’s only September. Plenty of time before the year’s out to make good on coming up with a scheduled list of films to watch and review for this feature. Today we have a good one. . . if you like movies about kids walking down railroad tracks, that is. (I do. I like those kinds of movies.) 

Today’s food for thought: Stand By Me.

Stand By Me movie poster

Looking for a dead body since: Friday, August 22, 1986

[Netflix]

Rob Reiner, channeling his strongest nostalgic tendencies, created a wonderful coming-of-age drama with the tale of four boys set out on their own to find the body of a missing local teen. As was the case with his masterpiece The Princess Bride, Stand By Me yearns for a simpler time when kids could just be free to roam, and other than worrying about the dropping of the nuclear bomb, adults had a slightly less pessimistic worldview.

Of course, his adaptation of the Stephen King novel — the most feel-good of all the King adaptations — wasn’t about the grown-ups. In fact, with the exception of the framing device of an older Gordie Lachance (Richard Dreyfuss) reflecting back on his childhood adventures after seeing a newspaper article about the death of one of his friends, a few short clips of Gordie’s parents and an old, crusty junkyard owner the film was essentially driven by child actors. An impressive feat, given how good the acting is; how deep the camaraderie between this ragtag group of boys goes.

We meet all four in a treehouse, where Gordie (Wil Wheaton), his best bud Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), the outspoken Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), and the chubby, nervous and generally irritating Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell) are discussing the possibility of going out to find the body of a kid who went missing from their town of Castle Rock some time recently. Vern, having broached the subject, claims he got the idea after overhearing his older brother and his obnoxious friend talking about it. It takes these kids but a few minutes to decide that they want to be the ones who uncover the body. After all, they could become local heroes because of it. Over the next two days, they embark on a journey down a railroad line, an adventure that encompasses their collective past, present and future.

Stand By Me is aggressively enjoyable. From astute performances from such young actors to the simplistic yet creative setting, Reiner found a perfect mixture of tone and tempo in his lamenting over the fact that childhood is a bubble that pops far too easily. The film had to rely heavily on the camaraderie of our explorers in order to overcome the monotony of sticking to a never-ending railroad track while also depending on precise editing and a variety of scene changes so that the whole enterprise didn’t feel experimental. It’s pretty successful on all fronts.

Reiner’s use of the railroad linking the boys to a destiny marked by danger and loss of innocence was a stroke of genius. Rather than manifesting as an obligatory check list of items that needed to be ticked because of preconceived notions of what a coming-of-age drama is (or was), the events that come to define Stand By Me occur naturally and as close to extemporaneously as the most polished version of a script could possibly allow. The scrapyard break-in, the bridge crossing debacle, the leech-infested swamp — none of these eye-opening moments would have been possible if the story were told after-the-fact in that treehouse, or from any quaint locale in Castle Rock for that matter.

The film isn’t free of cliches of course. Personal fears of a mostly familial nature run the gamut from being unable to escape the past — the Chambers being widely known for their alcoholism and criminal activity — to being inadequate in a family (Gordie considers the loss of his older brother Denny to be the last time he felt any kind of attention from his parents) and to being psychologically and emotionally traumatized in an abusive household, as was the case for Teddy whose father was a war vet suffering from PTSD. It’s all stuff we’ve encountered before in these movies but familiar ground does not contribute to an overly familiar expedition.

Ultimately the film has the advantage of being even more interesting if we put ourselves in these kids’ shoes. If given the opportunity as a child to see a dead body, would we? At what age does the sanctity of a human life strike someone, and is it the same for everyone? What would a weekend trip like this do to us? If we were in their shoes, would we be tempted to kick Kiefer Sutherland’s ass? Stand By Me may have offered Sutherland one of his most ridiculous roles as a punk teenager on the hunt for the same kind of infamy as these boys, though it is far more memorable because of its investment in the preciousness of childhood, and being able to pinpoint the precise moment at which boys are no longer boys.

Recommendation: Stand By Me is a classic coming-of-ager, told through Rob Reiner’s sensitivity and deft humor. It’s also highly nostalgic for the years where not much seemed to matter apart from getting into trouble with your friends in the summer. Oh yeah, I guess this was set in the 50’s so you always had to keep an eye out for that dreaded nuclear bomb. I guess there was that. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “At the beginning of the school year, Vern had buried a quart jar of pennies underneath his house. He drew a treasure map so he could find them again. A week later, his mom cleaned out his room and threw away the map. Vern had been trying to find those pennies for nine months. Nine months, man. You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Boyhood

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Release: Friday, July 18, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

I know my refusal to get up out of my seat even after almost three consecutive hours of sitting — in considerably cramped quarters, I might add — is pretty weak testament to the fact that Boyhood just may be one of the coolest films this reviewer has had the privilege of watching. Saying I didn’t move after the film ended is not a very flashy statement and it probably won’t help sell a lot of tickets, I’ll admit. Instead it’s one that might even lead readers to think I just got stuck in the chair or something. Maybe I had even fallen asleep. I have seen that before, actually; people just lying there comatose while the credits rolled — sigh. What are they paying for?

If I had fallen asleep here, I would have just paid to sleep through a rare kind of cinematic event. Foolishly, I would have muted a voice I, as something of a nit-picky consumer of media, have been needing to hear for awhile. A voice that’s already too hard to hear when the Michael Bays and Brett Ratners and M. Night Shamalyans of the world won’t hush. Indeed I would have, in effect, slept through another chance to grow up once more, to do it all over again.

Wait, I didn’t mean I slept through my childhood the first time, just that I would have been. . . . . oh, never mind. You know what I mean. And you know what else, even if that opening line isn’t all that attention-grabbing, hey at least I’m being honest! I remain unable to leave this film behind, physically or psychologically. Yes, I might still be in denial. Yes, I’m still in the theater a week later. Yes, okay, that’s a lie.

But here’s something I can’t lie about: Richard Linklater’s much-anticipated project no longer exists in mythology. It’s now out there, ready for public consumption, even if its distribution will only allow the public to ingest it in nibbles.

Should I be surprised, though? Maybe it is fate that Transformers: Age of Exstinky debuted to some 3,000 theaters all crammed to the brim like cans of sardines while this astounding feat of cinematic beauty has slowly earned the right to open in front of less than 1,000 indie crowds over the past month and a half. Seems to me the public always picks its battles quickly, and in this example it’s one between films with short skirts versus those with long-winded explanations. And it’s so totally a one-sided affair, too. An overwhelming number of times the former emerges victorious. Visual stimulation is easier to accomplish — not necessarily cheaper to produce — than ones of a conceptual or emotive nature. After all, even despite dismal reviews that caucophany was the fourth installment in a series that has seriously lost its way but is still earning money. Lots of it.

Boyhood is a rare film for many reasons, but chief among those has to be how faithfully it adheres to the typical viewer’s own experiences. (Unless, of course, you’re an alien.) Never before has the line between fiction and reality been so flirtatious, so challenging to define. Character names and relationships are afforded the protection of fictionalization, and thank goodness too because that’s one of perhaps two things distinguishing proceedings from home-video footage (the second element being a distinctly more expensive piece of equipment used in filming). Production values exist on a level liable to boggle the mind if one is not careful. And hopefully, if one is not passed out in their seats.

We first meet Mason as his diminutive frame sprawls out upon a patch of brilliant green grass — eyes wide and full, ingesting every ounce of the sky above. Already he is engaged in a process we, the mere spectators, have been practicing for some time: being aware of his surroundings. (Later, finding a way to blend in.) While it’s a bit disconcerting never being able to pinpoint the precise moment we become aware of our own presence, there certainly becomes a point where its clear cynical men have abandoned the nescience of true boyhood. Such abstraction may not occur to every viewer, but it’s one of the more breathtaking developments over the course of these fleeting minutes.

In that iconic opening shot, Mason’s already sponge-like, absorbing and observing things about his environment, about the kinds of things kids his age do. He’s learning his family is also not the most traditional one, but he won’t understand why for another little while. Neither will we.These are the kinds of things real people grow up having to cope with, rather than worrying about when the token girl will pop up “on screen” and “become central to the plot via some contrivance.” That sugarcoating just won’t ring true here. And yet, Mason’s going to be a hero all the same for walking through this. Although enigmatic from the get-go his charm is not instantly earned. Particularly in the early years, Mason doesn’t feel as though he’s made of the stuff of even the most transparent of cinematic creations.

There’s something more organic about Coltrane’s presence. Whether this comes down to a particularly subtle acting style on his behalf or a sensationally perceptive script could be debated until the cows come home. Or at least, you know. . . until the absentee father does. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, two somewhat illustrious names in the industry, help ensure some of the film’s emotional gravity is not lost on slightly inexperienced actors. But this casting is about as extravagant as Boyhood becomes and it is not to suggest Coltrane doesn’t have to sweat the big stuff. Oh, how he does. But rather than sweating, Coltrane remains graceful, poised. He simply becomes what is asked of him.

Meanwhile, more identifiable ‘performances’ can be found with Hawke, as he embraces the opportunity to portray Mason Sr., the biological father whom Mason and Samantha only see on the odd occasion. A very fun Ethan Hawke provides charisma and energy where these kids really require strong parental support (every hard-working mother in the room should be able to empathize to great depths with Arquette’s brilliant performance); gifts where they need valuable lessons.

Ah, but he comes prepared with a few of those, too.

Mason Sr. is a great guy, but perhaps not so much a competent father figure. All of his wisdom is imparted on-the-go. A scene in which he’s delivering the birds-and-the-bees speech takes place in a public setting and he’s even considerate enough to include both kids in the discussion. That kind of awkwardness only manifests itself in reality. There’s no way this scene is actually scripted. . .is there? Could it be? That’s just one example, albeit a particularly strong one. If I were to name some others we could be here all night and day.

As per the lyrics: “let me go. I don’t want to be your hero. I don’t want to be a big man. I just want to fight with everyone else.” Indeed. Ever the idealist, I didn’t want to get out of my seat because I wanted those pangs of nostalgia to never subside. Best part of all, my refusal to move is merely unique to one particularly reactive moviegoer. Linklater easily could have groped for sentimentality but where he avoids forcing saccharinity, he’s unable to escape effecting profundity.

aging-up-yo

5-0Recommendation: Boyhood is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Immense in both scope and ambition, Richard Linklater’s project is also intensely personal. His name ought to be crowned among the greatest directors of all time. With a single movie — although it would be a bit dismissive to label this just another title to add to the stack — I feel he has earned that right. A labor of love it may be, but this is also one of the most important and significant films ever released. I urge you with something akin to desperation, to treat yourself to this marvel.

Rated: R

Running Time: 165 mins.

Quoted: “Why are you crying?”

“Because I don’t have all the answers.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com