The Canyons (2013)

There is a kind of glorious trash to The Canyons. This soapy Hollywood drama/thriller feels like a cross between The Hills and a slasher movie, with attractive twentysomethings having a drink in one scene and murdering ex-lovers the next. It’s mostly lurid and often laughable, but undeniably hypnotic in its power.

Much of this power, admittedly, comes from the casting of Lindsay Lohan as the lead. Her on-screen presence instantly brings out a variety of reactions, whether pity, disgust, or empathy, but we enter into this film immediately cued that her character has come from a troubled past.

The real eye-opener, though, is her sorta-boyfriend played by James Deen, apparently a former porn star, who takes strong command of each scene and plays a cold, bitter lover very well given the source material.

What’s a real shame is that the script, or perhaps the film in general, is not worthy of some of the talent involved. There’s some real potential, with the meta qualities of the off-the-rails Lohan trapped in a Hollywood nightmare, and a pulpy script that sweeps us across the Los Angeles cityscape in a confusing, yet cohesive, flurry of locales and one-off exchanges.

Not everything quite makes sense, and it’s difficult to understand some of the characters’ motivations… particularly what drives them to murder. By this point in the film though, so much inexplicable phenomena has taken place that you almost come to expect unfounded chaos.

It’s no gripping pulp thriller like Spring Breakers or a Hollywood tragedy like Mulholland Drive, but The Canyons makes an earnest, though unfulfilled, effort to breathe some new life into the young Hollywood genre.

Boyhood (2014)

I don’t really marvel at contemporary movies. After decades of innovation and achievement, there’s not much that hasn’t been done before. You can design the most realistic CGI effects or write the most brilliant script, but at the end of the day it’s still fake. You are creating an artificiality for the screen.

With Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking Boyhood though, I am constantly in awe. Scenes upon scenes stack on top of each other and you are repeatedly struck with wonder, “How’d they do that?” So much (deserved) attention has gone to this feature for its ambitious 12-year production, only taping several scenes per year, over the course of a young boy’s transition into a young man. There’s nothing fake about it, and that is its power; it is pure, unadulterated reality, more stunning than anything most filmmmakers dare to record on film.

We follow Mason Jr., his two parents, and his older sister, plus a fairly large ensemble of stepfathers, stepsiblings, friends, in-laws – there is an entire universe of people who come in and out of his life in a way that feels so true to life. It even makes the similarly-ambitious Blue is the Warmest Color somewhat cliche; Boyhood handles reality so much better.

I truly cannot wait for this home video release, and the possibility of visiting any footage left on the cutting room floor, to see what was and what was not determined as timely for that stage of both Mason Jr.’s life, and of the reality of that time. Period pieces (I can’t believe we can already refer to stories beginning in the early 2000s a period piece?) are incredibly difficult to do authentically, to pepper in just enough of that time so you get the gist of it without drowning you in The Top 40 Hits Of The Time.

The term “documentary-style” is terribly overused, but it really can’t apply any better than to Boyhood. Whether intentional or not, it’s a wonderful trip down memory lane, from Harry Potter release parties to saggy pants to explaining Lady Gaga to adults. The mix of cultural development with the stages of growing up are so organically intertwined it’s easy to forget you are watching a movie.

It might be because I’m of a similar age to Mason Jr. (I’m just slightly older) but all the moments we experience ring so true to universal experiences of growing up, without following a stepladder or clear direction. The film just washes over us, moment by moment, building upon each other like a chronicle rather than a straight narrative.

Even as the film wraps up, we end not at his high school graduation, or his grad party, or any of the scenes you would expect. It takes an unexpected end as a mellow conversation between Mason Jr. and a new friend, as they ponder whether one can “seize the moment” or if the moment seizes us. This thought-provoking discussion of course not only applies to the unique framework of Boyhood, but also the perspective we assess narratives or even our lives in general. There is no beginning, middle, or end, just the unfolding of time as we move along with it.

While Boyhood wasn’t particularly emotional (maybe it’s not supposed to be) it was remarkable how it places an audience right among these characters they literally watch grow over the years. Boyhood is one of the most important movies I’ve seen in some time.