Tropic Sprockets

Boyhood

BY IAN BROCKWAY

The singular director Richard Linklater hits big with nothing less than a human epic. “Boyhood” is a visual roman a clef, as subtle and introspective as it is personal.

Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is a 6-year-old boy, nervous and reticent over his parents’ divorce. This is very much a concept film, given that we follow Mason along with his mom, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), his dad, Mason (Ethan Hawke), and his sister, Samantha (Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei) for the space of 12 actual years, in what is very close to real time.

Following a group of fictional characters, aside from the documentary series “28 Up” by Michael Apted, has never been done. In this film, we sense what it actually feels like for a young person to mature and it unfolds before our eyes like a Texas cactus.

Faced with domestic unrest, Mason retreats into himself. His mother meets a militaristic and headstrong teacher who at first seems engaging and fun, but soon turns violent with alcoholic rage.

The wonder of it all is in its softness and delicate detail that spins in the camera with the short pungency of haiku: We see Mason in long takes arguing with the authenticity of a person in his private space. We see these characters doing what is often unthinkable—being bored. At times, when Mason is pensive and lethargic the story moves like a rhythmic tome, at others when the camera winds in between doorways to show a rabid and frothing stepfather, the story has the percussiveness of a psychological horror story.

Mason has a great range here from a fledgling curious kid, mischievous tween, a disaffected teen and then to a young adult, nearly obsessed by national paranoia. Samantha, too, evolves from a kind, idealistic young girl, to a self centered monotone teen, and then moves a bit outside her shell again.

In addition to its people, this is also very much a story of America. We are bombarded at first by some mechanized and aggressive imagery from the Manga on TV to the Gulf War, but through the course of the story, technology’s death grip on culture lessens, if ever so slightly, though Mason’s lament on intimacy in cyberspace.

The father oscillates from a bohemian disordered lay-about to a straight-laced, semi-religious person who sells insurance. It is a rare thing that every character moves with organic bends and stops—as life often does—no one character rings false. The state of Texas in all its plaid homophobia and desolation is seen here as it is, or might be, in some populations. There are churches, bars, white-supremacy houses and blue grass jamborees.

But like a human being, Texas, the place transforms as well, with blue and red orbits of Obama signs that sprout on lawns like lollipops. Better yet, there is enough here to make us ponder and reflect within the film. There is just as much not known about Mason and his parents as there is revealed and that is what is rare.

Mason emerges to us as a friend on a Texas street deep within the western suburbs where clusters of taciturn, hooded kids barely mumble hello. We follow him, sticking to the camera and Mason in turn, stares at us with his camera. We can’t pull away.

When Mason’s deep voice finally emerges as a young adult, the fact that we have watched this boy from age 6 sneaks up on us all and hits us like a slug from a 30 ought 6. “Boyhood” is a rich and thoughtful film that unfolds like a novel, yet it also entertains and playfully toys throughout (as if its three-hour running time is a daring aside to audiences).

Don’t let the film’s scope intimidate you. “Boyhood” is very much a poetic meditation on Ray Bradbury’s evocative “Dandelion Wine” and it is sure to leave you with many questions, not only regarding its characters, but more compellingly, on the nature of film as it is predominantly consumed today.

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Auteur Lasse Hallstrom directs the affectionate “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” a sugar-glazed culture clash film that turns the blazing tensions of professional cooking into a “It’s a Small World” Disney trip and makes it all seem smooth and effortless.

The Indian Kadam family has relocated to France, after losing their restaurant and enduring the loss of their mother, who died in a fire.

Papa (the iconic actor Om Puri) is as solid as a rock and gets an idea to have a restaurant along the French countryside. He knows this is The Way. After all, his son Hassan (Manish Dayal) has numinous culinary gifts. He can transcend the spirit world through his salivary glands and communicate to curried ghosts, both near and far.

Papa wanders about the grounds, discovering a big house with an open courtyard.

It’s kismet.

But alas, the location is next door to Le Saule Pleureur, a haute cuisine showplace, helmed by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), an icy straight arrow who is a fusion of Cruella de Vil and Julia Child.

Mallory declares “war” on the new Romantic family, buying all the produce so the Kadams have little to work with and she stuffily complains about exuberant Indian music.

There is a silver lining in this cauliflower-shaped cloud, however, as Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) a vivacious sous-chef as adorable as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid,” takes a fetching interest in the gentle Hassan.

A battle of wills commence.

There is a commentary on anti-immigrant hostility when a nationalist chef, Jean-Pierre (Clement Sibony), attempts to burn the restaurant down in one of the more interesting passages of the film.

While “The Hundred-Foot Journey” borrows a bit from other Eastern-themed underdog films such as “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Million Dollar Arm,” the visual sweep within this film is a treat that works. And while “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is, no doubt, pure Hollywood thru and thru, it is almost a period piece, given that it highlights and catalogs the magic of Steven Spielberg; he is the producer and his mark is clearly seen.

In showcasing golden sauces that pour over our eyes like light from an edible sun, its depiction of colorful curries that froth and swirl like calico candies of LSD, and last but not least, huge red peppers that pulse in an almost animated motion like the dismembered hearts in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” this film illustrates the liveliness of food within its gustatory circus.

And although it is predictable, we still get a charge in seeing Hassan go to Paris, attempting to break down the molecular science of “quantum cuisine,” to discover past spirits and meet with ghosts.

Yes, this is a Disney version of the hard-nosed dog eat dog world as seen in “Chef,” but it is so unapologetically sentimental (from the fireworks on cue, to Papa and daughter looking ridiculous but acting earnestly in a gold turban and a shimmering sari ) that you end up smiling in spite of all.

With all of the Franco-Indian fairy dust heaped in tablespoons as if left by “Aladdin,” “Mary Poppins” and “Ratatouille,” “The Hundred-Foot Journey” still creates a perfect food-fusion sleight of hand with hints of Bollywood spice in this blissful, yet cinematic Béchamel.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com