Titled after a Van Halen song and a truth universally acknowledged, Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! follows a dozen members of a college-baseball team through a cloudless late summer in 1980. You know the clock is ticking for these specimens of boisterously healthy manhood, as it always does for young athletes; and yet Linklater, who made the Before trilogy and Boyhood (which could have been called Before Consciousness of Mortality), allows neither pathos nor urgency to intrude this time. The master of deadline cinema flashes a title at the beginning, telling you that classes will start in three days and so many hours and minutes. Then, when each section of the film has drifted by, he revises the tally downward, with a precision that grows more ridiculous in proportion to the mounting evidence that his characters just don’t care. For as long as the film lasts, these blithe young men with their Burt Reynolds mustaches and torso-hugging T-shirts live in an eternal present of chasing women, drinking, partying, making fun of each other, chasing women, dropping by the swimming hole, lounging about their off-campus houses, and talking nonsense. One afternoon, they even practice a little baseball.
For as long as the movie lasts, you too have nothing more pressing to do. It’s only afterward, when you look back on this comedy of jock manners, that you marvel at how economically Linklater has wafted you along, using little more than breezy moods, plotless good spirits, and the rhythms of an encyclopedically eclectic pop sound track. Compared to the difficulty of sustaining a whole movie on such wisps, you might think, the creation of weighty masterpieces must be no trick at all.
That said, if you’re determined to do it, you can wring a story, some themes, and even a moral out of Everybody Wants Some!! A freshman pitcher named Jake, played by the charmingly long-faced and gangly Blake Jenner, drives into the fictional Southeast Texas State University on surges of “My Sharona” and brings the camera with him to explore, with rapid efficiency, the old wood-frame houses where the baseball players live and get introduced to the other characters. Thoughtful and a little quiet, but also poised and adept at blending in, Jake understands that the days ahead will be about transforming a gathering of highly competitive egotists into a functioning team.
Stupid bets, practical jokes, and the intense pursuit of victory in darts, table tennis, and Nerf basketball are some of the methods by which the characters test one another, developing a give-and-take and resolving their hierarchy. Skirt-chasing is another. Even though the frenetic nightly pairings-off are ostensibly done just for pleasure (and seem to deliver plenty of it), success in soliciting the warm cooperation of young women is one more means by which the ballplayers decide how they rank in relation to one another. In their muscular encounters on and off the diamond, McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin)—dark-haired, gruff, and unbelievably strong—reigns as the man you shouldn’t even try to beat. In the discos, roadhouses, and parties, Finnegan (Glen Powell)—blond, pipe-smoking, and drolly grandiloquent—reigns as the acknowledged leader in chatting up women. You might say that Everybody Wants Some!! is the story of how Jake meets the challenge of McReynolds, accepts tutelage from Finnegan, and then has enough wit and soul of his own to fall in with a woman he actually likes: an open-faced, sassily earnest performing-arts major named Beverly (Zoey Deutch).
Of course, this is an unrealistically rosy image of life, and it’s clearly meant to be. You can recognize the paradisiacal aspirations of Everybody Wants Some!! by the fate of the one character who is not allowed to linger in its sweetness: a late-hippie pitcher named Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), who resigns himself to expulsion in the film’s only plot twist. By sending Willoughby off, Linklater in effect confirms that everyone else remains within the gates of Eden, where the colors of Shane F. Kelly’s cinematography resemble Valentine’s Day candy hearts and the musical options—from disco and punk, from funk to country—unite rather than divide America’s tribes.
Toward the end, the ballplayers are even granted a college student’s vision of heaven on earth, when the team tags along with Jake to the performing-arts majors’ start-of-school party. It’s held in the off-campus house called Oz, which is as good a name as any for this panchromatic wonderland of fairy lights and $1.98 exotica. In truth, it’s gorgeous, especially after you’ve been staring for so long at the ballplayers’ bland quarters.
The moral—I promised you one—is that the athletes, like the rest of us, might intuit whatever grace they enjoy in their lives but have trouble recognizing it on their own. It takes the performing artists to show it to them. As for the climax—or as much of one as you’re going to get—it involves Jake’s being recruited at the party to play the White Rabbit in a skit where Beverly appears as Alice. “I’m late!” he cries, in the film’s first and last expression of temporal anxiety. But his reading of the line is hopelessly, hilariously inept, not so much for want of theatrical training but because he lacks all conviction in the role. He’s game enough, for Beverly’s sake, but it’s clear that he still hasn’t heard the clock ticking.
Linklater hears it, though. Among his agendas in Everybody Wants Some!! is to revisit an important moment in his quarter-century-long career (this being a sequel of sorts to his first commercial hit, Dazed and Confused) while also thinking about his own college-age defection from baseball to theater arts. In many writer-directors who have reached their middle years, such self-reflection might be a bad sign. But I think that Linklater—arguably the highest-grossing experimental filmmaker of our time—has more than earned the right to work a few autobiographical musings into a picture; and besides, you’re free to disregard them. All they do is lend this lighter-than-air contraption enough gravity to keep you skimming within safe reach of the ground. You will have to touch down eventually: You know it, and Linklater knows it. For a while, though, the two of you may as well enjoy the time of your life.
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But what about masterpieces? Alexander Sokurov routinely traffics in them, often creating his own by brooding over those made by others—the paintings in the Hermitage, for example, in Russian Ark, or Goethe’s monumental achievement in Faust. He’s unquestionably a great filmmaker; but he’s also what Saul Bellow called a “greatness freak,” whose determination to work at only the highest level, preferably in the company of others like himself, can sometimes give him a swollen head, or worse.
The last time I wrote about Sokurov, I protested against his having turned Faust into a phantasmagoria of Jew-baiting. My dismay, shall we call it, has not abated. But now Sokurov is back with Francofonia—another historical fantasy with an art museum at its center—and I couldn’t look away. He has put nothing less than his whole self into this film. If you watch it, he will demand nothing less of you. And it’s worth the effort, because his theme this time is the cruelty of greatness itself: the terrifying, age-old alliance of art and power, and the crushing distance of both from the lives of those who serve them.
One of Sokurov’s two primary sites for these meditations is the Louvre. He shows you its paintings and sculptures as you might see them yourself (if you poked Bruno Delbonnel’s camera right up to them and made the surfaces seem to tilt and stretch). He wanders through its darkened galleries, imagining how they might be haunted by Napoleon (Vincent Nemeth) and the prattling spirit of the French Republic, Marianne (Johanna Korthals Altes). Most of all, he dwells on the museum’s history, especially as it might have played out during World War II.
The longest, weightiest sequences of Francofonia dramatize this past through scenes staged between two historical figures: the bureaucrat Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), who directed the Louvre throughout the Nazi occupation, and the aristocratic art historian and military officer Franz Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath), the German official who exercised authority over French cultural heritage. One, though a French patriot, carried on administering the Louvre under Vichy’s auspices, meanwhile helping the Resistance. The other, though a servant of the Nazis, was also a lover of French language and art who contrived to avoid shipping the country’s treasures to Germany. In Sokurov’s version of these men, Jaujard is all dour caution, Wolff-Metternich all suavity and bright self-satisfaction. Together, they become conspirators for the sake of art, and perhaps even friends.
“Perhaps” is the key word here—because the other primary site in Francofonia is Sokurov’s home office in Russia, where you see him holed up with his books and computers, talking to himself (and to you) while trying to make sense of a century and more of catastrophe. He stares at photographs of Tolstoy and Chekhov and wonders why these fathers don’t wake up from their long slumber and tell him what to do. He holds Skype chats with a fictional friend—a container-ship captain—caught in a storm. (The raging ocean is history, Sokurov says. The containers—what folly to have done this!—are full of a museum’s art.) Sometimes Sokurov comments with astringent humor on the documentary materials he’s compiled, such as footage of Hitler touring the recently conquered Paris. (Hitler, the “new owner,” inspects the Eiffel Tower, and Sokurov voices a satisfied observation for him: “Good, right where it should be.” Hitler comes to the head of the Champs-Élysées: “Ah, a straight line.”) And from time to time a shot of the actors playing Jaujard and Wolff-Metternich pops into sight on a desktop screen.
When you watch those particular scenes in the film, you always see them as Sokurov would on his editing system, with the squiggle of the optical soundtrack wriggling at the left of the frame. This would seem to be overkill. For you to understand that you’re watching an artifice, it would be enough that Sokurov shot these scenes in a style reminiscent of 1940s French cinema. It’s more than enough that he introduces them with a voice-over remark about imagining the first encounter between Jaujard and Wolff-Metternich. By showing the optical soundtrack, he goes even further, implying that these sequences are still a work in progress, much as his thoughts in the home studio are supposedly in formation.
But that’s precisely what Sokurov denies through his method of organizing Francofonia. The first thing you see in the film is the closing-credit roll. The first words you hear are from a telephone conversation in which Sokurov tells a friend that the film is substantially finished, and that he doesn’t think it’s much good. So, despite appearances, the Jaujard and Wolff-Metternich scenes are in the can. Jaujard and Wolff-Metternich themselves are dead. (Toward the end, Sokurov will show you their grave sites.) And for all the energy he pours into making Francofonia, it would seem that Sokurov believes art itself is over, along with history.
If Russian Ark was Sokurov’s vision of an art museum as a collective performance, flowing through history in an ultimately triumphant procession, then Francofonia is his vision of an art museum as a jumble of fragments at the end of time. The best of those fragments in the Louvre, according to his voice-over, are the portraits, which enable us to look into the eyes of those who came before us. (He makes some portraits of his own, with Jaujard and Wolff-Metternich.) But many are fearsome instruments of power, and all of them in retrospect are Napoleon’s loot, for which countless people sacrificed their lives.
Would it be better to sacrifice the art instead? Here we come to the bitterest paradox in Francofonia: The French surrendered to the Nazis, Sokurov points out, so that Paris would be preserved. What people would be so crazy as to hold out against an enemy on sheer principle, at the cost of both their lives and their greatest cultural treasure? Only the Russians, at Leningrad.
That’s a tough observation, made in a tough movie. It would be enough to move me to call Francofonia a counsel of despair, if not for the cinematic magic that Sokurov pulls off in scene after scene, the restless intelligence he applies to everything he encounters (always without pomposity, about the subjects or himself), the edge of sarcasm and defiance he gives to his anger. Everything seems to be over; yet Sokurov sends you out of Francofonia feeling there are still good faces to observe and Napoleons to be undone—and not just in France, either.
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Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent are mama’s boys. That’s one of the two insights that went into the making of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the other being that Jesse Eisenberg’s turn as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network could be repurposed as Lex Luthor. The film’s only other notable ingredients, sadly, are the most rumbling soundtrack since Earthquake, a lot of jaw grinding by Ben Affleck, some narrative confusion remarkable even by director Zack Snyder’s standards, and time—hours and hours of your time. I’d like to say this is as bad as it’s going to get, but sooner or later Maureen Dowd will write an op-ed claiming the whole thing’s about Donald Trump. Opening weekend: $424 million worldwide.