Sunday, 19 October 2014

Youth run wild: "Palo Alto"

Of Clan Coppola, you will of course already be aware of Don Francis and Cousin Cage and the prodigal Sofia, she of the wispy, floating tendencies; now let me introduce you to Francis's granddaughter Gia, a writer-director whose quietly impressive debut Palo Alto, adapted from James Franco's fiction collection Palo Alto Stories, preserves some of the harder edges Aunt Sofia has been prone to skirting around. Its heroine Alice (Emma Roberts) is a non-tanned, non-blonde sensitive soul, somewhat alienated from her Valley Girl contemporaries, who's reached the age where options, good and bad, have started to present themselves. The opposite sex, for one - and while her football coach (Franco himself) appears to have cast her in the role of jailbait-babysitter fantasy material, Alice has her eye on talented yet troubled Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val), busy working through his own issues.

Alice is notionally the centre, yet Coppola keeps shifting her focus onto supporting characters; in so doing, she shows us enough of this bland, sunkissed suburbia to make us understand why these kids are wont to run into the shadows and rebel. There's a sociological urge at play here. Franco, who likely fancies himself a latter-day Henry James (and doubtless just fancies himself), does have an ear for how these kids talk, and an eye for the blunt ways in which they approach one another: he and Coppola have created a juicy tragicomic role for Nat Wolff as Fred, a young man incapable of exiting a scene without having first done something crude, whether petulantly kicking away a basketball after an oncourt altercation or scrawling cocks in a children's book. These brats have been schooled to believe that being shitty to one another is the best form of communication; pitifully low on self-esteem, they reject others as they are themselves rejected, and use sex as a way of obtaining the attention and affection denied to them by their folks. As in Maps to the Stars, parents and children are shown to lead separate lives: Fred's dad (a nicely etched cameo by Chris Messina) is - much like Franco's letchy coach - really nothing more than a big kid, using dope as a somewhat desperate means of clinging onto his youth. 

Coppola is gentle, even remorseful, in the manner in which she frames these foibles and transgressions: Fred's lengthy description of a gang-bang could be straight out of Larry Clark, but it's unclear whether this event actually happened or is merely the outpouring of a porn-addled teenager's mind. Something of Sofia's gift for fantasy and ambiguity is clearly in Gia's DNA, too, but here it results in a film that's often more disconcerting than elusive or evasive: she knows when to show and tell it like these kids do, but she's also always aware of when to hold back a little, the better to preserve the innocence that sits at the writing's core. This empathy is surprisingly touching, and bodes well for the filmmaker's future projects: adolescence is once again here presented as a perilous tightrope, but Coppola takes every one of her characters by the hand, and leads them from innocence to experience with considerable assurance.

Palo Alto is now showing in selected cinemas.

Friday, 17 October 2014

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of October 10-12, 2014: 
1 (1) Gone Girl (18) **
2 (new) The Maze Runner (12A)
3 (new) Annabelle (15) **
4 (new) One Direction: Where We Are - The Concert Film (U)
5 (2) Dracula Untold (15) **
6 (3) The Equalizer (15)
7 (4) The Boxtrolls (PG) ***
8 (5) What We Did On Our Holiday (12A)
9 (new) The Rewrite (12A)
10 (7) Dolphin Tale 2 (U) **  


My top five:   
1. Le Jour se lève
2. Withnail & I
3. Björk: Biophilia Live
4. Palo Alto
5. Still the Enemy Within

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (1) The Lego Movie (U) ****
2 (3) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (12) ***
3 (2) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (12)
4 (4) The Grand Budapest Hotel (15) **
5 (7) The Book Thief (12) **
6 (8) The Wind Rises (PG) **** 
7 (9) Rio 2 (U) **
8 (6) Pompeii (12)
9 (10) Postman Pat: The Movie (U) **
10 (re) Sabotage (15)  

My top five:  
1. Two Days, One Night
2. 20,000 Days on Earth
3. Moebius
4. The Dirties
5. Omar

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. Guys and Dolls [above] (Saturday, BBC2, 2.15pm)
2. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Sunday, five, 9pm)
3. Fast & Furious 5 (Saturday, C4, 9pm)
4. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Saturday, ITV1, 3.35pm)
5. Cast Away (Sunday, BBC2, 10pm)

"Northern Soul" (The Guardian 17/10/14)

Northern Soul ***
Dir: Elaine Constantine. With: Steve Coogan, Antonia Thomas, Elliot James Langridge. 102 mins. Cert: 15

That site-specific 70s youthquake that saw disaffected Lancastrian teenagers spinning to underheralded American floorfillers has been dramatised once before, in 2010’s likable low-budgeter SoulBoy. Photographer-turned-director Elaine Constantine here offers a more expansive, detailed study: she spies how this scene didn’t just shelter misfits like her protagonist John (the smartly cast Elliot James Langridge, resembling an unstable Richard Beckinsale), but expanded the horizons of anybody feeling oppressed by lingering patrician values. The search for tunes less twee than Melanie’s ever-present “Brand New Key” transforms them all into dreamers and voyagers; each cut around this dour Wilson-era landscape only allows us to feel America’s pull all the more. Those deathlessly crafted songs retain greater momentum than John’s somewhat anecdotal trudge from innocence to experience, but every other scene happens across a Northern treasure (Coogan, Thomson, Tomlinson, Stansfield) and looks, feels and – crucially – sounds true to its sweaty-hazy, slightly cramped corner of history. 

Northern Soul opens in selected cinemas from today, ahead of its DVD release this Monday.

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (The Guardian 17/10/14)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles **
Dir: Jonathan Liebesman. With: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner. 101 mins. Cert: 12A

This many reboots usually signifies catastrophic system error. Here’s producer Michael Bay’s live-action take on the recurring reptiles, which means more sheen than the amiably clunky 90s film, buff CG heroes who resemble pistachio-hued variants of Pain & Gain’s meatheads, and Megan Fox doing squats in a halter top as reporter April O’Neil. Its over-rehearsed origin story proves as insubstantial as any other Turtle spin, yet Bay’s CV arguably lists worse crimes. In-your-face 3D tie-ins – the pizza’s branded, and the finale frenetically pushes pixels around Times Square’s billboards – foreground its primary intent: the repackaging of gleaming, empty, allowance-snaffling product. Were these Turtles ever anything else? 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens in cinemas nationwide today.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

At the LFF: "The Man in the Orange Jacket"

Aik Karapetian's pointedly brisk Latvian slasher The Man in the Orange Jacket deserves credit for many things, not least for succeeding in turning the workaday high-visibility tabard into an item of terror comparable to Freddy Krueger's matted jumper and Jason Vorhees' hockey mask. Between ominous, Haneke-like fadeouts, the briefest of expository snatches let us know we've entered its world just after a series of lay-offs at a port in some grey, grim nowhere. Thereafter, the fun and games - and funny games - begin: one of the fired workers (Maksim Lazarev, who rather resembles a more robust, Slavic Pete Doherty) breaks off from the group, breaks into the port boss's well-appointed retreat, and enacts a deadly form of payback. The first surprise of Karapetian's film is that all this comes to be dealt with before the opening credits; the writer-director's chief concern lies with what the killer does next. 

As our nameless antagonist installs himself in his victim's mansion, trying on suits, picking out a tune or two on the piano, and ignoring a phone that keeps ringing, we start to sense that the emptiness that follows such a crime might be as horrifying, or at least as disconcerting, as the crime itself, and perhaps, just perhaps, its own punishment. (Out of the corner of the eye, you can see the ghosts of Dostoyevsky hovering into vision.) This killer becomes only more vulnerable after making his killing, betraying himself and his motives both at a fancy restaurant (where he makes a working-class hash of the cutlery) and in his interactions with two prostitutes he hires (which reveal fantasies of humiliation and degradation: he's all too clearly getting off on the power money can buy).

His visitors are hardly a reassuring bunch, all told: first a representative of the kind of sharks Latvian businessmen presumably have to swim with, then that tabarded figure - his high visibility making him an unusual, effective phantom, popping out from this especially overcast part of the countryside - who might represent our killer's earlier, revolutionary self, dispatched here to teach this brute a lesson or two about selling out. The Lazarev character begins the film unleashing his anger on others; he will end it wrestling with himself. Anyone in the market for cheap thrills might be referred elsewhere: Karapetian plays Delibes' "Flower Duet" over scenes of a girl being chased through the woods, which speaks to a certain high-mindedness, and positions him closer to Gaspar Noe than Eli Roth on the horror spectrum. Yet such formal elegance masks a spiky, bloodily-won political message, possibly close to the heart of a filmmaker operating in a former Soviet state: what use is it to overthrow an unfair system, if you wind up being seduced and compromised by all its gleaming tchotchkes?

The Man in the Orange Jacket screens on Tue 14 at 8.45pm in NFT2, and again on Sun 19 at 9pm at the Curzon Soho.

Friday, 10 October 2014

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of October 3-5, 2014: 
1 (new) Gone Girl (18) **
2 (new) Dracula Untold (15) **
3 (2) The Equalizer (15)
4 (3) The Boxtrolls (PG) ***
5 (4) What We Did On Our Holiday (12A)
6 (new) Bang Bang (12A)
7 (new) Dolphin Tale 2 (U) **  
8 (5) A Walk Among the Tombstones (15) **
9 (8) Guardians of the Galaxy (12A) **
10 (6) Pride (15) ***   


My top five:   
1. Le Jour se lève
2. Withnail & I
3. Still the Enemy Within
4. Gone Too Far! 
5. '71 [above]

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (2) The Lego Movie (U) ****
2 (1) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (12)
3 (3) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (12) ***
4 (4) The Grand Budapest Hotel (15) **
5 (5) Divergent (12)
6 (7) Pompeii (12)
7 (8) The Book Thief (12) **
8 (6) The Wind Rises (PG) **** 
9 (10) Rio 2 (U) ** 
10 (9) Postman Pat: The Movie (U) **

My top five:  
1. Moebius
2. The Dirties
3. Omar
4. Edge of Tomorrow
5. Camille Claudel 1915

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. Dances with Wolves (Sunday, BBC2, 12.35pm)
2. The Game (Saturday, ITV1, 11.15pm)
3. Jurassic Park (Saturday, ITV1, 3.10pm)
4. Vera Cruz (Saturday, five, 1pm)
5. Shine (Saturday, BBC2, 11.50pm)

"Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" (The Guardian 10/10/14)

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day **
Dir: Miguel Arteta. With: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould. 81 mins. Cert: PG.

Here’s a pretty ordinary Disney response to Fox’s sharper Diary of a Wimpy Kid series: bright yet sensitive pre-teen (Ed Oxenbould, not quite winning enough) feels dreadful for commuting – via an errant birthday wish – 24 hours of bad luck onto his nearest and dearest. 75 minutes of sketches involving car crashes, vomit and escaped kangaroos ensue, followed by a five-minute affirmation of the family that “steers its ship with positivity”. The grown-ups grab a few legitimately funny bits, but it makes for strangely agitating, passive-aggressive matinee fare: perhaps you just have to enjoy watching rows breaking out more than this viewer does. 

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day opens in Scotland today, and around the rest of the UK on October 24.