Palo Alto

emma-roberts-jack-kilmer-palo-alto

 

DIR/WRI: Gia Coppola   PRO: Vince Jolivette, Miles Levy, Sebastian Pardo, Adriana Rotaru   DOP: Autumn Durald  ED: Leo Scott   DES: Sarah Beckum Jamieson   MUS:  Robert Schwartzman, Devonté Hynes   CAST:  Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff, James Franco, Val Kilmer, Chris Messina

 

Directed by Gia Coppola, the latest scion of the Coppola filmmaking dynasty, Palo Alto adapts a handful of short stories by James Franco (who also appears and co-produces) into a loosely-structured narrative about disaffected teenagers in the eponymous Californian region.  Jack Kilmer (son of Val) and Emma Roberts (daughter of Eric and niece of Julia) play Teddy and April, two teenagers whose nascent attraction is complicated by Teddy’s friendship with the volatile Fred (Nat Wolff) and by April’s affair with her smarmy soccer coach (Franco).  While Coppola’s focus on troubled teenagers carries some echoes of her grandfather Francis’s Rumble Fish (1983), the film most openly quotes her aunt Sofia, with one character’s wall emblazoned with a poster for her 1997 film The Virgin Suicides.

 

This terrain is well trodden, and not only by Coppolas.  While Palo Alto’s dreamy suburban ambience is at times distinguished from that of The Virgin Suicides only by the present day setting, its sexual frankness invokes two collaborations between Larry Clarke and Harmony Korine, 1995’s notorious Kids and 2002’s little-seen Ken Park.  These are certainly interesting poles between which to be suspended, but Palo Alto struggles to rise above the sum of its influences.  Even the easy-on-the-ear score by Robert Schwartzman and Devonté Hynes (Blood Orange) is most notable for the way in which it juggles reference points, almost all of which originate in the ’80s.

 

Coppola scores highest with her two central performances.  As the confused but essentially decent Teddy, Kilmer has a tender, introverted quality reminiscent of a young River Phoenix, most obviously in a hushed fireside confession of love that echoes a similar scene in My Own Private Idaho (1991).  The film belongs, though, to Roberts, who is a revelation as April.  Coppola’s sympathetic exploration of April’s confusion as she edges toward adult life is reminiscent of her aunt’s work with Scarlett Johansson and Kirsten Dunst, but Palo Alto works despite this familiarity because Roberts, like Johansson and Dunst, has the kind of mysterious quality that can make somebody else’s boredom and frustration compelling to watch.

 

The same can’t be said for Nat Wolff, saddled with the grating part of Fred, an obnoxious budding sociopath who doesn’t develop much shading, beyond an occasional sulk, as the film unfolds.  Phoned in from the pages of early Bret Easton Ellis, the juvenile Fred exists solely to provide dramatic counterpoint to April and Teddy’s cautious steps towards adulthood.  Nobody even passingly familiar with Franco’s half-baked career as an occasional visual and performance artist will be surprised, either, that Fred’s escalating fury eventually boils over into a stilted monologue about homosexuality.  As heat-seeking gay tourism goes, it’s not quite on the level of Franco’s own Interior. Leather Bar (2013), but if we’re supposed to infer that Fred’s borderline psychosis stems from suppressed desires, there might have been a more nuanced way to get this across than through an artificial speech, delivered apropos of nothing in particular, in a parking lot.

 

Curiously, given its title, Palo Alto does not convey much sense of a particular place or time.  This lack of specificity is both weakness and strength.  While the familiarity of the film’s style and content edges it perilously close to the generic, Coppola’s affinity for the eternal struggles of teenagers gives it a universal quality.  Empathic without being indulgent, and anchored by Roberts’ performance, Palo Alto hints at an intriguing future for Coppola, especially now that her debt of influence is comprehensively paid off.

 

David Turpin

100 minutes

Palo Alto is released 17th October 2014

 

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Cinema Review: We’re the Millers

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DIR: Rawson Marshall Thurber • WRI: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, John Morris PRO: Chris Bender, Vincent Newman, Tucker Tooley, Happy Walters • ED: Michael L. Sale • DOP: Barry Peterson  DES: Clayton Hartley • CAST: Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter, Emma Roberts

Another day in Denver is coming to an end and lifelong drug dealer David (Sudeikis) has finished sorting out his many clients, so now he’s taking the time to argue flirtily with his neighbor Rose (Aniston), who gives as good as she gets – but without the flirting.

Then David’s keen-as-mustard kid neighbor Kenny (Poulter) spots the cute Casey (Roberts) being bullied in the street, and runs over to do his heroics. David follows – Kenny’s about as threatening as a fluffy toy – but then Kenny blurts out that David is a big, tough drug dealer. Soon enough that’s the end of his stash, all the money he had saved, and a kicking for his trouble too.

Now in hock to Killer Whale-owing businessman/dealer Brad (Ed Helms), David is offered a no-choice deal: drive an RV with a “smidge and a half” of cannabis hidden inside over the border from Mexico, and all will be forgiven. But how on earth can this grungey pot dealer look respectable? Why, he needs to get himself a wholesome, down-to earth American family of course.

Kenny is thrilled to be having an adventure, Casey wants $1000 for the pleasure of her cell phone-toting, eye-rolling presence, and now there’s just Rose to persuade to come along as “mom”. With bills aplenty and her strip club now wanting to add sex to the menu, she quits – and is now just as broke as David. It’s time to get some awful, pastel clothes and some square haircuts, and hey presto! The Millers are on their summer vacation, and things actually go well despite their deadly dysfunction – for a while at least.

Very much in the vein of The Hangover, only this time it’s a makeshift family as opposed to a group of four guys, this rude and crude comedy has some real snap to the dialogue and a real chemistry emerging slowly between the fake fam. With four writers on board you might have worried the broth would boil over, but when their backgrounds include Wedding Crashers and Hot Tub Time Machine amongst other crudish teenish fare, it all pulls together really well.

Sudeikis (a veteran of years of improv on Saturday Night Live) is the breakout star, though Aniston, doomed forever to be a television goddess (she’s not talented or pretty enough to be a 70 foot high movie star) finally hits the back of the net on the big screen, and utterly holds her own.

Yes, the yawning emphasis of many viewers will be on her inevitable striptease routine and her makeup seemed pretty comprehensive, but she’s as crude as the rest of them. Poulter – even with the indignity of the homophobic jokes and the routing genitalia joke – makes a name for himself too, and even Roberts, niece of the famous Julia, throws aside expectations too and is long gone from teen fare.

There are plenty of US TV comedy actors in bit parts too (Nick Offerman from Parks & Recreation) and this punchy, rapid-fire, raunchy comedy manages to walk the tightrope of cliché without going too gross or getting sucked into too much sweetness. It doesn’t get lost in trying to create any romance, and though the characters never lose sight of why they’re there (as drug smugglers in it for the money) the fact they become a family of sorts – and what is a family these days anyway? – is satisfying and believable.

 

James Bartlett

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details) 

109 mins
We’re the Millers is released on 23rd August 2013

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Cinema Review: Celeste & Jesse Forever

 

DIR: Lee Toland Krieger • WRI: Rashida Jones, Will McCormack • PRO: Lee Nelson, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd • DOP: David Lanzenberg • ED: Yana Gorskaya • DES: Ian Phillips • CAST: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts

Rashida Jones has charted an interesting career so far. Beginning on Paul Feig’s late 90’s excellent TV comedy series Freaks & Geeks to starring in the hit comedy series Parks & Recreation, it’s clear that her star is slowly on the rise. With Celeste & Jesse Forever, her first major leading role in a feature film, her considerable charm and wit is brought to the fore. It charts the story of Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg), two thirty-somethings who have managed to maintain their friendship in the midst of a divorce – almost to the point where it’s indistinguishable that their marriage is in the process of ending. Celeste, a ‘trend analyser’ is the atypical working woman – all yoga, iPhones and execu-speak – whereas Jesse is an underemployed graphic designer and artist. Despite the cliched clash of careers, both actors imbue their roles with a sense of authenticity and realism that’s often lacking in indie comedy-dramas. The script – written by Rashida Jones and co-star Will McCormack – isn’t as clever as it thinks it is, however. There are some scenes, particularly with Samberg, that feel forced and unnatural.

That said, the relationship that Samberg and Jones create on-screen feels genuine and relaxed, much like their characters’ attitude towards one another. The supporting cast, made up of Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts and Will McCormack, turn in reasonably decent performances, but don’t necessarily jump out and announce themselves. The bulk of the film rests on Jones’ and Samberg’s shoulders and, for the most part, they carry it off. Samberg’s role is cleverly minimised to hide his lacking ability whereas Jones is brought to the fore. The film is almost definitely a launching pad for her into film and the performance can and will launch her. While the script is somewhat bland, it’s anything but insincere and comes across as a real and meaningful attempt at telling a knowing and real story. As well, the film suffers from some pacing issues and begins to drag its heels in the final act. If the film had been given a more experienced director, a much more polished, tighter feel could have been achieved. However, this would have gone against the wispy, unfettered approach they’re obviously trying to achieve. Overall, Celeste & Jesse Forever is a decent romantic dramedy that will move Rashida Jones on to big and better things.

Brian Lloyd

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
92 mins

Celeste & Jesse Forever is released on 7th December 2012

Celeste & Jesse Forever – Official Website

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4.3.2.1

4.3.2.1

DIR: Noel Clarke, Mark Davis• WRI: Noel Clarke • PRO: Damon Bryant, Noel Clarke, Mark Davis, Dean O’Toole • ED: Mark Everson • DOP: Franco Pezzino • DES: Murray McKeown • CAST: Emma Roberts, Noel Clarke , Tamsin Egerton, Ophelia Lovibond, Shanika Warren-Markland

The numbers of the film’s title correspond to girls, days, cities and said girls’ chances respectively. From Noel Clarke, writer of Kidulthood and Adulthood and director of the latter, comes this ambitious crime thriller based in London which follows four friends as they individually get themselves into all kinds of bother over the course of a weekend. The film begins in the aftermath of a diamond heist – in which the girls aren’t involved but become embroiled in – and proceeds to follow the events of each girl’s weekend from each of their perspectives as their lives lazily interweave throughout the film’s excessive running time.

4.3.2.1 is an ambitious film due to Clarke’s attempt at an intricately woven plot shown from four points of view (à la Pulp Fiction); but with the added kudos of success in this comes the added risk of its failure. And fail it does. While Clarke’s ambition is admirable, in this instance his reach exceeds his grasp and the plot is a tedious succession of unlikely coincidences and downright impossibilities. The girls’ stories are told one after the other with the intention of teasing the audience by unravelling a little more of the full picture each time; but had the effect of simply boring this reviewer. The plot is over-complicated to meet the needs of the storytelling and is let down by the uninteresting events which conspire to reunite the friends for the films conclusion.

The failure of 4.3.2.1 can be attributed to the uninspired plot but even this would be forgivable were it not for the almost exclusively second-rate dialogue. The one exception to this criticism is the excellent monologue of Kevin Smith (director of Clerks and Cop Out) in his brief cameo – which I would hazard a guess that he wrote himself – which provides the most enjoyable scene of the film and further highlights the banality of the rest of the script.

The consequence of the poor dialogue was that I didn’t connect with any of the film’s central characters and come the end of its at least half-hour too long running-time, didn’t care whether they survived their chance which was apparently important enough to be included as the ‘1’ of the film’s title. On top of this, Clarke’s cliché-heavy direction reeks of a graduate fresh out of film school and eager to utilise his full bag o’ tricks; the tolling of Big Ben to signify time running out being the worst offender. 4.3.2.1… and the audience is asleep… Zzzzzzz…

Peter White

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
4.3.2.1
is released on 4th June 2010

4.3.2.1 – Official Website

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