Palo Alto (Coppola, 2014): Gia Coppola shares her auntie’s affection towards listless, occasionally-irritating and fairly affluent Californian high school kids, and to a certain extent there’s a similar aesthetic going on here as there is in Sofia Coppola’s films Somewhere and The Bling Ring, but damn Palo Alto never stops chasing its own tail for the entirety of its running time, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care all that much about most of the characters here. The adult male characters are mostly sleazy predators, and you could say that about one or two of the younger ones as well, who seem to have poor attitudes towards their female peers (the film labours the point that the male role models in school and at home are fucked up). Emma Roberts plays the most sympathetic figure – a teenager who enters into a brief affair with her soccer coach (James Franco, who wrote the short stories that Palo Alto is based on) – and I enjoyed the film more when she’s on screen, but otherwise…meh.
Crazy About Tiffany’s (Miele, 2016): A feature-length advert for the American jewellery store masquerading as a documentary. I freely admit I’m not exactly the target audience for this kind of thing, so perhaps I have less tolerance for the endless procession of rich (and stupid and rich) people appearing here than others might, but I defy anyone to watch 90 minutes of young and old people extolling the virtue of expensive, shiny things without getting at least a little bit irritated. There’s only one dissenting voice, when a very wise woman (didn’t catch her name, sorry) points out that Tiffany’s advertising reinforces certain old-fashioned, sexist attitudes with regards to the roles of men and women in relationships (while also remaining mostly geared towards white people), but otherwise it’s a film beset by the vapid and shallow nature of both the subject matter and many of the talking heads. And of course there’s no mention of this kind of thing. Awful.
Truman (Gay, 2016): I really enjoyed this well-scripted Spanish drama, in which Ricardo Darín’s 50-something actor – who has terminal cancer and has decided to refuse further treatment – straightens out his relationships, searches for a new home for his dog and sorts out other affairs, all with the help of his best friend (Javier Cámara), who has flown from Canada to Madrid to see his dying best friend for the last time. It’s a little contrived, as the pair travel around the city and repeatedly bump into people they know, but underneath that there’s a poignant, moving and often funny film, one that shares in the kind of barbed, loaded and self-reflecting dialogue one might expect from a Pedro Almodóvar movie, though I dare say I’m thinking about that director because of the Spanish capital setting and the presence of Cámara, an Almodóvar regular. It’s also a film that offers a mature, affecting take on friendship and family bonds. Darín is excellent; this is the fourth film I’ve seen him in now, following Nine Queens, The Secret In Their Eyes and Wild Tales, and he’s fast becoming one of my favourite actors. A gem.
Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch, 2013): A rewatch (first review here) of this languid, narcotic, offbeat vampire love story. I liked it even more the second time around; it’s funnier than I remember it being, for starters, with all those little barbs at Los Angeles that pepper the script, while the way that this movie looks and sounds – plus the way that it fetishises old objects – makes me go way more tingly than most other things. Even Jim Jarmusch’s other movies. And I don’t mind the fact that the wasted, strung-out rock-star / vampire comparison is a little bit laboured, simply because it’s pretty damn cool.
P’tit Quinquin (Dumont, 2015): Originally made as a miniseries for French TV but released internationally as a 200-minute-long feature, Bruno Dumont’s P’tit Quinquin starts off as an intriguing comedy/mystery, in which two seemingly useless, constantly-distracted policemen attempt to investigate a series of murders in a small, coastal town in northern France; for the most part detective Van Der Weyden (a terrific Bernard Pruvost) exclaims ‘Let’s roll!’ as he gets into their shared police car, which is usually followed-up by long-suffering underling Carpentier (Philippe Jore) performing a three-point-turn or somesuch, which becomes a terrific metaphor for their stalling, uninspired investgiation. We see events that happen within the town from their point of view, to a certain degree, but also from the perspective of Quinquin (Alane Delhaye), a young farmer’s boy with a wild streak, and Quinquin’s friends. While the surface layer of Clouseau-style comedy remains intact throughout, as does the murder-mystery, the longer the film goes on (and therefore the more time we spend within this community) the more we see darker, related undercurrents: the eerie, constant physical reminders of World War II and the prospect of very different kinds of wars to come; the racial, cultural and religious intolerance and ignorance within the town that exists among both groups of children and groups of adults, leading to tragic events (a microcosm of the rest of France); and the effect that small, ongoing personal conflicts can have on individuals of all ages. Dumont cast a number of actors who don’t fit the usual bill of physical screen perfection and seems to use the unusual features and disabilities of his characters – Van Der Weyden suffers from constant tics and a gammy leg, Quinquin has a cleft palate and a hearing aid, and so on – in order to hint at something, but I’m not quite sure what. An odd film – and the depiction of the region hasn’t gone down too well with locals – with some great performances, and it’s utterly captivating for the entire three-and-a-half-hours.
21 Jump Street (Lord, Miller, 2012): There are a few very funny moments here, and…uh…entire scenes where men just shout about their dicks at one another (‘Eat it!’, ‘Suck it!’, ‘Beat it off!’, etc.); such is the way of the universally-lauded comedy in the modern age, I guess. Still, 21 Jump Street is better than I thought it would be, mainly because Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are a good double act, but also thanks to all the gleeful, on-the-nose lampooning of cop/buddy movies that takes place.
Knight Of Cups (Malick, 2016): Late-period, ultra-productive, semi-autobiographical Malick is, of course, the cinematic equivalent of Marmite, and I guess by now most people who read this blog will have their own opinion about his recent output, and whether it’s starting to become a kind of self-parody or whether it’s the work of a single-minded artist who cares little for the appeasement of wider public tastes. (Both of these opinions are valid, and of course other opinions also exist.) Regardless, the content and style of Knight Of Cups will surprise no-one who saw Malick’s recent To The Wonder, and there are times when this feels like an extension of that earlier film, albeit with different characters: Emmanuel Lubezki’s constantly-moving camera is often at waist level or hovering just behind the shoulder of star Christian Bale; there’s a post-golden hour milkiness to Lubezki’s images; and editors Geoffrey Richman, Keith Fraase and AJ Edwards create a sometimes-disorientating collage of those pictures, cutting across different periods of time and different locations, usually with far less clarity than cinemagoers are used to or would like, at least if closely following a narrative is a priority. Then there’s the dialogue, which is half-heard, muted or sometimes cut mid-conversation, and the voiceover narration, in which we hear the spoken thoughts of several different characters, with most of the main actors forced to employ that breathy, whispered, rambling type of introspection that the director seems to love.
Malick has made great work in the past, but I find that film-by-film my own interest in his current output is rapidly waning, to the point that I’m utterly ambivalent about the further three productions he has slated for the next three years at the time of writing (I’m assuming they are finished and released on schedule, naturally, which seems unlikely). I couldn’t imagine feeling such a lack of anticipation as recently as five years ago, when The Tree Of Life arrived in theatres. Part of the problem here, for me anyway, is the content, though I hasten to add that doesn’t mean that I find the technical side of things mentioned above particularly palatable, either. Yes the director is attempting to grapple with big questions about religion and the place of humankind or individuals within the natural world again, but watching Bale’s enigmatic screenwriter Rick float around LA as night bleeds into day and day bleeds into night is intensely dull, however abstract you try and make it look. A series of ingenue-types (Imogen Poots, Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer) dance around him – sometimes literally – while there are brief appearances by other women that Rick has wronged in the past or fallen out of love with (Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett). We also see in roughly equal measures grand Hollywood mansions, the beach and the sea, glassy, tall office buildings and fancy, extravagant parties as background fodder. Some of it looks very good indeed, but come on, it’s the arthouse Entourage, isn’t it?
That Sugar Film (Gameau, 2015): Entertaining documentary that follows the Super Size Me model, only with regard to sugar (obviously). It’s more offbeat segments are quite noisy and colourful, so in a way it feels like you’ve eaten lots of sugar while you’re watching it, but the quieter, reflective moments are far more effective. And sugar is bad, m’kaaaaay?
Haywire (Soderbergh, 2011): The ever-eclectic Steven Soderbergh turned his hand to the spy / trained government assassin genre with this action-packed thriller, but the plot is thin, the dialogue is weak and overall it feels very rushed and slapdash (not that I crave perfection all the time but the blown highlights during the Barcelona-set scenes in particular were a problem for me). The colour palette, too, is rather drab and a little predictable: it moves between yellow-brown hues for action taking place in sunnier climes, and a blue tint over everything else, but all of it seems subdued because of the excessive vignetting employed. Oh, and Ewan McGregor delivers another one of those terrible mid-Atlantic accents. Nevertheless, I found myself enjoying the film whenever it slips into action mode. There’s an ass-kicking female lead as a Bourne-esque deadly killer on the run, played by mixed martial artist Gina Carano, and the fights she has with several interchangeable male adversaries (played by Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender et al) are very well-choreographed, with bone-crunching blows coming thick and fast. It’s a nice treat to see a female hero within this genre, though it’s disappointing that Carano – not a natural or charismatic actor, judging purely by this film alone – is subjected to the male gaze on occasion, while her character is fighting: whenever you get a tough female assassin / generic badass in a film directed by a man you can bet your bottom dollar she’ll be strangling some dude between her thighs at one point, and sure enough even someone as switched-on as Soderbergh incorporates this fantasy (Matt Damon, for example, has never been asked to do this kind of thing in the Bourne films, and neither has Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossible series, though his recent female co-star had to within ten minutes of her character’s first appearance). There are other middling elements: it’s poorly-lit, the score by David Holmes is OK but lacks the pizzazz of his earlier Soderbergh collaborations, and brief cameos by the likes of Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas are distracting – but the brisk pace keeps you interested until the end.
Infinitely Polar Bear (Forbes, 2015): This bright, well-acted, late-1970’s-set indie drama came and went without much fanfare last year, which is a shame as it’s well worth seeking out. Mark Ruffalo plays Cam, a man suffering from bipolar disorder, and Zoe Saldana plays his wife Maggie, who moves away from the family home for 18 months in order to study for a business degree at Columbia University. Cam – who regularly experiences bouts of mania and depression – stays behind to look after the couple’s two young girls (played with much charm by Ashley Aufderheide and Imogene Wolodarsky), and the film largely concentrates on him as he struggles with the responsibility (even though he clearly loves the kids very much and is as devoted to them as he can be). Maya Forbes wrote and directed the film, casting her own daughter Wolodarsky, and supposedly the story is semi-autobiographical; there’s certainly plenty of affection toward the characters and the complicated relationship between Maggie and Cam rings true, which all suggests a personal touch on behalf of the writer. Ruffalo is a real presence, and he shows his considerable range in a demanding role, though I dare say a better judge of his performance would be someone who actually suffers from bipolar disorder. Forbes’s screenplay, meanwhile, subtly touches on changing attitudes within American society during that decade, paying regard to mixed race marriages, class, education and feminism.