Palo Alto – Gia Coppola (2014)


Gia, the next Coppola in line, on adapting Palo Alto and being her own Coppola
By: Rob Boylan

Like the Kennedys in politics or the Mannings in football, film has its own dynasty in the form of the Coppola family. Along with the Hustons, the Coppolas are the only family in Oscar history to have three generations of winners. Together, the family owns 8 statues (double the Hustons’ 4), spread across Carmine, Francis, Sofia and Nicolas Cage, with a combined 24 nominations. And now there is a new generation starting to wade out into the world being spearheaded by Gia Coppola and her film Palo Alto.

But when I ask her about growing up in a dynasty over the phone, the tenor of conversation shifts. “I mean, I don’t know any other way of living. It’s very normal,” she says with a slight sense of frustration growing in her voice. “I have such an appreciation for my family and their movies. I’ve learned so much from them just growing up on their movie sets, but at the same time I wanted to grow and face my own challenges.

“[But Palo Alto] was made through James’s production company [instead of American Zoetrope], so it was really important for me to do this on my own and find my own voice.”

The James in that sentence is James Franco, whose book of short stories was adapted by Coppola for the screen, and who also co-stars as the charming-creepy girls soccer coach, Mr. B.


The stories are somewhat separate in the book, but have been combined by Coppola to form a rotisserie of angst, alienation, abuse and ennui where bad decisions and drugs abound for the loosely affiliated group of friends, April (Emma Roberts), Teddy (Jack Kilmer), Fred (Nat Wolff) and Emily (Zoe Levin).

April and Teddy make up much of the film’s focus. They are mutual crushes, but because of crossed wires neither realizes it and both look elsewhere for someone to love them back. That leads them down different paths, but both of them only find emotional landmines in their way.

April is the sensitive soul who puts on a nonchalant front, who smokes and drinks because she wouldn’t fit in otherwise. Even with that front, she doesn’t really fit in. She flits from group to group searching for a comfortable niche to fit into, but never really finds anything but a parody of comfort when Mr. B begins to take an interest in her as more than Coach.

Teddy is more sensitive than the rest as well, but its to a more skewed degree than April. He is sensitive and still childlike — in one piece of the film he dreams of being in a wolf suit, playing an anguished Max from Where the Wild Things Are — but he stops a few steps short of April’s sensitive nature. Even with a loving family at home, his front goes a few steps beyond when Teddy crashes his car while drunk and flees the scene.


“James’s book is dark at times. I tried to make certain things a little hopeful, but I also knew I didn’t want to totally change it … That stuff does go on and life is dark sometimes.” Things do seem darker of late, kids more wired than I remember. “I don’t think emotions change,” she says when I ask if kids are under more pressure to succeed than when she or I were their age. “Its kind of an organic thing that we all go through where we’re physically and hormonally changing. It feels really heavy.”

It makes me wonder if a film can be too organic though. In my head I can counter the idea that the film meanders or doesn’t find its dramatic ending by telling myself that teenagers meander and only have dramatic endings if they die. If being a teenager weren’t intensely boring, it wouldn’t lead to drinking or seeing which drug is the most fun to abuse the hell out of. The fact that teenagers need something else to make them more interesting maybe means that films about teenagers need something else to make them as interesting as they can be. Maybe not always as extreme a basketball playing wolfman, but something. In that sense, Palo Alto only manages to get to third base. As an audience, it’s a good time but we keep our underwear on.

Nobody makes a perfect first film though. To harp on the family angle again for a moment, neither Dementia 13 nor The Virgin Suicides were perfect either. It takes a minute to learn the rules of the game and how to bend them to your will to make the picture you want to make. To distinguish yourself in the T-Rex-sized footprints of such a famous family can’t be an easy task, but on the other hand, who would bet against a Coppola?

Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick – Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky


For most of its history, comics have been a man’s man’s man’s world – or more accurately, a boy’s boy’s boy’s world. They’ve been the place where uncool boys went to escape the various rejections they found in the real world and live in a world of hulking he-men and impossibly beautiful, powerful (and, of course, half-naked) women. But something strange happened in the early ’90s. New creators like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, Tim Burton’sBatman, The Death of Superman, X-Men Volume 2and Image Comics all created a swirl of hype. Comics became collectibles, coveted like baseball cards. Cool people started to read them, and, even weirder, so did girls.

For all their readership over the years, girls haven’t been so warmly welcomed into the mainstream comics world, and female characters haven’t typically been written with as much attention to detail as they’ve been drawn. Though it’s saddled with a ridiculous title, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals looks to hack away at that perception by mixing sex and superpowers in a novel way, one that opens up a heretofore unmined deposit of dick and butt jokes that would make any teenage boy giddy. But the thing is, the main character isn’t a boy.

The first volume, One Weird Trick, covers the first five issues of the monthly series from Image. It follows the strange life of Suzie, a 20-something librarian who learns as a kid that she has a special power: She can stop time when she has an orgasm. It’s a feel-good-yet-scary place for her – one that she dubs “the Quiet.” She has questions, but none of the adults are willing to explain things to her. Turning to the school slut, Rach, for help, she proceeds to get a lesson full of the most absurd, hilarious sex positions ever penciled onto a bathroom stall wall: “bloobing,” “quisping,” “swaffling” and “E.T. the Sex Move” – but none of them explain the stopping-time business.

It’s not until adulthood that anyone can help, when she meets Jon, a handsome actor-slash-secretary who charms her by quoting Lolita. In her room, as she enters the Quiet, something new and alarming happens: He’s there too, glowing penis and all. It’s a startling but magnetic discovery for both of them, that they’re not alone in this strange, embarrassing world anymore.

Sex isn’t usually well-defined in comics. We’re aware that Mary Jane and Peter have sex, but there has never been a curiously tight-cropped panel of MJ’s eyes in any Spider-Man books. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage have anal sex in Alias, but that was just some shock-and-awe for Marvel’s adult imprint, Max.

It starts to feel a bit like a cop-out by Fraction when Jon suggests they rob the bank he works at (where Suzie’s father also worked) to help save her library, but the idea is ill-conceived on purpose by Fraction. Things don’t go as planned, and Suzie and Jon find out the Quiet is a much larger place than either of them could have guessed, one that is even patrolled by its own superhero team.

As much as the Quiet becomes a place of revenge for Jon, it’s more complex for Suzie. It’s about sex, but it’s also wrapped up with her father’s death and her mother’s alcoholic near-catatonia. Like comics for uncool boys, the Quiet becomes her escape from rejection. She doesn’t use it for quiet; she uses it to scream at the top of her lungs because it’s the only place where she can. In that way, Sex Criminals goes far beyond novelty, maybe even far beyond what we think of when we think of comics.

AMC’s new computer drama “Halt and Catch Fire” does just that


The history of computers on the big or small screen bears little resemblance to the reality of computers. A few films like The Social NetworkUnderground and The Pirates of Silicon Valley aside, too many directors go for the cheap way out and try to dramatize computing beyond all concepts of reality. The worst offenders, like The Net and Hackers, are so laughably wrong about the way the subculture works that they’ve become more valuable for irony’s sake than anything else.

Maybe the best thing about the series pilot for AMC’s new drama Halt and Catch Fire, is that there is no movie bullshit in it at all.

We are not invited into a world where the circuit board is a model city, where we are an electrical current riding the rails to the file being called up. There are no graphics being projected onto anyone’s face to heighten the idea of “hacking”. No one drops a logic bomb to gain root access through the Gibson’s GUI backdoor loophole protocol.

The series takes place in the 80s, a time when IBM was firmly in place as the industry leader in computing, when Jobs and Wozniak were still at Mac who had their niche market, and Gates and Allen had yet to send the computer into mandatory status with Windows 95. Big Blue play the villains of the piece, which plays out an elaborate rouse by a slick hustler named Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) leads an trod upon engineer, Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), to do the unthinkable: clone a PC.

In the pilot’s biggest set piece, Joe and Gordon sit in a garage and transcribe 65,000 lines of hexadecimal code that the IBM BIOS is written in. IBM catches wind of the dastardly intellectual property violation and threaten to sue the company they work for, Cardiff Electronics, a mid-tier Silicon Prairie computer company led by Toby Huss (aka ARTIE. The strongest man… in the world).

In a strange legal gambit, they may actually be able to get away with it as long Gordon and Joe can prove they haven’t shown the hex code to anyone, which is where Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), a punky, bored comp-sci major who is smarter than the curriculum comes in to save their asses.

If all that sounds boring, it’s only because it’s impossible to convey the silky smooth style and tension that the showrunners Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers build up to. Cracking the IBM motherboard is exciting as it plays out. The schlubby Gordon is an engineering whiz who is had been defeated by the failure to launch a system he and his wife, Donna (Kerry Bishé), designed, and as he picks apart the circuit board with his oscilloscope you can see the blood come back into his face. The excitement becomes contagious as they get closer and closer.

If the show has anything earmarked for a potential breakout element though, it’s Cameron, who doesn’t get nearly enough screentime in the pilot. Davis plays her tough and sarcastic, much the same way Katee Sackhoff played Starbuck in the early Battlestar Galactica episodes, and her half new wave/half punk style only adds to that edge. She is fiercely independent, maybe because she’s surrounded by idiots. Even though she signs on for the job, Joe and Gordon still have to prove that they’re something more than typical. They have to prove it to us too, but they make a good start at it.