We Are the Best! – Lukas Moodysson (2014)

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/the-gist/for-reels/vod-review-coco-lukas-moodyssons-punk-coming-age-best/

Based on a comic book by Coco Moodysson, We Are the Best reminds me of this famous old punk flyer — here are three chords, now start a band.

The girls in this film, Bobo and Klara (Mira Barkhammar and Mira Grosin), a couple of seventh grade punks living in Stockholm in the early 80s, don’t even know the three chords when they start their band on a whim to get one over on a group of metalheads who torment them on a daily basis, calling them ugly and dykes.

They learn to piece it together and make a good, loud racket once they enlist fellow classmate and misfit Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) after she is mercilessly booed during a school talent show for playing classical guitar in the time of ABBA.

Punk is dead, they’re constantly reminded, and worse (!), they’re girls.

Struggling against the idea that young girls in a punk band are a novelty act (a girl band), cute to look at but not much else is as much at the core of the film as friendship. It’s that sense that makes the whole “aww, adorable” critical reaction to the film a burden. To watch even part of the film is to know that Bobo, Klara and Hedvig would roll their eyes and make vomit faces at the idea that they’re aww, adorable.

It’ll be fun to have a girl band, one of the clueless counselors says when they’re invited to play a Christmas concert. Roll eyes.

Look at Bobo, she cut her own hair. Roll eyes.

The energy you dive into things when you reach your teenage years, when you’re this new person in your own eyes, but the same old person in everyone else’s eyes, will always be fascinating to me. It’s hard to watch the awkwardness at times, especially dealing with parents who can’t accept the new person they see, but that’s the stuff that binds all of us together, misfit or not, punk or not.

As much as the film shows off a return to form for Moodysson — who hasn’t made a film this good since his first, Fucking Åmål (aka Show Me Love) — it’s the killer chemistry between Miras Barkhammar and Grosin that make the film jump off of the screen and dive into your soul.

Sleeping over at Klara’s one night, Bobo has a drunken emotional breakdown — over so much: never being as cute as Klara, never getting attention from boys, having shitty parents, getting picked on, feeling like a loser and how everything is worthless — Klara is gentle, hugging her best friend as she spills her feelings and calmly reminds her that she is in the best band in the world. She is in the best band in the world and has two friends who love her. That’s all you need.

Palo Alto – Gia Coppola (2014)

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/gia-coppola-talks-about-palo-alto-1.1701242

PIECES OF APRIL
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.

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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.

07

“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?

Ida – Pawel Pawlikowski (2014)

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/the-gist/for-reels/film-review-ida-pawel-pawlikowski-opens-today-enzian/

If there have been institutions more maligned in film than the Church and the iron curtain, they can’t have been by much. It’s one of the few things that religion and communism have in common in this world, and it ends up making for a sublime road movie in Pawel Pawlikowski’s black & white, full frame Ida.

The Ida of the title (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young novice nun who was orphaned during the war and who is on the verge of taking her vows. It’s the winter of 1962 and she has barely been beyond the walls of the convent she was delivered to as a baby when she is abruptly sent by the Mother Superior to see her last remaining family member, an aunt named Wanda (Agata Kulesza) who would not take custody of her once the war was over.

Wanda is a Party judge, a severe and sharp woman who looks completely defeated by life by the time we meet her. The photo album she shows Ida — full of pictures of the family before the war, even photos of a very young Ida — does seem to spark her somewhat, but there is so much pain buried behind the photos that it doesn’t last.

Piqued by the photos, Ida wishes to visit the family’s home town and see the graves of her parents once before she returns to the convent and takes her vows. In the end though, this is a World War II story, and nothing is pretty and neat. Her parents have no graves, Wanda tells her. The family is Jewish and was betrayed by neighbors who had been helping to hide them.

Ida, maybe partly from naivety, is undeterred in her wish and the two set off to the country knowing the potentially destructive power of what they might find.

Newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska is a revelation as Ida. It’s an unassuming, quiet role, one that requires that she spend most of the film covered in a habit, but it doesn’t hold her back in the slightest. She smolders under her coif, giving a teasing, knowing performance where less is more, doling out hints to a much richer inner life than one might imagine from the outside. It’s remarkably assured and minimalistic, not at all kind of performance you expect from a first time actress.

As her travel partner, Agata Kulesza has a more traditional repressed role, but expresses it with aplomb at every step. The pair are at their best when Wanda asks Ida if she has sinful thoughts. The smirk that Trzebuchowska delivers is playful and devastating you want to bonk her on the head with an Oscar for it.

The stark black & white cinematography is gorgeous, conveying the coldness of the scene and Ida and Wanda’s emotional states perfectly. It’s something that the full frame aspect ratio helps with as well. I haven’t been a fan of the reemergence of full frame photography, but something about it here is so fitting that I can’t find fault with it. It almost gives the film a sense of being in a time machine, as if the film were actually shot in the 1960s when the wounds of the war were still fresh and just starting to scab over. In a film full of opposites in an orbit of attraction and repulsion, it helps adjust our focus. It’s a declaration that Pawlikowski doesn’t want to waste our time, and he doesn’t.

The Devil’s Knot – Atom Egoyan (2014)

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/the-devil-s-knot-memphis-three-take-five-1.1681402

If you don’t know the story of the West Memphis Three by now, I’m not sure where you’ve been living. Even rock-dwellers have heard it. There have been four documentaries, a handful of books, news stories and countless rallies with musicians as diverse as Metallica, Natalie Maines and Pearl Jam lending their names to the cause of three misfit teenagers from rural Arkansas who were convicted of the murder of three pre-teens in the early 1990s.

Whether they were wrongfully convicted or not has been contested in the court of law and of public opinion for much of the last two decades, since the first documentary, Paradise Lost, aired on HBO in 1996, three years after the murder and two years after their conviction.

If, by chance, you’ve somehow never heard of it, this film – a “based on a true story” feature, not a documentary – re-creates the story of the murder of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore in May 1993. The nature of the murders – the boys were found in the woods naked and hog-tied with their own shoelaces – led investigators to believe this was an occult murder, and they eventually set their sights on three local misfits: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley.

At the center of the film is Pamela Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon), the mother of Stevie Branch, and Ron Lax (Colin Firth), a private investigator who is suspicious of the style of justice meted out by the local police. Overwhelmed, the police let the pressure of the case, and of the media interest in it, lead them down a rabbit hole of bungles and fabrications in order to send the boys to trial as quickly as possible in a kangaroo court.

It’s unclear what the director, Atom Egoyan, intended to do here. The film has no personality or authorship. There is no arc or drama, only scenes lined up one after another. Egoyan gets so bogged down in the facts of the case that he sidesteps telling the story at all. It has no point of view.

That leaves Colin Firth largely wasted as the film’s conscience, and Witherspoon has not exactly found her comeback as the emotionally erratic mother of Stevie Branch; but it’s Egoyan who has failed the story, not their performances.

What might end up being the most interesting thing about this film is that it was eventually the wedge that drove two of the suspects, Baldwin and Echols, apart. Echols, who was an executive producer on the documentary West of Memphis, objected to how he was portrayed in the script for Devil’s Knot, for which Baldwin was an executive producer. Being too close and too protective of their own stories and their own personas may be the downfall of both films, but that’s especially the case with Devil’s Knot, which not only has no suspense to speak of, but also has no closure, art or direction. If you’ve come to expect more from Egoyan over the years, he’s failed you as well.

Ernest & Celestine – Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renner (2014)

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Love is love. It’s a simple idea that so many people can’t grasp. Love is nothing to be afraid of. Black and white, boy and boy, girl and girl — or indeed, mouse and bear — it’s never anything to be afraid of. But it seems to only make sense to one inquisitive mouse, Celestine (Mackenzie Foy), and one hungry Bear, Ernest (Forest Whitaker), who meet quite by accident when Ernest saves Celestine’s life only to then try and eat her for a snack.

In the film’s world that is inhabited by animals like Art Speigelman’s Maus, the other mice are afraid though, and the other bears. Mice live in underground, bears above ground, and the two share very little with each other. When Ernest and Celestine find themselves on the wrong side of the law in both the bear and mice world that notion is challenged in startlingly emotional ways and the unlikely pair find each other to be perfect protectors for each other in different ways.

The animation, done in a sumptuous broken-line storybook-style watercolor, is outstanding. Despite the rumors of its demise, 2D hand-drawn animation isn’t dead, in fact it’s becoming vital again in Europe, and this is a brilliant example of what it could be again.

Ilo Ilo – Anthony Chen (2014)

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If spoiled brats become spoiled from too much love in real life, it’s the exact opposite at the movies. They are damn near unwatchable even in their most passive portrayals and very few of the Veruca Salts and Junior Healys of the world waste time with passivity. But Ilo Ilo bears witness to the emotional emergence of a spoiled brat, Jiale (Koh Jia Ler), who has only ever cared about two things in his life to this point, his grandfather and his Tamagochi. After exasperating his mother almost to the breaking point, the Lim family hires a Filipino nanny, Theresa (Angeli Bayani), to shoulder the load of selfishness and troublemaking that is weighing down the already stressed out family.

Theresa has taken the job in Singapore to send money back to her family in Ilo Ilo, a province in the Philippines, but runs head first into the reinforced wall of Jiale’s stubbornness and resentment at having to be handled by a stranger. The film is set during the Asian financial crisis in the late 90s, and the fear and helplessness that Jiale’s parents face as their lives shift under foot is familiar but takes away from the more interesting story of how Jiale softens in a particular way to the undeserved support Theresa provides his coming of age. Watching his face process these feelings makes you think that Koh is either a great actor for his age, or that he’s spoiled brat in real life. Either way, he’s a standout.

Winter in the Blood – Alex and Andrew Smith (2014)

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The story for Winter in the Blood is taken from James Welch’s novel of the same name which won him some acclaim when it was published in the mid-70s. It is both an intense, personal journey of a man trying to find a place in the world that has given him nothing but pain, and a sweeping microcosm of the modern struggle Native Americans face to find a place in a world taken from them inch by inch and mile by mile. But what sounds like a powerful film on paper falls apart in execution from page to screen.

I hesitate to use the word “adapted” because the Smith Brothers and their co-writer Ken White have not really adapted this into another art form as much as they have tried to film it as a moving book. As a film, it plays like a series of sketches taken from the novel. Voice over and music by the Heartless Bastards are attempted as storyteller’s glue, but it doesn’t adhere. Each scene feels so artlessly slapped together in random order that it’s difficult to engage head on — and if any story needs to be engaged head on, it’s certainly the story of America’s original sin. There are worthwhile scenes, and the mood is occasionally affecting, but it doesn’t come together as singular piece overall and that’s too much to overlook.

Copenhagen – Mark Raso (2014)

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Characters don’t have to be sympathetic for art to be good. They don’t even have to be likable. History is littered with the despicable and despised. To empathize with a character is far more important. But in Mark Raso’s Copenhagen there is nothing empathetic, sympathetic or likable about William, a 28-year-old American backpacking in Denmark after the death of his father.

William is played by Gethin Anthony (Game of Thrones’ Renly Baratheon). In Copenhagen he explores the same bottomless pit of contemptibility as Joffrey Baratheon as he searches Copenhagen for his grandfather to deliver an angry letter that his father wrote him but never mailed. While searching, he runs into Effy (Frederikke Dahl Hansen), a beautiful young girl who helps him navigate the Danish geography and language barrier.

As the two search, they fall for each other. Deep. There is just one small catch. She’s younger. Much younger. Like, 14 (about to turn 15!). You’ll remember above, where I said William was 28, though he doesn’t.

It’s nearly impossible to buy Hansen as a 14-year-old though. She is 19 and looks it. It doesn’t make William any less terrible, but the film is about him growing up and coming to terms with the fact that having a terrible family doesn’t mean you have to be terrible too. Raso gets stuck in indie trope hell though, and can’t find his way out. Hansen is the film’s only redeemable quality; it’s a shame that she is wasted on this pointless search.

Christmas Crazy: Mon Oncle Antoine – Claude Jutra (1971)

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/the-gist/for-reels/christmas-craaaazy-mon-oncle-antoine-claude-jutra-1971/

I’ve always found that the best kind of art is the coy kind, the kind that sneaks the seriousness in through the back door. The way Kurt Cobain used to hide the serious lyrics in a mishmash of nonsense and contradiction, or the way Bergman and Ozu could deal with death and broken dreams while still bringing the fart jokes. Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine is of that same mold, ostensibly a charming, somewhat sentimental tale of a rural Christmas from the point of view of Benoit, who at fifteen is trying to figure out his place in the cycle between his childish behaviors and his adult feelings.

The film is set in the 1940s, in a rural Quebec mining town that seems to revolve around the general store owned by Benoit’s foster family, uncle Antoine and aunt Cecile. It’s the kind of store where you buy your baby food, your wedding veil and, eventually, your coffin. In the early winter morning, everyone comes out in the cold to see the unveiling of the Christmas display in the window, but is really just a reason to get together and have a few drinks and gossip. To Benoit’s eyes — and to his foster cousin Carmen’s eyes — it’s a stuffy, vaguely oppressive environment, but the isolation of the town, where horse and sleigh are still legitimate means of transportation, leaves them bemused rather than moody and sullen until one of the miner’s children dies and Benoit and Antoine make the trip as undertakers.

It’s the first trip of the kind for Benoit, the first test of his adulthood. Will the adult overtake the child, or will the child remain? Though the film is 40 years old, it somehow becomes more relevant as the idea of delayed adulthood grips us. Jutra’s Christmas setting and balance social politics and wry comedy — mostly at the expense of the hapless townsfolk — is the perfect setup for this question. More subtly the question is also asked of Carmen, who has new feelings of her own to contend with while Benoit braves the snow to take a peek at death.

In Your Queue: Idiots All Around Us (“Frances Ha”, “Dealin’ With Idiots”)

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/for-reels/in-your-queue-idiots-all-around-frances-ha-greta-gerwig/

Frances Ha – Noah Baumbach

At certain age benchmarks we tend to change, usually rapidly. Thirteen, eighteen, twenty one, thirty — they are times in our lives where we might change our clothes or the kind of music we listen to, the kind of people we want to be when we grow up. Sometimes we change friends, sometimes best friends at that. Frances Ha is about just that, slow dissolution of a best friendship between Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) as they come frighteningly close to reaching 30. They are the kind of friends who describe each other as “the same person with different hair”, roomates with no boundaries but with no boundary issues either. They are the new Oscar and Felix, until Sophie decides to leave Frances and move in with her boyfriend.

After a certain age making new friends is a difficult thing. You’re used to being you without a filter. That you can be too much for a new person, but the filter makes you boring. Frances’s new reality is full of people, but none of whom she really connects to, with or without a filter. The idea of two ships passing in the night comes to mind, but Frances Ha is more like two ships passing in the daytime. It’s a stark and funny, a well observed portrait of friendship and moving on, but a little bit painful to watch if you’re around 30, as one ship sails so smoothly from port while the other —  the graceful dancer — sputters in circles helplessly with no life jacket to rely on. 

Dealin’ With Idiots – Jeff Garlin

This is probably the strangest recommendation for a movie that I’ll ever write. It is, essentially a giant spoiler, but for an improv comedy feature, the trailer ruins more than what I’m about to say, which is: this movie is not that good. If they made an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm about psycho baseball parents, but did it without Larry David, this is what it might be like. It’s flat and only occasionally funny. Often, in fact, it is brutally unfunny, and even JB Smoove and Bob Odenkirk fall on their faces a little in this movie — that’s the big risk with improv — but it is 100% worth watching because the ending absolutely pays off on the promise that the film’s core idea is about. The ending is actually kind of genius, the way everything falls apart so perfectly and idiocy is so well confronted. So that’s my strange recommendation, to stick with this film through the ending. Fast forward through scenes if you need to, but stick with it because it’s so, so worth it.