The southern California of Gia Coppola’s debut feature Palo Alto seems idyllic on the surface. Long hot summer days, teenage freedom and limitless possibility, but it soon becomes apparent that this world of sex, drugs, parties and (occasionally) high school is more nightmare than dream. Teenage Teddy (Jack Kilmer) crashes his car while drunk and reluctantly embarks on community service. His high school crush April (Emma Roberts) is equally aimless and becomes an easy target for babysitting client and soccer coach Mr B (James Franco).
Meanwhile, best friend and bad egg Fred (Nat Wolff) gets more nihilistic by the day, and pretty Emily (Zoe Levin) quietly accepts every sexual offer that comes her way. Parents are, of course, either physically absent, emotionally absent or psychologically absent, leaving these children to run wild through their neighbourhoods at the mercy of predators — and each other.
It’s a soulless and soul-crushing existence rendered into a fairly soul-crushing film. Coppola knows that her film is in a tradition of SoCal teen movies — the kids watch a clip of Fast Times at Ridgemont High on TV — but is she trying to tell us that life is so much worse now than it was then? But how would she know? She was only born in 1987. As granddaughter of Francis (and niece of Sophia), Gia Coppola is Hollywood royalty, and the participation of so many other children and pals of big names reeks of an in crowd — Jack Kilmer’s dad Val (once was Batman) even cameos.
As you get older, I discover, you get less definitive, less certain and find yourself asking more questions. The answer I find myself giving to most questions these days is, “It depends”. In the 52nd year of a feature filmmaking career, Roman Polanski has made a film that interrogates its subject rather declaims it, and keeps you guessing rather stating the obvious.
In Venus in Fur (a screen adaptation of a stage play adaptation of the famously notorious book that gave us the phrase sadomasochism), an actor attempts to win a role in a play called Venus in Fur. There’s no end to the game playing, and some knowledge of Mr Polanski’s career and turmoil is helpful — and also icky — in appreciating many of the layers, not least that the actor playing the actor is his real-life wife Emmanuelle Seigner, and the director (Mathieu Amalric) could be a doppelganger for Polanski himself.
Now Polanski is a problematic character, to say the least, but there’s no denying that he isn’t searching for something and — unlike the untarnished-by-competence Palo Alto — he knows how to present it on screen.[info]
Also in August
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (James Gunn)
Opens 7 August: The Marvel comic book universe plays overtly for laughs, which is a gamble for the second-biggest entertainment behemoth on the planet. Featuring Bradley Cooper as a talking raccoon and Vin Diesel as a stick.
POSTMAN PAT: THE MOVIE (Mike Disa)
Opens 16 August: Thirty-two years after he made his television debut, one of the great heroes of our time finally gets the big-screen treatment. Featuring a star-studded cast (if you don’t count the singing voice of Ronan Keating).
20,000 DAYS ON EARTH (Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard)
Opens 21 August: Nick Cave gets the unusual documentary treatment he deserves. With two sold-out concerts at the St James in December, it truly is the year of Cave.
THE ROVER (David Michôd)
Opens 26 August: Michôd’s Animal Kingdom was an electrifying thriller and the best Australian debut for a generation. The follow-up harnesses the star power of Robert Pattinson to character actor Guy Pearce and a distinctly ’Strayan take on the modern post-apocalypse.[/info]