Movie Review: Palo Alto

A Review of Palo Alto, written & directed by Gia Coppola; based on the short story collection by James Franco

Palo Alto Gia Coppola James Franco

by REBECCA, May 26, 2014

Palo Alto is the directorial debut of Gia Coppola (Sofia’s niece), based on the authorial debut of actor James Franco, and starring Emma Roberts (Eric Roberts’ daughter; Julia Roberts’ niece) and Jack Kilmer (Val Kilmer’s son). That is to say, it can no more escape a kind of in-group latitude and indulgence than can the characters it portrays.

Palo Alto James FrancoFranco’s collection, Palo Alto (2010), contains twelve stories, all with different first-person narrators, but which feature some of the same characters (such as April, Emma Roberts’ character). Coppola’s script is based on five of those stories—according to many reviews, the five least dramatic, as those not in evidence include murder and gang rape (a whisper of which filters into the film). As there’s little action, plot-wise, it’s the themes that tie the pieces of the film together: mainly the emotional and physical violence that accompany sex and love for the female characters, the antisocial behaviors that the male characters’ privilege makes acceptable, and all the characters’ attempts to mask boredom with mood-altering stabs at fun.

Responses to the film have been understandably mixed. I felt a bit conflicted myself coming out of the theatre. On one level, I loathed the film. The characters are all unappealing, some because they’re boring, some because they’re sexual predators, some because they’re selfish and mean. The dialogue is banal and uncreative, with nothing but a vague mutual yearning between April (Emma Roberts) and Teddy (Jack Kilmer), to suggest that these characters are anything more than attractive but superficial blanks. However, despite this—or perhaps because of it—emotionally, I found the film affecting.

Emma Roberts Palo AltoWe are introduced to Emily, who is called a whore throughout the film, when she confesses, during a game of Never-Have-I-Ever, that she has never been in love. For the rest of the movie, she repeatedly reaches out to boys at school and at parties, attempting to use sex to seek the love she’s never felt. In contrast, sixteen-year-old April, who “tries to be good,” is the victim of her sexually predatory soccer coach (a grinning James Franco) for whom she babysits. She’s flattered by his attentions and returns them initially, only to be confused and terrified when he confesses his love to her, their relationship suddenly elevated to a level more threatening to her than sex.

Jack Kilmer Emma Roberts Palo AltoThe film, that is, portrays the emotional and physical violence that accompany sex and love for these characters in no uncertain terms. What’s troubling, though, is that while the film seemed to critique this extension of rape culture, there were things that disabled the critique. The most troubling of these is the film’s singular use of voiceover, by one of the male characters (Fred), which seems to be taken directly from the book, describing how one of the characters subjects his girlfriend to a gang rape. It’s presented in the same manic, dreamy tone as the rest of the film, which places it on the same level as April staring dazedly out the car window into the California sun.

Thematically, then, the film was affecting, but Coppola’s style—dreamy pacing, close-ups of beautiful people looking forlorn, and a disjointed narrative frozen in one moment in time (which invites unavoidable comparisons with aunt Sofia’s)—refuses growth for the characters. The film’s aesthetic glorifies what it portrays by seeming content to linger forever in the suspended moment of this violence, this detachment, this adolescence. As such, I found it a truly upsetting and unsatisfying film. That isn’t to say that it had a responsibility to do something other than what it did; simply to say that I wasn’t interested in what it chose to do. According to a piece on Gia Coppola in the New York Times, James Franco actively wanted a woman to be the one to adapt Palo Alto because he thought it would “give the largely male-centered stories a more layered approach” (“Unto the Next Generation, Cinematically”). This sums up the film for me: it’s a narrative of sexual violence halfway repaired by the emotional depth Coppola lends it, but ultimately more troubling for the beautiful mask she puts on it.


Movie Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

A review of Only Lovers Left Alive, written & directed by the delightful Jim Jarmusch

only lovers left alive

by REBECCA, May 12, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive is a decidedly non-dramatic meditation on immortality and love. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are centuries-old vampires living in Detroit and Algiers, respectively. Adam is a somber musician who makes music that no one hears and collects vintage instruments while hiding from fans of the music he released when he was well-known. He’s depressed at the state of the world, which zombies—humans, that is—have polluted and detached from so thoroughly that even their blood has become poison. Eve is a dreamy appreciator of literature who lives in a home packed with books and hangs around with her buddy Kit Marlowe (yes, that Kit Marlowe) (John Hurt). When she talks with Adam and senses his depression, she comes to Detroit to reconnect with him. While there, Eve’s sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), an irresponsible hedonist with a penchant for risk-taking behavior, comes to visit, throwing Adam’s routine into disarray.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 5.53.04 PMFrom the gorgeous and vertiginous opening shots of a camera spinning around Adam, Eve, and a record (music is their shared language), the stakes of Only Lovers Left Alive are clear. This is a film about perpetuity and how people connect over and over through time. It’s a film that glories in the aesthetic, and Jim Jarmusch lingers lovingly over Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton’s faces and hair the way only a lover would. They are dark and light, gloom and resignation, creator and appreciator.

Only Lovers Left AliveThere is no complicated plot; indeed, not a whole lot happens. But the non-drama perfectly echoes the sense of longevity of immortality—the sustained state where even the most dramatic happenings lose their urgency and even the most minute of difference in repetition can assert itself as beautiful. Adam and Eve are aesthetes and appreciators, and the film echoes this, too. The camera caresses the curve of a Gibson and the tangle of wires that Adam patches together with the same appreciation as the curve of the lovers’ cheekbones or the tangles of their hair. Attention, the film seems to posit, is the antidote to boredom; fascination to despair. And Adam and Eve are indeed fascinated.

This fascination makes Only Lovers Left Alive an incredibly poignant love story. Immortality is the premise that gives scale to their love, but it’s their respect for and fascination with each other that has sustained that love. With very little dialogue, Adam and Eve manage to communicate the connection they have through touch, gaze, and pointing out to one another the things that fascinate them. Jarmusch may be indulgent with his camera, but he shows amazing restraint with his script, giving us peeks of the characters and their histories but only hinting at the majority of their story. The effect is of a snapshot in time—a mere episode in lives so long we cannot conceive of them.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 6.39.04 PMAdam and Eve have changed their appearance over the years to match the world around them, but in the privacy of their homes they wear dressing gowns from the 18th century and speak about friends like Mary Wollstonecraft. Detroit and Algiers are on display as similar collections of old and new, of the deterioration and resurrection of art, culture, style, and taste. The grand Michigan Theatre, which is falling down around them, but will be reclaimed, is the logical analogue to Adam and Eve’s recursivity: they reinvent themselves each generation, the world they knew before swallowed up or torn down before it’s reincorporated into the next one. The film is melancholy in its meditation on humans’ ruination of the world and its beauty, but there is a necessary hope there, too. For one like Eve, who has seen these cycles so often, destruction and death are necessary for reinvention and new life. Adam hasn’t quite her scope, and he feels the losses more acutely.

only lovers left aliveOnly Lovers Left Alive was everything I wanted a Jarmusch take on vampires to be. Swinton and Hiddleston are perfect, beautiful casting, and the glimpses we get of Detroit and Algiers are the perfect atmospheres for the film. Add in the wonderful John Hurt as Kit Marlowe, who actually wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays, Mia Wasikowska as a thoroughly charming vehicle of chaos, and the always delightful Jeffrey Wright as a stylized doctor, and it’s a pitch-perfect cast.

The only thing that irritated is the way these preternatural beings split down such traditional gender lines. The two men are creators—Marlowe a playwright and Adam a musician—and their lives are their work. The women are appreciators and consumers: Eve reads voraciously and supports Adam’s every endeavor, but creates nothing herself. Ava’s consumption is more literal; she chugs blood and makes demands, paying for them with a winsome smile.

only lovers left aliveMy favorite thing about all of Jim Jarmusch’s films is how he approaches the topic of each with such incredible respect and fascination. Only Lovers Left Alive is no exception. Each element feels considered and selected, leading to a film that looks like a beautifully curated slice of life. It’s just that these lives have been going on for quite a while.

Movie Review: Like the Enemy’s Gate, Ender’s Game is DOWN

A Review of Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game

by REBECCA, November 6, 2013

WARNING: this review contains spoilers for Ender’s Game but does not give away the end.

Ever since I heard Ender’s Game was getting the Hollywood treatment, I’ve vacillated between thinking “no way can such an interior novel make a good movie” and thinking, “it’s a pretty straightforward book to adapt.” Turns out I was right on both counts. Ender’s Game has its compelling moments: the battle scenes are cool, as is the tech, and Asa Butterfield has a face well-suited to expressing Ender’s constant calculation. But, as a whole, it fell very, very flat. 

Ender's Game Orson Scott CardThe biggest problem I had with it is that I fundamentally disagree with what writer/director Gavin Hood’s version sees as the heart of the story. For me, Ender’s time at Battle School is where all the most interesting character development and world revelation occur. The time period when Ender’s in Battle School takes up just under 2/3 of Card’s novel, and it encompasses Ender’s four-year journey all the way from being a launchie and learning the battle room, through several different armies, to leading his own army and competing against the whole school. In short, it’s where we learn that Ender is anything special.

In Hood’s version, though, Ender’s time at Battle School is an abbreviated stop along the way to Command School. This means several things:

1. Ender and the rest of the kids stay the same age throughout, because the timeline is scrunched, so we get no sense that Ender is growing up in this new world or learning anything.

2. Ender is the greatest military mind the world has ever known. Or so Harrison Ford keeps telling me. But, because we don’t see his growth, or that there is any difference between Ender’s strategy and those of the other kids in Battle School, we have to take his word for it. The most difficult element to communicate in any adaptation from novel to film is the interiority of characters, and this is doubly true in the case of Ender’s Game because Hood takes away all of Ender’s decisions and strategizing in Battle School that would have communicated that interiority to us.

3. Since we never see that Ender starts as a launchie with no skills and goes on to win battle after impossible battle with never before seen modes of fighting, we aren’t rooting for him. When he finally gets to Command School, I don’t even feel like I know him well enough to care about his success. Which meant I was caring about the success of his strategy in his final exam . . . which is one of many ways (the POSTER being another) in which I think the film both gives away and undercuts the drama of its own ending.

Ender's Shadow mike careyNote: when you leave the film yearning for more Battle School, check out the two graphic novels that treat the Battle School years, Ender’s Game Volume 1: Battle School, which is from Ender’s POV, and Ender’s Shadow: Battle School, which is from Bean’s POV (following Card’s primary and shadow series).

I am always willing to see a film adaptation as its own piece, which is usually all that allows me to avoid a knee-jerk (and unflattering) comparison to the book. In the case of Ender’s Game, however, the fact that I adore the book is the only thing that gave the movie any life for me at all, as my poor brain was automatically scribbling in bits from the book to round the movie out.

The bottom line, however, is that as a standalone film, Ender’s Game has nothing to differentiate it from any of the other kids + war games films out there. The extraordinary psychological character-building that Card’s novel achieves is completely flattened into a film with a main character whose only distinctions seem to be emotional maturity and good hand-eye coordination. Asa Butterfield isn’t miscast as Ender, certainly, but the way the role is written leaves him nothing to do but sweat and cry with blue-eyed conviction.

What frustrates me so much about Hood’s excision of much of Ender’s character development through the write-out of most of Battle School is that there was plenty of room for it. Ender’s Game already clocked in under two hours and contained at least twenty minutes of fat that could’ve been trimmed. That leaves (by my taste for 2 1/2 hour movies) nearly an hour that could’ve been added back into the film. It’s rare that my complaints about an adaptation are so easily traced back to what I see to be a simple flaw in structure, but for me, you cut most of Battle School, you lose the heart of the whole story, which means the end also falls flat.

Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books; usually, if a film adaptation of a book I love flops, then I’m pissed because its images sneak into my vision of the story. I’m happy to say that this won’t be a problem with Ender’s Game—there was so little to it that I don’t think it’ll stick at all. Now all that’s left is to donate $8.25 to my favorite pro-equality charity in order to offset any pennies sneaking into producer Card’s pockets, and forget the whole thing ever happened. Which won’t be hard. Yup, there, it’s gone.


October Is Horror Movie Month!

Here Are 5 Young Adult Horror Movies To Get Us Excited For HalloweenCarrie

by REBECCA, October 8, 2013

Like so many fans of horror fiction, October is always a treat because it’s a constant rollout of horror movies. Usually this consists of 90% garbage, but there are always a few I get excited about. Horror movies have long been the province of young adults, whether it’s the teens being picked off one by one in Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, the terrifying children of The Exorcist, The Omen, and Let the Right One In, the gangs of scary teenagers in Near Dark and The Lost Boys, or the teens just trying to survive evil in the form of authority figures in Suspiria and The FacultyBecause of their scare-factor, however, these horror movies would rarely be considered Young Adult movies. This October, though, there are five horror movies that seem much more in YA territory!

1. Carrie, starring Chloë Moretz and Julianne Moore; directed by Kimberly Peirce

CarrieA remake of Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s novelCarrie is the story of a shy girl raised by a hyper-religious mother who is tormented by her peers at school and gets revenge on them by using her telekinetic abilities to kill them at the prom. I liked Moretz in the American remake of Let the Right One In and can really see her as Carrie. Carrie‘s theme of bullying will, I think, resonate even more strongly with audiences of today than it did in the seventies. Bonus: October is national anti-bullying month, which I’m sure is the distributors’ reason for releasing it then. EDIT: Also, check out this amazing publicity stunt in which a special effects-rigged coffee shop freaks customers out by making them think a girl goes all Carrie on someone after he spills her coffee!

Carrie opens October 18th.

2. I Will Follow You Into the Dark, starring Mischa Barton and Ryan Eggold; written and directed by Mark Edwin Robinson

I Will Follow You Into The DarkNamed after a Death Cab For Cutie song, I Will Follow You Into the Dark finds Sophie (Barton) suffering from depression after the deaths of her parents. Then she meets Adam (Eggold), the only one who gets through to her. But when Adam disappears, Sophie tries to find him, ending up at a mysterious apartment building and crossing the threshold into the realm of the dead. This mixture of horror and romance seems sure to resonate with a young adult audience.

I Will Follow You Into the Dark opens October 11th.

3. Haunt, starring Harrison Gilbertson and Liana Liberato; written by Andrew Barrer and directed by Mac Carter

HauntIntroverted teen Ethan (Gilbertson) moves into a new house and becomes friends with the girl next door (Liberato), then romantically involved. As they explore their new relationship they also explore Ethan’s family’s house, which is haunted, and discover an alternate (and terrifying!) dimension. I haven’t heard anything about this movie, nor have I heard of these two lead actors, but I’m excited for a non-remake horror movie—also the tag line is terrifying: “The Feeding Never Ends.” What?! Haunt actually sounds a bit like I Will Follow You Into the Dark in its mix of romance and horror and it’s portal-to-another-realmness.

Haunt opens October 11th.

4. Toad Road, written and directed by Jason Banker

Toad RoadWriter/director Jason Banker describes Toad Road as “something like Kids meets The Blair Witch Project.” Banker cast Toad Road by finding a teen who friended VICE magazine on MySpace and looking at his top friends (weird) and filmed it in his home town of York, Pennsylvania. He used their real lives, kind of, and built the story around them—about 70% of the film is documentary, in that it’s these people actually interacting. Banker had them use real drugs before shooting (also weird) and, in a grisly twist, Sara Anne Jones, the lead, died of a drug overdose just after Toad Road‘s premiere. I’m very curious about this movie and I could see it having real cult appeal. Here’s hoping it’s more Kids and less The Blair Witch Project.

Toad Road opens October 25th.

5. Grand Piano, starring Elijah Wood and John Cusack; written by Damien Chazelle and directed by Eugenia Mira

Grand PianoOk, so this one is a cheat because it’s opening in Spain, but I had to include it because it looks so freaking awesome. Tom Selznick (Wood) is a pianist who hasn’t played in five years after he choked during a performance of his mentor’s work. This is his comeback performance and he finds a note on his piano that tells him if he plays even one wrong note then he and his wife will be killed. Dude, it’s like Speed on classical music. Tom puts in an earpiece so he can hear orders from the man who is threatening him (Cusack) and has to play for his life. I’m sorry to tease you with this since I’m not sure when it’s releasing in the U.S., but this is exactly the movie I want to see on Halloween. I’ll report back when I hear it’s opening here. UPDATEGrand Piano is opening in the U.S. on March 7th!

People, when I paused in writing this post on HORROR to check that my formatting looked right, guess what the word count was at? Guess. Come on, guess! Yep, that’s right:


Movie Review of Geography Club & Thoughts on Queer YA Film

A Discussion of Geography Club, directed by Gary Entin; written by Edmund Entin, based on the novel by Brent Hartinger

Geography Club

by REBECCA, July 24, 2013

Q Fest, Philadelphia’s annual queer film festival, has just ended, and among all the great indie films and shorts, I also got a chance to see Geography Club, based on Brent Hartinger’s YA novel of the same name, which came out a decade ago. Hartinger’s novel was one of only a few YA novels featuring queer characters at the time, and its rarity is often held in contrast to the decade-long expansion of queer YA fiction that would follow it. I remember reading Geography Club when it came out and found it a fun, charming read, if nothing particularly deep or surprising. It blended together in my mind with Alex Sanchez’ Rainbow Trilogy (2001-2005); the cover of the first in the trilogy, Rainbow Boys, I just realized, features a baby Matt Bomer:

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez Order of the Poised Oak by Brent Hartinger

One thing that’s interested me in watching the increase in queer characters in YA lit has been the inevitable (and welcome) shift from every book that is about a queer teen being a coming out story to the presence of books like Alex London’s Proxy and Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens—stories that begin from the premise that there’s more to being queer than just realizing it and informing others of it. That is: a queer character no longer necessitates the structure of a problem novel, where coming out structures the main drama of the narrative. And this, I think, is a development in publishing more than writing. There have always been people writing awesome, complex queer characters; there just haven’t always been people who were willing to publish them. For a list of my favorite queer YA reads and to-reads, check out my guest posts over at Housequeer: “Queer Young Adult Fiction To Curl Up With,” and “More Queer Young Adult Fiction To Curl Up With: My To-Read Edition.”

GleeAnyway, watching Geography Club had me thinking about why, in 2013, Hartinger’s novel would be the book to get the green light. In a film festival full of (for better and for worse) searching, experimental, and unique films, Geography Club stood out as the slickest, most easily consumable, mainstream film in the bunch. In large part, the film is firmly on familiar ground for anyone who watches Glee: it’s a feel-good story of attractive, non-threatening gay and lesbian high schoolers who have straight best friends and are figuring out who they are and what role their sexual orientations play in their lives. So, it makes sense that this would be the kind of movie that a studio would want to make: in a way, it doesn’t matter that it’s queerness that is the central struggle for these characters; this struggle results in the same dramatic action as another coming of age struggle would.

I don’t say this to dismiss the film at all—to the contrary, it’s nice that we are now able to have films featuring queer characters where their queerness is pretty . . . normal. Rather, I say it to point out that YA film, in 2013, is still about a decade behind YA publishing when it comes to the kinds of stories it’s able/willing to tell. And this isn’t really surprising, considering that the sheer material requirements for a film (money, bodies, time, space) are much greater than that of a book. Still, I hope that the awesome queer YA lit that’s come out in the last five or ten years—not to mention the enthusiasm about it that readers have expressed—will inspire the YA film powers that be to take some more risks on stories that don’t all follow a coming-out narrative structure.

Geography Club is a sweet, well-made feel-good film. The acting (particularly the adorable Cameron Deane Stewart as Russell and Andrew Caldwell as his manic, girl- and junk food-obsessed bestie) is solid, and there are some really funny moments. It’s a well-paced and self-assured movie, and was exactly the kind of confection I wanted to watch on a hot summer Sunday afternoon. But, just like Hartinger’s novel, it’s not a story that will stick with me, nor is it one that shows us anything we didn’t already know. And, for me, despite being sweet and funny, that makes it a bit of a disappointment.

What do you think? What are the queer YA books you’d love to see come to the silver screen? Tell me in the comments.

Upcoming Film Adaptations of Young Adult Books

A List of My Top 10 Most Anticipated YA Book To Film Adaptations!

Ender's Game

by REBECCA, July 16, 2013

This weekend, I was at my dear friend E—’s wedding with some of my all-time favorite people with whom to discuss books, movies, and YA. That reminded me of how excited I am to see what messes/successes come from the upcoming SLEW of YA books that are being adapted for the big screen. So, here is a list of the top 10 adaptations I’m most looking forward to!

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card Ender's Game

1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Probably the most anticipated science fiction film adaptation of the year, there’s been a lot of controversy over this one. Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books of all time, but Orson Scott Card is an ultraconservative outspoken homophobe, so many sci fi fans want to boycott the movie to avoid lining Card’s pockets. This is definitely one to check out before the movie drops, November 1st.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

2. Divergent by Veronica Roth

I liked the first in the Divergent series, but the prose was weak and I thought the world-building was a bit spotty, so I wonder if the movie won’t actually be able to smooth over those things. The film is coming out March 21, 2014.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

3. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, both of whom will star in Divergent, will also star in The Fault In Our Stars. Check out Tessa’s review of John Green’s wonderful novel HERE. The film is coming in 2014.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan The Forest of Hands and Teeth

4. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

I really enjoyed this creepy zombie plague story and cannot wait to see it on the big screen. It’s a slow-moving story, but super atmospheric, so I think it has the potential to be awesome.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

5. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner follows a group of boys who wake up in a maze with no memory of how they got there or how to get out. I just watched MTV’s Teen Wolf (which was actually much better than I anticipated), and The Maze Runner movie stars Dylan O’Brien, the best character in Teen Wolf. The movie comes out February 14, 2014.

City of Bones The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare The Mortal Instruments

6. City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare

This one’s coming really soon—August 22; get ready! Oh, City of Bones, you turned crazy after a while, but I’m still so excited to see you, especially in the company of Lily Collins’ perfect eyebrows. And with Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the villain, how could things go wrong . . . ?

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

7. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Omigod, you guys, this is only in development, but IT IS HAPPENING! In the meantime, though, you can check out my dream for an amusement park ride based on Uglies HERE.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

8. If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I loved Gayle Forman’s beautiful story of a girl fighting her way back from a coma after the accident that killed her family. I’m curious to see how they’ll do it as a movie, since so much of it is in the character’s head. Chloe Moretz is slated to star—let’s hope she pulls it off. She is also going to play Carrie in the upcoming remake of Carrie.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

9. The Graveyard Book and The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I love Neil Gaiman, but The Graveyard Book wasn’t one of my favorites of his. I think a movie of it could be wonderful, though. Everything that made it kind of a slow, diffuse read could make for a dynamite movie. Ron Howard is directing, so it might be ok, or it might be sentimental tripe. The Ocean At the End of the Lane, however, is an absolutely stunning book that I worry will make a crap movie.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

10. Maggie Stiefvater’s EVERYTHING!

I could not possibly be more excited! Both The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys have been optioned and are in production. Gah! Shiver was in production but, according to Maggie Stiefvater’s website, she and the filmmakers had creative differences, so it’s not going forward right now, but maybe in the future. People: murderous water horses. IN A MOVIE!

Anyhoo, there are a staggering number of YAdaptations in the works! Which ones are you looking forward to? Tell me in the comments!

Before or after you watch The Bling Ring, also watch Foxes.


review by Tessa

A group of friends from the Valley participates in an activity that is part bonding and part trying to become part of the adult world, and it backfires. They end up in a police station. Their actions and reaction reveal cultural preoccupations of their time. It could be a vague description of The Bling Ring,  reviewed by Rebecca yesterday, but it’s also a vague description of Foxes, Adrian Lyne’s 1980 film starring Jodie Foster and Cherie Currie.


As I watched Foxes I immediately connected it to the teens of The Bling Ring – although I haven’t seen Coppola’s film yet, I have read Nancy Jo Sales’ book. I was happy to learn that I wasn’t stretching my interpretation – Coppola mentions Foxes as an inspiration in this interview with Rookie.

I thought The Bling Ring, Sales’ expansion of her original Vanity Fair article about a celebrity robbery ring run by a bunch of middle class teenagers in the Valley, an enjoyable if depressing look at celebrity-stalking culture, starring teenagers who are unaware that their narcissism is showing. Sales fills out the story with speculation as to why and how this kind of culture grew and affected Valley denizens (and non-Valley denizens), but it’s never a mystery how the kids (allegedly?) did it, and it ends up being cringingly sad how they all try to deny it and rat each other out.

Jodie Foster = Emma Watson?

Jodie Foster = Emma Watson?

Foxes has a smaller and more internal trajectory, and a comparison of the two says a lot about the current interpretation of adulthood in America these days–and here I’m using “adulthood” to mean “grown-up aspirations”.

In Foxes, parents are around, but don’t get it – what it’s like to be the teenage girls. The movie follows four friends – Jeanie, Annie, Madge, and Deirdre, as they re figuring themselves out and yearning for family and a place in the world, somewhere safe – as Jeanie says “somewhere we can try to help each other.”  Annie is a burgeoning drunk and her dad is a psychotically strict policeman – she’s always running away from him to the back of some too-old dude’s motorcycle and the rest of the girls are always retrieving and trying to protect her. But the other three have good-to-normal bonds with their mothers. There’s a great scene where Jeanie (Jodie Foster) gets in bed with her mom to read her Plato, so her mom can study for a college class, and a very real scene where Madge (Marilyn Kagan) gets upset that her mom is questioning her about her virginity at her birthday party, so she shuts herself up in her room to cry — and then her mom comes in and curses her with calling every single friend who shows up later and apologizing for canceling the party.


In The Bling Ring the parents aren’t so much of the picture, and if they are they identify too much with their children’s youth – like Alexis Neier’s mom. Although she is yelled at by Alexis every single time she tries to speak to Nancy Jo Sales, it is clear that her mom sees herself as a friend to Alexis, and booster of the pursuit of beauty and fame, and spiritual enlightenment (through the use of The Secret).

Is it better or just different than this outburst from Jeanie’s mom in Foxes?:

“You want a place of your own? Fine, take this one. …There’s too much music here, too many boys, girls laying all over the furniture, half out of your clothes, on the floor. You’re too beautiful! All of you! You make me hate my hips! I hate my hips.”


In Foxes the girls are always talking about finding a space of their own:

Jeanie: “[Annie] should have someplace to go, you know?”

Madge: “Where?”

Jeanie: “I dunno… Sometimes I think it’s, like, 1 o’clock in the morning, you just had a fight with your mom, there’s no place to go. Someplace with like, pillows around, a little music, people to talk to. That sort of thing, you know?”

Their lives seem to be whirlwinds of trying to get to class on time, hitting on guys in the supermarket line, covering for each other when two dates show up to the same Angel show, fending off the gently clumsy advances of Baby Scott Baio, 10baioand being there for each other after breakups.  Eventually they try to fulfill their friend/family fantasies with a private dinner party at Madge’s older boyf’s house and it totally turns into a rager (no thanks to Baby Laura Dern).38dern


The girls don’t explicitly learn lessons from this, but they do realize that they hurt other people’s property. And further, more serious plot developments change and toughen them, or set them up for even more growing.


In The Bling Ring the guy and girls are yearning for a place in the world through fame – if you don’t do something, you are no one. The line that Emma Watson says in the trailer about being a world leader is taken from the mouth of Alexis Neiers herself.  They want a family that’s more like a clique and try to fulfill this through stealing (whether consciously or not) and it falls apart – they all try to blame each other to avoid jail time. Neiers gets married and reforms herself.

They need the crime to feel like they’ve been made real –they push in to the celebrities’ space, committing criminal acts, whereas in Foxes the police element comes from other people pushing into the girls’ space, their fantasy of what they want a family to be. But that doesn’t mean they don’t wish their families were like famous, or at least beautiful, people:

Annie: “You know, he’s not really my dad.”

Jeanie: “Since when?”

A: “It’s true. Remember the flower children that all the time used to do acid? I was like eleven. I dropped acid and it all came out. I mean that guy, the cop. He ain’t my dad. I saw my real dad. No shit.”

J: “Well what’d he look like?”

A: “Really cool. A cross between Cary Grant… and the Mighty Thor. He was a motocross biker.”

J: “I don’t see Cary Grant on a bike.”

A: “He was! He was so beautiful.”

But I think the most glaring difference between the fake teenagers of Foxes and the real teenagers of The Bling Ring is that the fake teenagers are more in touch with their own feelings. The kids in The Bling Ring are masked, disaffected, and their friendships fall apart when things get rough. The kids in Foxes might be just as bored as their future counterparts, but they seem less miserable, even when they’re crying, and more capable of real joy. Does that mean the world is grimmer today?


Jeanie: “You go out into the world, it gets scary sometimes. Learn to laugh a little!”

Movie Review: The Bling Ring

A Movie Review of The Bling Ring, written and directed by Sofia Coppola (2013)

The Bling Ring Sofia Coppola

by REBECCA, June 26, 2013

By now, everyone knows the story of the Bling Ring—a group of L.A. rich kids who repeatedly broke into celebrities’ homes and stole three million dollars worth of clothing and jewelry from Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and Lindsay Lohan before ever being caught. It’s a story as shiny as Paris Hilton’s jewelry and as intoxicating as the loads of coke these teens shove up their noses. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of beautiful story with a rotten underbelly that Sofia Coppola loves to turn into beautiful movies with a little bite.

Indeed, The Bling Ring *is* pretty to look at: its young stars are beautiful, and the clothes and houses pornographies of conspicuous consumption. But the film never quite decides whether it wants to justify the Bling Ring’s behavior, or skewer them, and it suffers for it. Either choice would have made for a more interesting take on the story. If she had decided to delve beneath the surface of these teens’ obsession with the trappings of celebrity culture and show us where it stems from or what it felt like, I would have been interested to see it. If she had fully committed to derogating the teens or to lambasting the culture that produced them, I would have been interested in seeing that, too. As it stands, though, the film never fully commits to anything except an aesthetic and, while it’s a nice one, it’s not quite enough to carry a whole film.

The Bling RingThere’s definitely an appeal, though. Emma Watson is charming, Katie Chang charismatic, and Israel Broussard compelling. There are clothes galore, some lovely and familiarly Sofia Coppola-esque montages, a Gavin Rossdale cameo, and a lot of white girls trying to act like they’re in a rap video. It’s fun and fluffy, but left me wishing it had more of an angle and more of an ending. In any case, if you’re looking for a light and pretty matinee pick, The Bling Ring is definitely bling-y.

The Bling Ring is based on the Vanity Fair article “The Suspect Wore Louboutins,” by Nancy Jo Sales, which she later turned into a full-length book, The Bling Ring: How A Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World.

Have you seen The Bling Ring? What did you think?

What Maisie Knew: Movie Review

A Review of What Maisie Knew, directed by Scott McGehee & David Siegel

What Maisie Knew

by REBECCA, May 27, 2013

In a cinematic landscape that lately seems to be 95% remakes, updates, sequels, and replicas of Swedish movies that were already awesome, What Maisie Knew, an update of Henry James’ 1897 serial novel, had great potential to be more of the same. Instead, McGehee and Siegel’s interpretation is utterly compelling.

What Maisie Knew Henry JamesMaisie’s mother, Susanna, (Julianne Moore as a rock star trying to keep her career alive) and father, Beale, (Steve Coogan as a slick art dealer) separate and get joint custody of Maisie, who bounces back and forth between them. Her father quickly marries her former nanny, Margo (Joanna Vanderham, with a charming Scottish accent and little else to recommend her), in an attempt to sue for full custody. Maisie’s mother retaliates by marrying Lincoln, a bartender who she pays for the privilege (Alexander Skarsgård, with just the right air of distracted sweetness). With these four yahoos trying to juggle Maisie and their own lives, snarls ensue: they miss pick-ups at school, drop Maisie off early,  try to buy her affection with gifts.

But this isn’t a farce, and there is nothing amusing about the mess the adults in Maisie’s life make. Susanna wants Maisie to love her best no matter what she does and is fiercely jealous of anyone else in her life; Beale wants to deprive Susanna of her, but has no time to take care of her himself. More and more, Maisie’s care shifts to Margo and Lincoln, who begin to know each other through Maisie, as well. Julianne Moore is great, as always, with a slightly unhinged, career-obsessed Susanna, who is just lovable enough to appeal. Steve Coogan is slimy as can be and trades women like the art he deals. Margo seems to genuinely care for Maisie, but is a total milquetoast. Lincoln, whose marriage to Susanna is sham enough not to disable him as Margo’s does, is the one who Maisie latches onto, and it’s that relationship that is most enjoyable to watch.

Alexander Skarsgard and Onata AprileThis isn’t a film with the message “isn’t it terrible when children don’t have nuclear families”; it isn’t trying to suggest that children are the most important thing in the world so we should drop everything and devote our lives to them. And that’s very much in its favor. It doesn’t need to point those fingers because the film isn’t about Maisie’s parents at all—the only access we get to them is through Maisie. What Maisie Knew is Maisie’s story, and we often see the world through her eyes, the camera at a child’s height. Onata Aprile is captivating and her performance makes the film. Against the backdrop of her parents’ chaos, screaming, and crying, she is understated and self-contained. What Maisie Knew is a quiet movie, so if you’re looking for a movie packed with grand passions and climaxes, this isn’t it. The film manages, though, to show us the things that Maisie knows—how to play with a toy horse, how to make a sandwich, how to wait, how to fall asleep—and make them beautiful and scary and heartbreaking for us.

5 Reasons to make Night of the Comet the next 80s movie you watch

If you’re the type who needs convincing, here are some

Reasons Why You Should Watch Night of the Comet (1984)


screenshots and review by Tessa


1. You’re sick of the classic 80s movies.


Ok so, Night of the Comet isn’t OBSCURE – it has a whole fan site devoted to it. It was shown at an art museum. But it’s not on the level of Weird Science or other stuff that would automatically get namechecked in, say, Ready Player One. I’m getting old and I need to branch out into lesser-known fare from the 80s in order to satisfy my craving for 80s movies. Often this means watching the quality of the film degrade, in plot or acting or both, trying to find some small part of the film to make it worth watching (usually the clothes and/or hairstyles). Not so here.


2a. You like Linda Hamilton doppelgangers.


Catherine Mary Stewart has the big blue eyes, strong jaw, tawny hair, and toughness of Linda Hamilton. Her character, Regina, is the daughter of a military-career-obsessed father. Her mom is dead and her stepmother is mean. She’s learned to take care of herself as much from her dad as from his absence –  and gets fun where she can take it – like keeping the top 10 slots on her favorite video game at work (a movie theater) filled with her initials. Her only deep bond is with her younger sister, so she has a protective and friendly side as well.


2b. Sisters!



It’s great to see loving sisterly relationships portrayed. Regina and Samantha are totes believable as siblings. Regina has the older sister leading her way into the world thing down, where she makes mistakes and worries about her sister. Samantha, being the younger sister, is more carefree . She’s happy to be a sardonic blonde cheerleader type – tough & bubbly – and she wants to make her own decisions but kinda enjoys being in the protected zone. And R&S are close enough in age that they are also friends and can razz on each other without it becoming big drama. Except in the case of boyfriend-poaching which, if they both survive the cometpocalypse, will probably become a deep seated neurosis for Samantha in her adult life.

Overall, the main peeps were well-written and came off as characters. The zombies and the stepmom were pretty much evil though.


3. You’re into great 80s fashion.


I’ll start at the boots:



And raise you legwarmers and spandex:


Finishing with the irresistible shopping-at-the-mall-cuz-everyone-in-the-world-is-dust-or-zombies montage


4. You want a post-apocalyptic movie that is as silly as it is gritty.


The premise of the movie is that the Earth is in the path of a comet’s huge elliptical orbit – not the actual comet, but its emanations or whatever. The last time it hit earth the dinosaurs died, but everyone thinks that’s a coincidence. Most people are outside watching the comet when it passes through, and are pretty much instantaneously dried out and turned to dust.


The ones who were partially exposed become zombie-like. They go a little crazy and kill and eat people, but they can also talk and reason, up to a certain point in the progression of… whatever it is. A virus? A bacteria? An environmental thing? It’s transmitted through the air. People who weren’t exposed at all are okay… or are they?  Some selfish scientists are trying to figure it out.


The scientists also like legwarmers.

The actual science is, as you may expect, vague, and its resolution is in keeping with that vagueness. Scientific clarity isn’t really the point – the setup is a great background for seeing empty city streets and setting up alternately silly and scary situations, but with a SPOILER ALERT happy ending — that has our characters totally not worried about things like gas, and continuing to put things in the trash as if there were garbage collection still happening.  Walking Dead it ain’t.  Still, the zombies are scary – there aren’t very many, but the fact that they retain brain function for a while makes them trickier to deal with.  And the human characters can also be scary – Doris, the stepmother, punches Samantha in the face, and the scientists give off a vibe that made me feel uneasy – like they were losing their minds but they didn’t know it, and so had to be watched at all times.  There’s even a plot twist that faked me out and made me think that the writer/director was really being gutsy.

5. You want a soundtrack chock full of smooth 80s jams.


Everyone is constantly listening to the radio on giant boomboxes or in their car, and the songs are uniformly full of spiraling saxophones and pulsating keyboard chords. (The shopping montage features a non Cyndi Lauper version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.)

BONUS: Because empty cities are a little thrilling.


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