The story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley in 1973.
Licorice Pizza is no less than a Paul Thomas Anderson movie — stylized, larger-than-life, and a beautiful anomaly. Like Boogie Nights and Magnolia, things happen to the characters that often go unexplained but its the way the characters react that defines the story. PTA makes movies that are defined by characters who feel larger-than-life but have a human core, though one may not always understand them on the surface. Alana Haim steals the show in her very first movie role, portraying a young woman trying to find herself only to find that she may not be alone in that. To make things even cooler, her family plays themselves in the film! Cooper Hoffman is also great as an incredibly confident teen actor who looks forward to achieving his destiny someday. The crazy situations that happen may not always add up to much sense but they offer revealing moments about the film’s spirit and character. With that comes a layer of irreverence and craziness with how bold and out there this film gets — like a famous actor trying to his favorite scenes from his movies, or another Hollywood star having a big meltdown — but it’s all PTA’s complex way of conveying his themes and the messy beauty of the human condition. The free-spirited nature is amplified by the vivid direction, including great production value and soundtrack to immerse you into the Valley in the 70s. Like many of PTA’s other films, the movie doesn’t quite fit the mold of one genre — it’s part coming-of-age story, part outrageous comedy, part political drama, part Hollywood-based epic. The movie does slow down in the second half but ends on a strong beat. The movie is a picture of youth, the parts we play to fit into the world, and the bonds that not everyone may understand. It’s a great watch, but it’s best to be familiar with the director’s style and filmography to know what you’re in for.
In the prequel to the Kingsman film series, Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) forms the Kingsman agency during World War I to stop a huge conspiracy to wipe out millions.
In this large, historically-based prequel, Matthew Vaughn’s unique eye for action and wit remain sharp but he ditches the parodical energy of the last two films for a tonal mess of a WWI action film that takes itself too seriously. Obviously, war is not a joke but the movie already makes fun of the figures behind WWI with its caricatures of Rasputin, Kaiser Wilhelm, King George and Tsar Nicholas (the latter three all being played by the same actor, to make things sillier). So with this Inglorious Basterds-like irreverence the movie plays around with, why not make the entire movie a comedy like the last two movies? The script tries way too hard to teach a somber lesson about violence, but the problem is the movie thrives on the over-the-top carnage seen on screen. The movie is a tonal mess, with the film trying to be both a cartoonish spy comedy and attempting to deconstruct war and lessons around what violence is, as well as having serious, intense scenes on the Western Front that feel like something out of a completely different movie. To make matters worse, the characters all feel flat and the supporting roles, like those of Gemma Arteron and Djimon Honsou, have no agency of their own. Ralph Fiennes is the only actor who gets a fully realized character and he can obviously do no wrong as a performer.
The action and music shine here — as soon as the action begins, the energy kicks in, with thrilling choreography, score (the Kingsman theme that recurs throughout the franchise can never get old), and set pieces. The action and humor play off each other well in these sequences, and Vaughn is an expert at crafting action scenes that grab your attention but are still unapologetically witty and crazy. If I were ever to watch this movie again, though, I would skip all the boring drama and go straight to the awesome action scenes. Instead of embracing the wild and sharp fun the action brings the film, it’s brought done by serious attempts to be a WWI drama, Unfortunately, in the more serious scenes, it feels detached from its audience, and creates a tonally confused movie that can’t decide what it wants to be. The original Kingsman film spoofed James Bond-like spy films while being a terrific example of one. This one missed an opportunity to lean completely into satirizing the politics of war while having an actually fun and wondrous action adventure, but it lacks the unapologetic confidence, energy, adventurousness and irreverence of the last two.