Produced by: Sara Murphy, Adam Somner, Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie etc.
Cinematography: Michael Bauman and Paul Thomas Anderson
Edited by Andy Jurgensen
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Any film from Paul Thomas Anderson will certainly receive high critical praise and Licorice Pizza (2021) is certainly no different. Not only do I think this is his most over-rated film. I don’t even think it is a good one. Not for any technical reasons. Because as usual Anderson’s filmic skills as a director, the scintillating cinematographic style, the evocative rendition of early 1970’s Californian suburbs, plus two star-making turns within a formidable cast, ensure Licorice Pizza (2021) is deservedly going to win many plaudits. But I just did not get the story about pretty much nothing and did not connect with the lead romance.
Set in 1973, Licorice Pizza (2021), is part slice-of-life period drama and part character comedy, with a spine consisting of an odd romance between entrepreneurial fifteen-year-old, Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and twenty-five-year-old, Alana Kane (Alana Haim). While containing many brilliantly directed scenes, the film is a hot mess of indulgent rooting through Paul Thomas Anderson’s historical research and anecdotal events inspired by real-life film producer, Gary Goetzman.
Being asked to root for a relationship which is dubious on the surface and extremely complex to say the least is not beyond me. But Licorice Pizza (2021) doesn’t address the age difference, aside from a couple of moments in the script. I know Cooper Valentine is an old head on young shoulders, but why Alana doesn’t hang out with people her own age was weird for me. I’m not being politically correct or a prude, but is Anderson asking for us to root for what could end up being statutory rape. Am I over-thinking this? Well, all I can say is it impacted my emotions of a major aspect of the story.
Licorice Pizza‘s (2021) worst crime is it’s virtually plotless and I could not identify with the characters. I liked Gary to a certain extent as he ducks and dives to make a living, but what was at stake? Nothing really. Yeah, I get it is art but I found Anderson’s vision boring. Sure, the actors are great, especially the effervescent Alana Haim. Virtual cameos from Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper and Tom Waits failed for me though, with Cooper’s coke-addled and womanising impression of Jon Peters about as funny as an enema. Of course, the cinematography, period design, soundtrack and costumes are exquisitely presented, but they exist in an emotional vacuum. Finally, Licorice Pizza (2021) made me want to watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous 1970s masterpiece, Boogie Nights (1997). Now, that film deserved all the critical praise that came its way.
Main Cast: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, J. B. Smoove, Ted Danson, Richard Lewis, Vince Vaughan, Kaitlin Olson etc.
Guests: Mila Kunis, Clive Owen, Laverne Cox, Chris Martin, Sean Penn, Jonah Hill, Jon Hamm, Philip Rosenthaland many more.
Distribution Platform: HBO (USA) – SKY (UK)
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
“AH! INTERESTING. . . “
During a lengthy hiatus from 2011 to 2017, fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm were left bereft of their dose of Larry David’s inimitable and eccentric behaviour. The multi-millionaire writer of Seinfeld had carved out a wonderfully politically incorrect comedy series, full of misunderstanding, farce and hilariously embarrassing situations. Thankfully, he returned with season 9, and it was absolutely brilliant. Larry managed to get himself a death sentence, having written a musical called Fatwa, along with all manner of other comedic shenanigans. Season 10 has now followed and, once again, anti-heroic Larry delivers ten more fantastically offensive and funny episodes. More often than not we find his behaviour abhorrent as he goes about upsetting friends, family members, celebrities, and strangers on a daily basis. However, sometimes we are with Larry and his actions have merit and reason. Furthermore, due to the wonderful writing, improvising, cast and situations the humour is always more than pretty, pretty good!
NARRATIVE ARC (OF THE COVENANT)
Usually, Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes can stand alone due to the richness of the narrative strands Larry David and his writers create. But most seasons will have a very solid narrative arc running through it to provide looping rejoinders, a structural spine and a fitting conclusion. In season 10, there were echoes of storylines from prior seasons. Larry wanted to get back with Cheryl and they even committed divorced adultery, cuckolding Ted Danson in the process. However, the main arc revolved around the return of coffee store owner, Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra). Larry pisses Mocha Joe off because he complains about “cold” coffee, wobbly tables and weak scones. Following Larry’s customary banishing he swears revenge on Mocha Joe. This takes the form of the wonderfully named ‘spite store’ he sets up next door. Thus, Latte Larry’s is born, and ten episodes of fast-paced, tit-for-tat, vengeful and hilarious scenes ensue.
“THE GOLDEN RULE” – STYLE AND THEMES
Curb Your Enthusiasm is not just funny because of the situations, dialogue, observations, guest stars and acting performances. It is also very sophisticated and stupid, combining a variety of comedy styles to fuel the humour. Earlier seasons could be argued to be more based in reality per se. The interactions between the characters felt more natural, in keeping with the pilot episode which was shot as a mockumentary about Larry returning to stand-up. Later seasons, especially seasons 9 and 10, upped the gag rate and one could even say felt slicker. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes have always come thick and fast in Curb Your Enthusiasm, but in the last two seasons there is not only a reliance on the usual comedy of embarrassment, observations and satire, but farce, slapstick and gross-out humour too have been added to the palette. Lastly, the show has always skated close to the edge in regard to non-PC humour and causing offence. Evidently, Larry David has now fully thrown himself over that edge and is happy to offend everyone in a two-fingered salute to so-called snowflakes or liberals out there.
In regard to thematics, Larry David clearly has his finger on the pulse relating to contemporary society, politics and human behaviour. Much of the humour and funny scenarios derive from what is acceptable behaviour and certain “rules” within everyday living. In season 10, Larry finds himself questioning, among other things: the behaviour of a pregnant woman; the merits of artificial fruit; what is and what isn’t’ sufficient praise; usage of disable parking badges; whether he should be in a restaurant’s ‘ugly section’; whether sex with Cheryl’s sister is post-relationship cheating; and the overall benefits of running a spite store. These elements, the running feuds with Ted Danson, Mocha Joe and Larry’s assistant, Alice, and themes relating to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo movement; Larry and Leon’s continued chats about the nature of being black/white; Donald Trump’s presidency; fat shaming; suicide; Susie’s alleged plot to murder Jeff; nationalist ridicule; egotistic actor types; and transgender issues, all connectedly make this season a very rich product, full of ideas and challenging storylines.
“PRETTY GOOD. . . ” – EPISODE RATINGS
Episode 1 – Happy New Year – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry goes to war with Mocha Joe and reignites his romance with Cheryl. His relationship with his assistant also descends into accusations of sexual harassment.
Highlight: Larry wearing his Donald Trump, “Make America Great Again!”and ensuring no one wants to be seen with him.
Episode 2 – Side Sitting – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry’s relationship with his assistant, Alice, is possibly going to court unless he settles and makes amends. His attempts to get back with Cheryl are rebuked, so he dates his lawyer’s assistant.
Highlight: Larry gives Susie a portrait of herself as a birthday present. She loves it – but Jeff doesn’t.
Episode 3 – Artificial Fruit – (9 out of 10)
Larry’s donation to a charity fails to bring forward redemption when he refuses to hug Laverne Cox at an event, because she has a cold. Meanwhile, Richard and Larry argue over who is paying a lunch bill, leading to a very embarrassing escapade at a Spanish funeral.
Highlights: Larry is unsure if the Heimlich manoeuvre is appropriate when his assistant is choking. Plus, Larry’s doodle debate with Christine Lahti blows up into a serious disagreement.
Episode 4 – You’re not going to get me to say anything bad About! – (9 out of 10)
Larry, Donna (his new girlfriend), Cheryl, Jeff, Susie and Leon go to Cabo San Lucas for a friend’s wedding. Larry becomes fixated with Donna’s yo-yo dieting, but he and Leon do find some incredible coffee beans for Latte Larry’s.
Highlight: Larry’s determination to locate a toothbrush descends into a farcical conclusion. Later, at the wedding, Ted discovers Larry and Cheryl’s infidelity in a hilarious fashion.
Episode 5 – Insufficient Praise! – (9 out of 10)
Preparations for Latte Larry’s gather pace as Larry asks for a specific urinal type. Larry also gets a new housekeeper and is given a sex doll by Freddy Funkhouser. Meanwhile, Larry clashes with actor Clive Owen and Richard Lewis’ new girlfriend; a professional “crier”.
Highlights: Larry’s frantic battle with the sex doll resulting in his housekeeper and Cheryl catching him. Also, Clive Owen’s brilliantly pretentious send-up of narcissistic acting types.
Episode 6 – The Surprise Party! – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry meets a German inventor who has an anti-Semitic Alsatian called Adolf, and he gains joy from the use of a disabled parking badge. He also clashes with Susie over the surprise party she intends to throw for Jeff.
Highlight: Despite not having an appointment, Larry uses his cardiologist’s reception area to wait, because it’s a “waiting room”.
Episode 7 – The Ugly Section! – (9.5 out of 10)
Larry consistently keeps getting placed in the “ugly section” at the back of a restaurant. Simultaneously, he attempts to woo the widow of his friend who recently committed suicide.
Highlights: Larry asking Jane Krakowski’s character where she got the handles for her husband’s coffin. Later, Larry ruins a possible sexual liaison with her by arguing about the New York Jets. Lastly, Larry insults Susie as she should be in the restaurant “ugly section”.
Episode 8 – Elizabeth, Margaret and Larry! – (10 out of 10)
Actor, Jon Hamm, shadows Larry as he prepares to play a character like him in a film. Larry and Leon start a new business venture which initially proves profitable. Cheryl is angered when Larry spontaneously begins a relationship with her sister, Becky.
Highlights: Jon Hamm slowly turning into Larry throughout the episode, culminating in them both being ejected from a dinner party. Also, Kaitlin Olson returning as Becky and the surprising sex with Larry.
Episode 9 – Beep Panic! – (9 out of 10)
Larry strikes up a friendship with a waitress that dripped sweat into his soup. He also becomes obsessed with the liqorice at his car showroom. Meanwhile, Mocha Joe plots his own revenge using DVD film screeners.
Highlights: Leon and Larry succumb to the severe laxative effect of the liqorice in a silly bit of toilet humour.
Episode 10 – The Spite Store! – (10 out of 10)
Latte Larry’s is well and truly open, and it inspires other celebrities to open similar spite stores. Larry is irked by siren abusers and gives a job to Joey Funkhouser, but his big penis causes the store no end of issues.
Highlights: Sean Penn’s opening a spite-driven pet store. All Larry’s innovations at the coffee store ultimately lead to a very explosive downfall.
“NO GOOD?” – CONCLUSION
In preparing for this review I rewatched season 9 and watched season 10 twice. So, it’s obvious to say that I love, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Overall, I found the latest season to be a wonderful mix of old-fashioned slapstick and farce, combined with Larry David’s original and skewed vision of humanity. What was also impressive was the structural coherence of juggling so many comedy plots and situations. Plus, Larry behaves appallingly, and this is very appealing in an ever-increasingly politically correct world. Many times, throughout the season Larry is shown to be a provocative arsehole, but on occasions he very much has a valid point. Larry’s issues are very much first world problems, but because of the skilled writing and consistently high joke rate I related greatly to this season. Plus, Larry doesn’t win. His spiteful plotting and perpetual disagreements with those around him mostly fail. Indeed, ultimately, the joke is always on him.
A bumper month of viewing this month incorporating some fine films I saw at the London Film Festival plus some bloody good televisual catch-ups as well. As usual my marks are – in tribute to Spinal Tap – out of eleven!
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) – BLU RAY
Modern warfare biopic directed by Clint Eastwood about Chris Kyle; an American sniper who had the most recorded kills in U.S. military history. It was a box office smash and Bradley Cooper is excellent as are the kinetic direction of the war scenes. Politically I felt uneasy rooting for a hired killer and I also felt more could have been done to show the downside of coming home from war. Ultimately though this is solid masculine filmmaking for all you John Wayne fans out there. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
BEASTS OF NO NATION (2015) – NETFLIX/CINEMA/LONDON FILM FESTIVAL
This is a stunning drama which leaves you battered and burnt emotionally. It’s about a civil war in Africa and the child soldiers whom are ripped from their families and made to fight for despotic mad men. Don’t watch if you are easily upset because Cary Fukanaga’s film is a terrifying journey into the heart of darkness. A career-best performance from Idris Elba and phenomenal acting debut from Abraham Attah, as Agu, make this a stunning film. I saw it at the London Film Festival but it is freely available to watch on Netflix. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (1959) – BLU RAY
This heart-breaking film — with brilliant performances from Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon — shows the power alcohol has as it systematically shakes you like a rabid dog until one’s soul is hollowed out. The story shows a couple succumbing to the demon drink after which their relationship is torn apart. It’s also demonstrates the power of AA in aiding treatment for recovery. Incredible performances, script and score make it an American classic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
DHEEPAN (2015) – CINEMA (LFF)
Superb filmmaker Jacques Audiard strikes cinema gold again with this brilliant character study about immigrants in France, attempting to forge a life in the crime-ridden estates of Paris. What starts as a humane tale of survival crosses over into explosive thriller territory by the end. There is so much empathy to be felt for Dheepan and his fake “wife’s” struggle that while their journey is small-scale it feels epic from an emotional standpoint. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
DUMB AND DUMBER TO (2014) – NOW TV
Saw some negative reviews for this silly comedy sequel but I found it just as dumb, moronic and hilarious as the original. It’s a twenty-years-later-retread of the same jokes from the first as we find Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels older but just as fun and funnerer.(Mark: 7 out of 11)
EVOLUTION (2015) – CINEMA (LFF)
Some wonderful and evocative imagery and cinematography relating to birth and death could not save this French- arthouse-film-poem from being a pretentious and repetitive bore. (Mark: 4 out of 11)
FARGO (2014) – NETFLIX
I just caught up with first season TV show of FARGO and really enjoyed it. If you’re a Coen Brothers’ fan you’ll love it because it’s like a “greatest hits” package full of their characters, plots, themes, dumb criminals, nice cops and references to their whole back catalogue. I loved Billy Bob Thornton’s evil emulation of Anton Chigurh and good to see Martin Freeman play a “not-so” good guy. Even Glen Howerton pops up filtering Pitt’s dumb fitness trainer from Burn After Reading. I think Allison Tolman steals the show with a fine, nuanced performance though. It’s dark, bloody, suspenseful and kinda funny looking! (Mark: 9 out of 11)
GET ON UP (2014) – NOW TV
The time-hopping structure didn’t necessarily help this biopic of James ‘Godfather of Soul’ Brown but the funky music, editing and performance of Chadwick Boseman as Brown are a joy. Growing up a pauper the resilient and determined Brown became a musical great and must be recognised as a genius. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE GUNMAN (2014) – BLU RAY
Sean Penn does a Liam Neeson and wraps his acting chops round some fisticuffs and firepower as he missions round the world dealing with post-traumatic migraines and capitalist pig war-mongerers. It’s a decent DVD rental watch and has some fun shootouts and action. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
HONEYMOON (2013) – NOW TV
This is an indifferent no-budget horror movie with decent cast, including Rose Leslie, about newlyweds having a nightmare honeymoon. Starts well and has some suspenseful moments but lacks a decent pay-off. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (2015) – NOW TV
Very entertaining comedy sequel in which the cast including: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz and Kevin Spacey have a lot of fun fighting each other in a worker versus bosses plot. The highlight once again is Jennifer Aniston’s filthy-sex-addicted dentist who steals the show with her depraved and hilarious ways. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE JUDGE (2014) – NOW TV
Kind of made-for-TV-pilot-script is elevated in quality by the castings of Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio and Robert Downey Jnr as a family torn apart by a murder trial. Downey Jnr and Duvall are excellent as the warring Judge/Father and Lawyer/Son who must join forces and attempt to repair their differences while Duvall faces a murder charge. Slightly longer than needed this is decent legal drama with fine performances. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
MACBETH (2015) – CINEMA
The “Scottish Play” gets a gothic and atmospheric treatment from Justin Kurtzel with the majestic Michael Fassbender as the doomed laird. Macbeth and his Lady – ethereal Marion Cotillard – plot and cook up a whole heap of revenge, regret and retribution on the misty Highlands. It’s heavy on mood and pain and panoramic landscapes as the tears of war and greed for power resonate heavily within the wonderful Shakespearean story and dialogue. Powerful stuff. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE MARTIAN (2015) – CINEMA
Ridley Scott is back on form with this terrific science fiction epic starring Matt Damon as Robinson Crusoe on Mars. A fantastic ensemble cast including Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, Benedict Wong and Kate Mara all combine to try and get Mark Watney back to Earth. Reminiscent of Castaway (2000) we find time running out for the lone Botanist forced to grow food out of human manure. Damon is a charming lead and we root for his hero in a dramatic and humorous space opera. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
MISS MEADOWS (2014) – NOW TV
This is an odd but not-too-bad indie film starring Katie Holmes as a Miss-Prim-and-Proper-vigilante who murders scumbags with a butter-wouldn’t-melt attitude. More of a sketch or short film idea rather than a feature it’s still darkly diverting if you like your comedy deadly. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
OBSERVANCE (2015) – CINEMA (LFF)
Creepy voyeuristic and Kafkaesque horror-thriller doesn’t make much sense but has enough creepy moments to keep you interested. Probably would have made a better short film but kudos to the Aussie filmmakers for getting this no-budget movie together. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
RIPPER STREET – SEASONS 2 & 3 – AMAZON PRIME
Just caught up to date with Season 2 and 3’s BBC/Amazon Prime’s TV show RIPPER STREET. This is a great ‘historical’ period detective show. The usual genre stuff of solving crimes is accompanied by some lovely faux-Victorian dialogue, colourful costumes, great characters and evil plotting. Downtown Abbey can go f*ck itself. This is my kind of period drama; bloody and brilliant! (Mark: 8 out of 11)
SICURIO (2015) – CINEMA
After the brilliance of Denis Villeneuve’s directorial releases Prisoners (2013) and Enemy (2013) my expectations were really high for this DEA/Cartel crime-based thriller starring Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin. While it’s high on suspense, great cast and atmosphere it fails to catch fire dramatically, leaving one thirsty for more heart-in-your-mouth moments such as the brilliant opening sequence. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
SUFFRAGETTE – CINEMA (LFF GALA)
This is a cracking drama which has fine direction by Sarah Gavron with a simple, yet effective screenplay by Abi Morgan. Carey Mulligan is the brave workhouse heroine who decides to make a stand against the inequality around her; for that she is arrested and beaten and castigated by the men and establishment. Her story is heart-breaking and touching and stands a fine testament to the brave women who fought for the right to vote. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
SURVEILLANCE (2013) – NOW TV
Jennifer “Daughter of David” Lynch delivers a nasty and weird little psycho-horror which stars Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman as FBI Agents tracking down nefarious killers on the road. Suspenseful and dark I thought it was pretty good with some decent kills and suspense. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
UNBROKEN (2014) – NOW TV
With Suffragette, Get on Up, American Sniper and The Walk it was a month for biopics and Unbroken follows this trend. It charts the brave exploits of Olympian and war-hero Louis Zamperini played with formidable zeal by Jack O’Connell. It’s an absorbing tale of survival that’s solidly directed by Angelina Jolie. It’s a simple old fashioned story told with broad strokes that, while short on characterisation, would make a good rental on a rainy Sunday afternoon. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE WALK (2015) – CINEMA
If you’ve seen the Man on Wire documentary about the mad French bloke walking a tightrope between the Twin Towers in the 1970s then you pretty much know the story here. However, Joseph Gordon Levitt is charming as the Parisian lunatic and film genius Robert Zemeckis carves out a bravura range of set-pieces based around a final act heist. Overall this is an entertaining, if slight, biopic of a dare-devil mad-man which is not recommended for those with vertigo. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)