Guardians of the Galaxy ***1/2 (out of five)
Among the million pieces of alchemy that made Star Wars great was that it told the story of how a family came together – a misfit family, a family of odds and ends, a naive young farmboy, a cocky smuggler, two droids, a monkish old man, a princess and a big hairy wookie.
The same story is told in James Gunn’s Marvel Comics adaptation Guardians of the Galaxy, except here we have a cocky thief, a green she-warrior, a branded hunk of purple muscleman, a talking racoon and one of the tree-men from The Lord of the Rings (not really; this is another tree-man). They bicker, quarrel, fight, what have you, but, of course, come together to become Guardians… of the Galaxy.
The source material dates from 1969 – way before Star Wars – and perhaps was a major influence on that film. However they may – or may not – be linked, there is no denying that Guardians of the Galaxy is the closest film, in feel, to the original Star Wars in a long, long time, and that has to do with tone: the films share humour, a lightness of touch, and heart.
The plot is bonkers, and there’s way too much CGI, but the core little group of disparate characters manage to latch themselves to you, and you’re in. Chris Pratt, as the extremely Han Solo-ish leader of the pack (insomuch as there is a leader) becomes a movie star here. Good fun; I’ll be there for Number Two.
Palo Alto ***1/2 (out of five)
We don’t really need another story about California youth – I certainly don’t lie awake worrying about the lives of privileged white teens in privileged white Silicon Valley – but Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto – based (no, really) on a volume of short stories by James Franco – is centred by Emma Roberts, a naturally engaging young actress I’ve never encountered before, and you can’t really look away. Without her, this may have been completely disposable; as it is, it announces a major new talent, and that’s always exciting.
The film is hampered by its roots – there are scenes that were obviously great little scenes in great little short stories but which go nowhere, dramatically – and as such feels dangerously close to being too loose, meandering, and inconsequential. But it holds together through the performances and a stylistic integrity; Coppola’s voice is quiet but firm. She has an eye and an ear, and if, at the moment, they are only for things she knows well, they are likely, based on Palo Alto, to develop well.