Jeune et Jolie – a review


Jeune et Jolie is a frank coming-of-age tale told through the experiences of one 17 year-old girl and her family. And that’s what this film is all about: experiences. Not romanticised nostalgia of what teenage experiences were when we were younger but real immediate adolescent angst. When you’re 17 years old, everything is an experience. Everything is new and exciting or new and depressing but everything is an experience. These experiences flow through Marine Vacth’s tumultuous teen, Isabelle, and are channeled elegantly by François Ozon’s deliberate and intricate direction.

Vacth has a rare and hypnotic quality, meandering between adolescent girl and strikingly complex adult woman, she magnetises the camera and consequently us. To carry the film in the way she does shows a strength and trust in both her acting and the relationship with her director. Ozon was obviously looking for something special when casting this film and in Vacth he assuredly found it.

From normal sexual stirrings, Isabelle, once she’s gotten the unpleasant ‘first time’ out of the way, turns sex to her advantage, making money as she explores herself and the world of adult pleasure. What’s interesting is there’s no reason or explanation for her character turning to prostitution, other than she seems to actively enjoy her choice to do so. We see no poverty or entrapment, not even a goal for the considerable sums of money she is making and saving. It’s this choice that makes Isabelle’s rebellion so unusual, so unnecessary and so intensely personal.

Marine Vacth embodies the tornado of teenage emotion so genuinely that you forget about the thematic controversy and just feel what she’s going through. She’s at turns angry, isolated, reaching out for a connection, chasing new discoveries, exploring herself, burgeoning with sexuality and always diffused with melancholic beauty. The score, the tonal resonance and indeed Isabelle herself are all steeped in this melancholic aesthetic of Ozon and Vacth’s creation (the word ‘melancholy’ itself being mentioned several times in the film). And it’s this focus on that particular feeling, the true feeling of being a teenager, which brings the film its success.

If you’re willing to go with it for an hour and a half then you’ll find yourself immersed in a refreshingly honest and insightful story of one 17 year-old girl’s confusion, rebellion and sexual awakening.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier – a review


Cap is back!

And he’s bigger (literally, if that’s possible), cooler and more badass than ever in Captain America: The Winter SoldierChris Evans reprises his role as the eponymous hero, no longer a 1940s throwback but now a full-blown 21st Century superhero, complete with modern haircut and internet skills to boot.

We meet Cap and his comrade Natasha Romanoff (aka the Black Widow), played with delicious intent by the suitably captivating Scarlett Johansson, as they embark on a routine mission to take out some terrorists, rescue some hostages and generally save the day. All is not quite as it seems as Romanoff appears to have ulterior motives, putting their team and the hostages in jeopardy to recover some data, which sparks Cap to question S.H.I.E.L.D.’s true reasons behind the mission. Gosh, he’s just such a clean-cut hero!

Cue a spiralling sequence of events that begin to unravel around Cap as he struggles to know who to trust and where to turn.  One such event involving Samuel L. Jackson’s cooler-than-cool Nick Fury being particularly, well, cool.

OK, so premise over, this is just one really solid superhero / action-adventure / special effects movie. We call them Marvel. And for good reason.

IN A WORLD…saturated with over-blown budgets and special effect driven films, it’s really reassuring to watch one that holds enough plot to make it more than just eye candy, whilst still being able to deliver the visual sweetness. Winter Soldier does that by serving up the usual big action set pieces but this time incorporating more modern and innovative MMA-style fight choreography (very much a growing trend in Hollywood), going as far as to mention the sport and even cast the UFC’s Georges St Pierre as terrorist Batroc.

Another smart step is allowing more screen time for the Black Widow, not only because of Johansson’s obvious star power, but as her character brings some genuine jeopardy in the form of her mysterious background. We’re with Cap as he’s told, “trust no one”.

So, the fight choreography is awesome and captured in a refreshingly honest way – it’s nice to actually see some of the nice fighting – so thank you to the brothers Russo (directors Anthony and Joe) for that.

OK, no comic book movie is complete without the evil villain to polarise our hero and here is no exception. The titular Winter Soldier plugs that gap but he’s not alone, as the film progresses it becomes clear that the old adage ‘keep your friends close but your enemies closer’ has a big part to play here. Enter a bewrinkled Robert Redford as the charismatic, albeit a bit weather worn from his recent trip on that boat, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. Redford lends his considerable gravitas to the role and fleshes out a key character here with enough sincerity to make him pivotal. This is where the film finds its strength; by creating a layered (albeit not too complex or original) narrative arc for Cap to somersault and fight his way through it gives some meat to the bone of kick-ass combat and stunning CGI. And it is genuinely stunning.

It’s worth noting Anthony Mackie’s introduction here as Falcon (not least because he’s good and the character a stalwart of Captain America comic book history), who along with Jackson’s Fury helps deliver all of the film’s killer one-liners. And there are enough of these cool one-liners and lighter moments, to balance the serious and odious overtones of super-villainy and betrayal, that Captain America: The Winter Soldier finds a really nice groove of action, story and entertainment value, delivering admirably on all three. Roll on Ultron…