There are so many different genres in the world of cinema and such a wide range of quality (with mediocrity being the rule) that it’s downright gratifying when a filmmaker takes on a specific type of movie and honors it. I’m happy to report that two features in local theaters this month do right by two familiar movie categories: the coming-of-age story and the film noir thriller.
‘WE ARE THE BEST!’
With a deft hand, great wit, and prickly charm, Swedish director and screenwriter Lukas Moodyson adapts his wife, Coco’s, graphic novel about a couple of disaffected 13-year-old girls who decide to start their own punk-rock band in early 1980s Stockholm. The androgynous Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Clara (Mira Groin) are best friends who are disdained by the clique of pastel-wearing, New Wave pop-loving girly girls in their school. Which is fine with Bobo and Klara. Contemptuous of gym-class competitions and crass materialism and soured by the dysfunction of their respective families, they decide to express their anger and frustration through rock music. Of course, in the tradition of many of their do-it-yourself punk predecessors, they are completely unschooled in music and have to borrow instruments. But undaunted, they thrash away in a publicly funded rehearsal space after snagging it on a sign-in sheet. In short order, they convince Hedwig (Liv LeMoyne) — a wholesome, reticent Christian schoolmate with actual skill on guitar — to join their nascent band. Their youthful exuberance is infectious, even if none of it might be enough to earn the respect of their peers, let alone commercial success. And the bond that the girls share as outsiders may not counter the hurt feelings generated when the trio meets the members of an all-boy punk band and adolescent romance enters the equation.
Some of Moodyson’s previous films, particularly Show Me Love and Lilya 4-Ever, addressed the mutability and perils of adolescence and interpersonal relations. The vivid and vital We Are the Best! deals with those concerns as well, yet is certainly sweeter and funnier than those earlier, considerably darker efforts. Like any good coming-of-age film, it’s touching in its depiction of the travails, pain, and joy of growing up. And it’s hard to imagine that the cast of We Are the Best! — especially the three precocious actresses who portray Bobo, Klara, and Hedwig — could be any better.
We Are The Best! opens June 6 at the Embarcadero Cinema 5.
‘COLD IN JULY’
Though generally a hard-boiled American crime drama of the 1940s and 1950s, the film noir movie has become a Hollywood perennial with various latter-day interpretations coming down the pike and some notable British, French, and Italian examples of the stylish, often murky and amoral thriller. Now, we get a fresh iteration of film noir, complete with the conflicted antihero undermined by his questionable decisions and caught up in forces beyond his control.
Set in 1989, Cold in July focuses on Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall of TV’s Dexter), a small-town Texan extolled as a hero for shooting and killing a burglar in his home. But Dane starts to freak out when he meets ex-con Russel (Sam Shepherd), the grizzled, menacing father of the guy he shot. To protect himself and his family, Dane seeks a fixer in the form of private eye Jim Bob (Don Johnson) and a way out of what appears to be an inescapable bind.
Based on a novel by crime and fantasy author Joe R. Landsdale, Cold in July was directed by Jim Mickle, whose atmospheric 2010 effort, Stake Land, was a lean and mean take on vampirism as apocalyptic plague and whose 2013 feature, We Are What We Are, revealed the horrific secrets of a rural family. This time out, the threats Mickle presents are neither otherworldly nor uncommon, but they are no less dangerous and creepy. Cold in July is filmed in a brutal, economical, and visually stark fashion. Its violence is swift and graphic, while its emotional turmoil — as embodied by Dane’s fears for his life and his family’s well being — is palpable.
And there’s no denying the full-bodied performances by the actors. If I have any quibbles with Cold in July, they’d be about an abrupt change in one of the characters and the presence of a few unanswered questions when all should be said and done. Those are rather minor complaints when it comes to an action-packed ride like this one. Tense and exciting in a stomach-churning way (with a little fun courtesy of Don Johnson’s good ol’ boy), Cold in July does a bang-up job of carrying on the film noir tradition.
Cold in July is currently playing at a Landmark Theater (exact location not known at press time).