Believe it or not, but actor and director James Franco is also a… MoreBelieve it or not, but actor and director James Franco is also a published author. His 2010 published collection of short stories titled "Palo Alto" is based somewhat on his life of growing up in that area of Southern California. Centered around different high schoolers and their bouts with drinking, drugs, and violence, the collection spawned a film; the directorial debut of the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, twenty-seven year old Gia Coppola. As far as coming-of-age, high school dramas go, "Palo Alto" remains on point and relevant throughout, bringing to life some of the strange and very dark occurrences that young adults have to face regarding peer pressure, experimenting, and dealing with the changes around them. The grim sister of films like "Dazed And Confused" or "Fast Times At Ridgemont High", Coppola's undertaking brings the same dynamic of high school but with an updated and refreshing feel, despite the poignant content.
Author James Franco also stars in the film, as a soccer coach who starts an affair with one of the high school girls on his team, April, played by the very talented Emma Roberts. Appearing on the poster of the film, April ties the film together, also playing the love interest of Teddy, played by Val Kilmer's son Jack Kilmer. The troubled Teddy fumbles about with this unrequited love as well as dealing with his wild best friend Fred (Nat Wolff) who often becomes more trouble than he is worth as he chainsaws trees and drives into inanimate objects. In smaller roles, Chris Messina and Val Kilmer both play fathers that bring something new to these roles and cause even more ripples in the pond that is the conflict of this film. With drunk driving, underage affairs, and the on-going theme of childhood lost, "Palo Alto" is also reminiscent of stories like "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower" and "Donnie Darko". All of these stories and films are about what it is like to grow up in their particular eras, most of the time taking a good hard look at the cold hard, messy truth that provides something almost of a redeeming nature for those us, James Franco included, who grew up through similar occurrences.
"As Above, So Below" is a smart horror film packaged to be consumed by… More"As Above, So Below" is a smart horror film packaged to be consumed by the average viewer. Set in the claustrophobic nightmare that is the Paris Catacombs, one has to wonder why it took so long for horror filmmakers to capitalize on the built-in creepiness that comes from the bone-lined tunnels. Unsure where the real Catacombs end and the studio sets begin, the close quarters and claustrophobia really take hold and cause for some extremely stressful situations. With dismal entries already this year and with a trailer that set it on track to be another horror disappointment, "As Above, So Below" actually muscles through its found-footage shakiness and delivers a unique and horrific adventure unlike anything you have experienced before. One part "Tomb Raider", two parts "The Descent", the plot follows a group of treasure hunters into the unknown as they hunt for the Philosopher's Stone.
Putting aside my strong resentment for the recent bastardizing of the genre and even though the shaky camera gets nauseating at times there is enough restraint and some stellar shot choices that eventually make up for it. Just as alchemy attempts to combine the physical world with the supernatural, determining the depths of hell with mathematics, "As Above, So Below" is able to make the existence of hell seem plausible, literally grounding it in some strange reality that makes one feel like it could be just beneath our feet. So give yourself over to the white-knuckle, stomach-wrenching ride that is the hell of the Paris Catacombs in what could be the best horror film of the year.