At The Movies: Licorice Pizza a warm look at youth and freedom in 1970s LA

Stills from the movie Licorice Pizza starring Cooper Hoffman (left) and Alana Haim. PHOTO: UIP

Licorice Pizza (NC16)

134 minutes, opens Jan 20, 4 stars

Paul Thomas Anderson makes movies about men who feel they have cracked a secret code about the way the world operates. Supporting characters hang on for dear life or are bulldozed out of the way.

Oscar-nominated dramas such as Phantom Thread (2017), The Master (2012) and There Will Be Blood (2007) are portraits of men whose deep reserves of self-belief galvanise those who enter their orbit - the "reality distortion field" effect that former Apple boss Steve Jobs was said to possess.

While Anderson's new film is sweeter, funnier and more sincerely romantic than his recent output, there is still a hyper-confident male at the heart of it - the child actor and serial entrepreneur Gary Valentine. He is played by Cooper Hoffman, son of Anderson's frequent collaborator, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The 15-year-old Gary, immediately after setting eyes on her, starts wooing the 25-year-old Alana (rock musician Alana Haim, making a polished feature film debut). They hit it off as friends - but, even in the freewheeling Los Angeles of 1973, their age difference makes her uncomfortable. Still, she is drawn to Gary's business schemes and becomes a collaborator.

As their friendship grows, they meet a variety of types endemic to early 1970s Hollywood: Jack (Sean Penn), the movie star who risks his life for attention, and Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper), the drug-addled mogul, among others.

The movie is a loosely structured, low-stakes, affectionate look at the Tinseltown of Anderson's boyhood, populated by characters based on real people who lived around that time.

Like Anderson's breakout film, the study of the early days of the LA porn industry Boogie Nights (1997), Licorice Pizza's dialogue, cinematography, music, performances and locations work together to create a seamless world that is both nostalgic and deeply inviting.

The movie is marred by a dehumanising joke concerning a white restaurant owner with interchangeable Asian wives - one that rights groups have correctly criticised - but it is tough to fault a film so fully formed.

Be Somebody (PG13)

123 minutes, opens Jan 20, not reviewed

Remote video URL

In this comedy-mystery from China starring Andrew Yin, Deng Jiajia and Yu Entai, a movie-making team trying to dramatise a Shanghai true-crime story finds that the killer is real and on the loose - and is one of them.

Book Of Love (NC16)

106 minutes, opens Jan 20, not reviewed

Remote video URL

English actor Sam Claflin and Spanish actress Veronica Echegui star in this romantic comedy about Henry Copper, an English writer whose book is a flop everywhere in the world except Mexico. Flown there on a publicity tour, he discovers that his success has happened through deception.

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