Skip to main content

I ain’t from this planet, y’all.

Spring Breakers
(2012)

Harmony Korine’s latest has received a fair deal of critical fanfare. To be honest, it was the sole factor that eventually persuaded me to give it a look; I’m not an enormous fan of his oeuvre, but fair play to those who find his work rewarding and challenging. I probably should have trusted my better instincts, as this deconstruction of a youth culture transfixed and tranquilised by sex, drugs, and gun culture surprises only with quite how bereft it is of substance.


To be highly cynical for a moment, Korine’s decision to manufacture this critique through the medium of four actresses (including his missus, 13 years his junior) clad, at best, in bikinis for the duration seems like your classic opportunistic method of making an artistic statement. It’s about something really significant, you know. It just happens that the means of communicating this message requires prodigious amounts of ripe young flesh to be bared.


The plot, such as it is, involves four empty-headed college girls (one of whom, Faith, Selena Gomez, is troubled by an unwholesomely religious home life) out to have some fun for spring break. Which it seems is when copious quantities of college kids gather on sun kissed Florida beaches for all manner of misbehaviour, indulgence and carnality. Three of them (Vanessa Hudgens’ Candy, Ashley Benson’s Brit and Mrs Rachel Korine’s Cotty,) get together the necessaries for the jaunt by robbing a local eating establishment, displaying the vigour of ones brought up on a diet of Tarantino movies.  Once they've reached their destination they have a jolly good time, accompanied by alternately thumping dance anthems (at their party parlours) and dreamy Cliff Martinez ambience (for post-raving dalliances). Much of the latter is accompanied by Faith’s slightly touched, idealised version of their jaunt; in itself this seems an attempt to homage the folksy charm of Malick’s Badlands. Then the quartet end up in the slammer, after a particularly hard night on the disco biscuits (actually, I’m not sure we see them indulging those), and are bailed out by self-styled white gangsta Alien (James Franco, enjoying himself immensely; there’s absolutely no way an audience could appreciate the actor’s performances as much as he himself does).


At which point Korine, after a mind-numbingly dull first half hour, at least has someone animated to secure our attention. Franco, no doubt improvising like a maniac, pronounces his peace-loving, gun-toting agenda with a rhetoric that quickly grows tiresome (there’s only so much of him exclaiming “Look at my shit” one can take, however ironically conceived). Of course he watches Scarface on repeat. Ever since New Jack City the film has been a meta-reference of a meta-reference. And a Britney Spears song is the very definition of “inspiring”. It’s not really all that clever, y’all.  It isn’t long before Faith heads home, because “I have a really bad feeling about this”. If only Gomez had such prescience before signing on to Korine’s mentally challenged minorpiece.


Korine, “cleverly” using genre cliches, ensures that Alien is engaged in some sort of turf war with a former best pal (Big Arch, Gucci Mane). Alien’s, and the girls’, American Dream turns nasty, after which Cotty too heads home. Left with his two best “bitches” Alien elects to take revenge on Arch, at which point the ruthlessness proficiency of Candy and Brit, first seen during the robbery, manifests itself. This is the bit where the characters, unable to define themselves outside the fictional worlds of the idols they imitate, embrace the life of the movie-movie third act. Do you see?


The most arresting aspect of Spring Breakers is Benoît Debie’s photography. His work on the underrated Mel Gibson starrer (not many of those around these days) Get the Gringo was also highly distinctive. Here he infuses the environment with an eye-popping wash of primary colours, emphasising the disconnected blanket of unreality that informs these girls. The visuals deserve unqualified praise, but serve to emphasise that Korine has no engine beneath the hood. A pointed rebuke of corrupting influences on the youth of today and their gradual descent into sociopathic abandon? He’s only revisiting a much-explored topic that each aging generation fixates on (we can’t understand the new kids on the block, each successive new generation is worse than the last), whether to venerate (Bonnie and Clyde). If he’d explored this through something a little less obvious, and a lot more focussed, he might have been on to something. But fixating on rap culture and gun fetishisation is faintly “Oh, really. Again?” But, since we know he’s such a profound artist, we can be confident that the decision to adorn his bikini babes in ski masks and Uzis was a purely ironic act.


There might be something worthwhile to be said about the saturation fetishisation of the kick-ass female in contemporary culture, a consequence of the influences of both Cameron, Whedon and Tarantino on the film and television landscape. They’ve worked hard to reconfigure baser male traits and propensities have into a normalised and celebrated depiction of the female. There’s a perverse message of empowerment whereby it is seen as an advance to embrace masculine impulses and violent tendencies. It’s a self-congratulatory, masturbatory act on the part of such stylists; a way to impress the chicks. Maybe there’s a slight sense that Korine is tilting at such deranged glamorisation, but not nearly enough to consider it a treatise.


At least Korine’s film is mercifully brief, and yet it still feels longer than it is due to the slipshod construction. It has the air of something he formulated on the back of napkin and then laboured (not hard enough) to make some kind of sense from in the editing suite (there are endless montages, far beyond the point where it suggest a master plan). None of the girls make much impression, aside from for obvious reasons (but don’t you see, that’s the point; oh, how clever you are Harmony!) Franco is Franco; the campaign for Oscar recognition didn’t take, but I suspect that’s more because most people are heartily sick of the sight of the ubiquitous cheesemonger (I’m beginning to suspect there are several James Francos, all engaging in the same wretched performance art for our unedification). Hats off to the advertising department, though; they turned this thing into a hit. So Korine’s ruse worked (in his words, to “do the most radical work, but put it out in the most commercial way”). He succeeded in “infiltrating the mainstream” (what a daring darling guerrilla you are, Mr Korine). If only he’d hoodwinked us into seeing something of any merit.


**

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator (2018)
(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.

Right! Let’s restore some bloody logic!

It Couldn't Happen Here (1987)
(SPOILERS) "I think our film is arguably better than Spiceworld" said Neil Tennant of his and Chris Lowe's much-maligned It Couldn't Happen Here, a quasi-musical, quasi-surrealist journey through the English landscape via the Pet shop Boys' "own" history as envisaged by co-writer-director Jack Bond. Of course, Spiceworld could boast the presence of the illustrious Richard E Grant, while It Couldn't Happen Here had to settle for Gareth Hunt. Is its reputation deserved? It's arguably not very successful at being a coherent film (even thematically), but I have to admit that I rather like it, ramshackle and studiously aloof though it is.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

My pectorals may leave much to be desired, Mrs Peel, but I’m the most powerful man you’ve ever run into.

The Avengers 2.23: The Positive-Negative Man
If there was a lesson to be learned from Season Five, it was not to include "man" in your title, unless it involves his treasure. The See-Through Man may be the season's stinker, but The Positive-Negative Man isn't far behind, a bog-standard "guy with a magical science device uses it to kill" plot. A bit like The Cybernauts, but with Michael Latimer painted green and a conspicuous absence of a cool hat.

The possibilities are gigantic. In a very small way, of course.

The Avengers 5.24: Mission… Highly Improbable
With a title riffing on a then-riding-high US spy show, just as the previous season's The Girl from Auntie riffed on a then-riding-high US spy show, it's to their credit that neither have even the remotest connection to their "inspirations" besides the cheap gags (in this case, the episode was based on a teleplay submitted back in 1964). Mission… Highly Improbable follows in the increasing tradition (certainly with the advent of Season Five and colour) of SF plotlines, but is also, in its particular problem with shrinkage, informed by other recent adventurers into that area.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …

Bring home the mother lode, Barry.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

If Panos Cosmatos’ debut had continued with the slow-paced, tripped-out psychedelia of the first hour or so I would probably have been fully on board with it, but the decision to devolve into an ‘80s slasher flick in the final act lost me.

The director is the son of George Pan Cosmatos (he of The Cassandra Crossing and Cobra, and in name alone of Tombstone, apparently) and it appears that his inspiration was what happened to the baby boomers in the ‘80s, his parents’ generation. That element translates effectively, expressed through the extreme of having a science institute engaging in Crowley/Jack Parsons/Leary occult quests for enlightenment in the ‘60s and the survivors having become burnt out refugees or psychotics by the ‘80s. Depending upon your sensibilities, the torturously slow pace and the synth soundtrack are positives, while the cinematography managed to evoke both lurid early ‘80s cinema and ‘60s experimental fare. 

Ultimately the film takes a …

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).