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…

What we sell are hidden truths. Our territory is the mind. Our merchandise is fear.

The Avengers 5.1: The Fear Merchants
The colour era doesn't get off to such a great start with The Fear Merchants, an Avengers episode content to provide unstinting averageness. About the most notable opinion you’re likely to come away with is that Patrick Cargill rocks some magnificent shades.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

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 …

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

There’s still one man out here some place.

Sole Survivor (1970)
(SPOILERS) I’m one for whom Sole Survivor remained a half-remembered, muddled dream of ‘70s television viewing. I see (from this site) the BBC showed it both in 1979 and 1981 but, like many it seems, in my veiled memory it was a black and white picture, probably made in the 1950s and probably turning up on a Saturday afternoon on BBC2. Since no other picture readily fits that bill, and my movie apparition shares the salient plot points, I’ve had to conclude Sole Survivor is indeed the hitherto nameless picture; a TV movie first broadcast by the ABC network in 1970 (a more famous ABC Movie of the Week was Spielberg’s Duel). Survivor may turn out to be no more than a classic of the mind, but it’s nevertheless an effective little piece, one that could quite happily function on the stage and which features several strong performances and a signature last scene that accounts for its haunting reputation.

Directed by TV guy Paul Stanley and written by Guerdon Trueblood (The…

It’s all Bertie Wooster’s fault!

Jeeves and Wooster 3.4: Right Ho, Jeeves  (aka Bertie Takes Gussie's Place at Deverill Hall)
A classic set-up of crossed identities as Bertie pretends to be Gussie and Gussie pretends to be Bertie. The only failing is that the actor pretending to be Gussie isn’t a patch on the original actor pretending to be Gussie. Although, the actress pretending to be Madeline is significantly superior than her predecessor(s).

Do not run a job in a job.

Ocean’s 8 (2018)
(SPOILERS) There’s nothing wrong with the gender-swapped property per se, any more than a reboot, remake or standard sequel exploiting an original’s commercial potential (read: milking it dry). As with those more common instances, however, unless it ekes out its own distinctive territory, gives itself a clear reason to be, it’s only ever going to be greeted with an air of cynicism (whatever the current fashion for proclaiming it valid simply because it's gender swapped may suggest to the contrary).  The Ocean's series was pretty cynical to start with, of course – Soderbergh wanted a sure-fire hit, the rest of the collected stars wanted the kudos of working with Soderbergh on a "classy" crowd pleaser, the whole concept of remaking the '60s movie was fairly lazy, and by the third one there was little reason to be other than smug self-satisfaction – so Ocean's 8 can’t be accused of letting any side down. It also gives itself distinctively – stereo…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…