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.


**

Popular posts from this blog

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.

You’re going to make me drop a donkey.

Encanto (2021) (SPOILERS) By my estimation, Disney brand pictures are currently edging ahead of the Pixars. Not that there’s a whole lot in it, since neither have been at full wattage for a few years now. Raya and the Last Dragon and now Encanto are collectively just about superior to Soul and Luca . Generally, the animation arm’s attempts to take in as much cultural representation as they possibly can, to make up for their historic lack of woke quotas, has – ironically – had the effect of homogenising the product to whole new levels. So here we have Colombia, renowned the world over for the US’s benign intervention in their region, not to mention providing the CIA with subsistence income, beneficently showered with gifts from the US’s greatest artistic benefactor.

My hands hurt from galloping.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) (SPOILERS) Say what you like about the 2016 reboot, at least it wasn’t labouring under the illusion it was an Amblin movie. Ghostbusters 3.5 features the odd laugh, but it isn’t funny, and it most definitely isn’t scary. It is, however, shamelessly nostalgic for, and reverential towards, the original(s), which appears to have granted it a free pass in fan circles. It didn’t deserve one.

I’ve heard the dancing’s amazing, but the music sucks.

Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021) (SPOILERS) At one point in Tick, Tick… Boom! – which really ought to have been the title of an early ’90s Steven Seagal vehicle – Andrew Garfield’s Jonathan Larson is given some sage advice on how to find success in his chosen field: “ On the next, maybe try writing about what you know ”. Unfortunately, the very autobiographical, very-meta result – I’m only surprised the musical doesn’t end with Larson finishing writing this musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical… – takes that acutely literally.

He has dubiety about his identity, possibly.

The Tender Bar (2021) (SPOILERS) George continues to flog his dead horse of a directorial career. It has to be admitted, however, that he goes less astray here than with anything he’s called the shots on in a decade ( Suburbicon may be a better movie overall, but the parts that grind metal are all ones Clooney grafted onto the Coen Brothers’ screenplay). For starters, he gives Batffleck a role where he can shine, and I’d given up on that being possible. Some of the other casting stretches credulity, but by setting his sights modestly, he makes The Tender Bar passably slight for the most part.

If this were a hoax, would we have six dead men up on that mountain?

The X-Files 4.24: Gethsemane   Season Four is undoubtedly the point at which the duff arc episodes begin to amass, encroaching upon the decent ones for dominance. Fortunately, however, the season finale is a considerable improvement’s on Three’s, even if it’s a long way from the cliffhanger high of 2.25: Anasazi .

What would you do with a diseased little island?

28 Days Later (2002) (SPOILERS) Evolution’s a nasty business. If not for its baleful influence, all those genetically similar apes – or bats – would be unable to transmit deadly lab-made viruses to humans and cause a zombie plague. Thank the lord we’ve got science on our side, to save us from such scientifically approved, stamped and certified terrors. Does Danny Boyle believe in the programming he expounds? As in, is he as aware of 28 Days Later ’s enforcement of the prescribed paradigm in the same manner as the product placement he oversees in every other frame of the movie (and yes, he could have chosen the Alex Cox option for the latter; it would at least have shown some wit)?

Who gave you the crusade franchise? Tell me that.

The Star Chamber (1983) (SPOILERS) Peter Hyams’ conspiracy thriller might simply have offered sauce too weak to satisfy, reining in the vast machinations of an all-powerful hidden government found commonly during ’70s fare and substituting it with a more ’80s brand that failed to include that decade’s requisite facile resolution. There’s a good enough idea here – instead of Charles Bronson, it’s the upper echelons of the legal system resorting to vigilante justice – but The Star Chamber suffers from a failure of nerve, repenting its premise just as it’s about to dig into the ramifications.