Continuing with my resolution to watch more movies, here’s what I took in this past week:
Spring Breakers, dir. by Harmony Korine, USA, 2013.
This was one of my must-see films for 2013, for more reasons than one. I’ve long been a fan of cinematographer Benoit Debie, ever since I saw the horror film Calvaire I had this feeling that he was going to be the next truly great maverick cinematographer behind Christopher Doyle and Darius Khondji. After seeing Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void and Spring Breakers, my hunch was confirmed - Debie is the real deal.
Conversely I’ve never been a huge fan of Harmony Korine, but I’ve always had immense respect for him because he’s a filmmaker without fear. He’s raw, uncompromising, and is one of the few taboo-smashers remaining in film. We need more people like Harmony Korine to blow the lid off of what we can and cannot discuss in art. For that reason alone I will always support and see a Harmony Korine film whenever it comes out, and to have Korine’s explosive polemics, Debie’s epic camera, and James Franco (whom I respect immensely) all collide in Spring Breakers, well that’s what got me dizzy with anticipation to go see it.
I came out of the theater angry and frustrated, primarily at Korine. Spring Breakers is a technical marvel - its visuals are stunning, the score and soundtrack by the duo of Skrillex and Cliff Martinez is one of the best of the year, and Franco is absolutely Oscar-worthy as Alien, a hip-hop MC / drug pusher with a heart (and grill) of gold. But Spring Breakers has nothing to say, it’s neither a story or a satire/ critique of society. It has absolutely no idea what kind of movie it wants to be, and seems completely devoid of a script. The only two characters we remotely invest in are Alien and the god-fearing Faith, played with impressive nuance by Selena Gomez. We care about Alien and Faith because they are the only two characters in the entire film that are given at least five minutes of backstory. The remaining three breakers - Rachel Korine, Ashley Benson and a resoundingly talentless Vanessa Hudgens - and the antagonist played by Gucci Mane, are all meandering without purpose, spewing lines that sound like dialogue that have absolutely zero context. The film, because it lacks a cohesive story or purpose, repeats itself endlessly, even literally rehashing lines of dialogue in progression. It reeks of an editor’s nightmare, which is to be handed a ton of absolutely beautiful footage and having no idea what to do with it. The default ‘dream fugue’ is a result.
It’s a shame that the work of Franco and Debie are drowning on this sinking ship. The failure of the film lays squarely on Korine as a writer and director - Spring Breakers is a movie that deserved to be made, but only with a competent script and a director who actually knows what he wants to say. I say see it for Franco and Debie’s camera, but know you’ll walk out frustrated, laughing at the movie and not with it, and feeling completely cheated of something that had the potential to be truly great.
The World According to Dick Cheney, dir. by R.J> Cutler, USA, 2013.
Dick Cheney is evil. We all know that. He can’t be killed, won’t die (four - count ‘em - FOUR fucking heart attacks), and has an incredible ability to rationalize the most heinous and self-serving of actions as being done for the greater good. It’s all these things that also make him one of the most fascinating human beings on the planet, and while we all are aware that it was he who commandeered the Bush presidency, to hear it from his own mouth would be absolutely fascinating as an insight into the nature of pure evil. Curiosity abound with this one - did he have regrets? Have the clear, inarguable failures of the Iraq War humbled him? This documentary promised to be “the world according to Dick Cheney,” and we’d get to hear it all from his mouth, warts, horns, bifurcated tongue and all.
This is where the documentary falters, in that we’re given only a dose of His Evilness allowed to speak from himself, and we get a whole lot of Cheney historians and critics commenting on his tenure. Unlike Errol Morris’ brilliant The Fog of War, which served as a one-on-one confessional for controversial Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Cheney is about as open as Fort Knox, giving us the same nonsense spin that he gave us for eight years of tyranny. If the message is that Dick Cheney has zero regrets, has not changed one iota, and would do it all over again the same way, then why watch a two hour documentary to reiterate what we already know? A noble attempt and exceptionally well made, but we’re treading water here.
Hope Springs, dir. by David Frankel, USA, 2012.
A fluff romantic dramedy about an older couple who’s lost that flame of passion for one another. It’s anchored by two of history’s greatest actors in Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, and despite a predictable, well-written screenplay, there are genuine moments of sincerity between the leads throughout the film. Steve Carell delivers an earnest but ultimately one-note performance as a sex therapist in a small, idyllic Maine town, and his character has no arc or transformation. He’s just the Dungeon Master. Hope Springs is classic Hollywood studio feel-good filler, and doesn’t harm anyone unless you’re sensitive to seeing older people trying to give each other blowjobs. For real. Equally puzzling is the appearance of Elizabeth Shue - a legitimate highly paid actress - who shows up for all of two minutes in the film. It reeked of the bloated, agent-driven approach to studio filmmaking. All I kept thinking was how much money this VERY simple little film cost to make. I looked it up. It cost $30 million. Kill me now.