A Trip (Back) To The Movies – Review: “Spring Breakers” (2012) 4.5.15

Spring Breakers Movie Poster

I was excited when I saw that our local college student run movie theater was showing this as the first film of their spring season. I’ve always been a firm believer that movies aren’t always better, but deserved to be witnessed on the big screen. It’s an entirely different experience from that of the privacy of your own home. The great thing about living in a city like Portland is you can re-experience or experience something for the first time at one of our many local area theaters that show older films, so that those of us can get a chance to revisit older films as they were intended to be seen – on the big screen. I remember seeing this film twice in theaters when it got a limited wide release early in 2013 and was so impressed by it that it made my “Top 10 Films of 2013”. First off, I have always been a fan of Harmony Korine’s work. Though like other directors (Lars Von Trier comes to mind), his films have always been a bit esoteric. Korine is a provocateur, who seems to be always pushing the envelope, which is essentially what he’s been doing ever since he first gained notoriety when he wrote the screenplay at the age of 18 for Larry Clark’s “Kids” (1995). A landmark achievement of a film that explored the daily lives of a group of New York City teenagers as they did well, what teenagers did at the time and still do – consume. Whether it’s by having copious amounts of sex, partying, or drinking and drugging their way through adolescence. It was one of the most controversial films of the decade but while it was shocking and explicit, it also was a revealing depiction of what it’s like to be a teenager and the types of poor choices they make in their more formative years because let’s face it – teenagers think they’re invincible. “Kids” was and always will remain a deeply important film because it depicted a slice of life that most of us experienced as we numbed ourselves through our formative years for no other reason other than that it seemed like “the thing to do”.

“Spring Breakers” is essentially a companion piece to “Kids”. Korine’s screenplay seems to explore similar ideas and themes, just set in more current, modern-day times. This time focusing on a group of college students (played against Disney typecast by Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Korine’s own wife – Rachel Korine) as they take a spring break trip to hell. The film starts with a brilliant opening montage that looks like something out of a “Girls Gone Wild” video set to a loud and abrasive Dubstep piece by the king of the EDM/Dubstep scene – Skrillex (who collaborates on the film’s score with who’s arguably the best film composer in the business – Cliff Martinez). It’s filmed in slow motion and shows countless crowds of college students engaged in just about every act of spring break debauchery – drinking beer bongs, girls flashing just about every body part, guys pouring bottles of beer on them, everyone flipping off the camera, etc. This does a great job in setting the tone for the rest of the film. It then flashes back to the four female central characters eagerly anticipating the end of the term so that they can join the ranks of college students who flock each year down to exotic locations in chase of some sort of cathartic experience in which they can go all out without any care in the world for any repercussions for the lewd behavior in which they choose to engage in. The four girls take a trip down to Florida in hopes of searching for the “American Dream” (as you’ll often hear Spring Break referred to in the film) winding up in some kind of nightmare as they experience the dark side of what happens when you wind up in the aftermath of Spring Break. It’s within the film’s second half, when the girls are taken out of the Spring Break culture after being arrested and bailed out by the film’s most integral character, Alien (played by a scene stealing, career best performance by James Franco, complete with cornrows and a full grill on his teeth). It’s within the second half of the film that I felt like Korine really starts to explore some of the underlying themes of the film and his intentions for doing so.

“Spring Breakers” is a vile and repulsive film about our generation’s fascination with sex, violence, consumerism, and over consumption. It seemed liike many people didn’t quite know what to make of the film as Korine does an expert job at mis-marketing it to look like something it’s actually not. While also being his most accessible (which is easy coming from the director of films like “Gummo” and “Trash Humpers”), commercially successful (it was the top grossing limited release of 2013), and also his most satirical and misunderstood film to date. One thing I realized during my third viewing of the film, is that you kind of have to be looking through Korine’s lens and the world in which he depicts, to understand the film’s subtext. Korine is in no way glamorizing or sensationalizing the world in which these characters exist in. Rather quite the opposite. He is repulsed like you or I are. This is clearly exemplified by the lifestyle of the film’s protagonist (if you want to call him that) Alien. Alien represents everything our current youth and adult culture idolizes – excess and the allure of money. He appears to have it all that any young person could want on the surface – lots of money, a fast car, a beautiful home on the water, endless supplies of drugs…the list goes on and on. But he’s also a byproduct of living in a society of consumerism and endless consumption. For all of his many materialist riches his life is void of anything or substance or meaning. There’s a segment in the film that many people laughed at but which I found downright deplorable. While in his home he shows off his many “riches” – money scattered everywhere, an artillery wall for his guns, an endless supply of drugs, a bed made of art, swim shorts in every color (look at my SHIT!). He embodies everything almost any young man or women could want, or at the very least, would want to be around (hence his appeal to the four female leads). Franco plays the character to a T. In one of those iconic roles that you really can’t picture any other actor being able to pull off. It’s a total transformative performance that ranks up there with some of the best of the past few years.

While the first half of the film is filmed like some sort of dream complete with rich candy colors (Korine and DP of photography Benoit Debie, who’s prior work on Gasper Noe’s “Enter The Void” (2009) was a cited influence for the “look” of the film).The film’s second half is filmed in slightly more muted colors, with many of the scenes taking place at sunset or night (a nicely, rather intentional decision of contrast by Korine). The way in which it’s filmed also has a Terrence Malick-esque feel (“The Tree of Life”) as the cinematography takes on a free-floating, soaring, stream-of-consciousness quality to it with many scenes using voice-over narration in showing multiple shots and quick edits of its characters. The film goes from Girls Gone Wild sex romp in its first half to semi-tragedy in its second. I could go on and on about the satirical elements Korine seems to want to get across to his audience. But I’ll end by saying this, like Bobcat Goldthwait’s biting satire – “God Bless America” (2011) did, Korine does a good job at putting up a mirror to our generation’s cultural climate, where we see ourselves in, but are too ashamed or embarrassed to admit it. Which is essentially what I think turned most people off to this film. It’s my favorite of all of Korine’s work to date, and in years to come, will be discovered as a dug up artifact to remind the future of the materialistic, self-serving, superficial, and hopeless reflection of both the times and society in which we currently live in.

[A-]

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Review: ‘Willow Creek’ 9.16.14

Like Kevin Smith’s recent foray into an entirely new genre, 2011’s razor sharp “Red State” (which made my top 10 list from that year), I was really enthusiastic to see what writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait could do outside of comedy. Particularly with something that I had heard while it was in development that was going to fall into the horror vein. If Smith was the reigning comedic director of the 1990’s, Goldthwait has more less taken on that role, at least for me, throughout the aughts. Citing both 2009’s “World’s Greatest Dad” and 2011’s “God Bless America” as two of my favorite comedies from those respective years, I’ve grown a deep affinity for Goldthwait because as is like with some other directors who I admire, I feel like he gets me. There’s something about his comedic sensibilities that I connect with. In fact, in regards to “God Bless America”, so much so to the point that every word that’s uttered from that script I felt like was an exact representation of how I either felt or viewed the world (an optimist I know). 2006’s “Sleeping Dogs Lie” was also unique and funny enough, but I can’t say it’s one of my favorites of Goldthwait’s. Nor is 1991’s “Shakes The Clown”. But even still, within those films I saw a comedic director with something to say. Even if sometimes, as is with “World’s Greatest Dad” or “God Bless America”, he goes a bit overboard in trying to get his point across.

I was both happy and pleasantly surprised at the very first scene to find that Alexie Gilmore (Robin Williams’ flame from “World’s Greatest Dad”) and Bryce Johnson (Joel Murray’s co-worker from “God Bless America” and the fiance from “Sleeping Dogs Lie”) were the leads. Those are actors that really stuck out from those films so I was glad to see that two Goldthwait regulars were cast as the central characters. We first find them driving down “the Bigfoot byway” on their way to Willow Creek, a town where supposedly a Bigfoot was spotted and wrecked havoc on a family decades earlier. In true “Blair Witch Project” style, the two of them are entertained by interviewing all of the many colorful and eccentric characters that inhabit this backwoods town. Soon enough though, they start to encounter some locals who aren’t as welcoming, who insist they go back from wherever it was they came from. But in typical horror fashion they proceed on. Eventually they do make it out to the exact same trail and site where the Bigfoot was spotted some years back. And that’s about as much as I can tell you without giving any other crucial details away.

At first, I thought it was going to be some clever spin on the “Blair Witch Project”. As there were some geniunely funny moments involving the two central leads and the townspeople. The two seeming to make a big joke out of the whole affair and peoples’ seriousness about the Bigfoot legend. In typical Goldthwait fashion, he also uses various opportunties to throw in things he personally hates about popular culture into the script. The couple’s riffs on things like living in Los Angeles and Starbucks come straight from the Goldthwaith cannon. Have I sold you on it yet? I haven’t? Good because that’s about the only good things I can say about this wasted effort. Goldthwait tries so hard to put his own stamp on a genre, the POV or found footage one, that he winds up shooting himself in the foot and makes just another tireless and forgettable retread in the ever exapanding number of films within it. He goes from a full out comedic approach at the beginning to an all of a sudden serious one in its last act. To say this shift in approach didn’t work for me would be the understatement of the year. He employs cheap scares and techniques once the couple do get to the campsite that I found myself rolling my eyes at and trying hard not to laugh, because I knew deep down that there was nothing he was doing that was trying to be funny. Unless maybe he had purposefully set out to make a bad movie. Then maybe this wasted effort would stand for something. For those of you that aren’t going to see this film I will let you in on a little secret – ready, wait for it…shuhhhhh…there is nothing scary or even remotely original about this film. He does set the two leads up nicely (a device that’s mildly effective) in an extended medium/profile shot for the entire climax and lets the camera roll. Maybe one of the only semi-smart choices from a film making stand point. But then he subjects the audience to dumb horror tropes with things like the couple hearing weird howling, rocks being thrown at their tent, slabs of wood being knocked together, etc. Again I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to laugh or be afraid. Then finally, when the climax comes to its final build, it falls into copycat territory of an ending I’ve seen one too many times over. A major disappointment and one that I don’t think I can recommend to anyone. Even the most hardcore of genre fans. Bobcat stick with what you know best and go back to dark comedy, because you just made one hell of a boring horror movie.

Grade: D+/C-