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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Spring Breakers

SPRING BREAKERS (Three Stars)
U.S.: Harmony Korine, 2012

Harmony Korine’s movies — up to and including his latest, Spring Breakers —  are mostly outlaw pictures and weirdo comedies about people who don’t want to grow up, or shouldn’t have to: kids, crooks, artists.  Spring Breakers, for example, is about four college girls who take off for the collegiate guy and girl bikini-flipping revels at Tampa, Florida, and begin to descend into Hell. It may be the apotheosis or culmination of all the Korines: a picture that starts off, as many have noted, like an arty  Girls Gone Wild video, inflated to Hieronymus Boschian or Pieter Brughelian Beach Party proportions, and ends up doing a riff on the Al Pacino-Brian De Palma 1983 Scarface, mashed up into Charlie‘s Angels gone homicidal.

It’s a sometimes fascinatingly dumb movie, about fascinatingly dumb people doing fascinatingly dumb things. Some  of it is fun to watch, and some of it is irritating as Hell. The story makes absolutely no sense and gets more senseless the more you think about it. But at the same time, the movie — part of which was shot quasi-verite at an actual spring break — has some authentic peeks at semi-life and at youth style. It’s shot (and in one case, acted) like an art film or a prime neo-noir, and it looks good, even if  its  psychological  substance is sort of ersatz. But then, who needs reality?

Some of it is great — namely the shimmering, sun struck ,stunning cinematography by Belgian/French maestro Benoit Debie (who photographed Irreversible and Enter the Void for Gaspar Noe), and (especially) the amazingly entertaining gangsta-pranksta performance by James Franco as the brain-fried hip-hop-druggie Britney Spears fan Alien.  I may have had some problems with Franco‘s Oz. (Millions didn‘t), But his Alien, a guy with metal teeth who calls his bed an art piece and plays piano and AK47s, is so damned good  — a triumph of  charismatic dopiness and rebel posturing — that  it single-handedly hauls the movie up a star or two.  But who needs stars? Who needs critics?

The movies’ femme stars are an odd assortment of Disney Channel or family-oriented  teen queen junior superstars: Selena Gomez (as Faith), Vanessa Hudgens (as Candy) and Ashley Benson (as Brit) — plus, as Cotty, Rachel Korine (who is Mrs. Harmony). Since three of these girls are blondes in the movie, they all tend to look almost interchangeable, and they tend to act interchangeably too. Brit, Candy and Cotty are outlaws trying to act as if they‘re “in a video game…or a movie“ (they pull a Bonnie and Clyde at a chicken eatery to get money for the break), while Faith is a good Christian who hangs around with the others because they’ve known each other like, forever, or at lest since grade school. Maybe they should be cramming for exams instead of, pulling stick up jobs and snorting cocaine in Tampa. But who needs exams?

When the gals hit Tampa — just like Dolores Hart, Yvette Mimieux, Paula Prentiss and Connie Francis hit Fort Lauderdale in 1960’s Where the Boys Are —  they immediately fall into what seems to be a nonstop , bouncing day and night orgy, which gets them arrested, and puts them in the eager hands of Alien, who goes their bail, and invites them over to his big expensive crib with all his big expensive toys. (“Look at all my shit!“)  Alien is also involved in a street war with an old dealing friend (Gucci Mane), and pretty soon, the movie goes bloody and haywire and murderously illogical. But who needs logic?

A lot of Spring Breakers is shot and shaped like old-style soft-core porn show– even to the old cheapo porn trick of repeating some scenes and lines over and over. It’s blended with what plays like a teen-slanted ‘83 Scarface pastiche. But, as long as Franco is on screen, it’s a good movie, and there’s also something crazily compelling about the scenes of that huge outdoor dance-a-thon. The ending is beyond ridiculous, and not funny enough to save things. And the four femme stars could have used better parts and better lines, but what the hell. The movie‘s credibility vanishes after the restaurant robbery scene  anyway, which is shot flashily, in a Gun Crazy-style single take. But  as the man says, who needs credibility? Just pretend…

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Tsangari: With my next film, White Knuckles, it comes with a budget — it’s going to be a huge new world for me. As always when I enter into a new thing, don’t you wonder how it’s going to be and how much of yourself you are going to have to sacrifice? The ballet of all of this. I’m already imaging the choreography — not of the camera, but the choreography of actually bringing it to life. It is as fascinating as the shooting itself. I find the producing as exciting as the directing. The one informs the other. There is this producer-director hat that I constantly wear. I’ve been thinking about these early auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford and Preston Sturges—all of these guys basically were hired by the studio, and I doubt they had final cut, and somehow they had films that now we can say they had their signatures.  There are different ways of being creative within the parameters and limitations of production. The only thing you cannot negotiate is stupidity.
Filmmaker: And unfortunately, there is an abundance of that in the world.
Tsangari: This is the only big risk: stupidity. Everything else is completely worked out in the end.
~ Chevalier‘s Rachel Athina Tsangari

“The middle-range movies that I was doing have largely either stopped being made, or they’ve moved to television, now that television is a go-to medium for directors who can’t get work in theatricals, because there are so few theatricals being made. But also with the new miniseries concept, you can tell a long story in detail without having to cram it all into 90 minutes. You don’t have to cut the characters and take out the secondary people. You can actually put them all on a big canvas. And it is a big canvas, because people have bigger screens now, so there’s no aesthetic difference between the way you shoot a movie and the way you shoot a TV show.

“Which is all for the good. But what’s happened in the interim is that theatrical movies being a spectacle business are now either giant blockbuster movies that run three hours—even superhero movies run three hours, they used to run like 58 minutes!—and the others, which are dysfunctional family independent movies or the slob comedy or the kiddie movie, and those are all low-budget. So the middle ground of movies that were about things, they’re just gone. Or else they’re on HBO. Like the Bryan Cranston LBJ movie, which years ago would’ve been made for theaters.

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~ Joe Dante

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