Returning to her family’s upscale, New York apartment from Art College, Aura (Lena Dunham) struggles to make sense of or find a purpose for her life. Seemingly only suffered by her mother (Dunham’s real life mother, the artist Laurie Simmons.) and resented by her younger sister (Dunham’s sister, er…Grace Dunham), Aura hooks back up with eccentric, nihilistic, childhood friend, Charlotte (Jemima Kirke) who’s carefree attitude Aura envies and resents at the same time. Through Charlotte, Aura meets Jed (Alex Karpovsky), a fellow video artist and Keith (David Call), a sous chef and the film seems to hinge on which one of these men Aura chooses or more pertinently, which of these men choose her.
Lena Dunham, soon to be universally famous for her hit comedy series, Girls, has a made a film very similar to Garden State, in both plot and context. Both pieces are concerned with returning to the family fold after extended periods away, both are uncomfortable and socially awkward, both are written and directed by either a current or future sitcom star (Zach Braff of Scrubs being Garden State’s auteur.) and both are relatively slight and feel a little like calling cards for talent. However, whereas Braff’s Andrew Largeman had his father’s death as the reason for his return and his subsequent moping about, Dunham’s Aura has no such excuse. Overwhelmed by ennui as she sits in the gulf between college and possible real life, the good decisions she makes either backfire or she fails to follow through, as for the bad decisions…it’s probably best not to talk about them.
A tale of distance and the distances between us. Aura fails to connect with anyone from her old life, her mother is exasperated at her lack of drive, her younger (brighter) sister struggles with having her back in the house and any attempt to meet new people usually results in embarrassment for her and only her. All events are seen from Aura’s perspective and it’s possible this is just how she sees it, which doesn’t make it any easier to watch. Aura’s home is all cold, hard surfaces and right angles. Voices and footsteps clatter about, unable to find a place to rest and sounding oddly out of place. Galleries and the restaurant where she works are full of people who know their place in the world (and just how unfair it can be) whilst Aura stumbles and stutters her way through everything. Unable to slot in properly yet, you feel life is going to kick her around for a while before she learns it’s patterns and tropes.
Dunham is an engaging presence, fearless in her depiction of an unflattering character and is helped out by both her real family and a selection of edgy performances from the New York indie scene. Her writing is acute and accurate to the situations, nothing is forced or overplayed. The dialogue both sharp and sad comes out naturally and nothing seems to have been inserted purely for comedy. Everything just happens and whether it raises a smile is probably down to how much you can relate to Aura’s plight and awkwardness.
The title derives from the miniature chairs and tables, cabinets and wardrobes her mother photographs for her unexplained art (which must pay well, given her apartment). The furniture could be viewed as a metaphor for how tiny Aura feels in her timid new world, or as a suggestion for how Aura could cope with everything by downscaling her expectations, or as a warning to focus on the small things for happiness. Or it could just be a arty art thing dreamt up by Dunham for pretentious title purposes. Who knows?
An extremely self conscious film, performed without a hint of self consciousness or irony. Just about dodges the “New York Film Student” pit. Difficult to pull off and all the more enjoyable for it.
The Wolf of Wall Street plays like a Martin Scorcese greatest hits album. Whirling camera work, extensive, continual jukebox selection, amorality, marriage breakdown, rise and fall stories, law breaking, cocaine, bad metaphors, cocaine, pills, asides to the camera, paranoia, sharp suits and most of all, cocaine all make plenty of appearances. Scorcese appears to have made a homage to himself and in particular, Goodfellas. In Goodfellas, however, all he asked of us was to empathise with gentlemen who made money off theft, blood, prostitution, drugs and protection. The Wolf of Wall Street asks us to empathise with REAL scumbags – corrupt stockbrokers. Fortunately it doesn’t ask too hard.
The plot, which could be explained with the equation; ((Wall Street x 10) + Goodfellas) x amateur pornography, is based on the life and subsequent book of Jordan Belfort who together with Donny Potash (Donny Azoff here) formed the Stratton Oakmont brokerage firm which existed primarily to swindle people out of money with a “boiler room” fake stock strategy. Starting out ripping off average joes, Belfort realised if he applied his selling principles to the “real stock market he could defraud the richest of clients. Greed is good multiplied by a factor of one thousand. In the film, Belfort shows the same contempt for his audience as he does for the people he defrauds (legally and illegally), repeatedly turning to the camera and telling us we don’t need to understand how they are making millions, just that they are. Or he begins to explain financial procedure and gives up on us, a nice nod to the labyrinthine structures of finance created by rich men to make themselves richer. In Belfort’s world money only flows to him. The client is as unimportant as us.
As Jordan and Donny begin to make serious money their egos increase and their appetites spiral downwards. Scenes of such consumption fly past at a rate impossible to remember. EBFS stopped counting the jaw dropping moments where swaggering pricks consider themselves both invulnerable to and above the law and any reasonable code of ethics. Within the opening two minutes, car based blow jobs and cocaine blown up posteriors has occurred and that’s just to get us up and running. Offensive conversations about dwarves, dwarf tossing, Jonah Hill masturbating in public, plane based orgies and “hilarious” racism follow. One scene involving DiCaprio’s rectum and a lit candle has joined Tommy Lee Jones and Joe Pesci spray painted gold and whipping each other in JFK at the top of our “things we thought we’d never see” list. Cars are crashed, boats are crashed, helicopters are crashed, lives are crashed. Not that our protagonists notice. They just carry on with gleeful, sadistic abandon, assuming they’ve unlocked life’s secret and refusing any responsibility. The sheer volume and length of some scenes of depravation are presumably there to desensitise us to the acts in the same way Belfort and his cronies have been, whilst distracting us from the lives at stake off screen, just as the stockbrokers attempts to get more and more “fucked up” presumably distracted them. It works, just, only occasionally falling into heavy handedness with all the subtlety of the rat/city hall interface that close The Departed.
DiCaprio, who’s acting has been on a spectacular run of late all the way up to Monsieur Candie in Django Unchained, has improved with every Scorcese collaboration after a shaky start in Gangs of New York. His tortured, undercover cop in The Departed showed real pain. If anything, this may be his best performance yet. Slick, confident, disgraceful and a tour de force of persuasion, his sharp suits clashing with his dyed hair, his drug sweats and gluttonous eyes. Avarice glitters through every move he makes. Jonah Hill, by contrast, is grotesque, a leering, chubby, watery, horse toothed sloth of a man, riddled with inferiority but blessed with enough chutzpah and money to try to cover it up. He’ll get an Oscar nomination because the academy members probably struggled to avert their eyes. His performance is the wound you can’t itch. The two of them are supported by a willing cast of circus freaks, gurners and grifters (Spike Jonze, Jon Favreau, Matthew McConaughey…..erm, Joanna Lumley, that guy who can’t see the sailboat in Mallrats, Jean Dujardin) who hang out, fuck up and gradually drop out. Oh, and Kyle Chandler does his best Max Cherry impression as the FBI agent on Belfort’s case who is rewarded with the loneliest scene in the movie. So, well done him.
As the third hour lurches into life, Belfort’s monster begins to unravel. Scorcese sets up a teasing, fake ending then yanks it out from under us, exposing us more harshly to the following scenes of domestic violence, paranoia, backstabbing and mortality from which the Stratton Oakmont people thought themselves immune. The comeuppance, we think, the deserving comeuppance that must surely be coming is right around the corner. The wimper that follows is the most devastating thing of all. At the end, as the loop is completed, there has been no downward spiral, no learned life lessons. These people were contemptible to begin with. At best, they go from utterly amoral to venally immoral. Like Henry Hill’s “the rest of my life as a schmuck” speech, Belfort whines and moans at his meagre punishment, then celebrates how the rich never really have to suffer. Utterly repellent to the end, Belfort’s rise and fall may be both a familiar Scorcese trope and filmic theme but the lack of any effect on it’s King Lear lends a vicious poignancy to proceedings. Still way too long, mind.
Good evening and welcome to the EBFS review of the year (in film). Ahhhh…. 2013…. It seems a different, more innocent time. A time when the Academy saw fit to award Argo its highest honour at their annual, low-key shindig, despite their apparent belief that the film just popped into existence from nothing without any help from a director or anything. Cannes dropped to its knees over three hours of emotionally wrought, sapphic love in Blue Is The Warmest Colour, just to prove how stereotypically bloody French they are. Toronto, in a shameless attempt to hold onto it’s spot as “hot Oscar predictor”, hedged its bets and threw The People’s Choice Award at 12 Years a Slave, which is basically cheating. Venice and Berlin foisted their respective golden animal statues at Sacro GRA and Child’s Pose respectively. Two films so art-house and (eurgh) European that they have yet to see a release in either of the countries EBFS wanders around in. However, all of that backpatting, black tie dinnering, gladhanding was just window dressing compared to the (fanfare/family fortunes incorrect answer noise) annual verbal fist fight that has become the Early Bird Film Society’s Collection of Top Five Films And Some Bad Ones Of The Year! The title will be worked on.
Anyway, all four of us here at the global EBFS offices (Melbourne/Manchester Divisions) have picked our top five films that we saw at the cinema in 2013 based on a less than comprehensive release date schedule spanning two countries and poor recollection skills. It’s our list though, so don’t judge us and you’re welcome:
Joss Whedon threw this Shakespeare adaptation together using his house, his wife, his friends and his deft ear for fast, witty dialogue. Delightfully playful, completely faithful and a little breath of fresh air amongst the towering mega franchises.
– DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
Tarantino’s best film since Jackie Brown, completely ignoring any political subtext and a more brutal depiction of slavery for that reason. Great performances from Foxx and SLJ but Christophe Waltz’s warmth and DiCaprio’s gleeful evil earned them the plaudits. Extra points for surviving Tarantino’s inexplicable Australian accent which he’ll have to be brought to account for at some point.
Divisive doesn’t even cover it. Nicolas Winding Refn’s desire to “violate” the audience came true with this lurid, neo fable of oedipal urges in Bangkok. Ryan Gosling’s easiest day at the office is a bleak and uncompromising, neon drenched nightmare set within the lowest parts of the human psyche. Maybe.
Despite Spock’s presence, this embarrassingly colon free sequel was almost totally bereft of logic. Insane pacing and set pieces (and lens flare) and the worst kept secret of the year still made for a rip-roaring dash through a thousand tropes of the Star Trek universe all coated with JJ Abrams’ clever script reverses and cinema savvy. Best line delivery of the year too. Altogether now….”KHAAAAANNNNN!!”.
Harmony Korine aims for the mainstream and thankfully misses with his visceral tale of hedonism and excess where the youth of America stop trying to be the best they can be and realise they no longer live in a country where anything is possible. Warning, contains James Franco saying “blue Kool-Aid” over and over and singing a Britney Spears song. Not for everyone.
Will Smith “thinks” up an idea where he doesn’t play Will Smith but seventies Robert Duvall, his son convinces us that emoting is hard and M Night Shawaddywaddy directs? Ooh, it took a round of drawing straws to get one of EBFS into the cinema to begin with to gape open mouthed at a film with as much warmth, wit and charm as someone who bangs on a van at a sex trial. If this ruins Will Smith’s career (which it won’t), karmic film balance would at least creep back into the black….
The award for best rug pull/slap in the fan boys faces goes to Shane Black’s exceptionally funny take on the superhero. RDJ nails it yet again as Tony Stark but the star of the show was Sir Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin/Trevor Slattery. Brilliant fun from start to finish.
Adored by critics and loved by the public. Alfonso Cuaron’s marvelous film may have taken some fantastic scientific leaps in logic (seriously, look into it) but who cares, it was brilliant. Innovative and thoughtful this was on most critics top 5 lists. Ghost Clooney is my hero.
The funniest film I’ve seen in ages. Steve Coogan inhibits a character better than any other actor of his ilk, (take note of how it’s done Mr. Ferrell) and does it to consistently hilarious effect. The lip synch to Roachford’s ‘Cuddly Toy’ and ‘the man fanny’ were two of my highlights. Excellent work from everybody involved.
– CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)
Tom Hanks is as good as he’s been since he made me cry over losing a chuffing volleyball. Special mention to debutant Barkhad Abdi who held his own against a hollywood legend, his turn as Somali pirate Muse was almost as good as Hanks’ titular hero. Intense,thrilling, fast paced and superbly directed (well-played Paul Greengrass) this was edge of the seat viewing. Worth it for the heartbreaking final scenes.
I’m a 35 year old man who likes boxing, MMA, rugby, NFL, horror movies and the 80’s back catalogue of ‘The Austrian Oak’ and Sly Stallone and yes….a Disney musical made my top 5. The music in this is as good as anything from the 90’s golden era. I’ll put ‘Let it Go’ up against ‘A Whole New World’ or ‘Be Our Guest’. It’s very funny thanks to a brilliant talking snowman and the message that you don’t need a man to feel loved plays totally against Disney’s apparent ethos.
I thought long and ard about this. I nearly gave it to Anchorman 2but as awful as that was it just didn’t make my blood boil as much as OGF. As beautifully shot and scored as this was it felt deliberately obtuse at times and constantly frustrating. I hate this film with a passion that burns with the fire of a thousand suns.
Top 5 by @noonanjohnc
Elijah Wood is a maniac, maniac on the floor and he’s dancing like he’s never danced before. D’oh! He is NOT a maniac, maniac on the floor, dancing like he’s never danced before. He’s the puppy eyed, mumbling owner of a mannequin store, with an oedipal love for his dead mother. Oh and he likes to scalp women. Franck Khalfoun’s remake of the 1981 greasy cult classic, has the morals of American Psycho and the sheen of Drive. Shot from Wood’s POV, the film makes you an unwilling accomplice in his apologetic rampage (‘I won’t hurt you.’ He cries to one of his victims, before doing exactly that). Haunting, vicious and with a superb soundtrack, Maniac will stay with you for a long time. I suggest showering in Swafeger afterwards.
This tale of three lads building a house in the forest to escape their respective parents took me completely by surprise. Equal parts Stand by Me and The Hangover (Seriously), The Kings of Summer is brilliantly shot and hilarious. I’ve watched this several times now and it never fails to cheer me up. Pretty much every highlight includes either Nick Offerman’s grumpy sonuvabich father who continually fights with the local Chinese restaurant or Moises Arias as the alien-esque Biaggio; a boy who mistakes Cystic Fibrosis for being gay.
Another coming of age film. This time from the writers of The Descendants, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who also direct. Duncan is a boy forced on a summer break with his mum and her somewhat dominant boyfriend. Whilst trying to find something fun to do, Duncan ends up working at Sam Rockwell’s rundown waterpark. Everyone is on fire in this film. Patriculalty Rockwell who has never been better as the lethargic Lothario with *all together now* a heart of gold.
I’ve got two Aussie films in my top ten. Ivan Sen’s noirish police procedural Mystery Road and this from documentarian Kim Mordaunt. I’ve gone with The Rocket simply because it’s probably the most accessible. A film that is both heartbreaking and joyful, The Rocket tells the story of a young boy just trying to prove his worth to his family when all those around him consider him to be bad look. I’ve told people it’s like a children’s story for grown-ups, and I think it’s the most succinct way I can put it.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said on this page. I’m not going to waste your time. If you’ve seen it and loved it, you know why it’s on my list. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and see if you can find a cinema that’s still showing it. I’ll wait.
– I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2
I’ve seen a lot of tosh in 2013. Hell, I saw three Dolph Lundgren films alone. However, absolutely none of them, not even Diana, could be considered the worst of 2013 when you have I Spit on Your Grave 2 vying for your attention. This shitpile of a movie is everything that’s wrong with most horror films today. Replacing subtly and scares with vicious and nasty, the film tries to justify the brutal hour long rape and abuse of its protagonist by letting her have the final third of the film to exact her revenge. No movie has ever made me as angry as this Fanta bottle full of piss.
Top 5 by @noonanhannah
– STOKER (2013)
I must confess to having mixed feelings about Park Chan-wook’s English language debut upon first viewing. But Stoker is one of those films whose utter dedication to atmosphere stays with you months after viewing until you begrudgingly admit that actually, that was rather brilliant. Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode all put in stellar performances and Chung Chung-hoon’s cinematography is positively lush. But the real star of Stoker is Wentworth Miller’s haunting script, a brilliant love letter to the twisted family shenanigans of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.
Flawed? Yes. Overlong? Absolutely. But Derek Cianfrance’s follow up to Blue Valentine is a brooding character piece that asks for a gamut of emotional responses from its audience, most of which it successfully achieves. Plus, it threatened to melt the internet by giving us a scene where Ryan Gosling dances with a dog to Bruce Springsteen, and if that’s not what you want out of a film, then we could never be friends.
Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s ode to coming-of-age films is beautifully judged, wonderfully directed and supremely enjoyable. Allison Janney puts in a brilliant performance as a fabulously awful drunk, and Sam Rockwell becomes the best friend any kid could want. There’s really not much else to say about the Descendantspair’s summer outing that I didn’t cover in my original review.
Disney’s wintery delight is a strong step forward for the house of mouse, and a beautifully woven tale of sisterly love, sassy reindeers and singing snowmen. But more to the point, the songs are fabulous and if you’re not singing ‘Let It Go’ by the end then you have a heart of ice.
The second of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek outings is a two-hour exercise in fan wankery at its absolute finest and, forgive me, I fell for it hook, line and sinker. Benedict Cumberbatch e-nun-ci-aaaates his way into the British bad guy canon of Hollywood, and anyone who says it isn’t entertaining watching just how far those nostrils flare is frankly a liar. Star Trek Into Darkness is a film that fiercely says no to logic, and yes to “LOOK! SHINY THINGS!” so excuse me for being a magpie.
– OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)
Most likely not the ACTUAL worst film of the year (I never got round to that Shyamalan affair with Will Smith and his young clone) but certainly the most souless and tedious film I spent money on. James Franco is sleepy and disengaged in this needless and saccharine A list pantomime. There’s a terrible CGI monkey sidekick, a creepy porcelain girl I swear I met in a nightmare in my youth, and the dullest of Bruce Campbell cameos. I love The Wizard of Oz, I love Sam Raimi, but this was such a disappointment.
So there you have it. Did you think any of us were blisteringly right? Howling wrong? Let us know.
Well, doesn’t this feel like a gift? In between helming mega franchises, Joss Whedon has crafted this little, sex-comedy bauble. Shot in his own home on a $20,000 shoestring budget and starring a cast of trusted friends and seemingly anyone who was knocking about, Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is faithful to Shakespeare and still indelibly a part of the whedonverse. Fanboys will be sated.
Whedon has professed a love of Much Ado above Shakespeare’s other comedies, possibly explaining his decision to make this so relatively recently after Kenneth Branagh’s justifiably exalted version from 1993. Although, in a world where Spiderman origin stories exist barely a decade apart, perhaps this isn’t such a shock. Whilst Branagh’s film was a bawdy, Tuscan romp (with Keanu as the bad guy), Whedon’s version is a tighter, more world weary vision, a careful observation of love shot through with pathos rather than a saucy seaside postcard if you will.
Ostensibly a play about Claudio (stoner from Cabin In The Woods) trying to secure Hero’s (new) hand in marriage despite the scheming machinations of Don John (doctor from Firefly), Much Ado is much more focused on getting sparring ex-lovers, Beatrice (Fred from Angel) and Benedick (mini-Giles from Angel) to fall in love despite their collective bitterness concerning the ideals of marriage. These plots are helped, hindered and investigated by Hero’s father, Leonato (SHIELD guy from The Avengers), Don Pedro (some guy from Dollhouse, which we never watched) and bumbling flatfoots, Dogberry (Firefly captain) and Verges (one of the nerd-herd from Buffy). This familiarity of cast is a stroke of genius as firstly, they worked for free and, secondly, for the warmth and comfort with which they deliver their lines, the cadences and syntax of Shakespeare’s flowery, old english rendered into twenty first century gossip and bickering, flowing as free as the ever present wine.
Whedon’s skill has always been in being fully aware of the rules of the genre he’s working within and subsequently subverting them gently, yet plausibly. Here, he takes Shakespeare, remains faithful, albeit with a cut here and there, and shoves it through his knowing prism, fracturing a brash comedy into a fragile, delicate, worried tramedy. He bravely leaves in a racist slur from the original, instead using it to highlight our discomfort and ability to turn a blind eye to such things. His decision to shoot in the softest of black and white’s gives this comedy an austerity that grounds it in reality (despite the conceit of a woman “dying” of shame, which must of stunk in the sixteen hundreds as much as it does today) and lends an honesty to the broken relationship of Beatrice and Benedick.
So, Whedon gives us this, a deft, little gem, blending a classic with his own comfortable style, creating a work as pleasurable to view as it clearly was to make. A Shakespeare adaptation that can sit with McKellen’s Richard III, Branagh’s trio of this, Hamlet and Loves Labours Lost and er….10 Things I Hate About You as the best of recent times. Let’s see him do that with the Avengers sequel……
The original idea that After Earth is based upon comes from one William Smith Esq. If that original thought was “Let’s put my son in the movies!”, then it succeeds admirably. If it was an idea that was hopefully going to begat an enjoyable slice of sci-fi then it fails on almost every level imaginable.
Will Smith plays joylessly against type as an emotionless, highly decorated general who must connect with his son, played almost as joylessly by real life son, Jaden Smith. In deference to the new rules for future names thrown up by the success of The Hunger Games, Smith Snr IS Cypher Raige and Smith Jr NEARLY IS Kitai Raige. Humans left Earth an indeterminate time ago after yet again laying waste to their own planet (The eco-fable pointers are heavy handed and ugly to the point of offensive as real life footage of, for instance, the Japanese tsunami of last year is used.), after populating Nova Prime (Bizarre names ran out for planets) the human race is horrified to discover that an inadequately explained race of aliens has engineered another race of aliens specifically to hunt and kill humans by feasting on their fear. Really. After a military mission goes awry due to a vomit of technogabble, Big Smith and Little Smith find themselves the only survivors of a crash landing on a strange planet that is definately the ruined husk of Earth. In an excellently shoehorned way, they also managed to bring one of the fear monsters with them, which escapes.
After the crash the film plays out exactly like the derivative and practically unplayable computer game version that has inevitably been thrown together to accompany the release. Big Willie, finding himself injured and confined to a chair guides his worried little clone through a sucession of increasingly difficult “levels”, using bad props and a sword thing called a cutlass that probably has a whisk attachment and maybe the one that could remove a stone from a shire horse’s hoof. There is a space level, a bit where the controls are explained, a map screen, a jungle level, an ice level, a cave level, a volcano level and a weird level where Kitai has to make friends with a giant fucking bird, before the inevitably unsatisfying “boss” showdown.
Whilst the recent Star Trek sequel threw logic to the wind with gleeful abandon and succeeded through a sheer belligerent exuberance that papered over the plot holes, After Earth hoists itself high through a po-faced seriousness that never, ever cracks. No smiles, no fun, no cleverness or knowing nods with or to it’s parent genre. After Earth sits there, limp and dying, stewing in it’s own illogical leaps that glare back out, daring anyone to question them. Cypher tells his son that everything on Earth has evolved to hunt and kill humans, but how can this be if no humans were present all this time. Earth freezes over almost totally every night due to erratic climate changes but almost the entire film is spent tramping through verdant plant life. If you’re going to give your son a magic mood suit that changes colour to indicate impending danger or toxins in the atmosphere, maybe tell him before it turns black and an angry baboon attacks him……the list could go on.
By the time After Earth mercifully ends the overwhelming conclusion is that Earth doesn’t look too bad, a metaphorical lick of paint and a fairly hefty clean-out of the shed and attic and we could zap back there in a second, especially as on our new planet we get attacked by genetically modified monsters who can smell our fear. Oh, and Cypher continually refers to a lava spewing volcano as a mountain…..and Moby Dick is referenced by mentioning or quoting the book THREE times……and it’s directed by M. Night Shyamalan and that doesn’t make it worse….. and…sorry, we’re done. Absolute garbage.
Spring Breakers is lurid, unpleasant and hollow, three adjectives that somehow become complimentary when thrown through Harmony Korine’s twisted-eye view of the vapid corruption of youth. If this is the writer of Kids bid for mainstream attention, the mainstream may have to watch through its fingers.
Candy, Faith, Brit and Cotty are desperate to make the pilgrimage down to the Florida Keys to join in the annual celebrations of thousands of like minded college students, as they drink, smoke and dance into oblivion in the hot and humid tip of America’s mainland. Finding themselves with barely enough money, they logically decide to rob the local Chicken Shack with sledgehammers and water pistols. However, after a few days of “spiritual” partying, they find themselves arrested and in prison. Then a mysterious local, calling himself Alien, bails them out and their downward spiral into the dark heart of America’s black market, economic structure begins. At this point Faith has had enough and leaves, the girls, bereft of their moral compass, find their descent complete and the endgame begins, in the form of a violent, slow motion, bikini clad shootout at a local drug-dealers opulent house.
The casting of sweet, television sensation Selena Gomez, some Disney princesses and Korine’s young bride as our four hedonism seekers works in much the same way as Verhoeven’s inspired decision to use plastic himbos and gleaming toothed soap stars to heighten the absurd fascism on display in Starship Troopers. It’s tempting to ask the question about whether these four actresses have already been corrupted by the almighty House of Mouse before Korine convinced them to do beer bongs, rob diners and fuck in swimming pools. Indeed, America’s current fallen angel, Britney Spears is referenced throughout, Alien sings “Everytime” on a baby grand by an outdoor pool as the girls request something sensitive from him. Her presence here is an effective and obvious metaphor, mirroring our four protagonists attempts at self-destruction.
James Franco deserves kudos (mad props?) simply for saying yes to the role of Alien, a corn-rowed, drug dealing rapper whose celebrations of excess for excesses sake are complimented and accelerated by the liquorice blunt permanently clenched between his gold plated teeth and the southern drawl of a snake-oiler. He gets his moment in the sun during a brilliantly, low level, capitalist, “look at all my shit” speech. He talks the girls through his “dark tanning oil”, his “shorts in every colour”, his “two types of Calvin Klein, wear ’em both at once, smell nice” and all his drugs, weapons and “Franklin’s”. It’s a speech highly reminiscent of Hudson’s “sharp sticks” speech in the director’s cut of Aliens. Franco pulls it off laconically, almost breaking character and sniggering at the bare-faced ridiculousness of what he is being paid to say. “Look at my blue Kool-Aid…” he smirks, loud and proud.
The pounding, distorted score by Cliff Martinez (Requiem for a Dream, Solaris) and Skrillex (assorted “club-bangers”, EBFS is reliably informed by a passing young person) screeches along, heightening each drugged out, party scene. The colour palette on display is turned up to about a million, Korine calls the effect “skittles” and he isn’t lying, even the font for the credits makes the eyeballs ache. There is an Enter the Void sense of nihilism to the ebb and drift of most scenes, so it’s no surprise that Korine chose Gaspar Noe’s DoP, Benoit Debie, to provide his visuals. An excellent, one take shot of a car crawling round a diner as we see the robbery taking place within through each window is particularly noteworthy. the other obvious visual reference points are MTV, particularly Jersey (or Geordie) Shore, shows that actively encourage their “real” people to behave like airhead hedonists, safe in the false knowledge that youth is immortal and infinite. However, like Icarus before them, when our girls get closer to danger (and therefore, reality) in the form of Alien and his feud with former friend, Archie (Gucci Mane, a rapper, Wikipedia this time), the film’s visual style changes once again, to that last bastion of cinema verite, internet pornography. Korine admits to having collected images from spring break porno sites, so the appearance of harsh lighting, grim faced men surrounding vulnerable women has a creepy frame of reference. The script is loose, almost Malick like, with lines repeated over and over and not lip synched for effect. Alien breathes “spring break” again and again in voiceover like a mantra for a religion only he is privy to.
In the end, Spring Breakers purposely drowns in its own vulgarity, with its endless shots of beer soaked breasts and glassy-eyed revellers, operating on autopilot, getting fucked up and fucking for the sake of it, or because everyone else is doing it. Korine has crafted a morally moribund piece, without the answers to the anachronisms on display. Whether it’s a good film or not is hard to say, it’s certainly grotesque and that may be the real point.
We should jump in with both feet. Far from the most annoying thing about Parker is that it SHOULD work. A talented, journeyman director (Taylor Hackford) takes on a genre revenge picture based on a series of novels by Donald E. Westlake that have been adapted into successful movies several times before (Payback, Point Blank), the current go-to hard man, Jason Statham is rounded up and joined by sassy (contractually obliged to say sassy) Jennifer Lopez, semi-reprising her best role from Out Of Sight, they are helped out by a supporting cast of grizzled toughs (Nick Nolte, Michael Chiklis, er….the drug dealer from The Rules of Attraction) and helped out by the ever popular “one big score” and “sort of a love triangle” tropes from noir 101. Works on paper for us, almost entirely fails up on the big screen.
Take a deep breath. The eponymous Parker is played by Jason Statham, he is a morally questionable thief with cast iron morals on things he thinks are important, he heads to Palm Beach to stop his former crew succeed on their next heist and kill them for betraying him on the last one. Parker is helped by Leslie, inhabited by J-Lo, a realtor who knows Palm Beach like the back of her sassy (sorry), latino hand. Nick Nolte, played by a distraught, melting, waxwork dummy of Nick Nolte, helps Parker out with information, which is interesting as Nick Nolte was the person who set Parker up with the gang who betrayed him in the first place, showing a shocking judgement of character and completely oblivious that they were “connected up the ass” in Chicago, making Parker’s attempt at revenge even more foolhardy. That’s okay though as Parker is sleeping with Nolte’s daughter, who is fine with having a stupid thief father, a silent, unsmiling, thief boyfriend who disappears for weeks on end and has more scars than the entire cast of Jaws. So that’s your plot and in skilled hands like Kubrick’s for The Killing or Soderberg’s for Out Of Sight, to pick two out of hundreds and hundreds, convolution works brilliantly, adding layers of intrigue and suspense. Here, handled by the director of The Devil’s Advocate and the writer of Man About The House it falls flat and lies there lifelessly whilst the poor editor tries to put the pieces together coherently.
Whilst Statham is poised, gruff and stares well and Jennifer Lopez is confident, desperate and clever the rest of the cast are either cardboard cut-outs, grimacing or panicking like good cow actors should or completely over the top, maniacally bad scenery chewers with indigestion. The gang who betrayed Parker are a case in point. They don’t communicate with each other, just shout or whine lines as if reading them off their co-stars foreheads. Michael Chiklis, particularly, thuds out words as if trying to start a fight with himself in a phone booth. He couldn’t be less convincing if he was fully made up in his Thing make up from Fantastic Four. In fact, the gang of four are so incompetent, snivelling, infighty and generally sociopathic that the idea of them completing one successful heist, let alone two is so unlikely that belief, like many of Parker’s enemies, crashes out of the window. Parker has precisely two good lines, one has been used extensively in the trailer and the other is so close to the end (of which there are four) that it may simply be growing relief that elevates it’s delivery by Lopez.
For the undeserved sake of balance, Parker does contain an excellent fight in a hotel room between our hero and a mob assassin (who inexplicably insists on using what appears to be a craft knife at all times). Visceral, intelligently shot, brutal and culminating in a bathroom with plenty of references to the countless other great moments of violence in bathrooms in cinema such as True Romance and Psycho to pick the obvious ones. This is everything the rest of Parker isn’t. Every blow comes through the screen and the blood splatters like only the best film blood can. It sticks out like a sore (decapitated and trod on) thumb and makes everything else seem an even paler shade a gray.
In the end, Parker is a genre flick delivered with no respect to it’s genre, no consideration for it’s audience, no intelligence in it’s narrative, not enough time spent balancing a wild script and crucially, no love for the almost set in stone rules of either it’s practically mythical legend nor the weight it holds in the pantheon. Ugly without trying.
When Kathryn Bigelow underdogged the oscar from Avatar, a sigh of relief audible from space was omitted by cinephiles everywhere. In retrospect, The Hurt Locker turned out to be an interesting, well made film, looking at war from an unusual, positive angle that, on repeat viewings, turned out to have about a teaspoonful of narrative amidst it’s machismo. Now, with Zero Dark Thirty, a tale that begins with the horrific events of 9/11 and ends with the horrific events in a compound on the Iran/Afghanistan border, Bigelow has, if anything, a massive surplus of narrative, a whole truckload of twelve years of muddled, secretive counter intelligence, wars and further terrorist action to refine into a cohesive film that we should probably be grateful only lasts two and three quarter hours.
Scripted by Mark Boal, also responsible for The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty draws an uncomfortably straight line that leads the CIA directly from 9/11 to “justifiable” torture to the public transport bombings in London to The Marriot bombing in Islamabad to the discovery of Bin Laden’s whereabouts. Simplifying a globally fraught and politically nightmarish 12 years might have been narratively necessary but feels obliquely disingenuous to an audience, all of whom will bring their own personal viewpoints and experiences to bear. One wonders how this film is playing in Iran or Afghanistan or China. We should stress that no money, equipment or assistance from the US Military was requested, which is admirable, and the film tries so very, very hard to walk the molecule thin line between right and wrong. However, when it falls off it is invariably onto the gung-ho American side.
This film is expertly made. Shot beautifully by Greig Fraser in very suitable, faux documentary style, structured well by an elegant script, scored by music that builds gradually and remains perfectly backgrounded throughout. Performed professionally by actors with skill and absolutely no showboating and all held together with the tightest direction of Bigelow’s career. Zero Dark Thirty is gripping, slick and paced perfectly. It’s hard to imagine anyone making a better film on this subject (United 93 remains the best reflection of 9/11 film making fallout), it just trips over it’s own tangled shoelaces.
The torture scenes are dispassionate, functionary and unbearable. As they should be. Dan (Jason Clarke) portrays the CIA interrogator featured most prominently. He’s jaded, viewing it as just a job and barely seeing humanity anymore. He pointedly shows his pet monkeys more compassion than the human being he has just shoved into a tiny box. He initiates Maya (Jessica Chastain deserves the Oscar) into his world, where she initially balks, but then becomes complicit within. A scene where we are asked to feel sorry for Maya and her terrible, necessary duties and the weight it leaves on her shoulders is far too rich and absolutely the film’s low point. When the crucial piece of information that leads to Bin Laden’s discovery is revealed to have been in the CIA’s possession for years, rendering the, now shut down, rendition programs seemingly meaningless, Zero Dark Thirty claws back a lot of respectability. As does a scene where a CIA operative incredulously asks how they are supposed to obtain information without recourse to torture now Obama is in office.
As soon as Bin Laden’s compound is identified, the film could logically end. In All The President’s Men, as soon as the link between the burglars and President Nixon is discovered, the credit’s roll as the rest of the story, Nixon’s impeachment, was so widely covered already. The grey, high walled building occupied by Bin Laden and several other families was so ubiquitous on the rolling news channels that it leaves the (worryingly Call Of Duty like) denouement, although brilliantly staged and shot, feeling somewhat pornographic as we wait and guess and jump and expect the next frame to contain the death of the world’s most wanted man. Bin Laden’s death in May 2011 means this film has been turned around in eighteen months and some of the joy masquerading as relief that was visible (from an outsider looking into America) seems to have seeped into this admirable attempt to remain dispassionate about a necessary, unpleasant, almost entirely justifiable chapter in America’s history. Perhaps as more distance is achieved more perspective will arrive. However, as of now, Zero Dark Thirty remains an uneasy proposition, marred by ethical dilemmas that were never really dilemmas in the first place.
With Daniel Day Lewis about to agonize and pontificate for 36 hours or so in Serious Spielberg’s serious film about serious things happening seriously in a grey, serious America, we have decided that we’re not ready to accept him as anything other than Daniel Plainview yet (We ignored Nine, carefully). So, here are our, unrushed, thoughtful, not amusing, and in no way just a hurried text conversation conducted between one bed in Manchester and a bar in Melbourne ideas for the further, or previous adventures of Mr. Daniel Plainview. You’re welcome Hollywood:
Screwball, campus comedy set in the prestigious Prospector University as young maverick (drunk) Danny Plainview attempts to mess up that crusty, old Dean (Al Gore) and his plan to educate California in renewable energy sources by discovering oil right there, under the stuffed shirt of a Dean’s house. Contains a scene where Plainview spies on the girl’s locker room and decides that it’s not his sort of thing.
Herzog’s untitled 66th project
Werner Herzog directs, remotely from a lair in Antartica, a sort of “midquel”, during the time jump period in the original There Will Be Blood. Daniel Day Lewis remains silent, eats steak and drinks bourbon very slowly whilst maintaining eye contact with the lens for three hours. In 3D. Guarenteed a Palm D’Or, a Golden Lion and Chris Tookey hating it so much he dies.
Weekend at Plainview’s
After the confusing, critic annoying end of There Will Be Blood, Daniel Plainview discovers he does need the Bandy Tract after all as his “milkshake analogy” was bullshit. Cue a hilarious weekend of carrying Eli’s body around to convince his congregation he can still deliver the fire and brimstone sermons he was so famous for. Contains unprecedented ventriloquism method acting from Day Lewis and a lot of regrets for Paul Dano.
It’s Plainview’s Fault
Down a new well, Plainview discovers a portal that catapults him into future America. After discovering a new site in the Gulf of Mexico, he unwittingly takes the fall for those bastards at British Petroleum and untold environmental damage we’ll be dealing with for centuries. Embracing the apologist culture of the new millennium, he appears on Oprah but ends up clubbing her to death with an oil covered, stiffened cormorant.
Plainview vs Roger Rabbit
Self explanatory. Covers two sequels that need to get made. Now.
A Convenient Truth
Remake, shot for shot of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth except this time Daniel Plainview sits calmly next to Gore, with crossed legs, smoking a pipe, drinking bourbon and occasionally burping grumpily until Gore either wets himself or runs off.
Grizzled (drunk) private investigator Daniel Plainview tries to solve a series of murders he himself has perpetrated whilst out of his fucking mind on bourbon.
We’ve time stamped this and made copies so if any of them go into production we want fifty percent of the gross or a hug from Day Lewis in character and costume from The Last of the Mohicans. He will find us.
2012 will go down in history as the year Christopher Nolan completed his epic Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises (not even the best film this year where you couldn’t understand what Tom Hardy was going on about, as Lawless proved). TDKR crashed into cinemas with a roar so loud everyone forgot about The Avengers and started posting on Facebook about how Michael Caine made them cry or how this trilogy was the best trilogy ever (It’s either the Three Colours trilogy or the Indy trilogy around here by the way…there is NO fourth Indy film, quiet at the back).
However, 2012 was also filled with quite a lot of gems, some hidden, some in plain sight. Nostalgia for the Light and The Imposter were quite incredible documentaries about extraordinary circumstances which flashed in and out of cinemas without pausing. Tedproved that a three foot bear that drinks, smokes and has sex could be funny (who knew?) and in no way conjured up any memories of Howard the Duck, thank god.
Woody Harrelson gave his best performance in years in the gritty, nearly plot free, LA cop movie, Rampart, his performance given extra weight by wholeheartedly committing to going to town on some girl he picked up in a bar’s feet.
David O’Russel, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and a spiky De Niro dazzled Toronto, winning the People’s Choice Award (fast becoming one of the more reliable audience barometers) with Silver Lining’s Playbook and Ben Affleck blew his previous efforts out of the water by directing Argo, a tense, taut, political drama in the vein of The Parallax View or All The President’s Men, well done him. None of those made our end of year list. Here then, based on a confusing amalgamation of Australian and UK release dates and several, quite heated and expensive phone calls between Manchester and Melbourne are Early Bird Film Society’s top ten films of 2012. In no particular order!
The Raid: Redemption (@noonanjohnc)
Indonesia’s answer to Die Hard, directed by Gareth Evans, proved that sometimes a threadbare plot is excusable if your hero spends two hours killing people with his little finger.
Defiantly pretentious, obliquely satirical and anchored by a confident performance from Robert Pattinson, Cosmopolis confused, infuriated and divided audiences everywhere it was released. This film is included in our top ten almost purely for having the audacity to exist at all. “We need a haircut…” is a favourite line for the year as well.
Funny, heartbreaking and real, Sarah Polley’s sophomore effort exposed love crumbling and building in equal measures in Toronto centred by a brilliant Michelle Williams who EBFS is now officially in love with.
Unofficially our FILM OF THE YEAR, purely by being basically the only film the two of us agreed on. More funny than scary, this is still top-notch, knowing horror, not so much mugging at the screen as mugging the audience into participating in the slaughter of pretty people. The grand Guignol finish just keeps on giving.
Seemingly from out of nowhere, this joyous depiction of environmental breakdown seen through the eyes of Hushpuppy, a precocious child in Louisiana, was a tale of humanity and our place in the universe told with a smile on its face and a warmth of the heart that is impossible to manufacture.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to There Will Be Blood is another two hander as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jaoquin Phoenix drink, argue and maybe fall in love a little bit in fifties America. Wellesian in scope and displaying a sense of human drama that Chekhov would have been proud of, PTA has delivered another set in stone classic that demands endless rewatches – Three times at the cinema for us.
So there you go, a pretty good year all things considered. Special mention must go to a film that almost snuck into our list. Holy Motors had film of the year written all over it as Carax played with his audience like a master, teasing them and leading them down rabbit holes in the frantically insane tale of a mimic moving through different roles in Paris. Unfortunately, the theatre we watched it in was evacuated twenty minutes from the end and it was the last showing so we couldn’t review it in case it all turned out to be a dream or Matt Damon’s flashback or something (even though he wasn’t there for the first half of the film). Still waiting for a DVD release in the UK. Humph.