Author: bobbygould

Tiny Furniture (2010)

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.

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The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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.

Early Bird Film Society’s Films O’ 2013!

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:

Top Five @DonDubrow

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (2013)

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.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013)

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.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

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!!”.

SPRING BREAKERS (2012)

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.

Worst Film

After Earth (2013)

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….

Top 5 @stuartnbaillie

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

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.

GRAVITY (2013)

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.

ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA (2013)

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.

FROZEN (2013)

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.

Loved. Every. Second.

Worst Film

Only God Forgives (2013)

I thought long and ard about this. I nearly gave it to Anchorman 2 but 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

-MANIAC (2012)

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.

THE KINGS OF SUMMER (2013)

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.

THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

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.

THE ROCKET (2013)

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.

GRAVITY (2013)

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.

Worst Film

– 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.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2013)

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.

THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

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 Descendants pair’s summer outing that I didn’t cover in my original review.

FROZEN (2013)

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.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

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.

Worst film

– 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.

Much Ado About Nothing (2013) (1623)

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……

After Earth (2013)

Contains spoilers, for all that it matters.

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 (2012)

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.

Parker (2013)

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.