You Could Make a Lifetime Movie, or You Could Make Spring Breakers

 

Spring Breakers – 2013 – dir. Harmony Korine

★/★★★★

There are a lot of different ways that you can approach contemporary youth culture from a critical perspective. You can look at the partying, the intoxication, the mindless sexual obsession, the self-numbing music, the violent videogames and movies; being a part of this culture myself, I know there is a lot to criticize. So you take all of those ideas and filter them through a story about spring break. In the Lifetime Movie you have three girls, the good, the bad, and the naïve who want to go on their dream spring break adventure. The good girl is willing to go along until she realizes how ugly things could turn out at which point she leaves to live a happy life. The naïve girl doesn’t know any better and probably blacks out as the victim of sexual assault. The bad girl wants to party all the time and eventually dies of a drug overdose. It’s tragic and melodramatic and cliché, the acting would be atrocious and the writing predictable, but overall its harmless. The other route is Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers and while it takes everything to the max, he forgets the art of subtlety in film and lets his message get ahead of the medium.

Spring Breakers stars Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine as the four girls (because more girls means more opportunities for titillation) wanting to go on their ultimate Spring Break adventure.

As a side note, many will comment that Hudgens and Gomez sought out these roles to break out of their Disney personas; I think that is incredibly short sighted considering the context of the film and their characters within it. Gomez was the irresponsible trouble maker in Wizards of Waverly Place and is the good would be Christian girl in Breakers. Hudgens was the couldn’t-hurt-a-fly good girl of the Highschool Musical series and plays the sociopathic sex kitten in Breakers. It was Korine that chose these actresses specifically to play against type and shock in comparison to their regular persons. Korine understand the important of the metanarrative in art films and he is using it very intentionally.

The four girls get caught with drugs at one of their parties and are arrested. While not in any serious trouble, they would have had to stay in county for two days because they had no money for the fine. To the rescue comes drug dealer and amateur would-be rap star Alien (James Franco). After paying their fine he takes them around to see his friends, Faith (Gomez) gets scared and decides to leave. Left with the three other girls, Alien reinitiates a feud with a rival dealer who ends up shooting Cotty (Korine) who then also goes home. Candy (Hudgens) and Britt (Benson) then engage in some raunchy times with Alien before they go to exact revenge on the rival dealer.

This film is ripe with social commentary. The oddly non-linear frame and the montage style allow Korine to take normally titillating footage of partying coeds and turn it into sensory overload and monotony. Alien is introduced as the symbolic representation of his oft repeated line “Spring break forever,” because that seems to be exactly what the girls desire. Each of the girls is intentionally and deliberately characterized to represent their archetype (Gomez is good, Korine is naïve, and Hudgens and Benson are sociopathic sex kittens). The music, drugs, sex, and violence are all extreme and are used for deliberate symbolic purposes. All of this would make for a brilliant art film if Korine hadn’t forgotten about the most important tool at a an artist’s disposal; subtlety.

The obviousness of Korine’s intended message made took the content that he wanted to be powerful and made it laughable and pathetic. The characters archetypes are more than just obvious, they are being used to whack the audience over the head with the message. Gomez is a good Christian girl (shown at a youth group meeting) named Faith who shows signs of regret at every turn. Hudgens oversexualizes every aspect of her performance with her movements and dialogue but piles on her sociopathic nature by obsessively making fake guns with her hands and pretending to shoot everyone and everything. Alien starts as a creepy extreme of the hedonistic spring break holiday, but his scenes are over extended to where the potentially scary message is lost. He is then given some vulnerability which never really materializes and feels like a waste of time. The worst offence is the line, “Spring break forever,” which is ethereally repeated (dozens of times). Korine does criticize hedonistic youth culture, but the way he does it is totally ineffective.

Korine is obviously educated in the methods of art film, he just doesn’t know when to let go. Spring Breakers could have been a great film, but after it’s all said and done its just forgettable.

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My Doctor Who Story

In 2005 I was with a friend of mine when his mother recommended that I watch this show called Doctor Who. While I can’t recall if it was on BBC or CBC at the time, I do remember that initial moment in The End of the World seeing Chris Eccleston and Billie Piper on a space station with some crazy looking aliens. Now at the time of the premiered revival series, I was eleven years old so much of the detail that the show is known for was lost on me. However I watched every episode (minus the premier episode, Rose) of that initial series and I totally fell in love with the Doctor. Alas, in The Parting of Ways when Nine regenerated into Ten, I was not kind to the new Doctor. I stopped watching and pretty much ignored Doctor Who for seven years.

In 2012 thanks to a number of my friends being slightly obsessed with the series (and in love with either Tennant or Smith), I decided to re-watch Eccleston and start Tennant. As I expected I would, I loved the first series as much/more than I did when I was a kid. Then I started Tennant again and…. After a few episodes I gave up. Eccleston was dark and brooding and Tennant (from the first few episodes) was bubbly and jocular and absolutely not what I wanted to see in a Doctor.  Then just a few weeks ago my school’s Sci-Fi Fantasy club put on a marathon and I got to watch the Series 3 episode Blink  and my obsession was sparked. Since then I’ve started a real run of the revival series, watched the TV Movie for the Eighth Doctor, and now I’m searching to get my hands on at least one serial from each of the first seven Doctors. As I get through each series/serial I will try and post a review with a best/worst episode as well as a small post about each of the Doctors and possibly the main companions as well. There’s a hell of a lot of mythology to sort through with this show, but the majority of it is great great watching so I think I’m going to enjoy myself.

Memory and Memento

#95 – Memento – 2000 – dir. Christopher Nolan              

I was born in 1994 so when Memento was released, six year old me was in no way prepared (or interested) in seeing it. Four years later, nothing was cooler to ten year old me than Batman; so despite my parents resistance I found a copy of Batman Begins. I loved it. I wasn’t quite at the point in my film obsession where I was searching through filmographies, but I knew that Batman Begins was a fantastic film. Three years later, coming up to the summer release of The Dark Knight, I was verging on obsession with each new trailer. In waiting, I found Nolan’s films Insomnia and The Prestige and my appreciation for the artistry of a true auteur was developed. Following The Dark Knight, I had heard so much about Memento that I went to Blockbuster and got a VHS copy. It wouldn’t be until my third or fourth viewing that I would truly appreciate the film in all of its complexity and narrative brilliance.

The story is actually incredibly simple (if you can find the limited edition DVD you can watch the scenes in chronologic order). Leonard Shelby has anterograde amnesia. A burglar broke into his house, raped and killed his wife, and during the struggle seriously damaged Leonard’s head causing the condition. He wants to find this individual and kill him. To keep track of clues in his search he takes meticulous notes, photographs, and occasionally tattoos vital information on his body. He meets various individuals in his search for vengeance: like I said, the plot is simple. However, the reason this film became the critical and popular sensation that it is today is the manner in which the story is told.

Spoilers after the jump

The opening shot of the film is a) in colour and b) of a man holding a Polaroid photograph of a dead man which as he shakes the image fades. This introductory sequence is actually the final scene in the film’s chronology and, as implied through the Polaroid, is played in reverse. The sequence plays through until we see Leonard kill the man from the Polaroid. The next sequence is in black and white and features Leonard waking up in his motel room not remembering where he is or how long he has been there.  Then we return to colour stock and see another Polaroid of the same man from before except alive and smiling. The sequence continues until again we see Leonard kill this man. As the film continues to switch between black and white and colour stock it becomes apparent that each segment in colour is being played in reverse chronologically while the black and white segments are being played in order.

According to Christopher Nolan, the way the film is structured is meant to mimic Leonard’s condition. He wanted the audience to feel like Leonard did every time his memory lapsed. However, the genius of the film (and the reason for its placement on my Top 100) is how the film’s narrative interacts with the narrative frame to completely mess with your mind. Nolan could have just let the plain story I described earlier play through the structure he devised and it would have been a good movie. But by adding in a few pieces of information and a few visual cues Nolan brings a truly compelling message together about the fragility of memory and the human experience.

The first big question in the film is how Leonard remembers that he has Anterograde Amnesia each time his memory lapses. A vigilant viewer would remember that he has tattooed that piece of information on his body and they would be right. However, with all the memory lapses we see in the film you begin to notice that he doesn’t always have the chance to see that particular tattoo. Nolan then sets another little trap for the viewers through a second of Leonard’s tattoos and the story behind it. On his wrist (and seen in almost every stretch of memory) are the words, “remember Sammy Jankis.” Sammy Jankis is someone from Leonard’s former life who had the same condition. Huzzah! That connection allows for Leonard to easily remember his condition. This could almost work through the entire film except for one scene later on when Leonard is recounting Sammy’s story. Sammy is sitting in a chair in the hospital as people walk by him. Then, right before the cut, the image of Sammy is changed to an image of Leonard for a split second, changing everything. Was Sammy Jankis real? Is anything that Leonard has said through the entire film reliable? Who really killed Leonard’s wife?

Nolan reinforces his message of the fragility of memory by making everything we’ve seen potentially unreliable. Based purely on the story of the film, there is little good reason for it to exist. But the story isn’t important. The style communicates the message of the film and in doing so introduced the genius mind of Christopher Nolan to the world.

Thank You Roger

Almost 5 years ago now Roger Ebert and his second longtime co-host, Richard Roeper, left the long syndicated At the Movies and the show never really recovered. Since about 2007 I had been following the show online and between weeks I would search for old reviews of movies I was interested in seeing. I loved listening to Ebert and Roeper (and before him, Gene Siskel) pick films apart and explain what entertained or aggravated or touched them about the myriad of films. While before this I loved film, from 2007 when I found the online streaming for the show and 2011 when Disney took the site down, I was taking my first class on film thanks to Roger Ebert. Earlier today the news was announced that after over a decade of fighting various cancers, that Roger Ebert had passed away at the age of 70.

I wrote movie reviews for my school paper in high school and I still remember my proudest moment of that time, my teacher advisor told me I sounded like Roger Ebert in one of my reviews. While I don’t see that in myself often, I know when I read Ebert’s reviews that he is what I strive to be as a critic. Fair but passionate, sarcastic and funny, but most importantly he was opinionated. If he truly hated a movie he would say so. In his review for North the quote is, “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.” Aside from being one of my favourite passages in the history of film criticism, it shows that even when his anger towards a film was overwhelming, he could make his readers understand that his anger could never be childish. He wrote thoughtfully and always with his readers in mind. He wanted to tell the world about the power of movies.

The most inspiring thing about Roger Ebert though is his passion for the written word. Through the past number of years he was doing his film reviews for the Chicago Sun Times but he also let the world in on his life and thoughts through frequent blog posts. Sometimes talking about film, the most interesting of these posts were those that went into politics or his personal life. He has written about his history of alcoholism and the power of AA meetings, his thoughts about the state of politics during the 2012 election, his feelings about Roman Catholicism, his memories of his co-host and friend Gene Siskel,  and the love that he shared with his wife Chaz.

Ebert was one of the brightest minds and authors that America has ever produced. He had a passion for film that was and will remain unmatched. He was a true inspiration for a whole generation of moviegoers.

Rodney Welch said it best, “Here’s something you don’t hear said about many movie critics: people love Roger Ebert. There’s a good reason for this: Ebert doesn’t stand between moviegoers and the audience. Rather, his regular readers are serious movie-lovers who see him as their rep, the guy out there fighting to make movies less stupid, more entertaining, more intelligent, more everything. You don’t have to agree with him…to know that he’s on your side.”

Rest in peace Roger. You will be missed.