What You Get When Harmony Korine Tackles a Topic Like Spring Break

I can’t help but be reminded of the film Havoc when I watch this trailer. Not sure why, but I also keep thinking Larry Clark must be involved somehow… must remember to look that up… Anyway, here’s a trailer for Harmony Korine’s latest anomaly, Spring Breakers. Conveniently hitting theaters (somewhere) right around, um, spring break.

The Iceman; or, Here’s to Hoping that Cheesy Titles and Goofy Mustaches Can Help Revitalize the Suspense/Thriller Genre

Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Missing Person) has been up to playing some pretty gritty roles in his time on screen, and even though the mustaches in this trailer don’t do the actors any real justice (then again, neither does the Top Gun-reminder of a title), don’t let that turn you off – Ariel Vromen‘s third feature looks like it might be pretty Summer of Sam-meets-Zodiac badass.

The Place Beyond the Pines

It’s like Blue Valentine meets Drive on a motorbike. Only this time Ryan Gosling is lighting up the screen creating a tumultuous relationship with Eva Mendes instead of Michelle Williams. I’ll admit, my interest is super-peaked about this film, especially considering how quietly superb Blue Valentine was, but if this is anything more like Drive, I’m going to be forced to put Gosling in a new category of cinema called “pretentious drama.” Plus, you can already tell by the trailer, he’s probably gonna have to die at the end.

How Ridiculous Marketing Strategies Can Sometimes Advertise Amazing Things

What is it with the whole “XX” thing that seems to be in fashion right now? Other than the pretty stellar band The xx, there’s been a rash of other artists using the whole XX marketing shtick as a way to, I guess, make their 20th anniversary of some product seem cool again. There’s Rage Against the Machine – XX, there’s The Breeders LSXX, and now there’s Tarantino XX.

Tarantino XX celebrates 20 years of Quentin Tarantino’s filmmaking, and while that’s certainly fine by me, I’m not sure I get the whole XX part. Is it supposed to indicate the number 20? I guess XX looks and sounds cooler than the number 20. I digress.

On December 4 there was Tarantino XX: Reservoir Dogs and on December 6, Pulp Fiction. These are equally stellar films in Tarantino’s oeuvre and getting to see them on the big screen again is a great case for spending $12.50. Not to mention, in pure QT fashion, they come prefaced with a couple new interviews with actors and others who worked on the films, and they also come prefaced with “hand-picked” trailers of movies that inspired him, from Tarantino’s own collection.

pulp-fiction

Watching Pulp Fiction again in a theater was a great experience. After seeing it at home alone or with a couple friends over at a time for the better part of 18 years, having the opportunity to see it on the big screen with a full audience in attendance who were actively engaged throughout, was exhilarating. It almost makes you want to go out and make films. Even though it’s easy (especially after multiple viewings over a long time) to find the problems in the production or the craft behind the film, it’s such an incredibly fresh and twisted narrative, with such incredibly rich and twisted (yet realistic) characters, that you can’t really look away.

Pulp Fiction prides itself on shock value and its ability to make you unregrettably look at bad people as cool or comical. Literally almost every movie that has ever tried to imitate or take inspiration from Pulp Fiction has failed in being effortless for the audience. They are always either too heavy handed, or too melodramatic, but there never seems to be just the right consistency to the mixture.

The audience in the screening I was at, found themselves inadvertently taking part in the movie. Unlike like watching a Rocky Horror screening where you prepare for what’s coming next so you can sing along, dance or throw rice at the screen, with Pulp Fiction, it creeps up on you – the guy behind me found himself muttering many of the famous lines of dialogue before they even appeared in the scene. This is beauty of Pulp Fiction: it’s fun, it’s grown-up, it’s down to earth, and it’s just plain cool. This is a movie that will go down in history like the Breathless of the ’60s or the Easy Rider of the ’70s – a game changer.

Looper

Looper is one of those films you want to watch a second time just to make sure you caught everything that should have revealed itself the first time around, but didn’t. It’s not a singularly perfect movie, but it’s well produced, scripted and acted. Joseph Gordon Levitt and director Rian Johnson work together well, and after such an awesome debut as Brick, there was little doubt in my mind that Looper would disappoint – and it doesn’t – it even further builds upon and establishes his directing style which Roger Ebert questioned a lot after his viewing of Brick.

Admittedly, I was hesitant about the science fiction aspect of the story and how Johnson would be able to handle the special effects in a first-time-out kind of film, but it’s all done with style and purpose (the latter of which is sometimes very hard to find in science fiction special effects-driven films). Johnson’s film is coolly cyclical and Levitt plays the part of a young Bruce Willis very well. Willis is, of course, Willis, but with a little less machismo and a lot more heart.

The story is dark and inevitably doomed from the start. I don’t normally do this, but it’s important to know the plot if you’re going to read this review. If you don’t here’s a really nice breakdown courtesy of ScreenRant. Once you learn the plot you can quickly pick up where it’s going, but the beauty of the filmmaking is the ending (even though in the back of our minds we know how it has to end) is still a surprise! I’d call that the touch of a budding directorial genius. Shades of Christopher Nolan are even in there, recalling back before Nolan was obsessed with overblown masterpieces.

Films akin to Looper can become easily convoluted and quickly weighed down (e.g. Source Code), but Looper seems carefully thought out, and even if there are flaws in the story, the film is so engaging overall that it will likely go unnoticed. Levitt is coming into his own in the action genre too; between this, Premium Rush (which, by the way, is not a bad film in terms of car chase sequences), Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, he’s cutting his action chops on some heavy-hitting and intense work.

Johnson’s film is a confident, science fiction / action / thriller, so much so, it even plays with the romance genre in a tasteful and purposeful way. There are two sort of oddly linked love stories in play: Willis’ love story is uniquely tied into the film (remember Willis is the the same character as Levitt – just older in the future); and, cagily, Johnson weaves in yet another love story with the young Willis (played by Levitt), as he takes refuge in a rural farmhouse with one ax-wielding Emily Blunt. Her character soon evolves to a central plot device and she is a good fit for the role sans her inconsistent American rough-and-tumble accent which she tries to produce.

Altogether, I find you won’t be disappointed by this film if you’re interested in a smart story, fraught with action, suspense, just the right touch of science fiction and a couple of old fashioned romantic sub-plots. The effects work won’t be seen on the same level for everyone, but more importantly, they’re appropriately used. Just wait… you may even find yourself coming back to film some day in the future.

Killing Them Softly

Fincher’s Tattoo Remake Gets Its Best Trailer Yet

I find myself having to begin warming up to this whole remake/reboot market which Hollywood seems to be in lately, and with Fincher, an amazingly unique and original filmmaker, I have total confidence in the fact that he will put out a fine film, but deep down it’s still hard for me to handle the fact that he has to be getting sloppy seconds on this one. What I look forward to most about the first remade feature in the Swedish crime trilogy is that with Fincher’s eye, I am sure it will look gloriously dark and seem almost Ikea-perfect. However, the original Swedish films were damn near perfect, although they regrettably had the feeling of television miniseries more than cinematic experience. (For those of you living under a rock this year, I’m of course talking about Stieg Larsson’s The Millenium Series and, in particular, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.)

Anyway, I ran across this little promo spot which the filmmakers seem to have put together to promote the film in a most unique way – highlighting both the artistic, marketing and musical perfection which both David Fincher and his new-found scoring partner Trent Reznor constantly (and usually successfully) strive to. Check it out below.

Drive

According to the trailer, “critics are raving ‘Drive is the coolest movie,'” but I think I’m a pretty good judge of cool movies and let me tell you Drive ain’t all that. First, let’s take the terrible pacing. Nicolas Winding Refn’s films are notorious for being slim on dialogue and long on stylized takes, but it’s poorly utilized here. What makes the pacing even worse though, and truly emphasizes it, is the music. Synthy, repetitive, indie pop is literally plugged in like the editors just sat there and went, “Ok, well I don’t feel like trying to cut this song to the actual film, so I’ll just slap the whole track in there and make people sit through a couple five minute, boring, slow motion music videos.”


The song at the end of the film, called “A Real Hero,” by a band called College is especially terrible, and even worse, distracting from the great ending. You see, the film has a fantastic story and even better acting, and honestly, Refn’s style-over-substance-cinema wouldn’t be so bad if it were just employed appropriately. This film needs a new editor bad. The lyrics which constantly repeat “He’s a real human being, and a real hero,” are just flat out laughable when put to the serious images during the final scenes of the film. It’s literally the worst pairing of score and movie I’ve ever witnessed. Sitting in my movie theater seat, finding myself actually fidgeting and thinking, “Yes, I get it, he’s a real human being and a real hero. Can we go now?” is not the way I saw myself finishing this movie.

According to Refn, and many critics I guess, he thinks the music speaks for the film in this case. But that would be so much better realized if he just didn’t pick a song that is literally explaining to us that Mr. Ryan Gosling is a real human being (during the day), and a real hero (by night). It’s like the laziest filmmaker move ever. Instead of trusting your audience to get what the film is about on their own, you just tell it to them in some ambiguous, cheesy, Urban Outfitters muzak, by a band that no one will ever make an effort to drive to a store and buy an album from. This unnecessary explanation and use of the song’s lyrics to explain the story however, makes absolutely no sense when you watch the movie, because by night Gosling’s character is aiding and abetting criminals and evading the police while simultaneously endangering anyone else who is on the street at the same time as him. He is most certainly no hero.

Here’s the bottom line: wait till it’s available on DVD/Blu-ray, then kill the score (God, I hope the DVD offers that option), or mute the film at the beginning and end only. Now you’ve got yourself one hell of a movie.

Here’s the song. If you listen to it long enough, it will likely make you want to drive full speed into a wall.

I’ve actually previously reviewed two of Refn’s other films Bronson and Valhalla Rising, and while Valhalla didn’t score many points for me (even though it looked gorgeous), Bronson was enjoyable albeit forgettable. Refn will probably become big(ger) news now, but before Gosling, he was maybe more of an acquired taste for the typical filmgoer. What could really make him stand out and get noticed by larger audiences though (more than the addition of a star like Gosling to his cast), is someone to help him hone his work to finer, sharper point. Conceptual, highly visual and visceral films are great, and even though Drive doesn’t appear nearly as visually striking and rich as his previous work, it’s alright because it also boasts such a rich story. The problem is, Refn doesn’t seem comfortable telling a story without the use of some style or technique picked up from whatever training he’s had. If he’d stop relying on other cinematic elements to do his storytelling work for him, but still employ those cinematic elements, he would be the next Oliver Stone or Tarantino.

Stereo MCs Video Trilogy

I love slow-motion, gritty, British slice o’ life dramas, so maybe this mini-trilogy by the UK hip-poppers Stereo MCs is a bit dull for some viewers, but it’s a really nice unison of the three individual songs off their new album with a rather tender overarching storyline. They’re like Andrea Arnold-via-Lynne Ramsay-crossed with Tricky music videos. Superb.

Part 1 – “Boy”

Part 2 – “Tales”

Part 3 – “Far Out Feeling”

All songs are from the MCs’ forthcoming album Emporer’s Nightingale. Find out more about the band and the album (plus download a new mixtape for free!) at their website.

Drew Barrymore’s ‘Crazy For You’ Disappoints

Drew Barrymore is an extremely talented director and a amazing actress, but there’s really something to be said about putting together a film production in a rush. Barrymore’s directorial debut was the hilarious, poignant and retro-cool Whip It, and she certainly has the knack for shedding beautiful light on otherwise darkly lit subcultures.

Her second effort behind the camera is a music video / short film Crazy For You. Technically, the film’s impetus was a music video for the song “Our Deal” by new wavy shoegazers Best Coast. If you don’t recognize the band by name, you’ve probably heard their hits “Boyfriend” and “Gone Again” at least a few times on your local college radio.

Barrymore attests to having only had two days to shoot this film and in those two days, having to pull off 100 shots per day, according to a cute Pitchfork.com interview with her. Whether that’s how it actually went down or not, the film is clearly a little scattershot and could have easily been edited down to fall into the three minutes of the actual song “Our Deal.” Instead, we get an extended version which rather clunkily incorporates a veritable mash-up of Best Coast tracks.

The problem is it all feels too forced for the colorful, punk rock flyer filming style which Barrymore downright owned (neigh, revitalized) in Whip It. Honestly, Best Coast has a little too atmospheric of a quality for Barrymore’s edgy kind of modern love story on the skids. So even though there’s a few other issues with the film (keep reading), the biggest to me is the music is too weak for this story, none of it feels gritty enough for the attitudes which the characters are supposedly portraying. There’s basically two punk rock attitudes at work here – Barrymore’s and Best Coast’s – and like strong magnets, they’re repelling each other.

Crazy For You is merely shades of Romeo & Juliet and West Side Story when you can tell it desperately wants to be streaks of Sid and Nancy and The Outsiders. The lead actress Chloë Moretz wants to be kick ass (ha! get it?), but unfortunately looks more likely to topple over in the studded Doc Martens she’s bopping around in. No, seriously, there’s a at least a couple shots where you can actually see her trying to keep her balance – and it’s not like these “gangsters” are shooting up in the sewers of L.A.’s off-limits viaduct/”river,” so you can’t attribute these wobbles to her being shitfaced and/or fucked up. What’s worse – one of the first shots in the film is of the two gangster girls using a rope to carefully let themselves down into the graded walls of the viaduct. A rope!!? No self-respecting bad-ass ‘bows-dropper is going to worry about scraping a tiny hole in their skinny jeans sliding down the concrete walls of the dirty California landmark.

The simple storyline is really sweet and the plot is basically Romeo and Juliet up until the point where Veronica (Moretz’s Juliet character) doesn’t want to be part her gang “The Night Creepers” (and no, they’re not creepy in the least), and wants to run away with the boy who stole her heart, but who also happens to be in their rival gang “The Day Trotters.” One word I’m sure you will never hear a gang member say in your life is “trot,” “trotting, or “trotter.” I’m willing to bet you. Regardless, when she asks him to run away with her – in their meet-cute way of writing important notes to each other on their own hands – he takes the cute a step further and pops a can of spray paint from his back pocket to tag his answer on the wall next to her. Let’s just say it’s not what she expects.

Later, his gang faces off with her gang on the roof of a nearby building. In the toss up that ensues, Veronica clocks her man in the face (unrealistically) knocking him off the edge of the building to the pavement below. It’s then, that the film becomes bittersweet in it’s plot, but the combination of acting edgy by non-edgy actors, the milquetoast production design and costuming (the gangs’ names look like they were stitched or ironed on just a day ago), and the ill-fitting Best Coast score make the good ending seem almost kitschy.

I can’t wait for Barrymore to direct another film of her own, I really think just from the work on Whip It she is an auteur in her own right, but this entry in her oeuvre is one we can overlook. For completists and other cinephiles out there though, click here to watch it.