1) This movie coasts through the plot, knowing you’ve seen variations of it all before, if not in this order. Its decisions are safe but not unwelcome. It leans hardest into the human element, the wounded, battered power of Tom Cruise’s patiently aging face. Outside of one particularly badly acted scene where he shouts the name of my least favorite Who song, his hero charisma remains intact. That keeps the film compelling, even when it’s rehashing scenes from four other better movies. The art direction and cinematography, the vision of a warped world — all these things work, and they do so without the extra hour of justifications or pretentiousness of, say, Avatar. Oblivion doesn’t attempt to transcend its genre and is more likable for it. I liked it a lot.
2) I was wondering why the score was so aggravating and overblown and halfway through I realized: M83.
It has become clear, with Spring Breakers in wide release now, that this film is many things to many people. It should also be, however, many things to the same person, and descriptions of it as subversive art movie or hedonistic trash are far from complete. I agree with several of my colleagues that it’s not an ironic feat of subterfuge: the film is not so much a critique of Gen-Y capitalist-consumer ethos as it is an acknowledgement of it. That this is best experienced as repulsion is because Spring Breakers is a horror film. Among others.
Several films and genres occurred to me during my time in the theater. One, Superbad: Spring Breakers has all the ingredients of an archetypical teen coming-of-age comedy, except its protagonists — trying to find themselves, escape their hum-drum small town lives, get laid, go to a party, have the best spring break ever — have already come of age. As teenage boys flail about trying to get laid or score a beer in alternate movie universes, our ladies are taking bong rips and having threesomes. In film terms, it is escalation. It is nuclear war. It is also not inauthentic.
Less believable, and purposefully so, is the shadowy gangsta world Alien brings them into. The film pushes all the meta-buttons of its Disney-princess casting, yes, but James Franco counts for that: it’s not so long ago he played a kindler, gentler drug dealer. The second half of the movie plays out much like Drive, with a middle-class white experience of hip-hop culture taking the place of the dystopian ’80s and anime allusions that suffuse the latter movie. Both deal with violence as inevitable and as dream-state: the hilariously terse shove of Gucci Mane into the film as a plot prop needs no explanation because the film’s characters are so aware of the Rick Ross narrative they’re playing out that the audience must be, too. Act like it’s a video game. The edgiest parts of Spring Breakers are the ones where the fantasy brushes up against real life and begins to scratch and bleed: the ohgodshe’sabouttogetraped total terror of the scene with Rachel Korine partying, too hard, apart from her friends; her exit, and Selena Gomez’s, both moments that puncture the fantasy and the BFF teen movie expectations. At its most primal, Spring Breakers is about the meaning of escape, and what it takes to get there.
As a horror film, it fulfills a number of genre tropes: drug and alcohol use, sex, the wronging of the innocent; young women in various states of undress; masks. But the film inverts that genre, too, positioning its heroes as masked killers. It’s not until the end, tension and gruesomeness (Gucci Mane having sex: the worst!) peaking, that we realize who the villains really are. Horror films thrive on enforced solitude, on separating the characters from civilization: we know nothing bad will happen to Van-Hudge — that in fact she’s behind the badness — because she can still call her mom.
All together, Spring Breakers is a smart, complicated piece of filmmaking, both clever and crass. The film is not so much commentary on culture as it is culture itself, drunk and half-naked and swerving from erotic charge to tragic meltdown. It is nearly about Lindsay Lohan. But mostly, it’s about us.
If there is a better, less indulgent Jack Black performance, I haven’t seen it. A moving, razor-edged little movie.
Hanna from Pretty Little Liars is in Spring Breakers, which I did not know. James Franco couldn’t not be in Spring Breakers.
1. The Avengers
2. Moonrise Kingdom
3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
4. 21 Jump Street
5. The Five-Year Engagement
6. Shut Up and Play the Hits
9. This Is 40
The Amazing Spider-Man: Great cast, clever action, the script from hell.
The Dark Knight Rises: This movie is so Nolan-y it hurts. I love it, but it has the intellectual depth of the bad Matrix movies.
The Master: Parts of it are unbelievable cinema. The rest of it stars Joaquin Phoenix.
The Grey: This is a dumb movie but its attempts at poetry, visual and otherwise, are not unwanted.
Katy Perry: Part of Me: Can’t believe she got through this thing without saying “divorce” like a grown-up, but it’s certainly entertaining.
Worst of the year:
Battleship: What a goddamn disaster. Even the aliens are morons.
Save the Date: That New York Times article about irony was definitely inspired by watching this.
Great movies I watched for the first time this year:
An American Werewolf in London
Friday the 13th
Night of the Comet
Movies I can’t believe I watched on Netflix:
The Edge (or The Alec Baldwin Bear Movie, A CLASSIC)
Slumber Party Massacre (A disaster except for the hilarious stoner scene)
Trespass (in which Nic Cage collapses into himself like a dying star)
I liked this film, though I won’t tell you to run out and see it. It’s arduous and painful at times, as you might expect from a film about mental illness, and its happy resolution shines brighter than the preceding hours would have you believe. But it grapples admirably with difficult subjects and I wasn’t troubled by its occasional liberties. The real love story here is the triangle between Pat and his parents, who have to reconcile their sympathy with their own lives’ dramatic arcs. De Niro is superb, and reason enough to shrug through the less credible parts of the third act.
I’m not sure why we call movies like this comedies. A handful of punchlines buried in the thick of a visceral film about relationships and loss isn’t a comedy; it’s closer to real life, which is what films like this and its quirkier cousins, most notably the genre-affirming Little Miss Sunshine, strive to mirror, even in a funhouse reflection. The comedy tag in films like this in recent years tends to be a cover for bad dramas trying to scribble “screwball” over stick-thin characters — see the stunt-casting of the decidedly miserable Away We Go, the also stunt-casted empty romantic nihilism of Save the Date, the almost-funny bummer of Our Idiot Brother.To its credit, Silver Linings Playbook is full of strong actors who don’t swerve awkwardly into either the jokes or the tears, and there’s more authenticity in a film that allows for an occasional laugh than two hours of some actor in period garb Daniel Day-Lewis-ing around a set. Maybe we should start calling 100% dramas “Awardsies” (or “Snoozers”) so we can better reclassify the rest.
So many “indie” films are about people with amorphous or irritatingly petulant problems. Illness is a convenient raiser of stakes, if a difficult one to treat with sensitivity. This film felt sincere enough, though in watching it, I felt inadequate to judge the line between understanding and exploitation. The best of its kind in the last few years has been 50/50, a film that balances vivid, moving drama with bawdy warmth. That one gets it just right. Silver Linings Playbook comes a few yards short, but it wins on effort.
Witness the maelstrom of praise and consideration that greeted Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master this year. Anderson has made 6 films in 16 years; he retreats, monk-like, between each, inspiring the image of an auteur insistent on perfection. The Master was shot on 70mm film, a Hollywood delicacy. It marked Joaquin Phoenix’s return to acting. It is about a controversial subject (barely). It was presented as an Important Film and received as such. What I have just described to you is context: it is not itself art, though the mistake is made often. Effective art becomes such in the transmission between art and audience, even an audience of one, and not a single moment before. The value of its presence in a room should not be determined by the distance and punched ticket stubs that led it there.
What we are talking about is rarity, which has a stranglehold on our stupid, 10,000-year-old monkey brains. We believe in the cost of diamonds and the staggering genius of the lone, laboring creator, but only if he or she waits three years between releases. Any more often would insult our self-confidence: how could someone write a great song, or script, every week? (And thus: why haven’t we?) Consistency, reliability: these are the most disrespected qualities in art or pop culture or however you want to fence it in.
Rarity is partners with novelty: we conflate new sensations with superior ones. Joaquin Phoenix! Scientology! Consider the half-paid cultural attention to the fifth season of any sitcom or a new album by Ryan Adams (or Animal Collective) and the glistening eyeballs pressed against the BBC’s Sound of 2013. The world moves on, constantly. Reinvention is the only safeguard against the appearance of complacence: that’s clear in the music of Radiohead or David Bowie, or the films of Stanley Kubrick, the godlike director who formed each tremendous film as a new world. Imagine, though, if he’d only made war movies? Or comedies? He’d be Woody Allen, whose tirelessness produces no less sweat. The prolific are doomed to catch our attention only by disappearing, their magic revived by reunion tours or Midnight in Paris. (Woody, to his credit, has come to an understanding with critics by making bad movies for long stretches instead of taking a vacation.)
Wes Anderson has released seven films since 1996, only one more than his perhaps distant relation. Upon developing a distinct, imaginative creative vision, he has applied it to each project with unrelenting craft and focus. His patience and perfectionism is unquestionable. Yet his films do not stretch toward the three-hour mark, and they often encourage laughter. They are not shot on 70mm. They could be described disdainfully as “similar.” The undercurrent of people who murmur about such things would scream loudly that they are not Important Films. They are not — close your eyes, tremble with anticipation — events. The worst critique a Wes Anderson movie can receive is to be prefaced with “another.”
And yet, Moonrise Kingdom is his very best film. Fantastic Mr. Fox, a recovery from the rare stumble of The Darjeeling Limited, was his story book — Moonrise Kingdom is his young adult fiction, his Harry Potter. It is every bit as wondrous. Within its chosen limitations, it is note-perfect; if there are people, and there are, who watch films with a hierarchy of genres firm in their minds, I hope I never run into them at a party.
The film makes no secrets of its influences, laying out yellowing fantasy novels among the survival supplies of Suzy, its young femme fatale. The nostalgic image isn’t a cheap grab for rose-colored innocence: the books she clings to are a reminder of our capacity to lose it. Sam, the film’s orphaned hero, has special powers after all: he survives two lightning strikes, but his real strength is keeping the cruelty of the world from turning him cold.
The Master, a film with many moments of gravity and intensity, idles between them like a half-finished conversation, arranging itself with the elaborate, aimless purpose of a drunk’s rambles. Important Films have an uncanny ability to twist the volume knob when they have little to say, their faintest whispers emboldened by the towering genius and Herculean labor that rests, must rest, behind them — destitute piggy banks that demand others’ analysis to fill themselves up. The Master’s characters are failed adults, hardly their own masters, much less anyone else’s. I don’t regret giving them my attention, but they didn’t deserve it.
Moonrise Kingdom’s protagonists are successful children despite the failed adults around them, whose unblemished achievements certainly could use another look. Each of Wes Anderson’s films, at their hearts, document the struggle — mostly, this — and hope for human connection. It is the fundamental search of our emotional lives. In Moonrise Kingdom, in the good, messy, unerring love of Sam and Suzy, he finds it at last. It’s a rare thing, indeed.
What a strange sketch of a movie — a first draft at best, waiting for someone funnier, preferably its leading ladies, to punch it up a bit. It’s not rare in romantic comedies to find a film merely hitting its marks and filling 90 professional-looking minutes without any appreciable tension or narrative enthusiasm, but I always find it surreal rather than disappointing. Somebody, somewhere along the line, should just know better.
Baby Mama is not without humor, with Amy Poehler particularly committed to her role as a childish, junk food-stuffed urban redneck who tries to pull a surrogacy con on a well-meaning, seemingly infertile Tina Fey. Steve Martin is quietly great as the founder of a Whole Foods-esque grocery chain. But the movie is full of baffling choices: it was marketed as a face-off between Fey and Poehler, but rather than send the odd couple to war, the funny, fussy scenes come between the pair pretty much getting along. Fey’s character is especially unfocused, equal parts OCD yuppie and remarkably unstressed, tolerant businesswoman; Poehler spends the moving veering in and out of a Southern drawl, alternating between overgrown teenager and emotionally lucid grown-up. At worst the humor veers toward borderline offensive cliches, largely personified by poor Romany Malco’s doorman character, who delivers the very racially stereotypical laugh-lines Fey’s 30 Rock subverts so knowingly. Nobody here tracks as an actual human being.
Missed opportunities, many of them, aside, it’s hard not to like this cast. It’s not much of a showcase for Fey, but Poehler fans won’t regret investing a dollar at Blockbuster. (You can rent movies for a dollar at Blockbuster now! You’re welcome.)
1) There have been a lot of miserablist romantic dramedies (generally heavy on the drama) in the last few years populated by vacuous hipster schmucks who invent romantic problems for their Crate and Barrel lives because the plot can’t bear to. Occasionally, these movies, like the wonderful (500) Days of Summer, shimmer with cleverness and charm. But more of the time, they’re Save the Date, which was like two hours of talking to that guy you meet between sets at the Echo who forgot to shave for a month and thinks telling you music writing is “too Pitchforky” is a quirky, adorable thing to say. This movie is full of unlikable babies telling each other they’re amazing and having bad sex. Martin Starr is great since he’s incapable of being unlikable, but otherwise, ugh. It could’ve been worse, it could’ve been Smart People.
2) There’s an amusing scene in the first act where the fine L.A. blog Rock Insider makes an appearance. It was almost Rawkblog but they made the switch at the last minute. Now I feel pretty good about it.
3) Can a great comedic actress — Lizzy Caplan here, Emma Stone in Easy A — please lead a film with half a brain? Is Bridesmaids going to be the only one?
4) Compare/contrast this movie with the underrated Five-Year Engagement, which intelligently grappled with a relationship falling apart under the pressure of opposing life priorities and what that, and the ultimate reconciliation, might actually look like with humor and heart.
This movie is like watching bubble after bubble of undeserved snobbery get punctured in the most affectionate possible way. Its characters are largely privileged, self-centered or the opposite of self-aware, but there’s a level of naivety that sands off the potential for irritation. It’s goodness, not status, that’s their most respected quality. The contrast between their braying intellectualism and romantic befuddlement helps bridge the sympathy gap, with the thread of Jane Austen allusions adding an effective, light-handed wink. And the ending — when the film goes from idle chit-chat to a call to action, strange bedfellows included — couldn’t be better. Our snobs have open minds after all. I don’t know much about Stillman, but Metropolitan plays like Woody Allen for WASPs, a jazz-soundtracked love letter to New Yorkers in their natural habitat and Brooks Brothers tuxedos. Too, it shares a certain understanding of youth rarely found outside the films of John Hughes. I loved it.