Monthly Archives: March 2013

Review: Spring Breakers

Before my spring break, I reviewed “Spring Breakers” for Vox. You can read my review on their website or below.
Spring-breakers

Don’t let the neon bikinis and James Franco drawling “spring break, y’all” fool you. “Spring Breakers” will shatter all of your stereotypes of debauchery and the Disney stars who take part in it.

Butts and boobs shake in the opening shots of the movie, but director Harmony Korine’s version of spring break is meant to be more critical than titillating. At first, four college friends Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and naïve Faith (Selena Gomez) seem like typical travelers looking to get tan and trashed on beach, but they’re really looking for escapism from their boring lives. They get a little too much excitement when the cops arrest them for cocaine, and they’re bailed out by a local rapper who knows the dark side of St. Petersburg.

Alien (Franco) is a “straight up G,” complete with a vanity plate that says “Ballr” and grillz. We get the impression that he is pretending to be gangster and doesn’t even know what to do with all his drug money and guns. Like seeing a car spin out before a wreck, Franco is fascinating to watch as her veers between over confidence and panic. He isn’t the only actor out of character — Hudgens and Gomez are as strung out as their bikinis and wholly convincing as girls who don’t realize what they’re getting themselves into. It’s Benson, though, with her sinister smile and knowing look in her eyes, who really captivates us as she delves into the gangster life style.

Just like we’re unsure whom to trust, we never really know what’s going on because of Korine’s dreamlike film style. The sun-drenched cinematography warps our sense of reality. The film’s soundtrack is punctuated with pop music (look out for Franco singing Britney Spears’s “Everytime”) and the sound of a trigger clicking that builds up tension throughout. Korine’s vision turns MTV into art house.

As Brit says, “You can’t be scared. You have to be hard.” Similarly, “Spring Breakers” asks the hard questions on the damages of tourism and youth culture. The answers are entertaining and fascinating, just don’t expect them to be pretty.

Review: The Call

I reviewed “The Call” for Vox. You can read it on their website or below.

Image

Focus is an important skill to have if you’re a 911 operator or a movie director. One lazy decision can mean the difference between life and death for one or losing your audience for the other. It’s a shame director Brad Anderson didn’t keep this in mind when he made The Call.

The first half of the film is riveting, especially considering it takes place mostly in Los Angeles’ 911 call center. Halle Berry plays 911 operator Jordan, a pro at the job until one day her mistake leads to the kidnapping and murder of a girl. When another kidnapped teenager, Casey (Abigail Breslin), calls from her captor’s car trunk, Jordan has a chance to save her reputation and Casey’s life.

The Call is a generic thriller, but the surprisingly tender bond between the two women elevates it above cliché. Listening to their phone call is actually interesting, which is a testament to Berry and Breslin’s subtly emotive acting. When their call gets disconnected, though, so does the movie.

The ending is more ridiculous than Berry’s poodle hair. Casey’s kidnapper is a stereotypical serial killer right down to the sadism and sister issues. He’s more campy than menacing, so the suspense deflates in the film’s second half. Jordan takes things into her own hands, and we’re left to suspend our disbelief for a completely over-the-top ending.

As one 911 operator says, “The hardest part is not knowing how the story ends.” In this case, it would’ve been better if we didn’t. Berry deserves better wigs, and we deserve better thrillers.

Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

oz-great-powerful

Welcome to Oz, where the Yellow Brick Road leads to Chinatown, and the flying monkeys are your wisecracking friends. This is not the Wonderful World of Oz. The ruby slippers are nowhere in sight, which is unfortunate because sometimes you wish you could click your heels back to the 1939 original.

“Oz the Great and Powerful” is a prequel, but its origin story doesn’t add much to what we already know. The weather forecast is in Oscar Diggs (James Franco) favor when a tornado sucks him out of his life as a magician conman in Kansas and into the Dr. Seussian land of Oz. He arrives just in time to fulfill a Macbeth-esque prophecy of saving Oz from the Wicked Witch and then becoming king of the land with riches to boot. Except he’s not a wizard, and no one knows who the Wicked Witch really is because the three witches are all pointing crazily-manicured fingers at each other. Oz must go on a quest to save the land and his conscious. Along the way, he meets a truly irritating talking china doll, a flying monkey that delivers lines like Billy Crystal (actually voiced by Zach Braff), the usual bunch of munchkins and the three witches: Glinda  (Michelle Williams), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Theodora (Mila Kunis).

The actors are much better than their script,though there are a few charming one liners. With his devilish grin and sarcastic delivery, James Franco is the perfect actor to play Oz. Franco may be the Richard Gere of his generation, best when he’s playing disingenuous characters. To balance out the snark, Williams plays Glinda with a maternal tenderness that elevates her witch out of the storybook cliche. Kunis and Weisz play their roles for camp, which works for a stronger actor like Weisz but falls flat on Kunis.

Ultimately, its campiness ruins “Oz.” Sure, the original had “Welcome to Munchkinland,” but it wasn’t this corny. That’s because it had the added relevance of political satire; “Oz the Great and Powerful” only has CGI. Like Oz himself, the new Disney version is just a facade of everyone’s expectations.

That’s not to say it’s all bad. If you’re looking to get out of your proverbial Kansas for a few hours, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is great escapism and will certainly keep you entertained with its gorgeous visuals and droll dialogue. Just don’t expect the Yellow Brick Road to lead you to where it has before.

Review: John Dies at the End

One of the many benefits of being a Vox contributing writer this semester is that sometimes I get to see free movies. I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for this fiasco. You can read my review at Vox or below:

paul-giamatti-and-chase-williamson-john-dies-at-the-end+(Medium)

Spoiler alert, John doesn’t actually die at the end. The movie, however, should have died way before its end. John (Rob Mayes) isn’t even the protagonist; his friend Dave (Chase Williamson) is. The audience meets Dave as he’s telling a skeptical journalist (Paul Giamatti) about the time he saved the world from a giant cannibalistic demon in a parallel universe. It all started when he’s introduced to a hallucinogenic drug called soy sauce that possesses some of his friends but allows him and John to predict the future and see giant mutant spiders. What follows is two hours of a nonlinear, trippy horror comedy with equal doses of sci-fi and sarcasm.

Dave’s dialogue is hilariously deadpan, but it sounds more like it belongs in the David Wong novel off which the film is based, not a voiceover. The only benefit to bringing this book to screen is being able to depict the gratuitously gory violence as Dave and John fight aliens, but it’s unnecessary and just shows how low-budget the film is. It seems like director Don Coscarelli is going for an instant cult classic with the film’s jokes, but most of the time it feels like the joke is on the audience as it futilely tries to make sense of the film’s incoherence.

Dave says this is the “tale of two nut jobs,” except as nutty as it is, we don’t really care about their tale. Dogs that save the world, reanimated meat monsters, detectives that believe in demons—is there anything Coscarelli won’t use? As each absurdity piles up, the unpredictable becomes predictable, and the film becomes boring.

Maybe John Dies at the End would make sense in one of its parallel universes, but in this universe it just comes off like a bad acid trip.