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1 Star Movies

Kids gone wild in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers

Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers was hotly buzzed about on release, but eventually settled down to a 63 on Metacritic and 3-stars-out-of-five on Letterboxd. Both of which aren’t great, but a lot higher than my personal estimation. This would be certainly not the first time my personal reaction to a movie has been against the consensus, but I am usually able to understand the other points of view. Spring Breakers is an extreme case where I just flat-out hated a movie to the extent that I can’t comprehend another reaction.

Is it the Gatsby-esque exposé of the essential hollowness of the American Dream? Is it the showboating performance by an unusually engaged James Franco? Is it Korine’s return to his wheelhouse subject matter of unsupervised youth gone astray? Or, as I strongly suspect, is it really just the teenage girls (including pop star Selena Gomez) in bikinis? Come on, admit it.

I myself never went anywhere on spring break, and the culture as portrayed here is totally alien to me (even accounting for any exaggeration). So it’s possible that of the certain percentage of American kids that do “go wild” on sprrrraaaanng break, a percentage of that percentage does get mixed up in criminal activity. Perhaps I grew up in a sheltered environment, predisposed to just not get it, man. But Spring Breakers feels like science fiction to me, even less relatable than actual science fiction. Or maybe an anthropological documentary film about an isolated culture in a rainforest.

Spring Breakers and Kids (Korine’s 1995 debut as a screenwriter) both masquerade as slice-of-life looks inside the teenage mind, cynically employing a cinéma vérité style to make everything feel real. They were both ostensibly marketed for teenage audiences, with the promise that their authentic experiences would be represented for the first time. The cynic in me worries these movies are actually cautionary tales intended for smotheringly overprotective older generations, indulging the darkest fantasies of a scolding right-wing puritanical mainstream culture.

I’m not kidding. Please, someone please explain to me how Spring Breakers is anything other than “Kids Redux: It’s 10PM, Do You Know Where Your Kids Are and Are You Sure They’re Not Doing Coke, Having Unprotected Sex, Binge Drinking, Playing With Guns, and Sassing Their Elders?”

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3 Stars Movies

A Clique of Cranks: Room 237

Room 237 is not about The Shining. It is about those lost in its labyrinth.

For better or for worse, Stanley Kubrick is one of the most potent gateway drugs for young cinephiles, and for many the early obsession proves lifelong. The addictive nature of his films is partly due to their own air of grandeur and carefully-crafted perfection, but the the popular perception of Kubrick as a total mastermind sweating every single detail of his films is belied by some accounts, such the surprisingly seat-of-his-pants making of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And the weight of reputation and self-seriousness often disguises the satire and sometimes even silly wit. Personally, I was exposed to 2001: A Space Odyssey as a child, and it wasn’t until years later that I realized how much of it was intentionally funny.

Perhaps even moreso than 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining is treated as a kind of holy book by a clique of cranks. And like all holy books, The Shining is big, deep, and rich enough to support almost any interpretation one might bring to it. If one looks hard and long enough for something, one will find it.

These Shining superfans evince little distinction between conscious authorial intent vs. after-the-fact critical deconstruction by outside observers. What is for most movie buffs a fun parlor game of spotting continuity errors is for them a deadly serious matter of asking what it all meeeeaannnns, man. In particular, the symbolism of the Overlook Hotel’s garden labyrinth tempts an examination of its indoor floorplan, which is indeed full of evident inconsistencies. But rather than consider the challenges of building a movie set, it’s more fun to read it as an exploration into the psychogeography of madness.

Some of the obsessives make interesting observations, but often undercut themselves. For instance: one egomaniac believes he has “solved” the film as Kubrick’s coded confession that he was involved in faking the Apollo moon landing footage. He interprets the hotel key lettering “ROOM No.” to be an anagram for “MOON”. He forgets “MORON”.

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1 Star Movies

Every line must rhyme in Les Misérables

Les Misérables left me cold
Nothing shown and everything told

All that hollering and shrieking
Leaves my head aching

Every line must rhyme
Across its excessive running time

No subtlety of emotion
The screen filled with commotion

Eddie Redmayne sings a song atop a pile of doors
My god what a bore

Hugh Jackman sheathes his claws
To grimace and overemote without pause

Russell Crowe huffs and puffs
Cashing his check to afford more foodstuffs

It’s Anne Hathaway’s big Oscar chance
Which she almost ruined by forgetting her underpants

Every theater nerd knows all the words
Everyone else calls it a turd

Categories
2 Stars Movies

This is 40 was made by comedians, for comedians

Because you demanded it: a sequel to Knocked Up! Oh wait, you didn’t? Neither did I.

Even as an admitted “dramedy”, Judd Apatow’s This is 40 is a major bummer. Laugh and cry as you watch a couple deal with the same problems ordinary people can relate to: what to do with their rewarding jobs, giant house, and Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s uncommonly good looks.

This is 40 falls squarely into a certain subgenre of movie comedy made by comedians for comedians, forgetting that ordinary civilians might be in the audience. You could call it the “Yes, and…” genre, after the standup tenet of never cockblocking to your improv partner’s volley with a “No, actually…”

You know how many comedies append outtakes to the end credits (or DVD bonus features), as a kind of easter egg? One key giveaway of the “Yes, and…” comedy is that these discourses are actually left in the movie. This is 40 then serves up even more after the end, in the form of one extended improvisation in which Melissa McCarthy cracks up everyone else on the set, while remaining strictly in character.

Those of us who don’t take evening improv classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade will find this scene something of an indulgence, especially after 134 minutes of loosely strung-together improv bits in the supposedly narrative portion of the film.

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