“A certain degree of debauchery was even seen as manly, rakish, the bold grasping of forbidden pleasure… In school, in short, they had still no knowledge of life, no sense of all the gradations from coarseness and lechery to sickness and absurdity that fill the adult with revulsion when he hears of such things.” —The Confusions of Young Törless
“This wasn’t just about spring break; it was about seeing something different.” —Spring Breakers
Like a Katy Perry song come to life, the opening minutes of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers are an ode to 21st century hedonism. We see a montage of beer flowing, asses shaking, and bikini tops vanishing, all set against the sunshine and splendor of a Florida beach. Then we’re thrust back to some nameless university in some dreary college town, where a quartet of young girls is trapped away from all this decadence.
Brit, Candy, Cotty, and Faith (Ashley Benson/Vanessa Hudgens/Rachel Korine/Selena Gomez) are introduced as more or less typical college girls: They pass each other notes in class, get bored by authority figures, and dance to bad rap songs in the dorm hallways. Their biggest problem is that they don’t have enough money to go on spring break, which they see as their only escape from the surrounding monotony. Continue reading »
Did Lincoln make the list?
Although I already tried to identify the year’s “trend” in movies, I didn’t do a Top 10 list, and obviously no summation of the year is complete without a Top 10 list. Normally, I don’t do such a list for movies, because I rarely see more than 10 films in a given year. In 2012, though, for a variety of reasons—like embracing Josh’s philosophy—I saw more movies than in any other year of my life, so I finally feel qualified to make a list.*
*Of course, I didn’t see EVERY movie this year. So to clarify whether any given film missed the Top 10 because of quality or omission, here is the full list of movies I saw this year:
24) The Amazing Spider-Man
23) The Campaign
22) Zero Dark Thirty
20) The Five-Year Engagement
19) Jeff, Who Lives At Home
18) The Dark Knight Rises
17) The Perks of Being a Wallflower
16) Sleepwalk With Me
15) Safety Not Guaranteed
13) 21 Jump Street
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For Love of Country?
It’s rare that I watch enough movies in a given year to identify a “trend” but this year one stood out. Two of main frontrunners for Best Picture this year—Argo and Zero Dark Thirty—were films about CIA operations. Both films have already been nominated for Golden Globes, and while Argo was the early frontrunner, Zero Dark Thirty has gotten most of the recent talk (they even run the gamut alphabetically).
Of course, it’s silly to extrapolate grand themes from two movies, or event to talk about “trends” in a year’s movies—given the variety of production times for movies, any trends are likely to be coincidental. But what’s interesting about both Argo and Zero Dark Thirty is that, though both were based on real events, they each took creative license to glorify the CIA: Argo minimized the role Canada played in the mission to rescue six hostages from Iran, and Zero Dark Thirty erroneously portrays torture as instrumental to the search for Osama bin Laden.
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NOTE: This review contains spoilers for Compliance. Though the film is based on real events, if you are not familiar with the real events or the film, I strongly advise seeing the film before reading this or anything else about the film’s plot.
One of the most resonant scenes in Craig Zobel’s powerful new film, Compliance, comes near the end, when Becky (played by Dreama Walker), the fast-food cashier who has been falsely accused, stripped, imprisoned, and raped, wants someone to pay for her ordeal. She tells a lawyer she wants to sue her boss, Sandra. But that’s not the best course of action, says the lawyer. What’s the use in suing a now-unemployed fast-food manager? It makes much more sense to sue the chain where you worked: It will have much deeper pockets and, besides, wasn’t it really the company’s fault, for not having proper guidelines for this type of situation?
This rationale represents a perfect conclusion to the film, which is largely about how people absolve themselves of responsibility by submitting to authority and, moreover, how society tends to reward and condition this behavior. Compliance opens with a small but revealing scene: Sandra (played by Ann Dowd) has to get an emergency delivery after someone left the freezer door open the night before, but the delivery guy chews her out for not telling her supervisor first. “I thought I would deal with this first,” she explains, “I don’t know what I was thinking.” Continue reading »
In general, I am against gun control laws. On most days, this is an easy position to take. When I’m not confronted with the threat of a gun, it’s easy to side with more liberty as opposed to less. I’m not a gun person—I’ve never fired or even held a gun—and I don’t think most people should own them, but I don’t want the government taking away a person’s ability to defend himself if he feels it’s necessary.
But then, of course, something like what happened Thursday night in an Aurora, CO movie theater happens. Then it becomes very hard to justify opposition to strict gun control. It is utterly sickening that this keeps happening and nothing changes. Two days before a gunman in Colorado shot 71 people—killing at least 12—at the movies, a gunman in Alabama shot 17 people outside a bar in Tuscaloosa. Six days before that, four kids in Chicago were shot in a park on the South Side. Two days before that, three people, including a 16-year-old kid, were killed in a shooting at a Delaware soccer tournament. One of the victims of the Aurora tragedy narrowly avoided a similar shooting in a Toronto mall only six weeks earlier. The quaint settings of these tragedies—parks, malls, movie theaters—only add to the horror. Continue reading »
In theory, I don’t really have a problem with a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise. It’s true that it’s only been five years since the last one ended and that the reasons for making this movie now were clearly financial, but that doesn’t doom it to creative failure. Sequels and remakes are so ubiquitous now that there’s no real point in waiting if you have a fresh take on an old idea.
The problem with The Amazing Spider-Man is that there really is no fresh take at all. The story is virtually identical to the one told in the 2002 version: Peter Parker is a nerd, then he gets bitten by a spider, then his Uncle Ben gets killed, then he fights crime, then he gets the girl, then he fights a Major Bad Guy who has endangered the girl. You could argue that there’s no way to do the story without those major beats, but this movie does absolutely nothing to enliven them. It just goes through the already-familiar motions. Continue reading »
Brad Pitt as Billy Beane
Three names go conspicuously unmentioned in the new film adaptation of Moneyball: Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder. There are two ways to react to this omission.
The first is to think that their exclusion is unacceptable for a film that purports to tell the story of the 2002 Oakland A’s. After all, the trio combined to win 57 games and pitch 675 innings to a combined 3.05 ERA that year. Zito in particular led the league in wins, en route to a Cy Young Award. Without those three, a team that won 103 games would have almost certainly missed the playoffs.
The other way to react to their absence, though, is to realize that it is entirely appropriate. Moneyball is not really a movie about the 2002 Oakland A’s—it’s a movie about Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) and his radical reinvention of the game. And it doesn’t take much reinvention to stick with a trio that was coming off a 2001 season in which they won 56 games and pitched 678 innings to a 3.43 ERA.
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The popularity of “toilet humor” is a commonly accepted, and often lamented, fact of comedy. Some—particularly fans of “smart” comedy—complain that a meticulously well-crafted punchline will sometimes get less of a laugh than a hackneyed fart joke.
People also tend to read a lot into the popularity of crass humor, citing it as an example of society’s declining intelligence, or its immaturity. They accuse a certain type of comedian of pandering, or doing cheap jokes.
A scene from Bridesmaids provides a perfect recent example: Nearly every review I have read of this film has specifically mentioned a scene in which the bridal party gets food poisoning—of a particularly graphic kind—while trying on dresses at a fancy bridal shop. Continue reading »
Fifteen years ago, the first Scream film struck a chord with the public with its ability to knowingly comment on the very genre it occupied. When it’s done correctly, this balancing act makes a very successful movie—altogether the original Scream trilogy grossed over $500 million—but it’s very hard to do correctly. When you don’t do it correctly, you get something like Scream 4.
Scream 4 begins with a new version of the iconic phone call scene, in which a new young actress (Lucy Hale replacing Drew Barrymore*) is stalked by Ghostface over the phone. When she finally gets killed in the new film, though, the murder is laughably fake, at which point it is revealed that what we’re actually watching is the opening scene of one of the Stab sequels—the movie-franchise-within-a-movie-franchise of the Scream universe. The film then cuts to two NEW young girls watching that scene on the couch. When one of THEM dies we are revealed to be watching YET ANOTHER Stab sequel. At this point the plot of Scream 4 actually begins, but by then the reality of the film has been so undercut that there is no investment at all when the “real” characters die. Continue reading »