Tuesday, 2 April 2013

'Spring Breakers' and 'Trance': review round-up

Was in Moscow on holiday last week, hence the above shot of the "Mosfilm" studio logo - the only cinema-related part of that trip (though I did see some interesting cinemas around the city). Didn't go into the studio though, as I'm not organised enough to arrange a tour in advance, it turns out. Anyhow, below are reviews of the two films I've seen in the days since my return:

'Spring Breakers' - Dir. Harmony Korine (18)

Four vacuous college girls, three of whom are played, subversively, by former Disney/ABC tween idols, rob a fast-food shack in order to fund their dream spring break in Florida, with debauched and vaguely nightmarish results. This is the basic outline of the garish, pink-neon collision of Britney Spears and dubstep that has turned out to be indie filmmaker Harmony Korine's most mainstream and, simultaneously, most divisive film to-date. It subverts and critiques - sometimes perfectly - a certain shallow, money-obsessed sector of popular culture, whilst also, much of the time, seeming to revel in it - something it also does with the frequent slow-motion shots of topless college revelers and occasional gangland violence. Is it's heart, if it has one, always in the right place? Does the camera leer maybe a little too long at the titular girls, forever clad in bikinis, to undermine whatever satire is taking place? Possibly, but I don't think Korine really cares and it doesn't spoil his film.

This is a shamelessly trashy and exploitative movie that just works. It entertains, amuses and shocks in equal measure, and with regularity, throughout its tight running time, not least of all when James Franco is on screen as self-styled hustler and d-list rapper Alien - a role he completely vanishes into and for which he deserves award recognition. Some bits are really spot-on at pinpointing the seedy, mutually destructive nihilism and cultural bankruptcy of the American Dream - such as when Franco and the girls gather around the piano for an earnest performance of a Britney ballad that all present really do seem to believe represents a high cultural watermark. Another great scene consists solely of Alien showing off his increasingly pathetic "shit" in his mansion: an itinerary that includes different coloured shorts, several aftershaves and "Scarface on repeat". His extreme, gormless pride at this haul is the perfect rebuttal to MTV Cribs and everything it represents.

'Trance' - Dir. Danny Boyle (15)

James McAvoy's fine art auctioneer follows protocol and attempts to secure an artwork valued at £25 million during an armed robbery, lead by Vincent Cassel. During the chaos McAvoy hides the painting and is dealt a nasty blow to the head by Cassel - causing him memory loss, with predictably frustrating results for those looking to recover the valuable piece. Enter Rosario Dawson as a hypnotherapist who promises to be able to delve into McAvoy's subconscious and bring his memory back. She boasts that, with a susceptible subject like McAvoy, she can convince anybody to do just about anything. And so begins a tedious and predictable labyrinth of twists and turns, as the film asks us to ponder which one of these variously unsympathetic characters is really pulling the strings.

It's a Danny Boyle film, so it's all hyperactive camera movements and bizarre, possibly improvised, camera angles, none of which seem to mean anything or relate to what story is being told. There's a to-camera narration from McAvoy that feels like something out of a mid-90s British crime flick, but that comes and goes until it is completely forgotten. The musical choices are jarring and total rubbish. And it includes a nude scene that gives 'The Paperboy' a run for its money in the "Oh My God Did That Just Happen" category - a bizarre sequence I will never forget that sees McAvoy waiting (for ages) for Dawson to emerge from a bathroom, with the soundtrack a mix a of smooth, sexy-time music and the sound of a shaver. Don't worry if you haven't guessed what she's doing: Boyle will show you in close-up. The only thing funnier than this scene is the contrived justification that comes later.

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