Spring Breakers (2013) appears to have split criticism into two buzzword spouting opposite sides. Some people are shooting it down as ‘vapid’, ‘repetitive’ and even ‘racist’ while others are hailing it as a ‘hypnotic’, ‘transcendental’ and even ‘poignant’.
The film is directed by Harmony Korine and follows the story of four young girls who use stolen money to fund a trip to Florida to get away from their routine lives. Once in Florida they establish a solid routine of drinking, doing drugs and dancing. Rinse and repeat. Exciting ! It’s not. Perhaps pointedly so Korine seems to be poking holes in the party lifestyle that seems to become just as much of a boring routine as the girls regular lives leaving them to look for the next big rush to elevate their existences. When they encounter James Franco’s character they are introduced Grand Theft Auto style to the world of drug trade and conflict behind the scenes of the Florida party scene.
Grand Theft Auto is a good reference point for this film – it seems to lift its colour palette from 2002′s Vice City and the film constantly drills into our ears that the girls should just pretend like it’s a video game when they are doing terrible things. Sadly the film has not lifted any of the GTA series’ wit for dialogue and we are left with the droning of lines like ‘it’s like a dream’ in case you didn’t get the director was trying to go for a dreamlike tone with the movie. Furthermore, the film is not nearly as fun as playing the video game it mimics instead it goes for social commentary on the dark side of the American dream – you know like most films Korine has ever made – fresh !
I’d be willing to go along with yet another take on this menace filled dark side of the American dream if Korine actually did anything interesting with it. Instead all there is to it is a moral that party life aint all it’s cracked up to be and that doing bad things aint that great either – revelatory! Visually it knocks you over the head with repeated edits, saturated colour and shots that linger for far too long. Korine makes it clear in every interview he’s in that he’s going for a drug-like experience with the film – that it’s meant to be feel like a hallucinatory trip. Here’s the catch though: it has the harshest come down there is – a dull film behind garish post-production trickery. That’s essentially what Spring Breakers is – a trick – it’s a phenomenally ordinary film that has been cut apart, stitched back together and painted in bright colours in post to make it into a film that fools people into believing it’s more than the sum of its parts.
Harmony Korine effectively spikes his drink of a film with alluring colourful substances and hopes you will drink it without noticing: waking up the next day to declare what a ‘hypnotic’, ‘transcendental’ and dare I say it ‘poignant’ take on the American dream that was. Watch your drinks folks.
Oblivion is a movie that I have been eager to see but have avoided learning nearly anything about through trailers and previews in the hopes that I could be genuinely surprised by the movie. Unfortunately, I still wasn’t.
Oblivion tells the story of Jack (Tom Cruise) who is tasked by higher ups in the earth survivor force (I’m not sure what they call themselves) to look after automated drones on a post apocalypse Earth savaged by an alien invasion. These drones in turn watch over large hydro power extractors that the Earth survivor force are using to suck up the last remnants of our planet’s natural resources after which they will make the journey to Titan where they will join the rest of humanity in making a new home.
I was excited for this film as it was big budget film with an ORIGINAL script. This isn’t a sequel or a reboot – hooray ! However, sadly, it’s just not very original. This is basically Duncan Jones’ Moon (2009) but with more focus on large kinetic action scenes, motorbikes and Robocop style machine gun drones. Both films spend most of their time following a lonely guy doing routine maintenance in a sci-fi setting, both protagonists are haunted by dreams of a loved one left behind and both find out things are not quite what they seem in their cordoned off worlds. I’m not really a stickler for films having to be completely original as that’s pretty much impossible but this follows the exact same story arc as a film I like very much and so can’t ignore the similarities. It’s much easier to forgive a film for being similar to another when it does it’s own thing spectacularly like The Matrix (1999) being a perfect action reflection of Dark City (1998). Oblivion doesn’t nearly declare itself so boldly though and that’s a shame. Tom Cruise is the dullest he has been in awhile and I usually like the guy: despite or perhaps because of his crazy antics off screen. I like my Cruise with personality and that’s lacking here where he plays an everyman for the viewer to project on that’s so void of character he nearly ceases to exist. Alongside Tom Cruise being boring is Olga Kurylenko being somehow even more boring and the fact that the film’s central plotline relies on caring about these two characters and their relationship makes the narrative a bit of a dud sometimes – despite the amazing visuals. Morgan Freeman is in it, but he also doesn’t really have a character and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau is similarly criminally underused and underwritten. Characters are not this movie’s strength and neither is its plot which you will have seen before many times.
However, Oblivion is not a terrible film, there are some tremendous visuals including the coolest swimming pool scene I’ve ever seen: set thousands of feet above Earth in a floating apartment building where Jack lives with his assigned partner (played by Andrea Riseborough). There is also a fantastic score for the film composed by M83 that elevates the film to a much grander place than it possibly deserves and provides one of the best end credits songs to come around in awhile – have a listen:
The film also features the stunning landscapes of Iceland made to look like an America, after America – buried beneath new soil with only landmarks like the Empire State building poking through the crust. The film is pretty great to look at. Andrea Riseborough is also somehow fantastic with the quite dull material she is given. She plays Jack’s given companion Victoria and looks after their floating apartment while he goes down to Earth. She spends most of the film relaying orders from an all too obviously sinister higher up but somehow manages to convey the widest range of emotions and subtle nuances of character better than anyone else in the film. The scenes with Jack and Victoria together are some of the best and most unusual in the film. At first Victoria comes across as this perfect stereotypical wife but as the film moves on and Jack gets more curious about what is going on with the higher-ups Victoria becomes a wonderfully scary presence. Her looks become filled with suspicion and even hate just barely hidden beneath a made-up exterior. She is bubbling over with rage for Jack’s curiosity – but why? In one scene Jack brings Victoria the plant he has been cultivating in the header image at the top – Victoria grabs it and immediately proceeds to toss it off the side of their floating apartment – deliciously cold. She is the most interesting character in the film and deserved more.
All in all, Oblivion is a decent film that’s not quite as original as I hoped it might be but with a good amount of stuff to still enjoy. I would say if you haven’t seen Moon (2009) watch that first as it’s a perfect film and Oblivion, in the end, is a lesser reflection of it.