(On Cable TV, June 2014) As a fan of car-chase movies, I took Getaway‘s horrible reviews with a spoonful of salt: Most B-grade action films get low grades anyway, and as we know that it’s really the action sequences that make or break these films, right? Well, it turns out that the reviewers completely understood the film: Getaway is a frustrating waste of money and talent, in the service of incompetent directing by Courtney Solomon (of Dungeons and Dragons infamy) and a near-worthless script. There’s a small comfort to find out that the film doesn’t take a long time before degenerating into nonsense: From the incoherent opening credit sequence alone, it’s obvious that this film will really not be any good. A mess of random camera angles edited with a blender, Getaway makes a blurry mush of its action sequences, wasting several dozen cars in the process: the action scenes flash on-screen with no sense of geography, continuity or excitement. (It’s not a surprise if the film’s best shot, a lengthy uninterrupted driving shot reminiscent of C’était un rendez-vous, temporarily dispenses with the two-cuts-a-second aesthetics) If the incomprehensible action is the worst of Getaway‘s, problems, don’t think it gets off any easier on the rest: Selena Gomez is completely miscast as kind of a shrill and rebellious hacker/car enthusiast: she has the aggressiveness of a kitten, and Getaway (unlike Spring Breakers) can’t even claim to have her turning against type. Ethan Hawke seems out of place here, turning the wheel and looking intensely in front of him as Jon Voigt’s voice barks “Do it now!” over and over again. There’s a smidgen of interest in setting the action in Sofia, but none of it goes anywhere as the film almost trips upon itself in trying to justify why an all-American cast should be involved. All it does in underscore how unredeemable Getaway becomes. Not even a half-clever final coda can save the film. It is awful even by the generous standards of car movies, and even enthusiasts are advised to watch something else.
(On Cable TV, January 2014) I would really like to dismiss Spring Breakers as just another piece of exploitative trash, badly-shot and hazily written in an attempt to revel in the debauchery of American Spring Break antics. And much of it is exactly that: Written and directed by notorious trash-master Harmony Korine, Spring Breakers does portray, in gritty pseudo-documentary style, the excesses of Spring Break and the depravity of modern teenagers. But only the most obstinate viewers won’t find a few deeper themes and artistic flourishes running throughout the film. The story of four college girls headed to Spring Break and gradually lured into the criminal lifestyle, Spring Breakers does have a few undeniable strengths doing for it. For one thing, it’s hard to avoid noting that despite the rampant and casual nudity of the film, it often resolutely avoids simple exploitation: picking four young women as protagonists with their own agendas partially frees the film from the girls-gone-wild male gaze, and does much to increase the viewer’s uneasiness at the increasingly violent onscreen antics. Spring Breakers is designed to unsettle and play as societal horror, the excesses of the generation heralding an era of unbridled boozed-up nihilism. Scratch a normal college student, seems to suggest Korine, and a crazed criminal will come out, guns blazing. Alarmism at its finest, but the film does manage to become an impressionistic mash-up of ominous flash-forwards, sampled flashbacks and dissonant montages. From the first scene (featuring a pitch-perfect use of Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”, which makes sense given how Skrillex helped score the film), the film makes viewers bounces between the light and dark sides of hedonism, eventually scoring a crime spree to an acappella rendition of Britney Spears’s “Baby, One More Time” before juxtaposing a shootout with innocent flashback narration. Suffice to say that the usual fans of Vanessa Hugens, Selena Gomez and James Franco may be in for a bit of a shock –Franco, in particular, turns in a distinctive performance as a top-dog gangster. None of it is especially easy to watch, but the effect is more powerful than expected. Audiences with weak constitutions may not make it to the end –even seasoned viewers may be tempted to reach for the fast-forward button once in a while. Suffice to say that it’s a memorable viewing experience, even though its merits may be obscured by a lot of surface flash.