What movie was that...?

25 June 2013

The American Astronaut

directed by Cory McAbee

Sometimes, a film is so easy to describe that you take it for granted.

And that’s not in any way a negative statement about the film, just a fact.

And sometimes, a film takes a little more than a mere sentence to describe. Think Mulholland Drive or The City of Lost Children. Again, in no way is this a negative statement about the film.

And then there are films like The American Astronaut, Cory McAbee’s epically epic tale of a space trader tasked with bringing a real human girl specimen to a bleak outpost on Jupiter. On Jupiter, the space trader (named Samuel Curtis) decides to make a trade for a famous figure in the region, the boy who actually saw a woman’s breast- you know what? I’m going to just stop right there and command the oft-uttered, time honored phrase, “You just have to see it to know what I’m talking about.” Cory McAbee is, aside from being a very colorful character in the artistic world, a singular genius when it comes to conveying his vision to screen. The story of Samuel Curtis and his exploits has a very Daughn Gibson-esque vibe (Gibson’s excellent debut record, All Hell was featured on OMFBC for some time), a story of adventure and loneliness tinged with weary, isolated desperation. The American Astronaut was a game changer upon its release, a piece of outsider art that wrapped its weird, comforting arms around you like an estranged but badass and instantly lovable uncle. As I blather on, I realize that I won’t be able to suitably do this film justice, so to phrase I return:

You just have to see it. 

11 June 2013

Bones Brigade: An Autobiography

directed by Stacy Peralta

Stacy Peralta has done it again, using his insider knowledge of professional skating as a window through which the squares like us may glimpse a significant and exciting shift in the sport. Anyone even remotely familiar with the sport of skateboarding has heard of the Bones Brigade, possibly the most influential skateboarding crew ever assembled (bar the nearly folkloric Zephyr team of Dogtown). Comprised of such icons as Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Tommy Guerrero, Tony Hawk and Rodney Mullen, Bones Brigade was a miracle of skateboarding handpicked by Dogtown legend Stacy Peralta, a team molded and tempered by a devout love of the sport. To overestimate the impact of each member's achievements would be an impossibility, and Peralta’s excellent documentary is like a video scrapbook assembled by a glowing, loving parent. Peralta’s slick film making style is as evident here as it was in Dogtown and Z-Boys and Riding Giants, and the result is no less entertaining. Rodney Mullen is, for me, one of the most influential figures in my life and an unrivaled inspiration (not to mention perhaps the best skateboarder of all time), so to see him tell the story of his life, of his love of the sport, of his internal world was a filmic revelation. Something that Rodney Mullen says in the film is a kind of summation of all art, ever:

[Artistic Expression] is a kind of controlled desperation.

The story of these young men endeavoring to express themselves through the medium of skateboarding is inspiring and affecting, especially since Peralta has a natural gift for making such insider worlds accessible to the outsider without losing the essence of the world itself. His documentaries are at once encyclopedic summaries and celebrations of his subject matter, histories and rock concerts, education and recess. If you have the time, I would highly recommend rocking a double feature of Dogtown and Z-Boys and Bones Brigade. That and a couple of PBR forties actually sounds like pretty badass Saturday night.

03 June 2013

Fast and Furious 6

directed by Justin Lin

Somehow, perhaps by sheer tenacity and persistence, the Fast & Furious (and all its titled permutations) franchise has driven its way into my heart. I don’t love the movies, and I certainly don’t own them, but I will watch the hell out of them marathon-style if they crop up on TV. And as of late (meaning, for both 5 and 6), I’m back to actually checking them out at whilst they are in theatres (which hasn’t happened since the inaugural voyage of O’Conner v. Toretto). I’ll give the series credit for 2 things:

1) Going back to real life, high octane, (mostly) CGI-less car chases/wrecks/stunts. Computer effects heavy action was something that really weakened a less than stellar series throughout its lagging midsection.

2) The screenwriters trying their damnedest to maintain continuity rather than scrap the mythology (á la Spiderman, The Hulk, Superman) and restart with fresh adventures/characters. It doesn’t mean they do a crack job of it, but I give them credit for trying. 

Fast 6 finds the crew getting back together, this time to aid Federal badass Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) as he tracks a group of international baddies. Said baddies are looking to steal components that can make some sort of internet blocker for a whole country, which would be a total bummer (I jest, but the movie spends about as much time on it as I just did so who cares). The price for Toretto and his crew helping Hobbs take them down? Full pardons, yo! It’s all convenient plot devices assembled specifically to service a high action plot, and I say there ain’t nothing wrong with that. I didn't buy a ticket for Fast 6 thinking the series was suddenly going to turn into Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. There were some ridiculous moments, and some really ridiculous moments, and several moments that coaxed an audible guffaw from my incredulous lips, but it was a great example of summertime razzle dazzle that satisfied my craving for a little mindless action. What’s not to like? The meat and potatoes action sequences were stellar, and I’ll definitely be buying a ticket for Fast 7, even though bulk of the franchise director Justin Lin is exiting the scene (tear, sniffle). 

01 June 2013

Spring Breakers

directed by Harmony Korine

A little over 2 years ago, while still trying wash the cosmic grime of Trash Humpers off my psyche, I was mulling over Larry Clark’s Kids and wondering why I continued to subject myself to Harmony Korine’s filmic fits. I’ve always thought of Korine as something of a poser, a clumsy shock artist who shows us ugliness not to provoke, but simply because. Posturing might be closest to the word I’m looking for. And at this point, you either love and defend Harmony’s canon (with dubious evidence, though I will concede the Julien Donkey-Boy and Mister Lonely are wonderfully shot), or you hate him and his body of work (something I can completely understand). For better or worse, I have managed to expose myself to nearly all of his films (feature length, that is) with as open a mind as possible, though my nerves were ever on edge as I braced for the inevitable onslaught of ill-conceived grotesquery. But I’ll be damned if Spring Breakers didn’t almost make a believer out of me. I told myself before watching it that his vile opus to suburban youth would either be the final nail in the coffin, or it would be his finest work, a disgusting mirror propped against the collective acceptance of youthful stupidity and thoughtlessness via the oblivious “kids will be kids” endorsement of such excess. It’s a neon banger of a nightmare Korine has cooked up for us, a Heart of Darkness by way of MTV gone wild hedonism. Four college girls hold up a fried chicken joint to fund their raucous spring break and, once beachside, take up with a local rapper and criminal. What’s terrifying is not how easy it is for the main characters (amazingly, vacuously played by Hudgens, Gomez, Benson and Korine) to descend down the rabbit hole of violence in the film, it’s how easy it is for us to believe. Our anchor in this storm is as unlikely a figure as you’re sure to find anywhere, a braided, be-grilled scumbag rapper by the name of Alien, played to- I’m not sure what’s beyond perfection- by James Franco. Franco’s Alien is a pure being if there ever was one, a man who does exactly as he says and makes no bones about his perception of the world. As he takes the girls on a tour of his house after springing them from the clink, his “look at my shit” swagger crystallizes the American Dream into a thing of horrible clarity. Never in a million years would I dream that I would be singing the praises of a scene in which James Franco sings a Britney Spears song while playing a white grand piano on the beach, but what a scene it was! I spoke about the beauty of cycles in Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyondthe Pines, and Korine utilizes his own version of cycles in Spring Breakers to lull us into the dream, mainly through pieces of dialogue. Cinematographer Benoit Debie gives the film a candy coated sheen that harkens back to elements of the visually tremendous but tortuously overwrought Enter the Void. After the explosive, fluorescent climax, after the credits, after you lay your head down on your soft, clean pillow, Franco’s mantra will lope through your mind’s darkness, haunting you. “Spring break. Spring break. Spring break forever.” It really is a thing to behold, though not a film for everyone, and if you allow yourself to hypnotized by Korine this time around, you may find that he managed to give you more than you bargained for.