While you two are still waiting for what I may have to say about the SyFy Channel’s latest magnum opus “Sharknado”, I’m going to take the time to tackle two films I’ve been dying to see this year: American filmmaker Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” and Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives”. Released in March, “Spring Breakers” stars Selena Gomez in her first “breakthrough” adult role which, alongside her radio single “Come and Get It” which came out one month later, and which I personally think is a VERY fucking annoying song ……yeah, I said it…. represents her maturity as both a singer and actress. It also stars another ex-Disney tween star: “High School Musical’s” own Vanessa Hudgens, whose song for the “Spring Breakers” soundtrack, weirdly titled “$$$ex”, is even more fucking annoying than “Come and Get It”. But it’s short….and it has a catchy beat, so that counts for something, I guess! Ashley Benson (from some TV show called “Pretty Little Liars”), Rachel Korine (the 27-year old wife of the film’s 40-year old director Harmony Korine….hmmmm), Southern rapper (and one of the worst in the rap game right now, in my honest opinion) Gucci Mane, ex-WWF wrestler Jeff Jarrett (playing a preacher, of all things) and everyone’s favourite Oscar-nominated pothead actor James Franco also make appearances in this movie.
“Only God Forgives”, not to be confused with Miami rapper Rick Ross’ previous full-length LP “God Forgives, I Don’t”, NOT to be confused with the 1967 spaghetti western of the same name, is a French-Danish co-production shot entirely in Bangkok, Thailand. It marks the second collaboration between Nicolas Winding Refn and Hollywood actor Ryan Gosling, the first being the EXCELLENT neo-noir crime thriller (and one of my favourite movies of 2011): “Drive”. It also stars Kristin Scott Thomas (star of “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “The English Patient” and last year’s “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”), Tom Burke, Gordon Brown, Byron Gibson, Vithaya Pansringarm, Ratha Phongam and Kovit Wattanakul.
So were they worth the three combined hours invested into them? Let’s find out!
“SPRING BREAKERS” – Selena Gomez (whom the common man won’t get shit from – even if he wants it! Dumb-ass song!) plays Faith (funny they should name her that), a college student and devout Christian. Faith and her three childhood friends (also college students) Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brittany (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) set out to go to Florida for Spring Break. Upon arrival, they get involved in a number of wild beach parties, all involving drunk guys, topless chicks and BANGING music! When they’re not partying, they drink, smoke, ride scooters, get bored, call their mothers to tell them they’re doing fine, and even get the chance to sing Britney Spears’ debut single “(Hit Me) Baby, One More Time” a capella-style. After getting arrested for partaking in an indoor party full of booze, drugs and sex, Faith and her friends are bailed out by “Alien” (James Franco). “Alien” is a gangsta rapper, and like the real rapper Lil’ Wayne, he believes himself to be “not from this planet, y’all” – hence the alias. But don’t let the pre-“Dutty Rock” Sean Paul-like braids (before he upgraded to a fucking Mohawk of all hairdos) and platinum grill fool you. Alien is the rare case (even in today’s rap game) of a WHITE gangsta rapper who lives the “thug life” he raps about. Yes, this dude makes his money by drug dealing and armed robbery. For him, it’s all about “making dat money” and nothing and no one will get in his way of getting it – not even Big Arch (Gucci Mane), Alien’s drug-dealing rival. Anyhoo, Alien gets closer to the foursome, much to the discomfort of Faith. She fears something terrible will happen. And as expected, something terrible DOES.
“Spring Breakers” is that type of movie that you’ll either like or hate. Well, I’m proud to say that I’m one of many who really liked the hell out of this movie! I found myself glued to the screen from start to finish, which I blame on on the film’s vibrant visual style and no-holds-barred approach to its subject matter. It takes you on a hazed and hallucinatory journey through the debauchery of Spring Break festivity, while exposing its dark, rotten core. To the untrained eye, “Spring Breakers” looks like an extended montage of excessive partying, sleaze, sex and violence – but it’s more than that. In essence, it’s really about the seductive allure of the American Dream, but presented as a fantasy that we all would like to see come true, even though, unfortunately, it changes instantly into a nightmare. We all desire happiness and freedom. Most of us would kill for the opportunity to do whatever we want, without any objection or opposition. And I will admit, being a hip hop head and all, I oftentimes desire the mansions, cars, clothes, money and women that rappers express their desires for in their songs. But at what cost? Does it mean endangering yourself and others? Does it mean doing something that you don’t feel comfortable with? “Spring Breakers” asks these questions, and leaves it up to the viewer to find the answers. The casting is impressive (even from the lead actresses – Shocking, I know!), with James Franco taking the lead of best performer. His “Alien” is crazy, creepy, comical and quite captivating, and James Franco incredibly invests himself into the character (at times, you’ll even forget you’re seeing Franco). Stealing every scene he’s in, he truly embodies of the dark side of the American Dream. The story, while simplistic, is consistently vibrant and well-paced. With its psychedelic visuals alone, “Spring Breakers” deserves the title of “cult classic”. It’s self-indulgent, outlandish and hedonistic, but at the same time, it’s bold, provocative and thought-provoking. And it is actually worth checking out. You may like it or you may hate it – but you certainly won’t forget it!
“ONLY GOD FORGIVES” – When I first saw the trailer to this film, I was hyped! I loved the colours, the music, the violence, the mere fact you had no clue what the hell was going on, EVERYTHING! And I loved “Drive”, so “Only God Forgives” had to be just as good, if not better. Then, about a month or so ago, I was shocked to hear (via a YouTube movie reviewer) that the movie was BOOED at the Cannes Film Festival. Booed, I tell you! Was the movie so bad that the audience had no choice but to express their outrage by booing? Or was it too avant-garde for that same audience to comprehend it? Well, I’m proud to say that it’s kind of a mixture of both. And yes, lady and gent, if I were one of the audience members at Cannes at that time, I would have BOOED my fucking lungs off this movie as well!
“Only God Forgives” is, without a doubt, one of the best-looking bad movies I’ve seen in a long time! Yeah, I said it! BAD MOVIE – and not “bad” meaning “good”. Props go to cinematographer Larry Smith for making every shot look like a professional photographer’s wet dream. Striking visuals aside, this movie is a torturous exercise in patience, with no reasonable payoff. It involves the attempt of Julian Thompson (Ryan Gosling), an American who owns a Bangkok boxing club which is actually a front for a drug-smuggling operation, to find the persons involved in his brother Billy’s (Tom Burke) death. Billy, as presented in the film’s inciting incident, is a creepy bastard who brutally murders a 16-year old prostitute, for no reason, before surrendering to the police. Lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), rightfully nicknamed the “Angel of Vengeance”, informs the victim’s father of her death, and allows the man to exact his revenge on Billy. Julian and Billy’s mother Crystal arrives to Bangkok to identify her older son’s corpse. Afterwards, she asks Julian to kill the men responsible for the death of his brother, which, oddly enough, he refuses to do. Crystal meets some guy called Byron and organizes a hit on Chang. The “Angel of Vengeance” survives, and goes on a quest to find out who set up the hit. This leads him to Julian, who’s (probably) dying to take his frustration out on the man who oversaw the death of his dear creepy bastard of a brother.
Now I’m not a huge fan of Nicolas Winding Refn. Honestly, the only movie I’ve seen from him is “Drive”, but even that isn’t motivation enough for me to seek out his earlier work. That being said, I expected to see the same aspects I loved about “Drive”: great plot, great visuals, great acting, great characters. All I got unfortunately were great visuals. “Only God Forgives” is a joyless, uneven, slow-paced, incoherent and unrewarding film experience. And an overly self-indulgent one at that! The film feels more like “Hey, look at me! I’m Nicolas Winding Refn. I made ‘Drive’ with Ryan Gosling! Look what I can do!”, while throwing image after image at the screen, as opposed to “Hello. I’m Nicolas Winding Refn. I made ‘Drive’ which was a GREAT movie starring Ryan Gosling! Watch me make ANOTHER great movie!” and using a well-written and coherent story to connect these images together. On the subject of acting, Ryan does little of it. He doesn’t do anything except stand, sit, walk, run, punch, get punched and stare at a person or persons for long periods of time. And he has this mopey, depressed and bored facial expression throughout the entire movie! I am not bullshitting you! Ryan Gosling maintains this face throughout the entire movie!
That is some Madam Tussauds Wax Museum-type shit right there!
The main characters in this movie are so detestable and heartless, that it’s hard to relate to, or connect with, any of them. Even Ryan Gosling’s Julian is far from a great hero – or antihero for that matter. In one scene (which resembles a number of scenes in the same setting), Julian is at a nightclub (check pic above) staring boringly at one of the prostitutes. He then notices two men sitting on the other side of his table. Apparently, they’re looking at the girl the wrong way, and Julian’s offended. He viciously slaps one of the guys around, and drags him across the floor by his lower lip. Then a jump cut occurs, and Ryan’s sitting in the gym at the boxing club – still moping, still staring forward, like nothing happened. In other words, Julian’s actions in the previous scene are left unjustified. And that’s the main problem with this movie. While I expected a high level of violence in this movie – and there is, to a disturbing degree – I expected with it some justification and motivation for these violent acts. For example, what’s the justification behind Lieutenant Chang’s use of a sword (concealed behind his back, in case you were wondering) in the film’s major scenes? Even if it’s made apparent that he’s a lone wolf within the police department, and follows his own code of ethics (like a Thai samurai or some shit), why does he feel the need to chop, slice and stab his enemies? ‘Cause he has a sword?! And where’d he get that sword in the first place?! As the standout character in the movie (yes, Vithaya Pansringarm outshines the host of the fucking movie – for better or worse), he, off all people, deserved some sort of justification and motivation for his actions.
Kristin Scott Thomas, who, according to Wikipedia, combined elements of Lady Macbeth and Donatella Verace to play Crystal Thompson, is the worst character in the bunch. She’s rude, despicable, shockingly vulgar, and an overall creepy bitch. In a dinner scene in the middle of the film, Crystal compares the size of her deceased son’s penis to that of Julian’s (What the fuck?!!). She’s usually presented in stylized slow motion, either walking or sitting down. In one of the film’s pathetic attempts at being avant-garde, Crystal sits in a nightclub, puffs on a cigarette and stares at three Thai bodybuilders. Why? I have no fucking idea! Weirdly enough, there’s lots of scenes of characters staring and gazing into the camera. Whether it’s a club scene where police officers stare at Lieutenant Chang singing a Thai love song on stage (and he’s not that bad of a singer – or should I say, the guy who probably lip-synced for him) or Julian staring lifelessly at a prostitute playing with herself in front of him (Seriously, what the fuck?!!), staring contests abound in this movie. There are a few positives however. The hit on Chang was shot and edited very well, the fight scene between Chang and Julian was well done (though the outcome was VERY disappointing), Cliff Martinez’ (who collaborated on “Drive”) musical score fits well with the bleak, haunting vibe of the movie, and Chang is a BADASS – and a mean, scary son of a bitch as well!
I flat-out HATED “Only God Forgives”. Viewers will find themselves cringing at the senseless violence, rolling their eyes after hearing the short, soulless spurts of dialogue blurted out by the actors, or falling asleep altogether. Apart from the impressive visuals, there’s nothing of worth for me to recommend a viewing to anyone. If you haven’t seen “Drive”, see it as soon as you can. It’s a masterpiece compared to this movie! If you have seen it, watch it again and pretend this movie doesn’t exist. “Only God Forgives” is one of the worst films I’ve seen this year, and will find itself at the end of December on a particular list on this blog dedicated to bad movies. Like Rick Ross, Cheech Marin in “Machete” and Terence Hill said before: “God forgives….. I don’t!”
“SPRING BREAKERS” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)
“ONLY GOD FORGIVES” – 2 out of 5 stars (“I want my money back”)