The Circle (2017)

The Circle poster

The Circle. Released: April 28, 2017. Directed by: James Ponsoldt. Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega. Runtime: 1h 50 min. 

The Circle is a familiar and generic corporate thriller about the dark side of technology, but it’s disappointing because it doesn’t go into enough depth.

Mae (Emma Watson) gets a dream job as part of the customer experience team at a tech company called the Circle which creates one single online identity for users. The work environment looks a lot like Google, which seems obsolete in this near future (we never get a specific year). The campus itself is in the shape of a circle – obviously to remind workers they’re working at the Circle, not the Pentagon. Eventually Mae uncovers a nefarious agenda, but she takes awhile to get to that.

The Circle’s world is working towards transparency, where you can’t have moments alone or private conversations. Everything you do is public and there are cameras everywhere. It’s like everyone’s a celebrity and there are paparazzi at every turn. The lack of privacy is also like the Edward Snowden conspiracy of the government watching, but taken to an extreme and it becomes far-fetched.

It’s a generic sci-fi thriller with an intriguing high-concept. The writing never creates compelling dialogue and its attempts at suspense are predictable. Its themes of the importance of privacy it tries to depict don’t feel significant enough, and the film generally places concept above any substance or in-depth character development.

The Circle itself is led by charismatic CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), who’s like Steve Jobs if he were a social media obsessed cult leader. The Circle feels like a cult, especially when people think it’s weird Mae hasn’t connected her social media accounts to the Circle after her first week.

It’s a weird scene as Renata (Ellen Wong) and Matt (Amir Talai) tell her that she’s an enigma because people across campus don’t know her. They question why she wasn’t here on the weekend doing activities, and when she says she went kayaking they’re surprised because that’s not on her social media. Matt says, “I love kayaking. We could have gone together.” It’s awkward, drawn-out scenes like these that show everyone’s super weird.

Mae’s initially a breath of fresh air because she likes privacy and she’s a cute little guppy (what newbies are called at the Circle), but she soon gets eaten by the weird piranhas. Like the rest of them – she drank the damn Kool-Aid.

The Circle has a high-tech allure, but it’s not convincing when Mae willingly gives up her privacy because of a dumb reason.  Emma Watson’s great as Mae, but if it any other actress were playing her, she wouldn’t get much sympathy or have the same kind-of magnetism. She commands a crowd in public speaking and brings a natural charisma. Mae isn’t well-developed, and at times it feels like the only thing we know about her is that she likes kayaking when things get too hard.

The Circle movie

Emma Watson in The Circle. (Source

The only time I cared about anything happening is because I feel like it affected Emma Watson. She’s a great actress, even when she plays a poorly developed character whose motivations are hard to understand.  It’s surprising the film manages to create such a good cast, but doesn’t rise to the occasion in any other aspect.

Tom Hanks is fine as Bailey, even though he’s a generic CEO wanting to change the world. He gets less screen time than one might expect. Patton Oswalt is more generic as the company’s Chief Officer of Operations, Tom Stenton.

John Boyega gets a disappointing amount of screen time as his character, but he’s fine when he’s there. Bill Paxton plays Mae’s father with MS in his last theatrical film. His character is a reason Mae is more developed than most, since she wants to help him get better. Karen Gillan’s a good surprise as Annie, too, and she gets to her use her natural Scottish accent here.

I must talk about Mercer. His sub-plot about making deer antler chandeliers and Mae’s parents trying to play matchmaker for him and Mae is silly. His character could be written out entirely and wouldn’t be missed. He’s played by Ellar Coltrane, the kid who grew up in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. He plays an everyday worker man who likes privacy, and Coltrane looks incredibly uncomfortable on-screen. He’s so bad and awkward, and it reminds me of how uncomfortable Kristen Stewart looks in the Twilight films.

Director James Ponsoldt doesn’t bring any charm from The Spectacular Now. He and Dave Eggers co-write a screenplay based on Eggers’ own novel that’s a mess. The Circle’s plot wanders around aimlessly and doesn’t find a coherent storyline. It’s like Ponsoldt and Eggers played Hide ‘n Seek with a good story, couldn’t find one, and gave up.

Score: 40/100

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Phoenix Forgotten (2017)

Released: April 21, 2017. Directed by: Justin Barber. Starring: Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez. Runtime: 1h27 min. 

Phoenix Forgotten is like one of those films that come out of nowhere, but this is because of a quiet marketing campaign. It tries to replicate the success of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, and it’s disappointingly mediocre (especially with the involvement of Ridley Scott’s production company Scott Free Productions).

Integrated at the centre of the story is the Phoenix Lights, a triangular light formation that was seen from Phoenix, Arizona in March 1997. It’s never been explained, and is the most famous so-called UFO sighting in the world.

The fictional story comes with three teens – Josh Bishop (Luke Spencer Roberts), Ashley Foster (Chelsea Lopez), and Mark Abrams (Justin Matthews) – who disappeared without a trace investigating the Phoenix Lights. 20 years later in 2017, Josh Bishop’s sister Sophie (Florence Hartigan), 26, is investigating the disappearance. She discusses it with her own parents and Ashley’s parents as she makes a documentary.

It’s interesting learning about the Phoenix Lights. It’s famous, but I never heard about it, so it’s intriguing. I thought it was just making a generic UFO sighting and developing mythology; instead, it interestingly blends some truth with a lot of fiction, and the unexplained phenomena has some intrigue. That’s what makes some of the first hour interesting.

The story doesn’t flow well as it skips between Sophie making a documentary in 2017 about the disappearance, and back to Josh and Ashley making a documentary about the Phoenix Lights in 1997 (Josh was an aspiring director, so he filmed everything). It thereby mixes some docu-drama with found footage.

Sophie mostly just talks to her parents and other experts who give lots of speculation. They say forgettable stuff, and there are so many boring interview subjects that I found myself forgetting who was who. It’s interesting how Sophie’s parents were affected after Josh has been missing for 20 years with no closure. It’s heartbreaking, but besides them, the emotional connection is non-existent; as the characters are one-dimensional.

Phoenix ForgottenJosh is single-minded and becomes obsessed when he gets an idea in his head. I liked seeing in his room that he was sci-fi enthusiast with X-Files and Alien posters all over his room. Ashley’s more interesting, since she’s open-minded and interviews well as an aspiring journalist. One interview features local astronomers talking about how they think the lights were flares.

Mark just feels like he’s kind-of there, since he has a car. He’s a friend but he’s almost has no dimension. The little-known actors aren’t memorable, but they do serviceable jobs. Chelsea Lopez as Ashley brings some charm.

The cinematography is stronger in Sophie’s documentary, but her film is way less interesting. Her documentary feels distinctly incomplete even when she has a chance to make an ending, and the film doesn’t execute.

It’s also silly that she waits 20 years to investigate the disappearance, and like the documentary, this feels like it’s made a few years too late, especially after the release of The Phoenix Incident in 2015 (a docu-drama about the real-life disappearances). It’s especially late since Adam Wingard released Blair Witch last year, and this is essentially a carbon copy of The Blair Witch Project mixed with a some of The X-Files.

The film’s a puzzle as they try to explain what happened to these 17-year-olds. The mystery’s never been solved because they stopped filming at one point. It’s the one video that promises something happening, as most of the videos are uneventful. Sometimes they investigate the Lights, but other times they just go for a hike hoping something will happen.

The videos are amateurishly shot and Josh annoyingly can never keep the camera on the action, and it’s hard to see what’s going on. The camera’s consistently shaky, but the visual effects are cool when we see it long enough. The filmmakers make it look like the videos were filmed in 1997. It has a VHS quality, and it adds realism.

The horror relies on psychological aspects of paranoia, lots of bright lights and loud noises instead of jump scares, which makes it refreshing. In that way, it does something different from most found-footage films, and part of the reason why I’m giving it a passing score.

The tension is palpable because of chilling sound design. It feels more like freaky, sci-fi scares than anything and when I’m talking about horror, it’s only existent in the film’s final 15-20 minutes when we get the last piece of the puzzle. It’s a good finale.

The first hour has 15 minutes of interesting material, but it’s boring and not scary. Since only a fraction of this is thrilling, it doesn’t work as a feature film. It would be better as a 30-minute segment in an anthology franchise like V/H/S because there’s not enough material here, and Josh’s sister making a documentary in the present day often feels like filler. Director Justin Barber fleshes it out to about 80 minutes and it doesn’t feel like a well-rounded feature. The last piece of the puzzle is the only good part. Otherwise, Phoenix Forgotten is already fading from my memory.

Score: 50/100

Unforgettable (2017)

 

Released: April 21, 2017. Directed by: Denise Di Novi. Starring: Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

Unforgettable is a formulaic stalker story that is a forgettable affair. If they didn’t want critics taking jabs, they wouldn’t name it something so inviting!

Rosario Dawson is Julia Banks, an online editor who never does any work. She moves to a SoCal town with boyfriend David Connover (Geoff Stults) and his adorable daughter Lily (Isabella Kai Rice). The happy couple are also planning to get married. However, when there’s a daughter, there’s often a crazy ex-wife: The insanely jealous Tessa Connover (Katherine Heigl). She annoyingly can’t move on from David after two years of being separated, and she’ll stop at nothing to try to ruin their relationship.

The most frustrating thing about Unforgettable is its writing. It opens in the middle of its story as we see Julia being interrogated and then it jumps back to six months earlier (the timeline feels like two weeks at most, by the way). It’s an awful choice because they give us so much information, they even tell us someone’s dead, and it takes away element of surprise.

The thrills are weak regardless because it’s a predictable story, but I can’t remember a film that spoiled its own secrets so early. Between its interesting thoughts, this goes through the motions of every erotic thriller and goes out with a silly ending. This is Christina Hodson’s sophomore screenplay after the god-awful Shut In and it’s a bit better, but not by much. Though, these characters are more interesting.

Julia’s past with an abusive ex has been done before, but her insecurities are honest. She needed to get a restraining order for her last relationship (conveniently, it’s expiring for some unknown reason) and now she’s a victim trying to move on. She’s usually empowered, and Rosario Dawson is impressive because she doesn’t phone in a performance. She’s a lone bright spot.

Tessa is a total control freak and the film offers motivations for her insanities, but she’s simply a psycho Barbie, as Julia’s wise-cracking bestie (Whitney Cummings) aptly puts it. Tessa’s also the poster girl for helicopter parents. She’s shaping Lily into a mini Barbie through horseback riding and French lessons. These are some of the funniest moments, as Julia lets the little Barbie off a horse much to Tessa’s objections, and the French lessons are basically characters singing “Alouette, gentille Alouette.” There’s a lot of hair brushing as Tessa tries to get her daughter’s tangles out, and only villains brush hair that menacingly and that often.

Unforgettable horsey

Katherine Heigl, Rosario Dawson and Isabella Kai Rice in one of the thriller’s funniest scenes. (Source)

There are countless icy stares in Katherine Heigl’s performance. She’s one-note crazy and cold, but convincingly plays the controlling part. The character’s supposed to go crazy after she finds out they’re getting married, but it’s not convincing because Tessa looks bonkers the first time we see her. She plays uptight and crazy in the same range. This is at least until the end when she enters over-the-top campiness, but at least it looks like Heigl’s having fun.

There are a lot of silly scenes. At one point Tessa cries and watches a video of her wedding with David. She’s so perfect, even her tears fall in flawless lines. It’s funny, and Unforgettable toes a “so bad it’s good” line in these moments, but it never fully embraces it.

I don’t usually pay attention to prop design, but I must bring this up: At one point, Julia and David have a conversation in their living room. Meanwhile, there are about 25 crystal salt and pepper shakers on the coffee table. It leaves so many questions: Why is it there? Are they seasoning a feast? Who needs that much salt and pepper?

The closest I came to an answer: It’s there to spice up David’s personality. He’s so bland that it’s hard to see why these girls are fighting over him. It’s also baffling that even though this tries to empower women and is directed and written by women, it’s all about them fighting over a guy.

Any actor can play the role because he’s just the one-note, clueless husband and he’s just there to be fought over as the female leads duke it out. Geoff Stults gets the call, and I’ve only seen him in She’s Out of My League when he played an ex trying to win back an old girlfriend. That one has Jay Baruchel who’s dating his old love, but they’re fighting over Alice Eve. At least that’s believable.

Veteran producer Denise Di Novi (Edward Scisccorhands) makes her directorial debut and handles thrills with little style. She makes one scene feel pointless as Julia wants sex in a bathroom with David. Meanwhile, Tessa pleasures herself during a Facebook chat. The editing makes it unsexy and one of the most cringe-worthy scenes. If you can find any meaning in it, it’s that sex is a means of control. There’s zero passion in this scene, or this erotic thriller. David looks absolutely perplexed after it transpires. He gets the satisfaction, but with Unforgettable, we’re the ones who get screwed.

Score: 38/100

Logan (2017)

Released: March 3, 2017. Directed by: James Mangold. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen. Runtime: 2h 21 min.

In 2016, Deadpool really started to push the limits of the superhero subgenre, but with Logan, director James Mangold takes the envelope, slashes it apart and creates something that reinvents the idea of what a superhero film can be.

I love it when superhero films offer something different than we’re used to seeing. Mangold does just that with Logan, as he takes a beloved character and creates something so different and original.

The year’s 2029 and Logan (Hugh Jackman) is working as a limo driver and is taking care of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on a border town in Mexico. Logan’s aging and weary and is trying to hide from the world. His existence is upturned when young mutant Laura (Dafne Keen) arrives and is being pursued by mysterious forces.

Logan feels different because it’s so grounded in realism, and a limited use of CGI helps with that. The world created is fascinating: Everyone’s heard of the X-Men because they’re written about in comic books, and some characters are even Wolverine fans. The world feels real and it looks great. Its setting gives it a Western movie feel and its cinematography complements the story’s raw mood.

The atmosphere and style truly capture the story, and even the score feels like it becomes a character. The story is character-driven, and you feel everything these characters are going through, which makes it so human. It sends you on a roller coaster of emotions and it makes the experience gritty and unique.

Logan’s also raw because our heroes are so vulnerable. Logan has a vulnerability in his older age as he’s past his former glory and isn’t as invincible as he used to be. Even the villainous Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) notes, “Seeing you like this breaks my heart.”

It’s more heartbreaking seeing Charles Xavier in his state. I don’t want to spoil it but I’ll say his condition creates some compelling sequences. It’s enlightening seeing Charles in old age, to know that even the greatest mutants grow old, and Patrick Stewart delivers a striking and vulnerable performance.

His relationship with Logan features the usual tough-love and fatherly vibe, and Charles’ guidance creates great dialogue. Their chemistry’s endearing and their banter finds new life with an R-rating, because it’s so damn funny. Logan’s become self-loathing, and our anti-hero finds purpose with Laura. Logan’s relationship with Laura is great; their chemistry is entertaining to watch as it evolves. Their dynamic is cool where they eventually have to talk, and it’s not cliché banter. Laura is largely mute for the film and emotes distrust well and has a heartwarming curiosity.

Dafne Keen is charming and fiery as Laura, and it is such a good debut. Keen captures the character’s rage so well with a convincing ferocity. She’s great in action, and handles drama even better.

Logan

Hugh Jackman in his last hurrah as Wolverine in Logan. (Source)

Hugh Jackman effectively portrays Logan’s depression. The R-rating allows writers to explore adult themes like this as it reaches a level of sophistication rarely seen in a comic book film. In other X-Men films Logan does feel haunted, but with the mature storytelling, you truly feel and get a sense of how haunted he is at this point in his life.

Jackman is so great physically and moving emotionally. He’s so visceral in rage, and even though the character’s older now, he’s badass and still strong enough to break a shotgun over his knee. His last outing as Wolverine is easily his most remarkable.

Back to the writing. I can’t give enough kudos to writing team James Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green, who take X-Men storylines (namely “Old Man Logan”) and mix them into such an original story. They take time telling it, and there are intimate moments and poignant drama throughout.

A scene has our trio eating dinner with a family they’ve met and it’s funny and has great banter. The film has a great capability to slow down and show charming, human scenes like this that develop characters. It shows patience in storytelling, and it shows a comic book movie doesn’t need relentless, non-stop action to be supremely entertaining. The bursts of action are still amazingly directed. They’re bloody and brutal, and just a hell of a lot of fun.

With Logan, I’ll only complain about its villains. Boyd Holbrook is menacing, yet destructible, and has presence as Pierce, but there’s something to be desired since we don’t know who he works for as they make it mysterious in the beginning. Instead of feeling mysterious, it’s often confusing and frustrating. When we find out who they are and what they’re doing, it’s great and interesting, because it strengthens the story.

This gears up to a great finale that is well worth the wait for action junkies. It’s bloody and thrilling. It’s a bittersweet end to an era since Jackman’s been Wolverine for 17 years. As the credit rolls, a chapter of film history rolls with it. Logan is the best of the Wolverine trilogy and it’s just the fitting send-off that Hugh Jackman deserves.

Score: 95/100

Free Fire (2017)

 

Released: April 21, 2017. Directed by: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson. Runtime: 1hr. 30 min.

I actually saw this at the Toronto International Film Festival last year (on Sept. 9, 2016), and this is a revised review I wrote in mid-September. I didn’t post this because I was a bad blogger back then but without further adieu, here it is…

Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, a balls-to-the-wall 1970’s gun battle, is one hell of a ride.

The premise is simple. Brie Larson’s Justine has arranged a gun deal between Irishmen Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), and gun dealers Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Armie Hammer’s Ord. It’s set in 1970’s Boston in an abandoned warehouse and is largely in this one setting, and it’s the perfect set-up for the wild shootout.

Wheatley knows how to build tension from the word go, as the characters walk into the deserted warehouse to do the deal. Some characters don’t like each other, and after some developments, you can cut the tension with a knife.

The sound design make the initial gunshots sound like an IMAX film, almost like they’re in the same room. For the characters, chances of getting out alive decrease when all hell breaks loose and it becomes a true Mexican standoff. It’s like the atmosphere of The Nice Guys mixed with tension and dialogue that would make Quentin Tarantino proud. This does feel like parts Reservoir Dogs, too, with its limited setting and tension.

Free Fire Armie

Armie Hammer in Free Fire. (Source)

This still effortlessly manages to be fresh, and makes me want to see more of Ben Wheatley’s films (like Kill List and High-Rise). His movies all seem unique and different as he tackles many different genres. Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump (they’re also married) also edit Free Fire – editing it in such a way where you can follow its quick pace, but you’re not always able to tell where some characters are hiding in the warehouse. It might be a ploy to put the audience in the same space as the characters – not knowing who they’re shooting at or where everyone’s hiding.

The ensemble created is great and each performer brings something memorable to their characters. The costume design, wigs and different accents also set everyone apart. Sharlto Copley’s a scene-stealer as Vernon and he has some of the best moments. Everyone from Brie Larson to Cillian Murphy to Michael Smiley hold their own, delivering physically demanding performances as they crawl on the dirty warehouse floor avoiding an array of bullets.

One of the film’s most pleasant surprises is Armie Hammer. I thought he was bland in The Lone Ranger (to be fair he had little to work with), but here as the calm and collected Ord, he’s badass. He’s also funny as hell, and the range he shows feels like he should be getting more comedic roles.

The most impressive thing about Free Fire is that it’s just deliriously fun. Action comedies can be hit-and-miss especially when there’s a task of finding the right balance. But director-writer Wheatley, and Amy Jump, manage to make the action consistently fresh. The people shooting at each other doesn’t feel repetitive and there are many ways to get characters out of situations. The dialogue’s sharp, witty and hilarious, and this is just some of the best fun I’ve had at the movies in awhile.

Score: 88/100

Power Rangers (2017)

Released: March 24, 2017. Directed by: Dean Israelite. Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G. Runtime: 2h 4 min. 

Nostalgia is a big appeal of this Power Rangers reboot, and as a 90s kid, the Rangers were definitely a part of my childhood. A problem of the original TV series, or at least the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie, is that it feels like it runs out of budget before the big finale.

This fixes it because the final battle with the Rangers’ Zords against Goldar is great, visual eye candy. The cinematography also captures the settings well and the film looks great.

It’s fun mecha action and it’s great that there’s enough budget for a solid finale, even if it feels derivative of The Avengers and Transformers, but it’s still fun. And that’s one thing about this reboot: It’s fun.

The new Rangers crew meet in detention and their introduction feels like The Breakfast Club. At least Saban’s Rangers have super powers – and John Hughes’ crew only power was teenage angst.

Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) is the team leader looking for redemption after losing a football scholarship, and now has a chance to lead the Rangers. Montgomery (in his first blockbuster) has enough presence to be a believable leader, even as a bland character.

Billy Cranston, the Blue Ranger (RJ Cyler), is a lovable tech wiz of the group and he works as comic relief and being one of the most interesting characters. Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin in his English-language debut) is the Black Ranger and he’s the most forgettable Ranger.

Naomi Scott as Kimberly Hart (the Pink Ranger) is impressive, convincingly playing a bitchy side while trying to be a better person. We catch her in a transition from Queen Bee to social pariah with the popular kids.

Trini Kwan (Becky G) is the Pink Ranger and is one of those characters who has trouble fitting in – which makes her relatable. Bryan Cranston is a compelling Zordon who unites the crew and offers guidance.

The Angel Grove crew gain super strength after finding the Power Coins entrapped in crystal. The Coins are there after a prehistoric fight between Zordon and the treacherous Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). To protect the Zeo Crystal (which can destroy planets) against Rita, Zordon had to order a meteor strike which sent Rita to the bottom of the sea.

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Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Dacre Montgomery, Ludi Lin and Becky G. in Power Rangers. (Source)

This is basically The Breakfast Club with mecha action. The crew even have a heart-to-heart around a campfire. Their comradery’s realistic, and it’s nice watching their bond grow after being strangers. The casting of little known stars is smart. I only recognized RJ Cyler for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Becky G for that annoying song “Shower” about singing in the shower.

Tonally, the film’s wobbly. The movie writes a love letter to the campiness of the original TV series, but it’s hard to see what mood the writers and director Dean Israelite are going for.

It tries to be a dark and mature origins story (like Chronicle, and there’s also a bit of that film’s visual style). It also has enough angst to make John Hughes blush. The film also takes itself too seriously and Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) feels so out-of-place because of it. She has the most personality but she’s so campy that it doesn’t work when she tries to make threats and be serious. There are times when her character is so silly that I couldn’t contain my giggles.

Banks finds a finesse of chewing the scenery so much that there’s a sense that she’s in on the joke of being campy and she embraces it. It’s great in that sense and Banks seems to be having the most fun out of anyone.

The film’s a good origins story, but it’s easy to get antsy on the road to the film’s finale because the crew don’t put on their Ranger suits until the last 30 minutes. It’s part of their development because the armour is this weird alien thing that needs to decide that they’re worthy to wear them. It’s super different from their usual spandex armour. It forces them to unite but it makes their training less compelling since they’re in civilian clothes.

The 22-year-old critical me has a few criticisms with this reboot but the 10-year-old me loves it. It’s fun and it writes a love letter to the original series’ campiness, while creating believable characters that are a good new team.

Score: 75/100

Spring Breakers (2013)

Spring Breakers

Release Date: March 22, 2013 (initial wide release). Director: Harmony Korine. Stars: James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez. Runtime: 94 min.

It’s a movie that gets so much better after you think about it quite a bit.

Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and Faith (Selena Gomez) are four friends anxious to let loose during spring break, but they lack sufficient funds to go on vacation. They hold up a restaurant for some quick cash, and they travel to St. Petersburg, Florida, in pursuit of a good time. They then find themselves in jail (for partying too hard, not robbing the restaurant) and are soon bailed out by a rapper, drug and arms dealer, Alien (James Franco), who introduces them into a criminal world that is both influential and intriguing for a group of girls who are still figuring out their path in life.

This is difficult to place into one basket, as it’s sometimes funny,  strange, violent, and rather brilliant. I think. It’s also a movie that isn’t afraid to make a statement. This examines the moral codes and the social strata of today’s youth through its four primary characters.

It expresses that today’s female youth aren’t difficult to manipulate and influence if you can give them something more exciting than their everyday routine. It’s also a reality check for the youth of today because those who go on spring break and party hard must realize that the vacation is a week, and they’ll have to get back to reality sooner than later. They shouldn’t immerse themselves into a path that is completely irrational. It also explores the consequences of these crazy decisions, in a rather intelligent fashion. Though, this is merely my own interpretation (among many other interpretations) of what  Korine is trying to say. The feature gets the point across fairly well, and it certainly isn’t as mindless as party brand TV show Jersey Shore or the moronic Project X (even though teen partying is the only similarity).

The character of Faith really contrasts the abnormal behaviour of the other girls, as she is more reserved and not as vulnerable to crazy corruption such as this. The character represents the better choices of youth, and Mr. Korine writes her in rather brilliantly, and his style is easy to love (even though casual, mainstream moviegoers may find it way too different and weird).

The film is very bright and highly-stylized. The cinematography opts for style by going with usual montage-esque filmmaking, and a few of the sequences feel like entertaining filler for the runtime. There are entertaining sequences, compelling sequences and compelling-but-strange sequences. Some of the oddest-yet-compelling scenes are the most memorable of the film. There’s a lot of tits and ass bouncing around throughout the feature, and some sequences are repetitive (one Girls Gone Wild-esque scene, in particular, gets shown two or three times). There are a few Britney Spears-related sequences where one is compelling and funny in a strange way (where Franco sings a bit of “Everytime” at his piano, and the girls dance around with assault rifles, and then it becomes background noise to a violent montage), and the other, to the song “Hit Me Baby One More Time” (if memory serves me correctly) is strange but rather fascinating.

They’re singing along and then Brit and Candy are telling Cotty (who was the getaway driver) and Faith (who stayed home) exactly how the restaurant robbery went down. They robbed the store with a hammer and a squirt gun, and they’re discussing how they got all up in the people’s faces saying, “Give me all your money, mother fucker!” Their behaviour seems completely irrational and it could really make an audience member uncomfortable, but it is oddly compelling, and no matter how hard anyone might try, it is impossible to look away. It also shows that these two specific girls were slightly off their rockers before they even meet Alien, and him giving them real guns doesn’t help their seemingly psychopathic behaviour in the slightest…

Some of Korine’s other creative choices also aren’t stellar. During a scene when Alien is getting prepared for a critical occasion, there’s a line of dialogue repeated over and over as background noise, and it isn’t very interesting (it almost gets tedious, almost). Also, sometimes when a new scene starts, the sound of a gun cocks and it gets old after the third time, so it’s incredibly pleasing that it happens about ten freaking times…

James Franco is the funniest part of the film as an insane, creepy, grill-wearing, violent, tatted-up gangster called Alien. He’s crazy but he’s probably cool enough to hang out with E.T. His charms draw the girls deeper into his insane world, and into his delusions (this guy calls his bed his space ship). His character only seems to be influencing the girls a little, because they’re (Brit and Candy, in particular) take plenty of insane liberties of their own. Franco has a blast playing Alien, and his performance is really one of the best parts of the film, even though he is a little crazy. When his character’s behaviour is challenged by the craziest of the spring breakers, we must question who the hell is influencing who, here… This is part of what makes Korine’s writing so brilliant at times. There isn’t a ton of comedy, and some of the biggest laughs come when Alien is, in fact, acting cuckoo, making funny gangster faces, or during the bizarre yet compelling Britney Spears sequence where he’s at the piano.

The bikini gals are also good performers (mostly just Benson, Hudgens and Gomez), and their performances are probably their finest hours, even though their previous roles in films have hardly been memorable. Selena Gomez has the smallest amount of screen time, and she’s really the representation of innocence in youth. Rachel Korine is the weakest of the bunch, and it seems this is a breakout role for her, and she might start to get typecast as the slut because she is not afraid to get fully nude. Former Disney star Vanessa Hudgens and the Pretty Little Liars star Ashley Benson, do enough R-rated actions in this film to allow them not to be typecast again. Though, that might be their goal and they might be trying to lose that innocent girl image, and if that’s the case, they achieve it with neon bikinis on. Their violent and abnormal roles represent an insane, irrational, curious party girl. I hope these roles turn out to be good career choices for all the girls, even if it prevents Hudgens or Benson (maybe even Gomez, even though her role compared to theirs is as innocent as a pony) from appearing on the Disney channel ever again.

Spring Breakers is a well-written, controversial, ultra-stylized, bright film that will divide audiences, especially the mainstream viewers who aren’t used Korine’s tendency to insert a ton of style, and are expecting something along the lines of Project X. Thankfully, the only similarity to Project X is teenage partying.

It’s a film that has a near must-see status because it’s fascinating and you can stand on either side of the spectrum, you might hate it or love it. You may hate it at first, but if you think about it a lot more, you might end up loving it. One thing is certain: It’s a thought-provoking, un-for-fucking-gettable experience.

Score75/100