SPRING BREAKERS, DORFMAN IN LOVE, GINGER & ROSA



There is a scene in Spring Breakers, the new bikini noir written and directed by Harmony (Gummo, Trash Humpers) Korine, where you think it’s all finally going to come together.  In it, Alien, a white rapper/Scarface wannabe (a surprisingly amusing James Franco), plays a sentimental Britney Spears’ song on a white piano that overlooks the ocean while three of the spring breakers, model thin college students dressed in more than skimpy two pieces, sing along, dancing ballet like movements while holding assault rifles the NRA would be proud of, and wearing pink ski masks.  It’s absurd, ridiculous, preposterous, unlike almost anything you’ve seen before, and you think, this is it, this is the moment when it all becomes something.
But it doesn’t.  It just doesn’t quite make it.  And in the end, that’s what the whole movie is.  Ambitious. Daring.  An unapologetic attempt to do things differently.  And just one scene after another where you think it’s going to blossom, but never does, finally falling apart by the end in one big, flailing, frustrating mess.
Spring Breakers is a movie that starts out being about one thing and then changes horses in mid stream.  It begins as a story about Faith, a college student who attends Christian youth meetings.  She’s warned that Satan will tempt her, but God will always giver her the strength to withstand him.   She’s not sure she buys it, but she can’t let go of it either.  So when three childhood friends (who all ended up at the same  college, which I thought was a neat trick, but sure, why not, let’s go with it) ask her to go on spring break, she agrees, even though she’s warned that the three friends are really sociopaths (and they are).  And of course, they do what any group of proud sociopaths do before spring break: they rob a restaurant to pay for it (and get away with it to boot, but it’s the sort of movie where the police only show up at the convenience of the plot).  And then on spring break, after a very, very, very, very, very, very (well, you get the idea) long time, they finally meet Satan, the aforesaid Alien.
The group describes themselves as miserable.  But they’re not miserable because of their situation.  They’re miserable because they’re, well, miserable people.  But the movie is written and directed in such a way that you’re unclear Korine realizes this; you don’t know if he’s commenting on how self-deluded his characters are, or if he’s playing it straight.  In fact, if I were to be perfectly honest, it reminded me of a screenplay I once gave feedback on and described as an incompetently written drama  only to find out the author thought it was a comedy—I really couldn’t tell the difference.  (At one point, Faith asks “why is this happening”—it’s hard to take someone seriously who is so self-deluded, but at the same time, I wasn’t sure whether I was or wasn’t suppose to take her seriously; I was the only one laughing in the theater).
So everything is set for a highly stylized, semi-satiric morality play.  And then at the halfway mark, Faith leaves.  She goes home.  A very wise move on her point it must be said, but still, she never comes back.  So if she isn’t what the story was about (as everything up until that point suggested), then was the point of the first part of the movie?  Why did we even watch it?  Korine actually does this two more times (changes the intent and direction of the story), until it feels as if he had no clear concept in the first place, that he didn’t really know what was going on and what he was trying to do.   And the whole thing finally reaches an ending so absurdly ridiculous that one is just amazed at the preposterousness of it all.  
I suppose that’s the point. But in the end, the finale is just one big long cliché.  In fact, the whole movie is just one long cliché after the other.  But Korine doesn’t do anything with them except present them at face value.  He doesn’t comment on them.  He doesn’t use them to make a point.  He just treats them as if it is enough that they are clichés—which may be a bit too ironic and post modern even for me (sort of like someone copying the Mona Lisa so well you can’t tell the copy from the original and presenting it as an original work of art).
Spring Breakers is visually stunning.  But it falls into the category of recent films like Stoker and On the Road and to some degree The Silence in which it feels as if the filmmakers think character, story, ideas are irrelevant.  As long as it’s all told visually, that’s all that’s necessary.  But the more I see of movies made like this, the more I’m becoming less and less convinced that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.
At one point in the movie, Dorfman in Love, Dorfman (played by the cute and charming Sara Rue) is described as a cliché…a Jewish accountant.  The description is half right.  She’s a cliché, but not because she’s a Jewish accountant, but because she is a…well…cliché.  A walking, talking, double taking cliché.  In fact, one of the things that this light, breezy rom com has in common with Spring Breakers is that it is one cliché and formulaic contrivance after the other.  And like Spring Breakers, it’s unclear whether writer Wendy Kout and director Brad Leong realize this.
Kout’s screenplay is sincere and well meaning.  She shows all the appropriate empathy for her characters and the story fits all the correct troupes found in the more popular books on screenwriting.  But it’s also a movie you’ve seen a million times before.
Dorfman in Love is about a woman whose journey is to find herself, to liberate herself from the stereotyped roles she’s been assigned, to free herself from the bourgeoisie trap she’s found herself in, to really discover who she is.  But in this movie, that journey is basically defined as finding a boyfriend (at that point I almost tossed my hat up in the air and said, “That’s it, I’m outta here”).  One of the oddest interchanges is when Dorfman’s father (played in an appropriately grumpy manner by Elliot Gould, though his performance, like so much of the acting, is a bit too on the nose) tells her he’d be happy once she is married and has children.  This upsets Dorfman, though I wasn’t sure why since this seemed to be the goal she had set for herself as well. 
Dorfman in Love is a movie in which the heroine is encouraged to be brave and take chances and really experience the world and have an adventure; noble goals, to be sure, but which, within the context of this movie, means taking the L.A. Metro rather than driving, and then walking around downtown (I suppose the demographic aimed at here are readers of Joan Didion).
There’s something about Dorfman in Love that is very reminiscent of Georgy Girl, Lynn Redgrave’s rise to stardom movie about another non-thin young woman looking for love.  But while Georgy Girl is set against, and is a commentary on, the swinging sixties and the changing morality of the time, Dorfman in Love seems more set against the middle brow, urban middle class lifestyle reflected in off-Broadway plays of twenty to thirty years ago (plays that often won Pulitzer Prizes for reasons I never understood).   Dorfman in Love just feels a bit dated.
The movie is bright, at times funny (the best line is when Rue runs down the street past some winos and one says to her “Change?” and she says, “I’m trying, I’m trying”).  But perhaps the most ironic thing about it is that after it was over, I so wanted to go back and watch the anarchy and failure of Spring Breakers rather than the safe, works on its own terms, formulaic Dorfman.
Ginger & Rosa is writer/director Sally Potter’s touching and empathetic character study of Ginger, a young teenager growing up against the rise of nuclear weapons and the protests against them in 1962, England.  It’s a milieu affected very deeply by World War II, even at that late a date.  People still bear scars of that time.  And the whole country still looks as if it is affected by the rationing (everything is bleak and everyone wears coats and heavy clothing whether they are inside or out). 
There’s much to like here.  The period detail is quite nostalgically wonderful and Robbie Ryan’s cinematography has an effective cold warmth to it (he’s also worked on such movies as Red Road, Fish Tank and The Angels’ Share).  Elle Fanning (of Super 8 and Somwhere fame) is quite marvelous in the lead role.  And the most interesting actors keep popping up:   Christina Hendricks as Ginger’s long suffering mother; Alessandro Nivola as her not long suffering, but wants everyone to think he is, father; Oliver Platt and a sly minx of a Timothy Spall as a gay couple who are also Ginger’s godparents; and Annette Bening as a no-nonsense war protester (you kind of want to stick around just to see who else might put in an appearance).
The movie doesn’t always work as well as it might.  It’s basically a chamber piece, a boulevard drama, but though it has many effective moments, it could use a bit more of the tension of a Henrik Ibsen/August Strindberg play.  And the constant references to the threat of nuclear war and the end of the world never quite convince.  I suppose the idea is that Ginger is spouting this outward conflict so she doesn’t have to face her inner and more immediate conflicts.  But whenever anyone talked about the danger of the bomb, the lines never felt comfortable on anyone’s lips and seemed a bit clunky, more a distraction than an integral part of the drama.
But in the end, it’s a satisfying and often moving portrait of a young girl learning that contrary to appearances, life goes on and there’s always hope for a future.

THE WOMEN: Predictions for Academy Award nominations and awards: Actress and Supporting Actress


As is the case for most of the categories, most of the noms have pretty much already been determined and there’s little that can be done to stop the runaway train, outside one of the potentials being arrested as a child murderer. Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Natalie Portman (The Black Swan) and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) are in with the in crowd, Lawrence especially after her award for Breakthrough Performance from the National Board of Review. However, the fight for who will actually win is between Bening and Portman. I believe the award will go to Bening, because, as the cliché has it, it’s her time. Portman has many supporters, but she’s still new to the whole awards thingy and I believe the Academy will want to make her earn a few more dues before giving her a statuette.

The final two spots are a bit up for grabs. Nicole Kidman will probably be number four for the Rabbit Hole, the best and most interesting work she’s done in some time, even if the movie is just an excellent okay picture. The only hesitation here is that the movie has yet to open, plus an additional caveat listed below.

As for the last spot, it’s between Leslie Manville for Another Year and Tilda Swinton for I Am Love. I believe that most people have now forgotten about I Am Love, which means that if the Academy is looking for another art house nominee to add to Lawrence’s nom, they will probably go for Manville, a movie that hasn’t opened yet. Manville won the National Board of Review, which can’t hurt, and Mike Leigh, who directed the film, has a pretty good track record in getting his actors nominations. Which means, poor Tilda Swinton. I’m not sure why Swinton is being so overlooked. She won an Oscar, for God’s sake, yet she can’t get no respect for Julia last year, and this year, it looks like it’s a no go for I Am Love. It probably didn’t help that her movie wasn’t the Italian entry in the foreign language category. It would probably also help if her movies were released later in the year. What may make the final determination here is the end of year critics’ awards, which might turn the tide in someone’s favor.

Julianne Moore is also in the “can’t get no respect” situation as well. Last year she was overlooked for a nom for A Single Man for some ungodly reason. This year, she may be left out in the cold for The Kids Are All Right. There’s some talk of pushing her for Supporting Actress, which may be her only hope. Sally Hawkins has a chance of getting an apology nomination for Made in Dagenham after not getting a slot for Happy-Go-Lucky, but though some people like her latest film, it’s not really getting the buzz. The same for Anne Hathaway in Love and Other Drugs; no one seems to really hate it, but no one is responding to it either. I think most people have forgotten that Secretariat has come out, which probably dooms Diane Lane (one of our most underrated actresses). Blue Valentine hasn’t opened yet, so it’s hard to say how Michelle Williams will do. She’s done an incredible job of making everyone forget she was ever in Dawson’s Creek, but I’m getting the feeling her chances will be hurt by the “do I really have to see one more film for Oscar consideration, and such a downer one at that” situation. At the same time, Weinstein is distributing the movie, and it’s never good to count a Weinstein movie out of the running. Noomi Rapace is also being touted for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but she seems to be getting lost in the shuffle; what actually may not have helped is the releasing of all three movies in one year—voters may wonder which one they’re supposed to nominate her for or even forget that the first one was even released this year.

However, there is one possibility of a huge monkey wrench: Helen Mirren in the Tempest. She’s liked; she’s playing a part written for a man (and written by Shakespeare); and it’s the sort of part that, if it takes movie goers by storm, could get her a last minute nomination. If it happens, this may spell doom for Nicole Kidman.

At this point, the Supporting Actress is the most suspense filled because there is no clear front runner. The most definite nominees as of now are Helena Bonham Carter (a lot of fun in The King’s Speech); Melissa Leo (for The Fighter, which hasn’t opened yet); Diane Weist (wonderful, simply wonderful, in the Rabbit Hole); and finally Jacki Weaver, who seems a sure shot at a nom because of her National Board of Review win for The Animal Kingdom. My friend Jerry in Chicago thinks it will go to Bonham Carter who will be swept up in the wins for The King’s Speech and because some might consider it her time. I’m going to go for Melissa Leo because I think the Academy has been dying to give her an award ever since Frozen River and since she is a character actress and not a lead, there may not be enough possibilities in the future; it may be now or never. Though Diane Weist is very moving in Rabbit Hole, the nom is all she’ll get. And as for Jacki Weaver, who quite possibly deserves it, well, let’s face it, it’s an Australian Film, and the Academy is loath to give an acting award, especially a supporting one, to a film made outside of the U.S., unless it’s England (the Commonwealth doesn’t count).

For the fifth nomination, many names are being tossed about, but the two who have the greatest chance are Julianne Moore for The Kids Are All Right, if she is pushed for the position, and Hailee Steinfeld, for the unreleased True Grit. Right now, I’d say Steinfeld has the momentum, but it does depend on who well received the movie is.

THE PLOT COAGULATES: The National Board of Review Awards and the Oscars 2010


The National Board of Review Awards came out, which means that the race for the Oscar has officially begun (the NBR is the New Hampshire of the Academy). This also means I’ll postpone my column on the Best Actress race just a tad to analyze what the NBR awards mean.

Actually, they don’t mean an awful lot. The NBR and the Oscars sometimes agree (No Country for Old Men; Slumdog Millionare) and sometimes don’t (The Hurt Locker when NBR chose Up in the Air). The NBR is actually seen as a bit more mainstream, being conservative in their awards (like the Republican center right), which makes it surprising they chose The Social Network over The King’s Speech. That could suggest some sort of zeitgeist change in what people who give awards look for in movies, but it just as probably doesn’t.

I still think The King’s Speech will win Best Picture and Colin Firth Actor (over NBR’s choice of Jessi Eisenberg for The Social Network), if for no other reason than that the Weinsteins don’t mean a hoot to the NBR. Actress should still go to Annette Bening (over NBR’s Leslie Manville for Another Year). At the same time, the honors here for Manville and Eisenberg do help them gain a firm foundation for a nomination, so it is significant in that way. This also supports David Fincher being one of the five directing nominees that will have to be culled from the top ten titles come Academy Award voting time.

However, there are two awards that, gremlin like, could be throwing a monkey wrench into the proceedings. Best Supporting Actor went to Christian Bale for The Fighter. Bale is considered Geoffrey Rush’s main rival for the win and this will only keep Bale (a popular actor within the industry, even if he has a reputation for being difficult) in the mind’s eye. Best Supporting Actress is totally up in the air right now; NBR gave it (possibly very deservedly) to Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom. I don’t think this will move Taylor any closer to winning; it just keeps the Supporting Actress waters very muddy.

Also significant is that The Social Network won best Adapted Screenplay. I wasn’t sure whether Aaron Sorkin’s script was considered original or adapted. Since it’s adapted, David Seidler, who wrote The King’s Speech, can start rehearsing what he’s going to say Oscar night when he wins for Original Screenplay since Sorkin was his main, if only, rival. The award for Original Screenplay went to Chris Sparling for Buried, which may help jump start his campaign for a nom, but I can’t see it winning over The King’s Speech.

Best Foreign Language film went to Of Gods and Men from France. The winner of this award for the Oscars can often be determined solely by the subject matter of the film. Of Gods and Men is about conflict between a Catholic Order and Fundamentalists: sounds like a winner to me.

The Town got an award for Best Ensemble which could help Jeremy Renner’s chances for a Supporting Actor nom. Jennifer Lawrence got the Breakthrough Performance award which should help cement her nom for Best Actress.

And, of course, what’s very interesting here is what didn’t make the top ten lists. The Black Swan, 127 Hours and The Kids Are All Right, all considered shoe ins for nominations, were conspicuous by their absence.

Isn’t this fun.

THE WOMEN, PART I: Reviews of Sex and the City 2, Mother and Child, Please Give and The Father of My Children


According to traditional wisdom, movies about women and starring women are few and far between. This is, and always has been, complete hogwash. While it is true that studio, tent pole films are often devoid of actresses or female characters of any import, independent and foreign films have more than taken up the slack. And now even the studios have slowly begun to realize that women are willing to spend money on movies so that at last, but not least, we are finally getting a few films from those Mounts of Olympus aimed at the distaff part of the population. All is not right in the world, but it’s not, nor has it ever been, as bad as people have painted it.
In Sex and the City 2, there is one scene that basically sums up the problems with the movie. Carrie Bradshaw (played, of course, by Sarah Jessica Parker) is in Dubai talking to a valet who has been assigned to serve her every need. When she asks him if he is married, he tells her that his wife is in India and they only see each other every few months if they can afford it. Does Carrie think, “OMG, there are people in the world so bad off financially, they can’t even live with their spouse?” Of course not. She thinks, “Hm, if this person can have a successful relationship with his wife though he only sees her every three months, maybe my husband’s request for a couple of days off a week from our marriage might not be as unreasonable as I thought”. Sex in the City is about four women who got to Dubai, see a country, experience a different culture, interact with a whole new ethnic group…and don’t learn a damn thing. I went with my friend R. (name changed to protect the innocent, or at least his profession in the industry) and he called it vulgar. I’m not sure I can disagree. The four friends end up in Dubai when Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), the sexual adventurer of the foursome, gets a potential job offer from a businessman who wants to hire Samantha to do PR and sell his country as a tourist attraction. Now you would think that someone who made a name for herself doing PR would know that it’s probably unwise to insult the country of the businessman who wishes to hire you, but from the moment Samantha steps off the plane, she does nothing but act in, as suggested by my friend, the most vulgar manner imaginable. This might be all right if she had done it for political reasons, in response to the way Dubai treats their female citizens, say; but no, she does it because, well, she’s kinda (again, as my friend suggested) vulgar, which in certain circumstances is empowering and funny, but in others, it’s just, well…vulgar. In fact, she acts like Edina Muldoon in Absolutely Fabulous and there are times when the whole movie seems like a parody of the episode where Edina and Patsy went to Morocco. For a movie about women’s liberation (the quartet even does a karaoki version of “I Am Woman”), the writer/director Michael Patrick King seems to have trouble seeing the women of Dubai as little more than an occasion for a joke. I’m sure that for King the second class citizens of Dubai are little more than a punch line, but I’m not sure they would quite see it the same way. After a few adventures, and when all the requisite character arcs of a formulaic tent pole film have been covered, all four characters return to the city a little older. If only they had returned a little wiser.

In Sex and the City 2, four women go to Dubai and never experience anything more than their own backyard. In Mother and Child, the latest from writer/director Rodrigo Garcia, three women never leave their own back yard, but experience the whole universe. The three women are Karen (Annette Bening, who seems to be having a good year, what with The Kids Are All Right coming out soon); Elizabeth (Naomi Watts); and Lucy (Kerry Washington). Exactly how these three people fit into each other’s universes is not revealed at first, though it quickly becomes clear that Elizabeth is the daughter that Karen gave up when she got pregnant at age fourteen. This revelation also gives the plot a bit of grounding, since we know that eventually the two will somehow connect again; but how exactly does Lucy fit into all this? Well, she in turns adopts the baby Elizabeth has when Elizabeth dies in childbirth; but that’s not the end of it, not by a long shot. During the film, there is a lot of discussion as to whether God exists or if He brings meaning and order to the universe. At times, these conversations seem a little forced. But they are necessary, because in a deeply moving and surprising ending, Karen, a woman with a chip on her shoulder who does all she can to alienate those around her, realizes that everyone, chip or no chip, is actually connected, that there is a spiritual unity to the universe and that she is part of it and the proof is closer than she would have ever thought. This is a movie you watch to see actors really dig into characters that have meat and bones. Jerry, my best friend in Chicago, who also loved the movie, said that in Annette Bening he now has his first strong possibility for his list of the best of 2010. He also predicts an Oscar nomination. I’m not so sure. As wonderful as she is, it’s still an independent film opening rather early in the year. She may have a better chance with The Kids Are All Right. Naomi Watts has the most difficult role to play, mainly because her character starts out with all the clinical characteristics of a sociopath; she manipulates people in quite evil ways at time and with not one whit of a guilty conscience about it. Then when she gets pregnant, she suddenly reverses herself and leaves all the sociopathology behind (the hormones, maybe?). To a certain degree, one of the themes of the movie is that a woman has to connect with their child in some way in order to fully become themselves; but to change from a sociopath to a human being when you get a bun in the oven is really going there thematically. I’m not sure I bought it, but Watts made it damn entertaining. Last but not least Washington keeps up with her co-stars; annoying and off putting at times, like all the others, she more than earns your empathy by movie’s end. This is an ensemble movie in which the characters never really interact. It’s also a deeply moving film about the need for people to connect, to find meaning in their lives by reaching out to each other, even if they do never meet. Sort of a contradiction in terms, but that’s the universe for you.