Mini-Reviews: Spring Breakers and Upstream Color
Prediction: Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers will be the best Great Gatsby we see in theaters this year. It’s as if The Great Gatsby, Scarface, and MTV Real World had a baby, and the birth was shot by Terence Malick using Nicolas Winding Refn’s color palate. We watch four bored small-town college girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) long to escape and get to Spring Break, where everything is perfect. The film opens with a Spring Break montage, phallic beer bottles, giant bare breasts, and shaking asses, all set to pounding dubstep. Their American Dream is a world of excess, an escape from the chains of responsibility, work, or law. While the early parts of the film are enjoyable, especially a chicken shack robbery, Spring Breakers kicks into overdrive when they meet a thug rapper named Alien (James Franco), who proceeds to introduce them to the shady underbelly of what it takes to live and maintain this lifestyle they initially craved. It’s a hypnotic dream of a film, gorgeously shot, daringly structured, that doesn’t fear plunging into surrealism. The girls all do great work, but the real star here is Franco, who gives potentially a career-best performance. Alien plays host to the contradictions of both the American Dream and the hyper-macho male. His “Look at my shit” rant is an instant classic, hilarious and thought-provoking. Here’s the rare film that pleases both my arthouse side and my trashy side. Its balancing act is formidable, and it will likely end up on my list as one of the year’s best films.
I generally despise the expression “you need to see this film twice to really get it,” but with Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, I feel willing to make an exception. While this is the type of film one should ideally enter knowing as little as possible, I will give the vaguest of descriptions: after a woman (Amy Seimetz) undergoes a strange traumatic experience, she meets a man (Shane Carruth) who is similarly damaged, and they bond together as they attempt to figure out both what happened to them and how to move forward. If you are a giant fan of Carruth’s first film, Primer, you will be surprised just how much of this film is without dialogue. Upstream Color is reliant nearly exclusively on visuals, the polar opposite from Primer in terms of stylistic execution. The sparse dialogue still carries Carruth’s trademark deadpan poetic intellectualism, but it’s really quite an accomplishment to go from dialogue-reliant to image-reliant as gracefully as Carruth does here. He tackles love, loneliness, fate, an causality in the universe, yet the film feels as intimate as a whisper. The final act of the film, which contains no dialogue at all that I recall, is a tidal wave of pictures, sounds, and the soaring original score, composed by Carruth himself. It’s as thrilling as anything you’ll see this year, even if the exact way the puzzle pieces fit together might escape you. I’m of the opinion that if a movie can’t relay the particulars of its story to the audience upon first viewing, perhaps it’s not telling its story with enough skill. With Upstream Color, however, the skill is never in doubt. It’s not for everyone, but those intrigued may find themselves highly rewarded.