FRESH POUR: Spring Breakers / Olympus Has Fallen

In this new weekly review segment, Clint takes a look at two new releases that come out each week – no rules, no cocktail, just a short look at what’s being released in theaters. Enjoy!

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Spring Breakers (2013) / dir. Harmony Korine / A24, Annapurna Pictures

I want to preface this review by saying this is my very first Harmony Korine film; I’d heard of Kids, Gummo and even Trash Humpers, but have no experience with them other than as these unseen, fabled depictions of lower-class white destitution, sex, drugs and debauchery. From what I can tell, Spring Breakers is among the most accessible of his work. Following four college girls (Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Melody Korine and Ashley Benson) who do whatever they can to pay for the spring break bacchanalia their richer classmates are enjoying (including holding up a fast food restaurant), the film is a hypnotic, stylized experience that is difficult to quantify, but endlessly fresh in its execution.

The film has a wonderful dreamlike quality; as the girls scheme and plot their way to Spring Break, we are treated to wordless and abstracted scenes of spring break debauchery (providing somewhat of a Greek chorus of ‘Spring Break’ personified throughout the film). By the time we get to spring break itself, we start to understand these girls as desperately seeking something beyond their small-town boredom – Gomez particularly so, since her character is the least adventurous one. At the same time, the film is a wonderful dark comedy, particularly by the time we get to James Franco’s white, be-grilled rapper Alien – who is at once a corrupting force in the girls’ lives and just as childlike and innocent as them. Like these newcomers, he just wants life to be “Spring break…spring break…spring break forever.”

The cinematography of the film is doused in a wonderfully garish neon, with a generous amount of dirt and grit thrown in, while a great (if occasionally monotonous) Cliff Martinez/Skrillex score reminds you further of Drive. Franco has rarely been better as well; these kinds of off-kilter, naturalistic roles are much more his speed than in Oz the Great and Powerful, where he felt uncomfortable. There are some great sequences in here, including Franco’s “LOOK AT MAH SHEEIT” monologue, which firmly entrenches Spring Breakers into dark comedy territory – as well as a head-busting montage to Britney Spears’ “Everytime” that is simply amazing. In short, the film is Girls Gone Wild and Natural Born Killers if Terrence Malick and Nicholas Winding Refn’s bastard man-baby wrote and directed it – in short, it’s wondrous.

Clint’s Verdict: Loved It!

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Olympus Has Fallen (2013) / dir. Antoine Fuqua / FilmDistrict

The Die Hard formula is one of the most tried-and-true single-sentence movie pitches in Hollywood: “Die Hard on a spaceship,” “Die Hard on a plane” – you get the picture. With Olympus Has Fallen, the first of two “White House under attack” films set to come out this year, the film is transparently “Die Hard in the White House” – there are entire scenes completely transplanted from the former, including the ‘bad guy acts like good guy to fool good guy, shares cigarettes but gives himself away with verbal mistake’, which is the height of laziness. Basically, former secret service agent Gerard Butler, removed from the President’s detail (after a prologue vaguely establishing that he messed up while not really messing up, thus making President Aaron Eckhart nonspecifically mad at him), manages to run into a besieged White House to take out Korean terrorist after Korean terrorist, Jack Bauer-style. Fuqua (of Training Day and Shooter fame) directs the movie with a decent amount of style, though I still didn’t get the sense of real spectacle I was hoping for with an action film of this scope.

Perhaps one of the strangest parts of Olympus Has Fallen is the tonal shifts between ‘fun siege action flick’ and ‘horrifying political thriller’ – the White House setting, and the conveniently North Korean villains necessitate the kind of political attacks that will inevitably remind one of 9/11 (including a strangely evocative destruction of the Washington Monument). It’s an astonishingly ‘oo-rah’ Republican wet dream, including torture that works, drones only used by the enemy, and tearful/solemn depictions of American soldiers as above reproach. However, I honestly have a hard time working up escapist excitement when dozens of civilians explode in rivulets of CGI blood, along with female government officials repeatedly beaten and stripped – even Gerard Butler’s one-liners lack the humor and elan this kind of movie should have. He’s stronger here than he has been recently, but he’s not helped by a completely useless and wasted supporting cast, including Morgan Freeman as a hand-wringing Speaker of the House and Robert Forster as the gruff general who gives Morgan Freeman someone to talk to. Rick Yune (Diamondface from Die Another Day) doesn’t impress here, either, since he feels like a henchman in his own movie.

There are some wonderfully silly moments to be had in the film: take a drink every time the picture or bust of an American president is featured (especially when Butler uses the bust of Lincoln to dispense American justice), the mini-act where Butler saves the president’s son is a highlight, and the third-act introduction of a literal Doomsday Device to artificially raise the stakes is something you simply have to throw your hands up at and accept its ridiculousness. Even the hand-to-hand combat scenes are so darkly-lit and frantically edited that it’s difficult to find variation in them or enjoy them on their face.  In the end, however, the empowerment fantasy we get from Butler cracking skulls is undercut by other scenes where American pilots, soldiers, government officials and civilians are annihilated while others look on in grave horror. As an exercise in action-movie excess, it just wasn’t exciting enough for me.

Clint’s Verdict: Skip It

NEXT WEEK: GI Joe: Retaliation and The Host!

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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