I appreciate Academy Award nominee Mark Mori wanting to “reveal all” about pinup model Bettie Page with his new doc literally titled Bettie Page Reveals All, but I feel as if he may have gone too far right out of the gate.
The documentary gives viewers a confidential look into Page’s life whilst using vintage privy interview answers from the model herself to string along narration.
The documentary’s structure could – and sometimes does – work wonders for Mori to bring truth to his work, and to rightfully respect Page’s life and image. My problem with his execution is his underdeveloped knowledge of how to work this filmmaking angle.
Bettie Page Reveals All begins with lots of famous faces singing praise for Page’s “naughty but nice” influence on pop culture. Burlesque performers and fashionistas join in as well. This is a good enough start. These scenes are here to foreshadow how subversive Page’s playfully sexual work will become.
These clips are then followed by cutaways from Page’s funeral service, where we see close friends and family in mourning. These scenes are only here to establish that the film’s iconic subject has passed on. Wasn’t there an alternate way to depict this that didn’t feel so…nosy?
Already, Mori oversteps as a documentarian. I can’t speak for everyone but personally, these segments made me feel as if I was intruding on something very personal. I know Mori has to live up to his title’s name, but private functions like these should be off limits. It’s an unwritten rule.
The next few scenes give movie goers an unsheltered look at Bettie Page’s life before the fame. Hearing a deceased Page describe the abuse she was put through as a child and through her budding life in New York is supremely tough to listen to. The audio track Mori is sampling from also sounds as if it’s eroding, which makes us have to lean in and listen more carefully to Page’s unsettling recapping.
As someone who knew very little about Bettie Page’s life and career before entering Bettie Page Reveals All, Mark Mori actually does a decent job informing. The condition of the audio gradually cleans itself up, making Page’s narration easily attainable. The journey is straightforward and memorable, and that feeling of being an intruder is shown the door.
What doesn’t measure up is how technically inadequate the actual doc is when placed beside its subject’s vital life. It hurts the film’s credibility.
Mori has obviously been inspired by 2002’s film adaption of Robert Evans autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture. He takes pictures from Page’s past, and animates them to her speech. However, The Kid Stays in the Picture found an ebb and flow with Evans’ readings. Mori’s doc, on the other hand, feels too much like a slideshow – a cheap one, at that.
The doc doesn’t have the appearance of a movie that’s been thoughtlessly slapped together, but the condition of Bettie Page Reveals All is in critical shape. Different uses of footage ranging from degraded footage to cartoons don’t find an even balance with the material, and a fair amount of images don’t play well when blown up. Graphics and subtitles look flat and unappealing as well. This is an example of a slipshod doc that desperately needed more post-production polishing.
But, just like Mori’s boundary misstepping, the doc eventually fixes itself and turns in some strong work. Unfortunately, the quality control shapes up just as the film is winding down.
The filmmaker’s wisest decisions are with the inclusion of outsiders lending their perspectives on Page’s sexual significance. Most of these opinions pop up during the latter part of the film, which breaks up the doldrums and adds a refreshing change of pace to the documentary.
There’s no denying that with more time, Bettie Page Reveals All wouldn’t have looked and felt so shabby. Luckily, there’s enough content in the doc to avoid it being a write-off altogether. But, how much technical clumsiness will audiences endure in order to get to the centre of this craggy Tootsie Pop?
The realism in Stranger by the Lake (or, L’Inconnu du lac) is what initially draws audiences in. It’s paced deliberately slow to match life’s sunny tranquilities, and the cruising men who attend this private beach looking for a getaway and the occasional hook up come across as real people.
Stranger by the Lake is uneventful for the most part, but its serenely baked atmosphere is musing. Once a dangerous dramatic turn comes into play, that unbalance is what entices us more.
If writer/director Alain Guiraudie had kept up with this precisely convincing tone, Stranger by the Lake could’ve been a slow burn masterpiece. But, Guiraudie’s mishandling of a forefront romance is botched and sends the film spiralling downwards into boredom and falseness.
Before the film collapses, Guiraudie establishes this secret beach nicely as well as the cruising state of mind. He’s not trying to make sentiments about homosexuality like Blue Is the Warmest Colour did, but he is portraying human interaction and desires interestingly. By having these anonymous men wander around the beach and into the deep forest, the film proposes that a lot of our sexual needs boil down to being animalistic. These cruisers search for a mate and after scanning the planes, they may find someone compatible. The same can be said about the onlookers who would rather watch intimacy than physically take part.
With the mention of Blue Is the Warmest Colour, I must issue a warning for those who are bothered by graphic sexual content. If you thought Blue Is the Warmest Colour showed too much skin, Stranger by the Lake may very well put you in a coma. However, the visuals within the context are unbarred to a fault.
The purpose of nudity and uncensored explicitness is much different than how it was used in last year’s excellent female coming-of-age film. Here, it’s not directly highlighted unless its during spontaneous sex. Then, we get intrusively gratuitous close-ups of the”action”.
Otherwise, the full frontal male nudity is strictly of exhibitionist nature whilst on this nude beach. The problems entail when Guiraudie refuses to add variety to his shot list. Everything is shot using the same sort of cinematography with the same distance between the camera and the actor – you get the full Monty for pretty much the entirety of the movie.
The French foreign production also didn’t take into consideration that the film could eventually be subtitled for outsiders who don’t speak the language. To North Americans: get ready to read subtitles that reside along shots of unflattering, flaccid penises and dark undercarriages. And, try to stay hooked to the dialogue when the actor suddenly decides to cross and uncross his legs.
Our lead Franck is seduced by a new cruiser named Michel and falls for him. This is when the film hits another bump. The attraction between the two men happens right before Franck witnesses Michel committing a murder. Blatantly shook up, Franck has the chance to cut ties with Michel. Inexplicably, he never does and his rushed crush on Michel gets stronger. It’s an odd stroke of character development that doesn’t hint Franck is even a little bit scared or threatened by Michel. If he’s supposed to be feeling those things, Pierre Ladonchamps has done a haphazard job of showing those emotions.
It’s that one misstep in the film’s authenticity that throws it off the beaten path. The directorial decisions starting from the second act lose what made them special in the first place. It almost feels as if this brave director has painted himself into a corner. He’s pitched an intriguing dilemma in an open environment and doesn’t know where to go.
The suspense drops awfully quick with the realism becoming less and less profound. Alain Guiraudie is just one of the people involved with Stranger by the Lake who blows it.
Once upon a time in a high school drama master class, a group of friends and I were given a one-act play to perform for our final exam. The play was Anton Chekov’s The Proposal.
Myself and my other cast mates had no clue what to make of the exaggerated work or of our bumbling characters ; and, our director didn’t know any better. We agreed that the amount of time given to comprehend Chekov’s unique writing was unreasonable, but alas, we soldiered on and did our best.
The night of our performance was a disaster. Our motivations were still cloudy, lines were forgotten or stumbled over, and as a theatrical Hail Mary, the other guy in the company decided to soak myself (and the better half of the front row) with a bucket of water. The script only called for a slight splash. In hindsight, I suppose the drenching was ironic since we were all hanging out to dry.
There’s a lot of that disarray going on in Paul Schrader’s The Canyons. No one in front of the camera or behind it has any idea how to perform a script written by Bret Easton Ellis – not even the screenwriter, Bret Easton Ellis. Except the confusion in The Canyons seems worse since everyone is supposed to be a professional.
The main cast, like in Chekov’s The Proposal, consists of three main players. These hapless, disheveled actors are Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, and Nolan Funk. Like us in our hazy lil’ play, the main cast looks to be confused more than anything. It’s as if they were given the script to analyze with a limited amount of time and glazed over one-on-ones with their “trusty” director.
Lines are read with such cardboard delivery, it’s as if Lohan, Deen, and Funk are trying to figure out the ropes of Ellis’ writing as the film plods along. It’s the type of spacey, slow understanding that exists during monotonous sessions of learning long division.
I’m not comparing Bret Easton Ellis to Anton Chekov by any means – the writer belongs in a league of his own. I really like Ellis’ past work, like The Rules of Attraction and American Psycho. When Ellis is in his element, I think the writer can be darkly funny with his representation and satire of snotty, self-entitled, terrible jerks.
With The Canyons, however, he’s spinning his wheels. He has a group of intentionally awful and vain characters who live in a wasteland of shallow seniority, but there’s nothing behind these characters that make them interesting. It’s as if he thinks the presence of familiar characters he’s written about before will seal the deal and garner an audience’s acceptance. That doesn’t work, Bret.
The writer even has a hard time creating a memorable sly villain. In The Canyons, movie goers are given Christian (played by Deen). Christian scowls and talks menacingly, so people will realize just how important and powerful he is. Ellis has written Christian as someone with an overwhelming abundance of arrogance developing him to become self-parodying instead of self-entitled. And because there’s no material to build upon, Deen is left brooding and wandering as his amateur stab at acting in more serious feature films turns into a performance that will have befuddled audiences snickering.
This is a far cry career move for everyone involved – even Lohan who chalks up another smudge in 2013 with Scary Movie 5 and InAPPropriate Comedy keeping misery company. But ultimately, it’s Schrader, who has a very impressive screenwriting résumé including Scorsese favourites Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and his confused direction that drives this ship into the cinematic Bermuda Triangle.
His direction is consistently absent as he searches for a meaning through all the shallow stereotypes. Since he’s too busy searching, he doesn’t give anyone else in his cast or crew a clue to go off on. Causing people like Lindsay Lohan – who is so, so lost – to have a hard enough time figuring out where they should stare during a scene.
The Canyons momentarily scratches the surface of what this film full of double crosses should’ve been. We see these slight glimmers during a table turning orgy and the film’s violent final act. But, then again, it doesn’t dig any deeper into what Ellis is trying to say during these scenes of betrayal. It’d be like someone reciting, “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?” and then considering themselves an expert in Shakespeare.
Like a chaotic and wet night of botched Chekhovian theatre, The Canyons doesn’t fare any better. Why no one raised a red flag at any point during pre, mid, or post-production will forever be a mystery. If only my drama class mate was there on set with a bucket of water to put Mr. Shrader and his cast out of their misery. Maybe then The Canyons would’ve been set on the right path. It’d be water-logged, but hey, being water-logged is better than being hollow.
Spring Breakers works in more ways than one. First of all, you can take Harmony Korine’s film at face value and perceive it as a lurid fever dream with a loose story integrating elements of the crime genre with a trippy punk rock attitude.
The four roles played by Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Korine’s wife Rachel Korine are charismatic enough in an entertaining train wreck sort of way as we watch these rebellious teens go down a snaky rabbit hole. They get involved with the wrong company after being bailed out of jail by a drug dealer/arms dealer/rapper named Alien (played by a well disguised and dazzlingly repugnant James Franco) and the rabbit hole goes deeper. Only a few are able to escape.
The style trumps the story as we watch the camera fall in love with black lights and its fluorescent colour palette. Korine also utilizes different types of video formats to make moviegoers feel apart of these spring break partiers; either in a way that suggests we’re at the party or watching it through a late-night infomercial after Maury Povich throws to a break.
The music, conceived by Cliff Martinez and dubstep icon Skrillex, is just as much of a star as any of the talented women in the film. The integration of lighter songs also adds a nice hint of nostalgia while bringing new life and mixed emotions to a scene. A certain montage set to a Britney Spears song pops to mind as a specific highlight, but I’ll let you discover that one for yourself when you watch this outstanding flick.
But, does the style really trump the story? Or, is it the other way around? A younger generation may not be familiar with the audacious filmmaker, but if you’ve followed Korine’s career since his screenwriting debut in 1995’s KIDS, you’ll know that he doesn’t believe that every film has to take on traditional storytelling. The film can take on a looser structure and let the characters speak for themselves. If one decides to latch onto the film and learn more about these distraught young adults, you can have just about as much fun as the fans who are there to support Gomez or Hudgens.
As far as character development goes, Spring Breakers leaves a lot up to the viewers’ imagination. It isn’t performed in a lazy way on Korine’s part, but he’s given you enough clues as to how these people think and carry out their actions for a moviegoer to draw conclusions for themselves. There isn’t a wrong answer, it’s all open for interpretation.
The film I saw was not only a statement about the impatient youth of today, but it’s also about the need for constant change amongst a modern younger generation. All four girls are looking for a change of environment. Faith (played by Gomez) wonders if there’s more to life than her religion, Brit and Candy (played with gleeful aggression by Benson and Hudgens) wonder if there’s a better place to get drunk, high, and party, and Cotty (played by Rachel Korine) follows Brit and Candy’s crassness and agrees with what they do.
All four characters are restless; you can sense it in their speech patterns. Not so much Faith – being the only sane body amongst the friends – but this is especially noticeable with Brit, Candy, and Cotty. As we watch scenes of them fooling around, standing in the rain and getting intoxicated, they repeat the same words and phrases. “We gotta get that money” and “spring break” make for a lot of their dialogue when the film is revving up.
Sure, it can get repetitive at times and Korine plays that hard game of trying to find a balance between repeating something the right amount of times and driving someone crazy – to which he’s usually successful. The thing is that the repetition means something. From the rebellious girls repeating their goals early on, to the scenes with them and Alien teasing each other over and over again, it represents just how shallow and one-track their thinking is. Going away for spring break and robbing people are dire needs and shows how desperate they are for non-stop action in their nowhere lives.
Faith’s religion isn’t the only biblical content in Spring Breakers. Their spring break destination is illustrated as a modern day, sin free paradise akin to Sodom and Gommorrah, where sex and excessive lewdness reigns and no consequences exist…until the girls’ wild ride is exposed. I’m sure there has to be more to the parallels as well with Brit, Candy, and Cotty acting as temptations to Faith’s comfortability and then those three being controlled by temptation as well when Franco’s Alien enters the picture.
Something’s to be said about the girls’ relationship to Alien. To bring up Maury Povich’s name again in a single review may seem a bit much, but during their introduction with each other, Spring Breakers feels like one of those episodes where young hellions spend a day at a prison with an inmate who had a similar past. Except instead of the girls looking at their future, they see a friend. You can feel this chemistry ignite when James Franco eyes each girl up and down. It’s a relationship that’s built on a disorderly materialistic attitude – and misery loves company.
Spring Breakers is a return to form for Harmony Korine and serves as a nice balance between his usual quirks and making something as mainstream as possible. As a moviegoer observing his sporadic career, it isn’t hard to notice Korine trying to figure out where his voice stands in today’s movies. He tried his hand with different types of formulas such as the divisive but whimsical Mister Lonely and the disturbingly unique Trash Humpers, but Spring Breakers is proof that the answer to his question was right under his nose.
With his success with KIDS, Korine shows that he has a keen observant eye for youth. Their voice, their presence, their annoyances, and their habits. Spring Breakers is the perfect project for the filmmaker because it allows him to work his perceptive skills in a modern world. While spring break may seem like an in-your-face experience involving aberrant characters, he never makes these scenes too obnoxious and unwatchable. The average moviegoer may not relate but we understand why these riotous rebels enjoy these chaotic settings.
It’s also good to note that Faith is the only one who phones home constantly to touch base with her Mom and Grandmother. We never see them or hear them, but they’re the only adults mentioned in the film who aren’t of direct authority like a police officer or a judge. Another point from KIDS that successfully transcends into Spring Breakers and rings as true – the absence of parents.
Spring Breakers is a blast and an interesting conversation starter. Everyone will have their different views on it and it may very well be this year’s most argued about film.
Harmony Korine has irked a lot of moviegoers and critics in the past with his intense works and how he presents them. I’ve always been a fan of his, but I can understand how many would consider him as much of a recluse as the girls in the movie.
With his loose storytelling theory, Spring Breakers shows that the filmmaker has grown up and knows how to attempt such a mould. It’s a sign that a lightbulb has gone off in Korine’s head and he’s worked above and beyond to prove those naysayers wrong, reassure his fans that he isn’t leaving, and to brilliantly introduce younger moviegoers to a new way to look at movies.