Review: Spring Breakers

Harmony Korine’s drug-fuelled distortion of the American tradition of Spring Break is both a chemically-enhanced nightmare and sun-kissed dreamscape. The warped tale of Disney princesses gone bad proves not to be a storytelling last resort, but a scorching retreat of hypnotic proportions. 

Spring Breakers

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it”, says Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray. And boy, do the girls of Spring Breakersyield, as Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens et al openly embrace the hedonistic, adolescent society of gratuitous sex, drugs and violence.

Gratuitous, here, being the operative word: after the candy-coloured opening titles, begins a visceral assault on the senses, no holds barred. Excessive nudity and slow-motion close-ups immediately offer a voyeuristic insight into the orgiastic beach parties and debauchery, that often borders on pornographic. Still, high art, right?

Once British viewers have finished pondering the subtle differences between this American Spring break and a wet British Easter weekend in Blackpool, they can begin admiring the gorgeous cinematography. As the girls commit armed robbery to fund their escape from normality, they begin a deliciously dark descent both mentally and environmentally, mirrored by the quasi-hallucinogenic aesthetics; the pink balaclavas worn by the gun-toting teenagers, as they later work with psychotic gangster-rapper Alien (James Franco), provide striking juxtaposition. Ultraviolet meets ultra-violence.

From aesthetics to acoustics, the soundtrack proves to be one of the many highlights of the film, with music sampled throughout by Skrillex. The highs are charged with an electric combination of dubstep and house music; the quieter, introspective moments bear rippling undercurrents of subtle bass tones which generate a real sense of gravity amidst the later, more outrageous scenes. Most memorable, perhaps, is a truly avant-garde use of Britney Spears’ ‘Everytime’, crooned by an inspired Franco during a violent montage – doing for Britney’s song what A Clockwork Orange did for ‘Singin’ in the Rain’.

It’s easy to fall into a trance at times. The plot is thinner than the protagonists, and certain sections feel like cosmetic, self-indulgent filler, but the loud echoes of guns being cocked intermittently between scenes serve as a chilling reminder of the film’s not-so-sunny reality.

Harmony Korine’s eccentricity was recently the cause of confusion during an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on reddit.com as fans were affronted by a series of incoherent, bizarre answers. His standpoint regarding the film’s subliminal social commentary, or lack thereof, is equally ambiguous, perhaps even endorsing the girls’ actions and hedonistic pursuits which suffer little moral implications.

Controversial, but still: there’s only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about.

8/10

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Review: Metal Gear Rising – Revengeance

Fans of Metal Gear rejoice – this spin-off may be a change in direction for the acclaimed franchise, but this is a deliriously entertaining action game, forged with razor-sharp gameplay and adrenaline-fueled action sequences.

metal-gear-rising

As far as reincarnations go, however, this is not a total re-imagining. The story is every bit as convoluted as one would expect from Hideo Kojima, flaunting the customary gratuitous cutscenes and lengths of overwrought dialogue.

The once derided protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2, Raiden, was considerably revamped for the aforementioned fourth instalment; his personal transformation offered redemption via some of the most unforgettable fight sequences in gaming history, prophesising the rise of this complex anti-hero.

Rising brandishes an addictive combat system. In particular, the free slicing ‘blade mode’, which offers 360-degree control of your weapon as you accurately mutilate waves of enemies in bullet-time – a violent but incredibly satisfying and inventive experience.

Most memorable, though, are the blistering boss fights which are, in the truest sense of the word, awesome. By integrating breathtaking set-pieces charged with an impressive heavy metal soundtrack, you can almost feel the electricity emanating from Raiden’s blade, rendering these battles nothing short of epic.

As the bridge to the next generation of consoles is rapidly being built, Rising also provides some of the more visually stunning graphics seen on the current platforms, as sparks fly and buildings fall. Despite certain environments appearing lacklustre and unvaried, most players won’t have the time to notice between mastering the intricate combat techniques and performing a cross-sectional analysis of every object possible.

Like Raiden, the game propels forward at the speed of light, occasionally to the detriment of the camera, offering a brief 4-6 hours of story, but this is an imperfect game for perfectionists – the combat ranks, collectibles and VR missions suggest plenty of replay value.

The popularity of this title will naturally be indebted to the Metal Gear name, which may bear a certain inevitability of disappointment for fans of the stealth-based series. However, this Metal Gear is wired with the familiar components of philosophy and in-jokes, and an edgy combat system, making this a cut above the usual hack and slash game.

7/10

Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. For Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful is good, but definitely not great. This is a yellow brick road paved with good intentions, but it suffers from several potholes which highlight the fact that this is ultimately a film made solely for munchkins. 

Oz the Great and Powerful

Akin to the beloved 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, the film begins in black-and-white Kansas, which is sure to pique the nostalgia of long-term Oz fans. Oz (James Franco) is Oscar Diggs, a struggling magician as part of a travelling circus, who for all his sleight-of-hand and cheap parlour tricks is soon revealed to be nothing but a fraud. Like Dorothy, Oz is swiftly swept away by a tornado into the magical land of Oz, and thus begins his transformative journey from con artist to wonderful wizard.

Many have thought him to be miscast, but from the moment the curtains rise, Franco is enchanting, displaying boundless charm as the eponymous protagonist as he waltzes from scene to scene with a hypnotising on-screen presence. Mila Kunis, too, gives a wicked performance as Theodora, the soon-to-be Wicked Witch of the West who vacillates between heartbroken sister and vengeful antagonist. Hell hath no fury like a witch scorned, and Kunis provides a fiery, bewitching spectacle. Zach Braff also deserves merit for his amusing turn as Finlay the flying monkey, suitably injecting doses of intelligent humour into the script.

The real magic of Oz lies in the film’s gorgeous aesthetics, with a transition to colour which is every bit as impressive as the original, which was notable for it’s special effects at the time. It really is a testament to how far technology has advanced in the past century. The impressive CGI, which creates a vast palette of vibrant colours: fluorescent emerald harmonising with layers of deep ruby and sapphire. The 3D is also utilised tastefully, adding further depth to the spectrum of rich textures.

Art director Robert Stromberg’s influence is apparent, as the film bears a particular kinship to his previous endeavour,Alice in Wonderland. Unfortunately Oz suffers from the same downfalls as Tim Burton’s film, with the visuals mirroring one of Oz’s parlor tricks – smoke and mirrors hiding a thin, simplistic story. Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams are further A-list illusions, familiar eye candy masquerading otherwise predictably boring characters.

Still, there’s no place like home. Despite lacking the charm of The Wizard of Oz, this remains an entertaining, albeit unnecessary, prequel with a circus of solid performances and picturesque visuals which kids are bound to enjoy.

7/10

Review: Hansel & Gretel – Witch Hunters

If the recent assortment of fairytale flicks left you hungry for more, be warned. This sickly, sugar-coated genre hybrid will leave even those with a sweet tooth for action and horror with a bitter taste in their mouths.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

The film begins in the familair territory of the popular German folk story: Hansel and Gretel are two children abandoned deep in a forest who stumble upon a gingerbread house inhabited by a cannibalistic witch. The Tim Burton-esque aesthetic sets a promisingly creepy tone, which is swiftly abandoned as the thin plot descends into a gratuitous splatterfest of incredibly tedious proportions.

15 years after surviving that fiery encounter, the eponymous characters become famous bounty hunters, adventuring to exterminate a coven of evil witches. And thus begins the audience’s personal adventure to survive the remainder of the film without systematically stuffing their faces with food before committing self-immolation in hope of enduring a far less painful torture.

Like the witch hunters, it might be the case that you were initially tempted by candy; eye candy in the form of the suitably attractive Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton. But rest assured – the cinema quickly becomes a veritable gingerbread prison itself.

Considering this is a fantasy tale, the action sequences and fight choreography are so unimaginative it’s almost laughable: that is to say, it is totally preposterous, and not in the least bit entertaining. One scene actually involves Renner punching a witch repeatedly in the stomach for what is an embarrassingly uncomfortable length of time. Arterton’s character proves to be equally uninspiring: single-handedly subverting everything the strong female protagonist had created in similar films like the recent Underworld series, by perpetuating the damsel in distress stereotype so repeatedly – exactly the sort of stereotype you‘d expected this genre to dispel.

However, if you can follow the trail of brainless one-liners and severed limbs, you might enjoy sinking your teeth into a couple of witty asides, such as Hansel’s battle with diabetes as a result of the opening ordeal, and the occasional intertextual nod to other fairytales. Ironically, the funniest aspect of the film is indeed how unfunny it actually is, as these are but momentary treats amidst a thoroughly sour affair.

It should be noted that you can also catch the film in 3D, although this only serves to further magnify just how two-dimensional the characters are. Fortunately, this pick ‘n’ mix of poor jokes and predictable clichés runs at a sweet 88 minutes, offering a slight reprieve to those desperate for their money’s worth.

3/10