Tag Archives: American cinema

Simon Killer

simon killer2
Simon Killer

Format: Cinema

Release date: 12 April 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Antonio Campos

Writers: Antonio Campos, Brady Corbet, Mati Diop

Cast: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop

USA 2012

105 mins

Simon Killer, Antonio Campos’s follow-up to his impressive debut, Afterschool, is a more sophisticated, technically excellent, yet hollow film that fails to involve the audience in the story of a seriously disturbed twenty-something American trying to get over a break-up with his girlfriend by escaping to Paris.

A university student who’s studying the link between the brain and the eye, Simon (Brady Corbet) takes shelter at the sophisticated flat of a family friend. It’s clear that Simon is from the same sort of wealthy, Upper East Side background that Campos drew on in Afterschool – privileged and fucked-up, too into porn and too incapable of seeing women as anything other than one-dimensional objects. But the problem with Campos’s film is that, as Simon wanders the streets of the city, using his broken French to try and pick up girls, it’s impossible to feel anything for him. Although Brady Corbet is a compelling actor and succeeds at times in capturing an almost boyish charm, he’s playing a nasty, unappealing and unredemptive character.

Isolated and lost, Simon is eventually drawn into a sex parlour, where he meets Victoria, played by the actress and filmmaker Mati Diop. She’s easily the best thing in the film, but unfortunately her performance is wasted by an overemphasis on sex and clichés. And while the film’s title is certainly attention-grabbing, it’s slightly misleading. Simon is not quite a killer (although Campos’s intention is to explore what would make him one), but as he manipulates his relationship with Victoria, eventually moving in with her after he convinces her that he’s broke and homeless, the appalling reason for his earlier break-up becomes very clear. It just seems a shame that Campos pays so much more attention to the perpetrator rather than the victim.

That is not to say that Campos isn’t a talent to watch – he clearly is a very proficient filmmaker who has crafted a movie that looks great, has the perfect soundtrack and features exceptionally strong performances throughout. Hopefully Campos will broaden his scope to see beyond this type of narcissistic being in his future films.

Sarah Cronin

Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers

Format: Cinema

Release date: 5 April 2013

Distributor: Vertigo/Universal Pictures

Director: Harmony Korine

Writer: Harmony Korine

Cast: Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, Ashley Benson, James Franco, Gucci Mane

USA 2012

92 mins

Harmony Korine may be the writer of Larry Clark’s Kids (1995), director of Gummo (1997) and friends with Werner Herzog, but gaining a reputation as one of the many enfants terribles of American cinema doesn’t mean mediocre work can go unnoticed. That is not to say that Spring Breakers is a bad film per se – there are a few sparks of brilliance in it – but everyone who’s beyond the actual spring-break age may struggle to keep their attention focused on what is essentially a slow-motion-candy-colour-teen-bikini-tits-pills-guns-coke-pseudo-gangsta-rap-beach-rave video clip on constant rewind.

Part of the film’s problem may be that, as his projects have grown bigger, Korine wants too much, too fast. While Kids was all about sex, Spring Breakers is as much about sex as it is about violence, money and drugs, in equal measures. It’s the American teen dream (or nightmare) packed in 92 seemingly endless minutes. And as most dreams go, especially those on illegal highs, its sparse narrative, following four bored-to-death college girls on a crime spree to spring-break paradise, is elliptical, hazy and marked by recurrence and a sense of déjá vu.

When, soon after their arrival at St. Pete Beach, Brit (Ashley Benson), Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) end up in jail for dancing at the right party at the wrong time, they are bailed out by sleazy, big-mouthed local hustler Alien (James Franco), who takes the girls under his wing. It’s all fun and games with Alien too, who proudly announces that he has found his soulmates in the reckless blondes who would stop at nothing to have fun, until Cotty gets shot and chickens out, following devoutly religious Faith, who has long gone home. For the remaining two girls, however, the party is just getting started.

Korine himself said that he just wants to be as innovative, radical and personal as possible, and to get people who wouldn’t normally go for his stuff to watch his films. Fair enough, and Soderbergh’s Magic Mike (2012) has just proven that no matter how ambitious your intention as a director may be, you better keep things simple if you want to succeed at the box office, too. In fact, that there may well be a subtle melodrama hiding somewhere behind the sex-and-crime-obsession-imagery seems to unnecessarily complicate matters in Spring Breakers. But thanks to cinematographer Benoît Debie (Enter the Void, 2009) and a dubstep/electro soundtrack featuring DJ Skrillex and Winding-Refn’s composer, Cliff Martinez, you are sure to forget that thought within seconds, and instead find yourself trapped in a loop of booze, beach and boobs yet again.

Pamela Jahn

Watch the trailer:

Side Effects

Side Effects

Format: Cinema

Release date: 8 March 2013

Venues: UK wide

Distributor: Entertainment One

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Scott Z. Burns

Cast: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law

USA 2013

106 mins

A dizzying, dazzling affair at times, bearing witness to Steven Soderbergh’s craftsmanship, Side Effects might be compelling in the heat of the moment but, like a bad drug, it’s a quick fix that leaves you all the more frustrated afterwards.

Emily (Rooney Mara) should be nothing but happy since her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison after a four-year sentence for insider trading. And she tries to be, duly swallowing every pill her friends, family and doctors recommend, but she can’t help feeling down: Martin’s return has brought back her long-suppressed depression, which soon pushes her to hurt not just herself but those around her. When after a long sleep on a new antidepressant she finds her husband stabbed to death, she can’t seem to remember a thing. Suddenly all eyes are on her psychiatrist (Jude Law), who prescribed the medication and emerges as the outlaw in a mix of pharmaceutical cover-up story, conventional psycho-thriller, unpredictable plot twists and wayward solutions.

Emily’s subtle transformation from the troubled loving wife to diabolical femme fatale is a little rocky, but a confident cast and their director largely keep the film aloft: it’s another genre exercise for Soderbergh that he has managed to pull off with the help of his Hollywood friends to entertaining, if ultimately rather underwhelming, effect.

Pamela Jahn

Winter’s Bone

Winter's Bone

Format: Cinema

Date: 17 September 2010

Venues: Curzon Soho/Renoir/Richmond (London) and nationwide

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Debra Granik

Writers: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini

Based on the novel by: Daniel Woodrell

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey

USA 2010

100 mins

Winter in the Ozark Mountains. Timber-framed houses litter a rust-coloured landscape, the yards full of abandoned cars, washing machines, years of accumulated junk. In this incestuous community, where the families are all linked by blood ties and a terrifying patriarch is king, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is trying to raise her two younger siblings, while her mother, mentally locked inside a world of her own, barely acknowledges their existence. And then the sheriff arrives: her father, who cooks meth, is missing ahead of a court appearance. If he skips the hearing, their home, posted as bond, will be seized. But when Ree tries to find him, there’s no one who will help - instead, she’s chased off people’s property, threatened, and taught the hard way not to interfere in other people’s business.

Directed by Debra Granik and based on a novel by Daniel Woodrall, Winter’s Bone paints a portrait of a remote community mired in poverty and drug addiction. These are people who have fallen through the cracks, who live by a different set of laws and deal out justice with their own hands; the women, protecting their loved ones, are even more sinister and ruthless than the men. It’s a gripping film that reminds the audience that there is a world far away from Hollywood or the bright lights of New York, or even the majestic Midwest that usually stands in for rural Americana. Chillingly authentic, this is a place that few outsiders will ever see.

But the film’s biggest assets are two terrific performances. Lawrence, in her mud-stained, ill-fitting clothes, her hair knotted, exudes grace and a rough, unvarnished beauty (she’s already been cast in both an upcoming Jodie Foster-directed film and the next X-Men movie). She’s completely convincing as the foolishly brave 17-year-old who is determined to ensure her family’s survival, with no money, no job and little hope.

Another surprise is John Hawkes, who plays Teardrop, her father’s brother and a violent, unpredictable addict who belatedly tries to do the right thing by Ree. Although he was endearing in films like Me and You and Everyone We Know, if a sometimes surprising love interest, here his craggy features and thin, worn-out frame blend perfectly into the landscape; he’s a man ravaged by abuse, who’s been given one last shot at redemption.

But the deeper Teardrop and Ree dig, the more tangled things get. Meth - using, selling or supplying - has corrupted the whole community, including the law, and a father who first appears to be the story’s villain may not be such a bad man after all. But even Ree is finally forced to accept that rough justice is the only way to protect what little community she has.

Granik’s film is part social realism, part mystery and part tragedy. But as bleak as it sounds, Winter’s Bone has a special quality that makes it an unmissable film, and deserving of the Grand Jury Prize that it received at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Read Debra Granik’s text on the closing shot of Werner Herzog’s Stroszek in The End: An Electric Sheep Anthology, to be published in November 2010.

Sarah Cronin