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Brit (Ashley Benson), Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are best friends anxious to cut loose for spring break, but they don’t have the money. After holding up a restaurant for quick cash, the girls head to the beach in a stolen car for what they think will be the party of a lifetime...until they’re thrown in jail. But they are bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a local rapper, drug pusher and arms dealer, who lures them into a criminal underbelly that’s as lurid as it is liberating for a close-knit gang of girlfriends who are still figuring out their paths in life. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)

Spring Breakers
When Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers was released, I had no idea what to make of it and skipped watching it during its rather brief theatrical release. Then, something weird happened – everyone started talking about it. And their opinions were fiery. There was, apparently, very little middle ground when it came to Spring Breakers, which makes sense to anyone familiar with Korine’s film career. Influenced by neo-realists, Neuer Deutscher Film practitioners, and Nouvelle Vague star filmmakers, like John Cassavetes, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Jean-Luc Godard, Korine’s career began when he wrote the screenplay for Larry Clark’s nihilistic cult favourite, Kids. He moved on to directing with a nearly impenetrably avant-garde film called Gummo, the slightly more conventional Julien Donkey-Boy, and a series of short films. Korine’s work is often non-linear (or at the very least episodic), hyper-minimalist, and post-postmodern, verging on Dadaist. He’s also one of only a couple of American filmmakers to have made a film that followed the rules of Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg’s Dogme 95 movement. To call him ‘experimental’ is an understatement akin to referring to water as ‘wet.’

I’m assuming that most of the Spring Breakers controversy/backlash has more to do with Lionsgate’s marketing strategies than any of the shocking on-screen elements. I don’t think the trailers were necessarily misleading, but their target audience doesn’t really overlap with Korine’s usual audience. The casting of teen idols like Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Benson, is the borderline brilliant element that really pulls the rug out from underneath mainstream audiences. I’m not sure if these ladies knew exactly what they were getting into (the dialogue appears largely improvised, so I’m assuming they had some idea as to what was going on), but their participation certainly marks them as more interesting people than I had assumed. On the other hand, Korine’s established fanbase had to have also been alienated by Spring Breakers’ high-energy vulgarity. He’s not really exploring the malaise or melancholy of abusive behavior as much as he’s capturing bawdy, lawless behavior, seemingly for the sake of doing it.

Spring Breakers
My problem with the film isn’t its wanton profanity, but with the heavy-handed way Korine is approaching it. He shoehorns behavior into his main characters without infusing them with any other defining qualities. They simply crave irreverent activity because the college world is otherwise too boring (‘Just pretend it’s a video game. Act like you’re in a movie or something’). It all reeks of an older filmmaker standing atop a high horse and wagging his finger at his age-appropriate audience. This seems odd, based on my admittedly limited understanding of Korine’s other work. Perhaps this is the point, though. Many critics have surmised that the director is subversively teasing or ‘trolling’ the people most likely to see his film in theaters. There’s just no way this particular filmmaker isn’t un-ironically or accidentally presenting Gomez’ good Christian girl as too ‘pure’ to partake in the criminal chaos. Possibly intentional tone-deafness aside, I found it nearly impossible to feel anything while watching the film because I was so emotionally blocked off from every major character (I only knew their names because I copied them from Lionsgate’s press release). Korine is still able to capture a palpable sense of unpredictability and danger in the film’s latter half with the help of a positively manic performance from James Franco. Assuming emotional detachment was the intended effect (and I really not sure it was, based on all the time devoted to characters mournfully staring out of bus windows), the second half is an amusing detour into low-life criminal activity, but the lack of narrative anchoring leaves the director with a lot of room to meander aimlessly.

Spring Breakers

Video


Spring Breakers was shot 35mm using various camera rigs and is presented here in full 1080p, 2,40:1 video. The film-based qualities of the image show in a sheen of light, consistent grain, but the sharpening effects sometimes inherent in the format are mostly missing, largely due to the especially pointed focal practices – cinematographer Benoît Debie (who, by the way, shot Gasper Noe’s last two movies) is constantly pulling focus to capture the chaotic behavior in frame. Details are, for the most part, not particularly sharp, but not at the risk of basic texture and some very complex clothing/set dressing patterns. This transfer looks best in terms of the garish colour schemes, which appear to have been mostly captured in-camera, not created via digital grading practices. The colours are eyeball-boiling ultra-vibrant without any notable blocking effects or jagged edges. The most vividly neon images feature blooming edges and quite a bit of hue bleeding, which creates black & white level impurities, but these all seem to be intentional artefacts. The cinéma vérité appearance doesn’t really damage the finer qualities of the gradations, however. There are ‘multi media’ moments throughout the film that include grainy and fuzzy digital photography.

Spring Breakers

Audio


This Spring Breakers Blu-ray comes fitted with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that fluctuates between stark realism, dreamy stylization, and super-aggressive musical interludes. The bulk of the sound is of the natural variety and does a nice job recreating the aural chaos of a busy, noisy party. The sound is partitioned throughout the speakers without any specific directional additions, making for a successfully immersive and appropriately frightening aural environment. The dreamy stylization often bridges the more organic scenes and is defined by ambient electronic music whirling around the room, spiked by distinctly centered, narrative dialogue (all of which is very clear, but also obviously captured on-set, not ADR’d) and hyperreal sound effects. There are a couple of sequences involving gunfire and these give the LFE an extra chance to be punchy, but the bulk of heavy bass is found in the electronic music, which is provided by Drive composer Cliff Martinez and dubstep favourite Skrillex, whose obnoxious brand of techno fits the film’s scenes of spring break excess to a T.

Spring Breakers

Extras


The extras begin with Korine’s solo commentary track. This is one of those cases where I’d prefer to not listen to the filmmaker’s specific intent, because I was having fun drawing my own conclusions from the material. Regardless, I suppose this is my job, so I dove in with the intent of skipping around to capture the feel of the track without spoiling myself entirely. Fortunately, Korine isn’t really very good at this whole commentary thing. A lot of the track is devoted to the technical aspects of filmmaking, including descriptions of photography techniques, locations, and, at worst, of the exact on-screen action (like a descriptive track for the blind). He doesn’t leave an excess of blank space here and is at his best when admitting that so much of the film is based around imagery alone. He repeatedly compares the film’s images to one of his art instillations and explains the more subversive elements as visual mutations more than social statements – ‘an impressionistic representation.’ I also appreciated some of the behind-the-scenes tales of the party sequences getting away from him as a director.

Up next is another three part making-of featurette entitled Breaking it Down: Behind Spring Breakers (22:00. HD). Part one, Film Makers: Spring Breakers covers Korine’s concept and writing, James Franco’s contributions, cinematography, storyboards, casting, and editing. Part two, Breaking Convention, features more raw footage of Korine working with his actors on set and covers more of the film’s conceptual/tonal issues. Part three, Spring Breakers Forever, generally covers everyone’s hopes for the film’s reception. Harmony’s Ear Candy (7:20, HD) is an occasionally screen-specific look at the film’s heavy musical content. Up next are three tongue-in-cheek, maybe real (?) Vice Magazine featurettes (41:10, HD), covering the seedy worlds of The ATL Twins Zone, The Redneck Riviera, and Dirtona Beach with Vice writer Chris Nieratko. Interviews throughout the featurettes include Korine, cinematographer Dobie, composer Cliff Martinez, music supervisor Randal Poster, real life Panama City Beach/Daytona Beach spring breakers and the adults that worry about/support them, and cast members Franco, Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, the ATL Twins (and friends), and Gucci Mane. The disc also features a deleted scene (1:00, HD), outtakes (7:40, HD), trailers, and TV spots.

Spring Breakers

Overall


I wasn’t moved enough by Spring Breakers to love or hate it, but I can’t possibly dismiss writer/director Harmony Korine’s occasional brushes with genius, especially a wicked crime montage set to Britney Spears and the ridiculously serious Scarface-inspired climax. But it sure takes a lot of listless rambling to get to the good stuff. I liked it better when Alexandre Aja was punishing his spring breakers with giant, hungry, prehistoric piranhas. I’m assuming that fans of Korine’s other films will find the meandering bits more tolerable. I also just happened to watch Girl Happy, a goofy Elvis beach-party movie, the same week I watched Spring Breakers and was struck by the number of similarities between the two films’ plots. This led me to want to re-watch Spring Breakers as a spoof of the beach-party subgenre, which means I have to admit that there’s probably more here than I noticed the first time around. This Bly-ray comes fitted with an appropriately grungy and garish A/V quality and a decent collection of special features.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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