Tag Archives: movies

The Internship (2013)

Imagine that you are an unsuccessful, uneducated, 40-something man-child who doesn’t know a thing about technology. And you were just let go from your job – from the only thing you were ever really good at. On top of all that the economy is bad, there are hardly any jobs available and even where they are, no one wants to hire a man in their 40’s. Sounds bad, right? Not really, no. In a world of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson you have every chance of getting an internship – not just anywhere, but at Google! – and eventually even a job. Yes, let’s keep the American Dream alive, people!

I could go on forever about this ridiculous script. Another thing (besides the obvious message the film tries to deliver) that really bothered me was that almost all supporting characters were painfully stereotypic. We have an arrogant and pretentious British guy, so mean that he could easily be a long lost brother of Draco Malfoy. Then there’s an Asian geek/mathematic genius with very strict and conservative parents who only care about his professional success and don’t allow him any social life. There’s also a gloomy, “I’m so above you all” hipster guy, because let’s face it – it’s 2013 and it’s hip to have a character like that (or at least that’s probably what Vince Vaughn thought when he wrote this brilliant screenplay). And finally, there’s a character of 30-something career woman who needs to find a man to complete her self-realization. And this man is, of course, no other than infantile, incompetent Owen Wilson.

Anyhow, the main point of the film, hidden behind this badly written »comedy«, is to maintain the illusion of American Dream. There’s one scene where the younger members of the Wilson/Vaughn team are worrying about their future – because no matter what schools you attend and how much time and effort you put into education, it is not guaranteed that you’ll land a good job. American Dream is dead. But is it really? Wilson and Vaughn try to comfort the audience and show them that the American Dream is still very much alive. You don’t need any education, any experience, you don’t even have to know how to work with a computer to land a job at Google (or anywhere for that matter) and to turn your life around and start from scratch. No matter how old you are – everything is possible! If you’re a middle-aged white male from a middle-class family, of course.

The Basics:
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Written by: Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne
Running Time: 119 minutes
Year: 2013
Rating: 1

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Sailing to Paradise (2014)

I’ve been working as a volunteer at the Festival of Slovenian Film for the past week and Sailing to Paradise (with original title Pot v raj) was sadly just one of two films that I managed to see there. But since it won the Audience Award and because a lot of people asked me what I thought about it during the festival when I was too tired to adequately form my thoughts, I decided to write a short review now that I’m rested and able to think properly.

Sailing to Paradise was directed by Blaž Završnik, who was also one of film’s co-writers, together with its main stars, Klemen Janežič and Ajda Smrekar. Janežič plays physics student Žak who suddenly loses both of his parents in a car crash and embarks on a sailing trip in search of peace and solitude. But his trip is interrupted by Lučka who desperately wants a travel companion and manages to convince him to take her sailing.

The first part of the film, where Žak’s travelling on foot from his home to Slovenian seaside, is very similar to Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, while later, when Lučka comes by and disturbs his trip to nowhere, film starts to look like a Slovenian remake of Linklater’s Before Sunrise – although none of the characters is even remotely as well written as Celeste and Jesse in Linklater’s masterpiece. On the contrary, the screenplay is probably the film’s weakest point and the characters are somehow hard to connect to. For the first half of the film, Lučka is nothing but annoying – she seems more like a caricature of some spoiled girl from the city than a real person. Everything about her is exaggerated to the point that her dialogues seem unbelievable and disruptive. But in the second half her character suddenly turns out to be a complex person, full of unexpected depth. Her monologue towards the end is definitely the highlight of the film – it is one of it’s most real, raw and emotional moments, since probably everyone of us knows a person (or two) with the same controlling parents who suffocate their children with high expectations and with making life decisions in their name long into their adult life. And then there’s Žak who doesn’t really speak for the first half of the film. But when he finally starts opening up, when he confides in Lučka about his recent tragic loss, there is no emotional connection with the character whatsoever – he leaves us cold and indifferent.

I already mentioned the similarities with Into the Wild and Before Sunrise – but there is also this one scene (just look at the picture above) that was almost identical to Polanski’s Knife in the Water. I usually don’t mind if the film uses references to other, older films (like Frances Ha did with it’s dancing sequence that was a reference to Denise Lavant’s dancing in Carax’s Mauvais sang) – but I am sure that this particular scene was not meant as a reference. There was also a lot of forced “comic” moments that seemed unnecessary and out of place, as if a film didn’t want to end up being “too serious” and threw a few jokes in to lighten up the mood.

While I have quite a few reservations about the film, there are still some things that stood out. The cinematography was beautiful – there was quite a lot of breathtaking shots of Croatian seaside and Lev Predan Kowarski really did a wonderful job as a director of photography. The soundtrack is also outstanding. But film as a whole lacks something – it has almost no depth and the characters, at least for the most part of the film, seem shallow. This film had every chance to be a deep character study, but ended up being a light drama/romantic comedy, probably because they wanted to please the widest audience possible. As a result, this ended up being a film that will probably have a great commercial success, but it (justifiably) didn’t impress this year’s Jury at the Festival of Slovenian Film. They completely overlooked this crowd-pleaser and chose to give the Film of the Year award to a (political) documentary Boj za by Siniša Gačić for which I loudly applaud them.

The Basics:
Directed by: Blaž Završnik
Written by: Blaž Završnik, Klemen Janežič and Ajda Smrekar
Starring: Klemen Janežič, Ajda Smrekar
Running Time: 80 minutes
Year: 2014
Rating: 6

Spring Breakers (2013)

Harmony Korine was reportedly only 19 years old when he wrote the script for a teenage drama about sexually promiscuous, drugs and alcohol abusing and HIV-positive adolescents in New York City, known as Kids. Film, otherwise directed by Larry Clark, created a considerable amount of controversy at the time, but has since became a cult classic. It also kick-started Korine’s career, who soon became recognizable as one of the weirdest, most bizarre and disturbing American writers/directors. His next film Gummo was set in Xenia, Ohio, a town devastated by a tornado, with a teenage glue-sniffing protagonist who kills cats in his spare time and sells them to a local restaurant supplier. It’s safe to say that there’s hardly any other film-maker who would manage to write a screenplay so horrifying and fascinating at the same time, but even though most of his work got nothing but praise from film critics and fellow film-makers (such as Gus van Sant and Werner Herzog), his films never managed to reach mainstream audience. Until now. Spring Breakers was proclaimed a cult classic almost the second it hit the theatres – it was also Korine’s first film that actually made some money (it grossed $31 million worldwide which is more than all of his previous films together). The main reason for that was the cast: ex-Disney princesses like Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, Pretty Little Liars star Ashley Benson and Korine’s wife Rachel Korine were the ones that drove people to the cinema. However, people who went into theatres clueless about who Harmony Korine was, knowing only the previous work of mentioned girls, were probably in for a shocking surprise.

Film history has quite possibly never seen a more drastic makeover than that of Vanessa Hudgens. With Spring Breakers she turned from a High School Musical Disney princess to a cold-blooded, sociopathic college girl who is willingly breaking the law and crossing all social rules imaginable in pursuit of the American Dream (that quite soon turns into American Nightmare). Barely legal, innocent-looking teen queens snorting cocaine, shooting automatic guns, robbing local restaurants and slowly getting more and more corrupt while all through the film wearing nothing more than neon-colored bikinis… A satire about the distorted American values could hardly get any better than that . Another plus in casting is almost unrecognisable James Franco as Alien, who bails the girls out of jail and pulls them even further into the world of crime and danger.

The annual spring break is the embodiment of American youth’s distorted and hedonistic values and the first few minutes of the film actually look like some MTV show that glamorised spring break all those years ago. Film opens with a beach party full of half-naked, beer-soaked girls dancing in the pool with agressive Skrillex’s dubstep playing in the background. It then flashes back to the college attended by four friends that dream of going to Florida. And since none of them has enough money for a trip to Partyland, three of them decide to rob a Chicken Shack with ski masks, water pistols and hammers. After the robbery they can finally board the bus and head to Florida where days and nights merge into one long party full of alcohol, drugs and random sexual encounters. However, they soon get arrested for possession and after spending a night in jail, they get bailed out by a drug and arms dealer/rapper Alien who invites the girls into his world of drugs, guns, golden teeth and amorality. But what is even more compelling than the quasi-transformation of the girls after their encounter with a white gangsta rapper is that they’re far from being helpless victims that got caught up with the wrong people – they’re very much willing participants in all the illegal activities. They are amoral from the beginning; Alien just helps them to fully embrace this new way of living where you take for yourself whatever and however you want, no matter the consequences.

Selena Gomez is playing Faith, a religious and God fearing teen that is conflicted by what is happening around her. She is the only one that doesn’t participate in the robbery of the Chicken Shack and after the other three are reliving the robbery one night, showing her how they did it, she finally realizes who she’s friends with, seeing them for what they really are for the first time. But it’s not until meeting Alien that she starts to doubt her being in Florida is really such a great idea, which leads to her leaving the never-ending party, returning back to the reality.

After Faith’s departure, the girls move in with Alien, a self-made man who’s living some kind of deranged and corrupted American Dream. But even though he is a drug dealer and a gangster that’s seducing the girls with his guns and money, he is hardly the bad guy here for it isn’t long before the girls start to manipulate him, pushing him further towards his self-destruction.

One of the most memorable scenes in this film is without a doubt the one where Franco starts playing Britney Spears’ »Everytime« on a piano – and when Britney’s real song takes over, the scene suddenly turns into a crime spree, with Alien and the girls, (who are wearing nothing but their bikinis, pink ski masks and automatic guns) crashing parties and robbing people. Is it supposed to be a coincidence that »Everything«, a song of a former Disney girl and pop queen who at one point »broke bad«, is playing during the robbery of teen queens (played by former Disney princesses) currently on a breaking bad mission? I don’t think so. I’ve never seen such a messed up, violent and disturbing scene that would look more poetic.

Benoît Debie’s cinematography is intensely bright and luminous and the use of unnatural neon lights makes the whole film feel completely unreal and hypnotic –  which is perfect for a film that tries to strengthen the sense of a fantasy world that Alien and the girls build for themselves. Overall, this is a film about distorted American values and about the hedonistic hell that for some reason seems like paradise to so many young people.

The Basics:
Directed by: Harmony Korine
Written by: Harmony Korine
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, Selena Gomez, James Franco
Running Time: 94 minutes
Year: 2012
Rating: 7.5

Easy Rider (1969)

Easy Rider, a film that helped to start the New Hollywood phase during the late 60’s and early 70’s (along with films such as The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde) is a road movie about two bikers from Los Angeles, who travel through American South. Easy Rider explores the issues and tensions in the United States during the 60’s, such as experimentation with psychoactive drugs (it’s also known for real drug use during filming, especially LSD and marijuana), communal as well as nomadic lifestyle and so on. It is a film about the search for freedom, leaving behind predominant values and contructing new ones, it is about the conflict between what could be called old America and it’s conservatism and new America; progressive, liberal, young.The film is presented in a linear narrative, and we don’t have any insight into Billy’s and Wyatt’s life before they went on the road. We know almost nothing about their personal life, except that they’re originally from L.A. But their past is not important. We can even say that it’s not really a story about them, but more about the whole generation that rejected the conservative values and lifestyles of their parents in the late sixties. As Seitz (2010) already pointed out in his essay for Criterion:

“Easy Rider had a big impact on pop culture and it became a surprise hit because it showed young viewers a life they knew quite well but that hadn’t yet been accurately captured on film: the language, the sex, the drugs, the clothes, the music. But Easy Rider also transcends its cultural moment, because it’s about more than bikers and hippies or the tension between libertines and reactionaries. It’s about the difficulty of escaping social conditioning and economic imperatives and sustaining a truly free life. Our heroes spend so many nights outdoors not because they love looking at the stars but because even low-rent motels won’t take guys who look like them.”

Billy and Wyatt don’t openly reject society in terms of political thought; they just want to live how they want to, without time-limitations and restrictions (the moment when Wyatt throws away his watch symbolizes their freedom; they are not limited by society in any way, even time stops existing). They don’t really care about global problems and they don’t hold on to some great ideology. Their raison d’etre is freedom conceived as a life without restraints and full of pleasure in the form of excessive drug use, sexual promiscuity and so on.

After being arrested for “parading without a permit” while jokingly riding along with a parade in a small town, they’re thrown in jail, where they befriend a lawyer and local drunk, George Hanson (which was the role, that made Jack Nicholson the star and rised him to one of the best actors of his generation). He helps them get out of the jail and decides to travel with them to New Orleans.

One of the strongest scenes in the film is when Billy and Hanson talk by the fire, trying to figure out, what happened to their country, what happened to America (which is one of the main topics in the film, as we can see on the original film poster: A man went looking for America. And couldn’t find it anywhere…). Billy tells Hanson that they can’t even get into a second-rate motel, because they’re scared of their wild looks. But while Billy thinks that all he and Wyatt represent to these people is someone, who needs a haircut, Hanson has a different view on why people are scared of the two long-haired bikers – and this is because they represent freedom. When Billy still doesn’t undertand, what’s wrong with freedom, because freedom is »what it’s all about«, Hanson explains: “That’s what’s it’s all about, all right. But talkin’ about it and bein’ it, that’s two different things. I mean, it’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. Of course, don’t ever tell anybody that they’re not free, ’cause then they’re gonna get real busy killin’ and maimin’ to prove to you that they are. Oh, yeah, they’re gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ’em.”

Billy’s and Wyatt’s appearances challange prevailing notions of manhood – the bikers are routinely harrassed for their long hair and eccentric clothes, and mocked as girls or queers. This is especially seen when they walk into the diner with some local people and the town Sheriff already in it. They walk out before getting anything to eat, because of the way people make fun of them. They openly call them girls (»I think she’s cute, we’ll put him in a woman’s cell«) and queers, and even compare them to the animals from the zoo (»They look like a bunch of refugees from a gorilla love-in.«) Even the Sheriff thinks of their looks as provocative; when they come in, his reaction is: »What the hell is this? Troublemakers?« and his friend responds with: »You name it, I’ll throw rocks at it.« The comments become more insulting with every minute, and they decide to split.

Billy’s and Wyatt’s pursue for freedom ends in death when their wild lifestyle and unconventional looks disturbe some narrow-minded local people, who can’t except long-haired bikers travelling on the road and they shoot them to death, while they’re riding towards Florida, minding their own business.

The Basics:
Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Written by: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Terry Southern
Starring: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson
Running Time: 95 minutes
Year: 1969
Rating: 8

List of references:

Seitz, Matt Zoller. 2010. Easy Rider: Wild at Heart. Available at: http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/1667-easy-rider-wild-at-heart