The Franco Files — #3

ffWelcome to April, and the third edition of The Franco Files! We again continue exploring the different ways in which one actor has an impact on the overall film. There have only been two editions thus far, but I think I’ve already highlighted some pretty diverse roles from this, the former heart throb of Freaks & Geeks. Unfortunately, his reputation as of late has been cast into a not-so-favorable light given certain Instagram-related activity, as has been made public several days ago now. What I’m going to say next will probably stun many as to how blind a follower of the guy I may be. . . . .

. . . .because I really think the guy just made a mistake using social media. While I don’t believe for a second that he’s as clueless to apps like Instagram as he is claiming to be, people and the Internets man. . . those two things sometimes don’t mix. Social media has proven so far to be an incredibly complex beast that can have far-reaching implications depending on the actions of its participants. An actor being a fairly high-profile user of these kinds of applications can find themselves in the news depending on what they choose to do and who they choose to associate with.

What this scandal is really good for, though, is setting up for my next highlight. Last month we looked at James Franco becoming a friendly stoner in David Gordon Green’s stoner comedy Pineapple Express. We turn this time to a more scandalous and possibly controversial role of his, a very recent one as a matter of fact. It’s a role that’s quite befitting of the times, what with 17-year-old girls blowing up his account with selfie’s and shit. Oh, James. You silly, lovestruck fool.

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Francophile #3: Alien, Spring Breakers

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama

Character Profile: Quite possibly James Franco’s most cosmetically transformative role, the gold-teeth gangster-rapper might also be his most psychologically transformative as well. Franco brings his charismatic smile to a face hardened by a presumably troubled life, a life maybe even on the streets which has led him to where he is now, living it up in a sunny beach locale doing drugs and putting on a show for the drunken mob of spring breakers visiting his town. Clearly older than most who appear on screen, he’s a hell of a hard partier himself and frequently courts danger with all of his shady connections with various gangs. He’s undoubtedly a misled man but when four young girls crash land in his life when they are arrested suddenly and need bail money to get out, Alien discovers he has something more buried underneath all those tattoos and cornrows. As the girls continue to stick around the scene, Alien becomes something of a protector (even if a more accurate term might be an enabler) to these. . e-hem, adventurous 18-year-olds. A fondness for Britney Spears and the color pink demonstrates a capacity for caring, a trait that wonderfully contradicts his physical appearance. Despite how transformative the supporting role is though, the film’s best asset is still Franco being Franco.

If you lose Franco, the film loses: it’s sense of humor. Despite the bikinis, bright colors and bumping soundtrack, Spring Breakers is a rather dark and morose series of events. Without Franco’s Alien, it’s not difficult to imagine the film becoming overburdened by melodrama. Alien is not only a creative, surprising character, he provides the film some much-needed comedic relief in a number of scenes. He may also be a big reason why some of the drama is created, especially in the film’s later stages, but the chief thing the film would lack without him would be any laughter at all. The girls, despite putting on good performances, are not what one would call generally likable and “funny,” even if some of their actions may cause a smirk. No, it is indeed James Franco who gives Spring Breakers a jolt of delicious entertainment.

Out of Character: [Spring Breakers] is a critique and it’s a celebration, and I don’t think it wants to be any one thing. This movie is the ultimate mash-up. In a way, it has its cake and it eats it, too. If you want to read it one way, it’s a critique of pop culture; the way we are just more and more dealing with surface-level things and images and the way those things fill our lives. And on another level, it’s using that idea of ‘surfaces’ as an aesthetic choice. The movie really takes advantage of those music video, cell phone-video aesthetics. I think we all just were waiting for a movie like this to be a part of. It was sort of effortless, such fun.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work): 

4-5


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.gq.com 

 

Gimme Shelter

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Release: Friday, January 24, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Gimme Shelter finds Vanessa Hudgens and Rosario Dawson playing down their beauty profoundly as Hudgens goes from literal rags to riches in this powerful and emotional drama about life on the streets.

The High School Musical starlet ditches the cute smiles and glitzy performances at the behest of writer/director Ron Kraus and the considerably somber true story upon which this film is based. Twenty-five-year-old Hudgens takes on the challenge of overhauling her unreasonably good looks with her lead performance as Agnes “Apple” Bailey, daughter to abusive mother June (a virtually unrecognizable Dawson) and absentee father Tom (Brendan Fraser).

The film opens with a visibly troubled young girl giving herself a radical haircut, and barely escaping an apartment building with her life after being violently attacked. She manages to flee in a cab but has very little money so the driver throws her out onto the highway. From there, her journey only becomes more desperate and lonely as she attempts to find some way to escape the hostile streets of northern New Jersey. Her goal is to track down her father and seek refuge for a little while until she can, as she puts it, “get back on her feet.”

Her father, a big-time Wall Street executive, doesn’t know what to do when Apple (don’t you dare call her Agnes) shows up in his life suddenly. She’s hostile, perpetually morose, and somewhat confrontational, which might be expected given the fact that she’s bounced from orphanage to orphanage for virtually all of her sixteen-year existence. She is the definition of a walking tragedy. Even if Hudgens at times overplays the part, she’s never less than convincing and despite her prickly outer shell, we feel compelled to sympathize for her. . .although that’s not really what she seeks from anyone.

Feeling unwanted at Tom’s house after she reveals that she’s also pregnant, she again takes to the streets in an effort to. . . who knows. There’s little hope for sanctuary at this point in the story, and the complaints lodged against Gimme Shelter‘s stifling melodramatics start to seem justified.

This is the painful journey of a young girl hurting on a level few are going to be able to comprehend. Hudgens’ portrayal of Apple is like holding up a mirror to reality. What she represents is a truth for thousands, perhaps millions of youths who wander around in our midst, continually struggling to rise above their current circumstances. Hudgens’ performance (not to mention, a disturbing turn from Dawson) is compelling and cannot be ignored. However, despite the genuine passion of all involved, where things become a little unstable is in Kraus’ handling of the third act.

Given the substantial amount of time we spend watching her suffer, it stands to reason we are going to experience some sort of upswing. Something must surely go her way. Kraus certainly thinks that in order to offset the hopelessness experienced throughout the majority of this film, we’re going to need a soap opera-like finale. He is seeking balance, but it hardly comes across as such. What should feel like awakening from a nightmare, turns into something of a dream; an equally dramatic twenty minutes of Hollywood idealism on how this situation should always be resolved. The saddest thing is that so often it does not go this way.

In short, one of Apple’s largest personal issues is her inability or disinterest in cooperating with others; that all changes in the space of a movie minute. Granted, a few developments in this scene occur that drastically would change her outlook on life, but the time she spends with her latest caretaker (Ann Dowd) seems rather contrived and unrealistic. Considering her disdain towards all foster homes, her newfound joy in this place is random and doesn’t feel earnest.

None of this is to say that Apple (and the girl upon whom she is based) doesn’t deserve happiness but given the backstory, these kinds of struggles aren’t the kind one easily “puts behind them,” as Tom suggests in an earlier scene. Apply this to our moviegoing experience: we can’t exactly put all of what happens to the embattled girl behind us as easily as Kraus would like us to.

On the whole, and omitting some of the major design flaws in the story, Gimme Shelter packs a heck of a punch. It features some terrific performances that are going to be overlooked, simply based on the release date of this film. January is a month not known for quality releases, and while this film isn’t award-worthy by any means, it’s certainly not deserving of the critical backlash it has already earned. It’s hard to believe that this is Hudgens here, and ditto that to Dawson’s June Bailey. Her inexcusable behavior exemplifies Dawson’s dramatic abilities. Brendan Fraser factors in nicely as well, as does the iconic, booming voice of James Earl Jones.

He may have admitted to being Luke’s father, but he sure should be Apple’s as well; he’d make for a far better one than Tom.

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3-5

Recommendation: It’s not a movie of subtlety. Gimme Shelter uses a girl’s troubled youth as a platform to spread anti-abortion sentiment (a fact that I personally have no issues with, but you need to know it is there), and a need to start finding ways to serve the nation’s (and the world’s) underprivileged youth better. Moving beyond the B.S. of politics, there are wonderful performances contained herein that you should not allow yourselves to miss. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a pretty moving one.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “I’m okay; I’m not scared.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Spring Breakers

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Release: Friday, March 22, 2013

[Theater]

Spring Break forever, b*tches…

This being the mantra of Harmony Korine’s new movie, Spring Breakers begs but just one question: is it hot — or not?

Thanks to impressive performances, a Drive-esque soundtrack and editing effects, and borderline gratuitous nudity Spring Breakers distinguishes itself from other debauch films of its kind — things like Project X, The Hangover, and a whole host of post-American Pie boy-fantasy adventures. James Franco knocks it dead in one of the most unlikely leads I’ve ever seen him undertake (remember, he was on the cover of High Times magazine following his performance in Pineapple Express.) This role is better than him appearing to be the new Hollywood ambassador for potheads.

Then there’s the four girls at the heart of this get-crunk story: Brit (Ashley Brenson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and Faith (Selena Gomez) who define what hardcore partying is all about, and most of them are rather likable. In films that are thin on morality and all about some “good times,” being able to like the main characters is a big plus. Just for comparison’s sake, Nima Nourizadeh’s version (Project X) suffered from a case of featuring detestable teenage punks, thereby the film became far less attractive. Here, while the bikinis are let loose the sun radiates magnificently, and the drugs, guns and good times simply roll.

If that doesn’t at least intrigue you, perhaps you would not be an ideal test audience for Spring Breakers. But that doesn’t matter. Surface appeal isn’t everything in this film…even though losing clothes does seem to become the overarching theme here. There is a surprisingly wholesome quality in the message being sent by shedding your bathing suits and your inhibitions — in this case, anyway.

These four girls are looking for a way out. Out of the far-too-familiar college dorm; out of the routine existence in their one-horse town; out of their own minds. There is, however, one tiny speed bump on the road to progress: moneh. Having lots of it. So the girls decide they are not going to let anything stop them from having their idealistic vacation and they pull off a crazy heist to ensure that their break is everything they want. The fact that this is the way these girls are starting their spring break is indication enough that the ensuing hour or so of the film will be nothing but insanity. Most of us don’t experience what these girls go through on their first night — for the entirety of our breaks. At least, from what we can remember….

The girls finally arrive at their destination. And because the intro to the film made such an impression — an extensive dream sequence of party guys and gals in technicolor and slow-motion shots getting doused in salt water and alcohol — we are excited that these four have finally found the action as well. By the time Brit and friends join the scene we are well buried in the psyche of spring breakers, and far removed from our normal sense of decency, control and pretty much anything that makes us people. Indeed, this is a more animalistic movie than we’ve seen in a minute. Every fantasy is quickly gratified with the help of a beer-soaked camera angle, a tinge of southern sun flare caught in the lens; and for thirty minutes this is somewhat enjoyable. Obviously, it’s not enough to sustain a film. Good thing Spring Breakers packed for more than that.

A good portion of the film consists of choppy edits that more often than not successfully refocus our attention on more important matters. Despite how grand and chaotic the parties are, there’s a darker element lurking beneath the surface, a strange liquid seeping beneath everyone’s bare feet that slap the hot concrete. The difference between having a good time and remaining safe is constantly blurred, and the trend towards glorifying the party-hard mentality makes for some disconcerting moments. At least two of the four girls are completely hell-bent on drawing the line as far as they can. One of them is not as committed, and the fourth winds up with a close call that makes even her think that this scene is too cray-cray.

If you think about this film being one gigantic party, imagine the first half or so being the actual party and the moment we meet Franco’s rapper dude “Alien” when the four girls get busted at one particularly raucous affair at a hotel, the morning/day after. It’s not so much a tonal shift we undergo in the second half as it is a more forceful approach to the message trying to be relayed throughout. At what point do we stop sacrificing dignity for a good time? At what point do we stop caring about our physical well-being for the sake of things being different for a week?

This is where Franco’s character gets to shine. As a fairly prominent rap star who’s obsessed with money, power and violence (he likes to keep Scarface on repeat on the DVD player) he poses as an interesting, if not off-kilter challenge to these girls’ thirst for spring break excitement. ‘Alien’ is immediately entranced by the fact that these ladies are willing to stick by him and see whatever it is that he does. At first that sinking feeling kicks in: what in the heck are these girls getting into? Why is there absolutely no sense of boundaries or sanctity of any kind in this film? But if you keep watching, you’re bound to find it.

Alien is a very interesting choice for Franco. Despite the fact that you can ultimately tell who it is behind that ballin’ set of gold teeth, the quaff of thin dreadlocks and that infamous Florida-tanned exterior the character is at once hilarious, insightful and something close to charming. This is due wholly to James Franco having the time of his life in this position. I waited for a long time for the dreaded twist to happen where Franco would end up doing something terrible to these poor wayward coeds, but what I got instead was a twist I was not expecting. I’m not sure if anyone expected it. I think Britney Spears helped play a hand in that.

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3-5Recommendation: I would go if you’re even slightly curious about what this movie seems to be about. I almost guarantee you (sorry, no money back) that you will be surprised by the level of social commentary being made in the midst of such youthful jubilation and recklessness. If you’re seeking pure entertainment, then you’re needing a ticket in your hand. Now.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “Look at all my sh*t!!!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com