Sometimes a great movie fosters a great sequel — think Alien and Aliens — but that usually depends on the filmmaker’s willingness to do something completely different. Kick-Ass was one of the more notable fantasy adventure movies to be created in recent years, succeeding particularly on strength of the character Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), who continues to have all the best lines and to carry the franchise with chutzpah. But Kick-Ass 2 director Jeff Wadlow just doesn’t seem able to generate the kind of inspired absurdity of Matthew Vaughn, who pushed the boat out and came up with a winner in the first flick. Wadlow manages more than adequately, producing plenty of action and occasional moments of chemistry, but never quite making the material his own. For fans of the original, Kick-Ass 2 is likely to be perfectly satisfactory, but it is not going to deliver the edgy rush of the original.
Mainstream feature debut of Harmony Korine, who came to prominence at just 19-years-old as the writer of the controversial indie flick Kids directed by Larry Clark. With Spring Breakers, he continues to court controversy with a lurid fantasy of four young women who resort to burglary (so they can party hard over spring break) but get caught, first by the police, then by some criminals who want to bring them into a life of big-time crime. Shot like a hip-hop MV, the mix of sex and violence is likely to polarize audiences into those either excited or repulsed by the idea of bikini-clad babies threatening their enemies with really big guns. Either way, Korine’s style is self-consciously manipulative, and while Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine provide plenty of eye candy, and James Franco puts in a great performance as a crazy drug lord, somehow Spring Breakers manages to come up a little short of the sum of its parts.
Something in the Air
This is a tangentially autobiographical story by director Olivier Assayas about a group of young people looking for a way to continue the revolution after the Paris insurrection of May 1968. There is lots of talk of politics, commitment, the power of art, and the importance of love. One of the main things that has appealed to the critics who like the film best is its faithfulness to the time and place. The story itself fails to be as dramatic as it might be, but this is probably part of the tradeoff when a film is rooted in a social and political reality. Something in the Air also provides Assayas with an opportunity to tell something of his own story about going from wannabe revolutionary to painter to the filmmaker he is today.
Internet relationships and how they impact on real-world relationships are hot topics these days, and Disconnect is right on the money — not just with the topic, but also with the dramatic way the story is presented. In three interconnected stories, Disconnect looks at what might happen when social media turns from being your best friend to being your worst enemy. It is not particularly subtle, but then that is not a quality particularly needed for fostering hysteria about the brave new world of electronic media we have all embraced. The film is also worth watching for a spectacular performance by Jason Bateman, which reveals unsuspected depths from a usually merely competent actor. The complexities of the issues dealt with occasionally trip the film up, but it is hard not to admire its ambition.
Shining Dancing (舞力四射)
A Taiwanese version of the hugely popular Step Up franchise, Shining Dancing, directed by Alice Wang (王毓雅), offers the girl from the good family and the kid from the projects, the interplay of romance and the expressive sexuality of dance, the harrowing conflict between classical dance and street dance and the interminable babbling about having the courage to achieve your dream. Shining Dancing has it all, muddled together in a wild hodgepodge of borrowings from the recent dance movie craze. Newcomer Eunice Liao (廖曉彤) fails to be much of a screen presence as Annie, who has rejected a bright future in dance out of guilt for her mother’s death but finds inspiration in a group of problem kids she teaches at a local community center. It is all just a bit too derivative to take seriously.