Every year it’s the same old complaint: Nothing good ever comes out in the spring. Studios dump tripe on a consumer base that will go and see just about anything (except for “Movie 43”). It’s a statement that’s as wrong as it is predictable. It’s no different from the complaints about how Hollywood never puts out anything original. Those are lazy, ignorant assertions made by people that don’t really have interest in seeking out the good stuff. It’s there if you’re willing to look for it. As for the major studio releases, well, there’s validity to the dumping ground allegation. At the quarter pole for the year, it’s a good time to take stock of what’s already dropped since we’re destined to forget about most of these movies by Memorial Day.
Abbas Kiarostami’s “Like Someone In Love” is a delight that has to be tracked down (it had a brief theatrical run and is available via Video On Demand). It follows a prostitute as she spends two days with an elderly client. It’s art-house all the way, but it’s beautifully shot and acted, with many long, hypnotic scenes.
On the studio level, Steven Soderbergh’s final theatrical foray (allegedly) “Side Effects” was a highly entertaining thriller. The byzantine plot stays ahead of the audience the whole way, making it a fun guessing game. For some there may be one twist too many, but it’s a worthwhile diversion with great performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara.
The biggest surprise was the low-budget fright flick “Dark Skies.” It was the one with the birds flying into Keri Russell’s window in an easily mockable trailer. By all accounts it should’ve sucked. Plenty of low-risk horror/sci-fi movies pop up this time of year, but this one was surprisingly effective. The creepy imagery and legitimately freaky moments mixed with genuine pathos surpassed my low expectations. And it’s way better than “Die Hard 5.”
The most buzzed about movie so far this year is Harmony Korine’s fever dream “Spring Breakers.” On the love it or hate it spectrum I’m closer to the love it side. There’s too much good stuff in it to let the weaker parts drag it down. James Franco’s gangsta rapper amalgamation is a sight to behold. It’s a performance that makes the whole movie worth seeing. He’s as quotable here as he was in “Pineapple Express” and here he even gets to deliver a couple of show-stopping monologues. And the part where he leads a sing-along to Britney Spears’ “Everytime” is even more awesome than you’ve heard.
It’s “Movie 43” in a cake walk. But that one’s really easy. A huge ensemble comedy made of vignettes with the sole purpose of pushing the boundaries of taste never really stood a chance. It was awful and tyou’ll forget about it by the end of this sentence.
“A Good Day to Die Hard” was putrid, even by dumb action movie standards. Making matters worse is the presence of “Olympus Has Fallen,” which is a better “Die Hard” movie in every way. It embraces its own numbskullery and delivers enough cheesy one-liners and bloody action to occupy two hours.
Wish It Had Been Better: Park Chan-wook’s “Stoker,” which was visually impressive, as all Chan-wook’s movies are, but is done in by its script.
Glad I Didn’t See It: “The Host,” spawned from Stephenie Meyer, creator of the most bland series protagonist this side of Chandler Bing.
Wish I Hadn’t Seen: “Movie 43”
Can’t Wait to Catch Up With: “Beyond the Hills”
The Rock Watch
With no less than five movies coming out this year, the artist now known (again) as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will be everywhere you look for the next few months. The best metric of his films is to go by the shininess of his head. “Snitch” went for a more dirt-covered look and was accordingly ignored. “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” featured head and muscle shine at such an impressive level that “Pain and Gain” and “Fast 6” will have a hard time matching it. But if any Hollywood franchises are up to the task, it’s Michael Bay and “Fast and the Furious.” As for the quality of “Joe,” well, let’s just say that “Pain and Gain” and “Fast 6” have a pretty low bar to clear.