Prizzi’s Honor is another entry in director John Huston’s really varied filmography. It’s a mob film, but more so it’s a romantic, comedic character study. It’s pretty idiosyncratic in the way the plot moves – there are your pretty typical narrative complications that you’d expect from a 1980s mainstream flick, but the film introduces several (much of Angelica Huston’s plight, for example) and then doesn’t really care to elaborate. This actually mostly works, and Prizzi’s Honor, though not Huston’s best, is a strong film.
Jack Nicholson is Charlie Partanna, a ‘maybe not as slow-witted as he seems’ mob hit man who falls for the sexy, dangerous Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner). Huston does well to avoid making Turner just your standard femme fatale. Sure, she’s got those qualities, but Body Heat this ain’t, and when she and Charlie fall in love, it’s ultimately believable.
If anyone has read this blog before you’ll know I love classic blocking. Here’s a textbook example. Charlie and Irene meet for a drink in LA (check out that awesome, Dick Tracy-styled blazer). Huston frames them in a medium-wide 2-shot and uses two simple, well-timed dollies at key moments:
Charlie puts his arm around her and we dolly into a tighter shot:
The conversation gets thicker, they get closer, and we dolly into medium close-ups:
It’s not all that complex, but I was struck by one thing that Huston avoided which is now so commonplace: the long, slow, creeping dolly, which maybe adds some tension as we near the characters, but at the same time eliminates the nice one-off moment that a time-camera move can bring to the table.
Prizzi’s Honor features a sometimes-annoying, sometimes-hilarious performance by William Hickey (that’s him on the right):
And won Huston’s daughter, Angelica, an Academy Award:
I’d consider myself a Harmony Korine fan. I love Gummo and Julien Donkey Boy, and was pleasantly surprised at Mister Lonely. I didn’t see Trash Humpers but did just catch his much-discussed Spring Breakers.
On one hand, this is pure Korine. Yeah, the cinematography is a good deal prettier, but the fragmented shots, vast amount of repetition (as though, and I’d wager this is what he did, Korine used the audio of multiple takes and strung them together), and constant voiceover moves this far into arthouse film territory and very much up Korine’s alley.
It’s pretty funny to think that this film is playing at mainstream theaters, because it’s not a mainstream film. It’s uncomfortable and slowly-paced. It is, in short, a piece of softcore-porn, arthouse, campy kitsch. It’s successful at times and other times very much not, but it’s at its best – I can’t believe I’m about to say this – when James Franco is on-screen.
Franco easily steals the show as Alien (AKA Allen), a white rapper in Florida who shows the female title characters around and moves them deeper into a life of crime. Franco is hilarious and gentle, he’s violent and sad, and he’s actually magnetic. My favorite part of the film comes when he plays a Brittany Spears tune on the piano as three of the remaining spring breakers – played by Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, and Ashley Benson, dance around his music video-patio in pink ski masks, bikinis and holding guns. The subsequent slow-motion robbery montage is just as funny and well cut.
But there are problems with Spring Breakers. Yeah, it’s pretty clearly a commentary on the debauchery of the “traditional” American spring break, and it’s pretty hard to not watch the film and feel really dirty. I don’t mind this angle, the problem is that Korine gets his point across really easily and really quickly and then can’t help but come back to his college-age, alcohol and nudity-induced opening time and again throughout the film. In the end, it feels a whole lot like ogling, more so than any “force the viewer to watch for reasons of self-examination” ploy. It gets tired quickly, and seems to be an excuse to fill out the otherwise thin narrative, as though Korine, in the editing room, said “okay, everytime we need to fill a transition, just cut back to spring break.”
I’m sure there are varying reads on the film: it could all be a fantasy for the “Bonnie and Bonnie” female leads (Hudgens and Benson); it’s about the perils of teenage and early-20s encroachment on otherwise complacent cities; etc. But it’s also a story that entirely lacks in character. The closest we come to getting to know a person in Spring Breakers is when we meet Faith (Selena Gomez) at a youth church service. She’s the prude one in the group…but we don’t get much beyond that.
While a third-act threesome might be shocking for those familiar with the young actress’s previous work, it does nothing to really advance beyond what it achieves in its first 10 seconds on-screen. When Korine keeps it running for minutes beyond that it starts to feel exploitive. When the camera then dips below water level to show them naked it feels dirty and provides nothing we haven’t already seen and don’t already know to that point. It’s time that would’ve been better spent getting to know the characters.
Okay, so maybe that’s part of Korine’s strategy: all of these girls (except Faith) are replaceable by anyone else, hence, no character development at all. The problem then is that the reliance is on three things: theme, technique, and shock-value, and none of the three can carry the film to a satisfying end.
Still, there’s no doubt that Spring Breakers is going to become a cult classic. While some of the girls can’t act, they’re also sometimes funny. The ending is either a neon nightmare or a wild wet dream, depending on who you are; it’s a well-shot, at once pretty funny and foreboding conclusion.