Imagine the manifestation of a meeting between Mark Twain and Jay-Z. What would happen if Ernest Hemingway had an Arri Alexa? The Kings of Summer is what happens when cool meets good. The story, written by Chris Galletta, and film, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is a coming of age story in the most non-traditional sense. The Kings of Summer is about three male teenagers taking to a life, in the woods in an attempt to escape their domestic angst. Vogt-Roberts’ first attempt at a feature film is a grand success. What elevates the story is the sophisticated imagery crafted at the hands of commercial cinematographer, Ross Riege. Even in nature, Riege chooses to bring a contemporary flare to the way light is used on this canvas. This is the MTV age of filmmaking. An essence of cool must be composed alongside a Terrence Malick-like gaze upon the natural wild. And it totally works. The warms and cools are saturated. The frames are sped up to 48, and at times, even 64 frames per second to watch life occur in extreme slow motion. Dream sequences transpire with the assistance of CGI, but used sparingly. Who says a simple story has to be visually lame? To be cool is the appeal.
Even if so, Vogt-Roberts doesn’t ignore the heart of Galletta’s story. The question in the writing is…what does it mean to be a man? The answer is found in nature. It is the crux of American folklore, borrowed from the heartening pages of Mark Twain. Our three leads, Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and the show stealing Moises Arias, are all new-aged versions of Huckleberry Finn. Their assumed perceptions of the silliness in adults and the unjust life leads them on an adventure fit with the task of surviving with no rules. Actually, there’s always one rule in manhood, and that rule is to love thy fellow man. What happens when a fair maiden is pit between two friends and she has made her own decision and acted on her own desires? I remember a moment in my life when I attempted to woo a young lady in my 6th grade class. No matter how hard I tried, it became very apparent that she was attracted to my best friend. Nothing made that more obvious then a day when there was a huge storm. My friend and I walked to school and were both drenched by the time of our arrival. A group of students were huddled under an awning trying to keep dry. As my friend and I squeezed in with the group, the lenses of our glasses were fogged and perspired. The girl of my dreams broke through the middle of the wild horde and pulled the glasses from my friend’s face. She wiped them clean and placed them back on his face. Mine remained wet. In that moment, I knew he had won our silent competition. The Kings of Summer feels just as real as that moment. The performances are endearing, especially in a specific scene that really connects with the story I had just told. The comedy remains strong throughout, at most times carried on the backs of Nick Offerman and the unpredictable antics of Moises Arias.
The film does not come without its flaws. I’d say the discovery on how to execute the main character’s desire was a little sudden. Almost too easy. That aside, when our protagonists decide to act on that desire, the story takes off and never slows down enough to drop the ball. Everything seems to work out for our protagonists until a monkey wrench is thrown into the friendships. The arc for each of our characters work out beautifully. Albeit, the storyline makes it a bit difficult to understand the exact passing of time. Our young characters growing five o’clock shadows is hilarious, but gets to be a bit confusing. It seems they’ve been missing in the woods for months, when in actuality, it’s been a couple of weeks. Vogt-Roberts tries to walk the fine line of small town storytelling and surreal Black comedy, and it works for the most part. At other times, not so much. A major flaw in my opinion, is the inclusion of most of Vogt-Roberts comedic cameos by Hannibal Burress, Kumail Nanjiani, and Tony Hale among others. They are all funny, but in this movie, it all seems like random favors for personal friends. The familiar faces with no actual character behind the roles diminishes what’s at the heart of the story. This happens often enough to note. For example, a diversion occurs with one of the main cops on the investigation. He has a scene where he hallucinates Biaggio getting into his head. Totally unnecessary, weird and just about the least funny thing that happens in the movie. Yet, Vogt-Roberts seems to seamlessly find his way back on track.
Nick Offerman gives a loaded performance. His character has Offerman’s usual brand of deadbeat comedy, but unlike his role in Parks and Recreation, Offerman’s hard knit shell is finally cracked and the audience sees the vulnerability he hides in the comedy. Offerman plays a man that hides a deep pain from the passing of his wife in a lot of sarcasm. One of the most touching moments of the film is when Offerman asks the always amazing Alison Brie if he’s a bastard. You totally get it in that one moment. He hasn’t felt like a complete man since the death of his wife, and now, he’s faced with the challenge of teaching his teenage son how to be a responsible man. Furthermore, Offerman’s character, Frank, is trying to get back on the dating horse again because life must go on. None of this is spoken. It’s all said in the performance. It’s all in the breakdown Offerman has while irrationally debating how large the wontons in Wonton Soup should actually be. Like Moises Arias, Offerman is also a show stealer. Alison Brie, no matter how great she is a performer, is given little to actually work with here. She plays our lead’s older sister, and Offerman’s eldest child. She brings her ever desperate boyfriend with her for a family visit and the cliched desperation of the daughter’s love interest trying to win the approval of said daughter’s father sort of crowds Brie’s shine. Eugene Cordero plays Paul, the boyfriend. He’s hilarious but totally unnecessary. He doesn’t elevate the story. He simply helps to create awkward moments where you may laugh out loud, but you may also very well forget a week later. The crime that The Kings of Summer commits is possibly allowing us, the audience, to forget that Alison Brie has an important role in the film. She helps in the search and helps Offerman realize his missteps, but all in all, she even becomes inessential. There isn’t much that her character gains from the disappearance of her younger brother, Joe Toy (Nick Robinson).
Other than that, Kings of Summer is a beautiful movie. The story is compelling and instantly relatable. The visuals are stimulating. Vogt-Roberts is able to play the natural and the psychological with much ease. The comedy is rarely forced and very much aware of itself. Everyone involved knows what’s funny and are professionals at knowing how to be funny in the right moments. They also know how to be sincere in every moment. I truly recommend this innovative take on a classic American theme. The characters have a lot of life. The woods becomes its own character and with much respect. Its beauty breathes. Its inhabitants have character, especially the copperhead snake. You’ll see when you watch. The Kings of Summer is Huckleberry Finn meets The Jungle Book meets Spike Jonze meets Hip-Hop and MTV. And everyone gets along like cake and pie at Ms. Ceal’s house. Absolutely breathtaking.
By Joseph Wallace
This film was a huge “WTF” experience. Spring Breakers, directed by Harmony Korine, stars James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine. And not to mention…Gucci Mane. If you could imagine taking acid and going to the movies to watch visual poetry glued together by contrived plot points and a lot of breasts and butt cheeks, then that is Spring Breakers in a nutshell. The interesting thing is there is so much to say about the message behind the movie, but as far as executing a solid story, Harmony sort of fails in the most esoteric way. I’ll tell you this though, I’d be lying if I told you that I did not have a full blown experience, whether I liked the film or not.
After watching Spring Breakers, I held a discussion with a friend of mine about the appropriation of Hip-Hop culture. It seems that Harmony is giving you his opinion on the youthful obsession of chasing thrills. The idea of kids being dissatisfied with the lives that their parents may have or may have not provided for them, and so they go in search of the highs in life. For some with great futures ahead of them, there is only so much time to meet a certain euphoric excitement in life before it all becomes mundane and predictable. Make money, spend money. Those desires drive thousands of sex crazed young adults to sandy beaches during breaks from their every day constraints.
Outside of that, there’s an obsession to experience the gangster’s paradise. The delinquent that lies dormant in most every single American youth wishes to be free enough, and wild enough to live life by the edge of his or her fingernails. Before the Hip-Hop gangster, there was the teenage rebel, the mafia made man, the western cowboy. The interesting thing about the Hip-Hop gangster is that not everyone can identify because not everyone belongs. Yet, everyone listens, making Hip-Hop culture the most profitable form of artistic expression as of current. The women in Spring Breakers are obsessed with a crime that they’ve committed. They find it impossible to get over themselves. They are post modern heroes; they are four young Caucasian women that wielded guns, got money, did drugs and ultimately, fully realizing their fantasies by embarking on a murderous journey. Not in the sense of the type of violence that matches well with their reality, but illogical gun battles that pays tribute to movies like Scarface or Rambo. These being the same influences of Gangster Rap reveries. Furthermore, Alien, played by James Franco, desires to be the “Don Juan Quixote” of Florida. He has a silly beef with former best friend, Archie played by Gucci Mane. The beef is justified only with Alien’s desire to step out of Archie’s shadow, putting down the second fiddle in exchange for the throne. He wants to be better than Archie. He believes he’s invincible by continually demanding that you look at “All his shit.” He’s rapper by day, and real gangster by always. He has the most guns. He has the most money. He has the most sex appeal. He has the biggest dick. These are all fantasies. And in the end, the “White Rabbit” always leads one down a hole that’s too steep to climb out of. Basically, everything that occurs in this movie would ONLY occur in this movie. And other movies alike. NEVER in real life. The heroes in this film know better.
This is definitely a movie with a textbook thesis. The problem is that it is completely retarded and silly. It slimly beats out Pink Floyd: The Wall as being the longest music video in history. Literally, the music rarely stops playing, if ever. All I remember is nudity, guns and music. And about an hour of neverending James Franco dialogue, albeit great dialogue. In fact, there is no movie without James Franco’s performance. It’s a complete dud without him. God bless Franco. I would literally recommend Spring Breakers just to see James Franco play the Hell out of this character. And if you’re a man or chauvinist lesbian, maybe I’d recommend for the breasts and booty. I was actually astonished that there was no male nudity. If women ever had a complaint about the lack of male nudity in Hollywood, this movie would indict the entire industry. And listen, the ending sequence was straight up silliness. It totally throws off everything that preceded it. No matter how confused I was about where the director was taking me, I at least felt this was some form of a semi-real world. Surreal world or what have you. But when the film ended, I left my seat scratching my head and attempting to avoid an audience that appeared riotous.
Last week, I got back from screening SLEEP at the Atlanta Film Festival. That was a great accomplishment for the film because ATLFF is an Academy Award qualifying festival. And everything was organized accordingly. The festival provides free shuttles from the airport to the festival grounds. This was an over a week long event. Unfortunately, I was only capable of staying for five days. Those five days was exactly what I needed in regards to stepping away from New York City for a bit.
I totally recommend ATLFF simply because they have the full support from the city’s community. I screened with five other dramatic short films and every seat was filled. I failed to do my best promoting since transportation wasn’t as convenient as being in New York, but I found out that promoting wasn’t a factor. The festival works hard to get the word out and it shows. The line to get in before the doors opened ran out of the theater into the street. My greatest showing was down in Miami with the American Black Film Festival, but Atlanta proved to be the second. There was so much positive energy during the Q&A. Normally, as the filmmakers are lined in the front of the venue, one could feel the anxiety of a crowd intended on leaving the theater to continue on with their lives. That feeling did not exist in Atlanta. People actually asked questions that showed their investment. One moviegoer asked us about our favorite lines from each of our films. I’ve never gotten that question before and it stumped me for a bit. Then it became a no-contest. My favorite line from SLEEP is…”Open the fucking door.” Spoken by Rashad (Gregory Barnes). We screened in a black box theater, which was pretty odd, but it brought a different energy and I was all about that.
The other positives were the down to Earth atmosphere, free liquor, free transportation and a staff that was more than excited to answer everything single question that each filmmaker had about anything and everything. This is an A+ festival and I suggest every filmmaker experience it. The dates ran from March 15th-24th. Festival center was at the Highland Inn in Midtown Atlanta, Georgia.
The month of November in the year 2013 will go down as documented proof that history runs on repeat. The irony of life is that time is ever evolving; yet the pains of being human are ancient. The citizens of the United States of America has re-elected Barack Obama as their 44th President. When the numbers are exposed, the story that is told revolves around the theme of divisiveness. The red states remained red. The blue states remained blue. Once again, two men battling to govern over hundreds of millions of people depended on the few battleground states that could have been persuaded either way. Yet and still, there were very few surprises.
So, I’m in an all black luxury Lincoln Town Car, riding down Atlantic Avenue in East New York and I look to my producer, Matt Leiderman and say, “Damn. The dream has come to an end.” It was literally the same feeling I had walking down Nostrand Avenue for my last exit of a 30 Rock set. I knew that I would see all the people again but I was back in my reality. I opened my door and the driver handed me my bag. I gave Leiderman a hand shake and began my walk toward the basement apartment of a Brooklyn brownstone. I turned to look back and the car was still there, awaiting to see me in safely. I thought to myself, “Wow. That was the damn life.”
No, this is not a post detracting bits and pieces from Lebron’s success and mental serenity. This is about the first half of my journey. I’ll start off the back by saying that the HBO folks at the American Black Film Festival have taken care of us like I’ve almost never experienced before. I haven’t been this nurtured since leaving my Mommy’s house at the age of 18. The journey began on a little street in Crown Hts, Brooklyn called Bergen. That is where the good folks at HBO sent a luxury Lincoln to pick me up. The car smelled like leather bathing in Rose Champagne with body wash by Dove. My producer, Matt Leiderman and I landed in sunny Miami. The only problem was that Miami wasn’t so sunny on Wednesday morning. All good. We were picked up and shipped to the Shore Club hotel, cruising in town by the wheels of a black Cadillac SUV. Complete with water bottles and fresh mints. I know that’s only a tip of the iceberg with this lifestyle, but that little Black boy with the thick glasses back in Chicago never once thought that he’d be important enough for strangers to ride him in with style. The first filmmaker I met here was Andre Wilkins. I had previously met Dre walking through Crown Hts. about a month or so ago. Now, getting to know him, the dude is a party to be around. He possesses a certain charm that’s going to get him very far in this game. And he’s a talented dude. Dre was with his associate producer, Paul Reed. Talibah Newman, my Cinema Stereo sister, linked with us a bit later. Two Cinema Stereo films in the HBO competition at the same time. Big move for us. When we all finally got our rooms, I’m talking NICE. Like, I need to be here with the love of my life nice. Balconies, stand-in showers with tubs, courtyard, hammocks, two pools & restaurants. Not to mention a healthy incidentals fee covered by HBO. On top of a generous per diem.