Spring Breakers

james-franco-spring-breakers-grillzHarmony Korine is to sequential narrative what Oscar Wilde was to verse tragedies. Since Gummo he has shown no talent for the most basic storytelling; with Spring Breakers he no longer pretends he has an interest, thank god. Using an enhanced color palette, flash forwards, repetition, and mantras (“SPRING BREAK, BITCHES!”), Korine creates an eroticized Grand Guignol that takes its cues from shots of college guys snorting coke off the beer-soaked midriffs of nude women and of our three heroines (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Benson) frolicking in the shallow waters of St. Petersburg as the sun sets. Pinks and blues haven’t looked this lurid since the era of fluorescent sunscreen. Imagine Project X redone by a guy who saw La Chinoise before dropping his film class altogether.

Don’t let the calls home to Grandma fool you: these girls love nasty fun. Short on bus money to St Pete, they pull hot pink wool masks over their heads and rob a Chicken Shack. After a night of lip-flops, keg stands, and bongs, they get arrested, prepared to spend two nights in jail until James Franco, playing a Bad Dude with cornrows and gold grillz named Alien, bails them out. He has no intentions — if he could smoke weed all afternoon, boast of the number of nunchucks mounted on his wall, and talk shit with the foxy mamas, he would. When a rival (Gucci Mane, dropping lines as if they were verses) wounds one of the girls, Franco and her two friends plot revenge, but not after some licking and mounting in his Lake Michigan-sized pool.

Spring Breakers is Chapter Fifteen in The Mystery of Franco, and once I got past the stunt casting that reminded me of Gary Oldman in True Romance, he’s fascinating to watch; he’s performing, not “acting.” Maybe Korine noticed his resemblance to Justin Timberlake during a dark period in the young scion’s career too and improvised a scene where Franco bangs Britney’s “Everytime” on a bayfront piano. As a sop to his gay audience, he sucks on two gun barrels most convincingly, even assuring the girls that he’d love to suck their cocks too.

Climaxing — a term I use advisedly — with a violent but barely bloody shootout, Spring Breakers assumes the texture of memories recollected in tranquility, or an idyll dreamed while reading V.C. Andrews by the pool. Why the jiggling ass cheeks, swollen nipples, and closeups of damp Lycra-covered crotches flirts with exploitation without quite succumbing is one of the movie’s bafflements. Korine’s Male Gaze is closer to the Male Blink; he’s too addicted to finessing his odd rhythms to linger on the women (I could have used more objectifying of nude male spring breakers for once). I looked at my watch a few times and I’ve no interest in a second viewing, but Spring Breakers’ art film approach to skin boasts the rare virtue of still being skeezy.

Singles 3/29

“Justice Thomas dissents,” I wrote in the comments section after Vampire Weekend’s leaked track left the rest of the Jukeboxers unimpressed. I joined majorities for easy-pick Lambert, a terrific dance track, and Earl Sweatshirt’s chance to make Frank Ocean look like the headline he is. In 1983, an Agnetha solo track would have garnered headlines; now her attempt to corner the market on nineties power ballads shuffles away in embarrassment. A better development, all things considered, than the oddest bad song of the year, by the oddly, badly named New Politics.

Click on links for full reviews.

Vampire Weekend – Step (8)
Bajofondo – Pide Piso (7)
Earl Sweatshirt ft. Tyler, the Creator – Whoa (7)
Miranda Lambert – Mama’s Broken Heart (7)
Randy Houser – Runnin’ Outta Moonlight (6)
The Postal Service – A Tattered Line of String (6)
Deadmau5 & Imogen Heap – Telemiscommunications (5)
Fitz and the Tantrums – Out of My League (4)
Agnetha Fältskog – When You Really Loved Someone (4)
She & Him – Never Wanted Your Love (3)
Big Freedia – Feelin’ Myself (3)
Belinda – En la Obscuridad (2)
New Politics – Harlem (2)

Best of 2013 – First Quarter

It’s not too early to mention ten albums I’ve liked this first quarter, in no order of preference. Several terrific country records, a fine synth pop symphony recorded by two sisters as rewarding as the Roches’ Speak, two as-good-as-we-expected albums by veterans, and no R&B or hip-hop, although my singles list redresses the phenomenon.

Tegan & Sara – Heartthrob
My Bloody Valentine – m b v
The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law
The Mavericks – In Time
The Men – New Moon
Gary Allan – Set You Free
Ashley Monroe – Like a Rose
Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park
Wire – Change Becomes Us
Dawn Richard – Goldenheart
DJ Koze – Amygdala
Suede – Bloodsports
Fantasia – Side Effects of You
Paramore – s/t
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito
The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Pistol Annies – Annie Up
Tricky – False Idols
Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
Ciara – Ciara
Killer Mike + EL-P – Run The Jewels
Pet Shop Boys – Electric

The state with the prettiest name #487

Why my state rocks:

The House K-12 Education Subcommittee voted 10-3 in support of a controversial bill that would give principals the power to choose certain teachers and school employees who would carry concealed weapons on campus. The schools would have a choice of either arming a school employee or hiring a separate safety officer, who would also carry a firearm.

What dangers would this prevent?

Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City, said she, too, “embraced” the bill.

“I would hope that if a madman were to walk on a campus where my children were and his goal was to die and to take as many children [as possible] with him, there would be somebody there to stop that man from murdering my children, and that somebody would take him out before he could do that,” she said.

State/fed tension

Hmm,

Students of Windsor and Hollingsworth have always recognized a basic tension between the theories of gay-rights advocates in the cases. The challenge to DOMA is undergirded by a sense that marriage is a matter for state rather than federal regulation. The challenge to Proposition 8 is a direct challenge to just such a decision by a state.

Yesterday and today, the irresolvable depth of that tension in this Court became obvious. The arguments would be easier for the public to understand if they had occurred in reverse.

A majority of the Court seems poised in Windsor to invalidate DOMA Section 3 on the theory that the federal government has no interest in adopting a definition of marriage applicable to 1100 statutory provisions that as a practical matter alters the very nature of what it is to be “married.” That role, the Court will rule, is historically reserved to the states. So DOMA is a federalism case.

Conclusion?

So the project for Justice Kennedy and the Court’s left seemingly is how to escape the dilemma that Hollingsworth is before them for decision. It is hard to “disappear” a granted case. The more liberal Justices presumably represent four votes to invalidate at least Proposition 8 on equal protection grounds. But four votes get you nothing at the Supreme Court, and Justice Kennedy expressed deep concern at making such a significant ruling at this time. All likely realize that history is on the side of gay-rights advocates, but they disagree significantly on whether that is the same thing as a constitutional mandate, at least at this time.

Gettin’ hitched

As Margaret Talbot’s (firewalled) article on transgender surgery pointed out, homosexual rights don’t end with marriage. It isn’t even a beginning. For more than twenty years, Human Rights Campaign ingratiated itself with Democratic elites. Gay marriage looked like the easiest of neoliberal triumphs. As opposition to it, as George Will has repeatedly remarked, literally dies every day its acceptance by my students poses no risks for men and women my students’ age who are avid consumers of what I’ll call the marriage industry. In 2013 too many people want opulent weddings, absurd honeymoons, and — what exactly from marriage? To raise the essential question of making retroviral drugs cheaper for the young Hispanics and Haitians in Miami dying of HIV is to toy with the but-there-are-starving-people-in-China clause; the poor are always among us, right? Reminding well-intentioned relatives and friends that marriage is an option not an outcome is essential too. Implicit in the case for gay marriage is an argument for equal protection, under the law and at Macy’s. We want to be as obtuse, complacent, and stupid-happy as our straight brethren.

This conclusion I can’t accept. We’ve all got work to do. The poor are among us.

My friend Alex Ostroff, a law student at McGill University, elaborates:

BUT: There are a whole bunch of issues that are equally or more pressing for queer and trans folks in the United States than marriage in and of itself – health care issues, immigration, the fact that 40% of homeless youth are LGBT, etc. etc. That said, given how messed up the U.S. is generally on social & economic justice, there are lots of marginalized members of the queer community whose lives will directly improve due to access to marriage, and there are indirect ways that general societal acceptance of queerness through (admittedly problematic) marriage will have positive spillover effects.

BUT: If and when marriage equality becomes a reality, it won’t really matter that health coverage can be shared through marriage if poor queer people don’t have decent health care plans, or if trans folks can’t get jobs because there’s no employment non-discrimination legislation (BECAUSE gay rights organizations like HRC made deals to sacrifice the inclusion of trans people from ENDA in order to pass bills protecting cis queer folks), etc. etc. etc.

Rights for queer and trans people /should not/ be predicated on their marital status or on the degree to which we reflect heterosexual relationship norms. (Access to health care and a decent standard of living for ANYONE shouldn’t be predicated on marital status or anything else.) And queer and trans people are not always THE SAME as straight people and that shouldn’t make one ounce of difference. And sometimes the ways in which queer and trans folks can be different are better (at least for us, subjectively speaking).

ALSO: A lot of the major organizations pushing for marriage equality in the US have mounted their arguments in ways that are super messed up and that construct ‘worthy’ white middle-class two parent queer families implicitly in opposition to poor single parent families of colour, or that devalue couples that choose not to get married, or that continue to reinforce marriage and state recognition as the real measure of the seriousness of a relationship. And they’ve been more than willing to use overall statistics about discrimination and violence against members of the LGBTQ community without acknowledging that these incidents disproportionately and mostly target trans folks, queer people of colour and specifically trans women of colour.

To see by my count fifty-five friends, three quarters of whom are straight, adopt the curious Rothko-like marriage equality Facebook profile photo moved me, but I couldn’t join them: besides my reluctance to attend football games or march in parades, I couldn’t see past the gesture, not when other priorities beckon. But the recognition that we’re in this together is heartening.

Onward.

What’s a flagpole?

Compiling the delightful things Antonin Scalia has written or said about homosexuals since Romer v. Evans in 1996, Adam Serwer shows the frivolousness of the justice’s arguments. The most useful advice: homosexuals aren’t trying hard enough to couple with the opposite sex. “It doesn’t say you can’t have—you can’t have any sexual intimacy. It says you cannot have sexual intimacy with a person of the same sex,” he wrote in his Lawerence v. Texas dissent.

Wire’s Change Becomes Us

nowSince 2008’s Object 47, singer-guitarist-producer Colin Newman has applied dollops of maple glaze to the band’s driving chords, and on Red Barked Tree Wire’s aggression had been so sweetened that on quasi-pastoral numbers like the title track it sounded even more menacing. From album title joke to song title jokes (“Eels Sang”? “Stealth of a Stork”?), Change Becomes Us is a return to songs briefer than sneezing fits, packed with equal parts gnomic wit and elusive balderdash — sometimes terrific balderdash, like “Re-Invent The Wheel,” the prettiest Graham Lewis song in recent memory, with onomatopoeia as fetching as the coda of “Kidney Bingoes” (he does almost as well as on “Eels Sang”). They even approach classic rock chordal structures and dynamics on “Adore Your Island.” No standouts like Object 47‘s “One of Us” or Read and Burn 01‘s “I Don’t Understand”: some of these tracks bear 1980 copyrights, according to the liner notes, but Wire project such formidable tonal mastery that not a single Robert Gotobed rim shot would have sounded amiss then. The keeper is “Doubles and Trebles,” a strummy and trebly take on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, “Pink Flag” from the side of what our government calls the intelligence community, and the best parts, according to my ear, Wire already poached for “I Don’t Understand.”

Anthony Kennedy Watch

Slate’s Emily Bazelon breaks down the DOMA and Proposition 8 cases that the Supreme Court will hear tomorrow and Wednesday:

The California case could be trickier for Kennedy, since it pits a voter-approved same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, against the argument that the Constitutions provision of equal protection under the law extends to gay couples seeking the right of marriage. Taken to its logical conclusion, the argument that banning gay marriage is unconstitutional would apply to the entire country—and the laws of 41 states would go down. Olson will try to make it easier by offering Kennedy a way to strike down only Prop 8. The idea here is that California is different from every other state because it allowed thousands of gay couples to marry thanks to a state Supreme Court ruling—and then it took that right away when voters approved the ban. Will Kennedy go for that middle ground? Or will he seem inclined to uphold Prop 8 (the dreaded step backward) or to embrace gay marriage to its national end point, making it (excitingly, but politically prematurely) the law of the land?

Happy Sunday

“I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On.” “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming.” “Early in the Morning.” Robert Palmer could remake electro-R&B without inflating the songs full of steroids as he did with the likes of “Simply Irresistable” and “Addicted to Love.” The cover below is my favorite.

Like Someone in Love

like-someone-in-love_320Abbas Kiarostami can frame actors. In what I’ll call the prologue of Like Someone in Love, he shoots a trio of bar patrons sitting and drinking as a voice, irritated but in control, drifts over them. But the speaker, Aikiko (Rin Takanashi), doesn’t appear until a couple of minutes later, and she’s not in the party: she’s been on the phone with what sounds like a jealous boyfriend. A friend joins her. I told him my grandmother’s in town, Aikiko explains. The friend rises and sits at a neighboring table upon the arrival of a gentleman old enough to be Aikiko’s father. Foregoing the lameness of expository dialogue, Kiarostami’s characters speak in the fragments and half truths of overheard chatter, which requires work; but it become clear that Aikiko is a call girl, persuaded by her pimp to accept an assignment outside Tokyo. When Kiarostami breaks the spell of medium shots and shoots the bar, we see the trio again and Aikiko’s friend laughing and smoking with a male friend stage right. Is she on assignment too? Is she there as part of Aikiko’s cover story in case her boyfriend appears?

The elliptical Kiarostami won’t answer these questions, but the suggestive power of this scene sends echoes through the rest of this 105-minute film, notably when the boyfriend enters the scene. Before, though, we enter Kiarostamiland, a place where men and women spend their most charged moments in cars traveling long distances. From the cab on the way to the john’s we learn Aikiko didn’t bullshit about the grandmother: we hear five of seven messages in which this scrupulously polite woman doesn’t lose her composure waiting for Aikiko at the train station. Neither does the john, a professor fielding calls from a less patient agent translating his book but apparently unsexed enough to offer Aikiko a candlelit dinner of “a soup with little shrimp” and sparkling wine. They do not sex — to our relief, for it’s clear their relationship from the outset is more fraught than expected.

Tadashi Okuno’s warm, skeptical wryness as Professor Takashi holds the movie together as Aikiko becomes less important than the cover stories she and he put out when upon dropping her off at the university the next day the boyfriend Noriaki invites himself along. He’s visiting his granddaughter, Takashi explains, with the faintest wink to the audience but uncaught by Noriaki (Ryo Kase), a gangly type whose capacity for violence, like Ray Liotta’s in Something Wild, is a smile away. The old man and the twentysomething collude in the fiction, exemplified by a witticism of Takashi’s: “When you know you may be lied to, it’s best not to ask questions. That’s what we learn from experience.” It explains the grandmother’s willingness to wait nine hours knowing full well that Aikiko lied about picking her up (a sequence steeped in melancholy, by the way, as the purple Tokyo sky and Aikiko’s tear-streaked face converge on a stooped figure viewed in long shot holding parcels under a statue, just as the grandmother said she would in her last phone message).

What happens next unfurls in Kiarostami’s teasing, circumstantial manner. Takashi needs a fan belt. An officious neighbor with a shrill voice claims to have once almost married Takashi and remarks on Aikiko’s resemblance to his late wife. Another marvelous shot: Aikiko, nursing a bloody nose, sits on a stoop protected on either side by brick walls. The lies crumble. The last shot is a stunner but not unexpected. I found Like Someone in Love a richer experience than Certified Copy, a movie I loved if tainted by Marienbad-isms. As a chronicler of felt life, Kiarostami is peerless.