The Frankenstein Theory
THE theory in this found-footage horror movie is that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was a work of non-fiction.
It's a notion that obsesses a wealthy academic named Jonathan Venkenheim (Kris Lemche), who hires a documentary camera crew to accompany him on an Arctic expedition to discover the still-living subject of his forefather's unholy experiments.
The script is clever, a few of the performances are good (including Timothy V. Murphy as a crusty Arctic guide) and the natural sub-Arctic locations certainly represent a departure from Frankenstein's Gothic roots.
The big problem here is that the movie is just not that scary, abundant crunchy sound effects notwithstanding. It's been 14 years since The Blair Witch Project and the majority of the filmmakers who have since aped that film's faux-documentary premise have never come close to eliciting its chills.
The monster itself, splashed all over the DVD box art, is barely glimpsed and when you do get a good look at him, he resembles nothing more than an NBA star-turned-guttersnipe. Two stars
DESPITE the impression given by the DVD cover art, Admission isn't really a rom-com, and contrary to what we might expect of 30 Rock writer-star-smartass Tina Fey, it is a surprisingly earnest and sympathetic piece of work. In the feminist spirit of one particular character, this is a movie about a woman forcefully busting her way into a domain usually reserved for men: the mid-life crisis.
Fey's character Portia Nathan is certainly a woman with some baggage for that trip. Her mom (Lily Tomlin) is a Bella Abzug-era hardcore feminist so self-reliant she doesn't bother to tell her daughter she's had a double mastectomy. Portia's live-in boyfriend Mark (Michael Sheen) is an over-baked squash of a man, barely capable of giving Portia the news he is moving out to get married to the Virginia Woolf scholar he so carelessly impregnated.
There is also her career. Within the exalted halls of academe Portia occupies, it is her job to destroy the dreams of most of the students who apply to Princeton University for admission. At the same time, admissions officer Portia is expected to visit schools all over the northeast U.S. to tantalize high school kids into applying.
It is on one of these sojourns where Portia reunites with former Dartmouth classmate John Pressman (Rudd), a whole-grain alternative educator whose New Quest school houses a nest of free thinkers. Among these is a young lad named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), a genius who wants to go to Princeton, but lacks an impressive transcript to prove his genius.
Pressman presses Portia to help Jeremiah get accepted to Princeton by unleashing a bombshell: he thinks Jeremiah is the child Portia gave up for adoption years earlier.
Portia finds herself in a double bind. She is attracted to John and wants to do the right thing for Jeremiah, but both those relationships represent a conflict of interest in her career.
With a few tweaks, this could have been a thoroughly conventional rom-com, but director Chris Weitz doesn't take that well-trodden pop path, shooting for a character comedy with some dark shadings. Occasionally, this results in some awkward shifts of tone, but Fey pulls it all together, proving herself up for the task of venturing into some dramatic deep water after years of playing in the fun, flotsam-filled shallows of 30 Rock's Liz Lemon. Three and a half stars
CANNILY casting a couple of former Disney princesses as bikini-clad nymphets who break the law in their fight for the right to party, filmmaker/provocateur Harmony Korine has apparently lost none of the rebel spirit that put him on the cultural radar as the youthful director of anti-pop films such as Gummo and Mister Lonely. Evidently, Disney vets Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens saw Korine's art-house oeuvre as a key to their own spectacular departures from the realm of Wizards of Waverly Place and High School Musical.
So call it a win-win for ex-Disney princesses, Korine and Girls Gone Wild enthusiasts.
Its merit as a movie is something else altogether.
The annual sex-drugs-beer bacchanal of the American college student is the springboard by which Korine does a flying tumble through a pretty grim landscape. In St. Petersburg, Fla., the sex is animalistic and degrading, the air pings with the threat of violence, and a culture of instant self-gratification is mistaken for something spiritual.
At least for a couple of weeks a year.
So it is for a quartet of college students played by Gomez, Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine. Gomez's Faith is the only distinguishable character here, a good Christian girl too easily submitting in a battle against temptation; all the other young women are interchangeably vapid.
The college gals are initially stymied in their plans to go to Florida. So three of them stage a robbery in a diner to get the necessary funds. To gird themselves for the crime, one advises another: "Pretend it's a movie."
Once in St. Petersburg, the nubile beauties easily integrate into an atmosphere that can only be described as aggressive hedonism. Inevitably, they end up in jail, but their vacation is rescued by an unlikely saviour called Alien (James Franco), a rapping gangsta in cornrows with a metal grill where his front teeth should be.
Alien posts their bail. No good will come of this.
The spring-break milieu has typically provided a fleshy backdrop for innocuous sex farces along the lines of Where the Boys Are.
Korine uses it to wring out some interesting dynamics pertaining to race, gender and power, but he still aspires to be a kind of American Jean-Luc Godard, which translates into a kind of contempt for bourgeois notions of character and plot.
Franco is the only actor on the screen awarded any kind of back story, an indication that even Korine must deliver a more three-dimensional character once an in-demand actor signs on. Gomez and Hudgens will merely get the consolation prize of a movie that will launch them into a world of more adult roles, albeit not necessarily the adult roles they had in mind.
It's all very interesting, in its sordid way, but it's even more infuriating. With a bit more effort, Korine could have crafted something special.
As it is -- well, pretend this is a movie.
The Blu-ray edition includes a package of making-of docs long available online and some deleted scenes more or less indistinguishable from what remains in the movie. Two and a hald stars