A Bigger Splash is Simply a Bad Movie

Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Fox Searchlight, 124 minutes, R (extensive nudity, drug use, language)

Here's an early candidate for the worst film of 2016. A Bigger Splash is one of those pan-Euro productions—Italian/French/English in this case. These projects sometimes produce rich cross-cultural fertilization. This one, though, is more like dumping ideas into a compost pile until they rot. 

The first bad idea was to try to update a masterpiece: Jacques Desay's 1969 La Piscine—right down to borrowing the names of a few characters. Clang! La Piscine was art; A Bigger Splash is schlock. Bad idea number two: Romy Schneider was perfectly cast as the lead, Marianne, in Desay's film; Tilda Swinton is miscast in Guadagnino's. Number three: Desay handed the role of Lolita-like Penelope Lanier to Jane Birkin; Guadagnino cast Dakota Johnson; any resemblance between the magnificent Ms. Birkin and the pouty, slutty Johnson is purely coincidental. (Note to Guadagnino: Even a testosterone-driven horn dog would run the other way from a tease as vacuous as Johnson's Penelope.)

Bt wait! It gets worse. If embarrassment were rated, this film would get an NC-17 for Fiennes' horrifying dance chops. And if overacting were added, IDs would be checked at the door. The hook of the update is that Marianne Lane is a famous rock and roll idol, who jets off to a Sicilian island with her boyfriend, Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts), where both of have gone to recover from previous addictions and she to recuperate from severe laryngitis. (Swinton is silent through most of the film, which I'd like to think she insisted upon when she read the script.) There the two enjoy wild sex, solitude, and tranquility in what is supposed to be their secret location. Somehow—and it's never explained how­–her manager and former lover, Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), locates them and decides to descend upon them. In tow is his resentful daughter, Penelope, and two of the many hangers-on party animal/egotist supreme Harry keeps at his side to remind him of what a big deal he used to be: the limping, older Mirielle (Aurore ClĂ©ment) and Sylvie (Lily McMenamy), the latter cast mainly because she looks spectacular in and out of a skimpy bikini. But is it Marianne for whom Harry really carries the torch? In case you haven't gotten the point, at one point Paul removes a large snake from the premises—a serpent in the Garden metaphor for those who fell asleep and didn't see all of the warning signs that this won't end well.

As Harry brags his way through tales of hanging out with The Rolling Stones and other clues drop, we realize that, though Swinton looks more like David Bowie and flashbacks suggest some Patti Smith attitude, the film is a thinly gauzed reworking of Marianne Faithfull's biography. No spoiler alert from me–I walked out after an hour, having sifted more than my share of the compost. A friend who stayed said it devolved into a murder mystery, so I suppose that's the Desay bottom of the pile. Here's what's good about the film: the gorgeous cinematography of Yorrick Le Saux and even then there's a catch. I mean, if you can't make southern Italy look sensual, you might be dead.

English: Putrid. French: putride. Italian: putrido. You're welcome. Now you can give a reason in three different languages why you should avoid this film.

Rob Weir


John Prine Live in Asheville: May Album of the Month

Oh Boy Records/Noisetrade
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The moment I got the email from Noisetrade I knew what my album of the month would be. It ain't new, but neither is the Mona Lisa and they're both masterpieces. Thirty years ago John Prine released a live concert album of a show in Asheville, North Carolina, but it's still fresher than a truck stop waitress.

In my decades of listening to and reviewing music there are lots of people who have impressed me more, who are more poetic, are superior musicians, and have induced out-of-body experiences, but there isn't anyone who has made me smile as much as John Prine. He is the master of phrases that sound pithy, until you think deeply about them. Can you describe utter boredom better than this? Bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down…and won ("Illegal Smile").  What (non-John Prine) wry comment sums up the gap between real and ideal better than, Fatherforgive us for what we must do/You forgive us and we'll forgive you? Few have ever equaled Prine when it comes to grabbing onto small hooks that tell a bigger story. Here's his take on damaged warriors: There's a hole in daddy's arm where the money goes ("Sam Stone"). On a lighter note, you instantly begin to sketch a portrait of the central character of a song that opens with this line: Grandpa wore his suit to dinner/Nearly every day/No particular reason/He just dressed that way (Grandpa Was a Carpenter").

Live in Asheville is filled with lots of other time-tested Prine tunes: "Blue Umbrella," "Dear Abby," "Donald and Lydia," "GreatCompromise," "My Own Best Friend…." Though it's hard not to miss Steve Goodman, it's heart-warming to hear Prine sing "Souvenirs," a song they co-wrote. And if you're not in stitches listening to "Let's Talk Dirty in Hawaiian," just go away. Prine is known for his humorous and ironic songs, but among the many things that make him special is that he captures the plebeian and mundane with such arch precision that his funny songs are not one-trick/one-time novelties. We laugh each time because, deep down, we're vicariously projecting our own foibles onto his fictional scenarios. Who hasn't felt this way? Every side I get up on is the wrong side of bed/If it weren't so expensive I wish I were dead ("Dear Abby").  Yet the same guy can turn it on a dime and write good old-fashioned acoustic country that will tear out your heart and fling it across the room. If you've never listened to it closely, check out the fantasy romance between "Donald and Lydia," he the reluctant (and probably mentally damaged) soldier, and she the obese clerk in a penny arcade—two yearnings passing like running-lights-off ships in the night.

This is a contribute-what-you-want download from Noisetrade and I doubt you'll find a better bargain this calendar year. Download it and we'll overlook your smile, illegal or otherwise.  Rob Weir