The Bling Ring Review – Immaterial Goods


Director: Sofia Coppola

Writers: Sofia Coppola (screenplay), Nancy Jo Sales (article)

Stars: Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Emma Watson, Leslie Mann


Release date: June 14th, 2013

Distributor: A24

Country: USA

Running time: 90 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Emma Watson.

Worst part: The confused messages.

We live in a mystifying, mean-spirited, and technologically advanced universe. Today, we can look up anything on Google, talk to people from all over the world via Skype, and post every little detail about ourselves on social networking sites. These groundbreaking opportunities may seem impressive, but privacy has now become a thing of the past. This issue has sparked numerous unending debates that tell the truth but don’t solve the problem. Overrated director Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation) flimsily tackles this issue in The Bling Ring – churning out a problematic and confusing docudrama as mechanical and soulless as an iPhone (there, I said it!). Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook be damned, some things, including Coppola’s rants, just aren’t worth sharing.

Katie Chang & Israel Broussard.

This pointless, repetitive, and static dramedy (of sorts) chronicles one of Hollywood’s most baffling true stories. The Bling Ring was made up of several youngsters who stole from some of tinsel-town’s most popular citizens. This docudrama, despite changing the subjects’ names, stays true to the story’s many perplexing facts, figures, and rumours. Coppola’s technicolour fantasy starts off with a simplistic presentation of high school life. Marc (Israel Broussard) continually runs into obnoxious people during his first day of school. Quickly befriending fame-obsessed Rebecca (Katie Chang), he soon becomes a part of the zany and enviable LA party lifestyle. A sudden rush to the head prompts Mark and Rebecca to rob Paris Hilton’s house. Their diabolical and inventive scheme – to research celebrity schedules, break into their role models’ residences, and steal expensive accessories – ropes their bizarre friends Nicki (Emma Watson), Nicki’s adopted sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and Chloe (Claire Julien) into this twisted tale. The highs of life, and cocaine, soon spin their lives into a glittery, sexy blur. However, partying, stealing, and greediness may send egos, tensions, and material possessions flying across California. This slice-of-life/pursuit of the American Dream movie is a kinetic concoction of Spring Breakers and Pain & Gain. After the obnoxious characters are introduced, the audience is thrown into each glamorous setting whilst beholding The Bling Ring’s doomed love affair with celebrity obsession. Relevant plot-points include Nicki’s mum Laurie (Leslie Mann) schooling her daughters in life lessons spouted from self-help book The Secret, Marc and Rebecca wheeling and dealing in stolen goods, the deluded youngsters singing along to hit tunes…and that’s about it.

Emma Watson.

Homer Simpson once tested his new computer by: “Watching a Sofia Coppola movie at 20 times the speed so that it looks like a regular movie”. Funnily enough, this may be the only time I have empathised with him. Brought to life by Vanity Fair article ‘The Suspects Wore Louboutins’ and the reality TV series Pretty Wild, this story is, undeniably, a powerfully newsworthy tale which attracts heated discussions. These crimes reveal a significant amount of detail about the teenage mind-frame, the ‘thrill’ of the celebrity lifestyle, and the lengths some people will go to achieve their goals. Coppola’s movies explore existential angst and humanity in a unique fashion. Her fly-on-the-wall dramas focus on flawed and fundamentally impressionable people. For some reason, the indelible and compelling aspects of these shocking crimes are lost on Coppola. Her style irksomely relies on an absence of tension, structure, development, scope, and chaos. Here, what should be an expository look into pop-culture’s ‘monkey see, monkey do’ effect hurriedly turns into a plodding and bland docudrama. Coppola obviously wanted to make an eye-opening satire that lampooned everyone in sight. Unfortunately, The Bling Ring doesn’t know what it wants to say about societal and cultural issues. The Bling Ring‘s vapid characters unashamedly act out to fit in. Meanwhile, its emphasis on the “like” and “totally” aspects of teen-speak paints a broad and ugly picture of Gen-Y. Coppola also confusingly presents certain celebrities as money-hungry, spoiled brats. According to Coppola’s distorted, first world point of view, Hilton hides her keys under the doormat, all mansions are devoid of functioning security systems, and celebrities regularly leave their doors unlocked. Coppola’s perspective is so biased and simplistic, that The Bling Ring becomes little more than a miasma of poorly written speeches and irritating stereotypes.

“I’m a firm believer in karma and I think this situation is a huge learning lesson for me…I want to lead a country one day for all I know.” (Nicki (Emma Watson), The Bling Ring).

The fashion police!

This tiresome ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ worshipping character study is lifted by Coppola’s kinetic visual style. Like Spring Breakers, this techno-fantasy is filled with enthralling moments that provide relief from its debilitating inconsistencies. Every so often, sweaty montages and cheap collages/cutaways break up the dull banter. The pulsating clubbing sequences shove an aura of liveliness into this uninteresting narrative. However, these gorgeous actors and settings eventually become tiresome. Coppola’s refreshing eye for voyeuristic cinematography, thankfully, stands above her movie’s story-telling faults. Christopher Blauvelt and the late Harris Savides’ camerawork gives each robbery a unique and aesthetically pleasing identity. The robbery of Hills personality Audrina Patridge’s home is encapsulated in a breath-taking wide shot (seriously, why do celebrity homes have so many windows?!), while the robbery of Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr’s mansion is a concoction of security camera-like angles and luminescent night vision. However, none of Coppola’s aesthetic choices come together to form a cohesive vision. Throughout the movie’s 90 minute (though still interminable) run-time, I kept thinking to myself: “Why should I care?”. It doesn’t help that The Bling Ring‘s assortment of brash, irritating characters support Coppola’s insultingly shallow view of femininity. Marc, the only character with guile, charm, and a conscience, is undermined by his shrill BFFs. His submissive, fly-on-the-wall persona pushes him out of every frame. In comes Watson’s vacuous and bizarre character (“I wanna lead a country one day for all I know”). Watson is spot on as the misguided airhead – defining her immense range and charisma.

Despite the catchy hip-hop soundtrack and Watson’s stellar performance, The Bling Ring is overshadowed by two dimensional characters and Coppola’s frustrating direction. Like this year’s Great Gatsby adaptation, it contains an alluring story but lacks a competent writer/director to successfully bring it to life. I can only imagine what The Bling Ring would have been like if Steven Soderbergh was in charge. I’m just going to say it – Soderbergh’s Magic Mike is a far better slice-of-life drama!

Verdict: As vapid as a Kardashian.

Stoker Review – Hitchcock Homage


Director: Park Chan-wook

Writer: Wentworth Miller 

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney


Release date: March 1st, 2013

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Countries: USA, UK 

Running time: 99 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Chan-wook’s direction.

Worst part: The cartoonish supporting characters.

In the first few scenes of psychological thriller Stoker, we are brought into a strange, spooky yet beguiling world. The audience is whisked through the woods as we come across one symbol and titbit after another. This technique develops one of many beautifully crafted sequences in this discomforting visual and intellectual splendour. Stoker sticks with you and never lets go whilst giving us one of 2013’s most enterprising narratives.

Mia Wasikowska.

Stoker is a creepily effective and moody assault on the mind and senses. Despite its minor inconsistencies, the movie sweeps you up in a visceral and gothic thrill-ride that would make Tim Burton and Stanley Kubrick blush then pass out. This gothic thriller starts off with a crippling tragedy befalling the Stoker household. India Stoker(Mia Wasikowska)’s 18th birthday celebrations turn sour when her father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) is killed in a car accident. Her birthday then transitions into his funeral, as India and her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) quickly realise that Richard was the glue that held their family together. Their time to grieve is also hurriedly interrupted by Richard’s charming younger brother Charlie (Matthew Goode). Charlie’s stay is met with a bevy of kooky supporting characters trapped inside India’s existence (including her concerned great aunt Gwendolyn (Jacki Weaver)), a slew of murders within the neighbouring town, and India’s mental, spiritual, and sexual transformations. Teenagers, huh?

Nicole Kidman.

South Korean director Park Chan-wook (OldboyThirst) is one of world cinema’s most acclaimed directors. His movies thrust themselves into your consciousness and irritably crawl under your skin. His distinct imagery and darkly comedic touches push the boundaries of modern crime/thriller cinema. Before Stoker was released, I was praying that Hollywood wouldn’t treat Chan-wook with the same distain and idiocy it treats other big-name foreign filmmakers. Thankfully, he is able to apply is distressing style to this Hitchcockian drama. His storytelling prowess and idiosyncrasies push this dour story along at a controlled pace. If you have seen Oldboy (soon to be ‘blessed’ with a Hollywood remake), you would already be aware of Chan-wook’s fascination with family ties, the bitterness of existence, and the power of revenge. Here, his story and character ticks are brought up in an effervescent and tangible fashion. His purposeful direction elevates Prison Break lead actor Wentworth Miller’s intriguing yet conventional script. Miller’s first big-budget screenplay leans too heavily on many of Hitchcock’s seminal horror flicks (Shadow of a Doubt, in particular). Thanks to a love of Hitchcock’s efforts, I could easily predict many twists and turns within this confronting story. This movie also takes a while to get going. This aspect, though beguiling, may turn some people away from Chan-wook’s influential material. However, this story contains more emotional resonance than anything you would have witnessed on the big screen in the past few months. Its alienating tone grated my nerves before I became increasingly intrigued. This seemingly pristine horror-thriller gleefully looks into the literal, metaphorical, incestuous, and Freudian shades of life.

Matthew Goode.

Featuring an array of sickly dark and light-hearted overtones, the narrative places a magnifying glass upon the ‘release’ of India’s inner demons. Stoker, featuring elements of Night of the Hunter, is a paranoia inducing examination of sanity, sensation, manipulation, and human connection. The movie continually transitions from kookily charming to gut-wrenchingly vile – turning into an ‘Addam’s Family meets American Beauty‘ style drama. The movie’s overt sexuality and infatuation with carnal desires are summed up in several enthralling sequences. A piano sequence featuring India and Charlie turns into a battle of brains, wits, and bulges. Here, the devil is in the details. Chan-wook’s style is immaculately plastered across the screen and spliced within each intricate frame. The applaudable craftsmanship is on par with Kubrick at his most alarming. His aesthetic ticks take the ‘conventional’ and turn it upside-down and inside out. His moody, atmospheric style builds every scene into a meticulous work of art. His fascinating editing techniques, in particular, are handled with care. One transition, in which brushed hair transforms into a field of tall grass, is simply jaw-dropping. Chan-wook’s methodical style is also applied to the sound design and cinematography. His eye for voyeuristic camera angles and movements pushes this narrative along at a refreshing click. Stoker is drowned in illusions and imaginative compositions. In fact, each plot point reaches a tension inducing and unique crescendo (throughout the second act, in particular). Every sound effect is burned into your skull like a lobotomy scar (a fitting description for this unnerving thriller). Crackling eggshells, gunshots, and the whistling wind will make you shift in your seat.

“He used to say: “sometimes you need to do something bad to stop you from doing something worse.”” (India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), Stoker).

Family values…

Thankfully, Chan-wook’s world isn’t developed this way for the sake of quirky aesthetic choices. His creation depicts parallels between puberty, independence, and masochism. Stoker‘s world is also a peculiar concoction of contrasting time periods. The Stokers live in a 1940s mansion fit with winding passages, creaking staircases, and bold colours. However, the Carrie-esque high school scenes contain many aesthetic idiosyncrasies reminiscent of 70s and present day settings. I’m not sure what Chan-wook is trying to say with this technique, but I still fell for Stoker‘s warped and precious universe. Stoker’s polarising characters also boost this studious look at the pheromonal and delusional mind. These people, reacting in vastly different ways to a major loss, are bafflingly and suspiciously vacant. India is a fascinating and vicious character ripped straight from Chan-wook’s previous efforts. Finding her way in life whilst coming to terms with death, destruction, and the opposite sex, she becomes a powerful force throughout this distorted coming-of-age drama. Credit goes to Wasikowska for persevering through the character’s many awkward and irritating transitions. India’s breakthrough moments, including the murder/’long shower’ sequence, chronicle Wasikowska’s immense talent. Kidman, thanks mostly to her “I can’t wait to watch life tare you apart” speech, conquers her minor yet profound role. Goode’s commanding screen presence pays off when required as his character’s menacing persona scintillates. Unfortunately, Weaver, Lucas Till and Alden Ehrenreich are given laughably one dimensional roles.

Despite the lack of Vampire lore and supernatural elements (given the title’s cultural relevance), Stoker is a moody, dour, and enthralling horror-thriller. Avoiding Hollywood’s ‘typical’ treatment of foreign directors, Chan-wook has crafted a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat from the enrapturing prologue to the polarising epilogue.

Verdict: A moody, dark, and affecting psychological thriller.

White House Down Review – Roland’s Roller-coaster Ride!


Director: Roland Emmerich

Writer: James Vanderbilt

Stars: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods


Release date: June 28th, 2013

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 131 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Tatum and Foxx’ chemistry.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

Hollywood has become an industry that will recycle any concept for a quick profit. I know I’m repeating myself when I state this claim, but, for some reason, studios have no problem blatantly copying one another. Famous Hollywood double-ups such as Deep Impact/Armageddon, Dante’s Peak/Volcano and Mirror Mirror/Snow White and the Huntsman are frequently mentioned whenever someone goes on a tirade against big-budget movies. This year, Olympus has Fallen and White House Down have formed the paranoia inducing and jingoistic double-up to end them all.

Channing Tatum.

These blockbusters have stretched the bonds of societal comfort and plausibility by destroying one of the world’s most important landmarks. White House Down may cause fatigue, primarily because it was released after Olympus has Fallen, but it’s a popcorn flick with brawn, laughs, and gusto. This extravaganza starts out with a comparison between two commendable and ambitious characters. Washington D.C. Capitol officer and single father John Cale (Channing Tatum) achingly wants to impress his precocious, politically motivated, tech-savvy daughter Emily (Joey King). Taking her on a White House tour, Cale hopes his corresponding job interview with the Secret Service will go as smoothly. Meanwhile, US President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is pushing world leaders to sign a peace treaty which could pull all troops out of the Middle East. This controversial plan runs into resistance from Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins), the military, and the media. While these events take place, suspicious figures, led by Stenz (Jason Clarke), waltz around the White House and Capitol Building dressed as janitors. These figures, of course, turn out to be psychopathic mercenaries with a reckless distain for Sawyer’s time in office.

Jamie Foxx.

You can pretty much guess what happens next. In fact, this entire movie is based around plot-points, character arcs, and clichés from other, more inventive, action-dramas. Its ‘Die Hard in the White House’ premise has been trodden on tirelessly throughout modern action movie history. Thankfully, this mash up of Air Force One, The Rock, The Siege, and Taken is nowhere near as bad as it sounds. Despite the tired narrative, White House Down‘s many zippy and unique aspects make for an enjoyable explosion fest. Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012), gladly, avoids the tropes and ticks that make several of his previous efforts nigh unwatchable (God knows how both he and Michel Bay made tolerable movies within the same year!). Known for blowing up monuments and wiping out large populations on screen, Emmerich’s work is normally drowned in cartoonish humour and nonsensical plot strands. Here, despite the film’s exhaustive run-time and cheesiness, he applies a more subtle yet enrapturing approach to silly material. It was baffling to see the first 30 minutes of an Emmerich film being based around witty banter and noticeable character development. I was enjoying each interaction and plot strand before the inevitable shoot outs and explosions kicked in. To begin the necessary comparisons with Olympus has Fallen, I’ll state that the Gerard Butler-led action flick works better as a whole. However, White House Down does contain many awe inspiring and applaudable moments. Thanks to the brisk pace and baffling twists, this slightly satirical and excessive action flick is one of 2013’s biggest surprises (ironic, given its disappointing box office performance).

Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Emmerich, however, doesn’t pull back from making preposterously stupid links between the plot and the heavy-handed messages. It’s right wing, fascist agenda is glaringly obvious and beyond inappropriate. Despite the shout outs to republican craziness, NRA, military injustice, Government conspiracies and preachy journalists, Emmerich can’t pull anything together to say something meaningful. Thankfully, the terrorists aren’t defined by race or ‘religious’ creeds. I know I’m asking too much of an action-disaster flick, but Emmerich should’ve stuck to the courage of his convictions. Where he does excel, however, is in the explosive action set pieces. From destroying New York with a mutant lizard (Godzilla) to obliterating Earth with freak winds and intelligent tornados (The Day After Tomorrow), Emmerich continually puts the pedal to the metal. His video game-esque apocalyptic-disaster movies push the boundaries of believability and filmmaking technology. Here, we go room by room as the world’s safest residence is torn apart. He finds inventive and baffling ways to tare chunks out of famous buildings and American ideals. Though lacking the grit and intensity of Olympus has Fallen’s invasion sequence, the White House takeover here is gleefully swift. The camera moves from one kill to the next as the punchy and kinetic action set pieces thrill and spill. Emmerich delivers one stupefying moment after another. I threw my hands up when Cale and Sawyer pulled donuts on the White House lawn with the President’s suped-up limo (aptly titled ‘Ground Force One’).

“Can you not hit me in the head with rocket launcher when I’m trying to drive?” (John Cale (Channing Tatum), White House Down).

Our underdogs.

James Vanderbilt(Zodiac)’s screenplay elevates a movie packed with tension inducing set pieces and brutal murders. The hilarious dialogue and zany winks and nudges come thick and fast. A White House tour turns into a pacy back-and-fourth between several wacky individuals. These moments, gladly, boost the archetypal characters. Cale, fit with a white singlet and point to prove, is a pretty yet emotionally damaged John McClane clone. Despite the laughably predictable plot and character turns, Cale comes off as a sympathetic and courageous hero. Butler may be a more charismatic presence, but Tatum still establishes himself as a charming and beguiling action star. His physicality and snappy delivery push him through each set piece and conquering speech. His rapport with Foxx highlights the sheer talent flowing between these popular performers. Foxx, though miscast, delivers an enjoyable and intriguing turn. Whilst bringing out his inner Barack Obama, Foxx urbanises the all important Leader-of-the-Free-World role. With his can-do attitude and Air Jordans in tow, Sawyer is a Political character by way of youth marketing and focus groups. Unfortunately, the supporting cast members, though talented, are stuck in bland, two dimensional roles. Gyllenhaal, though effective in her early scenes with Tatum, is left to simply yell orders over the phone and look mildly concerned. Jenkins can only draw a mild shade of life from his tiresome role. Meanwhile, Clarke, James Woods, and Jimmi Simpson go overboard as the sociopathic and vengeful villains.

With its talented cast and punchy action set pieces, White House Down is a surprisingly engaging action flick. Emmerich, thankfully, has crated a ludicrous, explosive, and funny extravaganza. I’m now trying to figure out what the next blockbuster double-up will be. ‘Taken on a cargo ship’, anyone?

Verdict: A fun, noisy and excessive action-disaster movie.