Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Bling Ring Review


Sofia Coppola’s (“Lost in Translation,” “The Virgin Suicides”) latest cinematic outing “The Bling Ring” is a shallow movie about shallow people robbing other shallow people.

Based on the true Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales, the film revolves around a group of five high school teenagers living in Calabasas California who decide one day (out the of the blue, apparently) to rob celebrities (Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, and Megan Fox, to name a few) by breaking into their Beverly Hills mansions while they’re out of town. There’s the ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang), Marc (Israel Broussard), the sole male of the group. They start off by robbing a family that Marc knows, and then soon enough step up their game, robbing Paris Hilton’s house. This attracts the attention of Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Julien), three anxious and promiscuous gals.

These are restless wild teenagers who live life from one day to the next. They don’t seem to have any long-term goals or aspirations except to party and own nice things. Then they rob celebrities (that they admire) in order to keep fueling this hollow lifestyle. They’re spoiled, snobby, self-centered, careless and most of all annoying teenagers that make complete and utter fools of themselves. When I wasn’t hanging my head in shame and embarrassment (I’m nineteen, after all) I was laughing uncontrollably at how stupid and ridiculous they acted. I assume Coppola meant for at least some of this to be funny.

So OK, these guys are supposed to be antiheroes but even with antiheros (the good ones, that is) you can usually find something to like about them and if not they have depth to keep you involved. But these teens have neither. I could find nothing likable about any of them and hardly any depth. They’re empty shells that I grew to detest within the first twenty to twenty-five minutes. Therefore I found it difficult to care about anything else they did during the remainder of the picture.

What’s even worse is that everyone else in the movie is just as hollow. You can’t sympathize with the celebrity victims, because they’re setting terrible examples; they’re the reason why these teenagers act the way they do. On top of that they’re careless (leaving their houses unlocked, so the teens can just walk in) and initially they’re not even aware that their possessions are gone. As for the parents of these burglars they’re either non-existent or, in the case of Nicki’s mom (Leslie Mann) completely oblivious. The only characters I could get behind were the police when they finally arrest the group.

And, since every character is practically empty, the entire movie is…empty and pointless, for the most part. Coppola (who also wrote the screenplay) doesn’t have enough material to sustain the brisk 87-minute running time. After awhile it gets repetitive: the gang robs a house, then goes out and parties, then tries on clothes, robs another house, parties some more and so on, leading up to an underwhelming conclusion that you already know is going to happen.

On top of that, the themes and social commentary the picture puts forth (our celebrity obsessed culture and the artificiality of celebrities rubbing off on American youth) becomes apparent fairly quickly and for the rest of the movie we’re constantly hit over the head with them. At one point I wanted to stand up and shout “we get it already!”

I hate to bag on the movie completely; the cinematography by Harris Savides and Christopher Blauvelt is simplistic but effective. Most of the time the camera quietly tracks and observes the gang as they go about their partying and thievery, and all of the performances are spot on; accurately portraying celebrity obsessed and superficial teenagers.

Having liked Coppola’s previous filmmaking efforts I wanted to like ‘The Bling Ring.”  It’s OK to make a movie about shallowness and artificiality, pertaining to youth and celebrities; it’s an interesting and relevant topic. But the characters can’t also be shallow and artificial (especially considering this movie relies mainly on characters); they need to grow and develop and give us a reason to stay invested in them. As it is right now, “The Bling Ring” doesn’t give you much to invest in.

World War Z Review


In some ways Marc Forster’s “World War Z” (based on the book by Max Brookes) marks the return of the zombie film. Something that’s long overdue. These days the only real talk associated with zombies has to do with AMC’s immensely popular “The Walking Dead.” We haven’t had a full on zombie horror film (I’m not counting comedies like “Warm Bodies,” which came out earlier this year) since George A. Romero’s (often considered to be the “Grandfather of the Zombie Film”) underrated “Survival of the Dead” in 2009.

And I suppose that’s not surprising; the zombie film has been done and redone so many times that the stories have become stale and the characters usually don’t go beyond cliché--even “Survival of the Dead” is one of Romero’s weaker efforts (he made the groundbreaking “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968 and the masterpiece “Dawn of the Dead” in 1978).  And the only reason why “The Walking Dead” works and is so popular is because it’s a television show and there hasn’t ever been a TV show about people surviving a zombie apocalypse.

So then, I suppose “World War Z” comes at the perfect time and despite all the trouble surrounding the production (involving script rewrites and reshoots) the movie does work. In fact it does more than work; it breathes new life into the subgenre, mainly because Forster and Co. choose to tackle the issue of a zombie apocalypse on a grander scale, a worldwide scale to be precise (hence the title “World War Z”), something that’s never been tried before.

While most zombie pictures focus on small bands of survivors holding up in shelter of some kind (in a house, or in the case of “Dawn of the Dead” a shopping mall) or trying to move and find other survivors in a small radius, “World War Z” goes all around the world.  It’s probably the most proactive zombie flick to ever come out; instead of the protagonists simply trying to survive and find safety, the characters in “World War Z” are actively trying to seek out a solution the zombie outbreak, whilst putting themselves in harm’s way. There’s more of a goal in this movie and it also manages to reverse the typical zombie movie storyline.

The story begins at the…well, the beginning of the outbreak; in a cliché and superfluous opening scene we’re introduced to Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former UN employee, his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and his their two daughters (who wake them up by jumping on their bed). Luckily Forester doesn’t linger too long on this sappy moment and takes us right to the action; while Gerry and the family is stuck in a traffic jam in downtown New Jersey everything suddenly erupts into chaos. I don’t think I need to say anymore about that.

Eventually Gerry and family find safety on a navy ship and while they’re about to settle down Gerry is called back into action: the UN wants him find a way to combat the infestation. This leads Gerry on a worldwide search, going from South Korea, to Israel and India with plenty of zombie carnage along the way. And there is a lot of carnage. “World War Z” probably has more zombies on screen at one time than any other zombie movie; in one exhilarating scene a massive swarm of zombies use each other to scale a colossal wall protecting survivors, or in another instance where zombies literally throw themselves like ragdolls off of buildings to attack survivors running away on the ground.

 After the initial action in Jersey the screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindeloff settles into a nice rhythm: Gerry and whoever happens to be with him at the time go to one place, learn some information about the outbreak, zombies attack, Gerry and Co. get away, they go onto the next place. And so on. This may sound repetitive but I never felt that once during the entire film. Each scene and each development in the plot adds on to the previous one and keeps it going. Forster moves the picture along at a steady pace, never meandering off track or losing sight of its end goal.

My only major problem with the movie is the fact that Forester et al. could have gone even bigger with the story. Since the film is trying to portray the zombie apocalypse on a worldwide scale, it would have been better if they had brought in multiple protagonists and multiple storylines from all around the world, instead of just showing the outbreak from Gerry’s point of view. There’s nothing wrong with Gerry’s point of view (and Pitt settles into the role with ease; never bland but also not over-the-top) but providing multiple viewpoints and multiple main characters would give the audience a more complete picture of this global catastrophe, much like Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” did for the Mexican drug war.

 There are other little quibbles I could list but that would be nitpicking and I don’t want to do that. There’s no doubt that the movie could have been even better but as it is right now it still works and it gives me hope that the zombie horror film will endure.