The Bling Ring- The Review

There is a strange, lingering air of both reality and fantasy in Sofia Coppola’s new film, a satirical black comedy concerning a spree of teen robberies. Coppola directs marvellously, but there always feels like there is something not quite right about it, and it’s not as believable as a true story should be. What you eventually come to realise while watching The Bling Ring is that it feels this way because of the sheer bizarreness of the events that took place, and most strikingly the incredible morality of the characters, who in breaking into celebrities houses and stealing their valuables seem incredibly detached from reality and any sort of values. The characters consistently baffled me throughout the movie, and Coppola certainly has a lot to say about their (lack of) ethics, and what is to blame for the way these teenagers turned out to be so detached and alienated from the world around them. Despite mediocre and lukewarm reviews from other critics, I found myself enjoying The Bling Ring immensely through its subtle humour, satirical messages and wonderful acting and directing.

Based on a Vanity Fair article entitled ‘The Suspects Wore Louboutins’, The Bling Ring tells the true story of a group of rich and spoiled group of teenagers who break into various celebrities’ houses, mainly to gawp at the endless riches, often to steal, and sometimes because they really have nothing else to do. What starts out as one daredevil stunt becomes a addictive habit, and in one surreal scene, they find Paris Hilton’s keys under her mat, enter her lavish house, take a bunch of her clothes, snort some coke, dance to loud music in her lounge, and then leave through the front door. It is so easy for these kids, so laughably simple that it is understandable that after they do it once, they seem incapable of stopping.  Throughout the course of the film they burgle Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox, Rachel Bilson and Lindsey Lohan, each robbery seeming more unbearably easy and more straightforward then the previous one. It seems so easy in fact that the whole film is an incredibly surreal experience, an experience that really doesn’t seem real for the opening half an hour; the characters are too detestable, the events depicted seem overly satirical, and the film treads a thin line from satire to absurd. In many ways it is absurd, but something clicks a little while through the film, whether it is the stunning direction or the faultless performances, something gets into gear that had me incredibly intrigued with this story, and suddenly I believed every moment, every line, even though it seemed too crazy to be true.

Sofia Coppola is one of the most talented directors in Hollywood right now. Although The Bling Ring is one of her less poignant, captivating films, her previous work Lost in Translation is one of the best films of the last fifteen years. While The Bling Ring is a far inferior piece of work, Coppola again reminds us of her talents behind the camera; it is shot with flair and with undeniable beauty and with a very synthetic, unnatural glow to it, much like the protagonists themselves. Coppola presents this glitzy and rich area of America as gleaming white and naturally stylish, but it all feels very empty and very fake, which I believe is Coppola’s intention (and critics who point out this empty feeling of the film are dramatically missing the point). This soulless world has created people that are, if not soulless, very detached thinkers with problematic morals, so utterly alienated from the world around them that they even boast about their recent shenanigans at parties, something which ultimately leads to their downfall. Coppola presents them in an unnatural and almost alien light, as if we cannot really relate to them as members of the same species, something which is compounded by some absolutely terrific performances from a relatively unknown cast, with the main star, Emma Watson, being used as a marketing and promotional tool.  And although the newcomers make very impressive debuts (Katie Chang in particular looks to have a very bright future ahead of her), the show is ultimately stolen by Emma Watson.

Watson portrays the most detestable character of the film to perfection.

In the 2012 movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Emma Watson was absolutely marvellous and proved then and there that she had more than enough acting talent to ditch her first famous role as Hermione from the Harry Potter series. In The Bling Ring she is absolutely incredible as the now semi-famous Alexis Neiers, an utterly detestable character who is so pathetically deluded, and so hungry for fame when the opportunity comes her way that she emits an air of snobbishness and arrogance of which I could not stand, and although Coppola uses her character to present some darkly humorous moments, the hard hitting and thought provoking final lines of the film are brilliantly recited by Watson, and the whole film is put into perspective by the final scene. Watson is flourishing, and in The Bling Ring she arguably gives the best performance of her career, despite not playing a huge role in it. The majority of the film actually follows Rachel Lee (Katie Chang) and Nick Prugo (Israel Broussard) as they start the robberies off and eventually enlist more people to share the crime with. Both Chang and Broussard perform admirably on their big screen debuts, but the film does take a while to really get going, perhaps due to the inexperience of the two actors in carrying a film for a large portion of its running time.

Many have argued that Coppola presents a very empty and soulless film, but isn’t that exactly the point? The film suffers due to not enough real characterization of the robbers and maybe even one too many scenes involving the robberies themselves, but this isn’t enough to really deter the impact and clever satirical edge the movie holds over you right to its final lines. Many won’t like it due to a slow pace, and a storyline that understandably gets repetitive as it goes on, but many will like it thanks to its dark humour and clever satirical edge, which are bolstered by some undeniably wonderful directorial techniques by Coppola, and a fantastic performance from Emma Watson. One of the smartest and most undervalued movies of 2013.

Best Bit

The most memorable scene in the movie is an uninterrupted shot of Prugo and Lee robbing a house under the cover of darkness, filmed from such a distance that it appears the teenagers inside are dolls turning all the lights on in a miniature house. They rummage through the drawers, they briefly compare clothes, and then they stalk out. What makes this remarkable scene so memorable is that Coppola brings the audience back down to earth, gives us a little taste of reality, and shows us who the teenagers really are: thieves and criminals. Seeing them efficiently stripping a house of valuables gave me a jolt, a sudden wakeup call as to the seriousness of the events. It’s an eerily silent, emotionless scene, in which Coppola makes so many statements out of silhouettes in a dolls house.

Worst Bit

Although it works off fascinating source material, sadly The Bling Ring does become slow and slackens its grip on you. The biggest criticism I can have of The Bling Ring is that, unlike Coppola’s previous work, it isn’t absolutely remarkable and groundbreaking. It is intriguing, well made and wholly excellent, but it isn’t groundbreaking in a way that Sofia Coppola has done before. Many will come out feeling underwhelmed.

Overall

The Bling Ring is a very clever satirical piece in which true events are layered with moral statements and dark humour. Through Sofia Coppola’s excellent direction and some stand-out performances, most noticeably from Emma Watson, the Bling Ring is brilliant both as a satire and a black comedy, and its few flaws don’t detract from a great experience. It isn’t wholly remarkable, but it is excellent nonetheless, and reminds Hollywood just how much of a talent Sofia Coppola is.

4/5

Pain and Gain- The Review

With Pain and Gain, Michael Bay’s new black comedy based on a real life kidnapping and set of murders by a group of Miami based bodybuilders, no introduction can do my feelings, or the film’s quality justice. I’m cutting to the chase: Pain and Gain is awful. It’s horrible. It’s vile. Michael Bay, in his infinite wisdom, has opted to make a Fargo style comedy as proof that he makes more than awful, mindless action movies which are primarily aimed at thirteen year old boys who like cars, explosions and boobies. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Michael Bay’s attempt to convince us all he’s actually rather clever. He has failed so spectacularly it’s totally laughable; he has somehow made a black comedy about a real life kidnapping more stupid and more detestable than his Transformers trilogy, and that was three cases of CGI robots hitting each other while Megan Fox washed a car with the camera getting a nice up-skirt shot. While awful, there was at least the sense Michael Bay knew that it was terrible, and was aiming it all at an uncaring teenage audience. What is really incredible about Pain and Gain is that there is an overwhelming sense Bay thinks he is being really clever and satirical, almost making his own little tribute to the Coen Brothers. What he has actually done is make a disastrously misjudged action-comedy which tries to express a baffling sympathy for real life killers and kidnappers, while also cramming in enough fart, poop and penis jokes to make Movie 43 blush.

Based on a remarkable true story, Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie play three beefed up idiots who decide to take what they deserve and kidnap a nasty businessman called Victor Kershaw, played by Tony Shalhoub, from whom they intend to extract all his assets, and then murder, living the rest of their lives as rich, free men. Although some of what Bay has conjured up is fact (he actually reminds us of this halfway through the movie with a pop up graphic saying “This is still a true story”), the real life story is not that of three men kidnapping a businessman, but an actual gang of criminals who imprisoned the man in question, beat him, threatened to rape his wife in front of his children, set him on fire, ran him over twice and then stole all of his money. After that, they tried to do it again, and killed a man and his wife while attempting to kidnap them. Remarkably, Bay also shows this as well, with a kind of “Whoops, I killed her!” comedic angle, which is so poorly constructed, and executed in such bad taste that it made me feel ill. One of the biggest problems with Pain and Gain is that Michael Bay clearly has no idea why he has made this story into a comedy, and I have no real inkling either. It is possible to create a comedy based on horrible real life events, with examples such as 2011’s fantastic black comedy Bernie, and famously that of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, which is very vaguely based on real events. The problem is that these films were made with a certain respect towards the dead, a black comedic undertone which does not forget how serious and horrific the acts committed were. Bay has none of this subtlety or indeed intelligence; he seems to regard the whole thing as one big gag about dead people, and a few times you almost expect to hear a laugh track when another poop joke is recycled. Watching Pain and Gain is like watching Bay hammer in the nails of his own coffin, because he has truly cemented the notion that he is one of the worst filmmakers around today. As I sat watching it, there was an eerie silence in the cinema; it was like attending a dear relative’s funeral.

This scene tosses a lot of penis-related jokes at the audience, and Michael Bay loses any sort of satirical edge with such bumbling, crude and meaningless humour.

The mere fact that Pain and Gain is a comedy that isn’t funny is the least of the many problems with it. Aside from the complete lack of respect for the dead and at one point, the viewing of a dead women as a comedic device on which to provide a grotesque up-skirt shot from Bay, Pain and Gain is an unpleasant experience at the best of times. Bay has no real inkling how to present a story to his audience, and the first hour of the movie feels like a huge montage to body building, with each character providing a biographical voice-over while brightly lit images of muscles and boobs get presented on screen. Not only does Michael Bay (in his words) “only make movies for teenage boys”, he clearly also has the brain and wit of a teenage boy, but a rather stupid and horny one at that. It would make for unbearably dull and tedious viewing if it wasn’t for the staggeringly distasteful feel and offensive edge of the movie, which at least keeps you interested, if only to see how low Michael Bay can go. The answer is very, very low, and after Anthony Mackie was playing with a dead woman’s breasts before cutting off her hands and then letting Dwayne Johnson cook them, I saw several people walk out of the cinema, and they didn’t come back.

Best Bit 

I’ve got nothing.

Worst Bit 

Knowing the full story before I watched Pain and Gain, I had hoped that Bay would have the common sense to only focus on the kidnapping and failed murder of the nasty businessman, and not include the double murders that were committed later on. Not only does Bay include the latter in the last quarter of the movie, but he also includes the most horrendous gender politics with the showing of a dead women being treated like a sex object in a comedic way. Is this all Bay sees when he is presented with a deceased woman? A big pair of tits and the potential of a pervy up-skirt camera angle? Pain and Gain suggests so, and that really is truly terrifying from a cinematic perspective, or indeed, any perspective.

Overall

Michael Bay’s attempt at thought-provoking satire is a disastrous and poorly judged comedic nightmare, which not only attempts to sympathise with sociopathic murderers, but also reduces a dead woman to a pair of breast implants. Its appalling lack of taste is only matched by Bay’s non-existent sense of humour. It is a film so poor and so lacking in morals or intelligence that I have had to invent a new rating for it. Films such as The Lone Ranger, After Earth and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters got 1/5, but Pain and Gain has to go one lower. Not only the worst movie of the year, but one of the worst movies of the past 2-3 years, maybe more. If you are searching for intelligence and wit in your movies, then considering such movies as The Way, Way Back are out in cinemas right now, there is no excuse for choosing to go see Pain and Gain. It is vile.

0/5