DVD Review: The Bling Ring

bling-ring

The empty-headed protagonists of Sofia Coppola’s film mirror the movie’s equally superficial presentation.

I count myself among the fans of Sofia Coppola, a member of Hollywood’s most notable dynasty and the director of Lost in Translation and Somewhere. Coppola’s hazy, stylish direction has served her well in the past and has also positioned her as one of the most interesting directors working today. So it was with great curiosity that I sat down to check out her latest, a fact-based crime drama about a group of privileged California teens who robbed the houses of multiple Hollywood A-listers. Unfortunately, I soon realized Coppola’s dreamy, distant MO was precisely the wrong approach for The Bling Ring to take. Though gorgeously filmed, The Bling Ring is infuriatingly feather-light and shies away from turning a critical eye to the actions of its characters.

That’s not to say that The Bling Ring is a total failure. On the contrary, Coppola gets some great performances out of her young cast. Most notably, Emma Watson plays way against type as vacuous socialite Nicki and completely pulls it off. If the film had been released in the fall, I could easily see A24 making an Oscar bid for the actress. Watson, best known for her role as the brainy wizard Hermione in the Harry Potter franchise, commits to Nicki’s contemptible selfishness but never delves into caricature. It’s a tribute to her performance that Nicki is never dismissed as a simpleton; conversely, she’s one of the film’s most fascinating, complex creations.

Katie Chang is also great as the Bling Ring’s dauntless leader Rebecca, who’s terrifying in her obsession with everything related to her celebrity idols. It’s hard to tear your eyes away from her, because Chang inflects every line of dialogue with dozens of emotions all tangled up in each other. Israel Broussard, who acts as our entry point into the dangerously fame-oriented world of restless California youth, holds his own against the girls, though his contributions to the film are rarely as compelling as Chang’s or Watson’s. Leslie Mann, in a small but important supporting role, presents The Bling Ring‘s protagonists’ inevitable future, playing a laughably self-deluded single mother committed to teaching her greedy, hollow-eyed daughters about their innate goodness.

The film is equipped with a terrific, pulsating soundtrack that speaks volumes about its characters. Sleigh Bells, Kanye West, Azealia Banks and Frank Ocean are the obvious stand-outs, ranting about the frivolous, drug-fueled lifestyles led by the film’s fame-obsessed subjects, The dance-ready soundtrack provides The Bling Ring with an eerily fluorescent, audiovisual glow.

Surprisingly, Coppola’s detached direction is the film’s weakest link. As she captures the rise and fall of the Bling Ring, cameras hover around the characters as if a documentary crew is filming the proceedings, recording every juicy sound bite and piece of body language. Coppola’s ultimate failure is her unwillingness to probe beneath the surface of her characters’ actions and find out what in their lives drove them to commit such petty, plainly dumb crimes.

The Bling Ring attempts to satirize the media’s focus on the celebrity lifestyle without ever getting to the heart of what makes that lifestyle so appealing to many in the first place. The film suffers because its characters are never portrayed as complete individuals; instead, they’re empty vessels designed to project Coppola’s oddly simplistic ideas about the actual crimes. Perhaps that’s the point, that there’s nothing going on beneath the glamorous exteriors of her protagonists, but that vacuity does not a very compelling drama make.

Instead of the in-depth character study that I had expected, The Bling Ring is a middling, skin-deep retelling of the Hollywood Hills burglaries. Though Coppola’s actors turn in great performances, The Bling Ring is ultimately as disappointingly hollow and superficial as its protagonists. C+

Watchlist: What We’re Looking Forward This Summer

Logan faces ninjas in this summer's 'The Wolverine.'

Logan faces ninjas in this summer’s ‘The Wolverine.’

Here at the Cinema Sentinel, we tend to get excited about movies. It doesn’t matter the genre, the stars, or the budget; what really gets us amped up are the films that draw us in, take us places, and make us see things we’ve never seen before. The summer season is always best for spectacle, but there are all kinds of terrific-looking films coming out this year. Take a look below at the Cinema Sentinel’s most anticipated movies of the summer:

1. Pacific Rim – Guillermo del Toro’s massive tribute to Japanese monster movies could easily be the breakout hit of the summer. When giant monsters from beneath the ocean floor rise and wreak havoc on humankind, a new weapon is developed – huge robots controlled simultaneously by two pilots sharing one mind. This sci-fi epic has a lot going for it – del Toro never disappoints, the visual effects look jaw-droppingly awesome, the cast boasts great actors like Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, and Ron Perlman, and did I mention giant robotsOpens July 12 

2. Much Ado About Nothing – Movies based off Shakespeare plays are a dime a dozen, but this adaptation looks intriguing. Why? Two words: Joss Whedon. The geek god behind The Avengers is not the first person who comes to mind when I think of the bard, but he has made a lot of really interesting choices while directing his Much Ado About Nothing. Fun fact: the entirely black-and-white film was shot entirely at Whedon’s home in Santa Monica in only twelve days. Whedon’s cast is also terrific – Amy Acker, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Alexis Denisof, and plenty of other avowed Whedonites. It looks like a really nifty adaptation, setting the action in modern times while maintaining Shakespeare’s original dialogue. The trailer (below) has pulled off the Herculean task of making me excited about a Shakespeare adaptation – give it a watch. Opens June 21

3. Man of Steel – I was dubious at first, but I’m really starting to buy into the idea of Zack Snyder’s darker, weightier Superman. After the success of The Dark Knight, it was only a matter of time until someone decided to reimagine the Man of Tomorrow with a handful of dramatic gravitas, but Man of Steel doesn’t look like a rip-off in any shape or form. Henry Cavill is looking more every day like a great Superman, and I’m excited about the supporting cast, which includes Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, and Kevin Costner. If Man of Steel can strike a balance between its serious tone, high-powered story, and thrilling visuals, it could end up a truly super Superman. Opens June 14

4. The Bling Ring – Sofia Coppola is one of the most stylish, interesting directors working today, and she has a terrific story to work with here. Based on the true story of a group of teenage burglars who targeted celebrities, The Bling Ring has an opportunity to tell an absorbing tale while simultaneously making a statement about the materialistic nature of modern society and the American Dream. I couldn’t be more excited that Emma Watson is stepping out of her comfort zone to play the remarkably shallow Nicki, and I’m confident that Leslie Mann and Taissa Farmiga will also turn in great performances. Opens June 14

5. The Wolverine – After the disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I’m optimistic that this summer will finally yield a worthy stand-alone movie for everyone’s favorite adamantium-clawed X-Man. Set in Japan long after the X-Men trilogy, The Wolverine pits Logan (Hugh Jackman) against the Yakuza and several dangerous foes, including the deadly Silver Samurai (Will Yun Lee) and a venomous mutant by the name of Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), all while he struggles against his own immortality. The Japanese arc is one of my favorite storylines for Logan in the comics, and with Oscar-nominated director James Mangold at the helm, I truly believe that this could be the best X-Men installment yet. A more vulnerable Logan, a picturesque Japanese backdrop, and entire armies of ninjas? What more could a fanboy ask for? Opens July 26

6. The World’s End – The third and final installment in Edgar Wright’s Britcom trilogy (after the equally fantastic Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) looks more bonkers and hilarious every time I see a new trailer.  Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, along with a bunch of other terrific Brits (including Paddy Considine, Rosamund Pike, and Martin Freeman), The World’s End centers on a group of five friends who reunite after twenty years in hopes of completing a legendary pub crawl, culminating in famed pub The World’s End. As the night goes on, the friends realize that something’s off about the villagers, and Earth is actually under attack by aliens. With any luck, The World’s End will recapture the same manic energy and nonstop laughs that made its predecessors instant cult classics. Opens August 23

7. The Spectacular Now – There are very few teen dramas that look too good to pass up, but The Spectacular Now is one of them. The buzz from Sundance has been overwhelmingly positive, and the two leads are played by talented up-and-comers Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) and Shailene Woodley (The Descendants). The film focuses on the unexpected romance between a popular, devil-may-care high school senior (Teller) and his studious ‘good girl’ classmate (Woodley), as the two learn things about themselves that had never occurred to them before. It looks like a moving, thoughtful, and well-acted coming-of-age drama, and, to me, those kinds of films are always welcome. Opens August 2

8. Elysium – Thoughtful sci-fi is a rare breed, but director Neill Blomkamp proved with 2009’s District 9 that philosophy and CGI aliens can mix with astounding results. His follow-up, Elysium, shares District 9‘s penchant for social commentary but now also boasts a Hollywood cast and budget. The film examines a future where the wealthy 1% live on an advanced space habitat orbiting Earth, while the rest of mankind struggles to survive on a filthy, overpopulated, crime-ridden Earth. The two come into conflict when Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) attempts to break into Elysium to find the medical technology needed to save a young girl’s life. He comes up against vicious opponents (including nasties played by Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley) who are determined to enforce Elysium’s strict anti-immigration laws. While District 9 made powerful statements about xenophobia, segregation, and human identity, Elysium looks to take on hot-button topics like class issues, health care, and immigration. District 9 earned Oscar nominations and critical acclaim, and Blomkamp’s follow-up looks equally appealing and fascinating. Whether or not the Academy likes it, Elysium will be a gritty, entertaining, smart, and introspective sci-fi thriller. I can’t wait. Opens August 9

9. World War Z – Based on the gripping Max Brooks novel, this apocalyptic horror thriller is the biggest unknown of the summer in my book. Brad Pitt, who produced the film, also stars as Gerry Lane, a UN employee who travels the world after a zombie outbreak in search for answers about where the epidemic originated. The scale of the film is massive, and the budget is rumored to be one of the largest of all time. Tons of talented people have been involved with the screenplay, including Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, J. Michael Straczynski, and Matthew Michael Carnahan, so I have high hopes. Depending on whether its good or bad, World War Z could either prove to be a runaway hit or a colossal failure. It’ll be interesting regardless, and I’ll be front and center to find out. Opens June 21

10. This is the End – Adding to the glut of post-apocalyptic flicks hitting theaters (note the large amount on this list alone) is this oddball raunchy comedy with a strangely appealing premise. After all manner of apocalyptic events destroy LA, a group of actors including James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, and Craig Robinson (playing filthy, fictitious versions of themselves) must work together to survive. The trailers look hilarious so far, and an over-abundance of celebrity cameos will make the movie all the more entertaining. I’m most excited for Emma Watson’s ruthless survivalist, but I’m also looking forward to a weird Michael Cera and dirty-mouthed Mindy Kaling. Opens June 14

Honorable Mentions: The To Do ListFruitvale StationYou’re Next, The Heat, White House Down, and The Way, Way Back

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