Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Heat

Going into summer there were two movies I knew I would not be seeing. The first was The Lone Ranger and the second was The Heat. The trailers were so shockingly unfunny that there was no reason to believe it would be anything but stupid, dull and painfully void of humor. I was so adamant that I would not be seeing it, even though I typically like Melissa McCarthy (though not in her Bridesmaids schtik) and I enjoy Sandra Bullock doing her usual character of starting totally uptight and then loosening up. Essentially this movie was putting two women who are making careers playing one type of character and slamming together in a buddy cop film that looked terrible. Then my Facebook friends started talking about how funny it was and one Facebook friend whose cinematic opinion matters greatly really enjoyed it and I started to waver on my knowledge of not seeing it. This week a friend of mine wanted to see it and we were looking for a second a movie to see and The Heat fit the time, so my girlfriend, our friend, and I sat down and I had no idea what was going to happen. Was it going to be as bad as I decided it was going to be months ago, or was I going to be pleasantly surprised, or would it be somewhere in the middle?

Agent Ashburn (Bullock) is one of the finest Federal Agents in The Washington D.C office. She would be up for a promotion except no one likes her. She is a cocky know-it-all who does not play well with others. She is efficient, a staunch rule follower, and a brilliant mind, but she is alone all of the time. Even the cat she cuddles actually belongs to her neighbor. Her boss tells her that she needs to go to Boston and work with Boston P.D on finding a drug kingpin and if it goes well, he will consider promoting her. it takes Ashburn all off 30 seconds in Boston to piss off her would be partner, Detective Mullins (McCarthy). Mullins is brash, violent, a bit crazy and a rule breaker. She also gets along with no one, so of course, she and Ashburn are going to bump heads. Mullins loves her city and while they go about their business in different ways, Ashburn and Mullins need each other to get through this case. In order to catch a drug kingpin, Ashburn and Mullins will have to use all of their combined knowledge and skill and find a way to co-exist.

Let me be perfectly clear here, The Heat is absolutely hilarious. Not sure why the trailers were so incredibly dreadful, but they did not capture the sheer hilarity of this film at all. I think the problem is the trailer shows you Melissa McCarthy being crass and making her weight the butt of a series of physical comedy jokes because that is what people want to see, but it is not what I want to see. the reality is, McCarthy's physical comedy prowess, shown so well in Gilmore Girls, is used quite effectively and not because she is bigger, just because she is gifted. In context, the clip of her falling over the fence, is quite funny, but the best bit of physical comedy she does is when she has to park her car tightly between two cars and cannot open her door to get out. That scene had me rolling with laughter. McCarthy is a naturally gifted comedian and The Heat really shows a broad range of her skill set. She is funny in physical comedy and in one-liners and the film provides many one-liners for her. See, the reality is, the Sandra Bullock character's uptight nature is really the butt of most of the jokes. These two women have wonderful chemistry and while I would not like to see a sequel, if they did a series of these films, they could go down as one of the better buddy cop teams. hell, even with just one movie I think you need to stop having the conversation of best women buddy duos and just say, these two make one of the best buddy cop duos in film. They are that good together. it helps that on their own, both are good actresses with solid work in the genre of comedy and together they work so very well. I love playing Bullock's uptight character against McCarthy more loose nature.

The story often feels like it exists solely for jokes, but once Mullins' family gets involved the story starts to matter more. The scenes with the brash Boston family are hilarious, and it helps that all of brothers are actually from Boston. it makes the scene a loving tribute to a hard core blue collar town. They all play very well off of each other and the jokes come fast and furiously in their limited screen time. There is also a nice running gag with McCarthy running into dude she slept with once and then ditched. it shows McCarthy as a confident, almost sexy character and shows the Bullock character how to loosen up. I think the most memorable scene all the way through has to be the night club scene. You get this great chemistry between the two women as they hurry into the bathroom to give the Bullock character a clothing makeover, and you get phenomenal physical comedy from both ladies and it furthers the plot of the film incredibly effortlessly.

The Heat find the funny in every possible way, but it also shows McCarthy and Bullock to be talented actresses who excel when pushed by another funny person. It is hilarious without bordering into crude, and it provides a nice easy to follow story as the backdrop for the comedy. it does waste Taran Killam and Marlon Wayans into roles where they are not able to be very funny, even though they are both comic actors, but it is a minor squabble. I wish I could fire the guy who cut together the trailers and punch all of the focus groups who thought it was hilarious. It is a poor reflection of the actual film. Granted, the movie has made 143 million dollars, so clearly I was in the minority of that thinking anyway.

Final Grade: B+

The Wolverine

I love Wolverine. Growing up my three favorite superheroes were Spider Man, Wolverine and Johnny Storm. In any X-Men video game, or Marvel video game that exists, Wolverine is always my favorite player. As a got older and started to understand comic book mythology better and grasped character and tone and all of these other terms that exist in the world of fiction, I grew to love Wolverine even more. The X-Men movies of the early 2000s began the comic book movie revolution. Yes, Sam Raimi's Spider Man proved they could be the most successful movies, but if Bryan Singer's X-Men had been a failure, who knows if anyone would have taken much of a chance on the entire genre the way they have now. Remember,, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin kind of destroyed the genre there for a while. Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is without question, my favorite Superhero performance. Robert Downey Jr. makes a perfect Tony Stark, and I cannot imagine anyone else doing that, but RDJ kind of is Tony Stark. Hugh Jackman, in interviews and appearances, does not appear anything like Wolverine AND he perfectly captures my idea of what Wolverine is, what my idea of Wolverine has always been. I am pretty sure I will never get tired of watching Jackman as Wolverine as long as he never gets tired of playing him. One of the best parts of The Wolverine is that Jackman is clearly not tired of playing him.

Starting sometime after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, The Wolverine finds our hero (Jackman) hiding in the woods somewhere, keeping to himself. He is haunted by nightmares of killing Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and has sworn to never be that soldier again. One night, after a group of hunters track down and kill a bear, Wolverine finds himself in a bar about to confront them, when he stopped by a mysterious Japanese woman, Yukio (Rila Fukushima) asking Wolverine to come with her. She works for a man, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), who wants to thank Wolverine for saving his life years ago during World War Two. In a flashback we see Wolverine, still with the bone claws, pull this man into a pit and shield him from the atomic blast in Japan. back to modern day, Wolverine goes to Japan meets with the old dying man and the dying man offers Wolverine something: freedom from the chains of immortality. Yashida believes he can transfer Wolverine's power of healing to himself and Wolverine can finally grow to be an old man and die with all of the people he loves. Wolverine declines, the old man dies, and all hell breaks loose from there. In his sleep Wolverine is injected with something that makes him vulnerable and the next day when Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okomoto) is nearly kidnapped, Wolverine springs into action, but when he is shot, he does not recover quickly. He is not used to dealing with prolonged pain. he escapes with Mariko, but he knows they are not truly safe.

The Wolverine is an incredibly mixed bag. There are wonderful moments within the film, but the third act spins wildly out of control climaxing with a ridiculous action sequence involving a giant robot Samurai. However, when it was all done, my immediate thoughts were about how insanely violent the movie was. No, there is not a tremendous about of blood and no real gore, but is that what really makes a movie violent? Wolverine is shot repeatedly, stabbed half a dozen times in the climax and for most of this movie, he is mortal. He feels the pain, he passes out from the gun shots and we see and hear the agony of it. I love how his unusual pain is filmed because it would be this weird feeling for him. Wolverine jams his adamantium claws into dozens of people, ripping through their necks, stomachs, chests and legs. It is done with the full force of a violently angry man. At one point Wolverine is shot with over 30 arrows and he falls to the ground as these arrows stick out of him. I know superhero movies are typically action packed and are typically full of anonymous bad guys falling by the wayside, but The Wolverine feels like an R rated action movie that gets away with being PG-13 because it is a superhero movie. It is somewhat surprising to me how messed up the ratings system is. I know I am not the only person to think this, as ran a whole story on this very thing. I am not a prude, nor do I much care if a movie is rated R or PG-13, but The Wolverine is a violent movie and I think it is silly that such violence, because of the lack of gore, can be put in a movie that children have easy access to.

Okay, back to the actual movie. For the first 35 to 40 minutes, The Wolverine is a bit slow. it is not boring, just slowly paced for a movie about a character who runs around fighting with such reckless abandon. However, the pacing in the front half is replaced by nonsense in the second half, so the movie comes off feeling incredibly disjointed. Jackman is as excellent as ever, sporting an incredibly ripped body, courtesy of The Rock's training program. He gets Wolverine's anger pitch perfect, but here, he has to express way more than he has in any other film because he has to express physical pain, but it cannot just be physical pain, it has to be confused physical pain. This is a man who has never had to deal with physical pain before. He always heals so quickly that it never fazed him. I always think of that awesome sequence in X2 when he gets shot in the head, falls to the ground and the bullet pops out of his head and he just stands up and gets ready to fight. It is such an iconic X-Men moment and in this film, he has to have a bullet surgically removed by a veterinarian student. it is a shocking disconnect if you have seen all of the movies featuring Wolverine. For a good majority of the film, Wolverine is wounded. It heightens the stakes in a way that has never been done for the character, but the coolest thing about it is that Wolverine does not change anything about how he reacts to bullets or arrows or anything. His attitude never wavers. He is going to do what he has to do to win.

The highlight of the movie is the bullet train sequence. I am so glad I did not watch it when the studio released it on-line. Why they would release the single best sequence from the film for free is beyond me. It is a truly dazzling action sequence. It is lightening fast, wonderfully choreographed and staged and most importantly, it is an incredibly awesome idea. The fact that it happens at roughly the midway point does make the rest of the film feel anti-climatic, but seriously, it is worth going to see this movie just for that sequence. I found myself gasping audibly a few times during it because I could not believe just how cool it was. It also features some of the best usage of Wolverine's claws. The claws look way more crisp here than they have in any of the X-Men movies and certainly better than in the first Wolverine movie. In the bullet train sequence, they really get to shine.

There is a wonky love subplot that serves only to remind us that Wolverine cannot get attached because they grow old and die and he stays living. The main villain, The Viper, is kind of stupid. She has some neat tricks, but the actress is awful and eventually she is overshadowed by the ridiculous Silver Samurai robot. I wanted more of the Yukio character. She was a total bad ass swordstress and had a truly miserable mutant power: being able to tell when people were going to die. The actress was great and I am hoping she will stick around in the X-Men movies or wherever FOX is taking this franchise. I found the story to be incredibly interesting, but I felt like the third act just kind of collapses the entire movie.

Final Grade: C+

Friday, August 02, 2013

Fruitvale Sation (spoilers if you are unaware of the real life events)

I am not going to spend too much time diving back into the emotions I felt when I first heard about the Oscar Grant story the night it happened. It was, and still is, an insanely tragic story any way you slice it. A young black man is out on BART on New year's Eve, gets into a fight, gets pulled off the train by the cops, is questioned, punched and eventually put face down, cuffed with a knee in his back and a knee on his face. What happened next was unimaginable. A BART cop pulls out his gun and shoots Grant in the back, Grant dies, the cop is convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 11 months of a two year sentence. The cop claimed he thought he pulled his Tazor gun out. No matter how you slice it, it is tragic. Fruitvale Station is the story of the last day of Oscar Grant's life. It is from first time writer/director Ryan Coogler and stars up and upcoming star Michael B. Jordan as Grant. The minute I heard they were making a movie and that Jordan was attached, I knew this would be something special to watch. I was not disappointed.

Oscar Grant (Jordan) has had a rough life and he has made some bad decisions. After a bid in prison he is trying to get on the right path and provide for his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz)and his little girl, Tatiana. He just cannot seem to figure it out. We meet him on December 31st 2007. It is his mom's (Octavia Spencer) birthday and of course, New Year's Eve. Sophina wants to go to San Francisco for the night to watch the fireworks and celebrate, but Oscar is not sure. He eventually agrees. While Sophina is at work, Oscar is alone for the day. He calls his mom to wish her happy birthday and he find out what he needs to get at the store for her celebration. When Oscar arrives at the store, we have been led to believe he works there. That is not the case, he used to work there but was fired for being late. he has not told anyone and while picking up some food, he tries to get his former boss to give him a second chance. When his boss says no, Oscar's quick temper flares up. He eventually calms down, but the day does not get easier. His sister calls to borrow money, he watches a dog die and he struggles with this very idea of wanting to better himself. He has a lot of weed he could sell, but that is what got him in trouble in the first place. He cannot find work, presumably because of his past and his conviction. What he is supposed to do. Before he picks up Sophina to head to his mother's house, he decides it is time to be a better man and dumps his weed. His mom convinces him he and his friends should take BART into the city so they do not have to worry about having a designated driver. The night was going so very well until Oscar runs into an old prison rival. Punches are thrown, a fight ensues and when they hear the BART cops coming everyone tries to escape, but the cops snatch up Oscar and most of his friends. With video cameras on them and a tense situation rising, Oscar tries to stay calm, but the cops are egging him on, kicking he and his friends, calling them names and abusing their power as cops. Things start to get out of hand and Oscar is pinned and eventually shot.

Fruitvale Station opens with the real video footage from the moment Oscar Grant was shot. It ends with footage of his now teenage daughter and the vigil held every year on January First for Oscar. The fictionalized film that those real life events bookend is phenomenal. it is hard to believe a first time writer/director managed to tell a story this well known and have it be done so well. The writing feels very real. The dialogue sounds incredibly organic and the screenplay beats are wonderful. The pacing is excellent. Never once are we bored. He lets some scenes linger just long enough (the stunning beach scene) and some he lets linger longer than we are comfortable with, but that need to be shown ( the dog scene). His understanding of how to draw emotion out of characters without making it ever feel manipulative is outstanding. he paints Oscar as flawed young man who was trying. he was dealt a bad hand and did not react well to it. Oscar was a victim of of his own circumstance, but he also created bad situations. he cheated on his girl, so she does not trust him. He clearly has a temper, is immature, and has a tough time taking responsibility for his life, but the system is keeping him down as well. His death shows that. The way Coogler presents Oscar to us makes everything so much more tragic. Oscar is a real person with real flaws. He is not a good guy, not a bad guy, he is simply a guy trying to do what he can to survive and provide.

As Oscar, Michael B. Jordan hits every single note perfectly. He helps Coogler flesh out this complex young man who loves fiercely, but cannot stop making his life harder on himself and his family. The flashback scene with his mother visiting him in prison is one of the most brilliant pieces of acting you are likely to see. Jordan goes through a whole scale of emotions and so much of it is shown in his face. I have been waiting for Jordan to find a break out role for a few years now and am so happy he is getting a chance to shine. He should be an Academy Award nominated actor this year. He gives so much incredible depth to Grant and his portrayal makes the filmed events even more tragic. He is in every scene in the movie. It breathes through him and he lifts it up and carries it. His moments with the young actress playing the daughter are warm and fuzzy, and heart wrenching. Knowing exactly what is going to happen in this film made it impossible for me to view with a dry eye. I was in tears from the moment it began and full on weeping during the stunningly heart breaking final act. The film even gives us the sweetest possible image as the last image, just to break your heart even more.

Is this a relevant movie to our current time? yes, absolutely. It is impossible to watch this movie and not think of Trayvon Martin, another young black man who was murdered. Does it give a clear cut understanding of what was going on with the cops during the melee? Absolutely not. We see one cop who is clearly a jerk, we see a bunch of young black men being harassed as they are held down and kicked by these authority figures and we see a rising situation clearly capable of escalating. Do I believe the cop purposely shot Oscar Grant with all of those people watching, no I do not. Do I think the young cop let the situation get the best of him and do I think he was out of line even pulling out a tazor gun on a guy who was clearly incapacitated, yes I absolutely do. is it a travesty that the man responsible for killing a young man only went to jail for 11 months, yes I do. Does any of that matter to be riveted by this film, I don't think so. I think you can believe whatever it is you want to believe and still find this film to be moving, tragic, and incredible. Coogler does a good enough job presenting a chaotic circumstance in the BART station that night to give many different ideas of what happened, but the result is the same: A young man who was laying face down and unable to move was shot in the back and lost his life. His daughter was left fatherless. Does race play an incredibly important role in that? Yes, it clearly does.

Fruitvale Station is an important young American film. It is the best movie to this point in 2013 and it is a film that will linger with me for years. It left me emotionally gutted. I was exhausted when it was over because of all of the emotions felt throughout. A movie like this, when done well, stays with you and just when you think you are done thinking about it and feeling sad, angry and helpless, it comes back and leaves you feeling sad angry and helpless all over again. I expect great things from Ryan Coogler in the future.

Final Grade: A+

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Conjuring

A common complaint I hear about horror movies is that they are predictable. if you have seen a few scary movies, you can always tell where the scares are coming. Someone looks down into a sink, you know when they look back up, something scary will be in the mirror. Close the fridge door and BAM, someone will be there. A scary sound, quiet creepy music, then a cat jumps out and screams. It is a genre that only has a few real moves. My students said that scary movies did not scare them. They were too unrealistic to be scary in a world where they live with real fear. I do not want to go into some long post 9-11 babble here, but that is what my students said. They live in real fear, so slashers, ghosts and demons do not scare them. However, horror movies still do insane business at the box office, so the genre is doing something right. Summer is not typically a big horror movie time. This year we already saw the Purge come and go pretty quickly. it made like 75% of its profit on opening weekend. The movie had an insanely wonderful premise, but the execution was massively flawed leaving me unfulfilled. I love scary movies. I love all the different kind of horror. I love monsters, ghosts, slasher films, demon possession films, all of it. The Conjuring was that rare horror movie that was getting good reviews from critics, who are generally not impressed with horror films. It had a great creative team behind it. Guys who worked on the first Saw, Paranormal Activity and the best horror movie of the last few years, Insidious were all apart of this story. Plus, unlike so many horror movies that say they are based on a true story, The Conjuring actually is. Ed and Lorraine Warren were actual people who actually were ghost/demon hunters. They were hugely successful/infamous in the 1970s and were the people who brought the Ammityville house story to the world. The Conjuring is truly based in real life. I have no idea how much of it is true, or anything like that. However, you can see the artifacts from the two cases covered in this film, so who knows.

Ed and Lorraine Warren(Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are professional ghost hunters who also give seminars on their cases. They have national media attention and they keep the artifacts from their cases locked in a room in their house that a priest blesses once a month. They are not affiliated with the church, but they are respected by the church and they are the ones who gather evidence of possible other worldly beings roaming the Earth. They know how to determine if something supernatural is going on, or if your house is just squeaking. Lorraine is very in tune to the spiritual world. She is a medium and Ed handles most of the technical stuff. When the movie starts they are at a seminar talking about the Annabelle Doll case. It is a super creepy doll that these twenty somethings allowed a spirit to inhabit, but goes crazy. This is our introduction to the these people and they are about to get very important as they get called on another case. Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) recently bought a house out in the middle of nowhere and they moved their four daughters in to begin fresh. it is not long before the creepiness begins. First, the dog refuses to go in the house, which is the first clue that some seriously twisted stuff is going on. Late at night when all of the kids are asleep, one of the daughters feels a tugging at her leg. There is a boarded up basement, one daughter sleep walks and keeps banging into the wardrobe. Carolyn keeps waking up with bruises that she has no recollection of getting. From there it starts to get very scary. The daughter whose leg was getting tugged sees something in the corner staring at her, the other daughter sees nothing, until she feels something, but we never see it. The mom hears children giggling when all of her kids are asleep. As it piles up, eventually Carolyn seeks out the Warrens and they discover a whole mess of insanity at that house, but it began with a Salem Witch. Now it stalks the house and possesses any mother who lives there and then kills children.

The Conjuring is, far and away, the most effective horror movie I have seen in a very long time. There are others that are good, but 90% of horror movies completely fall apart with the ending. The Conjuring does not. it has a solid ending with just a subtle nod to the possibility of continuing. There is no abrupt shaky camera ending, no totally bizarre whacked out ending. It ties up the story in a believable way and throughout the movies scares the crap out of you. In my introduction I mentioned how horror movies have a tendency to be predictable. The Conjuring takes exactly what we expect and throws it in our face. In the first truly scary scene, after the terrifying doll prologue, we see nothing. The daughter is panicked because she sees something and the other daughter can feel it eventually, but we see nothing, so later in the film, when that same daughter sees something, we expect one of two things 1) that we will see nothing, or 2) we will have something jump out at us from the wardrobe, bursting out through the clothing. Neither one of those things happen and what does happen sent the entire sold out auditorium to jump or make noise. I think I even screamed a little bit and I never scream at movies. This is what the Conjuring does so well. It understands the tropes of horror movies. People go into the basement and nothing happens, then someone goes into the basement and what happens is terrifying even though it is in the trailer, but when someone is forced into the basement, some truly scary stuff goes down. We cannot even get mad at the character, because she did not choose to be down there. There are a dozen of these creepy little moments that just build and build and the movie succeeds in ways most horror movies do not.

Yes, creepy children, pictures falling down, someone dragged by their hair by an unseen entity, a creepy basement and demons are all familiar territory for horror, but what this movie does so well, is it uses those familiar topics in fresh and exciting ways. Plus, the acting is above what you normally get in horror. The four girls are all great, the parents are great and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are exceptional. They not only sell the horror, they sell the desperation, the sadness, the worry and eventually the will to beat this thing. However, for me, the most impressive thing about this film is how it looks. James Wan, a talented director, has this movie looking down right Hitchcockian. Not saying the movie is at the level of an Alfred Hitchcock film, but Hitchcock essentially made horror films, but he elevated them because of how exquisitely he shot them. Every shot looked perfect. Wan achieves that here. I love all of the wide shots of the house, and how he seemed to know exactly when to use those wide shots. The house is dressed perfectly, so we are constantly looking at everything in the frame. There is this wonderfully shot sequence towards the end where we have two separate scenes of action going on in the house and the camera twists and turns between the two, giving them equal importance, leveling the insanity of a demon possession with the very real fear of looking for a missing child. The camera weaves between the two with such fluid motion, it feels alive. However, the best sequence of the film does not even involve the main characters. It involves the Warren's daughter. Shot with this perfect wide shot, the daughter, in colorful pajamas is walking the down red stairs, with the wallpaper almost matching the daughter and as she is walking the hallway is getting darker and closing in on her, and the way it is shot is so wonderful that I was not sure if I was scared or just out of breath at how gorgeous the shoot was. If nothing else, The Conjuring is the most beautifully shot horror movie in ages.

I love a good scary movie and The Conjuring delivers on everything. There were great jumps, great scares, an interesting story, and just some gorgeous cinematography and perfectly maneuvered camera work. It is that rare horror movie where you actually hope for a sequel, instead of just accepting that there will be one. if the series follows the Warren's different cases, there is no reason to believe that this cannot turn into one of the best horror franchises out there, if they are able to keep the team intact. James Wan has impressed me before, but here he takes it to a whole new level. His direction and understanding of light and dark and quiet and loud, and pacing and how to turn our own expectations against us made this movie the horror event of the year.

P.S. That Clapping hands game is straight up perfect for the horror genre. How did no one do that before this movie?

Final Grade: A

Pacific Rim

There is a little moment during the epic awesomeness that is the Hong Kong battle sequence that sort of encapsulates why I love this movie so much. I will explain what all of it means a little further down, but here is the moment. The Jeager Gipsy Danger has just demolished a Kaiju and is on its way to defend Hong Kong and take on another crazy Kaiju and the Jaeger gently steps over a bridge in the middle of town instead of just crashing through it. It is that level of humanity that pushes Pacific Rim above so many of the thoughtless action movies that we get today. The entire world is at stake, our very essence of humanity is literally being destroyed and it looks like we are in our last days, and this giant machine being operated by two humans steps over a bridge that, if they are successful in defending Hong Kong, could still be used. It is the smallest of touches in an otherwise massive hulking film,but it spoke to the director's idea of humanity. Plus, the devil really is in the details and in a summer where people are focusing on the amount of property damage Superman caused, it was such a breath of fresh air to see this little moment. Of course, Pacific Rim is ultimately about giant human controlled machines battling Dinosaur looking monsters, so the little details are going to get overlooked in favor of all of the awesome.

in 2014 San Francisco was attacked by an alien (Kaiju) from the sea. Some sort of fissure opens up and a portal was created allowing these aliens to attack from the sea. One city went down, then another and another before humanity pooled its resources and the Jaeger Program was created. Jaegers are giant machines controlled by humans. The humans are synced up to the machine a process called drifting. Two humans control each Jaeger. They operate inside the Jaeger's head and their movements control the Jaegers. When the Jaeger program first launched, humanity started winning and soon the Kaiju were treated like jokes, and the Jaegers were the new celebrities, but with each attack, the individual Kaiju were learning how to combat the program and they were winning. Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) was a Jaeger pilot until he lost his partner in a particularly brutal attack. The two pilots are connected in the drift. They see each other's memories and feel each other's pain and they were still connected when Raleigh's partner was taken. He moved on from piloting and is now helping to build a giant wall that has been funded by the Government. The Jaeger program has been defunded in favor of this wall, but Stacker Pentacost (Idris Elba) finds private funding to fund one last Jaeger mission. The mission is to go right to the fizzure and drop a nuclear bomb into the portal and destroy the connection from the alien world to the human world. He has 4 working Jaegers, but needs Beckett back to pilot his old Jaeger again. Once Beckett agrees they are off to Hong Kong to meet the other Jaeger pilots and a young woman named Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). Mako is in charge of lining up possible co-pilots for Beckett, but when it is all said and done, Mako turns out to be the best person for the job, but Pentacost refuses to let her, until he relents.

Beckett and Mako are drift compatible, but the drift is not a very fun place if you cannot control your emotions and during the test run, Mako gets sucked into her own memories in one of the most effective scenes in the film. This flashback gives us back story on Mako, back story on Pentacost, puts a very real face on the loss of human life, shows off impressive acting from a little girl and takes nothing away from the driving story of the film. It might be the most perfectly placed flashback I can recall in a film. It is a gut wrenching scene as the child actor looks truly terrified for her life. It is another moment in the film that is surely overshadowed by the big action sequences later, but it is another key moment where this giant blockbuster shows the humanity. Meanwhile we are introduced to two very different scientists, Dr. Newton Giezler (The wonderfully wacky Charlie Day) and Gottlieb ( the perfectly uptight Burn Gorman). Giezler is your more hands on, rock star scientist who studies the Kaiju up close and Giezler is a numbers guy. He believes the attacks will get more frequent and that soon they will see two Kaiju at a time and then 3. Giezler wants to drift with a tiny piece of Kaiju brain to find out what they really want and when he is told no, he does it anyway and he sees fragments of a colonization. He wants to drift with the brain again, so he heads off to find a black market Kaiju parts dealer named Hannibal Chow( Ron Perlman).

Now comes the epic Hong Kong battle. Two Kaiju and 4 Jaegers fighting turn this action sequence into one of the single best action sequences ever. I mean this ranks up there with the T-Rex getting loose in Jurassic Park, the battle for Helm's Deep in The Two Towers and last years amazing battle for New York in The Avengers. The effects of this film are mind blowing. Each Jaeger has a personality and each Kaiju has a personality. The design of the Kaiju are stunning. Each has a specific look modeled after creatures we have here. Dr. Geizler mentions that these creatures tried colonizing Earth once before, the dinosaurs, so that is the basis for these Kaiju. They are a marvel to behold and somehow the action between all of these giant creatures is smooth. The CGI and the practical effects work hand in hand to create this wonderfully fluid action. The constant water beating on the creatures creates a sense that these beings are really there. Nothing goes through them. We can see droplets of water hitting off of all of these massive beings. It is really quite spectacular to watch. As the Kaiju adjust to our Jaegers they come with new weapons and new ways of leveling the Jaegers, but the Jaegers find a way. In this insane action sequence, two of the Jaegers are quickly dismembered and a third is pretty quickly left incapacitated. This leaves only Gipsy Danger and the first time team of Mako and Beckett. It leads us to a truly stunning action sequence. By the time the remaining Kaiju spreads its wings, you are already wowed, but then Gipsy Danger opens up its sword and all bets are off. It really is the key sequence in the film. Shot with precision, and paced exquisitely, The Hong Kong battle sequence is worth the price of admission.

Yes, some of the dialog is cheesy, and occasionally the acting is a bit stiff, but Pacific Rim is such a great summer blockbuster. The humor actually works, the effects are insane, the scope is truly epic, the story serviceable for an action movie and the heart is clearly there. The climax is a bit too predictable, but it is still effective. I even found myself choking up during Pentacost's "Today we are cancelling the Apocalypse" speech which does not happen very often during action movies. Idris Elba's Pentacost joins the ranks of great leaders in film. A man struggling with his own mortality still being the man who remains strong for his troops. He makes every costume looks phenomenal and he brings this great energy to the film. Rinko Kikuchi does great work as Mako. She is a strong, yet vulnerable woman who holds her own in a fight, and understand the value of respect. She is a total bad ass, but is not afraid of her emotional side either. It is a great sight in an action film to see a fully formed woman who is never once the object of the male gaze. In fact, Charlie Hunnam is the only one objectified in this film, but with abs like his, he probably does not mind one bit. Pacific Rim is the best summer blockbuster you are going to find this year and it would be the best summer blockbuster in many other years as well. it is shame it never quite found its audience.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Monsters University

Monsters Inc is not the best Pixar movie out there. It is, however, the most underrated Pixar movie. It is a personal favorite of mine and when I heard I would get to revisit two of my favorite Pixar characters, I was stoked. I loved the teaser trailers and how they were playing up the college experience. I did not have super high expectations because I never do with sequels/prequels, but they did a very nice job of marketing and selling the movie. There is an issue with Pixar though, and that is that I have come to expect greatness every time out. After the trifecta of Wall-E, UP, and Toy Story 3, I have begun to fear that they will never reach that again. Therefore, I tried to really stick to my lowered expectations this time out.

Mike Wizowski (Billy Crystal) has had one dream his whole life: to be a scarer. As a kid he visited Monsters Incorporated and met the best scarer ever and that scarer gave him a baseball cap of his college, Monsters University. Mike has a problem though, he is little and not scary and everyone underestimates him. He gets into Monsters University and is a scaring major. He rooms with Randy and they are good friends, but Randy wants to be cool and Mike just wants to get straight As. Mike knows everything. He can ace every test, but is he scary? No, not really. On the flip side is Sully. Sully is a giant behemoth of a monster whose natural scaring ability makes him super lazy. He and Mike become rivals and after an accident gets them both kicked out of the scare program, they have to team up to win the annual Scare Games. Their team consists of the outcasts, the non scary monsters, but they have to find a way to band together and win the games.

Monsters University is a cute, fluffy movie without much else going on. So much of the comedy comes from the first 35 minutes when college is still the main part. I loved all of the little collegiate details they get right, especially when they come back in January and it is all cold and rainy and everyone is miserable. I got a kick out of watching an octopus style monster downing a bunch of coffee right before finals. I also loved the opening stuff in the quad where everyone was trying to get monsters to join their clubs. I feel like animated fluffy monster movies are aimed at kids, so it is nice to see that they still throw the adults something. However, I did feel like a majority of this movie is aimed squarely at kids. There is nothing wrong with that at all, but at a scant 100 minutes, I still felt like the movie ran a little long. It did not have enough legs for me. The biggest reason I love Monsters Inc is the chemistry between Mike and Sully. This is problematic in this film because they spend most of the movie not liking each other very much. They robbed me of this great duo through the whole movie and it just did not work for me as much as I would have liked it to.

Yet there is some great creativity at work here. The Scare Games are tons of fun to watch. Most of it is taken from other stories and tweaked to fit the genre, but I got a kick out of the competition where panels would turn and they had to ignore the teens, but scare the kids. The panels had clever audio to them for the teenagers. And I absolutely love the idea of the simulated scarer. The little details are very neat. I love the idea that there are a bunch of different kind of scares and you have to know which kind to use on which kid and, in all honesty, I would have been much more fascinated by a film that discusses those, but that would not make a very entertaining kids film. I think the problem boils down to the teaser traler. The teaser trailer made the film look like it was a big college movie with Monster style parties and with Mike used as a disco ball. There were all these funny pranks in the teaser and none of that is in the movie. It moves through your basic college stuff quickly to get to the real story, but I guess I wish the story had been more about the college experience and more of a coming of age tale and less of the contest film.

I hope that this is the end for these characters, except maybe in Pixar shorts. I am not sure I need to know what happens after the scaring gives way to the laughing. I am a bit bummed I know what happened before they became the best scaring team in history. Sometimes it is okay to just tell one story about characters and just let the rest be a mystery. Pixar has created some of the most memorable movies for young people that are beloved by people of all ages. Maybe they should just focus on creating new characters not new adventures for the characters we already love.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

White House Down

It is impossible to talk about White House Down without mentioning Olympus has Fallen, a film that came out a few months ago with a similar story. The White House is taken over by terrorists and one man must save the Country and possibly the world. Olympus has Fallen starred Gerard Butler and White House Down stars Channing Tatum. Olympus has Fallen was very serious in tone, featured super patriotic music and feature plenty of slow motion shots of the American Flag, and a gorgeous slow motion shot of a bullet hole filled American Flag falling to the ground. It bordered on ridiculous in its serious tone, but I appreciated that it did so without settling for irony. Olympus has Fallen featured North Korea as the threat and the President was a complete hostage. White House Down has a more action oriented story, it goes for laughs in place of serious patriotism, the President is not a hostage and there are no slow motion shots of the American Flag. Also, the terrorists are domestic, not Korean. If you think these two movies are the same thing, you have clearly not watched both movies, or you clearly do not understand how the tone of a film can make that film unique. From here on out, there will be no mention of Olympus has Fallen.

John Cale (Tatum) is bored with his protection detail of the Speaker of the House (Rickard Jenkins). He really wants a shot to be on the President's Secret Service and he wants this because his daughter, Emily (Joey King) is obsessed with President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) and the White House. Cale and his daughter are not on good terms and Cale would do anything to have his daughter stop calling him by his first name. Somehow Cale gets an interview at the Secret Service, not so fortunately, the woman who does the hiring, Finnerty (Maggie Gylenhall) remembers him from their past and knows he never follows through on anything and is not dependable. That all changes when the White House is taken by some crazy terrorists while Cale and his daughter are there for the tour. I will not say much about the terrorists because I do not want to spoil anything, but as I said earlier, they are domestic and they are after some serious cash. At first they have the president, but Cale springs into action, grabs the president and they use the tricks of the White House to avoid being captured again. All the while, Emily has become a national celebrity/hero because before she was caught, she managed to take video footage of the terrorists and upload it to her Youtube channel.

Channing Tatum has emerged into one of my favorite guys to watch on screen. I do not say this lightly. He is not the best actor, or the funniest or most charming actor, but he plays to his strengths and when given the chance to do something interesting, he jumps. In his first real starring role in a big budget action movie where the movie will be all on his broad muscular shoulders, Tatum succeeds like crazy. he is in complete control of the film, and since he is in most of the scenes that is a very good thing. He is believable as an action star, and believable as a guy who screws up a lot, but is trying to do the right thing. Of all of the Die Hard clones we have seen, this one is absolutely one of my favorites. Tatum does not have the Bruce Willis quality, but he has his own flavor and it very much works here. The chemistry he has with Jamie Foxx is also excellent. Foxx is not given nearly enough to do here, but as a President who is trying to fix the world, and believes whole heartedly in his cause, Foxx does a great job. He looks Presidential and delivers some very Presidential statements in an honest manner. The dynamic between non-violent President and perpetual screw up trying to save the world is mined for laughs and is also mined for some truly outstanding action scenes. I am not sure I can remember a movie where so many bullets flied left and right.

Roland Emmerich does not make great movies. I do not think he aspires to make great movies. He, like Michael Bay, makes big giant explosion filled set pieces strung together in the most entertaining of ways. One thing he does better than Bay, is nail the comedy. The comedy in his films never feel like filler. it does not detract from the film, it adds to it and this one is no different. The one-liners are solid when they come and like Willis, Tatum can be funny in the worst situation and make it not seem forced. If there is any justice in this big budget blockbuster filled summer, it is that people will go see this movie. If you want awesome action, look no further than a car chase outside of the white house, but still within the grounds. You get a car chase, with Gatling guns, rocket launchers, tanks, grenades and explosions, all while just circling a fountain on the White House property. It is a fun sequence, but also more intense than I was expecting. I think that level of intensity comes from having the man being chased down be the President. There is something a bit harrowing about the visual of our President being fired upon. I know it is not the real President, but I think you understand my point.

White House Down is about as fun a summer movie as you are going to find this summer. There is not much depth to it and it might not look as pretty as some of the other films this summer, but it is tons of fun. I was never bored. I was either laughing or in awe at the awesome action. There is even some great hand to hand combat going on and when you see an SUV drive right into the White House, it is hard to beat that. There is a very goofy moment towards the end, but I'll damned if that goofy moment did not very nearly fill my eyes with ridiculous nonsense tears. Channing Tatum had one of the best years an actor can have back in 2012. Here he opens a big budget action movie and while it has not been financially as successful as it should be, Tatum is well on his way to being an A-lister through and through.

Friday, July 05, 2013

World War Z

The behind the scenes story of this film is fascinating. Filled with drama, death, a bad ending, reshoots and 4 or 5 scren writers, World War Z is the movie of the summer that was sure to be a bomb. It was Brad Pitt's baby though. He fought incredibly hard to get this movie made and through all of the negative press, he just kept on moving. He shrugged off the bad press and he shrugged off rumors that he and director, Marc Forster, did not get along, and he shrugged off the fact that the entire third act was being rewritten. The author of the novel had some not too terribly nice things to say about the switch from slow zombies in the book to fast zombies in the movie. There were complaints about a PG-13 zombie movie because zombie movies are known for gore and a sanitized version of that would not work. After showing Damon Lindelof (must hated screen writer of Prometheus) the third act and asking him to write it, he said that much more than the third act needed help. They reshot the ending, the opening, and a few scenes in between all raising the budget into the $200 million range. Typically movies that go through all of that, fail. The trailers did not really do them much good either. I cannot tell you how many people asked me what was going on in that trailer. Apparently it was not clear that zombies were going on. Everyone assumed failure, but something happened on the day it was released. The movie shocked box office analysts because people were kind of flocking to it and more than that, the word of mouth coming out of the theater was incredible. At my theater people who loved the book hated the movie because of the massive changes, including one solid narrative throughout, but the people who had not read the book were raving like crazy. One guy told me the opening was the most intense opening scene he could remember sitting through. I was not totally sold on it, but I like Pitt and I like big budget action, so I was down.

In a quiet home inside Philadelphia, a family of four is getting ready for the day. Gerry Lane(Pitt) is a stay at home dad who once upon a time had a job that put him in serious danger. We find out quickly that he was a United Nations investigator. We see the news talk about a rabies type break out in humans, and that in another country Martial Law has been established, but we are not given many more facts than that when we are thrust into a seriously intense opening sequence involving Gerry trying to get his family out of Philadelphia after an explosion, a runaway garbage truck and a bunch of human beings biting other human beings and all of them turning into something zombie like. These are running, jumping, crazy people who move in packs and are drawn to sound. Gerry notices it takes them 12 seconds from being bitten to turn. He and his family make it to new Jersey, when Gerry gets a call from his old UN partner about needing his help. The family holes up for a few hours with a very welcoming family, and Gerry tries to convince the dad of that family to bring his family along, but the dad refuses. Gerry and his family run up to the top of the apartment building, trying to avoid death and before they get away, the little boy from the nice family joins them, signaling the rest of his family had been taken. Once safe, Gerry is asked by his former partner, Thierry, to escort a scientist to where they believe the outbreak started because the scientist believes he can find what started it and how to cure it. The scientist tells Gerry that often times Mother Nature leaves clues because she wants to get caught. The scientist does not last long and the rest of the film follows Gerry as he attempts to figure out what caused this outbreak and how it can be defeated.

World War Z is insanely intense, well paced, and features some incredibly excellent action sequences. It knows how to use light and sound to put the audience on the edge of its collective seat and it knows when to turn up the adrenaline to just the right amount to get our hearts pounding until we just need a break and then it lets up on the gas, lets us calm down, just to rev us back up again. It is a seriously enjoyable thrill ride and I cannot believe it was such a troubled production. The opening is crazy, there are three sections in act two that are just some of the best orchestrated action sequences you are going to find in the zombie genre and the third act, while a bit of a letdown, features a really cool sequence of quiet uncalm. Let us begin at the start. The opening scene which leads us into the opening sequence is sublime. We get a nice set up of a happy family, but a little bit of strain when talking about dad's old job. The oldest daughter needs her inhaler, so that will come up again, for sure. Dad quit his job to be closer to his family, which makes the fact that he has to leave them as this all gets crazier even more difficult. Then, BOOM! Almost without warning, a traffic jam turns into this crazy action scene, dizzying camera movements, a thrilling score and then just when you think you cannot handle it, everything slows down as Pitt's character focuses on one man transforming and we hear counting. Then, BOOM! That man gets up and starts ravaging for people to munch on. This uneasy feeling that we have no idea if the movie is going to be fast or slow never really leaves. It is one of the finer points of the film. It slows down and speeds up with such confidence and with such break neck speeds that you are always wondering where it is going to be next. That is one of the pluses to having fast zombies. The next crazy scene is when Gerry and the scientist are being led out of a plane. it is pitch black, with fog, and everything is slow and quiet. We can hear each character breathing heavier and heavier, and suddenly it gets crazy again.

The two sequences that most people are talking about are the scene in Jerusalem (a spectacular scene for a few reasons) and the much teased airplane scene. The airplane scene is probably most people's favorite and for good reason. it is not a lengthy scene, but very rarely do zombie movies take to the sky and the effectiveness of this scene coming right after this amazing sequence in Jerusalem, makes it a doozy. Again, everything starts off quiet, and Gerry is beginning to think he knows what to do to at least help the situation. Then we see the first zombie, then it cuts away to Gerry again and everything is still, calm. We hear rustling, and then slowly the camera pans to the action and we see craziness and hear screaming, but Gerry does his best to contain his section, keeping them quiet as he can until insanity breaks through. In an enclosed space, zombies do their worst damage. There is nowhere to escape, but Gerry has to create space. It is an awesomely effective scene and it pushes things forward on top of it.

However, the entire sequence in Jerusalem takes the cake. First off the action in this sequence is the best in the movie. it is quick, dirty, looks unrehearsed, and is completely exhilarating. However, the scene also deals well in exposition. We have Exposition Man, whose job it is to just give Pitt and us exposition. However, it is done in such a great way that we are visually stimulated and getting all of this information. As Exposition Man talks, he and Pitt are traveling through Jerusalem, which is a completely boarded up area now. It is completely free from zombies because they built a giant wall and happened to complete it before the attack. Why? Well, because when they first heard the word zombie, the 10 leaders got together and 9 agreed it could never be and when all 9 agree, the 10th man has to disagree and he has to start digging for information. It is a wonderful bit of exposition and it is encased in Jewish paranoia from centuries of mistreatment. There is a reason for it that makes sense to the characters and to the story. All around them as this exposition is going on we see happiness, but every so often the camera pans outside the walls to where the zombies are and at this point Pitt has learned that they are attracted to sound and inside the walls, as this is going on, they start singing over a microphone and it is getting louder and louder and louder and soon the zombies are climbing each other to get over the wall and the exposition stops and the zombies come crashing down and chaos ensues. It is one of the best sequences I have seen this summer, if I am being completely honest. Everything that happens in it makes sense for the story and for the characters. it is not in there just to be in there. It is how action sequences in action movies should go.

Pitt does a great job, which is important because he is in 95% of the film. The movie does a good job of cutting back to the family to remind us of the emotional pull at work here. The film does not stick the landing as well as I would have liked, but the climax does have some cool ideas in it. Again, sticking Pitt in an enclosed space with zombies is very effective. Especially with zombies who have been dormant and might move differently than the zombies Pitt had seen early in the movie. World War Z is so effective about building this high level of intensity that I did not even miss the gore of a zombie movie. In fact, this definitely feels much more like an Outbreak kind of movie and less like a zombie movie. The level of panic has real world implications. There are not many answers to be found, which is kind of nice. Is it a viral? The immediate panic of foreign terror is palpable and that is why zombie movies work. They play on our natural fears of the unknown. World War Z surrounds us with that panic, while giving us a hero at the same time. Not only is he a hero, but he is one of the most recognizable movie stars in the entire world. We can place our hopes on him, while still holding onto our panic and the movie allows us our panic and does not completely comfort us. However, one of my favorite things about this film, and one that, I think, sets it apart from most zombie films, is the optimism in humanity. At the beginning, a unknown family shelters our protagonist without questioning it at all. Jerusalem is letting in anyone who can make it there. Zombie movies are filled with cynicism and here goes one that believes in humanity and I have to admit it was refreshing.

Final Grade: A

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Bling Ring

Spring Breakers is my favorite film of 2013 to this point. It is a film that still gets at me when I least expect it. I think about it often and I find myself wanting to talk about it more and wanting to watch it again and again and again. I am not saying that The Bling Ring is having the same effect on me, but there is something similar there. Thematically sure, they are films about bored teenagers obsessed with being someone they are not, so they go to extremes to distance themselves from their boredom through illegal means. Both casts are loaded with attractive people and the characters all do love their drugs. There is a message in both films about modern youth culture, with Spring Breakers certainly pushing it much further and much darker. The Bling Ring might be scarier though, because, well it actually happened. There really was a group of bored, young, well off white kids who broke into the houses of celebrities and stole 3 million dollars worth of stuff. Now, how much of the movie is fact is up for debate. The one actual criminal from the Bling Ring who is talking about it says it is mostly fiction. However, there are details the movie gets straight from what happened. How you ask? Well, social media. Yes, these kids were posting pictures of themselves in the designer clothing the stole, flaunting the cash they stole and posting about how they were big time. Also, because they are teenagers, they could not keep their mouths shut about what was going on. At least, that is how it seems.

Marc (Isreal Brussard) is the new kid at a high school for kids who have been kicked out of other high schools. His crime was never attending class. He quickly forms a friendship with the super bored, and very trendy Rebecca (Katie Chang). Chang is hosting a party at her house and she and Marc leave the house and start trying to see if any people left their cars unlocked with cash in them. This is how it starts. Soon, Marc and Rebecca are entering the house of a friend of Marc's who is on vacation. Rebecca steals a purse and a car. Once they get away with it, the stakes get raised and Marc and Rebecca find out where Paris Hilton lives through Google and through celebrity gossip sites they discover when she will be out of town and before you know, they are in her house robbing her of small things, and hanging out in her house. Before long they are bringing friends along. Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga)are best friends and basically sisters. Emma's mother (Leslie Mann) is a religious nut who home schools the kids and preaches around the basic principles of the book the Secret. Nicki and Sam are too busy trying to be models and too busy reading up on celebrity gossip to notice and they are easily roped into being a part of the Bling Ring. Chloe (Claire Julien) is a disaffected youth who is seriously too cool for everything until she becomes part of the ring of teenage thieves. Together these girls burgle Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr's place, Rachel Bilson's home, Audrina Patridge, and they enter Paris Hilton's home countless times to drink, do drugs, grind on her stripper pole and rob her of thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. Once they hit Aurdina's house things start to go a bit sour because Audrina releases security footage, but since no can see the faces, Rebecca pushes for more. She cannot stop herself and Marc, who has never had such a close friend, is powerless to stop it. Rebecca's biggest goal is to get inside Lindsay Lohan's place. She worships Lohan's style and attitude.

The Bling Ring is a fascinating and excellent portrayal of a celebrity obsessed youth. It is an incredibly in the moment film that shows the reality of desire. These kids desire something more so they just take it. It is the same message examined in Pain and Gain earlier this year. These teenagers had information at their fingertips, and a lack of moral center. They saw this stuff as being neglected by the stars, so they decided they should have it. It made them super fashionable and made it easier to get in all the great clubs and get bottle service and be noticed by all the right people. In real life the Nicki and Sam characters had a short lived E! reality show that happened during the arrest and trial. By trying to achieve fame, they achieved infamy. These teenagers became a huge story, got an article written about them and now have a movie made about them, and none of them are too happy about it. These kids cannot make money off their crime, so in the story, the names of the characters are changed. Their motives are purely superficial. For Marc, he always felt unattractive. He was constantly comparing himself to how celebrities looked and by upgrading his wardrobe by robbing these people, he started to feel as attractive as the celebrities. Rebecca was purely bored by her life. She wanted to add something to it and these robberies sufficed. She was manipulative of her friends, but when the excitement came crashing down, she thought she could outsmart it. Nicki uses her moment of fame to try and rehabilitate herself. She talks about charity and how she wants to learn from the mistakes. Her platitudes are insincere as she mugs the camera trying to always be the center of the light.

Sophia Coppola is kind of obsessed with aiming her lens at the celebrity culture. She examined it in a few ways in Lost in Translation and it was very much the focus of Somewhere, but here, she is getting flack for not digging deep enough, for making The Bling Ring much more of a face value kind of movie. I do not understand the criticism. I find that she aims her lens deeply into this bored white culture. The dialog is minimal, but when the kids speak, it is often with a shocking apathy at what is going on. Everything is chill, everything is okay, when in reality, nothing is chill and everything is certainly not okay. The non-linear structure of the film feels like false drama right at first, but as the film builds upon the interviews that are spliced with the scenes, everything unfolds in this great logical way. An early scene shows Marc trying on a shirt and being unsure of if he should button it or not and he is not pleased with how he looks. This scene, in that moment feels like a throwaway, but as the voice over interview comes on and Marc talks about feeling uncomfortable in his skin when he compares himself to famous people, the entire scope of this character comes into stark focus. We see his motives clear as day. He is not as cool as he wants to be and all of this stuff makes him cool. He takes pictures with the hot girls at the cool clubs wearing the cool clothes. This is exactly what he wanted. He is somewhat our point of view character, but he never once elicits sympathy. In fact, none of the characters do. They are all very loathsome. The actors are all good, with Emma Watson being a clear standout. She takes over the film when she gets going. Her Nicki is certainly the most interesting of the group because Watson is magnetic.

Coppola's cinematographer, Harris Savides, passed away before the film was finished, so the film is dedicated to him, but the man who picked up, Christopher Blauvelt, does an excellent job. The film looks stunning. There are two just absolutely incredible sequences that are so brilliant because of how they are shot. When Marc and Rebecca are robbing Audrina's house, the camera is stationary and at a wide angle and it just sits there. The entire scene is in one take and we hear nothing, and only see the two characters as they are running in and out of room. We see them in night vision and right before the scene ends, the camera slowly zooms in. It is an incredibly effective moment. My heart was racing through the entire scene. Another one comes not much later as Rebecca and Marc are driving late at night and the camera is behind them with almost completely obscured vision as it focuses on the road which we only see through the headlights. The entire scene the two are talking, but it is so hard to focus because we can barely see anything. I kept waiting for them to crash, or for them to swerve, but no everything goes exactly as they planned. It is a haunting wonderful moment.

The Bling Ring lets the audience make up their individual minds about what is going on here. Do you feel sorry for the famous people who had a few purses stolen when they have an entire room full of them? Is it the violation of privacy that rubs you the wrong way or perhaps just how reckless these teenagers are with the possessions of other people? Who is to say. Everyone is probably going to get something completely different out of it. I was shocked at how easy all of this was for them. There was essentially not a single moral issue raised. None of the characters really stop to question if this is something they should be doing. It was just what they did. Rebecca wanted Chanel and Rachel Bilson had it, so they went and took it. It was just that simple. None of the parents had any clue. In fact, Nicki's mom was about the only parent in the lives of any of these kids and she was so out of touch with reality that she never noticed what was happening. Is this an indictment on the parenting of these bored white teenagers? To a certain extent, yes it probably is. Now bored white teenage movies are not new. Havoc is a truly terrifying look at rich bored white teenagers, but this is a real story. The Bling Ring was this big story that swept popular culture for months. Without any hesitation these kids entered the homes of other people and just took from them. Does the fact that many of the houses were unlocked say something about the entitlement of the famous? Does it make a statement about how they feel above everyone else? Who knows. The Bling Ring is not out to make easy assumptions or give us easy answers. What fun would that be?

Final Grade: A-