THE BLING RING (****)
By Richard Rothrock
Coppola’s detached, observational cinema is always best when profiling young people still trying to find their roles in the insular world of the rich and famous. MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006) found Marie (Kirsten Dunst) and her husband Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) learning on the job what it means to be rulers of France with little guidance from the courtiers and ministers around them. Unfortunately, by the time they got up to speed, it was too late to avert the French Revolution. They lived such self-absorbed lives in Versailles that they looked genuinely startled when the mobs came looking for their heads. Oblivious as to what they have done wrong.
The characters in THE BLING RING reside in the self-absorbed American version of Versailles: Hollywood, California where everyone is either famous or aspiring to be. These teens have no inner self. The media and their own parents have taught them that being famous is all that matters. If you can’t be famous then at least have the stuff of the rich and famous. And that’s what they start to do.
Marc (Israel Broussard) is a troubled teen at a new school befriended by Rebecca (Katie Chang). She at first appears fun and daring but soon leads him into a string of petty thefts that escalate. They are joined by Chloe (Claire Julien) and the equally detached Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga). All are from upper middle class families. None seem to have any inner life. Life is about being seen: at clubs, on Facebook. They are constantly taking photos of themselves. These are individuals so wrapped up in the outer trappings of fame they have no idea they are already dead inside.
Nicki and Sam are homeschooled by Nicki’s fame obsessed mother (Leslie Mann) whose curriculum is based on THE SECRET. I loved the scene where they make posters discussing women they admire. Mom picks Angelina Jolie. Why? Because of her great face, her butt, and the fact that she has Brad Pitt.
The kids want to be famous and yet the people they admire are famous for not really achieving anything. Fame is achieved by having things. The girls seem to think that by spending time in the stars' homes, by taking their stuff and proudly displaying it on Facebook and wearing it around town, they can buy fame too. And I guess in today’s culture they are not completely wrong.
Performances are riveting. Much of the press has been devoted to Emma Watson and she is amazing as Nicki, the shallow beauty who only lives when she is the center of attention. Loved the scene at the end when VANITY FAIR comes to interview her and it turns into a limelight wrestling match between she and her mother – enabled by Nicki’s newly acquired press agent and lawyer.
But the rest of the cast is just as good. Israel Broussard makes a sympathetic Marc, the lone male of the group and the only one who senses this is wrong yet fears taking any action to stop it because he knows he’ll be exiled from the group. And the group is all he has.
Katie Chang is fascinating as Rebecca, the amoral leader who callously manipulates everyone to greater and greater crimes under the guise of friendship and almost gets away scot-free. Taissa Farmiga, Vera Farmiga’s youngest sister, is even more terrifying as Sam: the member with the least scruples and yet the one who escapes punishment.
When the cops come to take them away, they all look genuinely perplexed, incapable of understanding that they have done anything wrong or transgressed any laws. In this brave new world, the well off always escape punishment, right? It is only the poor and the unknowns that have to suffer jail and consequences.
THE BLING RING starts out being mildly amusing. By the end, it becomes genuinely scary. When we find ourselves staring eye to eye with the craven, unrepentant, and, yes, delusional Nicki – who has learned nothing and, in fact, been rewarded for her crimes – we understand at the final fade out that we are not staring into the eyes of some deviant malcontent. We are staring into the dark abyss of our future.
WORLD WAR Z (***)
By Ben Rothrock
One problem that I had was that Brad Pitt was just too lucky. Throughout the entire film, he narrowly escapes zombie attacks without getting bitten. Another problem was that in Israel, the zombies got into a walled safe zone by climbing over each other and created a tower to the top of the wall. Instead of forming an ever-growing pile of zombies, they formed a tower that never broke formation. Something like that couldn't happen unless they were climbing through a tube on the wall.
Besides the zombies being so fast that they could knock over anything, the film was pretty good. I thought the effects could have been better, but that wasn't enough to ruin the film. I highly recommend this film to anyone who is in love with zombie films. It is now my favorite zombie movie. They have planned it to be a trilogy, so I can't wait for parts 2 and 3.