Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Bling Ring

Sofia Coppola directed four feature films before "The Bling Ring". "The Virgin Suicides" (1999) was promising; "Lost in  Translation" (2003) was very good; "Marie Antoinette" (2006) was pretty but boring and "Somewhere" (2010) was really, really boring. The graph of her career was not looking good but I am pleased to report that "The Bling Ring" is a decent film.

It's a very contemporary meditation on the intertwined subjects of the surveillance state and the cult of celebrity. It's a fiction based on a real crime spree where a group of bored, materialistic and celebrity obsessed Southern California teenagers used social media and celebrity gossip sites to find out when various celebrities were out of town so that they could burglarize their houses. They got away with it for almost a year and stole an estimated 3,000,000 dollars in luxury goods. Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton were among the victims and Hilton, in her weird disarming way, allowed the film crew to shoot a number of scenes in her house.

The film is darkly comic and also skillfully anxiety producing. It's not boring. When the Bling Ring kids do their break-ins, security camera footage of them is intercut with the regular footage and there is always the sound of helicopters in the distance. Since we know they were eventually caught we keep waiting for the moment.

The young actors are very good. Katie Chang, as Rebecca Anh, the leader of the gang, brings a casual sociopathic edge to her role and Emma Watson leaves Harry Potter far behind with her portrayal of Nikki Moore, the most self-deluded, narcissistic and and unintentionally amusing of the bunch.

This is not a great film but it's worth seeing. I'm once again interested in what Sofia Coppola's next project will be.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

The bureau chief finds films of Shakespeare's comedies problematic. It turns out that comedy is not as timeless as tragedy and 400 year-old jokes are often not funny to contemporary audiences. The Shakespearean clowns are a particular example of this problem. If the film maker can't find a way to make what they're saying clear, without changing their lines, their scenes become dead spots in the film. This was the case in Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film of "Much Ado About Nothing" in which Michael Keaton played Dogberry, the head of the Night Watch.

Joss Whedon, who adapted and directed the latest film of "Much Ado", solved the clown problem. Nathan Fillion plays Dogberry as a thick-bodied middle-aged dunce of a Police Chief who tries to look wise by endlessly taking off and putting on his mirrored shades. With the exception of one female cop, his deputies are on the mental level of the cops in "Reno 911!" The shorthand works.

Whedon cast two male parts with actresses and also starts the film with a scene without dialogue that indicates that the lead characters Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) were lovers in the past. He shot the film in his own house, with an excellent company of non-stars, in just 12 days. The black and white cinematography looks great. The actors wear modern clothes---the women in dresses and the men in suits with semiautomatic pistols in shoulder holsters. Those things and the cool music make it seem that the film is taking place in the 1960s. I don't know why that seems appropriate.

The film takes a little while to get going but ends up being amusing, exciting and even moving. I recommend it.