Sunday, September 8, 2013

September side-reviews - The Bling Ring, The East, Stories We Tell, & World War Z.

Hello again, everyone! Sorry for my long absence. Things have not been too kind to me in my personal life. However, I have recently found some time to get in a few new viewings. So, with the summer movie season concluded, and with the festival season in full swing, I thought I would put down some small side reviews for these films. Hope you enjoy reading them!

The Bling Ring:
I’ve been anticipating this film for well over a year, and for me, it didn’t disappoint. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, the film follows the daily routines of the Bling Ring, a group of young adults who achieved infamy by breaking into, and robbing the houses of celebrities in Beverly Hills, including the likes of Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and Rachel Bilson. While not quite as spectacular or nuanced as Coppola’s own Lost in Translation, The Bling Ring still retains a constant sense of hypnotism. Every bit as stylish as the burgled stilettos, Coppola’s eye for technical qualities is wonderful to look at, one particularly exceptional sequence seeing two members of the group going through the house of Audrina Patridge, all done in far off zoom in and complete silence. Of course, the main strength of this movie comes from Coppola’s writing, and her cast. The group of actors assembled is just fabulous throughout, and the writing excellently taps into people’s disturbing obsession with celebrity life style. There’s no doubt people love gossip, or a good Bonnie & Clyde story, but when does such an obsession get taken too far? It’s a fascinating analysis, and Coppola makes the most of it…

****1/2 / *****

The East:
“Spy on us, we’ll spy on you.” Such is the creed of The East, a group of environmental freedom fighters and anarchists who target mega corporations that have harmed wildlife, and human life with their toxic business practices. When a young woman is tasked to infiltrate the group and find out about their plans (“jams”, as they call them), she soon begins second guessing where her own allegiances lie. Following up her previous two hits Another Earth and Sound of My Voice, screenwriter and actress Brit Marling brings her a-game in full force once again. Working with a thought provoking and volume speaking script, and a strong supporting cast, including an unconventionally unsettling turn by Ellen Page (fabulous, as always), Marling makes the most of the experience. Only in isolated moments does it feel weak or overlong, and the look into environmental protection, and even the hypocritical lengths people can go to uphold it, are sure to get the mental gears going.

**** / *****

Stories We Tell:
My vote for best movie of the year so far goes to Stories We Tell. A story of… well, storytelling, this documentary from Sarah Polley probes the history of her late mother, seen by many who knew her as a bright soul who loved living life to the fullest. It also goes into the mysteries surrounding her past, uncovering the heavy secrets she left behind.

It is stated by one interviewee that the purpose of art is to get at absolute truth, but within the context of the film, no one truth is absolute. The history of Polley’s mother doesn’t always matchup between her numerous interviewees, as they each have their own interpretations of how events unfolded. These memories are subject to the biases of the individual experiences, meaning we never do get a clearer picture of the mother. However, as time goes on, you realize that that isn’t the point. Never content to just stick with one idea, Polley is smart to keep the picture unclear, and let each interviewee share their stories the way they saw it, with well placed bits filmed in Super 8 cameras adding visual punctuation. The interpretations of family and friends don’t always connect, but none of them are necessarily wrong. If anything, it can show how one person and the events surrounding them can affect others in many different ways, all told in a very sweet, funny, and fascinating way. Although, this doesn’t mean Polley doesn’t turn the tables on herself from time to time. Even her vision of the story, and for the movie, can be subject to personal bias, trying to learn all she can of her mother’s past and the fact that she is making this documentary being very much intertwined with one another. It really is a bold piece of filmmaking…

***** / *****

World War Z:
World War Z follows the travels of Gerry Lane, a former UN investigator who is brought back into service when a global pandemic breaks out and infects the population of the planet. World War Z was an unfortunate victim of production issues, budget problems, and various reshoots to meet deadline, and I’m not gonna lie, it shows.  One thing wrong with this movie you’ll notice immediately is that one of its credited screenwriters is Damon Lindelof. The script itself isn’t… bad, but it leaves so much to be desired. Characters are not strongly developed, scenes don’t always connect with any rhyme or reason, and some of the film’s logic can get silly. However, in Lindelof’s defense, the editors don’t make any more sense. Annoying shaky cam intrudes more often than it should, the pacing is uneven, and as for spectacle, some really tacky CGI scenes ruin the immersion. Plus, casting Peter Capaldi in a small role that affords him no vulgar language is a no-no, and an immediate detraction from the film’s final score.

Overall, the film is a mess… but at the very least, it’s an entertaining mess. It’s a simple disaster flick, and it knows that. The film is based on moments, thriving by moving from set piece to set piece. The style is not always polished, but there is some fantastic atmosphere with tension throughout. For every dull beat, there’s a rush felt by other action scenes, none more nail-biting than an intense stealth scene in a hospital wing. Plus, there’s a rock solid cast to balance things out, led by Brad Pitt’s superb lead performance. Yes, World War Z is an indifferent film, but an exciting indifferent film.

*** / *****

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