Monday, June 30, 2014

A Ghoul Versus The Bling Ring

Harry Potter: Where Are They Now? Part Three / Dueling Movies: The Bling Ring Vs. Spring Breakers!”

Today I'm going to be doing something a little unique, reviewing a movie that's going to be part of two different series: “Harry Potter: Where Are They Now?” and “Dueling Movies”. 2013's The Bling Ring stars the massively talented Emma Watson, who of course played Hermione Jean Granger in all eight Harry Potter movies as well as inspiring some of the most HORRIFYING fanfiction in the history of the Internet.

The Bling Ring was released June 14, 2013, three months after a film called Spring Breakers. In yet another case of Dueling Movies (2013 had a lot of them), both films looked to be about a group of over-privileged white girls committing crime sprees and looking as fashionable as possible while doing so.

Will Emma Watson finally break the streak of the actors from Harry Potter FINALLY appearing in a good movie? And yes, technically this is her SECOND non-Harry Potter movie as she co-starred in 2012's The Perks Of Being A Wallflower which got very positive reviews, but that was released in whopping FOUR theaters nationwide so it was basically a direct to video movie and the “Where Are They Now?” series is only covering wide release feature films.

Grab your favourite crowbar and get ready to break into Paris Hilton's house while you read A Ghoul Versus The Bling Ring!

The film opens with five teenagers breaking into a VERY expensive looking house and proceed to loot the place blind. The opening credits roll while this goes on, one card informing us the film is based on an article in Vanity Fair magazine called “The Suspects Wore Louboutins”, which is probably still a better idea than a movie being based on a freaking BOARD GAME.

This is actually inspired by a true story, and from doing some research the film is shockingly loyal to what actually happened. Between 2008 and 2009, a group of six teenagers broke into various celebrity houses across Hollywood and stole over three million dollars worth of goods. And when I say “broke in” I meant they just went in through an open door or window because the people they robbed, despite all being multimillionaire celebrities who should have had security systems up the wazoo, don't seem all that damn smart. I know, knock me over with a feather, right?

We get a rolling shot of the beautiful and expensive homes of Calabasas, California as the film cuts to a press conference outside a courthouse where Emma Watson talks about what a learning experience “this” has been for her. Emma is playing an aspiring actress/model/moron named Nicki Moore, who represents real life aspiring reality TV star/model/moron named Alexis Neiers.

We warp back in time to one year earlier, where Nicki and her adopted sister Sam wake up for their day. We can tell already their lives are somewhat messed up as we meet their mom, played by Leslie Mann, who is a free spirited hippie weirdo who isn't concerned in the slightest that her daughters were out very late the night before (on a school night, no less) and then informs the girls it's time for their Adderall. Sadly Mann's portrayal of Andrea Arlington-Dunn (named Laurie Moore here) is NOT that far off from the real thing. Most of the characters in the film sound VERY close to their real life counterparts, which is depressing on so many levels.

At said school, Marc arrives for his first day of classes at Indian Hills High School. Marc is based on Nick Prugo, who was one of the co-founders of the so called Bling Ring. He briefly chats with Rebecca, one of the young women we saw in the film's opening, who is actually nice to him. Rebecca is Rachel Lee, the other co-founder of the Bling Ring and HUGE PROPS to Sofia Coppola for not whitewashing her and keeping her Asian heritage intact.

We learn the school they're at is considered the “dropout school”, as all the kids who go their were kicked out of their previous school for various transgressions. Rebecca invites Marc to hang out with her and her friend Chloe after school. Rebecca and Marc hit it off quite well, as she takes him out to break into unlocked cars and steal stuff out of them. The film then jumps back to the present, where Marc is being interviewed by a woman about his life.

The next day Rebecca talks Marc into taking her to the house of an acquaintance of his who is out of town so they can rob it. This young lady is DIRECT! He's rather nervous about the whole thing, but she makes herself right at home as this isn't the first time she's done something like this. They find a cash box full of money and go on a clothes spending spree. Later that night they pick up Chloe and go to a club, where they meet up with Nicki and Sam. Kirsten Dunst and Paris Hilton make cameo appearances, just so we can see how totally blaise the women are about their world, whereas Marc is pretty impressed to see the celebrities. Remember this scene for later.

They spend the next five years taking selfies and drinking and dancing and I don't think this movie is in ANY kind of hurry to get going at all. Marc walks with Rebecca at school the next day as he narrates how much he loves her. Right off the bat this movie is kind of irksome as we have WAY too many different storytelling methods going on here: flashbacks, time skips, character interviews, narration... which is the perfect time to bring up the fact this is a Sophia Coppola movie.

She's a rather polarizing writer/director, famous for the films The Virgin Suicides, Lost In Translation, and Marie Antoinette. I often hear her referred to as the poster child of style over substance, a VERY fair criticism. Her movies are undeniably gorgeous looking and feature some of the most innovative camera work I've ever seen, but she struggles with telling a cohesive story. This movie is a textbook example of that.  I should add Lost In Translation is EASILY one of my favourite movies of all time, but I have some issues with her other work.

Marc and Rebecca break into Paris Hilton's house next, and I'm boooooooooored already. The Bling Ring drinking game: take a shot every time you hear these lines of dialogue “Oh my God!”, followed up by “I know, right?”. Later they recount their adventure to the rest of their friends, everyone making plans to go back next time Paris is out of town. We get a brief interview segment with Nicki trying to put the blame on everyone else when she was the one who was REALLY pushing to rob Paris' house for the second time.

The five return to Paris's to steal some more, the entire scene playing out as a commercial for about fifty different designer brands. To keep from falling asleep, I looked it up and this REALLY is Paris Hilton's house, which kind of makes it interesting as the young robbers are making fun of her a bit. I wonder if she picked up on that? Marc and Rebecca go to the club to celebrate, where they take selfies and drink and dance. We've seen this, thank you.

We then get a bizarre first person, black and white shot of Marc getting high and dancing in his bedroom. And that's the whole scene. You know, this MIGHT be the most pointless movie I've ever seen. This scene was actually based on a video Nick Prugo posted online, but with no setup or context it's just another annoying break in what can laughingly be called a story. Marc and Rebecca go back to Paris's for a third time, almost getting caught by security but then they don't because NOTHING can happen in this movie. If Sophia Coppola wanted to make a documentary of the Bling Ring, then she should have made a damn documentary!

As they escape Rebecca stops to break into some cars, finding a bag of cocaine. Her and Marc snort it and go for a drive, singing along to numerous songs montage style. And that's the whole scene. This movie sure makes drugs look fun! Next on their hit list is Audrina Patridge's house, which they also easily break into. Good God, doesn't ANYONE have security alarms in California?! We're treated to ANOTHER new shot, as the entire scene is filmed in a continuous shot about 100 yards away. The very, VERY long scene I might add. Don't ever play the “Take a shot every time you see a way too long shot in a Sofia Coppola movie” drinking game unless you're also playing the “Recreating Leaving Las Vegas” drinking game.

Megan Fox's house is up next, Nicki wisely bringing her 13 year old sister Emily along for this robbery. We see Emily was brought along because she's small enough to crawl through the doggie door and let everyone else in. This, combined with Sam being part of the Bling Ring, seems to be the biggest artistic liberty Sofia Coppola took with the story. Emily's real life counterpart Gabby Neiers, along with Tess Taylor-Arlington, seem to have had no direct part in the Bling Ring. They were caught with some of the stolen clothes but sounds like they never went on any of the robberies. They're both based on another Bling Ring member, Diana Tamayo, who WAS whitewashed out of this movie. Based off of how absolutely terrible this movie has been so far, I think she's the only one who came out ahead on this.

Sam finds a gun and spends the next three hours waving it around and I'm fast forwarding. Rebecca and Marc drive down a road first person style, Marc asking if he ever stopped being her friend if she'd rob him. She replies no and (spoilers!) this is the ONLY scene in the entire movie where characters talk to each other about anything besides fashion or celebrities.

I truly don't get what's going on here. Remember when I asked you to remember how starstruck Marc was when he was Kirsten Dunst and Paris Hilton at the beginning? See, that was something a MOVIE would do: introduce a naïve character and slowly have him get seduced by the thrill of robbery until he's as hardened as the rest of the Bling Ring. But not this one! It pretty much just gives up on telling a story after every scene turns into a robbery.

Onto Orlando Bloom's house, which is the house we saw them robbing at the beginning of the movie. As I start dozing off the film shifts to police watching security camera footage of the teenagers, capturing Marc's face on film.  A GRIPPING scene of Nicki and Sam trying on clothes adds nothing to the non-existent plot, so let's see what Marc's up to. He's selling some Rolexes he stole from Orlando Bloom's to a shady friend of Chloe's named Ricky who almost looks like- wait, I think it is. GAVIN ROSSDALE?!

WOW! There's a guy I forgot existed! The Bling Ring celebrates at the club, taking more selfies. And drinking some more. And dancing some more. I no longer believe this is a movie, just a bunch of music videos they edited together. Case in point, next scene is them walking down the street in slow motion to Kanye West's “POWER”.

They go back to Paris' AGAIN, this time bringing Sam's boyfriend Robbie along. Yep, nothing to see here... let's move along. Rebecca calls Marc and has him turn on the news, which is showing a story featuring footage of them breaking into Audrina Patridge's. She assures Marc everything will be okay as their faces can't be seen on camera.

Rebecca wants to break into Rachel Bilson's house next, Chloe asking if she should maybe “chill out” for awhile. This is, uh, what do you call it... an attempt at that thing... you know, that thing were characters like interact with each other through... dialogue to try to set up a plot? I think? Whatever it is, it's WAY out of place in the Bling Ring. But nah, Rebecca talks Marc into it by saying he's her best friend and she really wants some Chanel. They stroll right into Rachel Bilson's, with scary and dramatic music playing as they loot the house so something MIGHT actually happen.

Ha hah, NOPE! They get away scot-free because I guess Sofia Coppola wanted to painstakingly show EVERY SINGLE DAMN ROBBERY the real Bling Ring did rather than spend that valuable movie time trying to tell a story.  Hey, do you know the origin of the phrase “scot-free”? Back in Ye Olden Times of England, “scot” was a tax that everyone in town had to pay. The people who couldn't pay it, usually the filthy poor, or those who could get out of paying it, usually the filthy rich, were considered to be “scot-free”.

Sorry, the latest music video was so boring I had to entertain myself SOMEHOW. So is the next video... fast forwarding... robbing Lindsay Lohan's house... Next scene is somewhere new, the airport. Marc is dropping Rebecca off, as she's going to stay with her dad until things “calm down with her mom”. What things? You know, it might have been interesting if we saw the OTHER side of her life, what drives her to compulsively steal like she does. But nah... that'd just cut into precious advertisement and music video time.

She kisses Marc on the cheek goodbye, as he sadly watches her leave. You know, it also might have been interesting to see Marc express those things, um, feelings towards her to set up ANY kind of characterization whatsoever. In the beginning he narrated he loved her, but we've never seen a single frame of film to support that. In real life they weren't lovers as Nick Prugo is gay, which the movie LAZILY maybe kinda sorta tries to hint at but does so in such a poor fashion every scene you're left wondering why Marc doesn't kiss Rebecca.

A news report links all of the recent robberies together, calling them the “Hollywood Hills burglaries”. Over more security footage of the Bling Ring, narration from a fellow classmate of theirs gives them up to the police. The LAPD then goes to arrest everyone except for Sam, who never actually showed up on any of the cameras. Marc confesses everything to the police, who dispatch a unit to Nevada to arrest Rebecca. Rebecca denies everything at first, but when the cops find her bedroom full of stolen goods she asks if she can just return everything and be forgiven.

Vanity Fair comes to Nicki's house to interview her for a long rambling interview that actually kept me interested because Nicki had her lawyers present to keep her from saying anything stupid (they fail), but one of the lawyers looked so familiar it was driving me crazy. I finally figured out she was Erin Daniels, who featured in a Season 1 episode of Dexter playing Rita's bitchy next door neighbour with the abused dog. This information brought to you by Count Van Ghoul, who watches far FAR too many DVDs.

The Moore family head to court, Nicki giving her speech outside the courthouse and we've come full circle to where we started. Everyone else shows up and the sentencing begins. Rebecca and Marc are sentenced to four years in prison, whereas everyone else gets sentenced to one year in county jail. We follow Marc, clad in his orange jumpsuit, as he boards the bus for prison and looks sadly out the window. Don't be sad friend, you are FREE of this piece of shit movie!

We cut to later with Nicki on some talk show where she talks about her experiences in jail. Why is Nicki suddenly the focus of this movie when the first half was pretty much about Rebecca? I mean, maybe if we had a NARRATIVE of some sort to establish ANY kind of characterization here maybe this wouldn't feel so abrupt- wait hold on, I was ranting for so long the movie ended. Let me rewind it a bit... okay, Nicki babbles on forever and tells us to check out her website at

Cue the credits.

THAT'S the ending?  Oh... kay? Let's check out that website, maybe there's like an actual ending there. Hmm... just worthless press for the movie. I honestly don't know why I was expecting to find an ending, because that would have made no sense for a 90 minute collage of music videos and fashion ads to have closure. That would have required a “story”.

When I decided to do this “Harry Potter: Where Are They Now?” series, I had no idea how similar these movies were going to be. The Apparition and The Woman In Black were identical in that they were boring jump scarefests, and now The Woman In Black and The Bling Ring are identical in the fact they got very positive reviews and I DON'T GET HOW!

The thing is I can't even say this is one of the worst movies I've ever seen, because this LITERALLY isn't a movie. Have you ever seen a critically acclaimed movie that is flat out incomprehensible, but you figure it's just too smart for you? This is not that movie. Have you ever seen a critically acclaimed movie that is BEYOND stupid to you, and you figure the only reason people are raving about it is so they look smart?

THIS is that movie. All the characters are completely flat and one dimensional who only care about fame and designer labels, so obviously that's a METAPHOR for today's youth and culture therefore it's BRILLIANT! Right?! Geez, you could almost say this is a spiritual successor to Showgirls in that aspect.

Actually yeah, that's what we're going to go with. This is a stealth sequel to Showgirls, and may God have mercy on all of our souls that something that atrocious has happened in cinema again. I'd almost give it a recommendation just so you can see how much of a non-movie this is and so you can be FLOORED by the terrible decisions Sofia Coppola made in telling this “story”, but morbid curiosity is a terrible reason to watch any movie.

So how did Emma Watson do in this movie? You might have noticed I didn't mention the acting in my review of the movie, and that's because there really wasn't any.  The actors weren't bad per se, but they were given NOTHING to say or do so had to rely on their screen presence, which admittedly was pretty passable.  I want to single out Rachel's actress Katie Chang in particular, she has a VERY natural chemistry about her and I really hope she gets cast in a good movie someday. 

The critics loved Emma's performance, and I must say I'm jealous they obviously got a different version of the movie than the one Lionsgate put out on home video. She's good as a spoiled rotten airhead I suppose, but it's not like she did ANYTHING besides sound like every teenage girl you see on reality TV prattling about how unfair her vapid life is.

So far this series has been a tremendous disappointment, three movies and each one keeps being worse than the previous one. Stay tuned to see how the Bling Ring fares against Spring Breakers in the second half of Dueling Movies!