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Review: ‘The Bling Ring’

There’s something intensely uncomfortable about watching Sofia Coppola’s new examination of celebrity and material culture.

The story is based on real events, the story of a group of upper-middle-class teens, using only the internet and their own sense of entitlement, rob a series of celebrities for something like $3 million worth of designer goods. They’re not masterminds in any sense. They check TMZ and the like to find out when celebrities are away, then they hop fences and crawl through doggie doors and find keys under mats. Even in their thievery they’re incredibly lazy. That may be part of the discomfort I was feeling when I was watching it. Not just that the celebrities fell down in their own security, but that it was so easy for the teens to get what they wanted.

While working with a story where everyone knows the ending, the film is mostly about explaining how they got there. Ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) is incredibly manipulative of her new BFF Marc (Israel Broussard) and very into petty crime (she checks parked cars to see if they are open and steals wallets). Then there’s Nicki (Emma Watson, truly shaking off Harry Potter finally) so obsessed with celebrity and wealth that she is actively seeking a manager (but for what talent, it’s unclear) with the help of her clueless mother (Leslie Mann). Everything escalates after a trip to Paris Hilton’s mansion one night (using a key under the doormat).

It’s plainly clear that Coppola despises all of the characters, except possibly for Marc, who is painted as a victim for awhile. They smoke cigarettes, pot, do cocaine and other drugs, stay out all night get DUIs and none of it ever seems to lead to real consequences. Why do they rob? Because they can. And so even after their arrests, they seem to continue to live life like there are no consequences. But the only difference is now they are famous too.

A lot has been written about Coppola’s treatment of wealth and excess but I feel The Bling Ring is its own animal entirely. Shot with an incredible coolness (one frame in particular, a wide shot of Rebecca and Marc robbing Audrina Partridge’s glass house, is remarkable) The Bling Ring is more judgmental than her other films. It’s not just judging the teens and the celebrities, but you while you watch it. Why do you find it so fascinating? It’s just a series of thefts. You’re only there because of the celebrity aspect, the same reason Rebecca and Marc and Nicki were there too.

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Review: Anna Karenina

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We get it. The movie opens with a shot of a proscenium and an orchestra tuning. There is a backstage and lights and seats and set pieces that turn into other sets. It is a performance. That much is clear. Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard have set up the latest screen adaptation of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy’s lengthy novel of adultery, on a stage. It was a nifty idea.

But unfortunately, that nifty idea just didn’t make sense as an actual film. Despite Wright’s talent for directing Keira Knightley in sprawling period pieces (see Pride and Prejudice and Atonement), Anna Karenina, at a fundamental level, just doesn’t work.

Almost immediately in the film, the theatrical framing  begins to take away from the grandiosity of the story. As soon as the four walls of the stage appear, they make the film seem smaller. The goal may have been intimacy but the result was meekness and, quite frankly, confusion. Why did some of the drama take place on the stage and some not? Where does a field fit in with catwalks and sandbags and trapdoors? Why is there an audience onscreen sometimes and not others? Why do any of this at all?

It appears, eventually, that the world of the stage is the public one. When Anna is, as it were, on display in Russian society, the action takes place in the theater. Her more private moments take place in the traditional sets of a movie, and then slowly, as the film progresses, are forced into the public space. It’s really very intriguing, and it gets at the central theme of the story, but it just doesn’t always work. The audience will likely spend more time trying to figure out exactly why the film is flipping between the stage and the apparent real world than appreciating the artistic value of that switch.

The film’s problems are not solely due to this theatrical framing. Wright’s portrait of Anna is no more sympathetic than Tolstoy’s was, yet this whiny, tiresome brat is hard to take on screen. The central love triangle — between Anna, her husband and her lover Vronsky — lacks the chemistry to make it believable and the urgency to make it engaging. Whether this is the fault of Wright or Tolstoy is hard to tell, but the focus on the lovers verges into boredom, and makes for a third act that really drags.

Even for an avid appreciator of theater, there was a fundamental disconnect between the goal of the framing device and seeing that device. The film, perhaps, deserves an “A” for effort. They had an intriguing idea and they tried so hard. And it must be noted how  beautiful the film is to look at, especially in the way it weaves stage sets and film sets with gorgeous costumes in meticulously composed shots. There was a lot of thought put into the whole thing. Unfortunately in Hollywood, the thought isn’t really what counts.

The Nanny Diaries

How I Met Your Mother Season 8 Episode 3 “Nannies” Recap and Review
Oh Nanny! Last night’s episode, in true HIMYM spirit was all about transitioning without really changing at all. Lily and Marshall are dealing with the new baby and their old lifestyle, Barney’s dealing with being single again after having decided to settle down, and Ted and Robin are dealing with relationships for the sake of being in a relationship. Ready, break!

Let’s start with Barney. Poor Barney. Seven years later, even though he has gotten over his incredible fear of commitment and took the plunge and proposed to Quinn (read, now that he and Quinn have broken up every single character has been in an engagement that fell apart), he doesn’t know how to deal with his emotions. He couldn’t do it when Robin and he split, he couldn’t do it when he met his father, and he can’t do it now. Enter “Bangtoberfest” and a t-shirt gun (yeah I want one of those), and Barney’s quest to pick up women in bigger and better ways, not being satisfied with the old reliables like dressing up as a policeman and telling girls he can “get them off.”

Meanwhile, Lily’s dad has shown up again, after he blew up the house (it’s unclear if the house is his own house or Marshall and Lily’s house on Long Island or if it’s another one). Marshall and Lily are in a desperate search for a Nanny, since Lily’s maternity leave is almost up, and Grandpa is desperate for the job, but Lily is not a fan. They find the perfect nanny, a regular old Mary Poppins, who they cannot remotely afford. As the search continues, there aren’t a lot of qualified candidates in their price range, until they find a young lady from St. Cloud! Marshall is already in love. Until she turns them down after she fell in love with a single dad/billionaire she met later that day, who turns out to be, you guessed it, Barney!

His latest gag to get girls? Interviewing Nannies and then sleeping with them. Very exciting. And very much screwing Marshall and Lily after their Minnesotan nanny leaves in a huff. Barney apologizes by hiring the perfect nanny for them (and giving Marshall some hotwheels), but it turns out, Lily isn’t ready to let go, figuratively and quite literally. She storms off to Marvin’s room and promptly falls asleep. When she wakes up Marshall’s home and Lily is holding a monkey instead of Marvin! But it’s okay, LIly’s dad is actually Mr. Mom! When he was being a deadbeat when Lily was younger, he was also a stay-at-home dad. If only he had never gone to the track races that first time. Lily hires him, and from the photos that flash afterwards, it looks like Chris Elliot is going to be around for awhile.

While all this is happening, Ted and Robin have a fight over who is in a better relationship, despite the fact that Nick is too emotional for Robin and Victoria is quite the slob. When they see how crazy Barney gets after the nannies find out about his scam and beat the crap out of him, they cling to their not-perfect relationships even tighter, although older Ted has told us that both relationships aren’t going to last that much longer.

What makes this show so great is its ability to roll with the times. Much of the episode was baby-centric, but it didn’t lose anything. It still had its snarky humor, it’s over-the-top twists and turns, and a lot of yuppies in a bar. Baby Marvin isn’t going to kill this show, which is a relief. Babies have in the past (I’m looking at you, Emma). Oh and also a hilarious bit at the end where Barney sleeps with the super-nanny. This show is still on fire.

Once Upon a Time Season Premiere Review and Recap

Just another day in Storybrooke. Oh wait, no it wasn’t. When we last left our fairytale characters, the curse had been broken and everyone remembered who they really were. And then Mr. Gold unleashed a big purple haze of magic on the whole town, changing the rules and blurring the line between fairy tale and reality. That’s what the whole episode was about, really. Blurring the set formula we had last season and transitioning to a place where the show can sustain itself without flashbacks. But let’s dive in.

We open 0n a horse and buggy, apparently in the fairytale land but oh wait no, we’re just in Central Park in NYC. And we follow a man, down the subway, up into his small apartment. we have no idea who he is until a bird delivers a postcard from Storybrooke with one word written on it: “Broken.” Omnious? Yes? Theories? My best bet is on whoever August/Pinnochio was in contact with, and that person probably is Baelfire, Gold’s son. But moving on.

The rest of the episode moves between fairyland and Storybrooke, much like every other episode has. The flashback to fairyland is to Sleeping Beauty being awakened by her handsome prince, a tale I expected to see sooner in the show (given Malificent’s importance to the storyline thus far). He’s accompanied by a masked soldier, who although they try to keep up the appearance of a man, the cut of the outfit and the liner on the eyes immediately gave away this new character as Mulan (Jamie Chung). They encounter a hooded phantom they call a wraith, who marks his victims with a metal disk and then sucks out their souls. Aurora’s prince is marked and he runs away to try to save the women. They run after him but are too late. The prince dies. It all seems a little irrelevant until Gold pulls the disk out of his cabinet and marks Regina, after he promised Belle (love her Australian accent, by the way) he wouldn’t kill.

Meanwhile, Snow, Charming and Emma spend most of the episode trying to convince people not to kill Regina, and then later saving Regina. It’s because they’re heroes and because Henry asked them to. There are also lots of awkward moments where Snow and Charming, full of their memories, try to connect with Emma as their daughter. It’s super weird, as Snow mentions, because they were equal adults before. “There are lots of things I shouldn’t have mentioned, like one night stands.” “One night stands?” “Whale. What we were cursed!”

When it comes down to it, the only way to defeat the wraith is to send it back to fairyland, which Regina swears is gone. She thinks sending it to an abyss will kill it. Everyone’s favorite portal device, Mad’s hat, is required and it doesn’t work until Emma touches Regina’s arm. Curious and curiouser. Of course, all magic comes with a price, and the wraith is sucked it, along with Emma. Snow jumps in after her and so does Charming, but the portal closes and he hits the floor. And where Emma and Snow land is back in fairyland, right next to Aurora and Mulan, and we realize that it was no flashback, it was actually a flash forward, the wraith appearing to Aurora, the prince, and Mulan after it had left Storybrooke. Whef, timelines have always been confusing in this show, but I think they’re going only going to get more so.

And there we leave it. Emma and Snow are back in fairyland, everybody else is trapped in Storybrooke with Regina and Gold magicking all over the place, and there’s a mysterious New York stranger involved. All in all it was a good premiere, holding onto the bomb that it wasn’t a flashback anymore until the very end. But there are many questions left unanswered, and people we haven’t heard from. Where is August? And Jefferson? They’re linked very intricately with the fate of our main characters, but we don’t know anything about them, post-curse. Also, just putting an appeal out there for Amy Acker’s fairy/nun to come back. Because it’s Amy Acker playing a fairy/nun, it’s so adorable I can’t even handle it. But alas, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Do the Right Thing

Political Animals Episode 5 Recap and Review

As the political miniseries moves from character to character, doling out telling flashbacks, I wonder why there’s “mini” in the series. With only one episode to go, I wonder how the story will resolve itself, which it has to to qualify Sigourney Weaver for Best Actress in a Mini Series for next years Emmy’s. But let’s dive in to this week’s episode, in which we learn what makes Susan tick, how crazy Bud really is, Garcetti isn’t really such a bad guy, and that Anne is still boring.

The episode was titled “16 Hours” but it should really have been called “All About Susan.” our intrepid reporter was the focus of the flashbacks this episode, which strangely was devoid of all things Georgia. We see her emerge as a budding columnist and make her mark by tearing Elaine down. Ripping her apart in a column her editor calls more “judgmental” than editorial. To this criticism, Susan accuses him of being sexist. She goes over his head and suddenly her column is published and she has a new swanky office. This is the part that bugged me. Susan steps on Elaine’s ashes to climb her way up the corporate ladder, all the while accuses her boss of being sexist. She doesn’t really know where she stands, and neither does the show. What does feminism mean here? Is what Susan did strength or was it cheating? Are women supposed to help each other or claw each other’s eyes out? I of course have my own opinions and I’m sure you have yours, but I’m not entirely sure what the show thinks. Sometimes I think all the gains that the character of Elaine makes in terms of the portrayal of women on television, Susan gives away. I’m hoping something great will happen next episode.

The more exciting news was Doug and Susan sleeping together, something you could have called a mile away since that first clandestine meeting. He also drunkenly admits to the other thing we all knew before: that he doesn’t really love Anne enough to marry her and that they’re just a puppet couple. He can’t leave her for Susan but I wish he could. Anne is boring and Susan needs to date a nicer guy. Sigh.

In the meantime, TJ is unconscious in the hospital after an overdose which Elaine covers up by leaking the Chinese nuclear sub story to Susan. The rescue mission is underway but China is so dead set on keeping the sub out of American hands that they threaten to release their nuke onto California if a rescue is attempted. When Vice President Asshole votes to kill the Chinese, Garcetti makes the first good call of the series and steps out as a not-so-bad-guy after all. Of course no bomb is deployed and all is saved, especially Garcetti’s political future. Elaine herself says he’ll be unbeatable. It was noble of her to sacrifice her own political aspirations for the lives of a hundred men, but it’s clear that she’s needed in the federal government, as Garcetti wouldn’t  have lifted a finger without  her. I wish Elaine would have had more to do this episode besides talk about the sub and talk about TJ. It was Bud who got the real action, taking swing at the Vice President for blackmailing Congressman Gay way back when. It was a hilarious scene, one that got me thinking, what would the secret service do in that situation? President, VP, and former President in a fist fight? I wonder if something like that has ever happened…

And of course, we can’t forget Margaret and Anne, busy searching the house for drugs to flush so that TJ can come home and rehabilitate. When they find some good old fashioned Mary Jane, they decide to smoke it instead of flushing it. Cue the high revelations, all of the good ones coming from Margaret of course. The pot brings on a case of the munchies and of course, causes Anne to hit the bathroom to puke her guts out. Only Grandma knows all, and confronts her. It’s a great speech for Ellen Burstyn and she handles the scene well while Brittany Ishibashi sort of stands there like the doll she is. She is such an unnecessary character and even her own personal storyline is boring. They’re spending so much time with TJ and addiction they don’t really have time for another mental health problem in the short six episodes. My only hope is that we leave the series with Doug and Anne resolutely broken up. We’ll just have to wait until next week to see.