by Coop Cooper
Here are three films currently available on DVD which seem to have a common theme: People getting mixed up with the wrong crowd with disastrous consequences…
“The East” – Sarah (Brit Marling), a corporate spy, goes undercover for a security firm to infiltrate a group of highly destructive eco-terrorists who are plaguing morally questionable big businesses. Sarah gains the trust of the cult-like group and its charismatic leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) and pulls off a few ‘jams’ with them. At first she feels guilty for taking part, but eventually she sees justification for their actions… until things start going wrong. Soon she begins walking a line between joining the group or taking them down.
What showed promise in premise becomes a pretentious, preachy fairy tale in practice that takes direct aim at corporations the filmmakers think are immoral, but wags its finger only because the terrorist group goes too far and not because their philosophy may have been fundamentally flawed.
Writer/lead actor Brit Marling – whose stiff, blank-stare acting style is starting to grate my nerves – seems to be a one-trick pony. Her ideas are all similar (She played a cult leader in the equally pretentious “Sound of my Voice” earlier this year which she also wrote) and she has very little acting range. I’m about ready to see her go away and I disliked this film which serves as uppity political grandstanding without a balanced moral compass the filmmakers think it has.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
“The Bling Ring” – Ripped from the headlines, a group of bored and disaffected Los Angeles teens begin brazenly robbing the houses of celebrities to satisfy their lust for finer material possessions. Lead by the habitual sticky-fingers Rebecca (Katie Chang) and her seduced accomplice Marc (Israel Broussard), the group peruses tabloids to find out when celebrities are at a function, then they break into their heroes’ homes and rob them blind. The longer they get away with it, the more they push their luck and when caught, the nefarious Nicki (Emma Watson) sees an opportunity to further her fame.
What baffles me are the number of celebrities who appear in this film (as themselves) who basically validate the action of these frighteningly superficial and fame-obsessed kids. It’s almost like these celebs endorse these kids for achieving their ’15 minutes of fame’ through doing something reprehensible and sociopathic. If this film attempts to shame these real-life punks then I’m afraid it only reinforced what they believed in and might inspire others to follow in their footsteps, despite the downbeat ending.
To top it off, it is kind of disturbing to see Emma Watson (Hermione from the “Harry Potter” films) showing off her pole dancing skills and smoking crack. There’s always some point when young actresses start to push the limit of their onscreen sexuality and I suppose she is par for the course. Too bad it was for playing a hatable character in such a vapid movie. It is worthy to note the real-life perpetrators of these crimes got their much-coveted fame out of these crimes, their own reality show and now this movie which is a hard pill to swallow. Director Sophia Coppola wasted her time coming out of retirement for this subject matter, as guiltily entertaining as it is.
Ranting: 2 out of 5 stars
“Spring Breakers” – While “The Bling Ring” played it straight, “Spring Breakers” tells a similar story that boils down into a dark satire and ultimately a surreal and beautifully-shot art film. Unfortunately, it will be lost on most people who will see it only as crime-glorifying sleazefest like “The Bling Ring.”
Five female friends strapped for cash stage an armed robbery to raise money for a trip to Florida for spring break. Emboldened by the power their guns and money bring them, they revel in excess and hook up with a sleazy gangster rapper named ‘Alien’ (James Franco) who begins to use them as enforcers and henchmen (henchwomen?). As the story progresses, some characters become disillusioned and the spell of spring break becomes broken. The story then spirals into a surreal nightmare where the only redemption is in ending the party.
More style than substance, this film surrounds itself in much of the same vileness of “The Bling Ring” but there is fantastic cinematography and some sense of redemption for the characters who express regret. I couldn’t recommend it for any impressionable youth who might take it the wrong way and see it as glamorous, especially with Franco and a couple of ex-Disney stars engaging in rampant sex and drug use. However, I think there’s a little more to the film than meets the eye.
Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars