Third Person

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Release: Friday, June 20, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Putting it mildly, Third Person is a rather luke-warm rumination on romance whose title feels fairly appropriate considering how much the content likes to emotionally strand the viewer for over two painfully long hours. In fact the lethargic pace is such that it’s easy to get the impression the director really doesn’t care whether you’re occupying a seat or not.

Clearly working within a certain blueprint, Paul Haggis at best treads water with his latest entry, a trio of love stories taking place simultaneously in Paris, Rome and New York. Whereas ten years prior he was comfortable allowing his cameras to settle on moments of pure and unnerving racial tension in his Best Picture-winning Crash, here his commitment to painting reality like it is just doesn’t feel as inspired. The structural similarity also suggests possible creative burn-out on Haggis’ part, though the recycled formula is less of an issue as the quality of this final product.

What dooms Third Person more than anything is one doozy of a predictable denouement that can be all but seen coming from the film’s opening title sequence. It’s the kind of unimaginative revelation that sends up red flags as to whether Haggis even bothered. It is also the second suggestion that inspires the thought that this was a film made with no real discernible audience in mind. Perhaps its just catering to the audience with the least discernible tastes in romanticism.

Upon this chessboard of troubled relationships Haggis has placed several bland characters, ones slightly improved by the big names portraying them.

Liam Neeson is once again a hardened, scruffy tough man. . .well, a writer. . .named Michael, and Olivia Wilde is Anna, a woman with a dark history. They’re introduced to us in a rather surreptitious manner; indifferent camera angles lingering on a young, beautiful woman and her significantly older, more moody male counterpart passive-aggressively suggests something ain’t quite right with the girl.

The second pairing finds James Franco playing a successful artist, apparently named Rick (at the very least, we learn character names aren’t worth much in this universe), and who is having trouble with an ex of his who had attempted to hurt their son. Spotlight on a Mila Kunis who might not have ever achieved this level of irritating. Not even as Meg. Shut up, Meg.

The third relationship takes place in Rome and blossoms between Adrien Brody’s Scott and a mysterious Romanian woman named Monika (Moran Atias). The two bump into one another at a dive bar, wherein Scott, a clothing designer harboring a disdain for Italian fashion, learns that Monika is on the trail to meet up with her long-missing daughter who was kidnapped by a Russian gangster. Awkwardly ingratiating himself in the woman’s personal affairs from the get-go, this thread might be the most woefully developed and conceived of the three as Brody does his best to force something out of almost literally nothing. Ice-breaker conversation at the bar comes close to inducing an early nap time.

Whereas the other stories experience less boredom, the intertwining scenes that flip between Michael and Anna’s affair versus Rick and Julia (Kunis)’ troubled history instead just cause a headache and a good bit of confusion. One might be able to admire Haggis’ ability to thread the needle in certain spots — his delivery of certain heartbreaking pieces of information do indeed almost break the heart they’re so painful and twisted in their morality — but these brief spurts of brightness are perhaps the only compliments you can pay Third Person — noteworthy or otherwise. More often than not the multiple tiers of varied trust issues add up to nothing more than a rambling, incoherent mess. A more detailed review of it would start to feel much the same.

If 2004 was the Crash, well, we should have been prepared for the burn.

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1-5Recommendation: There’s not a whole lot that Third Person presents compellingly. Love stories trend much the same way as the millions that have come before, yet the involvement of three stories punches up the intrigue factor just a little. But if I can recommend this film on a performance-basis, I see no reason to outright say ‘No’ to this. The actors do fine work. But the script and Haggis most certainly do not. May I recommend the rental. . .and then the very frequent scene-skipping to get to the good parts. Which basically involve Olivia Wilde. Okay, okay — and Liam Neeson.

Rated: R

Running Time: 137 mins.

Quoted: “I need you to look at what you did, I need you to face what you can’t face, and I need you to tell me the truth.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Bling Ring

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Release: Friday, June 21, 2013

[Theater]

The Bling Ring has everything to do with the loss of innocence in the youth today.

Haha. No, I’m not really going to stand on that soapbox, but I also have no real obligation to sit here and lie about this movie, either. The characters — all of them, and (unfortunately) especially Emma Watson — are detestable little shits in this film and this really made Sofia Coppola’s new movie a difficult one to sit through. It had to have been no longer than thirty or forty-five minutes into this thing when I had decided roughly how the shape of my pie rating system would look like paired up with my review later — that it would be decidedly less than half a pie. (You can jump to the bottom real quick to see for yourself what it ended up being, or wait until you’re finished reading. . . .)

There have been those films that I’ve enjoyed myself in because the story was good, despite the main characters or some supporting roles that I really just didn’t like; and there are those films out there where the characters would do horrific things but managed to somehow stay in good standing with the audience due to brilliant scriptwriting and various other things. Take Meet the Parents (the first installment in this series), for example. Most of the characters were somewhat annoying (or so I thought) yet their actions all added up to one amazing little movie that brought out the truth about all (or at least some) of its key players. The character of Greg Focker was one giant fall from grace which I thought really worked to make the film a believable one. I could do you one better than that, actually. How about The Silence of the Lambs? If you’re willing to say you actually really liked Hannibal Lecter as a person rather than what he meant to the movie, then we might have to have a chat.

Some other movies that come to mind that exhibit unlikable characters but whose presence didn’t greatly impact the experience might be: Hall PassA Scanner DarklyThe Rum Diary, Seven PoundsWin/Win, Pulp Fiction, and probably a whole slew of others I’ve seen but aren’t remembering well right now. In fact, the entire premise behind the original Saw took two highly despicable people and called them out on it. And of course, we all know what I mean when I phrase it as “called them out;” it’s a little more serious than that sounds. 

So I’m not dismissing this film simply because the characters don’t fit or are distracting from the story in some unforgivable way. They’re intensely annoying Valley Girls who clearly value material possession over healthy relationships, and that much is certain. But that’s who these real-life thieves were. I’m sure the film is relatively accurate in portraying the real-life personalities. Because I don’t spend a good deal of time consorting with impossibly shallow, materialistic individuals, I think I might not necessarily be the target audience for a film like this. Regardless. . . my review continues. . .

Coppola directs her new movie with some deftness and confidence behind the cameras. There are several very nice and unusual shots in here that help effect the attitudes held by millions of youngsters who in some way, shape or form are climbing up the ladder to popularity based on the perfumes, jewelry or make-up they’re sporting or whose name they have printed onto their garments. Indeed this is a dream movie for anyone interested in fashion and the lifestyles of the rich and the famous. The Bling Ring follows the escapades made by five high schoolers who have been relocated to something known as a “alternative high school,” for those who have behavioral issues or exhibit anti-social tendencies. Coppola finds a cast that epitomizes both.

When Marc (Israel Broussard) finds himself to be the latest newcomer during his first classes at his new high school, he quickly falls in with a crowd of fashionistas who seem to be all about finding their latest fashion statements in the most unlikely of places: the homes of well-known celebrities. Rebecca (Katie Chang) takes to Marc pretty quickly and soon he is with an “in” crowd he’s been wanting to be a part of all his life. When the two start snatching money and drugs from parked cars one night, Marc realizes he enjoys doing this as much as the others apparently do. And so they simply keep going, raiding a good number of homes belonging to the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson and Orlando Bloom. They do these places substantial damage as they revisit them again and again.

At first you might think, “How easy must it be to rob and loot in L.A.??” Then you have to think of all the V.I.P. parties Hilton et al must attend nightly. Cleverly, this bunch of alternate high schoolers figure out via articles on TMZ and associated sites exactly when their places will be empty, and then they make their moves, removing everything from designer jewelry to framed artwork, to pets. Its a thrill seeing the level of brazenness on display here, but what it also is (and more likely to be for more well-adjusted, matured viewers) is a damn sad portrait of kids losing their identities. This is, though, a place where identity and fashion seem to converge, and it’s not difficult to avoid so much as it is easy to be turned on by the psychosis that if you spend big, your friend circle thus will be big. Here’s a film that literally values the fact that bug-eyed glasses are more popular than reading spectacles; skimpy shirts and dresses are acceptable cold weather clothing; leopard print is more common than fleece. How could I have possibly gotten to where I am now without bending to the rules of fashion sensibility and design? I ask myself this while typing on a newly acquired MacBook Pro.

Identity is identity, I suppose. And I love me some Macintosh, yo. . .

Coppola certainly feels strongly about that sentiment, anyway. Her direction brings to the forefront the collective psychology of youngsters who want to feel part of the success of famous people, by way of stealing their things, that is. She focuses on the many lootings that occurred in the valley by setting up wide angles of an entire house left empty while Marc and Rebecca enter and do their thing. This is both an example of one of the great parts of this movie and of her attention on how these kids play a role in the grander scheme of things. You can look away from the house for a second and see the vast expansion of the surrounding area around Calabasas, and where they ultimately physically fit into the “bigger picture.” I actually thought this scene and the way the shot was set up to be a stroke of genius. It is such a shame to report that this was certainly the exception rather than the rule here, though. Trailers had this guy fooled.

What The Bling Ring boils down to is a rather flat story that weaves in and out of random celebrities’ homes (if they were really allowed access to these people’s homes, it was cool to see inside. . . think a glorified edition of Cribs) while offering next to no substance in the way of developing its characters. When you meet Marc and Rebecca, well. . . you’ve met Marc and Rebecca. And now you’re stuck with them for the duration of the picture. Fortunately, though, Marc is much easier to empathize with as the ultimate consequences do end up getting faced. I applaud Coppola for at least showing some realism to her artistry in making lowlives stealing from the rich look like badasses.

Look, I’m no high roller. I don’t necessarily think the real Bling Ring were “evil” for stealing from some of the wealthiest people in Los Angeles, but their portrayal in this film wasn’t exactly interesting. You couldn’t really feel for them, in any sense of the word — aside from a steadily increasing dislike for every one of them and the way they talked. I have never been as put off in a movie based on the characters alone, but I felt like I was stranded throughout this entire picture.

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2-0Recommendation: The Bling Ring is far too one-dimensional to really recommend. If it had made an attempt to characterize the people who were involved in such bold and reckless schemes, and didn’t just fall back on the girls using “selfie” shots as transitions between scenes, then we might have had a real movie here. But what we have instead is a cold and calculated examination of the nature of obsession. Not even Leslie Mann can save this one.

Rated: R

Running Time:  90 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com