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Entries in Emma Watson (5)

Thursday
Jun202013

The Bling Ring

It’s hard to watch a movie that contradicts itself, one that tries to preach a message while itself falling prey to many of the problems it’s trying to address. A great example would be 2007’s “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” a movie that spent the better part of two hours ridiculing gay men with insulting stereotypes before telling us all that we shouldn’t do just that. Although they explore different themes, Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” is its dramatic equivalent. While it is supposed to be a critique of our obsession with fame, it instead romanticizes it in a number of ways, making it perhaps the most hypocritical movie of the year.

The movie follows a young man named Marc (Israel Broussard). He’s a somewhat troubled lad, but quickly finds acceptance with Rebecca (Katie Chang), a pretty girl with a wild side. In her desire to live the lavish Hollywood lifestyle, she breaks into celebrity homes while they are away and steals their valuables. She eventually introduces him to her partners in crime, Chloe (Claire Julien), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Nicki (Emma Watson) and despite some initial reluctance, the rewards prove to outweigh the risks, so he joins them in their thievery.

As far as substance goes, “The Bling Ring” doesn’t venture too far from Coppola’s standard cinematic explorations. She has always been fascinated with fame and power, the latter seen with 2006’s “Marie Antoinette” and the former with 2003’s “Lost in Translation” and 2010’s “Somewhere,” but she always explores those areas in different ways. “Lost in Translation,” for example, was about an aging movie star trying to connect with a younger woman while “Somewhere” was about a younger, newly famous movie star that felt strangely empty. “The Bling Ring” explores fame as well, but it does it not from the perspective of a queen or a washed up movie star or an emotionally vacant celebrity, but rather from an outsider’s perspective. It points the camera back at society, at those who desire fame above all else. In that way, the movie will be more relatable to those who view it than her previous works (who hasn’t dreamt of sharing the screen with cinema legends or the stage with your favorite musician?), but more relatable certainly doesn’t mean better.

With shows like TMZ, which is entirely about paparazzo intrusively filming famous people on their casual day-to-day business, and the popularization of insipid reality shows, it’s no secret that we’re a celebrity obsessed culture and the kids in this movie embody it. They talk about how cool it is that Marc’s father is in “the biz,” they have cutouts of desirable celebrities on their walls and to them, happiness isn’t family and friends, but rather exposure to the world. When the law finally catches up to them (and given that this is based on a recent true story, that’s not a spoiler) and the detective tells Rebecca that he spoke to the celebrities she stole from, she leans forward excitedly and asks, “What did Lindsay say?” Unlike Coppola’s other, more understated movies, “The Bling Ring” ends with an all-too-blunt statement: America has a “sick fascination” with fame.

While all of this is well and good, the overall message of the movie conflicts with its presentation. By romanticizing it the way she does, Coppola reinforces the idea that fame is something to be achieved not out of hard work and perseverance, but of vanity. Although the girls get their just punishment, the end result and biggest consequence of their crimes turns out to be newfound fame, exactly what they wanted and hoped to achieve. Even the movie itself is taken from a Vanity Fair article, a magazine comprised mostly of Hollywood fluff, and the characters onscreen are real people who wanted fame and nothing more, so despite some name changes, this movie does nothing but give them more exposure. The movie’s very existence and the road to it contradict its own intended purpose.

That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have some insight. Its characters, who like to exclaim “Oh my God!” usually followed with the remark that something is “sooooo cute” as they rob from these celebrities, are shallow and one-dimensional. Although that would be a detriment to another film, it’s a positive here because their pursuit of fame, likewise, is shallow. These characters are the way they are for a reason, but it’s the glossed up portrayal of their actions that ultimately dooms the movie.

There’s a lot that can be said about, fame and the pursuit of it, but “The Bling Ring” goes about it all wrong. Coppola isn’t a director that likes to spell things out for the viewer, which is one of her greatest strengths. She typically likes to let the viewer decide for themselves about what they’re seeing, so it’s a tad jarring to see her mess this one up so badly. It still has some good moments, particularly the long take extreme long shot as Marc and Rebecca plunder the window-walled home of Audrina Partridge, but it’s not enough to make up for a movie that has a fundamental misunderstanding of its own idea. Sofia Coppola has traditionally been more of a critic’s friend than the regular filmgoer’s, but this time, I’m afraid she’s neither.

The Bling Ring receives 2/5

Tuesday
Jun112013

This Is the End

Ensemble comedies usually come at a price. They usually have too many characters and most aren’t given the screen time they need to feel relevant. Most of the time, and this seems to often be the case, it’s merely an excuse for some millionaire celebrities to hang out with each other and get paid for it. The quality of the film in question means little. Take 2010’s “Grown Ups” as an example, a movie that was almost universally hated by both critics and moviegoers alike that somehow made enough money to get an ill-advised sequel next month. Despite the (mostly) likable cast, it was a film devoid of laughs, heart or even a moderately amusing story. If that movie stands as an example of how to do an ensemble comedy wrong, “This Is the End” is an example of how to do one right. Although it’s by no means perfect, it nevertheless remains laugh-out-loud funny and features a unique and inspired post-apocalyptic story with an interesting message about divine forgiveness.

The film takes place in the real world, with every actor onscreen playing themselves. It’s a typically interesting night for the Hollywood elite and James Franco is having a party to break in his newly constructed home. Craig Robinson is there schmoozing Rihanna through sexually suggestive piano tunes, Danny McBride is doing what he does best and is passed out in the upstairs bathroom, Jonah Hill, being the nicest person in the world, is complimenting his friends at every turn and Emma Watson is relaxing with a beer while Michael Cera, playing against his nice guy onscreen persona, sniffs coke off a nearby table. Jay Baruchel has just flown in from New York with every intention to just hang out with his best friend Seth Rogen, but Seth insists they head to Franco’s party, so they do, despite Jay’s dislike for those present. While there, all hell breaks loose, literally, when the apocalypse starts.

While it would certainly be a stretch to call “This Is the End” a message movie, this set-up leads to an interesting dichotomy between holy grace and a sinful Hollywood lifestyle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, our characters are left behind while those who have led good lives are whisked skywards to heaven. These celebrities have used their fame to sleep with women, buy lavishly expensive material objects and waste their lives away partying and doing drugs. They’re the walking definition of sin, but as the movie goes on, it explores the forgiving nature of a truly loving God, one that shouldn’t be feared as many Christian communities believe, but rather as a God that truly believes in redemption.

Granted, the events that play out are merely there to give the movie somewhere to go (without the hope of salvation, what would be the point?), so I doubt even writers/directors Rogen and his buddy Evan Goldberg would argue their movie has some deep meaning. Everything that happens is there to set-up a joke, a cameo or something so outlandishly absurd you can’t help but laugh at it, yet the film’s greatest strength is in its self-satire. Because it’s playing with fictionalized versions of real actors, it can acknowledge their past work and even poke fun at it. One of its standout moments comes when the guys realize they’re stuck in that house while the world crumbles around them, so they decide to shoot a gritty version of “Pineapple Express 2.” At one point, they even reference 2011’s abysmal “Your Highness,” which Franco and McBride co-starred in, siding with the rest of the film population by commenting that they should never make “Your Highness 2.”

The film goes on to make fun of Seth Rogen’s laugh and one paparazzo even asks him when he’s finally going to start acting, given that every character he plays is exactly the same. Moments like these, coupled with some truly great and inspired cameos that should remain unspoiled, make “This Is the End” the single funniest movie since “21 Jump Street.” Where it falters is in its length, pacing and misunderstanding of the horror genre. With the apocalyptic setting, some fun is had with demonic creatures (particularly when the gang performs an exorcism by quoting lines from “The Exorcist”), but Rogen and Goldberg don’t know how to set up a scare, not so much missing the beats required for it, but rather bypassing the set-up entirely. Most of what happens does so suddenly, usually in the middle of a conversation, and though they work as jump scares, they’re cheap jump scares, similar to a little kid jumping out of a bush on Halloween and yelling “Boo!” It’s a tad startling, but it’s hardly scary.

Its pacing issues come from a padded runtime and jokes that go on for far too long—Jonah Hill’s nice guy shtick quickly becomes grating and one particular scene involving the discussion of ejaculate is too much—yet despite all this, and a really whiny story arc revolving around Baruchel’s dissipating friendship with Rogen, the film succeeds because, well, it’s just plain funny. At the end of the day, comedies don’t need great performances or stylistic direction or a complicated story to work. They only need to make you laugh. If they do, they have succeeded, so by that standard, “This Is the End” certainly does.

This Is the End receives 4/5

Friday
Sep282012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

At first glance, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is no different than your typical angsty teenager movie. It features a cast of wacky kids who don’t really fit in with any particular clique, but find common ground in their differences—there’s the gay one, the unconventionally pretty one, the stoner, the goth, the shy one and more—but the film isn’t your run-of-the-mill teenager movie. It neither romanticizes nor demonizes the teenage years, but instead looks at them as what they are: a learning experience where children become adults and begin to discover themselves, find happiness and learn what’s truly important in life. The Perks of Being a Wallflower knows what it’s like to be a teenager, from the highs to the lows to everything in between, and it handles all of it delicately and deliberately. It’s one of the best of the year.

The film begins with Charlie (Logan Lerman), a friendless teenage boy who is entering high school for the first time. He’s a bright and loving kid, but has never found anyone outside of his family that is willing to accept him (as he says early on, he’s both happy and sad, wishing only to make a friend). However, he soon meets a senior named Patrick (Ezra Miller) who, for whatever reason, is stuck taking the freshman shop class. From there, he meets Patrick’s step sister, Sam (Emma Watson), along with a cast of eclectic characters who don’t care who he was or where he’s been. They just know that he’s a nice person and they instantly accept him into their group.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower could have gone incredibly wrong, but it somehow manages to do nearly everything right. The main character is lonely and friendless, but he’s not pathetic. The characters are archetypal, but they nevertheless feel real. The film is about teenage angst, but it’s never annoying. Instead, it’s a thoughtful study on what it’s like to be a teenager and all but those who coasted through their teenage years without a problem will be able to relate to it. The movie is also prophetic, but it’s never preachy. It expresses the thoughts of a teenager to beautiful effect, shown best in one scene when Charlie asks his English teacher, played wonderfully by Paul Rudd, why some wonderful people date bad people. His response is that we accept the love we think we deserve. Charlie responds, asking how someone could let that person know they deserve better, to which his teacher replies that you can’t really. You can only try. Anyone who has ever watched as their crush dated someone not good enough for them, someone who abused them or took them for granted, will find these scenes incredibly moving.

Here’s a film that knows how hard it can be for some people to make friends and how lucky we are to have them. It stresses their importance, in the way they shape our lives, influence our opinions and make us stronger. For example, Charlie never takes his newfound friends for granted. He understands his good fortune in finally finding them and will do anything to make them happy. His status as an outcast has, in a way, made him a stronger, better person than most will ever be. He never looks at the gay guy and sees him as a lesser person or the goth girl and thinks of her as weird. His timidity has nurtured a kindness in him that allows him to see past such trivial matters and into the real person underneath. He’s a wonderful character, one that is easy to root for, and the actor portraying him puts on a terrific show.

With that said, The Perks of Being a Wallflower isn’t perfect. It never really establishes a true place and time—it feels like it takes place in modern day, but the characters listen to records instead of CDs and write on typewriters instead of computers—some of the dialogue is frustratingly hipster, (which is, to be fair, indicative of many indie films) and one plot thread involving Charlie’s sister, Candace (Nina Dobrev), and her abusive boyfriend is never followed through, but despite its occasional stumble in these relatively minor areas, it succeeds where it needs to. Some of the darker plot turns are difficult to accept not because they’re out of place or unnecessary, but rather because the characters are so likable, you don’t want to see anything bad happen to them. The story and characters are relatable too, guaranteeing many of the film’s viewers will know what it’s like to feel the way they do. But the film’s intent isn’t to sadden or bring back memories from your teenage years you wish you could forget. It instead leaves you in a perpetual state of happiness, with a love and appreciation for those who love and appreciate you back, and with hope for every struggling kid who may be going through similar experiences at this very moment. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is for, but not limited to, them and it takes power away from unnecessary high school labels. When viewed from a different perspective, words like “popular” and “wallflower” take on a completely different meaning.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower receives 4.5/5

Thursday
Jul142011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

After ten years and eight movies, it’s all finally coming to an end. Harry Potter is going to be put to rest. Truly one of the most popular franchises in film history, the Harry Potter movies have shown how a franchise should be handled. Not all of the films have been amazing, but all (with the exception of The Order of the Phoenix) have been good. If nothing else, it’s a consistent franchise with more heart, whimsy and fantastic fantasy action than many movies even attempt, much less achieve. And it’s going out with a bang. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is hands down the best in the acclaimed series. It will blow the minds of, and bring tears to, even the most casual fans who have little invested in the story and characters. I joked with friends and colleagues before the screening that if the film was anything less than the best of the year, I would be disappointed. And disappointed I am not.

The film begins precisely where the last one left off. Dobby has just died and Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has just found the Elder Wand, the most powerful wand in existence. Meanwhile, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), along with best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), are out to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes, each of which carries a piece of Voldemort’s soul. Voldemort will stop at nothing to keep that from happening, which means killing Harry Potter.

As with most of the other Potter films, you will need to be well-versed in Potter lore to fully keep up with what’s going on in The Deathly Hallows Part 2. It’s a movie that would have greatly benefited from a “Previously on Harry Potter” type of opening, especially since this is the second half of one story, not simply a standalone sequel like the others. From the get go, it’s unclear exactly what is happening, but it never suffers under the weight of its own vagueness. All it requires is a little patience while it settles into its own. Confusion is cleared and the story at hand grips you like none other.

It’s a story that has been building for seven films, all of which left open doors and questions lingering to set up the next movie, but for the first time ever, there’s closure. One of my chief complaints of The Deathly Hallows Part 1 was its abrupt ending. It was a story that was intentionally left unfinished and its lack of any type of payoff was to its detriment, but Part 2 rectifies that with a send-off for the ages. The showdown between Potter and Voldemort is an epic, breathtaking, immensely satisfying finale that leaves no stone unturned. What follows is an endearing and emotional farewell to one of the most charismatic characters to ever grace the screen.

The big climax is not the only reason to watch Part 2 of this story, however. The entire film is brimming with action, contrary to the more talkative Part 1, but it’s not there just to be there like in, say, the latest Transformers film. Unlike that mind numbing movie, the action compliments the story, flowing naturally based on what has occurred up to that point. And in the midst of all the chaos and destruction is a brilliant plot twist that forces Potter to face his destiny, which may mean sacrificing himself to save others.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is dark, scary and more violent than many will expect, but it’s also emotionally resonant and beautifully made. Long time fan or Harry Potter cynic, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. It will stick with you long after the credits have rolled and the lights come up.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 receives 5/5

Thursday
Nov182010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

The Harry Potter franchise is one of the most consistently engaging franchises in Hollywood. With the sole exception of Order of the Phoenix, I would recommend each and every one. However, all have their faults. While fans and critics alike have praised them as tremendous entertainment, I’ve found most of them to be no more than slightly above average. The newest installment and beginning of the end, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, is no better and no worse than the rest of the series. For everything it fixes, it breaks something and in trying to keep things fresh, it loses much of its charm.

My confusion began as soon as the movie started. Not being a rabid fan of the series, I’ve only seen the other entries once or twice. I haven’t kept up with its extensive mythology and its deep cast of characters left me more than a little befuddled. When it begins, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is left alone after his foster parents move out. Hermione (Emma Watson) has seemingly erased herself from her parent’s memories. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is meeting with his gang of misfits to figure out a way to kill Harry. And then about a dozen other characters pop up to rescue Harry and whisk him away to safety. These events happened quickly and I wasn’t sure why, but credit is due to the filmmakers who make the story that follows manageable even for those who aren’t familiar with the prior movies.

Essentially, the story follows Harry, Hermione and Ron (Rupert Grint) as they attempt to find and destroy a number of artifacts called Horcruxes. However, this plot takes the kids away from Hogwarts and sets them off on an adventure alone. While I appreciate the darker tone of this entry, it’s missing the whimsy of other installments. It has more of a focus on the trio, but part of the fun of the series has always been watching the eccentric teachers and other colorful characters that roam the halls of Hogwarts. This movie has none of them. The large cast of characters that show up at the beginning of the movie disappear until the end (if they even come back at all) and the humor and fun disappears along with them.

What really hurts the movie, however, is its build to nothing. As evidenced by the “Part 1” at the end of the title, this story is being broken up into two movies, so what happens is that it trucks along for two and half hours only to abruptly end without any type of payoff. The setup for the next film is intriguing and I can’t wait to see it, but it doesn’t negate the fact that this story is left unfinished.

As with the previous movies, Part 1 looks good. The assured direction and gorgeous cinematography are wonderful. It carries an appropriately dark, unearthly look. This distinct visual style works wonders for the film and is complimented by an amazing animated segment explaining the origin of the deathly hallows, a welcome change of pace from a scene that would have otherwise been boring exposition.

Although I obviously haven’t seen Part 2 yet, I feel like the two movies will be comparable to Kill Bill: good separate, but something special together. I don’t mind the slow build if you give me a reason for it, but as a standalone movie, which is the only way it can be judged right now, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is satisfying, but fails to transcend into greatness.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 receives 3.5/5