Tag Archives: The Godfather: Part III

The Bling Ring – Losing the fame game

Crime spree or shopping spree? Farmiga, Broussard, Watson, Chang and Julien

The fifth feature from Sofia Coppola, The Bling Ring once more sees the director looking at the vapid excesses of the comfortable-off, and like her 2006 film Marie Antoinette succumbs to the vacuous nature of its subject matter.

Based on the real-life ‘Bling Ring’, a gang of rebellious upper-middle class LA teens whose obsession with the celebrity lifestyle led them to start burglarising A-listers’ homes when gossip websites reported they were out of town, the film attempts to deconstruct concepts of fame and its pursuit.

Ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) convinces effeminate new kid in school Marc (Israel Broussard) to help her in her thieving pursuits, and they gladly blow the money they make in up-market night spots while wearing the high-end fashions they ripped off from the rich and not-so-deservedly famous. Home-schooled sisters Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Rebecca’s bestie Chloe (Claire Julien) get in on the action.

Rolling along at a good pace, The Bling Ring keenly demonstrates the emptiness of its subjects’ lives, and the self-delusion that has come from insufficient hardship and the worst of role models.

But there’s no drama. The heists are always safe. Rifts never really develop between the group members. We know from the framing device that they will eventually get caught, so there isn’t even much excitement in a “can they get away with this?” sense. A gun is found in Megan Fox’s house, but it goes off like Chekhov’s damp squib.

Once the set-up is complete, the film becomes as vapid as its protagonists, falling onto the fun drama side of the line between drama and grotesquery instead of dancing maddened back and forth across it as Spring Breakers did. As the Bling Ring become celebrities themselves, Marc raises the idea that America has an obsession with “Bonnie and Clyde types”, reducing Coppola’s argument to a first semester undergraduate film studies class.

The cast are strong for the most part, with newcomers Chang and Broussard impressing, but forced to speak in the bored low tones traditional of Coppola’s characters (including the ones she’s played herself… yes I went there), they drag down what might have been a more exciting film. Emma Watson gets some great one-liners though, and Leslie Mann steals many scenes as her The Secret-reading, Xanax-dispensing mother.

While Mann gets time to shine, the relationships between Rebecca, Chloe and Marc and their parents is disappointingly under-shown; however Coppola should be complimented for never seeing a need to discuss Marc’s homosexuality, so natural as it seems.

What’s truly shocking is how bland this film looks. From the director of Lost in Translation and the cinematographer of Zodiac, a far more visually dazzling film could have been expected. It looks crisp and bright, but the set-ups (with one noticeable exception) are so obvious and lazy they might have been from the shot list of a made-for-TV movie version of this story. The editing keeps the film flowing along, but sometimes the cuts from bland shot to bland shot after bland shot begin to exhaust.

2/5

(originally published at http://www.nextprojection.com)

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The Look of Love – Smut’s entertainment

Ladies' Manager: Steve Coogan with Anna Friel in The Look of Love

Ladies’ Manager: Steve Coogan with Anna Friel in The Look of Love

There was a time when Steve Coogan seemed to have unbridled potential to conquer Hollywood, but it never happened. Ricky Gervais is probably to blame. Coogan’s career cracked along with passable minor appearances in American films while, with the exception of revivals of his human faux pas Alan Partridge, his only shining moments came in his collaborations with Michael Winterbottom.

Having caricatured himself in their previous two films together, The Trip and A Cock and Bull Story, Coogan is back playing another morally clouded media type in The Look of Love. After triumphantly playing Madchester impresario Tony Wilson in Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People back in 2002, an unaging Coogan is here cast as British nightclub and pornography mogul Paul Raymond, who ruled the striptease scene in London’s Soho district from the 1960s until the 1990s, when he was believed to be one of Britain’s wealthiest men.

A showman by nature, Coogan plays Raymond with all the smarmy wheeler-dealer skills his characters have shown previously, although Raymond is far more successful at this kind of enterprise than many of Coogan’s other roles. Learning early on that while lion taming and scantily clad women sell tickets, scantily clad women and more scantily clad women sell more tickets, The Look of Love traces the rise and rise and occasional dips of Raymond’s bizarre career. He seduces press and clergy to keep his clubs open. He enters into theatre and publishing, both with their share of female nudity.

But the film is far more concerned with Raymond’s private life, tracing his affair with his star attraction Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton) and the collapse of his marriage to wife Jean (Anna Friel), who would later re-enter his life as one of his covergirls. The focus however is more on Raymond’s unhealthy relationship with his daughter Debbie, played by the ever-on-the-cusp-of-stardom Imogen Poots.  As with Michael Corleone and his daughter Mary (and by extension Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia), Raymond’s affection for his daughter is crippling and blinding – he sets her up as the star of one of his musical shows despite her very limited singing capabilities. Debbie is anointed her father’s business successor, but her developing drug addiction begins to get in the way.

Winterbottom playfully shoots his film in the style of each decade, beginning in crisp black and white before dissolving into the bleached colour palettes of the ’60s and ’70s. The production design is superb, but there’s a staleness to the imagery despite its quality. 24 Hour Party People was beautiful in its ugliness, but The Look of Love is often dull in its gloss.

Coogan brings his A game to a character who is not quite as deep as Control writer Matt Greenhalgh’s script wants to believe he is. We never truly get inside Raymond’s head, and he is never quite as morally repugnant nor as fiendishly brilliant as the drama would hope. He is however regularly amusing, and Coogan’s rapport with Chris Addison as his number two keeps much of the film aloft. Anna Friel plays spurned wife and saucy MILF with equal relish. Cameos range from the superb: David Walliams’s vicar; to the downright disappointing: The Inbetweeners’ Simon Bird wearing a beard so false you can practically touch the blobs of glue holding it on.

What makes The Look of Love a moderate success is how well it captures the shifting styles and attitudes of Britain over more than three decades, but also in the chemistry between Coogan and Poots. As unlikely an onscreen father and daughter pairing as there might be, the two find a tragic sweetness in their decidedly creepy relationship, that makes for uncomfortable yet touching viewing.

The least satisfying of Winterbottom and Coogan’s collaborations so far, The Look of Love is still a fine production that’s only real failing was believing its subject was a more interesting character than he truly was.

3/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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