Archive for June, 2013

I just stepped out of seeing Sofia Coppola’s latest film The Bling Ring and felt the need to comment on the film rather immediately. The movie follows a group of Beverly Hills high school students as they begin a crime ring walking into the unlocked doors of celebrity homes and stealing what the film tells us is over $4 million worth of merchandise. The celebrities, it turns out, are definitely stupid, as leaving your door unlocked when you own that much stuff is foolish, but this wasn’t the most striking element of the film.

Let me first say that Coppola is a director I admire. She’s got her own style and is certainly not afraid to make films that are off center in Hollywood. Her last film was Somewhere, an oddly sweet little film that meandered and asked questions about fame and adulthood. And of course there’s her to-date masterpiece Lost in Translation, which is an incredible showcase in sparsity of dialogue while still telling an earnest and human story about loneliness, not to mention resurrecting the career of Bill Murray and launching Scarlet Johansson into the social consciousness. I also was intrigued by The Virgin Suicides, which came before Translation, as well as the odd but striking Marie Antoinette, so it’s clear that she, one of the few women to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar, is a talented individual.

Then comes this little addition to her filmography. To be honest, it mostly made me sad. Here area group of young people who are so driven by social status, materialism and the rush of stimulation that they never seem like real people. To their credit, the actors nail the stereotypical Los Angeles teen in both their interactions with each other and the world around them, but it isn’t entirely clear what the intention of the film is. Does Coppola condone the behavior? It is certainly glamorized through much of the film’s rather short 90 minute running time, but neither the director or the characters seem to be willing to make a comment on the socialization of these kids. Based on true events, the teens eventually get their comeuppance, but one has to wonder how much of this is merely because of Coppola’s desire to tell the truth, even if none of the assailants choose to.

The most disturbing thing, though, is that there are actually kids who did these horrible things. These aren’t needy children who don’t know where their next meal is coming from; maybe they don’t live in the lap of luxury, but they are certainly living on the same floor of the building. This makes the thievery, underage substance abuse and overall disregard for authority all the more appalling. On top of everything else (and this is merely a reflection of our justice system more than anything else), the punishments seem not to fit the crime (the worst jail sentence received is 4 years, while one member sees the inside of a cell for 30 days), further illustrating the disconnect that seems to exist here.

The most telling moment for me came towards the end. Marc, the lone boy in the group, is talking to a writer for Vanity Fair about the “fame” he’s received because of the incident and how weird and “awkward” it is. He tells the writer how it seems to show society’s obsession with a type of Bonnie and Clyde. I think he–and the film–miss the point, though. It’s a fascination with celebrity, earned or otherwise (check the reality TV “fame” fad), that draws people in. It’s not about how talented, clever or funny you are, it’s about selling a story. Sadly, this one sold; but the irony is that is stories just like this that convinced these kids they could do this and get away with it in the first place.

As for the film, it does not live of to Coppola’s tremendous talent. There are too many scenes of the kids busting into the houses, stealing stuff, partying and driving around LA whenever and wherever they like. And it lacks the heart of her earlier films, which isn’t surprising considering there’s not a single relatable character in the lot, even though I think Marc–who is not nearly as rich or ridiculous as the girls in the bunch, at least not initially–is supposed to be our portal into the world. But the film never allows us to connect with him or anyone else, and it’s impossible to feel sympathetic. For someone who is usually so good with creating real, genuinely honest characters, Coppola falls way short here. She’s clearly capable of much more given her track record, but is unable to save this mess of a story.

I promised the film update for the halfway point would be up soon. And seeing as I couldn’t get myself to sleep, I thought I’d go ahead and do it now. As is often the case, the first half of the year is a pretty slow time for the film industry. Many film critics see January and sometimes into February as the time that studios dump all the movies they made that they didn’t see as either awards fodder or box office smashes, so it’s very, very hit or miss during these months. Sometimes a film will sneak through these earlier months, but not often, so it’s hard to make a strong list so far. I can, however, tell you what I saw and weigh in a bit. So here we go, in order of release:

Gangster Squad: This one was pushed back to re-shoot the ending (which initially dealt with a shooting at movie theater, and the re-shoot was reaction to the shooting the opening night of The Dark Knight Rises), but in all honesty we weren’t missing much. It’s an okay film, but it’s very over the top and the cinematography is hard to get your mind around. It’s weird looking. The tone of the film is uncertain, too, so it’s hard to take it too seriously. All in all, it was mildly entertaining, but not much more. (C)

Side Effects: This is one of those movies that I spoke of earlier that I, for one, think should be getting at least some recognition come awards season. Sadly, it will probably be overlooked. All the actors are fascinating here, and even Channing Tatum doesn’t ruin it for me. Rooney Mara, above all, continues to astound me with the depth of her skills. If this is indeed Sorderbergh’s swan song, it’s a pretty good way to go out. (A)

A Good Day to Die Hard: I feel like they should have left this series alone. While Live Free or Die Hard was moderately entertaining, this one was just too over the top for it to really be John McClane. The scope of it just doesn’t work for a Die Hard film, and Bruce Willis just seems tired. A mostly brainless action flick that just doesn’t work overall. (C-)

Oz the Great and Powerful: Talk about a big budget clunker. And there’s so much potential. A talented cast. A director with imagination in spades. Zach Braff as a talking monkey! Yet for some reason there’s just no emotion here. It’s all about the glitz and special effects and you lose the heart, which is part of what makes The Wizard of Oz stories so great. That is not here. This is not very good. (C)

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: Another potentially great concept that just falls so flat in the execution. I’m not sure why, but with all these great comics working here, I really thought this would work better. Everybody is working really hard, and there were a few good laughs, but not enough to hold it altogether. Glad I only spent a $1 on it. (C+)

Trance: James McAvoy is one of my favorite actors, and he’s best when he’s playing off-the-wall, mentally unstable characters, which is part of the why this works so well. The other is Danny Boyle’s frantic pacing and precise characterization. This is a rather short film, clocking in at just 101 minutes, but the pace is absolutely perfect. The performances are good all around, too. This was a fun way to spend an afternoon, and I’m quite glad I saw it. (A-)

The Place Beyond the Pines: This is definitely not a happy tale, but it does have a lot to say about the choices we make. Ryan Gosling continues to show why he’s one of the better actors in Hollywood, in a performance with nuance and subtlety. Not for the feint of heart, but worth seeing if you can survive the despair of it. (A-)

Oblivion: Oh, Tom Cruise, what are you doing? You’re not longer a bona fide box office guarantee (in spite of the success of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which I’d wager was franchise love more than for him), and this sci-fi romp just lacks heart (there’s that word again). Again, the concept is interesting, but the execution is so flat and uninteresting throughout most of the film, it doesn’t do much to garner such a long running time. (C)

42: This should have been better, but it’s still a pretty good job of telling the story of Jackie Robinson. Harrison Ford is actually quite good here, even if his gruff Branch Rickey does get to be a little too much after a while, and newcomer Chadwick Boseman does a commendable job. I think there was more depth possible here, as this doesn’t quite feel complete. (B)

Iron Man 3: After the mammoth success of The Avengers, this film had the not-so-fortunate position of being the film that came after it. That’s a large task, and while Shane Black and Co do an admirable job, this is not nearly as solid an effort as last summer’s blockbuster. It is, however, quite a good addition to the Marvel canon, and nearly as good as the original Iron Man. Robert Downey, Jr is still fabulously funny and quick witted, and also gets to do some actual soul searching this time around, giving him more things to emote about. Here’s to The Avengers 2! (B+)

Star Trek Into Darkness: I’ve never been a Trekkie, so I cannot talk about this film in terms of nostalgia or what have you; I can only talk about it in terms of it being a follow-up to JJ Abrams original journey on the USS Enterprise. In that regard, it’s not nearly as entertaining or engaging, although Benedict Cumberbatch does his darndest to prove me otherwise. He’s fantastic here, but the rest of the cast seems to be phoning it in a little. And these films are nothing if I don’t care much what happens to these people. Sadly, here, I don’t care much. (B-)

The Great Gatsby: As a huge fan of the novel and of Baz Luhrmann, I sort of expected to love this going in. I was so excited, in fact, that I went solo to the 10PM showing the night it came out and again two days later for my birthday. Needless to say, I really enjoyed this take on it. It’s not boring like the Robert Redford version, and really captures the wild extravagance of the era. Is it weird to hear Jay-Z rap through the Roaring ’20’s? A little, but I’m okay with it because it feels deliberate (Luhrmann’s explanation is actually makes a good deal of sense…http://on.mtv.com/10KCLGI) In any case, I loved this movie. Is it perfect? Not by any stretch, but it was entertaining and shows a great care for its source material. And Leo DiCaprio–an actor I used to dislike a great deal–has turned into one of my favorite (and most overlooked) actors working today. (A)

Man of Steel: To me, Superman is a very bad protagonist. He has very little arch available to him, because he is always going to do the right thing. Because he’s Superman and this is what he does. He’s also terribly dull, lacks a sense of humor or personality like more recent superhero characters we’ve seen, so for better or for worse, Superman, in my eyes, will never make for an interesting film character. The movie is then limited to the size of its set pieces and action scenes, and they are awfully big and loud and almost too much for the most part. Not surprising giving Zach Snyder’s past films (300 and Watchman), and I guess it works okay for this type of story, but without the human connection we’ve felt in films like Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or even the personalities of Iron Man/Tony Stark or Captain America, Supe will never really do it for me as a film star. (C+)

As of this writing, that’s all I’ve seen. Tomorrow I plan to see Monsters University and I plan on enjoying that a great deal. Got to love Pixar. Or at least I do. The following is a list of movies that have come out and I’ve yet to see or that I’m most looking forward to before the end of 2013:

Broken City, Sound City, Warm Bodies, To the Wonder, Disconnect, Mud, Frances Ha, The English Teacher, Before Midnight, Now You See Me, The East, Much Ado About Nothing, The Internship, The Bling Ring, World War Z, Despicable Me 2, The Lone Ranger, The Way, Way Back, Only God Forgives, The World’s End, Blue Jasmine, The Spectacular Now, Elysium, jOBS, Drinking Buddies, Closed Circuit, Prisoners, Rush, Don Jon, Runner, Runner, Gravity, Captain Phillips, The Fifth Estate, Oldboy, The Counselor, Ender’s Game, Thor: The Dark World, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, Nebraska, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Out of the Furnace, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Saving Mr. Banks, Monuments Men, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Jack Ryan

Obviously, those later film releases are subject to change, but I expect a lot of them will see the light of day in 2013. Looks like a good rest of the year. Looking forward to it!

 

Robert

The story so far…

Posted: June 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

Sadly, this blog is an often overlooked part of my life. There’s been a lot going on of late, so it’s been difficult to prioritize it, but I’m hoping to change that this summer. I’ll start my summer blog off as I often have: by ranking/talking about music. We’re at about the midpoint in the year, so I thought I’d go back and talk about some of the albums I’ve been listening to so far. Who knows, this might serve as a preview of the end-of-year list coming in December. So without further ado…

(Note: for now, these are in alphabetical order…rankings I’ll save for the end of the year)

The Almost- Fear Inside Our Bones

Try as I might, I just can’t really get into this band. Granted, their new album is only a few days old as of this writing, but nothing grabbed me the first time out. Check by at year’s end to see if anything changed on that front.

The Appleseed Cast- Illumination Ritual

This is a really lovely, sprawling album that I’ve only gotten to listen to a few times so far, but I so very much appreciate that art of it, I hope to get into a lot more this year.

Chris Tomlin- Burning Lights

Although there are a few new concepts here–especially the inclusion of rapper LeCrae on the opening track–most of Tomlin’s latest is very much in his wheelhouse. It is, however, a better overall album than his last effort, and a few of the songs have already worked their way into the rotation at my church. Solid effort.

Citizen- Youth

Having never heard anything from this band before, I must say I’m impressed with this melodic rock sound. It’s got a dirty edge to it, and I’m looking forward to exploring its depth a little more as the year goes on.

Citizens- Citizens

Far and away one of my favorite albums so far in 2013, Citizens (not to be confused with the band above…there’s an ‘s,’ you see) has managed to combine a more upbeat, indie rock feel to the worship elements that my heart loves to be a part of. It’s a rare find, but the combination is so fantastic, it’s hard to imagine this not in at least the top-5 at the end of the year.

City & Colour- The Hurry and the Harm

I was absolutely (and surprisingly) floored by Dallas Green’s last album, and so far, this one is no different. There’s just something about the way his voice soothingly works through the collection of songs here that really captivates me as a listener. It’s also got a rock feel that I really like.

Cold War Kids- Dear Miss Lonelyhearts

The sound of the CWK hasn’t changed much since their debut, but there is a somber sense of melancholy here that I can’t quite put my finger on. Again, this one will require more listens to really get into.

Conditions- Full of War

While it hasn’t stuck as well as their debut thus far, Full of War is a really solid sophomore release. The driving guitars and uplifting lyrics really work in sync together, and it’s super catchy, so I’m thinking it’ll stick around throughout the year.

Fall Out Boy- Save Rock & Roll

At first, most of this album was really off the wall for me. Too much so. But the more I listen, the more I like a good chunk of this album. Minus “Rat a Tat.” I just can’t do it. Courtney Love is awful and has no business singing at all.

Fiction Family- Reunion

For some reason, I’ve never really given these guys more than a cursory glance. It’s not great music, but it’s not terrible either. This time around it doesn’t feel as much fun as the first time, so it’s gotten lost in the shuffle.

Frightened Rabbit- Pedestrian Verse

Something about a singing Scotsman that really gets me. That and the intensity of this record is essentially unmatched in anything I’ve heard so far this year. That being said, the depth of it makes it a difficult repeat listen for me, which might bring it down somewhat by the end of the year.

Gold Fields- Black Sun

Bought this on a whim one day. It’s fine, but hasn’t really captured my attention, as I’ve skipped over it for other things several times.

HRVRD- From the Bird’s Cage

These Charlotte natives really have constructed a fantastic debut for their new label. It’s intense and melodic, and the instrumentation is really incredible. Really looking forward to the chance to see them play live some day soon.

I Can Make a Mess- Enola

Ace Enders is a busy dude. It seems like he’s pushing out new music at least once a year nowadays, and with The Early November back on tour this summer, the release timing of this feels odd. Still, it is certainly a ICMAM album, with it’s sprawling, meandering, seemingly unfocused songwriting that requires more listens than I’ve been allowed so far to take it all in.

Jimmy Eat World- Damage

This is going to be one of the most polarizing albums of the year, I’m calling it now. For me, a few listens in and I’m liking it, but not really loving it yet. As always, JEW continues to be solid, but I don’t think they’ll ever match the 1-2-3 punch of Clarity, Bleed American and Futures (my personal favorite of the band’s catalog). Still, you never know what might happen as the year continues.

The Joy Formidable- Wolf’s Law

Another impulse buy earlier in the year, and it has not been what I expected at all. That being said, I’ve enjoyed when I’ve made time to listen to it, but am still waiting for that moment for it to capture my undivided attention for days at a time.

Leagues- You Belong Here

Another far and away favorite of 2013 so far, this album is quirky and fun, but still pretty smart and challenging in many ways. Thad, if you read this, come to Charlotte. Please.

The National- Trouble Will Find Me

I gave these guys a listen a few years ago and could not get into the album (I don’t recall which album off hand), but after hearing all the praise thrown around for them, I gave them another shot. And I must say that I like this album A LOT more than I remember liking whatever album I didn’t like before. I wish I knew which album that was so I can compare and figure out why.

Ra Ra Riot- Beta Love

What is this? I really wanted to like this album, but the Ra Ra Riot I grew to enjoy from The Orchard is not here anymore. This is dancey and synthy, which is fine, I guess, except that the chamber rock sound from the previous album was so different and cool, that it is disappointing to see them wander off into trendy territory like this.

Rogue Wave- Nightingale Floors

I just started listening to this today…more on this later.

Schematic- Color (N.) Inside the Lines

Oh, how much I wanted to like this, I really did. But this goes to show what happens when the former lead singer of a band goes off on his own. The album is unfocused and cluttered, and often too long for its own good. I love Mae, so it’s so sad to see Dave losing focus like this. He needs bandmates, it turns out, to keep him reigned in. Not so much here.

This Town Needs Guns- 13.0.0.0

I really enjoy this off-kilter, melodically driven hard rock that TTNG has worked with here. Having listened to them before, I was surprised to see they were still around. As it turns out, pleasantly so. This album is solid from star to finish.

Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City

I’ve never really listened to these guys before, but I’m really liking this effort so far. Almost enough to go back and check out the previous albums so I can appreciate what I’m told is a much more mature album.

The Vocal Few- Tall Trees EP

Matt McDonald is a very gifted songwriter, so no matter the genre I know I’m in for a treat when I get new music from him. While not as immediately accessible for me as The Classic Crime, I do enjoy the idea of a man creating music with his wife. I strive for such harmony in my hopefully future marriage.

Young Statues- Age Isn’t Ours EP

Another EP to close out the list for now, this time recommended because the aforementioned Ace Enders produced this (seriously, how does he sleep, let alone write his own music, be in a band and a husband/father?) It’s a cool little indie rock project that’s fun to listen to. Nothing extraordinary, but worth listening to for sure.
Albums still yet to come (that I know of): Jars of Clay- Inland; Switchfoot- Fading West; Relient K- Collapsible Lung; Matt Redman- title unknown, live from LIFT 2013; Ghostship- The Good King; John Mayer- title unknown; The Fold- Moving Past; Hawthorne Heights- Zero; Yellowcard- Ocean Avenue Acoustic; and anything else that catches me my surprise.

 

God bless,

Robert