Mini-Reviews: The Bling Ring, V/H/S/2, The Kings of Summer
The Bling Ring:
Sofia Coppola, master of tackling upper-class ennui, seems on paper to be the perfect auteur for The Bling Ring, the true story of bored teenagers who broke into celebrities’ homes to steal their clothes, bags, and shoes. If her goal with her handling of the film was to create a sense of ennui for the audience, mission accomplished. The Bling Ring is a special misfire: an unfocused drag that strangely wavers in tone and has nothing to say. These teenagers with empty lives are all equally empty characters, which again may be some sort of performance art commentary by Coppola, but it makes for an incredibly dull experience at the theater. It’s not totally without merit: a one-take robbery by the late Harris Savides is a gorgeous and fascinating moment, the film refreshingly contains the most casually gay character in memory, and Coppola nails the strange fascination that youth have with the “selfie,” as everyone is perpetually photographing themselves… as if the moment didn’t happen unless there’s proof to be shared with social media. Elements like this reveal the story’s potential for either satire or a compelling character study, but Coppola settles on neither. It’s particularly unfortunate for this film that Spring Breakers, with very similar subject matter, came out beforehand and hit such a home run: it makes The Bling Ring’s existence all the more pointless.
In an age where some high concepts are stretched well past their welcome, it’s refreshing to see horror fanatics bringing back the “anthology film.” V/H/S/2 gives us four short films in under ninety minutes, held together by a wrap-around which hints at a potentially larger mythology that could keep this series running endlessly. I wouldn’t mind more sequels either, if future installments are as clever, funny, and chilling as the best parts of V/H/S/2. Its first and fourth installments, about a bionic eye which lets its owner see ghosts and an alien abduction, respectively, are thin but enjoyable due to their unique camera perspectives. The eye short is entirely first-person perspective, including some nifty mirror shots, and the alien abduction spends much of its time recorded by a home camcorder strapped to the family dog. From there, they’re both your basic tension-release, but the visual twist kept me interested. The third entry, by The Raid’s Gareth Evans, is so strong, shocking, and dark that I’m tempted to think it could have been made into a feature– however, at its current run time, it’s almost unbearably tense and horrifying, with some incredible imagery. My favorite, however, is the second film; a man riding a bike with a camera strapped to his head is bitten by a zombie, so we witness the first-person perspective on a zombie transformation and then his subsequent zombie life. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, with plenty of gore and witty turns that even the most casual horror fan should appreciate. Nothing here is life-changing, nor does it try to be: it tries to offer a variety of scares from different cinematic perspectives, and it works.
The Kings of Summer:
For fans of the coming-of-age genre, The Kings of Summer, by first-time feature director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, will be a sweet if familiar entry into the pantheon. For those without a particular affinity for that story, you may find yourself admiring parts rather than the whole. The Kings of Summer follows three teenage boys: Joe (Nick Robinson), Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and Biaggio (the scene-stealing Moises Arias) who decide to run away and live out in the woods all summer long. They build a home, far from where anyone may run into them, and stay there, leaving their parents and worries behind. Meanwhile, their families– played among others by Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Marc Eva Jackson, and Alison Brie– are left to contemplate why the boys would run away in the first place. The film’s first act is brisk and wonderfully set-up, full of parent-child interactions anyone will appreciate (my favorite: the mother who keeps asking her kid “who the actor was in that thing where.. oh, you know, that guy, he was also in that other thing…” etc.). However, any semblance of plot disappears once the children go into the woods. The movie enters a stalling pattern after that: parents worry, kids learn how hard it is being on your own, wash, rinse, repeat. The pace in the final hour verges on dreadful. It doesn’t help that, while the child actors are strong– Robinson is charismatic, a dead ringer for Anders Holm on Workaholics– the adult actors are such professional scene-stealers that the movie suffers any time we’re not focused on the adults. Offerman, Mullally, and Jackson both turn in sensational work, and even small cameos by Kumail Nanjiani, Tony Hale, and Hannibal Burress make bigger impacts than entire scenes with our main characters. That having been said, as a first feature, The Kings of Summer is a success for Vogt-Roberts, and fans of the genre will be pleased.