Movie Review – The Bling Ring, Elysium, Blackfish

The Bling Ring

You want to know what’s depressing?

Celebrities. Celebrity, more specifically.

You see, I (like many people) harbored a secret love in my heart in my more tender years. I wanted to be an actor.

Nay. A MOVIE STAR.

This held much of its appeal, no doubt, because of my other secret love; Kirsten Dunst, circa Jumanji.

Ah, overalls. The jeggings of the early to mid 90’s.

The sheen faded, however, and as I got older, the allure of celebrity steadily waned. Now if I brush up against rumors of Kardashian drama, I typically just get a headache with a side of existential crisis.There really isn’t any escaping the vapidity at the core of most modern celebrity culture.

The Bling Ring, directed by Sofia Coppola (director of The Virgin Suicides, starring, you guessed it, Kirsten Dunst) is ostensibly about the ring of teenage thieves that snuck into movie star’s houses, stealing over $3 Million in cash and property over the course of a year before finally being caught after blabbing to all their friends and flashing the titular “bling” all over Facebook.

Over 90 minutes, however, it steadily reveals itself as something darker than a simple biopic. For all its depictions of excess (exclusive clubs, coke parties, bottle service) it really is an extended meditation on the emptiness of celebrity, and even on the dangers of excess itself. It would be easy to write the kids portrayed off as some kind of monsters (although the leader of the group seems like a classic case of conduct disorder), but in many ways they are products of their environments, surrounded by shallowness, money, ample supplies of drugs legal and illegal, and afforded trust not commensurate to their maturity. The film falls short of empathizing with them, and it certainly doesn’t flinch from their consequences, but it certainly refuses to demonize them either. For being so unpleasant, it was really rather beautiful.

Elysium

For all its problems/racism against Nigerians, District 9 was an astounding movie, and I was firmly on the Neill Blomkamp hype train.  A new, fresh vision of the future of sci-fi cinema, all that jazz.

Against that backdrop, Elysium is…good. It’s too bad it’s not great.

Elysium shares the same DNA as District 9, down to the visual style and Sharlto Copley’s fantastic Afrikaans accent (just turned up to 11), I think the thing I miss the most from District 9 is the sense of moral ambiguity. The beauty of Wikus’s transformation in that movie is that he is just intolerable through most of it; patronizing, craven, mugging for cameras, roasting alien babies, the whole shebang. So while I didn’t find Matt Damon’s character arc unbelievable, per se, it ended up being a little…obvious. Also, why does Kruger go from a murderous, half-crazy mercenary, grilling strange meats on the roof of his shanty-town villa to suddenly wanting to become President-for-Life? Character development is not Elysium’s strong point.

That being said, space katanas.

It’s a katana, because…well, because katanas. Do you really need me to elaborate?

The world-building in general, but specifically the weapon design, is top-notch, just like District 9. The guns, the ships, the exoskeletons, the mechs; they all feel plausible, lived in, like they have actually been used.

Also Jodie Foster’s accent is both confusing and distracting. French? Space Quebecois?

You know what? Just watch it. It’s not perfect, but it is kind of awesome.

Blackfish

I’ll be honest, before this movie came out, I had a lingering sense that keeping orcas in tanks might be a bad idea (I am part of the Free Willy Generation after all).

Now with at least 75% more Michael Jackson.

Now, on the tail end of watching Blackfish, I have a hard time seeing how Sea World, specifically, is anything but a Bond-style super-villain. The movie makes no bones about its mission; it is advocating for the release of all orcas in captivity into open ocean enclosures, and for no new orca breeding or capturing from the wild. This might seem a little excessive if it weren’t so crushingly well-researched.

It certainly focuses on the science behind orca’s intelligence, social structures, toolmaking, even their possible ability to experience emotions. But beyond that, it is the stories it tells of the people who lost their lives in the service of something we will likely be collectively ashamed of in 50 years that truly resonate.

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