A fitting b-side to Spring Breakers (2013), Sofia Coppola’s Bling Ring (2013) is the cinematic equivalent to its criminal protagonists: beautiful and superficial. Coppola’s chronicle of a ring of Millennial thieves that stole from the rich (Paris Hilton and Orlando Bloom, amongst many others) and kept for themselves never bothers to reach the characterization stage. Yet, it oddly works, even if – unlike Spring Breakers – it is ultimately a trifle. The film is at its best formally, with the late Harris Savides’s cinematography stealing the show (including an incredible long-shot of a robbery that features a four or five minute long zoom). Bling Ring is Sofia Coppola’s Michael Mann movie: as stylistically dazzling as Miami Vice (2006) except set in Los Angeles.
This bittersweet coming of age tale about three boys who retreat into the woods to escape their overbearing parents is funny, kind, and beautiful to behold. Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, and newcomer Moises Arias steal the show with their comedic timing in what is essentially the 2013 version of Stand By Me (1986). Moreover, it’s one of the most beautiful indie films of the year with compositions that – more often than not – evoke the work of Terrence Malick. The problem is that the film dodges psychological development and tries to replace it with musical montage sequences (there must be one every ten to fifteen minutes and that is hardly an exaggeration). While we understand what drew the boys together (parents!), we never really grasp why they stay together. The early buzz from many of the film bloggers was that The Kings of Summer (2013) was this year’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Sadly, it isn’t.
I’ve never found Superman comics or films particularly compelling. He’s infallible (in most representations), so how can he be interesting? Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan’s Man of Steel (2013) contains one of the best cinematic presentations of the character. The keyword here is “contains.” The first 90 minutes of Man of Steel gives us a shorthand origin story that beautifully cross-cuts between thirtysomething Clark Kent trying to run away from his powers and his younger self discovering them with horror and awe. There’s greatness in the poetic sequences featuring Kevin Costner (I can’t believe I just wrote that)… And then they get lost in the loud, pointless, action. What makes Man of Steel a medium-sized disappointment is it gets so much right (the score, the cinematography, the performances, and the action choreography – with the exception of all the digital zooms) that the lack of narrative value to the last hour of the film produces a peculiar paradox: boring action.
Until now, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced writer’s block when writing a movie review. Monsters University (2013)… It’s…fine? I saw it the other night and I’m at a loss of anything good or bad to say about it because it’s the cinematic equivalent of a bowl of Cheerios. I laughed a couple times while watching Mike and Sully find their scary legs in college. The problem with the most recent Pixar films is that they’re like Honda Civics: reliable, perfectly designed, and boring. Pixar can’t surprise us anymore because their attention to storytelling and structure is so obsessively textbook that it has become formulaic.
I had been hoping that Now You See Me (2013) would be like Ocean’s Eleven (2001) with magicians. However, the oddest thing about the film is how little we actually see the gang of magicians at the film’s core (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco). Due to the film’s caper nature, it is actually a movie about investigators Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurant trying to figure out how the magicians are robbing people. Almost nothing works here. Director Louis Leterrier speaks the universal language of cinema as if it were baby talk, filming each sequence with a vertigo-inducing combination of circling crane shots and steadicams. Plus, any movie about practical magic (David Copperfield, not Harry Potter) that overly relies on CGI secures its place in cinematic hell.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives (2013) takes the award for the most disappointing film of 2013 (so far) because Drive (2011) was one of the best films of this young century and this one hardly tries at all. The screenplay for Only God Forgives must be ten pages long, five of which describe Ryan Gosling sitting in a black and red room “with that intense look on his face from Drive.” The revenge story – if we can call it that because Gosling’s character is a largely passive character – dressed in the well worn fabric of the Oedipus theme is minimal to the point of non-existence. Yet, I cannot stop thinking about it from a formalist perspective. Refn’s compositions recall Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) with the addition of buckets of blood and saturated neon. Plus, the score by Cliff Martinez is suffocating.
The goals of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s apocalyptic Hollywood satire This is the End (2013) are modest. That said, it is also one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a long time. This is the End takes their perfected bromance genre formula and brings it to its baroque natural conclusion: death. Most of the laughs here stem from Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel, and company’s scathingly self-depreciative approach to their real life star personas. They’ve missed the rapture because they’re self-obsessed assholes and it’s hilarious to watch them bicker over their diminishing foodstuffs, fight off a demonic rapist (cue the Rosemary’s Baby homage), and try to reforge their failing friendships (“Freaks forever,” Franco lovingly tells his Freaks and Geeks co-star Rogen). After playing the similarly themed Last of Us all week, this was the perfect antidote to the depression the apocalypse had put me into.