Archives for posts with tag: entitlement mentality

Public Ransom

A psychological quasi-thriller for the Clerks crowd, A Public Ransom stars Carlyle Edwards as Steven, an unemployed fiction writer, self-described “twat”, and moocher who gets an idea for a story when he spots an unusual, crayon-scrawled notice about a missing child. Hoping to do some research for his fiction, Steven calls the number on the poster and gets into contact with a mysterious man named Bryant (Goodloe Byron). It never occurs to Steven, a bored and callous intellectual, that a real person might actually have been kidnapped, but that is exactly what Bryant nonchalantly admits to doing. Steven is informed that he has two weeks to produce $2,000, or else the little girl is going to be killed. Steven, preferring to believe that the whole affair is a prank – and yet perturbed by what seems to be Bryant’s story’s authenticity – sets to composing “A Public Ransom”, selfishly hoping for the best. The premise is a bit outlandish, but after all requires only the viewer’s belief in an individual of extreme eccentricity and sadistic inspiration, of which history offers more than a few examples.

A Public Ransom is as dark a film as one is likely to see this year. The viewer must endure the uncomfortable tactile presence of waste and moral grime and spend time with unappealing characters. The film makes other demands of its audience, as well: to be patient, enjoy joylessness, and find entertainment and tension in such sights as a guy in a t-shirt sitting alone and talking to somebody on the phone; a guy in a plaid shirt sitting alone and talking to somebody on the phone; and a guy who, to the untrained eye, appears to be sitting at a table, doing absolutely nothing. Fortunately, Carlyle Edwards is an actor who can make such moments not only tolerable but interesting. The strongest, most haunting scene in A Public Ransom has solitary Steven waiting at a bus stop in the middle of the night, with nothing but the sound of the void around him.

A Public Ransom advertises the influence of Jim Jarmusch, with the poster for Stranger than Paradise visible on Steven’s wall. Like Jarmusch, director Pablo D’Stair’s film shows a fondness for static shots and the intermingling of the strange and mundane; but it is not nearly as outsized or as affected in its weirdness. The sharp, icy exchanges between Steven and Bryant are highlights and filled with the loudest silence. Elsewhere, music is superfluous and annoying and hurts scenes that would have been better served without adornment. One crucial dialogue at the end of the film is damaged by the less-than-convincing performance of Helen Bonaparte, who plays Steven’s platonic friend Rene. These failings, however, temporarily mitigate rather than sabotage the story’s overall effectiveness. Never in recent memory has the disclaimer that “The preceding film is a work of fiction” been so reassuring. Or is it?

4 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that A Public Ransom is:

3. Tobacco-ambivalent. A cigarette serves as the death-teasing prop of a vulgar and frustrated ne’er-do-well who nevertheless cuts a sophisticated figure while smoking and gesticulating with it.

2. Un-p.c. Steven makes liberal use of words like “cunt”, “bitch”, and “slut”, and says that Bryant looks “retarded”.

1. Anti-feminist. Rene’s “militant feminism”, Steven informs her, “keeps the elusive gentleman caller from the doorknocker – that, you know, long-delayed but always expected something that we live for.” The fact that the creepy Bryant is apparently representative of the sort of men who make themselves available to Rene would seem to corroborate Steven’s claim. Even more devastatingly, Steven himself, in his worthlessness, illustrates the undying crime done to this civilization by feminism. In the absence of actual ladies (i.e., women of decent behavior, moral merit, and femininity), men have much less motivation and warrant to be polite, to advance themselves (“Work is a cunt,” Steven gripes), or to give the weaker sex the respect they have come to demand instead of earn. Women no longer inspire in men (as Jack Nicholson’s character puts it in As Good as It Gets) the necessary desire to become better men. The result, of course, is suggested by the working title of Steven’s story: “A Society of Fiends”.

[A Public Ransom can be seen at Vimeo, and more information is available here.]

Sofia Coppola’s latest effort is very much her own. Bright, punchy, or ambient music, an elegant eye, and a sardonic sense of humor imbue yet another examination of rampant girldom with Coppola’s trademark sensibility. Unlike Lost in Translation or Marie Antoinette, however, The Bling Ring features no strong or particularly likable central protagonist, and is consequently a much more detached and ironic study than its predecessors.

The Bling Ring opens with shots of the Facebook pages of characters Marc (Israel Broussard), Chloe (Claire Julien), and Rebecca (Katie Chang) – an appropriate means of introduction in this true crime story set in an amoral teenage order founded on trendiness and popularity. All attending a high school for affluent problem kids, these are the more sophisticated and fashionable counterparts to the hedonistic nihilists in Larry Clark’s Bully, operating out of the sinister psychological intersection of thug chic and a privileged entitlement mentality.  Along with like-minded recruits Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (adorable Taissa Farmiga), the group combines its vapid interests in celebrity, pop criminality, and haute couture by committing a series of casual burglaries of the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and others.

An odd feature of these young people’s lives is how little concerned with love they appear to be. Tawdry apparel, dirty dancing, sex, and group acceptance interest them plenty, but these new teen creatures bear almost no resemblance to their grandmothers, the malt shop loiterers of old, with their puppy love crushes and idealism. The new teen queen is a kind of ravenous beast sustained by a constant regimen of dope, dainty baubles, irresponsible escapades, and protected from introspection by forbidding walls of abrasive music preoccupied with self-determined fabulousness.

It is difficult to watch The Bling Ring and not be reminded of another group of young Californians who targeted celebrity victims – namely, the Manson Family. In both cases, pathological fascination with the rich and famous, coupled with peer pressure, drugs, and an unhealthily violent cultural diet, result in celebrities being simultaneously venerated as idols and dehumanized as potential victims. Marc, reflecting on the meaning of his acts in the aftermath of his arrest, confides that after the story of his involvement hit the news, he received over 800 Facebook friend requests, suggesting that it is criminality itself as much as fame that attracts the adulation of the unsavory masses.

If The Bling Ring has any discernible shortcoming, it may be the dearth of surprising event, as the film proceeds along a fairly straight, predictable line as far as the plot. Apart from the signature Sofia Coppola seal in terms of color, design, and atmosphere, the film’s most attractive strength must be its delightful cast. Israel Broussard, featured in what, for lack of any real hero, is The Bling Ring‘s lead role, has a Byronic look and an enigmatic vulnerability that complements the Coppola aesthetic nicely; and all of the damsels in dissipation, from Katie Chang to Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, and Emma Watson, are irresistibly vile, divine, and luscious.

4.5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis kisses Sofia Coppola’s ring and indicates that her most recent flourish as a dependable writer-director is:

11. Multiculturalist/pro-miscegenation.  People of different races interact as without the least consciousness of their physiological or cultural differences. One of the girls has a thug Latino boyfriend. The camera lingers longingly over untouchable Katie Chang.

10. Anti-wigger.  Pop veneration of the ghetto mentality goes hand in hand with nihilism, crime, and self-destruction.

9. Pro-police.  Authorities conduct their investigation and effect the necessary arrests professionally and without inflicting unnecessary harm.

8. Anti-religion.  Modern woman’s faith is junk spirituality, “the philosophy of the Secret”, a kooky, relativistic melange in which words like “Lord” rub shoulders indiscriminately with new age talk of “karma”.

7. Anti-gun.  Privately owned guns, this film appears to want to convince viewers in one very frightening scene, make homes less safe and endanger the mentally deficient.  However, the fact that one of the girls steals a gun and gives it to her thug boyfriend demonstrates that criminals are not above obtaining their guns illegally and that gun control legislation is therefore futile.

6. Philanthropy-skeptical.  One suburban family claims a commitment to charitable causes in Africa, but cannot identify the specific country where they are active.  This pretended philanthropy is played as a sympathy card after the girls are caught by the police.

5. Statist.  The pitiable demonstration of home schooling as practiced by one ditzy mother (Leslie Mann) is an implicit endorsement of public education.

4. Anti-drug.  Drinking and driving results in a non-fatal accident, which, however, fails to prevent the girls from going out and behaving just as carelessly as before. Accelerating substance abuse parallels the girls’ increasingly poor judgment and carelessness in their criminal endeavor.

3. Pro-gay.  Sexually ambiguous Marc shares his girlfriends’ interest in fashion (including high heel shoes) and refers to a male schoolmate as “hot”.

2. Class-conscious.  Coppola (perhaps responding to the criticism that Marie Antoinette depicted a self-absorbed aristocrat sympathetically without taking into consideration the economic plight of the French peasantry?) depicts moral decay as in part deriving from wealth and privilege (cf. Billy Madison).

1. Pro-family.  The horror wrought by permissive or absentee parenting is the unstressed theme that haunts The Bling Ring.

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