Movie Review: ‘The Bling Ring’ and ‘Combat Girls’

Talk about girls in trouble. Two current films tackle the subject in very different ways: Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” and David Wnendt’s “Combat Girls.” While these two films are miles apart, they also share some distinct similarities. In both cases, these are stories of young women adrift. When you are lost, you just might grab at anything that will make your life work, whether it’s joining a gang of thieves or joining a gang of skinheads. What we expect to see is these girls wise up as soon as possible. In both of these films, the young women must do what they do and let the consequences follow.

“The Bling Ring” is now in theaters. “Combat Girls” becomes available on DVD, VOD and Digital Download for the first time ever on July 9.

THE BLING RING

Emma Watson and Katie Chang in "The Bling Ring"

Emma Watson and Katie Chang in “The Bling Ring”

Let’s start with Sofia Coppola’s latest excursion into disconnected youth. Each of her films seems like a light and delicate soufflé. They are a treat, no doubt. But you always wonder, since “The Virgin Suicides,” if they might fall flat or require an added bit of indulgence. Ultimately, you leave savoring your meal, don’t you? That’s the thing to keep in mind. Like Wes Anderson films, there are certain ingredients that go into the mix and it’s best to be patient and see what happens.

A few years ago, a band of bratty kids from the San Fernando Valley went on a crime spree breaking into the homes of Hollywood bratties like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. They were ultimately caught and their story was immortalized in an article published by Vanity Fair. All this raw material was just waiting to become the material for a Sofia Coppola movie. All the characters in this story defy any sympathy. And that’s the point of this story.

While the subject and the story may seem light, the overall effect of this film is actually pretty potent. A story like this one that subverts the conventional path to redemption is not at all shallow. It reminds me a bit of Gus Van Sant’s 1995 “To Die For,” starring Nicole Kidman, as an aspiring TV personality who will kill to gain the spotlight. While these girls aren’t killers, they are well on their way.

Rebecca, the ringleader, played by Katie Chang, is the most unlikely of leaders, ready to betray her friends and easily distracted. Nicki, played by Emma Watson, is a fine example of the rest of the gang in her ability to disconnect from reality. She does such a good job of it that she manages to create a good distance between the crime and herself. She ends up serving very little time and, in the end, it’s like it never happened, just a growing experience on her way to becoming an upstanding leader of society. I has to be said that Emma Watson “steals” the show in her role.

While the girls in “The Bling Ring” are not exactly rewarded for their bad behavior, they find the consequences to be minor at best. It’s almost like it leaves them hungering for yet a bigger thrill. Perhaps, years from now, that will be the material for another Sofia Coppola movie.

“The Bling Ring” is now in theaters. DVD Release Date is estimated to be November, 2013.

COMBAT GIRLS

Alina Levshin and Jella Haase in "Combat Girls"

Alina Levshin and Jella Haase in “Combat Girls”

When we first see the band of hooligans take over a train and dominate the passangers, for a fleeting moment, they appear capable of anything. The posturing, the thumping and hypnotic music in the background, and the wild aggression make for quite a scene. But we quickly see they are cowards and only capable of inflicting pain. Director David Wnendt is a rising star and “Combat Girls” is his breakout film in the United States.

This film takes a more traditional route to redemption but does it with such a palpable urgency. This is a remarkably elegant and artful film, considering its rough subject. It is so lean and well paced that it casts you under its spell of intrigue, that rises to the level of Hitchcock. You may not be expecting so much going on in one film but this one is working on many levels.

Lost youth. The sins of a nation and its people. The burden of the past. Director David Wnendt’s goal, much like Sofia Coppola’s in “The Bling Ring,” is to speak on many factors all at once. As much as the past is the past, it haunts us and, given a chance, it will, like a virus, attach itself to new hosts. The legacy of Nazi Germany becomes the burden shouldered by two young women, one rich and one poor. The poor one, Marisa, played by Alina Levshin, is entrenched in all the rituals and life of the neo-Nazi: her boyfriend, her friends, her whole life. At 20, she is looking forward to nothing else.

For Svenja, at 15, she has many advantages open to her. She excels in school and has a bright future amid an upscale background. However, she has a creepy stepfather who dominates her life. He is so bent on having her quit smoking that he forces her to smoke a whole pack of cigarettes in his presence. As much as a lark than an outlet, Svenja takes up with one of the local skinheads. It’s only a matter of time before she has to prove her mettle to the relentlessly demanding Marisa.

And then there’s some twists of fate. First, Marisa’s thug boyfriend is hauled off to prison leaving Marisa untethered. This leads to the turning point in her life that happens abruptly but ends up having plenty of time to fester. Marisa has done something very bad but she doesn’t know to what extent. The only person who can provide her with any solace is her grandfather who is dying in hospital and has contributed far too much to Marisa’s fragmented life.

What happens next is extraordinary. Marisa, at still a young age, learns there is more to life than she has ever known before. It seems like it’s never to late to turn a page but, in Marisa’s case, the consequences of change may prove too severe.

Artsploitation’s release of COMBAT GIRLS will arrive on DVD, VOD and Digital Download for the first time ever on July 9, 2013. The DVD extras include an interview with Alina Levshin and an 8-page booklet.

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