Weekend Roundup: The Americans (FX series) and The Bling Ring reviews

Happy Weekend everybody! WOW, everything’s still very much awesome for The LEGO Movie, winning box office for the third straight weekend with $31 mil. It’s now made $183 mil domestically, and with a production budget on only $60 mil, that’s quite a huge hit for Warner Bros. The McG/Luc Besson’s spy thriller 3 Days to Kill (review coming later this week) is a distant second with $12 mil but with a low production budget of $28 mil, I’d think they’d still turn a profit. Pompeii on the other hand, lives up to its subject matter, being a major box office disaster as it only made a measly 10% of its $100 mil budget, ouch!

It’s home cinema this weekend for me, catching up on some older films and TV series I’ve been meaning to check out. Here are my thoughts:

The Americans (FX series)

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Two Soviet intelligence agents pose as a married couple to spy on the American government.

A few people have mentioned about this show, but finally my hubby and I had a chance to check out the pilot last Friday. We’re definitely gonna try to catch up with Season 1 as there are only 13 episodes.

I thought the concept of having two Russian protagonists in an American show is very intriguing. It certainly offers a fresh twist to an otherwise run-of-the-mill spy show. It’s set in the 80s during the Reagan-era Cold War, and according to IMDb, the show is based on a true story that broke in 2010 of Russian sleeper agents hiding in plain sites in the US for decades. So just like in the series, their children, coworkers, friends, and neighbors had no idea they were spies.

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Having just seen Austenland, it’s quite a change to see Keri Russell as a bad ass spy here, in the opening sequence she’s dressed like a hooker seducing an FBI agent. Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, with impeccable American accent, plays her *husband* aka spy partner. Both are excellent in the role of married couple Elizabeth & Phillip Jennings, who look like a typical suburban DC couple with a couple of kids posing as travel agents. The pilot presents quite a dilemma for the couple when their assignment involves kidnapping a defecting KGB agent whom Elizabeth had a personal vendetta. Their loyalties to Mother Russia is tested as the Jennings don’t always share the same feelings about their job. Of course things are about to get even more interesting when one of the FBI agent hot on the trail of the kidnapping suspects move in to their neighborhood! A strange twist of coincidence or is there more to it than that?? Well, I can’t wait to find out! Nice to see Noah Emmerich as FBI agent Stan Beeman, he’s one of those character actors I’m always impressed with every time I see him in a movie or TV series.

I think the most riveting of all is how the American audience are no doubt compelled to perceive the “enemy” of the states in a whole new light. I definitely sympathize with them more than I probably should. But really, are they really so different from our own agents working in a foreign country? The sharp script keeps me engrossed and in suspense. I love that this spy series is not about the cool action and gadget you’ll find in escapist fun like James Bond, but it’s more in the vein of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that explores the tricky adventure of espionage and really get into the intricate psyche of a secret agent.

I refrain from giving a rating at this point as I’ve only seen the pilot. But I highly recommend this one if you’re a fan of the spy genre or if you’re looking for a quality show to get hooked to.

Now switching gear to Sofia Coppola’s latest effort from last year. 

The Bling Ring (2013)

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At first glance I really wasn’t all that enthused to watch this film. I mean I couldn’t be more disinterested in seeing materialistic and fame-obsessed teenagers robbing their favorite celebrities. I find the whole TMZ culture so loathsome, I don’t even care to read US magazine anymore even when I’m at the salon. It’s interesting why Coppola choose to do a film on them, but perhaps there’s some kind of message she’s trying to tell us with this story. Well, unfortunately this film is as shallow as protagonists depicted here.

The film basically shows us how these teens, led by its ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) and her new BFF Marc (Israel Broussard), rob one celebrity’s house after another. They’re mostly C-list celebs who are more famous for their shenanigans (Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton) or those famous for being in the fashion mags instead of actual work (Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson). So apparently none of these celebs have heard of home security as even Hilton’s mansion was so easy to break into, in fact, the group barely had to break anything to access their homes. I don’t know what is more repulsive than witnessing these kids stealing things left and right or seeing the excessive decadence on display.

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I have to admit I wasn’t as bored out of my wits watching this as I did watching her last film Somewhere, but I felt that even that movie perhaps had a bit more depth as at the very least Coppola tried to present some kind of redeeming quality for the disenchanted Hollywood actor. In this film, the characters only pass through time, living their incredibly shallow life in succession, simply motivated by the grand hedonistic lifestyle and self-indulgence. It’s stylishly shot but everything is so detached. Despite a few engaging and hilarious moments in a self-parody kind of way, I struggle to find a meaning – if any – that Coppola is trying to say here.

The only saving grace here seems to be Emma Watson, simply because it’s amusing to see her portray someone so different from Hermione Granger in Harry Potter. Her American accent is spot on and she certainly has the gift of comedy. It’s amusing to think that the young actress is surely as wealthy – if not more – as the victims that her character rob in this movie! But even she could barely save this vapid drivel. Even though it’s only 90-min long, it felt pretty tedious by the repetitive stealing-and-partying scenes displayed over and over. It’s darn near impossible to sympathize with any of the characters the way Coppola depicted them here. I think Marc was perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film as he seems to be the only one who has the slightest bit of remorse. But really, that’s not saying much.

This is the third film by Sofia Coppola I saw, but so far my favorite is by far still Lost in Translation. I might give her other earlier films a try, hopefully The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette fare much better than this one.

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So what did you watch this weekend? Thoughts on The Americans series and/or The Bling Ring?