Category Archives: Celebrities

The Bling Ring and the American Dream

A few months before its release date, I became thoroughly obsessed with The Bling Ring. You already know about this movie, right? It’s Sofia Coppola’s latest film, based on an actual story about a group of teens living in Calabasas, Calif. who decided to rob the houses of nearby celebrities. It turned out this was incredibly easy, since for some reason famous people NEVER lock their doors or turn on an alarm.

I remember hearing about the story when it happened a few years ago, but at the time I didn’t really look into it any further than any of the other celebrity gossip I read about on a daily basis. It wasn’t until I saw this video a few months ago that I realized I needed to know literally everything about the bling ring or the burglar bunch or whatever you want to call this “gang.”

That, my friends, is Alexis Neiers. When I saw this perfect, perfect video, I needed more. So I watched her short-lived 2010 reality television show, Pretty Wild in its entirety (it’s only nine episodes, so this took me a total of one evening). The show is Pretty Terrible. It’s about wannabe model Alexis, her younger sister Gabby, and Alexis’s friend/fake adopted sister/also aspiring model Tess Taylor. They’re all living with mother/former model/generally insane person Andrea Arlington-Dunne, who is ACTUALLY Amy Poehler’s character from Mean Girls (she’s not like a regular mom, she’s a cool mom) and she home schools the girls using the teachings of The Secret. Seriously.

Just a totally normal family.

Just a totally normal family (Alexis, Gabby, Tess and Andrea).

The absolute only reason why Pretty Wild is interesting is because, in the very first episode, Alexis is arrested for her involvement with the bling ring. She was preeeetty much caught on a security camera robbing Orlando Bloom’s house along with a few of the main bling ring kids. Alexis says she was black out drunk and didn’t know what was happening; the guy who told on her, Nick Prugo, says she knew exactly what was up.

After I finished watching Pretty Wild, I of course had to read the article that spurred the insane series of phone messages in the above clip. Written by Nancy Jo Sales, it’s called The Suspects Wore Louboutins, and while I already knew that Alexis speaks like an entitled valley girl, some of her quotes in the article are FASCINATING in their lack of self-awareness. My personal favourite is this gem:

“I’m a firm believer in Karma,” she said, “and I think this situation was attracted into my life because it was supposed to be a huge learning lesson for me to grow and expand as a spiritual human being. I see myself being like an Angelina Jolie,” she said, “but even stronger, pushing even harder for the universe and for peace and for the health of our planet.” She was sounding almost like a real celebrity. “God didn’t give me these talents and looks to just sit around being a model or being famous. I want to lead a huge charity organization. I want to lead a country, for all I know.”

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I STILL felt like I needed to know more, and the movie wasn’t coming out for another month. Fortunately, Sales recently expanded on her original article and turned it into a book, which I devoured in a couple of days. Most of it is based on interviews with Nick and Alexis, and those conversations are used to expand on the backgrounds of all the kids involved, including supposed ring leader Rachel Lee.

When Nick and Rachel first met, they bonded over a shared love of fashion and celebrities. They started out committing petty crimes – stealing things from unlocked cars, shoplifting, doing drugs. Stupid things that stupid teenagers do because – have you met teenagers? They’re pretty stupid. Then things escalated. Nick and Rachel used gossip sites to find out when celebs like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Audrina Patridge were out of town. They looked up their addresses, showed up at their homes and, for the most part, walked right in through unlocked doors. They brought their friends with them, including Diana Tamayo and Courtney Ames. In addition to stealing millions of dollars worth of clothes, shoes, purses, jewelry, drugs and straight up cash, they spent time hanging out in these houses, rifling through the possessions of these famous people, experiencing all the beautiful things they owned.

Rachel Lee and Nick Prugo, looking like super regular teens.

Rachel Lee and Nick Prugo, looking like super regular teens.

Obviously these crimes were completely wrong and inexcusable and, again, really, really stupid. But I think part of the reason the story is so captivating to me is because of how stupid the celebrities were, too. The bling ring members went back to Paris Hilton’s place close to 10 times – Paris had a key under her door mat, and at one point the kids took it with them; Paris had replaced it the next time they returned. She had no idea she had been robbed. Again, I realize that you cannot steal things from people, even when they have many, many things. But at the same time, there’s something absolutely fascinating about a theft where the victim has SO MUCH STUFF she doesn’t notice she’s been robbed multiple times.

This crime spree was about more than stealing things. If these kids just wanted to steal nice things, they could have committed much less high profile crimes. They were surrounded by rich people, but they didn’t target people who were rich; they targeted people who were rich and famous. And I can understand that, to some degree. For the most part, these kids were pretty well off, from reasonably affluent families, with parents who probably weren’t involved enough. Some of them had behavioural problems, or struggled at school. But there was this completely different lifestyle, a glamorous, beautiful world, and it wasn’t just in magazines or on TV, like it is for most of us. It was literally right around the corner.

There are probably still people who believe in the American Dream, or in some concept of it; the idea that you can be a good person who works hard your whole life, and you’ll be successful, you’ll be able to provide for yourself and your family. But mostly, that seems naive. Now, we’re cynical. Now we know that the economy can crash, maybe without warning, and maybe you’ll lose the things you worked for your whole life, even if you did the right things, even if you made the best choices you could.

And anyway, who wants to work hard their whole lives when there’s an easier option? Get on a reality show! Release a sex tape! Get plastic surgery! Have a baby! Marry someone famous! Get a divorce! Rinse and repeat! I’m not saying it’s actually easy to turn your entire life into some sort of brand; honestly it sounds horrendously unappealing to an introvert like me, but doesn’t it LOOK easy? If you look at someone like Paris Hilton or Audrina Patridge, it’s like, what are they actually famous for? Being rich? Being in the right place at the right time? If the kids in the bling ring had all the same stuff, if they hung out in all the same places, if they met all the same people, what was the difference between them and the celebrities they were obsessed with?

Oh, and I’m not saying the kids thought about all these things while they were committing the crimes. I’m just saying there’s a culture that created a kind of perfect storm. There’s a sense of blase entitlement that brought them together, that made them think it was OK to do the things that they did.

Emma Watson's California accent is EVERYTHING.

Emma Watson’s California accent is EVERYTHING.

The movie The Bling Ring finally came out on Friday, and I went to see it on opening night. I loved it just about as much as I thought I would. It’s a pretty accurate portrayal of the story as described in Sales’ article. Diana isn’t portrayed in it, and the characters based on Alexis and Tess play a bigger role than they likely did in real life. This is a good thing, because Emma Watson plays the Alexis character, and she was completely perfect. What I really liked about it was that Coppola uses a really detached style, not really casting judgment on the kids, but portrayed them using their own language and their own actions. I thought the film did a really good job of showing how nothing’s real for them until it’s been documented, until it’s been photographed and posted to Facebook, and how those photographs are taken repeatedly, from different angles even when nothing is really happening, and curated to create an idea of a life and a person who might not even really exist.

People who see the film without knowing the story might find it too far fetched, too ridiculous to be believed. It would be easy to dismiss the whole thing as vapid and pointless, but I think the point of the film IS that it’s vapid and pointless. That’s our culture, these are the people kids look up to, the internal lives they lead, the way they interact online, the way they’re tantalized by an unattainable lifestyle that seems so incredibly attainable.

It's actually kind of weird that EVERYONE doesn't have self-portrait pillows.

It’s actually kind of weird that EVERYONE doesn’t have self-portrait pillows.

There were also a lot of weird elements going on behind the scenes of the film. For example, one of the detectives in the bling ring case, Brett Goodkin, was involved as a technical advisor and even had a brief cameo. The problem is that he didn’t have permission from his superiors, and the court cases against most of the bling ring members were still ongoing at the time. Another weird thing is that Paris Hilton, who’s said she thinks “it’s absolutely disgusting what they did,” allowed filming for the movie to take place inside her actual house! Yep, those are her actual pillows with her face on them.

I guess my thesis is that I think the entire story of the bling ring, along with the subsequent article, book and film say a lot about this current moment and our celebrity and youth culture. These are concepts that might seem silly and unimportant, but I think they are things that are worth paying attention to. And if you look at other films released this year, trends start to appear. Actually you should just read A.O. Scott’s article on the topic, because he says it much better than I can.

And don’t forget Alexis Neiers’ chilling words – she really might lead a country some day, for all we know.

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Some important art I made

So, right after I posted about Roger Ebert’s death, one of my other favourite “celebrities” died. The man they called Reveen! I don’t know if people who aren’t from the Maritimes know who Reveen was. He was basically this cheesy, over-the-top hypnotist guy who toured through this area, like, alllll the time and made commercials like this:

So I mean, obviously he’s amazing, and I even saw him with my whole family back in 2008! My dad and my sister and I loved him – the whole thing was ridiculous, obviously, but in a hilarious and entertaining sort of way. My mom hated it for some reason. She insisted it was all fake, which, I don’t know, maybe it was! That’s beside the point. Reveen was a total professional showman, and he was a blast to watch.

Me and Reveen

Me and Reveen

Anyway, when he died last week I was kind of really bummed. I have this thing where I get attached to obscure celebrities and become kind of invested in them and I feel like that’s pretty normal and not weird at all. I’ll never forget Reveen.

But in happier news, I’ve been making “art!” I’m not really, like, artistic and I can’t really draw or whatever, but I’ve been drawing anyway! I’ve been drawing pictures of female characters from movies I like. I’ve only been drawing women because, while I can’t really draw anything, I REALLY can’t draw men. Now I’m going to show you my crappy drawings. I’m not sure if it’s apparent, but there isn’t a whole lot going on with me right now. Enjoy…?

Margot from The Royal Tenenbaums.

Margot from The Royal Tenenbaums.

Becky and Enid from Ghost World.

Becky and Enid from Ghost World.

Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Basically this is a list of my past and future Halloween costumes. Who knows what film I’ll apply my immeasurable talents to next! I’m thinking…Mean Girls.

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Missing Roger Ebert

By now it’s been a few days since Roger Ebert’s death, and everyone has written everything there is to write about him, but I still have to talk a bit about how genuinely sad I was when I heard he had died.

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I’m not a person who’s usually affected by the deaths of famous people, but Ebert has influenced me as a writer, a film reviewer/lover and just in general as a human being. As a kid I sometimes watched Siskel and Ebert at the Movies; later, I regularly watched Ebert and Roeper at the Movies. But it was after Ebert lost his ability to speak due to cancer that I really started paying attention to what he was saying. I checked his film reviews online every week, because I cared about his opinion more than any other reviewer. I didn’t always agree with him, but even when Ebert hated a movie, he discussed it as objectively as possible, weighing its pros and cons carefully, and considering the intended audience before determining whether a film was a failure or a success. That’s something I at least try to do in my own reviews (although obviously I’m not even within the same stratosphere of talent as Roger Ebert).

The man’s passion for film came through in every review, no matter how small and forgettable, or how grand and influential. And reading Ebert’s words on Twitter or on his blog, it was clear he had a passion for life, too. Despite his deteriorating health, Ebert continued to think and write positively, using the internet as a form of expression, and sharing his opinions with thousands of people. He often wrote about his personal struggles – the changes to his own appearance, his loss of speech – were always so honest, sad and compelling.

I always liked and admired him, but it was when he championed my favourite film ever, Synecdoche, New York, that I really felt a sense of kinship with Ebert. Most people haven’t seen it, and most people who I know who did see it didn’t like it, so when I find someone who likes it as much as I do, it feels special. He was special, and just last week, when I read his blog post about taking a leave of presence, I felt genuinely concerned. I was saddened, and felt a genuine sense of loss a couple of days later when I learned he had died at the age of 70.

ShoWest 2009 - Day 4

The outpouring that has occurred since he died demonstrates just how much Ebert meant to so many people. I know I’m going to miss reading his reviews every week, seeing his tweets and even just checking out links he recommended. He was a great reviewer and a great man, and I’m unlikely to encounter another film reviewer I respect and admire quite so much.

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Save Amanda!

The greatest thing about our culture is that we’re totally obsessed with celebrities! I’m only sort of kidding. If we didn’t have rich, famous, beautiful people to obsess over, we might have to focus on our actual lives, which, let’s be honest, are totally boring most of the time. Regular people are all like, blah blah I got a promotion! Oh look, I gave birth to a human and now I will dedicate my life toward posting Facebook pictures of it! Help me, I’m trapped under my hoard of old newspapers and Beanie Babies! So boring, right? Not like celebrities, who are always DRUNK and having affairs with their COSTARS and wearing DESIGNER LABELS while DRINKING and then going to REHAB. Ugh, so glamorous.

Clearly celebrities are way better than us, but thanks to social media and gossip blogs, we also get to see them at their lowest lows. It’s important that we put them on a pedestal only to knock them down when they mess up. Again, this makes us feel better about ourselves. If someone better than us can fail, how bad can our stupid problems possibly be? Usually it’s a great system, but there are a few rare celebrities who actually seem kind of likeable in addition to being fabulous, and in those rare cases, their inevitable breakdown is actually pretty sad. Anyway, this is all just a really long way of saying I’m concerned about Amanda Bynes.

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Amanda, back in the good old days.

You remember Amanda Bynes! She was the star of the Nickelodeon series The Amanda Show, and then she was in a series of teen movies – What a Girl Wants, She’s the Man, Sydney White. I’m the same age as her, and I was inexplicably into her movies, even though I was in university when they came out, and was probably way too old to be excited about a film that’s loosely based on the plot of Snow White for some reason. I don’t know, Amanda Bynes was always funny and kind of offbeat but weirdly relatable.

And then things got weird. A couple years ago she started deleting and undeleting her Twitter, announcing her retirement and return to acting. So that was weird, but around that time she appeared in Easy A, which was actually pretty great, and Amanda plays the Mandy Moore to Emma Stone’s Jenna Malone. Bet you didn’t expect a Saved reference, did you!? Basically she plays a bitchy religious girl and it’s awesome.

But then things got REALLY weird, because last year Amanda dyed her hair lilac, got some DUIs, had a series of car accidents, lost her licence, drove without her licence  and…tweeted at Barack Obama to fire a cop who arrested her? Oh, and then there were the times she locked herself in a changing room for two hours, locked herself in a cupcake store bathroom and maybe walked around a tanning salon naked. Also, she got kicked out of her apartment building for smoking weed or something.

OK, so none of these things are good, but it’s her recent tweets combined with her recent Instagram pictures that are troubling. Yes, I follow Amanda Bynes on Twitter and Instagram, OBVIOUSLY. Check this out:

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She is posting vague sentiments about love, and if my Facebook friends have taught me anything, that is ALWAYS a sign of impending disaster. And then there’s this:

But whyyyy?

But whyyyy?

Yep. That is Amanda Bynes! That is what she looks like now. Clearly things have gone too far. Girl is wearing a dehydrated wig and some kind of plastic nails. I’m not even going to address her pierced cheeks. I’ve made it clear that I’m all for a good celebrity breakdown, but not like this! Amanda never did anything to make me hate her, so I just want to help! So far I’ve just been replying to a lot of her tweets. I don’t think it’s helping. I think I’m going to plan an intervention, or at least an awareness campaign. Everyone loves a good awareness campaign! Remember that time when we failed to Free Katie back in 2006? Don’t you want to make up for it? Yeah, that’s right. I’m working on Save Amanda t-shirts right now. It’s the right thing to do.

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