A great rock n’ roll film doesn’t have to get everything right. There really isn’t a way around the clichÃ©s of telling the classic rock biopic tale. It’s always the same. Scrappy young kids create sparks playing together in the garage. They play shows in divey little clubs and then a sleazy impresario comes along to whip them into shape and acts as Svengali, enabler, and all around brow beater. After several go nowhere sessions in the studio they get that one song right and then cue the montage of their steady climb up the charts followed by too much partying, band feuds, solo albums, and then the inevitable implosion. Whether it’s a documentary about the Sex Pistols, The Filth & The Fury, or the fictional Ladies & Gentlemen…The Fabulous Stains the classic rock n roll narrative rarely veers off course. The Runaways is a great rock film, which is not to say it works on every level. It’s a disjointed film of mostly excellent individual scenes and adrenaline pumping performances. Don’t expect real insight into the collaborative nature of a band or really any aspect of the Runaways’ story that isn’t directly associated with Cherie Currie, Joan Jett, and Kim Fowley. The other girls in the band might as well not even exist. But do expect tough girls in tight jeans and leather jackets, 1970s Sunset Strip sleaze, and a deeply romantic portrait of teenage girls making rock n’ roll records and taking on a music industry that didn’t know what to do with them.
The Runaways doesn’t shy away from what made the band unique. Some reacted to the raw sexuality in The Runaways as if it was exploitive and that makes zero sense to me. As the scarily good Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley says, “This isn’t about women’s liberation! It’s about women’s libido!” Calling the honest depiction of teenage sexuality exploitive is condescending and misguided. The director, Floria Sigismondi, never loses sight of the fact that these are young women discovering the world and themselves together. It’s not cynical at all and is in fact much less offensive than the virgin/whore pop star thing that caters only to men.Continue Reading
The Social Network
1) Knowing it was directed by David Fincher told me it would look stylishly dark (though, how and why for a movie about computer geeks remained a mystery).Continue Reading
The Talented Mr. Ripley
A lot of directors working today try to ape Hitchcock. His films are the gold standard for artful forays into psychological terror. Christopher Nolan is just the latest celebrated director trying to tap into a rich vein of Hitchcockian malice for his own films. But while Nolan succeeds with astonishing set-pieces within his films—think of the face-to-face interrogation room sequence between Batman and the Joker in The Dark Knight—his films are, for the most part, long on disorienting gimmicks and rather low on psychological depth. He also doesn’t go near the subject of sex and Hitchcock’s films are full of sex—sexual obsession, sexual dread, sexual paranoia—the one exception being sexual fulfillment which seemed to exist only within the arms of his most beautiful and iconic star couplings in films such as Notorious and To Catch a Thief.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a first-rate Hitchcockian exercise from the late director Anthony Minghella and it has all of the corrosive sexual dread you could ask for as well as a disturbingly convincing subtext on the kinds of identity games Americans are always involved in. It’s glamorous and dark and manages to top Hitchcock in at least one respect—its undercurrent of eroticism is explicitly homosexual.Continue Reading
Director Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) returns to his roots by making a film with a bare-bones look reminiscent of his debut Pi. Aronofsky makes a far less polished film than its predecessors, as far as aesthetic design, focusing on performance above all else. The Wrestler is less plot driven than it is about the nature of desires, regret and one “broken down piece of meat”'s last shot at athletic glory.
Mickey Rourke (Barfly, Angel Heart) headlines the film as the wrestler in question, Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Although he did some supporting work in such films as Tony Scott’s Domino and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, it is as the title character of this film that Rourke put himself back on the Hollywood map. As a man fighting against time, desperate for one last shot at life in the spotlight before his body fails him, Rourke plays Robinson with unflinching honesty. It is one of those performances when actor and character become so integrally linked that it feels as if you're watching true life unfold. It is a brave and unabashed performance. One of the year’s finest.Continue Reading
This Is England
Twelve year old Shaun is having a shite day. Upon arriving to school, he’s relentlessly taunted by his classmates. He gets into a fight with another boy and has to face the torturous principal. On his way home, he encounters a group of fun loving skinheads (not the Racist kind) who continue to poke fun at the small boy. That is until the leader of the group steps in and decides that Shaun needs a break.
The tenacious Shaun is quickly made a member of the tribe despite a little bit of friction from some of the other members. The group spends their days smoking cigarettes, having a few pints, listening to Ska and Reggae and committing petty acts of vandalism. Shaun finally has some people he can call friends.Continue Reading
Un Couer en Hiver
I don't know if I have the academic background to write this particular review. Claude Sautet 's subdued genius of Un Couer en Hiver is threaded with music and art references I know nothing about. Yet, as an uninformed viewer I was no less affected by the interplay of silence, music and color to tell this elegant and slyly unique tale of love, betrayal and discovery through the eyes of an unlikely muse.
Un Couer may be seen as the birth of a great artist, or the tale of two (metaphorical) brothers and one love, but mostly it is the story of Stephane, a reserved violin maker who is a partner in a world class violin repair and design business within the elite sphere of classical music. His associate, the effortlessly dynamic Maxime, handles the buying, selling and deal making. He meets and greets the artists - is informed and affable while the reserved and intense Stephane is called when the violin needs a fine ear and fine repair. His passion is his control and within the first 3 minutes of the film you are under a spell so unexpected as to wonder about it days afterwards due to the brilliance of actor Daniel Auteuil.Continue Reading
Under the Skin
What does this film, Control and Morvern Callar all have in common? They all feature arresting performances by Samantha Morton, as well as a wonderful soundtrack. I've concluded that Morton's acting career is a solid, aggressive work of art, and that the possibility of being disappointed with her does not exist. However, with Under the Skin, I think one can view her finest performance. It seems obvious that she takes direction well, but with Carine Alder's film, I believe she provided something extraordinary. Her efforts to connect with the character, and really push to bring something daring to the screen, is very inspirational. As for the director, who is a woman and unfortunately has not directed a feature film before or after this one, I also give my highest praise.
The film focuses on the lives of two sisters, Iris (Samantha Morton) and Rose (Claire Rushbrook). The two are like oil and water. Rose was named after their mother's (Rita Tushingham) favorite flower, while Iris bears the name of one with mixed meaning. They've just been informed that their mother has either 3 weeks or 3 months to live. When she does pass, the dramatic and pregnant Rose waits around for crocodile tears that never come. Iris seems untouched by her mother's death, but there is something about her that makes you believe she is devastated. They make arrangements to have her cremated and begin splitting her belongings between the two of them. Rose was the closest to her, and therefore feels entitled to just about everything. The only thing Iris wants is the ring her mother wore, which Rose steals, claiming that she can't find it in the house. While rummaging through her mother's things Iris finds a fur coat, her wig, and a pair of cheap sunglasses. As you see her putting them on, you get the sense that she'll never be the same again.Continue Reading
Warm and wonderful, Pedro Almodovar's Volver resonates with his favorite subjects: women, secrets and the transformative power of love. Framed with light suspense, rich imagery and sensuous color are amazing performances by the entire cast, most notably a voluptuous Penelope Cruz. Her courageous and spirited Raimunda is a struggling mother stuck in a bad marriage and bravely fulfilling the role of matriarch, not only to her sister and daughter but to a community of women loosely tied by tradition and committed through love. When her mother reappears as a ghost, Raimunda's life gets infinitely more complicated.
Violence and religious mysticism are catalysts and cards to the emotional evolution of all the characters but are hardly the point. As secrets are unveiled, the once shelled lives become full again with redemption and understanding and life seems to right itself, as if waiting for the perfect miracle. The weak become strong, the strong - weak, youth gains wisdom and age renews its joy for life.Continue Reading
A vast industrial landscape, two towering smoke stacks, a rundown factory building, and a coal-covered ground as far as the eye can see. Somewhere in the distance a small white dot slowly moves over the black and gray landscape. This tiny dot is our main character, Wanda (Barbara Loden), attempting to find her way through the barren wasteland that has become her life.
Wanda is a meditative American Road Movie about a poor housewife who begins to feel lost and empty with the state of her life. After being accused by her husband of abandoning him and their children at a divorce hearing, Wanda aimlessly begins to drift from her home and take to the road. Unsure of her purpose and direction, Wanda finds herself clinging to another lost soul she meets on her journey, the short tempered small-time crook Norman (Michael Higgins). Wanda and Norman drift through highways and towns, committing petty crimes and robberies that eventually lead to tragic ends.Continue Reading
One would think that as blunt a director as Sam Fuller would have little use for metaphor when making a film about racism, but the director best known for his hard-hitting pulpy exposÃ©s of social injustice uses symbolism in White Dog as fluently as he used shock value in his previous films, without omitting any of the controversy expected of him. When Fuller made White Dog he had already pushed buttons with Shock Corridor’s blunt portrayal of inhumane conditions in sanitariums in the 1950s and The Naked Kiss’s vitriolic condemnation of small town hypocrisy. So why did Paramount seek out Fuller to co-write and direct a film based on a true story of a dog trained to attack Blacks, and then shelve the finished product? Fuller was back in favor after The Big Red One (1980), his first film after he made Shark! with Burt Reynolds in 1969, won the Palm d’Or at Cannes. Paramount pitched Fuller the concept, based on a Romain Gary article for Life magazine that Gary had adapted from his book Chien Blanc, and Fuller signed on to co-write the script with Curtis Hanson and direct the film. Together they adapted the non-fiction work into the story of Julie Sawyer, an aspiring actress who accidentally hits a white German shepherd while driving in the dark canyon roads of the Hollywood Hills. She rescues the dog, but after he attacks a co-worker, Julie believes that she has a former attack dog for a pet and takes him to movie set animal trainer Carruthers to reverse his aggressive training. When he sees the dog maul a Black man, he tells Julie that she has a “white dog,” a dog trained by racists to attack only Blacks. Keyes, a Black trainer with an anthropological bent, attempts to deprogram Julie’s racist dog as an experiment in the reversal of racial inculcation. Paramount was intent to avoid any accusations of insensitivity and in an attempt to obviate any complaints asked the president of the Beverly Hills chapter of the NAACP to be on set during the shoot. After the film’s completion the organization voiced its disapproval of the film and Paramount decided to forgo its release.
This Criterion release is the first time White Dog has been available in the U.S. It never had a theatrical release here (although it did in France where it had decent ticket sales) and it has never been available on Beta, VHS, Laserdisc, DVD or shown on television. Those of us who were lucky enough to rent (or work, *hech-hem*) at Mondo Kim’s in the East Village could rent a fuzzy bootleg with overmodulated sound. It was painful to listen to Ennio Morricone’s score in such a distorted form, but Faustian bargains were made to glimpse Fuller’s recondite masterpiece. Criterion does film scholars and the film community an immeasurable service when they release rare and obscure films like White Dog, SalÃ², Taste of Cherry, Sans Soleil, etc., more than amply making up for the plastic and human resources the label wastes the few times it releases films of questionable cinematic value that were already in wide circulation (I’m not going to name names. But one starts with Chasing…) By releasing White Dog Criterion is sharing with viewers one the strongest denunciations of racism in American film history, a denunciation that was stolen from audiences by Paramount’s timidity and the NAACP’s short-sightedness.Continue Reading