Archive for June, 2010

THE RUNAWAYS, Floria Sigismondi (2010)

Posted in Biopic, Drama, Music with tags , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2010 by Toi Brownstone

First things first. The Runaways were the very first female wild rock band and their influence has prevailed over the years, no matter their story was very short.  Joan Jett is a kind of myth for rock lovers, she’s an icon, and is great she’s still rocking on stage. I had the opportunity to see her in a very brief show supporting Alice Cooper and was fantastic.

Once this said, let’s talk about the biopic based on Cherie Currie’s book Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway. Considering the source and the fact that Joan Jett was deep involved in the project you can quickly guess two things: first, there’s money behind, good budget enough to count on one of the most promising actresses or let’s say the most active young actresses nowadays, such as Kristen Stewart, and second, it won’t be an objective story for obvious reasons. Still, a biopic of such an explosive band of chicks able to reach rockin’ heaven but with such short story left, definitely is worth watch it, although it takes a risk  too, with Hollywood empire behind.

The story starts nonconformist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart)  trying to learn how to play electric guitar, facing a society on which girls were sort of banned from rock n’ roll environment. She approaches Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), an eccentric man in business, insisting on what to support a female rock band would mean in terms of success. Although he initially rejects the idea, he’ll be keeping in touch with her checking from time to time on the progress of the project. First Joan and drummer Sandy Maest will start jamming in an abandoned caravan until they’re able to call Fowley’s attention. Once he gets involved, he will assist to put up the band together and will monitor everything, but will realize there’s a missing piece to start succeeding.

That missing piece turns out to be Cherrie Currie (Dakota Fanning), a 15-year-old kid devoted to David Bowie, her main influence in all senses. Her charming attitude and appearance make her unique, and both Jett and Fowley won’t have any doubt she’d be the perfect lead singer.

Once the band is settled and ready, they will hit the road in not the most recommendable conditions for jail bait girls, not reaching 18 years old. They soon will be seduced by drugs, booze and sex, especially Cherrie, completely out of control. Touring non- stop, they will get a record deal, and the spiral of success and debauchery will start recklessly with consequences.

I enjoyed the film up to some point. On one hand work on costumes, the way the girls look and rehearsal and stage performances are amazingly recreated. Both Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning play the roles quite decent, and you actually enjoy their performances.

But I find many buts though. What I consider completely unfair is not focusing as much on the band as on Cherrie and Joan. What happens with Lita Ford? She’s also an icon in rock music, everybody knows  who she is, and the only information we got about her is that at some point she quarrels with Cherrie. It’s like the band just formed once Jett had composed a couple of songs with the drummer, and that’s not accurate at all.

Unfortunately the story of the Runaways gets distorted caused mainly for focusing on the love story between Joan Jett and Cherrie Currie and the incredible drug abuse by these still kids.

If you really think about it, teenage girls touring the US and even Japan without adult supervision can only mean trouble and, linked to rock, excess in all senses. And that’s what happened to Cherie Currie, she was completely wasted just with 16 years old, hooked up on drugs, constantly overdosing, and developing an unbearable diva attitude, the others couldn’t stand. This kind of situation would be impossible nowadays.

On the other hand Joan Jett, balancing success and excess with music talent, and working hard to keep in music business, as she’s still nowadays. From the very beginning that morbid curiosity of the audience regarding her sexual condition immediately is made clear. Jett is lesbian, and yes, she and Cherie Currie had sexual contact, a fact which is reflected on the film and apparently has become of major interest the two young actresses appear kissing each other.

The aesthetics in the film is of great importance. We’re in front of a mainly visual product, above any dialogue, which are actually very limited and poor, focusing on musical performances, hallucinating effects of drugs… all accurately placed in order to highlight chaos and debauchery. Sometimes it also reminded me of Velvet Goldmine, and don’t think is a silly impression, as Floria Sigismondi, the film director, has worked with Bowie in some videos and many other artists. No doubt she was the right choice in terms of visual aspects, and why not? Being a woman encouraged the project even more.

Unfortunately I think with this film audience won’t realize the importance of a band such as the Runaways back in their time and what their work would mean not only  in the history of rock n’ roll but also in the emerging participation and proliferation of female bands. At the end of the day, for me, devoted to music, it’s hard to admit that women in rock are difficult to succeed, depending on the direction you take, but be sure you’ll always be judged no matter the role you take. Being in such an honest mood I got to admit I don’t usually like female bands, but those I like, I’m a diehard fan: L7, Heart, The Donnas

Anyway, from time to time a rock biopic is always welcome, but unfortunately I don’t consider they’re well developed and always focus on same topics, sex and drugs, decadence and fall. It’s true most times it happens like that, but certain things cannot be avoided and are necessary to understand many things.

No doubt the best is the soundtrack, highly recommendable, the movie, after my deep thinking, entertaining.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, John Carpenter (1981)

Posted in Action!, Directors with tags , , , on June 13, 2010 by Toi Brownstone

Definitely John Carpenter has a place on my top ten of film directors ever. His golden years registered at least 3 of my favorite movies, and although afterwards he fell into crappy stories, he’s a hell of director and creative artist.

To be honest, I don’t reckon having seen Escape in my childhood and right now I regret it, because I’m positive this is the kind of movie you MUST see when you’re young to enjoy even more: combination of nonstop action, dialogues, a charismatic hero such as Snake Plissken and a pimp car, can enrich your adolescence a lot. Because that’s what is so cool about it, the world is portrait as shit, but you can do something good and can count on some people, no matter their ideologies are, world is shit, definitely, but also comradeship and survival.

In a not so far future, things are so much out of control in the States that Manhattan island has become a massive prison, surrounded by concrete and such security nobody can escape from there, all the outlaws and people in bad habits end up there mixed. As you can imagine, Manhattan was portrait in a darker way than actually was in the late 70’s, but still both images were not so distant, delinquency, gangs, murders…not the safe place we know nowadays with a cop almost on every corner.

Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), has been sentenced to the island for bank robbery, and as it’s said, once you’re there, there’s no coming back, but he’s popular for his acts and his curriculum is outstanding, enough reason for a second chance to avoid prison if he works for the government on a desperate mission: find the president’s location and bring him back to safety.

How could the President (Donald Pleasence) end up in such a shit hole? Well, Air Force One was kidnapped and he got the chance to get away in the emergency capsule. Technology wasn’t so developed as to direct it to regular land, ending in the island. As you can imagine a guy like him hasn’t many chances to survive without body guards and gets caught by the Duke (Isaac Hayes).

In order to catch him from the balls, Snake is injected with some sort of poisonous capsules mixed on his bloodstream will be lethal in 24 hours.

It’s easy to figure out the rest: Snake moving through Manhattan, looking for the guy and getting allies on his way, fighting for survival desperately.

Although Carpenter and Russell had already worked together for the sweetened Elvis biopic, with Escape started what could be considered one of the most successful and strong relationships in business, the actor became sort lucky charm for the director, as most acclaimed  movies followed immediately.  In fact, Carpenter failed to provoke same reaction among audience whenever he counted on other actors, such as in They Live or Memoirs of an Invisible Man. I really love this tandem.

Problem nowadays is the subject of remakes. First in the 90’s both Carpenter, Kurt Russell and Debra Hill resurrected Plissken in another mission, this time in LA. It was basically a remake of the original one, with different special effects and different settings, but same story, although not as fresh and direct as the previous one. A New Escape from New York is due for next year, and surely it will be a shit, first because the power Kurt Russell impregnated on Plissken is hardly achievable, and and then, because it will be a movie with plenty of budget and horrible computer effects, no smoking, and no pimps, because all these social “protocols” you off the record must follow. Apart from that, I heard Gerard Butler is to become the main character…sorry, bt that’s unacceptable!

Returning to the movie after this moment of anger (sorry about that, folks!) I cannot finish the review without talking about Snake Plissken. Not such appealing heroes appear in films nowadays. He’s got an attitude, never shuts up, smart and intelligent, he’s a rat you end up loving. Kurt Russell admits is the best character he’s ever played and I reckon he’s right. Action movies need the figure of the tough guy, with key sentences at any moment which make you think, this is a hell of a guy! Plissken is the kind of guy, kids in the 80’s would dream of becoming, great heroes cannot be weak or soft, or even polite, they must drink, smoke and swear, because what they’re facing at that moment is not precisely a nice time.

Thus, apart from the criticism of society hidden and the message that politicians aren’t always as clean as they pretend, Escape from New York accomplishes the mission of providing audience with good entertainment. Action films are seen as a minor category in terms of performance, but at the end of the day, sometimes is better to escape from reality with a bit of the medicine Snake Plissken offers rather than watching a reality drama, am I right?

LA PIANISTE, Michael Haneke (2001)

Posted in Drama with tags , , on June 8, 2010 by Toi Brownstone

 

The dichotomy about Michael Haneke forced me to watch La Pianiste again. I usually participate on forums of music, where obviously cinema is also a very often subject to discuss about, and few time ago I started to read excellent reviews on this film and on Haneke’s work in general. On the other hand, his latest Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon) gained the blessing of the critics, also won many awards, but people were totally divided into whether it was a masterpiece or just crap.

Before La Pianiste I had seen Funny Games in its two versions and was really shocking, although in my opinion, incomplete. I might be a bit stupid but sometimes I prefer being told the reasons and motivations rather than figure them out myself, it’s not a matter of lack of imagination, I can assure you fantasy is widely developed in my head.

First time I watched it, few years ago already, the only references I got were those related to self mutilation and how insane the main character was, so once you’ve been warned, seems that you’re expecting those tough scenes to come, as if you were on alert. I didn’t like that, and thought the movie was too much freak, and twisted, just to shock audience and get an immediate response.

Having said all that, I decided to review La Pianiste, completely isolated, to get any possibly interesting detail, trying to forget any picture I could have kept from the first view. To tell you the truth, I erased most of my memories, which helped a lot to concentrate on the story.

Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) is a piano teacher in her forties at the Conservatory in Vienna. She’s straight, very strict and tremendously cold, does not show any emotion however her only noticeable weakest point is being sensitive to Schubert and Schumann. However, she hides two more sides of her personal life.

On one hand, the insane relationship she’s got with her oppressive and overprotecting mother (Annie Girardot), a woman with subtle drinking issues, always checking what her daughter does, where she is…Not only they live together, but also sleep together. Tension between them is constant, and episodes of both love and hate alternate on a daily basis.

On the other hand, there’s a dark part Erika keeps hidden from everyone. So much repression, self-control in front of the others, loneliness and insecurity have turn her into a sexual pervert, with a special taste into the filthiest and most sordid aspects, she doesn’t know about love or being loved, she just knows about submission and pain. In case she realizes she’s overcome with some sort of emotion, she will quickly self-punish deliberately. Terrible and disgusting.

Erika can control herself and deal with her mother, but she cannot control the rest of the world. The intrusion of the young and gorgeous  Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel) will be the proof.

Walter has a serious crash on the teacher from the very first moment at a private concert at  his aunt’s. He will try to approach her by any means, no matter her mother is watching and interrupting all the time, and despite Erika’s rejecting attitude, he will impress her by playing some Schubert on the piano.

From this moment, he will try to access to the Conservatory just to become her pupil and get closer. He just wants to conquer her and see what’s inside her. And eventually she’ll give up to his charms and insistence, with the condition he accepts the rules detailed in a letter. Will Walter be able to assume what kind of person Erika really is? Will he be able to adapt to her particular vision of love?

Performances are outstanding and situations are so tense and tough you can’t help but get so disturbed as to keep twisting in your seat. This also happened to me with Funny Games, but that was a violent story from the beginning. La Pianiste is harder, more psychological.

From the beginning you notice Erika is insane and her surroundings totally poisoned. We’ve seen many cases, both real and fictional, of role models being caught in a shameful behavior, in this case, it’s very extreme but possible, and probably in the shape of a woman, perversity and filth are more shocking and repulsive.

Erika is the example of woman, repressed from her earlier years by a mother who wants her piano career to succeed, for the sake of the future, but actually for fulfilling what he couldn’t get when she had the opportunity, probably because she had her daughter among other issues. When I  watched the mother putting her daughter an angora jacket over her shoulders just when she had finished her piece at the concert I was getting sick. On the other hand, without a father figure, and with such a control freak mother, how could she learn about love or natural sexuality? She had to refer to pornography as the learning guide, getting a distorted picture…and we all know, the older you get the worse things turn into. Erika became a monster for not having a normal life.

As for Walter, probably his condition of good looking and successful with girls without an effort, made Erika as his new and impossible target, in a way to fulfill his already high self esteem, without really thinking about the weird signals he was witnessing until he fell deep on her and received the letter.

Music in this film is a very important feature and very meaningful. The passion Erika feels for Schubert, known for his bipolar disorder and venereal diseases, is interesting, there are deep resemblances among them. Schubert’s pieces seemed more anguishing  than others during the film,  more chaos and violence implied. On the other side, silence is present as well, causing a more suffocating effect.

Not sure what to think of la Pianiste, on one hand I think it’s a tortuous story, definitely not romantic, I don’t find love at all, but morbid attraction, selfishness and insanity. Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist also comes to my mind, with a woman possessed using sex in a violent manner to express madness.

I must admit I liked it better than the first time, and paid more attention to the characters, peculiar to say the least.

To be honest, rather than give my judgment, I would love to know what people think of this film, I find it tough and uncomfortable, but definitely interesting. I haven’t stopped thinking of it since yesterday…still I don’t find proper words to define what I saw.

Just a Quick Word

Posted in Uncategorized on June 8, 2010 by Toi Brownstone

Again I wish to apologize for so long time without updating the blog. I’ve been really busy lately trying to adapt to my new job and it’s taking a while. On the other hand I’ve been focusing on the review of all Carpenter’s movies for the other blog I share with my boyfriend, called Peanut Butter Banana Movies. Cannot share the posts for language reasons, still if some of you are interested in any of his films I will manage to recover them for Popcorn and Movies and translate  them.

I would like to thank all of you for being interested in my point of view, also encourage you to leave comments, questions or whatever…it’s great to notice stats are improving. Thanks a lot!