Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Runaways

Every great rock band always has a charismatic lead singer and guitarist to play off each other. The Runaways weren't a great band but they had plenty of charisma. They were trendsetters and broke the barrier for women in rock. This is the story of the band and in particular, the relationship between Joan Jett and Cheri Currie. The film is produced by Joan Jett and based on a memoir by Ms. Currie so one has to assume most of what we see on screen is fairly accurate.

The director, Floria Sigismondi, captures the energy and sleaze of 1975 Los Angeles with a keen ear and eye for the rock scene of that era. Kristen Stewart makes a memorable Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning gives her most adult performance yet (ironic as she plays a 15 year old) as Cheri Currie. Michael Shannon shows chameleon like abilities portraying record producer, Kim Fowley, a role unlike anything he's done to date.

The story concentrates on the volatile relationship between Ms. Jett and Ms. Currie. Much is being made about an on screen kiss but it makes sense as Ms. Jett's love for Ms. Currie is obvious from their first meeting. What eventually tears them apart is Ms. Currie's need for a life outside of the band unlike Ms. Jett, who's life is the band. It's fascinating to watch the rise and fall of The Runaways especially if you lived through that time period. For Today's youth, it's a cautionary tale of too much too soon.

The focus on Jett and Currie makes sense as they were the face and sound of the band but I would have liked to know more about the other three members of the band. In particular, Lita Ford, who gets no back story and yet went on to her own solo popularity years later. Even in the post script, there is no mention of Ms. Ford, drummer Sandy West or the bassist know simply as Robin.

Alice In Wonderland

You would think Tim Burton is the perfect director to give his particular vision to "Alice In Wonderland". And what better actor than his frequent collaborator, Johnny Depp, to play the Mad Hatter? Of course on paper it's a perfect match but unfortunately I was underwhelmed with Mr. Depp's performance. Buried beneath layers of makeup, Mr. Depp's Hatter seems barely mad at all and at times, just catatonic.

Helena Bonham Carter tries hard as The Red Queen, who's garish personality is matched only by her garish appearance but you soon grow tired of "off with her head". Anne Hathaway underplays the White Queen but blame Mr. Burton's direction. Mr. Burton appears so caught up in the world he's created that he's forgotten to breathe real life into his characters. Newcomer Mia Wasikowska is a wonder as Alice, the only character with a pulse, who coincidently is the only true human in Wonderland ( known here as Underland). The best characters, The White Rabbit and The Cheshire Cat, are products of excellent CGI.

As the film begins, we learn this is Alice's second trip to Wonderland, as Mr. Burton and his team have actually combined "Alice In Wonderland" and it's sequel "Through The Looking Glass" into one story mixing characters and story elements that are visually appealing but ultimately flat, even in IMAX 3-D. If only the story and characters were as vivid as the landscape they inhabit.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Green Zone

How wonderful to live in a country with freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Even when we're being fed lies, Hollywood can show us a version of the truth without repercussion. "Green Zone" is director Paul Greengrass's attempt reveal the truth about the lack of WMD's in Iraq during the 2003 invasion.

Matt Damon, so good in Mr. Greengrass's "Bourne" films, returns to his action persona as Roy Miller, a soldier who becomes obsessed with learning the truth after his unit fails to find any WMD's on their patrols. As an action hero, Mr. Damon has found his niche and he's always enjoyable to watch. What's not credible is how easily he can go rogue and act on his own without any question from his superiors of his actions or whereabouts.

The film has a pedigree cast including Amy Ryan as a journalist who finds herself being used as a pawn in a massive cover-up, Greg Kinnear as the sleazy government official manipulating the truth, Brendon Gleeson as the CIA officer who wants real answers, and an almost unrecognizable Jason Isaacs as a nasty Special Forces officer.

The film doesn't pull punches of our government at the time but sometimes the truth hurts. Politics aside, the film hits the ground running and zips by at a frenetic pace, leading up to an exciting chase scene at the end. Mr. Greengrass is a terrific action director who loves hand held cameras but the headache producing dizzy action is the price you pay for "you are there" realism.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Ghost Writer

Director Roman Polanski does Brian DePalma. Based on the novel By Robert Harris, this new "suspense" drama plays like one of Mr. DePalma's thrillers, minus the sleaze factor and the thrill. The camera work, and in particular, the score reminded me of films like "Body Double" "Dressed To Kill" and "Raising Cain".

Ewan McGregor plays the title character, hired to "ghost" the autobiography of Andrew Lang, the former Prime Minister of England, played by Pierce Brosnan. Mr. McGregor is a very engaging actor and works hard to keep the audience's attention. His simple task of writing a book of memoirs takes on ominous tones after a dead body is discovered and shadowy figures begin to appear. He suspects there is more to the story than what he's been told and the plot slowly begins to reveals itself and I do mean slowly.

The movie holds your attention and builds towards what you would expect to be a big revelation at the end. Granted the final moments of the film come as a surprise but after such a long slow build, it all becomes clear too neat and quick and then one final twist in the last shot.

Mr. Polanski substitutes an island off the North Sea for Cape Cod and Mr. Bronson's exile for his own. The story of a American puppet Prime Minister is thinly veiled and the film contains a pretty obvious anti-American slant. There is very little action and the drama just drags on and on.

Mr. Brosnan is well cast in the Tony Blair...oops I mean Andrew Lang role and it's nice to see Kim Cattrall doing something else beside "Samantha Jones". The fine actor Tom Wilkinson also turns up as an important piece to the mystery.

There seems to be a big buzz around this film but to this critic, it's much ado about nothing.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Cop Out

You know there's problems here from the opening shot of New York City. With the Beastie Boys "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" playing in the background, the camera pans from Manhattan to stop at Long Island City, which is in Queens, not Brooklyn. Director Kevin Smith, working for the first time with someone else's script, plays it loose and lazy. There is no chemistry at all between stars Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. In fact Mr. Willis is content to sleep walk his way through his role taking back seat to the irritating mugging of Mr. Morgan. I haven't seen Bruce Willis with so little energy in a movie since "The Sixth Sense" and he had good reason in that film.

This is a tired retread posing as a homage (a word Mr. Morgan butchers for laughs) to the '80's black/white buddy cop films like "48 Hours", and "Running Scared". The best thing is the musical score, lifted right out of "Beverly Hills Cop". The plot is weak. The action boring and even perennial scene stealer Seann William Scott can't save this mess.

The film also co-stars Guillermo Diaz, who plays his bad guy role exactly like his character on "Weeds", Kevin Pollack as another detective caught up in the same case , and Rashida Jones, who deserves better than a few scenes as Mr. Morgan's wife, who may or may not be cheating on him.

"Cop Out" is a washout. Save your time and rent "48 Hours" instead.