Bad Reputation (2018)


Joan Jett is a rock and roll icon.

(2018) Music Documentary (Magnolia) Joan Jett, Kenny Laguna, Iggy Pop, Billy Joe Armstrong, Michael J. Fox, Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, Kathleen Hanna, Miley Cyrus, Ian MacKaye, Pete Townshend, Bill Curbishley, Mike Ness, Kristen Stewart, Dougie Needles, Alison Mosshart, Dana White, Sally Hershberger, Rodney Bingenheimer, Thommy Price, Carianne Brinkman, Cherie Currie. Directed by Kevin Kerslake

 

One of the problems we film critics have is that often with documentaries we have a tendency to review the subject as much as the film. I’m certainly guilty of that and the temptation to do that with an icon like Joan Jett is damn near irresistible.

You can’t help but admire Jett as a musician. In an age when most women were relegated to playing soft rock or folk music, Jett wanted to rock hard. She wanted to be like the boys onstage; like Pete Townshend, like Jimmy Page, like Clapton. People in the industry would look at her like she was from Mars. Girls don’t rock; they strum. They sing sweetly and they certainly don’t shriek

As a teen, Joan Larkin made her way from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles to chase her rock and roll dreams. She hung out in the English Disco, an all-ages nightclub where glam rock was worshiped by men and women wearing way too much make-up. Joan stood out in that crowd and met Sandy West, a kindred spirit who wanted to be John Bonham. They added guitarist Lita Ford, singer Cherie Currie and bassist Jackie Fox and were christened The Runaways. Joan took her mother’s maiden name as her stage name and under the aegis of promoter Kim Fowley (whom Iggy Pop described as “like Frankenstein’s monster, if Frankenstein’s monster was on Quaaludes”) they would go on to record four studio albums and one live album before breaking up acrimoniously.

The band was met by critical scorn and by outright hostility by male rockers who didn’t want to see their clubhouse invaded by girls yet performance footage (of which there is sadly far too little) show that the Runaways were as hard rocking as any male band of their time. When the band broke up, Jett was devastated. She self-medicated with booze and drugs, hanging out with people like Sid Vicious, Nancy Spungeon and Stiv Bators, most of whom as Jett puts it “are dead now.” She even thought of joining the military to get herself straightened out but it was rock and roll that saved her.

She was introduced to Kenny Laguna, a noted bubblegum pop producer who heard something in Jett. Putting together a backing band who became known as the Blackhearts, Laguna melded his pop sensibilities with Joan’s hard rock instincts to create a kind of hard pop. When no label would even consider them, Jett and Laguna founded heir own label, becoming a precursor to the DIY punk labels that started in the 80s. When pop mogul Neil Bogart heard their demo, he arranged to distribute their first album and it looked like a wise move when the first album did extremely well but Bogart died before they could follow up on that success and his label died with him. Undaunted, the band found another label to distribute their music and they hit the big time powered by constant airplay on MTV. While most of the band’s hits were covers (“I Love Rock and Roll,” “Crimson and Clover”) there were several that Jett and Laguna penned as well (“Bad Reputation”). Through the 80s, Jett became the Queen of Rock, a darker haired version of Ann and Nancy Wilson.

The rock business has always been notoriously cyclical and as label relationships soured, the Blackhearts were bounced from label to label but while Jett and her band would never recapture the popularity they had in the 80s they continued to have hits here and there through the 90s and into the 21st century.

Now so far I’ve reviewed the subject and certainly Jett is worthy of a documentary but the problem with this documentary is a lack of depth. It’s a bit more of a puff piece and Kerslake doesn’t seem inclined to examine some of the darker subjects, like the allegations  in Cherie Currie’s book that Fowley had sexually assaulted members of the Runaways – Jett is certainly aware of those allegations and you’d think in this MeToo era she would be at least wanting to comment on them, even if only to say “I wasn’t aware of that kind of thing going on so I can’t validate Cherie’s story.”

There is also astonishingly little detail in how the high school aged Joan got from Pennsylvania to the West Coast, whether she was able to reconnect with her former bandmates in the Runaways or even who her personal influences are as a musician. Watching this movie is very much like staring at a picture that has been put through a shredder and tossed in a trash can and then later reassembled at the city dump; there are lots of pieces missing and the ones that are there are incomplete.

Still, Jett is candid and engaging. She doesn’t address her sexuality – I don’t think she should have to – which has been a subject of gossip for decades. If anything, I think Jett is married to rock and roll and that’s the source of her sexuality and her creativity. It is her center and her savior, and often her curse. It is the greatest love in her life. And like all of our own relationships it has had its ups and downs but she is still loyal to it nevertheless. That’s pretty damn admirable if you ask me.

You likely won’t respect Jett as a musician any more after seeing this than you already do – or do not, if you are of that mindset. You may find yourself respecting her more as a person as I did. Overall I’d have to say that while Jett is indeed a rock icon who deserves every accolade she gets thrown her way, I might have wished for a better biography of her than this. She’s earned better.

REASONS TO GO: Jett is a marvelous subject; she’s candid and engaging.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit Music Documentary 101.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some brief nudity, sexual references and gestures, profanity and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jett celebrated her 60th birthday just four days before the film was released.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/28/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Runaways
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.

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New Releases for the Week of September 21, 2018


THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS

(Universal) Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle McLaughlin, Colleen Camp, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sunny Suljic, Lorenza Izzo. Directed by Eli Roth

Horror auteur Roth goes the Spielberg route with this young adult book-adaption.  A young orphan goes to live with his eccentric uncle who lives in a creepy old house in a sleepy old town. When the orphan accidentally wakes the dead, he, his uncle (who turns out to be a warlock) and a kindly neighbor (who is also a witch) race to stop a clock hidden inside the house from counting down to zero which will bring about the end of everything

See the trailer and trailer commentary here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, D-Box, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor and language)

Assassination Nation

(Neon) Suki Waterhouse, Anika Noni Rose, Joel McHale, Bill Skarsgård. A quartet of high school girls and BFFs in a small town live like most girls their age do – through social media, texts, selfies and gossip. When an anonymous hacker starts posting intimate details of the lives of people in their town, things start to go more than a little crazy and soon there’s a 50-50 chance the girls will live through the night but what nobody gets is these aren’t girls you want to mess with.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for disturbing bloody violence, strong sexual material including menace, pervasive language, and for drug and alcohol abuse – all involving teens)

Bad Reputation

(Magnolia) Joan Jett, Michael J. Fox, Deborah Harry, Kenny Laguna. Ever since founding the Runaways, Joan Jett has been an inspiration for women rockers everywhere. Over the years she has managed to become a feminist icon as well. This is the story of a woman who decided to play by her own rules.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Wednesday only)

Rating: R (for language, sexual references, some drug use and brief nudity)

Fahrenheit 11/9

(Briarcliff) Michael Moore, David Hogg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Donald Trump. Gadfly and agent provocateur Moore is back and once again looking at our society and asking the tough questions. How did we elect someone who plainly is not fit for the job and how do we get out of the situation we’re in?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language and some disturbing material/images)

Life Itself

(Amazon) Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Bening, Mandy Patinkin. When a young couple get pregnant, the reverberations sent by the happy event go through their extended family and across the country.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, some violent images and brief drug use)

Lizzie

(Saban/Roadside Attractions) Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Kim Dickens, Jamie Sheridan. This is an unusual take on the Lizzie Borden mystery which more than a century later remains unsolved.

See the trailer, clips, video featurettes and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Mystery
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for violence and grisly images, nudity, a scene of sexuality and some language)

Love, Gilda

(Magnolia) Gilda Radner, Gene Wilder, Melissa McCarthy, Chevy Chase. Radner was one of the stars of the original Saturday Night Live and her characters continue to live on in popular culture more than 40 years later. She remains a major influence on comics – especially those of the fairer sex – to this day.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

American Dresser
Batti Gul Meter Chalu
Beyond the Sky
The Cakemaker
The Children Act
Little Italy
Miss Granny
Nannu Dochukunduvate
Saamy Square

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Batti Gul Meter Chalu
Bel Canto
Bye Bye Brazil
The Children Act
I Think We’re Alone Now
Mandy
Nannu Dochukunduvate
Pick of the Litter
Saamy Square
The Song of Sway Lake

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

American Dresser
The Children Act
Little Italy
Nannu Dochukunduvate
The Pagan King
Saamy Square

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Custody
Miss Granny
Nannu Dochukunduvate
Saamy Square

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

American Dresser
Assassination Nation
Bad Reputation
Bel Canto
The Cakemaker
Fahrenheit 11/9
The House With a Clock In Its Walls
Life Itself
Love, Gilda

Elegy


Elegy

Sir Ben Kingsley can hardly wait to film his sex scenes with Penelope Cruz.

(Goldwyn) Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, Dennis Hopper, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard, Deborah Harry, Charlie Rose. Directed by Isabel Coixet

As we get older, we tend to desperately fight against the aging process by resolutely not acting our age. In some cases, we do it without realizing we’re doing it but in others we are completely aware of our motivations.

David Kepesh (Kingsley) is a professor of literature, a published author and a radio show host on the subject of books. His best friend, George O’Hearn (Hopper) is one of the world’s most acclaimed poets. He lives in a comfortable New York apartment (the kind with a stunning view) filled with art and books, made for lounging around with the New York Times on a Sunday morning with a coffee and a bagel from the neighborhood deli.

David abandoned his wife and son (Sarsgaard) years ago and seems to have been in a mid-life crisis since then. He has a tendency to pick one female student each semester to seduce, prudently waiting for the grades to go out before inviting his whole class to a party at his apartment and dazzling his prey with intellectual insights and an invitation to get together for coffee or an off-Broadway play. This way, there’s no hint of impropriety.

This semester’s target is Consuela (Cruz), a Cuban-American girl who is a lot different than the starry-eyed co-eds he usually aims for. She is a bit older and surprisingly, sees there might be more to her professor than an aging lothario.

The two embark on what is a highly physical relationship, which at first suits David fine as that is really all he wants. But as they spend more time together, a more emotional bond begins to take form. David, against all odds, falls in love.

With love comes jealousy, and David’s inherent self-doubt begets an irrational obsession that Consuela might be seeing a more attractive, virile younger man. He begins to stalk her a little bit which doesn’t sit too well with her. When she asks him to show up at a graduation party, he realizes that everything he fears may be waiting for him at that party – and that everything that is truly terrifying may be waiting for him if he doesn’t go.

This is based on a novel by Phillip Roth, who quite frankly isn’t the easiest author to adapt to the screen. Nicholas Meyer, who wrote the screenplay, does a very good job and let’s face it; he gets one of the best actors in the world to work with. Kingsley has to take a character that is basically unlikable and get the audience to at least relate to him. He is quite successful in that we are motivated to continue along for the ride.

The surprise is Penelope Cruz. An Oscar winner for Vicki Christina Barcelona, she takes a part that is far more sexual than any other she has ever tackled and makes it her own. In fact, I think its fair to say that you will go away from this film remembering Cruz even more than you will Kingsley, which is quite an accomplishment in itself. For my money, she has in the last few years become one of the best actresses in film today, up there with Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslett, Hilary Swank, Helen Mirren and Amy Adams for consistent quality performances from a leading lady.

The setting is the New York literary scene, an environment that I as a writer have always found fascinating. Not everyone will share that fascination; the scene has its share of narcissists and self-aggrandizers, enough to give it the smell of hoity-toity. Still, I can’t really fault a film for catering to the intelligent, and that’s what Elegy does. You may not love everything that happens on-screen, but there’s a certain honesty here and plenty of subtle layers – I haven’t even mentioned Patricia Clarkson, who plays David’s longtime mistress who shares his fondness for sex without emotional ties and is shocked that her paramour is getting into a situation that is an emotional minefield.

Every character here adds nuance, and I appreciate that a great deal. While this isn’t a movie I would recommend unreservedly to everybody, it is a movie I can recommend to anyone who likes their movies smart and thought-provoking as this does on the subject of men and aging. I hope I won’t be seducing young women at Ben Kingsley’s age; for one thing, I’m happily married and plan on remaining so. For another thing, I think I have a higher opinion of women than David does. For yet another thing I don’t have the gravitas and alluring charm of Kingsley so chances are I won’t be as successful as he is at it.

WHY RENT THIS: Stirring performances from Cruz and Kingsley. A literate and well-written script that doesn’t talk down (mostly) to its audience.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The New York intellectual setting may turn off some.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some nudity and a lot of sexuality, as well as some rough language. Definitely for adults and mature teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: David tells Consuela that she looks like Goya’s Maja Desnuda. Penelope Cruz played Pepita Tudo (who was possibly the model for the painting) in Volaverunt.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Mary Poppins (!)