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.

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

The Punk Singer


The amazing Kathleen Hanna.

The amazing Kathleen Hanna.

(2013) Documentary (IFC/Sundance Selects) Kathleen Hanna, Adam Horovitz, Tobi Vail, Joan Jett, Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon, Johanna Fateman, Corin Tucker, Tavi Gevinson, Jocelyn Samson, Lynn Breedlove, Kathryn Wilcox, Jennifer Baumgardner, Billy Karren, JD Samson, Leo Galland, Tamra Davis, Allison Wolfe, Jen Smith, Ann Powers. Directed by Sini Anderson

Feminism has deep roots going back to the women’s suffrage movement and Susan B. Anthony and continuing through the 60s, the attempt to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (which remains unpassed) and Gloria Steinem. There were many who thought the feminist movement to be dead. Don’t tell the Riot Grrrls that.

Riot Grrrls is a movement that sprung primarily out of punk music made primarily by women which addressed women’s issues and adopted an aggressive feminist stance. One of the major forces in that movement was the band Bikini Kill and their primary songwriter, singer and frontwoman Kathleen Hanna.

Bikini Kill grew up in the Pacific Northwest but later relocated to Washington DC. They were often misunderstood by the general public and frankly misrepresented by the press as man-haters (which they clearly weren’t as the band’s guitarist, Billy Karren, is male). Hanna was also often described as the victim of rape by her father which she in the film addresses as completely untrue (rape and sexual abuse are frequent topics for Hanna in both Bikini Kill and her next band, Le Tigre).

As a stage performer, Hanna is energetic and passionate. She used her sexuality as a form of expression and her gamine good looks, which remind me of Zooey Deschanel, are arresting. One of her trademarks is to call women to the front by the stage and to ask men to stay in the back; this was a safety issue as at punk shows moshing could get violent and cause women to be injured and molested. Hanna wanted Bikini Kill shows to be safe places for women.

She is married to Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, which makes for an interesting couple. He comes from a band who has written lyrics about women that are less than complimentary but he comes off as a devoted husband and one who supports his wife and her viewpoint completely. They’ve been married seven years although they’ve been together for much longer than that which is unusually long for relationships among rock musicians.

Hanna stopped performing back in 2005 and for a long while many of those who knew her didn’t know why. She used this film which debuted at last year’s South by Southwest Film Festival (which I personally think is the perfect place for a film like this) to announce that she had been diagnosed with late state Lyme’s Disease which prevented her from performing – she had told her bandmates in Le Tigre that she felt she had written everything she wanted to say which she in the film admits was untrue but that she felt safer in saying that than in admitting she no longer had control over her own body.

Cinematically, the movie doesn’t break any new ground as a documentary. Fans of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre will be happy to discover that there is plenty of archival footage of both bands – some of it never seen publically. There are a great many talking head interviews, mainly with women at Hanna’s request – she didn’t want the film to be “validated” by male experts which I can kind of understand, given her point of view.

Her performance with her new band The Julie Ruin (named for her solo album) at the Knitting Factory in New York City is captured at the end of the movie. It seems that Hanna is going to be back writing and maybe performing (although I can’t imagine she’ll be performing nearly as much) which to my mind is a welcome thing.

I had the pleasure of doing a phone interview with Hanna shortly before she instituted a press blackout after continual misrepresentations in the mainstream press about her band and her philosophy. I was pretty much still finding my way politically so I’m afraid I probably came off as something of an oaf at the time, but I remember her passion, her humor and how articulately she expressed herself. One of the things I remember is asking why the Pacific Northwest seemed to be such a catalyst for social change as well as giving the world grunge. I don’t remember exactly what she replied but the thought clearly amused her. Obviously I was eager to see the film when I discovered it would be playing at the Enzian.

If I had the chance to interview her again, the one question I’d be interested in having her answer is whether the feminism she practices divides the sexes further and whether or not it would be healthier to encourage unity between the sexes. However, I must say that I came away from the film with three things. First, as a film it would have been better if it relied less on talking heads. Secondly, that feminism is far from dead and given the current war on women being practiced by the radical right, that it is needed much more now than ever. Thirdly, I came away respecting Ms. Hanna even more than I already did which was considerably. Even if you aren’t into punk or electroclash music (which my wife isn’t) you can still find a lot to appreciate in this movie.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific performances by nearly all of the cast. A lovely walk down Memory Lane.

REASONS TO STAY: Diverges from fact a few times.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some of the language is rough.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was partially funded through a Kickstarter campaign as well as by a benefit concert at the Knitting Factory headlined by Gordon.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/5/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Last Days

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

New Releases for the Week of January 3, 2014


Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES   

(Paramount) Richard Cabral, Eddie J. Fernandez, Carlos Pratts, Jorge Diaz, David Fernandez Jr., Kimberly Abels Jindra, Tonja Kahlens, Frank Salinas. Directed by Christopher Landon

The found footage horror franchise Paranormal Activity gets a distinctly Latin flavor in this spin-off from the series. A young Latino from the barrio is possessed by something demonic and as his slow descent into the grasp of a hideous evil is documented on his dad’s ancient camcorder, his friends and family race to find answers and to save him from what is sure to be a gruesome fate.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Found Footage Horror

Rating: R (for pervasive language, some violence, graphic nudity and some drug use)

I Am Divine

(Automat) Divine, John Waters, Ricki Lake, Tab Hunter. As Harris Glenn Milstead, he was essentially unknown. As Divine, he was the most beautiful woman in the world and a cult figure idolized by a rabid following. The story of how he became the cinematic muse of director John Waters and how he changed the landscape of film in ways nobody could have predicted is told here.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (plays Saturday, Monday, Thursday at the Enzian)

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

The Punk Singer

(IFC) Katherine Hanna, Adam Horowitz, Joan Jett, Kim Gordon. As a founding member of Bikini Kill, Katherine Hanna was one of the leaders of the Riot Grrl movement of the 90s and early years of the 21st century. Her aggressive punk music was definitely un-ladylike but inspired young girls and women all over the world. An ardent feminist and passionate activist, Hanna was admired by pretty much anybody who doesn’t listen to Fox News. Abruptly, in 2005, she dropped out of the public eye. This new documentary examines her career with archival footage, performance video and interviews by admirers and colleagues.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (plays Friday, Sunday, Wednesday at the Enzian)

Genre: Musical Documentary

Rating: NR 

Mama


So put another dime in the jukebox baby.

So put another dime in the jukebox baby.

(2013) Supernatural Horror (Universal) Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet, Jane Moffat, Morgan McGarry, David Fox, Dominic Cuzzocrea, Christopher Marren, Ray Kahnert, Hannah Cheesman, Julia Chantrey. Directed by Andres Muschietti

The bond between a mother and her child is something that simply can’t be broken. It is stronger than diamonds and carries its own gravitational pull that makes a black hole look like a refrigerator magnet. That bond is there for life – and some say, beyond.

This story starts with murder, of a man who loses it and kills his estranged wife and ex-partner and kidnaps his two children. He takes them, not quite intentionally, to a dilapidated cabin in the remote woods of Virginia called oddly enough Helvetia (with Mad Men-era retro furniture) where he intends to shoot them, and then himself. However fate – in the guise of a malevolent presence – intervenes.

Five years later, the two girls are still missing and their Uncle Lucas (Coster-Waldau) is still looking for them although his funds are running low – he’s been utilizing the inheritance from his successful brother. Lucas apparently “draws things” although it’s never really established whether he draws paintings or cartoons or whatnot. Anyway his girlfriend Annabel (Chastain), a rocker chick who plays bass in a punk-edged indie rock band, is a little put off by her boyfriend’s obsession especially since she can’t get pregnant herself.

However quite accidentally Burnsie (Fox), the tracker that Lucas has hired for the task, stumbles on the cabin and finds the girls – Victoria (Charpentier), now eight and her sister Lilly (Nelisse) who is six. The two girls are nearly feral although Victoria seems to be recovering her ability to speak. Lilly, in particular, is nearly mute, moving in an eerie spider-like motion.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that two such young children could survive in an isolated cabin on their own for so long but nobody seems to be questioning that. In fact, their psychiatrist Dr. Dreyfus (Kash) thinks that in a stable home environment that the girls might achieve some normalcy. While Lucas’ Aunt Jean (Moffat) is anxious to get custody, Lucas is actually much closer to the girls and with some help from Dr. Dreyfus gets the judge (Kahnert) to agree once the University arranges for a nice suburban home for Lucas and Annabel to move into.

But things aren’t all My Little Pony in suburban Virginia. The girls are both extremely traumatized and look at Lucas and particularly Annabel with some wariness. They refer to an invisible entity they call Mama who looks after her – and apparently she’s dropped by the ‘burbs to keep an eye on her girls. And after Lucas is removed from the picture, it is up to Annabel – who neither wants the job nor thinks herself able to do it – to take care of two very difficult children.

But a funny thing happens on the way to the horror film. Annabel begins to bond with the two girls (in particular with Victoria) and this Mama doesn’t like at all, not in the slightest. Dr. Dreyfus isn’t much of a help – he has his own agenda which isn’t necessarily in the best interests of the girls. And Mama isn’t recognizing any agenda but her own which isn’t good news for Annabel or  the girls.

This is based on a short previously directed by Muschietti and was produced by fan favorite and all-around good guy Guillermo del Toro. Spanish horror tends to be really atmospheric and Muschietti has a flair for it, making the cabin look anachronistic and genuinely creepy. Everything from the movement of the actors which isn’t quite natural to the suburban setting which is deceptively ordinary contributes to the overall vibe that things aren’t right a’tall.

Enjoy Chastain in this role folks, because you won’t see her in this kind of movie ever again – or at least it’s very unlikely you will. Right now if I had to name the best actress working in Hollywood right now, today, this moment, it would be Jessica Chastain. She has that chameleon-like quality that Meryl Streep possesses that allows her to take on virtually any kind of role and not just make it hers but make it unique as well. Here she’s channeling her inner Joan Jett and gives Annabel a gamine like quality that is endearing with the immature feel of a teenage boy who hasn’t quite grown up yet. Annabel grows up a great deal during the course of the movie and Chastain makes those changes organic. You don’t often go to see a horror movie for the acting performances but this is one of those exceptions where you should.

Coster-Waldau, so excellent as Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones on HBO is solid here, reminding me a little bit of Viggo Mortensen. He plays the dual role of Luke and his doomed brother and wisely lets Chastain take center stage. He’s a terrific actor in his own right and has all sorts of leading man potential. In addition, the two young juvenile actresses do extremely well – Charpentier as the emotional center reaching for the mundane and Nelisse as Lilly who has one foot in the spirit world wherein Mama dwells.

Mama’s backstory is nothing to write home about and when she is revealed she isn’t all that impressive but when she moves through the floor or ceiling it’s chillingly effective. Mama needs to elicit a certain amount of sympathy from the audience but in this case she doesn’t really inspire enough which is a hard feat I know but it would have made the movie exponentially more effective. As it is given Chastain’s performance this is a horror movie mainstream audiences should go see.

REASONS TO GO: Creepy in all the right places. Jessica Chastain is the best actress in Hollywood right now period. Nice ghostly effects.

REASONS TO STAY: Story a little bit convoluted. Final look of Mama is a bit of a letdown.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some pretty scary images some of which are pretty disturbing, some thematic issues and a few nasty scares.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Originally scheduled for a Halloween 2012 release, the movie got bumped up to January which proved to be a smart move as it recouped its entire production and marketing cost in its opening weekend, debuting at number one at the box office.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/9/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100. Although the reviews are somewhat mixed, there are more positive than negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Woman in Black

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Sorcerer and the White Snake

Multiple Sarcasms


 

Multiple Sarcasms

Stockard Channing reluctantly admits how many times she laughed in the movie.

(2010) Drama (Multiple Avenue) Timothy Hutton, Dana Delaney, Mira Sorvino, Mario van Peebles, India Ennenga, Laila Robins, Stockard Channing, Nadia Dassouki, Joan Jett, Chris Sarandon, Alex Manette, Julia K. Murray, Stephen Singer, Steve Sirkis. Directed by Brooks Branch

 

Mid-life crises are nothing to sneeze at. It is a time when we feel the most self-doubt; a sinking feeling that things are as good as they’re ever going to be, that the things we haven’t yet accomplished never will be. Self-doubt becomes our friend and we often make sweeping changes as kind of a last hurrah to our youth.

Gabriel (Hutton) is a successful architect who is married to Annie (Delaney), a devoted wife and has a wonderful daughter, Elizabeth (Ennenga) who is full of joy. He lives in a beautiful home in Manhattan and has everything going for him. While it’s 1979 and the Reagan era is just about to begin, things are looking good for Gabriel.

Except he isn’t happy. While all the elements (you would think) should add up to happiness, the equation just doesn’t work. He is moping and feeling somehow unfulfilled and decides to write a play about it. He finds himself an agent (Channing) and at her urging, begins writing, using incidents from his own life and family to act out his misery.

This brings on some resentment, particularly in his patient wife who has put up with his moping for some time. Gabriel is also finding some attraction to his long-time platonic friend Cari (Sorvino) who runs a hip CBGB-esque nightclub. She feels much the same way but rejects his advances, knowing that an affair between the two of them would be bad for both of them.

As Gabriel places more and more of his attention on his project, he loses his job and his relationship with Annie crumbles. Will his mid-life crisis lead to him losing everything in his life that matters?

There is a decent movie to be had here but what we kind of end up with is a mess. While Hutton is normally a fine performer and he has a strong supporting cast behind him, he is given a role which while it harkens a bit to the films of John Cassavetes lacks the depth of character that Cassavetes was known for. Here, Gabriel’s general despondency feels more like a plot contrivance than anything genuine.

It seems reasonable to assume that Gabriel feels that he is married to the wrong woman; certainly that’s not uncommon among men of middle age. It is also true that men going through the middle age blues tend to do incredibly dumbass things. In that sense, Branch (who also co-wrote this) gets it right. What he fails to do is capitalize on it. The events aren’t organic; it’s like the writers wrote an outline of the story, decided what they wanted to do and never gave a thought as to how to get there properly.

That’s a shame because there is plenty of fertile ground to explore. Branch also lucked out in getting a lively performance from Ennenga, who might turn out to be the most memorable aspect of this film. She lights up the screen whenever she’s on. I do hope that she attracts some notice for it but in all honesty this micro-indie didn’t get much of a release and while it’s been popping up on Showtime from time to time, hasn’t been on the radar for many and for good reason. With a more polished script and a bit more insight, this could have been marvelous instead of mediocre. Maybe the next one will be a better bet.

WHY RENT THIS: Hutton is fine and Ennenga is marvelous.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overbearing at times, preposterous at others. Gabriel’s mid-life crisis feels more like a plot point than a genuine issue.

FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of sexual references as well as a bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Joan Jett makes a cameo as a 1979-era punk singer.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $29,731 on an unreported production budget; I’m quite sure this failed to recoup its costs.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Peep World

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Freebie

The Runaways


The Runaways

Joan Jett loves rock and roll; Cherie Currie loves the lifestyle.

(2010) Musical Biography (Apparition) Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Danielle Riley Keough, Scout Taylor-Compton, Tatum O’Neal, Stella Maeve, Brett Cullen, Alia Shawkat, Johnny Lewis, Hannah Marks, Jill Andre. Directed by Floria Sigismondi

The world of rock and roll is a harsh one, full of broken promises and shattered dreams. Every so often, a performer or a band will break through and change things; on other occasions, a performer or a band will succumb to the excesses of the industry. Sometimes, a performer or a band will do both.

Joan Jett (Stewart) is a young girl who idolizes Suzi Quatro and Keith Richards. She’s an adept guitarist but nobody will take her seriously and she longs to be in a rock and roll band. She meets Kim Fowley (Shannon), a fixture on the Sunset Strip in the 1970s-era Los Angeles when this all took place. Fowley sees himself as an acute judge of talent and a canny promoter who understands what sells. He longs to be a major player in the music business, something he is not at the time. He likes Jett’s look and her dream of  fronting an all-woman rock band – there were none at the time that had any success, although in pop music the girl groups of the 60s (Martha and the Vandellas and over in Motown the Supremes) had met with success. However, these were women who projected a certain safe and virtuous image. Fowley – and Jett – wanted danger and subversion. Fowley hooked up Jett with Sandy West (Maeve), a drummer. The two began practicing together but the band needed fleshing out.

Cherie Currie (Fanning) is Bowie-obsessed and performs one of his songs dressed just like him at a school talent show, getting booed by her audience and flipping them off in retaliation. Her home life is falling apart at the seams – her dad (Cullen) is an alcoholic, spiraling slowly to an inevitable end and her mom (O’Neal) has fled to Indonesia to escape, leaving her with her twin Marie (Keough) as essentially sole support. Fowley discovers her and brings her to his trashy trailer to perform with the band. At first Cherie is stiff and hesitant but with Fowley pushing her/abusing her into the right attitude, her natural performing talent, sexuality and charisma come to the fore. “It’s not women’s lib,” Fowley crows, “Its women’s libido!” The remaining spots in the band are filled up with guitarist Lita Ford (Taylor-Compton) and bassist Robin Wolf (Shawkat).

The group plays a series of gigs in a series of depressing dives before Fowley gets them signed to a major label. A song, “Cherry Bomb” becomes a minor hit (although it becomes a big one in Japan) and the band begins to headline gigs and support major acts in stadiums. They go to Japan where they are mobbed by rabid fans and all of a sudden this group of young girls – all in their mid-teens at the time – suddenly are cursed with the success of the rock and roll lifestyle; plenty of sex, plenty of drugs, and not so much rock and roll. Eventually, the curse of success will overcome the band, with internal musical differences and Currie’s drug habit proving to be too much for the band to survive.

Director Sigismondi makes her feature debut here after mostly directing music videos, as well as working in fine arts (she’s a talented photographer and sculptor as well) and to her credit she makes the most of a very little. She manages to capture the look and feel of both the L.A. suburbs in the 70s (I should know – that’s where I lived at the time) and the decadent scene on the Sunset Strip.

I’ve been a big fan of Fanning for a long time and she doesn’t disappoint here. She captures the nature of the vulnerable and sometimes lost Currie nicely, showing her as clay to be molded by Fowley and drifting off-course, prey to the temptations of the road. As her family life disintegrates, she becomes more and more lost. The movie to a large extent focuses most on Currie (but to be fair, she did write the biography that the movie is based on) and Fanning handles the load nicely.

Stewart, best known as the angst-ridden Bella Swan in the Twilight franchise is surprisingly rough-edged here, showing the force-of-nature strength of Jett but also her bisexual tendencies. There is a fairly lurid make-out scene between Jett and Currie which comes off as exploitative, but given the nature of the band and the era, kind of makes sense as something like it would appear in a 70s “B” movie, which this closely resembles in tone. Stewart shows more range here than she has previously, forcing me to revise my opinion of her as a somewhat one-note actress. I look forward to seeing more from her along these lines.

Shannon is a terrific actor who has one Oscar nomination to his credit and has the chops to garner more of the same should he get the right roles. This one is not, but he does capture the manic and manipulative nature of Fowley who yearned to be a mover and a shaker, but whose claim to fame would always be this band. He often claimed he assembled the Runaways both conceptually and practically, a claim he has backed off from in recent years. Shannon is riveting in the part, capturing both the yin and the yang of Fowley who could be supportive one moment and abusive the next.

In fact, in many ways this movie sugarcoats the Runaways story, leaving out allegations of sexual and physical abuse around the band. It also leaves out the backstory of the rest of the band (in the case of Ford, at the real Lita’s request) in focusing on the two leads. The filmmakers do a disservice to the band in essentially portraying them as a two-woman creative team (in reality, West and Ford co-wrote most of the songs with Jett and Fowley). While it’s true Jett and Currie were the heart and soul of the band, it would have been nice to include more of the rest of the band’s story in the movie, particularly that of West who passed away from lung cancer just prior to the beginning of filming.

The legacy of the Runaways is undeniable; Joan Jett remains a rock and roll icon, an inspiration to young female rockers everywhere. It’s a bit of a crying shame that they remain largely unknown here and those who do know them mostly know them for “Cherry Bomb,” their signature hit. They were certainly much more than that, and anyone who has seen their Showtime documentary (which includes some incendiary performance footage) will attest to that. The movie picks up part of their essence – enough to make it worth seeing. I just wish we would have gotten a little bit more of it.

WHY RENT THIS: An authentic recreation of the time and the scene. Surprisingly gritty performances from Stewart and Fanning. Shannon shows a good deal of charisma.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie leaves out a good deal of information, and fictionalizes or trivializes the group’s achievements.

FAMILY VALUES: There are occasionally graphic depictions of teen sex and drug use, as well as a whole lot of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jackie Fox, the actual bass player for the Runaways, declined to give the producers of the film the rights to her life story so a fictional character was introduced to be the Runaways bassist (and ironically, has no lines in the film); Lita Ford also declined to give her rights to the producers, but did meet with Scout Taylor-Compton prior to filming and declared that even if the film was awful, Taylor-Compton at least did her character justice.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4.7M on a $10M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: A Single Man